First a little lead up.
It was raining Friday night, but I planned to ride anyway, as is typically recommended before race day. Just enough to sharpen the legs. I planned to circle Whiting Reservoir in Holyoke a few times to prime the pump. A good place to ride–nice wide gravel roads nestled around the reservoir at the base of a woodsy Mt. Tom. It was pouring when I arrived, but pushed on. It was downpouring and I had the place to myself. The rain was warm and I enjoyed getting muddy.
While out there, I discovered my cleat would not clip into my right pedal. I adjusted, several times, to no avail. Ah, I’d figure it out in the morning. My race wasn’t until 2:15PM and was super close, just 15 minutes away in Springfield. No big deal. I went home, hosed off my muddy, soaked shoes and clothing, and took a hot shower.
The next morning I realized my shoes were not going to dry on their own for several days. They weighed 5 times heavier than normal and riding in wet shoes when it’s not raining screamed amateur (because lets face it, it is). So I have wet shoes, and a cleat that won’t fully connect with my SPD pedal.
I addressed the shoes by throwing them in the oven a few minutes at a time. Don’t come over for dinner. It’s really not a problem, I barely use it as it is….at least this way my oven was seeing some action. I’d pull them out, let the steam roll off, then throw them back in, It worked pretty well. Between baking my shoes, I worked on the pedal. Nothing seemed to work. I tried to remove the SPD from my mountain bike to switch out the pedal for the day as a quick fix, but I could not muscle the bad pedal from my Kona. I wrestled with this for a couple of hours at least. I had absolutely no clipping in happening on my right foot, which in a race, wasn’t just a performance killer but felt like it could be actually dangerous. Finally, it occurred to me that the cleat could be worn (duh Karen). I knew I had a spare set of cleats, but of course I had no idea where. The copious amount of time I had was all but gone, and I was literally racing around trying to fix this pedal and getting the rest of my stuff together (food, kit, money for the park entry, racing license). I finally located the spare cleats and after some struggling to remove the old cleat, i installed the new one and tested it–Success! I was back in business.
I tried replacing the other one but ran out of time and just hustled down to Forest Park. By this time, I was very harried and stressed out, I had my regular nerves from racing, plus it being my first one of the year, plus me not riding too much lately, and in my frantic attempts to repair my pedal, it seemed as if all the calories I had carefully consumed were burnt up with anxiety and effort with my pedal wrench. I was pouring sweat the whole car ride to the park from the morning. Plus I was alone, with no buddy or girlfriend to settle me down. Not exactly the best way to start.
The Actual Race
Registration was a breeze and now it was the typical hurry up and wait game. I got most of a lap of course inspection done, and the course was more technical than I expected, which was a good thing. More hills than most courses but they weren’t too bad, and there was one really good run up toward the end of the lap.
This was an open category, which meant I was racing against elite women. Of course as a cat 4, pretty much everyone is better, and I didn’t fight it. I took my rightful place in the back at the start line. There were only 9 of us, so I was just in the second row, but I was sure to place myself behind one of the faster women that I recognized from previous races. I knew this way I could get a good start without screwing up any of the better ranked women.
My start was decent. I fell in 3rd from last and then passed a women on the first lap. I was passed shortly after by a different racer behind me. Basically, there were no other changes for the reminder of the race, with the exception of one of the lead women flatting which resulted in a 6th place finish for me instead of a 7th place finish. It’s true, anything can happen in a CX race.
The elevation changes were ok-even fun for the first lap, but after the 3rd lap the hills were really working me over. I tried to just ride smooth. “Smooth is fast, smooth is fast.” was my mantra. I had moments when I felt like puking and numbness in my chest, so I was definitely giving effort, yet I felt my lack of fitness in this. On the last lap the lead racer lapped me very close to the finish line, and I was mercifully pulled from the race. Secure in a 6th place and totally OK with not doing a 5th lap, I collapsed and assessed. There were dicey spots I rode really well-very efficiently and fast. Other spots I made sloppy, stupid mistakes that cost me time.
