It seems like every time I sit down to write about a race, I always want to convey how excited I was about the event–how much I look forward to it. Each race is different and special. Northampton is my home (or thereabouts) and is special for that reason, but it’s more than that. This is the oldest UCI race in the country, and in its 23rd year, the race has taken place at Look Park for many years now.
This weekend is the ONE weekend I have ALL YEAR that is ALL MINE. My son is away with my ex. My significant other is away on business. And there is a huge 2 day cyclocross extravaganza practically in my backyard. I look forward to this weekend all year.
So you can imagine how bummed out I was when I started to feel like a tired piece of crud on Thursday. I started popping Zicam like candy on Friday and by Saturday morning, I was still feeling abnormally fatigued and a bit sneezy. Not to mention, I haven’t been riding much the last month Work, fading daylight, and increasing demands of my son’s schedule have made rides few and far between. Now that I’ve properly explained away why I did so crappy, I’ll tell you about the races.
Course was slightly moist, not really muddy, but greasy in spots. I got a really terrible start. Too much hesitation in front of me and I was caught in the dominos. On the first pass of the run-up, I was forced right, up the steepest, least climb-able part of the hill. The racer in front of me slipped and lost control of her shouldered bike and hit me, and then the same thing happened to me. I practically dragged the bike up the steepest part of the hill. It was ugly.
Then we were in the woods, which I liked. The course twisted and turned and spit us back down onto the flat and fast grass, taking us down a swift singletrack. On the grass there was lots of sprinting and braking and turning and more sprinting. The second run up wasn’t anything to sneeze at, and wound us through the woods again, and onto my favorite addition to this course. A very mountain-bike-esque set of dirt turns through trees with minor elevation changes. I LOVED this section. It was just plain fun and challenging enough to keep the best riders on their toes. I think I liked it because it was hard without being dangerous. Perfect.
I did, however, crash in this section. My first actual crash in a race. The rider in front of me spilled and forced me into deep unstable soil and I went ass over tea kettle. She quietly apologized (Cat 3/4 Women as very polite racers I’ve discovered) but I hopped back on and kept going (and so did she). No worries. This was all part of the adventure.
After this the course shot us down a trail on over the railroad tracks. If you had enough speed, you could catch air here. I did every time and it was wicked fun. Despite feeling like shit, I was having a good time.
Back on the grass it was power, power power……something we all know I’m short on. I did my best and tried to ride hard and smooth. I finished 60 out of 82 racers. Now I shouldn’t feel too bad about this since the top 15 are all crazy good. But this wasn’t the middle of the pack I was aiming for. Sigh. Being off the bike for nearly a month has its repercussions.
On Sunday, the two monster run ups were gone and the course was much, much faster. The good news is I felt much better this day. After spending Saturday hanging out with co-blogger Heather and new cycling friend Aileen drinking beer and eating pizza and watching the Elite races, I got some rest and Daylight Savings Time gifted me another whole hour of sleep. Sunday was a new day. The bad news is it was 15 degrees colder and fast courses eat me for breakfast.
Whatever. I was there to race. I decided that I was going to leave it all out there on the course, Save nothing! I lined up and had a much better start. I was more aggressive and sprinted when things opened up. I had contact with riders for 3 of the 4 laps, playing cat and mouse with several. By the 3rd lap things had shaken out and riders were stretched through the course. I stayed on the wheel of one rider for a half a lap until she shook me and steadily opened a gap on me that was too big to overcome. I worked on keeping myself enough ahead of whoever was left behind me.
I sprinted for the finish alone, finishing 62 of 75. A worse result than Saturday. I was a bit mystified by this because I really felt like I raced this one, rather than just survive it. I think this just illustrates how much better I do in technical sections than on flat open sections. I am no sprinter, I am not fast. I like dicey technical stuff.
So a great weekend all in all. I really would like a full CX experience by having a really sloppy muddy race. Or snow. Most of my races (this year and last) have been very dry. The muddiest race so far has been Providence. I’d love to see how I do in some terrible conditions.
Last Sunday I raced QuadCX, a popular cyclocross race in the quiet Boston suburb of Maynard, MA. I had heard about QuadCX for years-it had a good reputation for being a fun race. But beyond that, I knew nothing more of it.
The #NECX scene (New England Cyclocross) is hot, hot hot. These are the cool kids of the sport. I’m a native of the Boston area, growing up less than 10 miles from downtown Boston on the North Shore. But since moving to western Mass more than 20 years ago, I’m not completely in the loop. Plus I’m old. Like, I have a kid old. Still, if the #NECX scene says QuadCX is a blast, then believe them. They know the deal.
