It seems like every time I sit down to write about a race, I always want to convey how excited I was about the event–how much I look forward to it. Each race is different and special. Northampton is my home (or thereabouts) and is special for that reason, but it’s more than that. This is the oldest UCI race in the country, and in its 23rd year, the race has taken place at Look Park for many years now.
This weekend is the ONE weekend I have ALL YEAR that is ALL MINE. My son is away with my ex. My significant other is away on business. And there is a huge 2 day cyclocross extravaganza practically in my backyard. I look forward to this weekend all year.
So you can imagine how bummed out I was when I started to feel like a tired piece of crud on Thursday. I started popping Zicam like candy on Friday and by Saturday morning, I was still feeling abnormally fatigued and a bit sneezy. Not to mention, I haven’t been riding much the last month Work, fading daylight, and increasing demands of my son’s schedule have made rides few and far between. Now that I’ve properly explained away why I did so crappy, I’ll tell you about the races.
Course was slightly moist, not really muddy, but greasy in spots. I got a really terrible start. Too much hesitation in front of me and I was caught in the dominos. On the first pass of the run-up, I was forced right, up the steepest, least climb-able part of the hill. The racer in front of me slipped and lost control of her shouldered bike and hit me, and then the same thing happened to me. I practically dragged the bike up the steepest part of the hill. It was ugly.
Then we were in the woods, which I liked. The course twisted and turned and spit us back down onto the flat and fast grass, taking us down a swift singletrack. On the grass there was lots of sprinting and braking and turning and more sprinting. The second run up wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and wound us through the woods again, and onto my favorite addition to this course. A very mountain-bike-esque set of dirt turns through trees with minor elevation changes. I LOVED this section. It was just plain fun and challenging enough to keep the best riders on their toes. I think I liked it because it was hard without being dangerous. Perfect.
I did, however, crash in this section. My first actual crash in a race. The rider in front of me spilled and forced me into deep unstable soil and I went ass over tea kettle. She quietly apologized (Cat 3/4 Women as very polite racers I’ve discovered) but I hopped back on and kept going (and so did she). No worries. This was all part of the adventure.
After this the course shot us down a trail on over the railroad tracks. If you had enough speed, you could catch air here. I did every time and it was wicked fun. Despite feeling like shit, I was having a good time.
Back on the grass it was power, power power……something we all know I’m short on. I did my best and tried to ride hard and smooth. I finished 60 out of 82 racers. Now I shouldn’t feel too bad about this since the top 15 are all crazy good. But this wasn’t the middle of the pack I was aiming for. Sigh. Being off the bike for nearly a month has its repercussions.
On Sunday, the two monster run ups were gone and the course was much, much faster. The good news is I felt much better this day. After spending Saturday hanging out with co-blogger Heather and new cycling friend Aileen drinking beer and eating pizza and watching the Elite races, I got some rest and Daylight Savings Time gifted me another whole hour of sleep. Sunday was a new day. The bad news is it was 15 degrees colder and fast courses eat me for breakfast.
Whatever. I was there to race. I decided that I was going to leave it all out there on the course, Save nothing! I lined up and had a much better start. I was more aggressive and sprinted when things opened up. I had contact with riders for 3 of the 4 laps, playing cat and mouse with several. By the 3rd lap things had shaken out and riders were stretched through the course. I stayed on the wheel of one rider for a half a lap until she shook me and steadily opened a gap on me that was too big to overcome. I worked on keeping myself enough ahead of whoever was left behind me.
I sprinted for the finish alone, finishing 62 of 75. A worse result than Saturday. I was a bit mystified by this because I really felt like I raced this one, rather than just survive it. I think this just illustrates how much better I do in technical sections than on flat open sections. I am no sprinter, I am not fast. I like dicey technical stuff.
So a great weekend all in all. I really would like a full CX experience by having a really sloppy muddy race. Or snow. Most of my races (this year and last) have been very dry. The muddiest race so far has been Providence. I’d love to see how I do in some terrible conditions.
Too much to post about! I raced both days, lackluster performances both days. More on that later. I’ll start with some photos. (I dare say I’m a better photographer than I am a bike racer!).
