Each year Gloucester happens it somehow lives up to the hype. This year was no different.
My hometown is a 30 minute drive from Gloucester so I always have a place to stay. This weekend was packed with social engagements—I invited Matt & Gail to stay at my mom’s place, and I was invited to a friend from high school’s apartment just a mile from the venue in a Gloucester for a gathering of friends on Saturday afternoon.
So far I haven’t mentioned that I was racing both days, which I was.
My start was solid and a gray mist created a wet surface on a dusty course. The field was crowded and there were spills and tangles and women washing out on corners and crashing left and right. The first lap went fine, but with 5 dismounts a lap, I noticed by Lap 2 my right foot was coming out of my shoe. My brand new Scott carbon fiber cycling shoes with the fancy boa ties were lose. I found a smooth section of pavement and tried to tighten it to no avail. It was busted and I lost spots stepping over barriers rather than jumping because I didn’t want to lose a shoe. That sucked. I came in 48th of 72 starters. I expected to come in around 40 but did what I could do with what I had.
I had a fitful nights sleep and bad food for dinner, and had socialized more in the previous 24 hours than I do in a month. My focus was not on racing, and that’s not what I wanted. Matt was up at 5 and gone by 6 and I was up by 6 and Gail and I left by 6:45am, and my head still wasn’t screwed on. Because I almost always go to these races alone, I realized I use that time to collect my thoughts. I’m not an introvert but I have introverted tendencies and I do like my quiet alone time.
As I warmed up on the course, I stopped at the edge of the park and looked at the sun rising over the bay, the light dancing on the surface of the ocean. I inhaled the ocean air and just quieted my mind. I grew up next to the Atlantic and it brought me some calmness before Sunday’s race and settled me down enough to focus on racing the kind of race I wanted to.
My moment of zen proved successful. I had a decent start and rode smart and relatively clean on a slightly less technical course. The flow of Sunday’s course was fantastic, and things felt good and right. Toward the end of the last lap I passed a woman on the grass. We hit the pavement for the uphill sprint finish and she went for it and passed me. I didn’t want it to end that way, didn’t want to lose what I had gained, and I stayed with her and poured everything I had into catching her. I beat her by a wheel at the finish and resecured my hard earned gain. My heart rate peaked at 195 with this effort. I almost never win a sprint finish so this was a sweet mini-victory.
Now I could relax and have fun! I had a good race and was pleased with the results: 29th of 58 starters. The fog burned off and the sun came out for the rest of the day. It was a good ending to a very busy weekend with a little too much car time due the Boston’s never ending traffic problems. I enjoyed seeing my old friends from school and hanging out and relaxing with Gail & Matt in the evenings. All & all a great weekend of fun, friends and cross racing.
Here’s a few more pictures from the weekend.
Guys, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it this season. Call me late to the party, but I’m here! Cyclocross season is underway in the #NECX and I’m gearing up for my 6th year.
So lots has happened since I was here last. I sold my house, moved in with my long time partner, started my son at a new school, got braces (yeah you read that right, I got braces–thanks Invisalign), and have been enjoying the “who know what will happen next” feeling of being a contract consultant and working sans contract. Nonetheless, I’m in good spirits, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like my life has some traction (now to keep my head down because saying it aloud makes me wonder just where that next hit will come from).
After the JAM Grand Fundo, I did the NEBRA August Adventure Ride–which was just so amazing. Pencil that one on the must do list for next year everyone. As the uncertainty of house selling toyed with me at the end of summer and the beginning of September, I all but stopped riding in favor of tag sales, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, cleaning, packing, moving, repairing, etc, etc. OMG WHAT A LOT OF WORK. If packing up and selling off 16 years worth of a life isn’t like interval training I don’t know what is.
But it’s over. Officially. And I’m able to focus on a much happier obsession.
So I planned to jump into the season at KMC Crossfest in Thompson, CT. They’ve been trying to make KMC a really big deal, starting things off on a Thursday and concluding on Sunday. It’s a C1/C2 race, and part of the USAC US Cup CX. Meaning star power from the Pro Ranks would be there to compete.
