The Autumn of my Life

Had a wonderful few reasons to reflect on this time of year in the last few days. Autumn’s a strange time of year in its gentle onset of cruelty, as we lose the evening daylight, and the warmth of each day dies out. But it also offers so much too. The first warm fires to make an hour by the TV seem like the best thing to do rather than a waste of time… the orange Alpenglow that makes otherwise drab scenes more paletable; and above all, the start of the proper cyclocross season.

My cyclocross experience is skewed so much by the Three Peaks, and coming at the start of the season seems to make so much sense, but from a sporting point of view it shares little with its hour-long round-the-park roots other than the bike and some of the people.

The simple out-and-out speed of a Cyclocross race is something that you need to train specifically for (increasingly with age, as I’m finding out), and post- 3 peaks autumn brings a familiarity – a ritual of re-familiarity, where the bike, rider, and incomprehensible all-consuming flat out effort become reacquainted. The re-acquaintance and acclimatising that goes on each year for me is as welcome as the cyclocross itself.

But for each year, new things come onto the scene. Subtle changes and big ones. This year saw my youngest daughter Elsie ‘do’ her first cyclocross race. Still less than 2 and a half, she was revved up for her debut on Sunday as much as I was to have three of the four of us taking part in a race. (She asked me on Saturday if she could wear a top that was “tight across my tummy, like Daddy’s top”). Please don’t misinterpret my excitement at Lily (8) and Elsie racing in the under 12s as a competitive dad thing. It is what it is and there’s certainly no unhealthy over-encouragement going on from the sidelines, it’s all so lovely to experience as a dad and a lover of cyclocross – that’s all. To describe what I feel as ‘Pride’ would be misplaced – I simply share their excitement – my job is to allow the girls to feel pride for themselves.

My cyclocross so far since the 3 peaks has been strangely intense at times. Handicapped (self-imposed, really) by trying to spend time with the family alongside a busy work life that takes in every evening these days, I’ve accepted that I can’t race week-in, week-out, so am just riding a few of the bigger races this year. As a first year veteran, it’s an exciting time that I can travel to the larger events and not get an utter hammering. (The thought of a mild hammering at a national level is positively enticing.)

But something odd’s happened. In a lack of races to gain race fitness, I seem to have started being a bit more organised and strategic. I’m starting to train for cyclocross a bit more and really feel like I’m getting something from it. It’s okay “talking” a good training session, and I’m not suggesting for one second that I haven’t trained before for cyclocross, but with the help of friend and ‘cross soulmate Alan, I seem to be firming up some sort of a ‘regime’.

Gone are the days when just suffering was good enough. A hard fell run, a load of hell hill reps, some nasty spikey sprints on the turbo trainer. Yeah. They’re good. But none of them are cyclocross. It sort of makes sense to do training sessions that share the repetitive, full-on, sprint, turn, climb, sprint, turn, drop-off, sprint, dismount, sprint, turn, sprint…. that is cyclocross. Just without the marking tape, prizes, or entry fee.

Sunday’s race in Northwich, family in tow, on a Sunny but fairly crisp clear day was such a treat for me to ride as well as share with the family. The sprints, the technical bits, those ebbs and flows that you have catching and being caught by other riders (thankfully catching more this time round) … it all made such poetry after all the training. It’s one thing ogling the hand-made French tubulars, another thing getting them glued on properly (yeah – thanks Alan – a real novelty for me), but another thing racing one bike through a sticky course without so much as a slipped gear all race. It was such a ‘coming together’ feeling. I love this. I was fourth. I loved it when I was 12th the other week in Abergavenny, and I loved it being mashed into the ground for most of the National Trophy series last year.

Throw at us what you will, cyclocross. We’ll take what comes, and rarely will we tire of any of this.

Images below by Cheryl King and Ed Rollason. The others by me…!