I can sum this race up in two words: I suck. This is not a revelation to me, I've known that this was not going to be my year for 'cross because I just haven't put the time in on the bike. In fact, even if I put the time in I'm never going to be a front runner and I'm okay with that. For this year I've accepted that I will be a tail gunner and today I was living up to expectations. What made today different from the other 10 'cross races I've done is that today I abandoned and posted a (legit*) DNF for the first time.
The day started off normal for a race day. I got up at 6am tired as hell, rolled downstairs and had some breakfast, gathered my gear and hit the road for the 50 minute drive to Lilypons Water Gardens in Adamstown, Maryland. It rained some on the way there so I figured my hopes for a dry race were done. It had been relatively dry this week so I figured in any event there is no way it would be as muddy as last year. I registered and then rode a couple of recon laps since I had never done this race before. The venue is unique in that a good portion of the course traverses several ponds filled with lily plants which are sold at the gardens. The first part of the course through the ponds contains a lot of turns and somewhat narrow areas which make it difficult to pass. Once through there you enter a longish dual-track gravel area that is mostly flat and you are really able to motor along through this section. The double-track ends slightly uphill and turns onto a slightly downhill grass section which leads up a run-up followed immediately by a steep drop-in. The drop-in was a bit unnerving because you only had about 8 feet from the top of the run-up to get remounted and drop-in; I froze up here on both practice laps but was able to keep it moving during the race. From there the next thing was the hill at the "back nine" (more on that later) followed by a slight downhill and another drop-in. Following that was a couple of "woops" and then a leg grinder climb to a downhill section where, in theory, you could recover some. After the downhill the course meandered back to the finish and then into the barriers before starting over where I started.
I was feeling decent after the practice laps but a little apprehensive about the drop-in after the run-up. Nothing like getting there, freezing up and having a bunch of guys stuck behind you pissed off. Luckily, as you will read, this didn't materialize. At the start I mostly help my position fairly well on the prologue lap. As I was entering the 180-degree turn prior to the barriers someone tried to take the space on my inside that didn't exist. The bump forced me to dismount and I mistakenly tried to remount for the very slow 180 directly preceding the barriers; as a result I fudged the dismount pretty bad and lost about 20 spots in the barrier section when it was all said and done. I maintained my position through the ponds and when we hit the gravel section, which is where I should shine, people started coming by me again. On one of the 90-degree turns in the gravel section I heard someone directly behind me go down and yell out in pain; he would lay there in the ditch for at least two more laps and was eventually carted away by an ambulance. By the time I got to the run-up and drop-in I was pretty much by myself so there was no one to hold up and I managed to complete the combo without pausing. By the end of the first lap I was pretty much racing by myself and darn near the end of the group if not the end of the group. A couple of 55+ guys were near me so I raced with some of them for a bit, but it was not a stellar effort on my part. Sometime during the second lap my back started to bother me slightly. I wrecked on a gravel turn at pretty low speed, but the gravel had its way with my shin and hip. By the middle of the third lap my back was really, really bothering me. I managed to recover some and told myself that if there was one lap to go (or two with the possibility of being lapped making it only one) I would soldier on. Unfortunately, when I got to the finish line the sign showed three laps remaining at which point I made the very difficult decision to abandon rather than suffer in pain the next 20 minutes or so.
Quitting sucks and it is not something I want to do again. The course was tough and my fitness is horrible but those things alone are bearable; the pain I had in my back, not so much.
I went back to my truck, cleaned my wounds and changed to head to the "back nine". A lot cyclocross courses loop back on themselves in multiple spots which makes for great spectating. Lilypons does not lend itself to that and so the have the "back nine" which is a spectating area with its own announcer at the back of the course. The real highlight of the "back nine" however, is the free beer and waffles. I had two of the first and one of the latter before heading back to the truck to grab the camera to take some pictures of the Elite Masters race. After taking some pictures and watching my team mate Mike Birner finish second I headed home.
So that's it for race #2; it didn't leave a warm fuzzy in my stomach for the rest of the races this season. I will continue to the be a tail-gunner and strive to finish the remaining races at the very least.
* - I was scored a DNF at the championships in Taneytown last year but in reality I did not start.