After it was all over, I felt happy. My ordeal with the pedal and the shoes in the oven had my questioning if I’d even go to this race. I’m glad I didn’t throw in the towel and figured things out. The 6th place meant the lowest points I’ve ever scored on crossresults, which will benefit me in call ups for bigger races throughout the rest of the year. This was not my best work, but all along I approached this as a tune up race, and with that in mind, I feel it was a good first effort.
Time now to work out the rest of the bugs, with race prep, equipment, and fitness…..cyclocross season is officially underway!
PS: Out of all Cat 4 women in this race I placed second, so–not too bad.
Welp, here I am, 6 days from my first race. I haven’t registered yet. I only cycled 40 miles this week, 70 last week, 12 the week before. My rides are averaging about half in mileage terms compared to last summer. It’s a bit depressing. I’m starting the cyclocross season in tentative shape. This first race will be a primer for the season–a good way to jump start my training. It’s a smaller event, taking place in Forest Park in Springfield, MA and a replacement venue to the course in Monson, MA which received complaints for being to technical (I loved it). I emailed the race organizer to see if I could pre-ride it Friday evening, but no dice–they can’t set up until that morning. He explained there will be a lot of elevation changes and it was pretty hard packed. It’s difficulty will be in the elevation changes but nothing else too technical.
I’m viewing this as a way to HTFU and get ready for the rest of the season. Nothing wrong with peaking in late October or November rather than petering out after Providence. But this year already feels different to me. I think I’m more comfortable at these events now, and I have my goals, but I’m more relaxed about reaching them. Or not.
Right now my season is looking like this:
CompEdge CX @ Forest Park, Springfield, MA August 23
Big Elm CX @ Great Barrington, MA September 6
TBD September 20-21
Rapha Supercross @ Gloucester, MA September 27
Providence Cyclocross Festival @ Providence, RI October 4
Keene PumpkinCross @ Surry, NH October 19
CycleSmart International @ Northampton, MA November 1-2
TBD November 15-16
TBD November 29-30
I’d still like to do 10 races. I may only do 8. I’d like to do both days in Gloucester and Providence, but I
can’t won’t because I’m too busy with the rest of my life and don’t want to pay for a hotel. I really would like to break into the 50% range on a finish. I think I may have an actual shot at this since race organizers for the larger races (Like Gloucester, so far) are breaking the Cat 3s from the Cat 4s which means I will just be competing against my own category. For the smaller races like this weekend, it’s an Open category which means I’ll be racing against everyone who is better than me. In the end, I race against myself, which is how it should be for someone like me.
So here we go kids, CX season is back. If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s your chance. Check out races in your local area by going to BikeReg.com.
Speechless, which is what this post will be for the most part. I was utterly speechless walking through the Village of Whistler at the base of Whistler Mountain. DH, full suspension mountain bikes leaning everywhere, being walked, being coasted and hopped down the playful mounds of earth sculpted in the mountain bike park. I did a couple hours in the park and did a ton of other riding, and hiking. It was freaking awesome. Go to Whistler if you love mountain biking or hiking or being outdoors and seeing beautiful mountains and bikes pretty much every time you open your eyes. I’ll leave you with some of the sites I saw while on vacation. Whistler, I’ll be back!! -Karen
Misery loves company is the saying, which is probably part of the reason I keep hounding my friends to try cyclocross. Co-blogger Heather has caught the bug and today while I was sneaking texts to her while at work, she signed us both up at BikeReg.com for Gloucester.
Ahem, sorry. Now referred to as the Rapha Super Cross Gloucester, Presented by Great Brewers. Within an hour of opening registration, categories were selling out. I probably could have hung on until I got home from work to reg, but I get nervous, and excited, and Heather got nervous and excited, and she got home from work before I did, and did me the favor of registering me when she signed herself up. Our category is already 1/2 full just hours into registration.
Gloucester is such a big deal in the realm of cyclocross, and such a big deal here in New England. For me personally, it’s very close to where I grew up and is like “going home.” Additionally, I came to fall in love with cyclocross in Gloucester, mostly because I went almost every year for the last 14 to watch and cheer on my little cousin Tim, who is a pretty good cx racer.* I’ve come to love the sport for my own reasons over the years and I feel so happy and fortunate to participate in first class events like Gloucester, even as a middle aged cat 4 novice. The sport is still intensely difficult, no matter how good (or bad) you are at it.
