This year is nearly half over, and I’m just feeling like it’s starting. The winter was long. So long. Like still getting snow in April long. Now warmer weather is here and all I can think about is being outside riding. I’m getting out enough, but it’s like I feel the need to make up for a lot of lost time. This spring I returned to Montpelier, VT for The Muddy Onion Spring Classic. I entered the first mountain bike race of the year as a Cat 2 rider, and played hookey for a solo adventure ride that took me somewhere I deeply needed. Let’s play catch up.
The Muddy Onion
We just call this “The Onion” now. We actually call it “The Funion” because it’s such a good time. Gail, Laura an I rode up to Vermont together, meeting Matt at a diner for some late night breakfast the evening before the event. Laura didn’t feel well after dinner and I was worried she might not be able to ride in the morning. She toughed it out and rallied for the event, even changing my flat tire at mile 31.
The route changed slightly this year, but still brought us over some primo peanut butter mud and gravel. It had been raining all day Friday, and the roads showed it. I overheard that it was the muddiest Muddy Onion ride on record. I was just happy to be back in Vermont, a place I feel akin to. Beautiful roads under moody skies with friends and friendly cycling community. This ride attracts a group of good people.
I should mention, my entry was comped by the GRVL-XX Project.
“GRVL-XX is a group for female cyclists only, dedicated to increasing participation of the ladies in gravel riding and racing and to showcase fun and unique events.”
They have a good community of FB and use their platform to grow the sport for women. Check them out of you are a female rider, or a race promoter of a gravel event and are interested in promoting a little gender diversity.
Fat Tire Classic-Winding Trailing Mountain Bike Race
Despite the terrible weather all year, I’ve been keeping up with riding and while I’m not dedicated enough to be doing scheduled intervals on the trainer during the freak snowstorms we just kept getting all spring, I felt I was in good enough shape to level up to the Sport category for mountain biking. When I started racing mountain bikes again in my 40’s, it was only a
couple few years ago and I did a small handful of races. I always raced Cat 3 (beginner) and I’m not a beginner. I’m just middle aged and slow. But my bike handing skills are descent enough. I started bringing home some hardware from these cat 3 races-which was nice! Mountain bike races increase overall length of the race when you upgrade, and I can handle the increase in miles, so I figured–just go for it. Upgrade! Also-the mountain biking scene tends to be more chill that cyclocross, which is a nice break. I’m competitive enough in my own head, and a laid back culture is a very nice counterbalance. I like that about mountain biking-a lot. Just ride!
So I entered as a cat 2. Winding Trails is a pretty buffed out course, but this year had some changes to the course and it felt harder–like maybe there were more climbs than last year. Instead of 10 miles (2 laps) I was in for 15 miles (3 laps). We lined up at the start and it’s nice to know some of the women I race against now. I saw Sarah from cyclocross (who now races elite in cx while I’m still hanging out in cat 4) and Kait who started racing last year and just keeps winning everything. We were causally chatting right up to the whistle, so different than the tense silence in the moments before the start of a cyclocross race. I was hoping to place among the 35+ crowd, and I was foolish enough to think this was possible.
I don’t know if it was the long winter, my overbloated confidence, or WHAT, but 15 miles was HARD. I rode as efficiently as I could, and the trails were not too technical at all, but I got my ass KICKED in that race. Dead last among all the women. I did pass one of the older guys who started before the women’s race on the same course. We exchanged pleasantries on a particularly unpleasant climb. But that was my only pass and it counted for nothing.
Since then, I have not done another mountain bike race–only because of scheduling issues. I plan to do at least one more–maybe two. And I’m planning on sticking to Cat 2, even though I got killed in it. Because I CAN handle the miles and I’m NOT a beginner, and mountain biking culture is totally chill. Maybe that combination is really the right one.
Solo Adventure Ride
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a day off and just have a “me” day. I don’t think I know how much I needed this until I did it. 54 miles, solo. Vague idea of where I was going. Beautiful weather, beautiful roads, beautiful non-roads. The best ride. I’ll leave you with my Instagram post after that ride and the photos of it.
Today I took the day off and rode my bike 54 miles on pavement, gravel, mud, grass, snowmobile trails and cow paths. I accidentally ended up in a cow pasture and the cows noticed me and started coming for me. I was off the map for a while. I hopped fallen trees, crossed a stream, jumped an electric fence, and stepped carefully over barbed wire. I found a very ominous looking murder shack in the middle of nowhere. I found a rubber red goldfish tucked into a 150 year old oak tree. I saw waterfalls. A gaggle of wild turkeys. At one point when I was pretty lost, with no bars on the cell phone, I looked down and half buried in the mud was a small sign nailed to a post that had broken off, that read “YOU ARE HERE.” That was my favorite moment of this extraordinary day.
