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Thankful Cycling-My Top Ten this Thanksgiving

Grateful, thankful, happy.  I’m feeling it this year.  Are you?  Here’s my top ten list.

10.) For cycling! It’s been there for me during some of the toughest parts of my life. It smooths my rough edges, and makes me a better person, keeps me in shape, calms and mellows me in ways no drug can. I derive so much joy from cycling in nearly all it’s disciplines, I cannot express my gratitude enough for the sport.

9.) Lara bars. These have been a key addition to my nutrition routine.  Gluten free, diary free, soy free, all natural, all awesome and freaking delicious. I’m so happy I discovered them.

8.) My helmet. I’m always amazed when I see someone riding without on. I haven’t had to use it yet but I know eventually, it will save my noggin. I thank my helmet in advance. Wear one!

7.) Strava. Social, competitive, and with amazing amounts of data. I have no idea how I existed before Strava!

6.) Full fingered cycling gloves. Yup, used them the last 2 races because it’s that cold already. Makes all the difference.

5.) My new workplace. There are 2, count em, 2 guys there who are avid cyclists that I can geek out with.

4.) My LBS-Highland Hardware and Bike in Holyoke, Massachusetts. These guys have treated me very well for 15 years. And while I’ve flirted with other shops, they are the consistent winners with a tenured, veteran staff that focuses on friendly service.

3.) My bike mechanic(s). You guys never get enough credit.

2.) My girlfriend, who drives me crazy sometimes (so I return the favor). But, she reliably supports my cycling by watching my son and pushes me out the door so I get my bike ride, and who has single-handedly equipped me with most of the cool cycling gear like my Garmin, my Contour video cam (which yes I need to actually use), a few of my kits, and my road ID.

1.) My sweet, kind, good natured and compassionate son. He amazes me daily with his surprising wit, his consideration of others, and his internal sense of kindness and justice. He makes me proud every single day–which sounds like a commonly expressed sentiment, but it’s true. I beam. I’m most grateful for him.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015 everyone!

-Karen

Monday Morning Quarterbacking, Cyclocross Style

One more month of cyclocross left, and I’m looking for a redemption race. No grandiose dreams of podiums, just my dignity. I don’t mind placing last or close to last if I leave it all out there on the course. But I didn’t bring anything to leave.

If this were a line graph, it would be going in the wrong direction.

The Cheshire CX Course.

The Cheshire CX Course.

Results were posted today from Cheshire, and I placed 14 of 15. I haven’t done that poorly in a race since my very first one.  What the hell happened to me out there? The lungs were definitely compromised, but looking at my specific results from the last 3 years, my best overall was when I got started in this sport 3 years ago. My very best lap time was from last year, and my absolute worst performance was from 3 days ago.

Reflecting, I wasn’t totally focused on the race. I’m not in crisis nor have anything distracting happening in my life, I just wasn’t amped up. It was cold. Like, really cold. My lungs did crap out on me in a pretty terrific way. Still–with all these things, I still should have done better.

And it’s not like these are fast times to begin with, but I always seek to improve, and this data shows no improvement. Quite the opposite.

Also, and quite curious, is the fact that in 2012, I was racing on the Specialized Tricross–which is an awesome bike, but it weighed 25 lbs, which might as well been a million lbs. What’s up with that?  Maybe the weight of it helped me bomb down the hills faster–I don’t know.

I could drive myself and anyone around me crazy with my constant questioning, analysis, and self scrutiny, but that won’t do any good. Time to move forward to another venue, with a stronger effort.

Cheshire CX 2014 Race Report

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I’ve always really liked the course at Cheshire. There’s a lot of woods time, and enough off the bike action to keep anyone happy. But yesterday, I had a less than stellar performance at Cheshire CX.

They started the women together with the Pro-3’s staged first, and the 3/4s behind them, to start a minute later. I just barely got a position on the front row, seeded 8th of the 16 who pre-registered. My start was decent enough for the first 100 feet, but after the first turn the next straightaway before entering the woods left me quite in the dust. I gulped the cold air in (about 38 degrees) and my lungs seized before the first run-up. I spent the next 2 laps not riding, but drowning. I don’t mean to be gross, but the cold was such a shock to my lungs they filled with fluid. I could not clear it fast enough. This has happened before at this race–it’s just that time of year and my lungs froze up.

