I have been slacking on my blogging duties. Sorry about that. I raced my bike a couple of weeks ago–let’s chat about that little race in Connecticut.
Cheshire CX took place in the Cheshire Town Park and had 197 racers in total. The amateur women had 2 groups–cats 1-3 and a separate Cat 4 which was scored separately, although we Cat 4s raced a minute behind the 1-3s.
I was alone again for this race, which I have to admit is getting old. The bright spot is that I’ve become friendly with another Cat 4 who started racing at the same time. We both did Sloper CX as our first race, and it has been the only time I have beaten her. She’s in her 20’s, it was bound to happen. Anyway it’s great to pair up and do a warm up with another racer and just talk bikes. I don’t get that a lot and I appreciate the new friends I’m meeting by pursuing cyclocross.
The course was in a word: awesome. I knew this would be a course I liked. Lots of twists and turns, lots of woods and roots and rocks and trees. There was sand, and grass, and loose leaves and pine needles. It even had mud! I was so excited. There were 2 run ups that forced a dismount. The first one I liked better than the second. The second run up was technically rideable but I couldn’t do it, and I didn’t see anyone in my group riding it. It was a 80 meter hill with some steep hairpins at the top. It was tough the first time, painful the second, and by the third lap my legs actually started to seize up on me. I nearly fainted (no joke) at the top after remounting and trying to spin away from the hilltop and the pain.
Despite this, I was having a blast. The course has a roller coaster quality to it and was more technical than I had seen in other venues. I really liked this. More time in the woods meant I was more in my element. There was a woman behind me who laughing, named me “motivation” and tried to pass me. She did, then the woods would come and I’d pass her on the run up. She remarked “Oh. This is where you are good.” Yup. I’ll take that as a compliment. She stayed on my wheel for 2 laps. I had opened a pretty big gap on her on the first of those laps but by the last lap she was closing and I knew–I just knew, she would sprint for the win. I also knew I was pretty spent from the 80 meter exercise in pain. I tried to make a little time on her but she was on me, and pounced in the last straightaway to the finish line. As she passed me, she yelled “let’s go!” She wanted to race. I responded for about 2 seconds and knew I was toast. She rode away and stole 7th place from me–she earned it entirely.
I really like engaging in these mini races inside the race–I like it a lot. I want to go back to Cheshire next year and really improve, because I know I am faster than my performance. I felt “ok” for the race but not my best, not like I felt in Northampton or Providence. This also may be my last race of the season. There are only a couple of weeks left of racing in New England. I’m missing Warwick and Ice Weasels, but I might…..maybe……do the New England Championships in Fitchburg. This sounds more impressive than it is, to me it’s another race. There is a 35+ Women’s category on Saturday that I would do–IF I decide to. Jury is still out….but I’m strongly considering it.
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I couldn’t resist comparing ‘cross with one of my favorite movies–Fight Club. If you have seen it, it either disgusts you or you think it is genius. Men in particular connect with this movie, which was its target audience/subject. I am one of the few women I know who absolutely loves it. I haven’t met anyone who only feels medium about this movie. It’s all or nothing, love or hate.
I was a professional bookseller for 14 years and can discuss the literary worth of this piece of fiction (the book is always better than the movie), the role of masculinity in today’s modern society, the sexual orientation of the author–but for the sake of brevity and focus I’ll just discuss the analogy the my title makes. Cyclocross is Fight Club with Bikes. I know I’m still new to it, but there are philosophical elements to this sport that I can take with me throughout life. They feel similar to racing cyclocross. I’ll use some popular quotes to illustrate.
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” ~Fight Club movie, screenplay by Jim Uhls, directed by David Fincher, novel by Chuck Palahniuk
Agreed. You learn more about yourself by experiencing difficulty. These races are difficult. No, it’s not violence. It’s not war. Perhaps it’s a safer expression of difficulty. Social norms still apply but it’s not called an hour in hell for nothing. Racing hurts. There’s physical pain. There is spiritual emancipation.
