My (half) hour in hell

A first-time cyclocross competitor recounts her experience at Darkcross

  • Two hundred cyclists competed in DarkCross 2012, an annual cyclocross race that takes place at the Speedway. “The race was exhilarating and challenging,” says first-time competitor Grace Kennedy. – Dylan Hewlett

  • Two hundred cyclists competed in DarkCross 2012, an annual cyclocross race that takes place at the Speedway. “The race was exhilarating and challenging,” says first-time competitor Grace Kennedy. – Dylan Hewlett

  • Two hundred cyclists competed in DarkCross 2012, an annual cyclocross race that takes place at the Speedway. “The race was exhilarating and challenging,” says first-time competitor Grace Kennedy. – Dylan Hewlett

“Cyclocross: An Hour in Hell.” This was the title of the YouTube video that first introduced me to the sport. Not only did I find this intriguing, but remarkably, this amped up my determination to race in my first bike race, ever: DarkCross.

For those not in the know, cyclocross is an amalgam between road and mountain biking, which consists of riding a mixed terrain of dirt, mud and grass, and navigating obstacles while carrying your bike. Easy, right?

DarkCross is the kickoff race of the season in Manitoba, and it went down last Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Red River Co-op Speedway. Upon registration, I was relieved to learn that my category consisted of a 30-minute race. Good; only a mere half-hour in hell.

I committed. As a newb, I attended clinics and paid visits to Garbage Hill, where I relentlessly scrambled up all faces of Winnipeg’s majestic mountain. My roommate worried about my ever-expanding inner-thigh bruises, and I eventually came to appreciate that padded shorts are both functional and fashionable.

When race day arrived, I headed down early with a few other first-timers to pre-ride the course. This eased the fretting, which had been building since my initial registration; I now knew exactly what I would encounter on my bike.

I quickly discovered cyclocross analogous to playing a live video game; think Mario Kart 64, on Choco Mountain.

Each lap of the course had sections on the dry mud-cracked track, followed by winding grass terrain. There, you were launched into a setup of two hurdles (necessitating carrying your bike).

Then, to my excitement-slash-horror, we were corralled into the grandstand and running up the stairs, in front of the crowd.

As I willed myself not to fall, the worry of the climb melted away and morphed into an adrenaline rush that carried throughout the race, due in part to the infectious energy coming from the crowd cheering and ringing cowbells.

The experience of DarkCross was epic: the result of excellent organization, an appropriately wicked band (The Vibrating Beds) and the chance to meet some personal goals.

I finished the race in one piece and withstood any significant bails. In fact, the race was exhilarating and challenging – I’m talking high intensity physicality the whole way. I may have looked like a snail, but trust me, I was givin’ ’er.

This sport is pretty fantastic if you’re looking to try a new activity. And there are a few races throughout the season with an open category meant for beginners; it’s a good way to give it a try without too much pressure.

If you can’t be convinced to try it out yourself though, make sure to take in a race – it’s the only event in Winnipeg where it is not only appropriate, but encouraged, to vigorously ring a cowbell.

So, until next time, more cowbell!

For more information about cyclocross, and upcoming Manitoba events, visit http://cxmb.blogspot.ca. Upcoming races that feature an open race where anyone can compete include MennoCross (Saturday, Sept. 29 at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg), Southern Cross (Sunday, Oct. 14 in Altona, Man.) and CrossTastic (Sunday, Oct. 21 at Whittier Park in Winnipeg).

Published in Volume 67, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 19, 2012)

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