Monday, October 11, 2010

Iron Cross 2010 - Race Report

Warning: Don’t read this race report if you never intend to race Iron Cross….chances are high the little devil in you wakes up that forces you to go thru this brutality.

Disclaimer: Don’t quote me on any numbers and events…. I was delirious half of the race.

Ok…like for every race report that isn’t written by the winner, here are my excuses:

1. Day before riding at Lake Placid at 37 degrees and a “hill” that a Virginian would comfortably call mountain crossing plus 8 hours drive including a heart-to-heart with the car which lost its exhaustion protector.

2. I felt sick….yeah yeah bla bla bla

3. My brakes were unadjustable (spell corrector went off …I truly believe this word exists)….I guess better excuse is that I have no clue how to get my brakes to actually brake so I went into the race with…let’s call it sub-decent stopping force.

4. It was my second Cross race…

5. I am riding everything like a sissy that is not paved and straight….thus; 90% of the course

Enough with the excuses, I just hope one of them is convincing enough.

About the course: Ironcross is a 60mi race involving some serious singletrack, ‘screaming’ gravel and paved downhill, never ending climbs, two ‘run-ups’ of which one I am surprised no harness was required. The course was divided by four checkpoints that had fluids, food etc at mile 12, 30, 42, and 51.

About 240 racers took on the challenge of which 26 or so were women. In regards to the water carrier choice I decided after arduous discussions to go with bottles rather than with a camelbak.

Race started about 9am with a true cross’ course. After that the fun began with some climbs…nothing serious though. I got to know some racers whom I would see throughout the entire course. The first 12 miles to CP1 were fast, I felt good enough. My strategy was to timetrial any paved sections because I would lose that time on any descents or singletrack. And that was certainly the case because whoever I passed on the hills, I would choke on the dust cloud when he flew by me on the gravel downhill.

As the first 12 miles was about finding the right pace and people, the second part was about staying there. The trouble began when suddenly the volunteers guided the racers 90 degrees away from the gravel road….I feared it and knew what was about to come: singletrack… after 200 feet fighting with rocks and roots, I decided running would be my faster option. Soon enough I realized how much time I lost when all the people I just passed on the uphill came by and yelled at me why the heck I am off the bike. Agreed…however…they don’t know my untalented performance on singletrack….there is a reason why I got out of mountainbiking.

Nevertheless…after some cursing and more cursing I found myself on a PAVED road and timetrialed the entire way and got back to the group I was in before. Silently celebrating my comeback, I wasn’t aware of the next challenge….climbing up the ridge. Not sure how the race director calls it run-up (he admitted that the term is defined loosely and he might be right with that because you only could lose). It was a game of balance and deep trust into the people above you who could lose the grip of their bike anytime….this became suddenly a team sport.

Happy being on the top of Mount Everest or whatever this mountain was my enjoyment froze when I saw in the distance a caravan of bike-carrying nomads. However, I also saw a blue tent screaming water (which I was out of) and food. Up the ridge I was told I was ninth in the women category. At the tent, I felt like I got a personal volunteer who gave me water, heed and whatever I wanted (Thank you so much for that!!!!) and then kicked me out of the feed zone. I saw my self-claimed group at the feed zone and we exchanged some encouraging words (like…seriously, another 30 miles?) and I was off for the second half of the race leaving them behind because I knew soon enough a descent must come and I will see them right there.

Tumbling on the ridge and finding the right cadence was high priority. I caught more riders who looked at me pitifully during the singletrack in the previous section. However, as much as I enjoyed passing them I anticipated the descent…on gravel of course. Everyone passed me again…swirled-up dust in my face completed my thought process why I am doing this…I was supposed to relax from all the riding the past days.

After refreshing my memory of all possible German curse words, I finally hit the pavement at the bottom and timetrialed the way to CP3. Again, the volunteers were great giving water, and heed. My group assembled at CP3 again….it was pretty awesome seeing familiar faces the entire race.

The next challenge was climbing, climbing and climbing. The course description explains this climb as “you think you’re at the top. You’re not.” It’s pretty accurate. However, I like climbing and that was my only chance to get a head start for the next singletrack. I don’t know how long we climbed but it was tough…there were times I thought my cadence is so low that I would fall sideways. Then I would try to shift down realizing that I tried that ten times already and I, in fact, was in the lowest gear.

Finally up that climb, I had to face another descent…same story as the last but this time I got cramps in my hands and had to stop at one of the downhill gravel switch-backs. One rider stopped next to me and asked if everything is ok….excuse #3 came in handy. At this point, I unanimously decided that this will be my last CX race or any race that involves some sort of technical riding (I define ‘technical’ very loosely). And this time, I trained my vocab for all possible English curse words…gotta mix it up.

Down at CP4, I chose to grab a banana…before only Heed and Perpetuum was my energy source of choice. I looked at the clock and I was about 4: 30 hours into the course. A lot of people discussed before the race that they wanted to crack the five hour mark. After some calculations, which were obviously way off reality, I thought I could finish under five hours as well. If I would have read the instructions better, I would have known that I could prove my weaknesses to myself again when another singletrack slowed me down.

Since I was pretty much by myself I took it easy….apparently too easy because two women flew by….53 miles into the race!!! I was mad at myself. All the sudden arising energy I used to walk up the last climb….the two women ahead of me. Up the ridge, I immediately jumped onto my bike passed both of them and just hoped for more favorable conditions…meaning PAVEMENT! I passed a tent with a guy sitting in it smiling at me in a suspicious way. Later I learned they handed out beer. I had other issues to deal with and finally luck was on my side and I hit pavement.

I knew from the instructions that that was it….pavement to the finish. So I cursed a little bit at my chain ring that didn’t want to shift to the biggest ring but once that was in place, I turned every little anger, exhaustion, and tiredness into speed. I didn’t want to get passed. The last 55 miles I had no serious goal….at some point a goal had to come and if it is only for the last 5 miles. I looked behind me and didn’t see anyone. But from experience I knew that didn’t mean anything so I pushed harder. Finish came closer and closer and finally the turn to the finish was ahead. I turned. One more look back…no one. Two more hurdles to jump…wait…to climb is the more accurate term…and then a guy held out a medal to me. DONE in 5:35h (or so)!!!! 122nd (or so) overall and 8th (or so) in the women’s category.

This was truly a great race…I know I decided not to race it anymore but I have another year to revise that decision. Maybe until then I forget how much I suck in downhill, singletrack, gravel, roots, and rocks.

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