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26th Annual Verge Northampton International Cyclocross-Cyclesmart

Local race!  My 5th year racing Northampton and each year the course gets a little bit better. Technical features have been introduced and they seem to tweak the gnar factor year after year. I raced both days, placing exactly where the race predictor put me. The torture I endured last weekend in Vermont brought me back in line to where I should be; feeling like I was actually racing.

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HUP United represented here in the Women’s Elite Race on Day 1.

Day 1

Saturday started cold. 27F degrees when I arrived at 7AM. I ate something that had been disagreeing with me the day before, and had a terrible night’s rest. Despite this, I got a fair start and had a clean race, very few mistakes and steady effort. I passed a few when I could but found myself with a comfortable gap in front and behind me, which left me wanting in terms of “racing.” There was no “race inside the race” for me Saturday. I finished 43rd and felt relatively satisfied with the effort.

After Saturday’s race, I ran home, grabbed a shower, and then retuned to meet up with Laura who drove up from New York to see her first ‘cross race. We chatted all after noon while catching the pro women and pre men’s race, and then headed to Local Burger in Northampton for dinner.

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US Cyclocross National Champion Jeremy Powers in pursued by Curtis White of Cannondale on the run up on day 1.  White would later catch Powers and win in a very dominate fashion.

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Crystal Anthony (3) is on U23 National Champion Ellen Noble’s wheel in the turn after the sandpits at Northampton on day 1.

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Pro women on the run up day 1.

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Superman remounts.

Day 2

Sunday was much warmer. I was stiff and tired from Saturday’s efforts, and didn’t sleep well again. I wasn’t feeling very racey right up until the whistle. But after we went, I raced more aggressively than Saturday, attacking often (and having some of my attacks answered). I traded places frequently with one young woman who eventually bested me.  My fatigue was evident when I tripped on the barriers (first time that has happened).  I had another delay when I got caught up in the sandpit and was forced to run the entire 2 lengths of the pit, which was so much more draining then pedaling through it. I finished 30th and felt very good with my effort.

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Hey that’s me, over the covered railroad tracks after the super sketchy descent on day 2.

Sunday I wasn’t planning on hanging out long. I left by 10AM before results had been posted, showered, and was sipping a mocha latte at Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters in Easthampton by 11:30AM. I decided to check my results online.  That’s when I noticed my place was all wrong. They counted my first 2 laps as one and placed me second to last. I ended up driving back to Look Park to speak to a US Cycling Official to formally protest and explained what I believed happened. They fixed it immediately.  ery positive experience for my first “protest.”

The rest of Sunday I felt tired and happy. My weekend was full of friends, bikes, racing, and spectating-much needed break from social media, traditional media, and the current state of affairs in our country.

-Karen

More Photos!

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Pro women in the sand, day 1.

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Pro men on run up #2 on day 1.

Paradise CX Frenzy Twofer

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.

-Karen

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A Race to the Bottom

Tomorrow I’ve signed up for my first ever back-to-back races in the same day.

Wut?

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.

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Solo on the stairs at Gloucester. Photo credit: Marylou Hanson

 

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.

-Karen

 

 

Off Season At Last


Cross season is over.  Officially.  I strung out the last two months as best as I could.  I had a much better time this year due to a properly adjusted attitude. And now it’s time to relax.

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
  • Hiking

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!

-Karen

The Ice Weasels Cometh, El Nino Style

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!

-Karen

More photos for your enjoyment (these ones are mine):

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Getting Better: Can It Happen?

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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.

-Karen

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!

-Karen