The new definition of insanity: Waking up at 5AM on a Sunday to drive 150 miles to compete in a 30 minute CX race. It helped that recently silent co-blogger Heather offered to play photographer. Granite Gorge is a small ski area in Roxbury, NH (near Keene) where there has been a recent push to make it more of an all season multi-sport recreation area. They are doing a series of dual slalom mountain bike races, and are giving cyclocross a try.
The race site was easy to find and although parking was limited, we arrived early and got a great spot. My race was the first of the day at 9AM. I wore the winter skinsuit for the first time ever. It was 42 degrees and we had showers pass through the night before, making the grass of the course dripping with cold dew. I got on to pre-ride right away. The course wasn’t “broken in.” There were no established lines, grassy, rutted and incredibly hilly terrain. They made use of a small footprint of their ski area by packing in the most off-camber turns I’ve ever experienced. Building them into the ski slopes made them even more challenging. There were only 2 spots where any kind of speed could be achieved. I wiped out on the preride on the slick grass, which I took as a sign. I felt clumsy during the preride, I couldn’t find a rhythm. I don’t know if it was the early hour, the lack of sleep, or lack of coffee. I also needed a trip to the restroom, which I was denied because whoever has the keys to the lodge was late getting to the race so the bathrooms weren’t open until I was into the first lap of my race (Points off for that….)
It was a scrum start with the juniors lining up after the Cat 4 women. I wasn’t in the front line but after the whistle blew I was # 6 into the first set of turns. Then, not 100 yards from the start, my first mishap happened. I got tripped up on a short steep sandy rise. I corrected, but the I’m sure the women right behind me weren’t happy about the sudden stop. Then, a turn later, I swung too wide and my handlebars became entangled in the tape. I lost a lot of ground when that happened. After that, I realized that with a 30 minute race, there wouldn’t be too much recovering possible. I chased a rider for a lap and she finally shook me loose. I caught another and passed her on the 3rd lap, on a hill no less. The was the only position I was able to regain. Other than that I was riding alone, with a vague awareness that I wasn’t last but wasn’t in the middle of the pack where I should have been. Instead I concentrated on riding the course as smoothly and efficiently as I could, which was hard on this course. So much of it was disruptive and difficult. I tripoded the corners often. I became unseated more times than I can remember. I dismounted a minimum of 4 times a lap (laps were only 1.25 miles/each with 2 sets of barriers). I ran the bike through spots where I became unseated to try to regain lost momentum but it was a losing battle. My best lap was the last lap (lap #5) where I had finally mastered a few of the trickier turns (but not all of them).
There were 12 women racing and I had wanted to come in 6th. Race predictor thought 6th and I thought that was fair. Alas, I came in 9th. It could have been worse, but it most certainly could have been better. Meh, it happens. I had a lot of fun and hanging out with Heather was a long time coming. I also met a lot of great folks, which has been one of the best things about this sport I’ve discovered.
Notes on Granite Gorge:
- Crazy hilly course. Most intensely mountain-bikey course to date. Even more than Silk City. Wouldn’t hate it if this was toned down a bit.
- A 40 minute race would have made this a little more for the money, and the travel.
- Bathrooms should be open when registration opens! Riding with a full bladder was a tad distracting.
- HIGH marks for camp factor. Loved the Halloween decorations, the taxidermy coyote, the dummy snowboarder, the random VW Buses. Fun.
- They had a representative directing parking. This was a good organizational indicator. He was friendly and gave good directions to racers looking for registration.
- Great people, as always.
I hung out after to snap some shots. The men are Cat 4/5 and Masters. Heather took the photos of me (thanks Heather). Then she introduced me to 5 Guys Burgers and Fries in Keene. Greasy hamburgers after this intense little race hit the spot.
PS–More photos below!
This race, Divine Providence as it’s called, was so much fun. I think it’s the most fun I’ve had so far. I regret not staying longer, I regret not taking Friday off and getting a hotel room and making it a long CX weekend experience. There is so much to get excited about, and I can’t talk about it all in one post. So for now–I’ll talk about the race. My race. The Women’s Cat 3/4 35+ race.
