September 21, 2010

Starcrossed - The Season Has Begun

Photo: Joe Sales
The rain is falling. The sun is setting. The acid in my stomach is beginning to churn. Cross season is upon us. How did this happen? Last I checked it was July; and sunny and warm, and cross was months away. Now, on this dark, soggy, slippery evening, on shore of Lake Sammamish, Cross has arrived. And it has arrived in a big way. STARCROSSED!

Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Why am I willing sacrifice my ego to the cyclocross gods? The heckling fans? The cameramen there to take pictures of the pros, but casually click the shutter as I ride by, with the off chance they will capture an image of someone that might, one day, be great? The mud, the pain, the hours of training, the paychecks that seem to be deposited directly to the Bike Account?

I do this because I love it. Because I am half-crazy, fully-sane, and 100 percent addicted to the sport of cyclocross. I do this because, somewhere between the pain and oxygen debt and sweat and tears, comes clarity. Clarity of the mind, of the soul, of the spirit. I do this because there is nothing else I would rather do.

At 6:45pm the Elite Women’s field gathers at the starting line. The rain is falling so hard I think Noah’s Ark might just wash up on shore. We are called up into the starting grid and we wait for the one-minute warning. Instead, the head officials urges us keep our jackets on; there is a sprinkler head somewhere on the course that needs attention. We stand waiting for 10 more minutes.

When the gun finally echoes through the dark and soggy sky, 35 women race for the hole shot. We hit the muddy grass track 15 seconds in and the sounds of screeching brakes pierce my ears. I hear nothing else for the remainder of the race, save for my name, shouted from the months of people I can’t completely recognize. I learn later I had a few more friends in Seattle than I expected. There is nothing like hearing your own name shouted through the tunnel of stars and heavy heaving. Talk about motivating.

I have no idea how many times we circled the course. I entered a time warp 15 seconds in and didn’t come out of it until I came into the final straight-away. The beauty of the time warp is you don’t feel much. Head down, racing hard, corner to corner, focusing on one breathe at a time. The lactic acid gathering in my quads, the mud that has found its way underneath my contacts and in between my teeth don’t enter my frame of consciousness. The burning lungs and pain in my ribcage caused by being run over by a fellow racer as I slid out on an off-camber, aren’t reality…. until standing up to sprint the final 50 meters; to cross the finish line. Then the flood gates open, my legs quiver, my lungs burn, I am seeing stars in the bright lights that illuminate the infield. I cross the line and it is all I can do to turn the pedals over, rolling toward where the other finishers have gathered. 35 women started the race, 28 finished. I was one of them. Covered in mud, still gasping for breath, I look at the women I am standing among. Fast women, super fast women, pros, idols, heroes.

Why am I doing this? Why am I here?

Because at the end of the day, everyone standing in that finished shoot sacrificed and suffered to be there, at different levels, for different reasons, every women, covering in dirt and mud and sweat, had reason to celebrate and be proud – and that is pretty darn inspiring.

Read more about Starcrossed, The Rad Racing Grand Prix and Matt's Weekend Recap

And Check out these short video clips: