Monday, December 12, 2011

MAC CX Series Grand Finale

This past weekend, the Mac Series took us back to Fairhill in Maryland on Saturday and then up to Allentown Pa for the grand finale of the series of fourteen races. I have been sitting in second place for most of the series and Art has worked his way up to fifth. We were both anxious to get out and race and give it our best and make our final decision on whether we still had any gas left in the tanks to consider racing at Master World Championships in Louisville Kentucky on January 11-15.

Friday we headed down early with our mountain bikes to ride White Clay again. That worked out so well last time. We gave it another shot. This time, I did not have a stiff neck and the weather was really sunny and warm. We had a laid back ride, no heart rate monitors or clocks, just pedaling and giggling as we twisted and undulated our way though the woods. When we exited the woods, we had a winter sky above that reminded me that winter is indeed on it’s way.

Fairhill Race: The race was held on a fair grounds/horse racetrack. The long course would take racers through three distinct districts that were separated by woods or buildings. On course were barriers, off cambers, barns, a run up and a trip into a sandy horse ring around barrels. There was also an actual wide single track through the woods, which was really cool for us mountain bikers.

I got off to a good start, and found myself in fourth place chasing Katy in third. The two leaders, Liz and Jen seemed to ride out of site on the first lap. I chased hard but I felt like I was losing ground trying to catch Katy and I still had a train of ladies behind me. Diane behind me was cheering for me. Funny, because I usually do that sort of thing and I think it is catching on. Yes, we all need motivation, and there are so few women, we can’t help but encourage each other, even when racing. The inner support between women in cross is so much like mountain biking in that respect.

I held for a lap in fourth and found I was no longer fading but holding steady with Katy just barely in sight in front of me. Then I noticed Jen in the mix with Katy, yet I was still 15 seconds back or so. It did not seem realistic that I would catch either of them, but I gave it a shot because I will never get better if I don’t try in these situations. I have a long list of things I could use to improve on, but one thing I am pretty good at is being efficient on the latter half of my race when other racers may start to fall apart. I have been trying not to get too discouraged in the first half but just plow ahead and hope things get better. They usually do.

I went into the bell lap chasing, and finally passed Jen. Jen is very strong and has won almost all the races in this series. I found out after, she had flatted earlier and changed bikes in the pit and was struggling with an unfamiliar pit bike. I could not hold my pass that long, and as we entered the last third of the final lap, Jen passed Katy and me back. To make things worse, I drifted back another 10 seconds from them.

As I climbed up hill past the pit, I began to give up as I was suffering and it was too close to the finish to dream of catching back up to them. Art screamed at me, and announced that they were suffering too. This was probably the best insight he could relay to me at that time. These were both strong racers, and I wanted to come in as close as possible on their heals if I could, and you never know when a door will open in front of you. With that, I charged the downhill towards the turn to the run up. It was a bit greasy and had chain link fence, not tape if I overshot it, but I felt confident going in with a tad more speed. Not only did I bridge back up, but the turn carved so nicely that I almost passed Katy on the inside, but then the door shut.

I am not very savvy or experienced with passing in turns nor would I want to take anyone out. So I did what is my nature, just to hang. Then the barriers opened door #1 around Katy. I entered the final sand ring on Jen's wheel. She dabbed the first turn, I dabbed the first turn, then she chose to run the next turn, and I preferred to dab and stay on. As I powered back up in the sand, door #2 opened, and I was by and up to speed very quickly. The finish line was a short paved sprint after exiting the sand ring, so I had to hustle. I really did not think I could beat Jen in a sprint, but Katy was close and I really did not know how close. Julie Lockhart gave me some advise once: always contest a sprint, even if you think they are not in your class, because you never know who may slip in there with them. So with that embedded in my brain, I hammered and was lucky enough to claim 2nd place behind elite racer Liz Harlow.

It was a very exciting race for me, to say the least. I was so excited afterwards, that I did not even realize that winter had arrived.

Limekiln Race: We arrived at the race to find a frosty wonderland, glittering with course tape. The bright sunshine was much appreciated as it was my first really cold morning this year. Art and I were glad to have our last race be a course that was so much fun and somewhat challenging. Art had a super race and placed 3rd with a big smile on his face. My race was not as smooth as his, and reminded me that I need to practice more stuff. It also included some suffering, some heckling, some laughing and a really spectacular crash into a pine tree, sending me sideways over the course tape. I was amazed that I did not get hurt. The fear in my eyes as I was headed for that tree was enough to wimp me into walking the descent on the laps to follow. Sorry to disappoint anyone that thought I was a super hero, but we all get mentally rearranged now an then, and I was happy the pine tree only broke my confidence and not my bones. I will face that demon another day. I did manage to rally back into third place, and finish on a good note.

Racing the Mac series this year has been really fun for us both, and this past weekend was a great series finale. ..... Louisville Bound!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sussex CX

Being one of the oldest cross races in New Jersey, Sussex CX race is a tradition for many. This year was spectacular with warm temperatures and dry conditions. For some reason I was really looking forward to racing this day, and I have no idea why. I just woke up feeling like I was going to have fun. This is a good thing for sure.

I tried to get a lap on the course, but did not have enough time for a whole lap before the first race got underway, so I had to wait for the first race to finish before I could go out again. This was the first time I messed up my pre-ride timing, but I adjusted and waited. It was really no big deal, but it meant I would not be able to assist Art at his start. I hated to abandon him, but I felt I needed to get out on course to get a feel for things, and this would be my last chance.

Although not super technical, the course was quite challenging with a triple, up hill set of barriers that plucked you smack in front of a muck hole, and a single barrier very close to a run up, sending your heart rate out of control every time. So, even though the ground was mostly firm, the promoters made things a bit interesting for sure.

I struggled getting my heart rate up while on the trainer before my race, leaving me not properly warmed up at the start. At least I got a pre-ride lap on course before which was a help. When the gun (trombone actually) went off, I felt like I got dropped on the slightly uphill start. I got a little panicky, but once I turned the corner to level ground, I was able to bridge up and make my first pass right before the grass. I entered the grass at full speed trying to take the turn as wide as possible so that I did not have to brake. I ended up using the whole track, nearly touching the tape. When I looked up, I realized I was back on the train.

During the first lap, I passed the leader, who had crashed and was fiddling with her bike on the side, and two racers, leaving me in third place. I pressed and suffered for 3 laps trying just to hang onto Christina in the turns. She would start to get away and then I would dig deep and reel her back. Not sure if she had a weak moment or I had a surge, but I passed her on one of the climbs and buried myself to give myself a cushion for the turns ahead. With this little effort, I started to catch sight of Erin ahead. That carrot on the stick was all I needed, to keep me pushing ahead. Three laps, and probably my fastest laps of the day, I crossed the finish line in second place. This was the women's elite field, so I won some cash as well as a cool cowbell.

When I got home, I started to analyze my race. The week before, I read a blog post by Colin R of
and decided to compare my race time with the guys. What I found was surprising: If I raced the men's 50+ (which is my age bracket), I would have been 11 th out of 24. If I raced Cat 4/40+, I would have won by almost 2 minutes. I also would have finished 20 seconds behind last place in open B men. What does all this mean? I guess I am faster than I thought I was, but not as fast as the young boys. I am glad to race with the ladies, and hope to get more out racing. .... Keeping 2012 Cyclo-cross Master World Championships on my radar.

Monday, November 14, 2011

White Clay / Fairhill

With Race #10 in the MAC cyclo-cross series being in Maryland on Saturday, Art and decided to drive down on Friday so we did not have to get up in the wee hours and drive down the morning of our race. If we drove down Friday mid day, we could mountain bike at White Clay the day before our race. We had heard good things about White Clay, but had never been.

White Clay trails were not technical but twisted and undulated through the woods allowing bikers to swoop along like a bird. I was a tad bummed because I had a stiff neck that did not allow me to lift my head enough to ride fast, but it felt great to get out and ride on some buffed out trails. My home trails of Ringwood are so rocky that I do miss fast swoopy trails and the experience that comes with them. I think I may need to go back to this place again for a more complete test ride when my neck is better.

Art and I found a great restaurant for dinner that night, the "Blue Crab Grill". We had some fantastic crab cakes. I usually don't drink beer the night before a race, but Arts Troogs Java Head Stout looked so good, I had to have a taste. Well, it was yummy. So I did not need any arm twisting. I ordered one too, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was half hoping it may help my stiff neck, so that I would feel more up to racing the next day.

It's amazing the affects of a good beer.... Although not completely gone, my neck was much better in the morning, and I was thrilled to find a fairly dry course in the morning. Things were looking good and I set out on course to take a lap. The lap was really fun so I took another lap just a little faster and the course only got better. There were some momentum sections that crossed a ravine and a mini table top ... so cool! After the last few cold wet mud slogs, this course was just what the doctor ordered for my spirits.

The race got under way and things heated right up. I ended up holding 2nd place for most of my first lap and all the fun parts of the course were even better at speed with a tight mix of racers. Three of us stayed close and battled it out back and forth the entire race. I ended up fourth, but gave it all I had and put up a good fight. In so many races women get spread out and it is hard to keep motivated, but this day was not at all like that. It was a fantastic and exciting experience like cross should be. The Mac series is really the premier series for competitive women in the northeast. I see now that I may need to practice passing in turns, as I never seemed to have enough gas on the straights. I hope to have more close racing in my near future.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Beacon CX

I had heard good things about the Beacon course, and although the race was quite a distance from home, I made an effort to make it happen this year. Art had an install half way between the race and home. He scheduled the install for Friday night, this way the trip down seemed more worth the time. Well, that is what we thought. Art was a tad behind schedule and rush hour traffic was insane. This is NJ .... what were we thinking? Six hours later, we finally got to our hotel to catch some sleep.

By this time the weather forecast had turned from light rain or snow showers to a full blown Northeaster. The weather guys were spot on, and it was raining when we got up. I certainly do not mind mud or cold, but cold and wet combined is not something I enjoy. Perhaps I never got over doing the freezing "Running of the Dogs" race years ago, but I am not looking to go there now. So as we had made the trip down, spent hotel fare and paid our entry fees, my thought was "It's only 40 minutes", so we went to race. Deep inside, I could not wait to be done, as I knew it would be cold. I stayed in the truck as long as possible to avoid hanging out in the rain, even as far as skipping a pre-ride and warming up on the trainer in the truck, but eventually we had to face up and go out and race in the rain.

Once on course, it really was fine for me. I actually enjoyed the handling conditions, but For Art it was not so much fun as he suffers from Raynaud's condition in his hands. Many sections of the course were completely under water, and others were all mud. I could not believe how hard it was to get up the amphitheater steps or even the barriers with all the mud. By the time I was done, temps were dropping into the low 30's, and Art was quick to get me to the truck to change out of my wet, mud incased clothes. This whole process was not much fun, and I certainly questioned wether I am indeed cut out for cross. Still shaking from the cold, I agreed to pack up and head home without even checking results as we were expecting snow up north. To my knowledge I may have been 4th in my race, but was too cold to really care either way.

As we drove home in the rain, I noticed the colors of the trees in south jersey were outstanding. I do not know if it was the contrast of the colors against the dark sky, but seeing them was a short special moment in my day. From there, we drove into a snowstorm, and were pretty stressed trying not to end up like the many cars we saw off the highway in ditches for the next five hours. It was a bit odd to arrive home to shovel the driveway and then take out the hose to wash muddy bikes and clothes.

As much as we both wanted to race at HPCX on Sunday, I could not bring myself to get up early an do all that again. The race itself is fun, but sometimes the clean up and sitting in the car wears me down.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Granogue CX

The race at Granogue is special to me. Last year it was my first of the year testing race, and got me sucked in to the whole cross deal. The course is a little more than a flat field with mud and some running. It has some hills, trails, textures and some pretty impressive scenery. Taking place on the Dupont estate, this race is quite unique and perhaps the witnessing of the tail end of a bittersweet era. For now, I am loving it for what it is, and giving thanks to all those of this era that have been generous enough to let a bunch of bikers come out and ride on their lawn.

This years race was no less symbolic, as I had my first crash. I have witnessed many falls while on course and always wondered why everyone fell down. I knew my time would come and Saturday was it. There was a good field for 45+ with several elite women racing down for whatever reason. I may have been a tad intimidated but also really excited to have the honor of racing these ladies. I was up for the challenge!

Day #1: I had an ok start, but always struggle sorting out before I can settle in. There were plenty of back and forths, mis-shifts and some spills in front of me, but finally I found myself chasing 4th place down, with 3 out of sight off the front. Near the end of my 3rd of four laps, I let it hang out a bit on the descent in hopes to bridge up, and in a fraction of a second, my front tire slipped out on a greasy off camber. As soon as the hood hit the ground, I was ejected off the front giving me a very clean landing in the grass just in front of my bike. I'll admit, I was a tad surprised that I had gone down, but nothing hurt, so I was back on the bike quickly and flying down the hill in hopes that my rear brake lever was still in working order, which it was.

I chased down for a half lap, but could not see the rider in front. I finally went to stand up a hill in a final effort, and my drive train halted. "What a time to brake a chain" I thought, but after looking down, I found the chain jumbled and off the chain rings. I got off the bike and moved to the side of the track. My chain came free and I quickly placed it back on but my rear wheel would not turn. I tried to stay calm and think. I decided to check my rear skewer, and sure enough, the wheel had pulled out of the drop out. In the mean time 3-4 ladies had gone by and I was hoping not too many of them where in my class. As it turned out, only one of them was, and I held onto 6th place, but it felt like a disorganized race for me.

Day #2: Art and I thought that my fall on Saturday had loosened my skewer or maybe I did not get it tight enough after my wheel swap from the warm up on the trainer, but once I was racing on course the small half of my cog set was all jumpy making it hard to concentrate or pedal smoothly. I should have checked all this out after my race on Saturday. Now I had to deal with it in the race. It took me a lap or two, but I finally figured I would shift chain rings more and use less of the cog set.

The run up was really exciting this day, because of the off camber mounting area where you had to turn and shoot down into a steep bumpy descent with a turn at the bottom. This made for some uncertainty and choices in risk, and was lined with spectators. I remember last year, having no idea how to handle this and just giving in to running up and down, which worked fine last year. I practiced mounting in this situation for this year and got it every lap on Sunday, no problem. Practice and confidence does really help! I was certain I finished 6th but I must have gone by someone without realizing it, and I took fifth. Art checked my bike on Monday, and I had pulled the barrel adjuster out of the DR body stripping the last few threads. I was thankful I was able to finish the race fairly well.

The weather was fabulous this past weekend. Warm days are winding down and although I enjoy cross, I am not looking forward to winter. It was wonderful to have spent both days out side soaking up the sun. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Some photos below of a hike Art and I took at Brandywine River Park on Friday afternoon, after driving down through many rain storms. A hawk was waiting for us in the tree in the first photo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

... And Snap, Fall Is Here

The last few days have been #10's on the scale of beautiful days. After what seemed like a month of rainy, humid and cloudy weather, New Jersyites have been blessed with warm sunny days. I was beginning to think that the soggy climate would brown the leaves and drop them without color. Today I was able to confirm that the colors have started.

Six weeks has passed with races every weekend, ... sometimes two races a weekend. Today was a treat to just take an easy ride in the park and enjoy the change of seasons. This is my favorite time of year to ride a bike in the woods. Soft reds were spreading upward out of the swamps and the trails were covered in many shades of leaves. Frogs leaped into puddles as I passed and the smell of autumn was on the trail.

The past two weekends were dedicated to mountain bike racing, and will probably complete my mountain bike racing for 2011. The Campmor H2H Leaf Blower and state championship was probably the wettest race I have done in 15 years. I am grateful that leaves are currently falling and helping to reclaim any traces of us racers. The promoter was very diligent to remove sensitive trails from the race and I am very thankful.

My equipment (Sram drivetrain and Industry Nine wheels) held together and worked flawlessly throughout two and half hours of over the axle water and mud, and wet rocks. Thanks to my Hammer Heed, I finished strong and cramp free taking 3rd in the Pro/open field and claimed the 40+ New Jersey Champion title. Thanks to all of you that cheered me on. Racing under these conditions reminds me how lucky I am to have such supporting friends and supporting sponsors.

Last weekend was the Bagels and Bacon Short Track. I thought this race would be good training for cyclo-cross, plus the venue and course is pretty cool, and was for the Boy Scouts of America. I really enjoy Short Track when it is technical and hilly like this course. I won a six pack of beer and was invited to eat unlimited amounts of pork and bacon afterwards. I may not have taken full advantage of that pork offer, but what a fun day!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Whirlybird CX

When I arrived at the race, Tammy told that Jenn, the lady who has ben killing my class, moved up to elite for the day. There were still a bunch of strong ladies at the race, but my hopes of 2nd or 3rd just raised up a notch. Robin, another fast lady was there and she usually kills me on the long straights, something that my attention span does not handle as well. I am always looking forward to the turns and sketchy off cambers to get a quick recovery. I suppose you just can not take the mountain biker out of a mountain biker. Either way, I am aware of that weakness, and make that the place where I push the hardest.

I had front row line up, yay! ... and filled in #3 during the opening sprint. Eventually Robin sprinted by all of us and I had to sit in #4 until a slight uphill off camber where I saw Robin start to pull away so I made my move up to second position. I struggled but was able to keep her in sight. She eventually fell in a wet section which gave me a second or two to catch up. I think we got to the top of the run up at the same time, but she mounted immediately and I ran up to speed and got in front. I have been practicing my mounting and running, and I think the practice is paying off!

Now the problem was holding her off and riding clean myself. I had to dig really deep, as I felt like crap. There is something about being in the front that motivates you, and I continued to keep digging my way through the pain cave. Robin was on my wheel the entire race and the 3/4 women were now nipping at my heels as well. I almost went down once, but managed to keep it upright. I did not waste too much of my time trying to ride the steep wet ups, I just ran them as not to make any mistakes. Usually a handful of 3/4's, who start a minute back, come by, but not today. I finished first rider in , which is a first for me in the Mac series.

I was super pleased with my race, but learned that I need to pay better attention to where the awards are to be. I was a bit rushed not being able to find them, that I forgot to take my helmet off for the picture. I thought this would be a good time to thank my sponsor Bell for keeping my head protected and so comfortable that I did not even realize my helmet was on.

Monday, September 12, 2011

At Home Again in Mud

Although watching summer give way to fall brings some sadness, Cyclo-Cross has brought the love back into fall for me. I am not exactly sure what it is about this crazy sport, but being in the company of mud-splattered smiles seems to help make up for losing those wonderful long days of summer.

Last Saturday was the season opener at T-Town with the Nittany Lion Cross. The race fell on the heels of hurricane Irene and a tropical storm, both that soaked much of the northeast with rain causing major flooding. I was a bit apprehensive when the promoter kept sending out updates of flooded parking and road closures the day before the race, but much to my surprise we had no problem parking or getting there.

This would be my first race since MTB National Championships in July. I knew it would be muddy, but I was more nervous about lasting 40 minutes than I was about dealing with mud. I do not consider myself an experienced cyclo-cross mud racer, as it was dry most of last year, but I suppose I do have several decades of mountain bike race experience in all conditions, and I was somewhat curious to see what this mud stuff was all about on a cross bike.

I pre-rode the course in the morning and it was somewhat muddy, flat and not technical. However after the Cat 4 race went, the mud puddles got bigger and one became a giant long slog that would need to be run or walked. I felt fairly confident in my technical skills on this course and was looking forward to plunging into the water on my first lap. I always get a chuckle on a first plunge of the day. I don’t think I ever ran through puddles as a kid, and who would have imagined I would get into that when I was 50?

I went to the line and although I had some “first race of the year” nerves, it felt good being there, and I quickly felt at home with this group of women. The women at the Mac series are a nice bunch of ladies, and it is a thrill to see so many women that come out to race. I was not certain of how the mud thing would pan out, but my main mission was to move ahead whether on foot or bike and figure it out as I go. The nice thing about multiple laps, is that you have the chance to master it by the last lap.

I did not pay close enough attention at the start, and was alarmed to hear clipping in while I was daydreaming for a second. So although I was last out of the start, I stayed calm and safely worked myself up to maybe 5th within a minute. This was not a bad place to be, and before I knew it, I was chaffing a bit, but steadied up a tad until passing space looked good. By the end of the second puddle, I was in the lead. That only lasted a short while, and the eventual winner came by me.

As soon as things opened up a bit, she started to pull away as I started to pull away from those behind me. The first lap is always exciting as a wet course can change greatly as the races go on. Having to run a long section while shouldering your bike sends your heart rate through the roof, but I kept moving forward like I had planned. On lap 3, my bike, which was covered in mud, slipped out of my hand while setting it down from my shoulder and bounced up and struck me hard behind the knee. For a second, I wanted to give in to the pain cave, but I resisted and moved ahead. I think my last lap was my smoothest, placing me in second place with a two minute margin on both sides of me.

This was a much better result for me than I expected. Spent 40 minutes on the bike wash line with all the other muddy chicks, and then it was time to pack it up and head home to get ready to race Jungle Habitat mountain bike race on Sunday.

Jungle habitat is uber technical and on top of that, it was wet. By the time Cat 1 raced, it was extremely slick and would be a race for bike handlers more than fitness. My plan on Sunday was to ride technically clean, and to look at the race as a longer and more aerobic paced ride. Considering the slickness of the course, it was probably the most sensible plan.

I decided to ride my Titus 26” full suspension, which I had not ridden in 6 weeks. It was probably not the smartest choice, but I was thinking the 100mm fork on my 26" bike would be better than 80mm on my 29er at Jungle. I struggled a bit on the first lap readjusting to the feel of the smaller wheels, but eventually settled in by lap 2. Once again, I think my third lap was my smoothest, cleaning the entire chute and only 1 dab on goat. I cruised in for 4th place in the elite field. I was a good distance off 3rd place, but a strong finish none the less.

More bike washing, then time to rest my little legs....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vermont Sampler

Art and I took a little trip to Vermont to visit my brother and get some riding in with him and my nephew before my nephew started school. We decided to check out some new places to ride and see what Vermont had to offer. The result was pretty good.

Our first day, we rode in Pine Hill Park in Rutland. It's not very big, but do not dismiss it because of it's size. The trails are well designed, well marked and offer great riding for many levels. Even though it was a town park, you felt like you were out in the woods. They even had a suspension bridge that was built by local volunteers. I certainly recommend this spot for a day trip if you are passing through or spend time in Rutland.

The next day we rode at Perry Hill in Waterbury, thanks to a recommendation from Mergs. We did not have a guide or map, but followed the Kiosk and signs and figured things out. One thing to keep in mind in this place is to know that the loops are only marked one way and connectors are not marked. If you want to do all the loops there is a preferred order or you will have to climb the main road four times. We figured it out by the second time up the hill and made adjustments. Burning Spear Trail was awesome! We accidentally did it backwards, but it was good that way too. There is some great trail building going on in this park for sure.

Art actually did a second ride this day with a friend in Richmond/Hinesburg, but I stayed back to enjoy dinner and wine on the my brother's awesome deck. We also walked his property to scope out some possible trails building projects.

A taste of Vermont life:

On the third day, my brother gave us a tour of his "little patch" local trails in Waitsfield. We started on Chain Gang trail in Phen block and worked our way over to Cyclone trail in Howe block. The trails in this area are more oriented in the fall line and do not come cheap .... you pay in climbing to get to them. They were a little more technical in spots, but in my opinion the effort to get to them was much greater than the short time spent actually riding the good stuff. The trail system could use more low angle contour line trails for climbing and descending. My nephew reports that the kids in his school will take up any other sport to avoid mountain biking and it is my guess that most these kids give up on the big road climbs before they even make it to the trails. I guess that is Vermont life? In contrary to that, my brother is killing it on his bike from riding all those hills!

Day four and five ..... on to Kingdom Trails in East Burke to meet up with some of team Campmor.