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Getting Better: Can It Happen?


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.


Spartan Sprint Boston 2015

No, I am not Irish step dancing here. This is the fire jump. You *feel* like an action hero when you do it. You look *this* silly when you actually do it.

No, I am not Irish step dancing here. This is the fire jump. You *feel* like an action hero when you do it. You look *this* silly when you actually do it.

Last year I wrote that the Spartan Sprint was no joke.  That has never been more true. In fact, this year, it was even harder.  And last year was pretty freaking hard.

I didn’t race this event, but experienced it with family. We took our time with each obstacle and I failed at some. I won’t beat myself about that. I was feeling pretty anxious about contaminating my wounds front he crash I had the day before at Forest Park. I knew there would be a ton of mud and being that it took place on a farm, there were bound to be lots of other biological goodies hanging out in said mud. I used the tegaderm on both my leg and elbow, and reinforced it with duct tape to keep out the gross stuff.  And there was plenty of gross at Spartan Sprint.

So. Gross.

So. Gross.

Last year I only failed at 2 obstacles.  This year there were many more.  The obstacles were hard–more upper body challenges that I didn’t see any women conquering. I was constantly stressing about my leg and elbow, and half way through the 100 yard barbed wire crawl (yeah, 100 freaking yards), the duct tape failed on my elbow and I made the decision to abandon that obstacle. I just couldn’t willingly smash dirt and manure into an open weeping wound. I’m tough. I’m not stupid.

I felt bad about it, a little. I don’t like bagging out on challenges, so it bothered me, and it changed my attitude for most of the race. I wish I had been without these wounds so I could have approached the event with more zeal and less caution. But as I type this 5 days later, my elbow is still weeping and I’ve been fighting an infection for the better part of the week. I’m finally starting to feel like I might have turned a corner and it will start to close up and heal a bit, but it really still just hurts. The leg is healing nicely though–so that’s getting better anyway.  I just need the elbow to catch up.

Even without succeeding at all the obstacles, the whole event is still wicked hard. I did my burpees and climbed walls and scaled cargo nets and jumped over fire and all. It’s not cycling, but it was fun, and I definitely used a bunch of muscles I’m not used to using, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Now….back to cycling!


Training Starts Now

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Sometimes a nudge can set plans in motion.

Because we have had so much snow, I’ve enjoyed a few extra weeks to make plans about cycling. So what’s to plan? Well–a lot. It takes a lot of thought to juggle a full time job, full time parenthood, and then tackle aggressive cycling goals.

Broad goals

  • 3000 miles in 2015
  • Three top 50% Cyclocross Finishes
  • 10++ races/events

Events on the tentative schedule for 2015 (some will be added, some subtracted…)

  • Domnarski Farm MTB Race June 7th
  • JAM Fund Grand FUNdo July 25
  • Forest Park CX Race August 22
  • Blunt Park CX Race August 23
  • Spartan Sprint OCR August 29
  • TBD CX Race September 5-6
  • TBD CX Race September 19-20
  • The Gran Prix Gloucester Cyclocross Race September 26-27
  • The Night Weasels Cometh CX Race September 30
  • KMC Providence Cyclocross Festival & CX Race October 3-4
  • TBD CX Race October 17-18
  • Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race October 31-November 1
  • Cheshire CX Race November 14

Any racing I do after mid November is gravy. Between daylight savings time and my son’s extracurriculars, I am not able to keep my fitness at the level it needs to be to “race.” I need to switch my mentality to manage my own expectations of myself–that’s hard for me to do–and just go into any of these events with a more fun attitude. Cycle Smart is my last huge effort and then I need to just do what I can without feeling bad about not being able to do more.

I’d like to do more MTB races but the schedule just isn’t lining up with my personal schedule. It’s OK. I’m going to try and preride the Cat 2 route at Domnarski to be sure I can do it competently (I know I can do it, just don’t want to sign up for complete humiliation).  I took 1st in the Cat 3 race last year so I should be able to handle the Cat 2 race (but let’s be clear–I have no delusions of podiums for that category).

Spartan Sprint kicked my ass last year and I’m going back this time and training for it. At least this year I’ll know what a burpee is before taking on that event.

The cyclocross racing is the main focus for me. Last year I was distracted by a job change and much of my focus was there–and that was a wiser, more appropriate choice for me. As a result, my racing performance suffered, I rode less miles overall. I was a couple lbs. heavier and less fit, and my head wasn’t in it like I wanted it to be. I’d like to write a different story this year. Nothing fictional, but something respectable (for me). Balance is needed in all things. I just want my cycling bucket to have a little more weight this year.

So what was that the nudge anyway?  Stay tuned…..


CX Season Ain’t Over Yet

Elvis has left the building and is shredding CX snow!

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?

Pretty.  Average.

Pretty. Average.

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, 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.


A Bad Day at the Races

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.

After launching from the staging area, my start was "ok."

After launching from the staging area, my start was “ok.”

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.


Early in the first lap before things got really spread out.

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.

Trying to still execute on the technical.

Trying to still execute on the technical.

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.

This is me deciding not to bail on the whole race.

This is me deciding not to bail on the whole race.

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.

Look how pretty!  Suffering is not super-glamourous.

Look how pretty! Suffering is not super-glamourous.

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.

  • Doubt
  • Disappointment
  • Wounded Pride
  • Ownership
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Acceptance
  • Shame

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.



Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race

Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike Race

I stole these from the organizer’s Facebook Page–hope he doesn’t mind–it was a great race!  I’m #3677 in the black BIKE CAFE kit.

Root 66 Domnarski Farm MTB Race Report

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The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.

Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.

Just before the race.

Just before the race.

The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.

Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.”  Yeah. It was that unpleasant.

But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.


And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.

On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.

All done!!

All done!!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Winner, winner chicken dinner!

As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race.  Fan-girl moment of the day.  She was very gracious and friendly.  It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.

All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time.  I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.


PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race.  My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191.  Discuss.


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