Cycling isn’t ballroom dancing. Or is it?

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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!

-Karen

2015 CX Season here I come!

2015 CX Season here I come!

Playing Bikes at Cady Hill-Stowe, VT

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 at Cady Hill in Stowe, VT.

The Green Chair at Cady Hill in Stowe, VT.

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.

Fast and flowing at Cady Hill.

Fast and flowing at Cady Hill.

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.

Trails at the Von Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT.

Trails at the Von Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT.

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.

-Karen

Slow Ramp Up

I’m lying on my couch right now, looking at my road bike which needs a tube change before tomorrow morning’s ride. I cannot summon the energy to do it.

I worked out twice today, once on the bike, again with a 4 mile hike, and I can’t tell if I’m just that out of shape, or if I’m really feeling my age these days.

My rides have felt slow to me in 2015.  It’s almost May–I got a late start (we all did here in the Northeast), but I’m still feeling like riding is taking more effort than it should.  Was my hibernation that profound?  Is the hole I’m crawling out of that deep?  I don’t know.

I’ve set some goals for myself and I put some serious thought into them to make them reasonable, yet not too soft.  I’m still super pressed for time, sneaking in rides here and there–an hour on the bike when I can grab it. When I do ride, it’s almost always on the cross bike, and I almost always try to add something different:  a new path.  A piece of dirt road I haven’t explored yet.  Even just riding the grass next to the road. If it’s going to be an effort, I need to keep it fun.

Today I stayed local while my son was at baseball practice, and explored the banks of the Connecticut River.  I saw a loon and came across these raccoon tracks.  These are the perks of exploring with a cross bike.

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I finally hired a sitter–who starts tomorrow, The extra time I buy (literally) will allow me to push into rides that are 2, 3 or more hours. I need the base miles, more time in the saddle, to stretch and build my conditioning.

But again, right now I’m barely able to lift my arm to change the channel on the TV with the remote. Hopefully as I slowly re-enter my exercise routine my fitness will return and I won’t feel so shattered every weekend.

-Karen

Looking for Cookie and a Good Deed Done

Last Sunday I got to ride. After a leg stretching 18 miles in a balmy 40 degrees. I returned to my girlfriend’s place. As I was cleaning my bike up out front, an elderly woman approached. I greeted her and she said she was looking for her lost dog. After some prompting, I got a description of her little mostly white dog, Cookie, and offered to spin around the neighborhood looking for the little guy.

I rode around through the immediate neighborhood, and then hers. I stopped another older woman on her walk and asked if she had seen a little lost dog named Cookie. She asked where, and  told her what road the woman lived on. The woman exclaimed, “My daughter lives there!” She agreed to talk to her daughter and I pedaled on, calling “Coooooookie!  Cooooooookie!” I weaved down side streets and cruised slowly, scanning for little lost Cookie.

I turned back down the woman’s street and notice the walker I had stopped standing in the middle of the street, talking to a man and waved me toward her. I rode over and entered the discussion.

The man was the son of Cookie’s owner. I told him “I’m looking for a lost dog for a woman, it’s small and white and named Cookie.” He replied, “The woman is my mother, and that dog has been dead for years. I’m more concerned about where my mother is.”

Oh. Well I could still help. I knew where his mom was. He explained she gets a bit confused and occasionally wonders off her walking route. All was well that ended well. Mother was found, and I returned home shortly after.

This story didn’t turn out how I thought it would, but it felt good to help out in a small way. It’s sad that we age at all, and the results of aging for everyone varies, but no one choses how time will diminish us. That might sound strong–I don’t mean it to–but it captures my fear of aging. I want to remain as strong and sharp as I can for as long as possible. The march of time is without escape. Riding keeps me young–I feel like a kid when I’m on my bike.  I’m counting on that to help me as I travel through the last half of my life.

-Karen

The Nudge

Last year Laura and I had a bet, and I won. It was that same one we had in 2013-who can ride the most miles on their bike in a calendar year. She won that one. The prize this year, which had never really been discussed, was decided to be a day on bikes together. Given that she lives outside of Philly, and I in western Massachusetts, and given we both have crazy schedules, this wasn’t an easy prize to deliver on.

This weekend they posted the JAM Fund Grand FUNdo ride on Bikereg. The FUNdo is 68 miles with 5300 feet of climbing and benefits the developing professional cyclocross team founded by current US Cyclocross Champion Jeremy Powers, Alec Donahue and Mukunda Feldman. This ride is supposed to AWESOME, and it happens nearly in my back yard, and I’ve never been able to do it because of childcare reasons. This year, they moved it out a week and I’m free to do it. Win. I posted the link on her FB page and before I knew it, she signed up and so did I–and it’s on! We’re hanging out and riding bikes all day July 25th. I’m so excited!

This was exactly the nudge I needed too–yes there are races peppered through my schedule this summer and more regularly in the fall, but this is a big ride. 68 miles, 5300 feet of climbing, 20 miles of dirt. And all in the bosom of the beautiful Pioneer Valley. This is the event I needed in my schedule to train for.

