Before I get started, let me paint you the mental picture that I had of Cross Racing. Dark, chaotic destruction and despair....I expected to see land mines, laser fields, armed gladiators...okay so maybe not that extreme, but he did say that there would be a lot of people and a lot of crashes. He told me that there is a larger crowd base that shows up to these races and more racers that come out to compete in these events. I wasn't really sure what to even expect.
The alarm went off at 8:30am. Dana and I got up and started about our morning routines mixed with a bit of race day prep. To be quite honest I was feeling rather relaxed for some reason. Not my usual worked up pre-race self. Once my Dad got to my apartment it was time to roll out! Helmet, check, riding shoes, check, gear, check, bike, check! We were set to go! It was a short drive over to Swope Park and we were on time as far as I had planned. As we arrived the race officials pointed me to the parking spot and we began to unload the gear. My lovely girlfriend and excellent Dad were hauling the chairs and food and misc. gear and told me to strike out on my own and get registered for my race. Because Dana still has a broken foot I didn't want them to walk all over God's green Earth, so I was also going to look for a nice spot for base camp.
As I rode towards registration I couldn't help but notice all the red tape strung about. It looked as though someone had given a couple of five year olds police tape and told them to have fun! To my left and right there were twists and turns marked all over these open fields. There were three 2X6s standing tall ways across the marked path. These were the barriers that Wilson had warned me about. Some would bunny hop them and some would dismount their bikes and carry them over the barriers. There were a few riders already on the course and I watched them as I rode on. They seemed to be moving through the course without much difficulty so this can't be THAT difficult right?
After a quick registration and a free sample of coffee I made my way back to Dad and Dana. We ended up making camp right at the registration area. There was a lot more going on and you could see a lot of the action.
The first race starts. The Elite riders group is first up and as the announcer over the loud speakers announces "here they go!" riders start to poor into the turns. Bits of grass are being kicked up into the late morning sun as the riders push hard around the turns. They start off tight together before the field starts to widen out. From our base camp we can see the riders turn hard lefts ,rights and make quick hairpin turns. They turn to the right before the pit area and head out on the only long straight away of the course and disappear for a minute or two. I'm getting pretty excited at this point. Wilson and his family haven't quite arrived yet and I'm wondering if Stewart, the latest 16 day old edition to his family, is causing them to be late. Just then the first riders come whizzing by in the forest behind where we're seated. Yep they're making short work of this 1.25 ml course. EXCITING!!!
The Elite class has finished their race and we are now allowed back out on the course for a pre-ride until the next race. "Babe, I gotta go ride this" I told Dana, she told me to do what I had to do and her and my Dad would be just fine. I'm going to try this out and head straight for those barriers. I rode the straight away to the second open field and entered the turns. Ooo these turns ARE a bit tight. Okay here comes the barriers alright dismount, jump, run, jump,run ,jump. Get back on now. Ugh that was awful! I better mount faster than that come race time! I decide to head back for now. As I did I saw two people that looked familiar, pushing a stroller down the straight away. Hey there's Dave and Katie!
Dave get's all registered and we get Katie situated. Now my head is swirling with pre-race thoughts. Don't crash, don't crash, don't crash. I have earned the name Marcos "Crash" Bowman from my previous races and I wasn't really wanting to live up to this expectation in todays race. The girls take to the course and start their laps, but I'm not really paying attention at this point. My head is a buzz. Dana is trying to win Dave's 2 year old, Claudia's trust with cheezits. My dad is just enjoying the environment and Dave is helping Katie get set up with the their youngest.
CRAP!!! The women are done? The track is open again? "Come on Marcos, let's ride before we start" Dave says as he takes off on his bike. Okay, give Dana a kiss and a good luck from my Dad and I set out after Wilson. I decide to ride a bit more of the grass area and after the barriers this time I headed down the mountain bike single track. Wow! this single track is pretty fun and fast! I glide through the single track and practice my dismount and mount over a rather large log towards the end of the wooded part. As I emerge from the single track I see the racers all starting to line up at the start. The start is at the bottom of the hill??? Darn up hill starts...It's alright I'll deal with it. I ride up and start walking to the back of the group..."Marcos, you start up there!" CRAP Wilson caught me trying to hide in the mid section! Oh well. Like a kid who just got busted stealing a cookie from the cookie jar I blushed and walked to the front of the group. To my surprise, he wasn't calling me out. Us category 4 racers (beginning racers) started before the other two groups (40+ and Single Speeders). Thanks Wilson for looking out for me!
