By Dan Chabanov / Contributor
In a few days I’ll be finishing off my seventh elite cross season with the National Championship race in Hartford, CT. In a way, the end of the season is a lot like the beginning, filled with anxiety. My last race weekend was about 3 weeks ago. But it was a good one. There was a nice pair of local races just over an hour away from my new home city of Philadelphia. Not sure if anyone has started calling this pair of races the "Emmaus Double" yet but they should since both races take place there.
Saturday, a race celebrating the winter solstice and freeze/thaw conditions took place in some kind of marshy field behind the Emmaus recycling center. This happened to be a cold day but not cold enough to keep the ground from thawing as the sun hit it mid afternoon. I’ve started calling this condition of a thin layer of mud on rock hard frozen ground “Top Slime.” No tire really works all that well for this as all around patterns just go sliding but mud tires can’t really bite into the frozen ground to get traction either. So no one has any traction and the course is all turns. Pretty much the perfect race to jam out with your buds and see how many times we all crash. Between Bad Andy, Mike Festa, and myself we accumulated a total of 5 five crashes. None were catastrophic and we all really enjoyed teasing each other about it later. My crash happened when I was on the attack with 1.5 laps to go. The results were a bunch of skipping gears in my rear cassette but I still managed to pull off the win thanks mostly to all the turning.
Afterwards I went to McDonalds.
The next day I drove back to Emmaus. This time Krista decided to come along to watch me race the Pennsylvania state championship, because she was finally on break from her nursing school program. This particular Emmaus race is a lot less turn-y and has a bit more elevation. Even though the weather was the same and the race was only a few miles away the conditions were completely dry instead of top slime. Cyclocross is mysterious. Despite being able to win yesterday post crashing I realized later that evening that I had actually damaged my shifter beyond repair and so for the first time in a long time I was at a cross race with only one bike. Which was kind of liberating in a way. I put a spare set of wheels in the pit and didn’t think too hard about it. Motivation was high for me. Krista was there to cheer me on, it was the state championship for my new home state of PA, and it was also freezing cold and I didn’t want to have Krista standing out there being cold for nothing.
Fortunately the legs were as motivated as the head and I was able to put together a solid sixty minute ride. On a tough course with a lot of climbing things get sorted pretty fast as everyone can only ride so fast up the climbs. We all just sort of fell into our own pace and luckily for me my pace was the fastest that day.
While I was doing my thing on the bike Krista was running around the course doing her thing with a camera. The result is that you can now watch a wonderfully accurate 40 second documentary of the race with my inner monologue overlaid on top of the video.
Afterwards we went to McDonalds.
However, as I’m writing this now these races were a month ago and even though I won, the confidence boost has long since worn off through weeks of trainer sessions and lackluster rides. I gotta be honest, motivation is hard to come by this time of year.
A lot of it has to do with my newly found low tolerance for training in shitty weather. I think it has something to do with the years I spent as a bike messenger in New York. If you have to ride through the winter for a few years it really takes the fun out of going out to train in sleeting rain. Even when my training goes well on the trainer the whole experience of staring at my front tire and hurting myself just doesn’t leave me satisfied the way the exact same workout would leave me had I been out on the road. So my training experience becomes this hit or miss fight with the weather. If I make it outside and smash the pedals then all is good and right with the world. But alternatively if I’m stuck inside the whole mood is doom and gloom even if the workout had gone well. Those are the days where I sit around and think about how dumb it is that Nationals got moved to January.
Thinking back to 2010 when the January Nationals was put to a vote I remember thinking that it was a good idea. I don’t know why. Fortunately I have the ability to change my mind about things. At this point I can’t think of a single person that I’ve talked to that thinks January Nationals are a good idea or at the very least doesn’t go through a particular dark period in their preparations where they question a large portion of their life choices.
As of writing this we’re less than five days from the big show and I don’t really care that it’s 40 degrees and raining outside because I gotta rest anyway. Well, I’ll probably get to it after the next two days of work. Then I’ll have nothing but this last race to worry about. In the meantime I have a plethora of course recon videos to watch and course photos to scroll through and obsessively over analyze. Because the truth is as usual that I’m freaking out and nervous about this race. Yes, I’ve done all the training. I raced my ass off this season, got my best UCI result, and won the Pennsylvania State Championship. By every metric I can think of, this season has been one of my best. So I have no reason to be nervous and yet, here I am being slowly eaten away by my anxiety and oh god… I just went and looked at the cross results race predictor because I’m just trying to give myself a panic attack. Seriously I wish there wasn’t this much damn down time between my last race weekend and nationals. The length of this gap and my anxiety have an exponential relationship.
Fortunately as we get closer to race day I’ll have more things to occupy myself with. The forecast in Hartford is calling for a high of 26 on Sunday so I’ll probably spend a solid chunk of my week looking for all my warm weather gear and day dreaming about November nationals. If that idea tickles your fancy you should check out the Cross Hairs Radio Episode 59 for my radical proposal.