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Not from the Fundo–but you get the idea….

I’m not a great climber and long distances burn me out–so I’ll need to prepare carefully. Most of the prep will surround food, hydration and timing of these two important elements. I’ll train too, off course, for the distance and the hills–I know I can do it–it’s just not being completely destroyed afterwards.

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Image credit: Jam Fund website http://www.jamcycling.org

And bonus–I already talked to mysterious co-blogger Heather about this event and it’s on her list to do. Additionally, I’d bet money a bunch of the NCC guys I chat with on twitter will sign up (guys if you are reading I know you are a lot faster than me but at least I’ll see you at the pig roast).

Totally stoked for this event! Hopefully the weather gods are kind and the winds are at our backs. To sign up and support the JAM Fund, go to BikeReg and check it out!

-Karen

Training Starts Now

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Sometimes a nudge can set plans in motion.

Because we have had so much snow, I’ve enjoyed a few extra weeks to make plans about cycling. So what’s to plan? Well–a lot. It takes a lot of thought to juggle a full time job, full time parenthood, and then tackle aggressive cycling goals.

Broad goals

  • 3000 miles in 2015
  • Three top 50% Cyclocross Finishes
  • 10++ races/events

Events on the tentative schedule for 2015 (some will be added, some subtracted…)

  • Domnarski Farm MTB Race June 7th
  • JAM Fund Grand FUNdo July 25
  • Forest Park CX Race August 22
  • Blunt Park CX Race August 23
  • Spartan Sprint OCR August 29
  • TBD CX Race September 5-6
  • TBD CX Race September 19-20
  • The Gran Prix Gloucester Cyclocross Race September 26-27
  • The Night Weasels Cometh CX Race September 30
  • KMC Providence Cyclocross Festival & CX Race October 3-4
  • TBD CX Race October 17-18
  • Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race October 31-November 1
  • Cheshire CX Race November 14

Any racing I do after mid November is gravy. Between daylight savings time and my son’s extracurriculars, I am not able to keep my fitness at the level it needs to be to “race.” I need to switch my mentality to manage my own expectations of myself–that’s hard for me to do–and just go into any of these events with a more fun attitude. Cycle Smart is my last huge effort and then I need to just do what I can without feeling bad about not being able to do more.

I’d like to do more MTB races but the schedule just isn’t lining up with my personal schedule. It’s OK. I’m going to try and preride the Cat 2 route at Domnarski to be sure I can do it competently (I know I can do it, just don’t want to sign up for complete humiliation).  I took 1st in the Cat 3 race last year so I should be able to handle the Cat 2 race (but let’s be clear–I have no delusions of podiums for that category).

Spartan Sprint kicked my ass last year and I’m going back this time and training for it. At least this year I’ll know what a burpee is before taking on that event.

The cyclocross racing is the main focus for me. Last year I was distracted by a job change and much of my focus was there–and that was a wiser, more appropriate choice for me. As a result, my racing performance suffered, I rode less miles overall. I was a couple lbs. heavier and less fit, and my head wasn’t in it like I wanted it to be. I’d like to write a different story this year. Nothing fictional, but something respectable (for me). Balance is needed in all things. I just want my cycling bucket to have a little more weight this year.

So what was that the nudge anyway?  Stay tuned…..

-Karen

Making Plans 2015

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I make a lot of plans when it comes to cycling. I’m really good at that. This year, I need to improve on execution.

It’s not that I don’t ride a lot, but in the world of cyclists, I don’t ride as much as some. That’s not my fault entirely–I do the best I can with my schedule. But when I do ride, I need to get more out of it.

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Head down, time to work.

I also need to get more disciplined in the kitchen. This is tougher for me, but getting easier the more I make the effort.

Since time is my biggest enemy, causing me to 1.) not spend the kind of time I’d like to on the bike and 2.) not have the time to shop for and prepare decent healthy meals. I also not the most inspired chef. But mostly, it’s the time that’s working against me.

To combat this–I’ve killed some time sucks.  OK, maybe that’s harsh.  First-I’ve closed my online business.  I loved doing it, but it demanded a lot of time and energy.  I already work full time and parent full time, a side business demanding what little time was left.  Second, I’ve been getting more organized–throwing out stuff, donating clothing and books and other stuff to worthwhile charities.  This feels good in lots of ways.  Less stuff to manage, and someone who needs my gently worn stuff gets it free or for very cheap.  Good mojo.

Keep things simple, then I can focus on the things I want.  This is my strategy for 2015.

Priorities remain, in this order

1.) Fun

2.) Strength & Fitness

3.) Get Fast(er)(ish)

5.) Make new friends, see old friends.

6.) Race a bunch!

5.) Explore new roads, trails, places, worlds.

I can’t wait to get started.  Now if I can just get this snow to melt…

See you on the road,

-Karen

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