I usually do a “hey this is what’s up for 201X” post, indulging my proclivity for planning stuff. I end up doing some things, not all. Actually–let’s review my track record from last year:
- Fat Biking. CHECK!
- Dog Sledding. D’OH!
- Kingdom Trails-again. CHECK! Twice! A day trip & a weekend!
- An island…..or a canyon? D’OH! This trip never happened.
- At least one Mountain Bike race. CHECK CHECK CHECK! I did three! Podium for 2!
- The JAM Grand Fundo. CHECK!
- The Muddy Onion Spring Classic. CHECK!
- A Dog. D’OH! I’m lobbying hard for this, but right now I’ve been vetoed until we get a bigger place.
- Bikepacking, V2.0. D’OH! This turned into a MTB Women’s Camping Weekend instead, which was still pretty awesome.
- Mystery Getaway. Sort of–Not really. I ended up going to Vermont. Not THAT Mysterious.
- 3 more OCR Races. CHECK for 2. I bagged out of the last one.
- Cyclocross! SUPER DARK EMPHATIC CHECK MARK. Best Season Yet.
I’ve been a little unfocused, coming off a great cx season that I found the most joy in since taking up the sport, and dealing with a winter that has been intensely cold. My work situation is very uncertain, as I learned last week my company has lost the contract for the Program that I run. I’m working with our HR folks to find placement and have had some encouraging leads, but nothing’s a guarantee, and I am unwilling to to relocate. Planning fun adventures feels out of place when this piece of my life is not locked in.
But I might want to change my thinking, in case I am suddenly find myself with a lot more time on my hands. I am looking at another Women’s MTB Weekend with Laura and Gail, and whoever else wants to come. I’d also like to take another stab at bikepacking, and we are looking at TATR-The Adirondack Trail Ride. That’s a 550 mile ride, and we’d do a super short segment of it over a long weekend.
I’m very interested in gravel rides this year. Last year I had a great time at the Muddy Onion, The JAM Fund Grand Fundo, and the NEBRA August Adventure. I like the adventurous feel of roads that aren’t quite roads. And I’ll most certainly be mountain biking too. Beyond that, I can’t be certain of what this year will look like.
After a few days of rest, and no more yoga, my back is feeling better. The mid back pain was the first to slowly subside. Then the sciatica. Eventually, the tingling and numbness left my feet first, then my arms and hands. I’ve restarted workouts–easy ones, followed by gentle, reasonable stretching. Really the only pain left is the one I started with, the pinched nerve in my upper back/shoulder.
Today I went for my annual physical exam, which was a pre-planned visit, and just good timing. I was given a neurological exam (insert a variety of jokes here), tested my reflexes, etc. All good. After examining my back, she observed my trapezoids were super tight, with lots of knots in my back. She concluded most of my issues were muscular, not spinal. This was a relief. She said it was probably that I had some degenerative disk issues, as “most people middle aged people do,” but this was a perfect case for Physical Therapy, as I had thought. She said some PT and some disciplined exercises at home, and continuing to practice better posture at work should rebalance me.
Yoga is still on the menu for me. I want to start PT first and then incorporate Yoga twice a week to increase my flexibility. Basic, gentle stretching after workouts should be a no brainer, but my rushed lifestyle omitted them from the routine. That must stop or I’ll risk injury again. If not my back–something else. This incident was a good teacher for me. It’s hard to realize sometimes that I have to practice a little self care if I want to keep doing all these crazy things. Our bodies can be made strong with hard work, but I need to learn to take care of myself after running myself ragged. A little self care could prolong my participation in this sport, hopefully indefinitely. That’s my game plan.
Friends, some stuff going on with my back has kept me off the bike all week. Even the trainer. I’ve been suffering silently with a pinched nerve since November in my upper back/shoulder area. These pinched nerves are common enough for me that I just deal with the discomfort and try not to aggravate it. Eventually it goes away. This was a particularly long stretch but I was not concerned, I just put up with it.
About 3 weeks ago, I started to notice some numbness in my right hand. I’ve had this happen before, and it’s 100% due to bad posture and excessive sitting at work. Since moving late last August, and I work mostly from home, I’m at a different desk and I guess I did not dial in my home office ergonomics.
Then, about a week ago, I woke up, got out of bed, and my knee buckled as pain shot down my right leg. Sciatica strikes again. I’ve had this a few times and I generally find relief within a day or two of rest and stretching. But accompanying this, was also tingling in both feet, and my other hand. All 4 extremities were tingling. “Guess I’ve really let myself fall out of balance,” I thought to myself. I decided to do some yoga, since yoga fixes everything.
I do not do yoga regularly and I have little patience for it’s slow, methodical, quiet ways. My partner gently cautioned me that I should be careful. It sounded like this, “You’re going to hurt yourself because you don’t know what the hell you are doing.” Of course, I respectfully listened, felt the gravity of her words, and then did it anyway. I googled some stretches and poses and did 18 minutes of yoga after a short spin on the trainer.
Friends, if I could go back in time and get those 18 minutes back, I would, because I f’d my back up so spectacularly, I scared myself. It did not happen right away and I was confident I had fixed all my problems in those 18 minutes (I was being an arrogant, overconfident yoga moron).
The next morning, I woke in terrible pain, all over. I felt like I had been in a car accident. A new back pain presented itself: a dull, constant, unrelenting discomfort in the mid back. It was impossible to get comfortable at all. The numbness and tingling in my hands and legs were worse than ever. I couldn’t sleep comfortably for 3 nights. I was scared: had I permanently screwed myself up? Should I see a doctor*?
Humbled, I stopped all workouts and just focused on good posture, Advil, rest, and heating pads. Now a week later, I’m a little better. I can sleep now. My mid back pain is gone, but my pinched nerve that I’ve had since November is still painful. The sciatica is no longer presenting itself. The tingling has left my legs, but still present in both arms & hands, intermittently.
Gentle stretching and yoga is probably still in order, but this time, S L O W L Y. Not my greatest personality strength. Better work set up is also needed, with more getting up and walking around. I’m 100% interested in making this a part of my everyday to get healthy enough to resume workouts and coming back into good fitness for more bike adventures when the snow melts. I love this life I have on the bike, and don’t want to be a yoga moron anymore. I need find some balance and incorporate good stretching habits to prevent something like this from happening again.
*I tried to book a Physical Therapist I have worked with before who I really like directly. Nope, I need a referral from a primary doctor. I called my primary doctor’s office for a referral on a Thursday for pain I described as needing immediate relief from, and 4 days later and no call back, I have lost respect for that office and feel like I’m on my own anyway in terms of my healthcare. For the record, I’d love to see a professional for this. But by the time I get to, I might not need to (hopefully).
Too much fun is never a bad thing. New England’s first significant snowfall coincided wonderfully with my race time slot at Ice Weasel’s held at the Riverpoint Cyclocross Park in West Warwick, RI. But for a race where you are expecting bacon and White Russians to be shoved in your face, a little snow is really no big deal. The Ice Weasels is a party, …..the “fun” race of New England. I met Laura the night before for a quick course preview, some burritos and an evening of catching up before the big day.
After perhaps the most successful cyclocross season of my life, I had backed off my training in the 2 weeks leading up tho the race, and wanted to just have some fun. It’s so hard to switch gears mentally and do this, and it’s an internal struggle to go from a competitive mindset to a “cut loose and have fun” mindset. But I feel it is important to have an event like this to just focus on the fun parts–and not the competitive part of the sport. I’ve heard some criticism of how the New England CX Scene has become so highly competitive, that we may have lost touch with the fun aspects of racing. I haven’t experienced this personally, but I do agree the scene is competitive–and maybe just indicative of the evolution of the sport in this region, and the very type A personalities found in New England. Personally, I am having an absolute blast. But for this race, despite my “oh I don’t care” words on the outside, I still needed to warm up and go through my little routines. And during the race, I still focused on a good start, I still passed people when I could, and I still rode faster where it wasn’t so treacherous that I was going to die. But– I also ran parts I would have tried to ride in other circumstances, because it was just that much more dangerous with the snow. Boy would it suck to get hurt at the last race of the year. After a great year, I sure didn’t want to end up injured, especially when this was supposed to be one of the more carefree events of the year.
It was snowing pretty good for my race and it didn’t take long for my cleats to be clogged up with ice and snow. I rode 90% of the race unclipped. I was so caught up in the moment, I also didn’t pause long enough in the Danger Zone, but on my last lap I did snag myself some cold bacon that was dangled in front of me on a makeshift fishing pole.
A lot of people brought mountain bikes to race on, which was a great choice for the highly technical course, made more treacherous with the snow. I stuck with my cross bike and the less than adequate cantilever brakes that more slow me down than stop me. This was another factor that had me nervous on some of the descents, and one hill became so degraded I went off course after barely hanging on and then hitting 2 or 3 tree branches with my helmet before regaining control. I am not sure if this is the hill they had EMTs standing at the bottom of, but it might have been. I was so focused on not dying that I blocked everything else out but the course in front of me. I somehow finished alive and upright and then found the closest firepit and a cold beer.
We stayed for the singlespeed & fat bike race, which was predictably hilarious and awesome, and we enjoyed a few beers and the warmth of the fire and the crowd. Then Laura & I made our respective treks west in the worst of the storm.
Warning: this post is the product of waking up at 4am and purging everything floating around in my brain. It’s not super pretty.
Let’s get started.
Selfish. It’s one feeling I grapple with when pursuing this sport of cyclocross, or cycling in general. Ironically the more that I am selfish about the time I invest, the better my results, the better I feel, but it leaves little time for other things in life. I feel finally balanced in my approach and management of this one endeavor, while other aspects of life get the back burner.
Burnout. I can’t tell if this is bikes or work, I think probably work, because I’d still rather ride a bike than my desk chair for 8 hours. My 2 weeks of vacation a year isn’t leaving me recharged or able to spend the downtime either with my family or pursuing the outdoor adventures that balance me as a human. I’m 47 years old and still getting 2 weeks of vacation a year. It’s fucking ridiculous.
Age. I’m not feeling it, but I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. Such a trick that nature plays on us. I’m starting to be self conscious of my age when interacting with new people. I realize I’m invisible, as a woman over 40. I remember hearing this from another woman over forty when I was in my early 30s and thought she was crazy, forty isn’t that bad. But I know now she was letting me peek behind the curtain. People don’t notice you anymore. You probably weren’t being noticed for the right reasons before, but the feeling of anonymity is palpable wherever I go. If I am interacting with anyone younger, I realize that they see me as a “middle aged lady.” This is who I am, minus all the negative connotations. I sometimes feel I could rob a bank, and never be noticed.
Now stop a second. This isn’t a pity party but a reality check. American society does not revere the middle-aged mom. It’s like a downgrade. How screwed up is that? I feel all these things and anyone can say oh you shouldn’t feel that way. I do feel like an empowered badass woman most of the time, and I’m relatively confident in most aspects of my life. I’m a lot of great positive things. But I’m not perfect and coping with the stresses of mid life like most others. Being a full time professional, a full time mom, and full time partner is demanding stuff. I did the “single mother who holds down a demanding professional job” for 11 years. That was really hard!!! Now I’m 3 months into cohabitation and while some financial strain has been lifted, it’s a new dynamic to negotiate. That I find the time to train and race a bike even at the modest level that I race at is pretty damn good, in my opinion. But guys, I feel tired. I want to eat lots of cookies. I want a week or 3 off from work, and to ride my bike for no reason at all, and to not feel bad about having a beer. Maybe read a book.
Ok, what other junk is lurking in my head? The ever present feeling that our country has left the rails and is careening toward unrecoverable disaster at the hands of a small minded, selfish, unstable, arrogant moron and that the other leaders of the country are corrupt without measure and complicit in selling out in every way imaginable or unimaginable. That feeling? That one is always there.
Work is in a funny spot right now as well, and I’m trying not to worry but I am. I’m a contractor working sans contract for the last 9 months. We know there is satisfaction with the quality of our work, but other factors always exist, usually budgetary. To add to this, the nature of what I do is subject to some market forces outside of my control, and as a cherry on top, some probably illegal moves by state government has re- appropriated the funds that make my work possible. I have a staff of 9 asking me every day if we are losing our jobs. I answer honestly, “Probably not.” But I don’t know. I don’t really know.
Other worries include: the future, saving for college, saving for retirement, my son probably forgetting his wallet or keys or phone or homework or to turn in that permission slip, or that he has a math test tomorrow. I’m worried that my mom is dating again at age 72 after 49 years of marriage and the guy she’s fallen for will break her heart or rob her or something terrible, but he seems nice enough so far. Gah.
The funniest thing about this entire post, this dump of neurosis, is that I had a few moments last week I felt I had achieved self actualization, even with everything that is going on in my silly head. I always marvel at how fleeting happiness can be.
It’s morning now, no longer the middle of the night and with a cup of coffee, these worries will wane and I’ll get on to the business of the day, whatever that may be. I’ll sneak a bike ride in, pick up my son from his meeting after school, make dinner for everyone, do the laundry, pack for a bike race this weekend, check my work email again before bed, and then probably fall asleep on the couch. And then do it all again tomorrow.
My adopted hometown race weekend never disappoints. I have been really working to have a good showing at this race. Even though I usually do one or two more to close out the season, everything after Northampton is bonus.
The biggest factor was the extreme cold. I was warming up in 19 degrees, racing in 25 degrees. The first lap of the warmup brought painful hands, burning with cold, even through my gloves. After a lap they were fine. As with all things cycling, a little suffering must happen before anything good can come.
Day 1: Cat 4/5 Women
Call up was a mess. Juniors and parents were clogging the entry to staging. They were all loud and many of us missed our call up. I started a row behind where I was supposed to. We went and I was in the back of the field trying to make up for a bad start.
Going into the woods and over the “mound,” followed by a steep hairpin turn had some of us grousing. The women in front were dismounting and walking this section. I heard a rider next to me mutter “it’s so rideable.” I shared her frustration. But I expected this delay–it happens every time on the first lap. If you really want to avoid it, you need to get there first.
I took the steep side of the run up, not on purpose, but at the top, I slipped by at least 3 racers as a result. I had good luck on the tech sections and pushed hard in the grass, trying to ride the corners efficiently and just not lose any time. On the last lap, I saw a racer I knew from other races, and it was someone I knew was way faster than me. She seemed to be suffering a bit, we were back on the grass and I decided to try and catch her. I went like hell, turned in the last corner before the barriers and had the longest slide-out, slow motion crash ever. Boom. The ground had softened by about an 1/2 an inch deep and then under that–still frozen solid. I jumped up and hopped back on my bike. My attack was over and now I was defending….my mishap allowed the woman behind me to gain ground. I rode hard and managed to hold her off at the finish line with a 3 second gap.
I was super pleased with a skin-of-my-teeth top 50% finish, placing 18 of 35 racers (I’m not good at math but crossresults said it so it must be true).
What I was oblivious to was that I had placed 3rd of the over 40 women, and literally missed the podium ceremony. I wasn’t alone, the 2nd place winner, who is a friend, did too. Fortunately we were also friendly with the winner, and we reconvened for a photo op, which is really the big prize anyway.
Day 2: Cat 4/5 Women
I was super tired from Saturday’s race in the cold, and then rest of the day I spent spectating. I had this heavy legged fatigue and I hoped I could shake it for Sunday’s race. Call up was an even bigger mess. Juniors again crowded the entrance to staging. In other races I’ve seen this managed a bit more directly by people working the race. But the actual call up had problems too. They asked us “What row did you start in yesterday?” They didn’t have the right list and seemed to be figuring it out as they went. The racers worked as cooperatively with officials as possible to get staged.
I had another terrible start. Then only a few hundred feet into the race a crash on an icy corner brought down part of the large group I was chasing. I avoided most of the mess and benefited from the spill. My race was mostly uneventful. I had a sense I was further back than I wanted but caught and passed one rider I know I’m ranked closely to in points, so I had that. I rode the techie off camber every time which helped give me some seconds over competitors, but with less of a field racing on day too, I found we were pretty spaced out.
On the last lap, I played cat and mouse with a collegiate rider from UVM. After a few back and forths, she cut a beautiful turn and passed me on a corner. I had to hand it to her, it was a good move and one I’ve done in the past. I was really working to stay with her. We hit the sand and she erred, crashing at the start of the only clear line in the sand that was easily rideable. I didn’t panic and swung wide, and powered through the thick, soft sand past her crash, reconnecting with the hard packed line in the center. I was gone.
But not completely. I tried not to look back for the rest of the lap. We were down on the grass now and the race had become just me and her. I knew she’d be coming for me and I pushed hard. The finish was a long grassy runway, a wide turn and shorter sprint to finish. I went like hell, and good thing because she was on me. Just 1 second was enough to edge her out and take 17th place,
I wasn’t sure about the 40+ placement, and we waited for results to be posted. I got 4th-of the 40+ cat 4/5 Women so no podiums day 2, but was very happy with the weekend overall. I was tired and cold but happy. I went home and had a supremely long hot shower, and made a homemade chicken pot pie for Sunday dinner which was perfect comfort food.
Here are the pros! Women and Men on Day 1. I didn’t stay to watch on day 2 because I was interested in restoring a regular body temperature.
Each year Gloucester happens it somehow lives up to the hype. This year was no different.
My hometown is a 30 minute drive from Gloucester so I always have a place to stay. This weekend was packed with social engagements—I invited Matt & Gail to stay at my mom’s place, and I was invited to a friend from high school’s apartment just a mile from the venue in a Gloucester for a gathering of friends on Saturday afternoon.
So far I haven’t mentioned that I was racing both days, which I was.
My start was solid and a gray mist created a wet surface on a dusty course. The field was crowded and there were spills and tangles and women washing out on corners and crashing left and right. The first lap went fine, but with 5 dismounts a lap, I noticed by Lap 2 my right foot was coming out of my shoe. My brand new Scott carbon fiber cycling shoes with the fancy boa ties were lose. I found a smooth section of pavement and tried to tighten it to no avail. It was busted and I lost spots stepping over barriers rather than jumping because I didn’t want to lose a shoe. That sucked. I came in 48th of 72 starters. I expected to come in around 40 but did what I could do with what I had.
I had a fitful nights sleep and bad food for dinner, and had socialized more in the previous 24 hours than I do in a month. My focus was not on racing, and that’s not what I wanted. Matt was up at 5 and gone by 6 and I was up by 6 and Gail and I left by 6:45am, and my head still wasn’t screwed on. Because I almost always go to these races alone, I realized I use that time to collect my thoughts. I’m not an introvert but I have introverted tendencies and I do like my quiet alone time.
As I warmed up on the course, I stopped at the edge of the park and looked at the sun rising over the bay, the light dancing on the surface of the ocean. I inhaled the ocean air and just quieted my mind. I grew up next to the Atlantic and it brought me some calmness before Sunday’s race and settled me down enough to focus on racing the kind of race I wanted to.
My moment of zen proved successful. I had a decent start and rode smart and relatively clean on a slightly less technical course. The flow of Sunday’s course was fantastic, and things felt good and right. Toward the end of the last lap I passed a woman on the grass. We hit the pavement for the uphill sprint finish and she went for it and passed me. I didn’t want it to end that way, didn’t want to lose what I had gained, and I stayed with her and poured everything I had into catching her. I beat her by a wheel at the finish and resecured my hard earned gain. My heart rate peaked at 195 with this effort. I almost never win a sprint finish so this was a sweet mini-victory.
Now I could relax and have fun! I had a good race and was pleased with the results: 29th of 58 starters. The fog burned off and the sun came out for the rest of the day. It was a good ending to a very busy weekend with a little too much car time due the Boston’s never ending traffic problems. I enjoyed seeing my old friends from school and hanging out and relaxing with Gail & Matt in the evenings. All & all a great weekend of fun, friends and cross racing.
Here’s a few more pictures from the weekend.