For the first time in many years I had decided to race a full cyclocross season in 2013/2014. Early in the season I had set a goal of a top result at the 2014 National Championships, which took place on January 12 in my hometown of Boulder, CO. As you all know Boulder somewhat prides itself on being a cycling community, and a few locals had spent countless hours to make sure this event was guaranteed to be one of the best Cyclocross National Championships ever. I trained really hard and raced almost every weekend for the last 3 months leading up to this race, but come late December I wasn’t really interested in racing.
It’s not very often that I don’t feel like racing my bike, but a few circumstances had led me to believe that I wasn’t going to be prepared to race against the best of the best. I’ll spare you the details of my long list of bad excuses, but in summary they were: some recent poor results, a surgery on December 20th to get the plate taken out of my collarbone, followed by 2.5 weeks completely off the bike, and a bit too much enjoyment of holiday parties. After running these excuses by friends and family, I decided, with hesitation, it was best to register anyway.
My racing number was proof of my last-minute decision to race. I was number 122 out of a registered total 124 Elite Men. Fortunately, due to a highly successful cyclocross season, my start position was 36th. Not great, but could have been a whole lot worse. During my warm-up I felt surprisingly good, so I set what I thought would be a lofty goal for the race: I would try to finish above my start position (36th or better). I showed up to the start line relaxed, warmed up, and very unsure of my current fitness level.
The race start was as fast and dangerous as usual. The first few minutes of a race tensions are usually high and mistakes are often made. Sure enough some guy on my left slammed into a pole and crashed. He held up a few others and I narrowly escaped on the outside. At this point I had no idea what position I was in. I focused hard on paying attention to the technical course and choosing fast and safe lines. Eight minutes and 40 seconds later, lap 1 was complete. I had settled into a small group and prepared myself to try to hold on for as long as I could. It wasn’t until about halfway through lap 2 that I realized I actually felt fit. I’d occasionally catch a guy and make the pass.
Near the end of lap 3 a friend of mine yelled out “You’re top 30!”. I thought to myself “Top 30? How the heck did I make it into the top 30!?!” I could not believe I was moving up from my start position. I decided I’d really try to crank out the next few laps as fast as possible. I used the support from the insane crowds (words cannot describe the how amazing it was to race with this many people on the sidelines. On the long set of stairs titled the 5280′ Run-up – due to one of the steps being at 5,280 ft. above sea level – it was so loud that all I could hear was a roar from the crowd. I have never been in such a motivating race environment) and my friends cheering, at what felt like every corner, and set my two fastest laps of the race (laps 4 and 5) at 8 minutes and 3 seconds each. That decision proved fruitful. I moved up quite a few spots and would later find out that the race official pulled everyone but the top 22 guys left in the race due to risk of being caught by the leaders.
Over the next couple laps I made a couple more passes. Someone yells out “Top 20!” I could not believe what I was hearing. My legs were on fire, but a top 20 result was not something I was about to let go. I found myself mostly alone for these last 3 laps, powering into long headwind sections, dragging myself up short climbs and using any bit of energy I had left to hold on to the bike on rough descents. By the last lap the race was mostly settled. I crossed the line in 20th place!
I can’t think of many races that I have come into less “prepared” and finished so well. I could go back and try to find a number of things that possibly led to a strong ride last Sunday, but without analyzing the details, I think it’s safe to say that my result (and much of my race results) is largely due to my motivation during the race.
“Don’t let life change your goals, because achieving your goals can change your life.”