Those of you racing cross this season: let’s make a pledge this season. Let’s make a pledge not to sandbag ourselves, underestimate ourselves, or downplay our abilities.
In my 3 years of racing cross, my eyes have really been opened to how often the cis women I race with lower the bar for themselves while getting ready for a race (myself included!).
“Oh, I’m going to line up in the back because that’s where I’ll be the whole race.”
While this behavior is most prevalent at the start line and in the hours before a race, I hear it all the time in practices, clinics, at any bike related activity. I didn’t even realize I was doing it myself until I heard it over and over again from the women I raced with – and it started to annoy me!
“Okay everyone! I’ll try to stay out of your way when you’re passing me, because I’m really slow!”
It first annoyed me because as someone who is statistically most likely to be in the bottom 2 spots, I was irritated by these women talking about being last and then smoking me in the race.
“What’s the prize for DFL, because that’s the only prize I’m winning!”
But then I was bothered by it once I probed a little deeper into why women might be making these statements.
“Oh, I’m just using the race for training so you all are going to beat me.”
Once I started examining my own emotions at the start of a race and analyzing the rationale behind why we might make these kinds of statements, I came up with two theories:
A need to lower expectations so we don’t disappoint anyone/ourselves;
Basic race jitters and a true fear of coming in last and being embarrassed.
“Don’t worry about being slow, because I’ll definitely be slower than you.”
I’m finding this kind of talk more and more damaging. And while I can forgive the women for this kind of talk, as I understand they are speaking from a place of insecurity and nervousness, I can’t excuse it or let it go unchecked anymore. When you talk like that, you are only hurting yourselves – if you go into a race with a negative mindset, how are you going to have the best race possible?? How does saying things like that make you a stronger person? It doesn’t help you OR anyone around you to talk like that.
All of this is to say, let’s make a pledge this season to cut that negative self talk crap out!
It has been empowering and eye opening and exciting to watch so many women beat their fears and try ‘cross racing. I know you are so much stronger and capable than many of you think you are and it kills me to hear you talk down about yourself before a race. If we’re always being negative about ourselves, how expect others to be positive for us? Own who you are and what you’re capable of. Own your nervousness and the goals you’ve set for yourself! Instead of negative self talk, let’s try saying these things instead before a race:
“I’m racing for myself and I’m excited to see if I can accomplish my goals!”
“I’m feeling anxious about how much racing is going to hurt!”
“I feel slow today, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
“I’m so nervous about the technical parts of this course! It’s so challenging and I wonder how often I’m going to have to get off my bike.”
“Racing makes me so tense I either want to throw up or poop. Maybe both.”
Pick a goal, like trying to do a proper remount every time, trying out the scary feature at least once, catching one person ahead of you and focus on THAT instead of worrying about letting others or yourself down. If you give it your best shot, you won’t let anyone down and you’ll feel awesome about your effort, no matter where you finish!
You’ve done the prep: got the bike, practiced the skills, and actually signed up for a race! But, how do you prepare for race day? And what do you need to do once you get to the course? Race day does take some prep, and navigating the registration table can be a bit daunting if you’ve never done it before, but it quickly becomes routine.
What should I do the night before a race?
As most beginner races have the earliest race time slot, the more prep work you do the night before, the later you can sleep in the day of!
Cyclocross can seem intimidating, what with all the jumping on and off the bike, navigating uneven terrain, etc. But with practice and some on-course experience, you can become comfortable tackling any course. There are a lot of ‘cross-specific skills to learn that you will continue to work on and refine as you keep racing.
This post will give you an overview of some of the core cyclocross skills and which of those skills you may want to work on first as you’re getting into racing.
What skills do I need to learn?
There are a number of skills that are unique to cyclocross racing:
Dismounting (getting off your bike at speed)
Remounting (getting back on your bike at speed)
Running over barriers (planks mounted in pairs)
riding off-camber (riding perpendicular on a steep hill or slope)
riding in sand
carrying/shouldering your bike
There are also a number of skills that you might not think of as being unique to cyclocross, but in fact they are among some of the most fundamental to the sport:
Climbing and descending (on particularly loose or steep terrain)
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.)
