I wrapped up cross season today at Reston. To lay bare my soul to you, I was ready for cross season to be over two weeks ago. I've been dreaming of doing long rides on the road for a couple weeks. Literally, dreaming at night about the long rides you do, cold toes, cold nose, where you just get out and spin for hours on end. The road disappears under you as if you were dreaming - yes, I dream of riding in my dreams and sometimes when riding it feels like a dream instead of a ride - and the miles slip away in a quiet zen state where the stress of day-to-day life goes to die. Eat the bad food, the Clif bars, the breakfast bars from Qwick-E-Mart when you run out of that. Refill the bottles with Gatorade, swill a milk, get some peanuts. Get increasingly sore legs, get yelled at by some guy, wave at a tandom passing in the opposite direction, get ignored by some triathletes out on the bike for a few hours of suffering, oblivious the the bike's enjoyable dimensions...
Yes I missed that. I can't wait to start. But it doesn't mean that cross season was bad or I disliked it. For one, it doesn't feel like a total loss. I didn't do great in the results. Finishing around mid-pack was a good result for me for the first couple months; I managed a top half finish or two, which was nice. Mostly I struggled in the back third, and struggled with declining fitness over the course of the season. The B Masters is a more ruthless field than the C's - most of the competitors know what they are doing and I learned a lot by following other people's lines. The races were more fun this year. I didn't ride as hard, wasn't as out of my skull as in the past, but I rode a lot faster, just by hitting the brakes less and figuring out how to ride it. Following the likes of Fred Witwer and Bobby Lea a few times was really helpful here. Plus there was the cameraderie. The B Masters is different from the C's - the same crew races week in and week out. You get to know folks and develop respect and fondness for them, even the bastards who are consistently sticking it to you. Then there is hanging out with teammates, and a crew of acquaintences you know from week-to-week. There are the venues, many of which seem to get more dialed in and excellent from year-to-year.
Still, my consistently mediocre results reminded me how very far I have to go. There are about 3 things I have to do to make the leap from truly mediocre crosser to good racer, and that ball is in my court. I really need to step it up, and MAC races like today's really bring that point home.
Still, even though the dissatisfaction from potential not-realized burns fairly deeply, I have a lot to be thankful for and I need to name some names, call some people out for all they did for me this year. I grew a lot as a racer this fall, figured quite a few things out. Maybe the payoff wasn't there all the time, but I am starting to be able to see how to get from here, to over there, where I want to be. I need to thank some people for helping me achieve that growth.
Top of the list has to be my team, the Squadra Coppi. Some teams are about paying for a jersey and being registered to avoid unattached rider fees at roadraces. Other teams are about supporting the hell out of your teammates, helping out with kit or parts or riding tips or pitting at the races, trying to incentivize practice and thinking about how to improve the local scene. I have to give thanks for my teammates - starting with the Ckiller C's like Jon, Dave, Mike, Occasional Art and Andrew, the surprisingly fast B's like Ryan and VA CX champ George, my compatriots in SlowerGeezer (Master 3-4) like KenBob, Scot and Dan, and Masters A stalwart Judd. We also have the much more attractive and generally more competitive women's crew, with Jean, Lindsey, Siobhan, and a couple other semi-occasional racers. Thanks for the support this fall, material and moral. On the second or third lap of the race when the legs are burning and the lungs are exploding, hearing the cheers from teammates, knowing they are out there supporting, is like catching a comfortable draft in which to shelter. Grazie, mi amici!
I am also thankful for my Family Bike Shop buddies, Jon Seibold and Trevor Miller. We rode together to a lot of races, and Jon is a high quality road dog who prepares well and races well, and keeps an even keel. Trevor is the anchorman, not because he gives the news but because he's a solid presence. My traveling buddies helped set the tone for me most weekends, and to the extent I was able to get my mind right and ride well a few times it was partly due to the influence of these two vastly more experienced racers. They've also been dragging me out mountain biking quite a lot, and I would be willing to testify in court that if you want to get a lot stronger on a bike in fairly short order, riding single speed mountain bike with some guys who race single speeds in the expert class is a way to do it. A lot of things that used to be runups to me, pre-mountain bike, are now fairly easy ride-ups. I've learned about momentum, flow, not braking, and suffering, trying to follow their lines in the woods.
