This video is making the rounds in social media, and I had to share it–just watching it makes me regret even more deeply that I did not book a trip to see the Worlds this weekend!
At the very least, if this doesn’t get you psyched about the sport of cyclocross, nothing will.
I remember when I first heard that the 2013 Cyclocross World Championship races would be held, for the first time ever, in the United States. I think it was about 2 years ago. Louisville, Kentucky doesn’t seem like a long trip, and I thought I should book my flight right then. I’m regretting now that I didn’t.
Thank goodness that USA Cycling is offering live streaming of both the women’s and men’s elite races. Here is a link from Cyclocross Magazine in case you’d like to check it out. Saturday, February 2: 11:00 a.m. ET – Junior Men / 2:30 p.m. ET – U23 Men. Sunday, February 3: 11:00 a.m. ET – Elite Women / 2:30 p.m. ET – Elite Men. And bonus! Commentary won’t be in Flemish. We Ugly Americans certainly appreciate that.
I’m fighting off a funk in terms of my cycling routine. And I’m not going to blame the weather either. The weather is not an issue. It seems as suddenly all these crazy workouts have caught up with me. I had one good ride last week and I was rewarded with a tweaked hip that pinched a nerve and made it near impossible for me to cross my own kitchen, let alone pedal. I went mountain biking with a friend which was great–I liked the social aspect. But the ride was slower due to conversation and 5 minutes before we wrapped up I crashed and smashed up my left knee.
Also-last weekend I rolled my ankle and it’s been stiff ever since.
I officially sound like everyone’s older parent bitching about what aches. How awful of me. I don’t like it. I don’t like that my knees pop and crack when I try to get off the couch, and that my hamstrings are so tight they cramp when I bend down to pick up my son’s Legos.
What to do? A lot of folks advise some time off the bike, but I don’t know….I’m sort of afraid to stop. I feel like momentum is one of the things I have going for me.
This is where I am, wrestling between time off and another goal. The most immediate would be next weekend’s finale on the cyclocross season.
The New England Cyclocross Championships is a Dec 15/16 and in Fitchburg, MA. There are some good videos posted online and it doesn’t look like a really crazy course. Despite the name it’s really not a big race. There is a flyover which looks fun–you have to dismount, climb up, and remount at the top. I am looking at racing Saturday in the 35+ Masters Women group. Like anything, I have analyzed this to a ridiculous level and know that based on last year’s race it’s a small group, under 10 women, and that if I raced those same women from last year, I would finish last. I know that even if I do finish last, I will score low points as scored on crossresults.com, which will help my overall average and earn me a better starting position in larger races next year.
I am pretty proud of myself for doing all these races but after reviewing my results, I have a lot of improving to do and I do want to get better race results. So I suppose I should just take my creaky middle-aged body to Fitchburg next weekend.
I’m not committing 100% yet. I’m going to do my normal training plan leading up to a race and see how I feel after Wednesday. Then I’ll either pull the trigger or stay home and ride the couch. Then I’ll get it together to recap the year and set some new goals for 2012. Providing the Mayans aren’t right and all.
The title sums up how my last 3 rides have been. Pretty flat. After months of intense training and racing cyclocross, I decided I was for all purposes done for the season. I started riding “for fun.” And that was–I thought–a good plan.
It should have been a good plan. I started mountain biking. Lower mileage, because mileage no longer matters. I passed my goal of 2000 miles a couple of weeks ago so I really laid off the gas and transitioned into riding for pleasure. The problem is, it hasn’t been.
Of course that isn’t ALL true. But there is something missing.
I wonder if it’s just the natural low following the high of my freshman ‘cross season. Although I admit, I needed the break. My muscles felt frayed and tight. Overtraining was mentioned as a possible problem. The weather hasn’t been ideal either. I’m riding in temps that flirt with freezing, and the days are so very short.
I’ve even tried changing up locations. Today I went to Hatfield to ride. A picturesque farming community. I liked the stately homes in the middle of the small town. The road followed the Connecticut river. A fine mist was falling and it was about 40 degrees. 12.2 miles, a short ride, and my only elevation gain was 36 feet. Dreadfully flat…..just like my mood after these rides.
