Thursday, September 12, 2013

Trail Note - Kick-off Cross

Someone's got to come in last....

After a very strong cycling season (several centuries, a time trial w/ AG win, two sprint tri's with podium placements due to fast bike legs), I decided to expand my cycling horizons and try cyclocross.

Cyclocross is a form of bike racing with multiple loops around a small course with some elements of mountain biking, but it's on more of a road bike, and sometimes you have to dismount and carry your bike over obstacles.  Races are short, 40 minutes or so, so the level of effort is pretty intense.  The season is over the fall, extending into December, so races are often cold and wet and muddy.  There's a cycling community that's evolved and races are accompanied by food trucks, team tents, and beer (it's origins are in Belgium, after all).  Folks who have been doing it for a while talk about how fun it is.  I've watched a few races and wondered if it would be something I could do.  A friend of mine from the pool is planning on racing this fall for the first time, so she's been encouraging others to try.

So, I signed up for a race last Sunday.  Despite having it on the calendar for weeks, I didn't actually commit until the Thursday before.  I agonized endlessly about whether I would enjoy it, whether I should sign up, whether I would get hurt, how much I would be bothered by the fact that I would be slow and have to get off the bike on the technical parts more than the other racers.  I finally decided that I needed to give it a go.  Unfortunately, my friend who is so excited about cross wasn't able to make it to the race, so I went not knowing anyone.

I signed up for a beginners race, which was a 30 minute race in the morning, and the women's 35+ masters race (yes, you only need to be 35 years old to be considered a "master" in cycling) which was a little after noon.  The beginners race was scary, but I was with a lot of other newbies, which helped.  I did fall once on a banked hairpin turn - the women in front of me fell, and I slowed to avoid her, and didn't have enough steam to get through the turn.  I got off the bike a lot - sometimes the only one to do so - when I felt like the conditions were too technical for me to feel comfortable.  There were other times I didn't get off the bike and didn't feel comfortable - lots of banked turns that were a little muddy.  It was a pretty intense physical effort; harder, actually, than I expected.  I finished feeling proud of the effort, but not really sure if I'd had fun.  I wasn't excited about staying for the next race, but was determined to finish what I'd signed up for. 

The next race involved all of the women racing, including the category 1/2 (these are the practically pro-level racers), cat 3, cat 4, and masters groups.  They started the groups about a minute apart.  There were lots of spectators at this point, many of whom were guys who were also racing that day, in addition to family and friends.  All in all, pretty intimidating!  But, we got started, and while I deliberately stayed back to get out of the fray, I didn't have to slow much to let folks pass me; these were fast women!  I felt a little more comfortable around the turns than the first race, but I was definitely more tired from the morning's effort.  The spectators were often giving advice - sometimes encouraging and helpful, sometimes more like heckling.  There was one women in particular standing by the mud pit who heckled me every time I got off the bike to run through the mud (I finally rode through the entire thing on the last lap, but had to listen to her several times through).  I was lapped near the end of my first lap.  The race leaders ended up doing 5 laps total; I finished with 4. 

I have to say, all day, including during the races, I felt like leaving.  It was scary, it was hard, and I was very slow.  I finished the beginners race 20th out of 27.  I finished the masters race dead last.  While I was proud of the fact that I pushed my comfort zone, and I felt a sense of accomplishment that I was able to ride through some spots in late loops that I dismounted for in early loops, I'm not sure I would describe the day as fun.  I'm also trying to separate my feelings about being not good at something from my enjoyment of the actual activity.  It's been a lot time since I've tried something new, and one should never expect to be good at something right away.  I also think about how this sport would be in the cold and the rain and the mud (making technical corners that much more treacherous), and cross sounds less and less fun.  Final straw (justification?):  my hamstring/gluts, which have been bothering me to varying degrees this past year have really hurt this week.  Perhaps carrying a steel bike while running over barriers isn't the best thing for me.  So, I think Sunday was my last cross bike of the season.