It’s been a long hard winter for most of us–I couldn’t write here anymore because I didn’t think it would help to complain. So I didn’t. I was always here through, biding my time. Now that Spring is here, I’m ready to begin again.
Not that I ever fully stopped, but this year has had a slow start. I still have snow in my yard, but for all road biking purposes, it’s gone. Roads are wet with melt and muddy with sand that hasn’t been swept, but who cares? It’s above freezing at last. I’m way behind where I was last year in terms of fitness and miles, but not so far gone that it will take me long to ramp up.
Saturday I got out for a just shy of 40 mile ride, with a huge climb right in the middle. I’d like to start doing at least one “big” ride a week. Right now big is 40 miles. But soon I’d like to get 50-60-70 miles at a time. I’m trying to stick to my plan in terms of working out–right now I’m only averaging 3x/week. I’d prefer 5, but that will come. I started running again, once or twice a week. I have my eye on an off road duathlon in April that I’ve done a few times before. I’m talking my brother into doing it with me (this time I’d like to beat him). It’s a 1.8 mile trail run, 5.5 mile MTB/CX off road ride, followed by another 1.8 mile trail run. It’ll be done in an hour, but it’s a nice warm up for racing this year and I like the cross-training aspect of a duathlon.
The one tweak this time is that I’ll be doing it on my cyclocross bike. The other times I did this race I did it on my mountain bike. But I asked the race promoter and yes, CX bikes are legal. They are also a hell of a lot faster. I’m not a fast runner, and last time I was in the last 1/3 of the race after the run, and then moved up considerably during the bike portion of the race. Unfortunately, the running at the end pushed me back again. I’ll take any advantage I can get, and the carbon fiber Kona will do nicely.
Everyone get on your bikes! Spring is here!
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.
I’m happy to report I’m feeling better since the weekend. I was feeling off on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was feeling strong again.
I’m back on track with my food and my rides. I can’t race this weekend but have arranged for a sitter come over so I can get a good 2-3 hour ride in. It’s been at least a couple of months since I’ve had a ride last more than an hour & 1/2 so I’m really looking forward to getting that ride. Additionally, this weekend may be the last chance to be on the bike for a few days, since the National Weather Service is predicting “Frankenstorm” to hit the Northeast starting Monday and ending sometime Thursday evening.
It leaves the week in a state of unpredictability. Last year we had a freak snowstorm a couple of days before Halloween and we lost power for 4 days. Everything was in a tailspin. I’m not sure how an extended loss of power would affect the racing next weekend, if at all. My plan is to register for both days, and the chips will fall as they may. This is the closest cyclocross race to me and it’s a good-sized one. After 5 days of heavy rain, the course should be a spectacular stew of mud.
My 3 races so far have been sunshiny days with a dry to moist course–any mud has been minor. Unless the drainage at Look Park is incredible, I will be surprised if the mud factor isn’t high. Each race I do, I learn more. I have solid technical skills but my speed is not speedy. I’m picking up small tips that carve time off a course. Some help me capitalize on the flats, some help me build on my technical strengths. I’ve practiced in some mud–nothing too crazy but slick enough to keep me sharp. And after last weekend, I got to experience sand. All this for a shot at the middle of the pack. Or at least not in the bottom 25%.
Today I took my lunch break on gravel roads behind harvested cornfields. I found a path that cut through the woods and connected with a network of trails adjacent to Hampshire College and the Mt Holyoke Range. I hit the pavement back to the office and felt great–riding a cross bike in the woods is faster and more elegant than a mountain bike, and once back on the road, you can still fly. I know I’ve been talking a lot about the races I’ve participated in and I still have more of that ahead. But what I have discovered in riding the cyclocross bike is an all around joy of riding everywhere I love to ride all in the same hour. My 50 minute lunch break took place under grey clouds, 57 degrees of chill and a floor of orange and yellow leaves under my tires. That makes me happier than any place I could take in a race.
So I bagged Rockbuster. My phone rang at 8AM Saturday, the day before the race–it was my brother. “It’s today, right?” Of course the answer was no–but he mixed up the days and was standing in his kitchen in Lycra–not something little brother wears often weighing in at 225 lbs, apologizing as he confirmed his mistake with me on the phone.
I thought I might go anyway, because I still kind of wanted to. But we had a soaking rain forecast. Then I did a little math….3 total hours of driving for an event that lasted an hour. $40 in gas. No one there to cheer me on, in the rain. No one to suffer it with me in solidarity. A warm bed. A hard ride on Saturday. These factors, in combination, spelled doom for my chances of showing up for Rockbuster. I slept 9.5 hours Saturday night and don’t regret the decision to take a little time for myself.
