The Nerves, The Grin, The Satisfaction – My First CX Race

The Nerves, The Grin, The Satisfaction – My First CX Race

Written by: Caitlin Lovelace

Early mornings are not just apart of race nerves, but apart of the sport. Thankfully, I already enjoy waking up early with my 2 cups of coffee, sitting at the kitchen table, and reading my ipad. Race day is no different; what can I say, I am a creature of habit! Keeping a set routine calms my nerves especially on race day.

Keep Calm and Race On – easier said than done.

I arrived at my first weekend race in early fashion. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to pre-ride the course and to see what nonsense I got myself into. The air was crisp and the sun had not greeted us with its presence yet and I was cold. However, I knew it would warm-up fast with a high of 94 degrees in September nonetheless! Who would have thought? By attending my CX practices I learned the importance of pre-riding the course, so I strapped on my helmet, placed my sunglasses on my face, and slid onto the saddle of my bike. I pedaled onto the course and did I mention how nervous I was? I was nervous because I never rode my bike off the road before until 1 month ago! As I pedaled through the course, I came up to the first punchy hill and right away I told myself “ You can ride up this” however, my nervousness took over and I ended up walking my bike up the hill. At the top, I realized what goes up must come down! I stood at the top of the hill watching rider after rider tackle the hill in different ways. Cyclists rode half, rode the whole hill, or simply ran up entirely, but everyone I observed rode down the hill. I let my anxiety get the best of me and started to shake. I was doubting myself. I was letting negative thoughts take over.

Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game – Babe Ruth

Support and encouragement is everything! After my first lap of the course, I rode up to my fellow SQUARE1 Cycling teammates. We proceeded to ride the course together and talk through the technical parts of the course. They could see all over my face that nerves had taken over my ability to ride. In my mind, I was scared and was upset I wasn’t able to ride difficult portions of the course. With a little encouragement, I was talked off that point of no return. I needed to hear that I can do this and I will do this! I needed to hear that it’s okay if you can’t ride the technical sections and it’s okay to get off the bike and run. It was also helpful knowing that I wouldn’t be the only one running sections of the course.

Your mind is your biggest limitation!

I rode up to the startline, in shock of what I was about to do. Strategy is the name of the game, roll-up to that startline with a plan. Having a plan of what I was going to run, what I was going to attempt, where can I pick-up speed, and what was I going to learn from this race was key for me. I stood at the startline, with a whole new outlook on this race and having a strategic plan calmed my nerves and I told myself “You can do this!” As fast as I told myself those words, we were off in a hustle to get up and over that first hill! I did not have a very good start and on that first hill I got caught in the mess of things and had to dismount and run-up the hill however, I committed to my fear of descending and hopped back onto the bike and down I went. I made sure to focus on what I need to do at every technical portion of the course and I noticed I was not nervous at all. Maybe it was because I was focused on the task at hand or maybe it was the adrenaline that took over pushing me to conquer this course!

There’s always a reason to smile.

During the race, you can hear friends, family, teammates, and even other spectators cheering for you every step of the way. Hearing their voices of encouragement put a grin of pure happiness on my face! Surrounding yourself in a supportive community such as SQUARE1 has made the world of difference for me. This collective group of women is what we need more of in the cycling community. The selfless teaching and learning from my fellow peers has motivated me to continue on this challenging journey with a smile.

Sometimes the advice you tell other people is the advice you need to follow – my tips for myself and you.

First, practice is key. The more you do something over and over the better you get at it. Practicing with friends makes the difference! They can help you jump over barriers… LITERALLY! Secondly, always make sure to pre-ride the course. It’s never a good feeling to go into a race blind. Knowing what is coming next on the course can help you prepare a plan and help reduce stress/anxiety about the race itself. Lastly, remember to have fun and enjoy each obstacle, each practice, and each race because there will always be things to take away from each experience.

