Race Report: MN CX Championships

8:10 PM

It was bad bad.  Really bad.
Minnesota cyclocrossers are a hardy bunch, but the forecast for this weekend’s state championships had many of us wondering if sleeping in might be the better/saner choice.  The weather is always a prominent element in the last local race of the year - I’ve raced in deep snow, cold (20s), wind that almost took down the tents, and ice - so maybe we were all just reveling in the drama a bit too much this past week.
But then you are standing at the start line and the referee begins with “It’s negative two degrees, ladies!”
Strangely enough, I wanted to race.  I know myself, and I knew if Saturday found me ringing a cowbell on the sidelines dressed in my warmest down jacket that I would regret not jumping on the bike.  Sure, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve said, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t done that,” but they are never as annoying as those times I’m sitting there thinking, “If only I had…”
So, my plan was to race, but race smartly.  Time to prepare for a race where the weather was, quite literally, trying to kill me.  My race kit was everything I could comfortably get on: leg warmers, knickers, knee-high socks, base layer, heavy Craft winter jacket, and jersey over the top.  I went in for total dork-dom with my head gear, opting for my Bern winter commuter (vents closed, thank you very much) and a heavy buff.  
And still, it wasn’t enough.
The Spouse’s sage advice to me at the start was to draft whenever possible in the open first portion of the lap (he should know...his race started at -9 degrees!).  So during the first lap I stuck on a wheel and still got smacked in the face with the coldest wind I have ever felt.  I couldn’t move my lips, and tears that ripped from my eyeballs froze instantly on my cheeks.  Unfortunately, that was the warm lap as the field spread out and hiding was no longer an option.
Still, there is a strange clarity that comes to ones thoughts in a ridiculous situation like this.  I started to both notice everything and yet still be distanced from the extreme effort I was putting in to just keep the pedals moving.  A sample…
Lap 3 - As I headed out with four laps to go I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore...maybe I should just slow down…” until I realized that my season...no, my entire year of racing was now down to just four laps.  Just four laps.  With a change in perspective I discovered that I had a change in motivation, and wanted to make the most of those four laps.
Lap 4 - What are those three people doing over there on the bike path?  Are they taking pictures?  Without hats and coats and a propane heater?!  Yes, they were taking pictures - a photographer and a couple were taking some sort of engagement shots with the pond as a backdrop.  “I totally hope I photo-bomb some of those pictures,” I thought as I sped by.
Lap 5 - Are they still there?!  They are!  They are still out here taking pictures!  Wait...who is more foolish?  Those people capturing a moment, or me riding around a frozen circuit six times on a Saturday afternoon?
Then, toward the end of lap 5 I hit an ice patch on a corner and slid out before I could even register that my tire had lost its grip.  I was so numb I couldn’t even feel the pain in my left hip and elbow (I could definitely feel and see it a couple of hours later when I saw the impressive 3-inch knot develop just below my hip-bone), and I scrambled to right myself and get my chain back on.  This was also the moment where I fully realized that I was possibly in a podium position if I could keep myself together for just one more lap...
Lap 6 - Once more around the pond, but this time no couple.  Instead I found myself talking to my rear tire, which appeared to be much softer than before.  “Just one more lap,” I pleaded to the tubular, “just hold it together to the finish…”
I thought about my tire all the way around the pond.  And up the run-up.  And down the technical descent from the woods.  And through the final turns.  “You’re doing awesome!” yelled random guy from the sidelines, “But I have to tell you: I hate your helmet!”  “That’s ok,” I called back, “my head’s warm!”  I scrambled through the sand/snow pit for one last time and frantically made my way to the finish.  
When everything turned white (sand, snow, frozen grass, people’s faces) I knew I was hyperventilating and just needed some time to calm down, but my attempts to clearly communicate this to the Spouse completely failed.  Funny how seeing me stumbling around mumbling “It’s ok...everything’s all white…” as I dropped my bike and fell to my knees made him think something was wrong.  Thankfully, it only took about five minutes in a warm car to get my breathing back to normal and the world’s colors righted.  
Which left me just enough time to get back for my second place on the podium!  

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