The upside to this little disappointment is that my ride on Saturday was pretty zippy. I hooked up with one of my mountain bike friends who is returning to cycling after the birth of her first son. She spent the winter in spin class and wasn’t fooling around as we set off at a pace of 19.5 mph–her on a road bike, me on my ‘cross bike. I stayed with her for the first few miles, we backed off to about 18 mph–all on flat roads. Finally the hills hit us and we slowed down a bit. But all said and done my first 5 miles was at a pace 5 minutes faster than my best lap when I’m out on my own. My home route is hills, hills, hills so I’m not beating myself up too much–but no doubt cycling with her made me up my game.
So–you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you sleep in. I’m in it for the love of the ride and the shared experience, and I got a satisfying dose of that on Saturday. That to me was a win, no race necessary.
You know that expression, “why don’t you go pound some sand?” Well if you want to see what that looks like, watch the Cyclocross World Championship race this weekend.
The cyclocross season officially wraps up at the 2012 World Championship Race in Koksijde, Belguim. You can get a schedule and article here. Sand dunes are the dominating feature of the course and if you’ve ever pedaled through sand, imagine for a split second how these racers are going to feel. If you need some visual stimulation, check out this video.
It took some searching but I finally found a URL for live streaming coverage. I watched it last year as well and the lack of English commentary does not lessen the excitement.
Both men are from Massachusetts and I’ll be watching them from the home state. J-Pow just won the National Championship and is having a great year, it will be fun to watch him. And as always, I’ll be rooting for Timmy loudly. Here are a couple of pictures of these two American pros (and former teammates) in action from the Gloucester Gran Prix, Day 2, 2011. Powers won that race, by the way. And Johnson took second after leading for 95% of the race. They had some sand to contend with there too, on the coast of Gloucester, but nothing like what they are racing in Belgium. I wish them both good luck at the Worlds.
This weekend is bike-topia for me. This Saturday I’m participating in Mud, Sweat & Gears duathlon in Ashland, MA. Then on Sunday, I’m heading over to Fort Stage Park in Gloucester for the Gran Prix of Gloucester: Pro Cyclocross racing at it’s very best. There, I’m strictly speculating, as well as playing amateur photographer. Also, my son is racing in the kids race–but I doubt he’ll be shouldering the bike like this young guy:
It’s been raining this week, and the Northeast has been suffering record flooding all summer long. The ground is so saturated, if you bend over and grab at the turf, water oozes like suds from a sponge. Showers are predicted for Saturday as well. It’s going to be a mud bath.
As I consider the conditions, I find myself grinning a bit. I’m actually looking forward to racing in the mud and rain. I realize this very well may be an over-inflated, romantic notion that doing this hard thing (racing) in uncomfortable, sloppy, difficul,t conditions (mud and rain), will be–somehow–enjoyable. Why would I think this? There is no logic or reason to support such thinking. If I were in my right mind, I’d be cringing when checking the weather report. So why am I smiling?
Someone answer, because I’m not sure I have it :)
PS–talk to me again after the race and see if I’m still smiling…..
In keeping with the new year, I’ll stick to the common new year theme by setting a goal or three. If you’ve read this blog over the years, you’ve seen this theme emerge, like so many other blogs, with the dawn of every new year. But this blog is different. I’m different. My goals are important. So you should keep reading and be interested.
You see, I’m great at setting goals. And pretty good (but admittedly not great) at following though on said goals. I’m famous for biting more off than I can chew. I’m like a kid on Thanksgiving who piles her plate high and can’t finish half of what she’s been served. It’s not because I’m not hungry enough–it’s because there’s just no room.
My schedule is tenacious. I work as full-time professional and single parent a 6-year-old boy. I pay a mortgage. I own pets. I maintain important relationships with loved ones. I am Jane Q. Responsible Citizen. It’s a busy gig.
Somehow, I cram in physical activity. I set goals like biking 70 miles for LIVESTRONG and raising over $1000 (check!) and participating in the Warrior Dash (sadly, no check). So this year, I consider approaching things a little differently. This year, I’m breaking it down by season. Spring will be the Rockbuster Off Road Duathlon in Ashland, MA. The summer and fall have yet to be named. You see, thinking about racing is hard. Look at these guys, who are actually racing. You can see how hard they are thinking. Just look at their tongue position:
At any rate, there’s a lot to think about, and I figure this year, why get ahead of myself? I don’t want to set a goal I can’t reach because I can’t find a babysitter, or enough time to train. I want to be able to finish what’s on my plate for once. Maybe this time I’ll feel a little more satisfied with what I did over the year.
And then there’s always dessert ;)