A Charmed Race: Charm City Cross

2016-10-09-charm-city-cx-59I’m not sure why I signed up for Charm City Cross. I knew it was a UCI race*, but I’d raced DCCX last year, which was also a UCI race, and that wasn’t too bad. I mean, it was hard, but I survived. I was even riding a borrowed bike that didn’t have ‘cross tires and was able to ride most of the course. Maybe because I had regretted not riding it last year. Or maybe I was ready for a new challenge.

Whatever it was that possessed me to sign up for Charm City, I felt sick to my stomach as soon as I did it. It has a long sand section and I knew that would suck (and I’ve never ridden in sand). It was a LONG course – over 2 miles! That’s a long lap. There was no beginner category, so I’d have to race with women who were faster and more experienced than me. Plus, it had a flyover, which terrified me – mainly I was terrified that it would be too steep and I wouldn’t be able to make it over without falling down.


Charm City Flyover

The race was harder than I ever imagined. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I spent 50% of the race off my bike, walking my bike. I can’t even say I was jogging or running with my bike – I was straight up walking! Not to mention the times I just stopped moving altogether, and tried to get a bit of breath back, tried to recover a bit of strength back in my legs. I felt like I was always climbing. And the stairs were….oh those stairs! The way the pros bound up them, I never would have guessed they were actually stairs for GIANTS! The rise came up to the middle of my shin and I felt like I needed a boost up each “stair”.


Look at how far the riser goes up her leg!

There were points, especially when I was stopped, where I thought of walking off the course. It would be so easy to duck under the tape and be done with it all. But.. for some reason I didn’t. I don’t know if it was because I don’t like quitting (because I’ve been known to quit things before). Maybe it was because I don’t like leaving things half finished. Or maybe I knew suffering to the end makes a better story. The only thing I can clearly remember thinking in those moments was how much I wanted to cross the finish line as the lap counter read “0”. So, after a moment, I got moving again.

But that flyover. The older I get, the more fear I have. I can only imagine the worst case scenario in any risky situation. The loop of the worst that could happen plays in my head and I can only think of that. It happened when I spent a Christmas in Colorado with my family – I wasn’t able to master skiing because I could only think of all the ways I could crash. It happened when I hiked in Iceland – I was barely able to get over a log placed over a river because I could only imagine falling into the cold, fast river.


Log of fear

And it happened when I went canyoneering in Moab – I was hysterical mess as I repelled down, unable to think of anything but they ways I could fall.


Me, hysterically rapelling

The same thing happened as I thought of this flyover. I could only think of all the ways I could crash trying to get up or down the thing. Then I started thinking about how an ill-timed wipe out from me could take out other racers who had the misfortune of being around me.


My fear!

For some reason, I became determined to master this fear more than any fear before it. My race wasn’t until 10, and I was only planning on pre-riding after the first race of the day at 8:30. But when I got there at 6:30am, I realized the only way I was going to conquer this fear was to ride the damn thing as many times as I could. As I got to the top of the little rise before the flyover, I pedaled my bike as hard and fast as I could. And I got over the top!! What elation. First try! What was I so scared about? I went over a 2nd time – success again! But…as I went down the descent, I discovered I hadn’t tightened my stem enough, so my handlebars went one way as my tire went another and down I crashed into the ramp. I was feeling awful and anxious and scared as I went to fix and tighten my stem.

Still feeling anxious and emotional, I went back to the flyover. And I made it! Feeling good! So I went back to try again. However, the worst was still to come. This time, I wasn’t able to make it to the top before I lost my momentum and I tipped over. I slammed hard down onto my knee, impaled the side of my boob on my handlebar, then slide down the astroturf covered ramp on my knee. I wasn’t able to get any purchase to stand up, as everything was slick with rain, and I just kept sliding on my knee (which, because of the astroturf, was giving me rug burn). It was awful. When I finally clawed my way to the top, I sat there, looking at the descent, felt terrified and wondered how the HELL was I going to be able to do this during the race?? I wanted to quit so bad. Say I was done to avoid having to face this fear. But then I realized I couldn’t stay at the top of flyover forever, and, shockingly, I was feeling a burning desire to not let this stupid obstacle best me. Plus, those $35 I had paid to enter the race are apparently a really good cheering squad, because I thought of them and thought, “I won’t let you down, $35! I’m going to get this!!” And I got down off the flyover.

Normally this would be where I’d give up, where the fear loop would go on overdrive and I’d say “forget it!!” The two falls I had taken really shook me up. My worst fears were coming true. But something weird was happening in my brain. Instead of latching onto worst case scenarios, my brain focused on the things I needed to do to make my attempt successful. I was thinking of the skills I needed to do well, instead of the bad things that *might* happen. Maybe because the worst had already happened. Plus I realized if something bad was going to happen, it would happen so fast I’d barely realize it, so there was no point in fixating on it. Or perhaps because I had already accepted dropping out wasn’t an option.

During the race, I had one successful flyover and one flyover where I lost my momentum right as my front wheel got on the top platform, but was able to catch myself on the railing. That trick got my calf gouged with my front chain ring teeth.


War wounds

In the end, I was dead last on the course (the person who finished in front of me in my race was a full 10 minutes faster to the line!) and the pre-ride for the next races had already started before I finished. This meant I had a gaggle of men caught up behind me as I trudged through the rest of the course, as the rules state you can’t pass anyone still racing.  I was a little embarrassed and wanted to apologize for holding them up, but then thought “Fuck it! I refuse to apologize – I have just as much right to finish this damn race as those who finished first.”

Will I do this race again? Probably not. It’s tremendously hard, I don’t have the power or gearing to avoid getting off my bike, and I don’t like walking my bike. I hated every minute of racing, and I never say I enjoyed myself while racing. However, whenever I finish a race, I feel pride for not giving up. And I felt extra proud after this race, as this was the first time I’ve stared a fear in the face and conquered it. I don’t race because racing is fun – the second the whistle blows I can’t wait for the race to finish. I race because I love being part of the community, because I feel pride after every race for not giving up, because each race is a different challenge.


By the end of the race, I realized this new way of thinking could help me with overcoming other fears – focusing on what I needed to do to make something a success instead of latching onto the worst case scenarios. And what a major brain shift! As I got older, I lost that fearlessness I had when I was younger, that pushed me to try new things which seemed dangerous. Now I feel like I have a way to get that back, a way to trick my brain into acting fearless, even when I’m not.

*A UCI race is a race sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international cycling ruling body. Because pros who race on UCI courses can get points, they are typically harder than a non-UCI course.

If you’re interested, pictures from the race are up on Flickr!

Cyclocross and You: Signing Up

When you’re ready to sign up for a race, the first challenge is finding races in your areas and the second challenge is figuring out which race to sign up for! While the way race categories are organized and set up is complicated and convoluted, you do not need to understand the nuances of race categories to sign up for your first race. Below, I discuss both the basics of signing up for races and the specifics of how race categories work.

