Taking the barriers, fast. © Danielle Mantia

Taking the barriers, fast. © Danielle Mantia

by Dave Sterry

“Why? Why are you doing this to yourself?” That was the thought that kept running through my mind at the start of every lap during the Cross Crusade race at Rainier last Sunday. After having a great race the week before at Alpenrose, here I was, one week later having a hell of a time convincing myself to even finish the race.  I’m sure we’ve all been there, a race that goes so poorly you wonder why you bother.

For me it started on the first lap. I had a great start but after about five minutes thought, “Well, this doesn’t feel normal.” And boy, was I right. My stomach was churning (almost threw up after one lap) and my head was foggy and every time someone passed me, I just couldn’t respond. I felt so bad I didn’t even want people to cheer for me because for that meant they noticed how bad I was doing.

After the race on the ride home I was so frustrated with how the race had gone that I had to make a list of reasons that I race. The three that I kept coming back to were: friends, community and family.

Sounds like a Hallmark card, I know, but they are the reason I keep coming back week after week, month after month. I’ve met some great people doing this and I keep meeting more, sometimes I even meet people who read this column and like it! I’d be lying if I said I don’t like it when people I barely or don’t know complement me on my articles. Brief glimmers of fame aside, each year I meet more people and it makes the races that much more fun.

For example, a few weeks back a teammate and I came up with an idea for the Men’s B/SS race. If I caught him, he’d buy me a beer, and if he caught me the reverse would happen. Great plan, right? What I didn’t know was that he had talked to a few other people I know in the SS race about it telling them to join in. So, after dropping my chain twice, I was getting caught by the front of the SS race and suddenly someone I know passes me, looks at me and says “IPA.” Fearing for my bank account, I chased him down, passed him back and countered with “Lager.” In the end we came out “beer neutral.” That joke encouraged me to ride faster after a bad start and to be able to laugh at the end of the race. It’s things like that, that can make even a bad race feel worthwhile in the end.

On top of that, add my family. What to say about them but that they are great? My sister started racing last year, and this year she is having a great time and getting good results.  It’s amazing to see my older sister, who barely rode a bike before last year just get out there and fight her way through every race, even though she might crash or drop her chain. It’s fun just having her at the races, walking around the course with her talking about how to ride certain parts. Maybe it’s because she’s older and I always looked up to her and asked for her advice that I like that I can now help her out with this. But I love it. Then there’s my younger brother; he doesn’t make it out to all the races but when he does, you can expect some cheering. One of my favorite racing memories is having him chase me around a section of the course at the last Cross Crusade race last year with a huge cowbell, yelling his head off even though I was suffering way back in about 40th place. And my parents! I can’t really write enough about them. They’ve been very supportive of this whole endeavor from the get go. They love coming out to cheer and now they bring the team candy bars and PB&J to almost every race. My mom sits and chats with everyone and my Dad likes to watch the Elite men’s race with me and check out the tricky sections.  Then, there’s my girlfriend who, even though she doesn’t ride a bike at all, puts up with this madness and comes out to cheer. Not only that, but she will show up with muffins or fancy veggie burritos for people. As my teammate put it the other night: “I was walking back to our tent and from far away I thought, ‘who are all those people at the tent? Oh, right, it’s team Sterry!’” That’s a good feeling.

In short, there are plenty of reasons beyond the physical aspects to race: it’s the connections and friendships that make this sport worthwhile. It’s something that’s readily apparent as you walk down the line of team tents and see how much fun people are having even when they aren’t racing. Before I started writing this article, I thought about talking about how my season is going, how I feel much better than years past, my results, etc. But who really cares about that, besides me? What most of us do care about is that unlike other sports, cyclocross offers a great opportunity to forge new friendships and strengthen old ones, and that chance helps each of us put our bodies through a muddy hell every Sunday.