Donehew on the Gloucester runup. Todd Prekaski (20poundskull.com)

Donehew on the Gloucester runup. © Todd Prekaski (20poundskull.com)

Kristina Donehew is in her first year of racing cyclocross and races for Hup United. In her earlier years, she played some college and professional tennis. After four surgeries she discovered cycling and has ridden road, mountain and track with limited racing experience. She is just getting back on the bike after a five year break. She works as a Marketing professional in the dental industry and lives in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

Having just moved from California and witnessed the Gran Prix of Gloucester as a spectator last year, I was truly excited to actually compete in the race this year. I must also mention at this point that I am new to racing cyclocross — not new to the concept as I have wanted to race cyclocross for the last 13 years, but new to actually racing cyclocross. This being only my third ’cross race and in a field with over 100 other women, I was nervous. The start was lined with spectators and it was difficult not to focus on the cruise ship that had just sailed in, the activity taking place at the expo area full of cool swag, and the soon-to-be-packed beer tent. But the course, soaked and ripe for competition, awaited us. I could feel it craving our pain.

As soon as the whistle blew, the chaos began and the crowded start was off. I quickly lost my relatively decent position and fell back to what felt like the end of the line. The entire first lap was frantic and claustrophobic while we all tried to make headway and stay upright. The insanely wet off-cambers were so tight that most of us had to run or walk them to a chorus of  “sorry” and “oops.” Nevertheless, after walking the rain-drenched run-up and having a wheel both in my back and in my face, I fought my way through the hairpins, perfectly positioned between two trees at the top. Past that we approached the flyover – on a descent while deterring a perfectly-centered rock — and I felt comfortable. Then down through soft, slow sections of barriers and more turns and to the sandpit. Luckily, the sand was manageable and hard-packed so we were all able to ride through. From what I could tell, the race was going alright. Until … I was on my way to completing my third lap, I hit a well-marked rock (I suppose they paint those so when your oxygen-depleted brain can’t think you can still see them) and heard that familiar sound we all love to hate – the hiss of a pinch flat. Disc brakes are wonderful but for one thing — no wheels in the pit for me. A disappointing day for several reasons, but a great workout nonetheless.

I couldn’t resist giving it a go on Sunday and to try out the new course – game on. I had arrived just in time to squeeze in one pre-race lap after the Men’s Cat 4 race and could tell that today’s race would suit my strengths. The course still had it all – the run up, the barriers, the steps, sandpit, beach run, off-cambers and huge numbers. Once again, I was lined up with over a hundred women and even more people were on the sidelines with dogs, babies, cowbells or their Sunday morning beverage of choice. The race kicked off and the first lap seemed to be less congested and this time I was able to hold my position. Throughout the race I made sure to push myself just enough, but not to lose control or crash. I felt faster than the day before and my strong start had me in a much better position – this was it – today was going to be a great day for me. Everything was in place as I was making my way through the rocky slight downhill section on the final lap and I heard the hiss again! I hit the same spot on the course and flatted, yet again. How does this happen twice in one weekend? Had I been clever enough to think on my feet, literally, I would have simply run the rest and finished. I suppose with a bit more experience I would have thought of that. But that’s what makes ’cross so special. You can replay all of the mistakes and learn from every turn, every move, every dismount, every start, every race.

Regardless of my DNF, I enjoyed the company of my friends, a pulled pork sandwich, an Americano and then watched the Men’s Cat 3 race. It was a true pleasure just to be there with the community and be a part of the event. The Gran Prix of Gloucester is unlike any other race in that the people, the venue, the community and course all make it special. It is truly one of a kind and I can’t wait to go back next year for more – and to finish, even if I have to run.