There is nothing quite like it. Dry and dusty, the course was a lot harder than last year and a hello of a lot of fun. Here are the highlights.
Staging shifted to the first entrance of the park–a departure from the last 2 years. The course was gravely, rocky, and rutted quickly under hundreds of tires. They had a decent run-up and some nicely crafted chicanes that tested technical skills. I was having a good race when I flatted on the last lap with a 1/4 of a lap to go. Heartbreak! I was close enough to the finish and I really didn’t want a DNF after working so hard, so I just kept moving. I shouldered the bike through the last off camber turns before the pavement as riders ticked by one after the other. Sigh. I lost somewhere between 12-15 places. I finished 54th out of 71*, running the bike across the line, edging out another racer in a photo finish with a rider who had the benefit of inflated tires.
Course designers pulled a Missy Elliot and flipped the course & reversed it. Staging was back at the rear of the park. All the good lines from Saturday were shot–the course was beat up and even drier than the day before. There were about a half a dozen lines in any turn and none of them were any good. Crashes were eminent. I rode more conservatively and my heart rate data shows it. I just didn’t want another mechanical. My tires were probably a little more inflated than they should be as I overcompensated with a few more pounds of pressure. I finished 41st of 61 starters.*
I want to thank childhood friend Marylou for showing up for this race faithfully for the last 4 years to take photos. She literally lives across the street from Stage Fort Park and as long as as my race doesn’t interfere with the Patriot’s game I think she’ll always show up. She also invited a second friend, Kelly from SHS who I ran the Warrior Dash with a couple of years ago. It was nice to reconnect with old friends, as well as see all my friends from the cyclocross community and meet people on the KIT team. Also a huge thank you to my Mom, who watched my son and hosted us for the weekend and really made it possible for me to race at all this weekend.
*I just want to note the both fields were sold out at the capped limit of 85 racers. Where did everyone go? It was a picture perfect day, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures incredibly reasonable. I know it’s common for a few no shows but wow that was a lot!
Tonight I was talking to my girlfriend and she said to me “I’m tired of you not doing better in your races.”
Now before you say anything nasty, understand this: I was not in the least bit offended. I quickly agreed with her. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m tired of not doing better too.”
We talked a bit about being an older athlete, and what that means. Adjusting your expectations. Squeezing in training. Training smart vs. training hard. I asked her for some help. She asked what she could do. I really didn’t know what she could do. We both admitted that we needed to believe that even as we age, we can still ‘get better’ at whatever it is we are trying to do out there. It may be in vain but here we are, still trying to get better in our 40’s or 50’s. So I have to ask myself, what does “better” mean?
It may seem like an easy question but I’m not sure that the answer is easy to articulate. Better doesn’t always mean faster, or a higher placing, or a lower crossresults point average. I have had races where I placed in the lower 1/3 or even 1/4 where I felt completely thrilled with the effort I put out. I’m thinking specifically of KMC Providence last year, when I finished 86 out of 114 racers. No one would look at that and say, “wow Karen, way to kill it out there!” No one would say that. But I did kill it out there! I had a blast. I put it all out there. That was my version of “better.”
And then there are the races from a couple of years ago, when I had more saddle time and my performance was, in fact, getting “better.” I was placing higher, I was feeling like I still had some room to improve. It was an upward trajectory I was feeling, and that continuous improvement made me feel like I was, in fact, “getting better.”
Lately, and I mean the second half of cyclocross season in 2014 and in my first race of 2015, I have felt pretty off. There’s always a problem that snarls my ability to have a good race. Bouts of sports-induced asthma by the second lap. Crashing and cracking a rib, or gashing my leg, or getting a shitty start, or suffering from heat exhaustion, or getting my handlebar caught on the course tape. (Geez, I read this list and I sound like a menace out there! I swear the only trouble I cause is my own).
My point is, I know when I’m doing better. I feel happy with the effort I put out. I feel satisfied and fulfilled with how hard the course was and what I did out there on that course. If I put a little pressure on a competitor, or if I pass a competitor or two (or ten), that’s a lot better. Bottom line is I need some “better” moments out there. Just like intervals, if I can string enough better moments together, I can pull off a downright good race.
Last year I wrote that the Spartan Sprint was no joke. That has never been more true. In fact, this year, it was even harder. And last year was pretty freaking hard.
I didn’t race this event, but experienced it with family. We took our time with each obstacle and I failed at some. I won’t beat myself about that. I was feeling pretty anxious about contaminating my wounds front he crash I had the day before at Forest Park. I knew there would be a ton of mud and being that it took place on a farm, there were bound to be lots of other biological goodies hanging out in said mud. I used the tegaderm on both my leg and elbow, and reinforced it with duct tape to keep out the gross stuff. And there was plenty of gross at Spartan Sprint.
Last year I only failed at 2 obstacles. This year there were many more. The obstacles were hard–more upper body challenges that I didn’t see any women conquering. I was constantly stressing about my leg and elbow, and half way through the 100 yard barbed wire crawl (yeah, 100 freaking yards), the duct tape failed on my elbow and I made the decision to abandon that obstacle. I just couldn’t willingly smash dirt and manure into an open weeping wound. I’m tough. I’m not stupid.
I felt bad about it, a little. I don’t like bagging out on challenges, so it bothered me, and it changed my attitude for most of the race. I wish I had been without these wounds so I could have approached the event with more zeal and less caution. But as I type this 5 days later, my elbow is still weeping and I’ve been fighting an infection for the better part of the week. I’m finally starting to feel like I might have turned a corner and it will start to close up and heal a bit, but it really still just hurts. The leg is healing nicely though–so that’s getting better anyway. I just need the elbow to catch up.
Even without succeeding at all the obstacles, the whole event is still wicked hard. I did my burpees and climbed walls and scaled cargo nets and jumped over fire and all. It’s not cycling, but it was fun, and I definitely used a bunch of muscles I’m not used to using, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
Now….back to cycling!
Do you know what tegaderm is? I didn’t until today. It’s this cool high tech bandage. I’m wearing a LOT of tegaderm right now.
Forest Park is a very technical, very mountain bikey course. I liked the course for this reason. But today was not a great day for me.
What went wrong?
I crashed 5 minutes into the race. A total wash out, I almost took out two other racers near me (thank god they reacted well and they did not go down). While I jumped up immediately and don’t feel I lost a lot of time despite the crash, the pain was a distraction for the remainder of the race.
The heat was not brutal, but it was hot. I don’t do well in the heat. It got to me.
I had a full blown allergy situation which caused me to fill with disgusting fluid and I spent 2 laps coughing up my lungs. Gross. This was probably my biggest problem.
Ok, what went right?
I had a spectacular start. I started in the second row. Despite this, I ended up in the top ten through the hole shot. It could not have gone better.
I executed some technical sections really beautifully. One was a particularly difficult section that featured exposed root, soft dirt and some serious off camber action. I was smooth, fluid. Thank god.
I recovered from the crash quickly. No one got past me as a result from the event.
But, the heat and the coughing got the best of me and I gave up several places later in the race. I was racing the first lap, hacking and trying to breath the second, and the heat claimed me in the 3rd. The hills did not help either. I thought I was in better shape to handle those but they really had their way with me. My average heart rate for the race was 181 and my max 189. I wasn’t taking it easy. I was just tapped out.
But I still had a good time. It was great to see familiar faces and meet new folks. Heather raced today too which is a bonus.
So right now I’m pretty banged up. I have some deep gashes on my leg and elbow from the crash, and getting them cleaned out was far more painful than the crash itself. Additionally, I have the Boston Spartan Sprint tomorrow and will need to be creative in keeping these wounds clean and dry.
But at last, cross is here!
I’ve always said my first love is mountain biking. It’s where I started, and I really wish I did more of it. So when a nearby Root 66 race was scheduled on a day in my schedule that I was actually available, I signed up for the Cat 3 women’s slot. A MTB race in southern Vermont was not a hard sell.
Joined by co-blogger Heather, we arrived nice & early, signed in and warmed up. We started on a mowed track through a meadow and into the woods. The climbing started early, and the trails were flowy, fun, with easy to navigate roots and rocks sprinkled throughout the course. There was plenty of downhill as well, with most of the course on singletrack, occasionally breaking out into doubletrack which provided opportunities to pass.
Since I didn’t pre-ride–I really had no idea what to expect and I rode conservatively for the first lap. The climbing pushed me physically–it wasn’t too awful but it made me work. The lap was supposed to be 5ish miles, but my Garmin read 4 miles and I had finished the first lap. I was pumped!
Lap 2 and I started to open it up. I caught air on one of the downhills. I shredded the banked turns. The climbing felt easier. I knew I was close to one of the riders just ahead of me. I thought I might catch her. But mostly, I was just really engaged in the ride–which was awesome.
Soon after beginning lap 2 when my mood was so high, I felt my back rim kiss a rooty section. Then I felt it again over a few rocks. I stood up, riding out of the saddle to keep my weight off the rear wheel. “I better watch that tire,” I thought. I lasted about a mile before descending down a fast double track, turning into a grassy turn and the tube was done. The tire nearly rolled completely off the rim as I hit the grass.
So, keep going. I dismounted and trotted with the bike, pushing it back up the singletrack. I was determined to finish–I did not want a DNF. And even if I wanted to quit (which i didn’t), there was no way I was getting out of the woods without following the trail out. I ran what I could, lifted the bike over the rougher stuff as to not damage the rim. 3 miles, or thereabouts. The lead I had over the 2 women behind me dissolved. in 15 minutes from my flat they overtook me. A few guys came by and asked if I was OK. Reports trickled to the finish line that there was a Cat 3 women with a mechanical on the course. When Heather heard that, she said “That’s Karen.” Of course it was. I finished with a smile anyway.
I was a bit bummed out–but then again, I wasn’t. I got a great workout pushing my mountain bike all that way. I watched my heart rate the whole time and kept it high. I had a wonderful slice of apple pie and a glass of hard cider afterwards. And I was happy to be in Vermont, a place a fall more in love with each time I go.
So I finished last. I had a good time. I gave a good effort and flats happen. I got a race under my belt before cyclocross season begins. I hung out with friends. I got back to Vermont. All good stuff. I do hope that the rest of my races stay mechanically uneventful, but hey–anything can happen….its my first flat in a race so I was due. Happens to the best of us, right? Next time I’ll bring my CO2.
The next couple months are going to be crazy.
As summer winds down, cyclocross season kicks off, and my schedule goes into overdrive. My calendar runneth over with races, and not just cyclocross races. This is what I’m currently planning for the next 6 weeks….
- Sunday 8/23 Putney Cider House Classic MTB Race – Putney, VT
- Saturday 8/29 CompEdge CX @ Forest Park – Springfield, MA
- Sunday 8/30 Boston Spartan Sprint – Barre, MA
Saturday 9/12 Aetna Silk City Cyclocross – Manchester. CT Saturday 9/19 The Dude Smash – West Warwick, RI
- Saturday 9/19 White Park Cyclocross – Concord, NH
- Sat & Sun 9/26-27 Gran Prix of Gloucester – Gloucester, MA
- Wednesday 9/30 The Night Weasels Cometh – Shrewsbury, MA
- Saturday & Sun 10/3-4 The KMC Providence Cyclocross Festival – Providence, RI (one of these days, not sure yet).
Then I have a business trip for the better part of a week to the west coast in mid October. That will really screw up my fitness. I plan of trying to race every other weekend in October, but I’m not sure which ones and the particulars of my schedule that far in the future. I want to stay in good fighting shape for Cycle-Smart International November 7-8 in Northampton, and after that–well everything is gravy.