A few more riders came down the hill to join us at the starting line and I reflected on the races before mine. Come to think of it I don't think I had noticed any crashes at all. A couple of broken chains but that was it. Maybe I will be okay. The ground was tacky and perfect for racing, and come to think of it, probably pretty soft for an eh, er... an unexpected landing. The race official was done with her shpeal and now we were just waiting on a couple of guys to get to the starting line. I don't think I've ever taken role at a starting line before...come on guys you're holding all of us up...
There's the adrenaline! I was wondering where you were! The last two guys file in and we get ready. "Alright Cat 4, GO!" The start was cramped, my heart was pounding, I caught myself starting to go too fast too soon. Alright man get a hold of yourself, we've got 30 minutes of race to go, you've gotta make sure you stay to your pace. Before I knew it, we were up that hill and each rider started flowing into the grassy turns. The crowd was loud, familiar voices were yelling my name, cow bells were clanging. My heart was pounding and I was breathing heavily, not from exhaustion but from the sheer excitement of it all. The day had grown very hot. Right turn! I looked down and realized...LEFT TURN HARD!...I hadn't brought any water with me. Dang...HARDER LEFT TURN!
Some racers were catching up to and passing me. "Now here come the Single Speeders!" Crap already!?!?!? Okay okay, stay calm Marcos this is your race and you need to stick to your pace. If I were to...HAIR PIN RIGHT TURN!...go...QUICK LEFT...to fast....MUDDY SPOT!...good thing I picked a good line! If I were to go to fast I could burn out too soon. Me and four others made a hard turn onto the straight away. I was riding a mountain bike, and a lot of the others in this race were riding cross bikes. These bikes are like road bikes with skinny little mountain bike tires on them. They were lighter and for the time being a bit faster than I was. Man I really want to turn on the gas and show these skinny bikes I CAN go fast!!!! No no, you'll get them later, my calm racer voice told me..."Come on Marcos keep it up!" It was Wilson! Dang he already caught me halfway through the first lap! That Guy is a beast!! As more riders pass by I keep to my pace. The crowd is every where and there are plenty of voices cheering all around. We poured into the second field of turns. HARD LEFT...watch the mud....HARDER LEFT...Here comes the barrier area. A right turn and then a hairpin and then things get interesting. As I made the right turn...BAM!!...A guy does a face plant smack into the soft muddy ground!! There's the first crash!! WOOOHOOO it wasn't me!! He had mis-calculated the last barrier height and paid for it. IN YOUR FACE!!! My turn...as I turned the left hairpin an eruption of GO JAVI (Hov-ee) rang out and shook me from my race mode trans. It was Dana's Family! They took the edge off, can't crash with them watching, I thought to myself. Okay, unmount, sprint, jump, jump, jump, get back on dang it!!! Yeah that was pretty bad. The guy next to me made quick work of it and was already 10ft ahead of me. My heart was still pounding as I cut through the last bit of grass turns before the mountain bike single track. Sweat was trickling off of my lips as I nearly smack a tape holding post after the tightest hairpin on the course. Man I wish I brought water...
