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.
It was 13 F degrees this morning when I woke up. I have patches of lawn showing through the snow outside my window, and if the wind blows, your face turns to wood in under a minute. The cold enough to drive the heartiest New Englander inside to a roaring fire, a tattered quilt and fond memories of mud and tearing quads to warm the soul. But it’s only December 8th, and it’s not over until it’s over.
The race schedule for #NECX is still pretty healthy. Here’s the rundown for coming weeks:
The Ice Weasels Cometh, Rowley, MA Saturday Dec 13, 2014
March Farm Cyclo Madness, Part of the CT Cross Series, Bethelehem, CT Saturday Dec 13, 2014
Bubba’s XMAS Cross presented by Snocountry, Gill, MA Sunday Dec 14, 2014
DAS Beaver CX, North Grosvernordale, CT, Sun Dec 14, 2014
Elm City Cross, New Haven, CT Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Scrub Zone Nationals, West Warwick, RI, Jan 11, 2015
This is the time of year when #NECX starts to let it’s hair down. Ice Weasels sets the tone as one of the most famous, well attended, and fun CX races. I’ve never been but the mythological proportions of this race are all over the interwebs. March Farms is a new race. I was planning on going. I still might. Or I might finish my Christmas shopping-I haven’t decided yet. I have, however, signed up for Bubba CX. It’s only 25 miles away and I can’t beat that with a stick. It’s going to be a small race, but fun. So far only me and Heather have signed up for the women’s race….and as much as I like riding with Heather I hope we get a few more.
The DAS Beaver CX is also this weekend, and if Bubba wasn’t happening, I’d be there. It’s a little further away but I had the BEST time at BeaverCX last year. The pickle and grannie panty hand-ups are not to be missed. Last year, Elvis raced-in the snow. What could be better?
Elm City is next weekend, and a little too far away and a little too close to the holiday for me. What I’m really looking forward is Scrub Zone Nationals. Another brainchild of @resultsboy who also birthed the entire Weasels series, as well as creating the website I spend silly amounts of time obsessing on, crossresults.com. Scrub Zone is for all of us NOT going to Nationals. Because, you know, we suck. So this race is for us. I haven’t signed up yet, but I’m thinking, yes, sign up Karen, it’s your last chance for a B category CX race for another 9 months. Take it.
If cycling is suffering, cyclocross is the sublimest form of that suffering. Still, there are days when “suffering” doesn’t begin to describe the experience. Yesterday at Big Elm CX in Great Barrington, MA, was that day for me.
The racing is never easy, by it’s very nature. We all raced together, 46 Cat 4/5 Men, 12 Women, and 6 juniors, in the same time slot, spaced about a minute apart. It started off typically. I got out-hustled of a good place on the front line, but despite this, my start wasn’t awful.
This was another open category and there were Elite women racing with the group. I didn’t hang on long with them, and for the first 1/4 of the lap, felt like things were going ok. It was an extremely hot and humid day, and my pre ride was brief, just a lap and 1/2. The short pre ride left me pouring sweat and gulping Gatorade, and realizing I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about hydration.
Here at the start, I was feeling pretty normal. I tried to stick with a Cat 3 racer early on, but she kept gaining momentum away from me and I didn’t see her again. Later, I was passed by a woman from the local cycling club, and tried to stay on her wheel. I was already sweating hard and laboring at the course, which was a wonderful, twisty, off-camber lovers delight of a cyclocross course. We came to an area of loose stones that for me, wasn’t rideable, followed by a short set of stairs. I noticed a man from the Cat 4/5s off his bike at the top of a stairs, leaning over his handlebars and breathing heavy. I clawed past the local rider at this point–this was about 1/2 way through the first lap. I heard her breathing heavy and working as a moved past her. A few hundred yards later, she overtook me, and although I was hot and feeling tired already, I thought “she is suffering too” and wasn’t concerned. I’d get her in a bit. We were now moving into the second lap. My fatigue deepened and I started to slow. The local woman started to fade away into the distance as the heat, the course, and my lack of preparation started to devour me.
