As I approached the starting line at Nittany last weekend on Rocky Souperprestige, I wasn’t positive my tires were at the right pressure, I wasn’t wearing actual cycling gear like everyone else in the race, and I wasn’t nervous, just bewildered!
Luckily, I had seen familiar faces on and around the course from the moment I arrived in the parking lot, and everyone was super psyched to see Rocky and excited for me to experience my first race ever!
Believe it or not, I had never even heard of cyclocross before Sophia posted on Facebook about the clinic led by Arley Kemmerer and Rachel Rubino in August! I dragged myself out of bed that morning to attend, and was immediately hooked! I spent the next five weeks showing up at practices around the city held by Team Laser Cats, Arrow Racing, and others in the Philly ‘cross community. My friend Erika (another newbie) and I have been completely welcomed by cyclists who have offered tips and support as we’ve stumbled our way through their practice courses and drills.
The day of the race, I arrived too late to take a practice run, so all I knew from speaking with the men after they finished was that I could expect “a mud pit right at the beginning.” When I rounded the corner approaching the mud pit, it seemed like it extended as far as I could see! I dismounted and ran through it, nearly losing a sneaker to mud-suction during one lap. Spectator comments on my mud-running performance included:
- “She’s wearing running shoes!”
- “That’s about as well as anyone’s been doing it”
Most of the pack, as well as all of the juniors (including one teen lady!!) whizzed right by me immediately, so I was racing by myself most of the time and got to focus on the skills I’ve been learning that I needed to make it through each portion of the course. I was a little overwhelmed when I encountered the run-up, which Erika had described casually as “some stairs” after her race the day before. But I slowly, surely crushed it!
The other most challenging aspect for me was a short but steep baby hill that was completely slicked with mud. I repeatedly started up, then slid right back down, flailing and clawing at tree roots to pull myself up, while trying not to drop Rocky! A group of teenagers at the top of that feature cheered me on enthusiastically, and they were so proud of me each time I made it up. By my third lap, I thought I had it figured out and could sail right up, but by then I was getting lapped by the front of the pack. It was just too much for my brain to focus on the best line ahead while surrounded by the most talented riders in the race!
The faces of friends and folks I’ve met at practices in Philly lined the course, and I was absolutely carried through the crazy, fun, scary, muddy ordeal by their encouragement! Now that I’ve finished a race, I finally “get it.” Everyone’s been telling me all along not to be nervous, just focus on finishing and have a great time—and that’s exactly what happened. THANK YOU to this community for sharing Rocky, sharing skills and knowledge, and for cheering for me at the back of the race just as hard as everyone cheered for their friends at the front of the pack! I’ll be back!