by Paul Warloski
The end felt like just another beginning.
Cyclocross Nationals has already fired me up for next season.
My actual race went just alright. I started mid-field and moved up quite a few places in the first half lap. The 45-49 field started at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, so the deep ruts from the previous day’s mud-fest had frozen. Riders were catching the ruts and finding their bikes careening wildly over the width of the course, and often through the tape.
I somehow rode through the carnage and was able to ride over the ruts. But up the first long hill, another rider caught a rut, slammed into me, and forced me into a rut. I ended up in the tape and then running the majority of the hill. Most of the field passed me.
But after pouting on the bike for a bit, taking the corners and ruts gingerly, I got serious again and just started riding the damn bike. And I felt great on that third lap, like I actually belonged in a national championship race.
Of course, that’s when the overzealous USA Cycling officials pulled a large group of us, even though at the time we were nearly three minutes ahead of the leaders. Grr.
I finished one place behind my start position, so that was a bit of a drag. After feeling sorry for myself for about 10 minutes, I realized just how far I’d come this season.
In July, I wasn’t able to finish moderately hard group rides, and in January, I had one fantastic lap of nationals cyclocross.
My recovery from the shattered femur and shoulder break, over the last nearly three years, has been up and down, much slower than I ever imagined. When I spent the past several seasons worrying that my results would never come, I spent this whole season working hard on making ’cross racing all about the fun, not the results or expectations.
I didn’t have much in the way of results this season, particularly since I raced most of the year in harder categories. But I had some really big time fun.
And the season ended on a particularly good note: I look forward to training hard throughout the year so I can start my first year in the 50s on a strong step.
Along the way this year, here’s what I’ve learned about myself racing and cross in general:
1. The more gratitude I bring to a day, the better it is. That’s not all new-age-y mumbo-jumbo. It’s just ridiculously cool to race my ’cross bike and hang out with the cross community. That always needs to be the focus.
2. I need routine. I need to get to a venue early, warm up on the course for a bit, then sit on the trainer until race time. I need happy music in my ears most of the time, then a measured dose of Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit, and Drowning Pool right before the race.
3. I can also be flexible with the routine. At the Afterglow in Chicago, we had no time or place to really warm up, so we did a few laps and called it good. It was one of my best results all year.
4. mwi cross needs a soigneur, event organizer, logistics manager, mechanic and driver. Oh, and a giant bus or sprinter van with full wi-fi. It would be awesome to hand my bike to someone to wash and prep while I get dressed and warm up. Awesome to have someone handle all the hotel and travel logistics so I could fly there or sit in the passenger seat wearing recovery tights while reading a book, preparing for class, or sleeping.
5. I am part of an awesome team in mwicross. Mike and Jessica Heenan are the public faces with the cupcakes and t-shirts and team awesomeness, but it’s all of the team that make it a special event each time we get together.
6. Working the pits for the pros is pretty damn interesting, especially when it’s muddy. Mike worked for Adam Myerson (see podium insight’s great interview). I get to see a different side of the race with different personalities. Likewise, it’s great to trade off pitting with my teammates. Ross worked the pits for me, and I for him at Nationals. Neither of us needed anything, but it was awesome to know he was there if I needed him.
7. I have a new and deeper respect for the working and traveling pros like Tristian Schouten and Jake Wells. When we traveled to Louisville and Cincinnati on back to back weekends, I was fried. We got home at midnight both weekends, and I was up at 5 a.m. to get to school on my bike. The commute became my only training and recovery until Wednesday. Even then, I was still tired. And the laundry, packing and unpacking, and food were challenges. It’s a tough gig, to be sure.
8. I need to breath. I mean it literally. I often found myself so excited and focused that I’d forget to breath normally. So I’ve been practicing maintain slow rhythmic breathing every time I ride hard, especially at starts and up hills.
9. Finally, I learned that no matter whether I finish 5th or 37th in a race, my students still see me as Mr. Warloski, and my nephews and niece still know me as Uncle Paul. And perhaps it’s through their eyes that I need to view my racing. It really doesn’t matter how I do, as long as I stay safe and happy. They want to know how I do, what happened, and no matter what, we move on. None of them change their minds about me if I don’t do well, none of them think less of me if I get pulled from a race.
The only thing they seem to laugh at is when I describe my crashes, or that I’ll be racing with the 50-plus guys next season! And I don’t even bother telling them when I wear recovery tights under my school pants!
It’s been an awesome year of cyclocross. I’m sad to see it end. I did have a pleasantly quiet weekend the first time I had no races to go to, something that hadn’t happened since September, excluding the Christmas weekend, of course.
I didn’t touch my bikes except to clean them. I commuted to school most of the week until the snow fell. I did my first “training” ride last Saturday for only 90 minutes, and then I drove out to Lapham Peak to skate-ski for a couple of hours on Sunday.
I continue to work on my gratitude and positive attitude in the off-season. There’s a lot to with training, race organization, and promoting mwi cross, the most pro-, non-pro team (and most fun, according to cyclingdirt.com. Thanks Colt!).
It’s time to go ride on a beautiful winter Sunday. There’s not quite enough snow to ski on, and besides, I want to talk with Mike at the shop about some new bikes.