The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

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

by Molly Hurford

The past four days have been all about cyclocross for me. And I have to tell you, it has been amazing. Between seeing how “real cyclists” exist in their normal world to being at the Cycle-Smart Cyclocross Clinic, I have learned so much and met some really incredible people, again reaffirming why I love this sport so darn much. Now that I’m finally at the beach on my family vacation, I get to sit and reflect on the past few days and decide where I go from here. Cyclocross season is only a couple of weekends away, and I’m feeling pretty ready for it.

Last time I wrote about living the dream, my house was full of pro cyclists. This time, I was staying in a house full of pro cyclists. I’m, of course, referring to the Keoughs. The five brothers (ranging from 13 to 24) are some crazy talented cyclists who embody every aspect of the sport, from having a BMX track in their backyard to what is essentially a bike shop in their garage. I’ve seen them race in New England since I started racing, and I’ve heard all of my elite friends moan about racing one brother or another. Like most racers in the New England region, I knew the Keoughs as a bastion of the cyclocross lifestyle, without ever interacting with them. That is, until Luke stayed at my house after the Tour of Somerville and I got to know him a bit better in an interview. Even then though, the Keoughs as a whole were more myth than men. But not so after this weekend (though their bunny-hopping and fearless riding style is certainly of mythical proportion).

While Jesse is a pizza-making pro and Ian is a baker, Jake is the embodiment of cyclocross spirit, making killer espresso and oatmeal for me in the morning before leaving to catch a plane to USA Pro Crit Nationals (where he ended up in third). Turns out that natural peanut butter, brown sugar and oatmeal might be the most delicious meal in the world, though Jesse’s grilled margherita pizza was a close second.

Jesse Keough practicing cornering around the Circle of Death. Molly Hurford

Jesse Keough practicing cornering around the Circle of Death. © Molly Hurford

The brothers had volunteered to help me do some “how to” videos for the Cyclocross Magazine website, and they did not disappoint. In the course of a day, they covered barriers, cornering and riding in sand, all while carefully explaining their techniques and testing their teaching skills by making me try each thing — including the “Circle of Death” they use to practice their cornering with each other. The phrase “stop braking” is officially embedded in my brain. And as for my remount technique? Well, after a whole lot of laughing, falling over and getting back up, I finally mastered the art of the slow remount. My old style was fast and furious, born out of sheer desperation to finally do a decent remount. While it worked, I couldn’t do slow dismounts and in certain races, sometimes there are only a couple steps you can take pre-remount unless you want to run another 50. Because of that, learning to remount while not running is helpful, and once you have that down, taking it with speed is even easier and smoother.

The other highlight of the weekend was when we rode down to a lake to take a swim. Being an ex-triathlete, swimming in lakes is natural for me, so I was finally able to say that I was faster then Keoughs at something. (Though when Luke commandeered a kayak and paddled with a big stick, I barely kept up.) The rest of the time I was there was spent in full-on bike mode: from talking about upcoming races to repairing bikes to discussing new kits to watching Nick modify the Keough Cyclocross logo, it was two days of being fully focused on cycling.

As if that wasn’t enough cyclocross for a week, at five on Saturday morning I found myself watching the sun rise while showering in the Keough’s open air outdoor shower, before heading to the Cycle-Smart Cyclocross Clinic. Despite not being a beginner, I find clinics incredibly helpful and it seemed like a lot of the attendees had the same idea. Especially in cyclocross, where technique is so key, even elite riders can benefit from a refresher. As an added bonus, I would get to meet my coach, who until now, I had only known through a series of emails and Skype conversations. I’m embarrassed to admit that he recognized me way before I recognized him.  Once the clinic was underway, the roughly 50 participants were split into three groups: beginner, intermediate and advanced. With two seasons under my belt and a Cat 3 license, I was in the advanced group led by Cycle-Smart’s president, Adam Myerson. (You may remember my interview with him back in June.)

Clinics have never been my thing, to be honest. They make me nervous, and I’m always worried about embarrassing myself or looking silly in front of the group or coach. Not this time. I made a deal with myself that I would not think about how I looked, not worry about making mistakes and not be self-conscious. Because  honestly, being worried about making mistakes was a) causing me to take mistakes, or at best, to play it entirely too safe, and b) I wasn’t learning much because I was so nervous and because I didn’t want to try new things or take risks.

The whole gang, from coaches to juniors, at the Cycle-Smart Clinic.  Janice Checchio

The whole gang, from coaches to juniors, at the Cycle-Smart Clinic. © Janice Checchio

We covered remounts, dismounts, barriers, cornering, off-cambers, uphill barriers and a whole lot of racing etiquette and tips before the first day was over. That may not seem like a lot to cover, but Adam was careful to explain every skill (and it’s importance), and then spent a lot of time making sure that we were all perfecting our techniques. And yes, I fell. But that just meant that I was pushing past my comfort zone, so I was perfectly happy being half covered in mud. And I didn’t feel silly at all.

That night, Adam did a seminar talking about training, and I got to some insight into why my coach structures my plan the way that he does. I also got to beg him to let me start running again, and I think I’m starting to wear him down a bit: he didn’t say no when I told him I was going to do short runs on the beach this week.

The next day came my big challenge: starts. Well, those and bunny-hops. But starts are where I have the most trouble, and that was obvious when we started practicing. In small groups of four, I was consistently getting left behind, and at one point, flipped over my bars when I tried switching to starting with my right leg. When I walked back with my bike, Adam told me he figured I was OK since I started laughing before I even hit the ground. It was true: in the air, I realized how silly the situation was and couldn’t help but be amused.

When it came to full group starts, I was actually getting better: something about starting a couple rows back brings out the competitive nature in me and I go harder and focus more. That also came in handy when, at the end of the day and after a thunderstorm had reduced the course to a muddy mess, we did a two lap mock race to showcase all the things we learned. All 35 people still at the clinic lined up together, and first, the row of beginners started. A minute later, my group went tearing after them, followed a minute later by the elite racers. I stuck close to Emma White, the 14-year-old phenomenon that beat me consistently last year. While I still didn’t beat her this time around, I wasn’t too far behind her when the race ended, and because of that, I can safely say that this weekend was an unmitigated success.

On that note, it is high time for me to get back to the beach. See you all at the races soon!

Tell me: are you ready for the season?

If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events here: Molly’s CX Adventures.