Signing up for races

How do I find races in my area to sign up for?

The best place to find cyclocross races in your area is at BikeReg.com. This is the website (almost) all races in the mid-Atlantic use to facilitate registration. You can search for races near your zip code, by type (“Cyclocross”), and all the cyclocross races that are using BikeReg for registration will show up in the search results, sorted by date by default, with the earliest race appearing first in the list. (Though, just a heads-up: the search function on the website is a bit clunky, and might return events that start in January on the first page, so just flip through the pages until you get to the weekends that you are interested in.)

BikeReg - ScreenShot.png

How do I sign up for a race?

As mentioned above, most races use BikeReg.com as their registration site, so looking for races to do and signing up for them in advance of race day is a bit like one-stop-shopping:

  • Search for events near you.
  • When you find an event that you are interested in doing, click on the event page, and you will have the option to register for that race.
  • Select the category or categories for which you would like to register (either by cycling category, age-group, or both), and follow the instructions.
  • You’re on your way!

It’s also worth noting that promoters connect with racers through BikeReg. If you sign up for a race, you will receive emails from the race promoter before race day that contain important information (directions to the site, parking details, etc.) as well as fun facts about what might be available at the race venue (beer, coffee, food trucks, etc.) . Registering through BikeReg, and maybe also checking the event’s Facebook page if available, are probably the best ways to find up-to-date information about race day and directions to the venue.

For my first (or first few) races, which category should I sign up for?

Race categories, and who can race in them, are complicated. I tackle race categories in depth below, but to get your started

For your first race, you want to look on the registration page for the Cat 4 (women’s) or Cat 5 (men’s) category races (there is no Cat 5 for women). In some series there will be a Cat 4 or 5 “True Beginner” or “Beginner” race. Men must start with the Cat 5 races, but women can sign up for either the Cat 4 Beginner race or the Women’s 3/4 race. As a woman, once you gain confidence, skill, and speed, you are also eligible to race in the Women’s 3/4 category races. These are excellent opportunities to get a little more time on course, and to be able to toe the line with, and ride alongside, women who are a bit more experienced.


How do race categories work?

To answer this question, it’s important to know something about who is eligible to participate in each category AND know that if you’re unsure you can also speak with registration on race day!

Cyclocross race categories are either “Open”, meaning anyone of any skill level can participate, or they are restricted to participation by riders of a particular skill level (designated by Racing Category) and/or age group (e.g., 35+, 45+, 55+, etc.). Depending on your age and your skill level, you may be eligible to race in multiple categories on race day.

For women racing cyclocross, skill-based Racing Categories range from Category 4 (Beginner) to Category 1 (Pro/Elite). For men, the skill-based Racing Categories go from Category 5 (Beginner) to Category 1 (Pro/Elite). Some race series will offer a Beginner Cat 4, for women who are brand new to cyclocross, since women don’t have a Cat 5 option. It is important to note that these categories are not self-determined, but rather they are designations that are officially made by USAC (USA Cycling), and your category will appear on your racing license. When you first sign up, you will be a Category 4 (or 5, depending on your gender) racer.

Age-graded races are also sometimes available, and you may race in 35+, 45+, or 55+ races as available. These are collectively referred to as “Master’s Races,” and they are open to anyone whose racing age is at or above 35, 45, or 55 respectively (more on racing age below). It is worth noting that even if you are eligible to race in these races, unless otherwise noted these master’s races are frequently age-graded but “Open” in terms of skill. This means that if you enter into an age-graded race, you’re going to be toeing the line with women with a wide range of skill and experience. The mid-Atlantic is home to some truly incredible women in cyclocross, and in these Master’s races you’re going to be starting with and riding alongside women who have stood on the podium at Nationals! (Awesome, right?!)

So, what about all those men’s races? Women can race with men. The men’s fields are typically much bigger than women’s fields in cyclocross races, but if there is space you can absolutely sign up. Women can sign up for men’s races that are one skill-level category below their racing category (so a Category 4 woman can sign up for a Category 5 men’s race) OR age-graded up 10 years higher than the woman’s racing age (a woman eligible to race in the 35+ category can sign up for the men’s 45+ race).

What is my racing age?

Your racing age is not just the age you are when you sign up for a race. Your racing age is based on the cyclocross season and how old you will be at the end of the season. USAC defines a season end by when the national championships occur and since cyclocross national championships are generally in January, the season ends in the next calendar year. That means, even though you might race in November of 2016, your race age is how old you’ll be on December 31st, 2017.

How do I move up to the next Racing Category?

The more races you ride, you can “cat up” to the next category. Men are automatically cat’ed up to Cat 4 after 10 races raced at Cat 5. However, once you reach Cat 4, there is no automatic upgrade, unless you finish top 6 and earn points. This is good news of those who will always be slow (like me!). Just be sure not to stay too long in a category that you’re clearly to fast for. This annoys the slower/less experienced riders and is called sandbagging.

What is a race series?

In cyclocross, races within a region are organized into race series. A series is a set of races that are organized by the same group and, on race day, follow the same schedule all season long. Each series also has “Points Jerseys,” which are awarded to the racers who perform the best within their racing category in that series. This can be really fun, and watching from week to week each series has its share of rivalries that can sometimes go right down to the wire!

Within the mid-Atlantic region where I am, we have the Super 8 Series (MD/DC/VA, the larger series in terms of participation), the Sportif Cup (MD/DC/VA, the smaller series), VACX (Virginia), MAC (Pennsylvania and Delaware, the larger series for that area), and PACX (Pennsylvania, the smaller series for the area).

There is no obligation or requirement to race ONLY races in a certain series, or to race ALL the races in a particular series. You can race in any race that fits your schedule, regardless of the series it might be a part of. Of course, focusing on the races in a particular series might be important to you if you hope to earn points in your category and win the series overall, taking home the series jersey.

Do I need a license to race?

If you race that is sanctioned by USA Cycling (USAC), then yes. If it is a non-USAC race, no. In the mid-Atlantic, all of the races that are part of the series mentioned above are USAC races. Races which are not part of a series may or may not be a USAC race. The registration page on BikeReg will clarify if you need a license.

If you are a beginner racer, don’t have a license, and don’t want to spring for a license for the whole year, you can buy a 1-day license the day of the race. It is important to note, however, that with a 1-day license you may be limited in which categories you are eligible to race. Definitely look on the BikeReg registration page to check this out. Plus, you cannot race on a 1-day license if you have ever held a year long membership in the past (even if your membership is not active now).


Of course, if you do want to purchase a cycling license, licenses for the year can be bought on USA Cycling here. The licenses are good for a calendar year, and they are good for all types of bike racing – cyclocross, mountain, road, BMX, and track.

That wraps up all the particulars of signing up for races, the different race categories, and licenses! Thanks to Shauna for her edits and reviews, to ensure I didn’t miss any important information!


