How to race (or just ride) Cyclocross
I’ve a funny relationship with Cyclocross, the multi-surface, off-road circuit races that take place over the winter months. I hated my first race because I just wasn’t accustomed to pushing myself really hard and the pain I felt in my lungs and legs really took me by surprise. I also didn’t warm up properly and wasn’t that fit having never done a day of training in my life or many (any?) races for that matter. My second race went a little better in that I came second, but that was only after crying on the final lap and no, I’m not kidding.
Last year I entered a couple more ‘cross races. I really loved them, felt the wind under my sales and a real delight at bombing it around technical corners and tricky descents. Unfortunately, I ended up missing a lot of the season for a a variety of reasons so I vowed that this year I’d race more, which I did. I stacked up some good results that should have made me happy. But something just wasn’t quite working for me.
Anyone that races cross will tell you that there’s a lot of pain involved. Here in the South West both women and men race for an hour and if you’re really going for it (something I just can’t help but doing) you’re riding at Threshold or your absolutely maximum exertion for the entirety of those sixty minutes. As I enjoy many kinds of races, I’m certainly used to feeling uncomfortable so that shouldn’t in theory be a problem. It started to be one, not really for physical reasons but for mental ones.
It’s been a really wet year which has resulted in a hell of a lot of mud, something that cyclocross is famous for so I can’t really complain about that. But last time few times I’ve raced, the effort of riding at less than walking place through a boggy field has started to really feel like a chore and the sheer futility of my pedalling has begun to get to me. I started questioning what I was doing and whether I wanted to spend every Sunday doing it. Maybe… shock horror….. I don’t like mud?
The thing is, I actually LOVE riding my cross bike but I really crave speed, it’s one of the things I love about cycling. I couldn’t find any this year – either that damn mud was getting stickier and slower every week or I was getting weaker, which would be odd given that I kept getting on the podium! So I made the decision to give cross a rest and just ride my CX bike for fun.
I think it’s good to question yourself sometimes really examine what makes you happy rather than just following tradition, routine of what’s expected of you. And I feel like cross just for the heck of it is more my bag right now. Perhaps I have race fatigue, I don’t know. So I’ll make sure I ride trails where I can find what I crave and allow my tired body a few months without racing.
All of which is brining me to this point. A few months ago Dave and I filmed some cyclocross videos for British Cycling. The filming was an absolute pleasure as we spent long days hopping on an off our bikes, practicing the skills needed for racing and getting the most out of an off-road ride. I’m happy to say that these skills are all transferable and I’ll be using many of them this Friday when I head out on a cyclocross loop with Dave using the local bridleways, paths and plantations. If you haven’t tried a cyclocross race, I’d definitely suggest you give one a go – they can be absolutely brilliant so don’t let me recent grumpiness deter you!