I count myself lucky to have the CSI Cyclocross Race as my “local” race. Celebrating it’s 25th edition, I started watching this race when it was still at UMASS back in the early 2000’s. Now at Look Park, the race has grown into a community event everyone looks forward to.
When I started the season, I wanted to make this weekend my “second wind” of the season. Not racing for almost all of October took it’s toll. At Paradise Frenzy in VT last weekend, I went looking for my fitness again. I actually did not place last as expected. But darn close. Work has been extremely intense: a 50 hour work week, and putting in a scant 30 minutes on the trainer mid-week, I didn’t even have time to adjust my expectations about the weekend.
Day 1- Saturday
It was unseasonably warm for a cyclocross race. My start was “meh” and by the time we reached the woods the group was already dismounted and running the first hairpin turn before the run up. In fact, the group was running the large mound before even entering the woods. This really slowed things down, and while this was a more conservative, orderly approach, I would have preferred more of a scrum.
The run up went pretty well and I was forced right, which is the steeper line. The benefit is that if you can climb it, you reach the top that much faster. I picked up at least 4 positions after reaching the top.
In Northampton, I call the top plateau “the land of opportunity” and the bottom fields “the land of opportunists.” This is very specific to my skill set–and lack of skill set. I’m good in the woods and bad on the flat, straight, wide course on the lower fields. The corners help, but if there is enough room for a rider to gather speed, they will easily overtake me.
I got caught behind a few riders on top I would have liked to pass. They moved slowly through the technical areas where I could not pass and then rode away from me on the lower grass areas. In the sand on day 1, I tried to ride it but had to run most of the time. For the whole race, I pushed hard, sprinted when I could, and gave a full effort. I felt fine about my effort but a little disappointed with my result: 37 of 55 racers. My Strava results show that I PR’d, but my race results were 12 positions lower than last year. What does this mean? Are Cat 4 women getting faster? I wasn’t sure how to interpret my results.
I started sneezing about 20 minutes after Saturday’s race, and didn’t stop all day. I was convalescing on a couch by 4PM. Dinner was Zicam and orange juice chased with a shot of NyQuil. I wasn’t sure I’d be in any shape to show up on Day 2. But I felt OK when I woke up, and without a smidgen of expectation, went to the race.
My start was good. The first woods portion was a reverse route from the day before, without the crazy run up. A bit of congestion and then onto the double sandpit, which would become the feature that would eventually decide the outcome of my race. I rode 1/2 way though and ran the rest of the sand on lap 1. Back on the flat course we snaked to the zig-zag run up. This feature wasn’t hard, just disruptive to flow. Several of us approached this at once, another rider took a line I did not expect and forced me in a direction that was all wrong. My bike twisted, and I became entangled with 2 or 3 others. We managed to sort it out and continue up the hill.
Coming off the top levels, I found I was with a few riders I know that typically beat me, although not by much. Uncharacteristically, as soon as I came off the hill, I made a move on two competitors. I played leapfrog with one–a woman I’ve become friendly with who I’ve only beat once in 2015 (out of 5 prior races). Somehow, throughout the flats I stayed on her wheel. As we rode through the finish line on lap 2 and began the last lap, I still wasn’t thinking about anything other than I was keeping up with her. I worked to continue to do that.
She slipped away finally, but not too far. I trailed behind and gained some time in the woods when one rider became dismounted on the hairpin around the tree and I rode higher, clearing the tree, the stalled rider, and 3 other women. But each time I’d advance, she’d reel me back in.
Then we hit the sand. She was in front of me again, but only by a few seconds. She took a line I wanted. There was another rider between us that took the second best line, forcing me into the unknown. Both of their lines exploded, while I leaned back and pedaled through the first sand pit and then the second. I was on the grass again and knowing that I had made some time there, I sprinted. I pushed through the last lap with as much as I had. I knew there were 3 or 4 women close behind and as I rounded the final corner to the grassy straightway to the finish I knew I need to sprint with whatever was left. I got up out of the saddle and went as fast as I could, and lost one position in the last seconds. But I held off 2 other very worthy competitors who typically beat me. I was really pleased with myself, scoring 28 of 55, 9 whole positions better than the day before.
All & all, a great weekend of racing. I had said that everything after this race was gravy, but I’m still having fun and don’t want it to stop. So what’s next? Stay tuned….
This Saturday I’m racing after a 4 week break. My training has been nil but when I have found the time to ride I have felt pretty good. Despite a Cat 4 / Citizen race being available, I signed up for the Open category (1/2/3/4). According to Crossresults I’m predicted to place last among the current competition, which includes Elite women. Am I bothered? No.
So why did I chose the slaughter? Lot of reasons. Let’s review:
1.) I’m not going to win at this sport. Ever. There is only one winner. If I entered the Cat 4 race, I wouldn’t win that one either. I’m ok with where I end up among the faster women.
2.) Night Weasels taught me, chasing pros makes me perform better. OK–it’s usually when they’ve just lapped me, but it does provoke a response from me, and that makes my entire race faster. I also like watching the lines they take. Teachable moments.
3.) I’d rather race for 45 minutes instead of 30, especially when I’m driving 2 hours to get there. I mean, these 30 minute races leave me a bit wanting. It’s not enough. If I have an opportunity to go for longer, I will.
4.) Points. Even in last, my points for this race will be low, which will help me getting placed for a better starting position at a future race.
5.) I’m not a beginner. Hey I know I’m not fast, and not fast enough to have upgraded to Cat 3 without me writing to USA Cycling and requesting it, but I know what I’m doing. I am comfortable dismounting and remounting and shouldering and will yield to a faster rider. I know I won’t get in anyone’s way and would never forgive myself if I did.
So–a little humility is necessary. I have never placed last in a cyclocross race, but this weekend, It’s extremely probable that I will. But it’s important to remember, even when you accept that you’re not as fast as the rest, that anything can happen in a cross race. Anything. It’s a sport rife with unpredictables. So never count your chickens, because a hell of a lot of things can hatch in 45 minutes on a cyclocross course.
Hitting the pause button is hard for me, especially when it’s not really me pressing it. I haven’t raced since the end of Holy Week, since the KMC Cyclocross Festival in Providence. I’m not riding as much and I’m feeling like I’m that kid with her face pressed against the glass of her computer screen, looking at the thousands of rad images of local cx races, just an hour or two drive away. (Disclaimer: None of the images in this post are of me. Sad face here.)
I knew this would happen and planned for it, but it’s still hard. Next weekend I reboot, starting with Paradise Cx Frenzy at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, VT. Then the following weekend, I race the whole weekend at Northampton, my adopted “hometown” race. Then I’m not sure where I’m racing mid November, but it will be somewhere. The goal will be to race a minimum of 4 more events, max of 8. I doubt it will be 8, but never say never. Here’s the lineup I’m considering:
Paradise CX Frenzy, Windsor, VT October 31
Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross-Northampton, MA November 7-8
Cheshire CX, Cheshire, CT November 14 Tentative
NECXBAR, Fitchburg, MA November 29
The Ice Weasels Cometh, Cumberland, RI December 12
I got out once this weekend (only once! I’m going out of my mind), but I made it count. I had a great ride–some road, some grass, some woods, some gravel, some skills work. I felt sharp and that felt good. Maybe I haven’t slipped too far over the last 3 weeks.
Watching the days grow shorter, and my schedule fill with obligations fills me with dread. It occurred to me that maximum security prisoners get more exercise time a day than I do. Not trying to be a drama queen, but life can feel so out of balance, it challenges my sense of fair play. I’m thinking more of next year, and what kind of adventures I want to have. More to come on that, but first, I have some ‘cross racing to do.
Night Weasels was a crazy blast. I’ve been trying to get to this race for years. This time, I finally made it work between the job and childcare. The race takes place on the side of a ski mountain. When I arrived, I glanced up and shuddered, and readjusted my performance expectations. After an exceptionally dry spell, we received a couple inches of rain eariler in the day, which surprisingly, did not result in a lot of mud. It was a bit damp and slippery in spots but no mud bog. The Cat 4 women started just after the pros, and when I say pros, I mean World Cup winning pros. Among the women, Katerina Nash, Maghalie Rochette, and Gabby Durrin were on the course, and each of them lapped me (but just once!).
I think the thing about Night Weasels that makes it so fun, was this: riding at night feels a bit outlaw. It reminded me when I was too young to drive, but old enough to be out past dark with my friends, riding around on dirt roads in the summertime, getting into trouble.
The race was slow uphill, fast on the straights, and bumpy and greasy in the corners. I tweaked my hip at the peak of the longest twisting climb. I felt pretty crappy on lap one, but lap 2 and three things started to change and on 4 and 5 I felt pretty great. My “race within a race” victory was when I was passed by a rider on lap 3 and caught her on the last lap in a snaking decent. She went wide on an off-camber turn, miscalculated and I immediately capitalized on her error, turning tightly where she had gone wide. Then in my excitement, I punched it. I’m not very fast but my bike handling skills paid off here. I stayed away for the rest of the lap and won the position I had lost earlier. That felt like racing to me.
I’ll definitely do this again next year.
There is nothing quite like it. Dry and dusty, the course was a lot harder than last year and a hello of a lot of fun. Here are the highlights.
Staging shifted to the first entrance of the park–a departure from the last 2 years. The course was gravely, rocky, and rutted quickly under hundreds of tires. They had a decent run-up and some nicely crafted chicanes that tested technical skills. I was having a good race when I flatted on the last lap with a 1/4 of a lap to go. Heartbreak! I was close enough to the finish and I really didn’t want a DNF after working so hard, so I just kept moving. I shouldered the bike through the last off camber turns before the pavement as riders ticked by one after the other. Sigh. I lost somewhere between 12-15 places. I finished 54th out of 71*, running the bike across the line, edging out another racer in a photo finish with a rider who had the benefit of inflated tires.
Course designers pulled a Missy Elliot and flipped the course & reversed it. Staging was back at the rear of the park. All the good lines from Saturday were shot–the course was beat up and even drier than the day before. There were about a half a dozen lines in any turn and none of them were any good. Crashes were eminent. I rode more conservatively and my heart rate data shows it. I just didn’t want another mechanical. My tires were probably a little more inflated than they should be as I overcompensated with a few more pounds of pressure. I finished 41st of 61 starters.*
I want to thank childhood friend Marylou for showing up for this race faithfully for the last 4 years to take photos. She literally lives across the street from Stage Fort Park and as long as as my race doesn’t interfere with the Patriot’s game I think she’ll always show up. She also invited a second friend, Kelly from SHS who I ran the Warrior Dash with a couple of years ago. It was nice to reconnect with old friends, as well as see all my friends from the cyclocross community and meet people on the KIT team. Also a huge thank you to my Mom, who watched my son and hosted us for the weekend and really made it possible for me to race at all this weekend.
*I just want to note the both fields were sold out at the capped limit of 85 racers. Where did everyone go? It was a picture perfect day, not a cloud in the sky and temperatures incredibly reasonable. I know it’s common for a few no shows but wow that was a lot!
Do you know what tegaderm is? I didn’t until today. It’s this cool high tech bandage. I’m wearing a LOT of tegaderm right now.
Forest Park is a very technical, very mountain bikey course. I liked the course for this reason. But today was not a great day for me.
What went wrong?
I crashed 5 minutes into the race. A total wash out, I almost took out two other racers near me (thank god they reacted well and they did not go down). While I jumped up immediately and don’t feel I lost a lot of time despite the crash, the pain was a distraction for the remainder of the race.
The heat was not brutal, but it was hot. I don’t do well in the heat. It got to me.
I had a full blown allergy situation which caused me to fill with disgusting fluid and I spent 2 laps coughing up my lungs. Gross. This was probably my biggest problem.
Ok, what went right?
I had a spectacular start. I started in the second row. Despite this, I ended up in the top ten through the hole shot. It could not have gone better.
I executed some technical sections really beautifully. One was a particularly difficult section that featured exposed root, soft dirt and some serious off camber action. I was smooth, fluid. Thank god.
I recovered from the crash quickly. No one got past me as a result from the event.
But, the heat and the coughing got the best of me and I gave up several places later in the race. I was racing the first lap, hacking and trying to breath the second, and the heat claimed me in the 3rd. The hills did not help either. I thought I was in better shape to handle those but they really had their way with me. My average heart rate for the race was 181 and my max 189. I wasn’t taking it easy. I was just tapped out.
But I still had a good time. It was great to see familiar faces and meet new folks. Heather raced today too which is a bonus.
So right now I’m pretty banged up. I have some deep gashes on my leg and elbow from the crash, and getting them cleaned out was far more painful than the crash itself. Additionally, I have the Boston Spartan Sprint tomorrow and will need to be creative in keeping these wounds clean and dry.
But at last, cross is here!