Heather & I road some bikes. Yeah, it was raining, and yeah, there was some snow, and some ice, and some mud. But it was above freezing, which sadly qualifies as “good weather.”
I’m deeply grateful that I have a crazy enough friend who lives close by enough to join me to ride in these conditions. I am managing to get out about once every week or two, but as evidenced by the snow you see above, it’s hasn’t always been possible to ride. And when there wasn’t several inches of snowfall to contend with, there was the “Polar Vortex.”
Anyway, it was good to ride outside, and have some company to boot. We kept the elevation under 1000 ft, but the extra effort pedaling through a few soft inches of snow and tire sucking mud didn’t make us feel like we were slacking off.
As I type, 4 new inches of snow lie in my yard, and another 6-12 predicted tomorrow night, with a Nor’Easter predicted for Sunday with a rumor of several feet of snow.
That groundhog? Call the exterminator.
When my brother gave me a $75 gift card to Bike Nashbar for Christmas, I’m sure he didn’t think he’d be the tipping point in me deciding to build my own bike. I just learned how to change my own tires last year, so sure, I can build a bike, right? Right.
I purchased an aluminum cyclocross frame off Nashbar’s site and paid about $30 for it. That was mostly for shipping. I took advantage of the gift card, a fantastic post holiday sale and Nashbar’s brand frame. As soon as I ordered it, I tweeted about it, which resulted in a flurry of closet bike mechanics coming out of the woodwork giving me advice. Wow–I had no idea how many bike builders I knew. I know next to nothing, but with their help, and the Internet, I’m learning so much. And that was partially the intent of taking this project on.
Now, armed with a ton of online articles, Twitter, and an amazing spreadsheet from Ashley from Aerochick, who built her first bike last year, I am researching parts and slowly buying what I need. I’m giving myself until September to finish it. I’m planning on building a single speed cyclocross bike, and racing it occasionally in 2014. With talk of the Single Speed World Championships coming to Boston in 2014, I want to give the fringiest part of my fringe sport a try.
I’ll keep you posted on the build, how it goes, and where I run into trouble (I’m sure I’ll run into a bunch). I know there are a few stages that require me to bring it to the LBS for installation (feeling no shame–Cyclocross Magazine even recommended this), but otherwise, I’m going to try and give everything a good college try before taking it to my mechanic for help.
OK, OK. It’s goal setting time. It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about it, but over the years I’ve learned to become more flexible in goal setting (it’s true! I’ve lightened up a bit!). That said, I have so much I want to accomplish. I think it’s reasonable to break out the year into chunks to better manage all the things I want to do.
Chunk #1- Januaryish to Marchish
Ride 3x a week
Run 2x a week
A good portion of my riding will have to be on the trainer. We have about a foot of cold white snow out there right now and a new weather term to discuss at the water cooler, Polar Vortex.
Events planned: None.
Chunk #2 Aprilish to Juneish
Ride 4+x a week
Run 1-2 a week
As much mountain biking as I can do (depending upon trail conditions)
Ramping up road mileage.
At least 1 CX ride (dirt roads, light trails) per week.
Events planned: Fat Tire Classic in Farmington, CT April 20, 2014 (tentative) MTB Race, Cat 3 40+ Masters
Kingdom CX in Victory, VT May 3, 2014 MTB/CX Race, 25 miles
Root 66 Domnarski Farm MTB Race in Ware, MA June 1, 2014 MTB Race, Cat 3 40+ Masters
Chunk #3 July to August
Ride 5+x a week–Base miles, big miles.
Cross skills practice 1x a week.
Intervals 1-2x a week.
Events planned: VT Overland Gran Prix in Woodstock, VT August 24, 2014 CX/Dirt Road Race, 53 miles
Monson Cyclocross Race in Monson, MA (alternative event to VT Overland) CX Race
Blunt Park Cyclocross Race in Springfield, MA (alternative event to VT Overland) CX Race
Chunk #4 September-December
Ride 4x week–cyclocross season. Hard weekends–racing or training. Hard Wednesdays.
Cross skills 2-3x week.
Intervals 1x week (Wednesdays)
Running if I feel ambitious.
Events planned: Ooff. 10+ Cyclocross Races! Which ones? Nothing is officially scheduled yet, but here’s a partial list of races I’d like to compete in 2014.
Quad CX in Maynard, MA
The Night Weasels Cometh in Shrewsbury, MA
Gloucester Gran Prix in Gloucester, MA
Providence Cyclocross Festival in Providence, RI
Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross in Northampton, MA
Orchard CX in Hampton, NH
Sterling CX in Sterling, MA
Cheshire CX in Cheshire, CT
DAS Beaver CX in Dayville, CT
I’d like to compete in some smaller CX races, if possible. I do love the bigger races, the Gloucesters the Northamptons, the Providences….but they kill my points and I need some smaller races to even me out. Plus I feel like it’s easier to meet people at the smaller grassroots races.
My biggest goal for my 2014 Cyclocross Season is a top 50% finish. I know I’m capable of this and I need to set my sights on being fast and strong. I have a healthy season of larger race-oriented events (although I see these less as races than as events to build my strength and experience).
I have been told that the sophomore season of any sport is the hardest. Hardest, with the most growth. The 3rd year is supposed, supposed to be the year where that growth is realized. Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to a terrific 2014.
Now that my CX season is officially over, I wanted to evaluate my results. I do this for fun, but always want to improve. I was on the USA Cycling site to check out renewing my license when I noticed a ranking result for all the races I competed in. Someone compiled stats for me and broke it out into a percentage? Yay! Now you’re talking. Almost as fun as Crossresults.com.
OK so the screen shot is a bit small. here’s the data:
|YOUR CYCLO-CROSS CAT 4 STANDINGS|
|Rank in your zip code (01075)||1 of||1||(First)|
|Rank in your state (MA)||25 of||65||(38.46%)|
|Rank in your riding age (44)||7 of||41||(17.07%)|
|Rank in 5 year age range (40-44)||24 of||156||(15.38%)|
|Rank in 10 year age range (40-49)||36 of||276||(13.04%)|
|Overall Rank||184 of||1203||(15.30%)|
Mind you there is a Cat 3, 2, and 1 above me. I’m a beginner. But I did achieve several (but not all) goals this year.
- Have fun. Check!
- Finish. No DNFs!
- Stay upright. Not all the time. I had my first over the handlebars during a race crash at CSI CX in Northampton. I wiped out pretty good at the DAS Beaver CX too (icy corner). There were other times, I can’t really remember. No injuries, and that’s what I was going for. Hop back on and keep going!
- Don’t finish last. Success!
- Middle pack. Pretty consistently yes! I’m most pleased about this.
- Top 50% I fell 1 place short of this on 2 occasions. Next year I need to make this happen.
The USA Cycling Stats helped my ego significantly. Maybe it’s because I’m in New England and the cyclocross scene here is so strong with so many top level riders, some who will be competing on an international stage in a few years (thinking about the 14 year old who killed a field of 80 Cat 3/4 women….there are other youngin’s schooling the rest of us, I wish them all well), but at any rate, I really didn’t feel like I was a top 15% Cat 4.
So next year- next year the goals list remains. A reach goal would be to worm my way into a Cat 3 ranking. I’m not sure how that works, what kind of results I need to achieve to get that upgrade. I’ll have to consult the rule book.
Nonetheless I completed 10 races and feel great about it. It was hard on my personal schedule to get to all these races. There was a bit of a financial stain as well: registration fees, gas money, speciality foods and portable nutrition, many tires, many tubes, extra bike maintenance, and perhaps most expensive, time. Time is a rare commodity for me, and as the light began to fade as solstice approached, I got less and less time on my bike. I went from 4 to 6 hours a week on my bike to 1.5 to 2. Performance fell accordingly.
All and all, 2013 was a great year, and with a few things brewing (pun intended) for 2014, I’m seeing the trajectory continue upward.
Happy New Year!
This was the race that almost wasn’t. We had a fair sized storm heading toward New England and snow forecasts had anywhere from 3 inches to 18 inches. Gotta love New England Meteorologists. I wish I could give estimates that wide in my job. Anyway, race organizer Liz Allen had a big decision to make. She created a Doodle poll, posted it on Facebook, and the discussion ensued. In the end, all systems were “go.” Since my coffee was on the prize list–it was a “must attend” for me–hell or high water, or snow, I was going.
