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.
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.
Sometimes a nudge can set plans in motion.
Because we have had so much snow, I’ve enjoyed a few extra weeks to make plans about cycling. So what’s to plan? Well–a lot. It takes a lot of thought to juggle a full time job, full time parenthood, and then tackle aggressive cycling goals.
- 3000 miles in 2015
- Three top 50% Cyclocross Finishes
- 10++ races/events
Events on the tentative schedule for 2015 (some will be added, some subtracted…)
- Domnarski Farm MTB Race June 7th
- JAM Fund Grand FUNdo July 25
- Forest Park CX Race August 22
- Blunt Park CX Race August 23
- Spartan Sprint OCR August 29
- TBD CX Race September 5-6
- TBD CX Race September 19-20
- The Gran Prix Gloucester Cyclocross Race September 26-27
- The Night Weasels Cometh CX Race September 30
- KMC Providence Cyclocross Festival & CX Race October 3-4
- TBD CX Race October 17-18
- Cycle-Smart International Cyclocross Race October 31-November 1
- Cheshire CX Race November 14
Any racing I do after mid November is gravy. Between daylight savings time and my son’s extracurriculars, I am not able to keep my fitness at the level it needs to be to “race.” I need to switch my mentality to manage my own expectations of myself–that’s hard for me to do–and just go into any of these events with a more fun attitude. Cycle Smart is my last huge effort and then I need to just do what I can without feeling bad about not being able to do more.
I’d like to do more MTB races but the schedule just isn’t lining up with my personal schedule. It’s OK. I’m going to try and preride the Cat 2 route at Domnarski to be sure I can do it competently (I know I can do it, just don’t want to sign up for complete humiliation). I took 1st in the Cat 3 race last year so I should be able to handle the Cat 2 race (but let’s be clear–I have no delusions of podiums for that category).
Spartan Sprint kicked my ass last year and I’m going back this time and training for it. At least this year I’ll know what a burpee is before taking on that event.
The cyclocross racing is the main focus for me. Last year I was distracted by a job change and much of my focus was there–and that was a wiser, more appropriate choice for me. As a result, my racing performance suffered, I rode less miles overall. I was a couple lbs. heavier and less fit, and my head wasn’t in it like I wanted it to be. I’d like to write a different story this year. Nothing fictional, but something respectable (for me). Balance is needed in all things. I just want my cycling bucket to have a little more weight this year.
So what was that the nudge anyway? Stay tuned…..
It was 13 F degrees this morning when I woke up. I have patches of lawn showing through the snow outside my window, and if the wind blows, your face turns to wood in under a minute. The cold enough to drive the heartiest New Englander inside to a roaring fire, a tattered quilt and fond memories of mud and tearing quads to warm the soul. But it’s only December 8th, and it’s not over until it’s over.
The race schedule for #NECX is still pretty healthy. Here’s the rundown for coming weeks:
The Ice Weasels Cometh, Rowley, MA Saturday Dec 13, 2014
March Farm Cyclo Madness, Part of the CT Cross Series, Bethelehem, CT Saturday Dec 13, 2014
Bubba’s XMAS Cross presented by Snocountry, Gill, MA Sunday Dec 14, 2014
DAS Beaver CX, North Grosvernordale, CT, Sun Dec 14, 2014
Elm City Cross, New Haven, CT Sunday Dec 21, 2014
Scrub Zone Nationals, West Warwick, RI, Jan 11, 2015
This is the time of year when #NECX starts to let it’s hair down. Ice Weasels sets the tone as one of the most famous, well attended, and fun CX races. I’ve never been but the mythological proportions of this race are all over the interwebs. March Farms is a new race. I was planning on going. I still might. Or I might finish my Christmas shopping-I haven’t decided yet. I have, however, signed up for Bubba CX. It’s only 25 miles away and I can’t beat that with a stick. It’s going to be a small race, but fun. So far only me and Heather have signed up for the women’s race….and as much as I like riding with Heather I hope we get a few more.
The DAS Beaver CX is also this weekend, and if Bubba wasn’t happening, I’d be there. It’s a little further away but I had the BEST time at BeaverCX last year. The pickle and grannie panty hand-ups are not to be missed. Last year, Elvis raced-in the snow. What could be better?
Elm City is next weekend, and a little too far away and a little too close to the holiday for me. What I’m really looking forward is Scrub Zone Nationals. Another brainchild of @resultsboy who also birthed the entire Weasels series, as well as creating the website I spend silly amounts of time obsessing on, crossresults.com. Scrub Zone is for all of us NOT going to Nationals. Because, you know, we suck. So this race is for us. I haven’t signed up yet, but I’m thinking, yes, sign up Karen, it’s your last chance for a B category CX race for another 9 months. Take it.