I’ve never been a mantra type person. Never really had a saying or anything, except for some self-talk like “keep it smooth” or “don’t freaking wreck now!” in the heat of a mountain bike race. But this past cyclocross season taught me something, and morphed into the mantra I ended up embracing: Keep Fighting.
I really didn’t know what to expect from cyclocross this year. Honestly, it’s my favorite discipline and I was just very excited to get back to my little wacky cross family for a few months, but my fitness never seemed to recover to previous levels after surgery. Nonetheless, I decided I would attend every Front Range BRAC/USAC cross race, minus the three I’d miss due to my Iceland trip (I know, horrrrribbbbllleeee excuse!). I’ve never raced every single event in the season; in fact, I barely did any races in 2017. I also decided to supplement the USAC stuff with weeknight races at New Belgium and a few of the Southeast Wyoming CX Series races. Ambitious. Maybe crazy.
So after nearly a month off the bike and three weeks spent hiking around at nearly sea level, I dived into the 2018 cyclocross season in the single speed category.
- The single speed women’s category grew… like double/triple from last year
- It got super fast
- Ummm, I barely ride a bike
The first race at Primalpalooza on September 30th was a disaster for me. I ended up finishing minutes off the back. I think I was just walking my bike at one point. It was miserable and heart wrenching. Immediately I thought “oh crap,” and stared at all the races I plotted out. Now, some might roll their eyes and think I only like racing a bike when I’m winning. Which hey, winning is super nice, but so is also not being like 4 minutes off the next racer. I thought I maybe jumped in over my head.
But alas, the skin suit came out one week later at CycloX Interlocken. It was rainy, which led to some slippery conditions which plays to my technical strengths. I had a decent start, and on the second lap was just about to contact 4th & 5th places when I got lost on course, rode the sand pit twice, and later got lost AGAIN near the end of the lap. So… freaking… frustrated. Luckily, I was able to make up a few positions, and ended up a mid-pack 6th, which was a relief. OK, it’s still there. Barely, and with some weird route finding issues, but there. But I did find myself whispering over and over “Keep fighting, Heidi, keep fighting!”
Next big weekend was the US Open of Cyclocross weekend at Valmont. I always race like poo at Valmont, but I do like the mountain bike-ness of the course, and the fact I can usually find something to launch my bike off of. I had a good start on Saturday, but for some reason decided to not turn my bike in a gravel corner, which caused me to panic brake and wipe out. Seriously, WTF?! I ended up 4th on the tough course that involve to many steep run ups, but one awesome jump I went off of every lap to spectaculars’ delight. Once again, mid-pack. Sunday’s conditions had me eagerly bouncing off the walls, with weather doing a 180 and dumping about a foot of snow on the course. Usually Valmont races are hot sufferfests, so I was all for the snow! I had a great start, but soon my shoes and my pedals each were balls of ice, which led to me having to strider-bike a lot of parts where Sarah could clip in and keep pedaling. The time I wasted trying to get my feet to even contact my pedals for more than 2 seconds meant a 2nd place finish. But finally, in my 6th season of racing cyclocross, I got my elusive podium at Valmont! Only took a ton of snow for it to happen. Lesson learned to pack some flat pedals in case of a repeat.
With a podium behind me, I dived into the following weekend, deciding to also race my women’s geared cat 3 category at Schoolyard Cross after the single speed race. Schoolyard was a bit annoying, as we started after the cat 5 men, which led to a lot of guys blocking the path. I sat in 3rd most of the race, but kept getting caught up in men falling over in front of me, or zooming around me on flat/straights and then slowing up horribly in the corners and blocking my way. The lost seconds added up, and I settled for 4th. Shoot. However, in the cat 3 race, I had an amazing start, and held on for 5th place, even though I kept forgetting I could shift on the bike. I hadn’t raced cat 3 in nearly 3 years, so it was a nice change. I split a hotel with my friend Wendy, just like we did “back in the day,” which was quite enjoyable.
CycloX Louisville, aka Bowl of Death, was the day after Schoolyard. My legs definitely felt the previous day’s efforts, and Bowl of Death is no cake walk. There were a few position changes throughout the race, and I knew I just had to keep pushing to hold onto my 5th place. Once again, that whole Keep Fighting thing came up. I professed my love to Meredith Miller as she lapped me. Sometimes the suffering just needs to end!
