into Cyclocross – 7 Steps, 1 Leap

Ok, I feel a need to backtrack – how the heck did I go from triathlon race reports to becoming the “Luckiest Woman in all of Cycloross”?

Cyclocross seemed like a great triathlon-off-season sport since cycling, though improving, is still my weakest leg. I’m pretty sure that any future speed lies in increasing my confidence (aka reducing my fear), handling skills, and power output. This is cyclocross – tenfold!

These are the steps I took to get started with cyclocross (CX). And it’s pretty fair to say that this may not be my best example well-thought planning.

Step 1. Procure a(nother) bike.
Welcome to the tent, StellaThe road and tri bikes won’t work for cyclocross and my mountain bike weighs about as much as I do. I “needed” a new bike. Happily, I’m married to a bike MacGyver. As soon as I shared my CX intentions, he began dismantling old bikes, gathering parts from his and our friends’ collections, and building my “Franken-bike”.  And then he surprised me with a new-to-me used Giant CX frame – which I love! Jason and our friend, Steve (the Bike Guy), procured the rest of the missing parts – and I had a CX bike, Stella Blue.

(As an aside, for someone who still “doesn’t love cycling,” I now own a lot of bikes.)

Step 2. Ride the bike (on the grass)?!
On a Friday afternoon, Jason added a saddle and wrapped the handlebars. (Perfect timing since I was signed up for a CX skills clinic, later that evening.)  Weeks earlier when I signed up, I imagined having ridden the bike a few times before going to the clinic. I seriously considered bailing after trying several times to gather the courage to hurl my body on to the bike. I started to crumble into a mentally defeated pile, so I put myself into “time-out” (not joking – I sent myself to my room until I could come out with a better attitude). In the quiet, I decided that I am what I am – an otherwise competent human, with no cyclocross skills or experience.  humble beginningsThis wasn’t going to change before the clinic. Showing up “as-is” felt marginally better than bailing and remaining skill-less, so off we went – me and Stella.

Mark McCormack did an fantastic job breaking down the dismount, the remount, and the barriers into manageable pieces for my brain and skill level. By the end of the night, I was happy, really happy and again hopeful that cyclocross might be fun. I had a pretty good CX Day 1!

Step 3. Despair.
On CX Day 3 I crashed again, emotionally. I rode the clinic high for about 48 great hours and then Jason and Steve designed a wicked pissah practice course in our yard. We invited friends over for an afternoon training session. I was psyched to practice my new skills. But that didn’t happen. The course was tight and beyond what I could manage with my current skills (and confidence).  Bummer.
Happily, the company and the beer were excellent -which to be fair was a big part of why I was drawn CX.

Step 4. Second Guess & Reconsider.
MRC
After my backyard disappointment, I spent CX Day 4 emailing event organizers to make sure it was appropriate for someone with my level of inability to attend the next clinic I was registered for. My friend, Kristin, and I had signed up for High Tea with Helen (Wyman) almost 2 months ago – back when I naively underestimated how quickly I’d transition to cyclocross. It was also when I imagined High Tea with Helen being a women’s clinic and actually including tea. (I was wrong on both counts.) Thankfully no one replied to my inquiry. By the afternoon, I changed gears (again) and registered for the 2nd day of the clinic , as well and convinced Jason to join me.

Step 5. Be scared and show up anyway.
Behind the planks
I’ve decided that showing up is probably the most important step to anything. I arrived at Kristin’s, on schedule on CX Day 5. I dropped off my 2 youngest kids for her mom to watch, piled Kristin’s bike into the car, and we were off.
It was a good sized class, everyone was incredibly nice, and I wasn’t the only brand newbie there. Helen and Stef Wyman were amazing! I can’t speak highly enough of how much they taught me or how much they contributed to my confidence level. Of the group, I clearly still had the most trepidation, even riding between elements, but I came so far from where I started.
( I felt quite badly when I nearly knocked into Helen as I crashed through the downhill, off-camber section, but CX Day 5 restored my hope.)

Step 6. Freak out. Show up. Repeat.
On CX Day 6, Jason and I showed up a little early for High Tea with Helen. We rode through the course together to warm up. Jason was registered to race the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross  which followed the clinic. I planned on waiting to see how I felt after the clinic. The 2nd day of Tea was just as great as the first.
CX Day 6 included “day of” registration for my first cyclocross race. (ack!)

Step 7. Reframe.
There was a certain amount of juggling of childcare and after school events in order to make the clinic.  A neighbor watched our kids right after school, but I needed to dash back to pick them up, while Jason raced, and bring them back to Lancaster (fed) in time for my race. Initially this felt like a huge inconvenience, but it wound up being another good time to calm my brain. On the way home I deduced that I was 1. scared, 2. certain to be last and quite possibly embarrassed, and 3.  trying to justify being a”no-show”.

One of the gifts of parenting is imagining what you’re actions teach your children.  More than I wanted to quit, I wanted them to believe that as long as they do their best, they have no reason to be embarrassed.

No more steps – time to leap!
Jason had finished his race by the time I returned to Lancaster. On the way, I had prepared the kids for what they were about to watch. I told them I was going to try my best and was probably going to be last, but my goal to not give up and enjoy the whole experience, as much as possible. At first they laughed when they heard I was going to be last, but they quickly switched to being the best cheerleaders, ever.
High Tea with Helen (Wyman)All that was left to do was pin on my number and head to the starting area with Stella. Our race started at 7:00pm. So my first race ever was also going to be in the dark. Pretty awesome.
I hung at the back with the other first-time racers from the clinic. Just before the start, I reminded myself that this would be my only first race ever and to make the best of it.

The rest is history. Best first race and DFL, ever!

Thoughts?

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