I had absolutely no plans to do Secret Squirrel this year.
First, it’s 2 hours away. Second, I am about done by now. At least I usually am. I had the weekend free and a 4 day weekend at that, I knew I wanted an event to burn off some turkey. With 4 races to choose from, I took to twitter for advice. #NECX spoke loudly and clearly–do Secret Squirrel, you won’t be disappointed.
I wasn’t. The course has everything: gnarly roots and technical sections in the woods, sweeping power on the backend of the sporting fields, hills that grind the energy from your legs, swooping downhills that were hollar-fun, and a legit sand run up. There was even an tiny bit of mud in spots.
They ran the elites and novices together–which in my opinion worked out just fine. I enjoyed having 45 minutes to race and I went as hard as I could, coming back with a top ten finish out of a field of 28 (I got 8th place!). Points-wise this is my very best result to date, building on an already terrific season. I even took another lap after finishing, because it was so goddamn fun.
The day wasn’t perfect: I had a terribly upset stomach all morning, likely from holiday food. I got tangled with a rider-dude during course inspection–I was knocked off my bike, and my foot became wedged between two of his spokes on his back wheel. He then tried to ride away, which really sucked. My foot is pretty black and blue as a result (still). I somehow banged my nose on that same fall and today half my nose is an attractive green and blue (hello make-up bag). I was kind of “off” before the race, not feeling even like racing very much. But reliably, something clicked when the siren blew and suddenly, none of that mattered.
I should also mention, this was the debut of an equipment upgrade: a tubeless wheelset and tires. I have flatted in 2 races this season and even flatted in pre-ride at Noho. I got a lot of great advice from social media and #NECX, and then went to my mechanic who set me up beautifully for less than $500. The wheels run smooth and fast and handled the wild roots of the Squirrel course–my last set up would have never made it out alive. Call me converted, I will endeavor to go tubeless with my entire fleet.
How many more races will I do? I’m STILL not sure, I’m having a load of fun and don’t want it to end. Ice Weasels is in 2 weeks, that’s a definite. We’ll see what other trouble I get into between now and the end of December,
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.
I’m hesitant to write about this at all, but dare I say, I’m finally having the cyclocross season I’ve always wanted.
I have long had the modest goal to finish in the top 50% of the race. And this year–it’s actually happening. Not every race, but 4 of the last 7 races this year I’m in the top half. If I don’t get a flat tire, or other calamity, I’m making it.
This feels so good, it was an achievable goal I set for myself but never quite managed to pull off more than once a season. It always bugged me because I knew I could do more, but I always found it so hard to train and prepare for the season the right way. By no means do I have everything figured out, but there are reasons I’m doing that much better this year.
1.) I’m following a training schedule. It’s general and not ridiculously specific–but I’m doing intervals on Wednesdays and threshold when I’m supposed to and resting on days I should rest. I generally try to stress my body into an uncomfortable feeling on hard days and genuinely take it easy when I’m supposed to.
2.) I’m able to ride during the day, outside. Last year I was still working in Springfield in an office for 9-10 hours a day, without an outlet for exercise. Training was isolated to the trainer at night and weekends, and occasional afternoons until the light was gone (which wasn’t long). Now I work from home and while I still commute to the Boston suburbs once or twice a week, I’m able to ride 45-60 mins at least 3 days during the week plus whatever I do on the weekends. As an additional benefit, I find I’m much more alert during my work days because of the mid-day exercise, and I no longer have back and neck pain from sitting for long stretches.
3. I’m eating a little better. I still have my treats, but I’m eating more veggies and less sugar in general. I’ve lost a couple of pounds and overall feel better.
4.) I’m recovering better. I find I can endure more discomfort and recover faster from hard efforts. The intervals help with that. But some of the big rides I did last summer seem to be paying off now too.
5.) I am serious about racing, and not serious about the results. This is probably the best development–I seem to have found a healthy mental balance between my enthusiasm, my nerves, and my internal competitor. When I race, I am focused and I’m constantly thinking about what i need to do to pass the women in front of me, and expand gaps between me and the women behind me. But the fun is still there–I joke with the hecklers and while I have had results that are an improvement over years past, I know I’m still not winning races here. I still don’t expect to move up a category. My perspective is intact. I’m still having a lot of fun.
6.) I’m in one place. This is a simple one–but something I haven’t had for a long time. No longer am I packing a bag every other weekend to visit my significant other. Now that we are under the same roof, there is no more back and forth and that has helped me focus on things I want to…..like cyclocross.