I wasn’t there for that–I love watching the pros but I’m always more interested in doing rather than watching. The entry fee was very expensive as far as cx races go. $60 a day, plus $10 to park-each day! Attendance withered as a result. I used to race in a field of 120 at this event. But on Day 1, only 25 women lined up.
The race was fast–as cross races go. More pavement than I’ve ever seen at a cx race. But the technical part was highly technical.
In the cat 4 race they scored 40+ masters separately from the Under 40 cat 4s…..which to my complete surprise resulted in a podium for me!
I’m still psyched about it.
On my second day at KMC–a much different outcome. The field thinned even further–only 16 racers, and even fewer masters. I felt I had a good chance at repeating the result I had on Saturday and was very hopeful. I was really tired but had slept a good 10 hours and tend to rally after the whistle blows. The course was beat up from 3 days day of hard racing and only 1/2 way through the 1st lap I flatted. What a huge disappointment. My friend Jon was cheering for me and saw what happened. I was walking to the exit the course and had my hand on the tape when he yelled “No Karen! They have neutral support! Run to the pits!” I thought he was nuts. The pits were over a mile away. “It’s so far!” I whined. But then I realized–yeah, I was whining. Stop it. Pick up your bike and run to the freaking pit.
So I did that. Thank you Jon.
I’d never pitted before, so I took this as a great learning experience. The Shimano mechanics were great–they fixed things on my bike I didn’t even know needed fixing, and had me on my way very quickly with a new wheel. But the time lost running the course with my flatted out tire was significant. I lost an entire lap and finished dead fucking last. But DFL–>DNF–>DNS and I gained just a little more experience in the sport.
My sixth year and still a cat 4, still learning, and getting older (just had another birthday but still not as old as my racing age would have you think), but maybe getting better? Maybe.
That podium experience got me pretty fired up, and while I doubt that I’ll repeat the perfect storm of low attendance, high entry fee, and high profile event with a rule that has them scoring masters 40+ women separately again this year, I’m still just delusional enough to think I might be improving a bit. So I signed up for Minuteman CX–a race I’d never done before due to childcare schedules, but now my child is a breath away from teenager status and he came along to take pics.
The course is not very hilly and not very technical, except for the incredible number of turns/corners. So many corners! Cornering well would be the #1 skill to bring to this race. To my delight, overcast skies opened up 5 minutes before the race and continued to rain steadily for the whole event. We were ringing our gloves out at the start line, where a healthy group of 58 women lined up for the cat 4 race.
I had contact with someone pretty much the whole race, traded places, passed some got passed by others, crashed once, and got soaked and muddy. It was perfect. I finished just in the top 1/2 of the group–a solid mid pack finish which is what I aspire to do but always come up a little short. I was 29th of 58 and had a great time with teammates and friends.
Next weekend is the Gran Prix of Gloucester, and I’m racing both days, hosting friends at my Mom’s house, and going to a party with friends from high school. The original hometown race. The competition will be tougher but still shooting for mid-pack finishes, no flats or crashes, and maximum fun.
Guys, cx season is here!! So much fun!
- The JAM Fund Grand Fundo has became a signature cycling event in western Massachusetts, known for it’s cycling star power, beautiful and challenging routes, great food & drink, and warm community. Living in western mass, I feel particularly fortunate to connect with so many cycling friends at an event in my backyard that I otherwise would not get to see in my day to day life.
This year, Laura came back to do the full Fundo–67 miles and over 5,650 feet of climbing on a mix of paved and gravel roads. It was a warm and cloudy day and I was grateful temps didn’t move past the mid 80’s.
We rolled out from Black Birch Winery in Southampton and hit gravel within just a few miles. Soon we all tackled the formidable King’s Highway, followed by Krug Sugarbush and then around mile 22, our first rest stop.