I’ve really changed my expectations this year. I used to stress about racing well every single race. That’s not realistic. And I used to think I could keep up the pace through December. That’s also not realistic. I just don’t have the space in my schedule for that. But I can use the summer to build a good base and go into September in pretty decent shape, This year, I’m riding almost twice as much as I did last year (at this time). I had to work really hard to make that happen within the confines of my schedule. Last summer I was job hunting, and my focus was on my professional development. I was feeling a lot of conflict trying to ride well and also pursue life’s priorities. As a result, I had a relatively crappy season. This year, I tried to ride more often, rest deliberately, and dabbled with HR training.
Now I know-(I know) I’m a 40+ mom with a full time job and while my athleticism is holding up relatively well, I’m not 20, or 25, or 30, or even 35 anymore. I’m very competitive in spirit–I always want to do well for me, and I’m getting better at accepting that while I can get faster, I will never be fast. I know what I’m good at (technical, sketchy, mountain-bikey terrain) and I know what I’m not (steep hills, speed, extreme heat). So my strategy this year is to go into the season relatively fit, dial it in after the first couple of races, then go hard. Try to rebound after mid October’s known setback of a week of travel, and then punch it again at the end of October and Early November. Then I will chill. I’ll race when I can but won’t feel guilty or like I’m not a real athlete for not committing every weekend through December to CX. I love the sport, but I have to keep life balanced.
My goals remain: Have a ton of fun, give my best effort, stay upright, try not to DNF, finish mid pack when I can, and enjoy the cyclocross community.
See you at the races,
For anyone racing cross this season, I’m attempting to gather up details to help you all prep for upcoming racing in New England. I’ll use course descriptions, photos, personal experience, and link to any published content (including video) I can get my hands on. If you have any resources you’d like to share, please comment, tweet, or email me. Get in touch! We’re all in this sport together. If you are new to cyclocross doing your homework can help you mentally prepare for each race. Get ready! #CxisComing!
Why is this information important?
While weather is often the most reliable influencer of course conditions, each course has characteristics and features that unless you’ve already raced there, you may not be prepared for. When Gloucester is dry it gets incredibly dusty with loose stones. Northampton has essentially two sections: one up on the hill and one flat twisty, grassy drag race. Quad Cross is great for anyone with solid mountain biking skills. Blunt Park has been described as a grass crit.
Should I attend a cyclocross clinic?
Absolutely. And as many as possible. You cannot get enough of these, really. If you didn’t get a chance to sign up for the KIT clinic with the amazing Mo Bruno Roy or attend Cross Camp with Adam Myerson, attend one of the many local clinics on BikeReg. You can also go on the weekly group cx ride, where practice makes perfect…
Should I watch videos of previous races on the course?
Yes! Some of them can make you dizzy with motion sickness, but the quality improves every year. A good video can show you what it’s like to race in a group, what a crash looks like close up, it can show you the twists, turns, hills, barriers, and other features of a course and allow you to mentally pre-ride the course. This allows you to anticipate terrain and plan your strategy. It’s like game tape for cross racers. There aren’t videos of every race, and beware of courses that have changed over the years (some remain the same year after year, some change often to keep it fresh). Always check the description on BikeReg to see if there have been any changes made to a race course.
Should I watch cyclocross videos in general?
Yes! An especially good series is called Svenness from CXhairs.com. Discussed are conditions, tire selection, technique, strategy. It’s an excellent analysis and gets you into the mental game behind race tactics. And please check out Behind the Barriers TV, created by Jeremy Powers. There is some excellent video there from last season and while they will not have the same content in 2015, it is an extremely valuable resource.
Does watching course videos mean I can skip pre-riding the course?
No. Always budget time to pre-ride in addition to watching video. I’ve missed pre-rides and it’s cost me. A few laps, even a slow trolling pace can be the intelligence gathering difference that can mean several places in your race results.
Should I check the weather?
Like a worried mother, yes, check the weather. This will greatly influence clothing and tire selection.
What is the best way to really prepare for a cyclocross race?
Honestly, the best way to prepare for a race is to race. Each race prepares you for the next. You will make mistakes, learn new things, meet new folks, Race, rinse, repeat. Experience is the best teacher!
Good luck, have fun, and Happy Cx!