I’m hesitant to write about this at all, but dare I say, I’m finally having the cyclocross season I’ve always wanted.
I have long had the modest goal to finish in the top 50% of the race. And this year–it’s actually happening. Not every race, but 4 of the last 7 races this year I’m in the top half. If I don’t get a flat tire, or other calamity, I’m making it.
This feels so good, it was an achievable goal I set for myself but never quite managed to pull off more than once a season. It always bugged me because I knew I could do more, but I always found it so hard to train and prepare for the season the right way. By no means do I have everything figured out, but there are reasons I’m doing that much better this year.
1.) I’m following a training schedule. It’s general and not ridiculously specific–but I’m doing intervals on Wednesdays and threshold when I’m supposed to and resting on days I should rest. I generally try to stress my body into an uncomfortable feeling on hard days and genuinely take it easy when I’m supposed to.
2.) I’m able to ride during the day, outside. Last year I was still working in Springfield in an office for 9-10 hours a day, without an outlet for exercise. Training was isolated to the trainer at night and weekends, and occasional afternoons until the light was gone (which wasn’t long). Now I work from home and while I still commute to the Boston suburbs once or twice a week, I’m able to ride 45-60 mins at least 3 days during the week plus whatever I do on the weekends. As an additional benefit, I find I’m much more alert during my work days because of the mid-day exercise, and I no longer have back and neck pain from sitting for long stretches.
3. I’m eating a little better. I still have my treats, but I’m eating more veggies and less sugar in general. I’ve lost a couple of pounds and overall feel better.
4.) I’m recovering better. I find I can endure more discomfort and recover faster from hard efforts. The intervals help with that. But some of the big rides I did last summer seem to be paying off now too.
5.) I am serious about racing, and not serious about the results. This is probably the best development–I seem to have found a healthy mental balance between my enthusiasm, my nerves, and my internal competitor. When I race, I am focused and I’m constantly thinking about what i need to do to pass the women in front of me, and expand gaps between me and the women behind me. But the fun is still there–I joke with the hecklers and while I have had results that are an improvement over years past, I know I’m still not winning races here. I still don’t expect to move up a category. My perspective is intact. I’m still having a lot of fun.
6.) I’m in one place. This is a simple one–but something I haven’t had for a long time. No longer am I packing a bag every other weekend to visit my significant other. Now that we are under the same roof, there is no more back and forth and that has helped me focus on things I want to…..like cyclocross.
The most meaningful thing about this incremental improvement in my performance is that it is happening as I settle into what can be easily described as “My late forties.” I love this is happening at this time in my life. I love that I can improve my athletic performance at anything after age 40. I love that I can do this sport and my age doesn’t prevent my participation. I hope I can continue to do it for many years to come.
I registered for a small grassroots race this weekend in Vermont, and then next weekend is the Verge/Cycle-Smart Northampton International Cyclocross race weekend–the hometown race. If I can, I’d like to continue to do better than average among my peers for the Northampton races. The trick now is to keep up with the diet and workouts, and not get sick or injured.
Let’s hope I didn’t jinx myself by talking about it!
Last week we received about 20 inches of snow and ice in a series of different storms, the biggest coming Thursday which dumped 15 inches. My son was home from school 2 days and another 2 days were a delayed start, which was seriously disruptive to my work week. Work itself is intense right now, I have multiple projects and deadlines, and several high priority initiatives we are rolling out, on top of the day to day stuff which is busy enough. All this, and I am trying to continue to work out regularly and vary my fitness routine this off season.
Snow isn’t a dealkiller when it comes to working out. As a younger and less experienced cyclist, I considered winter as a break, which meant zero time on my bike. As my love of the sport grew, I began to question this forgone conclusion, especially when I realized other people were out there in the cold getting it done.
I used to be much more sensitive to the elements, in what I can only guess was my lack of exposure to them. Since making my fitness year round, and not just a token adventure in the winter months, I’ve grown much more tolerant to temperatures.
So last week I took what I could get. A couple of short rides on the fat bike in the beginning of the week, a Zwift trainer ride on Friday, followed by a short run in the dark over snow and ice. The most action was this weekend, full of shoveling snow, riding the fat bike, and downhill skiing with my son.
These a little short little nibbles at workouts and not as “full on” as I’d like, but I’m managing time as best I can and considering everything–I’m pretty happy with last week.
I’m now watching another 8-12 inches fall outside. I don’t really mind, bring on the snow! I’ll work in a work out somehow….
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.
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.
I’m lying on my couch right now, looking at my road bike which needs a tube change before tomorrow morning’s ride. I cannot summon the energy to do it.
I worked out twice today, once on the bike, again with a 4 mile hike, and I can’t tell if I’m just that out of shape, or if I’m really feeling my age these days.
My rides have felt slow to me in 2015. It’s almost May–I got a late start (we all did here in the Northeast), but I’m still feeling like riding is taking more effort than it should. Was my hibernation that profound? Is the hole I’m crawling out of that deep? I don’t know.
I’ve set some goals for myself and I put some serious thought into them to make them reasonable, yet not too soft. I’m still super pressed for time, sneaking in rides here and there–an hour on the bike when I can grab it. When I do ride, it’s almost always on the cross bike, and I almost always try to add something different: a new path. A piece of dirt road I haven’t explored yet. Even just riding the grass next to the road. If it’s going to be an effort, I need to keep it fun.
Today I stayed local while my son was at baseball practice, and explored the banks of the Connecticut River. I saw a loon and came across these raccoon tracks. These are the perks of exploring with a cross bike.
I finally hired a sitter–who starts tomorrow, The extra time I buy (literally) will allow me to push into rides that are 2, 3 or more hours. I need the base miles, more time in the saddle, to stretch and build my conditioning.
But again, right now I’m barely able to lift my arm to change the channel on the TV with the remote. Hopefully as I slowly re-enter my exercise routine my fitness will return and I won’t feel so shattered every weekend.
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.