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I’m a Beginner

Sucking wind

Sucking wind

Nobody wants to be the new kid. You feel like you stick out, you don’t belong and everybody is in on something really marvelous and you’re totally left out in the cold. It’s awkward, it’s painful, a trip to the dentist is more fun.

Today, I showed up for the first MTB race of my life. I bought a bike this spring when an Achilles injury forced me off the running program for a couple of weeks. After a few rides on my friend’s $5K MTB, I decided I’d found a new love/addiction/mountain to conquer etc, and I plunked down my CC for a sweet looking Specialized FSR XC Expert.

I had no idea how the features would enhance my ride. Brakes, cranks, derailleurs, none of it made any sense to me. All I knew was that I wanted to ride and this particular bike was a really cool black and red. I had to have it.

So, I picked it up in June, rode it for about two weeks and then went off to France and China for work. I rode it once last week before it had to go into the shop ( for a tune-up. Getting into a race was a bold move. My fitness was questionable and I am total spazz (sp?) on the technical stuff.

The bike cost me plenty, then I plunked down for new shoes, a couple of little extras, three spare tires and a book that promised me everything I needed to know about MTB. What I chose to skimp on was the clothing. I bought big baggy MTB bike shorts but everything else is from my running gear. When I showed up at the Landmine Classic, I was clearly the newcomer.

Now, a lot people out there are more than happy to let newbies figure things out for themselves. They let them go through the awkward phase, grin sheepishly at their moments of enlightenment and basically, let the natural evolution take place. And then there are the rare people that have the decency to tell you you look like an idiot.

I had taken about six laps around the course as a warm-up and I was feeling pretty good about myself when I pulled into the compound to suck down some Gatorade and rest up before my short track event began. A guy approached me immediately and asked me if I’d finished the 15 miles. I was stumped for a moment and then figured out that he’d mistaken me for someone else. We started talking a bit, I stood there with my bike and we soon found that he had the same model just 9 years older. As the conversation rolled along, I could tell that there was something bothering my new friend. After a couple of minutes of looking just above my eyes, he said “You look kinda like a geek. Gotta fix your helmet.”

I need some cooler threads

I need some cooler threads

It was one of the greatest moments of my competitive career. I’ve always been afraid to ask if I’m doing something right and I found it enormously refreshing for someone to just flat out tell me the way it is. He helped me get my helmet right and I was able to get over to the starting line, a little safer for having a better fit and a little wiser because of his honesty. (For any of you not in the know, your straps form a “y” on the side of your head. The crux of the “y” should fit right under your ear).

I hit the start line with about 14 other Beginners and we took off. On the first lap, there was a hard left and steep little ramp into the woods, I was behind a couple of people and when they crashed, I knew I was going down too. Not the best way to get started.

But I fought my way through the ranks and was heading into something like 4th overall when I bit it hard on a little run of rain-slicked boulders. I blew out of my clips, whacked my leg really nice, lost a place and ran out of gas. I stayed in the same spot for the rest of the race which lasted about thirty minutes.

In my age group, I came in second. Which would have made me feel pretty burly except the guy who won the overall was all of 14! And he did it on a cyclocross bike.

For this beginner it was a little humble pie and a tremendous amount of fun.

After years of covering the Tour de France, have to admit, it felt good to stand on a podium.

After years of covering the Tour de France, I have to admit, it felt good to stand on a podium.

3 comments on “I’m a Beginner

  1. Bill says:

    Uh Jim,

    Never go sleeveless. Lose the baggy shorts. And you need some gogs. Always make sure the gogs are over (never under) your helmet straps. Finally, I hope you know you are supposed to have nothing between your chamois and you . . .I may never have been a great racer but I killed the style. Congrats

  2. Brian says:

    JT- Before changing your attire take a look at the photo you posted from the podium. Do you really want to look like the other 2 guys?

  3. Shelby Campbell says:


    I am so excited for you! Don’t listen to anyone giving you a hard time about your outfit. When out on the town, it matters. When mountain biking, it does not…well, maybe it does 😉 Congrats on the race. Loving the blogs!

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