Thursday, July 26, 2007

Crystal Ridge WEMS

Crystal Ridge, my third WEMS race, took place on top of a converted garbage dump in Franklin, WI. Also on this ski hill made out of a mountain of garbage was a wedding reception and motorcycle lessons. Needless to say, they're getting their use out of the land. In the first picture, I'm being tagged from Jillian (left), who just got done with her lap. I'm getting on my bike and heading out on one of my laps. Image 2, I'm just topping the last big hill of the course and finishing my lap. Image 3, I'm relaxing between laps and cheering on the team. In the 4th image I'm standing with Kat and Jillian (l and r) during the awards. We're collecting our medals for first place!

The Logistics
For this race I borrowed “Satin”, a full suspension Trek from one of my friends, Preston. At one point on the course somebody asked how I liked it and I said I had borrowed it, and that I was considering not giving it back (ah hah hah). I kept the rear suspension on the stiffest setting (but not off) and the front on a medium suspension. I think having the suspension really helped, especially after listening to the other racers talk. The rear suspension was stiff so as not to rob a lot of energy, but just enough to take the edge off of all the washboard bumps that were so prevalent on the stretches through the grass. The front suspension was of course good over what few rocks there were, and was really only detrimental on the last hill, which was a bit of a bitch. Big ring? No thank you.
The course was a lot of cornering through the woods with some hills and straight stretches here and there. I was not incredibly fast through the woods, but on the straightaways I zipped along, which made me feel better: as if I were compensating for crawling along the twists and turns. There was a huge hill on the course that I never did make it up. I think I could have (easy to say that now, right?), but I would have been in rough shape. By the second lap I got into a rhythm with it. I would bike to the orange cones, maybe 2/3 of the way up the first steep climb, and then get off, suck down some water as I was walking and then, right before I got back on the bike for the second easier part of the hill stuff a large bite of food in my mouth to eat as I pedaled along. My reasoning was that I wanted to save my energy for the other hills and that drinking and eating something at this hill would get me ready to tackle the ski hill (not so bad) and the final hill (pretty bad). Besides, there were people watching on the other hills, which made them more important, for I desperately crave attention and acceptance.
One of my least favorite parts of the course was the switchback downhill of the ski slope. It made me nervous because it was somewhat loose dirt and rocks with sharp little turns. Come to think of it, it may have been faster to slip off, roll down the hill a ways and pick up the trail again on a switchback. Ah well, next time. But seriously, it was a shame because you had to bike up a hill and naturally you want to relax on the way down. Instead I was kind of a basketcase, gripping the brakes and probably holding my breath around the corners. I got more comfortable with it as the day went on, but don’t think for a second that I trusted it.
The final hill was one that took a little mental prep. Toward the end of the day I would slow as I was coming up to it, try to relax my breathing and then, as I turned to face it, tell myself I was going to get all the way up it. And it may have been in the granny gear, but I conquered it all four laps. Had I been riding a single speed there would have been no way.

Personal Challenges
When I’m not confident about something, I tend to try to avoid it until confronted by it. One example of this was mountain biking clipped in. I put it off as long as I could, dodging it with flimsy excuses. Finally I could run no further, and this race was my second clipped in. Needless to say, I’m glad of it now and can see the benefits.
The Crystal Ridge course forced me to own up to my aversion to tight cornering. I’m sure that the other racers didn’t think it was so bad, but I get nervous when turning corners on dirt or other questionable surfaces at anything over .05 mph. I decide to be brave, take them too fast, try to slow down too fast and then wind up in the dirt or whatever questionable surface it is. Well, this course was about half of that kind of cornering. Someone on the team said the map looked like a little kid with a crayon had scribbled a squiggly line around on a piece of paper.
Well, needless to say, I had to sit back and use my head instead of just trying to fudge my way past the problem. Throughout the day I got better and better and being more precise. I took my time on corners: instead of clumsily putting a foot down I would slow, turn the handlebars and thread the bike through trees and around corners. Other riders are thinking, “Um, yeah, that’s what you do”. To me, though, it was good practice for one of my weakest points. After four laps of that, I’d say I’ve got a lot better handle on it, which is something I’m pretty proud of. Next up is putting on the speed!

Personal Goals
I get nervous when I feel like I’m racing other people: if there’s someone behind me or ahead of me, I feel the need to speed up and I get all keyed up and make stupid mistakes. I feel like the kid who can sing in the shower but not in front of anyone. What I like best about these courses is being alone out there in the woods and challenging myself to get over or through things that I hadn’t been able to on the lap before. I always try to push myself to see if I can improve my time from the last lap. I like racing myself more than racing the other teams, guys or girls, out there. I never did improve the time from my first lap, but I remained pretty consistent. My laps were something like 46, 47, 49 and 47 minutes apiece. It was a personal challenge to stay under 50 minutes after I saw my first lap time, so I managed to stick to that.

Sappy Closing Note
Overall, a good time! It was great to hang out and talk with some of the team I usually don’t get to see (I’m looking in your direction, Chicago). Most of the time it doesn’t seem like we’re racing, and I like that. It’s great to be out there cheering, biking through the woods and sharing the experiences back at the tent. We can break ourselves up into racing teams, guys and girls or Chicago and Milwaukee, but what we all are is one big bunch of kids getting together and tearing it up on a bike through the woods on a great summer day.