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 Portland Mud Fest

Photos by Matt Hale

Masters 30-34 Cross Nationals
by John Behrens


I was finishing my warm up when SoCal fastman Brent Prenzlow said "you better get up there" since they were in the middle of calling up the Masters 30-34 group to the line. As is usual for me this season, I ended up in the back row; at least I found myself at the back before the race started and not after the first lap. It was pretty chilly by SoCal standards so Richard [Murphy] cloaked me in a warm coat while they did call ups and I felt like a pro. I wasn't too nervous and considering the conditions, I was planning to just put in a good effort and finish.

The whistle blew and somewhere in the range of 60 to 100 racers took off towards a racecourse of slick-ass, sloppy, deep, cloggy, nasty mud. Some ill-placed course cones caused enough chaos that I was able to move up a dozen-and-a-half places before we encountered the first "grass" section. Having elected not to ride the course that day before the race to spare my bike, the ice-like sensation and lateral movement of the bike was bit unnerving. In any case, it was time to get serious. Typically, I'm competing in some race where I'm in way over my ability, or I'm simply outclassed, so I tend to be a bit passive or relenting-and after a severe scolding from Treebeard at a NorCal UCI, you'd be too. But I figured what-the-hell, I'm not tripping-up some big-money pros this time; I'm going to stake my position. I would hear guys coming up on my inside at a turn; I'd just hold my ground, race my race, and never hear from them again-hey, this is fun.

So as I mentioned before, it was a bit muddy. Dips, hills, corners, off-camber sections, flat straight sections. . . well, pretty much 65% of the non-paved part of the course was semi-rideable at best. To me, driving the bike in all this mud was like driving it in very deep sand, in which I'm not so great a bike driver. I would try to point the bike in the direction I wanted it go, relax my upper body, and, more or less, go in that direction-more like influencing the direction I was riding.

The word before the start from Jeff Herring and Brent was "when in doubt, run it." I was in doubt a lot and thus, running a lot; but, being in doubt seemed to get me around the course a little faster than a lot of guys trying to churn-away on their pedals. Okay, okay . . .  Faster? . . . I shuffled through the mud a little less slowly than a lot of the other racers-it was more like a shuffling race at nursing home.

The race wore on and I could hear someone screaming that I had moved up to twentieth. I thought to myself, "who is screeching at me with that high-pitched, female-adolescent squeal?" There wasn't time to look, besides my eyes and specs were full of mud. Nonetheless, I was really motivated as this was much better than I thought I could do. I really started to push it hard. I was passing guys on the pavement, and was passing guys on my feet; at one point, I heard someone yell "C'mon John, you're a runner!" Unfortunately my feet, legs, lungs, heart, and body don't agree, but I was giving it everything. In fact, with about a quarter of a lap to go, I was going so hard I didn't think I could finish the race. Again, I hear this woman squeal "SoCal 'em!" I then realized it was not a woman, but it was SoCal-based, cyclocross toughman Brent Prenzlow, who apparently gets quite flustered when he gets excited. When referring to "SoCal-ing" someone, we're usually talking about the extraordinarily-rude and aggressive driving manners of Southern Californians. Anyway, I SoCal'd a guy at the turn onto the pavement to finish seventeenth, making it, arguably, my best race of the year.