Monday, September 27, 2010

Why Do You Race Cross?

Seriously? Why do you race cross? Loon for me solidified why I do. I do it cause I love it. That is why I do it. Do I do it cause its fun? Its not fun. Cross racing itself is not fun. Don't let anyone tell you that. Unless hurting yourself like you've never hurt before to the point of puking is fun for you. There is beauty in and personal growth in suffering I truly believe that. And bonds form from mutual suffering that can't be made in a more casual soft setting. Soldiers don't call it a Band of Brothers for nothing. And thankfully in cross we have an amazing Band of Brothers and Sisters.

So if its not "fun" why do it? A huge part for me is that bond that comes from suffering and striving together. Even if its a rival. Some of my best friends in cross are my rivals, or were my rivals and now they are my good friends. But even though we are friends we beat the crap out of each other each weekend. But back to this why do you race cross thing.
Do you race cross to just show up an hour before a race, get your laps in then race, check your results and go home? I guess that is cool. But you are missing out. Big time. I have been thinking about something a friend wrote on a blog in the MAC. Got him in a fair amount of hot water so maybe I will frame it up slightly differently. But the thought is really resonating with me and Loon put it to the forefront of my ADD addled brain. Cross to me is like a hive. Being a geek I think in terms of Sci Fi movies a lot of the time. I loved the Borg. The whole concept of a hive mind is appealing. Cross if you give it a chance has that. What Adam, JD and Al did at Loon was nothing short of incredible. They put cross on a stage that is hard to imagine for the "show up and race and split mindset." They created an experience. It wasn't just about cross although that was the vehicle. Hup made this a mini cross vacation. We had a nice condo five minutes away got up the night before and just got to soak it all in.
But back to JD, Al and Adam. Those guys get it. For cross to grow we have to show it off. The Nor'Easter was a huge outdoors music and climbing festival put on by EMS. It was impressive. It put a HUGE footprint on the venue. Huge tents, music stages, big expo basically an outdoors sportsapalooza. Tons of people showed up. There were climbing walls for the kids, zip lines across a creek great food, ect. If you are an outdoorsy person it was a little slice of heaven. But the first thing that blew my mind was how the red carpet was rolled out for us dirt bag cross racers. I am not trying to insult anyone but let's be honest cyclists don't get a ton of respect. But at Loon? Adam, Al and JD set us up like BALLERS. I have never been to a big event like this where the "athlete" ie., dirt bag crossers had the best parking in the whole venue.
Adam, Al and JD secured us our own entirely separate parking lot. We just rolled up said we were "athletes" and they put us stage left. There was a port-a-potty right next to the start grid. You think that is a small detail? That is a huge detail. And one other tip of the hat as to how much they worked to make it be the best possible experience for the racers. So we have the red carpet rolled out for us, all my favorite people are smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous mountain at the peak of Fall Foliage season in New Hampshire. Totally surreal. But we were here for a race right? That is the whole point. The boys set up a course right out of Switzerland! And it was a statement race make no doubt about it. How many of us, myself included have complained incessantly about grass crits? We bitch and moan that we want a hard cross race. We want a race like the videos we see from Belgium and the World Cups. Damn if we could just have that here in New England. Well here you go. Loon is that course. I am going to create a shrine to Loon in my mancave and light votive candles every day in the hopes this is permanently on the New England cross calendar. It will be a game changer I will tell you that.
Ok Chip I get it, it was hard but what the hell are you talking about? It was built to be selective. Both the Pro Womens and Mens fields were won by a minute. Think about that. The two riders got away and just kept building their leads. How did they do it? There were two brutal 2 min power climbs, then you hit what Mike Golay has now burned into our cross lexicon "Twisty chutes of death!" You think Putney is technical? Yeah that one drop kinda takes some attention but these chutes and descents took skill and good brakes and some moxy. I loved this course. It is my favorite course of all time right now. People will complain that it was a mountain bike course. It wasn't. Again back to those great videos we all revere from Europe. It was a tough ass cross course. Ok so you had the two power climbs, the Twisty Chutes of Death x 2, then you had an ass kicking runnup/crawl up that was the longest and steepest runnup I have ever done. Then you had some fast pavement and great twisty section you had to dial or you were crashing. I almost decapitated on lap two at this spot. You also got to go through a tunnel and all through the expo/main stage area.
Ok so that was the course. And it was a course were Legends can be made. Seriously. But what made it special was the festival. If you have never been part of a big festival like this you can't imagine how cool it is to race through with people screaming and yelling their heads off. People who have never seen a cross race before were blown away. I volunteered (got shangai'd) into being a course marshall for the Pro mens race. I was in charge of the course crossing that was the entry/exit from the venue. The attendees were a mix of outdoorsy college kids, local leaf watcher tourists, and families. None of these people knew what cross was. Now they do. And they loved it. Adam and the boys put on a show. It was super fast race and it blew people away.
But back to my main point....Why do you race cross? My simple answer was I love it. And I do. I love the racing and I love the geeking out on the course to figure out lines and setting the bike up just right. But those are selfish things and love is about giving back. What hit me as Carl Ring (god bless that Viking bastard) cornered me in the parking lot and put his hand on my chest and said "go relieve Parke at the course crossing" was that as much as I love the racing and all the socializing you have to give back. Everybody wants something from cross. We want our race just so. We want our results posted online, we want, we want it sounds like a spoiled child. So as I headed over to the expo and started marshaling it hit me. Its time to stop taking away from cross and give back. Course marshaling is damn serious business. Especially when you are dealing with a crowd that doesn't know anything about bike racing. The boys would come flying down this paved straight at about 25 and just carve the inside of the police fencing at the apex of the turn. Seeing that up close was impressive to say the least. But it also gave me fits as I had to keep the crowd at bay from walking out into the course and killing themselves and some poor racer.
So what am I saying about giving back? I assume we all help each other at the races. That is a given. I have always been impressed by how willing another racer is to share water and food or offer a hand with a pump or bike problem. If it weren't for Carl Ring and Soups SBZ would not have been able to contest the Green Mountain Verge. Those boys get it. But just think about it next time you are freaking out at a cross race. There are people who have worked sooo hard and put their own money on the line to make the race happen. You get to just pin a number on race and then go home. Carl thanks for helping me put my money where my mouth is. Adam, Al and JD thank you for putting cross up on a big stage and having it under the Big Tent!


