Oh, god, I need not ever again eat half a Dewey's pizza and a serving of Graeter's raspberry chocolate chip the night before a race. Those things are wonderful most times, hell, all times, even, but let yesterday's performance in the first race of the 2008 Ohio Valley Cyclocross Series at Riverside Park in Loveland, Ohio be fair notice that gorging on said items won't lead to a podium finish, but rather, a final result somewhere in the teens to twenties, with the hot shivers, an ashen pallor, and a bit of bitter disappointment.

We all got to the racecourse nice and early, giving us lots of time to do practice laps, hang out, and for me, catch up with some old friends. As for the course, well, it was reminiscent of the course last time I rode it back in 2005, when I came in 2nd in the Ohio State Championship. The course started off on a slight uphill, jogging to the right, then hairpinning to the first set of barriers. Down a short straight, then hooking left and then right through some trees and over a protruding manhole. A short pavement section sweetly promised a chance to recover, but due to a terrible headwind, this wasn't so likely. After the paved section, a couple of hairpins through a stand of short pines, and then back onto a paved driveway to the far SE side of the course. Over some gravel and up a short ascent was the runup – it was rideable if you were strong, but having done the same runup before, I knew I'd be off the bike through that portion. Descending down back into the course, there were several more hairpins, including some wicked off-camber corners. After that mess, it was back through another set of barriers, a badly rutted section and some more hairpins. The course was technical, slow-going in spots, and just a good shock to the system after a year spent screwing around on a road bike, going mostly in a straight line.

Dave "Auk" Aukerman showed up after a little while and we got to talking about the course – both of us agreeing that it was going to be a bit of a soulcrusher. Watched Brent, Tim and a few other Campus guys absolutely crush the Cat. 4 race and then warmed-up again with Kerry. Got a Hammer Goo down the hatch, drank some water and psyched myself up. I was positioned next to Auk, in the second row back; not quite the ideal place to be, but I was late to the start and I'm not one to bully my way to the front of the line, preferring instead to pick 'em off one by one in the ensuing laps.

At the start, 45 seconds, 30 seconds, 15 seconds...heart rate at 120, sweat on the brow. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...and off I puttered, like I was going off from a traffic light on a recovery ride, as opposed to sprinting off the line in a CX race. My heart rate shot to 185 BPM and stayed there. My dinner from the night before lurched menacingly and eventually settled down as I got into some semblance of a groove.

For the next seven laps and 47 minutes, I was in my own personal bit of hell. The wind had picked up enough that barrier tape, signage, and tree branches were all coming down, and all the recovery points I'd plotted earlier in my preliminary laps were rendered useless by the weather. All I could hope for was to stay in the race, pass a few riders and avoid being lapped, with a good finish just whipped cream on the pie. I passed more than a few riders and not a single rider came around me again, so on those accounts the race was a success. But during the exercise, all I could do was hang on for dear life, stare at Auk's rear wheel and butt and hope that I didn't pass out from sheer exhaustion.

I was most challenged by the run-up – with each lap, I was getting off my bike lower and lower on the hill. The first time up, I made it nearly to the top before I lost traction and had to unclip to run; the second time I made it halfway; the third, about a quarter. Each lap after that went from running, to jogging, to walking, to near crawling. Misery quantified is about 35 degrees, 30-40 feet long and slick with dog doo and grass worn by foot and tire.

As for how I did? Well, the results aren't even up yet. As I find 'em, I post 'em. I'd guess I got 20 out of 30. Maybe I'm optimistic? I know I didn't do as well as some of my friends did, but no matter, they have hills to train on. There, that's my excuse – hills – something just about out of my control.

This weekend is Jackson Park, part of the Chicago 'Cross Cup and I'm looking forward to a grassy crit.

 -Zach Thomas