If cycling is suffering, cyclocross is the sublimest form of that suffering. Still, there are days when “suffering” doesn’t begin to describe the experience. Yesterday at Big Elm CX in Great Barrington, MA, was that day for me.
The racing is never easy, by it’s very nature. We all raced together, 46 Cat 4/5 Men, 12 Women, and 6 juniors, in the same time slot, spaced about a minute apart. It started off typically. I got out-hustled of a good place on the front line, but despite this, my start wasn’t awful.
This was another open category and there were Elite women racing with the group. I didn’t hang on long with them, and for the first 1/4 of the lap, felt like things were going ok. It was an extremely hot and humid day, and my pre ride was brief, just a lap and 1/2. The short pre ride left me pouring sweat and gulping Gatorade, and realizing I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about hydration.
Here at the start, I was feeling pretty normal. I tried to stick with a Cat 3 racer early on, but she kept gaining momentum away from me and I didn’t see her again. Later, I was passed by a woman from the local cycling club, and tried to stay on her wheel. I was already sweating hard and laboring at the course, which was a wonderful, twisty, off-camber lovers delight of a cyclocross course. We came to an area of loose stones that for me, wasn’t rideable, followed by a short set of stairs. I noticed a man from the Cat 4/5s off his bike at the top of a stairs, leaning over his handlebars and breathing heavy. I clawed past the local rider at this point–this was about 1/2 way through the first lap. I heard her breathing heavy and working as a moved past her. A few hundred yards later, she overtook me, and although I was hot and feeling tired already, I thought “she is suffering too” and wasn’t concerned. I’d get her in a bit. We were now moving into the second lap. My fatigue deepened and I started to slow. The local woman started to fade away into the distance as the heat, the course, and my lack of preparation started to devour me.
The second lap was painful. I disintegrated. Nausea overtook me, only to ease and be replaced with dizziness. I went into the race with some pretty high hopes and thought I’d do pretty well. 4 same day registrations with some of the elite women adjusted that expectation, but I was fading fast, and I couldn’t remember if there was anyone else behind me. I didn’t think there was. My speed had slowed to “ok, just try to move forward” but I was falling apart hard. I could not believe I was doing this poorly, I had had a great ride the night before, breaking my own QOM record by 2 mph* ( * hmmm, that’s a good clue). My body was barely responding to move efforts to move forward and now I started to unravel emotionally. And here’s the part, dear reader, I get vulnerable with you. I’m going to admit to you, I started to cry. I wanted to quit. But my crying was without tears, as my body was using every once of moisture contained in it to cool my completely overheated body. Waves of heat radiated from my face, I fought dizziness and my own emotional irrationality of being so upset at myself for sucking so badly. I really thought, I should stop, this is already over for me. There was a spot, right near the parking lot where my car was feet away from the course, I could bail there, and just leave. I thought yes, that’s a good option, as I rounded the corner to decent down a hill the would dump me within 30 feet of my car.
At the bottom of the hill, was my girlfriend, aiming her camera at me to capture me coming down the hill. I saw her and decided to just keep going.
Deciding to continue did not end my suffering, although I stopped crying. I snapped out of the quitting mode and shifted into the only other option for me at that point: surviving. I began my third lap.
This was perhaps where my sucking became high art. My speed could have been easily matched by a gang of preschoolers on push bikes. I walked the run ups-I had to. My climbs were crawls. I tried to use descents as face-saving gifts. I had absolutely nothing to give, I was a shadow of a cyclist, a ghost of my normal self. I was nearly invisible.
I finished the race.
This was the very closest I go to quitting any sporting event in my life. I felt a lot of emotions about this.
- Wounded Pride
I know everyone was hurting out there. I was far from alone. One guy was overheard saying “I was hoping I would flat so it would end.” Aside from this, I should have performed better. And I’m not about to let myself off the hook for it.
I don’t know if I will ever stop marveling at how badly things went out there for me today. Of course, it could be a lot worse. I didn’t crash, I executed pretty well with the technical stuff. But my speed? I know I’m not so fast but wow did I redefine that today.
Today I took a nice ride on a beautiful day and thought things over. Yesterday was a really big failure for me. I didn’t meet a range of expectations I set for myself-expectations that were reasonable and within my ability. And that bothers me. It’s popular to talk about “Failing Faster” and I think about this concept beyond the typical references to start-ups and business. I apply it to many aspects of my life…but essentially failures are teachers, and motivators, and not ever having them does not foster growth. This was disappointing, but ultimately essential. Everyone has a bad day. I had a really terrible one yesterday. Seriously guys, I didn’t even feel good after it was done–a rare joyless cycling experience. But I have renewed focus on my next race, which is looking like a little trip to Troy, NY for Uncle Sam Cyclocross Gran Prix. Not 100% decided but it’s looking like a redemption race that I would like under my belt before it gets real in Gloucester in late September.
