I’ve always said my first love is mountain biking. It’s where I started, and I really wish I did more of it. So when a nearby Root 66 race was scheduled on a day in my schedule that I was actually available, I signed up for the Cat 3 women’s slot. A MTB race in southern Vermont was not a hard sell.
Joined by co-blogger Heather, we arrived nice & early, signed in and warmed up. We started on a mowed track through a meadow and into the woods. The climbing started early, and the trails were flowy, fun, with easy to navigate roots and rocks sprinkled throughout the course. There was plenty of downhill as well, with most of the course on singletrack, occasionally breaking out into doubletrack which provided opportunities to pass.
Since I didn’t pre-ride–I really had no idea what to expect and I rode conservatively for the first lap. The climbing pushed me physically–it wasn’t too awful but it made me work. The lap was supposed to be 5ish miles, but my Garmin read 4 miles and I had finished the first lap. I was pumped!
Lap 2 and I started to open it up. I caught air on one of the downhills. I shredded the banked turns. The climbing felt easier. I knew I was close to one of the riders just ahead of me. I thought I might catch her. But mostly, I was just really engaged in the ride–which was awesome.
Soon after beginning lap 2 when my mood was so high, I felt my back rim kiss a rooty section. Then I felt it again over a few rocks. I stood up, riding out of the saddle to keep my weight off the rear wheel. “I better watch that tire,” I thought. I lasted about a mile before descending down a fast double track, turning into a grassy turn and the tube was done. The tire nearly rolled completely off the rim as I hit the grass.
So, keep going. I dismounted and trotted with the bike, pushing it back up the singletrack. I was determined to finish–I did not want a DNF. And even if I wanted to quit (which i didn’t), there was no way I was getting out of the woods without following the trail out. I ran what I could, lifted the bike over the rougher stuff as to not damage the rim. 3 miles, or thereabouts. The lead I had over the 2 women behind me dissolved. in 15 minutes from my flat they overtook me. A few guys came by and asked if I was OK. Reports trickled to the finish line that there was a Cat 3 women with a mechanical on the course. When Heather heard that, she said “That’s Karen.” Of course it was. I finished with a smile anyway.
I was a bit bummed out–but then again, I wasn’t. I got a great workout pushing my mountain bike all that way. I watched my heart rate the whole time and kept it high. I had a wonderful slice of apple pie and a glass of hard cider afterwards. And I was happy to be in Vermont, a place a fall more in love with each time I go.
So I finished last. I had a good time. I gave a good effort and flats happen. I got a race under my belt before cyclocross season begins. I hung out with friends. I got back to Vermont. All good stuff. I do hope that the rest of my races stay mechanically uneventful, but hey–anything can happen….its my first flat in a race so I was due. Happens to the best of us, right? Next time I’ll bring my CO2.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!