Cyclocross and You: The Bike

Charm City Cross 2014 (470).JPGYou’ve heard about cross, learned about cross, been to some cross races and have decided you want to join in the madness! But… where to start? It’s all so overwhelming! How do you know what kind of bike to get? How do you learn the skills needed? What are even the skills you need to learn?? Not to mention, how do you even find races in your area to sign up for?? Never fear, Anna is here! There is a lot to learn, but I’ve broken it down to make it easy to digest. The first step is The Bike. In subsequent articles, I’ll address cyclocross skills are needed (and how/where to practice them!), how to sign up for races, and what you should do on race day.

The Bike

Do I *need* to buy a new bike?

A cyclocross bike is designed to perform best in cyclocross races, but if you’re just starting out and you want to jump into some practices and into some races to try cyclocross, the answer is: No! There are lots of advantages to cyclocross bikes, but there is no need to buy one when you’re just testing the waters. Mountain bikes fit the bill, and some hybrids. BUT knobby tires are essential, because you’ll never get the traction you need off road to ride well/safely without them.

CXNats2016_Support (6).JPG

Mountain bikes: Mountain bikes are often HEAVY, which is their main drawback in a cyclocross race where you may need to get off your bike and run, or pick up your bike over barriers or other obstacles on course. That said, they are made to go off road! The only potential modification you may need to make before jumping into a race or practice is to remove the bar-ends from your handlebars.

Hybrids: Hybrid bikes can be used on a cyclocross course. Most can accommodate cyclocross tires, and the brakes have enough clearance for wider, potentially mud-caked rims. Just head down to your local bike shop and ask them to set you up with some all/mixed condition ‘cross tires! The disadvantage of a hybrid bike is that it isn’t made to go off-road, and you might feel a bit less steady in some corners because the bike is meant to be stable, not turn quickly off-road!

Road bikes: Road bikes do not have fork clearance necessary for cyclocross tires, which are wider than road bike tires (32-35 mm versus 23-28 mm) and often get packed with mud. The brake set-up on road bikes also do not have sufficient clearance for the wider rims that would support cyclocross tires. There are other important differences between the geometry of cyclocross and road bikes, but fork and brake clearance are probably the key points. I found, however, that you can practice some basic ‘cross skills on a road bike. This is what I did initially, and I was able to practice the basic ‘cross skills (dismounting/remounting and barriers) enough to realize I wanted to invest in a proper ‘cross bike!  If you do practice on your road bike, you should make sure that you have appropriate pedals on your bike (SPD or Crank Brothers clipless pedals or flat pedals) and the right shoes on your feet before attempting dismounts or remounts. Road pedals and cleats are likely to get ruined quickly if you’re hopping on and off your bike! Your LBS can help you with this as well!

If you decide to invest in a new bike, the nice thing about a ‘cross bike is that it isn’t a “one trick pony.” Cyclocross bikes are excellent for all kinds of riding beyond just racing! They make excellent bikes for gravel adventures, and because they are setup to withstand the weather typically encountered in a cyclocross season, they make for excellent all weather commuting bikes (with proper maintenance). From being able to accept wider tires, to being equipped with disc brakes, to sealed bottom brackets, and more – they can make excellent commuter bikes!

How do I choose a new ‘cross bike?

Through lots of legwork and research! You must be willing to spend some time researching what you might want in a bike, so you can make an informed decision. If you want to buy a brand new bike, be prepared to spend around $1,200 for a entry level ‘cross bike or between $1,500 and $1,600 for mid-level ‘cross bike (at least at the time of writing!). You can find used ‘cross bike for less, depending on the year/model. Try Craigslist, eBay, or any local used bike Facebook groups.

I personally find bike buying to be overwhelming and intimidating! There are SO many great bikes out there, plus shops can be intimidating if you feel like a newbie. If this describes you, below are my suggestions for overcoming choice paralysis.

  • Make a list of what YOU want: be complete, be honest, and understand that there are trade-offs:
    • What do you want your bike to do? Does your ideal bike live in your house until race day, or do you need or want to use it for commuting? Bikes are like people: they can’t do everything equally well, and a bike that’s ideal for commuting is going to have rivets to accommodate brackets and may have a “less aggressive” geometry than a bike specifically designed for racing. Trade-offs between a race bike and a more all-around bike may include geometry, weight, and components. There’s no right answer, just know before you go what you want your bike to be for you.
    • How much maintenance are you willing to do? In general, higher-end components are really nice but they also require a higher level of maintenance in order to continue to perform as designed. If you’re going to to take your bike out in wet or muddy conditions on the ‘cross course or on your commute, be honest in your assessment of the time and energy you can devote to taking care of your equipment, as it may impact your decision and also what your LBS recommends.
  • Make a list of all the local bike shops in your area
    • Each bike shop will carry their own specific mix of brands – no bike shop carries all brands!
  • Visit or call each shop on your list, and say you’re looking into getting a ‘cross bike, give them a quick synopsis of what you’re looking for your bike to do, and ask what they have offer.
    • Note models they have in your price range, their price and sizing. Sometimes sizing on cycloross bikes is, well, like shopping for clothing: the numbers don’t mean what you think they might mean. Different bikes of the same size can fit very differently. Shops will usually write down what you looked and the price, if you ask.
    • Don’t be discouraged if a shop doesn’t seem to carry any bikes that fit what you’re looking for. Keep calling. And don’t be afraid to call a shop back, if what you are looking for changes.
    • It is important to know what you want, but as you are looking, it is also important to have honest conversations with folks at bike shops to make sure that your “ideal bike” is out there, or if you may need to reconsider some of features on your list to find a bike in your price range that does what you need it to do.
  • Once home, make a chart where you can compare the different bikes, based on criteria important to you
    • It could be price, size, geometry, looks…!
    • I was looking for an upgrade from my entry level road bike, so components (derailleurs and shifters) were important to me. If that is also important to you, this article by BikeRadar was invaluable in helping me learn about the different components and groupsets!
  • Test ride the bikes that you are most interested in purchasing if possible.
    An LBS may not have a bike in your size in the store, but they can sometimes transfer bikes from other locations. Be sure to ask about this option if you are seriously considering a bike purchase.
  • Because ‘cross bikes are a bit of a niche bike, and they may not have your size available a test ride. You can work with your LBS to either find a comparable bike to test ride for the purpose of determining your size, or they can work with you off the bike to determine the size you should order.

Once you’ve decided on The Bike for you, schedule with your LBS to pick up the bike and ride on! If the bike you want is not in stock in the store, and the shop needs to order the bike, your LBS might require a deposit before placing the order, and this deposit may or may not be refundable. That said, it’s part of the benefit of working with an LBS, that if the bike doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, you can likely transfer the deposit to a new bike from that shop, which was my experience.


Do I need any special accessories?

Accessories are anything you might want to purchase in addition to your bike, just to get started. What you have on-hand is likely to change as you develop, change, learn as a rider. For the purpose of getting into cyclocross the accessories I would suggest purchasing (if you don’t have them already) are:

  • Chain Lube
    • Be. Nice. To. Your. Drivetrain.
    • This may be something you have on hand, but be sure to talk to your LBS about a good chain lube that you can use, particularly in wet or muddy conditions. You’re going to want to make a habit of wiping down your bike and re-lubing the chain. Talk to your LBS about this also – it’s a good habit, and it will keep your drive train happy.
  • Tire Levers
    • There are all kinds out there. But you’re going to want a set of your own so that you can change out tires in case you puncture a tube or because you love cyclocross so much you want to change tires depending on conditions!
      One brand I have personal experience with are Pedro’s tire levers, which are very heavy duty.
  • Extra appropriately sized tubes (28-32 or larger, depending on the size of your tire)
    • There are a whole lot of different types of tubes out there. You don’t need latex tubes to start out, standard tubes are just fine. Make sure that if you have any questions about valve stem length or sizing of the tubes you talk to your LBS folks to ensure your tubes are compatible with your cyclocross tires.
  • A good floor pump
    • You may have one, but these are always important.
  • Mountain bike cycling shoes and pedals
    • Mountain bike shoes and pedals: you’ll be doing a lot of hopping on and off your bike, as well as running through a variety of conditions, so you’ll need shoes and pedals that make it easy to run off bike, plus they need to be able to withstand the mud/dust/dirt! That being said, clipless SPD pedals/shoes are not required to race cyclocross. While I strongly recommend racing while clipped in, as it gives you more control over the bike, you can start on flat pedals and sneakers.

2015.10.04 Hyattsville CX (13).JPG

And that’s it! Once you’ve figured out what bike you’re going to use/buy, the next step is The Skillz, which I will cover in a subsequent post.

Bittersweet Race: DCCX

My second cross race had a very inauspicious start, what with a stolen bike and all. But despite all of that, my desire to ride was overwhelming and I found a bike to borrow for DCCX. And I’m so glad I did, because it turns out the act of racing means so much more than the bike I’m racing on!

It is a two day race and I was only planning to race on Sunday, but still went and spectated most of the afternoon on Saturday, despite the sadness of the bike theft. While Saturday was bone dry, with dust choking everything, it rained overnight and made everything a little soft. So, it turns out, if you want a muddy course, just invite me because I seem to bring the rain!

Very dust on day 1!

Very dust on day 1!

It wasn’t soupy like it was at Hyattsville, just a slick and slippery. And wow, what a course it was! I had been terrified to learn earlier that week that they had brought the flyover from Charm City to use at DCCX, but when I got there on Saturday, I heard that because 3 people had been taken to the hospital because of the flyover, they took it out for the early races with the less experienced riders. And I was thankful for that! However, it was still a wicked course. There were a LOT of sharp little inclines, all very short and very steep, which was made it a LOT harder than Hyattsville! Hyattsville was a slog, with the mud just sapping all the strength. DCCX was a lot more technical, requiring not only the legs to get up the inclines, but also the skill needed to keep up the speed around all the turns (although, “speed” is a relative term when talking about my racing). I normally would have been able to make it up those inclines, but I wasn’t able to keep up any speed on the downhill because I didn’t trust my wheels to keep enough grip on the slippery grass. Plus, the lack of tread made it impossible to stand up on the hills, as my back wheel would wash out every time on the soft ground and I’d had to do an awkward dismount to “run” up the hill.

DCCX 2015 (793)

I was learning how to be a little more fearless on the bike, to try and be a little more technical in my racing, but riding with my friend’s bike didn’t help that. I know I have the skill to be a really good technical racer, gaining and keeping speed through tricky bits, but I was so paranoid of my wheels washing out, I slowed down way more than I wanted to. I fear this is a habit that will be hard to break! The most treacherous part of the course was a “M” configuration, where you went up a steep hill, immediately went down a steep hill that turned right into another steep hill which turned right down until a longer downhill with a nice tight turn at the bottom (okay, not that tight, but it felt tight with the speed from the downhill). PLUS there were the rocks and roots on the downhill to avoid AND the sand/dirt at bottom, which not only made it very hard to keep up any speed to get back up the steep incline, but also added the risk of washing out! So, you know, basically turned me into a scaredy-cat. I’d dismount at the top of the “M” and cautiously pick my way down the hill. Chris gave me a lot of grief about that when he saw me stop and get off my bike. But in my defense, it was a new bike with crap tires, so I think I was justified in my caution.

Walking cautiously down the "M"

Walking cautiously down the “M”

This race has another first – my first handup. Honestly, this was the part of cross that I most looked forward to! The first lap I took a bacon handup, which was a mistake. It was a whole piece, which was hard to chew quickly and it was so salty! The second lap I took a beer handup, which was better, but honestly, when you’re going as hard as you are in a race, any food does not sit well in the stomach. I spent the rest of the lap regretting that beer. But I don’t think that will stop me from taking another handup….

DCCX 2015 (801)

Advantage to doing early races: your race doesn’t have to eat up your whole day. Disadvantage to riding early: limited opportunities to pre-ride. In the Super 8 series, my race is generally at 10am, which means I can only pre-ride before the 9am race, unless I want to get to the course before the 8:15 race (HA). Another disadvantage: I rarely get to cheer on Chris/@cycleboredom because I’m always either standing in line to pick my number up or getting ready to pre-ride.

Overall, it was a great race. My dad visited me for the weekend to watch me race and it was so, so great to have him there – it was great to have his calming presence during the bike debacle and it was great to have him there to cheer and take pictures during the race. I regret that I forgot to take a picture together! It was a hard, HARD course. I felt like throwing up multiple times and definitely cried a little, both during and after the race. But the support and the atmosphere of the race make it all worth it and I can’t wait to do it again!

Bike Love and Loss and Love

I was all ready and excited to do my 2nd cyclcross race last Sunday, at DCCX (The Only Race In Your Nation’s Capital!), when a trip down to the bike storage area in my building revealed a terrible fact: my bike was gone. My beautiful, new, only-raced-once bike was gone. All that was left was a lousy cut cable lock (no lectures please, I already know that was dumb). The details are too painful and shameful to recount and every conversation reminds me of what I don’t have anymore and it hurts my heart too much. I always thought it would suck to have a bike stolen, but I never thought it would hurt this much. Maybe it’s the thought of all the good times I knew we would’ve had together, all the rides we wouldn’t go on, all the races we wouldn’t do. I mean, I fucking loved that bike. This inanimate object opened new doors and introduced me to new experiences and people and I just MOURN all the experiences that stolen along with the bike. That’s what hurts the most when I think of what I’ve lost – it’s not the missing bike so much that hurts, as it is all the experiences I won’t have with it.

However, in the dark, dark storm that is trying to recover a stolen bike, there was one bright spot – the care and compassion of my fellow bike lovers and friends. I had lots of genuinely sympathetic comments on my Facebook posts and I could just tell they were just as upset as I was. When I tweeted my stolen bike with the #bikeDC hashtag, asking people to spread the picture, tons of people (most I didn’t know) retweeted the picture and some strangers even replied back, saying how sorry they were. When talking to the police and spreading the word about the bike, I wasn’t too emotional or upset. But once I felt the kindness and sympathy of all these people (strangers and friends alike), it was hard not to get emotional

The truth is, being a bike owner is living in a constant state of “I hope my bike is still there when I get back to it”. ANYTIME you have to lock your bike up and leave it, there’s a chance it might not be there the next time you go back to it. You can do things to try and make your bike seem like an unattractive bet for stealing, but in reality, there isn’t a bike lock that can’t be broken. And I think that is why there is so much sympathy from strangers when it comes to stolen bikes – everyone knows it could happen to them. All of our bikes are vulnerable to theft and every time you see a stolen bike post, you think “that could be me next time!”

Having a bike taken is like having part of your soul stolen. It hurts a lot and leaves a bit hole. But, somehow, the love and support and sympathy you get from other bike lovers helps fill the hole a little. I don’t hate life quite as much, knowing there is a whole community who knows my pain and genuinely cares for your loss.

While I was talking to the police and posting my bike picture all over social media, all I could think about was how I just wanted to be at DCCX. Partly because I wanted the distraction and partly because I love that race so much. It was pretty rough seeing everyone with their bikes, thinking about what I’d lost. I waffled back and forth during the day, trying to decide if I wanted to find a bike to borrow. In the end, I decided I wanted to ride more than anything. So, the next morning, I lined up with a bike my friend in the building had lent me. It was a little big and didn’t have quite enough tread on the tires, but it was a bike. This bike let me be part of a community that is amazing and I know I’ve only just started discovering how much this community to give me.

And in the end, the community is all that really matters. A bike is just an object and while its theft caused a huge hole inside me, I can rest a little easier knowing that my body is still whole and that there is a community out there that will embrace me and comfort me in my time of sadness.


Love and Cyclocross: My First Cross Race

Sometimes you try new things and it works out and you have a good time. Other times you try new things and the experience exceeds your wildest expectations.

I did my first cross race this Sunday, Hyattsville CX and I can’t believe what a ride it was. The race itself was about what I expected, in terms of difficulty. But everything surrounding the race really even more than I expected. (To read how I got to the start line, read this!)


Not exactly jumping the barriers…

The race itself was brutal – I did not enjoy myself while racing. I chose Hyattsville CX as my first race because it seemed like a pretty easy course – and had it been dry, I assume it would have been! But, unfortunately it spent the 4 previous days raining nonstop, so the course became soft and soupy. There were two long sections where it was a pure mud pit. And holy Jesus, mud is a soul sucking, strength sapping disaster. Running the mud was out of the question (because I am not that fit!), but walking was no easier than riding and I only stopped riding to avoid falling over in the mud. I did pretty well in the technical sections, was able to handle my bike well, and seemed to have a good eye for picking good lines. Chris (@cycleboredom) insisted watching all those Svenness videos must have paid off. He’s probably right. (He also did his first race at Hyattsville. Read it here!)

Riding in a race is so different than riding for fun or through town. When I’m riding on the road and on trails, I’m always looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m not moving out in front of someone, calling out my presence, apologizing. But it seemed weird to do that on the course. One women was passing me, I went to move out of her way, but she still sort of cut me off and said “Sorry!” and I said, “No worries!” I mean, if you’re passing a competitor (not necessarily someone like me who’s back of the pack), should you say, “On your left!”? I don’t know! I will say I was impressed and grateful that all the junior riders on the RCV (Rock Creek Velo) club called their passes to me – it was polite and I appreciated it.

Once I finished, my throat was so parched and that first beer I had was hands down the best beer I’ve ever tasted. Then I had a 2nd one, which was also delicious but then I had to wait a few hours to drive home again…

Post race, waiting to wash my bike. Photo by Cycleboredom

But, above all, I was just BLOWN away at how great the cross community was on Sunday. I’ve always admired how accepting the cross community feels, but never imagined it would feel this good to be on the inside of it. From the other women I was racing with, to the spectators, to my friends, to random strangers – they were all amazing. There was the woman who lined up next to me asking me if it was my first race and giving encouragement, my friends shouting my name as I rode past, the woman waiting to get a beer who asked me about the race – all of it made the whole day amazingly special.


But the best, BEST support were the words of encouragement from every Masters women who lapped me (which I’m pretty sure was all of them!). There is a lot of talk about how women don’t support each other, how feminism makes women enemies instead of friends, how they tear each other down instead of working in solidarity, and can’t women just get along?? What I saw here turned all of that on its head. These women embraced me and welcomed me. These women  understood the struggles of life and of cross – the struggle to over come the obstacles of even getting to the start line and the actual struggle on the course to compete and finish – and reached out with their words to push me on. I was so worried about being embarrassed or not feeling worthy and with a few words, these women took every bit of that away from me.

In fact, with every word of encouragement that came from the other racers or spectators, it all became worth it and I stopped questioning why I was out there. The guy who complemented my line choice, my friend Shauna who rode next to me on the course, shouting encouragement and coaching at me while I struggled through the mud, the guy who remarked that I had a nice dismount (the new compliment to make a girl swoon?), the other guy who shouted at me “You’re right there! Finish strong!” – it seriously gave me strength to start another lap. As I finished one lap, I did not think I had the strength to do another lap. But the cheers made me WANT to do another lap and they made me happy for all of the times I had cheered my heart out for those at the back of the pack, because perhaps they need it the most.

So, for all you women (and guys!) out there who are intimidated by cross, let me tell you it’s worth it. The stress of finding a new bike, the intimidation of the skills needed, the sick feeling you get when you think of lining up – the cross community, the love they have for the sport and those that put themselves out there to try their beloved sport, make it ALL WORTH IT. Life can be hard and cruel and overwhelming, but there are times when you are surprised and grateful and welcomed. This was one of those times and I can’t wait to do it again.

Over the Barriers: A Journey to Cyclocross

I’ve had my bike for about 4 years now and most things are old hat right now – I haven’t been discovering new things or really going on new adventures, so nothing feels exciting to blog about. However, recently, I’ve been embarking on a new adventure. And that adventure is cyclocross. (if you don’t know what cyclocross is and need a primer, check out an introduction article I wrote here)

I’ve spent been engaged in the pro cycling community since the 2010 Tour de France, but didn’t really pay much attention to its winter sister of cross until a few years later. Once I actually started paying attention to cross, I was immediately fascinated. I loved the community it seemed to foster, the fun everyone seemed to have, and its accessibility as a fan. I never thought about actually racing myself, even though I loved that it was such a participation sport – I’m not drawn to competition, and the skills needed were intimidating. I’m not sure what changed or shifted in my head, but last year I started to wonder if cross participation was something I could do. However, I didn’t want to drop the big bucks on a new bike if I was going to be hopeless at the skills (as putting the crucial knobby tires on my current bike wasn’t an option). So, when I realized Team Sticky Fingers ( a women’s cycling team in DC) was running women’s only cross clinics in August and September of last year, I rode over to try it out. And it turns out I wasn’t terrible at the cross skills! Dismounting and remounting were intimidating, but not impossible. Barriers were a challenge, but not a challenge I felt I couldn’t overcome. Pus, I have decent bike handling skills. However, cross bikes are freaking expensive, and it wasn’t in the cards to buy one in time for last season. So, I saved my pennies and vowed I’d buy a bike in time to have my cross coming out season at Hyattsville (Hyattsville CX felt like a good 1st race on a few levels: the course isn’t too challenging, I bought my first bike at Arrow in Hyattsville, who sponsor the race, and relearned how to ride a bike in the same area where the race takes place). I need that hard deadline, or else I’d always find reasons to put off making the commitment.

I was ready to buy a bike in August of this year but good Lord, I’d forgotten how overwhelming buying a new bike is! Researching bikes online is practically useless, as there are SO many options, I get option paralysis. So, I decided to just start with the shops: I went to all the shops in the area that were relatively accessible for me and said, “I’m looking for a cross bike, what do you have?” And that turned out to be perfect, despite the fact that most shops only carry one or two brands of cross bikes and often don’t have my size in stock. It was perfect because it really helped me focus on a handful of brands and make a decision from that smaller pool. On top of it all, I went to about 4 shops and they were all respectful and kind to me – no one talked down to me or tried to force me to buy a bike I didn’t want. So, if you’re looking for any kind of a new bike, I suggest starting with a small pool, and narrow down from whatever options you have at your LBS.

In the end, I went with a Giant TCX SLR 2 from The Bike Rack. I love how it looks and I love how it rides!


Once I bought the bike, I had to actually start practicing those cross skills again. As I wasn’t able to find any clinics in the area, I did some refresher reading on the internet and just went out to the local park to practice those dismounts and remounts. I’d find a relative flat, empty section of Rock Creek Park or Sligo Creek Park and just do laps, jumping on and off the bike. However, I was still really nervous about barriers – I wasn’t sure I would be able to practice that on my own and didn’t trust myself to remember how to do it from last summer. Luckily, The Bike Race racing team offered a cross clinic this week – the week before my first race, perfect timing! It ended up being a perfect cross practice, as it poured rain the entire clinic – that seemed fitting! The clinic was wonderful on a couple of levels – it gave me a chance to do some last minute skills training AND a fair number of the women who showed up were also planning on doing the Hyattsville race. The thought of a friendly, familiar face on the start line was a HUGE comforting factor for me.

But on the eve of my first race, my big secret is that it’s not failure I’m afraid of, it’s embarrassment. I worry way too much about how others perceive me and judge me, and my insides feel sick at that thought that someone might be laughing at me because of something I do, say, wear. Are these fears unfounded? Probably. But the mind is rarely rational. I’ve been working a lot to stop focusing on how others might perceive me (because those are their issues, not mine), and this article about mindset as it pertains to cyclocross, really spoke to me. Basically, those with a flexible mindset don’t see failure as embarrassing or a setback – they see at as learning step and necessary to grow. So, I’ve been trying to move from a fixed mindset to a flexible mindset when it comes to cross, and look at whatever happens as a learning event and nothing more. Plus, every time I wonder what a spectator might think when they see me struggle, I think of every time I’ve been a spectator at a race and how much I supported and cheered and encouraged those on the course, no matter how they were doing. And in fact, I cheered MORE for those who seemed to be struggling, because I wanted to convey how much I admired what they were doing and thought they were brave. Not to mention, all the great people I’ve met in cross who are genuinely good people and would never laugh at me for a “mistake”. So, whenever the bad thoughts crowd into my head as I think about the race tomorrow, I just imagine it’s me on the side, cheering and encouraging me on as I struggle and suffer. And I suspect I’ll need all the encouragement I can give myself.

Body Image and Cycling Clothes: An Unhappy Relationship

This is a blog post that’s been stewing for awhile. It’s been hard to get out of my brain for a couple of reasons. First, because the thoughts are all jumbled in there and I’ve needed to sort then out. Second, it’s a post which required some confession and I’ve needed to work up the courage. But after a discussion on Twitter yesterday  about the lack of cycling clothes for women inspired Sarah (@_pigeons_) to finally write her own body image post, I’ve decided to screw up my courage to write the post, because the more women who come out of the clothes closet and confess their body issues, the more women will not feel alone!

I’m a plus sized girl. Always have been, always will be. That’s just the way I am. I wear a US size 18 (UK 20/Euro 48). I have big thighs (made bigger by cycling!), big hips, a big waist (with a large tummy), big boobs.  And I would say that generally I’m able to convince myself that I don’t really care about my size. Except when I have to buy clothes. That’s when I feel fat. That’s when I start wondering how people see me, if they judge me because of my body, if people are disgusted by me. And I shouldn’t give a fuck! I’m a feminist, goddamn it. I know it’s society that makes me feel ashamed! But I can’t help it. When I think about clothes, and how I look in them, I always wonder how well I’ve hidden my belly and if guys who do see it are turned off by it.I know clothes that fit well and are flattering make a huge difference in how I look and my confidence. But damn, it is hard to find well fitted clothes when you’re a size 18 and have a large chest. When I know I need to shop for specific clothes (jeans, a dress, cycling shorts), I start getting anxious because I know it won’t be easy. I’ll admit- I’ve been brainwashed by society.

Today, as we were talking about cycling clothes for women on Twitter, I could feel myself starting to get emotional and stressed out. Buying regular clothes isn’t a picnic, but at least I know there are a couple of places I can rely on to have my size. When it comes to cycling clothes, forget it. I’ve never been in a cycling shop that has women’s sizes that will fit me. XL? Don’t make me laugh! I’m lucky if I can get my arms inside an XL, let alone zip it up. The male cut might be roomier in the chest, but there is no way it’s going to fit over my hips (trust me, I’ve tried). I don’t even bother looking at cycling clothes in the store, because I know they won’t fit.

This means I have to look online for my cycling clothes. And even online there are precious few options when it comes to extended sizes in cycling clothes. I hate buying clothes online- even everyday clothes. Even when they have good measurements, I still can’t tell how the fabric lays and stretches  or if the cut will be flattering to my belly and chest. Plus, if it doesn’t fit, I have to go to the trouble of sending it back. Buying cycling clothing online is even worse, because the sizing is awful. A nightmare. I spend days combing through sites, comparing sizing charts. I’ve even made a freaking spreadsheet. I need at least a 46 inch chest. Louis Garneau goes up to 3X. Sounds promising, right? Except their 3X is only 42 inches. Castelli? Their XXL is only 45. And let’s not ever talk about the high end brands. Rapha? 40 inch chest max. Even discounting the fact that there is zero standardization in sizing, how is sizing like that going to encourage more women to feel good about themselves on the bike?


My sizing spreadsheet

I know I’m never going to look skinny on the bike, but is it too much to ask to have flattering cuts, non-elasticized hems, and jerseys that don’t ride up?  And this is just the technical gear. What about all the new ‘stylish’ every day biking gear? Rapha doesn’t even have a women’s casual line. And besides Vulpine (which doesn’t have extended sizes), I’m hard pressed to even name another company that does casual riding clothes for women. And honestly, even if there were companies that did casual biking clothes for women, I wouldn’t even bother to look to see if they had something to fit me, because I know they won’t and it will just make me feel fat and ashamed when I see the sizing.

There are two issues at play here: body confidence and lack of options when it comes to cycling clothes. And I think the latter is affecting the former. When, time after time, I’m confronted with sizes that don’t even come close to my measurements, the message seems to be “We don’t want you size here. Your size isn’t normal and we can’t accommodate for it.” How is one supposed to remain body confident in the face of that?? Whether it’s technical or casual riding gear, time and again, I’m reading the message that my size isn’t “normal.” Even if I didn’t think of myself as fat, it would be hard to keep convincing myself of that when the only size that MIGHT fit me is an XXL, if I’m lucky. And even though I know they’re just arbitrary letters and numbers that don’t really mean anything, I can’t quite stop myself from feeling ashamed of my size.

Could I be thinner? Yes. I could do things to help me lose weight. I eat like shit and I don’t work out enough. If I improved my diet and rode my bike more often, I could lose a size or two. But I am always going to be plus sized. I’m always going to have big thighs, big boobs, a tummy, a large waist. When is the cycling industry giong to start recognizing that most women who ride bikes aren’t built like guys- they have curves, they have pooches, they have roundness. Women want flattering cuts to maybe help disguise some of the bits they don’t like. Or at least a cut that acknowledges they have HIPS and a WAIST. I’ve worn enough plus-sized, box shaped shirts to recognize the importance of defining a waist. I know I need to keep working on accepting myself, but it is hard to accept myself when it seems no one in the fashion industry or at the cycling clothing companies does.

But in an ironic twist, I don’t really care when what I look like when I’m on the bike. There is no where to hide when you’re wearing technical gear. All of the lumpy bits are out there. But for some reason, I don’t care. Even if shopping for cycling gear stresses me out to the max, once I’ve got it on and I’m on the bike, I feel comfortable. I feel strong. And I think, in the end, that’s what makes it all okay. I know many women aren’t like me, so I’m grateful I stop caring about how I look once I’m on  the bike. And as long as I feel strong on the bike, I guess that is what is most important.


At RAGBRAI ’13 with my dad and brother

So much thanks to Sarah (@_pigeons), for being brave enough to write her post. Also thanks to both Sarah and Jen (@_gavia_) for the great conversations which inspired these posts! Give them both a follow!

Update: Sarah has curated two posts on cycling clothing for larger women- Part 1 for plus sizes, Part 2 for XL and XXL sizing. AND Tina over at Wheel Women did exactly what I hoped this post would inspire- she wrote a blog post about her body image issues on the bike as well! Check it out here.

Conquring the Wall: Philly Cycling Classic 2013

0602131320bIf Chattanooga was a last minute, impulsive decision, the decision to go to Philly to watch the newly rechristened Parx Casino Philly International was one I made a while ago. Philly is only two and a half hours from DC and I was really interested to see how the race course change would affect the race. In addition, I wanted to ride the Bicycling Open, which is basically just an opportunity to pre-ride the course the day of the race. I was terrified of the Wall (more on that later), but was excited about the challenge!

First, I need to explain the Wall. The Wall is the Manayunk Wall, named after the Philly suburb it runs through. It’s a climb that is only .5 miles long, but it has sections of 17% gradient and it is BRUTAL! This year, instead of a start/finish downtown in front of the Art Museum, and a mix of short circuits and long circuits (which include the Manayunk Wall), the Philly Classic started and ended at the top of the Wall. It also cut out the downtown short laps, opting instead for 10 laps straight up. While this meant the overall lap length was shorter, it also meant the racers had to ride up the Wall 10 times!! In addition, because the start/finish was now at the top of the Wall, the race wouldn’t end in a sprint but would most likely reward a solo move made within the last few laps, if not the last lap, and maybe even the last climb. So it was shaping up to be an awesome race!

I was staying with a friend of friend in Manayunk. When I told him I was driving up (I rented a car), he said “Well, parking can be a bit difficult around here, so call me when you’ve found a spot.” And, damn, he wasn’t joking. The lower half of Manayunk is a maze of narrow streets, made narrower by all the cars parked on one side. They should all be one ways, but only half of them were, so I just prayed no would come up as I was going down. I drove around for about a half hour before I found a spot that wouldn’t require me to parallel park- those skills are pretty rusty!

Camera 360

My original intention was to ride down to the art museum and spend time there before I met up with my Twitter friend, Heidi (@heidimo6). They have a great bike trail that follows the Schuylkill River on either side. But I got a late start and it was fucking HOT and HUMID. I got not even halfway there and it was clear I was not going to make it downtown! So I backtracked a bit, rode over to the other side of the river that had a trail next to a closed road (similar to Beach Drive in DC), rode for a bit, then laid down to take a nap. It was glorious! I did have someone shout at me to make sure I was still alive, and I appreciated that. Eventually I got up to meet Heidi at her hotel. The trip there was all uphill and it was still disgustingly hot. So that was fun.

After dinner with Heidi and a few drinks with my hosts, I crashed, ready for an early morning.

Camera 360

The ride started at 7:15 and I was glad we got our ride out of the way before the sun got too high. Our ride started a little bit before the Wall, instead of on top of the Wall, like the real race did. So, after biking through the town, we started up the Wall. I think the Wall can be divided into 3 sections. The first section is the longest, steep-ish, but pretty steady. I was feeling pretty strung out by the time i reached the end of that section. Even though as I think back on it. I don’t have an exact memory being  so wiped that it justified stopping for a rest, but I did. I don’t remember feeling like my legs were burning or I was hyperventilating, so I’m not sure why stopped for a breather. But I did, and then I started up the  2nd section.

1st section, with women climbing

1st section during the women’s race

That section was A LOT steeper, though not as long. I was able to ride most of the first section seated, but that was not an option for the 2nd section! As I was riding, I kept my gaze focused on the 200m to go sign- I was telling myself, just make it to the sign, then it flattens out! Because it definitely looked like it flattened out! However, once I got to the 200 meters to go sign, hyperventilating, wheezing, and burning, it was clear it did NOT flatten out! I was so demoralized, I had to stop again.

Once I caught my breath and helped a girl fix her chain, I started up the last section. It was medium steep and pretty short. I felt pretty good going up it, because of my nice break.

