Missoula Cyclocross-week 3, and first Rattlesnake Encounter

Rattlesnake from the CDT in NM, not Missoula
Ok, so I didn't really have an encounter with a reptilian type of rattlesnake. I merely went on my first run into the Rattlesnake NRA and Wilderness this morning.  I'm calling it an encounter because I met the Rattlesnake face-to-face, got scared, and turned early.  But, let me back up first.

After last Wednesday's cyclocross race, I moved up to fifth in the 'B' standings.  I spent Saturday watching riders race and work very hard to complete the frigid Montana Hell Ride (I was manning an aid station and trying to fire-roast gummy bears, they just melt, waste of time) and between watching those guys and finishing higher last week, I was pumped for race #3.  'Pumped' may be the wrong word.  It was more a mix of nervousness and excitement.  Excitement because I got to race again.  It is hard to watch people race all day and not want to be out there as well, even in cold conditions.  Nervous because I couldn't hide anymore, at least in my mind.  The first two races I felt there were no expectations because I could disappear in the pack.  But since am good at putting unreasonable expectations on myself, I decided I had to be in the top 5 the whole race and anything less would be a disappointment. So I got nervous yesterday.

The course moved from the bumpy, dusty and miserable Equestrian Park to another park that is a lot more pleasant. Hellgate Cyclery did a great job designing a course that had a mix of tight turns through trees and longer fast sections.  I only got one lap in on a pre-ride, but it was enough to make me worried about tight pine needle covered turns and excited to be able to open it up on longer straight-aways.

Sara refueling during the Hell Ride
I started on the front line of the B's and quickly got dropped by the other guys in front.  The course hit two barriers pretty early on so I lost a bit of ground there.  Jumping over logs trail running apparently does not transfer well to jumping onto a bike.  Early in the race the pine needles were also more of an issue and I took turns very cautious.  I spent much of the first lap trying to catch up.  The back half of the course broke out of the trees and onto a mix of farm-esque fields and outbuildings. While this made for faster riding, it also allowed the wind to sneak into the race.  I knew I wanted to be on somebody's wheel for this section every lap since Shaun's only race advice was "there is no etiquette in cyclocross, don't lead, just sit on a wheel," or something to that effect.  So I wasted a lot of energy catching up quick.

The catching up made the next two laps miserable.  I felt like I could barely hang on, but the drafting was just enough that I could hang in there.  At this point I think I was 5th or so in the B's (Open A's and Master A's were just ahead and we all traded back and forth).  By lap four I started feeling better and was able to bridge the gap to third third B guy.  I sat with him a bit then tried to make another move up to number, got defeated by the wind, and had to try again.  Coming into the 6th lap though I was able to latch on, catch my breath and prepare for another move to the leader. I really, really did not want to get beat by the, then, second place guy.  He had just nipped me at the line last week so I wanted to get him for sure this week.  So, when I passed him, I went all-out in the hope that he couldn't catch on.  I did pull away and create a gap, right into a standstill traffic jam going through the ditch.  My timing was terrible.

I thought he was going to be able to hang on again, but I managed to get through the backup before he did and catch up to the leader.  We rode together a little and traded leads to try and create more distance between us and the next chaser.  Going over the barriers starting lap seven I was able to get clear a bit and decided to make a move, especially when I heard Cory, the other guy, hit the barriers with his bike.  I created a gap, but couldn't quite get away.  I rode scared for a good portion of that last lap.  Coming into the ditch (dry irrigation canal) I spun out in the sand and had to put my foot down, cramped up trying to get clipped back in, and was fairly sure I had just lost the race.  Again, fortunately for me, Cory went down on the previous turn (he's ok) and I had enough of a gap.  I still rode pretty scared the rest of the way, but managed to sneak away with the victory in the B's.
The course for week #3

It's always nice to win, but I think I'm more happy with the fact that I was able to actually race for an hour.  Compared to my first race when I only felt like I was racing for a few minutes, I feel like I have come a long way in a short time.  Doesn't mean I can get cleanly over the barriers, or negotiate turns very well, but being able to focus that long is something that takes me a while to re-learn.

I have today (Thursday) off from work so I planned to run up Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake. Recovery from cyclocross takes longer than I anticipated.  I made it five slow miles into the run.  My quads are still full of lactic acid and running up a mountain didn't seem to help.  The Rattlesnake is beautiful though.  The fall colors are just about in full swing and I ran through alternating dark clouds and brilliant rays of sun.  I can't wait to get back up there, but preferably when my legs feel better.

Sunday I will be driving up to Whitefish for my return to trail running.  I'll be running the Whitefish Legacy 20k and hoping that cyclocross fitness transfers to trail racing.  I am looking forward to feeling more connected to the trails, and explore some of Whitefish.  Update to follow!

Happy trails,