Another Ski-To-Sea is in the books, and thanks to my little network of rad lady friends, I was on Team CorePhysio. We placed 2nd in the Whatcom Women’s Division, 30th overall, and if we had joined the Competitive Women, we would have gotten third place! Wow.
If you have ever been called a “competitive woman” (it’s usually never a compliment), then you really need to race or join a team. Just try it. It’s the only time you’ll feel completely at home with who you are. Women who race are so kind and supportive. I promise. Plus, it’s just really fun. Especially if you work in a male dominated field. I’m taking a break from getting bloggy about the jobby job, so if you’re an EdTech/OER/Teaching and Learning/Professional Development reader, keep in mind that I named this blog using the words “blatherings” and “bikes.”
I usually write this kind of report in a my training journal, but I’m going to put this on the interwebz just in case it helps somebody else–especially a woman–prepare for next year’s race. I scoured the web looking for videos and accounts of racing my leg, and the reports of the cyclocross leg were pretty sparse. It’s a new-ish leg for the race, so that wasn’t surprising. My goal for next year is to inspire more women to race. More on that later.
If you are unfamiliar with this race, let me sum it up quickly. It’s 93 miles from Mt. Baker to Fairhaven park with seven legs. One person (two for the canoe) races per segment and passes the race chip from one leg to another to register an overall time. It starts with a sea (ha!) of cross country skiers and the race instantly gets sorted by the fastest on skinny skis. The downhill skiers or snowboarders boot pack it up the hill so that they are in position to get the chip from the cross-country skier. That skier passes the chip to a runner who then passes it to a road cyclist who passes it to two canoeists who pass it to a cyclocross racer who passes it to the kayaker. Leg by leg you go from Mount Baker to Bellingham Bay all in one day.
The truly badass ride their bikes AND their equipment to each leg for the Car-Free division. It all ends (as the party signs say) in Fairhaven where kayakers ring a bell. It’s an all day event for both the partiers and the athletes. And I love it. I haven’t been around for this festival for three years because I’ve been at a work-related conference in Texas. This race helped me realize that I’m never missing another again, and I want to get more involved.
Some folks joke that it’s the Bellingham Olympics and the businesses who sponsor teams take it very seriously. There are teams with deep traditions of winning and there are also folks who race just to party with their favorite friends. It’s a wide spectrum of racers–mostly men. And I’d like to help change that–women, you need this day. I promise you.
Racing is not easy, but it’s so fun to be out there trying.
I lucked out this year. I have a friend who knew a team captain who needed a cyclocross racer. This amazing lady captain put her faith in me based on this recommendation. Since I volunteered on April 10 to be on the team, I tried to get my act together fitness-wise as best as I could in six weeks. OMFG.
Teams sometimes shift because of people’s lives, and there can be last minute team member additions, and I was one of them. I needed to get my shit together. The weather in the NW did not cooperate this wintery spring and I spend a lot of time on the road for work. I’d rather watch paint dry than workout in a hotel gym (or any gym for that matter), so every second I had free, I rode my bike or ran. I walked five miles in Chicago’s O’Hare airport every time I had a layover during that time (god, I hate that airport). Then I got an infection from a tick bite and caught a head cold, so for about 9 days, I was trying to recover from being sick while trying to be smart for the jobby job. I’m not making excuses for my current state of fitness–I’ll own losing it all in the last year and half because of work, moving twice, traveling for work, and drinking beer.
I only bring up this list for my own record, and to highlight what a miracle my race was for me personally. My desire to NOT disappoint other ladies motivated me to go faster on the bike than I normally would have. I turned myself inside out for 13 miles to protect our team. I lost two places (we went from 26 to 28) during my leg, but that was awesome for me. Two dudes passed me, and they were ripping, so whatevs. One caught me because my chain bounced off in the grass. Whatevs.
I’ve only competed once at Ski To Sea though I’m quite seasoned at the after-race beer garden party. In my younger college-gal days, I joined parties of folks who would drink before the beer garden party and then we’d stumble back to the pre-party location and drink some more. I have many cloudy memories of several Ski To Sea race parties and stumbling around Fairhaven talking to friends.
Before getting (somewhat) serious about fitness and getting the bug for competing, I loved the Ski To Sea party. Once I figured out how fun it was to train for the race AND then party, I decided I’m in forever until I can’t race anymore. When I get too old or when my body gives up, I’ll volunteer.
My first time racing, I was the runner for my team, and I trained like mad to not completely suck. Being the runner is hard because it’s mostly downhill. You run down Highway 542 for 7 and half miles, and then you have a half mile of gradual uphill to the DOT chalet. That last half mile is the hardest. It’s so hard to transition from downhill to uphill–I felt like a gazelle who morphed into a rhinoceros.