One last hard right on the grass and I sweep into the cool shade of the single track. Eyes adjust to the darker surroundings. Just in time to see the log jump! Ough! drug the back tire a bit too much on that jump. The race officials had taken the time to spray paint every little root, tree stump and any other obstacle, making it very easy to pick a proper line. A few more racers sneak past me. Am I going slow? Doesn't matter keep your head about you and stay with your pace. My quads are starting to burn on a few of these up hills, soldier up Marcos this is your first race back off the bench no backing out! BIG LOG! dismount, jump get back on, good! not too bad...whoops okay spoke too soon. Couldn't clip in fast enough and almost smashed into a tree on a quick left hander. CLICK, there we go. I climb out of the single track and skip across the paved part only to scoot right back into some more single track climbing. There's a couple of guys talking on the side of the single track. Looks like a fellow racer has broken something on his bike. Them's the breaks my friend. Man this shouldn't feel this hard! I climb and get passed by a few more riders but now I see the table that marks the finish line. Out of the single track and speed past the table. LAP 1 in the bag
The crowd's roar and the cow bells clatter enter my ears as I weave into the grass. Quickly after the first two turns I quickly realize I feel like puking. No bueno. I so wish that I had brought water. The heat was starting to cut through the trees and my mouth was dry with all the air I had been sucking in. Dana and Claudia were on the side of the course ringing the cow bell and taking pictures. I smiled and snapped out all negative "puke now" thoughts. I make the turns in front of them, dodge the mud and yell to Dana her family is here before I cut back into the straight. Stomach churning as I get passed by a few more riders. Which ones am I actually racing? Who is in my Cat 4 class? Am I being lapped? Can't think about that just dig in and finish. I realize I'm going a bit gingerly on the turns but my stomach is messing with my head. My tongue hanging out like a dog on a hot day, I make a turn for the barriers again. SMASH!!! The second barrier claims a victim! This one looked pretty bad. He smacked his shoulder and his bike went about 7 feet in front of him. Dismount, clear the barriers, mount....a little better, but not by a whole lot. Other riders make me look like I'm standing still. I quickly move through the last grass part, doing an unplanned rear slide around a dirt corner. Back into the dirt again. My stomach seems to have worked whatever it was out, and now I need to focus. Faster Marcos fast!!! I try to turn it up a bit through the single track, loosing ground to a few more riders. No biggie just get through it. Man I want to give up....NO!!! Get that crap out of my head! I pass another rider on the side of the single track. He's bleeding a little bit from his shin, but he looks alright. I stand up and shift as I make that last climb to the table. LAP 2 done.
As I pass by the table I ask how much time is left (forgot my Garmin too) and they shout back "2 more laps!" Dang! I was thinking it was only going to be 3 laps but that's cool just means I've got to dig deeper for a bit longer. I see Dana and Claudia ahead of me cheering me on. I got this. On the third lap I'm feeling more confident around the turns. As I turn onto the straight away for the third time I put so much force into my peddling I lift the front end off the ground and do a mini wheely. It's quiet, there doesn't seem to be any other racers around me. CRAP I'm last! That's fine, as long as I finish I've achieved a goal. There is only up from here right? Two more riders catch me on the single track. That's it I'm not going down with out a fight! I kick in the after burners. I push up the last hill to the table and scratch off LAP3. I'm pouring everything I've got left into this lap. Maybe fatigue is setting in and impairing judgement but I'm taking these turns a lot faster this time. I'm tilted way over and pushing the balance limits of my machine now. Man if I only would have raced like this from the beginning! I speed into the single track JUMP totally cleared the log and then some. The wind is whipping through my helmet as I pound down the single track. I managed to catch and pass a few more riders. Sweet maybe I'm not last! Keep hit'n it!!! As I exit the single track for the fourth time...SMACK!!! I wandered into some really soft mud and smashed my left pedal and crank into a rock shelf. My left foot pops loose and all momentum is lost. RUN, GET BACK ON! As quick as I can I hop back on and take off up the last bit of single track climb to the table. There's a guy in a green jersey in front of me, CATCH HIM! GO GO GO!!! DIG! I empty the tanks and push hard but he finishes 20ft in front of me.
I exhale. As I pass the table I see all of Dana's family, my Dad, Dana, Wilson and Family cheering waiting for me. I'm exhausted. That's the last time I forget my water bottle... I drop my bike kiss my girl and immediately start to look for water. The race is done. It was such a blast! Come to find out Wilson had crashed and rode a couple of laps with his handle bars tilted about 20 degrees off 90 and his rear tire had almost fallen out on the last jump of the fourth lap. Dude is an animal!
Well Wilson won the single speed group, no shocker there and I actually wasn't close to last either. 24th! Out of about 35 racers! Not bad for coming back off of the bench! All in all this race was a great time and absolutely what I needed to get me back in the spirit for Leadville training. I plan on doing more races this fall so look out readers you'll have more to read coming soon!
Next race, Cross Out Cancer on Sunday October 10th at Shawnee Mission Park! Until then!!!