The trails were much harder packed than I remembered–they almost seemed groomed to me. I moved through the woods alright–not as fast as I would have liked but the technical sections were fine. I finally reached the 80 meter hill, AKA Heckler’s Hill, AKA “The People’s Hill,” I think I heard it referred to a few other nicknames. The first 2 times up I was DYING. There was a person dressed as a cross between a teddy bear and Chewbacca, (or maybe an Ewok?) and I thought I saw the Easter Bunny… but I had my head down for most of it as I was off the bike and pushing upward. Drums beat loudly. Spectators leaned in and screamed in my ears. I was offered a San Pellegrino hand up (what, no beer? So disappointing). By the time I reached the top, I was light-headed and starry-eyed, and not because I was in love with that hill. Involuntarily, I slowed. I had to. I just wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I wasn’t really racing, I was just riding-just surviving. I didn’t want it to be like this, but it was.

By the 3rd lap, I was riding better. My lungs were a bit more under control and I just tried to ride well. I had been lapped by most of the Pro field and at least 1 cat 3 woman. Definitely not my day out there. I kind of knew it would be that way going in, too. I’ve ridden 10 miles in 2 weeks, which is a big problem. It was pretty cold yesterday, and I usually adjust well to colder temps, but I haven’t made the switch yet. I also crashed twice. Minor crashes, nothing serious but enough to slow me down enough to be passed by a rider I probably could have held off otherwise. Meh. I can’t worry about it too much. I’m 44 years old and doing this crazy sport for fun. And the race–it was fun. But I have a lot more fun when I’m really racing, when I’m physically performing, and this time, I just wasn’t.

So now, I have to find a race to do between now and the end of the season to end on a high note. I’m considering one or 2 other races….but the fields are tough, they just keep getting younger and faster, and I just keep getting older and slower. Maybe it’s time to get serious with that trainer in the basement.

Mo Bruno Roy in her Stars & Stripe World Champ Singlespeed kit, tearing up the course.

Mo Bruno Roy in her Stars & Stripe National Champ Singlespeed kit, tearing up the course.

On another note; the race was PACKED. This is my 3rd year doing this race and I have never seen so many people. They had fires going which took the chill off when you got close enough to them. The costumes were a blast and they had a huge turnout for the Singlespeed Race. As a bonus, Cyclocross Singlespeed National Champion, the one and only, Mo Bruno Roy raced. So awesome. I met Mo a couple of years ago and she is super nice, and I found out we are from the same town originally (she moved when she was still a kid). Anyway–any cyclist with a Boston accent is OK in my book :) I got a few pics of her in her stars and stripes kit. And the race announcers did an excellent job calling the race, keeping it lively with a professional feel.

No, it wasn’t my day at Cheshire yesterday–but still a great race, and growing in popularity. Put it on your list for next year if you can!

-Karen

Keene Pumpkin Cross Race Report 2014

Me and mysterious co-blogger!  She exists!

Keene Pumpkin Cross

This was the first year of this race, held on the same weekend as the annual Keene PumpkinFest which is famous regionally, but this year, made national news when students from Keene State went crazy and started flipping cars and rioting. 84 were arrested. Made my years at UMASS look innocent. Fortunately, the race venue was far away from the carnage of PumpkinFest. It was a small race, a little over 100 racers in total. Heather joined me for this one, with 15 total in our combined category (3/4). I wanted 8th at least. I got 10th. I raced–mailed nothing in. While I wanted 8th, I know my competition was fitter and earned the better positions. I am happy I held off one racer, who was seriously reeling me in during the 3rd and 4th laps. At a critical point, I managed to hold her off (even when I dropped my chain after a remount), and stayed away for 10th. I like the racing, and I had some good racing here.

