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….
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.
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!