It was raining the whole way down to Providence. We left at 6:30AM and arrived a bit after 8:00AM. The rain backed off a bit, spitting and stopping and spitting again. The parking was crazy–it was much busier than last year. I hustled down to registration, grabbed a number, hustled back to the car, changed, pinned, and tried to make a full lap of a pre-ride. I got 1/2 lap before riders were pulled from the course for the Men’s Cat 4/5 9AM race. I scoped out some of the course from behind the barriers. There were several similarities to last year. The course was wet and a little muddy, but with the same rolling terrain with fun curves. I have to admit I was more than a little excited for the rain. This was going to be a real CX experience! I met up with my pal Vickie and met a few of her friends and we kibitzed about CX waiting for call up to start.
At the call up, I enjoyed chatting with more new friends. There were lots of familiar faces and the chatter was happy and friendly. I had an average start, but I made my way into the first 1/3 again. There were 135 racers and the pack was tight, especially in the corners. Things felt slow (and this is coming from me so they must have been awfully slow) and I felt excited. I jumped off the single file and onto the grass and started passing women. I rode wide into the corners and passed more. I was chasing a new friend, Natalie. She just started racing this year after lots of success on the mountain bike and she’s a better racer than I am. I knew if I could keep up with her, I’d be doing OK.
I caught Natalie, and passed her. I was riding aggressively, more aggressively than I have in a race. There were always other racers around me. In front, in back–I never lost contact with other riders throughout the entire race. I tried to find another carrot to chase. I was riding well and still had energy, but I knew I couldn’t keep the pace up much longer. Then Natalie appeared again. She was smiling, and yelled “I wish we lived closer, I’d love to train with you!”
That was the last I saw of her.
I faded a bit, but still pushed. Cat and mouse with several riders. I noticed something: in the mud and on the corners especially, other riders appeared timid. They slowed way down on the corners. I had to brake so I wouldn’t crash into them. I realized I could be faster in these areas and started to use it to my advantage. I even sprinted on a couple of straight areas. On the flyover, a series of tight “S” curves preceded the steep climb up the flyover. Many riders swung way out to get a running start. I didn’t need it, and picked up positions by cutting the corner shot and muscling up the flyover, then cutting the corners out of the flyover area.
These technical areas were wonderful fun. I love them. I delighted in managing my approach and tactics. Stronger riders still passed me on straight areas, but the cat and mouse game was enthralling. Then the third lap came.
On this lap, the rain was light but steady. I wasn’t concerned about the rain. I wear inserts in my glasses, so removing my glasses is problematic in the rain–my vision is blurry. But the rain obscured my vision from my left eye. Still–I managed. The real problem was that I felt like I was bonking. My heart rate was crazy high. That familiar pain in my right shoulder came back (I had that in Gloucester too). I felt totally cooked. I slowed way down. I grew dizzy. Riders passed me. I needed to de-escalate my heart rate but didn’t want to slow down anymore.
I recovered enough as I came to the bell lap–I knew I had just this last lap and then I was done, and I didn’t want to lose any more positions. I was still ambitious enough to think I might be able to gain a position or two. I was still cat and mousing with a couple of riders. As I came into the last section of grass and woods before the pavement to the finish line, I heard a guy cheering for the rider behind me. I didn’t know where she was, how close she was behind me or even what she looked like. But I held her off. Then I heard the man yell “Get her on the pavement!” I knew she’d hit the pavement and sprint for the finish, and I was worried about that. I’m a poor sprinter. So as soon as I jumped the curb off the grass, I pedaled as hard as I could. It was at least 100 yards, maybe more of sprinting. She passed me with about 30 feet to go to the finish line. But I had given it my all.
Afterwards, I almost threw up. My effort was so intense I was choking. I had taken a decongestants for what I thought were some mild allergies, but now I think I may have a mild cold. My throat was full of junk and breathing was complicated. After a little rest and some water, I could speak intelligibly again.
My result wasn’t too bad. I’m definitely landing in the middle of the pack. I place 70th of 135 riders. Only 91 finished. Honestly, I thought I had done better. I thought I had placed at least 10 more positions ahead of 70. I realize that this was the largest field I had raced in, with riders from all over the northeast, many of them quite a bit younger than me. 70 isn’t awful. I felt very happy with how I rode the first part of the race. I pushed hard the whole race-to the point I was dizzy and bile rose up in my throat. I gave it everything, but still I hoped for a better result.
The good and the bad:
- I love mud!
- I am approaching and handling corners faster and more confidently than some other riders.
- I rode more aggressively in this race than in any other.
- I am not afraid of riding in large groups
- I’m finding time in technical areas
- I have to find a way to maintain energy throughout the race
- I am curious if nutrition choices before the race can help me maintain energy in the 3rd and 4th laps
- I’m still losing time on the straits
This is my 5th race this year–which means I’m officially 1/2 way through cyclocross season. I’ve managed to reliably worm my way into the middle of the pack. My next goal is to break through the top 50%. I keep coming up short of that goal.
Next year I want to do both days. I had so much fun riding this course–it’s rolling and flows and just loads of fun. I have been thinking all week “I want to do that again!” But I have to wait a whole year for Holy Week.
Boom! Providence Cyclocross Festival! Probably my favorite course–especially with today’s rain–a true CX experience! Race report will follow. Results are in but under review so I’m going to wait until those bake a bit to talk about the race itself. Until then, here are a few pics of the fun!
Stay tuned for the race report……
Photo Credit: Vicki Bocash of Rhode Island. Thanks for cheering me on Vicki!
But here’s how it started:
It was a foggy start, but 30 minutes before race time, the fog broke and the sun quickly heated up Stage Fort Park in Gloucester. I took a practice lap in the fog. The races were tightly scheduled so I only got one in–but reports from friends who raced Saturday were confirmed: dry, rocky, bumpy on one whole side of the course. The rest of it was fast, fast fast. And very dusty.
I was pretty nervous about this race all week. I spent the night at my parent’s house, sleeping on the couch. My son was with me and my Mom was taking him to the race. He was so excited, he couldn’t sleep the night before (when I really needed to). And on my end, I woke at 4:15AM, mind racing. I had been to Gloucester so many times, but never as a racer. I got there in plenty of time, registered, warmed up. When I finally got on the course, it hit me–I’m doing this, I’m at Gloucester. Gloucester! This is the biggest race I’ll ever be in. It’s Gloucester!
I had been trying to keep a lid on my excitement all week. I never imagined I’d be competing, even at the low level I compete at, at a venue as fantastic as Gloucester. I never thought it was a dream to race there. But maybe it was–in the back of my mind–one I never gave myself the freedom to imagine.
We lined up. There was an issue with the call up–my name was not called in order of the crossresults points list, so I lost a good staging position. I would have started a couple of rows ahead of where I ended up. I had a decent start anyway, making up some ground and landing at the end of the top 1/3 of the group. I hung on to this for about a lap before they (almost) all caught up to me. As per usual, I’d pick up positions in the technical spots: stairs, barriers, off-camber turns, dicey loose rocky stuff. I can ride that stuff. Then an open space would come and they’d gobble me up. Many would catch me on the straights and then I’d pass some of them in the technical areas. Cat, mouse. But I ended up losing many positions. I wanted to finish in the top 60. Crossresults predicted I’d finish 57. I finished 60th, on the spot. Little did I know, as I was finishing as strong as I could, I had two women 3 seconds behind me (glad I didn’t just coast that last 100 yards).
- My dismounts are improving–I’m slightly faster doing this but with more room to improve.
- My remounts are getting much better. I definitely picked up time over competitors this way.
- My stutter-step is all but gone. This newly acquired bad habit I’ve been working on eliminating. I did it twice this race. Much better than in earlier races.
- I trying to rip through turns more and brake less. This is racing!
Room for improvement:
- Clearly, my biggest weakness is speed in open areas. I need interval training. Hmm. I mean, I need MORE interval training.
This course was a lot faster and less technical than Silk City–which was more of a mountain bike course than a CX course. I liked Gloucester, a lot. When you are actually racing CX, you don’t have time to be nervous about where you are or the notoriety of the venue. But I have to share this with you: there was a section near the pits, with the Atlantic ocean just 100 years away, ships with sails drawn high in the air, the smell of the ocean penetrated my lungs and reminded me; I was at Gloucester!
And being at Gloucester was enough.
I placed 60th of 86 riders. 83 finished. 100 were registered. I lapped 2 riders. I did not get lapped. And even though 60th wasn’t the best result, or the result I had aspired for, it doesn’t matter. I raced my bike at Gloucester today.
Photo credit: Marylou Hansen and Donna Lynn. The first 2 fog pics were mine–from the iPhone. Thanks for cheering!
