It’s been a series of eventful weekends. From racing in one of the hardest crits around, the Tour of Somerville, to heading to State College to play on mountain bikes while catching the tail end of the Trans-Sylvania Epic and cheering Justin Lindine and Amanda Carey in for the wins, to running a marathon (more on that in a minute), to heading up to my old home in Western Massachusetts for a weekend of remembering why I love group riding, well, it’s the offseason in the loosest definition of the word. That said, if the offseason means a chance to add in some serious variety, then I am crushing it.
That’s sort of what I love about the offseason. It’s a chance to explore different activities, and a chance to reconnect with friends that you may see every week during the season, but don’t get the chance to really hang out with because racing just gets in the way.
But back to the title of this post, and the trail marathon. I have a shameful secret, one that any true cyclist would be ashamed of: I love running. I really, truly do. Especially off-road, which makes a bit more sense for a cyclocross-junkie. So, a couple of weeks ago, I saw that there was a trail marathon just 30 minutes north of my house. Instead of thinking, “Man, I haven’t been running enough to do that,” I figured that it would be a fun race at best, and a brutal workout at worst. Plus, with my dad there to help with the aid station, and the fact that the race was four laps and therefore easy enough to drop out of if it got too awful, how bad could that be?
Between 100 degree temperatures and 100% humidity, I quickly found out exactly how bad it could be. But luckily, in the first lap, the few of us dumb enough to start at suicide pace split from the rest of the racers and I was with one awesome woman and three (just OK) guys. My new friend Kristen and I separated from the men after two laps and continued along, groaning over some of the more technical sections and complaining our way up the hills. In short, we were having a blast! It was a small field, and a ton of racers dropped out from the heat and the course. Kristen and I took the win in style, agreeing to tie if we were still together by mile 25. Better than the women’s overall though was the fact that only three guys finished ahead of us. I felt pretty badass after that… until later that night when the leg cramps and foot pain kicked in, at least.
I may not be a “perfect” bike racer. I like running, I like swimming, I even occasionally enjoy lifting weights. I’ve tried to fight it, but I’d rather spend the summer having fun while racing hard in a bunch of different races than burning out spectacularly before the real season starts in the fall. I am all about the multi-sport, and I’ve noticed a lot of other cyclists embracing new things in the offseason. That’s awesome.
That marathon also made me realize how important having someone with you at races is. Cyclocross is like that too: we may not race next to each other or elect to cross the line together rather than sprinting it out for the win, but I’ve had plenty of moments in races where even competitors are encouraging me, and people cheering alongside of the course became my reason for sticking it out and finishing. Racing is just fun. Yes, it’s hard, yes, I care about results. But if I stop having fun racing, why am I doing it?
That’s the lesson I’m learning in the offseason. Without the pressure to be signing up for races every weekend, I’m steadily realizing that I actually want to sign up for races on weekends. And that’s a good feeling. Sometimes it takes something going away for you to realize how much you miss it, and that’s what racing has been like for me lately. Cheesy, but true! I guess that’s my takeaway from this: if you’re a cyclocross racer in your offseason, take this as a chance to try out some new things and have adventures, race just because it’s fun, not because it’s a race you know you’ll do well in. Heck, go watch a race and pay attention to the looks on the riders’ faces as they come in at the finish. You’ll get a chance to see what you look like at the end of a good ’cross battle. It might not be pretty, but man, is it ever beautiful.