Sometimes you have to wring yourself out to get somewhere.
I signed up for 2 races last Saturday, the Cat 4 and then the Open Category just 45 minutes later. After too little sleep, too little riding, too much travel, too much work, too much stress, and too much alcohol & food at client dinners (and breakfasts and lunches and coffee breaks)….. I needed the ass-kicking to get me back on track.
The Cat 4 Race
Staging was odd–I was in the second row but figured I’d be in the 3rd. My start was great and I was in the lead group through the squiggly, hilly turns after the first corner. Then the straightaway, and pick, pick, pick….they came. I slid back to the middle. The back fields were a maze of corners. Around one corner I cut too close to one of the stakes and my foot slammed square into the post and nearly knocked me off the bike. Pick, pick, a couple more slid by me. Then on a modest descent before a sharper right turn, a young woman blasted by me to the cheers of her friends. She passed, then lost control and wiped out in grand fashion right in front of me. I managed to avoid her crash but was forced to dismount for the sharp right turn and hill (which was totally rideable in any other circumstance). I pushed on the the front of the course and the heckle-hill. They changed the hill a bit this year; the apex was characterized by a severe left turn on a sloping hill that slowed dismounts and caused some to topple down the hill.
About 3/4 into the first lap, I started coughing and my lungs started filling. My speed slowed to a non-race pace. I’ve had this problem before when the temps get cold: sports induced asthma. It was in the high 40’s but felt colder somehow. I struggled through the rest of the race, trading places with one other racer a few times but in the end she won the battle and I lost yet another place. No Crossresults posting yet but at the venue I came in 15th/22? I think 22. Not so great and I am definitely capable of more.
At the end of the race, I was literally wheezing. I found my friend Kathy who was getting ready for the Women’s Open and told her exactly how I was feeling at that moment: I don’t want to race again. I went back to my car to warm up and lick my wounds. I called my girlfriend and told her how I was feeling. “You sound miserable. If you feel that awful then just come home and skip it.” Inside my brain, hearing her say this aloud was like a needle scratching across a record. I was miserable, but I was there, and quitting would feel worse than coughing up whatever was left of my lungs.
Women’s Open 1/2/3/4
So I lined up for the second race, the harder and longer race with the fast women. Again, they staged us in an odd manner….someone realized it must be alphabetical, which was really bizarre. I found myself in the front row, which I had no earthly business being. We started fine and on the straightaway I moved over on purpose. I did not want to be in anyone’s way. I didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s race. It didn’t take long for the field to pass me and my wheezing lungs and leave me by myself.
This was just fine. I concentrated on form and smooth execution, and tried to push where I could, but the previous effort left me with very little. My lungs seemed to settle down but my energy was zonked.
On heckle hill, there were issues. Most heckles are in good fun. I joked with the spectators at the top and let them know I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. At least one heckler’s comments were what can only be described as condescending and pandering. I heard similar complaints from the other women post race, so I was not alone in this perception.
I got lapped and finished last–unless someone DNF’d (which happened last year). I felt 100% destroyed and 100% better than after my first race. If the first race tore me apart, the second pounded me into dust,which was exactly what I needed.
I’m hoping for a halfway decent showing next weekend in Northampton. It’s always difficult to keep momentum during cross season–it’s a big frustration for me to not be able to do my best because “real life” demands don’t allow me to race or train or even get enough sleep to be healthy. Hopefully Paradise CX’s pain will have some value next weekend.
Tomorrow I’ve signed up for my first ever back-to-back races in the same day.
Yup. Race at 12:00PM, then again at 1:30PM.
It would be difficult for me to be less prepared for this endeavor. I haven’t had a serious workout in what feels like a long time. Last week I spent doing 16 hour days consisting of of air travel, conference sitting, client meetings, presentations, walking several city blocks in heels, extravagant dinners of rich southern creole cuisine (the food part is not an actual complaint), and entirely too much alcohol. I’ve barely been on my bike. To add to this completely bad idea , my calf injury seems to have reappeared, leaving me feeling like if I strain or stretch the wrong way, that sucker is going to pop and tear like it did in the middle of Ice Weasels last year.
The first race is a short 30 minute race with cat 4 women. I’m again, predictably, expected to be in the middle of that pack. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s a New England thing, but some of the cat 4 women ride their bikes pretty fast. I’m hoping to stay in the middle if at all possible, but my fitness has slid as it does every year (you know the drill: work, kid schedules, lack of daylight, blah, blah, blah).
The second race is an Open Category: 1/2/3/4. I’m predicted to be last. So all the pressure is off! I’ll start at the back, stay at the back, and if I can pick someone off, great. I’m basically going to focus on chasing my friend Kathy and see if I can keep up with her. I did this same race last year and was also predicted to finish last, but somehow didn’t, so there’s always hope.