By now, it was end of October, and it seemed like we were on the downward side of the cross season hump. I launched into my first official week of 2019 training, motivated by ambitious race plans to get back to structured intervals and the trainer. I knew it can always be a challenge to juggle intervals and base training while still racing cross twice a weekend, but I felt up for it.
I’ve never raced the Feedback Cup before, and was nervous how the course would treat me, as it seemed very fitness based vs. skills. It was also hot in the morning, so I decided to race without gloves because I felt too overheated (I think this was the last time I’d think that this cross season). I had a great start, keeping on Errin’s back wheel. The course at race speeds ends up being a blast, and challenging. The field strung out a bit, and Michelle and I traded positions a few times before I could power away on a gentle climb. Now sitting in 3rd, I knew I wanted this podium more than anything else at that moment in time. I pushed and pushed to increase the gap, as I knew Michelle was quicker on the two sections that required being off the bike. Excitingly enough, I finished on the lead lap, and was not lapped by the open women! 3rd place, amazing podium hair, so excited!
Tired legs greeted me for Sunday’s race that weekend, the Republic Cycles Northglenn race. I had decided to do 15 miles of gentle mountain biking in Boulder County to kill time Saturday afternoon, and was semi-worried it was too much for my legs. Oh well… it was the Halloween race, and shenanigans were meant to be had! The course, which is rather flat aside from steep, loose hills on the backside, was fast. The start was fast and furious, and Sarah and I took to the front. I ended up rear ending Sarah twice on the first lap, which is the great thing about racing single speed… it’s really hard to break the bikes! Sarah would end up gapping me off the front, so I settled into maintaining my 2nd place position. This race made for the best podium photo of the year, with me and a giant bottle of vodka, Sarah with her winner’s jersey, and Melissa just posing completely normal with the two lunatics. OK, maybe the mojo is back…
So one of my biggest flaws that I’ve always had as a bike racer is mentally setting myself up for the outcome based on pre-registration lists and who shows up at the start line. You know, one of those, “ughhhh SHE registered, now we’re all racing for 2nd” type of mentalities. I’m bad about it at cross. I see Liz, Heather, and Errin (aka the Mosaic squad) roll up, and I know I’m racing for mid-pack-off-the-podium at that point. I don’t care how many times you tell me I’ve beaten them or hung onto their wheels, I won’t believe it. CycloX Sienna Lake started out just like that. It downpoured rain during our pre-ride, and while I was giddy to race in more crappy conditions, I knew the “fast chicks” were there. BAM! We start and I’m 3rd wheel. Umm… where’s Errin? Well, ok, they’ll catch me soon enough. Pedal pedal pedal, run smartly, bang mud off my cleats, clip in and GOOOOOO. Errin is back there, but I’m holding her off. KEEP FIGHTING DAMMIT! And so I did, oh so hard on the slick course. Second to last lap I gave up hope of securely clipping in and took to single speeding on essentially flat pedals as I knew I was losing precious seconds. I ran the run ups, and rode smart. 3rd place!!! Time to stop with the start line prophecies.
I raced in Laramie the day after Sienna Lake. 50mph head winds and bitter cold temps. My mom came out to watch which was fun. Laprele Park is horribly bumpy, and tumbleweed kept getting stuck in my cantilever brakes on my geared bike. I won the women’s category, and ordered a new geared bike the next day with disc brakes. Whoops.
Finally it was time for the most wonderful weekend of the year: CROSS OF THE NORTH!!! Seriously, I LIVE for this weekend every fall. It’s the closest I get to a “hometown” race for cross, and I love how many are out there cheering and heckling me. I decided to be ultra ambitious this weekend, and registered for SSW and SW3 both days. I had the new geared bike and I love the course/venue so much that it seemed smart.
Saturday’s SSW race took place at a chilly 8am. Like Schoolyard, we had the luxury of starting behind the cat 5 men. And by luxury, I mean headache. Another fast start, so we soon began catching them. Errin had a good, clean, impressively fast race, and took to the front, and never looked back. I settled into second, with Liz and Sarah stalking me from behind. I felt odd during this race, like I was experiencing it from out of my body, and never really felt like I was in it. But I kept on pedaling, enjoying the technical features that I’ve use to racing on between the short track and weekday cross series held on the same course. Eventually on the second to last lap Liz, Sarah, and I would all end up together, and I knew it would important to get my crap together for the final lap. Sarah slipped into 2nd, and I all out sprinted to maintain my 3rd place over Liz. In the end, I think less than 3 seconds separated 2nd-4th places! Such an exciting race, but that final sprint was horribly painful! Most importantly, I kept my COTN podium streak alive, with my 4th year of appearing on a single speed podium! (2015 – 3rd SS4/5; 2016 – 3rd SS4/5; and 2017 – 1st SSW). I took to some recovery, and enjoyed a sloppy SW3 race in the afternoon, still trying to figure out what I’m suppose to do with a shifter. But my new bike rocked!
Sunday’s weather forecast held up its end of the bargain for COTN, and snow greeted me in the morning. Once again, I was giddy to be racing in sloppy, icy conditions, and wondered what I did to appease the weather gods as Colorado cross seasons are usually 70 degrees, dry, and horribly dusty. The cat 5 men ended up being a huge ordeal to deal with, especially on the first lap. Sarah got off the front, and once again Liz and I battled out for our positions, with Heather sneaking up on us. By the last lap a curvy section of the course turned into an ice skating rink, and Liz and I took turns wrecking in front of each other numerous times, getting to be so comical I was just laughing. Finally I was able to stay upright long enough to create a gap, and hold onto 2nd place. Yessssssssssss! My SW3 race in the afternoon was the muddiest bike affair I’ve been part of aside from the 2014 Rumble at 18 Road. New bike was given a thorough mud coating, along with my mouth, teeth, face, and every item of clothing. I managed to fight to hold my 6th place finish after the next girl getting pretty close to me a few times. I’m getting better at this fighting thing!
Coming off 5 races of podiums and a great COTN weekend, I was optimistic for the rest of the season, but naturally cautious and still predicting my finish based on who I lined up with. CycloX Westminster was greeted with freezing rain. It was actually quite awful. I had a decent start, but suddenly my lungs gave me a big fact NO and I struggled to breathe in the moist, frozen 25-degree air. As racer after racer passed me in my category, I got a bit down, but eventually pulled on my big girl chamois and fought to stay not-last-place. Before the last lap I even had to toss my glasses as they had a thick ice layer over them. The bike was all icy, and even my chest and arms had an ice layer frozen to the fabric. I like bad conditions, but not freezing rain. I held on for 6th place, wheezing at the finish line and hightailing it home to set up an appointment with my doc. You need to breathe to race a bike…
The following day was the Wyoming Cyclocross State Championships here in Cheyenne. I hadn’t raced a state champs for Wyoming since 2015, when I easily pedaled to the win. I didn’t know what to expect this time around, as there’s some fast junior girls coming up in this area, and that sneaking fear Christy Olson could always appear, and I always am aware of the large target on my bike when I race in southeastern Wyoming. Luckily it was sunny, not too windy, and mid-30s, which turned Clear Creek Park into another mud fest. I swear I can’t keep the new bike clean! The course was very nicely designed, and utilized some good terrain features for off camber climbs and descents, sand pits, barriers, and tight turns. My plan was to go out hard, build a big lead, and then just hang on. Being non-USAC, Wyoming cross races tend to run a lot longer than the BRAC mandated 40-45 minutes the women see in Colorado. I knew I probably had an hour of racing to do. I executed my plan… and something totally cool happened… I finished on the lead lap of the open men! I wasn’t lapped by the fast dudes! Bad thing is I had a nearly 70 minute long race… but I wasn’t lapped! Wahooooo! Proud of this win for sure!
Then it was two weeks off before the Colorado State Championships. I briefly considered driving to Fruita to race the USAC double-header there to pad my CO Cross Cup standing, but realized I didn’t want to deal with I-70 traffic and wanted some quality family time (I’d curse when I’d see some SSW ladies go race it in the end… looked like an awesome course!). Kubo and I got out on the fat bikes for a ride, and otherwise we ate lots and relaxed.
