Race Report: Charm City CX 2018
As we wrote about last year, Charm City Cross in Baltimore is one of our favorite East Coast cyclocross races. This year was no different - perhaps made even more memorable by the giant mud bog on course. Cullen and Clay look back at two great days of racing in Baltimore:
Day 1 – Cullen MacDonald
“Ok so maybe tomorrow we just go the aquarium?”
“I wonder what time it opens.”
“It’d be kinda funny to eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in the harbor as a laugh.”
These were all thoughts going through my head during lap 3 of the Cat 2/3 race on Saturday. Let me explain.
My cat 4 cyclocross experience™ was excellent. I did 22 races last year and finished sometimes on the podium and sometimes not, but having fun at the front the entire season. This year saw me land 5th, 4th, and then 2nd in the first three races of the season, rocketing me well past the mandatory upgrade from 4 to 3. Two weeks ago I started in my first Cat 3 races but had to abandon after one lap each due to physical and then equipment issues, respectively.
Charm City was to be my first Real Cat 3™ experience. Unfortunately, I had been mildly sick with a head cold in the days leading up to it, but I was determined to start. We arrived at the course in time to catch some pals racing in the 4/5 race and my 2:15pm start time seemed an eternity away.
After a tons of food and water and some solid preride laps, I felt ready for my first race of the weekend. It’d had been a long time since I started in the back and I had completely forgotten about the tangle of bikes and bodies that occurs at the first pinch point in the course. I thought I would be clever — and utilize the advice I had given all my Cat 5 friends — hopped of my bike and sprinted around the pile of people just standing around. The entire first lap was dotted with moments like this. People going slower than I wanted followed by me doing big explosions of motion to pass or get around them. By the end of lap 2 I had burned all my matches for nothing. As I came around the finishing straight and saw “3 Laps” to go, my spirit was blown. This brings us to my thoughts on how I’d be spending my newly wide open Sunday in Baltimore.
After catching a friend for a few laps, finishing, chugging a beer, and then realizing I had beaten my predicted finish by 10 spots, I was fully sucked back into this silly sport. I did a thorough bike clean (and drank few more beers) while developing my plan for Day 2 — the Baltimore aquarium would have to wait.
Day 2 – Clay Parker Jones
Last year, Charm defeated me. Like Cullen, I was coming off a weekend of podiums. I felt great on the line, but partway through my first Cat 2/3 lap, I found myself overwhelmed with the speed and skill of the field. Upon reaching the sandpit, I badly strained my calf, relegating me to crab-hangup duty and extensive PT to “save” my “season.”
This year I returned to Baltimore with a different perspective – and I had the best time.
At a race like Charm City, the odds are seriously stacked against you. On day one, there were 753 starters competing for 63 podium spots spread across 21 fields. Most of the races were so spread out that only the top five were truly in contention, meaning that 86% of the folks that signed up never even had a chance. And while I’m sure a lot of people are showing up because it’s just regular-ol’ fun, I like to race. I want to do well.
But there are more ways to do well than getting on the podium.
1. Process goals
When you're not winning, or when you go from near-winning to deep in the scrub zone, you need new things that can be "won" to replace the...actual winning feelings. This weekend, the satisfaction came from finally learning how to not over-start.
Forgive the hubris for a moment: as a sprinter, it's pretty easy to get myself into the top 20 wheels, even from the back of the pack. But then I'm there, and have to keep riding with Actually Fast People, which I am not. But on day two, I finally sorted it by staying with folks that I saw later in the race on day one. Problem solved, and I felt fresh (-ish) in the last lap.
2. Chill times
Make the weekend a vacation, not just a bike race. Our Baltimore AirBnB fell through (avoid AirBnBs with no reviews!) during our drive down, so we had to divert to a hotel. Aside from that hiccup, Cullen, Madison, Emily and I were able to make a nice weekend out of it, with a nice dinner and examination of the Fell's Point bar scene on Saturday night. Further, the Brooklyn Cyclocross diaspora showed up to Charm in strength, so we had plenty of entertainment, from heckles to beers to near-mechanical disasters (another warning: don't update your Di2 via bluetooth the morning of the race). Cross is better with friends.
Somehow during the race on Sunday I got to thinking about a strategy framework that I particularly like, from game designer Jane McGonigal. According to her research, there are four essential motivators that drive people to do things: accomplishing satisfying work; spending time with people they like; getting good at something; being part of something bigger.
Cross is inherently about these four things, but big races like Charm City offer a more concentrated hit. There are more people to learn from, more ways to learn, more people to connect with, and the real strength of cross – its community – is on special display. So it makes sense that it (and other big race weekends) seem to be growing in popularity, despite the dwindling odds of "winning."
To Be Determined in Action at Charm City
A big thank you to Matt Story for these shots of the team in action at Charm City. For more of Matt’s photography give him a follow on Instagram: