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.
Preseason CX? Why sure!
I know a lot of of people think that August is too soon for cyclocross, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the Monson Cyclocross Race held on Saturday August 24, 2013.
The women’s field had 33 riders on the start line, more than double than the previous year of 15. Ground surge in cyclocross? Check. Ground surge in women’s participation? Check. Breaking out the Women’s Cat 3/4s from the Elite field next year? I’d bet on it.
I arrived wayyyyyy earlier than I should have. I had a lot of time to kill, and did so pre-riding the course 3 times. It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny with temperatures in the mid eighties. The sun was HOT. The course was dry and dusty, and mountain-bikey. There was a fun rocky downhill, a run up with two fallen trees to hurdle at the crest, and a set of 4 barriers. There were hairpin turns that would end with a sharp incline, forcing riders to grind uphill after slowing for the turn, often through 2-3 inches of soft, fine, dusty dirt or sand. The women were the last race of the day, which means the course was torn up from all the previous racers. It was brutal. But manageable.
We lined up and received instructions. I was in the second line and picked a position behind a fast looking woman. When we started, she was away and I followed. I stumbled getting into the clips but recovered enough to jump on to the end of the lead 1/3 of riders. The hole shot was where the pavement ended and the first uphill began, a dicey sloped hill that required minimum climbing but across a slope. The earth was destroyed by previous racers. There were few decent lines. As we entered the hole shot, I heard a crash and a woman yelled “Oh my God are you alright?” That happened right behind me. I was clear of the danger and safely at the rear of the front field.
Riders spaced out pretty widely from the start, however. I passed one woman running her bike through the course, presumably with a flat tire. I had heard through the grapevine that the men had flatted often and trashed a few wheels as well (neutral support was not pleased). I chased a few women and passed one on the 2nd lap. She trailed me for the next 2 and then eventually caught me. A few others caught me too. By the 3rd lap my mouth felt like sticky film coated in dust. I needed water badly, and got a Gatorade hand-up on the 4th lap. I drank half the bottle before tossing it aside and pushing on. The last lap my performance had radically decreased–I was completely gassed. According to my Strava stats, my lap times went down by 2 whole minutes–horrible. We did 5 laps in total.
Unofficially (still waiting for official results at Crossresults.com as of this writing) I finished 18th of 33 starters. Only 26 finished. I did not get lapped (I don’t think I did anyway) and I lapped at least one woman. Considering there were Cat 1-2-3′in the field, I think I did pretty well. Not quite the 50% finish I wanted but firmly the middle of the initial pack. For a first race of 2013, I was overall happy with the effort and the result.
But of course I’m going to Monday Morning Quarterback a bit. To improve upon:
- Speed performance and endurance in the last 15 minutes of a 40-45 minute effort.
- No more than 2 laps on the pre-ride
- If there is a water/Gatorade hand-up allowed–plan for it and take it. Mine was too late in the game and improvised (thankfully my significant other was johnny on the spot with the hand-up when I asked for it).
- And a side note***I would have never been able to ride up those hairpin-turn-and-ascend-through-3-inches-of-dust with my old bike, the Specialized Tricross Sport. The Kona was light enough to take me through these tough spots.
I didn’t race the Sunday race at Blunt Park in Springfield. I’m ok with that choice. I had a great recovery ride this morning on another glorious day and relaxed a bit before starting another work week. I may not get to race again until September 21. I might try for an earlier one but my personal schedule is questionable, so we’ll see.
All and all it was a good start to what I hope to be a great season!
It seems incredible that in 7 short weeks, the first set of weekend cyclocross races will take place here in Massachusetts.
The Monson Cyclocross Race will be held on Saturday, August 24, 2013 and the Blunt Park Cyclocross Race in Springfield, MA follows on Sunday. I’ve never done either of these races but they are said to be easier, fairly fast, not so technical courses. If I’m smart, I’ll find some time to check out both courses (thank you Strava for already having previous races mapped out for easy recon).
Also, if I’m smart, I’ll knock off the garbage I’ve been eating. I have taken advantage of the months of extra riding by enjoying one of the few renewable pleasures in life–eating. I have become especially close with two old friends, Ben and Jerry. This needs to stop. Really it does. I should carve off 5-8 lbs. from my frame for me to really feel like I’m giving this cyclocross season a serious go.
