I’ve wanted to try a cyclocross (CX) race for several months now because it sounds like an absolute blast. However, I don’t own a CX bike, I’ve never ridden on anything but the roads, and cyclocross is kind of the opposite of triathlons in terms of the bike portion. Triathlons: controlled, evenly paced (if possible) efforts while leaving some left because you have to run afterwards. Plus anywhere from 60 minutes, to 2+ hours, to 5 hours of riding, depending on what triathlon distance you’re competing in. Cyclocross: on grass/dirt/etc, high intensity/power (not my strong suit), 30 to 45 minute races (for my category at least), bike handling skills are put to the test (not my strong suit) with many tight turns. There’s several other difference, but those come to mind first.
After finding someone willing to lend me their bike and shoes for the race (thanks Caleb!), I thought it’d be wise to practice some mounts and dismounts as well as some 180 degree turns on grass. While I do a flying dismount and mount in triathlons, my shoes stay on the bike and I only have to do each one once. CX typically has several times where you get off your bike and go over barriers or run up steep hills or stairs. After watching all 8 of GCN’s introduction to CX video’s, and a few 15 minute practice rides, I felt (somewhat) confident I was ready to race.
The course at The Fast and the Furriest was probably the best course I could have selected for my first race. No barriers, only 1 steep hill you do twice, and all grass and no mud or sand and a short road section in the parking lot. So I had to unclip twice a lap (I did 5 laps total for the 30 minute race, Strava file here). I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous before any race. I get nervous before most 5k/10k road races and all triathlons, but not this nervous. I think the unknown of how I’d do is what made me so nervous and anxious. I can only assume it’s similar to my first ever 3k steeplechase race freshman year of college or my first ever triathlon.
Naturally, I started off slow and hesitant since I really didn’t know what I was doing. CX races start off fast, like an all-out sprint, unless you’re me. Well, I ended up like 10th out of 13 once we got on the grass (started in parking lot) and realized I went out too slow. (For stat purposes, according to Strava, the category 4 winner (Cat 4 and 5 raced at same time but were separated by 20 seconds at the start) had his fastest lap on lap 1 with 5:39. I had my slowest lap on lap 1 of 6:13. Over the last 3 laps, I went a combined 2 seconds faster than he did). The start of each lap is a long straight section, turn around, then long straight section back before you start getting in to a lot more turns. While the riders stayed in the worn path, I started passing them on their left in the normal length grass. Basically I just tried to push as hard as possible on the straights, try not to fall on the turns, and sprint up the short steep hill twice. Then repeat for all laps. After the 2nd lap, I was in the lead of cat 5 and caught all but 1 of the cat 4 guys. I tried chasing him down but he was too far ahead and much better than I am on the technical and tight turns. On the 4th lap, after running up the hill for the 2nd time, I jumped back on my back and instead of turning diagonally right with the course, for some reason I headed straight down the hill and had to get off my bike, turn it right and then hop back on and start riding again. Rookie mistake. (You can see it on the far right side of my Strava file. It’s the one line that deviates from the others)
Overall, it was an absolute blast and I loved every minute of it. My mom asked me during the race, “Are you having fun?” to which I said, “Hell yes!” (you can hear it in the video below and my reply is barely audible). I didn’t know quite what to expect going into the race, I just wanted to have fun and try something new. Legs were screaming, lungs were burning and I was gasping for air 90% of the race (or it at least felt like 90% of the race), but it was so much fun. I plan on racing at least one more time this month. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if I get a course that has more barriers or obstacles and if the weather conditions are worse (rain or snow, muddy course, etc). I’m extremely competitive, so to me, racing is where it’s at. I could sit on the trainer and do high intensity workouts or intervals, but I have all winter for that and getting in a race environment is more fun for me and can’t be replicated on the trainer. Plus, I get to work on bike handling skills, which is something I know I lack. One of my main goals this winter is to get stronger on the bike and more powerful, which I feel CX races will help with.
I have to thank my mom, dad and sister who came out to watch me race. My sister brought her GoPro and created the montage video below and my parents took the pictures. Unlike most of my triathlon races, my parents actually got to see me bike for longer than a handful of seconds as I leave/enter T1/T2 since most CX courses are rather spectator friendly and you do multiple laps. Also a huge thanks to Caleb Teague for letting me borrow his bike and shoes so I could race.
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