Soon after, we were back on gravel for what seemed like the next 30 miles. I was riding my gf’s gravel bike, a 2016 Specialized Dolce Evo, which was super comfortable. I loved the stopping power of the disc brakes and the Lazy-Boy quality of the seat. But it didn’t help me in the climbing department, and at 22 pounds, I was used to a lighter machine. I slogged through each hill, which slowed all of us down (sorry guys), but on the descents I bombed past everyone. The Specialized tracked superbly and I could confidentially hit 40+ mph on gravel and then stop on a dime.
By mile 50, I was more than ready for our downhill finale. 17 miles of reverse hills I was downward dogging it back to the winery. I REALLY wanted to hang out and enjoy the food and beer and friends, both new and old–but my son had been dropped off at a neighbor’s house after 2 weeks away from home (tech camp & a Cape Cod vacation) and I couldn’t wait another second to see my boy. I can’t complain though–It was a full day on bikes with friends at a terrific event supporting the next generation of cyclocross greats. I’ll be back next year for another helping!
I finally made it back to Domnarski this year. I last raced this course in 2014 and the course was as difficult as I remembered; an uphill start over a bunch of sharp rocks for 1.2 miles and then fire roads, and a single track descent which was so fun it made you forget that first climb altogether–until you did it a second time. I raced Cat 3 and the loop was the shorter of the two loops at Domnarski–the “beginner” lap. First timers did it once, Cat 3’s twice.
It was a warm sunny day and the hill was exhausting–but the rest of the ride was a bunch of fun. 4 women started, I was the only 35+ woman so as long as I finished I would simultaneously “win” and “lose” my race. My goal was to finish faster than I did in 2014.
Mission accomplished. I came in 3rd overall and beat my time from 2014 (according to Strava).
2014 lap times: Lap 1 – 30:04, Lap 2 – 32:39
2017 lap times: Lap 1 – 29:42, Lap 2 – 31:44
And as mentioned before, I was the only 35+ women, so solo podium for me.
As an extra bonus, I learned after the race that this was the Massachusetts State Championship for the Root 66 Series, so I got an extra medal from USA Cycling, which was kind of cool, but still felt a little over the top, especially since I didn’t compete against anyone in my age group.
I am still racing the Cat 3 (beginner) class, mostly because before 2017 I had done about 2 races since the year 2000. Last year I didn’t do any mountain bike races. This is my 3rd MTB race this year, and while I still don’t feel like I’m ‘fast,” I’m not a beginner and unlike cyclocross–I usually get a good result in mountain biking races. For next year, I plan to suck it up and upgrade to Sport (Cat 2) for mountain biking. This is NOT the plan for cyclocross however–I will remain a cat 4 and continue to finish mid-pack on my best days.
I was also great seeing Kait again who is slaying all the 18-34 age group races in our category, and meeting a couple more women who raced. We were all pretty surprised there weren’t more women racing on such a picture perfect Sunday, but it was fun to chat for a while after the race.
I don’t know if I’ll have time in the schedule for additional MTB races this year. I plan to to the JAM Fund Grand Fundo and need to start training for the climbing/distance right now if I’m going to have a good day that day. And then cross season will be upon us in no time…I usually switch back to riding the cross bike exclusively by August. But I want to stay flexible this year in what I plan to do. I am not sure I’ll be doing so many cross races in 2017–I say this now but we’ll see. I know once I get a taste again I’ll want to do as many as I can.
Oh Vermont, I want to run away with you forever.
But for now, I just have the occasional jaunt north. Last weekend, it was for the Muddy Onion-a gravel ride kicking off in Montpelier and looping across 3,700 feet of green mountain goodness on mostly gravel roads. Laura & I signed up back in February, and as the event got closer, Gail and Matt decided to join us. A couple of my KIT cyclocross teammates Kathy & Michele also signed up. The bike tribe gathered to celebrate the end of winter.
Gail & I Laura met up at my place Friday afternoon and we carpooled up to the state capital, Packet pick up was a cinch at Onion River Sports. Matt had already arrived and the 4 of us dined at The Skinny Pancake–a first for me and definitely not a last! Crepes for dinner were A+.
Saturday morning, the weather for the ride could not have been more perfect. Mid 60’s in late April in Vermont was unusually warm but no one was complaining. We rolled out, and up, and up, and up. We were on gravel within just a couple of miles and stayed on gravel 90% of the time.
