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MassBike, The Wachusett Fondo, Bicycling Advocacy, and putting my money where my mouth is.

Guys!  After many years of wanting to give back to the cycling community and never having the time, I have fallen into a board role with MassBike PV (Pioneer Valley).  I’ve attended 2 meetings thus far, and I’m looking forward to helping the chapter, as well as the organization as a whole, achieve their ongoing mission of bicycle advocacy, education, and community support.

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As my first act of support, I’ve signed up for the Tim Johnson’s Wachusett Fondo.  Tim has been a wonderful, high profile advocate for cycling in all forms, and proceeds from the event will help fund MassBike’s work with cycling advocacy in the state of Massachusetts.  Some of my teamies from Keep It Tight are signing up, and I’m talking some friends into signing up as well. I’m also excited that my little brother Steve will be joining me (he says) on this ride! Steve rides motorcycles and dirt bikes more than he rides pedal bikes, and spends a lot of his time picking things up and putting them down in a gym.  A recent skiing accident this past winter has left him unable to hit the gym and perform his typical weightlifting regimen, so he started riding his road bike to keep fitness. A little sibling challenge from his older sister and I’m pretty sure he’ll be gutting the ride out with me on July 28th. This ride is 70 miles  paved & gravel, and 5,000 ++ ft of climbing, concluding at the summit of Mt. Wachusett.  Beer will follow!

-Karen

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Gravel & Dirt in 2018

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This year is nearly half over, and I’m just feeling like it’s starting. The winter was long.  So long. Like still getting snow in April long.  Now warmer weather is here and all I can think about is being outside riding. I’m getting out enough, but it’s like I feel the need to make up for a lot of lost time. This spring I returned to Montpelier, VT for The Muddy Onion Spring Classic.  I entered the first mountain bike race of the year as a Cat 2 rider, and played hookey for a solo adventure ride that took me somewhere I deeply needed.  Let’s play catch up.

The Muddy Onion

We just call this “The Onion” now.  We actually call it “The Funion” because it’s such a good time. Gail, Laura an I rode up to Vermont together, meeting Matt at a diner for some late night breakfast the evening before the event. Laura didn’t feel well after dinner and I was worried she might not be able to ride in the morning. She toughed it out and rallied for the event, even changing my flat tire at mile 31.

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The route changed slightly this year, but still brought us over some primo peanut butter mud and gravel. It had been raining all day Friday, and the roads showed it. I overheard that it was the muddiest Muddy Onion ride on record. I was just happy to be back in Vermont, a place I feel akin to. Beautiful roads under moody skies with friends and friendly cycling community.  This ride attracts a group of good people.

I should mention, my entry was comped by the GRVL-XX Project.

“GRVL-XX is a group for female cyclists only, dedicated to increasing participation of the ladies in gravel riding and racing and to showcase fun and unique events.”

They have a good community of FB and use their platform to grow the sport for women.  Check them out of you are a female rider, or a race promoter of a gravel event and are interested in promoting a little gender diversity.

Fat Tire Classic-Winding Trailing Mountain Bike Race

Despite the terrible weather all year, I’ve been keeping up with riding and while I’m not dedicated enough to be doing scheduled intervals on the trainer during the freak snowstorms we just kept getting all spring, I felt I was in good enough shape to level up to the Sport category for mountain biking.  When I started racing mountain bikes again in my 40’s, it was only a couple few years ago and I did a small handful of races. I always raced Cat 3 (beginner) and I’m not a beginner. I’m just middle aged and slow. But my bike handing skills are decent enough. I started bringing home some hardware from these cat 3 races-which was nice! Mountain bike races increase overall length of the race when you upgrade, and I can handle the increase in miles, so I figured–just go for it. Upgrade! Also-the mountain biking scene tends to be more chill that cyclocross, which is a nice break. I’m competitive enough in my own head, and a laid back culture is a very nice counterbalance. I like that about mountain biking. A lot.

So I entered as a cat 2. Winding Trails is a pretty buffed out course, but this year had some changes to the course and it felt harder–like maybe there were more climbs than last year.  Instead of 10 miles (2 laps) I was in for 15 miles (3 laps). We lined up at the start and it’s nice to know some of the women I race against now. I saw Sarah from cyclocross (who now races elite in cx while I’m still hanging out in cat 4) and Kait who started racing last year and just keeps winning everything. We were causally chatting right up to the whistle, so different than the tense silence in the moments before the start of a cyclocross race. I was hoping to place among the 35+ crowd, and I was foolish enough to think this was possible.

