This past weekend was supposed to be one of my favorite races of the year and yes, I know that I say that every race is my favorite. The Southington race truly is one of my favie-favorites, but the promoter went ahead and got his wife "pregnant" and doesn't have "time" to organize a "race" with his second kid "running around." (stylistic credits to my mother in law and stats boy). What an excuse. The Southington course is awesome with not 1, not 2, but 3... yes 3 sand sections, the queen section being a run along the beach that turns 90 degrees away from the water and up a set of stairs. They tried to go towards the water one year and somehow it didn't work out.
With Southington cancelled (just kidding Wade, good luck with the kiddo, but let's see what we can do about getting that race going again in 2009, eh?) the schedule for this weekend was going to be open with just Wrentham and Beer Cross slated for Saturday. Charlie has soccer on Saturday's and I promised him I'd go to every game that there wasn't a VERGE series race scheduled. Thinking I was pretty much guaranteeing myself top dad awards for such a sacrifice, Charlie followed up my pledge with a few questions...
"Daddy, what's a VERGE?"
"It's a company that makes cycling clothes CJ"
"And what's a series?"
"Listen... stop asking so many questions you little creep, alright?"
I-am-just-kidding people!! I certainly did not say that to my son. I told him what a series was and that there was no way on heaven or earth that I was going to miss any of my important races for his stupid soccer.
Again: kidding! What kind of an animal do you think I am?!
As it turns out, I will not be missing any of the VERGE races... even the Saturday ones. his soccer games are really fun, much better than teeball imho, the ball is already on the ground and is supposed to be there. It's hard to wipe the smile off his face when he's playing.
So, back to this past weekend - CJ's soccer was going to keep me from either race, until the guy who runs Beer Cross used his keen business acumen to detect a threat and an opportunity to the success of his event. He was going head to head against Wrentham, a well established race on Saturday, and Sunday was more or less open with Southington out and the next closest race in VT. He masterfully moved his own race to "maximize racer participants" - a direct quote.
Despite my previous experience with Danielson Adventure Sports aka DAS - the Beer Cross promoters (that story in a moment) I decided to race this even event in preparation for the Northampton VERGE races the following weekend.
Two years ago I went down to the Owen Bell Park in Danielson CT for the second week of a training series that DAS was holding. I remember it like it was yesterday. There were 8, maybe 9 of us and this shorter balding fellow rounds us up before we start. He was clearly charged up and he's swaying back and forth, clapping his hands when he excitedly exclaims "Are you guys ready for some balls out cross racin?!" . . . crickets. He recovered well though and got us going soon enough.
Aside from a little understandable over-enthusiasm from the promoter, the course, in a word, sucked. Bad. Two things stood out. Being a cross training race, there wasn't much daylight, so the guy had set up a dozen or so of those home depot shop lights around the course. Those bad cats will fry your retinas and make you strip to your skivvies when you use them in the close confines of your garage, but when they are set up outside and you wizz by them at 20 mph, they don't do shift. The second problem with the course was that there was this single dirt road that connected the "front section" from the "rear section" (again, props to Marty and Colin, two quotation mark pioneers) that he used going in both directions. The road was split by a series of large plastic traffic barrels, which in and of themselves took up approximately 20% of the usable road surface. Throw in visibility in the 5-10 foot range and it was sketchy at best.
So despite my history with the race, I drove down and gave it a try this past Sunday. It was a nice sunny day, so I was confident that lighting wouldn't be a problem. The DAS guy had also redesigned the course, and while the dirt road was still in play, it was a one way street with no orange barrels of untimely death lining the way. This was good, but what made the change great was that the new method of returning to the back section of the course sent you around a running track (not on it, that was made very clear) and through a great sand pit. Not sure why he didn't put the course through both of the sand pits that were there, but this was much better than the barrel lined corridor of certain hospitalization. This change was like picking off a pass in the end zone and running it back for a touchdown, a huge swing in towards the positive. Further improvements were made and the course was longer and faster than I recall from before. After a preride, I was glad I had made the decision to race. Here's the map:
It seems though that lots of people had a bad impression of this event, because the preregistration was abysmal. There were 2 riders signed up for the "A" race (not a USCF event, so you could really race what ever field you wanted). With a $150 purse, that was the race for me.
Turned out that 6 of us started the race, including Scott Rosenthal who had just finished 3rd in the B race. Peter Bradshaw was riding a hybrid of some sort, but he kicked my a$$ last year in Bedford and is the world bike messenger champion or something like that so I didn't feel too bad for him. Two other guys were way above my league and all I knew about the last guy was that he beat me in Falmouth two weeks ago, he raced elites at Gloucester and he refused to pin my number on me before the race. I cannot wish you luck my friend, but I can wish you well.
As we line up, the happy DAS guy says "there is good news and bad news.... we won't have any more beer by the time you are done, but I have $50 for the winer, $30 for second and $20 for third." I suggested that he drive his own self or a surrogate 5 miles to RI, where there is surely to be a liquor store that is open and serving the fine but dry residents of Connecticut on such a beautiful Sunday and that he procure some beer as this event was indeed titled Beer Cross. He liked the idea and sent us of with a wild yelp. I didn't do the math quick enough to realize that 50+30+20 is $50 short of the $150 purse that was promised.... Good thing I don't make my living doing this stuff.
At the yelp the pace is fast but not bad. Rosenthal guns it for 1/4 of a lap, then pulls up and says "aaaaaand... I'm done." The two guys above my league were gone, and I was trailing Bradshaw for a half a lap when I decided to pass and keep the two leaders in sight. Moments after I passed, Bradshaw hit a tree or some sort of bush and crashed spectacularly behind me.
Being my first 60 minute race I wanted to meter my effort more that I have in the past. My first lap was 6:58. Every lap after that was 6:10-6:16... all 8 of them. The course was great, and the file treads were hooking up perfectly in the grass and dirt. The down hill after the run up was a bit slick, but I had no problems at all.
With so few participants, the details of the race were pretty slim. After 2 laps my gap to the two leaders was around 20 seconds, and it didn't change at all until the last lap, when they put another 3 seconds into me. My gap to the riders behind me on the other hand grew steadily each lap, which was a good feeling. I felt better and better as the race went on, perhaps the longer races suit my strengths more, or perhaps not going out 120% for the first lap would be better for me. I'm going to try starting slower this weekend in Northampton and see how that works for me. With the VERGE points list growing, I'll be deep enough back in the field to have to take that approach anyway.
So after 60 minutes of not so difficult racing and keeping pace with the leaders for most of it, I rolled in for 3rd and was told that someone had in fact gone for beer. I was given my prize money, $25. Not sure how they decided that but ok. Got two slices of excellent spinach, feta, and gorgonzola (love my gorgonzola) pizza and a can of accellerade.
Not too shabby.