Tuesday, August 11, 2015

12 Hours of Great Glen

Not really on purpose, it seems this summer has been all about trying to see just how much I can overdo it on the bike. The first big test was the Ronde de Unreasonable, a 107-mile ride on pretty much every single trail I know in the northwest suburban area, on CX bikes. I made the route by putting three CX routes I’d created into one big ride. Ed and I used pretty much every minute of daylight to get it done.

Then came team camp with the Ride Studio Cafe Expedition team. My kids had been sick the week before and while they had recovered, they were still contagious and we didn’t want to expose the babysitter we had originally booked to watch the kids while I was away at the second day of camp. So I woke up super early one Saturday morning, made it to the parking lot at Kingdom Trails by 8:30 am, mountain-biked with my teammate Julie, met the rest of the team to ride the Rasputitsa course, headed back to KT for another hour with Julie, had dinner, then drove home in a rainstorm. I got home 5 hours before Ed had to leave for his Xterra.

Then we went on vacation and spent 5 days riding at KT and then did the JAM Grand Fundo. And I topped it off with the Rapha Women’s 100 for the biggest week of riding in my whole life at 28 hours. (I think my previous record was something like 17.)

(My best events are in the 12-second to 30-minute range, so it’s kind of funny that I’ve started hauling all this fast-twitch muscle-fiber uphill and through the woods for hours and hours and hours.)

When I signed up to ride 12 Hours of Great Glen as a co-ed pair with my Hup United co-DS Chip Baker, I didn’t see that it was part of the pattern. It would be around 6 hours of riding, and I’ve done plenty of 5- and 6-hour rides this year. No big deal.

Ha. Ha.

This ended up being the hardest race I’ve ever done. 

Chip took one for the team and did the LeMans start. He turned out to be the perfect partner for this adventure (of course Ed was my first choice, but we couldn’t figure out the childcare angle). Chip and I couldn’t be any more different, personality-wise, but we get along very well and trust each other implicitly. I definitely saw a new side of him at this race: 12 hours of 100% bizniz Chip.

After the start, I went back to the tent to eat some of the great treats from the Skratch cookbook that Jon had made for us. There were 8 other teams in our field, including two teams of moms racing with their teenage sons.

We had a smooth exchange and I went out on my first lap. I hadn’t had a chance to pre-ride the course so this would all be a big surprise. And it was – I haven’t done very many mountain bike races and this was definitely quite different from southern New England. It was hilly, something like 1200 ft per 9-mile lap, and there were a lot of fire roads and downhill turns at speed (big weakness). Near the end of the lap, I came upon the bumpy wood-stair descent known as “the Plunge.” I hadn’t seen it before and rode about a third before I got off and walked. Then I decided to skip the floating bridge as well. I probably should have tried to ride those before the race.

Chip and I kept taking turns. He was riding all out and soundly beating my lap times on every lap. When I heard some of the expert womens’ lap times (10-15 minutes faster than me), I started to seriously reconsider my plan to upgrade this season. I was doing my best but never quite feeling like I was racing. I did manage to ride the Plunge on laps 2 and 3, but it was terrifying and I opted to walk on subsequent laps.

While Chip was racing, I would go back to the tent to eat and get ready for the next lap. It was nice to have Chip’s awesome family to hang out with. We passed info through Pam, and Syd did her first bike race (24 Minutes of Great Glen) on my hardtail, which I had brought as a spare. She kept thanking me and said it was life-changing!


I got to ride much of my 4th lap with Jon, which was awesome and was key for the later laps. I checked after that lap and found out that Chip and I were in 5th place, pretty close to 4th, but hopelessly behind 3rd. I was pretty happy actually – no pressure.

It was dark by the time I started my 5th lap, and my helmet light failed (probably user error and I couldn’t fix it while fumbling and tired) after about a mile. This made the rest of the lap difficult, though I still had my handlebar light. My night vision is not so great though. I was getting super tired and having trouble staying on the trail. I decided I was going to quit. I heard Colin cheering for me as he passed in another direction in the Blueberry Hill section near the end of the lap, which made me briefly reconsider. But I was just done. I told Chip in the timing tent as we made the exchange. He was totally supportive of course. He said he would do his 6th lap and then we would be finished. I turned in my RFID and started to walk out of the tent so I could go feel sorry for myself.

Then someone called me over. It was Jim, a friend of Chip’s, and (I realized later) on the team in second place in our category. He pointed out that Chip and I had moved up to third because the other two teams had stopped riding. I was feeling very sad about quitting so this gave me some motivation to change my mind. I went to the volunteers and got my RFID back. As Colin said during one of his many advice-dispensing moments during the race, "Nothing is slower than stopping."

I went back to the Hup tent and read some hilarious motivational texts that Ed had sent to me and Chip, coincidentally at the moment I was feeling the worst on lap 5. I headed back out for my 6th lap in a much better frame of mind (and with new lights) and had a good, though slow ride. And remembering some of the spots I had gone through earlier with Jon (and his good lines) helped keep me smiling and focused.

After that I chatted with and helped out Jon for a bit, then headed back to my tent to try to get some sleep. At that point it was probably 1:30 am. Around 6 am, a bagpiper started playing. I kept thinking that it would stop, and then I started to wonder if it had stopped and if my brain was just filling in the sound. But finally I got up to enjoy the performance in person.

I hung out with Jon, Legend, as he was heading out for some more laps in the morning. 