Then you stop running and you’re trapped in that area until your skier and snowboarder friends can pick you up when the highway reopens. I was pretty close to hyperthermic by the time I got a ride home, and my time was subpar though not completely embarrassing. I lost quite a few spaces for my team since our team time is based on the overall chip exchange. Still, I clocked a 1:02 which shocked me for not being a runner.
My team that year got into the top 100, and my favorite moment of the race was cheering on my friend Katie the Kayaker with my mister and her beau. We yelled ourselves hoarse as she was paddle to paddle with this dude who looked mortified that a woman was beating him. It was awesome when she rang the bell before him.
This year was a surprise that I was not asked to attend the conference during the Memorial Day weekend (thank all the gods we are starting to hire more people), and I had planned to support and cheer on the ladies who were racing for Jack’s Bicycle Center, my shop sponsor. They had a killer team together, and I was thrilled for them to do well. Getting on Team CorePhysio was a surprise, and I’m so thankful that I got to work with and for these ladies. But holyhotdamn was it stressful. Especially riding/running the beach.
Two days before the race, it occurred to me that my “break” from work was just as stressful as my jobby job. The Monday after the race I was booked to fly out in the morning to help put on an important workshop and there was going to be zero time to work that weekend. I put in a lot of time at the desk to prepare for work-so you know–my heart rate was up for like a frickin’ week.
In addition to all the work, I had to purchase a new cross bike and get used to it before the race. My CX bike is beat to hell after four years of racing and one year of rainy work commuting in Portland. My trusty CX steed is on its last legs, but I had just dropped a lot of coin on my mountain bike. What to do?
As soon as the next paycheck cleared, me and the mister went down to Jack’s to purchase an already discounted 2015 Kona Jake The Snake. They gave me an even sweeter discount because I’m on their lady team, and we took home my lovely bright green bike that I have named “Dr. David Banner.”
I’m not a physician nor am I a scientist but I “am searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have.” Holygod I loved that show as a kid, and I’m pretty sure that Dr. David Banner taught me the life lesson that if you don’t like how things are going and you completely blow it, just hitchhike the fuck out of town and start over. A lesson that served me well in my 20s and 30s. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Okay, where was I? Oh, right, Ski To Sea.
My most poignant memory of the race day was a moment I shared with a stranger.
Here’s the thing.
The kindness of strangers at races.
This may be a memoir I might write someday.
I was cheering on dudes at the barriers at Hovander Park and relishing in the moments being back with my bike community. The CX community in Bellingham is filled with dudes who are nice, sassy, smart, and fun to be around. And the women are even better. As I was watching this whole race come together feeling really proud to call these people my friends, I noticed this woman standing next to me crying.
I said, “Are you okay?”
Yes, she said, I just visited the grave site of my husband. We raced Ski To Sea for years together. I can feel him here today. I wish I was 20 again. You ladies who are doing this race leg are really strong. She said a few other things I didn’t quite hear.
She cried harder. I noticed she had lipstick on her teeth. I hugged her. I thought about how much I’ve missed racing with my mister this last year. Life without him? Unthinkable.
I’m sorry for your loss, I said.
She hugged me harder. Thank you, lady. Now make sure you kick some butt out there, okay! I love bike races!
Then I heard my team’s number. Oh my gosh, I have to run, I told this woman. I’ll come down to the beach to see you off, she said. You must one of the fast people.
Ho-lee-mother-of-fuck. I’m not.
As I ran down to the beach, one of my friends heckled, What the hell are YOU doing down on the beach this early? I said, my ladies are kicking ass, yo.
Go INDRUNAS. Go Alyson. Get it, Alyson. Go Alyson. You got this, lady.
The crowd got really loud. I knew a lot of people. I felt really loved.
I ran down to the beach and realized I was one of two women waiting for their teams. The dudes who were on the beach are super fast. (If you’re from the Ham, I was waiting WITH Jeff Cummings, that badass grandpa who makes CX look easy. WTF, right?). Some dude had on a aero-dynamic helmet. He had giant quads and a skin suit. In other words, I had no business being on that beach.
Then I saw my canoe ladies paddling their arms off. COREPHYSIO WHOOOOHOOO OMG LADIES! WHOOOOHOOOO, I yelled. They hit the shore and suddenly I had to help them run with a very wet canoe. When the hell do you ever run with a canoe? I haven’t even been in a canoe for over 20 years. Holyshit the sand was tough to run on. My ladies had that blind stare of exhaustion from paddling for two hours. The crowd by the start line was yelling. Hit your chip on the bull’s eye, some guy said. GOOOOOOOO Alyson go gogo gogogo gogogooooooooo. The crowd was awesome. I had to pull back tears as I hopped on my bike and looked at Mt. Baker in the distance. I was HOME. Racing. Yes. Yes. So much yes. Home.
Then I took on the course. Heard the voice of my mister in my mind like Obe Wan Kenobi to Luke, “Go wide on that gravel turn. Use the grass. Others will crash. Take the line in the grass. Stay upright you will.” I did!
Once I hit full stride on the double-track, I saw a woman I know chasing me. She was not in my team’s division, but I couldn’t let her pass me. No matter what. I love her art, by the way, and she’s a super sweet person. I just really wanted to make sure she didn’t pass me.
By the time I got two miles in, I thought I was going to puke. I was breathing really hard, and all of the Ski To Sea volunteers were super sweet about cheering me on. I was the second woman to come through the course all day. OF ALL THE WOMEN. OMFG. The volunteers were awesome. Ski To Sea brings together over a 1,000 volunteers, and I want to personally thank the folks who thought I would be the 2nd fastest OVERALL. Um, ah, nah, not me, but thank thank thank you for cheering like I was.
The course was super hard and technical. But really fucking fun. Ryan Rickerts and Jeff Cummings (and others, I’m sure) did their best to make a true CX course and it was challenging. Those guys are not messing around when they set up a course with the topography between Hovander and Zuanich. This was no grassy city crit. I had to dismount my bike seven times and tripod twice. I had to wear spikes to run up “Mound Ferndale” (a little steep hill in a field). If you are reading this blog post thinking about racing for the first time in 2018, do the pre-ride. It made all the difference for me. Do the pre-ride with a good cross racer if you can so that you can talk about lines. Have fun talking about the course. Always have fun. You’re riding bikes!
My mister and I scoped out hard parts of the course. He coached me to go fast on the pavement. Tried to mock me into bunny hopping curbs (I’m scared I’ll flat and case my back tire). When to lean into a turn. When to press hard on the pedals. When to recover and when to pin it. How to weave in and out of pot holed dirt roads.
Earlier in the week, other women I know did a pre-ride, and I couldn’t make it because of work. I put a lot of mental energy into that pre-ride, and I was WORRIED. The beach was so hard. A roadie could go so much faster than me on the pavement. What if I flatted? What if I had a mechanical? And should I ride or run the beach? That damn rocky slippery beach. What if I lose a lot of places for these women?
On the day of the race, I decided to run the beach. I’m not a skilled “sand spinner.” The beach was filled with rocks, slimy little rocks, and pebbles. They made you dismount before hitting the beach, so you lose all the speed. So I picked up my bike and ran. I was so in the Pain Cave when I heard, “C’mon Alyson. GOOOOO.” My lovely sweet mister, 200 yards in the distance, was cheering me on. “You look so strong, babe. Go! It’s only another mile. C’mon babe. Go.”
I was so pissed that he was there! Of all the spots on the course to spectate! Fuck you, I thought. I don’t look strong. This is the worst section of suffering. I’m dying. Dammit.
Then he said, “You can still hold her off if you pedal quick to the finish. Go! Go! Go!”
Oh! Right. Good advice. Okay, I love you again. Sorry I just cursed you in my mind. Click. Click. Shoes on the pedals and I went faster. She was not going to pass me now.
One mile from the finish line to the kayaker hand-off the crowd thickened. “Yay, a woman!” I heard. “You’re almost done.” And another “There’s a woman,” I heard again. “You’re almost there.” I heard. “AL-Y-SON. YOU. ARE. KICKING. ASS.” This is a family event but I tend to befriend the crass and zero-fucks-givers-of-the-world.
Photos. Banner of the finish. High-fives. My mister all smiles. My CX friends dirty and tired. My kayaker ran to my bike and ripped the chip off my wrist like she was stealing jewelry. I laughed when I saw her running towards her kayak with her pigtails bouncing. I was too out of breath to wish her luck.
On my ride back to the house, I thought of that woman I met at the start of the race.
I reflected on how few women were in that field at Hovander and how awesome it was to see the ones who were there. My little bike team is all about helping more women race. Helping more woman build confidence. You can compete and be a woman. You can be a competitive woman. You can be on a bike and have fun. You can own being a competitive woman in a culture that tells you that’s a bad thing. It’s not; it might just be who you are and that’s fine.
Smile, have fun, and press hard on the pedals. Go fast on the snow. Glide quick in the water. Turn the pedals quick on the pavement. Look at those ladies below. Strong. Happy. Proud. Relieved. Confidant. Badass. Positive. Super badass ladies on the land, water, and snow. And look at little ol’ squatty me up there with them! If I can do this, so can you.
If this post ends up in somebody queue who is stalking all the CX race reports, then I’d love to meet you. I’m hoping to organize an informal pre-ride and I’ll post on the social media, and if you can make it; join me.
We’ve got a year to scope it out. See you at the beer garden? You bet. Always.
For now, get on your bike and enjoy the summer. Cyclocross season is coming!
“The kindness of strangers at races.”