Curiosity drove Katey Martus, a seasoned endurance mountain bike racer, to test out cyclocross. Luckily, she had plenty of teammates to show her the ropes.
In the middle of windswept Colorado plains, just beyond the IKEA abyss and urban sprawl lies the sleepy town of Parker. Vehicles wearing expensive bikes drive from surrounding cities to reach this small oasis of skin-suits and one dusty course – Reuter Hess.
I arrived anxious…anxious of the unknown, anxious to register, pre-ride and use the restroom. That sinful cherry muffin I ate was not sitting well. Wind kicked up dust clouds. The reports were in…”it’s tough”, “really bumpy” , “a fitness course”, “no transitions and everything is rideable”. I listen intently hanging onto the words of folks who are in the know.
Teammates Emily Z and Amanda B had been kind enough to mentor this cross curious mountain biker. They’ve soothed my ragged nerves and patiently answered my barrage of questions. I had been on a cross bike twice and somehow it intrigued me enough to saddle up and try a race. I had heard the rumors of chaotic fun at cross events and envisioned crowds of cow bells, being pelted by marshmallows and harassed with whiskey shots – a 24hr mountain bike race tucked into one afternoon. Right? Not this race.
Mountain biking is a passion. I was fortunate enough to spend all Spring and Summer coaching mountain biking and now an offer to help the local high school mountain bike team has extended my season. A particularly tough endurance race early season destroyed my back and I spent the entire summer licking my wounds and making excuses not to race. My friends encouraged me – “you’re fast”, “you’re strong”. While I was the biggest cheerleader for all the kids I coached, my confidence with racing was at an all time low.
I was called up in the very last line of cat 4 women racers. I greeted and joked with racers in my line. Teammate Michelle was ahead of me, one row ahead – an end position on the left. I was squeezed between two women in the back row. My BF who is a seasoned cx racer had pumped into my head that a good start was critical. I had to find a way to jockey around women from the very last position to the front of the pack. Michelle, who sensed my anxiety, kindly offered her spot and I gladly accepted.
Cat 3 racers had started 30 seconds before us and were already tearing up the course. The whistle blew…pedals clipped, legs screamed, and wheels turned. On a gorgeous borrowed bike borrowed from a dear friend (thank you KP) the bike sung. I swung wide to the left and passed about 20 women in less than 100 yards. I was in the lead pack squeezing my way in as the single track began.
My heart raced, I was already anaerobic but so was everyone else and women were already falling back. I dug in and held my line. It became a mental game for me. Being an endurance racer, fast is not in my vocabulary. It’s is a game of patience, persistence and finding the perfect balance of nutrition and hydration. Timing and pacing in the first 40 miles is critical to a good endurance race. Let the others pass…you’ll catch them at mile 65 when spirits are flagging. CX is a different beast. It’s redlining for a full 40 minutes. Redline my a$$, try flatline.
The girls were fast. I stayed strong chanting self affirmations. Teammate Becky was ahead of me and went down on the first lap taking two other riders out. I slowed and rode cautiously through the tangled bikes, asked if everyone was ok, (they were) and kept going. Lap one snuck up quickly. Turns were tight and loose. One steep ditch was the only semi technical section on the whole course but it seemed girls were having trouble exiting. I knew I would have to keep my wits about me if there were several off us entering and exiting at once.
I passed girls on the inside corners when I could. Teammate Becky caught up to me. I used her as my pacer and blocked other racers as they approached. She kept a solid, heart-thumping pace, a wheel’s distance between us. We caught up to several cat 3 racers in the second lap and passed, carrying on, right to finish line.
Truly, the laps were a blur. Tight corners, a lot of dust, a gnarly headwind and a handful of little punchy climbs made up the course. I remember passing the pit on the last lap thinking – home stretch…dig deep. I was breathing hard; inhaling the dust we all kicked up and hearing an occasional cheer. It hurt. I could do this. Damn skippy, I WAS doing this. All of my teammates – all of us in different categories in hot pink and turquoise dominating the course and killing it. After so many MTB races where I’m solo for hours on end….seeing my teammates around every corner was powerful and inspiring. I had found family.
The race ended as quickly as it started. This was bizarre and oddly delicious. My teammates cheered and we congratulated each other. While I didn’t expect to podium, I felt I did well for a first timer. And yes, I am hooked. But now, dear reader, I must sign off because it’s time for me to find a bike before next Sunday’s race at Valmont. *grin*
*Special thanks goes to teammates Amanda, Emily, Wendy, Becky and Michelle for an amazing first experience*