My feelings were split, if I have to be honest, about going. My body is aching to be in full winter hibernation and I was apprehensive about traveling in bad weather. My Christmas shopping isn’t done. I like watching CBS Sunday morning with my honey. Blah, Blah, Blah. ON THE OTHER HAND…..I’m a extremely prideful native New Englander-snow is in my blood. I do like playing in the snow. I love the cyclocross community. There would most certainly be other crazy people there. And, I come from Cyclocross Royalty for crying out loud! I had to go.
I don’t think I can overstate how glad I am that I did go. This was the best way to close out a great season of New England Cyclocross. It was a small venue, made smaller by 5 inches of snow with a nice helping of freezing rain and sleet. About 75 people, in total showed up. That’s smaller then some of the fields I raced in this year. There was a roaring bonfire in a halved drum that had a small group gathered around it. It was about 32 degrees, which was twice as warm as it had been the day before–which made it not so bad at all.
The course was shortened due to the conditions and for safety reasons. Fun but relatively safe. During the race, volunteers would use shovels to add snow to the well worn paths–just to keep things interesting. Corners were icy and slow, and clipping back into pedals was a 50/50 endeavor–the slushy snow packed so deeply into cleats, if it had been a few degrees colder there would be no knocking it free.
Best of all–the crazy people! How great is a guy who decorates his CX bike with garland and working Christmas lights, puts a big Santa beard and hat on and races that way? How about pickle handups? How about grannie panty handups? Donut handups? Yes, we gave the go ol’ Portland, Oregon crowd a run for their money down at the little DAS Beaver CX race. So. Much. Fun.
Plus, I achieved a few goals. Yes, it was due to weather related attrition, but hell, I’ll take it. I finished 4th, won money, swag, and was in a podium photo. I also saw my friend Vicki and a few other people I knew. It was the best possible way to end my sophomore season of cyclocross.
The organizers, volunteers and Liz Allen in particular, deserve a load of credit and thanks for pulling off a great race in terrible conditions and making it a complete blast. DAS Beaver CX–I’ll be back!
So, Sterling didn’t happen. It was the best choice for me, I struggled all weekend with a painful sinus infection that left me with a throbbing headache and fatigued. I read stories of the “frozen ruts of death” that plagued the early races. Part of me feels relieved, another part wistful with regret.
Onward. I finally broke down and saw a physician last night. I have meds! Not the fun kind, just antibiotics. I am signed up for the DAS Beaver Cross race scheduled to be held in Dayville, CT on Sunday Dec 15, 2013. Even better, I struck a deal with the race promoter and my coffee is on the prize list! So showing up is mandatory. On the race’s Facebook page, the promoter posted this:
Now it’s only Tuesday, and I live in New England, and a lot can happen between now and Sunday. But I would bet money that some kind of precipitation is going to happen and Sunday’s forecast is predicting a high of 39F. I’ve been bitching all season about not having a real muddy, messy, crazy-weather cyclocross race. Looks like I’ll finally get what I’ve been asking for.
I had every single intention of racing my bike this Saturday. I have the weekend free, Sterling is actually fairly close by, and I keep hearing the Twitter buzz about a fun course. Additional, my mysterious co-blogger has caught the CX bug (I’ll take full credit for that, thank you very much) and she’s texting me daily, “did you sign up yet? did you sign up yet?” No. And now pre reg is closed.
The reason is a cold. I’ve been fighting something for a while–You might remember I complained of being sick during Northampton’s CSI International CX race weekend, and again at Cheshire, I suffered a coughing fit that lost me places in my race. The germ that has taken up residence in my upper respiratory system has invited friends over to party. I’m trying to kick out the bug but each time I start to think I’ll be just fine, I break out into another coughing fit.
It’s only Wednesday, so I have a couple of days to improve my lung function. I’m going to ride tomorrow and Friday too….I’ll know better if I can hack it (pun intended). Same day registration is allowed so the option remains to race, and Heather still seems interested. But if I don’t go for it, I still plan to ride (thinking as I type this, if I’m planning on riding anyway, maybe I should just race…..).
