Friday, February 26, 2016

Monster Cross Finally Happens.

Every year Monster Cross rolls around and every year I talk myself out of it. A 25 or 50 mile race on technical and steep fire roads in February? Where do I hide? I'd managed to avoid it in past years but this year I was out of excuses and in the midst of Great Blizzard of '16 cabin fever I signed up for the 25 mile option.

Then I did nothing. I did not go scout the course. I did not train. I did not really think much about it. I did get in one long ride a week and a few trainer classes but I mostly just pretended like it wasn't happening. The weekend before race weekend when I should've done a course pre-ride, the high was in the 20s and I was like, nope. Not going to ride my bike.

Thankfully, race weekend was unseasonably warm so I didn't have to worry about layering misery upon misery. It didn't matter much, though. I'd been having a rough week - doctor appointments, canceled plans, some personal angst that I hadn't worked out yet. February is generally a very low month for me and the idea that I'd have to spend my Sunday morning racing my bike was incredibly unappealing.

But, I did it. Saturday I had a fun, easy mountain bike ride with my friend Lisa. I ate a healthy dinner, packed up my bike stuff, oiled my chain and went to bed early. Race morning found me lined up with nearly 600 other people, most of us in glorious short sleeves and bare legs.

Monster Cross is enormously popular because there's really not much else going on in February and racers want something to do. I mostly wanted to be eating breakfast in bed, but okay. I'm here and so are all of my cycling friends. I started to perk up.

I am generally pretty set on my race prep but at the last minute I threaded my ear buds under my jersey and clipped my ipod shuffle on. I never, ever listen to music on my bike but this was a long race for me and I thought it might help me keep my pace up. It was a solid decision.

The 50 miler pros started. The 50 miler non-pros started. Then the 25 mile "mini" Monster started. I was near the front and got a good start but I hadn't really warmed up, figuring that would be what I'd use the first 3-4 miles for. It wasn't a bad plan exactly, but it's hard when you get passed by the nine year old boy, by the guy on the fat bike, by the older dude with his t-shirt tucked into his spandex shorts. I wasn't racing any of those people, but it still stung a little.

For a while I paced a couple of the other women. I'd pass them, then they'd pass me. Back and forth. Eventually I dropped them and was pretty much on my own for a good 10-15 miles. I passed some guys, a few guys passed me. It was peaceful in the woods and my music was motivating and I felt...good. I felt good! I love this! I love my bike and I don't really mind climbing this long-ass paved hill. I just settled in. I listened to my music. All was good. Then out of nowhere the two women I'd passed miles back shot past me like I was standing still. Ugh. I knew I wasn't in contention for any kind of podium spot but I definitely picked up the pace a bit after that.

For a good portion of the second half I traded spots with the leader in the unicycle category. Yes, there is a unicycle category. It's masterful and terrifying watching them fly downhill on a single, giant wheel with a fixed gear. No way, man. I'd chosen to ride my mountain bike instead of my cyclocross bike which was definitely the right choice for me. Some of the descents were quite technical and the creek crossings were deeper and muddier than I was expecting. I'm much more confident on fat tires. (But I prefer two of them. Those unicycle peeps are crazy.)

The best part was mile 5-15. I was feeling pretty solid overall and pacing myself decently. The race organizer Mark had warned us that most of the climbing was in the last nine miles and I was waiting for it. The course eventually looped behind the main parking lot and through a field that lead to the bridge that would take us to the other side of the park and the final grueling five miles. As I headed to the bridge my Shuffle started playing London Bridge:

Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Oh shit (oh shit)
Are you ready for this?
Oh shit (oh shit)

I cracked up. If ever there was an appropriate time for that ridiculous song it was at that exact moment. I crossed the field laughing my ass off and I'm sure the people watching thought I'd lost my mind. I crossed the bridge and headed for... the hardest part. I had my Garmin on so I could see the mileage and man, that last five miles took FOR. EVER. My quads were cramping so I was terrified if I stopped pedaling I wouldn't be able to start again. My saddle, which I'd never loved, was now enemy #1. In short: my ass hurt. My legs hurt. I was ready for it to be over. 

Somewhere in there I found my friend Russ who'd been sidelined with a flat. He got on my wheel and we trudged out the last few grueling miles together. Finally, finally, I was back across the bridge and heading up the steep paved hill towards the finish. Final time: 2:10 and I came in 13th out of 29 women. I was pretty happy with that considering I didn't train for it. (That's not to say I didn't race it - I pushed hard but I definitely wasn't as fit as I could've been.) It set a baseline for me, though, so next year I can hopefully beat that time and place higher. We'll see. 

Favorite moments: 

  • Singing along to Salt n Pepa's Shoop while climbing the long paved road. It helped.
  • Seeing how well my teammates did. For one this was her first race and she placed 11th! My teammate Amy came in 3rd, which was well-deserved. 
  • Being called "baby girl" by the parks employee who was directing riders across the road. She made my day.
  • Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken's excellent post-race meal. Lee's is a supporter of my cycling team and I was SO happy to have that chicken and mac 'n cheese. And there was beer. That didn't hurt either. 

Eventually the warm, overcast weather gave into rain and it was time to pack up and go home. A really good day, and just what I needed to get my head on straight again.