A few weeks ago, I raced at the Cyclocross Nationals in Austin, TX. In the four seasons that I have been racing ‘cross, I've competed in over 50 races. Of those 50+ races, I've been on the podium in about six, and have won just two. I’m currently a Category 3 racer (out of 5, where Cat 1 is the fastest.)
Cyclocross is really hard. For 45 to 60 minutes you race over dirt, grass, mud, sand, and barriers as fast as you can. Sometimes you run with your bike, up steps, through deep sand, or scramble up a muddy, greasy embankment with exposed roots and rocks. Sometimes there are scary crashes, like the one at the start of my race, that I narrowly escaped. At certain moments during a race you feel like your body is going to fail and your lungs, heart, and legs are going to explode.
It’s fucking horrible. But I love it.
And I keep coming back to it. Racing ‘cross is one of the most intense, difficult things I have ever done. The technical demands of the sport coupled with extreme physical exertion almost guarantee that you will make mistakes that will hurt your results, your pride, your body, your bank account, or all of the above.
But this process of making mistakes — learning from them, then coming back and getting it right the next weekend, riding faster and smoother than before — is what keeps me coming back week after week, season after season.
The day before my race in Austin, I watched the Mens’ 80+ Masters age category championship race. There were three guys in the entire age group — the oldest racers in attendance at Nationals. There were about 10 spectators in attendance, mostly friends and family. I watched as they pummeled themselves and each other for 45 minutes of racing. And they loved it.
That race was the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. And has me looking forward to making more embarrassing mistakes in another 40 years.