3rd section

3rd section

Once you make it to the top of the Wall, there is a LOVELY downhill! It just goes on and on. And because it was on a closed course, we could just buzz through all the stop signs and lights!

The rest of the course is pretty flat, except for a little bump we thought was Lemon Hill and the climb that was actually Lemon Hill! Lemon Hill is pretty steep, but not long. I was pretty wheezy at the top, but my legs didn’t feel too bad.

Heidi and I after the ride

Heidi and I after the ride

After the ride, I took a shower, and then watched most of the women’s race from a Mexican restaurant. Heidi was supposed to join me, but she got lost. So I made friends with the mom and her daughter next to me, drank lots of margarita’s and did jello shots with them.

Camera 360

Eventually I made my way to the finish line on top of the Wall where Heidi was. It was wicked watching the guys come over the top of the hill. With 7 laps left, they pulled about half of the guys out of the race (they often do that if they’ve been dropped so far, there’s no chance of catching up). The guys were just SHATTERED- total death ride faces on them. However, many of them still had enough energy to slap the hands of those of lining the barriers, hand off water bottles, or pull a wheelie. The crowd went crazy every time a rider came over the top. I suspect the enthusiasm had something to do with the fact that it was about 25 minutes between laps, and maybe we were a bit bored.

Like Chattanooga, I really had no idea what was going on with the race. I didn’t even realized who had won until they announced him on the podium. Turns out it was Kiel Reijnen, who had come in 3rd in Chattanooga! He had a disappointing race with a mechanical right at the end, so it was super exciting to see him win.

And Kiel wins!

And Kiel wins!

It was another fun weekend of race watching. I’ll definitely be back to ride the course again next year, and hopefully I can make it up the Wall without stopping! Plus, I really wish I had tried to ride the Wall a second time. Hopefully next year I can make that happen!

Bike Trains in Chattanooga: US Pro Championships ’13

A last minute decision found me in Chattanooga, TN for the US Professional Road Race Championships! On Sunday, I had every intention of spending Memorial Day weekend indulging in an Arrested Development marathon. By Tuesday I had bought tickets to fly to Chattanooga!

I didn’t get in until Saturday evening, so I missed the TT. But with no racing scheduled on Sunday, I got to spend the day exploring the city with my Twitter friends Becky (@cat_nurse) and Roxanne (@cyclingrox). Chattanooga has a great bike share system and it was such a wonderful way to be able to explore the city- I got to see a lot more than I would’ve on foot! However, we soon realized Sunday in the south meant either everything was closed or didn’t open until the afternoon- which was an unforeseen problem when we decided to find a place to eat while we were biking!

Then Sunday evening I joined the “Divas” for some chalking on Lookout Mountain! In Europe, it is common practice to paint riders’ names and encouragement on the road for support. As we’re not allowed to put paint on the roads here, we settle for covering it in sidewalk chalk. So, along with Roxanne, Julie (@julesmpg), and Jen, we chalked the upper half of the climb to death! It was such a fantastic time, even though I was sweating buckets! While we were chalking, a reporter from the local newspaper come up to see what we were doing. And that turned into this article.

But the best part was when Chris Butler’s dad drove up the road, saw us chalking, and pulled over to chalk his son’s name on the road with us.

Chris Butler's name chalked by his dad

Chris Butler’s name chalked by his dad

After chalking, we gathered at a the Moccasin Bend Brewery for some great local beer and a kitchen with an unusual kitchen set up…

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

On race day, Roxanne and I got up early and took out some bike share bikes to pre-ride the course before the race started! We didn’t do the WHOLE thing, but it was fun to see and explore the whole course.

It stayed blessedly cloudy for the women’s race.

US Pro

But by the time the men started to line up, the clouds had blown away and the sun was beating down. I got a spot right by the start line, which meant I was right by the guys during call ups. I’ve never been to a pro race before (unless you count CX Worlds!), so it was cool to see some guys in World Tour jerseys line up who are really racers, not just local Freds!

At about the half way point of the men’s race, I started to get grumpy. It was hot and humid, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place to watch the race. The laps were so long – it felt like an age between each lap! I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to watch the Jumbotrons that were broadcasting the race and just spent a lot of time wandering around so my feet were killing me by the end of the day. I was definitely ready for the racing to be over after spending 8 hours on my feet!

I was really happy for Jelly Belly that Freddie Rodriguez won (as this means they’ll get invited to lots of races with the US champ on their team), but I do wish it had been won by someone on a Pro team, so it would be seen in Europe.

Monday after the race, most people left right away, but Roxanne, Steph (a Twitter friend who also lives in DC, @StephBDC) and I had dinner at Urban Stack, where they have AMAZING burgers. (And speaking of amazing eateries, be sure to check out Fork and Pie, a great place downtown right off the race course that serves only sweet and savory pies! I swear their Chicken Pot Pie has crack in it, it’s so good. Not to mention their mac and cheese.)

My flight didn’t leave until later Tuesday, so I spent Tuesday morning wondering around Chattanooga. It seems to be a city that is recovering into something new. One block would have lots of boutiques, fun, local restaurants and the like, and the next block would be all deserted storefronts. I think Chattanooga has a lot of potential!

It was a great city to host the US Pro Championships and while I’m definitely going back next year, I will be doing a couple of things differently. First, I will find a little chair to bring along so I always have somewhere to sit. Second, I think I will spend the race up on Lookout Mountain. I contemplated spending the race up there this year, but there were too many unknowns up there (such as, would we be able to leave or would we be stuck all day? Where would we use the bathroom? etc) and I wanted to experience the thrill of the finish line. But Lookout Mountain is quite a climb, so it’ll be awesome to see it from that vantage point!

I’ve realized that there are different enjoyments to take from watching a race life and watching the race on TV/the computer. Watch a race live, you are part of the action- it’s so exciting to get caught up in the crowds cheering, the speed of the racers, the party atmosphere. You cheer like crazy for every rider that comes by, first and last. And it generally doesn’t matter who actually wins- you’ll ring that cowbell as loud as you can and shout yourself hoarse. But you generally have no idea what’s going on in the race outside of what you see when they pass by.When you watch on a TV/computer, you miss out on the great crowd atmosphere, but you get to watch the whole race develop- you get to see the tactics and strategies, as well as follow specific riders to see how they crack or hold on.

This was a new type of race experience for me- I’ve gone to crit races (fast circuits on a downtown course, often a mile long) and cross races (fast circuits on an “obstacle course”), but never been to a proper road style race, with short laps on a downtown circuit and long laps that generally include a climb. This meant there was a long lag time between when we saw the riders. In addition, the commentators didn’t narrate the whole race, so it was hard to know what was going on. I feel like I’m working my way up the race ladder and next up will be domestic stage races (Colorado, California, etc), then European classics, then Grand Tours! Europe, watch out- I’m comin’ for ya 😉

It was a fabulous weekend of great racing, GREAT friends, and fun times!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!

Enjoying Chattanooga by bike share!