There is something really special about Gloucester. Maybe because it’s a race I’ve gone to for years as a spectator long before I started racing, or that it’s so close to where I grew up, but I’ve never had a bad time in Gloucester. Last weekend was no exception.
My results don’t really matter. I felt lousy Saturday but poured everything I had out at the end to fight off an attack in the last 100 yards. That was a win for me.
After my race I joined friends from a million years ago; people I had not seen in nearly 30 years. <read:I’m old> after 8 hours of bad party food and great laughs, I went back to my mom’s and was out cold by 9pm.
Sunday I felt recovered. The cold symptoms I experienced Saturday seemed to wane and I had a better race overall. I finished alone amount the middle of a strung out field. After I met up with friends again to enjoy a bit of spectating.
I really have to give a shout of appreciation to Paul Boudreau, the race director and everyone who works with him and volunteers to make this the very professional and special race that it is. Gloucester never disappoints.
More photos of the 2 days at Gloucester…
I read somewhere they wanted this to be like Zolder. I’ve never been to Zolder, but have watched enough SVENNESS videos to say that I think they are squarely in the neighborhood with the new KMC CX Course at the Thompson Speedway.
It hasn’t rained significantly in New England for several months. But the heavens opened all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, and again Sunday night. The result was a true cyclocross experience. Thick, sloppy mud, standing water, disintegrating sand on the run ups, and very sketchy descents. It was awesome.
It was still dark when I left the house and the rain was light and steady. I arrived early, wanting to pre-ride and unable to make the course preview Friday afternoon. First impressions were “HOLY SHIT.” The run ups were crazy but the off camber demanded some serious skills. The “pro-only” sections were just that, and if you browse the Instagram under the hashtag #KMCCX you will see the best pro men in America going ass over teakettle down the pro-only descent. Even though I didn’t have to deal with that, the other areas were tough enough.
I had a solid race. It was hard. The mud was exhausting. But I loved it. I haven’t had a total mud bath of a cyclocross race in the 4 years I’ve been racing so it was great to finally get that.
Forecasts said no rain, but when I left in the morning it was still raining, so I knew the course would still be a lovely mess for my early race. The course had a few changes; direction was reversed in sections and a new run up and off camber was introduced. The mud was getting tacky and stiff in some sections, but still sloppy and thick in others. I got just as filthy on day 2, but rode faster, and had a strong finish. I beat a few women that I don’t typically, and came off feeling pretty psyched.
Most people are disappointed in rainy weekends. In this case, the rain made mine. -Karen
In my 5th year racing cyclocross as a “beginner,” something is changing which feels like an edge to me.
Starting this sport at age 40 and not being graced with a lot of speed, I’ve remained a cat 4 racer. I could write to USA Cycling and argue I should be a cat 3 due to the years I’ve raced, but I don’t see a point to it, other then my pride. If I race exclusively cat 3 or in the 1-2-3 race I’m coming in last or darn close to it every time. I hang in the middle of the pack in cat 4, clearly it’s where I belong. I’m ok with that (finally).
I still lack time to train and have the same, if not more responsibilities I’ve had all along. A busy middle schooler to parent, a full time job with a host of demands, et cetera, et cetera. So what’s different now?
Mental. It’s totally mental. It’s the difference between trying to race, or playing at racing, and actually racing. What am I talking about?
When I started racing, I was just trying to hang on and finish. It was terrifying and exhilarating. What an insane sport! Addicting, but I really wasn’t throwing down every race, the whole time. Maybe I’d go 60%, or 70%. I probably felt like I was giving 95-99% but upon reflection, I wasn’t. I’m capable of more.
Each year I have tried to have races where I felt I was giving more. And it hurt. But I started to race. Maybe only 2 races a year were like this, but it was happening.
Last year I considered making it my last year. I had a lousy 2014 season and just wanted to redeem myself and feel good again. My schedule allowed me to race Holy Week–almost every race. Gloucester, Night Weasels, KMC/Providence. 4 races in one week. Something flipped.
I started recovering faster, having more energy later in the race, and found a little something in my legs when in years past, I’d be praying for God to come down and end the race and have mercy on my soul.
I also changed my attitude and relaxed a bit. While I still am competitive at heart, I relaxed and got a little more focused. Results in 2015 didn’t start great. My scores were terrible and my placements much lower than mid pack. But by the end of the season they had improved considerably. An upswing as I chilled out and reapplied myself.
So far I’ve raced 2 races in 2016. Race #1 I DNF’d but felt really, really good. I was looking at a strong finish. No podium (let’s banish those illusions right now and forever), but top 50%, which remained the overarching goal.
