How Did I Get Here? A New Column from Josh Schwiesow

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Josh is our newest columnist, and he will be sharing his “noob” perspective with readers in weeks to come. Today, he’s introducing himself and giving us a little insight into life as a new racer. For more “Noob News,” check out our Training section for articles on barriers, videos on corners, training suggestions and much more.

by Josh Schwiesow

Our newest columnist isn't as much of a newbie as he thinks he is. Photo courtesy of Josh S

Our newest columnist isn't as much of a newbie as he thinks he is. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwiesow

Not too long ago, I pitched an idea to Cyclocross Magazine to start a blog focusing on the new racer. The website already has a lot of for noobs pieces, but I wanted to write something to be more of a supplement to those pieces. The reason for this is that I enjoy the first person application, and figured others might as well.

Lucky for you as the reader, I’m a person without much in the way of pride. I’m absolutely terrible at cyclocross currently and you’ll get to enjoy my reliving of failures as I attempt to learn and improve. I’m also fairly transparent – my name is on this and you can easily look up my results, should you be so inclined (you won’t see much, I’ve yet to crack the top 50% in any cyclocross race!). Some of you may even run into me, hopefully not figuratively, during the beginner Cat 4 call-ups.  I’ll be at the back.

My goal in all this is not to humiliate myself, but rather to illustrate the learning curve that we all go through. My other goal is to create discussion around some of the topics that I cover and make this feature somewhat interactive. If you see something I could improve on, comment! If you’ve struggled with the same, or you have a difference of opinion, please post that as well. If this isn’t interesting and helpful, it isn’t worth your time to read or mine to write. Additionally, I should mention that while I’m not paid for doing this, it isn’t completely altruistic – another hope is that this project does force some better results!

Why should you read? With any luck, basic skills and concepts will be broken out and distilled into simpler parts. This hopefully makes the sport more approachable for the first timer. Likewise, there will likely be tidbits of fun for the more experienced racer.  You may learn something new, as I know I have reading similar style pieces in other aspects of cycling that I’m more experienced at. If not that, this should at the very least provide a few giggles.

I hope to cover the full spectrum of topics a cyclocross noob is wondering about. I’ll be trying to study bikes and equipment, training, cross-training, diet, and appropriate gear as the season rolls on, especially into the cooler temperatures that Colorado (and many other of your locales) provide. I’ll spend some time covering various bike handling and obstacle skills. Whenever possible, the advice of a more seasoned racer will be sought.

What should you know about me? In short, I’m a regular guy who lives in Colorado and is new-ish to cyclocross. I raced in the 35+ category for four races last year and I’ll race the same this season.  A lot of my time is spent racing on the track, with some road and mountain mixed in. From time to time, I’ll mash two words into one, which may happen on here (but the kind folks at CXM may correct them). Lastly, I’m a recent stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor who underwent six months of chemotherapy in the first half of 2010.

Why cyclocross? I’m a bit remorseful that it took me so long to come around to this sport. I’ve ridden road and mountain for years with no desire to combine them. I liked them both separately for what they were. I run occasionally, but mostly for fun with my dog. Several close riding buddies suggested cyclocross at least five years ago, and I resisted. For each of those years I resisted, this was my thinking:

“A dirt criterium with dismounts and running stairs for no reason? That’s dumb.”

Why would I do this? The event is short enough that it isn’t really much of an endurance test. Or so I thought. If I could knock out a century with several thousand feet of climbing without any specific training or drama, how hard could 45 minutes be?  Turns out much, much more difficult than said century.

I had a tough time getting around to the purpose of the sport. Under what circumstances would I ever need to ride on basically any and every surface with random dismounts and remounts? Is this some sort of zombie-apocalypse training scenario where I might have to navigate all sorts of oddball obstacles while escaping the zombie epicenter as quickly as possible?

I am aware of the history of Daniel Gousseau (read Cyclocross Magazine’s Excellent History of Cyclocross Part I in Issue 5). Still, I was in no service to a horse-mounted army general and I didn’t anticipate needing to get up and around the forests in such a way. I can hike or mountain bike. I can run. Heck, I could even drive a Jeep if I really needed to make time. At the same time, after being sick with cancer, I realized just how short life can be and how important it is to partake in new experiences. I started to wonder what I’d been missing all this time. Since my riding buddies tend to be smarter than I am, I finally deferred to their wisdom.