Ug! I’m not riding nearly enough for so many reasons. I’d like to being doing 70-80+ miles a week. Instead, I’m sometimes breaking 40. Why? Same old same old.
- No sitter. Freaking babysitters, I cannot find a reliable one to save my life. I really need to fix this because I’m not riding my bike after work.
- Work. I was riding to and from work every once and a while. That’s pretty much stopped now. There’s several reasons for this I won’t get into, but mostly it’s extremely difficult to squeeze 20 mins of riding before and after work, put a full day in, and still make it back in time to pick up my son from day camp. I just don’t have to time without something giving.
- Needing rides to be more for fun. I’ve been super stressed lately and I use riding to work out tension, fill my brain with endorphins, and clear my head of the bullshit of life.
My life feels wobbly right now, and one of the most grounding elements for me in the last 10 years has been cycling. Friday evening I picked the hardest place I know to mountain bike. I needed to mash pedals, to hurt, to jar myself free of my stress. I fell off a bridge into the muddy edge of a pond. Win. Then, last Saturday I had the whole day to ride, and I thought about doing a 50 miler. Then I thought, well, maybe 40. Then I thought, no. Imposing a goal was just adding to my stress, and not taking it away. I needed to just go ride my bike and let the rest work itself out. It worked. 26 miles and I found a strong steady rhythm. I pedaled until I felt resolved, if only for a little while. Then I went home and got shit done (which also helps my stress). Sunday, rain was forecast so I tried to beat it. I didn’t. That wasn’t a bad thing. Mountain biking in the warm rain washed my week clean. Mountain biking always means a 1/3 of the miles I’d be doing on a road bike, but the visceral action of mountain biking is like deep tissue massage for my soul.
That leaves me here: not really ready for cyclocross. OK I’ve been riding some, but not training. Major Jake is still hanging in my basement, untuned, unlubed and needing new bar tape. I’m not doing intervals. I’m not practicing dismounts. I’m not practicing remounts. I’m not trying to cure my stutter step. I’m not practicing carries, suit-casing, or shouldering while sprinting up a muddy hill. And I haven’t built that single speed cx bike yet either.
And I have to be honest, I’m not sure I should be putting my energies here, since life is needing my time and energy and some work that doesn’t involve a bicycle.
I have a vacation coming up and will be riding my bike at the largest mountain bike park in the world. While it’s unwise to have expectations, mine are high. I won’t by riding the whole time but I will be immersed in one of the most active mountain biking cultures on the earth: Whistler, BC. Maybe after I return, I can refocus on cyclocross, and some of the non bicycle parts of my life. Because all of it can be better.
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….
Heather & I road some bikes. Yeah, it was raining, and yeah, there was some snow, and some ice, and some mud. But it was above freezing, which sadly qualifies as “good weather.”
I’m deeply grateful that I have a crazy enough friend who lives close by enough to join me to ride in these conditions. I am managing to get out about once every week or two, but as evidenced by the snow you see above, it’s hasn’t always been possible to ride. And when there wasn’t several inches of snowfall to contend with, there was the “Polar Vortex.”
Anyway, it was good to ride outside, and have some company to boot. We kept the elevation under 1000 ft, but the extra effort pedaling through a few soft inches of snow and tire sucking mud didn’t make us feel like we were slacking off.
As I type, 4 new inches of snow lie in my yard, and another 6-12 predicted tomorrow night, with a Nor’Easter predicted for Sunday with a rumor of several feet of snow.
That groundhog? Call the exterminator.
Now that my CX season is officially over, I wanted to evaluate my results. I do this for fun, but always want to improve. I was on the USA Cycling site to check out renewing my license when I noticed a ranking result for all the races I competed in. Someone compiled stats for me and broke it out into a percentage? Yay! Now you’re talking. Almost as fun as Crossresults.com.
OK so the screen shot is a bit small. here’s the data:
|YOUR CYCLO-CROSS CAT 4 STANDINGS|
|Rank in your zip code (01075)||1 of||1||(First)|
|Rank in your state (MA)||25 of||65||(38.46%)|
|Rank in your riding age (44)||7 of||41||(17.07%)|
|Rank in 5 year age range (40-44)||24 of||156||(15.38%)|
|Rank in 10 year age range (40-49)||36 of||276||(13.04%)|
|Overall Rank||184 of||1203||(15.30%)|
Mind you there is a Cat 3, 2, and 1 above me. I’m a beginner. But I did achieve several (but not all) goals this year.
- Have fun. Check!
- Finish. No DNFs!
- Stay upright. Not all the time. I had my first over the handlebars during a race crash at CSI CX in Northampton. I wiped out pretty good at the DAS Beaver CX too (icy corner). There were other times, I can’t really remember. No injuries, and that’s what I was going for. Hop back on and keep going!