I’m not sure what to do about this. Should I take a real break? Stop riding altogether for a couple of months? Enter the one last cyclocross race offered in New England on the weekend of the 15-16th of December? I already feel my fitness slipping. And lets face it, snow is almost certainly on the way. The idea of isolating my workouts to the trainer is a bit soul-crushing.
Suggestions? I’m all ears.
I have been slacking on my blogging duties. Sorry about that. I raced my bike a couple of weeks ago–let’s chat about that little race in Connecticut.
Cheshire CX took place in the Cheshire Town Park and had 197 racers in total. The amateur women had 2 groups–cats 1-3 and a separate Cat 4 which was scored separately, although we Cat 4s raced a minute behind the 1-3s.
I was alone again for this race, which I have to admit is getting old. The bright spot is that I’ve become friendly with another Cat 4 who started racing at the same time. We both did Sloper CX as our first race, and it has been the only time I have beaten her. She’s in her 20′s, it was bound to happen. Anyway it’s great to pair up and do a warm up with another racer and just talk bikes. I don’t get that a lot and I appreciate the new friends I’m meeting by pursuing cyclocross.
The course was in a word: awesome. I knew this would be a course I liked. Lots of twists and turns, lots of woods and roots and rocks and trees. There was sand, and grass, and loose leaves and pine needles. It even had mud! I was so excited. There were 2 run ups that forced a dismount. The first one I liked better than the second. The second run up was technically rideable but I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t see anyone in my group riding it. It was a 80 meter hill with some steep hairpins at the top. It was tough the first time, painful the second, and by the third lap my legs actually started to seize up on me. I nearly fainted (no joke) at the top after remounting and trying to spin away from the hilltop and the pain.
Despite this, I was having a blast. The course has a roller coaster quality to it and was more technical than I had seen in other venues. I really liked this. More time in the woods meant I was more in my element. There was a woman behind me who laughing, named me “motivation” and tried to pass me. She did, then the woods would come and I’d pass her on the run up. She remarked “Oh. This is where you are good.” Yup. I’ll take that as a compliment. She stayed on my wheel for 2 laps. I had opened a pretty big gap on her on the first of those laps but by the last lap she was closing and I knew–I just knew, she would sprint for the win. I also knew I was pretty spent from the 80 meter exercise in pain. I tried to make a little time on her but she was on me, and pounced in the last straightaway to the finish line. As she passed me, she yelled “let’s go!” She wanted to race. I responded for about 2 seconds and knew I was toast. She rode away and stole 7th place from me–she earned it entirely.
I really like engaging in these mini races inside the race–I like it a lot. I want to go back to Cheshire next year and really improve, because I know I am faster than my performance. I felt “ok” for the race but not my best, not like I felt in Northampton or Providence. This also may be my last race of the season. There are only a couple of weeks left of racing in New England. I’m missing Warwick and Ice Weasels, but I might…..maybe……do the New England Championships in Fitchburg. This sounds more impressive than it is, to me it’s another race. There is a 35+ Women’s category on Saturday that I would do–IF I decide to. Jury is still out….but I’m strongly considering it.
I couldn’t resist comparing ‘cross with one of my favorite movies–Fight Club. If you have seen it, it either disgusts you or you think it is genius. Men in particular connect with this movie, which was its target audience/subject. I am one of the few women I know who absolutely loves it. I haven’t met anyone who only feels medium about this movie. It’s all or nothing, love or hate.
I was a professional bookseller for 14 years and can discuss the literary worth of this piece of fiction (the book is always better than the movie), the role of masculinity in today’s modern society, the sexual orientation of the author–but for the sake of brevity and focus I’ll just discuss the analogy the my title makes. Cyclocross is Fight Club with Bikes. I know I’m still new to it, but there are philosophical elements to this sport that I can take with me throughout life. They feel similar to racing cyclocross. I’ll use some popular quotes to illustrate.
