Cycling Cyclocross Racing

Training for Grit (or, What I Have Learnt from the Superquaich)

I love the Superquaich. By the time the SQ rolls round, it’s a nice change from the routine of the SCX series. The SQ is a bit different, a bit weird, a bit edgy. Course features that would probably not make it into a British Cycling race start to appear (because let’s face it, anything goes with TLI). And as for age categories, and gridding? Unless you’re in the top 20 overall you can forget about that. Your lap times earlier in the season are taken into account and everyone is just plonked into either the A race or the B race. Men and women race together and the start line is a bunfight of jostling for position and exasperated race organisers trying to get everyone to line up nicely.

This season was the first time I’ve been in the A race for the whole series. Last year I won the B race at the Doonbank Trofee, which resulted in a short-lived promotion to the A race for my memorable appearance at Irvine Beach, followed by relegation to the B race again for an eventful race at Rouken Glen (that’s another thing about the SQ – which race you’re in isn’t always logical or explicable. I don’t envy the organisers the irate emails they no doubt get).

Round 1 was the Doonbank Trofee in Ayr, scene of my first ever CX race win the previous season.

My moment of glory, circa January 2018. Credit: (probably) Chris.

This year I was starting in the A race and I made the rookie error right away of being far too polite at the start and ending up at the back (also, I was faffing taking my layers off). It was a hard race, with a particularly sticky brand of mud that clung to my bike and made me wish I had a second bike (I’ve pretty much relegated my old bike to turbo duties as it handles like a tank and weighs a ton). I think I was 5th, and I remember thinking I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy racing.

As soon as I got home I came down with a sore throat, which probably explained why I hadn’t been feeling the cross love. And that was me laid up with a rotten head cold for a couple of weeks. I missed Mo Cross, which was by all accounts a fabulous course, and lined up on the start line of Battle of the Bing after doing very little training over Christmas feeling like (as I said to Roz on the start line) I could just go for a nap. My head really wasn’t in it and I wasn’t feeling the racing mojo. I was also uneasy about the big descent, which I had ridden in practice (I’d probably have slithered down it on foot a year ago) but which I still didn’t like.

My chain came off during the first lap and it was all I could do to avoid relegation to the B race. And I actually found it quite liberating – not something I’d want to repeat in other races, but it meant I was able to enjoy the race without the pressure of riding for the win. I ended up really enjoying the race, riding the descent better each time (I’d nailed my line by the last lap, which was a bit late, but better late than never).

It looks scarier in real life, trust me. Credit: Battle of the Bing Facebook Page (I think)

After the race, my friend, clubmate and fellow coach Andy said to me, “You can’t train for grit.” I had turned up and raced even though my head wasn’t in the game, and finished even when I had a mechanical.

In a sense, training for grit describes my entire cyclocross story – it’s been a constant battle to pick myself up when something knocks my confidence and carry on. I think I’ve learnt more about resilience than I have about cycling! But that’s probably a whole separate blog post.

But after Battle of the Bing the love of cross was back. Thistly Cross, back at a new venue of Winton Castle, was fabulous and I managed my best result of the SQ yet, 3rd female in the A race.

Credit: Bryan Hutton

Which brings us back to my favourite SQ race, Rouken Glen, finishing up the SQ with style. What can I say about RGCX? I love that race so much. In my first full season of cross I had grown in confidence so much that I was able to really enjoy the race and finished my season on a high. Last year, fitter, more skilled, more confident, I battled my way to 2nd placed female in the B race despite two flat tyres and a bike change. This year I was back again, and in the A race this time.

As usual at RGCX, my bike took a hammering, and I had to stop in the pits to unclog my mech (with the help of a nice man from someone else’s pit crew – thank you whoever you were!). A wipe-out on a greasy corner didn’t help matters either. But it was a fantastic race, as always.

Credit: Peter Smith

After the race I was standing around chatting to some of my friends when the series results were read out, and to my great surprise I was 3rd overall. Despite not managing any particularly spectacular results, my persistence (and the small numbers of women in the A races) meant that I had accrued enough points for a place on the overall podium. It was a nice surprise – the grit had paid off.

So that’s the Superquaich over for another year, with Roz reigning supreme again and Brenda (in 2nd place) and I making the rest of the podium SBC blue.

Things I have learnt:

  • I need to get faster at descending.
  • I need to try to ride a bit more of the really steep climbs.
  • I need to be less polite when getting a spot on the start grid.
  • My cornering and remounting have both improved sufficiently that I can now gain ground on quite a few people round corners and over hurdles.
  • By keeping going, and building up a bank of experiences where you either have a great race, or have a bad race but survive anyway, you can (sort of) train for grit.

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