This is serious. That's all the thought I could muster about how a bunch of cat 4 girls rolled off the start line in Carpentersville on Sunday. I'm used to racing.  I'm used to aggressive starts. But for beginners, I'm used to the initial push for the lineup on singletrack, then a settle-in for a 90 min effort.  Where was the settle-in?

I'm an endurance kind of rider -- I ride smart and solid and generally do well because other riders start screwing up or slowing down. But with just 30 minutes, I didn't have much time to wait around.  I learned quickly that when someone rides away from you, chances are, they're gone for good.  Within the first half lap, I lost any chance of a respectable finish.  But hey, respectable was never anything I was good at.

I hate grass.  Especially bumpy, slow-grinding-uphill grass, where it's sort of a climb but not really.  Everyone seemed to fly by me on the grass, I just couldn't put the power into the pedals.  This course and I didn't have much love for each other.  The barriers were knee-high to me and there was no chance of me clearing them if I ran, so instead I approached them with a ladylike side-step, dainty and slow.  But there was this over-the-hill bump just before you hit the barriers, coming off some pavement, that I'd fly over and absolutely loved.

And let's not forget: I did this race on my mountain bike.  It did have its advantages.  There was a little rut/ditch that we had to go through every lap, and I used my remote fork lockout to let the suspension fork eat that ditch, then lock it out when back on the grass.  And it was easier to remount, since the whole setup was a little shorter than your average cross rig.  But still, it weighed more.

I could have rode the sand pit, no problem, but since all the other ladies ran it, I did too.  In retrospect, I would have had far less sand in my shoes if I rode it.  But running was a sure thing.

My race by lap two was really between me, two women behind me from Team TATI, and two women in front of me.  It was a game of can I drop TATI and can I catch those in front of me?  I took all the good lines, MTB style, making Susan from TATI behind me work all the harder if she was trying to come around.  I made up mad time at the remounts, credit to Adam Hodges Myerson and one slick yet silly DVD.  I'd drop them on the remount, they'd catch me on the grass.  I dropped one of them, the other (Susan) wiped out in the sand as I rode away.  I caught one of the two women in front of me, Pony Shop rider Carolyn, and so I'd like to think that I beat three of the four women in "my race."  Heh.  Really, 16 of 21.

It was a sunny fall day though, and while I wasn't much of a racer, I'm one hell of a shouter/drinker/athletic supporter.  The team was out full force, Half Acre flowed, and I went home sunburnt and smiling.

 -Julie Popper