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” ~Fight Club movie, screenplay by Jim Uhls, directed by David Fincher, novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Agreed. You learn more about yourself by experiencing difficulty. These races are difficult. No, it’s not violence. It’s not war. Perhaps it’s a safer expression of difficulty. Social norms still apply but it’s not called an hour in hell for nothing. Racing hurts. There’s physical pain. There is spiritual emancipation.
“You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club…. Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn’t about words. You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
The line “he looks carved out of wood” resonates with me. Over the last 3 months I’m seeing my softness wither and a leaner version emerge. The athletes at these races are fit, lean, and muscular. Racing hammers the soft parts away. Racing builds confidence. You race bikes for crying out loud! You can nail anything you try for.
“One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
There are so many mistakes you can make over the course of a race. A hundred things at least to get wrong, or right. Having an entire minute of perfection within a race is hard to achieve. Perfection is fleeting, so it’s savored.
“May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.” ~Chuck Palahniuk
Being perfect is no fun. Who wants that? Perfection is boring. It’s the work we do on the road to perfection that is divine.
PS–this parting quote is worth noting….
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
So get on your bikes people!
So I learned what 2 consecutive days of cyclocross racing feels like.
An ass kicking.
A demonstration of discipline and tolerance to pain.
Thank goodness for day light saving time, because in theory, it gave me an extra hour of sleep. Unfortunately, a text message at 4:44am from someone in an airport that I did want to hear from changed any plans I had for extra rest. I had napped after Saturday’s race so I was rested enough, and I actually arrived at Look Park earlier than necessary. As a result, I was able to preride the course and see the changes they had made after day 1. Yes, they change things up in these 2 day events–it keeps racers on their toes. Because ‘cross is already hard, but let’s keep ‘em guessing too. That’s just how the sport rolls.
Major changes included the run up and the descent. The run up was a short uphill (rideable) and hairpin turn, then another hairpin, dismount, run-up to the upper deck. The decent was a very sharp downhill followed by an immediate right turn which claimed a few riders (crashes).
I was very sore from my efforts on Saturday and I didn’t feel like a had a lot to offer, so I kept me expectations reasonable. The field was a bit larger at 75 racers. We lined up the start and I tried the concentrate on just having a good race, despite my beaten body. The whistle blew. I had a terrible start. The rider in front of me staggered, so it forced me to as well. Then I couldn’t clip in immediately. Another rider in front of me choked on the first corner and I was caught behind her, so I choked with her. I needed to stay out of trouble, and it was everywhere. On the first hairpin turn before the big run up, the barrier tape had collapsed and created havoc–we were all forced to dismount and shoulder the bike while lifting the tape out-of-the-way so we could pass one at a time. Major time suck! This is why starts are so important. When things fall apart in the back, you don’t get dragged down with it.
This isn’t an accusation either–this just happens. It’s like one small thing causes a chain reaction and then the rest of the field is affected. This is just how it is. Being fast gets you a better starting position. Being fast allows you to be faster. Good starts are everything, and this was a great example of why.
After that most of the trouble had cleared. I felt a bit empty but pushed it anyway. I battled a couple of women but lost often. I just tried to have as good a day on the bike. My muscles were torn up and didn’t have the push they did on Saturday. I did the best I could.
Which ended up being not as bad as I feared. I finished 55th of 75 riders–still solid and in keeping with my results on Saturday.
My next goal is to crack the 40′s on a race of similar size (any in the NEPCX Series). I don’t think it will happen this season but something to work towards next season.
If you’d like to see what the course looked like, please look at this extremely excellent video by CyclingDirt of the pro men racing on Day 2. Note: this is same course used as the rest of the racers in amateur classes. The video really captures the course layout–very good stuff.
And here are some shots of the Cat 4 Men on Day 2 hitting the barriers.
I don’t want this to be the end of my season. I would like to do at least 1 more race, a smaller one that I’m healthy for. I am head over heels for ‘cross (figuratively, fortunately–although the literal version is completely possible when doing the sport). It’s fun and hard and amazing and hurts but in a way that makes you feel so alive–it’s hard to explain to people. I’m clearly addicted. I don’t care if I suck. That’s not what it’s about. I’m not sure I can put into words what this is about, but I’ll keep doing it until I figure it out. Then I write about it here. Then I’ll do it some more.