Summer’s finally arrived–go ride!!
I finally made it back to Domnarski this year. I last raced this course in 2014 and the course was as difficult as I remembered; an uphill start over a bunch of sharp rocks for 1.2 miles and then fire roads, and a single track descent which was so fun it made you forget that first climb altogether–until you did it a second time. I raced Cat 3 and the loop was the shorter of the two loops at Domnarski–the “beginner” lap. First timers did it once, Cat 3’s twice.
It was a warm sunny day and the hill was exhausting–but the rest of the ride was a bunch of fun. 4 women started, I was the only 35+ woman so as long as I finished I would simultaneously “win” and “lose” my race. My goal was to finish faster than I did in 2014.
Mission accomplished. I came in 3rd overall and beat my time from 2014 (according to Strava).
2014 lap times: Lap 1 – 30:04, Lap 2 – 32:39
2017 lap times: Lap 1 – 29:42, Lap 2 – 31:44
And as mentioned before, I was the only 35+ women, so solo podium for me.
As an extra bonus, I learned after the race that this was the Massachusetts State Championship for the Root 66 Series, so I got an extra medal from USA Cycling, which was kind of cool, but still felt a little over the top, especially since I didn’t compete against anyone in my age group.
I am still racing the Cat 3 (beginner) class, mostly because before 2017 I had done about 2 races since the year 2000. Last year I didn’t do any mountain bike races. This is my 3rd MTB race this year, and while I still don’t feel like I’m ‘fast,” I’m not a beginner and unlike cyclocross–I usually get a good result in mountain biking races. For next year, I plan to suck it up and upgrade to Sport (Cat 2) for mountain biking. This is NOT the plan for cyclocross however–I will remain a cat 4 and continue to finish mid-pack on my best days.
I was also great seeing Kait again who is slaying all the 18-34 age group races in our category, and meeting a couple more women who raced. We were all pretty surprised there weren’t more women racing on such a picture perfect Sunday, but it was fun to chat for a while after the race.
I don’t know if I’ll have time in the schedule for additional MTB races this year. I plan to to the JAM Fund Grand Fundo and need to start training for the climbing/distance right now if I’m going to have a good day that day. And then cross season will be upon us in no time…I usually switch back to riding the cross bike exclusively by August. But I want to stay flexible this year in what I plan to do. I am not sure I’ll be doing so many cross races in 2017–I say this now but we’ll see. I know once I get a taste again I’ll want to do as many as I can.
Last January in a fit of “oh my God I haven’t been able to ride outside in a week” desperation, I freaked out and signed up for a duathlon for mid April. I needed something to focus on. I have done the event before–a couple of times, although it’s been a few years. An off road trail run, a mountain bike ride, followed by another trail run. The while thing is done in about 90 minutes. I reasoned that the running would be a good thing to focus on throughout the winter to keep me active–and easier than trying to ride on icy roads. Plus it would get me in shape for the Spartan Event I’m doing in June (for the 4th time, God help me).
All that made a lot of sense. I had been watching Bikereg like a mother–always trying to find a couple of spring/summer events to do before cyclocross season, and it was January–so of course there wasn’t a lot posted. I got an email from the duathlon race promoted with a discount and it seemed like a perfectly good idea. I signed up.
Then about a month later, a mountain bike race was posted for the same time, same day, slightly closer to home. I figured oh well. But as it gets closer, I’m waffling.
The same thing is happening at the end of April. I’m signed up for the Muddy Onion Spring Classic. On the same day, another mountain bike race was posted 2 towns away. I am totally psyched for the Onion, but man I wish that mountain bike race was scheduled another day! I’d sign up in a heartbeat if were on another weekend.
It’s been a really long winter and it’s not quite over yet, with more snow expected on the very last day of May. I have found that I need something to look forward to to get me through long stretches like winter. Signing up for that duathlon was a sound choice but now…..now I’m looking at that mountain bike race and thinking–that’s what I’d rather be doing! I suck at running, I just tolerate it. It’s like doing homework. But a couple hours on my bike in the woods with like minded people? Yeah, that’s my jam. There is a short 5.5 mile mountain bike portion of the duathlon, so its not like I wouldn’t get bike time, but it just doesn’t feel the same.