A write up will come….sometime this week. I’m spent. This was a fun weekend, on a great course. I went in sick and my results were my results. It is what it is. It was a beautiful weekend in New England for bike racing.
It happened again. Saturday I went out for a hilly 37 miles on the CX bike. It was a great ride, cloudy, humid, mid to high 80′s but halfway refreshing considering how oppressive it’s been here in New England. When I got home, I was thoroughly spent, but in a completely joyous way. I hadn’t bonked. I went through my water and was dry the last 15 minutes or so, but began drinking immediately post ride. My ride ended around 3PM.
I showered, changed, had a lovely, healthy dinner–a little white wine in hand, I happily grilled chicken on the BBQ while my other half made us a nice fresh salad and a warm buttery baguette. It was an ideal way to spend a Saturday. Happy, relaxed, well fed, I settled down to watch some television.
At about 10:45PM, my head started hurting. Bad. By 10:50PM I was clutching my skull and rubbing, trying to knead out the pain as if my head had a knot in it that just needed to be worked out. The nausea kicked in at this time as well. 11:00PM I abandoned the movie I was watching and retired to the bedroom, plugging in a heating pad to wrap around my throbbing head.
11:15PM I went to the bathroom. Not my normal time of day–but my body had other ideas.
11:20PM I tried to got back to bed. My head was enveloped in indescribable pain. I was exhausted and only wanted to escape into sleep. I’d close my eyes and my mind would speed up. A bizarre show unfolded behind my closed eyes, a fast twisty ride filled with surreal images that I couldn’t slow down or stop. Moving constantly, I opened my eyes and the pain amplified, but the crazy ride stopped. The nausea intensified. I made the decision to return to the bathroom.
11:30PM I vomited. More than once. Maybe 4 times in a row. I don’t know, I was pretty sick and my brain wasn’t working well at this point. The only think I knew was that the pain had set up camp in my brain and I only had one trick left to beat the migraine back. I stripped down and turned the shower on hot. I sat in the shower–sat–for about 30 minutes, the hot water working my scalp, my neck, my back. I felt the pain ease and lift. Not vanish but it abated for long enough I felt I might be able to sneak into bed and fall asleep. I did. I slept 8 hours straight and felt completely fine in the morning.
I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened, but it isn’t. More like, the 7th? 8th? It always happens when my life gets so busy that I don’t take regular care of myself–I rush, I hurry, I skip the basics just to get in that ride. I should have been drinking lots of liquids on Thursday and Friday in preparation for the weekend. Each day, I sweat our fluids. I’m sweating when I blow my hair dry, when I walk to the car, even just sitting inside and watching TV. The AC can’t keep up with the intensity of this heat.
I had a goal of 100 miles last week. 35 on Saturday, and another 35 on Sunday and I would have made it. I’ve been doing mileage like this all year, that and much longer. But after Saturday’s hydration failure, my other half insisted I take it easy. I usually would fight about it, but this time I had to agree.
I really need to get my arms around, and KEEP them around this problem I have. I wonder if others experience this problem like I do. I know what happened to me is a result of classic dehydration. I sweat easily and I’m probably losing fluids when I’m not working out–something I really need to be more aware of. I should have a refillable water container at my desk all day and in the car. And I should indulge in some Gatorade from time to time. So–just curious–anyone else have this problem? Care to share? Please comment if you would.
I’m not a morning person, but in order to maintain continuity in my fitness, I’ve started getting up early to ride. I wake between 5 or 6am, sneak in an hour or so, shower, dress, and then drive 45 minutes to work. I’ve been about to eek out some mileage by doing this. I’ve also avoided the wave of afternoon thunderstorms that have been plaguing the Northeast for the past 3 weeks. It’s so hot, humid, and wet here, there are few opportunities to ride without overheating or getting doused.
The early morning rides are nice. Few cars. The sun rising. A hint of coolness still in the air. Animals. It’s a very beautiful, peaceful way to wake up. Until last week, when as I was cresting a hill just two towns away at about 6:30AM, when I head this ringing pop from my front wheel. The bike immediately slowed. I pulled over and discovered one of my spokes dangling helplessly from the rim.
