About this time every year there are people who start making plans for next year. Usually about the next big adventure. I might be one of them. This is not that post.
2016 was complex. I had one of the funnest summers since childhood. I also experienced (and continue to experience) difficult loss.
This summer I bikepacked with Laura for the first time. What a magical weekend. It set the tone for the whole summer, promising fun, adventure, and friends. I traveled to Whistler, BC again with my girlfriend, this time bringing my son. Spectacular vacation. I got to share new adventures in a familiar place-one that is remote and beautiful and full of bikes, mountains and wildlife. How very blessed I felt. I finally visited Kingdom Trails in Vermont, camping next to (drumroll please) an actual waterfall in northern Vermont, and riding KT all weekend with Gail and Matt. In between all of this were hikes, hundreds (yes hundreds) of bike rides, mud-runs, and fun.
We also lost my dad this summer. After 6 very difficult years he passed away with my mother by his side and me on the telephone with her. I traveled home to the north shore often during this time as his health continued to decline. We were able to keep him home, with help from an agency, for his final few months. I was happy he could die at home, he hated all the long term care and rehab facilities he had gone to recover enough strength to return home. All he wanted was to go home. His loss is felt like an echo that never really fades away. Now months later, grief hits me at odd moments; it cannot be predicted.
Then, a sucker punch. An old friend and colleague died of a swift moving brain cancer the day before her 37th birthday. I cried for a week. One of the most ever-positive people I had know had been stolen away. How completely unfair.
2016 was a teacher. Live now. Adventure now. Enjoy now. It’s all slipping away from us. Buy the bike, take the trip, fall in love, take that shot. Be here with the ones you love. Tell them, show them. I want to get a little place in the mountains of Vermont, with a good view and a woodstove or fireplace and post & beam construction. A place close to skiing and hiking and mountain biking. I’d like to get back into woodworking. I’m trying to figure out how to do that and still pay for my son’s college (and save for my own retirement). I’m not sure how to do this, but I have to figure it out, because if I don’t, I miss out. All the trite advice about how you only go around once feels very, very real. I had a great year. I experienced much sadness and much happiness. Every year should teach us something. We aren’t going to be here forever, we better make today count.
As an athlete, I have some terrible habits. Not stretching is one of them.
When it comes to sports, I don’t like staying still. I’m an impatient person and it works against my nature. I do like quiet time. I’ve tried yoga before, more played at it, the athletic equivalent of pushing vegetables around on my plate. I know it’s good for me, but I don’t really like it.
Lately my body has felt like a crumpled up piece of paper; broken and bent and frayed in places. Age and office sitting and cycling exclusively for exercise with a lack of stretching has contributed to looming sciatica and a chronic calf injury that I fear may be here to stay.
Without discussing the severe lack of time and the challenges of being a single parent, I decided, early on a Sunday morning, to start my day with a little yoga. The backstory is that my son was hosting a sleepover with 2 of his friends. Three middle school boys under the same roof, and me. Their giggling woke me at 6AM. They were sequestered to the rec room in the basement, and I was up anyway, so I decided to give this yoga a shot again.
6:30AM-Start a 22 minute beginner’s yoga with Rodney Lee.
6:39AM-Son’s friend # 1 wonders upstairs to collect a Nerf gun from my son’s room. I stop, wait for him to go.
6:41 AM-Son’s friend #2 comes upstairs to get a 4 foot foam sword. Pause yoga routine again.
6:42 – Son’s friend # 1 is hanging out on stairs between first and second floor, because he’s trying to ambush the other boys. But’s it’s my 22 minute attempt at yoga that’s been ambushed. I hear chortling and shouting downstairs. It’s hard to believe there are only 3 children down there and not 20. The serenity and calmness of the warrior pose I’m trying to do in my pajamas is under attack by my real life.
6:44 – All boys are downstairs and I’m fighting my feelings of annoyance and trying the hold the next pose. I am feeling the stretching and realize how inflexible my body has become. I really need this, probably on a semi-regular basic.
6:45 – Just when the boys are at bay, I have a hot flash. Awesome. This usually only happens at night, but it’s still technically sleeping time I suppose. I continue through yet another disruption, this one courtesy of age and biology.
The next 7 minutes continued, incredibly, without interruption.
So that’s a great example of why I can’t exercise how I want, when I want.
Yoga isn’t a bad idea at all and I do need to do it more often, if only for a morning stretch. Next time I’ll try to do it when I’m the only one home….
Tomorrow I’ve signed up for my first ever back-to-back races in the same day.
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.
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.
There is something really special about Gloucester. Maybe because it’s a race I’ve gone to for years as a spectator long before I started racing, or that it’s so close to where I grew up, but I’ve never had a bad time in Gloucester. Last weekend was no exception.
My results don’t really matter. I felt lousy Saturday but poured everything I had out at the end to fight off an attack in the last 100 yards. That was a win for me.
After my race I joined friends from a million years ago; people I had not seen in nearly 30 years. <read:I’m old> after 8 hours of bad party food and great laughs, I went back to my mom’s and was out cold by 9pm.
Sunday I felt recovered. The cold symptoms I experienced Saturday seemed to wane and I had a better race overall. I finished alone amount the middle of a strung out field. After I met up with friends again to enjoy a bit of spectating.
I really have to give a shout of appreciation to Paul Boudreau, the race director and everyone who works with him and volunteers to make this the very professional and special race that it is. Gloucester never disappoints.
More photos of the 2 days at Gloucester…
I read somewhere they wanted this to be like Zolder. I’ve never been to Zolder, but have watched enough SVENNESS videos to say that I think they are squarely in the neighborhood with the new KMC CX Course at the Thompson Speedway.
It hasn’t rained significantly in New England for several months. But the heavens opened all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, and again Sunday night. The result was a true cyclocross experience. Thick, sloppy mud, standing water, disintegrating sand on the run ups, and very sketchy descents. It was awesome.
It was still dark when I left the house and the rain was light and steady. I arrived early, wanting to pre-ride and unable to make the course preview Friday afternoon. First impressions were “HOLY SHIT.” The run ups were crazy but the off camber demanded some serious skills. The “pro-only” sections were just that, and if you browse the Instagram under the hashtag #KMCCX you will see the best pro men in America going ass over teakettle down the pro-only descent. Even though I didn’t have to deal with that, the other areas were tough enough.
I had a solid race. It was hard. The mud was exhausting. But I loved it. I haven’t had a total mud bath of a cyclocross race in the 4 years I’ve been racing so it was great to finally get that.
Forecasts said no rain, but when I left in the morning it was still raining, so I knew the course would still be a lovely mess for my early race. The course had a few changes; direction was reversed in sections and a new run up and off camber was introduced. The mud was getting tacky and stiff in some sections, but still sloppy and thick in others. I got just as filthy on day 2, but rode faster, and had a strong finish. I beat a few women that I don’t typically, and came off feeling pretty psyched.
Most people are disappointed in rainy weekends. In this case, the rain made mine. -Karen
In my 5th year racing cyclocross as a “beginner,” something is changing which feels like an edge to me.
Starting this sport at age 40 and not being graced with a lot of speed, I’ve remained a cat 4 racer. I could write to USA Cycling and argue I should be a cat 3 due to the years I’ve raced, but I don’t see a point to it, other then my pride. If I race exclusively cat 3 or in the 1-2-3 race I’m coming in last or darn close to it every time. I hang in the middle of the pack in cat 4, clearly it’s where I belong. I’m ok with that (finally).
I still lack time to train and have the same, if not more responsibilities I’ve had all along. A busy middle schooler to parent, a full time job with a host of demands, et cetera, et cetera. So what’s different now?
Mental. It’s totally mental. It’s the difference between trying to race, or playing at racing, and actually racing. What am I talking about?
When I started racing, I was just trying to hang on and finish. It was terrifying and exhilarating. What an insane sport! Addicting, but I really wasn’t throwing down every race, the whole time. Maybe I’d go 60%, or 70%. I probably felt like I was giving 95-99% but upon reflection, I wasn’t. I’m capable of more.
Each year I have tried to have races where I felt I was giving more. And it hurt. But I started to race. Maybe only 2 races a year were like this, but it was happening.
Last year I considered making it my last year. I had a lousy 2014 season and just wanted to redeem myself and feel good again. My schedule allowed me to race Holy Week–almost every race. Gloucester, Night Weasels, KMC/Providence. 4 races in one week. Something flipped.
I started recovering faster, having more energy later in the race, and found a little something in my legs when in years past, I’d be praying for God to come down and end the race and have mercy on my soul.
I also changed my attitude and relaxed a bit. While I still am competitive at heart, I relaxed and got a little more focused. Results in 2015 didn’t start great. My scores were terrible and my placements much lower than mid pack. But by the end of the season they had improved considerably. An upswing as I chilled out and reapplied myself.
So far I’ve raced 2 races in 2016. Race #1 I DNF’d but felt really, really good. I was looking at a strong finish. No podium (let’s banish those illusions right now and forever), but top 50%, which remained the overarching goal.
Race #2 was last week–Quad CX, where I raced more conservatively, and I feel regret about being more conservative. I worked hard, but did I leave it ALL out there? Not quite. I wanted a finish, not a DNF, and that influenced my approach.
Reflecting on this, I am thinking I do not want to do that again. My physical abilities are finite, but I’m learning more about my mental game.
Example: Race #1 I was completely ambivalent leading up to the race. It wasn’t until the whistle I committed, fully, to kicking as much ass as I could kick. And my performance (measured against my own standards) was strong.
Race #2 I was eager. I felt like I was in good shape. I had raced the course once before. I wanted to NOT DNF, but finish well. I guess I achieved that, but walked away knowing I probably could have gone a bit harder, a bit faster. Would that have improved my placing? Maybe, maybe not, but I won’t ever know, and that is what is on my mind as I consider the rest of the season in front of me.
Go hard, the whole time. Don’t think too much about it beforehand. Don’t think at all. Don’t care too much about the outcome. Care about the moment. Care about the act of racing.
Last Sunday I kicked of my cross season with a little race fairly local to me. I found the park easily, got there in plenty of time, and went about my now well established routine of getting ready.
My attitude before the race was very “meh.” I felt very ambivalent in general. The course had lots of straight wide tracks in the grass, favoring someone with raw power and speed (something I distinctly lack). There was not a lot of technical areas and very few turns, and not a lot of hills (which I was totally ok with). I took a few practice laps and then waited for my race.
I took the second row and settled in behind a woman I know is fast. This is what I do. I’m not going to pretend I belong on the front line. But I’ll line up behind the faster racer in the front and ride her coattails through the start. This works pretty well for me most of the time, and did for me that day. I had a solid start and found myself in a tight pack as the wide track of grass dwindled to a single stream of racers. I was toward the rear of the lead pack which was terrific.
Halfway through the first lap, I passed a racer and then immediately made a misjudgment on a corner and overshot it, and found myself apologizing to the group for not keeping my line. They were very forgiving, probably because I gave up 2 or 3 spots in my mistake. Humbled, I settled in mid pack. Toward the end of the first lap, I saw my friend Jess who had a terrific start and was cooking though the course get tangled up with a junior. For unknown reasons, race organizers started the group of 5 juniors before the group of 17 grown women racers. I overheard the organizer say to the official “Did I really decide to put the juniors in front of the women?” Yes. Yes you did. Anyway, the junior slid out in a corner and Jess’ bike tangled with his. I was bummed for her, this is one of the things I dread about racing with the juniors and I’ve had my share of close calls. As a mom, my instinct is to be protective and encouraging to these kids. Juniors make mistakes as we all do, but no one wants to interfere or cloud with a young racer’s first experience. In my opinion, it’s stressful for them and stressful for us. As this calamity happened, at least 2 women got caught behind her, and I slipped by in the only opening, regaining what I lost in my earlier mistake.
During the second lap I was feeling pretty good. I hadn’t blown up but was working hard and feeling much less “meh” and much more “Yeah!” I passed another rider and was widening the gap. I could just see the next woman to catch disappear around the next visible corner, and I thought maybe I could reel her in. I had at least another lap and was feeling great when I entered a fun section of woods which lead riders down a hill of ribbon thin patch of single track and up again. At the bottom of the ribbon was a couple of protruding rocks. I FLEW down this chute, hit a rock and heard the rock hit my rim. I cranked up the hill and was immediately concerned about my rear tire. Within another 200 yards, the tire had gone totally flat as I closed out the second lap. My race was over.*
I would have taken 7th had I stayed inflated and held my position. 7 of 17 would have been a really awesome result–probably a better result than I have ever achieved.
I’m disappointed I did not ride more conservatively in that section. It’s not something I would have been worried about and obviously I was not worried about screaming down that hill at that speed and hitting that little rock. I had inflated my tires to about 50-55 psi because I was concerned about the rocks on course and I know I tend to ride over anything no matter how rough (read: she’s a MTBer at heart). At one point early in the race I thought to myself “I should have put less air in the tires,” because I was bouncing around so much. Enough Monday morning quarterbacking–I’m bummed out I flatted. But on the bright side, I was riding well and feeling strong and I just need to keep THAT feeling going for the next race.
Now to keep up with the training and find another race and someone to watch kiddo for half a day!
- Note: I was one of 5 women who DNF’d that particular race. A total of 25 racers across all categories and a total of 173 racers DNF’d this event. WOW. The only race that did not have a racer DNF was the fat bike category. So at least I was in good company.