Two weekends ago, the US Open of Cyclocross went down at Valmont Bike Park in Boulder. It’s Colorado’s only UCI race of the year, and it’s always a big, exciting event. Pros and non-pros from around the country head to Boulder for two days of tough racing. The fields across the board are stiff and competitive, and I was excited for this weekend all year.
The US Open was my first race last year in my first season of cyclocross, so I really wanted this year’s to be something special. I wanted to bring my best, especially as a Cat 3 lining up against a whole new group of strong women. I wanted to use this year’s fitness to put everything I had out on the course, feel totally focused, and hopefully gain a few points against my ranking both Saturday and Sunday to inch closer to the pro field.
But a few days before race weekend, I made a huge mistake: I peeked at the roster. And my ex-boyfriend’s name was on the race list. I stared blankly at my computer screen at work as a wave of hot, anxious energy rushed from my face down to my toes. I think of him often, but I hadn’t seen his name in awhile; it felt so familiar and foreign at the same time. He had registered with a new team in Florida I hadn’t heard of. His race age was listed in another column. He was older. Of course he was older, but the time we were together was frozen in my mind, and that was years ago in our twenties. He was no longer the boy I fell in love with, but the man that I haven’t figured out how to stop loving.
I quickly entered in my credit card information, signed up for both races on Saturday and Sunday then closed the page. I pushed out a deep exhale along with the regret, sadness, longing and anxiety that had built up in my chest. The rest of the day felt off—like a cloud moved in and shadowed the excitement I’d felt minutes earlier.
After work on Friday evening—the night before the first race—I laid out my morning clothes and kit, threw extra jackets and socks and snacks into my bag, and tried to chill the fuck out. He was going to be there, and I was going to be there, and I had to deal with that.
Saturday: Race Day 1
I didn’t get any sleep that Friday night. I tossed and turned and woke up with a splitting headache on Saturday around 5 a.m. I sipped on some coffee, washed my face, and threw on a puffy over my race kit. It was only in the 30s and wouldn’t warm up until well after my race, so I made sure to pack everything from shorts and short sleeves to winter gloves and shoe covers.
With shaky hands, I put my coffee cup in the sink and headed out the door around 6 a.m. With all the nervous energy running through my body, I couldn’t tell if I was tired, wired, or over-caffeinated. Maybe a little of all three.
Registration opened up at 7 a.m., so I picked up my number and timing chip right as they got up and running, then rolled onto the course for a pre-ride as soon as the sky lightened up. My race was the first of the day at 8 a.m., which, spoiler alert, ended up being one of the reasons I didn’t have the races I’d hoped for.
The closer we got to our race, the busier the course got, the more team tents went up around the parking lots, and the warmer it got—but not by much.
At 7:45 a.m., I dropped all my additional clothing back in my car, pinned the number on my jersey, shoved hand warmers into my gloves, and headed to the start line. All morning I couldn’t keep my hands warm, even with my thickest gloves on. The tips of my fingers went numb within minutes of warming up, which resulted in fewer warmup laps and a little bit of panic. I think maybe I have a mild case of Raynaud’s because cold extremities have really been a problem for me out here, even during milder winter weather. Anyway.
Standing on the start line five minutes before the race went off I felt…nothing. I was nervous, but not excited. My couple pre-ride laps hadn’t gone so well, I felt like I’d lost a bit of fitness over the previous weeks of lower mileage due to fewer daylight hours (I have an indoor trainer, so that’s a stupid excuse), and I knew my ex and his girlfriend would be there later in the day, which I wasn’t looking forward to.
Before I knew it, our gun went off and about 10 of us (in Cat 3) headed out onto the course after the first couple waves of Cat 4 and 5. As expected, the group went out, guns blazing. My heart hammered as I tried to pace myself up the first climb and into the sandpit. The few lead women had already started to pull away from the rest. I saw and felt it happening, but instead of being aggressive, I let them go.
It was the dark cloud. It had been hanging over me since I signed up for these races days earlier, and there it was sticking with me over the barriers and up the stairs and through the turns. I was hurting, physically and emotionally. I felt my mind drifting off to other thoughts instead of paying attention to the race. And for all five laps, I felt like I was on the verge of crying. I wanted to enjoy this race, but all I could do was gut it out until the end, no matter what place I finished.
After the second lap, I started not to care anymore, which I am embarrassed to admit. I let one girl pass me, and then another. I noticed one of my friends had dropped out earlier in the race, and I toyed with the idea of doing the same. Just finish, I repeated to myself over and over, which was maybe the most pathetic piece of motivation I could come up with.
Earlier in the week, I told my mom my ex would be there when we talked on the phone the day I signed up. I begged her to fly out to Colorado and support me during the race. She couldn’t, of course, with zero notice and a life back in Florida. Thinking back on that conversation during Saturday’s race, I actually felt mad at her about that. Really, I just didn’t want to be alone anymore.
Eventually…finally…I crossed the line in 5th place. A middle-of-the-pack finish was actually higher than I expected and more than I deserved after so much negative self-talk. But I was happy to be done, and decided to go for a longer solo ride after my race to shake it off and get in some more sunny fall miles.
Sunday: Race Day 2
With better sleep and a clearer head, I woke up around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, enjoyed a couple cups of coffee, and headed to the race just like I had the day before. The temperatures were still in the 30s and biting cold, so I made sure to pre-ride with hand warmers again and keep my fingers moving the whole time.
The course, unfortunately, was much more difficult on day two. The organizers added another set of stairs to each lap, making it three per lap, plus they threw in a gnarly uphill that crushed most of the racers, including me.
On the start line, minutes before the race, I felt the same as Saturday. I wanted to get it over with, as if the whole weekend was a box to be checked off on my to-do list. The cloud. I saw a few of the familiar faces who crushed me on Saturday and knew I was in for another hard day. When the gun went off, I tried to get out front. I thought if I held onto the lead for a bit, maybe it would fire me up a little. It didn’t. I got passed, and passed again, and held fourth until I crossed the finish line. With my tail between my legs, I rolled through the finish chute, handed over my timing chip, then headed back to my car where I munched on the banana and Clif Bar I’d brought from home. I wasn’t even tired. I knew I hadn’t crossed either line on Saturday or Sunday with any sort of excitement or enthusiasm. I knew I hadn’t given it my all.
I needed an attitude adjustment, so I stopped by the Rapha tent for coffee and to chat with some friends. Later in the morning, I went out on another ride to get in some extra sunny, dirt miles. I enjoyed this ride more than either of the races. I stayed for a bit of the men’s races on both days, but watching my ex race was nothing short of torture. And I couldn’t help but feel like they were on my turf.
This is my town. This is my city and my race and my healing place. Do you know how I have changed here? Do you know what’s it taken to move forward?
This is a free country, after all, but seeing them here felt like trespassing. It wasn’t, of course, but heartbreak does crazy things to the mind, you know? Overall, it was a disappointing weekend of racing, but great practice for pushing through when everything inside me is telling me to stop.
Since then, the dark cloud has dissipated, and I took this past weekend off racing to clear my head, sleep in, and enjoy riding some of Boulder’s dirt roads in the mountains before they’re covered in snow.
On to the next one.