Sometimes you have to wring yourself out to get somewhere.
I signed up for 2 races last Saturday, the Cat 4 and then the Open Category just 45 minutes later. After too little sleep, too little riding, too much travel, too much work, too much stress, and too much alcohol & food at client dinners (and breakfasts and lunches and coffee breaks)….. I needed the ass-kicking to get me back on track.
The Cat 4 Race
Staging was odd–I was in the second row but figured I’d be in the 3rd. My start was great and I was in the lead group through the squiggly, hilly turns after the first corner. Then the straightaway, and pick, pick, pick….they came. I slid back to the middle. The back fields were a maze of corners. Around one corner I cut too close to one of the stakes and my foot slammed square into the post and nearly knocked me off the bike. Pick, pick, a couple more slid by me. Then on a modest descent before a sharper right turn, a young woman blasted by me to the cheers of her friends. She passed, then lost control and wiped out in grand fashion right in front of me. I managed to avoid her crash but was forced to dismount for the sharp right turn and hill (which was totally rideable in any other circumstance). I pushed on the the front of the course and the heckle-hill. They changed the hill a bit this year; the apex was characterized by a severe left turn on a sloping hill that slowed dismounts and caused some to topple down the hill.
About 3/4 into the first lap, I started coughing and my lungs started filling. My speed slowed to a non-race pace. I’ve had this problem before when the temps get cold: sports induced asthma. It was in the high 40’s but felt colder somehow. I struggled through the rest of the race, trading places with one other racer a few times but in the end she won the battle and I lost yet another place. No Crossresults posting yet but at the venue I came in 15th/22? I think 22. Not so great and I am definitely capable of more.
At the end of the race, I was literally wheezing. I found my friend Kathy who was getting ready for the Women’s Open and told her exactly how I was feeling at that moment: I don’t want to race again. I went back to my car to warm up and lick my wounds. I called my girlfriend and told her how I was feeling. “You sound miserable. If you feel that awful then just come home and skip it.” Inside my brain, hearing her say this aloud was like a needle scratching across a record. I was miserable, but I was there, and quitting would feel worse than coughing up whatever was left of my lungs.
Women’s Open 1/2/3/4
So I lined up for the second race, the harder and longer race with the fast women. Again, they staged us in an odd manner….someone realized it must be alphabetical, which was really bizarre. I found myself in the front row, which I had no earthly business being. We started fine and on the straightaway I moved over on purpose. I did not want to be in anyone’s way. I didn’t want to interfere with anyone’s race. It didn’t take long for the field to pass me and my wheezing lungs and leave me by myself.
This was just fine. I concentrated on form and smooth execution, and tried to push where I could, but the previous effort left me with very little. My lungs seemed to settle down but my energy was zonked.
On heckle hill, there were issues. Most heckles are in good fun. I joked with the spectators at the top and let them know I wasn’t taking myself too seriously. At least one heckler’s comments were what can only be described as condescending and pandering. I heard similar complaints from the other women post race, so I was not alone in this perception.
I got lapped and finished last–unless someone DNF’d (which happened last year). I felt 100% destroyed and 100% better than after my first race. If the first race tore me apart, the second pounded me into dust,which was exactly what I needed.
I’m hoping for a halfway decent showing next weekend in Northampton. It’s always difficult to keep momentum during cross season–it’s a big frustration for me to not be able to do my best because “real life” demands don’t allow me to race or train or even get enough sleep to be healthy. Hopefully Paradise CX’s pain will have some value next weekend.
I count myself lucky to have the CSI Cyclocross Race as my “local” race. Celebrating it’s 25th edition, I started watching this race when it was still at UMASS back in the early 2000’s. Now at Look Park, the race has grown into a community event everyone looks forward to.
When I started the season, I wanted to make this weekend my “second wind” of the season. Not racing for almost all of October took it’s toll. At Paradise Frenzy in VT last weekend, I went looking for my fitness again. I actually did not place last as expected. But darn close. Work has been extremely intense: a 50 hour work week, and putting in a scant 30 minutes on the trainer mid-week, I didn’t even have time to adjust my expectations about the weekend.