Top #10 Things I Learned During My First Cyclocross Season

Top #10 Things I Learned During My First Cyclocross Season

I first spectated a Cyclocross race at the 2014 Cyclocross Nationals in Boulder, Colorado. It was my husband’s idea to go and watch after seeing a video on YouTube, and we had barely been cycling for a year. I was hooked, but I never thought I’d be able to participate in a race. It’s intimidating for a newbie who is looking to jump in. I knew nothing about bike racing and I didn’t know anyone who raced. The racers are all on teams! Everything matches! Kits, bikes, helmets, socks, shoes, shoelaces, everything matches! I thought I had to be an established pro to participate in this strange sport.

Now, 3 years later thanks to the Back to Basics race series, I found out it’s ok to be a complete beginner. I got the chance to experience Cyclocross at a beginner’s pace, I got connected with a wonderful team, SQUARE1, and started to build a solid foundation for my new hobby. Here are my take-aways from my first season!

1. Check those tires, yo.
Get yourself an accurate digital tire pressure gauge. Set your pressures low. Know that whatever you are used to on the road is too high (way too high). Know that if you try to guess how low is low enough, you’ll pinch your tube and get a flat in the middle of a race (I found that out the hard way). Pressures will vary depending on conditions and surfaces so ask around for some sage advice if you are unsure. All tires are round and black, but since they’re the only thing between you and the ground…turns out they’re pretty important!

2. Don’t skip the previews.
I don’t have an athletic background and I hate warm ups, since they feel like a workout. When an experienced racer told me that it would be a good idea to go ahead and do like…I don’t know…three (THREE?!) laps to preview the course and learn its foibles, my legs almost packed their bags and left.
But do it! It helps to build your confidence before a race. You can ride through difficult sections of the course at a slower pace, find out which parts of the course will suit your strengths will which parts will challenge you. Previewing is also useful for checking that your tire pressures are set correctly for the course. Previewing helps you set your intention for the race.

3. Embrace the suck.
Again, I am not a natural-born athlete. Slow and steady is my game, but every Cyclocross race starts with a sprint. My heart rate hits the red line before the first corner and it stays there for the duration of the race. So, I practice sprints, I practice hill repeats and I practice high-cadence uphill climbs. This teaches my legs to be punchy and explosive and helps me to embrace that sweet, sweet burn of lactic acid.

4. Support. Get some.
Find a good team and join it! Turns out everyone is on a team for a reason. The support and camaraderie at SQUARE1 has been invaluable to me. Having team members to share experiences with and learn from will get you through many seasons of Cyclocross.

5. I hate sand, it’s coarse and gets everywhere….
Don’t be afraid of sand! It is soft and you won’t get road rash if you fall over in it. Build up power in those legs and learn to float off your saddle to pedal through the sandpit. If you can’t ride through the sand, jump off your bike before you come to a complete stop. Keep up your momentum as much as possible and hit the sand running.

6. Hold your head up.
Use up the whole course – ‘tape-to-tape’ as they say. Learn about the racing line and what the apex is. Always keep your head & eyes up and your gaze ahead of you and look at where you want to go. Don’t fixate on your front tire or even the rider in front you. That’s how you end up tangled in the tape (not that that ever happened to me…).

7. Dismount & Remount
Again, keep your head up. Do not look down at your bike. It will be there for you… just trust it, it’ll be there. Practice, practice, practice. Having the muscle memory built into your hands and feet will help you be infinitely faster when you come to a barrier. Practice at walking speed first and gradually build up the speed as you get more comfortable with the moves.
When you remount your bike, you pull that Farrah Fawcett 80’s thigh master workout video move with pride. You know that move. The fire hydrant move. Lift that thigh up and jump back on the saddle, don’t look down, your bike will be there, trust it.

8. Practice, practice, practice
Practice makes perfect…as they say. Practice for that muscle memory. Practice to build up trust in your bike and that you know where it is and where your body and bike connect. Practice being smooth through corners on the course and over the barriers. Practice to build up endurance. Practice sprints to go for that hole shot at the start of the race. Work on those skillz, yo.