I signed up for the race at the last minute, about 2 hours before registration ended Friday night. Normally I have some mental prep time before an event. This time I was really not in the racing state of mind. I hadn’t had a decent bike ride in what felt like weeks, and felt largely unprepared.
I arrived at the Maynard Rod & Gun club plenty early, registered, and then tried to pre-ride. The race organizers were busy still building the course, so the little group of women I latched onto would ride a part of the course, then it would evaporate. We improvised until the rest of the caution tape went up and the course was complete.
Maybe it was the last minute-ness, or the uncertainty of the pre ride, the early hour, the lack of coffee, the not-sleeping-in-my own -bed factor…or maybe it was discovering exactly how technical the woods portion of the course was–but I wasn’t feeling super confident about the race. My head wasn’t screwed on right. I had to quickly embrace a “what-the hell” attitude lest I beat myself up with nerves. I headed over to the start.
At the start, I ran into a friend I didn’t expect to see. She was running late, needing help with her number, holding a bag of gear, her bike, and a smartphone with a recently shattered screen. I pinned her number for her and she ditched her stuff and lined up for the call up with me. While I was waiting to begin, my long silent co-blogger Heather showed up to watch the start. I haven’t seen her in ages and it was great to see her in the crowd.
On the whistle, I had a great start. I clipped in immediately and was surprise when there was no one in front of me. I thought, “this can’t be right,” and like tempting fate, my cleat disengaged from my pedal and I faltered. Racers swarmed. I corrected and jumped on, still in a decent position. But when thinking back, it could have been so much better….
Then I raced. There was some contact on climbing hairpins and a run up. Nothing serious but I lost some time in these minor snarls. There was a sand pit with a hairpin that I thought I’d run, but somehow I pedaled through it each time. The lead group thinned and pulled away through the first lap and a half, and then I found myself somewhat alone. In the woods, I lost any apprehension I had during the pre-ride and found it flowing and mountain-bikey, with a bit of gnar here and there. It was loads of fun. The grass was deceiving–what you would expect to be smooth was terribly bumpy, with stray holes and rocks in the track to keep it interesting.
As I past the start line for the second time, the lap indicated we had 2 to go. I took inventory of my resources and realized I felt pretty strong. I had someone behind me, but had a decent gap on her. Ahead of me were two women from the Cat 3/4 under 40 group (my group was a Masters group, starting 1 minute behind the youngin’s). After that, I saw no one. So I decided that even though catching either one of these women would mean nothing in terms of advancing me in race position, it would be great practice in closing gaps, attacking, and with luck, gaining positions. The cat and mouse game began.
For two laps I would catch and pass on the woods, they would catch and pass on the grass. The finish was on the grass, so it went that way. Right down to the last little bit of the race where I decided to give it all I had. I still had gas in the tank, which surprised me. 2 weeks prior I was spent by the 3rd lap. I latched onto the rider in front of me with a half a lap to go. We were on the grass but I hung on through the off-camber turns and the barriers. I hung on through the more technical sloping, twisting climbs over the quickly disintegrating earth, I stayed with her through the last turn into the straight before the finish line and sprinted. And she knew it, and sprinted too. She finished one second before me, but it was so very fun. Like I said, I lost nothing to her, she was in a completely different race. I felt I gave the race a great effort and I learned a ton by doing it.
I had to leave immediately after for family reasons, so I really didn’t know how I did. My friend Vicki (who’s race number I pinned at the race start) texted me results….13th of 24 starters, only 21 finished. Does this mean I’m officially in the middle of the pack? I’m a fan of rounding down, so yes. Yes I’d say I’ve finally hit the middle.
Woot! CX season is here!
PS–big thanks to Heather for taking photos.
I’m fighting off a funk in terms of my cycling routine. And I’m not going to blame the weather either. The weather is not an issue. It seems as suddenly all these crazy workouts have caught up with me. I had one good ride last week and I was rewarded with a tweaked hip that pinched a nerve and made it near impossible for me to cross my own kitchen, let alone pedal. I went mountain biking with a friend which was great–I liked the social aspect. But the ride was slower due to conversation and 5 minutes before we wrapped up I crashed and smashed up my left knee.
Also-last weekend I rolled my ankle and it’s been stiff ever since.
I officially sound like everyone’s older parent bitching about what aches. How awful of me. I don’t like it. I don’t like that my knees pop and crack when I try to get off the couch, and that my hamstrings are so tight they cramp when I bend down to pick up my son’s Legos.
What to do? A lot of folks advise some time off the bike, but I don’t know….I’m sort of afraid to stop. I feel like momentum is one of the things I have going for me.
This is where I am, wrestling between time off and another goal. The most immediate would be next weekend’s finale on the cyclocross season.
The New England Cyclocross Championships is a Dec 15/16 and in Fitchburg, MA. There are some good videos posted online and it doesn’t look like a really crazy course. Despite the name it’s really not a big race. There is a flyover which looks fun–you have to dismount, climb up, and remount at the top. I am looking at racing Saturday in the 35+ Masters Women group. Like anything, I have analyzed this to a ridiculous level and know that based on last year’s race it’s a small group, under 10 women, and that if I raced those same women from last year, I would finish last. I know that even if I do finish last, I will score low points as scored on crossresults.com, which will help my overall average and earn me a better starting position in larger races next year.
I am pretty proud of myself for doing all these races but after reviewing my results, I have a lot of improving to do and I do want to get better race results. So I suppose I should just take my creaky middle-aged body to Fitchburg next weekend.
I’m not committing 100% yet. I’m going to do my normal training plan leading up to a race and see how I feel after Wednesday. Then I’ll either pull the trigger or stay home and ride the couch. Then I’ll get it together to recap the year and set some new goals for 2012. Providing the Mayans aren’t right and all.
Camp Sloper held it’s annual cyclocross race to a warm, bright autumn day during peak foliage season here in New England. Sloper is in Southington, CT and getting there didn’t take long, providing you have a trusty Mapquest App on your smart phone. I got there with ample time–I am finally getting the timing down on these races and know that it isn’t outrageous to arrive 3 hours before the start of your race.
The day before I had spent in the Ronald Reagan Airport in DC, stuck while I waited for the airline to get us another plane. I had come off a week of traveling, no workouts, and poor diet. I was really tired and felt thin in my attempt to do most things. Get dressed, pack the car, have breakfast–all took deliberate effort. I was deeply fatigued but had registered and it was such a beautiful day, I decided to push on in the hopes that I would rally, as I often do.
The rally never came for me. The course had very minor elevation changes (almost none) and no barriers. There was a steep, slightly muddy climb with a hairpin at the crest, a sandy beach with a stair run up, and a sand volleyball court as obstacles. There was a section of woodchips which were more treacherous than they looked, and some small loose gravel areas. But you really only had to dismount once a lap for the stairs. Otherwise if you had the power and the sand gods were on your side, you could just ride through.
I took my place in the back with the other Cat 4 women. I delayed the entire race by accidentally pinning my number upside down, and the woman next to me re-pinned it for me (thank you!) A rookie move for sure, I laughed it off and the other women seemed to take my mistake in good humor (I hope so anyway).
Then we started. I didn’t feel good from the start, but I know the first lap can mean a lot and I pushed what I had, which wasn’t much. I managed to pass the woman in front of me, then she me, and then we played cat & mouse for the next 2 laps. Then I was done. What little energy I had slipped away so quickly–I felt transparent. I tried to hold off another woman who was downright chipper. She was chatty and conversational and rode with me a bit. I appreciate her because she was friendly and puts things in perspective….and I didn’t really mind when she finally pushed past me.
I had a spill too. My pedals were sticking and my cleats were also filled with sand. I got in on one side before a small climb but could not clip into the other. I lost momentum and fell over. Then tried to unclip when on the ground with no leverage. I struggled on the ground, twisting the bike away from my foot to unclip, get up and run through the mess I was in. Sand was a first for me and boy you need to choose your path carefully. I think there is an art to it but some spots just seemed to snag you. The sand was a major time and energy suck. It drains you quickly.
Then I was alone for the last 3 laps. And when I say alone–I was ALONE. I saw the chipper woman a few times in front of me but by the last lap she was out of sight. I saw NO ONE behind me. I thought for sure I was last. All I had in my head was to finish the damn thing and go home. As much as I wanted to “turn it on” there was nothing to turn….nothing in the legs, no strength at all.
I finished and headed back to my car and kind of crashed. I felt nauseous and dizzy. I tried to eat something. I drank and coughed and sneezed and sat for a bit to try to collect myself. I thought about driving away immediately. But then I thought I should check results and snap a few pictures so I did.
