A cyclocross mom jumps into the fray
By Christine Soja
Photo at right: The author in her first race.
I could be cozy right now. I could be in my sweatpants, sipping a latté and reading the paper. It is Sunday after all. But I’m at frigid Woodland Park in Seattle squeezed into spandex bicycle shorts and a jersey. Butterflies in my stomach threaten to fly out of my mouth. Why would I be out in the not-so-kind elements, pumping up my nervous system and on the verge of throwing up? Cyclocross.
For the past 10 years I’ve braved blustery fall weather, cowbell in hand, cheering for my husband and then my kids as they rode through mud puddles and carted their bikes over barriers. Last year the boys started asking me “When is the mommy race?” and I didn’t have a good answer.
I’ve been a lifelong lover of cycling, but motherhood had put a considerable distance between my bike and me. The reply of “Maybe next year” was getting redundant and excuses were dwindling. It was time to jump in and face my fear of competition. I would risk failure for a piece of the joy and energy the racers clearly earned.
A goofy, homespun, and family-oriented community
Cyclocross courses are usually in local parks, where riders wind their way around trees, over roots, and through dirt, grass, and off-camber turns. Courses usually contain one or two barrier sections and a run-up, both of which require you to dismount and push or carry your bike across. This challenging type of riding is a great way to work out. The element of racing adds intensity and excitement.
Bike racing, however, can easily intimidate with the myriad of flashy team kits and high-end bikes. What I learned is that the cyclocross scene in Seattle is actually a goofy, homespun family-oriented community. Racers have been known to show up in underpants, pink tutus, Halloween costumes and Santa outfits. Maybe it’s the endorphins, or too many Shot-Blocks, but I found cross racers to be unanimously supportive.
“Because you can’t, you won’t, and you don’t stop”
When my race is called, I roll over to size up the competition. The lineup at the beginner race is nearly devoid of matching team uniforms or fancy bikes. This could simply be a group of spandex-clad people waiting for the bus. The women waiting to race are eager to share tips, past experiences, and commiserate over pre-race jitters. Suddenly I hear “Ready, set, GO!”
I focus on the path ahead and go into survival mode. It’s up to me to propel my bike around this 2.5 kilometer course three times. There are no meals to plan, no dishes to wash, and no fights to break up; just me and my bike. I’m thankful that the last song in the car was “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys, because the lyrics now urge me on: “Because you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop.”
I tell myself “smooth and steady wins the race” as I grip the handlebars (not too tight) and keep my weight over the center of my bike (but not too stiff). Every muscle in my body is on duty. On a tight turn I avoid a crash by the sheer power of my eyebrows wincing in the right direction. My throat is dry, my heart pounds. I remind myself to breathe through my nose and catch my breath when the course pitches downhill.
I hear “Go mommy go!” and encouragement from others on the sideline. Each pass through the finish line I check-in with myself: Do I have enough left to make it to the finish?
Turns out, I do.
Practice makes perfect
Cyclocross races happen nearly every Sunday from September to December, so there are plenty of opportunities to push you. This doesn’t allow much downtime during the season to get soft.
If I know I have to race on Sunday, I’ll keep on top of my workouts. I even found myself leading my sons in loops around trees through the park, and practicing my dismounting and remounting on the sidelines while they practiced soccer.
A great way to ride without the pressures of racing is to go out for cross practice (see sidebar below). Run by local riders, practices include a group warm-up, then a chance to self-select into an ability group (including one for brand new riders). After about 30 minutes of instruction and drills, riders are set free on the course to practice.
This is great fun, and offers ample time to practice basic cross skills such as surging up short hills, riding off-camber, and dismounting over hurdles. One night of practice left me with the confidence to try a race the following weekend.
A little bit of Zen
As the fall racing season took root, cyclocross became a cherished part of our week. We looked forward to cheering for each other and other families, and began to feel at home among the cowbells and spandex. The kids were happy to see everyone participating, and my husband and I were able to relate in a new way as fellow racers.
Being a part of cyclocross is fun whether you’re a spectator, supporter or participant, but the satisfaction of participating is addictive. During the event, your mind is calm and quiet; afterward you’re truly tired. There’s a little bit of Zen out there, and it’s available to anyone who hears the call every Sunday in the fall.
Resources for cyclocross riders in the Seattle area:
Seattle Cyclocross: seattlecyclocross.com
Races are on Sundays from September through December at a wide range of Seattle-area sites.
MFG Cyclocross: mfgcyclocross.com
An independent group of quirky cycling enthusiasts host races on the Sundays that Seattle Cyclocross does not.
Cycle U: http://cycleu.com/
Offers an early season half-day cyclocross camp for those who want to learn new skills or just get a jump start on the upcoming season.
Christine Soja is a freelance writer, teacher, and mother of two young boys. She enjoys spending time on her bike whenever she can.