Mud! Mud! Glorious Mud!

Since my last blog, I have taken part in two very different Cyclocross races. The first, hosted in a park in Basingstoke, turned out a little flat, in the metaphorical if not literal sense. It had been very dry in the run-up to the race so the ground was hard packed: not enough of the brown stuff for even a modestly-fashioned mud pie. With obstacles and mud in short supply, circumventing the requirement for riders to dismount on the steep inclines, the race effectively became a grass-based, fast-and-furious criterium.

The next race took place in Southampton’s attractively-landscaped Outdoor Sports Centre, on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon. Several days of heavy rain prior to the event went some way towards explaining the begrimed state of the riders from previous races who were returning to their vehicles as I pulled into the car park. This was more like it! This was what I’d envisaged! They – and their bikes – were caked in mud. I couldn’t wait …

They say ‘Be careful what you wish for’ but, throwing caution to the wind after my erstwhile positively squeaky clean cyclocross experiences, I wanted mud. I craved it. I yearned for it. Those televised cyclocross races from Belgium, with riders negotiating more mud and sand than you could shake a stick at, must take the blame for my naïve anticipation that my ‘real’ Cyclocross adventure was about to begin now. As I reached the registration tent I got some inkling of what I was in for. The adjacent finish line saw most riders having to dismount and run up a relatively gentle slope due to the lack of traction. My own recce lap revealed the filthy horror, with long sections of the course unrideable thanks to the thick sucking clay.

For the first half lap of the race, all was fine - until I reached the mire. What I hadn’t anticipated was the clay clogging up the wheels, the crank and even the knobbles on the tyres! At one point the front wheel jammed solid and would not turn for love nor money; then the crank jammed and the chain would have probably dropped off had it not been glued fast to the crank with the sticky mud. I had to dismount at least four times to unclog some part of the bike. Another unexpected effect of the conditions is the extra weight that comes with a mud-bespattered bike; climbing up a slippery ten foot bank, a bike over your shoulder weighing twice as much as it did at the start, is something of a wakeup call!

After the third or fourth stop to ‘unclog’, I’ll be honest: I was losing my mojo. When I found myself walking with the bike I had to give myself a stern talking to and dig deep to get running again, so that I didn’t look quite so pathetic when I was over taken by a petite young woman just as we reached a steep bank. Unfazed, she hoisted her bike up and due to the extra mud weight really struggled to get up the bank but the way she jumped back on at the top and carried on provided a good example of real grit.

All in all, I have found Cyclocross a lot tougher than I could have imagined. Converting from Iron distance triathlon was always going to be a big ask, from twelve hours of steady effort to forty minutes flat out. I have trained to be a “diesel” engine for the last two years and with another long distance tri planned for 2018, for now I will have to take part in Cyclocross for the sheer fun of it and not worry if I am last!

On the cake front, as I have not been out on the road bike for a while, my cake-eating opportunities have sadly dwindled. However, I did make banana bread – and stopped it from being too boringly healthy by adding a chopped up Mars Bar. Yum!!

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