...from a newbie (to start with at least).
I posted this a week or so ago on the main cyclocross forum, and somebody there suggested a sticky post. I've been dragging my feet, and now it's really late in the season, but here it is anyway. What does it take to get a post made sticky?
I had just done my first race the previous Saturday, and I thought about writing up a "newbie tips from a newbie" or something like that. This is a really mixed bag, and a few of these will probably seem strange to experienced racers. Maybe if a few of you who know what you're doing add to this the thread will be worth keeping around.
1. Do it! It's a lot of fun. I was unprepared in every possible way. This was my first time racing, and I'm very slow (everyone else in the race beat me by a full lap), but it was really fun anyway, and everyone was really cool about it.
2. Get help pinning your number on. The human arm just doesn't bend in the way necessary to pin a bib number on the side of a jersey by yourself. If you're absolutely too stubborn to ask for help (like me) take your jersey off and pin the number on.
3. Use run ups for recovery. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it worked really well for me. As you're riding through grass mud and who knows what else, your heart rate is going to be elevated. If you know you're not going to place well anyway, take the time off your bike as a break. Walk up the hill and catch your breath.
4. Nearly anything can be a run up. Just because the other guys are riding up a hill doesn't mean you have to. If you want to get off the bike and push (see 3 above), do it. Nobody will think the less of you for it.
5. Stick it out. You can do it -- really. There was a moment in the first lap when I thought maybe I should quit. But I stuck with it, and pretty soon everywhere I went people were cheering for me. When you're obviously sucking wind but you stick it out anyway, people root for you. It's very cool (and I can't tell you how much I appreciated it). One of the volunteers out on the course even pushed me up a hill.
6. Don't worry about how bad you're doing. There were only nine other riders in the race I did, and right off the starting line I fell way back. I felt like an idiot. But just after I finished the second lap, the leader passed me. From then on I was distinguishable from the other racers only by how badly I was sucking wind. The guy who finished next-to last passed me in the last 100 yard (despite a flat tire) and he had no idea I was a lap behind him.
7. Watch the lines other riders are taking. When you've got somebody ahead of you in stretch of mud, sand, gravel, water or what have you, watch where they ride. If it looks like it worked well for them, take the same line. If not, try something else.
8. Keep pedaling. The absolute worst thing you can do in the mud is stop pedaling. You won't get started again, and mud isn't fun to run through.
9. Don't overdress. When my race started, it was about 38 degrees out. I wore a thin thermal undershirt, a short-sleeve jersey, bike shorts and tights. That was about right -- maybe a little warm. Over 40 degrees and I'd probably have been regretting the thermal. The other guys were mostly using short sleeve jerseys, but they did have their legs covered.
10. Know when to stay out of the way. At my pace, I was more of a roving obstacle than a racer, so when I saw a faster rider coming up behind me, I made sure to give him plenty of room. It was appreciated.