It’s fair to question yourself when it’s 6:00AM on a Saturday morning, and you find yourself driving alone in a cold rain 90 minutes in the dark to a muddy park in Rhode Island.
By the time I arrived at Roger Williams Park, the rain had stopped, but the cold was much harder to shake. I got my gear on and got onto the course for a pre-ride. There were a lot of changes from the 2 previous years. The course used different areas of the park and just about everything was super slick. After one lap, instead of feeling more confident, as is often the case, I felt pretty freaked out.
We lined up and waited for what felt like a long time. It was 50 degrees F, windy, overcast, and the cold easily penetrated my long sleeved skin-suit and my leg warmers. Then we went. I got an OK start, moved past some traffic and stayed within the group for a good while. The run ups were super slick and I used the hand rail each time–which was slower, but wiping out on the ramp was a time killer. Eventually the group thinned, but there were enough women racing (100 pre-reg’d) that I had contact with at least one rider for the whole race.
The course had an impressive run up and a scary decent that had 2 lines. I hear one of them was easier, but I never took it (insert mountain bike cred here). This afforded me several places by taking this riskier descent. Despite being nervous about the course prior to the start, my feelings changed for the better during the race. Every single muddy inch of this course was an absolute delight. Slick flyovers, slippery turns, greasy climbs and gnarly descents…I loved ALL of it.
I raced well (for me), and made the cutoff and did 4 laps instead of 3. I beat a couple of women who I haven’t beat this year, and one I haven’t beat ever….so that felt good. I guess 4 races in 7 days is good for me. It makes me sad for the 2 week break I need to take (because work) before my next race. I hope I don’t lose all I’ve gained in the last couple of weeks.
(More pics of the Master Men race and some causal shots of the course and people at the festival–sorry–no shots of the women–I was busy racing!)
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’s been a long hard winter for most of us–I couldn’t write here anymore because I didn’t think it would help to complain. So I didn’t. I was always here through, biding my time. Now that Spring is here, I’m ready to begin again.
Not that I ever fully stopped, but this year has had a slow start. I still have snow in my yard, but for all road biking purposes, it’s gone. Roads are wet with melt and muddy with sand that hasn’t been swept, but who cares? It’s above freezing at last. I’m way behind where I was last year in terms of fitness and miles, but not so far gone that it will take me long to ramp up.
Saturday I got out for a just shy of 40 mile ride, with a huge climb right in the middle. I’d like to start doing at least one “big” ride a week. Right now big is 40 miles. But soon I’d like to get 50-60-70 miles at a time. I’m trying to stick to my plan in terms of working out–right now I’m only averaging 3x/week. I’d prefer 5, but that will come. I started running again, once or twice a week. I have my eye on an off road duathlon in April that I’ve done a few times before. I’m talking my brother into doing it with me (this time I’d like to beat him). It’s a 1.8 mile trail run, 5.5 mile MTB/CX off road ride, followed by another 1.8 mile trail run. It’ll be done in an hour, but it’s a nice warm up for racing this year and I like the cross-training aspect of a duathlon.
The one tweak this time is that I’ll be doing it on my cyclocross bike. The other times I did this race I did it on my mountain bike. But I asked the race promoter and yes, CX bikes are legal. They are also a hell of a lot faster. I’m not a fast runner, and last time I was in the last 1/3 of the race after the run, and then moved up considerably during the bike portion of the race. Unfortunately, the running at the end pushed me back again. I’ll take any advantage I can get, and the carbon fiber Kona will do nicely.
Everyone get on your bikes! Spring is here!
I took 2 whole days off the bike after Northampton’s CSIcx race weekend. It’s amazing how 45 minutes of racing can leave you destroyed. Two days in a row, I tapped out, needing the break.
When I entered that race weekend, I thought that this might be how I end the chapter of this freshmen effort in the sport of cyclocross. But I was selling my new addiction short.
I registered for a small race in Connecticut for next weekend. Last year only 10 women raced in total. They have a breakout category for just Cat 4 women this year, which may mean they are expecting a larger turnout. At any rate, I’ll be racing with the Cat 1-4, but scored as a Cat 4. I’m interested to see how that looks. I was really pleased with my results at Northampton. I felt I made very solid efforts and my placement–while nothing to write home about–had improved from a similar race (Providence). In Providence, I was 63rd, in Northampton, 52 and 55th. And while I realize it’s not an identical crowd, identical course, identical conditions or identical size field. It is similar enough in all those regards that I feel a 11 placement improvement is well, an improvement.
Other things I have noticed in this pursuit: I started playing women’s pickup hoops again this year. Last year, my lungs burned and I poured sweat, red in the face and gasping trying to run a full court game for 90 minutes. This year, I was up and down that court faster than ever, and I didn’t feel fatigued at all. I was also sinking a few baskets this time, which was a nice switch.
To top it off, yesterday I went back to the ‘cross practice course that I am so lucky to have access to. There is one other woman on Strava who has indexed this course in her workouts. I’ve never met her but she is a friend of Heather’s and she races ‘cross and mountain bikes and does pretty well–considerably better than me. When I first started doing laps at Ed’s farm I was a good 2 minutes off her time. After yesterday, I have reduced it to 30 seconds. And I know she has been going back there and improved upon her personal best as well. It’s a stretch to think I could close down that gap entirely, but I wasn’t going full throttle yesterday, just keeping it a consistent effort and working on being efficient–so I know there is still time to carve off.
Not making mistakes on the course carves time. Getting faster and stronger carves time. Building endurance carves time. Knowing your bicycle well enough that it is starts to become an extension of you carves time. Skills work carves time. Staying healthy carves time. Staying lean and light carves time. I am starting to see the moving parts, the art of improvement, the finer points of chance and luck and very hard work.
Cheshire CX (that small race in CT) is next weekend and I will finish toward the end of the pack. I will score higher points because it’s a smaller race. That will help me get a better starting position for another race. Which will also carve time.
Cyclocross races might only be 40 or 45 minutes long, but the game is a long one. The effort that you put in day after day, each race is another stepping stone, each barrier, each muddy turn–each of these things are small factors that go into the larger result. But what supersedes all of these things is the biggest, most important point of cyclocross. It’s just really, really fun. It’s really hard, really intense and incredibly fun. It does not matter where you place, it matters that you are out there, shivering in the cold and mud and under modified sunlight pushing yourself and your bike as hard as possible. This is an optimal medium for self discovery, and the person you race hardest against is yourself.
I’m happy to report I’m feeling better since the weekend. I was feeling off on Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday I was feeling strong again.
I’m back on track with my food and my rides. I can’t race this weekend but have arranged for a sitter come over so I can get a good 2-3 hour ride in. It’s been at least a couple of months since I’ve had a ride last more than an hour & 1/2 so I’m really looking forward to getting that ride. Additionally, this weekend may be the last chance to be on the bike for a few days, since the National Weather Service is predicting “Frankenstorm” to hit the Northeast starting Monday and ending sometime Thursday evening.
It leaves the week in a state of unpredictability. Last year we had a freak snowstorm a couple of days before Halloween and we lost power for 4 days. Everything was in a tailspin. I’m not sure how an extended loss of power would affect the racing next weekend, if at all. My plan is to register for both days, and the chips will fall as they may. This is the closest cyclocross race to me and it’s a good-sized one. After 5 days of heavy rain, the course should be a spectacular stew of mud.
My 3 races so far have been sunshiny days with a dry to moist course–any mud has been minor. Unless the drainage at Look Park is incredible, I will be surprised if the mud factor isn’t high. Each race I do, I learn more. I have solid technical skills but my speed is not speedy. I’m picking up small tips that carve time off a course. Some help me capitalize on the flats, some help me build on my technical strengths. I’ve practiced in some mud–nothing too crazy but slick enough to keep me sharp. And after last weekend, I got to experience sand. All this for a shot at the middle of the pack. Or at least not in the bottom 25%.
Today I took my lunch break on gravel roads behind harvested cornfields. I found a path that cut through the woods and connected with a network of trails adjacent to Hampshire College and the Mt Holyoke Range. I hit the pavement back to the office and felt great–riding a cross bike in the woods is faster and more elegant than a mountain bike, and once back on the road, you can still fly. I know I’ve been talking a lot about the races I’ve participated in and I still have more of that ahead. But what I have discovered in riding the cyclocross bike is an all around joy of riding everywhere I love to ride all in the same hour. My 50 minute lunch break took place under grey clouds, 57 degrees of chill and a floor of orange and yellow leaves under my tires. That makes me happier than any place I could take in a race.
So I bagged Rockbuster. My phone rang at 8AM Saturday, the day before the race–it was my brother. “It’s today, right?” Of course the answer was no–but he mixed up the days and was standing in his kitchen in Lycra–not something little brother wears often weighing in at 225 lbs, apologizing as he confirmed his mistake with me on the phone.
I thought I might go anyway, because I still kind of wanted to. But we had a soaking rain forecast. Then I did a little math….3 total hours of driving for an event that lasted an hour. $40 in gas. No one there to cheer me on, in the rain. No one to suffer it with me in solidarity. A warm bed. A hard ride on Saturday. These factors, in combination, spelled doom for my chances of showing up for Rockbuster. I slept 9.5 hours Saturday night and don’t regret the decision to take a little time for myself.
The upside to this little disappointment is that my ride on Saturday was pretty zippy. I hooked up with one of my mountain bike friends who is returning to cycling after the birth of her first son. She spent the winter in spin class and wasn’t fooling around as we set off at a pace of 19.5 mph–her on a road bike, me on my ‘cross bike. I stayed with her for the first few miles, we backed off to about 18 mph–all on flat roads. Finally the hills hit us and we slowed down a bit. But all said and done my first 5 miles was at a pace 5 minutes faster than my best lap when I’m out on my own. My home route is hills, hills, hills so I’m not beating myself up too much–but no doubt cycling with her made me up my game.
So–you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you sleep in. I’m in it for the love of the ride and the shared experience, and I got a satisfying dose of that on Saturday. That to me was a win, no race necessary.
You know that expression, “why don’t you go pound some sand?” Well if you want to see what that looks like, watch the Cyclocross World Championship race this weekend.
The cyclocross season officially wraps up at the 2012 World Championship Race in Koksijde, Belguim. You can get a schedule and article here. Sand dunes are the dominating feature of the course and if you’ve ever pedaled through sand, imagine for a split second how these racers are going to feel. If you need some visual stimulation, check out this video.
It took some searching but I finally found a URL for live streaming coverage. I watched it last year as well and the lack of English commentary does not lessen the excitement.
Both men are from Massachusetts and I’ll be watching them from the home state. J-Pow just won the National Championship and is having a great year, it will be fun to watch him. And as always, I’ll be rooting for Timmy loudly. Here are a couple of pictures of these two American pros (and former teammates) in action from the Gloucester Gran Prix, Day 2, 2011. Powers won that race, by the way. And Johnson took second after leading for 95% of the race. They had some sand to contend with there too, on the coast of Gloucester, but nothing like what they are racing in Belgium. I wish them both good luck at the Worlds.