When home, I got progressively worse. This happens to me sometimes after a big event and effort. I get really sick. Headache, nausea, and stomach fall out. This is the 4th time it has happened, and I have been very careful this year to eat and drink correctly before during and after these events. From the week I had prior, I think my system was just off its game. And with no one sticking a bottle of Gatorade in my hand and telling me to drink, I probably wasn’t getting enough hydration. It was a rough reminder that I need to be careful about hydration and nutrition.
Additionally, I checked my numbers on Strava. I could not believe my average MPH. I am capable of faster speeds by 2-3 MPH on courses with more elevation and physical barriers. On this day I was SLOW. How I felt for the whole race was right there in the numbers.
All day yesterday was pretty shot for me as a result. And I admit for a good part of the day, I was feeling so sick I thought “This isn’t worth it.” But now that I’m feeling a little better (still fighting something I think, but better than yesterday), I’m thinking that I need to end of a high note. I have 3 more races I’m seriously considering. The 2 days at Northampton and then Hop Brook back in CT. That should give me a few more opportunities to finish strong for the year.
PS–Results are in and I was not last. There looks like there were again, issues with the final numbers. The first results showed out of 15 women I was 12th (I took a photo of the handwritten results at the race). Official results from crossresults.com show I was 13th. I’m not sure what the issue was but it hardly matters. I had a bad day and could have done better. Not by much but better. Next time….
More Photos Here of the Men 35+:
They speak my native tongue there. They speak Boston, and despite a remarkable lack of the letter R in virtually all sentence structures, we’re all talking bikes & fun. Another year another #GPGcx–and every year I think it can get no bigger, no better. And then it go ahead and gets even more awesome. I’m going to post a bunch of pics to show you what it’s like.
AND there is a beer tent. Nuff said!
Bold statement, I know. But after finally getting my road bike tuned and the rims checked for a cause to my chronic flats, I flatted AGAIN on my second ride out. That makes–what? 9 this season? I haven’t flatted this much over the course of all the years I’ve been riding, my only solace has been the cyclocross bike. And after this last incident, I’m beginning to think there may be some divine intervention.
Now my grandmother warned me about doing something like this. No, no, she didn’t warn my about racing bikes. A petite Irish Catholic woman who grew up in the Great Depression and who’s mother (Great Grandma) ran a speakeasy during Prohibition, she was a smart lady who warned me never to discuss politics or religion. Tough assignment these days and I’ve made a real effort to steer clear of those 2 subjects in this blog. But for what other reason would God give me 9 flat tires? Why would God not strike my cross tires down as He had the mountain and road tires? Why has He spared the cyclocross bike any harm and laid misfortune upon my mountain and road bikes? And all without bodily injury to me.
It got me thinking…..The Lord works in mysterious ways…….http://www.realcyclist.com/twin-six-jesus-t-shirt-short-sleeve-mens
So I said, Alright! Alright! I’ll do it.
I am registering for the Aetna Silk City Cyclocross Race in Manchester, CT this Saturday, September 22. At the time of this writing, there are only 8 women registered for the open race. This race was supposed to begin last year, but–don’t laugh–an Act of God put Connecticut, and Western Massachusetts, into a State of Emergency. This was the freak Halloween Blizzard we had in the Northeast last year. Pretty much the whole state was shut down (I myself had no power for 4+days).
Being that it’s the first year, it looks like a nice little race for a first timer like me.
Last night I put cyclocross tires on the bike–Michelin Mud2 which got a lot of positive consumer reviews, and didn’t break the bank. I planned to try them out today but I’m in the office after a long weekend away and it’s raining with wind gusts to 50MPH, so as much as I want to check out the mud shredding ability of these tires, it will have to wait until it’s less windy and I don’t have to return to office attire. Tomorrow the skies are set to clear and I plan to head out early in the morning to the cyclocross course for some practice. That will be my hardest workout of the week before Saturday, and ,my last chance to practice on a real course with real barrier and a real run up. So I need to make it count.
All divine joking aside, my goals are to have fun and finish. Prayers are welcome :) But as my co-blogger Heather told me last night “Hey, if you go to medical school and pass with the lowest grade, you’re still a doctor when you graduate.” So after this weekend, even if I finish last, I’ll still have raced my bike.
My favorite cyclocross racer, Tim Johnson has again claimed victory at the Men’s Elite Cyclocross Nationals this year in Kansas City. The conditions were extremely treacherous, but Tim has developed a reputation for excelling in the sloppiest, messiest, most severe weather and course conditions. Check out this video to see the action, and the official article at this link. Please join me in wishing Tim and his wife Lyne Bessette, who is also racing, luck in the UCI World Cup the day after Christmas in Hofstade, Belguim.