CX Nationals-A Racer’s Story

One of Finkraft’s own, Matt Moore, recently made the trip to Boulder, Colorado to compete in the Masters 60+ category at nationals. As can be expected from such a journey, there was quite a story behind it and we are happy Matt was willing to share his with us. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

The New England ‘cross season was a long one with racing nearly every weekend. I managed to stay somewhat healthy despite some pretty hard crashes in races, and scrapes in others. (ok a lot) That said, I set a goal at the beginning of the year to make the trip to Nationals and be competitive as a “new” 60 year old. My birthday is December 28th, so it was a good bet that I would be the youngest to line up unless there was someone born in the three days following my 59th birthday. Good motivation for me to train hard and keep the momentum going through the vacant month in between the end of the season and Nationals.

As most of you reading this know, traveling to Nationals involves quite a bit of expense with air fare, car rentals, bike transport, meals and hotels. The totals could exceed two thousand dollars or better. A lot of money to spend for a 40 minute race! After the last big races at NBX, I made the decision to get there somehow as I made it through the year fairly healthy in a tough 55+ field which made me a stronger rider for my quest for a shot at the National Championship.

This year, the big show is held in Boulder Colorado, at 5000 feet of altitude, which affects riders from sea level and slightly above including New England. I had been to Colorado in the past and adjusted to altitude fairly well. When I arrived there, it took three days not to be out of breath simply walking around town. After that, all was good and I felt strong, running the “incline” in Colorado Springs, a wicked set of steps up the base of Pikes Peak. The reason for writing about the previous trip will be explained shortly.

A plan began to unfold and I was able to arrange a road trip with a friend and fellow 55+ racer to drive to Boulder hauling a load of New England racer’s bikes that were going to Nationals and needed a cost effective way to do it. Our thinking was to drive out early, do a race or two at altitude and adjust in time for the championship race. Sound thinking or so we thought.

We set off the morning of December 31st from New York via Route 80 west through Pennsylvania etc, planning to drive ten hours a day and arrive on the 2nd with seven full days to acclimate. We managed to travel fairly well and only missed our deadline on day two when we hit a wicked snow storm near Chicago. ( I don’t know why anyone lives there really.) :) It turned out to be a good idea to stop short, as the next day, we saw literally two dozen trucks and cars off the road as a result of the storm. Day three we pushed and made it to Longmont, Co., to our hotel late that night. The entire trip, we tried to find restaurants along the way that served healthy foods, but were disappointed to find only fast food places and not much else, so we ate a lot of good old PBJ sandwiches instead. Not the best, but better than Mickey D’s or Wendy’s.

Next morning we rode around the town on bike paths and roads. Some paths were wiped out by last year’s flood. Very sad to see that the area was devastated. As a Vermonter, we faced the same situation only a couple of years ago and understand the impact of such an occurrence. That said, we pedaled around that Friday and my legs felt super, which was surprising because of the long trip sans riding for three days. The next day we were to race the Altitude Adjustment race. It is worth mentioning here, that my coach Roger Aspholm cautioned me regarding acclimatization, which is that it most often takes two to three weeks to adjust to 5000 feet of altitude, but my previous experience would hold me in good stead or so I thought. He also told me that it might be better to drive to arrive only a day or two before the Championship race and it might be better. Both suggestions were not considered.

Saturday’s race took place in Longmont, very close to Boulder and at relatively the same altitude. A When the whistle blew, I hit it hard, took the hole shot and won solo by over a minute, besting the future 2nd place finisher of the Championship race that following Thursday. Superman could not have felt as strong as I did that day! I patted myself on the back for being so smart in my planning. My traveling companion won his race in similar fashion, and the future looked bright for us, looking good for the following Thursday’s big race.

In the next couple of days, the weather was not the best for riding outdoors, so indoor trainer riding was necessary. Not my favorite thing to do, but I knew it had to be done. My legs still feel pretty good although I didn’t do much in the way of really hard efforts. I was back on schedule with my diet and sleep was just ok, but not great as I could feel my heart rate was up by ten beats per minute due to living a mile up in the sky.

Fast forward to Wednesday night. My race prep for the following day was to get all the little details done so all I needed to do was my regular pre race routine which consisted of arriving two and a half hours before the start, pre ride the course, adjust tire pressures accordingly, give my bikes a final check over etc. (To see my entire pre race routine, see my previous post on the Finkraft website.) My sleep was not very good that night due to nerves and going over the course in my head a couple hundred times, seeing different scenarios each time. It’s important to mention that sleep is one of THE most important things for optimal performance, so get some quality snooze time before your events if possible by not staying up late doing things you should have already done to prepare or doing what I did worrying about something I had no control over.

Race day! I woke up early, ate breakfast and we drove to the venue, unloaded the bikes to pre ride the course. As I was riding, a battle raged in my head. “I did the work, now I just need to execute the plan.” “Yeah, but those other guys are past champions and I’m just not at that level.” They are only two of the salvos that went back and forth. I couldn’t turn it off. A tremendous waste of time and energy for sure. Afterwards, I did a little spinning on the trainer, then it was time to report to staging 10-15 minutes early for my front row call up. Everything was fairly on schedule and I lined up in the only spot left on the front row which was in the snow next to the barrier. Ugh!

The whistle blew and it was race on. I clipped into my pedal without trouble and took the hole shot all along the straight start/finish drag. I held the lead into the first corner, raising my elbow to fend off a would be passer. Plan going well so far. We raced up the first hill and I was in the lead, controlling the pace, another notch in the plan. Over the top and down the next hill, I’m still out front, but as I turned the corner to climb the next hill, I saw that the course conditions had changed. What was hard, frozen ground, turned to mud in only a mere half hour! What was rideable earlier was not then. I chose to stick to the plan and ride it out, rather than making the decision to dismount and run at the last second. I fell in the mud and was passed by eight or ten riders. Grrrr. The wheels were beginning to fall off the wagon.

I unstuck myself and ran as fast as I could up the hill, remounted and started the slippery descent which again was not that way thirty minutes earlier. I fell again. The self talk started and I won’t write what I was saying to myself in this post. Suffice it to say, not good. Roger and Kevin Hines both told me to ride cleanly and safely. I forgot those wise words and tried to make up time in places I should have been more cautious. I continued to battle, losing precious time with each fall. I realized I wasn’t going to catch the leaders, but rather be caught by following racers. I finally surrendered to the race. I found myself re-passing riders despite not being able to breathe well in the thin air and my legs felt like lead. The stairs were agony. Soon enough, the finish was in sight and I drilled it with everything I had left in the tank, passing one rider and barely nipping another at the line. I rolled by the racers congregated beyond the finish line and stopped farther down, hanging my head over the bars with huge feelings of disappointment running through me, nearly in tears. I was inconsolable. “All that work in the previous year. For what? This is it. Over. Done. History.”

After a day passed and I had a chance to think about my year of racing and the end result for what it really was, I realized that cyclocross racing is in my blood. It is my passion and what I love to do. The racers are my family. My son, who I dedicated my Nationals race to, said he was proud of me for showing up and giving it my best. He and I have had a strained relationship for quite a long time and my decision to dedicate this race to him healed some of the wounds of our relationship incredibly. I plan to stop in NYC to stay the night with him on my way back home. Something I have not done in almost ten years.

The return trip was pretty uneventful until we hit Pennsylvania, when the trailer hitch decided it was time to give out. Luckily, there was no damage beyond sheared bolts and some hurtful words exchanged between the two of us. Tensions were high and the stuff hit the fan, arguing about what to do next. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The straw that broke the camels back.” In this case it was, “The bolt that broke the trailer hitch.” At 9 PM, we made our way to the hotel thirty miles away, after leaving the trailer full of bikes lashed and locked to a pole at a convenience store in the middle of wtf knows where PA. That proved to be our last few miles sharing a ride. The following day, I rented a U Haul, and followed Al back to the trailer that was thankfully still there, intact, with bikes and all. He helped me make the switch from his van to the rental truck, gave each other a handshake, wished each other safe travels and parted ways. I’m sure time will heal the hurt feelings and all will be well when we line up for the start of cross 2014.

The journey’s end. After thousands of miles, two weeks of hotels and questionable food choices along the way, I’m back in New England driving my old pick up on familiar roads. Thinking back on my recent experience, I realize that the race was only a small, hardly significant part of the journey. I have so much to be thankful for and know that I am a winner in life. I want to thank my non cycling friends who supported me with their cheers, without even understanding what cyclocross is. My cycling friends and their families who have become my extended family. My coach Roger Aspholm, who is the best of the best. My boss, Kevin Hines, who races ‘cross and understands the demands of training and racing and has been an incredible second coach. Announcer extrordinaire, Richard Fries who makes every rider feel important. Most important of all is the love and admiration of my children. Yes, life is like cyclocross, it’s a matter of perspective. I am a winner and already planning my trip to Austin in 2015!

I hope all of you come with me like you did this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you.