Ignorance is bliss, choices paralyze us. If I bag out on the duathlon and lose the $70 fee, and sign up for the mountain bike race, and then have a bad time at the race, will I be full of regret for changing my mind because of a little FOMO? Or is this just an example of going with my gut?
My gut love bikes, and it’s been a long, long winter.
The last time I raced my mountain bike it was 2002. I had been mountain biking for about 2 years and raced only twice before. I was in northern Connecticut and don’t remember how I did. I remember my seat post slid down so low over the course of the race my lower back felt like someone had slammed it with a 2X4. Afterwards, I got into one of the worse fights ever with my then fiancée. It was one of the worst days I can remember. That was 2002.
Fast forward to last Sunday, June 1st, 2014. I have finally (and just recently) replaced that same mountain bike with the slipping seat post. I signed up the the Root 66 Domnarski Farm Mountain Bike race. I did this because I finally feel (gasp–wait for it) comfortable with the idea of racing my bike. Sure I still get nervous but I’m not worried about how old I am or how I might look or sucking incredibly bad. I’m happy and comfortable in my own Cat 3 skin.
The smartest thing I did with this race was to preride the course. Twice. I did this the day before. I arrived around 11AM and met up with this guy named Joe who had the same idea. We fumbled around looking for the parking lot, and eventually found where lot was (behind a gate–so we parked on the street) and with the use of my cell phone and the Strava App, figured out where to start.
Preriding revealed an immediate, steep, rocky climb that had me off the bike and pushing on and off for about a mile and a half. There were a few breaks with singletrack, stream crossings, and a snaking ascent. Some spots I just had to dismount and hike-a-bike. It was so steep and rocky, on my first pass I thought “maybe I won’t come back tomorrow for the race.” Yeah. It was that unpleasant.
But I did come back, and good thing too. More on that later. The parking lot was open the next day and was as the race promoter had warned, a complete mud bog. There was a grand total of 4 Cat 3 women racing. Me (+35), Sara (19-34) and 2 juniors (12-18). Each age category was considered a separate race so Sara and I were going to win our respective age groups as long as we finished. I race against Sara in the CX season and we finally got to formally meet at the start line. We lined up together and my plan (based on the preride) was to hang back, not get in the way, and do my own thing. I thought we’d be starting with the other Cat 3’s–with the men, but they staggered each age group among the men and then let our little group of 4 women go together. So my plan changed. There were 2 clean lines heading into the woods and up the mountain. I was on one of those lines. I took the lead early and just tried to ride steady and clean. I had done 2 laps on my preride the day before so I knew most of the lines to take. I still was off the bike for at least 1/2 of the long, rocky ascent. But when I got to the top, I realized I was alone, with no one in sight behind me.
THAT NEVER HAPPENS.
And now that the rest of the way was downhill or mostly flat–I went. I pedaled hard where I could and kept trying to ride smooth and clean. I blew through the start line and ended my first lap, and just tried to repeat for the second lap.
On the second lap, I caught a couple of the Cat 3 guys and played leapfrog with them for most of the race. In the end, I passed one mid lap and I passed the second near the end (he had flatted). I tore across the finish line still not believing that I had come in 1st. And yes, I was going to “win” my age anyway, but I’ll be honest, it felt pretty good to win overall.
As an added bonus, afterwards I noticed CX Pro and phenom Crystal Anthony wiping down her bike. I had seen her out there preriding the course–she had past me but I recognized her immediately. I’ve watched her race at Northampton CSIcx and she’s crazy-amazing-good. I walked up and introduced myself and told her she was a pleasure to watch race. Fan-girl moment of the day. She was very gracious and friendly. It’s not every day you get to meet one of the top women cyclocross racers in the country.
All & all, Domnarski Farm was a great time. I’ll aim to go back next year and race the Sport category (Cat 2), and get my ass kicked again like I’m used to.
PS- I wore a heart rate monitor for this race. My average heart rate was 181 and my max heart rate was 191. Discuss.
Today I signed up for my first event, the Rockbuster duathlon in Ashland, MA. I’ve blogged about (and done) the Mud, Sweat & Gears duathlon in Ashland, and Rockbuster is essentially the same race. Same course, same distance, same event–different time of year. It takes place on April 22, 2012 and if you’re feeling up for some off-road cycling and trail running, you can sign up here.
I’m petitioning my brother to do this event with me and right now, he says he’s up for it. It’s 34 days away and I’m not sure how active he’s been this winter. But he’s got this great “jump right in with both feet” attitude about pretty much most everything he does, so I’m not counting him out.