This past weekend, I did something I haven’t done in since September. I stood on a start line at a race convinced that I was going to try, and that if I did, I could actually do well. It’s a weird feeling, finding that pressure again.
It didn’t happen often this past cyclocross season. Sure, I always wanted to do my best, but when you only race UCI races and aren’t fully focused on cyclocross and aren’t a paid professional, often, you’re not really taking to the seventh row spot in the starting grid with a whole lot of confidence in yourself. And for me, that’s a relaxing feeling: the pressure is off. I can race hard, have fun, smile over the barriers if I want to, and no one is expecting me to win. If I do well, I’m super excited. If I finish towards the back, I’m not shocked, nor am I devastated. How I feel about myself doesn’t depend on my results. Maybe five years ago, it did, but starting in a field with Gabby Durrin and Katie Compton, I’m not feeling like I’m even in the competition.
In triathlon, it’s a whole different animal. I’m good at them, on a fairly consistent basis. Last summer, I found my way to quite a few podiums, and not just in my age group—usually, I was in the overall top three. That’s an awesome feeling, and that’s my wheelhouse, embarrassing as it is to admit as a cyclist.
But I digress.
Anyway, this weekend was Paris to Ancaster in Ontario, a 70 kilometer gravel road race with some serious mud chutes and a monster climb at the end. It starts in waves, mine being the Elite/VIP one that went first, men and women. Last year, I did it as a lark, to see how it felt. I ended up 15th, which wasn’t bad but certainly wasn’t anything to write home about.
This year, I knew I could do better. I’d been riding a bit more, and I knew the course and the way the race played out, so when I went to bed the night before, the pre-race jitters took over and I tossed and turned. This is why racing scares me. Feeling like I actually should perform well is terrifying.
But soon enough, I was lining up, and I made the mistake of getting into the scrum in the field, rather than heading towards the front where I could start unencumbered by a sea of people fighting to get to the rail trail first. So, I was in my normal cyclocross starting position of ‘towards the back.’ But when the gun went off, I did what I could.
I won’t bore everyone with the race details, but suffice to say that it hurt for the entire two and a half hours. I wrecked myself and my legs trying to bridge to a group of burly dudes, and hung on for dear life. I ran through mud chutes, passing people who were attempting to stay on their bikes. And when I hit the last hill with a woman right in front of me, I did everything I could to pass her, stay ahead of her, and then kick into a sprint at the top to the finish, because I didn’t realize I’d already put 10 seconds into her.
Peter’s parents were at the finish, and the first words out of his mom’s mouth were, “wow, you did much better than last year.”
And I did. 20 minutes faster, and eight spots better, with a seventh place finish. But the finish itself didn’t matter as much as the fact that when I got to the end, I realized that despite the lack of sleep, despite the nervous stomach all morning, despite killing my legs and lungs for the 70 kilometers between the start and the finish, I was so, so freaking happy to have raced.
I’d been telling myself I had sort of grown out of racing, that I didn’t need it or the worries that came along with it. But what I’m realizing now is that I still truly love it, and I won’t be stopping anytime soon. Not to say I’m picking up a pro calendar or anything, but I know that I want to challenge myself regularly, because it’s what I love to do. Even when it hurts.
Note: this year, I’m super excited to be racing again for the MidAtlantic Colavita team this season. I didn’t plan this racing block well and left my kit hanging up in New Jersey, but it’ll be back soon!