The CO State Championships were at Salisbury Equestrian Park in Parker, where I rode to a 1st place finish last year on a muddy day. No mud this year, just hardback dirt and freezing cold temperatures. The single speed was at 4pm Saturday evening, meaning it was even colder, and getting dark fast (I’d finish after sunset). In what USAC is maintaining as “an honest mistake,” they intermixed the women in with the men, which meant one gal had a front row start and the rest of us were in rows 3-4. Not ideal and we all exchanged confused banter and looks at the start. I lucked out with a good start thanks to a parting of the men I could ride through and took off. I’d end up settling in 4th place, until the steep run up that was hard as concrete and slippery took my mojo and I was passed. So there I was in 5th, fighting, with a charging Liz, Sarah, and Melissa behind me. If this was a time to keep fighting, it was now with 1.5x cup points on the line, and a desire to at least say I was top 5. I once again came around the finish with Liz a few seconds off my back wheel and I nearly cried thinking of the pain of the COTN sprint. Luckily, it didn’t come down a full on sprint. Whew. 5th place!
Sunday of the state races I raced in SW3. I had the 3rd call up , which made me giggle as a junior girl thought they were calling her name instead. Big, tall 35 year old me in a sea of teenage girls! They took off fast at the start, and I hung to them, because hey, I have like 100 pounds of extra body weight which translates into one hell of a sprint and wattage cottage when needed. My great position ended at the steep wall run up, which everyone struggled to get up without slipping (100 extra pounds is a disadvantage when climbing straight up on slippery dirt apparently). So it was back to fighting for my mid-to-bottom pack finish. Racing with more than one gear available is super hard, and even harder on a fast course like Salisbury. On the last lap Lia would end up sneaking onto me, and into the tree portion coming into the finish she attempt to sprint past. I don’t know where I got the watts from, but I responded to the sprint and held her off through the sharp 180 turn into the finishing straight. Crap! I have to sprint again! Except we were sprinting straight into the back of the cat 4 winner who was posting up. Nonetheless we went for it, me getting the advantage in what felt like in my mind an impressive bike throw. I honestly wish I could’ve seen the finish line camera photo from it… cat 4 girl all posting up, two crazy cat 3’s behind her sprinting for 9th and 10th!
Finally the final race of the year… the Rocky Mountain Regional Championships. Though a bit fitness course, I do enjoy it. My race ended up not going as well as I wanted. I had a pretty solid first two laps, staying on Errin’s wheel in 4th place. I managed to power past her on the 3rd lap, and had a great gap until I slid out on one of the off camber, grass downhills. This completely killed my mojo, and my heart spiked to 196 as I ran up the hill. I’d proceed to fall back and back, eventually finishing 5th. But not before I took a double beer hand up on the last lap! So not exactly the result I wanted to have (and almost did, if I didn’t wreck), but at least I finished, which is more than I can say for regionals last year! My placing was good enough to land me in 2nd place for the third year in a row for the Colorado Cross Cup for single speed women!!
So that’s my 2018 cyclocross season in one long nutshell. A season that taught me to never give up, fight for every position, whether it’s a podium or not-last-place. To never look at the women around me and determine what place I’ll finish on their race resume alone. A season to use oxyclean to get out all the mud and grime, and to never wear drop-tail Pearl Izumi thermal bibs ever again. A season that finally gave me my mantra: Keep fighting. And that applies to so many more aspects of the world than a cyclocross race.
A long, ambitious cyclocross season takes a village. Though an individual sport on the course, no one can do it alone. To my boyfriend, who came and cheered and held bikes, and otherwise dealt nicely with the weird ass world that is cyclocross and competitive cycling, and my parents for dealing with another “no, I have to race that weekend, I’ll see you in mid-December” answer to planning time together. My team, 9Seventy Racing, and awesome teammates who also raced cross, or who would volunteer, cheer, etc. My extended cross family, that feels like a team though we all hail from other teams.. .from Feedback Sports jumping in to helping with wheel issues both days of CO States, Tricia loaning me a heart rate monitor, Without Limits for granting volunteer opportunities. The awesome, amazing, STRONG women of Colorado’s single speed category, who aren’t afraid to fight for women’s cycling and ensure we have a better playing field to play on. Tailwind Nutrition for keeping me fueled and recovered, especially on those crazy back to back weekends, or double race days. Anthony Zegan of BikeWyo (best bike mechanic ever!!) for keeping my bikes running smoothly. Patrick and the team at the Bicycle Station for getting me my pretty new Specialized Crux in an amazingly quick time. To Alan and Seth for posting “mediocre” on all my podium photos as an inside joke.
It’s time to rest, and train up for my most ambitious year yet – 2019.