They’ve made some changes this year and gave Cat 3 women and Cat 4 women separate races. Hopefully that will translate into not finishing on the bottom 25% for me, and I’m just not Cat 3 fast-yet. (bad end of the gene pool for me in terms of cycling talent). I’m disappointed that my race is only 30 minutes instead of 40 or 45, but it’s difficult for race organizers to serve the sport and the racers and this is just part of the territory of not being super fast. Suck it Cat 4s, if you want to race for longer, get faster. That’s fair, and I’m not kidding. Incentive for getting better.
Aside from the competitive side of racing–the scene at Gloucester is just–unexplainably awesome. The salt air, the unpredictable weather, the fans, the venue–it’s intimate and enormous at once. The fans are hearty New Englandahs, heckling “hey kid pick up ya bike and run!” and sneaking beah and dollah bill handups to slower racers. My people! The crowds are wicked awesome. And the weather! I’ve been then in the pouring rain, the bitter cold, the dry and dusty heat. Anything can happen in terms of weather in New England, which is perfect for the sport of cyclocross.
I’m psyched Heather has chosen to do this race too–on the same course as top racers in the world. There’s nothing like it and I know she’ll have a great experience.
So it’s official, we’re signed up for Saturday September 27th at 9:30AM. My Mom and my son will be there, as well as other family, and I’ll be sticking around for the day to watch the other racers including the pro women and pro men.
-Karen* first time I’ve ever revealed my familial connection to the sport on this blog. Hey, it’s been 8 years of blogging. I figured it was time to come clean :)
Ug! I’m not riding nearly enough for so many reasons. I’d like to being doing 70-80+ miles a week. Instead, I’m sometimes breaking 40. Why? Same old same old.
- No sitter. Freaking babysitters, I cannot find a reliable one to save my life. I really need to fix this because I’m not riding my bike after work.
- Work. I was riding to and from work every once and a while. That’s pretty much stopped now. There’s several reasons for this I won’t get into, but mostly it’s extremely difficult to squeeze 20 mins of riding before and after work, put a full day in, and still make it back in time to pick up my son from day camp. I just don’t have to time without something giving.
- Needing rides to be more for fun. I’ve been super stressed lately and I use riding to work out tension, fill my brain with endorphins, and clear my head of the bullshit of life.
My life feels wobbly right now, and one of the most grounding elements for me in the last 10 years has been cycling. Friday evening I picked the hardest place I know to mountain bike. I needed to mash pedals, to hurt, to jar myself free of my stress. I fell off a bridge into the muddy edge of a pond. Win. Then, last Saturday I had the whole day to ride, and I thought about doing a 50 miler. Then I thought, well, maybe 40. Then I thought, no. Imposing a goal was just adding to my stress, and not taking it away. I needed to just go ride my bike and let the rest work itself out. It worked. 26 miles and I found a strong steady rhythm. I pedaled until I felt resolved, if only for a little while. Then I went home and got shit done (which also helps my stress). Sunday, rain was forecast so I tried to beat it. I didn’t. That wasn’t a bad thing. Mountain biking in the warm rain washed my week clean. Mountain biking always means a 1/3 of the miles I’d be doing on a road bike, but the visceral action of mountain biking is like deep tissue massage for my soul.
That leaves me here: not really ready for cyclocross. OK I’ve been riding some, but not training. Major Jake is still hanging in my basement, untuned, unlubed and needing new bar tape. I’m not doing intervals. I’m not practicing dismounts. I’m not practicing remounts. I’m not trying to cure my stutter step. I’m not practicing carries, suit-casing, or shouldering while sprinting up a muddy hill. And I haven’t built that single speed cx bike yet either.
And I have to be honest, I’m not sure I should be putting my energies here, since life is needing my time and energy and some work that doesn’t involve a bicycle.
