Don’t Dream It’s Over: My 2019 Cyclocross Season

My 8th year of cx has concluded, and it’s been the best yet. 12 races this season, and I said more then once this year “wow, that was my best result ever!”

To recap, since I barely blog anymore:

Race 1-BCA Cx -Pittsfield, MA:  Top 50% finish  Great tune up race to acclimate to the torture of redlining your heart rate for 40-45 minutes at a time.

Race 2-HydraCx Holyoke, MA: Finished 4th, just off podium.  First upgrade point ever earned.

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Night Weasels was more like “harsh sunsetting and then dusk weasels” but it was still fun.

Race 3-Night Weasels Shrewsbury MA: The hills of Ski Ward chewed up up legs and spit them out but this was an insanely fun race and proved important in my training.  Plus I jumped a riser in front of the announcer and got color commentary over the loudspeaker as a result.  Finished just under 50%.  This was race 1 in a 2 race weekend.

Race 4-Ghosts of Gloucester Amherst MA: On my old stomping grounds at UMASS, this course was super fun but the climb to the finish wore me out, especially after racing 12 hours prior at Night Weasels.  Doubling up over the weekend killed me physically, but the work done was money in the bank later.  Race 3 and 4 were my worst results, but probably the most important races I did this season.

Race 5-BossCross Westford, MA: 7th place, 4th in the over 40 category (just missed another podium).  This was fun and I dug deep, battling other racers I normally would be at least a minute down from. Course was woodsy and rooty.  Good fun, and I was pumped with my results.

Race 6-CheshireCx Cheshire CT: Finally returned to this race, which I had some pretty miserable results at.  Not this time.  Just outside 50% in 11th place of 20, but by far my best result at this venue ever, and a cat 3-4 race, with faster racers.  And PR’d the Cheshire Cx Wall aka Heckle Hill.

Race 7 & 8-NohoCx Northampton, MA Hometown race.  I raced hard and had fun, and was pleased with my efforts. Top 50% both days.  Felt very satisfied.

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Sprint start at Noho CX.

Race 9-KMC Cx Fest Thompson, CT Another 3-4-5 race.  These used to be so much more common, and I think it’s good to mix the 3’s and 4’s up some–gives me (a 4) something to chase.  I had a terrible start and fought to get back in the mix,  13th/21 so not top 50 but with the 3’s included, I was still happy.

Race 10-NBX GP Day 1 -East Greenwich, RI After much “I can’t believe you have never raced NBX” from friends, I finally did this one.  Sprung for a hotel room to be rested for a 8:45AM start, and lined up on the remnants of snow and ice.  My start was strong, and into the woods as the first 6 racers fell single file into the path of least resistance, I rocketed over the treacherous roots of the path not taken, and found myself sitting in 3rd place for 1/2 the race.  I slipped to 4th and was fighting to get back to 3rd, but at the end I came up just 6 seconds short.  I earned a spot on the over 40 Podium with 2nd place, and just off the main podium.  Top 25% result–first time ever. This being the last race weekend in the Vittoria Series, and a C2 race, I was pretty excited about how this played out for me.  I also earned another upgrade point.  Still no upgrade in my future, but boy it’s nice to be in the mix at last.  This race now has the title of “my best result ever.”

Race 11 & 12-Ice Weasels Medfield, MA The year end party, I raced the women’s race and the Fat Bike.  The Fat bike was more “I’m spinning out my legs on a race course and sure, I’ll stop and drink a beer and eat a donut while there is a race happening around me.”  Besides it was a good excuse to wear an ugly xmas sweater.  For the women’s race, my start was poor and my laps inconsistent, I was sitting in 10th for a while but lost 4 spots to fatigue in the 3rd lap.  Earlier in the season I would have been mad at myself, but its hard to be that way at any Weasels race.  Still a good result at 14th/36 racers.  I will call it ending on a high note.

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Barriers at Ice Weasels. Photo credit: Katie Busick

The Mindshift

So this year was different, and although I’ve been getting to this place for a couple of years now, I’m inside the front door at last.  I’ve finally struck some sort of balance between training hard and having fun, being serious but not taking things so seriously.  And each race, I still get nerves.  Each race, I still swing between being cavalier and freaking out.  I train with more purpose and intent then before, but I let myself off the hook if it doesn’t work out.  And I have learned that older athletes really do benefit from rest.  I went into NBX without being on my bike AT ALL the whole week prior, so I was well rested and had good legs for that race.  I think staying in the right state of mind takes practice and work, and geez, it only took 8 YEARS to get here.  But I feel mentally happy and less angsty about racing cyclocross, and I don’t have such a chip on my shoulder anymore. That chip was placed there by me, I chose to carry it around, and I can’t say I won’t ever pick it up again,  But for now, I seem to be faster without the extra weight.