Race #2 was last week–Quad CX, where I raced more conservatively, and I feel regret about being more conservative. I worked hard, but did I leave it ALL out there? Not quite. I wanted a finish, not a DNF, and that influenced my approach.
Reflecting on this, I am thinking I do not want to do that again. My physical abilities are finite, but I’m learning more about my mental game.
Example: Race #1 I was completely ambivalent leading up to the race. It wasn’t until the whistle I committed, fully, to kicking as much ass as I could kick. And my performance (measured against my own standards) was strong.
Race #2 I was eager. I felt like I was in good shape. I had raced the course once before. I wanted to NOT DNF, but finish well. I guess I achieved that, but walked away knowing I probably could have gone a bit harder, a bit faster. Would that have improved my placing? Maybe, maybe not, but I won’t ever know, and that is what is on my mind as I consider the rest of the season in front of me.
Go hard, the whole time. Don’t think too much about it beforehand. Don’t think at all. Don’t care too much about the outcome. Care about the moment. Care about the act of racing.
Last Sunday I kicked of my cross season with a little race fairly local to me. I found the park easily, got there in plenty of time, and went about my now well established routine of getting ready.
My attitude before the race was very “meh.” I felt very ambivalent in general. The course had lots of straight wide tracks in the grass, favoring someone with raw power and speed (something I distinctly lack). There was not a lot of technical areas and very few turns, and not a lot of hills (which I was totally ok with). I took a few practice laps and then waited for my race.
I took the second row and settled in behind a woman I know is fast. This is what I do. I’m not going to pretend I belong on the front line. But I’ll line up behind the faster racer in the front and ride her coattails through the start. This works pretty well for me most of the time, and did for me that day. I had a solid start and found myself in a tight pack as the wide track of grass dwindled to a single stream of racers. I was toward the rear of the lead pack which was terrific.
Halfway through the first lap, I passed a racer and then immediately made a misjudgment on a corner and overshot it, and found myself apologizing to the group for not keeping my line. They were very forgiving, probably because I gave up 2 or 3 spots in my mistake. Humbled, I settled in mid pack. Toward the end of the first lap, I saw my friend Jess who had a terrific start and was cooking though the course get tangled up with a junior. For unknown reasons, race organizers started the group of 5 juniors before the group of 17 grown women racers. I overheard the organizer say to the official “Did I really decide to put the juniors in front of the women?” Yes. Yes you did. Anyway, the junior slid out in a corner and Jess’ bike tangled with his. I was bummed for her, this is one of the things I dread about racing with the juniors and I’ve had my share of close calls. As a mom, my instinct is to be protective and encouraging to these kids. Juniors make mistakes as we all do, but no one wants to interfere or cloud with a young racer’s first experience. In my opinion, it’s stressful for them and stressful for us. As this calamity happened, at least 2 women got caught behind her, and I slipped by in the only opening, regaining what I lost in my earlier mistake.
During the second lap I was feeling pretty good. I hadn’t blown up but was working hard and feeling much less “meh” and much more “Yeah!” I passed another rider and was widening the gap. I could just see the next woman to catch disappear around the next visible corner, and I thought maybe I could reel her in. I had at least another lap and was feeling great when I entered a fun section of woods which lead riders down a hill of ribbon thin patch of single track and up again. At the bottom of the ribbon was a couple of protruding rocks. I FLEW down this chute, hit a rock and heard the rock hit my rim. I cranked up the hill and was immediately concerned about my rear tire. Within another 200 yards, the tire had gone totally flat as I closed out the second lap. My race was over.*
I would have taken 7th had I stayed inflated and held my position. 7 of 17 would have been a really awesome result–probably a better result than I have ever achieved.
I’m disappointed I did not ride more conservatively in that section. It’s not something I would have been worried about and obviously I was not worried about screaming down that hill at that speed and hitting that little rock. I had inflated my tires to about 50-55 psi because I was concerned about the rocks on course and I know I tend to ride over anything no matter how rough (read: she’s a MTBer at heart). At one point early in the race I thought to myself “I should have put less air in the tires,” because I was bouncing around so much. Enough Monday morning quarterbacking–I’m bummed out I flatted. But on the bright side, I was riding well and feeling strong and I just need to keep THAT feeling going for the next race.
Now to keep up with the training and find another race and someone to watch kiddo for half a day!
- Note: I was one of 5 women who DNF’d that particular race. A total of 25 racers across all categories and a total of 173 racers DNF’d this event. WOW. The only race that did not have a racer DNF was the fat bike category. So at least I was in good company.