I have a vacation coming up and will be riding my bike at the largest mountain bike park in the world. While it’s unwise to have expectations, mine are high. I won’t by riding the whole time but I will be immersed in one of the most active mountain biking cultures on the earth: Whistler, BC. Maybe after I return, I can refocus on cyclocross, and some of the non bicycle parts of my life. Because all of it can be better.
At last BikeReg is showing some of the first CX races of the season and I’m starting to plan. I know, I know, it’s only July. What’s the hurry? Truth is, doing 10+ races in one season isn’t going to happen without some serious planning. Here’s what I’ve jotted down so far. The * indicates races not yet scheduled but based on history, they are anticipated. So don’t hold me to any of this!
Saturday August 23, CompEdge CX Race at Forest Park, Springfield, MA
Saturday Sept 6, Big Elm CX at Butternut Ski Area, Great Barrington, MA
Sunday September 7, Quad CX, Maynard, MA* (Tentative)
Saturday September 27 and Sunday September 28, Gran Prix of Gloucester, Gloucester, MA* (probably just Saturday)
Wednesday October 1, The Night Weasels Cometh, Shrewsbury, MA (Tentative)
Saturday October 4 and Sunday October 5, Providence Cyclocross Festival, Providence, RI (probably just one of these days)
Saturday November 1 and Sunday November 2, Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race, Northampton, MA*
This is ambitious, and I likely won’t hit all of these races. In my life, everything is subject to change. That said, I loved the course at Quad CX but the race isn’t scheduled yet, and co-blogger Heather is doing Big Elm that same weekend, and driving from the middle of the state to the far west of the state to the far east of the state over one weekend is a bit much. But still, I might sneak that one in. Gloucester will probably only be Saturday. I might be doing the Rugged Maniac OCR back in western MA on the 28th, because cyclocross isn’t enough torture for me.
Night Weasels has been on my list for a couple of years but childcare is ALWAYS an issue (please, where have all the good babysitters gone? I swear they are IMPOSSIBLE to find). It’s an hour 15 from my house, and I work 45 minutes away, you can see logistically it is difficult. But hey, that’s what personal days are for. Now if I can only find a sitter….
Providence might just be one day. Depending upon a number of factors, some financial, I may get a room and stay overnight. We’ll see.
I’ll have to wait to see how the rest of the schedule shakes out, and how the rest of my life is accommodating my desire to abuse myself on cold autumn weekends. I do know one thing: I need to start training right now, because the last few weeks have been light on challenging rides. Intervals, hills, and doing things that push me out of my comfort zone need to start happening ASAP.
Also, for a week in August I am on vacation. I plan to be very active and will be riding, but not big miles. It will be, however, be doing some big mountain riding as I am heading to Whistler, BC to the best mountain bike park in the WORLD. That, my friends, will not suck.
I still have mid October, November, and December to consider as well. But those feel like a long way away right now, and this feels like a good place to start.
Last year, I did a Warrior Dash, and it was fun. A 5K with a few fun and dirty obstacles. It was over pretty quickly, enough time to hang out with some friends from High School and have a few beers, and I was happily sore afterwards.
So it didn’t seem like a big deal to sign up for a Spartan Sprint. I signed up last February, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
My girlfriend mentioned it to me a couple of weeks ago; she had started running to prep for it. I wasn’t particularly concerned. I ride my bike all the time and I’m in great shape–really, this is NBD, right?
So, so, wrong.
We left early and arrived at Mohegan Sun about 2 hours before out start time. PLENTY of time to register, pin numbers, check our bag. And better–a clutch parking spot in the garage, attached to the casino–which means access to REAL bathrooms (no port-o-pottie!). We ventured into the casino in search of sunscreen, and benefited from the shade of a dark, air conditioned, oxygen rich environment. Outside the sun was bright and shining hot–temps quickly ramping into the upper 80’s and lower 90’s. We prepped to start, staying cool as long as possible.
The start should have been the first clue. To simply load into the starting area, you had to get over a 4 foot wall. 250 people in our heat hopping over a 4 foot wall in a 10 minute period.
What’s a Burpee?
We started with a chest thumping Arooo! and were off. The first obstacle after the start was a 6 foot wall. Um, yeah. I gave my gf a hoist but then was left alone on the other side without a team member. The penalty for not completing a challenge was 30 burprees, which was the 1st thing I didn’t know about this event. Not to mention, until then I had never DONE a burpee. I asked a impossibly good looking, mostly naked, I just walked off the cover of Men’s Health Magazine dude for a lift over the 6 foot wall. Young man, could you help your mom over this wall? It worked. Half a second later, I was over–no burpees this time.
The next obstacles were pretty easy. Hay bales, over a few 4 foot walls, under some barriers with netting, and through some trenches of muddy water. The heat and sun were worse than the course so far. This was going well. Then we hit the barbed wire. About 50 feet of it. Some of it was electrified. I’ve crawled under barbed wire before but never this low, never this much. The ground was grassy, but that was too gentle, so sharp landscaping stones were sprinkled throughout the course to drag your body across. The sun beat down hard. Sweat poured, grass stuck to our clothes. Pinned numbers were scattered on the ground, ripped off people’s shirts. Now the fun was really beginning.
An elevation change, a woods run, then the sandbag carry. I don’t know how many pounds it was, but we carried it up a steep grade and loose dirt hill, then back down that same hill. Hot, slow, punishing. The climb was slower than you intended your legs to move. Between the weight of the bag and the intense heat, gravity felt twice as heavy. Finally, we dumped the bags at the bottom and pressed on.
More woods, more hiking. We entered the Mohegan Reservation which as a child I would have imagined Native Americans hunting and running through the woods, silent as a deer. Nothing like the slow steady, sometimes clumsy march we were on. Almost everyone was walking now, and eventually we came to the cargo net climb. This was about 12 or 15 feet high, I’m not good with distances. The net was only so big and with so many people on it, it bounced and stretched in every direction, making climbing and coming over the top extra challenging. Several people who had made it over pulled a turn at the bottom, pulling it taut by sitting on the ground, bracing the net with arms and legs to keep the tension on and assist other climbers get over with out getting literally bounced off. When I got over, I took a turn at the bottom, while a guy who weighed in at approximately 240 lbs. nearly came crashing down on me. He didn’t, thankfully. We advanced to the next challenge.
How long is this race?
What was the next challenge? I’m not even sure. There was a spear throw, and inverted wall climb, a rope climb over 4 feet of freezing cold water, more walls, more barriers to scootch under and over and through. I failed the spear throw (had to make it stick in a hay target), which meant 30 burpees, and I failed the rope climb over the cold water, which was another 30 burpees. The heat was insane. I was about 20 burpees in after the rope climb when I felt a shrill pain from the back of both my thighs simultaneously. I froze mid-burpee and crawled into an upright pose. I had really pulled something–two somethings, equally, and I didn’t feel bad about NOT doing the additional 10 burpees. I took a break and strolled to the next obstacle, which was lifting a 60 lb. round cannonball off the ground, carry it across to another station, drop it, do 5 burpees, then pick it up and carry it back. Asinine. There was a real back up at this challenge for the women, because many women struggled lifting the 60 round pounds. We were allowed to help each other on this, it was really the only way to keep things moving. I was happy I was able to left it on my own, but passed the round cement ball to another woman waiting on the other side when I was finishing the challenge.
We were now 4 miles into the race, and I thought it all along it was a 5K. We went back into the woods and up a steep rocky path, a rock garden, more switch backs. 90% of the people were walking. We could see the casino now. We flipped a few humongous tires, then climbed a few stories up a wooden ladder, across a massive platform that bridged a street, and back down. This was the last bunch of challenges and all at the finale. The herculean hoist, the traverse wall, the rope walk up a slanted wall, and finally–the fire jump. We were done! Medals and bananas and a free t-shirt awaited us.
We didn’t stay for the free beer–my coupon was ripped off my bib a left to be found somewhere on the course. We had left the house at 6:45AM and didn’t get home until 5:30PM. I was out cold by 8PM. Two days later and I’m still moving like a geriatric. I won’t underestimate a Spartan Sprint again.