Being a Finisher


Masters Elite category racer fighting for traction on the greasy wooded section of last Sunday’s Tacchino CX race in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Race #3 of the MABRA Super 8 Series. Photo: Broken Spoke Photography

Reading Will’s Facebook status about a race, how he’s racing Masters Elite and finished last – a working man, privateer, like me out racing Cross – I asked him for the rest of the story. In Seattle, I also didn’t have a good race last weekend, but finished it ahead of 3 DNFs. Back after a two week break, to a mud-grass course I thought, “Perfect to ride my own controlled pace!”

The mud-grass bog had a different, soul-sucking plan.

As Russie who won described it, “Take the Vegas grass crit course, let it grow about 2’ long, mow it, then water it for 2 days, then race on it. That was this course, hard. If you didn’t have the umpf in the legs you were dead in the water.”

I had no umpf, but was determined to finish, with my head up, treading water in the Masters Elites. Why? For the same reasons Will writes about below and cause I love the sport, participating in it, and finishing like he did. Despite, at times, feeling like everything is working against us.

Later, as friends were uploading their “my awesome race photos” to Facebook on Monday, Matt Hill from Crossports said, “Your job was to finish the f-ing race, period. Mission accomplished.”

Right! And I’ll race again this weekend.

Will’s Race Report

After three years of cyclist around me asking the question, “Do you race ‘cross?” and answering no, I decided to commit to something that resembled a season of cyclocross racing in 2011. Having been disconnected from this version of bicycle racing, apparently the company I work for has a reputation to some extent within the cyclocross community, so I made it my duty to participate.

Now entering my third season of ‘cross racing, it’s truly the only discipline I’d keep if I could only do one form of bike racing. Maybe that’s a low-hanging fruit sort of decision but from my angle, the training and preparation for this sort of competition is conducive to this 41-year old father of two; doing his best to battle for market share on the floor’s of the IBD, with the oldest and smallest bike brand in the US market. Besides, being an endurance mountain bike racer is doable up until you get a full time career and fatherhood. I signed up for being a husband and a father and feel it’s my duty to live up to my obligations the best way possible.

All the cliches are true describing cyclocross racing. It’s the best of mountain bike racing, the best of criterium racing, the best of beer garden sampling. Well, I’m not totally sure about that last one but I will admit since racing ‘cross, my palette for craft beer has quadrupled in size due to the post-race, hang out. You’re chatting back at the car as you change out of your gear, the car near you just so happens to be the guy you were slamming elbows with between the tape earlier. He kindly offers you one of his favorite IPA he packed for lunch. It’s hard to refuse that sort of hospitality when there are trace amounts of dopamine still coursing through your body, after murdering yourself for the past 50 minutes on the bike.

I’ve been able to keep myself happy racing cyclocross. My wife may never understand why I’d get up at o’dark thirty to drive just over two hours to an event that’s just under an hour in length. I suppose the appeal is that I feel complete no matter where I finish in the pack on any given weekend. And since moving up to Master’s Elite, I’ve come to grips with not hitting top 15 like I did last season in the Masters Bs. The other appeal is being able to squash my grade school anger from the jocks who hassled me in school for being a introvert, being too skinny and gangly, not being able to get the president’s physical fitness award. Hey, we need to all draw from a dark place from time to time in order to do our best, right?

The biggest truth about cyclocross is that those who are in the top five or top ten each weekend, aside from fitness, make the LEAST amount of mistakes every lap. My biggest mistake came last weekend during my first race of the MABRA Super 8 CX series. A week’s worth of rain left the course a grease pit and knowing that the park doesn’t drain too well, I somehow thought I could defy reason and run a set of fresh tubeless cx tires/wheels and have some sort of chance that day. My little voice told me the UST tubeless cx tire casing wouldn’t be supple enough, even at sub-30psi for my 180 lbs self. I mounted them up and pinned on the number.

The first hard left turn we had on the course was a bit off cambered and muddy. The bike just pushed, regardless of leaning the bike and using my best style of body english to drive the bike through the turn. Oh shit I thought. I immediately felt like a rally car with autocross slicks in the mud despite the tread of these tires looking exactly like the tires I got eleventh place last season in the rain at Hyattsville CX. I plodded out the laps despite mentally chewing on the idea of pulling the chute and going home. I stuck with it, got lapped and finished the race with one lap to go. Seemed fair. Besides, I decided midway through the race that I couldn’t support the idea of dropping out. After every race, my kids emphatically ask me how I did. Telling them I quit was a taste in the back of my mouth I couldn’t swallow. I felt fine. I wasn’t injured. This dad wasn’t quitting as I wouldn’t want my kids to ever make that same decision, unless they were injured or their personal safety was compromised.

The important thing my kids do understand is that I’m punching above my weight, something my team director taught me over the last two seasons. Highway miles for work are intersected with a day of training/ maintenance work with weights at the gym, combined with sets of jumping jacks and burpees in the hotel room I’m staying at for whatever night in whatever state I’m driving though. Lunchtime power-hour rides are the norm, so I’ll take whatever I can get to keep the body moving for ‘cross.

As far as tire choice for that day- I ignored that little voice which I’ve learned in my age speaks in mass amounts of logic now more than ever, and less in Type A – OCD like many competitors fall victim to.

When Will Mahler isn’t burying himself in a race, he reps Bianchi USA and blogs. Also, your mileage will vary with tubeless. It’s in how you set it up and picking the right tire for the course.

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