So what happens when you bust a spoke is your wheel warps. This makes the wheel impossible to spin. I was only 6 miles from home but on a truck route with no sidewalks, and as I mentioned, it was 6:30AM. I called my girlfriend who did not answer. I started to walk home with the front wheel lifted parallel to the ground. I was traipsing across front lawns, my cleats sinking into the wet, soft earth. At the rate I was going, I wasn’t getting home for another 1.5 hours which would certainly make me late for my new job, which is a 45 minute commute one way. It was a “save thyself” situation. I stopped on a front lawn and removed the errant spoke entirely. Then I was able to bully the wheel just straight enough to roll through the brakes, which I had opened wide. I wouldn’t have front brakes. And my wheel was still pretty warped, but it would roll. So I would roll with it.
I gingerly rolled home, slow but a heck of a lot faster than walking would have been. I made it to work on time and still got my workout for the day.
Cryptic, indeed. Time to let you in on some more personal events in my life.
Seven months ago, I was laid off from my job. This has never happened to me. It was devastating to my pride and my resume, and I soon learned that the economy is much tougher than even my spunky attitude could have comprehended. I’m in m 40′s now, I had just transitioned from one career to another, and I was one job into that transition when the small company I worked for downsized. As a single parent, I tried very hard not to be completely terrified.
Like with most life crisises over the past 14 years, I turned to the bike for comfort and therapy. I had just wrapped up my first cyclocross season when the lay off occurred. I had a small severance package, which helped, but still, I was reeling. I continued to ride throughout the winter, and on the trainer when there was too much snow to ride outside. I spent most of my time applying for jobs–a process that really does take a huge amount of time. Writing cover letter after cover letter. I applied for up to 10 professional jobs a week, which is 3 times the “required” amount. Just finding these job postings was a challenge in itself, especially during the holidays and in the winter months. I worked closely with the president of an employment agency, and the VP–two women whom I play basketball with, to find gainful employment. They were in the business of finding people jobs and couldn’t find anything suitable for me. I worked with another friend who was an employment counselor who sent me jobs that were unlisted. Still–month after month ticked by and although I was called up for interviews, no job came. I live in a college town and the economy isn’t particularly robust here so I soon was looking out of state, and contemplating how long I could go without selling my home, which I had bought on my own 13 years ago. Cycling helped me cope with these stresses. If I did not have cycling in my life, I would not have handled this period in my life nearly as well.
I picked up a freelance gig through one of my cycling friends I had met last fall–she connected me with one of her clients who needed some email marketing (she is a graphic designer), and then I did some more consistant work writing articles and editing for a PR professional, but this was also freelance and not full time, sustainable work. Eventually I made a random connection at a job fair I hadn’t planned on attending, and my now employer hadn’t planned on attending, that was a good fit. I started part time in April and today was my first day as a full time employee. I am so grateful to be working again in a professional capacity.
The upside of all this free time was I got to spend more time being a mom. Wow–that was nice. If only I hadn’t been so stressed about money and my future. And of course, I rode my bike a lot. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been this in shape in terms of cycling fitness and strength. That felt good. Those were my losses, and what I gained was more time with my son and a level of cycling fitness I would have never achieved without the time, and stresses that demanded an outlet.
Now that I’m back to work, I am going to have to cope with less cycling. I will strive to maintain my fitness level, even improve it–but I know it won’t be easy. In fact it might be impossible. I’ve gained a job–a chance to work back to where I once was on the professional totem pole. I am so, so grateful, relieved, thankful and happy to be back to work. That cannot be overstated. But I felt happy riding my bike every day. No matter how frustrated angry, frightened, hopeful, disappointed, or worried I was, I pedaled it all away on the bike. After an hour those cares were behind me. I felt happy and relaxed after a bike ride. every single time. It was amazingly reliable medication. So while I’ve gained employment, I am losing (at least in part) something that made that initial loss bearable.
Life is unpredictable. Happiness is fleeting. So few pleasures in life are renewable. I am thankful that I have cycling in my life to recharge me in body and soul, no matter what is going on in my life.