I don’t know if it was the long winter, my overbloated confidence, or WHAT, but 15 miles was HARD. I rode as efficiently as I could, and the trails were not too technical at all, but I got my ass KICKED in that race. Dead last among all the women. I did pass one of the older guys who started before the women’s race on the same course. We exchanged pleasantries on a particularly unpleasant climb. But that was my only pass and it counted for nothing.

Since then, I have not done another mountain bike race–only because of scheduling issues. I plan to do at least one more–maybe two. And I’m planning on sticking to Cat 2, even though I got killed in it. Because I CAN handle the miles and I’m NOT a beginner, and mountain biking culture is totally chill. Maybe that combination is really the right one.

Solo Adventure Ride

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a day off and just have a “me” day.  I don’t think I know how much I needed this until I did it. 54 miles, solo. Vague idea of where I was going. Beautiful weather, beautiful roads, beautiful non-roads. The best ride. I’ll leave you with my Instagram post after that ride and the photos of it.

Today I took the day off and rode my bike 54 miles on pavement, gravel, mud, grass, snowmobile trails and cow paths. I accidentally ended up in a cow pasture and the cows noticed me and started coming for me. I was off the map for a while. I hopped fallen trees, crossed a stream, jumped an electric fence, and stepped carefully over barbed wire. I found a very ominous looking murder shack in the middle of nowhere. I found a rubber red goldfish tucked into a 150 year old oak tree. I saw waterfalls. A gaggle of wild turkeys. At one point when I was pretty lost, with no bars on the cell phone, I looked down and half buried in the mud was a small sign nailed to a post that had broken off, that read “YOU ARE HERE.” That was my favorite moment of this extraordinary day.

 

 

Summer’s finally arrived–go ride!!

-Karen

Don’t Jinx It! My CX Season So Far…

I’m hesitant to write about this at all, but dare I say, I’m finally having the cyclocross season I’ve always wanted.

I have long had the modest goal to finish in the top 50% of the race.  And this year–it’s actually happening.  Not every race, but 4 of the last 7 races this year I’m in the top half. If I don’t get a flat tire, or other calamity, I’m making it.

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Minuteman CX–29/58 was good enough for the 50% cut off.  The rain came down the whole time and made for a sloppy – fun race.

This feels so good, it was an achievable goal I set for myself but never quite managed to pull off more than once a season. It always bugged me because I knew I could do more, but I always found it so hard to train and prepare for the season the right way. By no means do I have everything figured out, but there are reasons I’m doing that much better this year.

1.) I’m following a training schedule. It’s general and not ridiculously specific–but I’m doing intervals on Wednesdays and threshold when I’m supposed to and resting on days I should rest. I generally try to stress my body into an uncomfortable feeling on hard days and genuinely take it easy when I’m supposed to.

2.) I’m able to ride during the day, outside.  Last year I was still working in Springfield in an office for 9-10 hours a day, without an outlet for exercise. Training was isolated to the trainer at night and weekends, and occasional afternoons until the light was gone (which wasn’t long). Now I work from home and while I still commute to the Boston suburbs once or twice a week, I’m able to ride 45-60 mins at least 3 days during the week plus whatever I do on the weekends. As an additional benefit, I find I’m much more alert during my work days because of the mid-day exercise, and I no longer have back and neck pain from sitting for long stretches.

3. I’m eating a little better. I still have my treats, but I’m eating more veggies and less sugar in general. I’ve lost a couple of pounds and overall feel better.

4.) I’m recovering better.  I find I can endure more discomfort and recover faster from hard efforts. The intervals help with that. But some of the big rides I did last summer seem to be paying off now too.

5.) I am serious about racing, and not serious about the results. This is probably the best development–I seem to have found a healthy mental balance between my enthusiasm, my nerves, and my internal competitor. When I race, I am focused and I’m constantly thinking about what i need to do to pass the women in front of me, and expand gaps between me and the women behind me. But the fun is still there–I joke with the hecklers and while I have had results that are an improvement over years past, I know I’m still not winning races here. I still don’t expect to move up a category. My perspective is intact. I’m still having a lot of fun.

6.) I’m in one place. This is a simple one–but something I haven’t had for a long time. No longer am I packing a bag every other weekend to visit my significant other. Now that we are under the same roof, there is no more back and forth and that has helped me focus on things I want to…..like cyclocross.

The most meaningful thing about this incremental improvement in my performance is that it is happening as I settle into what can be easily described as “My late forties.” I love this is happening at this time in my life. I love that I can improve my athletic performance at anything after age 40. I love that I can do this sport and my age doesn’t prevent my participation. I hope I can continue to do it for many years to come.

I registered for a small grassroots race this weekend in Vermont, and then next weekend is the Verge/Cycle-Smart Northampton International Cyclocross race weekend–the hometown race. If I can, I’d like to continue to do better than average among my peers for the Northampton races. The trick now is to keep up with the diet and workouts, and not get sick or injured.

Let’s hope I didn’t jinx myself by talking about it!

-Karen

 

Cyclocross is Underway!

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.

KMC CROSSFEST

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.

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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!

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I got third!

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.

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Multi-approach to the gnarly downhill.  A LOT of crashes here but these Cat 3 women all made it down in one piece.

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.

Minuteman CX

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!

-Karen

JAM Fund Grand FUNdo – 2017

  • 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.

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Laura & Gail.

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.

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KIT Teamies, Steph & Kathy at rest stop #1. I felt a little guilty in my NCC kit. They gave me a pass….”when in Rome….”  Northampton Cycling Club for summer, Keep It Tight for cyclocross season.

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.

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Laura’s taking a selfie and I’m showing her the pretty birdie.

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!

-Karen

Muddy Onion Spring Classic

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.

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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.

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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.

-Karen

FOMO Bike Racing

Last January in a fit of “oh my God I haven’t been able to ride outside in a week” desperation, I freaked out and signed up for a duathlon for mid April. I needed something to focus on. I have done the event before–a couple of times, although it’s been a few years. An off road trail run, a mountain bike ride, followed by another trail run. The while thing is done in about 90 minutes. I reasoned that the running would be a good thing to focus on throughout the winter to keep me active–and easier than trying to ride on icy roads. Plus it would get me in shape for the Spartan Event I’m doing in June (for the 4th time, God help me).

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Me and my little brother in 2009?  2010? at the duathlon. Anyway, in typical competitive first born nature, the thing to point out here is I’m ahead of my younger brother.

All that made a lot of sense. I had been watching Bikereg like a mother–always trying to find a couple of spring/summer events to do before cyclocross season, and it was January–so of course there wasn’t a lot posted. I got an email from the duathlon race promoted with a discount and it seemed like a perfectly good idea. I signed up.

Then about a month later, a mountain bike race was posted for the same time, same day, slightly closer to home. I figured oh well. But as it gets closer, I’m waffling.

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The same thing is happening at the end of April.  I’m signed up for the Muddy Onion Spring Classic. On the same day, another mountain bike race was posted 2 towns away. I am totally psyched for the Onion, but man I wish that mountain bike race was scheduled another day! I’d sign up in a heartbeat if were on another weekend.

It’s been a really long winter and it’s not quite over yet, with more snow expected on the very last day of May. I have found that I need something to look forward to to get me through long stretches like winter. Signing up for that duathlon was a sound choice but now…..now I’m looking at that mountain bike race and thinking–that’s what I’d rather be doing! I suck at running, I just tolerate it. It’s like doing homework. But a couple hours on my bike in the woods with like minded people?  Yeah, that’s my jam. There is a short 5.5 mile mountain bike portion of the duathlon, so its not like I wouldn’t get bike time, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

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I was having SOOOOO much fun at this race in 2015, even though shortly after this was taken I flatted and pushed my bike 4 miles through the woods. This is still more fun than running.

Ignorance is bliss, choices paralyze us. If I bag out on the duathlon and lose the $70 fee, and sign up for the mountain bike race, and then have a bad time at the race, will I be full of regret for changing my mind because of a little FOMO? Or is this just an example of going with my gut?

My gut love bikes, and it’s been a long, long winter.

-Karen