I guess the difference is intensity. The predicted temperature at the starting whistle is an optimistic 20 degrees F. Start time is 9:30 AM, I’d need to leave the house at about 6AM, up by 5:30AM. Intense cold, early start, and its a race, so full gas. I think my lungs would seize. Riding on my own means slower spins, exploring, playing, starting later at a balmy 30 degrees, and stopping to pull my Kleenex out and clear the pipes every so often. Not to mention the travel time and registration $$$$. On the other hand, racing means seeing some of the fantastic New England Cyclocross Community again. I’m very torn.
If I miss this weekend, the season isn’t over yet. I am doing the DAS BEavER CX race in Dayville, CT. My coffee is on the prize list there so it’s a must attend for me. And then there is the famous Ice Weasels Cometh race in Walpole, MA. Both of these races are in the same weekend, so that would be a whole weekend of CX, and lots of road time. But if I’m healthy, it would be a great last hurrah for me to wrap up the 2013 cyclocross season.
Thoughts? My lungs make the final decision. I think if it were at least 20 degrees warmer (like, the 40′s) I’d feel my lungs could take it.
What you see right there is my race number. Yes, an actual Cheshire Cross race number issued to me (the silent co-blogger). It took Karen a while, but the conversion is well on its way. Wonder if she gets a toaster oven for that one? My “race” was more like paying for permission to do a few laps around the course while an event was going on. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and I am planning on doing two more this season. Seriously, any sport that allows me to have this for a post-race recovery plan is fine by me.
The race I finally got Heather to do! 2 years of bugging paid off. I have finally converted another to the sport of cyclocross. I’ll let her post about her experience, if she so chooses. The following is from my point of view.
Heather met me at my house to carpool down to Cheshire early Saturday morning. We made a hasty stop at Highland Hardware & Bike for a mechanical issue Heather came across when converting her Fuji from commuter bike to cross rig. As per usual, the crew at Highland saved the day. The service there is spectacular. They had us on our way within 10 minutes.
We arrived at Cheshire Town Park and in an unusual turn of New England November weather, it was warm. I was wildly overdressed in the winter skinsuit, but had packed no alternative. We registered and barely got one lap in for a preride before the next race began. I was hoping for at least 2 laps to review the course. The course was as fun as I remembered from last year, but dry and dusty with loose soil. I have been striking out in the mud department this year–the closest I’ve come so far is Providence. The course itself has all great features for a cyclocross race: woods, sand, epic run ups, roots, turns. Great technical riding with more woods than grass.
Heather seemed incredulous that she was actually present and accounted for and intending on finally racing–right up to the whistle. I’m smiling remembering this
Cat 4 Women lined up after the Elite call up. We started a minute behind the Women Pro 1-2-3′s. We scrumed for the front line and I got a front spot on the inside. When out whistle blew, I was off and made a tight first turn. I was 3rd through the hole shot and kept that position for nearly the whole first lap. My overall goal was a top 50% finish, and so far I was making it.
My fast start caught up to me. I’ve had a nagging congestion for the last 6 weeks. After 1 lap, my sinuses opened and started dumping stringy mucus down my throat. Sorry for the disgusting description, but it was…..well it was disgusting. I was literally choking. This was seriously distracting from my focus and speed. I tried to clear the crap from my throat and spent the entire 2nd lap doing so (sorry–gross. I know). I final was breathing a bit easier by the third lap, but I had damaged my place. I was passed by one or two more racers on the 3rd lap. I still had energy and was planning on throwing it all down for lap #4, but with just a couple 100 yards to go, I was passed by the leader of the elite race, and she was about to cross the finish line. The rule is when the elite leader crosses the line and finishes, so does EVERYBODY behind her. Which meant I never got my final lap, or chance to make up any ground. I felt a little shortchanged. I had more race in me, and nowhere to put it.
I finished 8 of 14. 2 DNFed. I missed my 50% goal again. I’m definitely mid pack on these smaller grassroots races, so I’m happy about that. Heather and I packed up and hit the road after the results were posted.
The good news is that Heather reports she enjoyed herself and has penciled in two more races for 2013: Sterling CX in Sterling, MA and DAS BEavEr CX Race in Dayville, CT. I am doing these races as well.
