Thursday, September 15, 2011

Learning Fearlessness

Cyclocross season started last Sunday at Cascade Park in Elyria. Since Snakebite sponsors this race, I signed on to volunteer, as long as I could race, too.

The course was already set up when I arrived, and although I've only raced CX once, this one looked like a good time: a long stretch of meadow, a couple of steep, short climbs up a grassy hill (and back down again), some singletrack, some mud.

Before too many racers arrived to muck up the course, I rode it once to get a feel for the terrain, and to re-introduce myself to the bike I haven't touched since last year.

I admit: My off-road bike handling skills are fairly non-existent. As a seasoned roadie, I automatically avoid things like slop, tree roots, rocks, small children, and other obstacles that are part of the 'fun' of CX.

As I carefully picked my way over the muddy singletrack, my panic started to rise. I was OK on the steep climb -- I had figured out by then how to shift gears -- but not so good on the descent, white-knuckle braking (WRONG!) all the way down. The hill bottomed out to a swampy flat that didn't seem to faze anybody else, then continued toward more mud, more slippery, more anxiety.

I knew before I finished my practice run that I wouldn't be entering this race, although I had that infernal internal back-and-forth in my head ('I can do this/I can't do this') all the way up to the point that registration closed. Without me.

I could have done this race. I could have taken my time, hopped off the bike when the going got too hairy. I could have gotten muddy and proud of it. I could have finished last and not cared one iota.

But instead, I drove home that day a defeated woman. Defeated by my own fear.

A friend at work listened to my tale of woe and convinced me that my decision to bag the race was sound, based on my riding the course and taking stock of my abilities before calling it a day. But I'm desperate to race CX, because I think that it can be a lot of fun. With the proper amount of confidence and ability, it will be fun for me, too.

So now my goal is to get out there and get dirty, ride some CX terrain in a practice environment, fall off without anyone seeing me. My goal is to race CX this year, and to love every muddy minute of it.

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