Awesome; wool jerseys, optional bunch-of-banana leather helmets (as long as your pompadour didn't get in the way) and truly epic, rather than Rapha-epic, water-obstacles. It didn't quite look like this last Sunday, but there was some bike-chuckitude going on and it seemed as muddy.
It was grey and wet. Warm though. When we drove down Novalea to park I was surpirsed at how many cars there were already there. The tally at the end of the day would be 52 starters; 3 U16, 3 women and 46 guys. That compares nicely to a regular BNS road event. This event got out some extras though; your's truly for example and a couple of triathletes a road-race might not normally see. I saw Norm Lai there as well as Gerrad Lewin. The last time I saw Gerrad in a mass-start bike race type of event it was the Coteau du Lac Continental Cup (I was on a motorbike!). Afterward we both agreed this was about as far from am ITU race as you could get!
I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course, although it was immediately obvious it was not the course I'd been training on; it was clockwise for start, going up the hills I'd been riding down and taking some decidedly "sporting" lines! Some of the delay was signing on. I have to say, we got a nice Sugoi tech t-shirt for the series; the running joke was "buy the $25 T-shirt and race for free".
Some of the delay was getting son Daniel ready.
At what point do you expect your children to zip-tie on their own numbers? Sometime after taking off the training wheels but before, say, junior high? It's just one of the unique conundrums of the endurance sport parent!
We were a bit flustered to find the kids would start with the adults, do the same course (with one tiny alteration to take them around and not over the barriers) and do it for the same time (40 minutes). Dan seemed to take this in his stride better than I did!
Dan and I were lined up with James McMillin and his son Shamus, one of the other kids in the race. I realized that not only had I not pre-ridden the new course, I still had the frame-pump on the bike and I hadn't taken any pressure out of my tires (still at 80 psi). I chucked my pump into the bushes without a moment to spare and that close to the gun I wasn't going to start fiddling with the valve-stems!
We were in the middle of that lot. I'd been "here" before; Dan had not!
A few days previously Java Jim Diakos asked me how the grass was. Good for now, I said, but do the math; 30 riders with 2 tyres each is 60 tyres, 10 laps each is 600 tyre tracks; Sunday's going to be messy! The grass was OK on Wednesday when it had just been me, but on Sunday after yet more rain and nearly 50 guys (minus me) taking practice laps, it was getting squirrelly and we hadn't even started yet.
I crashed a few hundred metres into the first lap; no amount of tread when you're at 80psi was going to be able to hold the line I tried to take on the single-track after the apple-tree. That set the tone for the race. I was going off-line a lot to try and keep some traction. I didn't crash too many more times, and most of them were prat-falls or foot-dabbing. I only found myself on the ground in genuine surprise a couple more times.
After a few laps I caught Dan. Now this is a strange sensation; to lap your own son. Yes, yes, I know, in a few years he'll be lapping me but even so, kicking the shit out of a 10 year-old, any ten year-old whether he's yours or not; not cool.
Dan was having a crap time. The mud was taking it's toll on everyone, but it had Dan in a right state. He was literally crying in frustration. The hills were steep, they were muddy and he couldn't walk up one of them, much less ride. His rear brake was jammed (stupid v-brakes) and so the descents were, for him, white-knuckle terror. What do you do?
You stop, you give him a big hug and tell him it's going to be OK.
All the guys I'd spent the last two laps fighting against to get past went past in a flurry of mud. So what? At the end of the series I will have dropped two or three laps minimum to Espy, the series leader and so by race 4 I will be 10 or 12 laps down, or one whole race! Besides, this is a pure 'B' race, strictly for fun.
I rode a bit of a lap with him, shepherded him down off the ridge, around the barriers, I even crashed in front of him doing a dismount on the hill (which was way too muddy for anyone to ride up) and although unintended was my way of saying "look, it's happening to me too!".
It doesn't look much but it was steep and slippery. Plus I cracked a rib here last year and tend to treat it with respect nowadays!
You know, I told him he could stop if he wanted. Maybe take a time-out at the end of the lap, have a breather and go back out if he felt like it. After stopping with him I told the time-keepers he should probably be pulled out. When La Belle showed up after her run, I told her that he should probably DNF this one and she said she'd look after it. So guess what? They all tried to pull him after three laps and he flatly refused. He said he was going on.
Afterwards as I gave him some juice and chocolate (everything looks better after juice and chocolate) I told him that I was very proud. The attribute that means the most to me isn't winning, it's giving all that you have, quite often meaning going well outside your comfort zone. Sometimes this means carrying on in the face of adversity, when you don't want to. When you invoke the Jens "Shut up legs" voice. I know that Dan has a low frustration threshold and have seen many things thrown across the room and called "stupid" because he couldn't master it the first time. Yet on Sunday he kept on coming back again and again and again. He never cleared the carry; I'm pretty sure it put him face-first in the mud every time, but he came back to do it four more times. That's determination.
I also tried to tell him that the conditions were as bad as I had seen them, and what he perceived as his own crapness was, in fact, felt by everyone during that race.
I was joking at the end about Dan that "that was a character-building experience", but all jokes aside, I think it was.
As I was telling him this, many of the grown-ups came over to him, and the other kids too, and congratulated them all for toughing out what had been one of the worse 'cross races in years. Now, that's class!
Photos from Ian Loughead and EWoQ.