Photo notes: I didn’t take a single picture this year but found some online that I’m borrowing (they had a sharing button so I consider that fair game–if you are the creator of any photo I posted please contact me and I will remove it immediately or give you props–whatever you prefer!). I took a ton last year and have used those as well to give readers a taste of the venue.
It seems like every time I sit down to write about a race, I always want to convey how excited I was about the event–how much I look forward to it. Each race is different and special. Northampton is my home (or thereabouts) and is special for that reason, but it’s more than that. This is the oldest UCI race in the country, and in its 23rd year, the race has taken place at Look Park for many years now.
This weekend is the ONE weekend I have ALL YEAR that is ALL MINE. My son is away with my ex. My significant other is away on business. And there is a huge 2 day cyclocross extravaganza practically in my backyard. I look forward to this weekend all year.
So you can imagine how bummed out I was when I started to feel like a tired piece of crud on Thursday. I started popping Zicam like candy on Friday and by Saturday morning, I was still feeling abnormally fatigued and a bit sneezy. Not to mention, I haven’t been riding much the last month Work, fading daylight, and increasing demands of my son’s schedule have made rides few and far between. Now that I’ve properly explained away why I did so crappy, I’ll tell you about the races.
Course was slightly moist, not really muddy, but greasy in spots. I got a really terrible start. Too much hesitation in front of me and I was caught in the dominos. On the first pass of the run-up, I was forced right, up the steepest, least climb-able part of the hill. The racer in front of me slipped and lost control of her shouldered bike and hit me, and then the same thing happened to me. I practically dragged the bike up the steepest part of the hill. It was ugly.
Then we were in the woods, which I liked. The course twisted and turned and spit us back down onto the flat and fast grass, taking us down a swift singletrack. On the grass there was lots of sprinting and braking and turning and more sprinting. The second run up wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and wound us through the woods again, and onto my favorite addition to this course. A very mountain-bike-esque set of dirt turns through trees with minor elevation changes. I LOVED this section. It was just plain fun and challenging enough to keep the best riders on their toes. I think I liked it because it was hard without being dangerous. Perfect.
I did, however, crash in this section. My first actual crash in a race. The rider in front of me spilled and forced me into deep unstable soil and I went ass over tea kettle. She quietly apologized (Cat 3/4 Women as very polite racers I’ve discovered) but I hopped back on and kept going (and so did she). No worries. This was all part of the adventure.
After this the course shot us down a trail on over the railroad tracks. If you had enough speed, you could catch air here. I did every time and it was wicked fun. Despite feeling like shit, I was having a good time.
Back on the grass it was power, power power……something we all know I’m short on. I did my best and tried to ride hard and smooth. I finished 60 out of 82 racers. Now I shouldn’t feel too bad about this since the top 15 are all crazy good. But this wasn’t the middle of the pack I was aiming for. Sigh. Being off the bike for nearly a month has its repercussions.
On Sunday, the two monster run ups were gone and the course was much, much faster. The good news is I felt much better this day. After spending Saturday hanging out with co-blogger Heather and new cycling friend Aileen drinking beer and eating pizza and watching the Elite races, I got some rest and Daylight Savings Time gifted me another whole hour of sleep. Sunday was a new day. The bad news is it was 15 degrees colder and fast courses eat me for breakfast.
Whatever. I was there to race. I decided that I was going to leave it all out there on the course, Save nothing! I lined up and had a much better start. I was more aggressive and sprinted when things opened up. I had contact with riders for 3 of the 4 laps, playing cat and mouse with several. By the 3rd lap things had shaken out and riders were stretched through the course. I stayed on the wheel of one rider for a half a lap until she shook me and steadily opened a gap on me that was too big to overcome. I worked on keeping myself enough ahead of whoever was left behind me.
I sprinted for the finish alone, finishing 62 of 75. A worse result than Saturday. I was a bit mystified by this because I really felt like I raced this one, rather than just survive it. I think this just illustrates how much better I do in technical sections than on flat open sections. I am no sprinter, I am not fast. I like dicey technical stuff.
So a great weekend all in all. I really would like a full CX experience by having a really sloppy muddy race. Or snow. Most of my races (this year and last) have been very dry. The muddiest race so far has been Providence. I’d love to see how I do in some terrible conditions.