Mud, Sweat and Gears:

As I head towards my first ever cyclocross race my lack of style and grace on the rough stuff is becoming more and more apparent. That’s not to say I haven’t tried. A couple of months of cramming training in between work has meant a small step in my fitness levels, but unfortunately no giant leap in my skill level!

I’m savouring the brief moments in rides where I’m unlikely to crash, because the rest of my off-roading ventures never hold such certainty.

Getting used to that drop in your stomach before a crash that never comes is taking a bit of getting used to. Those milliseconds before the tyre grabs and you slip and slide your way through the mud.

I hadn’t fully anticipated how difficult I would find it to be bad at this. Like really bad. It’s not one of those times when someone says that while knowing full well they’re pretty damn good. I’m not eagerly anticipating your response of ‘don’t say that, I’m sure you’re great’ before humbly accepting the compliment. I’m so bad I’m considering running the entire race, and I can’t even run.

You see I can ride the bike off road at an acceptable pace while falling a tolerable amount, I can even jump off the bike with the grace of a drunk ballerina, and then the real issue presents itself. An inability to get back on the bike without coming to an almost complete stop is frustrating me to the point of tantrum.

It’s been too many hours of repetitive failure and evolving bad technique to laugh it off. Well that’s a lie. Watching someone comedy falling over and over again is always funny.

If anyone came into my garden they would see a lycra clad jogger running in circles with their bike, whilst jumping around in a vague attempt to get back on it. Part of me hopes it happens. I’m always up for putting a smile on someone’s face, although perhaps it would be more of a look of concern.

I’m going to request a remounting area equipped with step ladder once race day comes around. I’m sure my wish will be granted.

I’ve begun to realise how long it’s been since I’ve done anything I’ve truly never done before, and with the knowledge I could be really bad at it. Knowing I could try it, fail to find some undiscovered talent and call it fate, and then move on with life.

Once you reach a certain age you rarely start anything without knowing you’ll probably succeed. We’ve already decided what we’re going to do and who we’re going to be, so everything else falls by the wayside. The childish experimentation with no concept of consequence is replaced with careful planning and execution.

The ability to know you’re not the best you could be at something but do it anyway is one that dwindles with time. Embarrassment becomes an acute awareness, perfectionism becomes a stumbling block to jumping into something for the shear fun of it. Comparison becomes the thief of joy.

I would always train my weaknesses, but that’s weakness within a sphere you have excelled in. We find our niche and we cling very firmly to it and the things on the peripheral. ‘Stepping outside my comfort zone’ becomes more of a tentative lean into things to test the waters.

It’s always easier not to do something. It’s literally the easiest thing in the world. But nothing is boring, nothing is unfulfilling, nothing is a waste of time. Nothing is certain.

I could not do this. It would be easy to turn around and go back to safety mode. I could give myself more time to get fit, more time to improve my skills. But when would it be enough? This wasn’t ever going to be perfect, this was going to be fun.

Hoping a famous Cyclocross puppy can save me

Somewhere in the process things changed. I started to care about all the things I vowed I wouldn’t. Enjoyment was replaced with a need for progress. A need to be great or not do it at all. Enough of that.

The concept of failure rarely comes from the outside, it stems from an internalised standard we’re holding ourselves to. The idea that everyone’s watching and judging is more often than not the projection of our own judgement. If you set out to do the best you can at something, you throw everything you have at it, and at the end of the day you’re smiling, haven’t you won?

I won’t pretend I’m not going to give this my best shot, that I’m not still the competitive person I’ve always been, but this is about learning to enjoy the journey. The end is uncertain, the now is the only moment we truly have.

I’ll end this one with one of my favourite quotes “…there is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.”


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