The most meaningful thing about this incremental improvement in my performance is that it is happening as I settle into what can be easily described as “My late forties.” I love this is happening at this time in my life. I love that I can improve my athletic performance at anything after age 40. I love that I can do this sport and my age doesn’t prevent my participation. I hope I can continue to do it for many years to come.
I registered for a small grassroots race this weekend in Vermont, and then next weekend is the Verge/Cycle-Smart Northampton International Cyclocross race weekend–the hometown race. If I can, I’d like to continue to do better than average among my peers for the Northampton races. The trick now is to keep up with the diet and workouts, and not get sick or injured.
Let’s hope I didn’t jinx myself by talking about it!
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.
Guys, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it this season. Call me late to the party, but I’m here! Cyclocross season is underway in the #NECX and I’m gearing up for my 6th year.
So lots has happened since I was here last. I sold my house, moved in with my long time partner, started my son at a new school, got braces (yeah you read that right, I got braces–thanks Invisalign), and have been enjoying the “who know what will happen next” feeling of being a contract consultant and working sans contract. Nonetheless, I’m in good spirits, and for the first time in a long time, it feels like my life has some traction (now to keep my head down because saying it aloud makes me wonder just where that next hit will come from).
After the JAM Grand Fundo, I did the NEBRA August Adventure Ride–which was just so amazing. Pencil that one on the must do list for next year everyone. As the uncertainty of house selling toyed with me at the end of summer and the beginning of September, I all but stopped riding in favor of tag sales, craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, cleaning, packing, moving, repairing, etc, etc. OMG WHAT A LOT OF WORK. If packing up and selling off 16 years worth of a life isn’t like interval training I don’t know what is.
But it’s over. Officially. And I’m able to focus on a much happier obsession.
So I planned to jump into the season at KMC Crossfest in Thompson, CT. They’ve been trying to make KMC a really big deal, starting things off on a Thursday and concluding on Sunday. It’s a C1/C2 race, and part of the USAC US Cup CX. Meaning star power from the Pro Ranks would be there to compete.
I wasn’t there for that–I love watching the pros but I’m always more interested in doing rather than watching. The entry fee was very expensive as far as cx races go. $60 a day, plus $10 to park-each day! Attendance withered as a result. I used to race in a field of 120 at this event. But on Day 1, only 25 women lined up.
The race was fast–as cross races go. More pavement than I’ve ever seen at a cx race. But the technical part was highly technical.
In the cat 4 race they scored 40+ masters separately from the Under 40 cat 4s…..which to my complete surprise resulted in a podium for me!
I’m still psyched about it.
On my second day at KMC–a much different outcome. The field thinned even further–only 16 racers, and even fewer masters. I felt I had a good chance at repeating the result I had on Saturday and was very hopeful. I was really tired but had slept a good 10 hours and tend to rally after the whistle blows. The course was beat up from 3 days day of hard racing and only 1/2 way through the 1st lap I flatted. What a huge disappointment. My friend Jon was cheering for me and saw what happened. I was walking to the exit the course and had my hand on the tape when he yelled “No Karen! They have neutral support! Run to the pits!” I thought he was nuts. The pits were over a mile away. “It’s so far!” I whined. But then I realized–yeah, I was whining. Stop it. Pick up your bike and run to the freaking pit.
So I did that. Thank you Jon.
I’d never pitted before, so I took this as a great learning experience. The Shimano mechanics were great–they fixed things on my bike I didn’t even know needed fixing, and had me on my way very quickly with a new wheel. But the time lost running the course with my flatted out tire was significant. I lost an entire lap and finished dead fucking last. But DFL–>DNF–>DNS and I gained just a little more experience in the sport.
My sixth year and still a cat 4, still learning, and getting older (just had another birthday but still not as old as my racing age would have you think), but maybe getting better? Maybe.
That podium experience got me pretty fired up, and while I doubt that I’ll repeat the perfect storm of low attendance, high entry fee, and high profile event with a rule that has them scoring masters 40+ women separately again this year, I’m still just delusional enough to think I might be improving a bit. So I signed up for Minuteman CX–a race I’d never done before due to childcare schedules, but now my child is a breath away from teenager status and he came along to take pics.
The course is not very hilly and not very technical, except for the incredible number of turns/corners. So many corners! Cornering well would be the #1 skill to bring to this race. To my delight, overcast skies opened up 5 minutes before the race and continued to rain steadily for the whole event. We were ringing our gloves out at the start line, where a healthy group of 58 women lined up for the cat 4 race.
