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.
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!
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!
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
Plans are underway for another off road getaway with Laura and Gail, and with interest from others building from our respective Facebook feeds. Upstate New York is the place, deep in the Hudson River Valley.
Bikepacking was the original plan, and I have a better rear saddle bag this year that I’m dying to test out, but this is shaping up to be more of a camping trip with bikes, with some minor bikepacking required to reach the campsite which is off the beaten path and away from parking. The bonus is our vehicles will be nearby enough and it will be easy to cache food and supplies there, but far enough away to feel a bit more off the grid. And there is less stress around route planning, which takes up an enormous amount of time.
Camping is primitive and we can obtain a permit for up to 10 women. There has been interest expressed by a few different people. My attitude is the more the merrier–it will allow for mingling and new friendships and small groups to break off to hike or mountain bike or swim or do whatever. I also am a fan of safety in numbers, and this campsite is said to be much more remote than our trip last year. We will be deep in bear country as well, so having more people and cars nearby (about a mile away) is a plus.
Stay tuned…..it’s coming together!
Last Sunday I drove down to Hartford, CT to watch the pro races at the US Cyclocross National Championship. The entire week had been a “spin the wheel” of extreme weather: rain, mud, snow, frozen ruts, frozen ruts covered by snow, frozen ruts with a layer of mud covered by more snow–they really had it all. I watched Katie Compton claim her 13th national championship title, and Stephen Hyde his first. Actually I had to leave about 15 minutes before Hyde’s spectacular finish with a broken derailleur, which I’m still shaking my head over–I can’t believe I had to miss that! Anyway, I shutterbugged and socialized and had a nice time despite the frigid temperatures. Here are some of the better photos–enjoy! -Karen