Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Accidental Cyclocross Racer

As I write this, my first season of cyclocross has come to an end, and it’s bittersweet. It’s nice to have time to do laundry- and not have so much of it! It’s nice to be home on weekends, to get work done, to not be driving all over creation for races, to be able to take a little break for a change, and to not have mystery cuts and bruises crop up every Monday after a weekend of racing. But I miss it so much already!

I miss the camaraderie, the excitement of racing, the sore throat from cheering everyone on, the teamwork, and heck, even the riding itself. I admit, I started out a skeptic, thinking nothing could replace triathlon as my most fun sport. But now, I’m already looking to next year, thinking of how to make improvements, to move up in my category, and to start really racing, not just trying to ride the course without falling down. In short, there is a decided chance that I have succumbed to the desire to be a legit cyclocross racer.

In one season, I went from a new racer to the #1 Women’s B racer and #2 Women’s A racer, and helped the Rutgers University Cycling Team maintain our dominance in collegiate cyclocross. It felt pretty great to be part of it.

Earlier in the season, I borrowed a cyclocross bike, “just to test out and race a couple times.”

Then, I raced at Granogue, in freezing rain and mud up to my shins. I fell, I slid, I was one of the last people to finish, and I ended up with a myriad of cuts and bruises to show for it. But, I had fun. And it didn’t hurt that just by racing, I had accrued a lot of collegiate points for the team.

My first race finish at Granogue

So, I raced again at Highland Park, and didn’t do too badly- in fact, I was pretty decent. I was 12th in the Women’s 3/4 race, and the first collegiate woman. I admit, I was hooked. I was also doing well, by collegiate standards. By my second week of ECCC ‘cross, I was ranked #1 in Women’s B. Mainly because I was the one of about five on the list. However, I had a marathon in late November, so HPCX looked like it would be my last serious race. I hadn’t learned dismounts, barriers, or how to ride anything technical. My season was pretty much over, barring maybe a race or two after the marathon. My ranking went from #1 to #10 or so as other women raced and I stayed home and did long runs.

Then, a tendon in my foot did something kinda weird, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t run for a few weeks. I took this as a sign- I was meant to race ‘cross.

So, I started practicing dismounts in my backyard, signed up for all of the races for the last 3 weeks, and attempted to become a decent rider. While that may not have happened, I felt fairly decent going into the last three weeks, even managing to jump barriers instead of climb slowly over them.

Actually "getting air" over a barrier at Staten Island CX

More than that, I learned how much fun cyclocross and spending time with the team really was. From the excitement of the USGP at Mercer to the killer course at Whitmore to racing singlespeed (not by choice) at Allentown, the team was there cheering like crazy every time I raced. And it helped a lot.

Climbing the stairs at the Mercer USGP race

About to start a very scary descent at Whitmore.

I’m not going to go into too many details, as to avoid the longest post in the world, but Rhode Island and the NBX race was probably the most fun weekend that I’ve ever had. It was great racing, an awesome course, vegan pizza, and serious team bonding. I may not have done amazing in the race, but I definitely realized how much progress that I’ve made in the past months. I only wish I had figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to run the marathon earlier, so I could have been working on my ‘cross skills much sooner. As it was, it was a pretty piecemeal season and training schedule. Next year will be a lot different, and I’m expecting pretty good things from myself, not just in the collegiate context, but in the broader context of the 3/4 women in general.

When I joined the cycling team, I had no idea what was so great about cyclocross and why everyone on the team was so excited about the season instead of road season. But after this, I can see why, and I think I’ve joined the ranks of the cyclocross devotees.

So, a final round of HUGE thank you’s to everyone who helped make this season so great for me.

Of course, thank you to the Team. Without them, I never would have been able to have the confidence and drive to get on the bike, much less ride. They helped me whenever I needed it, offered tons of great advice, and cheered like crazy for a newbie racer. Especially to Mark, who kept me and everyone else organized and sane though out the season, and Charlie, who did so much by way of bike repair on my borrowed bike. Everyone: it was much appreciated.

Huge thank you to my Dad, who drove to nearly every race, yelled like crazy and pushed me to try as hard as I could and put as much effort possible into every race. He really is the Team Dad, and hopefully next year we’ll get to see him race, since he’s pretty hooked on it too.

My whole family- including Mom, Colleen and Robbie- for not just coming to some races but for being so incredibly supportive and doing so much (mostly laundry) for me as I drove them nuts every weekend with racing.

Thank you to all of the promoters for putting on awesome races, to all of my non-collegiate cyclocross friends (both old and new) for cheering and generally making the season super fun for all of us.

Overall, thank you for a great season, and I can’t wait to kick ass next year!

My first podium for collegiate cycling!