“You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club…. Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn’t about words. You see a guy come to fight club for the first time, and his ass is a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
The line “he looks carved out of wood” resonates with me. Over the last 3 months I’m seeing my softness wither and a leaner version emerge. The athletes at these races are fit, lean, and muscular. Racing hammers the soft parts away. Racing builds confidence. You race bikes for crying out loud! You can nail anything you try for.
“One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
There are so many mistakes you can make over the course of a race. A hundred things at least to get wrong, or right. Having an entire minute of perfection within a race is hard to achieve. Perfection is fleeting, so it’s savored.
“May I never be complete. May I never be content. May I never be perfect. Deliver me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.” ~Chuck Palahniuk
Being perfect is no fun. Who wants that? Perfection is boring. It’s the work we do on the road to perfection that is divine.
PS–this parting quote is worth noting….
“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
So get on your bikes people!
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.
Small post, big news!
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So I learned what 2 consecutive days of cyclocross racing feels like.
An ass kicking.
A demonstration of discipline and tolerance to pain.
Thank goodness for day light saving time, because in theory, it gave me an extra hour of sleep. Unfortunately, a text message at 4:44am from someone in an airport that I did want to hear from changed any plans I had for extra rest. I had napped after Saturday’s race so I was rested enough, and I actually arrived at Look Park earlier than necessary. As a result, I was able to preride the course and see the changes they had made after day 1. Yes, they change things up in these 2 day events–it keeps racers on their toes. Because ‘cross is already hard, but let’s keep ’em guessing too. That’s just how the sport rolls.
Major changes included the run up and the descent. The run up was a short uphill (rideable) and hairpin turn, then another hairpin, dismount, run-up to the upper deck. The decent was a very sharp downhill followed by an immediate right turn which claimed a few riders (crashes).
I was very sore from my efforts on Saturday and I didn’t feel like a had a lot to offer, so I kept me expectations reasonable. The field was a bit larger at 75 racers. We lined up the start and I tried the concentrate on just having a good race, despite my beaten body. The whistle blew. I had a terrible start. The rider in front of me staggered, so it forced me to as well. Then I couldn’t clip in immediately. Another rider in front of me choked on the first corner and I was caught behind her, so I choked with her. I needed to stay out of trouble, and it was everywhere. On the first hairpin turn before the big run up, the barrier tape had collapsed and created havoc–we were all forced to dismount and shoulder the bike while lifting the tape out-of-the-way so we could pass one at a time. Major time suck! This is why starts are so important. When things fall apart in the back, you don’t get dragged down with it.
This isn’t an accusation either–this just happens. It’s like one small thing causes a chain reaction and then the rest of the field is affected. This is just how it is. Being fast gets you a better starting position. Being fast allows you to be faster. Good starts are everything, and this was a great example of why.
After that most of the trouble had cleared. I felt a bit empty but pushed it anyway. I battled a couple of women but lost often. I just tried to have as good a day on the bike. My muscles were torn up and didn’t have the push they did on Saturday. I did the best I could.
Which ended up being not as bad as I feared. I finished 55th of 75 riders–still solid and in keeping with my results on Saturday.
My next goal is to crack the 40’s on a race of similar size (any in the NEPCX Series). I don’t think it will happen this season but something to work towards next season.
If you’d like to see what the course looked like, please look at this extremely excellent video by CyclingDirt of the pro men racing on Day 2. Note: this is same course used as the rest of the racers in amateur classes. The video really captures the course layout–very good stuff.
And here are some shots of the Cat 4 Men on Day 2 hitting the barriers.
I don’t want this to be the end of my season. I would like to do at least 1 more race, a smaller one that I’m healthy for. I am head over heels for ‘cross (figuratively, fortunately–although the literal version is completely possible when doing the sport). It’s fun and hard and amazing and hurts but in a way that makes you feel so alive–it’s hard to explain to people. I’m clearly addicted. I don’t care if I suck. That’s not what it’s about. I’m not sure I can put into words what this is about, but I’ll keep doing it until I figure it out. Then I write about it here. Then I’ll do it some more.
OMG, OMG, OMG!!!
Yes, that is how excited I am to talk about this past weekend. My lack of posting about it is only because I was completely destroyed by all the racing. Happily destroyed. Let’s talk about the first day.