OMG, OMG, OMG!!!
Yes, that is how excited I am to talk about this past weekend. My lack of posting about it is only because I was completely destroyed by all the racing. Happily destroyed. Let’s talk about the first day.
I have been attending the Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross race annually for more than a decade–as a spectator only. I was pretty excited to finally be participating on what I consider “home turf.” I’ve lived in the valley for almost 20 years now (on and off–mostly on)–it is where I’ve chosen as my home and it’s a pretty great place. So full of pride, I drove over to Look Park in Northampton early Saturday morning.
I had already been to the park the day before. The course was open for inspection Friday afternoon and I made it there by 4:30 just as the sun was receding behind the treeline, casting long bike shadows across the barrier laced fields. I took 3 even, steady laps, not fast, walking parts, fully taking in the course. Then I met up with my co-blogger Heather (who couldn’t make the pre-ride) at Local Burger for a pre-race carb festival. I described the course to her–it was what I called a “power course” (this is my own description and follows no cyclocross vernacular that I am aware of), meaning–it had a lot of sections that favored a powerful acceleration. Half the course was on flat grass with turns, barriers, and a sandpit. The other half was up on a plateau of trees, roots, and pine needles. This was the more technical part of the course. The flat grassy sections would kill me, because this is where I suck. So I knew I’d need to push these sections just to keep a good average speed up. This was not a place to rest.
I arrived Saturday and it was cold. Really cold. But clear and sunny. It was about 35 when I arrived and it warmed to about 40 for the start of the race. I got 2 1-day licences and picked up my number for Saturday, and then slowly warmed up and checked my tire pressure about a million times. Call up to staging started and I got into position with the 69 other women in my field (unlike other races, this was nothing to sneeze at. Nearly 1500 racers had registered for two days of racing). The whistle blew.
My start was good. The pack raced for the hole shot and slowed, congested into the first corner. Then we hit the pavement and dispensed. The pavement ended with S-corners of dirt and grass and up the monster run up. From the distance, this looked like a wall of shouldered bikes moving straight up and over the hill. I was forced up the steeper part of the hill on the first pass since there were so many of us, and I actually grabbed onto a stripped stick of what was probably the beginnings of a tree at one time– just to pull me up the hill. I got knocked in the head with a few wheels. It was complete chaos, and acted as a wonderful place to separate the wheat from the chaff.
On the upper deck, it was twists, turns and roots, and then a fast and fun decent to the lower fields at into a sand pit. I ran this every time, and was really glad I did. No regrets on running the sand. I lost no time this way. It was the right choice for me.
On the grass, I battled with about 5 women throughout the course. The same bunch made and dropped contact most of the race. I really tried to push it on the grass, and it was hard. Then the second run up, with steps brought us back to the upper deck. More trees, roots, winding turns. Getting stuck behind a rider who wasn’t fast in these areas became a tactical problem. This happened a couple of times, and then I decided to just hit the gas. I passed a few riders on the upper deck. Then, we’d descend to the grass and I’d struggle to keep the advantage. I often lost it. More chaff separated.
I keep spinning hard, kept pushing and tried to race smart. But unlike my last race in Connecticut (when I was sick), I was racing this time, and not just riding. I felt good about the lines I chose, and most (but not all) of the decisions I made.
During the last lap, I was overtaken again by a racer who I would pass on the upper deck, and then submit to on the lower deck. She passed me on the grass again, and I hung to her wheel. We reached a straight path, and my head said “gun it.” I passed her, and stayed away. I then just tried to stay in front and keep pushing through the last series of turns. Then the pavement to the end, I just kept pushing, in one last, long effort.
I finished 52 of 70 and it was my best race of the year (so far). I felt really good about this effort, the course, and the competition. 52nd might not seem like anything to get excited about, but in Providence, I finished 63, so this was a 11 place gain in one season, my first season, with my 42-year-old equipment. I’m not unhappy with this at all. And more importantly, it just so much fun. Enormously strenuous and difficult, but fun! I am fully in love with cyclocross. My last experience at Sloper a very distant memory, I couldn’t wait to race again, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long, because I had signed up for Day 2 of Cycle-Smart International……
(to be continued)
PS–For a full presentation of the course for Day 1–watch this very awesome video by CyclingDirt. This is the Elite Women (AKA–”The Wheat”) racing. Don’t worry, next post I give the fellas a turn to represent the course of Day 2.
