First Cross Race: Learning Experience

Some park off 44 and 270(Carrie whispers “Unger Park”)
Start time: Noon
Sunday: 12/3/2007

Started when it was 68 degrees and gusty winds. Ended at about 40 degrees with some pouring rain thrown in there for “fun”. Given I have zero CX experience, it’s hard to tell if the course sucked or was a typical cross layout. The seemingly endless, bumpy, deep-grass field filled with switchbacks was miserable. You could see racers a half-mile ahead of you! And once the rain hit, it was like riding in sand—my quads were swimming in lactic acid and by the last lap I could barely make it over a small, tiny, little, muddy hill—a hill that on any other day is not considered a “hill” at all.

I stayed with the leader for the first lap, maybe two (?)….then her lead grew and my resolve shrunk. I then, committed to coming out of the race breaking even on my cost of entry. 2nd Place. I could see her behind me at every turn. My lead would grow, then shrink; but I was driven. I was calculating my pain to the time left in the race; it was going to be tough, but I thought if I were half-way through, I could stick it out. I looked at my watch to find I was 12 minutes in. ONLY 12 minutes! Can’t be!! I quickly wondered if it could be on the wrong setting, or if I’d accidentally stopped it. All these rationalizations flashing through my mind as I pedaled and scrambled in my head to find some light at the end of this anaerobic tunnel! OK, I’m only a third in….35 minutes or so left! **Insert profanity here**

A slip in a switchback, that caused me to unclip and nearly stop, quickly whittled my gap on 3rd to nothing. She caught me before the steeples. Rain was gusting down at that point and I couldn’t see very well; it was like there was this crack in my vulnerable resolve that opened up right then and I simply let her go. I could hear Carrie yelling for me to stay with her. I shook my head and blinked the burning, rain-mixed-with-hair-product out of my eyes (mental note: on race days, wash hair of all hair product) and tried to minimize the damage. But watching her cadence compared to how mine felt made it worse in my head.

Some laps, I’d ride head down in apparent misery. Other laps, I’d be cheering myself on to attempt a good, strong steeple section. Other laps, I’d stop at the steeples, having no other riders close to me I’d lift my bike and and walk them. It was probably equally painful for Carrie to watch. One lap she ran beside me cheering me on, until I yelled at her, “You get on the bike. You do this!”

The rain eased, but the damage to the course was done. I watched for the 4th place rider now (you know it’s bad when you’re looking behind you, instead of in front of you in a race). All I could think about was minimizing my damage. 3rd’s OK, right? That’s what it’s like to lose, mentally. You rationalize. You compensate. Fill your head with excuses. Then they ring the bell for last lap. I was hoping I’d been far enough behind to skip the last lap; my watch said 44 minutes as I approached the start/finish (Yes, Syd, I had plenty of time to look at my watch now). They rang the bell. No luck for me, another grueling lap. It took every ounce of resolve left to do that last lap; “pick it up!” I heard anonymously in the background “one left! Go hard for your last one!”….this was hard! It was just very slow!

You’d think I might wash my hands of this cross-racing; but in retrospect the emotional roller coaster of that hour was really amazing to me. It’s that inner, personal battle that makes this the most unique form of racing I’ve ever done. Will I ever love it? I don’t know; I’ve never been much of one for self-punishment; but there is something addicting about knowing I can do better in my head. That’s a big of a key in this kind of race; the other two are bike handling and fitness. But it’s improving the first that I’m drawn to….so we’ll see.