This year is a bit different for me in that I’m one year older (yes) and I have one full year living and training out of Easthampton, MA, center of the cyclocross universe. I now know I’ll be really tired most every Monday. I now know that in November every part of my body may hurt.

The most noticeable difference is that I’m not terrified of racing Rochester this year. No Wednesday nausea, no pre-race trembling, none of that. I know what to expect and I plan on enjoying the energy at the start line, I plan on fully embracing and living out this unique experience.

We pack up on a Friday afternoon and meticulously load all of our beautiful Focus disc bikes in the van, plus bike stand, tools, what feels like a million wheels and wheel bags, luggage, snacks, and compression tights. We barely fit and it takes us over an hour to get everything ready to go.

Keys in the ignition and…. click click click. We have a five hour drive ahead of us, all of our gear, and the van is not starting. Click click click. Luckily my teammates are brilliant and figure out that it’s just a dead battery and we quickly replace it and get on the road.

On these long trips, it’s dark in the van, the headlights illuminate the lanes ahead of us and the sun goes down. My teammates are hilarious. They make me laugh until I devolve into an incomprehensible mess. “Natalie is broken” is the refrain. We stop for enormous burritos and I can’t finish mine. I put on my eye mask and sleep for the last hour of the trip, waking up in the dark in Pittsfield, NY.

I guess I kind of lied about being nervous- it’s just a different kind of nervous this year. It’s now manifesting itself in WAKE UP AT THE CRACK OF DAWN-so I tiptoe out of the house, careful not to disturb the humans sleeping in the living room and go for a casual 6 am stroll in suburban America.

Pittsford, NY is very quaint

On both days, I get to the venue and on the course with teammates Jack & Scott and coach Al. All of these people, and more expansively, all of Easthampton, know infinitely more than I do about how to move around a race course. I think both Ellen (Noble, of bunny hopping fame, among other accomplishments) and Scott have both told me, on separate occasions, that following their lines in pre-ride is like getting the answers before you take the test.

So, that’s what I’m doing now. Monkey see – monkey do. I have a few goals for the race:

1. Body Position – use legs and arms as suspension. take advantage of the “attack” position as appropriate & lean on axis with my bike in corners (instead of riding like a stick figure on a bike and feeling every vibration of the course in every bone of my body). This is, I realize, an actual manifestation of a personality trait of mine- wanting to always be totally in control and muscling through all of life’s trials… turns out that if you’re more flexible and go with the flow, bumps in the road don’t change your course of movement too much, huh.
2. Sight Lines – look ahead at what’s coming and through the wheel I’m following. My cue I’ve been using has been “sight” or “up” to remind myself to look up and ahead on the course. Again- cyclocross riding is a metaphor for my life and general approach to things. I sometimes forget about the big picture and obsess over whatever is immediately in front of me- we’re out of food and life is a disaster. I could, instead, keep my head up and look ahead to realize that if I just took myself to the grocery store I’d have food to eat.
3. Know your course, Know your lines – take a thorough inspection of the course with Scott and Jack. memorized the course in sections. know how hard to go in each section.
4. Capitalize on my Sprint – start really hard (with my head up & use my eyes). I was born with these enormous legs. Put them to use.
5. Mental Game – This is a really huge goal of mine for the season: Enjoy the energy and the moment at the start line. Keep a clear mind with eyes up and looking ahead. work on positive affirmations / self talk throughout the race (i.e. think “yes” or “smooth” rather than “f___”).
Dan Chabanov took this photo

SO – here is how it went down:

I raced

I moved forward and rode away from a group to finish 18th

I woke up on Sunday (day 2) buzzed from the previous day’s effort. Rhys, Al, and Kale wanted to go to the coffee shop just a short walk from the team’s house in Pittsford, NY. It was chilly and coach Al came up with a brilliant plan for my race day 2: “Today you’re going to go hard.” We all laughed.

Here’s the race report for Rochester day 2:

I raced

I went freaking really hard

That is, until I settled in to a group, and took a deep breath

On the sidelines I could hear Jack, Scott, Rhys, Chris Mayhew, screaming “venga, venga,” “this is your group, Natalie!” Not quite, in the end I was second out of my group- finishing with my best result yet in 14th.

Jack (Fully Torqued Media) created a web series to follow our season. If you’re dying to hear more about the racing at Rochester, here’s where to find it: