Last week, after my unfortunate run-in with a stake on the Alpenrose course, my coach told me not to Spaz Out.
Are you calling me a spaz? I asked, half joking, half serious.
The truth of it is; last week, I rode like a Spaz (notice the capital S). I was all over the place, unsure, lacking confidence, inconsistent with my lines, rushing through the motions, way too jacked up on Cross Crusade fever. I needed to calm down and trust myself.
All week, I thought about Rainier. I thought about the starting line and finish line and the barriers and the playground that isn’t so fun when you are gasping for breath and know the huge pain-cave of a hill is lurking the corner. I wanted to have a good start; I wanted to race controlled, smooth, fast. I wanted to finish the race pleased with my riding, no matter the place I finished.
When the women were called up to the staring line on Sunday afternoon, I had my own cheering section. Papa, Kacy, Andrew, little Max, Ben and even Minute were there. I glanced over to see Papa holding Max, both smiling as we got the 30-second warning.
Ride smart, Bishop, ride clean.
The whistle blew; I clipped in, and went for it. I led around the first turn and up that torture of a climb and as we turned onto the first single track, Alice, Wendy, and Bridget went around me.
Stay with them.
Over the roots and down the hill, Alice got a small gap, Wendy and Bridget were in close chase and I was holding on. I remember most of the first lap, at least the first two-thirds of it. I passed Bridget and bridged up to Wendy, I was on her wheel for a minute or two, and then we went around a corner and she was gone. She just took off. I didn’t see her again.
Each time up the hill of torture, I could see Alice, on the single track. I would stand up, passing a couple of guys, but never able to gain much ground on her.
The backside of the course was muddy, peanut-butter-like fabulousness. Pushing the pedals with every ounce of strength I had in my legs, I got through the slop, up the kicker hills, down and over the roots; my lines were good, but I used a bit too much caution. Not enough weight on your inside handlebar, Ben told me afterward. And use your pedals, none of this neutral pedal stuff, he reminded me.
I didn’t know how much of a gap I had on Bridget, I kept thinking she was right behind me, which pushed me harder, only to realize I was alone or I was being passed by one of the Men’s leaders. The course was long and before I realized it, we had 1 lap to go.
Last lap, 10 more minutes and these 60 minutes of torturous bliss would be over. Familiar voices seemed to be around every turn, pushing me just a little harder. Every corner, I was out of the saddle. I took the greasy corners safely, not wanting to make any silly mistakes on the last lap, but determined to hold my speed where I could.
I crossed the finish line; Ben and crew where there to greet me, covered in mud and smiling.
“Third place,” Ben said.
“How far back”? I asked.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Third place and I raced well. I was controlled. I didn’t spaz out. A bit of confidence returned.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
This I am beginning to learn.
Editor’s note: Based in Bend, Oregon, Serena rides and races in the Pacific Northwest. She’ll be giving us the insider perspective on the 2010 cyclocross season. You can read more on her blog, Serena Rides.