Having missed out on doing any cyclocross races last year (something about a newborn child and the races being three hours away in Chicago) I was excited to be closer to the action this fall now that we're living in St. Louis. I found a series of events that not only included cyclocross bicycling race, but also cross country running races. Jackpot.
On Sunday I headed southwest to Antire Park off of I-44 for the third event in the series. I showed up an hour early for the 5K XC run. They were still setting up the course and I saw few competitors. I wondered how many people were going to show up. After waiting around for 20 minutes or so I went to register for the races, only to discover I didn't bring enough money with me to pay the entrance fee. Shit.
I ran back to the car and bolted out of the parking lot, back onto the highway to the next exit where I found an ATM and made it back to the park with 20 minutes to spare. Only this time the registration line was much longer. With 10 minutes to go I finally registered and prepared my clothes, shoes, number, etc. With no warm up I toed the line with a whopping five other men (one was a small child) and three women.
Three of us stayed together for the first mile in a little under six minutes on a horribly lumpy and uneven course. One faded away as I led with another guy on my heels. I couldn't tell whether he was toying with me or struggling to keep up. As we finished the first of two laps my GPS read 1.97 miles. This was going be the longest 5K I'd ever run. Shortly into the second lap the other guy flew past me and pulled away decisively. Question answered. I slowed quite a bit on the second lap, now knowing I was running 30% farther than I had planned. I finished in second with an okay, but not great, run.
After the run was a juniors race and a womens race, so I had a little bit of time to recover. I changed clothes, got my bike ready, and headed out for a practice lap. Oh, my, goodness. I thought the course was rough on foot, but it was nothing compared to trying to ride a bike over it. This was the bumpiest ground I've ever ridden on something other than a mountain bike. Perhaps I should have brought my MTB.
The "C" race was after the womens race. Despite my best intentions I ended up with a shitty starting position, which became even shittier once I started and people were passing me. In my cyclocross experience there's a very high correlation between one's position 400m into the race and their finishing position... and I was 3/4 of the way back in the field.
On the few smooth parts I opened up and made big gains, only to lose some of it on the more technical and bumpy sections. At one point the jarring of the bumpy ground was enough to knock the chain off the rings and I had to do some delicate acrobatics to get it back on while coasting downhill. I gradually worked my way up, passing a couple people each lap, but it wasn't fast enough. I was going nearly all out for 50 minutes, which after a hard run earlier in the day left me exhausted. I rolled across the line 18th of 41 finishers. Cyclocross, despite being very enjoyable in a masochistic way, is one of my least successful athletic endeavors, and this race was no different. Finishing in the top half of the field is about all I can hope.
Cyclocross is hard.