This season, we’ll be following a few racers who have some interesting stories to share. From a freshly-minted elite racer to a newly declared master, we have a wide variety of racers we’ll be hearing from. We’ll catch up with them intermittently as the season wanes on, and hopefully we’ll be able to chart their progress towards their individual goals. Cyclocross Magazine is a community effort, and we’re inspired by the great stories from all of our amazing contributors and columnists. Our first new racer is David Sterry, a racer who’s just started to take cyclocross seriously in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
by David Sterry
“I’m getting dropped.” It’s a Saturday morning in the middle of August, and I’m on a training ride with my teammate Christian in Portland’s Forest Park. We are headed up a stupidly steep fire lane and all I can think is: “I’m getting dropped.” I should be at home sleeping in, or at least eating breakfast and reading a book. But instead I’m out here, heart rate through the roof, sweat dripping on to my Garmin so I can’t even read it, looking for an extra gear I know isn’t there. “What am I doing?”
But before we get to the end of that ride, I should probably introduce myself.
My name is David Sterry. I am 28. I live, work and ride in Portland, Oregon and race on team Green Submarine Records. For a few years after college, I ran consistently and, to my surprise, I discovered that I was actually not too bad. I even managed to race well from time to time. This came as a total shock to me as I had not been a particularly good runner when I ran cross country in high-school. Due to the growth in my running abilities, I truly felt like I had become a “runner.”
My athletic self-identification began down a path toward rediscovery two years ago when I went with a friend to see one of the Cross Crusade races out in Hillsboro, Oregon. I’d watched one race when I turned to my friend and said, “I want to do this.” Covered in mud, jumping over things, people yelling at you? It looked like the most fun you could have racing a bike. But at the time I was still very focused on my running, so it slipped to the back of my mind. Jump forward six months, and in the spring of 2010, disaster struck. I developed plantar fasciitis, badly. For a week, even walking around my office was agony, let alone the thought of running anytime soon. And so I decided to put running on the shelf for a while until I recovered.
Then one night when I was out with some friends, possibly after a few beers, a conversation about bikes started. After a little while, my friend commented, “You know, you should come race cyclocross with us this fall, it’s a ton of fun.” I jumped at the chance: it seemed right up my alley, and it would give me something to compete in since I couldn’t really run anymore. Plus, after not owning a car for three years and spending that time riding my bike everywhere, I knew I at least had some base level of riding fitness. I already had a Redline Conquest I was using as a commuter, so I knew I could start racing without having to get a new bike.
I slowly started trying to ride more: I learned to dismount, remount, and shoulder-carry my bike in the park by my house. As my first racing season began to loom over me, I met the other people on my team and generally (and expectedly) became nervous and excited about racing.
All of a sudden, the whirlwind that was my first season of racing was upon me. I got third in my first race in Beginner Men’s category at “Pain on the Peak.” I moved up a category to Cat C. The season flew by. I raced much better than I could have hoped, and I jumped up to Cat B for the last three races of the season. I upgraded my bike, I crashed, I slid out, I got bruised, I cursed (my bike, the course, the rain, just about anything sometimes), I spent Monday mornings at work stiff and tired, basically I had a blast.
Racing was the most fun I’d had in a long time and, in the meantime, I had met a lot of amazing people. People who I ended up spending every Sunday with and traveled with (there’s no better way to get to know a person than over long car rides and small accommodations). We emailed back and forth almost every day, planning rides and giving each other advice on racing and bikes in general and making a lot of bad jokes.
Then, as fast as it had all started, it ended. On a rainy day in Barton Park, I had my last race of the season. I finished 33rd, and I fought every lap of that race and it’s a result I’m still proud of, given that I had started the season really having no idea what I was doing. Especially considering I almost missed the start of the race because I was not paying attention to the time and damn near started with my rear brake not attached!
And now a year has passed and the season is about the start again. I’ve tried to commit to training as much as I can. But, of course, I work 40 hours a week and can only devote a certain amount of time each week to train. I try to ride both days every weekend and a few hours during the week, but it’s not always possible. I go back and forth on the issue of how much time to devote to this sport I love. I truly do want to race to the best of my ability, my goal is to consistently place in the top 20 of my category this season. And yet … and yet I do have other things in my life. Friends, family, work, that cute girl I just met (my friends and family have been duly warned, of course, that I’m about to disappear for a few months). And on top of that, we are a fairly new team and a lot of things get organized on the fly: our group rides can be sporadic, as we all work full time and have busy lives.
How do I fit all of those things in and try to ride five days a week? This is, of course, the struggle for every amateur racer. And it is a subject I intend to return to in this column throughout my season. How do you balance on that fine line between your normal life and racing? How do you race to the fullest extent of your skills without the rest of your life falling apart? But now that you know a bit more about me, back to that ride I started with …
I made it to the top of course and not that far behind Christian. But, man, it hurt. I had no idea how long the climb was, so I could have sworn it went on forever. But of course in reality it was probably only about eight minutes or so, eight minutes of leg-burning agony. We took a break at the top and even filled out a survey about what we use the park for and what we want to see more of (more single track please!) We bombed the hill and rode over to another fire lane where Christian proceeded to drop me again and I took a wrong turn and went up an extra hill I didn’t need too.
On the ride home at a stoplight I thought about why I’m doing this. It really eats up of lot of time, not to mention the money. But all it takes is conjuring up memories of those races, the crowd roaring over the din of cowbells, the post-race beer in the shelter of the tent huddled next to the propane heater, a teammate telling me, “good race you were flying,” and I remember why. I smile to myself, the light turns green and I decide to sprint the last mile home.
David races in the Cross Crusades series in Portland. Stop on by the Green Submarines tent and come say hi.