no one line

It’s The Feeling Afterward
November 9, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: cyclocross, race

In the spring, my good friend and riding buddy William made a daring statement: “We don’t race for the thrill of racing. It’s the feeling afterward. We get to feel so accomplished and badass.”

At the time, I didn’t agree with him. I love the thrill of road racing, the patience and stretching of being in a pack, wondering if I have the perspicacity to identify the crucial moment, the right break, or wondering if I have the legs to be one of the top wheels over the decisive climb. I love the chessgames of a breakaway. And I love the speed of track racing, condensing a whole race into maybe a few miles, tactics compressed, a shot of adrenaline, sprinting elbow to elbow around the banking. No missed shifts, no mechanicals – just: can I go fast enough at the right time?

I’m not sure, but I think I usually get off my bike with a smile on my face. William, on the other hand, has a distinctive look of death and pain when he dismounts after a race; red-faced with matted hair, gasping, making me wonder if this race or the next one will be when I hear him swear off racing forever (he has assured me this will not happen).

However, after a weekend full of cyclocross, courtesy of the Cycle-Smart International here in Northampton, Mass, I’m starting to come around on this notion that racing is far more terrible than the before and after times. I’m not much of a cyclocross racer – I’ve done a handful, and I like it, and each time I race I feel pretty good and decent but see where the skills of superior racers push them ahead of me. You can corner that tightly on grass? You can keep your rear wheel on the ground over those roots? How the hell do you get through all that sand? However, I was psyched about this weekend – a bunch of teammates and buddies were coming up to spend the weekend at my apartment, there was a case of beer in Aaron’s trunk, a dinner party planned, and Robot of Team Geekhouse had offered the hospitality of their tent. It promised to be a fantastic weekend.

The thrill was only shattered when I started racing. Elbows in the starting chute, backing off on the hole shot sprint, needing to make up positions, sprinting by people, fighting for the line on the hardpacked grass, bombing into corners, bombing down the descent, struggling to right the bike before we go into the tape, fighting through the sandpit, falling on the ride-up, falling on the run-up, riding over a fallen racer, heartrate through the roof from the gun to the finish line.

The first half of a cross race is all, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and the second half is a painful, dire, “No! No! No!” The leaders are going too fast, too hard. I caught all the guys in front of me, and now they’re pulling away again. This is my fast spot. It’s over too soon. This is my slow part of the course. It came back too soon. My teammate is in front of me? Bastard. Crap. That’s a gap I can’t close. That guy passed me in the same corner, again, and I’m going to have to sprint over the tracks to catch him.

And then, miserable at the end, in the big chainring for some godawful hubris-filled reason, pounding at the gear, closing the final gap to the people in front of me, the only race that matters after half of the race, struggling to hold the pace, the course deposits us onto the one hundred meters of paved finishing straight, and I get to sprint and feel the wind and wind-up of a road race, accelerating in the draft, low in the drops, coming up on the riders in front of me, throwing the bike at the line, making up a few precious spots in a few seconds.

And falling down under the trees beyond the finish line, taking minutes and minutes to stop heaving, gasping for water, wanting to burst and cry and shit and never do it again.

After some recovery, after water and an orange and putting pants on and ignoring the bike, the fun resumed: beers in the sun on a beautiful autumn day, sitting by the tape at the sharp descent, heckling the riders coming down: “Don’t brake! Get air! Go go go go go!” and spending the day with my sweet squeeze, a gaggle of excellent friends and teammates all in good spirits, and by the time I got home – belly full of pizza from a spot in downtown, legs exhausted, body exhausted, brain an incompetent slurry, there I was, registering for another one a few weeks from now; this time for two races in one day.

Photos courtesy of teammate Dave August

5 Comments so far
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Comment by heidi

Excellently written. My first cross race is this weekend, and there’s a certain siren song in what you describe. If it’s gonna suck, it better suck good.

Comment by KFuller

Very well done. That’s the kind of post that makes me ache to race. Not meant to be, though. 😦

Love the pic of you eating your bike. Don’t tell your frame-making friend!!

Comment by Velosopher

I just came across your blog today, but you totally nailed the vast majority of how I feel about racing: the joy, the not-joy… love it!

I hadn’t raced cross till this year, and you capture the feelings perfectly. Do you object to me linking to you on my blog?
all the best

Comment by hida yanra

Thanks! I have no objections whatsoever – thanks for stopping by and please come again.

Comment by nooneline

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