Two Days from My First Cyclocross Race

So seeking a break from running, I now find myself two days from my first cyclocross race.

In the past eight weeks, I've been mostly loyal to riding. I've only run 4-5 times, including picking up 2nd place in my AG at a 5k race. I've been riding over most of my lunch hours, and have gone longish on most weekends.

For the past 4 weeks, I've attended a cyclocross skills practice, along with 5-8 other riders, all of whom have more experience than I.

On one hand, I've gotten a lot better and I've learned a ton. On the other hand, it's a tricky sport and I am still very bad at it. I haven't fallen in about 2 weeks, but every technical turn puts me further behind the other riders. Add this to the fact that running fitness isn't cycling fitness and you come up with the reality that on every test race I've done with the weekly pack, I've finished last, and not by a little. Though bruising on the ego, I love these "scrimmages" because I feel they've prepared me - a little - for what Saturday will be like.

Most weeks, I go to practice and learn a new skill. I'm horrible at it at first and by the end of the clinic have more confidence that if confronted with the situation during a race, I might be able to get through it. But that's a far cry from competence.

It's an interesting experiment, to be sure: to go from running, where I'm comfortable in the front to such a technical experience, where I'm way behind. Mostly, it's been positive. Being last has taught me that you get almost all of the benefits as the people do in the front. You still feel the burn and satisfaction of a good workout. You still feel the pride of improvement. Competition is exciting, whether you're fighting for first place, fourth place, or fighting to stay out of last place.

In the end, I've concluded that the only thing coming in last doesn't give you is the confidence that at some point, you won't, which is why going into my first race, I've set a goal to not come in last, but have absolutely no idea if that's even feasible.

My wife has told me (correctly) that it doesn't even matter if I do come in last, and I agree with that, conceptually. But when I'm on the course, I want something to go for besides a strong effort, so that's what make sense to me. In the end, though, I know enough that how I'll feel about my performance will have nothing to do with my finishing place and everything to do with how I feel about my skills and the ability to make a strong effort when my skills aren't being tested.

In cyclocross, you can see who else is signed up for races in advance. This also has its good points and its bad points. On one hand, I can see the handful of guys like me who are near the beginner level, which gives me hope that my goal might be attainable. On the other hand, scrolling through previous results of most of the guys in my race confirms what I already know - I will be way behind most of them. And of course, I'm experienced to know that once the race starts, I won't be thinking about the other guys at all, but only about trying to put together a strong effort based on everything I've learned. And, to be sure, I have learned a lot. Hopefully, it will be enough.

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