The second lap was painful. I disintegrated. Nausea overtook me, only to ease and be replaced with dizziness. I went into the race with some pretty high hopes and thought I’d do pretty well. 4 same day registrations with some of the elite women adjusted that expectation, but I was fading fast, and I couldn’t remember if there was anyone else behind me. I didn’t think there was. My speed had slowed to “ok, just try to move forward” but I was falling apart hard. I could not believe I was doing this poorly, I had had a great ride the night before, breaking my own QOM record by 2 mph* ( * hmmm, that’s a good clue). My body was barely responding to move efforts to move forward and now I started to unravel emotionally. And here’s the part, dear reader, I get vulnerable with you. I’m going to admit to you, I started to cry. I wanted to quit. But my crying was without tears, as my body was using every once of moisture contained in it to cool my completely overheated body. Waves of heat radiated from my face, I fought dizziness and my own emotional irrationality of being so upset at myself for sucking so badly. I really thought, I should stop, this is already over for me. There was a spot, right near the parking lot where my car was feet away from the course, I could bail there, and just leave. I thought yes, that’s a good option, as I rounded the corner to decent down a hill the would dump me within 30 feet of my car.
At the bottom of the hill, was my girlfriend, aiming her camera at me to capture me coming down the hill. I saw her and decided to just keep going.
Deciding to continue did not end my suffering, although I stopped crying. I snapped out of the quitting mode and shifted into the only other option for me at that point: surviving. I began my third lap.
This was perhaps where my sucking became high art. My speed could have been easily matched by a gang of preschoolers on push bikes. I walked the run ups-I had to. My climbs were crawls. I tried to use descents as face-saving gifts. I had absolutely nothing to give, I was a shadow of a cyclist, a ghost of my normal self. I was nearly invisible.
I finished the race.
This was the very closest I go to quitting any sporting event in my life. I felt a lot of emotions about this.
- Wounded Pride
I know everyone was hurting out there. I was far from alone. One guy was overheard saying “I was hoping I would flat so it would end.” Aside from this, I should have performed better. And I’m not about to let myself off the hook for it.
I don’t know if I will ever stop marveling at how badly things went out there for me today. Of course, it could be a lot worse. I didn’t crash, I executed pretty well with the technical stuff. But my speed? I know I’m not so fast but wow did I redefine that today.
Today I took a nice ride on a beautiful day and thought things over. Yesterday was a really big failure for me. I didn’t meet a range of expectations I set for myself-expectations that were reasonable and within my ability. And that bothers me. It’s popular to talk about “Failing Faster” and I think about this concept beyond the typical references to start-ups and business. I apply it to many aspects of my life…but essentially failures are teachers, and motivators, and not ever having them does not foster growth. This was disappointing, but ultimately essential. Everyone has a bad day. I had a really terrible one yesterday. Seriously guys, I didn’t even feel good after it was done–a rare joyless cycling experience. But I have renewed focus on my next race, which is looking like a little trip to Troy, NY for Uncle Sam Cyclocross Gran Prix. Not 100% decided but it’s looking like a redemption race that I would like under my belt before it gets real in Gloucester in late September.
Ug! I’m not riding nearly enough for so many reasons. I’d like to being doing 70-80+ miles a week. Instead, I’m sometimes breaking 40. Why? Same old same old.
- No sitter. Freaking babysitters, I cannot find a reliable one to save my life. I really need to fix this because I’m not riding my bike after work.
- Work. I was riding to and from work every once and a while. That’s pretty much stopped now. There’s several reasons for this I won’t get into, but mostly it’s extremely difficult to squeeze 20 mins of riding before and after work, put a full day in, and still make it back in time to pick up my son from day camp. I just don’t have to time without something giving.
- Needing rides to be more for fun. I’ve been super stressed lately and I use riding to work out tension, fill my brain with endorphins, and clear my head of the bullshit of life.