The views were beautiful and the rest stops stocked with maple syrup shots, chocolate covered bacon and Pabst Blue Ribbon. We climbed, talked, traded idle chit chat with fellow riders and enjoyed every moment of the 35 miles in picturesque Vermont.
After the ride we enjoyed a free beer and veggie burgers and BBQ chicken. Back to the motel for a quick shower and we went back into town on a mission to find coffee and Zero Gravity Beer. Unavailable in Massachusetts and brewed in Burlington,VT- both Gail and I discovered this independently and have been fans ever since. We found it in liquor store in downtown Montpelier, and cleaned the place out. The store clerk entertained us with stories of his southern Georgia catholic-hebrew upbringing–a delightful encounter with a unconventionally lovely fellow.
Gail, Laura and I returned to Massachusetts that evening and rode mountain bikes in thunderstorm the next day. Bikes and friends and great food and drink all weekend. I feel happy and blessed to have these getaways to remind me of what a balanced life is like. Occasionally I get it.
Last weekend I raced the Fat Tire Classic–a mountain bike race I’ve never done but had wanted to do for years. Up before 6:30am on a Sunday, I was seriously questioning why this was important — a Cat 3, 35+ event at 9am a state away. My stomach was feeling off all morning and I was tired and unmotivated. Already running late, I was concerned to find the LONGEST pre-reg line I’ve ever seen in my life. I barely got to the start on time and with no course inspection whatsoever, we went.
Then, I proceeded to have one of the greatest races of my life. Not because I’m all that. I was lucky enough to be very evenly matched with another woman. First place was long gone but my race was the race for second. I was 3rd, then 2nd, then 3rd, then 2nd again. I’m not sure how often we traded places by but the second lap we had traded names and complimented each other on the spirited rivalry.
In the end, I held her off to claim second, but another mile of trail and it very well could have been her taking the second spot on the podium. We hugged after the race and I thanked her. So seldom do I get a real race in these events, and she really gave me that, which made the day for me.
I bagged out of the duathlon I signed up for last February and entered a mountain bike race instead last weekend. Originally this race was to be held at Hodges Dam, but the heavy rains flooded part of the race course so organizers decided to move it to Wallum Lake at Douglas State Forest in Douglas, MA.
The course was a 6.6 mile loop of flat fire roads, rocky singletrack, and doubletrack trails. I entered the over 40 cat 3 race and did 2 laps. My start was great, I was second then first, then it all faded away. I burned all my matches and 3 miles in, I was regretting wearing long sleeves under my jersey, even though temps were just in the 50s.
The single track was very rocky, and I was queen of the pedal strikes. I had never ridden the course before so it was all new to me, which I know worked against me. I passed one women who flatted in the first lap. At the finish I saw her again; she repaired her flat and kept racing (props). The second lap I was mostly alone. I was passed by a under 40 woman and then we were neck and neck up a double track hill littered with rocks. I passed her on the hill, and was concentrating so much on picking the right like up the hill, I missed a left turn into the woods. Suddenly I arrived at pavement and realized I was off course, and my competitor was long gone. I doubled back and found the trail, but it cost me at least 2-3 minutes. Even though she was out of my age group, I wanted to make up what I lost. I caught sight of her again through the woods a few times and tried to close the gap, but she was too far gone. My final placement was 4th in my age group.
The race lasted 2 hours, 13.3 miles–which is no joke for a Cat 3. I was hungry and tired for the next 2 days, but the intensity of the race felt cleansing and was what I needed to set me on the path I want to be on in terms of cycling fitness. The winter was long and this was a great jump start.
I’m signed up for another MTB race this weekend, at Winding Trails in Farmington, CT. That course is supposed to be groomed, flat, fast. It will be fun to check out another place to ride. I like seeing new trails and meeting new people, as well as seeing some familiar faces from the cyclocross scene at these races. I’m hoping to do a couple more races after Winding Trails, as well as some longer, more social gravel road rides.