Friday, December 21, 2012

End of the World (as we know it)

Well, I was expecting more, what with all of the hype. Once again, nothing. Another supposed doomsday comes and goes and we are still here. I guess the day isn't over yet, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

That isn't really the point here, 2012/12/21, no, the end I am referring to is the end of the race season. I know that it is an inevitable close to every year but this year it seemed more abrupt. I think that it is because the cyclocross race season was so long and rapid-fire. We were racing straight, every weekend and running training sessions every week since Labor Day. That is a pretty solid stretch of time to be on. In hindsight, I can't believe that I pulled it off. That has certainly never happened before. Maybe 2012 was a year of becoming wiser in my old age.

Last weekend was the cap to the New England cyclocross season with the New England Regional Cyclocross Championships which were held in Fitchburg, MA. Cathy and I have done this event since its inception. For me it has tended to be the final nail in my coffin. I would hit the event and in truth, the latter part of the season, tired and weak. My past performance at the Regionals was always well below my capacity and it always seemed to put a bit of a sour note on the season.

This year was different. I'd changed my training plan in the latter part of the season and instead of giving in to the chronic fatigue and easing up, I pushed through and stepped the intensity back up for one final block. This worked pretty well and I managed to connect on most of the weekends that mattered. The one failure was in timing. I started the block too late and didn't get as much of a benefit from it at Sterling as I'd hoped for. Part of that was mental also in that I hate that course and venue and went into it partially defeated. By the next weekend the tides had turned and I was ready to go. The weekend after that saw a cold and rainy day for Ice Weasels. Nothing worked for me that day and I floundered, though I worked really hard. The next day I doubled at DAS Beaver, which by the way was an excellent race, and was really feeling the effects of the prior day.

That had me a little concerned. I was also worried about the Regionals course, a course that is dead flat and has very little in the way of technical features. This type of course doesn't usually suit me well as I tend to have best luck on a more technical course. Add to that the fact that the current regional champion, Sam M., had been a constant nemesis all season and this course was tailor made for him and I was concerned. Mark G. had also mentioned earlier that he was targeting the event as well and I knew that there were a bunch of other tough guys who would be looking for blood. The only saving grace was that Paul R. decided not to do the 45+ race. I actually have mixed feelings about that since nobody wants to be the winner by default. Paul and I had some good battles, though this course would have been more suited to him. Still, I would welcome another chance to go.

I got in a good week of race prep and the conditions for the race last Saturday were excellent. As it turned out, Sam was unable to race due to an injury, though we still had a solid field line up at the start. I got a good warmup and was feeling pretty confident. My plan was to hang for a while and then try and get away and stay away, which I realized would be tough on that particular course, but I didn't want to deal with a sprint. The way the start worked, we went into the sand fairly early in the lap, which I knew would be a choke point. First in, first out, hopefully with some room.

The whistle blew a Geoff M. drilled it hard. I settled onto his wheel and then everything went red. That old familiar feeling where I stopped thinking and just reacted with pure adrenaline. Not always a wise move but one that seems to take hold of me frequently. I went to the front and road as hard as I could. Quickly a gap opened, small, but some room. It held around to the sand and I got through it quickly and cleanly. Unfortunately for the everyone else, that sand became a bottle-neck and I got a big chunk of time on the field. From there I spent the next couple of laps continuing to race as hard as I could to stay away and build some time in the bank. I never managed to run it out very far but I was able to hold it and ride smooth and steady to the finish. Literally, beyond maintaining and riding cleanly, the entire race outcome transpired for me in the first three minutes. Not exciting to match possibly but I can tell you from experience, nerve racking for me because as we all know, there is a big difference between being in the lead and finishing in the lead. That day I was lucky and managed to hold it.

I've never won a jersey before and must admit, I was really happy. It had been a big goal of mine this season and it was a huge weight off my shoulders to actually get it. It has been an incredible season for me, one the dreams literally are made of. I'm very pleased that it all came together, despite some issues mid season. There are still things that I'm disappointed about but by and large, I have nothing about which to complain. I truly recognize and am thankful for my good fortune.

Unfortunately, my buddy Mark G. got tangled up in the finish melee and went down hard, requiring medical assistance. Mark is a tough guy and didn't let on to exactly how bad the injury was. He re-broke his wrist, dislodging (really ripping apart) the titanium plate that was holding his wrist together from a previous injury.

The group of 45+ masters men pulled together to get Mark's son Greg and daughter Lizzy away and ready for their races later in the day, while Mark took a trip to the hospital in the ambulance. Looking after the kids was way more stressful than racing I found. Not having kids myself and not wanting to mess up probably has something to do with that. We all managed fine and just before their race their mom arrived to save the day.

 Cathy had an absolutely incredible race. The course was perfect for her and she raced flawlessly all day, beating people that she has never beaten before. The finish came down to a sprint between her and one of best friends and nemesis' Michele S. Much yelling on my part helped spur her to dig really deep at the end and hold off the charge. Her efforts were rewarded with a podium spot finishing only seconds behind Katina, a SSCX nemesis of hers and NY resident, and Lori who races in the Elite class. It was a very good day for our team indeed. Much better in fact than what would eventually transpire on Sunday in the SSCX race, but that is a story for another day.

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