I had contact with someone pretty much the whole race, traded places, passed some got passed by others, crashed once, and got soaked and muddy. It was perfect. I finished just in the top 1/2 of the group–a solid mid pack finish which is what I aspire to do but always come up a little short. I was 29th of 58 and had a great time with teammates and friends.
Next weekend is the Gran Prix of Gloucester, and I’m racing both days, hosting friends at my Mom’s house, and going to a party with friends from high school. The original hometown race. The competition will be tougher but still shooting for mid-pack finishes, no flats or crashes, and maximum fun.
Guys, cx season is here!! So much fun!
- The JAM Fund Grand Fundo has became a signature cycling event in western Massachusetts, known for it’s cycling star power, beautiful and challenging routes, great food & drink, and warm community. Living in western mass, I feel particularly fortunate to connect with so many cycling friends at an event in my backyard that I otherwise would not get to see in my day to day life.
This year, Laura came back to do the full Fundo–67 miles and over 5,650 feet of climbing on a mix of paved and gravel roads. It was a warm and cloudy day and I was grateful temps didn’t move past the mid 80’s.
We rolled out from Black Birch Winery in Southampton and hit gravel within just a few miles. Soon we all tackled the formidable King’s Highway, followed by Krug Sugarbush and then around mile 22, our first rest stop.
Soon after, we were back on gravel for what seemed like the next 30 miles. I was riding my gf’s gravel bike, a 2016 Specialized Dolce Evo, which was super comfortable. I loved the stopping power of the disc brakes and the Lazy-Boy quality of the seat. But it didn’t help me in the climbing department, and at 22 pounds, I was used to a lighter machine. I slogged through each hill, which slowed all of us down (sorry guys), but on the descents I bombed past everyone. The Specialized tracked superbly and I could confidentially hit 40+ mph on gravel and then stop on a dime.
By mile 50, I was more than ready for our downhill finale. 17 miles of reverse hills I was downward dogging it back to the winery. I REALLY wanted to hang out and enjoy the food and beer and friends, both new and old–but my son had been dropped off at a neighbor’s house after 2 weeks away from home (tech camp & a Cape Cod vacation) and I couldn’t wait another second to see my boy. I can’t complain though–It was a full day on bikes with friends at a terrific event supporting the next generation of cyclocross greats. I’ll be back next year for another helping!
I finally made it back to Domnarski this year. I last raced this course in 2014 and the course was as difficult as I remembered; an uphill start over a bunch of sharp rocks for 1.2 miles and then fire roads, and a single track descent which was so fun it made you forget that first climb altogether–until you did it a second time. I raced Cat 3 and the loop was the shorter of the two loops at Domnarski–the “beginner” lap. First timers did it once, Cat 3’s twice.
It was a warm sunny day and the hill was exhausting–but the rest of the ride was a bunch of fun. 4 women started, I was the only 35+ woman so as long as I finished I would simultaneously “win” and “lose” my race. My goal was to finish faster than I did in 2014.
Mission accomplished. I came in 3rd overall and beat my time from 2014 (according to Strava).
2014 lap times: Lap 1 – 30:04, Lap 2 – 32:39
2017 lap times: Lap 1 – 29:42, Lap 2 – 31:44
And as mentioned before, I was the only 35+ women, so solo podium for me.
As an extra bonus, I learned after the race that this was the Massachusetts State Championship for the Root 66 Series, so I got an extra medal from USA Cycling, which was kind of cool, but still felt a little over the top, especially since I didn’t compete against anyone in my age group.
I am still racing the Cat 3 (beginner) class, mostly because before 2017 I had done about 2 races since the year 2000. Last year I didn’t do any mountain bike races. This is my 3rd MTB race this year, and while I still don’t feel like I’m ‘fast,” I’m not a beginner and unlike cyclocross–I usually get a good result in mountain biking races. For next year, I plan to suck it up and upgrade to Sport (Cat 2) for mountain biking. This is NOT the plan for cyclocross however–I will remain a cat 4 and continue to finish mid-pack on my best days.
I was also great seeing Kait again who is slaying all the 18-34 age group races in our category, and meeting a couple more women who raced. We were all pretty surprised there weren’t more women racing on such a picture perfect Sunday, but it was fun to chat for a while after the race.
I don’t know if I’ll have time in the schedule for additional MTB races this year. I plan to to the JAM Fund Grand Fundo and need to start training for the climbing/distance right now if I’m going to have a good day that day. And then cross season will be upon us in no time…I usually switch back to riding the cross bike exclusively by August. But I want to stay flexible this year in what I plan to do. I am not sure I’ll be doing so many cross races in 2017–I say this now but we’ll see. I know once I get a taste again I’ll want to do as many as I can.