You’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. Continue reading “Cyclocross and You: The Bike”→
Once you’ve worked up the nerve to walk into a bike shop, you face your next challenge- actually making a decision. Some decisions are small- bike lights, saddle bags, gloves. Others are big- bikes, bike shorts, pedals, shoes. If you’re starting out from scratch, then you’re faced with the biggest decision of all- which bike to buy! First, it is important to understand that you can’t buy a bike online. I mean, you can, but I would imagine that only the most experienced cyclists can order a bike online and get exactly what they want. If you’re just starting out, you need to touch, feel, ride the bike. In my opinion, there’s not really even a reason to research bike brands online, because you don’t know what your bike shop is going to have. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do research on different bike brands, but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the choices and varieties- and if you’re like me, all those choices will make you want to give up. Most bike shops only carry certain brands anyway, but if you know what brands your store carries, you can do some research on those. However, I suggest just going into the store and seeing what they have. Bike stores don’t carry bad bike brands. Any bike shop worth it’s salt is only going to have bikes it’s proud to sell, which means no matter what you buy, you’re getting a good bike. Hopefully the shop will have a few choices in your size for you to ride, because I do think you should ride more than one bike before you decide.
Before you go into the store, though, you do need to decide why you want a bike, so you can get the right style.
There are quite a few sub categories of bikes, but I think most of them can be put into 4 categories: road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, and cruiser.
If you want to go fast or race, if you plan on doing most of your riding on paved roads, if you want to do longer charity or century rides, if you’re riding for fitness, then a road bike is a good choice. It will go fast on smooth road, but it’s thin frame and thin tires aren’t ideal for anything less than a smooth road or path. They’re usually very light, which means faster riding and climbing, but that means they can’t really take a beating. A road bike can be too much bike for many people and the bent over, forward position can be uncomfortable and intimidating at first. These feelings quickly fad, however, and even road bikes come in simple designs and it’s easy to find one that is just enough bike for you. And, in my opinion, they look sexy as hell. One thing to keep in mind- there is very little reason for you to buy an all carbon bike unless you plan to race or if money is no object. An all carbon frame can offer more comfort on really long rides, as it absorbs road noise better than other materials, and it’s lighter weight might help you go a bit faster, but generally it is not worth the extra money for casual cyclists.
A subset of road bikes that is also very popular are touring bikes. They look very similar to a road bike, but usually have a less extreme position, wheels that are a bit wider and places to attach bags to the bike. They are designed to carry heavy loads, over long distances, with a slow and steady pace. They’re great if you want to do long, multi-day rides, and rides where you carry everything you need with you on your bike or for commuting.
Best for: off road riding, rugged terrain, really crappy street riding
Mountain bikes are pretty self explanatory. They have big, fat tires, so they’re awesome at helping you avoid flats and giving a cushier ride on rough terrain. But those fat tires really slow you down on smooth roads. In my opinion, unless you plan on doing some serious off roading, a mountain bike isn’t very practical for everyday life.
Best for: commuting, casual city riding, running errands, those who prefer a more upright riding position, light off roading
Hybrids offer a bit of both worlds- with fatter tires than road bikes, they’re better able handle unpaved trails and with skinner tires than mountain bikes, they allow for more speed on the roads. The fatter tires are better at avoiding flats than a road bike. They also have the more upright position of the mountain bike. A hybrid is another commuting alternative for those who prefer a more upright position to the touring/road bike forward position. However, because it’s a bit of both worlds, it’s not great at either. But it’s great for running errands, moderate trail riding, and commuting. If you plan to do long rides, train intensively, or get really serious about cycling, then a hybrid is probably not the best choice.
Best for: beach rides, flat trails, basic errands, cruisin’
With it’s oversized tires, totally upright position and single gear, a cruiser is perfect for those who just want to ride short distances in comfort. Because cruisers usually only have one gear, they’re best on flat, smooth roads (paved trails). They’re heavy bikes, but that means they’re durable and can handle a beating. Don’t expect to go fast or far on these bikes, but they make riding on the beach very fashionable.
So, that’s a very basic overview of the types of bikes out there. Once you can narrow down what type of riding you want to do, then you can narrow down what type of bike you’re looking for. If you just want a bike to run to the grocery store or take weekend picnics on the trails, a cruiser or a hybrid is probably the right choice. If you want to commute, a hybrid, touring or road bike is best. It’s important to think about the future as well. If you imagine yourself doing century rides, a road or touring bike is best, even if the drop handle bars and more forward position scare you. If you seriously want to loose weight, a road bike is also a better beat than a cruiser or hybrid. But if you don’t imagine yourself doing anything more strenuous that getting groceries or riding to work, a hybrid or mountain bike will work for you! Even though I was a beginner cyclist, I decided I wanted a road bike because I planned to do RAGBRAI and I was going to ride for fitness and fun. And I liked how road bikes looked 😉
Now you gotta get into that shop, talk to the sales person about what you want, ride a bunch of bikes and see what works for you. If you’re just getting back into cycling after an absence, don’t let the drop bars and more aggressive position of the road bikes scare you off- you quickly get over that and learn to love it.
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