For the first time since I started racing, I decided to forgo any sort of warmup in favour of staying dry. No pre-ride, no road ride, no trainer ride. Nothing. This may not have been the smartest decision, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get on the bike prior to my race. It was cold and the rain was hammering down creating a mucky mess everywhere. I had walked the course enough to know what was in store. Mud. Everywhere. Seeing everyone come off their pre-ride coated in it wasn’t terribly inviting and my motivation to get wet prior to racing was non existent. I opted instead to sit in the van and squeeze myself into a full body costume, trying remember what it is about “real cyclocross weather” that I like so much.
The Maple Ridge Equi-Sport Centre was once again hosting the Local Ride’s Pumpkin Cross. Now part of the BC Premier Cyclocross Series, the race has been a local favourite with strong turnouts in all categories. Costume races always make for a festive atmosphere and the weather wasn’t enough to deter people from getting decked out.
For some time there had been grumblings, mainly from myself, about the dry weather we had been experiencing thus far and longing for mud. The cross gods heard the complaints and responded with a monsoon for the days leading up to the race ensuring that there would not be a dry corner in sight. The rain took a break for the first race of the day but soon the skies opened up and as the racing progressed throughout the day, the course became tape to tape mud.
The rain wasn’t showing any signs of letting up as we lined up for the start. “What’s your plan?” I was asked by the guy next to me. “Try not to take out the course tape” I replied as I explained that I hadn’t pre ridden the course and was only vaguely aware of which direction the first few corners went. I may have made him a bit nervous. Knowing that we were starting on mud I made sure not to repeat my Queens Cross bungle by spinning out off the start. My body was cold and not at all feeling like I was ready to race when the whistle sounded and it was go time.
My “no warm up” approach was not at all effective and I wouldn’t recommend it. The first two laps hurt. So very much. I had sharp pains all over my legs and I was sucking wind like I had never exercised in my life. The relentless mud meant there was no easing into it. I finally settled into a rhythm but it took longer than I would have liked. The course was pretty much “what you see is what you get”. Solid mud everywhere except a couple of gravel corners and one long recovery/hammer (depending on the rider) gravel path, interrupted by a short off camber grassy area. The path was the only portion of the course where drafting was possible, but not at all appealing given the amount of mud and potential horse crap that was flying up from the tire in front.
The challenge with a costume race is finding one in which it is comfortable enough to bike. I thought I had chosen wisely in my full body jester outfit, but it became quickly apparent that there were a few limitations. The mask that I had taped over my glasses was severely restricting any peripheral vision. I tried to avoid any sudden line changes out of respect for the people around me that I could not see, but in the mud, that’s not always possible. The costume itself was also very, very tight around my neck which made breathing difficult. Midway through the first lap I was pulling as hard as I could on the neck to break the stitching and make it easier for my gasping lungs to receive air. The last minor annoyance was that the shiny covering on the costume provided very little traction for my muddy butt on my muddy seat and I was sliding around on it even when my tires had traction.
It took me a while to figure out the mud, but once I did I starting feeling good. I initially made the mistake of shifting too frequently until I realized that I needed to leave the shifter alone and keep pushing a harder gear. The key to the course was just putting down a lot of power in the mud. Low cadence, high power. Once I started doing that I was making up time. I had drifted back in the pack, but was slowly picking up spots as I ploughed through the muck and made a few key passes in the last lap.
I wasn’t exactly putting out the most consistent lap times, with 23 seconds between my fastest and slowest, but it was enough to claw back for a 4th place finish. After my lackluster performance in the mud at Queens Cross, I was happy with the result. I was finally granted my wish of a total and complete mudfest, and it was worth it. Racing in conditions like that is so much fun and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.