But what really is a serious go for a 42 year old woman racing her 2nd season of Cat 4 cross? Yes, I still need to remind myself that this is all in fun and not let the competitive side of me take over. That said, my main competitor is myself. I only wish to improve.
I have the bike this year, the Kona Major Jake. And Jake, she is fast. Oh Lord is she fast. I’m shocked at the uptick in my times. But with it’s light frame comes it’s squirrely handling on descents. I’m a great descender. As crappy as I climb, I can go down anything. But Jake, she bounces as she rifles down hills. I have to get a better handle on this. The bike is slightly big for me. We addressed this during the initial fit but even with a shorter stem, I don’t have as much control on the handlebars and the brakes that I need for those downhill sections. More practice and some minor adjustments and I should be good, but I’d like the extra time to feel solid on this bike.
7 Weeks. Enough time to be ready for the CX kick off. 5 lbs lighter in the lycra and at least 7 lbs lighter in bike? Yup, I’m really eager to see how this plays out in my overall performance.
Middle of the pack, here I come.
Since my first cyclocross race ever last September, I knew I was in trouble. I knew I was hooked. I wouldn’t be able to stop. And judging from my numbers on Crossresults for the season, I knew I’d need a faster bike.
No disrespect to my Specialized Tricross Sport, but truthfully, it wasn’t meant to race. Dirt and gravel roads, a randonee perhaps, but it just wasn’t made for speed. Weighing in at 23.5 lbs, I got strong riding it, but placed at the end of the pack every time. I decided at the end of CX season in 2012 I needed an equipment upgrade.
Enter the Kona. I walked into a bike shop I’d never set foot in in Southwick, MA called New England Bike Shop. The only reason I went there was because my friend and I were bored and she said they carried Cannondale, and I had my eye on the Cannondale SuperX Carbon Rival. I was dismayed, because despite having a really wonder selection of mountain bikes and road bikes, I couldn’t find any CX bikes. Finally after a bit of browsing, I asked if they had any Cannondale CX bikes and they pointed to a CAADX. But next to it was this……
The price was reduced from $3282 to $2252 and it was a leftover demo from 2011. They had demoed it last year at the NEMBA Fest. The new Major Jake (2013) retails at $3400. I was surprised to see it there, since it was a 2011, and was loving the price. Once I picked it up I was very, very interested. It weighed in at 17 lbs, 15 oz. A very noticeable difference from any of my other bikes. Oh the difference a full carbon frame makes. A seed was planted, and a few days later I returned with my pedals and cleats and bike shorts for a test ride. 3 hours later, after a few adjustments to the stem and handlebars, I was packing it into the back of my Element and taking the Major home with me.
One of the deciding factors was watching the “Bike Talk” video with Helen Wyman, the British 8 time National Champion, who rides the Major Jake. I’ve watched Helen race the Gloucester Gran Prix in 2011 and 2012, and I even managed to sneak her a bag of my coffee to her at the 2012 race (although I missed meeting her, she tweeted some nice words about the gift the following day). Helen is FAST. Like, no one can touch her fast. A few months back, I openly polled my Twitter Stream for CX bike recommendations and Helen responded with “Kona. End of Discussion.” Sure, she races for them so of course she says nice things. But her performance speaks for itself.
After I got the Jake home, I had almost no time for a ride before my son returned home from school. I jumped on the Jake and sprinted over to the closest patch of woods to my house. I have a nice, private CX loop segment I do there, and it’s saved on my Strava profile. It’s a great area to practice CX. My best time on the Tricross for this segment was 6:02. On the Jake, without going 100%, my time was 5:09. Almost a whole minute. What would that mean over the course of a whole CX race?
Middle of the pack, here I come.
Gloucester & Providence
Double meaning, anyone?
This week, temperatures are final climbing north of 40, which brings a waves of relief to those of us who have suffered through the winter with no end. It’s April next week, so we’re good and ready to leave the snow behind, just in time for 30 Days of Biking to begin.
It’s been snowy or windy or just plain cold the last two weeks. It has slowed my biking down a bunch, which I’m not psyched about, but I’ve stepped up my running a bit. My women’s pickup basketball group has secured a gym for the spring and we’re starting our pickup games again, which is a ton of fun as well. But I’d like to get started with longer rides soon.
