Last week, I talked about my newfound love of local racing. This past weekend, that love was reaffirmed ten-fold when I went to two semi-local races for me, a nighttime practice race at Fifth Street Cross in Emmaus, Pennsylvania and NYCROSS’s Spa:CX race in Saratoga Springs, New York. The night race was all new to me: having never raced on a completely dark course with only a small bike light to illuminate corners was certainly an experience, and Spa:CX was a race that I had done back in my collegiate days when even remounting was a skill far beyond my comfort level.
Racing at night, it turns out, is excellent practice in cornering. Not necessarily because I was going fast into them, but because it was an exercise in constantly trying to stay on wheels because I was slower if I was leading (it’s easier to keep your eyes on a wheel versus on the entirety of the course). By the second set of laps, I had found my footing a bit and was a little more willing to hit stuff with speed, though still not a whole lot of it. I’m hoping by next Thursday I’m a little more sure of myself and a little less worried about staying upright. In all, I was incredibly glad I tried it, because it provided the perfect “mental opener” for racing on the weekend. I’m a big fan of mental openers as well as the standard interval-style physical openers. Mental openers are those hard rides — a night race, a technical MTB trail on your cyclocross bike — where, after you finish, you can think, “Well, at least the course this weekend won’t be that challenging.” Suddenly, that rutted sandpit has nothing on that giant root you were forced to J-hop on the trail to avoid crashing, and that corner is a little less intimidating because, sure, it’s hard, but at least you can see it!
So I was feeling ready for Sunday, and it didn’t disappoint. I ended up in fourth place in the women’s open, and while I wish I’d been able to secure third, the corners on the course were a bit on the slower side for me and a slower start than I would have liked put me in a position of chasing alone for the entire race. But it was fun! And for me, it was pleasantly nostalgic. Sections of the course that I remembered as being unrideable and terrifying (a muddy ride/run-up and a long sand section) were blasted into, hands far from the brakes, and I kept channeling the Keoughs as I rode through the damp sand: “Weight back, stay relaxed, weight back, stay relaxed…”
The local NYCROSS scene is pretty great as well. Fun people, good food, and a gorgeous venue all made for a fun day, and again served as a reminder that I love local racing. The one fly in the honey was during the elite race when some of the racers were a little less than polite to each other, which took the incredibly supportive and cheering crowd entirely by surprise. I think at one point, we as a whole were stunned into silence. So, for any and all racers out there: it’s just a race. Really. Especially in a local scene and a smaller race were UCI points and big money aren’t on the line, seeing unsportsmanlike conduct (good natured heckling is great, don’t get me wrong!) just puts me wrong-footed. I know everyone is “in it to win it” and racing as hard as they can, but that’s never an excuse for just being rude or offensive. Like one of the racers/promoters told me afterwards, the “racers are the entertainment.” At the end of the day, especially in the elite race, we’re putting on a show for the spectators, so shouldn’t we make sure we put on the best, most positive show possible?
And, if you were wondering, the best heckle I’ve ever had was over dinner last week. I was sitting with a friend who’s come to two of my races this year, and was recounting the story from Providence, where a woman heckled me with, “Good thing you write better than you race!” As if that heckle wasn’t good enough, my friend immediately asked me:
“Was it that British girl?”
I responded, “You mean Helen Wyman?” He nodded. “We were in the same race,” I said.
“I don’t know, she was probably already done by then,” he said, very seriously.
Cue the sad trombone noise.
I’m in Portland, Oregon, this week, and will be heading to Bend for the Halloween Cross Crusade race this weekend, so if you’re in the area, say hello! So far it’s been an amazing experience, but I’ll save it for the next installment for fear of being a bit too verbose here. I’ll also have a recap of how racing with disc brakes goes, since Planet X bikes was kind enough to lend me one of their new models for the weekend.