My life feels wobbly right now, and one of the most grounding elements for me in the last 10 years has been cycling. Friday evening I picked the hardest place I know to mountain bike. I needed to mash pedals, to hurt, to jar myself free of my stress. I fell off a bridge into the muddy edge of a pond. Win. Then, last Saturday I had the whole day to ride, and I thought about doing a 50 miler. Then I thought, well, maybe 40. Then I thought, no. Imposing a goal was just adding to my stress, and not taking it away. I needed to just go ride my bike and let the rest work itself out. It worked. 26 miles and I found a strong steady rhythm. I pedaled until I felt resolved, if only for a little while. Then I went home and got shit done (which also helps my stress). Sunday, rain was forecast so I tried to beat it. I didn’t. That wasn’t a bad thing. Mountain biking in the warm rain washed my week clean. Mountain biking always means a 1/3 of the miles I’d be doing on a road bike, but the visceral action of mountain biking is like deep tissue massage for my soul.
That leaves me here: not really ready for cyclocross. OK I’ve been riding some, but not training. Major Jake is still hanging in my basement, untuned, unlubed and needing new bar tape. I’m not doing intervals. I’m not practicing dismounts. I’m not practicing remounts. I’m not trying to cure my stutter step. I’m not practicing carries, suit-casing, or shouldering while sprinting up a muddy hill. And I haven’t built that single speed cx bike yet either.
And I have to be honest, I’m not sure I should be putting my energies here, since life is needing my time and energy and some work that doesn’t involve a bicycle.
I have a vacation coming up and will be riding my bike at the largest mountain bike park in the world. While it’s unwise to have expectations, mine are high. I won’t by riding the whole time but I will be immersed in one of the most active mountain biking cultures on the earth: Whistler, BC. Maybe after I return, I can refocus on cyclocross, and some of the non bicycle parts of my life. Because all of it can be better.
At last BikeReg is showing some of the first CX races of the season and I’m starting to plan. I know, I know, it’s only July. What’s the hurry? Truth is, doing 10+ races in one season isn’t going to happen without some serious planning. Here’s what I’ve jotted down so far. The * indicates races not yet scheduled but based on history, they are anticipated. So don’t hold me to any of this!
Saturday August 23, CompEdge CX Race at Forest Park, Springfield, MA
Saturday Sept 6, Big Elm CX at Butternut Ski Area, Great Barrington, MA
Sunday September 7, Quad CX, Maynard, MA* (Tentative)
Saturday September 27 and Sunday September 28, Gran Prix of Gloucester, Gloucester, MA* (probably just Saturday)
Wednesday October 1, The Night Weasels Cometh, Shrewsbury, MA (Tentative)
Saturday October 4 and Sunday October 5, Providence Cyclocross Festival, Providence, RI (probably just one of these days)
Saturday November 1 and Sunday November 2, Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race, Northampton, MA*
This is ambitious, and I likely won’t hit all of these races. In my life, everything is subject to change. That said, I loved the course at Quad CX but the race isn’t scheduled yet, and co-blogger Heather is doing Big Elm that same weekend, and driving from the middle of the state to the far west of the state to the far east of the state over one weekend is a bit much. But still, I might sneak that one in. Gloucester will probably only be Saturday. I might be doing the Rugged Maniac OCR back in western MA on the 28th, because cyclocross isn’t enough torture for me.
Night Weasels has been on my list for a couple of years but childcare is ALWAYS an issue (please, where have all the good babysitters gone? I swear they are IMPOSSIBLE to find). It’s an hour 15 from my house, and I work 45 minutes away, you can see logistically it is difficult. But hey, that’s what personal days are for. Now if I can only find a sitter….
Providence might just be one day. Depending upon a number of factors, some financial, I may get a room and stay overnight. We’ll see.
I’ll have to wait to see how the rest of the schedule shakes out, and how the rest of my life is accommodating my desire to abuse myself on cold autumn weekends. I do know one thing: I need to start training right now, because the last few weeks have been light on challenging rides. Intervals, hills, and doing things that push me out of my comfort zone need to start happening ASAP.
Also, for a week in August I am on vacation. I plan to be very active and will be riding, but not big miles. It will be, however, be doing some big mountain riding as I am heading to Whistler, BC to the best mountain bike park in the WORLD. That, my friends, will not suck.
I still have mid October, November, and December to consider as well. But those feel like a long way away right now, and this feels like a good place to start.
