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.
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 :)
The first races of the 2014 NECX season have been posted to Bikereg. Like a freak, I’ve been obsessively checking the site a few times a week. Finally a few days ago, The first races of the season were posted: Monson and Blunt Park.
A lot of people feel August is too early for CX. I’m not such a purist. With my schedule–I am quite happy for an opportunity for the season to start early.
August 23, 2014 CompEdge Cyclocross Race in
Monson, MA pretty tough–eating tires and spitting them out. Last year it was a hot, dry dust bowl. I felt like there was a film of dirt in my mouth by the third lap. Very technical race, very fun. still being built. Complaints abut last year’s course has prompted organizers to move the venue to Forest Park in Springfield. It’s still supposed to be a rough and tumble course, just not as tire – eating as Monson.
August 24, 2014 Blunt Park Cyclocross Race in Springfield, MA I didn’t do this race last year. I hear it’s fast, fast, fast–a course that doesn’t really favor me. I’ll take the technical stuff over the flat and fast any day. I doubt I’ll do this one.
September 6, 2014 Big Elm Brewing Cyclocross Challenge in Great Barrington, MA This race had the great misfortunate of being scheduled last year during the same weekend as the Gloucester Gran Prix. The turnout was less than 100 racers. This year it’s been moved up so the turnout should be much improved.
September 7, 2014 Quad CX in Maynard, MA This isn’t posted yet but I’m 99% sure this is the date. This race was SO FUN last year. Fast spots, twisty, turny, technical, and loads of fun. Turnouts are strong being in Metrowest of Boston. I’d really like to do this one again.
September 13, 2014 Aetna Silk City Cyclocross in Manchester, CT The first race I ever did! In 2012 it was pretty technical. In 2013, it was a freaking mountain bike course with all the gnar it had. Not for the faint of heart! But a great race. Unfortunately I don’t think my schedule will allow me to race it, but I might drive down and watch Heather if she signs up.
The rest isn’t scheduled yet, but we already know Gloucester is happening the last weekend of September (27-28), Followed by Providence CX Festival my birthday weekend October 4-5. Northampton CSIcx will likely fall on it’s regular weekend too, November 1-2.
With cyclocross season starting up at the end of August, that means by mid July I’ll be switching to the Kona almost exclusively. I still need to invest in some file treads, and then there’s a the singlespeed cx bike–which still needs parts and to be built.
It’ll be a busy summer….
After the start….
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.
Tonight I learned a friend from high school passed away. We we not close, but she was on Facebook, I was on Facebook, and she actively shared her life with that community.
This sad event has given me some pause, as I read the outpouring of kind words of remembrance on her page. She always seemed overwhelmingly positive, openly expressing her joy with her fiancée, her small dog, and they life they had carved out together. I had gathered from her posts that she was dealing with a long term illness as she mentioned several times through the years about going to Mass General for procedures or treatments. She frequently dealt with migraines and fatigue as well. Beyond that, I do not know what she was fighting, but today she passed away in her sleep.
We all make plans and have dreams, and by this point in life we realize that the plans we once had might not work out the way we hoped. Some off us get distracted, are led astray, get wrapped up in careers and marriages that don’t always go the way we wanted. Some of us think that if we had just a little more money we’d be happier, or if we had a different job, or more time, we’d do those things we always wanted to. We’d see our family more. We’d reach out to our own communities. We’d give back more. We’d serve these people in our lives they way we want to, if we had the time.
I feel this way constantly, and this death has snapped these feelings into the front of my mind to deal with. They have been lingering in the background, growing larger as I advance into my forties, but the death of a peer really pushes them forward for me. I feel like a wait a lot. I don’t like waiting. I feel confined by my situation often. That’s a shitty way to feel about a relatively awesome life.
One thing I feel I’ve gotten right, with regard to living this life, is cycling. Pursuing this passion has made me a happier person. It’s been a companion through hard times, and happy times. Cycling helps me, heals me, makes me stronger, and invigorates my spirit. I think I’m proud to be a cyclist because I wasn’t always one. I decided to be one.
But even more important than the bike, I have an AMAZING son who I’m immeasurably grateful for. He is a sweet, generous, bright kid and I’m so very proud of him. I have a modest home in a fine neighborhood in a decent town. I have a job. I have a cat, and although he wakes me up to be feed and let out at 4am every day, I love him too. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t constantly, and I mean constantly, whirl my brain around the things that I want to change but don’t feel I can. The passing of this classmate really illustrates that life needs to be lived. Things don’t matter, people do. People and experiences, kindness, learning, and love. Love matters most of all.