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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

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Domnarski Farm-Root 66 MTB Race 2017

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.

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I’m lonely!

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.

-Karen

Fat Tire Classic MTB Race-Winding Trails

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.


This race made me want to sign up for more mountain bike events this summer. It was s great result and I felt pushed in all the right ways. More please!

-Karen

Wallum Lake MTB Race

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.

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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.

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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.

-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

US Cyclocross Nationals

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

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Katie Compton was completely dominant

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Stephen Hyde, the new National Champion

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Jeremy Powers, the 2016 National Champion

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Jeremy Durrin

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Jeremy Durrin keeping it together

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Katie Compton

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The safe line on Bonk Breaker Hill

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The pro women down the chute off the hill and into the woods

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#BeardsOfCx is a trending hashtag

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Treacherous

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Lucky 13 for Compton

The What’s Next: 2017

2016 was a pretty great year adventure-wise:  I had a ton of fun and “got away from it all” on more than one occasion.  I doubt I can repeat but will try to with perhaps some variations to my normally scheduled program.

On the list for 2017:

1.) Fat Biking.  Never done it, and we’ve had the snow for it.  I expect we’ll be getting more since it’s only January.

2.) Dog Sledding.  I wanted to do this last year but there was no snow. There’s a team that runs twice a week in Windsor, VT.  I promised my son we’d do it so now it’s a matter of booking the dogs.

3.) Kingdom Trails-again.  I had such fun last year I need another helping of this slice of MTB paradise.

4.) An island…..or a canyon?  My mom has offered to take the family on a vacation.  The problem is, she can’t decide where. Oh I know, how unfair.  It’s rough. It’s between Nantucket and Montrose, Colorado.  Personally I’m in favor of Nantucket because 95% of the trips I take are to the mountains and sometimes I miss the sea.

5.) At least one Mountain Bike race.  Whoever is in charge of scheduling nearly every single mountain bike race in New England doesn’t want me signing up for any MTB events.  This seems to be true every summer.  Right now Domarski Farm lines up with one of the 26 weekends I have free a year.

6.) The JAM Grand Fundo.  The full Fundo this time.  I missed last year due to childcare conflicts.  I don’t know when the 2017 Fundo will be but want to attend.

7.) The Muddy Onion Spring Classic.  This one I’m already signed up for with Laura.  It’s not the Rasputita but its still 34 miles in late April on gravel roads in VT, which means mud.  I’m looking forward to it.

8.) A Dog. Wait, what?!  Yeah, I want one–have for years.  The last of my cats left us 3 years ago and I’m ready to grow my little family again.  A change in my work has allowed me to work from home up to 4 times a week, which means I can be home for an animal.

9.) Bikepacking, V2.0.  We’re doing it again!  Still working out details but locations under review are Fahnestock State Park in Carmel, NY, The Adirondack Trail Ride (TATR) in Northville, NY, or potentially just a bike/camp weekend in The Kingdom.

10.) Mystery Getaway.  I have a vacation yet-to-be planned and I have no honest idea of what or where that will be.  It’s been determined that Hawaii is on tap for 2018 so I need to save for that and be a bit leaner this year.  I have time–it’s only January!  I’ll figure it out…

11.) 3 more OCR Races. I’m already signed up.

12.) Cyclocross!  I’m adopting a wait and see attitude about the 2017 season.  I may back off a bit from CX and get a few weekends back to do other things.  Of course when September comes I’ll be chomping at the bit again so who knows.  I’ll stop when I’m dead.

And hiking, and camping, and so on, and so on…..

What’s your 2017 plan?

-Karen