Day 1- Saturday
It was unseasonably warm for a cyclocross race. My start was “meh” and by the time we reached the woods the group was already dismounted and running the first hairpin turn before the run up. In fact, the group was running the large mound before even entering the woods. This really slowed things down, and while this was a more conservative, orderly approach, I would have preferred more of a scrum.
The run up went pretty well and I was forced right, which is the steeper line. The benefit is that if you can climb it, you reach the top that much faster. I picked up at least 4 positions after reaching the top.
In Northampton, I call the top plateau “the land of opportunity” and the bottom fields “the land of opportunists.” This is very specific to my skill set–and lack of skill set. I’m good in the woods and bad on the flat, straight, wide course on the lower fields. The corners help, but if there is enough room for a rider to gather speed, they will easily overtake me.
I got caught behind a few riders on top I would have liked to pass. They moved slowly through the technical areas where I could not pass and then rode away from me on the lower grass areas. In the sand on day 1, I tried to ride it but had to run most of the time. For the whole race, I pushed hard, sprinted when I could, and gave a full effort. I felt fine about my effort but a little disappointed with my result: 37 of 55 racers. My Strava results show that I PR’d, but my race results were 12 positions lower than last year. What does this mean? Are Cat 4 women getting faster? I wasn’t sure how to interpret my results.
I started sneezing about 20 minutes after Saturday’s race, and didn’t stop all day. I was convalescing on a couch by 4PM. Dinner was Zicam and orange juice chased with a shot of NyQuil. I wasn’t sure I’d be in any shape to show up on Day 2. But I felt OK when I woke up, and without a smidgen of expectation, went to the race.
My start was good. The first woods portion was a reverse route from the day before, without the crazy run up. A bit of congestion and then onto the double sandpit, which would become the feature that would eventually decide the outcome of my race. I rode 1/2 way though and ran the rest of the sand on lap 1. Back on the flat course we snaked to the zig-zag run up. This feature wasn’t hard, just disruptive to flow. Several of us approached this at once, another rider took a line I did not expect and forced me in a direction that was all wrong. My bike twisted, and I became entangled with 2 or 3 others. We managed to sort it out and continue up the hill.
Coming off the top levels, I found I was with a few riders I know that typically beat me, although not by much. Uncharacteristically, as soon as I came off the hill, I made a move on two competitors. I played leapfrog with one–a woman I’ve become friendly with who I’ve only beat once in 2015 (out of 5 prior races). Somehow, throughout the flats I stayed on her wheel. As we rode through the finish line on lap 2 and began the last lap, I still wasn’t thinking about anything other than I was keeping up with her. I worked to continue to do that.
She slipped away finally, but not too far. I trailed behind and gained some time in the woods when one rider became dismounted on the hairpin around the tree and I rode higher, clearing the tree, the stalled rider, and 3 other women. But each time I’d advance, she’d reel me back in.
Then we hit the sand. She was in front of me again, but only by a few seconds. She took a line I wanted. There was another rider between us that took the second best line, forcing me into the unknown. Both of their lines exploded, while I leaned back and pedaled through the first sand pit and then the second. I was on the grass again and knowing that I had made some time there, I sprinted. I pushed through the last lap with as much as I had. I knew there were 3 or 4 women close behind and as I rounded the final corner to the grassy straightway to the finish I knew I need to sprint with whatever was left. I got up out of the saddle and went as fast as I could, and lost one position in the last seconds. But I held off 2 other very worthy competitors who typically beat me. I was really pleased with myself, scoring 28 of 55, 9 whole positions better than the day before.
All & all, a great weekend of racing. I had said that everything after this race was gravy, but I’m still having fun and don’t want it to stop. So what’s next? Stay tuned….
This Saturday I’m racing after a 4 week break. My training has been nil but when I have found the time to ride I have felt pretty good. Despite a Cat 4 / Citizen race being available, I signed up for the Open category (1/2/3/4). According to Crossresults I’m predicted to place last among the current competition, which includes Elite women. Am I bothered? No.
