It’s mid-season now, a time to re-evaluate, to reflect, and to make a list of every darn thing I’m doing wrong. Which, admittedly, is a lot. After all, I’ve only been racing in the elite field for a month — there’s got to be a learning curve … Right?
As it turns out, in the elite field, not only do the pros go faster, they handle better, strategize better, and just do ’cross better. So what’s a girl to do?
Generally speaking, I’m a list maker. Ask the guys who crashed at my house for Granogue this weekend. There’s a list in my room, taped to the wall, labeled “How To Race Bikes Better.”
Lucky for me, I have some excellent teachers of all kinds around me, thanks to this amazing job and thanks to my amazing crew of friends. So, since it’s roughly mid-season and all of my collegiate cyclist friends are entering midterm time in the semester, I figured it was time for me to do an midterm of my own and create a “study guide” of all of the things I’ve been learning this season. It’s a long list.
- Focus on the small fixes: now that I’m in the elite field, it’s the little things that count for me now. Saving a second or two on a barrier, a half second on a remount, developing a smoother dismount to get past a competitor, taking a corner just a hair faster, these are the things that matter now. It’s not just the big picture anymore, it’s all of these little things that come together to create a “clean” race that marries power with technique. I’ve had a great teacher in another new elite racer, Donny Green, who spent the days after the Providence Cyclocross Festival helping me relearn how to do remounts and dismounts again. Turns out my shouldering technique leaves a lot to be desired, but now I’m working on it. It’s all of these tiny motions that, if put together correctly, will make me faster at the end of the day. When I’m only a few seconds back from a better placing, if I can learn to take corners just a couple of seconds faster, I can get to that better spot.
- Channel your power animal: OK, this one sounds silly. But bear with me. Cait Dooley, in her “You Got This” amateur women’s account of Providence weekend, talked about her power animal. Hers is a unicorn. Mine, thanks to Canadian pro Craig Richey, is a seal. Why? Well, I was really nervous about Night Weasels, because it was likely going to be a muddy, messy, slippery course. I don’t do well in mud. So I was terrified. Craig, who had just met me the day before, tried to help me relax by telling me that what I should do was try to crash on a pre-ride and see how easy it is to slide down the hill on my belly, like a seal. So, that night, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I stopped worrying about crashing, pictured myself as a seal, laughed at myself, and you know what? I didn’t even crash! And I ended up in eighth place, a great result for me in the pro field. So even though the concept of channeling a power animal seems goofy at first, it can be a weirdly helpful. It’s a great mental strategy.
- Dial in your bike: I can’t stress this enough. Having a bike that fits properly, a bike that feels great, and a bike that rides smooth, is key. I’ve been lucky so far to have great people around to help with kinks in cables, to show me how to glue tubulars, and to make sure my bike is in working order on race day. I’m not one for bike mechanics, though I’m trying to learn. Still, even with the best intentions, I tend to forget things like lubing my chain before races, and without the awesome people around me, I’d likely be racing with a super squeaky chain. And don’t get me started on how helpful the Keough clan has been with setting up my new tubular tires and brakes.
- Use neutral support: this sounds obvious, but until Providence Cyclocross Festival, I never utilized neutral support. Shimano had a tent set up and my front brake was in dire need of lube, so I brought it over pre-race. Well, an hour later, I walked away with a completely re-cabled bike. It was incredible. The guys working in neutral support couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and my friend Frances and I had an awesome time hanging out with them while they worked their magic on my poor, beat-up cable housing. They worked wonders, and my bike shifted and braked better than it ever has during that race. So whether you’re a cat 1 or 4, use the support that’s provided!
- Don’t sweat the mechanical failures: this is going to happen. At Granogue, I was sitting in 11th. I was feeling incredible, heading into the last lap. Then … I felt like I was pedaling underwater. It was terrible. I could hear something screech, but couldn’t stop to look, since there was no chance left to pit. I had to keep going, despite losing momentum and spots. I finished 15th, looked back, and saw that my back brake pad had turned perpendicular and was hitting the wheel and tire. No wonder I felt so slow! I was beyond angry, finally realizing what it felt like to want to hurl my bike at something. But … I had some awesome friends who listened to me yell and rant before pointing out that I shouldn’t feel bad, because it happens to everyone at some point. They were right. There was nothing I could do about that kind of issue, and I needed to realize that and relax. And think about next weekend. This isn’t a sport based on one race, it’s a sport based on a huge season full of races. One bad race shouldn’t ruin a season.
- Get stoked about racing: Be one of those people who doesn’t hide how amped he or she is to be racing! When it comes down to it, no matter how nervous you are before that whistle blows, we chose to do this on a weekend. We enjoy this. We do this because it’s fun, because we love it. Remember that, always. On a Saturday, when it comes down to it, there’s nowhere I’d rather be, whether it’s raining and muddy or blue skies and dry.
- Feel like a real racer: this is the biggest change I’ve started to notice in my racing. When I first started in the elites, I had a mantra: not last, not lapped. I was timid, terrified, and just wanted to stay out of people’s way. However … this is the field I am supposed to be in. I am a bike racer. This is who I want to be, what I want to do. So I’m going to do it, without fear, without timidity. I got into that zone this weekend, and it felt great. In fact, afterward, people came up to me and told me they almost didn’t recognize me racing. Again, doesn’t matter what category you’re in. If you want to be a bike racer, be a bike racer!
- Thank people: I’ve obviously listed a whole lot of people that have made my life infinitely better this season. And I try very, very hard to make sure that I say thank you to everyone who’s helped me this season. If you’re reading this and I haven’t said thank you (and I don’t just mean people I know, I mean people reading this in general), well, thank you! The cyclocross community has been incredible to me this season and I cannot thank everyone enough.
- Give back: Take a cue from Meredith Miller and her Pretty in Pink fundraisers for breast cancer awareness. We are extremely lucky people to be able to do this sport weekend after weekend, and it’s great when people in the sport are trying to give back to the community. There are plenty of bike-related charities, and plenty of racers who raise money for different causes, so keep an eye out for great opportunities to help out.
What have you learned so far this “semester”?
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.