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
Fiske Independent Race Management has just posted their 2010 race schedule here. It’s actually only the first half of the season posted, with promise of the second half being posted in the next couple of weeks.
Right of the bat in April, there is a repeat of the Mud, Sweat and Gears Duathlon on April 25th, except it has a different name: the Rockbuster Offroad Duathlon. I think I’ll sign up for that one, and see if my brother makes good on his stated intention to do the race with me. I’m also going to try and rally some of my Mountain Biking Ladies to ride this one with me, too. I don’t mind doing it alone, but I love the camaraderie I’ve discovered in my mountain biking group. However it shakes out–my only goal will be to beat my time from last year, which mean more training on the run portion of the race (which is 66% of the whole race).
There are also some other fun races scheduled, duathlons in the spring, and triathlons in the summer when the water gets warmer. I’m curious about the experience of triathlon, but would need to commit to serious swim training–something I’m not sure if I can fit into my already crazy schedule.
–Karen (AKA, the dog paddler)
I have been eying this race for about a decade. That’s how long it’s been on my radar, and at last I signed up.
I made it to the race with enough time to nervously go over my inventory of equipment about 8 times and forget after each time if I had remembered everything. I did not ride the course prior to the race. The turnout was modest, and I felt as I was pretty much one of the crowd being as most of the athletes there were over 30. I expected the start to be in heats, but instead we all went together.
It was clear within the first 200 yards that I was being dropped by 90% of the field. OK, I knew I wasn’t a great runner. I decided to not entertain thoughts of defeat and stick to the plan of “running my own race.” I could hear a woman behind me, we stayed with each other for most of the first portion of the run chatting and making light of our place in the pack. I lost her with about .50 miles to go and didn’t see her again. About half the run was on pavement, the other half trails. I much prefered the trails.
When I returned to the transition area most of the bike that were staged were gone. I got my shoes & helmet on and ran the bike through the transition area as instructed. The first leg was pavement and I tried to maintain a good clip and still get some much needed Gatorade in me before hitting the off-road portion. I had a couple of guys around me and we seemed to play a game of I’m passing you, no– now you’re passing me for a while.
When I got off road, there was a nice, fast descent that I flew down. I was definitely feeling more comfortable on the bike portion and noticed even some of the guys were struggling in more technical areas. I passed a few of them, and played tag with others. By the second lap I only saw one other woman–one who had kicked my butt on the run but I had passed during the ride portion, and I was widening my gap with each lap on the course. I pushed it on the bike, hard–and I was doing well. There were some ridiculous run ups that a few of the men powered up but most of us (guys included) ran or walked our bikes up. The trail was getting eaten up, especially after a day of solid rain on Saturday–which made things interesting.
By the time I made it into the transition area again for the last leg, I was labored. I was confused and took off my bike shoes, put on my running shoe, and then took that off and put my bike shoe back on. Thank you to my gf Sheri for pointing that out to me. My son had found a rock he thought was amazing and wanted to show it to me. I let him. I didn’t linger too long though–and soon I had the right shoes on and was off again.
About .5 into the last leg the woman who I had passed on the mountain bike portion caught me. She was a great runner and I knew that I wouldn’t see her for long. We made some polite conversation and then I told her to have fun–she zipped off. The last .5 miles I was struggling. I was trying to find the energy to just move faster but it wasn’t there. I trotted along as best I could. My brother made a surprise showing with his two kids near the finish line and I got a little life from that. I finished the race with a time of 1:16:42.
I felt happy about my performance–I had done my best and knew it, and felt satisfied with my effort. So you can imagine my shock when I learned I had placed first in my age/gender category! Yes, I actually won a medal. I sheepishly accepted it, feeling a lot like I did when I was in the 5th grade and won some event on Field Day. Too funny! It’s worth noting though, that the real admiration goes to the women who finished 20 minutes ahead of me, in the higher age categories (40-44, 45-49, and 50-54). All I can say is wow!
This weekend, I am not attending the Gloucester Gran Prix Cyclocross race. I am bummed. Tim Johnson will be racing in terrible conditions (conditions in which he excels) and I’m going to miss it.
I suppose I could have gone, but a 4-year-old in the pouring rain is an unhappy companion. My son would last 10 minutes before starting to whine, and for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the North Shore (one way), 10 minutes of spectating isn’t worth the aggravation.
Plus, I have my own race to focus (and fret) on. I’m already feeling nervous about tomorrow’s Mud, Sweat and Gears Duathlon. A few days ago, I went to a local park to recreate what the full event would feel like. I did the full course (at a different location), 2 miles running, 5.5 miles mountain biking, and 2 miles running again. I did pretty well. I kept moving, tried to keep my pace steady, and tried to “run my own race.”
Despite knowing cognitively that I am a 38 (39 on Monday) year old mother, who is basically a female weekend warrior–I still feel that competitive spirit, that pride, and that defeat that comes naturally with any event deemed a “race.” I have to manage that little war in my brain, the self-doubt because I am not in the front group, because I’m in the back, often alone, often struggling. Even though I feel pride that I do this sort of thing at all–that pride leaves me when I’m losing.
Thursday night I had an interesting, unexpected conversation with a salesman at a sports & running store. We started chatting and I learned he was a marathon runner. I could gather after about 2 minutes of conversation that marathoning was his passion, his lifestyle, and he struck me as a content, happy man. He rattled off historic information about runners from this and the last century. We started talking about the competitiveness of racing, and he said, “Well, there can only be one winner. If you’re racing again 1000 runners –there’s only one who comes in first.” This sounded so simple, yet putting it in such absolute terms actually allowed me to feel more comfortable with just being a part of the pack. I was in good company–with only one winner, there was more comfort in being part of the main field. Hey–maybe it is lonely at the top. I just need to accept that I’ll never know.
So my goals tomorrow still remain: Finish. Have a good event. Enjoy myself. And just run my own race.
Tomorrow I’m heading to Ashland, MA to check out the course for the Mud, Sweat and Gears Duathlon. I’m doing this for a few reasons.
1.) I’m prone to anxiety–and knowing where a place is and how to get there makes me less anxious.
2.) I want to see what I’m up against. I don’t think it will be impossible, but having an idea of what the course is like can mentally prepare me for the day.
3.) Gail is eager for course info too–she has concerns about the terrain.
I scanned the blogosphere and rest of the internet for some info on the course–I got very little. I emailed the race director and got half a sentence for an answer:
” you will be on trails through out the park… its single trail rolling one good hill..”
Not a very thorough description.
Also, I’m checking out the course on my girlfriend’s brand new Raleigh Mountain Bike. Disc brakes, just tuned up, but–no clipless pedals. My mountain bike is in the shop basically getting a new transmission. My chain, cassette, chain ring all getting replaced. The mechanic said the bike was in excellent shape otherwise, which thwarts my inclination to get a new mountain bike altogether. So I’ll have an old favorite with new components for the event.
The other upgrade I’m considering for the race is a little birthday present of new shoes and clipless pedals. Probably not the brightest idea to change pedals entirely before an event–but I am tempted to just go for it. Any recommendations for clipless pedals for a female mountain biker? I’d be interested in hearing some.
I’ll be back in a day or two with my course report from Ashland. Hopefully checking things out will settle my nerves….