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The course was also somewhat muddy–not terrible, but greasy and boggy in spots. There was a lot of sand, a lot of flat, powerful sections (which do not favor me), and a very cold wind. I wore leggings for this race. There was a good run up, a log jump, sand, and a couple of barriers.  It sounds like a lot of technical elements, but it really wasn’t. Anyone good at crits or road racing would have the advantage here, and that sure wasn’t me.

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I had fun, and that’s the point. Set on a lake with the autumn New Hampshire foliage as a backdrop, you couldn’t ask for much better. They had hot chocolate and hot dogs and other goodies, but I did not partake. It was a nice little venue–great for friends and family alike. I’ll do this again next year if they have it.

-Karen

More photos from Geoff Martin, who is a great photographer. See his other work here.

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Providence KMC Cyclocross Festival 2014 Race Report

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging this season, for a ton of great reasons.  Never mind those, here’s the report:

Providence KMC Cyclocross Festival

I can say with a lot of confidence, after experiencing this race for the third time, that this is my all time favorite cyclocross race. The buzz around the course was that there is a push for this venue to be a future World Cup location.  I have never met anyone who doesn’t LOVE Providence in terms of a cyclocross race.  It’s really a remarkable venue, remarkable course, and amazing ride, every. Single. Time.  This time they had a total of 3 flyovers, one of them a double flyover, which was -OMG- totally awesome.  And a jump!  How awesome is that?

114 women lined up and I was one of them.  I finished 86th and had a great time.  I’m never going to do “well” at this race, but I’m always going to love it.  I was happy with my performance.  Good race, went hard, saw friends, had fun.  Mission accomplished.  Here are some pictures:

Me and my 13 year old nemesis, Maddy.  She beat me this time!  Watch for her to keep moving up the ranks.

Me and my 13 year old nemesis, Maddy. She beat me this time! Watch for her to keep moving up the ranks.

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Around the hairpin media tower.

Steady pedal section--wasn't much of this but when it came, you took it.

Steady pedal section–wasn’t much of this but when it came, you took it.

World Cup?  Yes, please.

-Karen

Rapha Super Cross Gloucester-Day 1 Race Report and Photos

Great day today in Gloucester–warm temperatures, bright sunshine, and the sparkling Atlantic highlighted a bone dry, rocky and dusty course. I spent 13 hours sitting yesterday, between the job and the commute and the trip to Boston. And I didn’t ride much last week–about an hour in total on the trainer. Still–today at Gloucester I PR’ed all my segments from last year and had a solid mid-pack finish. I raced this one, really raced. I stepped off the gas for a breath or two for about 10% of the race, but I raced the rest of it. I feel like I’m coming back a little here, and maybe some form in finally coming (slowly but surely).

If I'm out of the saddle I'm not mailing it in.

If I’m out of the saddle I’m not mailing it in.

I had a good start, getting into the first 30% of the group and staying with it for the first lap. Into lap 2 I faded a bit, but refocused and kept my head in the game. One of the great things about a big race like Gloucester is that because you’re there with 80+ other racers, you are going to have contact with someone for a good part of the race–making you feel like you are, well, racing. It’s very motivating.

The hill steps.

The hill steps.

I didn’t get a top 50% finish, but came sooooooooo close, placing 44th out of 86 racers. I scored low enough points that it will bring my average down (a good thing), and I was happily surprised to see all the PRs I set. That was really encouraging. AND, I didn’t stutter step once. I got caught behind too many women who stalled in the soft dusty soil on off-camber rises which forced me off the bike–that cost me time, and possibly at least one place. Best of all, I had a sprinting photo-finish with a new young friend, a talented youngster who I played leap frog with the last 2 laps. I managed to sneak past her at the last barrier section and immediately sprinted up the paved hill to the finish. I knew she’d try to catch me, especially when I heard her dad screaming “Get her!” I barely held her off, and nosed her out by mere inches. We finished with the same time, but this was a blast of a horse race. When we crossed the line and turned to her and said “That was AWESOME!” I hope she felt the same. That will probably be the last time I manage to beat her, she’s up and coming and getting better every race.