  1. You've got a number of things going on in this post velocb, all of which I believe can be addressed by something you mentioned right off the top. If racers would make a day of these events, the NE cross scene would nary worry about losing a venue, or date conflicts, or having enough volunteers, or putting on money losing events, or much of anything actually. There are plenty of us that embrace these events as more than just 45 minutes of racing, but a great many more that do not. Sustainable (not trendy, fad-ish) growth can come from a commitment to and respect for all aspects of this sport by the participants, which obviously entails more than just putting in the training time and buying the right gear. It's committing to the promoters. Committing to the venue. Committing to the sponsors and the food vendors and the shops and the towns that are supporting our events.

    Here's the recipe: When you come to a race, set up camp for the day. Bring the family. Bring (or buy) lunch and share a few discrete adult beverages. Pick up a cookie from the girls at the 4h table. Talk to the promoter and thank them, tell them what you like and don't like about their course. Ask someone how their race went, and wait to be asked about yours. Pick one of the other fields after you're done and marshal it or help with course breakdown. Get to know your fellow competitors and the names of the folks at the back of the early morning races. Don't be so quick to think about what else you have to get back to. You don't have to befriend me or velocb or anyone in particular, just focus the effort on the cross community in general, which has got to be just about the easiest thing to find. It's right there at the races! Do this twice, and it will self-perpetuate.

    Make building the cross community a priority, and every little thing's gonna be alright.

    One more thing: I think that charging for preferred tent access runs 100% contrary to the spirit of what this community needs. Promoters should encourage "organic" (to steal a sexy business school term) involvement, not charge for it. Do this by creating courses (when possible) that allow as many people to saddle right up to the venue, rather than creating a de facto class structure of the Haves vs the Have-Nots.

  2. Dude, you are making me cry. Thanks for coming up to our little race. It was great seeing the HUP Nation represent, and thanks so much for pitching in and marshaling for a bit.

  3. Very well said, Chip. The Threshold crew enjoyed hanging with you Saturday, and thanks again for the koozie. In my defense, my belt is unbuckled because I was trying to use the buckle as a bottle opener! - Ken

  4. Chip,
    It was so nice to meet the man for whom the piggie bank trophy was named. I love that trophy.
    Anyhow, the boys worked so hard on this race that Al wore holes in all of his socks (big toes poking out) and JD required several shoe changes each day in order to keep his feet from falling off. Millions of miles travelled back and forth across the parking lot, up the mountain, down the mountain... fixing the tape and the barriers and the fencing as the gusty wind mangled the course as they knew it.
    Thank you for recognizing their incredible effort.
    Kathryn (Al's girlfriend)

  5. Great Stuff Chip! Looking forward to seeing you and the Hup crew at Gloucester! It's going to be a fun weekend.

    Re: Matt
    The proceeds from club row at Gloucester is going to two local non-profit organizations right in town. We thought it would be a fun way to showcase the great local clubs/teams in the area as well as give back to the community.