2011 Race 11 - Cross Out Cancer

Did my first cyclocross race today.

First and most important: The Cross Off Cancer cyclocross race in Shawnee, Kansas is a fantastic beginner's race. Fast, flowing, nothing super technical. You can bust yourself wide open on this course no matter what level you race at. And it's an extremely well-promoted and well-organized event, with good food, stuff for kids to do, a raffle with great prizes, a pint glass (!) in the schwag bag, and all the race volunteers professional and on top of their game. Go do this one. It raises money for the LiveStrong Army of Kansas City, and it brought out a huge field.

Now. About going out of that comfort zone. First cyclocross race and all.

Are you thinking: yeah yeah, you race all the time, this is no big deal. That's sort of true. And sort of not.

I am 44. I am chubby for a racing cyclist (look, I report that as a fact, not as a failing. Chubby doesn't mean "out of place," it means I may expend more effort than lighter cyclists to do the same amount of work). I have been riding a bike for 3 years and am really only getting comfortable with the posture and the effort. Any natural gifts I may have as a cyclist are as yet underdeveloped, nor am I strong, compared to my competition, on a bicycle.

And doing anything new, by definition, takes a person out of her comfort zone. Doing things in front of spectators takes me out of my comfort zone. (I am simply riding a child's toy around in the grass.) Racing a bicycle where I can see all the competition is out of the comfort zone. (Participate fully!) Going anaerobic and staying there voluntarily is WAYYYYYYY out of the zone. (It's not going to kill me; it'll just feel like it.)

Now I am giving you credit for being the sort of reader who understands I am not running myself down when I say I am not as good at this as others. I was in a large field of 19 women today so it is pretty easy to see where I stack up. It is not a matter for feeling BAD about, for god's sake. I don't need to feel bad or good about myself for any athletic participation.

What I feel is worked over. This feels good. Good chemicals are rocketing around from my brain. The word for that is "happy." And the people out there are feeling worked over, good, and happy.

Did I feel good in the cyclocross race? No. Did I feel happy? No. The pain didn't leave room for anything else. My legs haven't hurt this much since my last 20 mile trail run. The cat 4 beginner women's race was 30 minutes, 3 laps.

Do you get that? You can make your legs work as much in 30 minutes as in 5 hours. This is how.

Lap one didn't hurt enough. I hadn't warmed up properly and I didn't get myself up to full effort quickly. And I admit, my competitive hammer didn't drop until my heart rate went high and until I'd been around the course once and gotten through the "newness" factors.

By the end of lap one and all through lap two, I felt like it was almost going to kill me and I was hammering as hard as I could, leaning hard and pedaling through all but the tightest turns. It hurt. It was punishment. And the field kept pulling away and I kept trying harder and it kept hurting more.

Why did I do this? I will never do this again! My legs were burning and I was pulling great unseasonably-80-degree gasps into my lungs, trying to catch the stragglers in the field. I was the only woman on a mountain bike, but the field's advantage was clearly in its legs.

It was magnificent! Watching 16 women in front of me, taking the tight turns and wrenching the steam out of their muscles! What an awesome thing to be a part of!

Would it be also awesome to know 16 women were BEHIND me as I raced and were trying to catch ME? Probably! Probably it would!

Dismounts, barriers, cornering, all slow but not as clumsy as might have been. Remounting, total circus. Lots of ways to enjoy getting better at this.

I almost caught the woman in 16th place right at the line. She had been my rabbit for a lap and a half. I was at her wheel and took her at the inside of the last turn, and she saw me there and jumped into her sprint. I jumped with her but didn't get up off the saddle and find a bigger gear.

At the end of the race, my pal Amy waited for me to cross the line. I felt like a burnt steak. Once I'd gotten up to speed, I hadn't quit or let off. Full participation is the name of the game, and guess what, that is a gift there for our taking no matter our skill or experience or gifts.

Full participation feels GREAT.

I could barely breathe, much less speak. "Yup," Amy laughed. "That's a good face to have at the end of a race. That's what it looks like."