Additionally, I got my mysterious co-blogger to race today. I think all my peer pressure is paying off, as she’s now talking about racing Night Weasels this week.

Finally!

Finally!

All & all I had a great day at the races and am happy with my effort. Gloucester is one of the biggest and best cyclocross races in the country for a reason. Unfortunately I can’t make the races on Sunday but if you have a chance, check out the action on the Gnarly Monkey.

-Karen

PS–a big thanks to my high school friend Marylou for playing photographer!  All the pics of me are courtesy of her.

The pics of the guys are mine.  Enjoy!

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Uncle Sam GP Cyclocross-Troy, NY Race Report

I used to live in Albany, NY once upon a time, in a tiny studio basement apartment. I didn’t spend a whole year there, maybe 6 months, so I never got a good lay of the land and had only been to Troy once. Despite this, I found Prospect Park pretty easily. I only missed one turn, made a “get directions and find a bathroom” stop in a Stewart’s Convenience store, where the manager threw a homeless man out of the public restroom for my benefit. Yikes. But this post is about the cyclocross race. So let’s get to that.

It was cool and windy Saturday morning. I had, in a too big for my britches moment, reg’d for both the Cat 4 morning and the Elite 1/2/3/4 race in the afternoon. I didn’t stay for the Elite race, mostly because I couldn’t justify killing and extra 4 1/2 hours on a beautiful Saturday when I hadn’t spent any time with my girlfriend in 2 weeks. Priorities.

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One of the Cat 3 Men approaching the FUNNEST part of the Day 1 course, the snaking downhill.

I pre-rode a lap and thought the course was just great. Grassy, twisty, turny, with a wonderful snaking steep downhill (my favorite part). This course still ran pretty fast. There was only 8 women starting after the Cat 5 men, and the juniors lined up behind us. The start was at the bottom of a long steady hill, and if you’ve been paying attention, you know this is not a good sign. I am not great friends with hills, inclines, climbing, or anything resembling anything that gains in elevation. Hills like to push me back, to flick me off like an annoying gnat. And while this wasn’t a super steep hill, it was a long stretch, and by the time the course leveled off, even the juniors had past me. Dead last. First time that has ever happened.

But I tried not to let that rattle me. I had the entire field in sight, spread out like a line of bees from a hive. I caught a young woman and past her, and just tried to keep in contact with the line of women in front of me. They slowly slipped away from me and I was soon alone. I passed a couple of the men who started ahead of us, and a few juniors, and passed another woman who had shouldered her bike and was running the course, obviously dealing with a mechanical. Soon I was all alone again, unsure of what was happening in front of me, but realizing it could be anything, so I just pushed.

I executed well, more or less, with the technical. I didn’t bonk or gas out on this race. I had one big fail when I didn’t get into a small enough gear for a technical turning hill and had to dismount, but I recovered and remounted with a good kick, and got a little cheer from onlookers (hey onlookers, every little bit of cheering really does help). I tried to go fast where I could, to sprint where I could, use the downward momentum from downhills and to ride the corners swiftly. I felt good with my effort, but was really not happy with the result. I lost any chance at a mid pack finish on that starting hill. And who knows if I could have hung on if the start had gone differently? I think what’s become really clear to me is that my speed and conditioning is no where near where it was this time last year. Being unemployed half of 2013 was awful, but man did it make me faster. I came in 6th, I should have come in 4th if race predictor is to be trusted. So not the result I wanted, but a better race for me. I had fun and raced more of this race.

Next weekend is Gloucester, and I’m only doing Saturday, and hanging out to watch the Elites in the afternoon. I’m really looking forward to the day. The field limit is 85 and sold out. I’d like to crack the top 50%. If I have a shot at this goal then this is the weekend to do it. I’m still not where I’d like to be to achieve a top 50%, especially in a field of 85, but I performed better this weekend than last, and felt stronger than any other race this season, so I’m heading in the right direction.

-Karen

PS-And addendum to Big Elm’s post–I didn’t come in last, I was 9th of 12. Further evidence to never, ever quit.

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