New Bike

I also think the new rig has the right get up and go for me.  The 2019 Trek Boone 5 disc brake bike is fast.  She wants to run, hard, especially after slowing down for a corner. This bike wants to accelerate out of turns and fly over the rough stuff.  It’s been a solid investment.

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Full send down the gnarly descent at NohoCX

Demographics?

Not to sell myself short, but I do wonder about the shifting demographics of the sport.  I noticed many of the women I raced with over the years–even the ones that upgraded, are no longer showing up.  I get it–people have other hobbies.  But when I started this, there seemed to be a lot more women racing, specifically, a lot more young women.  Perhaps those millennials, who should be in their late 20’s/early 30’s by now, are now busy pursuing careers, having families, doing those big life things that prevent them from racing bikes.  I found it interesting that the woman who won NBX both days is in her mid fifties.  I also think this is kind of awesome.  There are still plenty of young racers out there, but the mix feels more even than ever before, which is more inviting to someone like me, at the cusp of 50.

Anyway, it’s been a blast.  I’m tired and it’s time to rest.  Hopefully I can carry this good fortune into 2020, chasing another podium or two isn’t the worst way to spend your free time.

-Karen

DNS – self care over bikes

I’m writing this from the snug warmth of a Sunday morning in bed, when the whole house is still asleep and a cold rain falls outside. I made the decision to not get up in the dark, rifle down food I’m not ready to eat, pack the car up, and drive the 75 miles north to Bennington, Vermont for the Wicked Creepy CX race I signed up for earlier this week.

I’m not sick, just so busy that hitting the pause button today felt like the right thing to do.

I’m having a good cyclocross season so far, arguably my best yet, posting strong results in 3 of my 5 races, even earning an upgrade point for the first time ever. But the last 2 weeks have been so crazy at work, my training has suffered, my diet has suffered, my sleep schedule has suffered. Adding 4 hours of driving and 3 hours of waiting around for a 30 minute race felt like a crazy investment of what little time is mine these days. So here I lay under a cozy quilt.

This is my 8th year racing cyclocross, and I still love it. I don’t want to stop. But as a Masters athlete I have learned that taking a rest can do more for my performance than pushing through everything that is thrown my way.

First race of season was the inaugural Hydra Cx in Holyoke, Ma where I placed one off the podium in 4th.

I’ve also learned that pushing my body at the right time yields better results. I will still do something today-something that will feel uncomfortable for a time, to stress my body similar to what racing today would have done. But I can do it on the trainer or out my back door, and spend an hour instead of 6-7 getting a good workout in. It’s not a race experience-but I can get it close.

I’ll miss Wicked Creepy Cx today. They put on a nice grassroots event and the course is fun. I’ll miss chatting with a few of my cx friends and getting cold & muddy with everyone racing today. A little rest and re-centering feels like the better call.

-Karen

Abbreviated Cross

This weekend wraps my much abbreviated cyclocross season, with the eagerly anticipated Ice Weasels Cometh. Last year I had a great season, with more time to train.  This year the clavicle fracture in July sidelined me almost the entire summer, and by fall I was just trying to pedal my way back to some fitness and learn how to lift my bike again.  I was thrilled to race at all.  I hoped, unreasonably, that I might rise to the level I was last year.  The level being solidly average.  Hey I take any small victory at this point.  I had a couple good races this year and felt some progress being made, but never quite got to where I wanted to be.  After the Northampton races in early November, I knew I was pretty done.  My work schedule ramped up, available daylight ramped down, and I figured it was time to cut my losses.

So this weekend, I race cyclocross and the “Wookie” fat bike category, but Ice Weasels is more a going away party to the season than anything too serious.  The cross race has more serious leanings (but there will be hand-ups).  The fat bike race will be an all out party.  After too many 10, 11, and 12 hour work days lately, I cannot wait.

I’m already thinking of next year, after this year being somewhat stifled in terms of bike related adventure. My adventure quota needs filling. Plans are brewing, stay tuned.

Back in the saddle

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because I’ve been riding my bike.  My clavicle break is finally healed, and I’m still working on recovering lost muscle mass/strength in my shoulder.  I’m working with a fantastic physical therapist who has taken my goals and made them hers.  And I’m doing great, riding again, even off road, and just started mountain biking again.  I’m not quite 100% where I was before the crash, but I’m progressing well.

Well enough I’m going to race tomorrow.

It’s Minuteman Cyclocross, in Lancaster, MA.  I raced this last year in the pouring rain, had a solid mid pack finish, and a hell of a lot of fun. This time I’m trying to tone down my expectations, but I admit it’s difficult.  My plan is to take in the course during pre-ride, have a good start, go hard whenever I can, and stay upright.  Keep it simple.

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Minuteman CX 2017-sopping wet and gasping for breath, I finished mid pack in a field of 58 and was thrilled about it.

If I survive the race tomorrow, I’ll turn my eye to Gloucester.  I haven’t entered yet, but am 90% sure I’ll race Sunday, and about 50% sure about Saturday.

I remain tentative because I am genuinely surprised about the amount of strength I lost from keeping my shoulder immobile for 5 weeks. The muscle loss is visually noticeable, and I was told “the asymmetry would last a while.”  But I think tomorrow will help me turn the mental corner to racing again–providing everything goes well.

Regardless of all of the cyclocross angst I have (because when have I not?), I’m so happy to be riding again, on all surfaces, on all bikes.  It’s great to be back riding!

-Karen

X-Ray Results and a Divine Plan

Tuesday afternoon I got the news I wanted: the collarbone is healing well, and ligaments are stitching the shoulder separation together nicely.  Already the separation is measurably smaller.  I’ve been cleared for physical therapy immediately.  I left the office absolutely elated.

Then I went home to make my PT appointments.  Reality check–they are booked an entire month out.  What.  The.  Actual.  You know how to end that sentence.

If you are a medical professional, feel free to cringe when I tell you my very next move was to Google search “rehab protocol clavicle fracture.”  They say you have to be proactive in your own healthcare–well most of the time, we aren’t left with many choices in the matter.  So I’m DIYing it until I get an “evaluation.”  Leave me unsupervised, this is what happens.

I did get some handy tips from the PA before I learned I wouldn’t get into therapy that I have already been practicing, like finger crawls up the wall, and just trying to get some gentle movement into the joint.  Nothing weight bearing for now.   That’s ok, I can’t lift more than a coke can at this point. I definitely need the PT.

Since this was the news I had hoped for, and I’m not looking to screw it up with being stupid, but I am not willing to wait around for another whole month.  While I’m not known to be terribly religious, I’ll take one from the Lord’s playbook, and quote Luke 4:23 and “heal thyself.”  How else can I put this? To make another pious reference,  I’ll quote the Book of Elwood:

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My original timeline for getting back on the bike and back to racing is intact, and the Lord helps those who help themselves and all, so I type this from the seat of my trainer.  I should be back riding outside by Labor Day Weekend and no MTB until October.  Racing by mid October.  I’ll miss cyclocross in September but still have October and November, that should be plenty.

What I can tell you, is the healing power of the human body absolutely boggles my mind.  It really is a miracle. That is some divinely elegant design.

More X-rays at the end of September as a final sign off to my health and onto new bike adventures.  I cannot wait.

-Karen

Clavicle Fracture Update: the 5 Week Mark

I didn’t know a bruise could last 5 weeks, but I still have one from my epic DH MTB Crash and subsequent collarbone bust-up (in at least 3 places, no less).  But things are slowly getting better and I figured I’d check in about it.

Last week, at 4 weeks post crash, I went on vacation as it was planned many months in advance. That delayed my 4 week check up to next week. Fortunately cycling wasn’t on the itinerary for vacation, but the sea kayaking in Puget Sound was out. I went west in a sling, and came home without one, because I just couldn’t take wearing it anymore.  It was hurting more to wear it than not to.  Actually–that went back and forth a little.  Let me explain:  when you don’t move an entire part of your body for a month, muscles start doing weird stuff.  Like spasming.  That wasn’t in the brochure.  I tried massaging the affected areas-biceps, triceps, trapezoids, etc. but at the end of the day–i just wanted to move. But not TOO much. And what is more important here is what was NOT hurting–and that was my shoulder.  The only thing uncomfortable were the supporting muscles around the shoulder–and those were, at times, pretty painful. So for the week–I kind of went back and forth between hurting when I was wearing the sling, to hurting because I was not wearing the sling. I was walking a ton and hiking a bunch too (in Olympic and Mt Rainier National Parks in Washington State).  There was definitely a correlation between my overall body movement and my discomfort. Flying all day in a sling to get across the country–horrible.  I just wanted that sling off. Hiking 6 miles in The Olympics wearing a sling? That felt just fine. If I walked or hiked too much without the sling, well–that hurt too.  It was a balancing act.