I'm thankful for some really experienced crossers who have been willing to give me advice about lines, tires, kit, and training. When you're really good, it probably seems like no big thing, but little tidbits of information are often incredibly useful. Chris Nystrom's "pedal steadily through the sand" is one of the most profound things about riding on slippery surfaces anybody has ever told me. He tossed that line off to a crowd at CX practice at Rockburn one night but it's a game changer, and I've since figured out it works in mud and on wet grass too. Keep up a light pedaling in slippery stuff and you won't slip, or if you do it will be predictable and ride-able. Remarkable. Mike Birner always says something smart, maybe intentionally, maybe by accident, Mark Gwadz is always worth listening to, Chris Mayhew pretty much drips racing smarts, and a couple of the 55+ fast guys - sorry I don't remember your names offhand guys - have given me some really useful tips this year, maybe most effectively by not trying to hard to drop me when I grab your wheels in races. Thanks one and all.
Then there's everybody else, the community of crossers who are just damned supportive, and who function as a crutch for me on days when I just don't have it. Peter Jensen is the nicest most supportive guy who will absolutely rip your legs off that I've ever met. Graciousness on wheels, basically. Johnny, Mike, Jason Pearlman, Jim Ventosa, Joel Gwadz, the Lea family & Fuji team who I always seem to park near, Kris Auer, Pete Lindeman, Kevin Dillard, the AABC crew, Riskus (who's with AABC but deserves his own mention), and the cast of freakin' hundreds - I feel terrible because I see roughly a hundred of the same people every week, they support me and I watch them supporting others, and I wish I could buy them all a post-race beer every week. Damned if being around a good crew of people doesn't make the whole experience worthwhile, even on the most awful days. The 'cross scene is really exploding in the mid-Atlantic, and it's because the thing is more than the sum of its parts; but if you only added up the individual parts you'd still have a very, very impressive collection of remarkable individuals. Nor can you ignore the officials who have been busting their asses, raising their game, and learning to cope with the crowds and mayhem of our burgeoning scene, and you guys may not notice it but a lot of them will cheer for you when you're racing. Oh, they don't pick sides, that'd be wrong, they seem to root for everybody or a good cross section of everybody - but they are rooting and that is beyond great. Even Joe Jefferson is starting to grow on me though when I'm upside down in mud and sliding under the tape, his humorous commentary is sometimes lost on me. But then I'm crazier than Amy Winehouse, as Joe would say... repeatedly.
Penultimate props have to go to coach Bill Gros. On the days I'm running pretty well, like at DCCX, Bill Gros has something to do with it. You ever wonder how a big fat powerlifting-looking dude can ride a bike decently? Good coaching doesn't hurt. He's got a lot of people with better palmares (and more easily perceived bicycling aptitude) than me but probably not to many people for whom he has done more and who have come further.
Final thanks go to Mandy and Will. I couldn't do it without family support.
Sure, it's two weeks late for me to be making a list of people to whom I owe thanks. But there's nothing wrong with Thanksgiving leftovers. My apologies if this isn't the most tickling entry ever, if it's too local for you or if it seems weird that a mediocre racer would be thanking people as if it were Oscar night. The point of it is that many people have done me a good turn this year, and I'd like to express my gratitude for it. How can you do it? How can you thank the people who made it a great scene this year? That's simple - you can't. No matter what you say, it doesn't sum it up right, doesn't convey adequately how warmly you feel toward our little community. But I'll try to say thanks anyhow.
Thanks for a great racing season, my friends. Charm City is only 287 days away. See y'all next year.