I have been attending the Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross race annually for more than a decade–as a spectator only. I was pretty excited to finally be participating on what I consider “home turf.” I’ve lived in the valley for almost 20 years now (on and off–mostly on)–it is where I’ve chosen as my home and it’s a pretty great place. So full of pride, I drove over to Look Park in Northampton early Saturday morning.
I had already been to the park the day before. The course was open for inspection Friday afternoon and I made it there by 4:30 just as the sun was receding behind the treeline, casting long bike shadows across the barrier laced fields. I took 3 even, steady laps, not fast, walking parts, fully taking in the course. Then I met up with my co-blogger Heather (who couldn’t make the pre-ride) at Local Burger for a pre-race carb festival. I described the course to her–it was what I called a “power course” (this is my own description and follows no cyclocross vernacular that I am aware of), meaning–it had a lot of sections that favored a powerful acceleration. Half the course was on flat grass with turns, barriers, and a sandpit. The other half was up on a plateau of trees, roots, and pine needles. This was the more technical part of the course. The flat grassy sections would kill me, because this is where I suck. So I knew I’d need to push these sections just to keep a good average speed up. This was not a place to rest.
I arrived Saturday and it was cold. Really cold. But clear and sunny. It was about 35 when I arrived and it warmed to about 40 for the start of the race. I got 2 1-day licences and picked up my number for Saturday, and then slowly warmed up and checked my tire pressure about a million times. Call up to staging started and I got into position with the 69 other women in my field (unlike other races, this was nothing to sneeze at. Nearly 1500 racers had registered for two days of racing). The whistle blew.
My start was good. The pack raced for the hole shot and slowed, congested into the first corner. Then we hit the pavement and dispensed. The pavement ended with S-corners of dirt and grass and up the monster run up. From the distance, this looked like a wall of shouldered bikes moving straight up and over the hill. I was forced up the steeper part of the hill on the first pass since there were so many of us, and I actually grabbed onto a stripped stick of what was probably the beginnings of a tree at one time– just to pull me up the hill. I got knocked in the head with a few wheels. It was complete chaos, and acted as a wonderful place to separate the wheat from the chaff.
On the upper deck, it was twists, turns and roots, and then a fast and fun decent to the lower fields at into a sand pit. I ran this every time, and was really glad I did. No regrets on running the sand. I lost no time this way. It was the right choice for me.
On the grass, I battled with about 5 women throughout the course. The same bunch made and dropped contact most of the race. I really tried to push it on the grass, and it was hard. Then the second run up, with steps brought us back to the upper deck. More trees, roots, winding turns. Getting stuck behind a rider who wasn’t fast in these areas became a tactical problem. This happened a couple of times, and then I decided to just hit the gas. I passed a few riders on the upper deck. Then, we’d descend to the grass and I’d struggle to keep the advantage. I often lost it. More chaff separated.
I keep spinning hard, kept pushing and tried to race smart. But unlike my last race in Connecticut (when I was sick), I was racing this time, and not just riding. I felt good about the lines I chose, and most (but not all) of the decisions I made.
During the last lap, I was overtaken again by a racer who I would pass on the upper deck, and then submit to on the lower deck. She passed me on the grass again, and I hung to her wheel. We reached a straight path, and my head said “gun it.” I passed her, and stayed away. I then just tried to stay in front and keep pushing through the last series of turns. Then the pavement to the end, I just kept pushing, in one last, long effort.
I finished 52 of 70 and it was my best race of the year (so far). I felt really good about this effort, the course, and the competition. 52nd might not seem like anything to get excited about, but in Providence, I finished 63, so this was a 11 place gain in one season, my first season, with my 42-year-old equipment. I’m not unhappy with this at all. And more importantly, it just so much fun. Enormously strenuous and difficult, but fun! I am fully in love with cyclocross. My last experience at Sloper a very distant memory, I couldn’t wait to race again, and luckily I didn’t have to wait long, because I had signed up for Day 2 of Cycle-Smart International……
(to be continued)
PS–For a full presentation of the course for Day 1–watch this very awesome video by CyclingDirt. This is the Elite Women (AKA–“The Wheat”) racing. Don’t worry, next post I give the fellas a turn to represent the course of Day 2.