MRC Cross Race Report

In case you weren't aware, it was below freezing Sunday in Wrentham. Not below freezing "in the morning" or "in the evening," but rather the entire day. This is allegedly "real cross weather," and coincidentally happened to be the day that I agreed to help with timing and gain a better of understanding of what is required to be an official at one of these things. Oh, and there was also a race I had to do, but since the day started with 3 hours of standing around freezing, let's start with that.

Justin and I were the #2 timing crew for the Cat 4 and Cat 4 35+ races in the morning. Our duties consisted of writing down numbers for every lap (not just the last lap) and then doing numbers and times on the final lap. Our priority was a time for every finisher -- the other scorer did a number of every finisher and times when possible. Combine the sheets and you have all the data.

Certain officials couldn't actually be bothered to write down all the times that we took, which is why the 35+ guys don't all have times. This was fairly annoying since I know without a doubt we had all the data -- I'm guessing that once they got to the back half of the field, they transcribed only off the primary sheet and didn't cross reference with our times. Lame.

What did I learn from this experience? First of all, timing and scoring a cross race is pretty easy. If you're not an idiot and can stay focused, a team of two people can get the finish order for 50-60 people no problem, getting times "when possible." Second of all, timing and scoring a cross race is pretty thankless. Just because it's easy doesn't mean you shouldn't be incredibly grateful to the officials that do it for you, at least unless they screw it up.

So timing is easy, but that doesn't mean I'd want to try to do it without a safety net. A secondary person taking numbers is absolutely essential -- all it takes is one group finish to get dangerously close to overloading your mental capacity for storing/writing numbers. If you miss someone, you panic, and before you know it you missed 3 more. I only got to experience this on lap 1 or 2 because the fields spread out, but in a 80-100 person race I imagine the finish would be like that.

Oh and the number of people who pin their numbers upside down is ridiculous. I can understand pinning the wrong side, that's just getting bad info, but upside down? That's never going to be right.

Last timing tip -- you really don't have to yell your category, number, or lapped status at the officials as you cross the line. If they have their act together they know all that info, and if they don't, yelling it isn't going to help you. Popular phrases included "I'm lapped!!," "55+!," and "(racer number)."

Best two moments of the whole thing was a guy yelling "how many laps to go" at me as I stood next to a lap card, and some Tufts girls that thought standing on the finish line after the first 10 35+ guys finish would be a good idea, and then got bitchy when we told them to move, and then almost run over by a sprint finish when they took their sweet time moving.

Ok ok. My timing adventure is boring, I know. You know what else is kind of boring? Riding 10 laps solo. Which is just about how my race went. We lined up by number which put me second row, and I was puttering around trying to keep my jacket on till the last second like a true pro when I heard another guy on the line say "under 30 seconds? Really??" and start frantically taking clothes off. I joined him in this apparent race to nudity and timed it perfectly, finishing putting on my second light glove and clipping in one foot as the whistle went off.

So, I was physically prepared but not mentally prepared, so I immediately hemorrhaged about 8 spots as everyone else rode their bikes quickly. The first lap was pretty uneventful, MRC has got to be the hardest power course to pass on ever, so I just hung out in line. At some point I realized Jesse Keough (lil Jesse Keough!) was in front of me, which probably meant I needed to start racing my bike.

Each lap ended with what was, for me, "the giant log of extreme drama." Hopefully you know what I'm talking about, but in any case it was a single massive log about two feet high that was rideable to those with elite bike handling skills. Unfortunately people think I am in that group and thus there was lots of pressure (peer, crowd and internal) for me to ride it. Lap one I was in traffic so I elected to dismount, but as I do that Michael Cole rides it impeccably right in front of me and the crowd goes wild.

Lap two found me still on "Coley's" wheel with Cort right behind me, having thankfully overtaken lil' Jesse and now only being beaten by fully grown humans. I spent the whole straightaway up to the log pep talking myself and then, before I could finish overthinking it Coley is jumping it... then I'm jumping it... then I'm over and I'm still on my bike! I have never been so relieved to live up to my stereotype in my life.

Meanwhile Cort called us a very inappropriate word as we started lap three because he's a jealous roadie. I was feeling disturbingly comfortable so I decided to pass Coley, which went fine, except that 20 seconds later Cort passed me and I became extremely uncomfortable. I held his wheel for a grand total of 50 yards and then it was my turn to be the jealous mountain biker as his roadie watts blew me away. Thus began my solo adventure -- on lap 2.5 of 10.

The gap to Cort went up quickly and I knew I wasn't catching him. Behind me Coley crashed and then stabilized our gap at 20 seconds or so. There was one guy in front of me whom I was gradually, oh so gradually, reeling in -- right up until lap 6 when the gap started going the other way. I really wasn't within ten seconds of anyone for a solid 45 minutes.

But there WAS some excitement each lap, because once I had ridden the log once the crowd wanted to see it every lap. I was not the only guy riding it (I believe 4 of us -- Thom, Coley, a Devo kid and myself were doing it every lap) so there was big pressure to keep hitting it. My 2nd and 3rd trips over it were successful, if not pretty, but then on lap five I choked SO DAMN HARD with the whole crowd watching.

I didn't crash. Crashing would have been cool. What I did instead was lock up the brakes at the last second when I lost my focus, skidding to a stop with my front wheel touching the log. The crowd jeered me, rightfully so, and I hung my head as I stepped over it and rode off.

Obviously the next lap was completely terrifying, having just failed, but the fans demanded a sacrifice so I sucked it up and rode it. I cased the back wheel so hard I dropped my chain and clipped out, but I didn't touch the ground so it still totally counts. MTB skills, baby! I believe this photo is from that lap -- and I feel compelled to point out that the ground is much lower on the entrance side than the exit side, it really was huge, I swear!

You can see my right foot is clipping out in fear... and who knows what my face is doing.

From there on out it was lonely and gradually more painful. My morning fueling, or lack thereof, reared its ugly head and I drifted inexorably toward bonky land. My legs were becoming totally useless for sustained efforts, and the course required many. I counted the laps and the gap behind me, and both were coming down.

The log got uglier and uglier as I became too tired to really huck the bike. I was sure I had knocked a wheel out of true, my brakes must be rubbing if I'm going this slow, right? Alas they were not, I was just toast. I had started out plenty warm but as my glycogen ran out, so did my circulation. By the final lap I was frigid.

I ended up 13th/20, a good 5.5 minutes back of the leaders, and my post race decision to pound a beer from the keg (instead of, I dunno, drinking something or eating something or getting out of icy, sweaty clothes) ended up making my stomach hurt for the better part of 3 hours after that. And to add insult to slow riding, someone spilled a beer on the jacket I tossed off on the start line, which then froze... and then thawed in the car while I was wearing it.