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!
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.
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.