The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo, created by Tim Shay.

by Molly Hurford

Cyclocross season starts on September 7. That, if my calculations are correct, is a mere two weeks away, as of today.

Holy crap.

I didn’t really realize that the days were ticking down so fast until I caught sight of the calendar today. When did it get so late in the game? When I first starting thinking about writing a new column, it was three weeks ago, the title said “Five Weeks and Counting,” and that felt like the season had crept up on me. Now, I’m realizing that it’s only two weeks—two tiny, tiny weeks—away.

It’s not that I’m underprepared. If anything, I’m in better ’cross-ready shape than I was last year, not that that is saying much. But even when not compared to last year’s prep debacle (two full time jobs plus writing a book does not an in-shape racer make), I’m feeling pretty good about this season. My training has been a little unorthodox this summer though, so I’m going into the start of the season experimentally. Instead of doing gravel grinders on my ’cross bike, focusing on road racing or trying another season of mountain biking, this year I went back to basics, back to doing what felt right. I did the Barry Roubaix in March, an Xterra triathlon in April, a trail marathon in June, a mountain bike race one weekend later, and took up rock climbing. To say that my training has been all over the map would be kind, but for me, sometimes that’s what it takes.

The big problem in the past year hasn’t been merely a lack of fitness, it’s been a lack of competitive drive. I write a lot about this stuff, but living it, especially when I’m racing in a ’cross race that I’ll be reporting on immediately after I’m done racing, is more mentally tough than anything. Last year, about half of the time, I’d hit the last lap either begging to be pulled, or mentally checked out and starting to listen to Richard Fries over the loudspeaker so I knew who the winners were and how the last lap played out. Fighting spirit? Nah.

The spirit dwindled even more after a bad race at the Xterra out in Las Vegas in April. Looking back, I should have prepped more, should have taken heat into account, and if I could turn back time, I would have changed my family’s lives so we didn’t have terrible news the day before the race, when I was stuck in a run-down Vegas motel laying out my gear for transition while debating catching the earliest flight possible home. April was, in a word, a bust.

So this summer, I needed to do things my way, especially if I wanted to be back in both fighting form and mindset by September. I wanted to start running again, so I did. Last week, I did a straight week of 10 mile barefoot beach runs followed by short jaunts through a technical trail on a ’cross bike I was reviewing. The week before, I went rock climbing, hiking, and dancing. Rock climbing got added to the agenda early on this summer, and as far as fun core work goes, you can’t beat it. I also rode with serious mountain bikers, and the next day, chased them through the woods, and despite my two feet to their two wheels (and  their collectively pro-as-hell skill set), 20 minutes in, I was only a minute back. Sometimes, you just have to mix it up.

And this week, I got my dad out on the ’cross bikes, did a sprint workout, and followed that up with a ‘brick’ by switching into running shoes and running the fastest two miles that I’ve ever run. We’ll see how my results stack up in a couple of weeks, but mentally, I’m feeling more solid than I have in years. As for the mindset? Bring on the racing.

It’s also scary though: I know that in two weeks, my blissfully free weekends will be gone until January and my weeks will be filled with even more cyclocross than they already are. It’s my favorite time of year, but it happens at a pace that is dangerously fast. Ask any of the pros—Jeremy Powers comes to mind first—about the perils of overextending oneself during the season. Travel, training, travel, working, travel… Travel might be my favorite part of the season, but it doesn’t go a long way towards keeping you healthy. This summer has seen a lot of travel, but it’s nothing compared to the every-single-weekend grind of cyclocross season. I’m nervous, but that hasn’t stopped me from grinning from ear to ear every time I realize that the season is just a little bit closer.

So, I’ll see you all in two weeks at the season opener at Nittany, one of my favorite races and the one that I consider to be my hometown race. I can’t think of a better way to get the party started!

I want to know: do you follow a specific plan, or do you spend the summer doing what feels right for you for cyclocross training? Let me know in the comments!

Follow me on Twitter, or if you want to read more about my training, racing, and editing exploits, check out mollyhurford.com.