Next weekend is the 22nd annual Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross races in Northampton, MA. I’ve been attending this race for a long time–since before it was held in Northampton. This was the first cyclocross race I ever saw, back when it was held behind Orchard Hill housing area on campus at UMASS/Amherst. That was in 2001. So yes, it’s been 12 years now. I’ve been there, (finally doing that)–here’s the T-Shirt.
I’m pretty excited to be doing this race. It’s a 2 day event and because it’s just 2 towns away, I can do both days without getting up at 4am. We’ve got an epic storm heading our way…the “Frankenstorm,” but I’m feeling strangely confident that we will be spared the worst. Hopefully I’m right about that. At any rate, if we really do get the 4 inches of rain that’s predicted, I can’t imagine that we won’t have some mud on the course. The final ingredient to make my cyclocross season complete. Mud! Although it makes things crazy, I am excited about the prospect.
Training this week will be a challenge however. Winds and rain start tonight, and the rain finally ends by Friday. 5 + days of rain! I will ride in the rain but no one is riding in 60-80 MPH gusts, so I will reluctantly be logging some trainer time. The trainer will also work if we lose power, which is a strong possibility.
I got out on an amazing ride yesterday–the best training ride of the year in my opinion. I took every pedal stroke with big gulps–I couldn’t get enough. I had some structure to this ride since I knew it was going to be one of the few times I’d be able to get outside to ride this week. I did 15 minute intervals–which is something I’ve never really done before. I have never “trained” in the way I should. I just ride my bike. If I need to get ready for a long charity event, I ride more. If I’m doing a duathlon, I run more often. I’m not sure why I’m approaching this with more seriousness… doing this sport at all was not planned. The only explanation is that I really love it, and getting more experienced and more competent are the next natural steps. So I’ve started to look into basic training methods for increasing my speed. Intervals are a new concept for me, and they are not fun or easy.
But I did them. 15 mins long a piece, 3 of them, with a rest/spin in between. I realized that this was like most things in life–if you wanted to improve something, you have to come out of the comfort zone and be uncomfortable for a while. Intervals were just that–uncomfortable. But after I was done with the assigned plan, I played. I went off-road and found a cross-country race trail on a private school campus, nicely marked and leading through close cut grass and into a pine forest. I went to another park and discovered some hiking trails that had an excellent “run - up” to practice my carries. I went hard yesterday, and enjoyed the endorphin buzz well into the evening as a result.
Northampton has this crazy-intense run up that I want to be ready for. The course also has woods, barriers, deep sand, climbing, roots, and a bit of pavement for a fast start and a fast finish. You can get a good sense of the race by watching this video. The music drives me crazy so I mute it, otherwise it’s a pretty good representation of many parts of the course. If you want to see the run up I’ll be tackling, drag the bar to 3:30 and watch the speeded-up version of the dismount and carry up this monster. Then imagine 5 days of rain and the mudslide it will likely become. Then picture 800 pairs of cleats stampeding up it. I’m expecting it to be beyond treacherous. There is another climb (pause video at 2:24) that it technically rideable, but I’m thinking may be smarter to just run instead. I’ll know more after the preride next week. But even in dry conditions, even the Elite women and men sometimes just dismount for the smaller run up. The course hairpins just before the ascent, so momentum is inevitably lost. Running is sometimes just faster. Knowing that before can save you time and a fall.
Until then I’m hunkered down awaiting Sandy. My only exercise was mowing up the leaves in the back yard and cleaning gutters. I couldn’t get a sitter for a second day of riding, and I needed to prepare for the storm. So until Friday, it’s me and the trainer. Thankfully you don’t need electricity for that.
Camp Sloper held it’s annual cyclocross race to a warm, bright autumn day during peak foliage season here in New England. Sloper is in Southington, CT and getting there didn’t take long, providing you have a trusty Mapquest App on your smart phone. I got there with ample time–I am finally getting the timing down on these races and know that it isn’t outrageous to arrive 3 hours before the start of your race.