9. Have fun.
Cyclocross is a great sport and has become my favorite workout. You can challenge yourself at every race. It’s an all-out effort on an obstacle course with your bike and nothing compares to the adrenaline of competition. Jump in and enjoy it.

10. Take the handup.
When you’re duking it out for not-quite-last-place in a Cat4 race, you’re not exactly racing for an Elite National Championship, are you? So, why not enjoy it? That bacon/beer/donut hand-up might take a terrible suffer-fest of a race to a fun time that you’ll want to tell your co-workers about on Monday morning. Plus, it’ll make you a hero to the crowd…and if you can’t be fast you should at least try to put on a good show. It’s all part of the great atmosphere at a cross race!

YOLO: You Oughtta Look Out.

YOLO: You Oughtta Look Out.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a fear of falling. As the human equivalent of a giraffe, I have always been pretty clumsy. Ironically, I’ve also always loved physical activity. Growing up, I stuck to sports that kept my feet solidly on the ground (basketball, softball, track). My childhood gymnastics career was short lived because I hated the uneven bars so much. As an adult, I got into yoga and fitness classes like boot camp and spinning. I also got married to an obsessive cyclist, which led to me getting into road cycling. My first few road rides were fairly panic inducing, as the idea of having my feet locked into my pedals was scary. Definitely fell over at stop signs a couple of times because I couldn’t unclip. But, as time wore on, my fear subsided and I’m at ease on my road bike now. Success!

Over the years, I’ve watched my husband race countless cyclocross races. Spectating was fun, but I never ever thought “ooh, I’d like to do that”. Then, last year he got a new cross bike, so we set up his old one for me and we went out to Golden to just mess around on the Back to Basics course. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN (and not quite as scary as I thought it would be)!
I had been doing the women’s road rides with Melissa for a few months and when she mentioned SQUARE1 and asked if I’d like to join the team for cross season, I surprised myself by saying yes.

My first season as a Cat 5 beginner woman is over and as I look back, here are my takeaways:

• Confidence is key! I always joke that I’m in a perpetual state of fear during a race (see note about fear above). My biggest weakness during a race is my mental hesitation-on lap 1 I’ll hit a technical section and my fear prevents me from even trying to ride it. In subsequent laps, once my confidence is up, I’ll ride the section with no problem. While that is great, I’ve already lost so much time bc of lap 1 hesitation that it’s hard to bridge the gap back to the front of the race. Next year my number one goal is: ride without fear!
• Friends are the ultimate motivator! Having a team of women to practice with and hang with at races was so inspiring for me. Melissa with her experience helped me ride through my fear and seeing other beginner women riding technical stuff really helped me see that I could do it too.
• Even if you aren’t winning races, it’s worth showing up because cross is the best work out! For me, racing is the best practice-I can never push myself to go as hard if I am just riding alone.

Looking forward to next season!

How I became a Cyclocross racer at age 48

How I became a Cyclocross racer at age 48

by Beth Walker Lev-Tov

Three simple steps:
(1) Get the kids into CX racing to justify # 2.
(2) Buy a CX bike.
(3) Register for a CX race, Valmont seemed like a good one since I like running (5280 run up!).

Hmmm, maybe I forgot one step – learning how to actually race CX. The kids decided they would teach me how to race. They said I needed to learn how to do some sort of flying Superman leap onto the bike, something like this.

Scary! I wisely (or unwisely) decided that I would just use my extensive road and triathlon riding skills for the race. Translation, stop slowly. Dismount. Carry bike carefully. Get back on the bike slowly. Ride. Repeat.

Luckily, a day (or maybe two) before Valmont, I heard about a SQUARE1 CX clinic at Valmont. Maybe there was hope for my race after all. An hour at Valmont, and I was a different rider, well almost a different rider. A CX dismount really was not as scary as it seemed at first, and it’s possible to do a safe CX remount without flying in the air like Superman. Sand riding skills would need to wait until later in the season, but I was ready to race!