- Don’t finish last. Success!
- Middle pack. Pretty consistently yes! I’m most pleased about this.
- Top 50% I fell 1 place short of this on 2 occasions. Next year I need to make this happen.
The USA Cycling Stats helped my ego significantly. Maybe it’s because I’m in New England and the cyclocross scene here is so strong with so many top level riders, some who will be competing on an international stage in a few years (thinking about the 14 year old who killed a field of 80 Cat 3/4 women….there are other youngin’s schooling the rest of us, I wish them all well), but at any rate, I really didn’t feel like I was a top 15% Cat 4.
So next year- next year the goals list remains. A reach goal would be to worm my way into a Cat 3 ranking. I’m not sure how that works, what kind of results I need to achieve to get that upgrade. I’ll have to consult the rule book.
Nonetheless I completed 10 races and feel great about it. It was hard on my personal schedule to get to all these races. There was a bit of a financial stain as well: registration fees, gas money, speciality foods and portable nutrition, many tires, many tubes, extra bike maintenance, and perhaps most expensive, time. Time is a rare commodity for me, and as the light began to fade as solstice approached, I got less and less time on my bike. I went from 4 to 6 hours a week on my bike to 1.5 to 2. Performance fell accordingly.
All and all, 2013 was a great year, and with a few things brewing (pun intended) for 2014, I’m seeing the trajectory continue upward.
Happy New Year!
This was the race that almost wasn’t. We had a fair sized storm heading toward New England and snow forecasts had anywhere from 3 inches to 18 inches. Gotta love New England Meteorologists. I wish I could give estimates that wide in my job. Anyway, race organizer Liz Allen had a big decision to make. She created a Doodle poll, posted it on Facebook, and the discussion ensued. In the end, all systems were “go.” Since my coffee was on the prize list–it was a “must attend” for me–hell or high water, or snow, I was going.
My feelings were split, if I have to be honest, about going. My body is aching to be in full winter hibernation and I was apprehensive about traveling in bad weather. My Christmas shopping isn’t done. I like watching CBS Sunday morning with my honey. Blah, Blah, Blah. ON THE OTHER HAND…..I’m a extremely prideful native New Englander-snow is in my blood. I do like playing in the snow. I love the cyclocross community. There would most certainly be other crazy people there. And, I come from Cyclocross Royalty for crying out loud! I had to go.
I don’t think I can overstate how glad I am that I did go. This was the best way to close out a great season of New England Cyclocross. It was a small venue, made smaller by 5 inches of snow with a nice helping of freezing rain and sleet. About 75 people, in total showed up. That’s smaller then some of the fields I raced in this year. There was a roaring bonfire in a halved drum that had a small group gathered around it. It was about 32 degrees, which was twice as warm as it had been the day before–which made it not so bad at all.
The course was shortened due to the conditions and for safety reasons. Fun but relatively safe. During the race, volunteers would use shovels to add snow to the well worn paths–just to keep things interesting. Corners were icy and slow, and clipping back into pedals was a 50/50 endeavor–the slushy snow packed so deeply into cleats, if it had been a few degrees colder there would be no knocking it free.
Best of all–the crazy people! How great is a guy who decorates his CX bike with garland and working Christmas lights, puts a big Santa beard and hat on and races that way? How about pickle handups? How about grannie panty handups? Donut handups? Yes, we gave the go ol’ Portland, Oregon crowd a run for their money down at the little DAS Beaver CX race. So. Much. Fun.
Plus, I achieved a few goals. Yes, it was due to weather related attrition, but hell, I’ll take it. I finished 4th, won money, swag, and was in a podium photo. I also saw my friend Vicki and a few other people I knew. It was the best possible way to end my sophomore season of cyclocross.
The organizers, volunteers and Liz Allen in particular, deserve a load of credit and thanks for pulling off a great race in terrible conditions and making it a complete blast. DAS Beaver CX–I’ll be back!
So, Sterling didn’t happen. It was the best choice for me, I struggled all weekend with a painful sinus infection that left me with a throbbing headache and fatigued. I read stories of the “frozen ruts of death” that plagued the early races. Part of me feels relieved, another part wistful with regret.
Onward. I finally broke down and saw a physician last night. I have meds! Not the fun kind, just antibiotics. I am signed up for the DAS Beaver Cross race scheduled to be held in Dayville, CT on Sunday Dec 15, 2013. Even better, I struck a deal with the race promoter and my coffee is on the prize list! So showing up is mandatory. On the race’s Facebook page, the promoter posted this:
Now it’s only Tuesday, and I live in New England, and a lot can happen between now and Sunday. But I would bet money that some kind of precipitation is going to happen and Sunday’s forecast is predicting a high of 39F. I’ve been bitching all season about not having a real muddy, messy, crazy-weather cyclocross race. Looks like I’ll finally get what I’ve been asking for.