One week ago, I embarked on one of the most exciting ventures of my entire sports career. I have had my fair share of participating in some pretty cool events like six Ironman races, the Boston Marathon, the Leadville Leadman series and crewing for the Badwater 135 and the Brazil 135 but there was something about September 14, 2013 that I will remember forever. My first cyclocross race.
The feeling was a bit like my first triathlon back in 1993 except I have much more knowledge of sport and training. My first tri was done off of a dare in college and I had no idea what I was doing. I swam in a pool with heavily padded cycling shorts and I rode a mountain bike with big knobby tires. Luckily, growing up a soccer player, I knew how to run and found extreme joy running a 5k off the bike even though I had never experienced this "dead leg" syndrome before. After crossing the finishing line in the far, far back, I knew I had a new found love of a different sport. One that has taken me 20 years to explore.
In 2006, I took a sabbatical from triathlon and embarked upon my ultrarunning and ultra mountain biking interests. It was definitely more of a challenge than what I was used to (yes, even Ironman training and racing was easier) and that is what peaked my interest. I spent a few years getting dirty on trails before I realized how much I missed triathlon. So, I returned back to triathlon and began with short course (sprint and Olympic distances) again due to lack of time for heavy volume training. What I had learned was that my body loved this type of shorter training. No more than 1.5-2 hour training sessions. High intensity repeats. Plyometric training. It was like I found my home again. Growing up playing soccer, I had endurance but was much better suited for the stop and go, anaerobic nature of that type of sport. I was driven to become as fast as I could in shorter triathlons not necessarily to see how good I could be but rather, to regain the sensation of going fast and using more of my anaerobic energy system. It was this, and the true curiosity, that led me to completing my first cyclocross race last weekend.
I have a cyclocross bike and I know how to bike, even push my limits. What I didn't know prior to my first cyclocross race was anything really about the tactics. I watched some YouTube videos but that didn't teach me much. I talked to some friends who had done some races and began to understand a bit more about the sport but it wasn't until toeing the line that I truly gained my first lesson in what cyclocross really is.
I had no idea what category to enter so luckily, my friend Brandon Jessop gave me some tips and he was spot on with his selection: SM35+4. That means senior men over 35 years old, category 4. Sounded good to me, not knowing really what that meant in terms of how good the guys would be. My goals for my first race were very simple: 1) have fun, 2) don't crash, 3) don't get lapped and 4) inspire the teens that I coach at Teens that TRI to try a cyclocross race.
Luckily, I achieved all four of my goals. I was a bit worried about goal #2 because it is hard to control others actions. In fact, on my first lap, three guys went down right in front of me in a pile up. I was able to act quickly and ride up a little hill on their left to avoid them. But I digress, let me take you back to the start. I lined up in the second line (out of three), not knowing what to expect. The starter gave us some instructions and then 30 seconds later, the whistle blew. Welcome to sprinting! Two guys sandwiched me in the first few seconds so I bumped the one on the right to give me some space. He was a bit upset but I wasn't about to go down so soon in the race! Luckily, I have built up my technical cycling skills by teaching them to my teens so I wasn't afraid of bumping or locking bars.
Off we went. It was a mad sprint to the doubletrack! I played it safe and sat in the middle. Remembering that this was my first cyclocross race, I wanted to observe what the athletes did, how they responded, when to attack and when to sit. My first lap was pretty hard but not all out. Second and third laps were getting tougher as I was learning what to do, how to take corners, get on and off my bike fast to get over obstacles and handling my high heart rate. Figuring out when to get a few seconds of recovery was the tricky part. I managed to do this around some corners where the speeds were pretty slow.
Mud pits, 180 degree turns, super short and steep hills and bunny hops...all while redlining my intensity. I had predicted we may finish about 4 laps of the course in the 40 minute race but boy was I wrong! At lap 3, they announced we had 3 more laps! This meant I wasn't going to get lapped so a good thing but another 3 laps? Could I do it? I buckled down, told myself it was only about another 20 minutes and actually starting gaining on some guys. I was getting a bit faster and more comfortable with the course as time went on.
I had the support of many of my Teens that TRI families out there along with friends and my family. It was awesome having all of them screaming for (at) me during the race as I surely needed the pick me up at times. Last lap, coming around the last corner on pavement after a mudpit (read: my tires were slick), I was cautious on the turn then threw down my finish line sprint. At least I think I was sprinting but that is beside the point. I crossed the finish line the same way I rode my first lap: with a huge smile on my face.
There is something about cyclocross that is addicting (like most sports). For me, it is the anaerobic nature of the sport along with the tactical skills. Both of which I look forward to in the next few months of cyclocross season in Colorado!
Are you wondering why the title of this blog is "low psi"? Well, in cyclocross, as I am learning, tire pressure is a big thing. Deciding on which tire pressure to run can make or break your race. Course conditions, rider weight, environmental concerns all factor into this. It was funny because in some of my research about cyclocross, I read the most talked about thing prior to the race is what tire pressure are athletes running. I also experienced first hand the psychological tactics some racers use in the few minutes before the race. Lined up at the front, guys were letting out some pressure in their tires almost taunting others to question if their pressure was too high.
Funny. Welcome to cyclocross!