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!)

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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.

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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.

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15 Comments

  1. I didn’t think they really had beer at the races. Now I’m going to be super disappointment if I show up to one and there’s no beer…

    Reply
  2. great post! My first cx race was 4 years ago (at age 40) and I became completely addicted. Hopefully you’ll be back for more!

    Reply
  3. Congratulations and outstanding work.
    Mud races are a special kind of wonderful hard…
    Cross is by far my favorite bike racing game.
    great write up as well!

    respect
    vanderbacon

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  October 8, 2015

      Ugh, yes, i’ll be fine if i never do another muddy race!!

      Reply
  4. Marc

     /  October 8, 2015

    Great write-up! Lining up for the first race is a big hurdle- congrats!

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  October 8, 2015

      Thanks!! it was a couple years in the making, but worth it 😉

      Reply
  5. Darlene Doorenbos

     /  October 8, 2015

    Boy, you could really feel your biking high in your writing. I am so proud you took on the challenge to participate in this sport that you have enjoyed as a spectator. More power to you, Love, Mom!

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  October 8, 2015

      thanks, mom!! :-* (that’s a kiss, in case you don’t know)

      Reply
  6. Hi! I found your blog through the Women & Bicycles Facebook group. Thanks for posting your recap!

    I planned on doing my first cross race this year but wound up chickening out. On one hand, it seems like my kind of sport (beer? yes please!). On the other hand….while I’m a fairly experienced road cyclist at this point, unlike you I think I might not have very good bike handling skills! I went to a park one day just to practice the dismount and it took me SO LONG to get the courage just to swing one leg over the saddle and coast on one pedal – I was so certain I was going to fall, and my body just kept going NOPE lets get this leg back where it belongs.

    So kudos to you!!! You’ve inspired me to keep cross in the maybe list for next year…

    Reply
    • TheBloomingCyclist

       /  October 9, 2015

      I definitely didn’t think i ‘d have good bike handling skills and definitely never thought i’d be brave enough to jump on and off my bike, but somehow i was! you should definitely check out a cyclocross clinic. That helped me gain a lot of confidence, having someone walk me through the process. I”m still scared of barriers, but focusing on not falling over them instead of speed, has meant i haven’t face planted yet!

      But, yes you should try it out. if you do decide to do a race, feel free to reach out 😉

      Reply
  7. Dismounting takes a ton of practice. If you cannot get to a clinic, there are a TON of great videos on youtube. I recommend the Jeremy Powers one that demonstrates the “pre un clip” method. Much safer!

    Reply
  1. The CXOff: Hyattsville CX - You Always Remember Your First Time | @Cycleboredom

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