Eliz Takes on Cyclocross
Eliz Takes on Cyclocross
Eliz is racing her first cyclocross season this year! Here’s her take on things so far!
My first “real bike” was silver with cotton-candy pink accents and about two sizes too big. From the moment it arrived in my grandfather’s autoparts store, it had to be mine. My parents and grandparents were hesitant – “it’s too big,” they told me; “you’ll break your arm.” But my heart was already taken.
As I clambered on top of my new, two-wheeled vessel to freedom, my heart thumped in my ears. I knew they were all watching me – waiting to see if I would fall, if they were right. I curled my fingers around the top of the pristine pink-wrapped handlebars, stretching my 10-year-old body as far as it would go. I slammed my white-sandaled foot onto the pedals, teetered left, then right, then left again as I strained to reach the other pedal. In anticipation of this event, my grandfather had adjusted the saddle as low as it would go, yet my legs still reached… and reached for that next pedal stroke. When I finally found it, I was flying.
My ride lasted for about five seconds as I strained with every inch of my body to turn the pedals over and over while keeping my steed upright. “I’m doing it!” I grinned to myself. I felt so free. Then I swerved, and just like that, it was over. My parents rushed to pull the bike off of me, to survey my first road rash. I shed a few tears and let them pick me up.
Despite the look on my mom’s face that told me the bike would be going back to Poppa’s store the following day, I didn’t argue to keep it. I was proud of myself for trying, and that meant I hadn’t failed. I would find a smaller bike, one that fit better, and one day I would be ready for the next step up.
When I was asked to write about my recent experience dipping my wheel into cyclocross, I thought of this story. My personality hasn’t changed much since then: I’m still determined (or maybe “hard-headed” is a better way to put it); When I fall, I still get right back up (both physically and metaphorically); I still dream big, and I have a tendency to reach straight for the gold before first achieving the bronze and then silver; When I set such high expectations for myself and fall short, I can be my own worst enemy; I’m highly competitive with myself and others, but I’m also compassionate and tend to worry way too much about other people’s thoughts and actions.
Cycling plays into all of these parts of my personality. I love the freedom I feel during the first few minutes of a ride – the same feeling I got as an over-eager 10-year-old. I love knowing that the power in my body is the reason for that freedom. Whether it was running, martial arts or cycling, I have always enjoyed challenging myself because I believe this offers a huge opportunity for growth. Pushing myself physically and mentally beyond what I think my limits might be is something that has contributed to parts of my character that I feel are strong and confident.
I have a tendency to spend too much time mucking around in my past, over analyzing and worrying about the future. But when I’m on the bike, I am forced to confront the present moment, make quick decisions and trust myself. I have to face my fears head-on. In no other cycling discipline is this more acute than cyclocross.
Cross, CX, CCX, cyclo-X… is the absolutely insane form of bike racing that involves jumping on and off the bike, over barriers, shouldering the bike while sprinting, riding through mud and sand as fast as possible for 30- to 40-minutes at maximum effort. Despite the pain and suffering, I’m discovering that it happens to be one heck of a good time.
When I showed up at Bent Creek Community Park in early August for my first cross clinic, my mind was a blank slate. If anything, I felt a little over-confident. I had spent some time on the mountain bike, my friends and teammates were there with me, and I thought cross would play to my strengths as a sprinter and former short-distance runner.
Reality check. Cross is HARD. It requires steady handling, focus, and high endurance at the very least. Like I said before, I tend to over-analyze, and that is exactly what happened at my first cross clinic. We covered just the basics of dismounting – kicking the leg over and riding with one foot before you unclip for the dismount. I was shaky and nervous, and my brain was buzzing with information. The Asheville Cyclocross instructors noticed my frustration and broke it down for me, which was a huge help. I didn’t end up getting the dismount that day, so in true Eliz form, I took what I learned home and practiced over and over until I got it.
Looking back at that first clinic, it is staggering to me how much I’ve grown over the course of a month. Tonight will be my very first cyclocross race, and I couldn’t be more proud. Sure, it’s been a rocky road, and there were definitely some clinic days when I wondered, “Am I really cut out for this?” But after each clinic, I noticed one or two things that I had improved: Maybe I finally shed that stutter step on a dismount; I was a tiny bit quicker off the starting line; or I figured out how to weight my outside leg on a tight corner. Slowly, I noticed my road bike handling beginning to improve as well.
One of the main reasons I kept coming back to the clinics is what I believe draws many people to cyclocross: Community. I’ve never felt so supported in a sport by complete strangers. The instructors, spectators and veteran riders were always eager to share their expertise and encouragement – “I’ve been there”; “Try this instead”; “You’ve got this!” – not to mention their cold beverages. :)
Tonight I embark on new cycling territory with the first race of the 8th Annual Wednesday Night Cyclocross Training Series in Jackson Park. Whatever the outcome, I know that cyclocross has already made me a better person and a better athlete.
And if I fall, I’ll just channel that tough little 10-year-old girl who was so proud of herself for simply trying.
This story, written by Elizabeth Harrison was originally posted on the PureVelo Racing Blog.