Sooo … the plan was to finish 2022 with one final cyclocross race. I was looking forward to Fife College, which is always a mudfest. I .. believed .. I had entered the race weeks ago at the same time as I entered the Battle of the Bing race. But when the race pack hadn’t arrived by Thursday, I checked my email and realised that I’d screwed up and just hadn’t entered the Fife College round at all! D’oh!
I emailed Paul (race organiser) to see if there was any possibility of a late entry (on-the-day entry used to be possible back in the day). But nowadays all the awesome computerised timing and pre-organised race-numbers-in-envelopes means there’s lots of logistics to set up ahead of time. So no race for me.
But since I’d already “booked” the day for cyclocross in my head, it seemed poor form to just sit on the sofa and be annoyed, so instead I volunteered to help marshal at the race. This turned out to be quite fun and interesting and I’m glad I did it.
Race day was freezing cold. I turned up early, found Paul Davies (race organiser) and he sent me and Paul Zarb off to talk to the race commissaires to find out what our job would be. We ended up doing the manual part of the race timing for the whole day. Although these races all use wonderful electronic timing, there’s also a backup manual timing process. In the event of a complete computer failure, this would be the fallback. But it’s also common for there to be problems with individual chips – whether hardware or just the rider forgetting to wear the chip.
I basically had a clipboard, and Paul Zarb would shout out the rider numbers as they passed the finish line and I’d write them down. Rinse, repeat for several laps. Then repeat again for several races. Although sometimes it’s hectic to write down 10 numbers quickly, it’s also kind of hypnotic and relaxing – a bit like playing bingo for hours. On the early laps, you can kinda guess which riders are likely to be appearing next, based on their lap 1 positions – usually riders cluster into little groups. But later in the race when the leaders start lapping the slower riders it gets harder to track, and once everything gets muddier it’s harder to read the rider numbers. By the last race, I’d sort of invented a way to track the mix of leaders and backmarkers lap-to-lap – I’m sure people who do this a lot have got this all figured out.
In the end, given the freezing temperatures I wasn’t too sad to not be racing. Given I was just standing still, I dressing in full winter set up – thermal leggings, trousers then snowboarding trousers. I was never warm, but I wasn’t cold either. The only bit of me that suffered was my feet. Thick woolly socks and welly boats weren’t enough – the welly boots on cold ground just seem to suck the heat out from your feet. I started dreaming of USB-powered heated wellies for a while ..
After all the racing was over, I helped out tearing down the course – pulling out stakes and winding up miles of tape. As a racer, I knew there was lots of race logistics for the organisers to deal with but I hadn’t fully appreciated just how much work goes into the course setup.
All in all, it was a fun – but very different – day out. The volunteers who put on these races do a huge amount of work to make them happen. The race officials who travel around to all the different races are super stars. I realised that the “execution” of the race itself is primarily under the control of the commisaires, rather than the race organiser himself. For example, the race organiser was busy doing podium presentations for the previous race whilst the next race was being gridded. But even the little details fascinated me – someone has to sit down and prepare three separate prizes for each of five races, and store them in a neat order so they can be found at the right moment. Someone has to go to the shops to buy an appropriate number of chocolate selection boxes to give as part of the race prizes. Someone has to acquire a suitable waterproofed PA system and mics and battery (and spare generator, as it happened!). I’ve organised music gigs and night clubs before, but these race events start with an empty fields and everything else has to be brought in. It really was a slick operation, with responsibility for different aspects of the event being delegated to separate groups.
So unexpectedly, SCX#8 Fife College was a great day of racing, even though I didn’t do any pedalling at all!