Incredibly hard and extremely fun
Racing and loving cyclocross at 50
Cyclocross. How does one begin to describe it? It involves racing laps over varied terrain with supportive derision (heckling) and obstacles like sand, mud, barricades, steep ups and downs, ridiculous turns and off-camber things most people wouldn’t choose to ride willingly.
Every time I line up to start, I have that “moment.” What am I doing here, again? But every time I finish (well, after a minute or two) I feel euphoric. That feeling lasts until about Wednesday, which is when I sign up for the race the next weekend. I suppose that’s how I find myself in December with a record of 14-straight weekends of racing cyclocross. Who knew?
The thing is, this isn’t just a sport for lithe 30-somethings from the powerhouse teams with expensive bikes. In the category 4 and 5 ranks (category 1 is the highest), you’ll find people of all shapes, sizes, ages and professions who got hooked just like me. Our bragging rights are mostly about finishing the race, not getting stuck and toppling over in the sand or mud pit, and successfully navigating the ditches and uphill turns. We like the challenge, the occasional humility of failure, the opportunity to test ourselves and the unique camaraderie of the sport. I’ve learned to love the moments when I’m struggling to get up a hill, or just stay on my bike, under the loving encouragement of cross fans yelling “go faster!”
So how’d I get here, again? I had a friend who told me to try a race, which is how most of us get involved in this sport. Friends tell you it will be hard. They tell you it will be incredibly fun. And they are right!
On advice and a whim, I entered the “citizens” category (no full-time racing license required) for $20 at Mile High Urban Cross Chaos (MUCCY) two years ago. Two laps and one tumble down a muddy hill later, I finished my first race. No kidding, it was hard. But by the next year I’d forgotten about that hard part and just remembered the fun part. So I did a few more races. I even bought an entry-level cyclocross bike from Lucky Bikes Recyclery.
My goals that year were simple: 1.) Finish every race you start, 2.) Stay healthy, and 3.) Try not to be last. I actually was last a few times, but I finished some races others didn’t. I got tips from other racers, who are always willing to share, and I learned about tire pressure, remounting, and how to run barricades.
This year, I suddenly feel like I know what I’m doing. I know how to pre-ride the course and choose where I’ll want to run or stay on the bike, what lines to pick on hills and to chose a strategy for the start. My goals changed to: 1.) Finish every race you start, 2.) Try to pass back within 20 seconds of being passed, 3.) Finish hard. Truth be told, I don’t really train much–I just ride my bike to work every day and race on the weekend, so fitter racers often pass me, but my technical skills are good and I don’t give up so I’m finishing farther forward in the field now.
So, what’s fun about it? I love my team! I joined Tender Belly/Oskar Blues and they’re a perfect fit for me. The team moto is “Keep Cross Funky” and my teammates are as much about the ethos of the sport as they are about results. Through team racing, I’ve seen different areas of the state and different “cross cultures” from Longmont to Colorado Springs, and I’ve even raced twice in Kansas. And, every race is a big bike social. If you’re not racing, you’re eating, drinking, heckling or making new friends. It just makes me feel like a kid on a bike, playing hard after school.
Next year I’d like to try a race or two on the Western Slope; I hear the locals have a great scene there. And who knows, I might even ramp up my training! So that’s my cyclocross story, and considering I’ve never raced at anything in my life, I’m loving the fact that I found this funky sport at age 50. It’s so much more fun than an indoor workout or the same old, long training ride.
Pro Tip: If you want to try out a cyclocross race, you can enter the 5th-annual Mile High Urban Cross Chaos in the citizen’s category this Saturday (December 17 in Denver), and see where the adventure takes you!