On Saturday 20 November 2021, my son and I watched Wales beat Australia with the last kick of a head-to-head battle that went first one way and then the next. As we watched the winning three-pointer sail over the posts right in front on us, I didn’t think that anything else this weekend could give me a greater adrenaline rush: I was wrong.
I bought a cyclo-cross bike 10 years ago for commuting to work, I immediately took the studded tyres off and put on slicks, I didn’t for one minute think that I’ve ever be using it for racing on. I’m a pretty good runner but I’ve never been better than an average cross-country runner. I’m only a very average cyclist so the thought of being humiliated in the mud was not for me.
Things changed during the Covid lockdowns: I’d just joined Wigston Phoenix Running Club, but the restrictions meant that I never trained with them, and we didn’t have any races. When they were lifted, I was focusing on triathlon, so I just never met up with my new teammates.
All that meant that when one of their long-term members asked me if I wanted to try the Western Park CX with him, I needed to make a good impression and so I agreed to give it a go.
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I’ve swum, cycled, and run thousands of races over the past 35 years – everything from 100m to 24 hours. I’ve cycled from Leicester to Snowdonia and run from London to Brighton (not on the same day) but these three CX races I’ve done: Western Park, Misterton Hall, and Beaumont Leys are all straight into my top 5 “Best Fun I’ve Ever Had with a Number On”.
Every race has been hard, and each course has been different – Western Park laps were short and fast and Misterton was more technical, but Beaumont Leys was tough – really tough. Those off-camber turns on wet grass, the short sharp climbs into, around, and out of the BMX park, the lung-busting straights where you needed to take your chance to pass other athletes, all of these led to heart rates well into Zone 5. And I loved every last second of it.
Just like time-trialling (and every other cycling event I’ve ever done to be fair) the events have been fun, welcoming, and extremely beginner-friendly. Every single marshal, volunteer, and race official has been helpful and informative. If anyone reading this is thinking of having a go but feels put off by expecting some form of elitism then don’t be. There was no humiliation, just congratulations, smiles, and support.
I’m aware that I’ve only done the Novice races, that we haven’t had any rain or mud yet, and when those things come my fitness won’t be able to make up for my lack of skills; but I’m hooked, I’m in, and I can’t wait for longer, wetter, and muddier challenges.
Roll on the next one!