So why did I chose the slaughter? Lot of reasons. Let’s review:
1.) I’m not going to win at this sport. Ever. There is only one winner. If I entered the Cat 4 race, I wouldn’t win that one either. I’m ok with where I end up among the faster women.
2.) Night Weasels taught me, chasing pros makes me perform better. OK–it’s usually when they’ve just lapped me, but it does provoke a response from me, and that makes my entire race faster. I also like watching the lines they take. Teachable moments.
3.) I’d rather race for 45 minutes instead of 30, especially when I’m driving 2 hours to get there. I mean, these 30 minute races leave me a bit wanting. It’s not enough. If I have an opportunity to go for longer, I will.
4.) Points. Even in last, my points for this race will be low, which will help me getting placed for a better starting position at a future race.
5.) I’m not a beginner. Hey I know I’m not fast, and not fast enough to have upgraded to Cat 3 without me writing to USA Cycling and requesting it, but I know what I’m doing. I am comfortable dismounting and remounting and shouldering and will yield to a faster rider. I know I won’t get in anyone’s way and would never forgive myself if I did.
So–a little humility is necessary. I have never placed last in a cyclocross race, but this weekend, It’s extremely probable that I will. But it’s important to remember, even when you accept that you’re not as fast as the rest, that anything can happen in a cross race. Anything. It’s a sport rife with unpredictables. So never count your chickens, because a hell of a lot of things can hatch in 45 minutes on a cyclocross course.
I’m 3 weeks into October and as expected, my ability to get out and ride my bike has gone into serious decline. This happens every year, but I never am able to let myself off the hook for it. Work and my son’s school schedule + extra-circulars ramp up, daylight ramps down, and not a lot of time is left for me. The timing sucks if you love cyclocross. Adulting is a lot of work.
Last week I intended on racing. I decided not to. Partly because I was seriously jet lagged from my business trip to Portland, and partly because I couldn’t work out an arrangement for a little extra time on Sunday before my son returned home. Since I hadn’t been out on the bike much and everything felt like work, I just decided to play.
Saturday I picked a spot near the Quabbin Reservoir that I’ve not been to, and decided to go exploring with the ‘cross bike. It’s peak foliage season, and I was out for almost 3 hours, 2 of them actually riding, taking pictures of stone walls and the gorgeous scenery, riding rocky fire roads, climbing through farmlands and enjoying the full throttle colors of autumn.
Sunday I had less time, and it was even colder. It was in the high 30’s and I headed out to do some mountain biking. Mountain biking demands so much more attention, which helped me not think about work and some of the less fun aspects of adulting. I got a little lost, which stressed me out a bit, and came across a Canadian couple hiking. They tried to direct me, and adorably, ended up bickering with one another as to whether or not I could ride over Hitchcock Mountain.
The woman: “That trail is not one you can take a bike on,” she cautioned.
The man: “Look at those tires,” he said pointing to my front wheel, “of course she can go up that trail!”
I headed back from where I came, went in a circle, and finally found a trail I recognized. I love to explore, I don’t like feeling lost. Light snow started to fall and it rustled the leaves with a chorus of tiny taps and rattles on the freshly fallen leaves. I labored up the side of the Holyoke Range, climbing almost 1200 ft in just 7.5 miles.
I’m remembering these weekend rides to sustain me through another intense work week. I have not been on the bike and don’t see it happening again until Saturday at least. I need to start back on doing sprints in my workouts, and getting my heart rate back into gear, and I won’t be racing again this weekend due to childcare again. This October break will be longer than I planned, but I’m planning a November surge….
I signed up for Paradise Frenzy Cyclocross in Vermont next weekend for Halloween. I heard from Heather it’s a great course–one that I’d love. After that will be Northampton–2 days of racing and a “local” race which means I don’t have to drive a bunch that weekend (win). Then I’ll likely do Cheshire CX again, especially if I can talk Laura into driving up from NY for it. Then–we will see. Ice Weasels is scheduled, and it’s on a weekend I’m free, so I’d like to so that race as well. Anything after Northampton is just the icing on the cake anyway.
So there is my mid-season ramble about the woes of not riding. Hopefully I can get a break and purge some of this extra energy I have with a good long ride.
It’s fair to question yourself when it’s 6:00AM on a Saturday morning, and you find yourself driving alone in a cold rain 90 minutes in the dark to a muddy park in Rhode Island.
By the time I arrived at Roger Williams Park, the rain had stopped, but the cold was much harder to shake. I got my gear on and got onto the course for a pre-ride. There were a lot of changes from the 2 previous years. The course used different areas of the park and just about everything was super slick. After one lap, instead of feeling more confident, as is often the case, I felt pretty freaked out.
We lined up and waited for what felt like a long time. It was 50 degrees F, windy, overcast, and the cold easily penetrated my long sleeved skin-suit and my leg warmers. Then we went. I got an OK start, moved past some traffic and stayed within the group for a good while. The run ups were super slick and I used the hand rail each time–which was slower, but wiping out on the ramp was a time killer. Eventually the group thinned, but there were enough women racing (100 pre-reg’d) that I had contact with at least one rider for the whole race.
The course had an impressive run up and a scary decent that had 2 lines. I hear one of them was easier, but I never took it (insert mountain bike cred here). This afforded me several places by taking this riskier descent. Despite being nervous about the course prior to the start, my feelings changed for the better during the race. Every single muddy inch of this course was an absolute delight. Slick flyovers, slippery turns, greasy climbs and gnarly descents…I loved ALL of it.
I raced well (for me), and made the cutoff and did 4 laps instead of 3. I beat a couple of women who I haven’t beat this year, and one I haven’t beat ever….so that felt good. I guess 4 races in 7 days is good for me. It makes me sad for the 2 week break I need to take (because work) before my next race. I hope I don’t lose all I’ve gained in the last couple of weeks.
(More pics of the Master Men race and some causal shots of the course and people at the festival–sorry–no shots of the women–I was busy racing!)
Tonight I was talking to my girlfriend and she said to me “I’m tired of you not doing better in your races.”
Now before you say anything nasty, understand this: I was not in the least bit offended. I quickly agreed with her. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m tired of not doing better too.”
We talked a bit about being an older athlete, and what that means. Adjusting your expectations. Squeezing in training. Training smart vs. training hard. I asked her for some help. She asked what she could do. I really didn’t know what she could do. We both admitted that we needed to believe that even as we age, we can still ‘get better’ at whatever it is we are trying to do out there. It may be in vain but here we are, still trying to get better in our 40’s or 50’s. So I have to ask myself, what does “better” mean?
It may seem like an easy question but I’m not sure that the answer is easy to articulate. Better doesn’t always mean faster, or a higher placing, or a lower crossresults point average. I have had races where I placed in the lower 1/3 or even 1/4 where I felt completely thrilled with the effort I put out. I’m thinking specifically of KMC Providence last year, when I finished 86 out of 114 racers. No one would look at that and say, “wow Karen, way to kill it out there!” No one would say that. But I did kill it out there! I had a blast. I put it all out there. That was my version of “better.”
And then there are the races from a couple of years ago, when I had more saddle time and my performance was, in fact, getting “better.” I was placing higher, I was feeling like I still had some room to improve. It was an upward trajectory I was feeling, and that continuous improvement made me feel like I was, in fact, “getting better.”
Lately, and I mean the second half of cyclocross season in 2014 and in my first race of 2015, I have felt pretty off. There’s always a problem that snarls my ability to have a good race. Bouts of sports-induced asthma by the second lap. Crashing and cracking a rib, or gashing my leg, or getting a shitty start, or suffering from heat exhaustion, or getting my handlebar caught on the course tape. (Geez, I read this list and I sound like a menace out there! I swear the only trouble I cause is my own).
My point is, I know when I’m doing better. I feel happy with the effort I put out. I feel satisfied and fulfilled with how hard the course was and what I did out there on that course. If I put a little pressure on a competitor, or if I pass a competitor or two (or ten), that’s a lot better. Bottom line is I need some “better” moments out there. Just like intervals, if I can string enough better moments together, I can pull off a downright good race.