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A Bad Day at the Races

If cycling is suffering, cyclocross is the sublimest form of that suffering. Still, there are days when “suffering” doesn’t begin to describe the experience. Yesterday at Big Elm CX in Great Barrington, MA, was that day for me.

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The racing is never easy, by it’s very nature. We all raced together, 46 Cat 4/5 Men, 12 Women, and 6 juniors, in the same time slot, spaced about a minute apart. It started off typically. I got out-hustled of a good place on the front line, but despite this, my start wasn’t awful.

After launching from the staging area, my start was "ok."

After launching from the staging area, my start was “ok.”

This was another open category and there were Elite women racing with the group. I didn’t hang on long with them, and for the first 1/4 of the lap, felt like things were going ok. It was an extremely hot and humid day, and my pre ride was brief, just a lap and 1/2.  The short pre ride left me pouring sweat and gulping Gatorade, and realizing I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about hydration.

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Early in the first lap before things got really spread out.

Here at the start, I was feeling pretty normal. I tried to stick with a Cat 3 racer early on, but she kept gaining momentum away from me and I didn’t see her again. Later, I was passed by a woman from the local cycling club, and tried to stay on her wheel. I was already sweating hard and laboring at the course, which was a wonderful, twisty, off-camber lovers delight of a cyclocross course. We came to an area of loose stones that for me, wasn’t rideable, followed by a short set of stairs. I noticed a man from the Cat 4/5s off his bike at the top of a stairs, leaning over his handlebars and breathing heavy. I clawed past the local rider at this point–this was about 1/2 way through the first lap. I heard her breathing heavy and working as a moved past her. A few hundred yards later, she overtook me, and although I was hot and feeling tired already, I thought “she is suffering too” and wasn’t concerned. I’d get her in a bit. We were now moving into the second lap. My fatigue deepened and I started to slow. The local woman started to fade away into the distance as the heat, the course, and my lack of preparation started to devour me.

Trying to still execute on the technical.

Trying to still execute on the technical.

The second lap was painful. I disintegrated. Nausea overtook me, only to ease and be replaced with dizziness. I went into the race with some pretty high hopes and thought I’d do pretty well. 4 same day registrations with some of the elite women adjusted that expectation, but I was fading fast, and I couldn’t remember if there was anyone else behind me. I didn’t think there was. My speed had slowed to “ok, just try to move forward” but I was falling apart hard. I could not believe I was doing this poorly, I had had a great ride the night before, breaking my own QOM record by 2 mph* ( * hmmm, that’s a good clue). My body was barely responding to move efforts to move forward and now I started to unravel emotionally. And here’s the part, dear reader, I get vulnerable with you. I’m going to admit to you, I started to cry. I wanted to quit. But my crying was without tears, as my body was using every once of moisture contained in it to cool my completely overheated body. Waves of heat radiated from my face, I fought dizziness and my own emotional irrationality of being so upset at myself for sucking so badly. I really thought, I should stop, this is already over for me. There was a spot, right near the parking lot where my car was feet away from the course, I could bail there, and just leave. I thought yes, that’s a good option, as I rounded the corner to decent down a hill the would dump me within 30 feet of my car.

At the bottom of the hill, was my girlfriend, aiming her camera at me to capture me coming down the hill.  I saw her and decided to just keep going.

This is me deciding not to bail on the whole race.

This is me deciding not to bail on the whole race.

Deciding to continue did not end my suffering, although I stopped crying. I snapped out of the quitting mode and shifted into the only other option for me at that point: surviving. I began my third lap.

This was perhaps where my sucking became high art. My speed could have been easily matched by a gang of preschoolers on push bikes. I walked the run ups-I had to. My climbs were crawls. I tried to use descents as face-saving gifts. I had absolutely nothing to give, I was a shadow of a cyclist, a ghost of my normal self. I was nearly invisible.

Look how pretty!  Suffering is not super-glamourous.

Look how pretty! Suffering is not super-glamourous.

I finished the race.

This was the very closest I go to quitting any sporting event in my life. I felt a lot of emotions about this.

  • Doubt
  • Disappointment
  • Wounded Pride
  • Ownership
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Acceptance
  • Shame

I know everyone was hurting out there. I was far from alone. One guy was overheard saying “I was hoping I would flat so it would end.” Aside from this, I should have performed better. And I’m not about to let myself off the hook for it.

