It’s that time of year again: the halls are getting decked, I’m forcing housemates/friends/random strangers to watch The Muppet’s Christmas Carol whilst drinking soynog and eating excessive amounts of cookies, and there’s a chance that I’ve done some serious threshold-interval-level shopping. However, this year is different. I’m trying to ration the cookies and ’nog because, unlike previous years, my season isn’t quite over. There’s still that minor issue of Nationals looming just a couple weeks in the future.
So while for Christmas’s past, my season was over weeks before the holidays were in full swing, this year is different. Cyclocross is my holiday. And you know what? Even though it’s my job as well, I’m still incredibly thankful that I get to celebrate in this way.
Races have gotten a lot more casual in the New England/Mid-Atlantic region at this point in the year, with races like Ice Weasels and Bilenky Junkyard ’Cross. These are the races that remind me how great the community surrounding cyclocross is. For an example, see the picture on the right. Look at how many spectators were out cheering, partying at a race where the stakes were essentially just bragging rights. The atmosphere was carnival-esque, the beer was flowing, and the racing was intense, but with a healthy dose of fun. This is what the Euro pros are talking about when they compare our races to theirs: while the Euro races have tons of spectators, we have the most home-grown, grass-roots scene, where people are cheering for the single-speeder dressed like Elvis, the 55+ masters racers, and the Elite fields, all with the same levels of enthusiasm. We know how to embody the “race hard, party harder” sentiment. Like pros.
Something about the atmosphere actually made me race harder at Ice Weasels: knowing the stakes weren’t high relaxed me, perhaps, or I just found that I really was enjoying being aggressive. Having started in the back, I had a lot of ground to make up. And I’ve found this season that I’m a racer that does best when I have people to chase down, people that are catch-able if I go hard enough. (It also helps to know that there are people doing the same behind me!)
Of course, it takes a village to raise a cyclocross racer. There was the crowd at Ice Weasels, sure, but more important, there were the awesome people who made the race happen. I helped set up the course with a few of them the day before the race, and felt a sense of community that I’ve never found in another sport. Even the main race promoter surprised me by opening his home up to the boisterous Rutgers Cycling crew, despite the fact that they were set to invade his house at 11 P.M. and he needed to be up at five in the morning to get to the course. Now that is dedication to the sport. Also impressive were the number of volunteers who came out to help with race reg, parking, course maintenance and tear down. At the end of the race, the announcer asked spectators still milling around to help with the tear down, and to my utter shock, many of them did just that.
For most people, Ice Weasels or New England Regionals the next week represented the end of a hard-fought season, and seeing the celebrations happening after those races has been kind of tough. Lucky for me, my Cycle-Smart coach, Al Donahue, has been great for providing motivation in these days when Christmas shopping and decking the halls seem like more fun than doing interval rides against 30 mph winds. But with perky “check in” emails and pre-race pep talks (and OK, a few heckles during races), he’s kept me going despite the boughs of holly and mistletoe strewn all over the place. Admittedly, since we haven’t turned the heat on in the apartment, it’s actually quite easy to make sure I’m doing the core-work and yoga that he wants me to sneak into my schedule. Turns out that rocking out to J-Pow’s VeloBeats mix while using an Indo-Board and doing core-work while my housemate rides the rollers is actually fun. Because hey, when you’ve got J-Pow on the speakers and you’re laughing with your best friend, you’re realize that this is pretty much as good as it gets. And honestly? Those hour-long threshold session are killer, but I’ve never felt better than when I upload the power file and know for a fact that I’ve improved on a weekly basis for the past couple of months.
But back to that holiday spirit. With Nats just around the corner, I leave you with some of my favorite lyrics from The Muppet’s Christmas Carol, because it’s how the whole cyclocross community makes me feel on a very regular basis:
“Life is full of sweet surprises
Everyday’s a gift
The sun comes up and I can feel it lift my spirit
Fills me up with laughter, fills me up with song
I look into the eyes of love and know that I belong.”
In all seriousness, watching this movie the other day with some of my cycling buddies, when this song played, I got goosebumps when I looked around the room and realized that this is my life, my family, and it can’t get much better than this. I’ll see ya’ll at Nationals!
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events on my Twitter page.