This week I’m going to try and log 100+ collective miles. I’d like to get a month of those in, if possible. I’m in a unique position where I have some time to ride, and I don’t expect it to last forever, so I’m taking it while I can get it. I want a good base going into summer, and I want to keep it up and try to get faster in general going into the fall. My end game is of course cyclocross season, which constantly resides in the back of my mind, looking for a reason to slip front and center.
Today I took a short-ish ride on one of my familiar (i.e., getting dull) routes. I spiced things up by going off road for a bit. I have been riding the ‘cross bike almost exclusively for the past year and I just don’t want to give it up. I love dipping into the woods whenever I feel like it. I like mixing up the ride with some mud and wet sand, or like today-snow and roots, pine needles, standing ice water and a couple of dogs out for a walk chasing me, wanting to play. I really have to credit the ‘cross bike with keeping me engaged with riding. Other years I burned out, especially when training for a long charity event. But now, I just want more. It’s the best addiction ever, and now that the weather is finally getting a little friendlier, I’m able to get outdoors and play. I think it reminds me of when I was a kid playing on dirt roads in New Hampshire, jumping over roots and tearing through the woods on bikes with friends.
At any rate, Spring is supposed to be here, and this week I might start to believe it. There’s still snow in my yard. I need to stay off the trails until they dry out a bit, but the gravel and dirt roads are fair game, and I don’t mind playing in the mud.
I took 2 whole days off the bike after Northampton’s CSIcx race weekend. It’s amazing how 45 minutes of racing can leave you destroyed. Two days in a row, I tapped out, needing the break.
When I entered that race weekend, I thought that this might be how I end the chapter of this freshmen effort in the sport of cyclocross. But I was selling my new addiction short.
I registered for a small race in Connecticut for next weekend. Last year only 10 women raced in total. They have a breakout category for just Cat 4 women this year, which may mean they are expecting a larger turnout. At any rate, I’ll be racing with the Cat 1-4, but scored as a Cat 4. I’m interested to see how that looks. I was really pleased with my results at Northampton. I felt I made very solid efforts and my placement–while nothing to write home about–had improved from a similar race (Providence). In Providence, I was 63rd, in Northampton, 52 and 55th. And while I realize it’s not an identical crowd, identical course, identical conditions or identical size field. It is similar enough in all those regards that I feel a 11 placement improvement is well, an improvement.
Other things I have noticed in this pursuit: I started playing women’s pickup hoops again this year. Last year, my lungs burned and I poured sweat, red in the face and gasping trying to run a full court game for 90 minutes. This year, I was up and down that court faster than ever, and I didn’t feel fatigued at all. I was also sinking a few baskets this time, which was a nice switch.
To top it off, yesterday I went back to the ‘cross practice course that I am so lucky to have access to. There is one other woman on Strava who has indexed this course in her workouts. I’ve never met her but she is a friend of Heather’s and she races ‘cross and mountain bikes and does pretty well–considerably better than me. When I first started doing laps at Ed’s farm I was a good 2 minutes off her time. After yesterday, I have reduced it to 30 seconds. And I know she has been going back there and improved upon her personal best as well. It’s a stretch to think I could close down that gap entirely, but I wasn’t going full throttle yesterday, just keeping it a consistent effort and working on being efficient–so I know there is still time to carve off.
Not making mistakes on the course carves time. Getting faster and stronger carves time. Building endurance carves time. Knowing your bicycle well enough that it is starts to become an extension of you carves time. Skills work carves time. Staying healthy carves time. Staying lean and light carves time. I am starting to see the moving parts, the art of improvement, the finer points of chance and luck and very hard work.
Cheshire CX (that small race in CT) is next weekend and I will finish toward the end of the pack. I will score higher points because it’s a smaller race. That will help me get a better starting position for another race. Which will also carve time.
Cyclocross races might only be 40 or 45 minutes long, but the game is a long one. The effort that you put in day after day, each race is another stepping stone, each barrier, each muddy turn–each of these things are small factors that go into the larger result. But what supersedes all of these things is the biggest, most important point of cyclocross. It’s just really, really fun. It’s really hard, really intense and incredibly fun. It does not matter where you place, it matters that you are out there, shivering in the cold and mud and under modified sunlight pushing yourself and your bike as hard as possible. This is an optimal medium for self discovery, and the person you race hardest against is yourself.