I don’t know if I will ever stop marveling at how badly things went out there for me today. Of course, it could be a lot worse. I didn’t crash, I executed pretty well with the technical stuff. But my speed? I know I’m not so fast but wow did I redefine that today.

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Today I took a nice ride on a beautiful day and thought things over. Yesterday was a really big failure for me. I didn’t meet a range of expectations I set for myself-expectations that were reasonable and within my ability. And that bothers me. It’s popular to talk about “Failing Faster” and I think about this concept beyond the typical references to start-ups and business. I apply it to many aspects of my life…but essentially failures are teachers, and motivators, and not ever having them do not foster growth. This was disappointing, but ultimately essential. Everyone has a bad day. I had a really terrible one yesterday. Seriously guys, I didn’t even feel good after it was done–a rare joyless cycling experience. But I have renewed focus on my next race, which is looking like a little trip to Troy, NY for Uncle Sam Cyclocross Gran Prix. Not 100% decided but it’s looking like a redemption race that I would like under my belt before it gets real in Gloucester in late September.

Onward!

-Karen

Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race

Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race

I stole these from the organizer’s Facebook Page–hope he doesn’t mind–it was a great race!  I’m #3677 in the black BIKE CAFE kit.

Root 66 Domnarski Farm MTB Race Report

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The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.

Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.

Just before the race.

Just before the race.

The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.

Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.”  Yeah. It was that unpleasant.

But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.

THAT NEVER HAPPENS.

And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.

On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.

All done!!

All done!!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race.  Fan-girl moment of the day.  She was very gracious and friendly.  It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.

All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time.  I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.

-Karen

PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race.  My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191.  Discuss.

Spring is Here. Really.

It’s been a long hard winter for most of us–I couldn’t write here anymore because I didn’t think it would help to complain. So I didn’t. I was always here through, biding my time.  Now that Spring is here, I’m ready to begin again.

Not that I ever fully stopped, but this year has had a slow start.  I still have snow in my yard, but for all road biking purposes, it’s gone. Roads are wet with melt and muddy with sand that hasn’t been swept, but who cares?  It’s above freezing at last.  I’m way behind where I was last year in terms of fitness and miles, but not so far gone that it will take me long to ramp up.

Saturday I got out for a just shy of 40 mile ride, with a huge climb right in the middle. I’d like to start doing at least one “big” ride a week.  Right now big is 40 miles.  But soon I’d like to get 50-60-70 miles at a time.  I’m trying to stick to my plan in terms of working out–right now I’m only averaging 3x/week.  I’d prefer 5, but that will come.  I started running again, once or twice a week. I have my eye on an off road duathlon in April that I’ve done a few times before.  I’m talking my brother into doing it with me (this time I’d like to beat him).  It’s a 1.8 mile trail run, 5.5 mile MTB/CX off road ride, followed by another 1.8 mile trail run.  It’ll be done in an hour, but it’s a nice warm up for racing this year and I like the cross-training aspect of a duathlon.

Downhill: Mud, Sweat & Gears 2011. Ashland, MA

Downhill: Mud, Sweat & Gears 2011. Ashland, MA

The one tweak this time is that I’ll be doing it on my cyclocross bike.  The other times I did this race I did it on my mountain bike.  But I asked the race promoter and yes, CX bikes are legal.  They are also a hell of a lot faster.  I’m not a fast runner, and last time I was in the last 1/3 of the race after the run, and then moved up considerably during the bike portion of the race.  Unfortunately, the running at the end pushed me back again.  I’ll take any advantage I can get, and the carbon fiber Kona will do nicely.

Everyone get on your bikes!  Spring is here!

-Karen

2014 Cycling Goals: MTB, CX, Dirt Road Races

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.

-Karen

Year End CX Race Stats

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.

My 2013 Cyclocross Results.

My 2013 Cyclocross Results.

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.

  1. Have fun. Check!
  2. Finish. No DNFs!
  3. 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!
  4. Don’t finish last. Success!
  5. Middle pack. Pretty consistently yes!  I’m most pleased about this.
  6. 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.

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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!

-Karen

Race Report: DAS Beaver CX–In the SNOW!

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.

corners at DAS

Corners around the trees were icy.

close ice shot

santa bike

Santa races CX!

The aftermath!  Frozen mud & slush.

The aftermath! Frozen mud & slush.

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.

Elvis has left the building and is shredding CX snow!

Elvis has left the building and is shredding CX snow!

post DAS 2 post race DAS podium DAS

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!

-Karen

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