It’s rare to jump into a new sport at 29 years old, isn’t it? We pick up things a little easier when we’re younger: sports, languages, friendships.
But. On Saturday morning, when I was hauling ass up a muddy set of stairs with my bike slung over my right shoulder in my very first cyclocross race, I felt like I was defying the odds. And it felt really frickin’ good.
Saturday and Sunday, Boulder’s Valmont Bike Park hosted the US Open of Cyclocross, a UCI CX event that brings local and even international pros out for two days of muddy (and this year, snowy on Sunday) cycling.
Cyclocross has been on my list since I moved out here last year. After I settled in, got a job, made some friends, started group riding and getting to know the area and the community, I promised myself I’d give cyclocross a try. I used to go to these events in Florida with my then-boyfriend. I’d watch the racers redline for 45 minutes, hack up dust, and fall into barriers, and I’d tell myself it was too hard, too hot, and I wasn’t fast enough. But I could’ve and I should’ve. So, a couple years, a big move, and an attitude adjustment later, I lined up on a starting line with about 30 other badass women, nervous but damn excited.
For those maybe wondering, cyclocross is a type of biking. It takes place on a muddy, often wet, and sometimes snowy course. Racers ride laps of a 2km loop ranging from 40-60 minutes (depends on your category). There are often staircases, small barriers, sandpits, steep inclines and descents, and rolling hills. Some sections, like the stairs and hills, require riders to dismount and carry or push their bike up, then hop back on and continue riding.
^^^ Stairs. 💀💀💀
Valmont’s course had a healthy dose of each of these: two sets of stairs, two sandpits, hairpin turns, off camber sections, and super slick conditions. When I finished, a bunch of the regulars said this was a difficult course, but…I just thought it was fun and hoped the next one is just like it.
^^^ I can’t find the course route online, so this is my Strava data. A long, wiggly loop that we did about…4 (?) times. I can’t quite remember.
Like most other great experiences I’ve had since starting life in Colorado, it wouldn’t have been possible without Rapha—a brand new job I started at 28, and new friends I’ve made since then.
I wouldn’t have gotten this bike. I wouldn’t have practiced the course with friends I met at the clubhouse. I wouldn’t have peer pressured myself into signing up for this thing. I wouldn’t have believed in myself. I wouldn’t be here without all of them. God, how did I get so lucky?
Anyway. On Saturday morning, I was up before my alarm and getting all my warm up and racing clothes ready. Naturally, I brought way more than I needed for one 40-minute race, but over-prepared and early are my middle names.
I helped my boss load up our espresso machine into his car at the clubhouse (Rapha set up a coffee tent for the big weekend) so he could drive to the race and sling shots for the racers.
After that, he pinned me up and sent me on my way to warm up with my friend John, about 45 minutes-ish before the gun went off.
The best part about starting a new sport at almost-30 years old is having absolutely zero expectations. I’m not going to make this sport a career and I’m certainly not taking home the top spot. All that’s left is fun.
When the gun went off at 8 a.m., the race felt like a blur. A heart-pumping, white-knuckle kind of blur as I tried to remember and implement all the tips I’ve been given and the skills I worked on in my practice sessions. I kept my elbows loose and let my body move with the trail, I pushed out of the turns, and picked off racer by racer. I knew I was strong going up the stairs, so I really gunned it when we got to those sections.
I’m not a mantra person, but I kept two in mind the whole race:
NO FEAR, and BE AGGRESSIVE.
Descents aren’t always my favorite, but every time my wheel got to the edge of a big hill, I loosed up and let it rip, cheering myself on. And when I closed in on another rider, I didn’t just sit on her wheel, I waited for the right time to make an aggressive move and pass her.
I’m proud to say, I never got passed the whole race and ended up second in my category—in my first-ever CX race!
As I rolled through the finish shoot, a friend came up to me with a big hug and said, “I think you’re having the most fun here! You smiled through that whole thing!”
“I am!! I did!! I want to do it again!” Me, half-crying, half-laughing with my whole heart.
Never never ever be afraid to start something brand new, any day, and at any age. It feels like lighting your soul on fire again. When’s the last time you did something for the first time?
Push on, PUSH ANIMALS >>>