These blogs are my personal, idiosyncratic observations about aging, training, and sports competition.
To access previous blogs, click "Read Other Blogs" at the bottom of this page.
Paddling in Torino -- World Masters Games 2013
Winning - May 11, 2012
Can Too Much Exercise Be Bad for Your Heart - March 11, 2011
The 60 Minute Crawl - January 30, 2011
Playing Tennis Again - October 6, 2010
Why Compete? (2) - June 15, 2010
LOST - May 24, 2010
Happy Birthday to Me - May 18, 2010
Why Compete?(1) - April 30, 2010
Val Barnwell - April 14, 2010
Spring Training Day - April 4, 2010
Becoming Bionic - March 24, 2010
The Divided Kingdom - February 4, 2010
January 31, 2017
On a gray, chilly January morning I decided to heed my own advice and visit a Masters competition in which I did not compete. The event was the 2017 Cyclo-cross National Championship held at Riverside Park in Hartford, Connecticut, close to my home in western Massachusetts. The park is a slice-of-pie spit of land squeezed between U.S. Route 91 and the Connecticut River. Its 75 acres are mostly open and flat with a few modest hills and a thin line of trees bordering the river. For the 2017 Nationals, the park's bucolic setting had been transformed into a nasty 3.1 kilometer loop trail with an abundance of tight narrow curves. The object of cyclo-cross is to ride or carry your bike around the course faster than your competitors. While some of the course was on solid ground, there were many stretches of muddy slop that invited dismounts for the cautious. A viscous mud had resulted from several days of rain. The temperature was in the low 40s -- chilly, but not cold.
This sport revels in wet, winter conditions with plenty of mud. Riders race through sections of packed earth and pavement, then dismount and carry their bikes through sections of mud so deep that tires get buried, making riding impossible. One of the key racing tactics is when to jump off the bike. Dismount too early and see other competitors ride by you as you lug your bike. Dismount too late and get mired in the freezing muck. This dismounting business occurs many times and as riders continue around the course the muddy sections grow muddier and the firm ground shrinks. Add to the miserable conditions man-made problems such as off-camber hill sections, stair climbs, fly overs, and log obstacles and you get a sense of the challenges of cyclo-cross.
Over the past ten years Masters' participation in this sport has been steady and strong. Since 2007 the number of competitors, men and women, over 40 has averaged around 550 with women representing about 15% of the total. I was on hand for the finish of the 65-69 age group and the start of the 70+ age group. There were 27 riders in the 65-69 age group and Fred Wittwer's winning time was 31.41. The 70+ age group included nine riders 70-74, two riders 75-79, and one rider 80-84. The winning times for this group were: Rick Abbott (70-74) 41.19; Joe Saling (75-79) 49.00; and Frederic Schmidt (80-84) 44.35.
As the first riders crossed the finish line, bikes and men mud-caked, their smiles lit up their dirt-smeared faces. Later pressure hoses would be required to clean the muck off their bikes. Ten or so finishers gathered in a group laughing and cursing the nastiest parts of the course. They ribbed each other while guzzling Gatorade. It was impossible to tell who the winner was, but camaraderie and delight were unmistakable. As a fresh group of riders in dazzling racing colors left the starting line, the group of pig-pen finishers gave them a raucous cheer. Misery loves company and cyclo-cross.