In the ‘adulting’ part of my life, if there is one thing I have learnt, it’s that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. There are certain things in life that exist, and you are completely unaware. Until someone, or something, opens up your mind.
When it comes to cycling, when I think back, it just wasn’t in my awareness that cycling was something you did as an adult. Once I retired my teenage bike, I thought that was that. Fast forward 15 years and I realise that cycle commuting is a thing. Cool. I get me a bike and cycle commute. Then I realise that people ride bikes on the road and not just to get from A to B. They ride long distances, so they can drink coffee and eat cake… and they enjoy doing it. Then I discover that you can ride a bike on an indoor track… and then you can ride a bike on outdoor tracks… and then, you can put all that madness together and ride real fast (even run a bit), on what looks like a road bike, but on some mad outdoor terrains! …meet Cyclocross.
Do You Have a Bike Suitable For Cyclocross
First things first, you need access to either a mountain bike (MTB) or a cyclocross (CX) specific bike. Thing is, you’re unlikely to just run out and buy either / or without knowing if you will enjoy that type of riding, right?! I spoke to everyone and anyone that would spare me the time about this and the answer was that most people do their first CX race on a MTB, it’s completely acceptable to ride a MTB in a CX race and a MTB is more versatile as you can do some cross country riding on it too.
So I was in the midst of organising to borrow a MTB when Laura (@lalalawson on IG) stepped in and offered to lend me her mountain bike at the next event she was attending. This was defo not an opportunity to turn down; having someone who is experienced fill you in and having people you know on the course with you to cheer you on!
Choosing Your First Cyclocross Event
I had started by looking for training events but everyone basically told me the best thing to do is to sign up to a race, take your bike and just give it a go! There are a number of leagues set up across the country for which you can find most of the events listed on the British Cycling website but there are also lots of local events like the Maldon Cycling Club series that I signed up for as my first event here…
What To Wear For Your Cyclocross Race
This is always one of the parts of cycling I put the most thought into! I turned up wearing:
- the gorgeous new Liv Flara Thermal Long Sleeve Jersey
- short sleeved base layer
- long tights
- MET Rivale Helmet
- matching Stance socks
- long finger gloves
- Salomon trail running shoes
- UA knitted headband
- Chapeau! cycling cap
- a Buff to keep my neck warm
- sunglasses (clear when not sunny)
…but then common sense (and the girls I was with) made me change into an older winter jersey which a) is black so won’t get stained with mud and b) I don’t mind pinning my bib to and risking holes. I then changed to shorter socks as they didn’t match anymore. Yes, I’m that girl.
For the warm up, I also wore a UA fleece hoodie, a B’TWIN rain jacket and extra mitts over my gloves. But you just need to dress to keep you comfortable (i.e warm and dry)… personally, I would rather be too hot than too cold and I HAD TO have my ears covered… they were so cold in the warm up before I put on my headband that it gave me a headache!
The Warm Up Laps
I think this was the most invaluable part of the day to be honest. The adult race started at 11.10am (10 mins after the Juniors) and having arrived just after 9am to register (it’s first come, first served), we had plenty of time to do a few warm up laps. This was pretty humbling to be honest… I thought my fitness levels were getting better after my winter illness but damn, this was a whole other level. Short and sharp bursts made my lungs feel like they wanted to jump out and run away! But it was so handy to know what we had to come during the race.
Laura then spent some time with us going over the race start too which was super handy. Except, when it came to the start, I thought we still had another 5 mins or so, so was faffing with my bib and layers when the start whistle went! I was right at the back of the pack and then some, so had to pedal like crazy to even get near the few people in front of me! I don’t think I will ever make that mistake again…
Settling Into The Race
After I recovered from my lung busting start, my Galaxy Watch woke up and signalled 10 minutes of cycling. Without it automatically detecting my mad pedalling I wouldn’t have anything recorded but I think because I didn’t have my phone with me it didn’t have any GPS data. I figured that I would settle into the race sooner or later… I was on a steady incline but round the corner it was pretty flat with a chance to breathe, take alot of turns and then get into the muddy, bumpy, speedy ups and downs.
The aim of the race is to do as many laps as you can till the time is up which is typically around 40 minutes. I probably got lapped a thousand times but no one can really notice ‘cos you’re all just out on the same circuit. Getting lapped was even a blessing in parts; it meant I was able to see how more experienced riders tackled the various obstacles… like when they chose to run, or how they took the turns. I focused on completing each lap with my goal in mind and one eye on the clock. In the parts where I struggled to breathe, or cycled slower than I could walk, everyone was super friendly with words of encouragement.
There’s nothing much else to say though… you kinda just have to get out there and try it for yourself. Add to the fact that no two courses are ever really the same… not even at the same location as they like to mix it up!
What I Think We All Came For
That chequered flag. The signal that you are done. The happiest I’ve ever been to see any flag, yet, feeling immensely proud of myself for finishing (I *think* I did 4 laps which was my goal before I started, but double the goal of 2 laps I gave myself after the warm up lap! haha!)
But actually, I mean the tea, coffee and cake! There was quite a spread put on for this event and all for just £3.50. It was the perfect way to cool down / warm back up and get to chat and laugh about the experience with everyone.
Things To Note For Next Time
If all goes to plan, I’ll have a bike for the rest of the season so I can get some practice in on it… mostly skills and handling. I’ll get my Garmin attached to it too so I won’t have to borrow anyone else’s Strava details… if it’s not on Strava, did it even happen?! I’m also gonna dig out my old heartrate belt and pray it’s compatible with something so that I can have that extra data. I’m pretty sure I was at my threshold for the majority of the time but it’s always interesting to see it on a chart! lol …oh and I will defo make sure I have cleats… I already have mtb cleats / shoes / pedals that I feel comfortable with so this should be an easy transition. I feel like it’ll make a massive difference being able to recruit my hamstrings and add some power from my “pull” as well as the “push” phase of my pedal stroke.
As Laura said to us before we started; whatever happens, today was gonna be a PB. So now I’m armed with some invaluable experience and an opportunity probably every weekend if I wanted to, to go out there and smash that PB!
Don’t waste anymore time saying you’re gonna try this one day…