Just about the only thing that comes close to new bike day is new kit day, and today was that day! The grassroots cyclocross team I have joined for the 2015 season is Keep It Tight, or KIT for short. The kit for the team is sharp, with an awesome color combo that pops just right. I received my jersey and bibs, along with a cx skin suit in the mail today and despite the rainy forecast, I suited up and demoed it around town. Made by Craft, it has a very euro fit. I sized up on the bottoms and should have sized up on the top. The pad in the bibs is legit….not too thin or flimsy, but not so stiff and big that you feel like you are sitting on a stack of cardboard. I still need to take it on a long ride, but on my short ride tonight it had all the makings of the goldilocks of chamois pads. I’m looking forward to meeting some of my teammates, and to the cyclocross season, which will be here before we know it. Until then, I need to work on “keeping it tight” and trying to race as good as my new kit looks.
The struggle is real.
I’ve written a lot about how hard it is to pursue cycling goals and still maintain the rest of my life. I’m forever in conflict, feeling out of balance between knowing I need to mow my lawn and paint my house and needing to put more hours in on the bike, and go to my son’s baseball games, and concerts, and awards ceremonies. Single parenting to a school aged child is demanding work in itself, but then I work full time in a job where it’s not unusual for me to put in hours long after I leave the office.
I’m tired of writing about this. I’m tired of thinking about this. But I’m not sure how to stop.
Recently I watched a documentary on television. I’m not sure what it was, I platooned in mid way while channel surfing one evening. The premise was happiness across various modern cultures. They focused on a woman from Japan who loved ballroom dancing, and did it competitively. She was passionate about it, practiced for hours, sacrificed time away from her family to compete on the highest levels. She explained that there are very few dance partners that would commit for a season, and the pressure to get a good male partner was high, since there were so few male dancers. The men had their pick of decent female dancers. The pressure for her to be at her best, so she could get a good partner and compete to win, was stressing her out to the point where she stopped enjoying the dancing she loved so much.
So she gave it up. She gave it up because she loved it so much, and didn’t want to ruin it.
I found myself relating to her story. I totally get it. It was sad, but liberating. By not participating at that level, she was free to enjoy it, and regain the balance in her life.
I stop just short of adopting this strategy for myself. I was so disappointed in myself last year–my performance on the bike was really not representative of what I think I’m capable of doing. But what I’m capable of cannot be achieved because I only have 6-8 hours a week I can ride. How do you break through to the next level of personal performance with just 6-8 hours? More in needed. And I don’t have more, If I had it, I’d give it.
I have tried to lifehack my way into better workouts, getting more from less, applying all my management skills into my sporting endeavors. It’s fun, to a point, and then it feels a lot like work. I love cycling. I don’t want to ruin it.
So, what to do?
OK. So here’s the thing. I’m not throwing in the towel…..yet. And I don’t think I’ll ever walk away from cycling. It’s been too good to me and I love it too much. But I may need to give up some of the goals I’ve been hanging onto that may or may be driving me a little crazy.
But before I do that, I figure this is it. I have this block of time this summer where I think I can work myself up to that next level that I lived in oh-so-briefly when I had the saddle time. If I can do that, and maintain that gain, then I can try to have a satisfying cyclocross season. I’m on a grassroots team this year, Team KIT, which should help psyche me up. I need more friends to ride with, so rides don’t feel like a job, but positive ways to build relationships with the cycling community. Hopefully Team KIT will introduce me to even more fun cycling people. I need to keep it fun too–making sure I do at least one “fun” ride a week, which means dirt, mud, woods, and a mountain or ‘cross bike, without an agenda. But here we are–summer’s here! One more stab at mediocrity before a new chapter of more recreational, more adventurous, more explorative cycling–not just intervals and comparing my results with women half my age. I’m realizing about turn to a corner here. I’m going to take it at full speed.
Cycling is dead. Long live cycling!
The last couple of weekends I started working mountain biking back into my routine. Memorial Day Weekend I spent in Stowe, VT. We’ve been going there the last few years and we missed last year so it was nice to be back. In years past, I’ve brought my cross bike. This time I brought my new MTB–the Giant XtC 27.5 (which I LOVE). This was not a “Karen gets to ride her bike all weekend” holiday, but I did get out for a short ride. I visited Cady Hill on Mountain Road–a place I’ve driven by a bunch of times but never visited. The lot was packed and I lucked out, grabbing the last spot as a car left for the day. There were lots of MTBers in the lot, chatting about their bikes, their gear, and geeking out over equipment. The trail system goes up, and quickly. There are several one way trails to prevent riders from tearing around a corner and hitting others head on. The trail up the Green Hair was plush–very smooth with banked switchbacks that snaked up the hill gradually enough to make it in one steady climb.
The Green Chair provided an nice viewing area but the ride was really just starting. I love a good view but I was too excited about how fun and twisting these trails were, so i just kept going. The trails were pretty well marked but I lacked a map so I wandered, keeping my wits about me and trying to gauge where I was in relation to everything else (because that always works so well). I found the trails lost their smoothness and had more gnar. I dropped off step like drops of 12-18 inches, descended pitched banks and then found a trail that turned plush again–and fun. A descent that offered the best blend of singletrack, whoop-do-dos, jumps if you wanted them, and banked switchbacks to whip you around downhill for more fun. Glorious! This was a total blast. i went down, down, down, until I didn’t know where I was.
I started down another trail which dead-ended to a road. I didn’t want the fun to end so went back into the woods. I was a little lost, so I checked my map on Strava to get my bearings. It wasn’t a real trail map but better than nothing. I climbed another trail that was pretty steep, and twisting. Through the woods I watched a group of riders slice silently through the trees on trails I couldn’t see or get to. The trails ribboned close to one another in a tightly packed area. I reached another intersection and headed down another trail, trying to get back to the Green Chair. This was a much rougher trail. I stopped to dismount down one hill that downhillers probably jumped but I decided the 6 foot drop wasn’t for me. Back on the bike I worked my way down, and ended back to the same intersection I was trying to get unlost from.
Fortunately there was a group of 3 guys taking a break at the intersection. They were Canadians and true to the reputation for being super nice–they gave me directions and a spare map, because, well…Canada. (I just love Canada).
With their help, I found my way back to the Green Chair, and then took the decent down Bear’s Run and right into the parking lot to my vehicle.
It was maybe one of the top 5 MTB rides of my life.
So the plan is to go back, and ride more! I also found fun MTB trails while doing a little family hike at the Von Trapp Family Lodge (yes, the Sound of Music place). I’d like to sample that too. Co-blogger Heather has indicated her interest so I’ll have the benefit of someone with some EMT cred around in case I crash into a tree, which I did recently while riding solo last weekend. That blog post will come next.
Mountain biking might not net me high miles, but I just feel like I’m getting a better workout all over–and it’s just soooooo much fun. With all the goals I set for myself, it’s important for me to keep fun in the equation. For June, i hope to jack up the mileage in general, but to ride MTB at least once a week to keep the fun vibe present, and my technical skills sharp for CX season.
I make a lot of plans when it comes to cycling. I’m really good at that. This year, I need to improve on execution.
It’s not that I don’t ride a lot, but in the world of cyclists, I don’t ride as much as some. That’s not my fault entirely–I do the best I can with my schedule. But when I do ride, I need to get more out of it.
I also need to get more disciplined in the kitchen. This is tougher for me, but getting easier the more I make the effort.
Since time is my biggest enemy, causing me to 1.) not spend the kind of time I’d like to on the bike and 2.) not have the time to shop for and prepare decent healthy meals. I also not the most inspired chef. But mostly, it’s the time that’s working against me.
To combat this–I’ve killed some time sucks. OK, maybe that’s harsh. First-I’ve closed my online business. I loved doing it, but it demanded a lot of time and energy. I already work full time and parent full time, a side business demanding what little time was left. Second, I’ve been getting more organized–throwing out stuff, donating clothing and books and other stuff to worthwhile charities. This feels good in lots of ways. Less stuff to manage, and someone who needs my gently worn stuff gets it free or for very cheap. Good mojo.
Keep things simple, then I can focus on the things I want. This is my strategy for 2015.
Priorities remain, in this order
2.) Strength & Fitness
3.) Get Fast(er)(ish)
5.) Make new friends, see old friends.
6.) Race a bunch!
5.) Explore new roads, trails, places, worlds.
I can’t wait to get started. Now if I can just get this snow to melt…
See you on the road,
The snow is deep here in the Northeast. We all stopped counting how many feet once we hit 3 or 4. Boston has 8, Whatever. It’s hard. No one cares enough anymore to run out for bread and milk with each weekly snow event. Even if you’re hardy, and have a fat bike, the extreme cold and -20 degree wind chills will keep you indoors.
Here are some of the ways I’m trying to keep busy.
10.) Surf for bike stuff online. Post holiday sales, clearance bins, returned items. There are deals to be had.
9.) Log on to Bikereg. Every. Single. Day. Plan your race calendar for Spring and Summer. Check to see if they have added new races to that one free weekend you have in June (they haven’t).
8.) Research segments on Strava to check out when the snow melts.
7.) Go to your LBS and talk to the shop guys (and gals) every weekend. They are bored too. There are also great deals there (always support your LBS!)
6.) Ride your trainer. I know, I know, I hate it too. Desperate times, desperate measures.
5.) Go to a bike maintenance clinic at your LBS and learn some new skills, meet some new friends.
4.) Rent a Fat Bike!
3.) Go overboard with homemade baked goods.
2.) Build that bike you’ve been dreaming about…….I did!
Pray for Spring friends.
OK, maybe I’ve been in crisis for a little while now. New Years resolutions notwithstanding, I’ve been setting all kinds of goals for myself the last few years, mostly because I realize that if not now, when? Guys, I’m 44 and not getting any younger. That doesn’t mean I can’t be fit and halfway decent on a bike, but it takes a little more work, a little more time, and demands a little more recovery.
During Christmas I was at a party and got chatting with a beautifully exotic couple–urban-bohemian artists who raise chickens and sculpt art for Sir Paul McCartney. She runs. He plays hockey. We talked about these sports we live for. He said, “So typical. We turn 40 and realize we are going to die.” Yup. I’m a middle aged statistic grasping for the remains of my youth. And so what? So will you too, if you’re under 35 and shrugging your shoulders reading this. No one escapes.
Anyway–off the soapbox and onto what I’m doing in 2015. I broad terms, I plan on:
- Entering at least one mud race, probably Boston Spartan Sprint in Barre, MA this August.
- Entering at least 1 (or 2) Mountain Bike Race(s)
- Entering 10 Cyclocross Races
I remember when a 5K foot race in a year was a big deal. I remember when I’d train and look forward to the LIVESTRONG Challenge for most of the year. One event. Now I’m racing a dozen or more times a year. And that’s not to diminish those out there who train for and look forward to that one race you do. That race–it’s a big deal. It was hard. You were nervous about it. You were maybe a little worried, maybe a little excited, maybe a little scared. And afterwards you felt freaking amazing. You did it. All you. And even if you never do another, you did this one and no one can take that away.
I got hooked on that power–that empowerment of completing something physically hard and pushing myself to be better than my last best performance. The only way I can think of to keep that in my life as the sands run down is to keep on doing it.
I don’t know why I feel this nagging pressure–a persistent feeling like it all may end at any moment, but I do. I feel that a lot. I’m not sick. I’m not unhappy. But all of this is so much fun and it’s not something old people do. If I’m going to age, God help me I do not want to get old doing it.
It’s 2015 people. Don’t let it slip away. Get on your bikes and ride! You never get another chance after the day is gone.
This was not the year I had wanted on the bike. But it was a good year, a key, pivotal year for me.
I started with ambitious goals, like I do every year. A full summary can be found here. But to sum up, here is a short excerpt:
My biggest goal for my 2014 Cyclocross Season is a top 50% finish. I know I’m capable of this and I need to set my sights on being fast and strong.
I’m really happy to say, that by the skin of my teeth and thanks to the algorithms at crossresults.com, I finally had a top 50% race finish! Day 1 of CycleSmart International Cyclocross on home-turf (Northampton) was the magic day. I went hard, crashed once, and had a good amount of fun during this race.
But–things pretty much peaked there. I came close to breaking that top 50% barrier at Gloucester, and on Day 2 in Northampton, but in the Open categories and 3/4s, I fell very short. Here are my complete results:
Aug 23 CompEdge Cross @ Forest Park WOMEN OPEN 6th
Sep 6 Big Elm Brewery Cyclocross Women Cat 1/2/3/4 Open 9th
Sep 20 Uncle Sam Cyclocross Grand Prix Day 1 Women Cat 4 6th
Sep 27 Rapha Super Cross Gloucester Day 1 Women Cat 4 44th
Oct 4 KMC Cross Fest Day 2 Women 3/4 86th
Oct 19 Keene Pumpkin Cross Race W3/4 10th
Nov 1 Cycle-Smart International – Day 1 Women 4 26th
Nov 2 Cycle-Smart International – Day 2 Women 4 30th
Nov 15 Cheshire Cross ’14 WOMEN’S CATEGORY 3 /4 14th
These races had as many as 114 racers (KMC/Providence) or a few as 8. All were hard. I raced–really raced, only 5 of them. I bombed at Cheshire, almost willingly DNFed Big Elm, and struggled at CompEdge & Uncle Sam. Keene hurt the worst, only because I really fought to hold my position. But hands down my favorite race was KMC/Providence, which was huge at 114 racers. It had a double flyover, slippery corners and a world-class course. I just love that race.
I also raced in Gill, MA at Bubba’s Xmas CX, which was an unofficial race. Ironically, the crash I had in the snow & mud there left me with a probable broken rib. I haven’t been to the doctor and don’t plan to go, but it’s been 2 1/2 weeks and everything else is healed up except the ribs. I hope it feels better before Scrub Zone Nationals on January 11th.
I often compare myself to fellow racers in New England, and the women’s scene has really skyrocketed here over the past couple of years. And with a racing age of 45, the competition keeps getting younger and faster. But thankfully I have USA Cycling to stroke my delicate ego:
Top 50% in Mass! Higher everywhere else but with such a strong concentration of cyclocross talent in Mass and New England I’m extra proud of my state rank for cat 4. Especially since I’m old enough to be Mom to many of my competitors.
This year I transitioned into a new position with a great company–and my focus on cycling took a backseat to this mid fall. I’m still settling in and very happy with the move, and once I hit my stride at work I will be able to refocus on my cycling goals and racing both cyclocross and a couple of mountain bike races too. Onward to 2015!