Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

A reader’s essay: Getting the runs…

Let's get this straight from the get-go: I don't like to run.Running is painful, boring and slow. Okay, maybe the way that I do itis painful, boring, and slow, but even if you were to excuse the crueltricks that Mother Nature played when she shaped this particular squattylittle Irishman, the allure of running still eludes me.I guess that it all comes down to the basic question of whether, giventhe choice between strapping on running shoes and pounding out the milesor swiftly covering that same distance astride a bicycle, a rational personwould actually choose to go running. To me,

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

… or 'How I survived my first cyclo-cross race, almost maintained my dignity and still got beat by a twelve-year-old'

By Greg Taylor

Let’s get this straight from the get-go: I don’t like to run.Running is painful, boring and slow. Okay, maybe the way that I do itis painful, boring, and slow, but even if you were to excuse the crueltricks that Mother Nature played when she shaped this particular squattylittle Irishman, the allure of running still eludes me.I guess that it all comes down to the basic question of whether, giventhe choice between strapping on running shoes and pounding out the milesor swiftly covering that same distance astride a bicycle, a rational personwould actually choose to go running. To me, running is the masochist’schoice, and rather than presume that most runners are given to wearingstudded leather lingerie under their shorts and jogbras, I’m willing totake the more charitable view that they are simply poor benighted soulswho are reduced to traveling afoot because they aren’t coordinated enoughto ride a bike.I realize that this attitude probably consigns me to a Hell that ispopulated exclusively by weekend joggers, but there you have it. So itsurprised me as much as anyone that I signed up to do a cyclo-cross racea while back. Cyclo-cross races, as we all know, can involve a fair amountof running.This development provoked one of those little discussions that you havewith yourself when you hold up your hand to do something that one sideof your brain thinks is a wee bit irrational:”Dude, what are you doing? A ‘cross race!? You hate to run. Don’tyou know that ‘cross races involve running?””Yup. Running, jumping over shit, falling down and getting muddy. Oh,and it will be very cold out. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?””But Dude, there is a reason that you hate to run. You’re big and slow,and you run like a girl.””Don’t forget old, too. I’m over 40. There’s a good chance that I’llbe the oldest novice out there. “”Man, this will be ugly. Maybe you can get a Senior Citizen discounton the entry fee. How’s your fitness? These ‘cross races are supposed tobe frickin’ painful.””Ahhh…don’t worry about that. The race is only 45 minutes long. Ican do just about anything for 45 minutes.”I would later pay dearly for that last bit of hubris.Anyway, my irrational and overconfident side eventually prevailed andI was committed to do the race. Actually, “committed”is a polite way ofsaying that, having shot my mouth off about the race to certain ridingbuddies and family members, there was no longer any way to gracefully bowout if I changed my mind.So with the decision made and money sent off to the organizers, it wastime to get down to the business of preparing for my first cyclo-crossouting. I was immediately presented with several teeny-tiny impedimentsto what I was convinced would be yet another glorious episode in my admittedlylimited racing career.First, I had never actually seen a ‘cross race before, let alone racedin one, so it was left up to my imagination on what to expect or how toprepare. I knew that it involved getting off of the bike and jumping theodd barrier or two or traversing some sketchy terrain on skinny tires,but beyond that I was clueless. The only answer that I could come up withhere was to occasionally hop off of my bike on the fly and then try andhop back on. A few top-tube /gonad collisions later, I got this down prettysmooth.Second, I didn’t have a ‘cross bike. What I did have, however, was mytrusty commuter rig, an inexpensive Bianchi touring bike with canti-brakesand a triple chainring. It would do in a pinch. Stripped down and wearinga set of 35c knobby tires pulled off of an old hybrid bike, it lookedpretty racy. I was in business.Oh, and then there was the running part. I hate running, so I skippedthat bit. I figured that, hey, it was a bike race and there couldn’tbe that much running involved, could there? And if there was I couldjust gut it out because, as we all know, I can do just