Cross is here.
Last night, my cyclocross season began with the Angry Catfish sponsored Wednesday Night Cross at Aquila Park. It’s our local cross warm-up series, a great opportunity for new riders to check out the sport or to get their feet grassy. And if you listened closely, you would have heard me yelling obscenities at the grass from every point in the course during the Intermediate race.
See, typically, I’m a track racer. I love everything about track racing. It’s warm, dry, smooth, fast, and fancy.
Cyclocross, on the other hand, is cold, wet, muddy, slow, and gritty. It’s a completely different game. Each sport has its merits. Just because you love one doesn’t mean that you’ll hate the other. But my relationship with cyclocross is complicated. Despite the title of this entry, I won’t say that I genuinely hate cyclocross, but I certainly don’t think it is fun. I find cyclocross races to be completely miserable, actually.
So why even jump in the race? Racing costs money. Bikes cost money. Training takes time. It hurts. It’s slow. If it isn’t fun after all of that, why even do it? This is the question I ask myself when I line up for any cyclocross race- which I do a lot during the Fall. Despite how I feel about the sport, I still train and race for it.
See, cyclocross is amazing. Even as someone who finds no joy in the sport, I really can’t recommend it enough.
Why do cyclocross?
Cyclocross is a spectacle.
It’s a big, ridiculous obstacle course for adults on bikes in the middle of a party. If someone would have just explained this to me to begin with, I would have taken up cyclocross a lot sooner.
Think about it. You meet in the park on whatever bike you have, and you ride through sand, dirt, puddles, and jump over obstacles. In Minnesota, you do all of this, but you get to battle snow towards the end of the season. Oh, and then people dress up in costumes and give out snacks and beer to you while you race. That’s pretty freaking hilarious.
When you look at the sport this way, even on your worst race day, you can’t not look around and laugh a little.
Cyclocross makes you stronger.
On the velodrome, when you push really hard you have the instant gratification of speed- it’s one of the things that makes track racing super rewarding from a mental and physical perspective.
It doesn’t work that way in cyclocross, that’s for sure. You’re fighting a course and the elements. They’ll throw mud and dust and cold your way. They’ll muck up your drivetrain to a point where you’re fighting that as well. You will be in scenarios where it takes all of your physical strength to barely propel yourself forward and all your mental fortitude to keep pushing even though you may only be moving at a speed juuust fast enough to keep you upright.
It can be soul crushing at points. However, without even realizing it, you’ll notice that it gets easier from the first lap to the second, from one race to the next. You soon realize that you’re not just getting stronger, but that you were stronger than you thought you were to begin with.
Cyclocross makes you a fantastic bike handler.
Your ability to push your pedals is only a fraction of what it takes to be successful on a cyclocross course. You have to know what to do with your bike… and be able to do it. You have to be sensitive to the surfaces you’re riding on and how these surfaces change throughout the race. You need to know what lines to hold and how to hold them… on an off-camber hillside… in the dust… while turning right… without crashing into someone else.
You’ll be able to bunny hop curbs. You’ll be able to dismount your bike like a pro when you get to school. You’ll also be much better at your next derby in the park. You’ll be a bike ninja before you know it.
Cyclocross makes everything else seem more fun.
That sounds pretty grim, but I mean it! Because the sport is so mentally taxing, you’ll find yourself able to enjoy other riding and life experiences more. Your threshold for what is unbearable will have been extended and suddenly, that one tough hill on your slog to the office doesn’t feel so bad because, after all, it isn’t uphill in the mud with your heart exploding out of your chest. Piece of cake!
Cyclocross makes you want to play on whatever bike you’re riding. With your new bike handling skills, you won’t think twice about riding what used to be intimidating obstacles on the road or trail. Plus, in Minnesota, training and racing cross equips you beautifully to ride on the ice and snow come winter.
Sucking at something is the first step to being kind of good at something.
The immortal words of Jake the Dog apply extremely well here. There are people who will naturally be great at the sport and who will find joy and encouragement in winning- wonderful for them.
For the rest of us, know that the only way to go from your first cyclocross race is up. You can only get better from here. Look for those signs of improvement in yourself and you’ll see them with each race. Last night, I managed to get through a 45 minute Intermediate race without needing to walk my bike up a hill. Sounds like peanuts… but that certainly wasn’t where I was last season. Plus, I know I can do better for the next race… and that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Eat your vegetables. They are good for you.
Look, not everything that’s good for you feels good- cyclocross is a perfect example of that. It feels terrible… but you quickly learn to relish in the fact that it’s making you better just for participating.
Anyway, I had fun last night- the kind of fun you have when you’re at the depths of your misery. I’ll do it again. And again and again.
I hope you’ll give it a try.
See you on the course!
You are all diamonds.
Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn