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!


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.