The day before I had spent in the Ronald Reagan Airport in DC, stuck while I waited for the airline to get us another plane. I had come off a week of traveling, no workouts, and poor diet. I was really tired and felt thin in my attempt to do most things. Get dressed, pack the car, have breakfast–all took deliberate effort. I was deeply fatigued but had registered and it was such a beautiful day, I decided to push on in the hopes that I would rally, as I often do.
The rally never came for me. The course had very minor elevation changes (almost none) and no barriers. There was a steep, slightly muddy climb with a hairpin at the crest, a sandy beach with a stair run up, and a sand volleyball court as obstacles. There was a section of woodchips which were more treacherous than they looked, and some small loose gravel areas. But you really only had to dismount once a lap for the stairs. Otherwise if you had the power and the sand gods were on your side, you could just ride through.
I took my place in the back with the other Cat 4 women. I delayed the entire race by accidentally pinning my number upside down, and the woman next to me re-pinned it for me (thank you!) A rookie move for sure, I laughed it off and the other women seemed to take my mistake in good humor (I hope so anyway).
Then we started. I didn’t feel good from the start, but I know the first lap can mean a lot and I pushed what I had, which wasn’t much. I managed to pass the woman in front of me, then she me, and then we played cat & mouse for the next 2 laps. Then I was done. What little energy I had slipped away so quickly–I felt transparent. I tried to hold off another woman who was downright chipper. She was chatty and conversational and rode with me a bit. I appreciate her because she was friendly and puts things in perspective….and I didn’t really mind when she finally pushed past me.
I had a spill too. My pedals were sticking and my cleats were also filled with sand. I got in on one side before a small climb but could not clip into the other. I lost momentum and fell over. Then tried to unclip when on the ground with no leverage. I struggled on the ground, twisting the bike away from my foot to unclip, get up and run through the mess I was in. Sand was a first for me and boy you need to choose your path carefully. I think there is an art to it but some spots just seemed to snag you. The sand was a major time and energy suck. It drains you quickly.
Then I was alone for the last 3 laps. And when I say alone–I was ALONE. I saw the chipper woman a few times in front of me but by the last lap she was out of sight. I saw NO ONE behind me. I thought for sure I was last. All I had in my head was to finish the damn thing and go home. As much as I wanted to “turn it on” there was nothing to turn….nothing in the legs, no strength at all.
I finished and headed back to my car and kind of crashed. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I tried to eat something. I drank and coughed and sneezed and sat for a bit to try to collect myself. I thought about driving away immediately. But then I thought I should check results and snap a few pictures so I did.
When home, I got progressively worse. This happens to me sometimes after a big event and effort. I get really sick. Headache, nausea, and stomach fall out. This is the 4th time it has happened, and I have been very careful this year to eat and drink correctly before during and after these events. From the week I had prior, I think my system was just off its game. And with no one sticking a bottle of Gatorade in my hand and telling me to drink, I probably wasn’t getting enough hydration. It was a rough reminder that I need to be careful about hydration and nutrition.
Additionally, I checked my numbers on Strava. I could not believe my average MPH. I am capable of faster speeds by 2-3 MPH on courses with more elevation and physical barriers. On this day I was SLOW. How I felt for the whole race was right there in the numbers.
All day yesterday was pretty shot for me as a result. And I admit for a good part of the day, I was feeling so sick I thought “This isn’t worth it.” But now that I’m feeling a little better (still fighting something I think, but better than yesterday), I’m thinking that I need to end of a high note. I have 3 more races I’m seriously considering. The 2 days at Northampton and then Hop Brook back in CT. That should give me a few more opportunities to finish strong for the year.
PS–Results are in and I was not last. There looks like there were again, issues with the final numbers. The first results showed out of 15 women I was 12th (I took a photo of the handwritten results at the race). Official results from crossresults.com show I was 13th. I’m not sure what the issue was but it hardly matters. I had a bad day and could have done better. Not by much but better. Next time….
More Photos Here of the Men 35+: