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!
I’ve always said my first love is mountain biking. It’s where I started, and I really wish I did more of it. So when a nearby Root 66 race was scheduled on a day in my schedule that I was actually available, I signed up for the Cat 3 women’s slot. A MTB race in southern Vermont was not a hard sell.
Joined by co-blogger Heather, we arrived nice & early, signed in and warmed up. We started on a mowed track through a meadow and into the woods. The climbing started early, and the trails were flowy, fun, with easy to navigate roots and rocks sprinkled throughout the course. There was plenty of downhill as well, with most of the course on singletrack, occasionally breaking out into doubletrack which provided opportunities to pass.
Since I didn’t pre-ride–I really had no idea what to expect and I rode conservatively for the first lap. The climbing pushed me physically–it wasn’t too awful but it made me work. The lap was supposed to be 5ish miles, but my Garmin read 4 miles and I had finished the first lap. I was pumped!
Lap 2 and I started to open it up. I caught air on one of the downhills. I shredded the banked turns. The climbing felt easier. I knew I was close to one of the riders just ahead of me. I thought I might catch her. But mostly, I was just really engaged in the ride–which was awesome.
Soon after beginning lap 2 when my mood was so high, I felt my back rim kiss a rooty section. Then I felt it again over a few rocks. I stood up, riding out of the saddle to keep my weight off the rear wheel. “I better watch that tire,” I thought. I lasted about a mile before descending down a fast double track, turning into a grassy turn and the tube was done. The tire nearly rolled completely off the rim as I hit the grass.
So, keep going. I dismounted and trotted with the bike, pushing it back up the singletrack. I was determined to finish–I did not want a DNF. And even if I wanted to quit (which i didn’t), there was no way I was getting out of the woods without following the trail out. I ran what I could, lifted the bike over the rougher stuff as to not damage the rim. 3 miles, or thereabouts. The lead I had over the 2 women behind me dissolved. in 15 minutes from my flat they overtook me. A few guys came by and asked if I was OK. Reports trickled to the finish line that there was a Cat 3 women with a mechanical on the course. When Heather heard that, she said “That’s Karen.” Of course it was. I finished with a smile anyway.
I was a bit bummed out–but then again, I wasn’t. I got a great workout pushing my mountain bike all that way. I watched my heart rate the whole time and kept it high. I had a wonderful slice of apple pie and a glass of hard cider afterwards. And I was happy to be in Vermont, a place a fall more in love with each time I go.
So I finished last. I had a good time. I gave a good effort and flats happen. I got a race under my belt before cyclocross season begins. I hung out with friends. I got back to Vermont. All good stuff. I do hope that the rest of my races stay mechanically uneventful, but hey–anything can happen….its my first flat in a race so I was due. Happens to the best of us, right? Next time I’ll bring my CO2.
The next couple months are going to be crazy.
As summer winds down, cyclocross season kicks off, and my schedule goes into overdrive. My calendar runneth over with races, and not just cyclocross races. This is what I’m currently planning for the next 6 weeks….
- Sunday 8/23 Putney Cider House Classic MTB Race – Putney, VT
- Saturday 8/29 CompEdge CX @ Forest Park – Springfield, MA
- Sunday 8/30 Boston Spartan Sprint – Barre, MA
Saturday 9/12 Aetna Silk City Cyclocross – Manchester. CT Saturday 9/19 The Dude Smash – West Warwick, RI
- Saturday 9/19 White Park Cyclocross – Concord, NH
- Sat & Sun 9/26-27 Gran Prix of Gloucester – Gloucester, MA
- Wednesday 9/30 The Night Weasels Cometh – Shrewsbury, MA
- Saturday & Sun 10/3-4 The KMC Providence Cyclocross Festival – Providence, RI (one of these days, not sure yet).
Then I have a business trip for the better part of a week to the west coast in mid October. That will really screw up my fitness. I plan of trying to race every other weekend in October, but I’m not sure which ones and the particulars of my schedule that far in the future. I want to stay in good fighting shape for Cycle-Smart International November 7-8 in Northampton, and after that–well everything is gravy.
I’ve really changed my expectations this year. I used to stress about racing well every single race. That’s not realistic. And I used to think I could keep up the pace through December. That’s also not realistic. I just don’t have the space in my schedule for that. But I can use the summer to build a good base and go into September in pretty decent shape, This year, I’m riding almost twice as much as I did last year (at this time). I had to work really hard to make that happen within the confines of my schedule. Last summer I was job hunting, and my focus was on my professional development. I was feeling a lot of conflict trying to ride well and also pursue life’s priorities. As a result, I had a relatively crappy season. This year, I tried to ride more often, rest deliberately, and dabbled with HR training.
Now I know-(I know) I’m a 40+ mom with a full time job and while my athleticism is holding up relatively well, I’m not 20, or 25, or 30, or even 35 anymore. I’m very competitive in spirit–I always want to do well for me, and I’m getting better at accepting that while I can get faster, I will never be fast. I know what I’m good at (technical, sketchy, mountain-bikey terrain) and I know what I’m not (steep hills, speed, extreme heat). So my strategy this year is to go into the season relatively fit, dial it in after the first couple of races, then go hard. Try to rebound after mid October’s known setback of a week of travel, and then punch it again at the end of October and Early November. Then I will chill. I’ll race when I can but won’t feel guilty or like I’m not a real athlete for not committing every weekend through December to CX. I love the sport, but I have to keep life balanced.
My goals remain: Have a ton of fun, give my best effort, stay upright, try not to DNF, finish mid pack when I can, and enjoy the cyclocross community.
See you at the races,
For anyone racing cross this season, I’m attempting to gather up details to help you all prep for upcoming racing in New England. I’ll use course descriptions, photos, personal experience, and link to any published content (including video) I can get my hands on. If you have any resources you’d like to share, please comment, tweet, or email me. Get in touch! We’re all in this sport together. If you are new to cyclocross doing your homework can help you mentally prepare for each race. Get ready! #CxisComing!
Why is this information important?
While weather is often the most reliable influencer of course conditions, each course has characteristics and features that unless you’ve already raced there, you may not be prepared for. When Gloucester is dry it gets incredibly dusty with loose stones. Northampton has essentially two sections: one up on the hill and one flat twisty, grassy drag race. Quad Cross is great for anyone with solid mountain biking skills. Blunt Park has been described as a grass crit.
Should I attend a cyclocross clinic?
Absolutely. And as many as possible. You cannot get enough of these, really. If you didn’t get a chance to sign up for the KIT clinic with the amazing Mo Bruno Roy or attend Cross Camp with Adam Myerson, attend one of the many local clinics on BikeReg. You can also go on the weekly group cx ride, where practice makes perfect…
Should I watch videos of previous races on the course?
Yes! Some of them can make you dizzy with motion sickness, but the quality improves every year. A good video can show you what it’s like to race in a group, what a crash looks like close up, it can show you the twists, turns, hills, barriers, and other features of a course and allow you to mentally pre-ride the course. This allows you to anticipate terrain and plan your strategy. It’s like game tape for cross racers. There aren’t videos of every race, and beware of courses that have changed over the years (some remain the same year after year, some change often to keep it fresh). Always check the description on BikeReg to see if there have been any changes made to a race course.
Should I watch cyclocross videos in general?
Yes! An especially good series is called Svenness from CXhairs.com. Discussed are conditions, tire selection, technique, strategy. It’s an excellent analysis and gets you into the mental game behind race tactics. And please check out Behind the Barriers TV, created by Jeremy Powers. There is some excellent video there from last season and while they will not have the same content in 2015, it is an extremely valuable resource.
Does watching course videos mean I can skip pre-riding the course?
No. Always budget time to pre-ride in addition to watching video. I’ve missed pre-rides and it’s cost me. A few laps, even a slow trolling pace can be the intelligence gathering difference that can mean several places in your race results.
Should I check the weather?
Like a worried mother, yes, check the weather. This will greatly influence clothing and tire selection.
What is the best way to really prepare for a cyclocross race?
Honestly, the best way to prepare for a race is to race. Each race prepares you for the next. You will make mistakes, learn new things, meet new folks, Race, rinse, repeat. Experience is the best teacher!
Good luck, have fun, and Happy Cx!
It’s been an entire year since I’ve had a week off–last year I flew thousands of miles west to visit Whistler, BC and the largest, coolest mountain bike park in the world. This year I needed a financial breather (before I go back there next year, which is the current plan), so I stayed “local.”
I visited Vermont a couple times during the week–spending a non-kid weekend split between Burlington and Woodstock. Once upon a time, I lived in Burlington. I was 21 and fresh out of college, working in a management training program. The area has changed a bunch since then, including the bike path, which has grown significantly. I got up super early and checked out the improvements.
The first half I just explored, but on the way back a cranked, picking up a couple of QOMs. Sweet!
The next day we headed south to Woodstock where I was able to tackle some lovely gravel. The rolling green meadows sprinkled with wildflowers and a backdrop of mixed hardwoods and balsam trees made for a magical setting. The air was cool and crisp, and I set out early again (I pedaled by a still group of horses standing in a meadow–still asleep). The climbs were hard and beautiful; I wanted to ride all day, but only had a couple hours.
That afternoon I returned home for an hour, repacked and headed east to pick up my son and head to my folks place in Boston to visit. This was my rest day from the bike–but I got to visit with my parents and an old friend from high school. We only stayed a day before heading back, doing a ton of laundry, and repacking yet again for a camping trip back in Vermont. I brought my bike, but sadly never unpacked it. My son and I were vacationing with another family and the dynamic just didn’t lend itself to riding. We hiked instead. At least I had the wisdom to schedule a sitter so I could sneak in another AM ride before setting off for Vermont. I kept with a climbing theme and finally summited Skinner for the first time this year. Strava never picked up the climb, which was disappointing–I wanted to see if I made it up any faster then before.
After a couple of nights sleeping under some of the most beautiful stars in the world, hanging with long time friends and their kids, who get along with my kid better than siblings, the mountain air, and teaching my son how to whittle a proper marshmallow stick, we returned home.
I got a ride in Friday evening, Saturday, and again Sunday. The weekend rides were focused on building some more intensity on mixed surfaces. Sunday I practiced cyclocross skills–dismounts, carries, remounts. I feel good about some of the work I did on the bike. I didn’t put up huge distances last week but looking at my activity vs. last year–I’m in good shape. The true test will be August 29th, which kicks of my cyclocross season.
All & all a much needed vacation with lots of outdoor time and great time with my son, family and friends. Although I do think I need a bike exclusive weekend with like minded people. An escape where I can go out and ride 4-6 hours a day for 2-3 days. Yeah, I could go for that.
Last Saturday, Laura came to town to settle a bet.
The prize was the JAM Grand Fundo a fund-raising ride for up-and-coming young cyclists. It’s an incredibly popular event, headed up by National Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers, who happens to be a local.
We signed up for this event back in March. Laura has had a TON of life event stuff going on, and I’m impressed she found the time to eek out an entire weekend in western Mass. After a big interstate move, she underwent surgery for a problematic thyroid. A couple of days later, she discovered that it was cancer. The good news was that the cancer was completely removed with the surgery. That said, we made the call to downgrade from the Fundo (70 miles, 6500 ft of climbing) to the Mini-Fundo (40 miles, 3500 feet of climbing). It was the right call. The ride was still tough, still beautiful, still packed with great folks who just enjoyed the picture perfect day for riding bikes with others in the cycling community.
After the event, we hung out for the BBQ, the local micro brew, and baked goods. I got to chat with a few friends from the cyclocross season and briefly connect with my new team’s captain Kathy from KIT.
The following day we struck out for a little recovery mountain biking at Nonotuck Park.
It was a great weekend and Laura & I finally got to ride together, which was pretty cool. Now that she’s moved slightly further north, we’re hoping to get together again for another day of fun on bikes, and perhaps a replay of the Fundo, this time the 70 mile version.