The first races of the 2014 NECX season have been posted to Bikereg. Like a freak, I’ve been obsessively checking the site a few times a week. Finally a few days ago, The first races of the season were posted: Monson and Blunt Park.
A lot of people feel August is too early for CX. I’m not such a purist. With my schedule–I am quite happy for an opportunity for the season to start early.
August 23, 2014 CompEdge Cyclocross Race in
Monson, MA pretty tough–eating tires and spitting them out. Last year it was a hot, dry dust bowl. I felt like there was a film of dirt in my mouth by the third lap. Very technical race, very fun. still being built. Complaints abut last year’s course has prompted organizers to move the venue to Forest Park in Springfield. It’s still supposed to be a rough and tumble course, just not as tire – eating as Monson.
August 24, 2014 Blunt Park Cyclocross Race in Springfield, MA I didn’t do this race last year. I hear it’s fast, fast, fast–a course that doesn’t really favor me. I’ll take the technical stuff over the flat and fast any day. I doubt I’ll do this one.
September 6, 2014 Big Elm Brewing Cyclocross Challenge in Great Barrington, MA This race had the great misfortunate of being scheduled last year during the same weekend as the Gloucester Gran Prix. The turnout was less than 100 racers. This year it’s been moved up so the turnout should be much improved.
September 7, 2014 Quad CX in Maynard, MA This isn’t posted yet but I’m 99% sure this is the date. This race was SO FUN last year. Fast spots, twisty, turny, technical, and loads of fun. Turnouts are strong being in Metrowest of Boston. I’d really like to do this one again.
September 13, 2014 Aetna Silk City Cyclocross in Manchester, CT The first race I ever did! In 2012 it was pretty technical. In 2013, it was a freaking mountain bike course with all the gnar it had. Not for the faint of heart! But a great race. Unfortunately I don’t think my schedule will allow me to race it, but I might drive down and watch Heather if she signs up.
The rest isn’t scheduled yet, but we already know Gloucester is happening the last weekend of September (27-28), Followed by Providence CX Festival my birthday weekend October 4-5. Northampton CSIcx will likely fall on it’s regular weekend too, November 1-2.
With cyclocross season starting up at the end of August, that means by mid July I’ll be switching to the Kona almost exclusively. I still need to invest in some file treads, and then there’s a the singlespeed cx bike–which still needs parts and to be built.
It’ll be a busy summer….
It’s been a long hard winter for most of us–I couldn’t write here anymore because I didn’t think it would help to complain. So I didn’t. I was always here through, biding my time. Now that Spring is here, I’m ready to begin again.
Not that I ever fully stopped, but this year has had a slow start. I still have snow in my yard, but for all road biking purposes, it’s gone. Roads are wet with melt and muddy with sand that hasn’t been swept, but who cares? It’s above freezing at last. I’m way behind where I was last year in terms of fitness and miles, but not so far gone that it will take me long to ramp up.
Saturday I got out for a just shy of 40 mile ride, with a huge climb right in the middle. I’d like to start doing at least one “big” ride a week. Right now big is 40 miles. But soon I’d like to get 50-60-70 miles at a time. I’m trying to stick to my plan in terms of working out–right now I’m only averaging 3x/week. I’d prefer 5, but that will come. I started running again, once or twice a week. I have my eye on an off road duathlon in April that I’ve done a few times before. I’m talking my brother into doing it with me (this time I’d like to beat him). It’s a 1.8 mile trail run, 5.5 mile MTB/CX off road ride, followed by another 1.8 mile trail run. It’ll be done in an hour, but it’s a nice warm up for racing this year and I like the cross-training aspect of a duathlon.
The one tweak this time is that I’ll be doing it on my cyclocross bike. The other times I did this race I did it on my mountain bike. But I asked the race promoter and yes, CX bikes are legal. They are also a hell of a lot faster. I’m not a fast runner, and last time I was in the last 1/3 of the race after the run, and then moved up considerably during the bike portion of the race. Unfortunately, the running at the end pushed me back again. I’ll take any advantage I can get, and the carbon fiber Kona will do nicely.
Everyone get on your bikes! Spring is here!