I’ve had about a million things I wanted to blog about over the summer but didn’t, mostly because I’ve been busy having one of the best cycling summers of my life. Lots of doing, very little reflecting, almost no blogging. But right now I’m enjoying a RARE morning laying on my couch without another soul around so I’m going to blog about my race tomorrow.
Tomorrow I kick of my cyclocross season, my 5th as a lowly Cat 4 racer. I’m thinking about designing a cyclocross kit with the hashtag #Cat44Life because I think (I think) I’ve finally accepted that this is where I belong.
I race in Pittsfield, MA tomorrow at a venue I’ve never been to. It was a neat little field of 7 until 24 hours before registration closed. Now it’s 14 and they extended online registration another day–so I’m thinking it will grow further. Gone are the days of a handful of women racing, which is good thing, a really good thing.
I’ve done a ton of riding this summer, on track to a year’s goal of 3000 miles which is more than I’ve ever done in a year. I’ve mostly concentrated on more base miles with some hills. In August I had some vacation time which decreased my bike time but increased other physical activity (mostly hiking). By mid August, I switched from the road and mountain bike to almost exclusively the cross bike, and started to try to stick to what resembles an actual training plan. I’ve been doing that for only 2 weeks now, and with the light fading and my work schedule ramping up I am reminded how difficult it is to keep with such a plan. But I’ve started counting calories and dropped a couple of pounds, not as much as I would like (but I know zero women in America who feel they are at their ideal body weight so this is yet another unattainable standard I suppose), but enough where I’m feeling a bit trimmer and stronger.
So tomorrow I race, and I find out where I stack up this year, another year older and just a tiny bit wiser. I’m nervous, but not as bad as previous years. I have the same fears, but also slightly more confident. Each time I’m standing at the start, chatting with other women, everyone seems to be experiencing the identical range of emotions in varying degrees. We’re all in it together, after all, which is the whole reason I line up in the first place: the shared experience of competition and the difficultly the course will dish out to each of us.
Cross is coming, Cross is here. Time to race!
See you out there,
I made it back to Whistler, and it was totally awesome! I took my son this time. We hiked more than biked, but I still got out to some local mountain bike trails near Lost Lake. We did a lot of hiking, walking, exploring, some XC mountain biking, some photography while hunting bears (for photo reasons not to harm them). Some of our adventure plans were thwarted due to my son’s weight. Most parents are warned about childhood obesity. Not me. My kid is a bean pole. I swear I can cook and feed him often! He’s 11 years old, 5 feet tall, and 69 lbs. soaking wet. For this reason, our plans to white water raft and bobsled will have to wait. He was awed by all the epic scenery and we had a terrific time nonetheless.
The bike park was jamming since it was the week before Crankworx. Unfortunately, I did not DH this trip….I’ll live but I was disappointed that I did not get to do this. Truthfully, I hiked so much I was pretty sore. I soaked in the dh bike culture nonetheless.
I left wanting more, just like 2 years ago. There is just so much to do at Whistler. The beauty of this place in inescapable. It will be a while before I return–I have new places to see and explore. I love the mountains though–and this place really delivers adventure.
This past week I threw together an impromptu trip to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with friends and finally got to ride Kingdom Trails.
In a word, awesome. Really, this is Mountain Bike Mecca. We started riding at 2:00pm on Wednesday and finished after 6:00pm, grabbed a delicious meal and a beer at the local tavern. We did 14.8 miles and almost 1500 ft of climbing. Not bad for a late start.
Not long after while on a reasonably easy trail, I hit a small jump (something I had been doing all day). I landed wrong, the bike got away from me and I hit the trail hard. Really hard. It took me a few minutes lying still to take stock of my well being. My glasses came apart and cut my nose upon impact, leaving a trickle of blood on my nose. My helmet slammed again the ground twice and I had a slight headache, but it passed. My hip and backside took the hardest hit and I’m still having trouble sitting down. I kept riding for the rest of the day, but took it easy. I was pretty gassed by the end of the day, and as we wrapped up the skies opened up to a cool and refreshing shower. We ate at Mike’s Tiki Bar and the Vermont Food Truck, where I had perhaps one of the best cheeseburgers of my life.
We camped about 25 minutes north at a small campground that was dominated by RVs, with a few exceptions–including our site, which was a short hike away from the main campground and set next to a waterfall. We arrived late Wednesday night and set up camp in the dark. The ground was riddled with roots and a clear spot to sleep on was hard to find. But the white noise of the rushing waterfall helped lull me to sleep each night.
Despite the crash, I had a fantastic time and will plan a return for next summer. Vermont is a beautiful state and my love affair with it continues. Kingdom Trails, I will be back!