It’s Friday night. Tomorrow, the much anticipated, hard fought Gran Prix of Gloucester returns to Stage Fort Park for it’s 15th year. Of those 15 years, I’ve attended for approximately 8 years of the last 13. This weekend, I’ll slip behind the CAUTION tape to participate instead of spectate. I am totally excited to be a part of this epic race–on an anniversary year, after the community of Gloucester almost–almost didn’t allow to return.
This historic cyclocross race also takes place on the North Shore of Boston–the same area I hail from. My family will be there to cheer me on, and I’m really nervous and excited about that. This is arguably one of the biggest races in the country for cyclocross, and it takes place with the cold Atlantic ocean as its landscape. It is truly an iconic venue, a legendary course, and to quote one of my twitter connections, “Gloucester is a special race.”
My race is Sunday morning at 10:00am. There are 100 women registered–just like almost all the fields–it’s sold out. I’m hoping to place somewhere in the middle of all of that–maybe the bottom middle, but the middle nonetheless. The most disappointing thing that could happen is a DNF, but I’m staying positive. The weather is predicted to be perfect–a sunny and dry 71 degrees with an ocean breeze. My bike is just back from the shop, I have a few more adjustments to make, a short ride planned tomorrow morning for an opener, and then I travel to Boston to spend the night on my mother’s couch.
A full race report will follow. Stay tuned, and wish me luck!
Last Saturday the Aetna Silk City Cyclocross race was held, put together by the Expo Wheelmen cycling club in Connecticut. Held on the Manchester Community College grounds, this was the first race I did, ever–just last year. It was a tough course then. Somehow, they made it twice as technical this year.
This time, I arrived with plenty of time and with air in my tires. I met up with some new friends and chatted a bit before registering and pre-riding. I have been taking the pre-ride very slow lately, trying to absorb the details of the course and warming up slowly without wasting too much energy. I was familiar with parts from last year, but they aded some new twists, turns, and treacherous descents. The dry weather made the course extremely soft and dusty–the earth disintegrated beneath your wheel making control and traction difficult.
We lined up to start. The Cat 1-2-3 women went a minute before the group of 18 Cat 4s. On the whistle, I had the best start so far. I was 4th into the holeshot, and on the first banked turn a women in front of me crashed in the soft dirt. I narrowly missed her and suddenly I was in third! Whoohooo!
Well that was short lived. One by one, they roped me in. I held a good position for the first lap, but on the second I started to lose ground. By the third, I had 2 women in my rear view I was fighting to keep a gap. One attacked without me realizing it and she was beyond me before I knew it. The last one hung behind me until that last quarter of a lap when she made her move on a technical portion, where we both struggled and she slipped by me. I was under the impression we had another whole lap to go–I thought I had time to catch her. But as I crossed the finish line the officials waved “you’re done!” and that was that. I got to met the women who passed me–she had done the same thing to me with just a 1/4 lap to go at Monson. We did a warm down together and chatted. This is the great thing about cyclocross at this level. The competition is fierce and the racing intense, but the community is so friendly and in the end, it’s all just about the fun.
I felt I gave the race my all, but of course, there are always things to learn.
The Good Stuff:
- Fantastic start
- (Mostly) Good remounts
The Bad Stuff:
- Dismounts are too slow and awkward (still)
- Run ups too slow
- High degree of fatigue, causing huge gaps in my lap times from best to worst (3 minutes difference).
During this race, I experienced such an intensity of effort I tasted bile. For a time, I felt my arms and face tingle with numbness. I focused hard on pedaling on the straights and the flats and not resting, which left me spent for the hills, off-camber turns, log and barrier jumping, and bike handling in the soft rutted earth in the woods. One portion on the course was so technical many of us opted to dismount and run. So with every lap, I was off the bike 6 times. Heartbreak hill, a climbing turn shortly after the hill, the log jump, the it’s-so-technical-here-I’m-just-going-to-shoulder-the-bike-and-run section, another mini step and log run up, and finally, the barriers. That’s a lot of off the bike time for a bike race.
I wasn’t thrilled with my end result, which was 11th of 18 starters. 16 finished. I had hoped for 9th, at least. I’m going to need to increase my stamina and speed to claw my way up a couple more spots. But on the bright side, last year I was 2nd to last. This year I was closer to the middle.
This weekend: Gloucester.
PS–no pics of this one, but here are some pro photos in case you’d like to see some of the fun.