about anything for45 minutes. Even running through the mud with a 25 pound bike on my shoulder.Race day arrived cold and threatening snow. Bundled in my thickest windprooftights and multiple jerseys, I checked in with the race control, and gotmy one-day license and race number with little hassle. I was way early,so I had plenty of time to check out the course and the competition. WhatI saw of both quickly set off warning bells for what was about to go down.The course was an eye-opener. The race was being held in a local regionalpark, and the organizers had managed to put together a loop that includedvirtually every surface that you could think of: road, gravel, grass, singletrack.Oh, and they managed to find a place for virtually every hill in the park,including one steep grassy incline to the top of an earthen dam that holdsback a small lake. Correct that: it was holding back a small, frozen lakebecause, as I mentioned, it was COLD. The cold temperature also meant thatthe ground itself was frozen solid.And then there were the barriers. Can’t have a ‘cross race without barriers.Several sets of six to eight hurdles broke up the runs in the main viewingarea, meaning that any humiliation suffered while traversing these setsof jumps would be extremely public.There were, of course, other groupings of barriers placed over the coursein rather inconvenient places. Most notable among these little inconvenienceswas a particularly nasty grouping of barriers placed on a steep uphillsection, about 30 yards long. I could just visualize myself rolling upto this section mid-race, smoothly dismounting and gracefully leaping overthe barriers like a gazelle. Yup, a slow, spastic, tired gazelle carryinga bicycle.Taking it all in, it began to slowly dawn on me that the next 45 minutesor so of my life would not be a dignified interlude. I rode around thecourse slowly flailing over each section. I tried to keep my spirits upby repeating over and over that little bit of over-confidence that gotme here in the first place: “Oh hell, this isn’t too bad. I can do justabout anything for 45 minutes.” Well, we would definately see about that…My confidence levels were somethat restored to their prior over-inflatedlevels as I began to check out the competition. There were, of course,big groups of honch racers decked out in full team regalia, warming upfor the main event. I ignored them. I wouldn’t be racing against thoseguys. No, I was entered in the “Citizens” race, i.e., the light comedyportion of the show that precedes the main attraction. I spent my timesizing up the other average Joes with hairy legs who, like me, had apparentlytaken leave of their senses and showed up to race on skinny tires on frozenmud.Based on what I saw, I figured that I was in with a shout. Yes, I wasdefinitely on the older end of the age spectrum of the group buying one-daylicenses, but they generally looked a lot like the folks that I normallyride with. My confidence was restored. I could handle this.What I hadn’t figured on, however, were the riders in the other classof racers that were going to be waved off at the same time as the “Citizens”race. It turns out that the true danger men for my particular little contestdidn’t come from the ranks of the “Citizen” racers. Nope. In their wisdom,and I suspect perverse sense of humor, the race organizers lumped the “Citizens”racers in with the much younger “Junior” riders, meaning that I would beracing against kids young enough to be, well, my kids.My immediate reaction upon finding out that we were going to be lumpedin with the Junior field was to feel guilty about the “Citizens”-classsmackdown that me and a bunch of thirty-somethings were about to unleashon these enthusiastic, fresh-faced 12- to 16-year olds.I mean, c’mon, how fair was it for the organizers to throw these childrenup against grown men in an athletic contest where strength, skill, andriding savvy would separate the winners from the losers? I rationalizedthat, yes, being shown how its really done by older, more experienced riderswould eventually make these youngsters better racers. But being the oneto brutally drop young Bobby on a climb or elbow little Timmy into theweeds while traversing a section of barriers would feel a bit like shootingBambi.As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried about the little heathens.My true place in the ‘cross food chain was made abundantly clear tome while I was warming up. I was riding the course in the company of oneof the Junior racers – a young lad of about 12 or so who was perched upona rigid fat-tired mountain bike. As we were riding along I was quietlyhaving fatherly pangs of guilt about the rather uneven physical contestthat was about to occur and grim prospect of being forced to punt littleTimmy here to the back of the pack for the sake of his personal dvelopmentas a bike racer.We were rolling along smoothly when we eventually came to the dreadedsteep uphill section of barriers. I started my dismount and was in themiddle of a series of sclerotic hops over the barriers when I looked overat little Timmy. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The little dude busted a majormove and effortlessly cleaned the section with a set of textbook-perfectbunny hops. As he cleared the last barrier little Timmy took off up thehill like a bat out of hell, blowing by me like I was chained to the spot,Oh, the humanity….Turns out that little Timmy is a sponsored Junior racer who has apparentlybeen racing bicycles since birth. Not to spoil the ending here, but theTim-meister completely buried the field in our race, old and young alike.Timmy, wherever you are, this frosty cold one is for you, not that youare old enough to have a drink. Or shave. Thanks for making a bunch ofold guys feel even older. Come back in a few years when you get throughpuberty.Anyway, having had ego and expectations crushed once again, the onlything left to do was to saddle up and get on with it.The mixed “Citizens” and Junior field numbered about 30 riders, meaningthat the first few laps would probably be spent riding in a pack. The organizersflagged us off, and the field streamed through a short neutralized “prologue”section in an attempt to string out the field before folks the serioushammering began. There was a strong pucker factor here as (1) folks startedwailing right off of the bat, “neutralized” section be damned, and (2)the prologue was routed down a nasty gravel access road that had me completelyfocused on just staying upright. Against all expectations everyone madeit to the first corner, and the ball was opened.As I mentioned before, little Timmy took off like a fart in a hurricaneand wasn’t seen again until the race was over. The rest of us, the oldand unstable, were thundering along over hill and dale in a closely packedbunch. The first couple of run-ups spread things out a little bit, as dida few falls. As for my own race, renewed overconfidence was masqueradingas skill as I picked off a couple of riders. I was also doing okay in therun-up sections, but it was sheer hell on my legs. After two laps, I wassitting the top third of the field and holding my own. About mid-way throughthe race, around lap three, I decided that it was time to make my moveup toward the front.There are those who say that had I actually completed that third lapup on two wheels, I would have set a course record. Actually, I did seta course record of sorts, just not the one that I intended.Starting that third lap I really put my head down just started hammeringalong. I picked off a few more riders and could smell the front of thepack. What I should have smelled was the tree root that was lurking onthe inside of a tricky downhill turn. BAM! I went down harder than a WhiteHouse intern, skittering along across the frozen ground on my ass. Ridersstreamed by on both sides as I picked myself up off of the floor and gotback on the bike. Damn.Only slightly chastened, I turned the wick up even higher and startedto chase the rapidly disappearing lead group. I was trying a little toohard to make up some time riding down a steep downhill section when I comprehensivelylost it. This one was a thing of beauty: I went flying over the bars andrag-dolled down the hill in spectacular fashion with the bike cartwheelingbehind me at a respectful distance. Both bike and rider were depositedin a heap at the bottom of the hill, amid polite applause from the spectators.A quick survey of the damage confirmed that my race was officially screwed.Still, I picked clumps of frozen turf out of my helmet and started runningwith the bike, making repairs on the fly. I was able to twist the barsback relatively straight, but the brake levers were hosed, pointing offat odd angles. That didn’t really matter much as my left hand was throbbingand beginning to swell, so I really couldn’t do much with the brakes anyway.I could have quit right then and there, but I didn’t. Hell, I reallycan do just about anything for 45 minutes. So I concentrated on stayingup and finishing, wobbling around the course one-handed those last fewlaps.The good news was that I didn’t finish dead last. I could see last placefrom where I finished, but we need not dwell upon that. I did beat outa couple of guys who abandoned, so that counts for something. And the swellingin my sprained thumb eventually went down. The doctor said that I shouldkeep something cold on it for a few days.An ice-cold can of Budweiser worked just fine….