A little while ago, I was bemoaning my lack of descending courage to a friend, who suggested I give cyclocross a go. What? Ride around in mud, slipping and sliding all over the place? That sounds hellish, so probably very good for me.
British Cycling were running a development session ahead of the Summer Series, so I signed up, pleased to see that they would provide bikes for women and juniors, presumably to get more people into cyclocross. I don’t own a CX bike and was thinking I’d have to borrow one from my housemate, who is about 7cm smaller than me, so this was good news.
The development session was tough. It was at Herne Hill Velodrome, behind the track. I got on the bike, pointed the bike down a ramp, freaked out and grabbed the brakes (which produced a lot of noise but not much stopping), and continued to freak out for the entirety of the lap, with peak freak outs on any slppe (down or up), particularly the descent straight into a brick wall.
It felt a bit like when I went snowboarding. Everyone else was merrily chucking themselves down slopes and having a blast, while I clung to the side and let my courage seep away. I got off my bike several times. I re-emerged at the start, where Jason the coach asked how I was getting on. I felt like crying. I felt like a massive girls blouse. Jason was super encouraging and suggested I give it another go. I’d been gearing myself to hand the bike back to him and leave but he seemed to think I could do it, or, at least, he was incredibly optimistic, so I carried on going. I got better, but starting from such a low base meant it wasn’t hard to see some improvements.
At the end of the session, people were encouraging me to come to the Summer Series anyway. “Someone’s got to come last!” they said, as if this was an incentive. I did have to think about it but decided to do it, as part of my ongoing struggle to conquer my fears.
Race 1 – my first cyclocross race! – was held at Bethlem Royal Hospital, which is a bit of a schlep from my work. I arrived, picked up my borrowed bike from Jason and swapped my pedals over. A really nice guy from LFGSS, who’d seen my abysmal first attempt at CX, had offered to take me on a sighter lap before the racing started, and after a quick pootle about on the grass to check out the bike, we set off.
The course had a grass section (into the wind!), then some woods, back onto the grass (tailwind, yay) and into some more woods before some plank jumping fun on the way to the finish line. My friend gave me some useful tips while we slogged along. Halfway round I thought to ask how a cyclocross race even works (40 minutes (or an hour) + a lap) and wondered if I’d make it through the whole thing, as I was already pretty knackered. I found some of the more technical stuff a bit daunting and was not looking forward to riding it while people (inevitably) lapped me.
We got back to the start to see… NO ONE! The race had started without us!!
“You can catch them up!!” we were told (LOL!) and so we pelted off, half a lap down before we’d even crossed the start line. My friend went off and I tried to relax.
Weirdly, the things that had perturbed me on the sighter lap (a descent in the woods, a massive hole on a bend) didn’t matter so much. Actually, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m already last, I’ve already cut my knee (before I’d even got on the bike…), I’ve come all this way and I may as well give it a go. I don’t want to be the kind of person who quits. I’m not a quitter. Let’s do this.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so thirsty (why didn’t I bring any water with me?).
I managed the scary descent, rode over every root and spun up every hill.
I overtook 2 people.
I got lapped.
I thought about quitting when my legs felt SO TIRED but remembered that I’m not a quitter and carried on.
I got ridden into by a chap who shouted “on your left” just after he hit me.
I got thanks and encouragement from the people lapping me and from the marshals.
I actually had a really awesome time.
I had no idea what time the race had started or how long it was going to be, so I just kept going until I heard the bell, signifying the last lap. And then I went another lap, thinking about water, thinking about my tired legs, thinking that I was having a pretty fun time, all in all. I crossed the finish line – two friends cheering me on just beyond it. What a relief.
After drinking Neil’s water (water he told me afterwards he’d got from a random outside tap in the hospital grounds) and applauding the winners, I asked Jason if I’d come last. He told me that not everyone had finished, which made me feel pretty pleased with myself.
The ride home was the slowest ever and I had to be talked into not just eating haribo for dinner when I got in (apparently that’s not real recovery food??), but today, thinking about the race, I smile to myself and think: well done hats, you did it.