Head Games & Cyclocross: 5 Years to Settle Down

In my 5th year racing cyclocross as a “beginner,” something is changing which feels like an edge to me.

Starting this sport at age 40 and not being graced with a lot of speed, I’ve remained a cat 4 racer. I could write to USA Cycling and argue I should be a cat 3 due to the years I’ve raced, but I don’t see a point to it, other then my pride. If I race exclusively cat 3 or in the 1-2-3 race I’m coming in last or darn close to it every time. I hang in the middle of the pack in cat 4, clearly it’s where I belong.  I’m ok with that (finally).

I still lack time to train and have the same, if not more responsibilities I’ve had all along. A busy middle schooler to parent, a full time job with a host of demands, et cetera, et cetera. So what’s different now?

Mental. It’s totally mental. It’s the difference between trying to race, or playing at racing, and actually racing. What am I talking about?

When I started racing, I was just trying to hang on and finish. It was terrifying and exhilarating. What an insane sport! Addicting, but I really wasn’t throwing down every race, the whole time. Maybe I’d go 60%, or 70%. I probably felt like I was giving 95-99% but upon reflection, I wasn’t. I’m capable of more.

Each year I have tried to have races where I felt I was giving more. And it hurt. But I started to race. Maybe only 2 races a year were like this, but it was happening.

Last year I considered making it my last year. I had a lousy 2014 season and just wanted to redeem myself and feel good again. My schedule allowed me to race Holy Week–almost every race. Gloucester, Night Weasels, KMC/Providence. 4 races in one week. Something flipped.



I started recovering faster, having more energy later in the race, and found a little something in my legs when in years past, I’d be praying for God to come down and end the race and have mercy on my soul.

I also changed my attitude and relaxed a bit. While I still am competitive at heart, I relaxed  and got a little more focused. Results in 2015 didn’t start great. My scores were terrible and my placements much lower than mid pack. But by the end of the season they had improved considerably. An upswing as I chilled out and reapplied myself.

So far I’ve raced 2 races in 2016. Race #1 I DNF’d but felt really, really good. I was looking at a strong finish. No podium (let’s banish those illusions right now and forever), but top 50%, which remained the overarching goal.

Race #2 was last week–Quad CX, where I raced more conservatively, and I feel regret about being more conservative. I worked hard, but did I leave it ALL out there? Not quite. I wanted a finish, not a DNF, and that influenced my approach.

Reflecting on this, I am thinking I do not want to do that again. My physical abilities are finite, but I’m learning more about my mental game.

Example:  Race #1 I was completely ambivalent leading up to the race. It wasn’t until the whistle I committed, fully, to kicking as much ass as I could kick. And my performance (measured against my own standards) was strong.

Race #2 I was eager. I felt like I was in good shape. I had raced the course once before. I wanted to NOT DNF, but finish well. I guess I achieved that, but walked away knowing I probably could have gone a bit harder, a bit faster. Would that have improved my placing? Maybe, maybe not, but I won’t ever know, and that is what is on my mind as I consider the rest of the season in front of me.

Go hard, the whole time. Don’t think too much about it beforehand. Don’t think at all. Don’t care too much about the outcome. Care about the moment. Care about the act of racing.






About Karen

Mid-life female amateur athlete focused on cyclocross, mountain biking, and road cycling.

One response to “Head Games & Cyclocross: 5 Years to Settle Down”

  1. Quan says :

    I have this battle within me, too. On one hand, I don’t trust myself that if I go hard the entire time I won’t fall apart… on the other hand, I don’t never realize what I could accomplish if I do. Glad to hear you’ve shifted into the next gear!

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