I’ve called this my “race to the bottom” weekend. I’m not going to have great results tomorrow, in either race. I’m feeling pretty sluggish. I didn’t ride my trainer tonight for openers. I did laundry and washed dishes and watched Westworld for the 3rd time this week, because mentally, I needed those 3 things tonight. You know, priorities. It’s not that I’m not motivated: I’m totally excited to race tomorrow and have been thinking about racing cyclocross every day and obsessing over it like I do every year. I’m just wicked freaking tired from life. So I figure–sign up for these grassroots races, get a race or two into the legs, avoid further injury to that calf, and kick the body back into the cross season. Northampton is next weekend and I want to be past this worn out “rock bottom” feeling and back into an upswing.
I might be racing to the bottom tomorrow, but at least I’m still racing.
Goals are funny. We want to achieve them but we like our routines. We like our habits, even the bad ones.
I set a goal of 3000 miles. I’ve wanted to do this kind of mileage before but never (I don’t think) put it in writing. 60 miles a week doesn’t seem insurmountable. But I’ve never been able to pull that kind of mileage off. Here are my most recent stats:
Distance 2,114 miles
Elevation Gain 92,450ft
Distance 2,345 miles
Elevation Gain 89,850ft
Distance 2,710 mi
Elevation Gain 118,000+++ft (should have written this one down!)
Elevation Gain 81,385ft
2013 was my best year for miles and climbing, and there is a great reason: I was laid off from my job for the first time in my entire life. Being out of work and being COMPLETELY stressed about it is a perfect recipe for high miles: high stress to pedal off and lots of free time to do it. Honestly I can thank cycling for getting me through that dark time. But things are on the upswing these days, so it would be great to log even higher miles and have them just be for fun, not exclusively for mental health.
Mid summer in 2015, I was feeling a loss of wind in my sails around training, about the approaching cyclocross season and how invested I could be or wanted to be in the race season. I got it together, mostly. But my miles dropped off hard as soon as daylight saving time came around, and with that, so did my overall fitness.
So why 3000 miles? It feels like a magic number to me. In 2013 when I was riding a ton, things started to shift for me in terms of my cycling performance. I got faster, I climbed better, I became a more capable cyclist. It felt so great. I moved off the plateau and onto higher ground, and it was nice, and surprising, to learn that was still possible in my forties.
So-3000 miles for 2016. Hopefully the mild winter will continue, my personal schedules fall into place, and I can get the saddle time I need to get there…..and hopefully I’ll move off that plateau and onto that higher ground I’m looking for.
Right! That never happens. I’ll spend this winter obsessing about what I should have done differently and not forgiving myself for not training harder, despite the reality of a highly demanding schedule.
What’s on my list this winter?
- Mountain biking
- Trail running
So far this winter has been record setting mild. No snow, a few cold days but nothing serious. I need to get back into running; I have some serious muscle imbalance going on, and I need to challenge some different muscle groups. Yoga would help. Now I need someone to make me do some yoga.
In 2016 I am signed up for a few obstacle course races starting in the spring and concluding in September. I’m hoping to squeeze a couple of mountain bike races in this summer too. Mountain biking is something I really love and during the summers I find myself not spending as much time as I would like in the woods.
Goals for 2016 will be forthcoming, but right now, no agendas, just fun. Happy holidays everyone!
At last, I’ve experienced the infamous Ice Weasels. Considered the end of the season party for the New England Cyclocross community, I have regrettably missed this party for the last 3 years. Now I see what all the fuss is about. This was a blast. A completely rad course, beer handups, White Russian handups, candy cane handups, silly costumes, a Star Wars theme, and a bike jump! What more could a girl ask for? Oh, the amazing #NECX community. So great. With ironically warm temperatures in the low 60’s, the Ice Weasels did not disappoint. Here are the highlights:
- the above photos collected from links from the crossresults.com site Thank you to the awesome #necx for sharing!
The race had some serious gnar. Crazy chutes and granite ladders, dual pump tracks through the woods, a deep sand section that hells yeah, I rode through nearly every time, and lots of on and off the bike action. I really loved this course–it was sick and twisted in all the best ways and the cheering from spectators was a frenzy of fun. I haven’t raced since Northampton last month and have had almost zero time on the bike. My fitness was marginal but none of this mattered: this race was all about the fun. But, you still are racing, you are still moving along at a good clip. So when I felt a pop in my left calf on my very first dismount, followed by searing pain, I knew things were not good.
At first I tested what I could do….riding the crazy downhills was so much fun, I loved it. I heard a couple loud crashes behind me as women lost it on the loose sand descent of some of the downhills. I played tug of war with a Cannondale rider. It was hard to assess what shape my calf was in while I was on the bike. I was in the moment.
Then I dismounted for the granite steps, and I felt more searing pain in the calf. I could pedal fine, but running off the bike, and worse, remounting, was agony. I limped through my runs off the bike. I slowed way down, babied it as much as possible, and at times, walked when I would have been running. I tried to push through it but to what end? This was the fun race, I reminded myself. When someone is sticking a solo cup in your face…..sometimes, sometimes you should just slow down and take it.
Next time, I will!