My range of motion is no where near 100%.  Probably 30-40%? That’s my best guess anyway.  I’m not pushing that part too hard but I’ve noticed that it is improving with just normal daily activity.  Yesterday I drove for the first time in a month, and that was so nice to have some freedom back.

The big day is this Tuesday, when I finally go back to the Orthopedic practice for feedback on how I’m healing.  My hope is they say “everything is going great, you can start PT next week.”  Fingers crossed for that.  It feels great to start doing more for myself.  I can put a t-shirt on now!  I can drive short distances! But I know I’m not fully healed yet (lifting more than a coke can is impossible and I cannot raise my arm past my chest). Regardless, I’m moving forward as if I’m going to get good news Tuesday.  I have done a few trainer rides now and it has felt so good to spin on the bike, even if its on my back porch.

Good thoughts for Tuesday–wish me and my shoulder luck!

-Karen

Bike Accident Recovery Update: Day 15

It’s been a solid 2 weeks since my crash and I’m healing.  Slowly.  I won’t lie, it feels like watching paint dry.

I went back to work last Wednesday, and I was so happy to focus on something else besides what was on TV, or the book that I’m trying to get through, or all the rides my friends are taking that I am unable to participate in.  But at the end of the day on Friday, I was really hurting, and felt like maybe I’d undone some progress. My shoulder was aggravated and I had random spikes of pain, and my rib ached with each breath–something that had really improved in the last couple of days.

In terms of what’s happening inside my body, I found this pretty cool video of how bone heals.

With 2 weeks into healing, I should have a lovely soft callous formed, with bridges built to join the broken bones together.  Next step, very simply put, new bone will be interwoven into a hard callous. So I’m between stage 2 and 3, and getting fully to 3 is probably at least 2 or 3 more weeks away.  See the stages nicely illustrated below.

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By mid August, I should be into the 4th Stage, bone remodeling.  This is where things get really firmed up.

I had my walk Saturday morning, and my rib was hurting…..the pain level just a click below “let’s not have a walk today.”  I pushed on, and by the end of 3.5 miles, my rib actually felt better.  I spent the rest of yesterday (Saturday) doing relatively little, and being quiet and still.  Now it’s Sunday morning and I feel back on track.  But with a 5 day work week ahead of me, I’m thinking about the ways I might change up my workstation so I don’t push my shoulder into a subtle position that feels innocuous at first, but cumulatively feels awful.  I don’t want to undo any progress made.

My goal is to be back on a bike by September 1.  I feel this is a reasonable expectation. Of course, all my expectations and plans could be redirected after my checkup on August 14th, where x-rays could determine surgery is needed.  But if it’s not, and my healing is going well, I hope to start riding on flat smooth surfaces–taking it easy as everything firms up.  That’s the textbook 8 weeks from injury.  I expect to take another 4 weeks before tackling rougher surfaces, and another 4 weeks before attempting cyclocross racing.  I know a good crash could set me back tremendously, but I haven’t crashed all year until this mishap.  Cross racing means crashing and falling.  I’ve done the math, it’s highly probable.  So I’ll want to be 100% sure I’m out of the woods before racing.  I’m not afraid to fall, I’m not afraid to crash.  I’ve crashed so many times over 17 years and this is the worst injury I’ve had, I’d say that overall–I’m doing alright.

Smaller efforts: I’m taking a calcium/bone health supplement daily and consuming as much dairy as my lactose intolerant body can take (thank God for Lactaid).  I’m eating healthy. I ‘m taking my walks daily, and this week I hope to start pedaling on a stationary bike.  I expect to hate it, but beggars cannot be choosers.  And something is better than nothing.  I’m living through everyone else’s adventures online.  It helps me cope with being on the sidelines.  I’m happy for others who enjoy the pleasure of cycling in it’s many forms.  Savor it!  And be safe out there.

-Karen