Getting better at that cyclocross thing

Rounding one of the Jingle Cross course's many corners. (Photo by Michelle Wiese)

Boy, does fear make for a good motivator!

After suffering through last year’s JingleCross Rock, where I came in second-last (to a guy who ran while carrying his broken bike) I made it a point to do more training for this year’s race. And it was a success.

I came in 43rd out of 53 racers this year (although I only recall seeing two riders behind me) but more important than that, I felt I could handle the strain of racing better than last year. Where you place is really out of your control; kudos to everyone who raced that weekend, regardless of how you did. It’s really just by chance the people decided to enter the race I was in; I could have come in dead last if the people who finished behind me competed on another day. (Maybe some people dropped out that I didn’t know about. Or, because of the lap-counting system, they may have finished “behind” me but actually did one more lap than I did!)

None of that really matters, though. My race was about doing as well as I could, and that was it.

I raced on Sunday, the final day. While doing my warmup lap around the course, I was dreading what the conditions would be like going up Mount Krumpet, which I was sure we would have to do since the beginners’ races went up it the previous two days. I fell twice trying to ride one of the “easier” hilly areas! But as it turned out, Sunday’s beginners’ race didn’t go up it.

My wife and mom-in-law cheer me on. (Photo by Michelle Wiese)

I had mixed emotions about that. There was some relief that I wouldn’t have to go up (or down) that muddy mess, but also some sadness because a big part of my training — physically and mentally — had centered on conquering Mount Krumpet. So it was a letdown of sorts.

But the race was still plenty tough though. And the other thing besides the training that was going to get me through it was my support section: my wife Megan, her mom Mary, and fellow Whiskey Riders Michon, Emily and my VeloDuo blogging partner in crime, Michelle!

It was really motivating and heartwarming hearing them all cheer for me as I made my way around the course. When you’re in the racing mode, all you think about is keeping those pedals turning, watching what’s ahead of you and trying to maintain as much of an effort as you can without blowing up. And when you hear the cheers, it really does inspire you to go that little bit harder.

The most nerve-racking part of the race was the start. I used to be really anxious and nervous just waiting for the actual start of the race, to the point where I’d gag and dry-heave. I think when you go through these things enough, though, you can kind of keep your emotions in check because you know what to expect. And the fear wasn’t as bad as it had been in the past; I felt like the training I had done prepared me to deal with the suffering that was to come.

When the race started, we all took off and I can remember seeing almost everyone else going faster than me, and people who started behind me going around me. I fought off the urge to fight to stay with them because I knew I’d overdo it and blow a gasket. So I tried to ride at my fastest yet most comfortable pace possible, and not worry about the people going past me. Through probably the first 3 minutes I could tell I was going harder than I would have liked, though, and I knew I couldn’t keep that up the whole race. I also remember trying to ride through the first patch of mud but having to put my feet down because the person in front of me had to stop too; I suspect there was a traffic jam here. And after that was the first set of barriers, followed by a steep run-up.

Pushing my way up the runup, with Emily, Michon and Michelle behind me probably yelling for me to hurry the hell up! (Photo by Megan Lee)

It was here that I finally settled down and prepared for the next half hour or so of sustained effort. After pushing my bike through the run-up, I had trouble riding along the muddy hillside and had to run (jog really) while pushing my bike. It was a chance to catch my breath before remounting and going down a small hill to the rest of the course. (On the second lap I tried to ride through this area again, to no avail. I fell here, just like I did twice during warmups. But it didn’t hurt; hey, it’s mud!)

With many ziz-zags and turns on the course, I had opportunities to look back and could see that a few people were still behind me, some of them catching up to and passing me, and a couple drifting further back. It actually was a relief of sorts knowing I wasn’t dead last, but it also made me feel like a rabbit or carrot for them to chase. And I didn’t like being in that position.

A new fear had been created to motivate me.

I looked down at my bike computer and did some computing. At the pace I was riding, I would have to do three laps. It was a familiar thought process; I went through this same situation on practice rides. So now I knew what to expect, and I dug in and rode on.

Heading to the finish line! But then out for another lap. (Photo by Michelle Wiese)

This was where it got fun. I was breathing hard but used to the effort, I was wearing the right amount of layers so that I wasn’t overheating (like last year), and I was delighted to see and hear cheers of my name along the course. Michelle, Emily and Michon were running around the course finding places to cheer me on! So that was a fun surprise.

And I knew that as I got back toward the start/finish line, Megan and Mary would be there to keep the cheering up. (Megan is seven months pregnant, so no running around for her right now!)

So it went for about 37 minutes as I did my laps around the course. One other accomplishment: I completed a full lap before I myself started getting lapped by the race leaders! I don’t think that happened last year. And the nice thing was that as I heard people coming up on me, they still said (or panted) “on your left” or “passing” and I moved off to the side to let them through and gasped “go ahead.” Still heard “thanks” from them too! And in tight twisty areas where I knew people were coming up behind me, I made sure to give them plenty of room to get by. The camaraderie between racers is great, no matter the difference in skill levels — another reason I love being a part of all this.

Finally, I was on the home stretch and my bike computer went past 35 minutes. I saw the race official motioning that I was done racing, and I saw my crew waiting for me at the finish line.

I couldn’t not smile.

I made my way off the race course and was greeted with cheers and high-fives from everyone — what a great feeling! This was what made all the effort and training worth it. I wasn’t collapsed and exhausted at the end of the race and I could look back fondly at it all.

The rest of the day I enjoyed wandering around and watching the other races, especially as riders fought their way up Mount Krumpet. I’m still a little disappointed I didn’t get to go up there, having done the beginner’s race.

Maybe, just maybe, I might skip the beginner’s race next year to ensure I get to tackle Mount Krumpet. And based on how things went this year, I think I know what I have to do to get ready for it.


I'm done! And I still had energy to pick up my bike! (Photo by Michelle Wiese)

4 thoughts on “Getting better at that cyclocross thing

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