The race was fun! I was last off the line, but luckily there was a hill soon after the start so I passed a few people there. I ran the sand, despite being heckled by the kids who were yelling, “Mom, ride the sand!” I loved the stairs! I do not remember my finishing place, but I know I had a lot of fun! I ended the season with 9 races, including 4th place in a race at a golf course (lots of sand)!

Thanks to Melissa and the SQUARE1 crew for the great start in CX racing!

Racing into fitness

I like to say that racing was the natural progression of my bike riding but it’s the mountains and valleys getting there that make the story. My first adult experience on a bicycle was a no brakes crash into my husbands race bike – breaking his derailleur. After that it took almost two years to get me back on a bike.

I started cycling because it was my husbands thing and to be honest, I felt that if I did not start biking I would never see him. So because of that, I spent the first three years chasing my husband on ridiculous road rides, slogging through miles, and suffering the whole time. I began to resent the sport… what was I working for? What was the goal? Sure, I had more time with my husband, but it was not quality time. I remember a particularly bad ride on warm summer morning, it was a road climb up to the top of a local road called Twin Spruce (those of you who know the road may not think much of it, but to a novice rider like me, it felt like 100 miles at a 20% grade.) I made it two switch backs from to top before I found myself heaving on the side of the road, blurry vision, crying. My husband tried to be encouraging, but it was too much. To me, there was no point. After that, I hung my bike up. I just could not see the fun in it, and I could not feel the fitness gains to justify the pain. I felt like I let myself down, I’m not one to quit. The fastest way to get me to try something, is to tell me I can’t. But, it felt hopeless to spend every moment in the pedals resenting it.

Fast forward a few months and Melissa tells me about her new project SQUARE1 Cycling Collective. With some encouragement, I decide to join. Less because I wanted to try the whole bike thing again, and more because I wanted to support a friend. The first coffee ride I attended I settled into the back of the pack. I had been told the pace would be easy, and the rout wouldn’t have much climbing. Yeah, I’d been told that before. I was nervous of the large group of women who had years of experience on me. However, the pace was social, and the miles cruised by as we chatted and encouraged each other. And to my pleasant surprise, there were other women who matched my skill and confidence level. When we got back to the cars, I felt accomplished for the first time in my cycling career. No one to had to sit and wait for me around every corner, at the top of every hill, I wasn’t rushed, and I didn’t cry. An easy social ride, sure, but I had made it.

I set myself a goal to improve my fitness. I told myself I wanted to be able to ride at the front of the pack, rather than sitting at the back. I started to make small gains in fitness, but more importantly I started to enjoy my time on the bike. I became more confident in my own abilities, which opened up countless opportunities to ride new roads. I completed my first solo ride up to Maroon Bells, a 12 mile climb from Aspen, Colorado. Something I never thought I could accomplish, when a year ago I couldn’t even complete a three mile climb on a local road. I continued to ride throughout the spring and summer. Eventually my fitness plateaued and I began to feel frustrated again.

Que the start of Cyclocross. I had been to some of Melissa’s clinics before, and the sport seemed fun (yet, dangerous). I never imaged I could be good at it, and even told a fellow teammate that I’m not the type of person to race. I started attending more clinics and practicing on my own. The addiction was settling in. I would drag my husband down to the course almost every night of the week, I was finally noticing huge changes in my fitness.

My very first race was the Newbies Women’s at the Back 2 Basic’s, a Wednesday night series in Golden, Colorado. The race would be 20 minutes long on a mix of grass and gravel. My husband was attending another race, so I had to do all the prepwork on my own. Something that would normally cause me anxiety, but I knew when I got to the course Melissa and the Square1 ladies would be there. That simple thought was so comforting. As the rains set in, the emotional state of the event became more chaotic. When I was handed my number the event became very real, I was going to be racing Cyclocross. Before panic could fully set in Melissa tapped my shoulder “let’s get your number on, are you excited?” a familiar face made all the difference.