More photos for your enjoyment (these ones are mine):
I’m 3 weeks into October and as expected, my ability to get out and ride my bike has gone into serious decline. This happens every year, but I never am able to let myself off the hook for it. Work and my son’s school schedule + extra-circulars ramp up, daylight ramps down, and not a lot of time is left for me. The timing sucks if you love cyclocross. Adulting is a lot of work.
Last week I intended on racing. I decided not to. Partly because I was seriously jet lagged from my business trip to Portland, and partly because I couldn’t work out an arrangement for a little extra time on Sunday before my son returned home. Since I hadn’t been out on the bike much and everything felt like work, I just decided to play.
Saturday I picked a spot near the Quabbin Reservoir that I’ve not been to, and decided to go exploring with the ‘cross bike. It’s peak foliage season, and I was out for almost 3 hours, 2 of them actually riding, taking pictures of stone walls and the gorgeous scenery, riding rocky fire roads, climbing through farmlands and enjoying the full throttle colors of autumn.
Sunday I had less time, and it was even colder. It was in the high 30’s and I headed out to do some mountain biking. Mountain biking demands so much more attention, which helped me not think about work and some of the less fun aspects of adulting. I got a little lost, which stressed me out a bit, and came across a Canadian couple hiking. They tried to direct me, and adorably, ended up bickering with one another as to whether or not I could ride over Hitchcock Mountain.
The woman: “That trail is not one you can take a bike on,” she cautioned.
The man: “Look at those tires,” he said pointing to my front wheel, “of course she can go up that trail!”
I headed back from where I came, went in a circle, and finally found a trail I recognized. I love to explore, I don’t like feeling lost. Light snow started to fall and it rustled the leaves with a chorus of tiny taps and rattles on the freshly fallen leaves. I labored up the side of the Holyoke Range, climbing almost 1200 ft in just 7.5 miles.
I’m remembering these weekend rides to sustain me through another intense work week. I have not been on the bike and don’t see it happening again until Saturday at least. I need to start back on doing sprints in my workouts, and getting my heart rate back into gear, and I won’t be racing again this weekend due to childcare again. This October break will be longer than I planned, but I’m planning a November surge….
I signed up for Paradise Frenzy Cyclocross in Vermont next weekend for Halloween. I heard from Heather it’s a great course–one that I’d love. After that will be Northampton–2 days of racing and a “local” race which means I don’t have to drive a bunch that weekend (win). Then I’ll likely do Cheshire CX again, especially if I can talk Laura into driving up from NY for it. Then–we will see. Ice Weasels is scheduled, and it’s on a weekend I’m free, so I’d like to so that race as well. Anything after Northampton is just the icing on the cake anyway.
So there is my mid-season ramble about the woes of not riding. Hopefully I can get a break and purge some of this extra energy I have with a good long ride.
Tonight I was talking to my girlfriend and she said to me “I’m tired of you not doing better in your races.”
Now before you say anything nasty, understand this: I was not in the least bit offended. I quickly agreed with her. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m tired of not doing better too.”
We talked a bit about being an older athlete, and what that means. Adjusting your expectations. Squeezing in training. Training smart vs. training hard. I asked her for some help. She asked what she could do. I really didn’t know what she could do. We both admitted that we needed to believe that even as we age, we can still ‘get better’ at whatever it is we are trying to do out there. It may be in vain but here we are, still trying to get better in our 40’s or 50’s. So I have to ask myself, what does “better” mean?
It may seem like an easy question but I’m not sure that the answer is easy to articulate. Better doesn’t always mean faster, or a higher placing, or a lower crossresults point average. I have had races where I placed in the lower 1/3 or even 1/4 where I felt completely thrilled with the effort I put out. I’m thinking specifically of KMC Providence last year, when I finished 86 out of 114 racers. No one would look at that and say, “wow Karen, way to kill it out there!” No one would say that. But I did kill it out there! I had a blast. I put it all out there. That was my version of “better.”
And then there are the races from a couple of years ago, when I had more saddle time and my performance was, in fact, getting “better.” I was placing higher, I was feeling like I still had some room to improve. It was an upward trajectory I was feeling, and that continuous improvement made me feel like I was, in fact, “getting better.”
Lately, and I mean the second half of cyclocross season in 2014 and in my first race of 2015, I have felt pretty off. There’s always a problem that snarls my ability to have a good race. Bouts of sports-induced asthma by the second lap. Crashing and cracking a rib, or gashing my leg, or getting a shitty start, or suffering from heat exhaustion, or getting my handlebar caught on the course tape. (Geez, I read this list and I sound like a menace out there! I swear the only trouble I cause is my own).
My point is, I know when I’m doing better. I feel happy with the effort I put out. I feel satisfied and fulfilled with how hard the course was and what I did out there on that course. If I put a little pressure on a competitor, or if I pass a competitor or two (or ten), that’s a lot better. Bottom line is I need some “better” moments out there. Just like intervals, if I can string enough better moments together, I can pull off a downright good race.