Gloucester & Providence
I’ve been slacking in my blogging duties, but for a great many good reasons. Paramount is that I’ve been riding my bike, which — let’s face it — is the entire point, right?
I joined the May Massive on Strava, a simple little contest where you just ride as much as you can in the month of May. I’ve been trying to ride 100 miles a week but in truth, I keep hovering around 70. Last week I managed more than 90. This week, the rains came, and I’m not going to come out with a big number. Not that it’s about numbers.
I easily get caught up with being competitive, even when I have no business pretending that I can compete. And I shouldn’t compete with friends (even ones I’ve never met on Strava), but in my head, I’m seeing their numbers and thinking, “I need to ride more than 100 miles this week, because she did, and she did, and he did, and he’s already banked 200 miles this week.” This is just who I am, when I’m alone in my head. Then I snap out of it and have a chat with myself and remind myself that I’m doing this for fun.
Fun. Remember that? Well I should. And I should try for more. I’ve been riding a ton the last 2 years, a ton for me anyway. I’ve grown really dependent on the maintenance high that frequent cycling has given me. It’s the best stress management and mood manager ever (not that I’m <ahem> moody. No, not me). So no matter how my ride starts, it almost always ends with me feeling less burdened, more carefree, and with better coping skills. This has been especially helpful to me this year, as it has been a tougher one for me as far as years go. I think my higher brain is gently trying to remind me to keep some of the riding fun so that this quality is not lost. It is really the fundamental reason that I ride. To feel good.
I’m pleased with how I’ve grown stronger on the bike, too. A poor climber, I always avoided hills. Now I almost always try to include them. As a result, I’ve performed better and better on these climbs, shaving minutes off segments in some cases. While I don’t think I’ll ever be fast, and am now stronger. I survive climbs better than ever now, and I recover quicker. It feels great. And while I don’t want to lose some of the performance I’ve gained, I don’t want to lose the fun either. Keeping a good balance will be important, as it is only late May, and we have a good 6 months of cycling ahead before the snows grow deep.
So sorry about neglecting my blogging duties. It’s only because we got 2 inches of rain today that you’re even reading this. And that’s a good thing. It’s the whole point.
(Note: the photo is of my son at about 6 months of age. He’s happier now that he’s old enough to actually ride a bike.)
I never knew how poorly my road bike fit me until I spent some serious time on a bike that actually fit me.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been riding my CX bike almost exclusively. Before that I had returned to mountain biking for a spell, and as a result, I spent spare little time on the road bike (a Specialized Dolce Elite). During that time, some nagging physical conditions evaporated–but I didn’t notice they were even gone until I started riding the road bike again.
Here is what hurts: lower back, my shoulders, the base of my neck. The neck is an issue–and I was in PT last year because of it. I have some disk that’s askew and the position I have on the road bike makes it worse–so much so I cannot turn my head. What hurts most this morning is the lower back. All of it is no good, and I can’t believe I endured these aches and pains for so many years.
The road bike is a women’s specific frame. The CX bike is a standard frame, also a Specialized. I can ride and ride this without issue. So to solve my pain problem, I have 2 options:
- Get the road bike professionally fitted to me.
- Sell the road bike and get slick tires for road work with the CX bike.
I have to say I’m leaning toward option #2. I wouldn’t mind the extra cash and would use it toward buying a true racing bike for the CX season, something I’ve been saving my pennies for. The CX bike I have now would be a great all around training bike. If I had more disposable income I’d upgrade the road bike outright, since I bought it back in 2006. But that’s not where I am right now (at the moment). I really don’t want to invest the time and money in getting my road bike professionally fitted to me. And I suspect the women’s specific frame was a little too much marketing and not enough function for a woman who is as tall as the average male.
The one (silly) reservation I have is that although painful, the road bike is faster. I can go longer, faster on it. When I ride the CX bike with friends who are on road bikes, I have to work harder. Maybe that’s a good thing overall, maybe it will make me faster come race season.
So what do you think I should do? Weigh in, because Craigslist is a few clicks away….