The whistle blew and we were off. I honestly could not tell you whether I started well; a sense of calm washed over me and all I could see was the course. I negotiated my way into second, following my teammate’s lines as I had done in practice. We reached the sand pit and I could hear the cheering and screaming from the sidelines “Pedal! Pedal! Look up! You got it!” adrenaline kicked in and off I went, riding a clean line to the front of the pack. “Smooth is fast, smooth is fast” I kept telling myself. By the time I crossed the finish line I was hooked. It wasn’t the win that had me craving the next race, I was captivated by the excitement of achieving something with an amazing group of women.

The encouragement and support from the women of SQUARE1 Cycling Collective facilitated more achievements in a few months then I ever thought possible. I’ve pushed my comfort zone, found a sustainable fitness plan that works, and made some pretty amazing friends. My future outlook on cycling is chalk full of amazing opportunities to learn new skills and challenge myself; and I cannot wait.

From a pretty early stage in my cycling “career”, I have been interested in trying cyclocross;

From a pretty early stage in my cycling “career”, I have been interested in trying cyclocross; the mud, the beer, the skin suits, the excitement, it all appeals to me. Year after year, I found myself trying to get my act together to participate in a race. But the first race would roll around and without fail, I would find an excuse not to race (i.e. not being fit enough, not having the “right” bike, worrying about skills… etc.)

Fortunately, this year, I started working at Panache Cyclewear, where I was introduced to SQUARE1. Of course, I’d seen many women’s only group rides and skills clinics offered, but often it felt like I wasn’t really a part of that group and was too intimidated to even see what these events were about. After meeting Melissa and Barry, and hearing about their mission, I felt like I could give the whole riding with people thing a try.

Melissa organized a series of skills clinics that started from the very basics of getting on and off, how to maneuver stairs and run-ups, and cornering. There wasn’t any pressure to be an instant expert or to be the fastest. Instead, the emphasis was placed on learning, and feeling your way through each of the skills until one felt comfortable. Which was great for me, as I am generally uncoordinated. 🙂

After a few weeks of weekly practices, it was finally time to line up and try and actual race. I felt pretty ready; I’d practiced my mounting and dismounting, I was fairly comfortable with “shouldering” my mountain bike; we’d just have to see how the whole “going as fast as you can” thing would go.

I was exceedingly nervous. Though I was fairly confident in my skills, I wasn’t sure how my mental-state while racing would translate to functioning arms and legs. What if I face-planted over a barrier? In front of… PEOPLE? Woof, I really did not what that to happen.

Negative thoughts aside, I was excited. The Cat. 5/ Newbie Women lined up for the first time that year. It was comforting to see mostly familiar faces there. Even the unfamiliar ones were friendly and smiling, excited for their own races. I tried to find a spot in the line-up that would put me on the more worn down section of grass.

The official told us we had 15 seconds until the start, I started counting down in my head. The whistle blew, and just like that, I was pedaling.

The course that week was fairly tame; we made our way around the frontside, up to a set of stairs, around to the sand-pit, then looped through the barriers. It was straightforward and everything we had prepared for, albeit, utterly exhausting. I hadn’t thought 20 minutes on the bike could be so tiring. While we had all started together, towards the first quarter of the race we had all, more or less, found our placings. Or at least I did; I found myself dead mid-pack, where I didn’t see the leaders until the finish, and no one was really, visually, behind me. I kind of loved that; I wasn’t worried about kicking anyone when I dismounted, I could moan and groan about how darn tired I was. It was pretty rad.

Though I know that scenario is likely to never really happen again, it was really great for my first race.

I finished 4th, which I was extremely proud of. I hadn’t DFL’d as I had jokingly planned on, but instead right behind the girls on the podium. It felt good! It felt like something I wanted to do ALL THE TIME.

My take-away from this experience is really that it is extremely helpful to have a cohort of supportive humans to help you achieve something that you’ve wanted to but just couldn’t figure out how to do on your own. Now, is that grammatically correct? Likely not. But is it really how I feel? Yes, indeed.

I’m excited to continue to learn more about the sport and keep riding with the ladies of SQUARE1!!!