Additionally, the Spartan nature of the cyclocross bike started to pull on me. I started thinking that one might be the perfect “Winter Bike” for Colorado. For not a lot of money, I can ride aluminum with bigger tires and not worry about what the moisture or debris would do to my road tires, or my carbon and steel frames. I can hit gravel trails. I just hose it off and not care.

Those same friends spent years dropping cyclocross pictures and videos into my email. These were shots of their races or sometimes their kids’ races, but more so, shots and videos of costumed riders having a blast. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I found myself ordering a bike, signing up, and lining up.

In the process of my first season of cyclocross, I finally figured out the purpose of it all: Fun. I’m now ashamed it took me so long to get that it is something you can do simply for fun. My friends were right all along, and I was wrong. Cyclocross truly is the friendliest, most approachable “racing scene” in cycling, and if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. But I’m sure there are a few of you still new to the sport, getting excited for your first forays into the sport this fall. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter whether you finish worst or first, you’ll have a good time and people will cheer for you. I found the community to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Experienced riders and coaches were excited to show ‘noobs’ tips and skills with free cyclocross clinics and workouts. Cyclocross is infectious.

The Pool of Filth proved to be a suprisingly refershing obstacle for some. SSCXWC 2011. © Tim Westmore

Does it get more fun than this? The Pool of Filth proved to be a surprisingly refreshing obstacle for some. SSCXWC 2011. © Tim Westmore

Here’s the “Noob Hand-up:”

  • It shouldn’t take a serious disease like cancer to try something new. Cyclocross is fun – embrace the attraction.
  • With my follies and blunders as your guide, we’ll cover the full spectrum of noob questions as we progress!
  • This column will prove to be more interesting if interactive! Comment here, call me out in the Cowbell forums at, or harass me on the other social networks.



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Thanks to everyone for the very positive feedback!  I'm excited that there are several others in a similar situation as myself and look forward to more thoughts and hopefully some advice from you all.


I do believe that playing the game - whatever it may be - keeps you young, and as several of you note in your own words, life is indeed very short.  Try to cram as much fun in as you can.  Luckily, the intensity of cyclocross allows for big, big fun!


Looking forward to hearing more from you.  


Ride on!


Can't wait to read more of your columns Josh. I waited till 50 to start bike racing. I think 'cross is a bit safer than Mtn biking so I'm going to focus on CX. After a few races on my Cross Check I was hooked and found a used geared and a leftover single speed CX bike. I'm addicted. I race to see what the old body can do and I imagine you may be doing something similar.  I have to admit it makes me feel a little better about my age when i finish in front of a youngster. Is that bad? Cyclocross, It's the hardest thing you'll ever love.


Well Josh apparently you wrote this just for me ! I have never been a real cyclist. Oh I played in the woods on a Stingray in the 1960's and I even rode my moutainbike in the woods in the 90's but that is the extent of it. But for some reason I found this cross thing by accident and have since purchased a bike that I ride almost every day. Sometimes on the road, sometimes in the woods and a lot of times on made up imaginary tracks just because I want to maintain my fitness level. Anyway I am looking forward to the next cross season and your motivation is just what I needed !!! Thanks, can't wait to here more !!


Rad, my brutha! I learned a long time ago that since I happen to like cycling and I would ride whether I was racing, riding trails all day, bar-hopping or whatever. There is no need to "train" for that. When someone starts paying me to run their colors for some kind of result, then maybe I will call the riding I do everyday "training." I look at it like this...every finish is a win; if I make someone laugh or piss someone off I win. If I run someone into the tape, beat someone to a corner, blast or bash them through barriers, I win. If I heckle my peers to the point that bystanders blush, I win. I got into this to test my mettle after 2 decades of mountain biking and because the other 40-somethings' enthusiasm over triathlons seemed too manufactured as well as too mainstream. My abilities in mountain biking have improved as a result though. See ya out there and hope I ruin your race. Ha!


Perfect timing.  Looking to back into all this again myself after a loooonnnng lay off.  In 2010 I was battling stage 3 colon cancer so first, congrats on your recovery nand I can't wait to read your perspective on racing and training through a fellow survivor's eyes.  Good Luck! 




Looking forward to hearing more! This will be good ammunition for why I need a cross bike; I'm having a bit of a hard time convincing the other half of the management team that we need a ninth bike in th e garage...

Tom Gosnell
Tom Gosnell

I am looking forward to hearing the rest of your story!



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