I injured myself last night, not while riding the bike, but largely because of excessive bike riding. Or, excessive bike riding without proper cool down and stretching. Only a few years ago, I could hammer for hours and then do some completely different exercise and never bat an eye. Maybe I’d be a bit sore, but a little Advil and I’d hop on the bike again. Gone are those days. Gone for good.
It made me think more about how things are changing now that I’ve crossed the age 40 mark. Things hurt more. I don’t recover as quickly. Although I’m working out more now than I ever have in my life (other than high school), and I feel I’m the strongest and fittest I’ve ever been, it’s still different.
How? For a glimpse of the future, see the chart below and plan accordingly.
You are a mere babe in the woods! You can drink beer all night, eat pizza, and ride and ride. You almost never stretch. Never do you gain an ounce. Lycra actually looks good on you.
What’s that? You gained 3 pounds? That’s your metabolism slowing down to a dull roar. You probably work full time now, or are slaving away in grad school and working part time. But on the weekend, you can hop on your bike and do a century with almost no preparation. You can race your bike and do all right. If you are serious about cycling, you are really coming into form right now. Lycra still looks amazing on you.
You spend the first 4 years of your thirties in utter disbelief that you are that old. Everyone in their 40′s+ finds this simultaneously adorable and annoying. Your face is leaner looking, yet these deposits of flesh can now be found cuddling your kidneys. You may be full engaged in child bearing now, and this will make you fat no matter if you are a woman or a man. Your job feels endless, and cycling is on the backburner out of sheer adulthood. If you have a super supportive spouse, you get to ride during the summer. A little. You use this to whack away the extra 10+ pounds that has found you.
You realize you are running out of sweet, precious time. You think now–now is the time to really make your mark with this sport. You are kidding yourself, and everyone knows it but you. Your ab muscles are in great shape, because you’ve become deeply practiced in sucking in your gut.
The wheels start to fall off. You hear a bell ringing in the distance on your 40th birthday, and later realize that’s the sound of your expiration date. Things on your body hurt for no reason. You tweak your back getting out of bed in the morning. You sit entirely too much at work. Wearing lycra is now a supreme act of either bravery or denial.
You hate the people who are still in their 40′s and complaining about how stuff hurts. They have no idea what’s next. You smirk and tell them they are being babies. And they thought you’d be understanding…..
You have transcended physical pain and vanity and are regarded as somewhat of a mystic of the sport. Lycra looks ridiculous on you as your body has naturally withered in some places and bulged in others, but dammit you are seeing this sport through ’til the bitter end. Your road bike is considered an antique, but has the retro charm that all those hipster kids are after. People of all ages admire you deeply, and hope they can age as gracefully. Your legs still look fantastic.
Whatever your age, just keep riding….but always stretch!
This week is the week schoolchildren pine for–their spring break, April Vacation. And while my son is doing a week long happy dance, I’m left trying to figure out how I’m going to get any saddle time this week.
I have some ideas….although it remains to be seen if they will pan out. I sometimes tempt my son to ride bikes with me, and although it’s not the kind of bike ride I would want to do, it’s something. He’s 8, so he peters out after about 5 miles. I can hire a sitter, but that gets expensive fast. I have one coming today, and at $8-10 bucks an hour, anything more than 20 miles gets pricey. I am planning to drive out to Boston to visit the family, and I could take the bike along, but truthfully there are no areas to really ride where my family lives. It’s too congested and drivers there see a point value when they see a cyclist on the road, so I have never tried a serious ride so close to the city. I heard Boston has improved, but alas, I just don’t trust my fellow Boston drivers with my life, for the sake of a quick workout. I also considered bringing my mountain bike home, since Lynn Woods is nearby and boasts some excellent mountain biking. Alas, I just don’t feel comfortable riding there solo, not due to difficulty level but do to crime. Again, maybe it’s improved since I grew up but too many dead girls wound up in the Lynn Woods when I was a kid, so I really don’t want to ride there unless my not-so little brother comes along.
Overall, I’m not feeling encouraged about the amount of riding I’ll get in this week. I hate to think that I would resort to the trainer, but I may have to.