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.
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.