He was remarkably cheerful considering how many laps he had ridden. That's why he's Hup's Most Valuable Camper, in perpetuity. Jon wanted to know how he was doing in his mini-competition with Uri, so I left him a note after I filled up his bottles. (Jon later prevailed, by two laps.)

Finally, this happened. I’m told it was Chip’s first podium

Would I do this again? No. Maybe. But this was the last year of 24 Hours of Great Glen, so I don’t ever have to decide.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Women's Cat 1/2 road racing in New England

Question posted on Facebook: It seems that Cat 1/2 Women's fields aren't included in a lot of races here in New England. Seeing races with a Cat 3/4 women's field only is a little frustrating. What have other Cat 2 ladies done in order to keep racing?

I’ve seen many versions of this question over the years, but didn’t feel like what I know is worth saying much about (even though part of my day job is to facilitate knowledge-sharing) until I saw this thread yesterday on Twitter. Hmmm, maybe even though I was a terrible road racer (but had some success in crits), I could sort of be a mentor. (This comment was right-on.)

This is my perspective as a woman who raced 11 seasons on the road, 9 as a Category 2 (1.5 seasons in Hawaii, half a season in DC, 9 in New England). I won two Division 2 collegiate national championships in 2000 in the criterium and team time trial. I stopped road racing in 2008 – once I started a family, I didn’t have that much time to train and big packs started to feel more dangerous. (I don’t want to find out how hard it is to care for two small children with a broken collarbone or separated shoulder.) So now I do cyclocross and some mountain biking.

How do I keep racing when there’s no Cat 1/2 women’s field?  

Do a mountain bike race instead and support a promoter who is offering a women’s field. Mountain biking is great training to improve bike handling skills, and it’s a very supportive and friendly atmosphere.

Try out track racing at Kissena or T-town. I thoroughly enjoyed the two seasons I raced on the track in New England, and the opportunity to practice sprinting and tactics over and over again paid off on the road.

Go to Wells Ave. I haven’t been there in years (perhaps the weekend car traffic is excessive now?), but I remember it as being pretty supportive and safe. Even better, go with your whole team. The best races I had with my teammates on IF happened after we had been together for years and had stopped trying to come up with race strategies before the race started. Instead, we were so familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses that we could key off each other (and communicate) during the race and know when to attack, counter-attack, and start a leadout.

I don’t think that racing with men is a great option, based on my personal experience. (Aside from Wells Ave. and the track.) Men’s racing tends to involve a lot more incidental (or purposeful) contact than women’s racing. After one terrible experience getting leaned on in a corner by a guy with 70+ pounds on me, who starting yelling misogynist insults at me when I asked him to stop, I decided it wasn’t a good option for me. (At first I thought I had done something wrong by getting upset. Later that day, I told the story to an official who said I should have reported it right away and that she would have DQ’d him.) Unfortunately, I know that my experience wasn’t unique, though I hope things have changed in the 10 years since it happened. Of course your mileage may vary, and racing with men may be a great option for you if you’re training for a top-level women’s race with a huge field like the Liberty Classic. Or if you’re braver than I am. Or if you have more physical mass and strength than I do. (I do know some women who don’t mind or even enjoy racing with men.)

What else can I do when I’m not racing on a particular weekend?

Not having an opportunity to race on the road every weekend is not necessarily a bad thing. 30-40 races year-in and year-out is a quick road to burnout and injury. Years of road cycling left me with some really strong muscles but also really weak/tight ones, including the iliopsoas (hip flexors), gracilis (inner thigh), gluteus medius, and vastus medialis (inner quad). I’m working on this in PT now. Try some cross-training – hiking, swimming, yoga, etc. Use the extra time you gain back from not driving for hours to sleep in, read, see your non-racing friends, clean your house, and generally keep your life in balance and your interest in racing fresh. 

Do a hard training ride with your teammates (for the same reason I gave earlier for doing a training race). GPS and social sites like Strava and RideWithGPS give us so many options for great ride routes. 

Put together your own mixed-terrain cyclocross route/ride. I did this last year and enjoyed every minute poring over maps and friends’ Strava rides, as well as exploring trails and ultimately hosting the ride for my friends. It helped keep riding fun for me.

What could we do to encourage 1/2 women to race locally and promoters to offer more races?

Here’s what Laura S. had to say (in a discussion on Facebook) about contacting promoters: “My suggestion when contacting promoters is to be professional and courteous. I always hear from promoters that ‘women whine for races and then don't show up and race.’ If you ask for a race and they offer it, you had better be there!” I haven’t had much success personally contacting promoters, so I gave it up. And I try not to complain too loudly about promoters. They’re mostly doing the best they can and I realize it takes a lot of time and money to promote a race. I have no interest in doing it myself. When a promoter does offer a field that includes Cat 1/2, support them with your attendance and race hard.

Serve on the NEBRA board or offer to help them as a non-board member. I served in 2006 and learned a lot. I ran a women’s racing summit. We posted a list of female-friendly clubs and also included rules in the NEBRA ranking system standards for promoters to follow regarding women’s races. I know NEBRA continues to work hard to promote women’s racing in New England.

Here’s something that Amanda Lawrence (now Rossolimo) and I did in 2004 that seemed to help: we ran a New England Cat 1/2 women’s series. We kept things pretty simple. Hincapie Sportswear donated leader’s jerseys. Serotta donated a custom frame for the winner. We gave a restaurant gift certificate to the first place team. We contacted 15 promoters who were already planning on offering 1/2/3 fields and asked them to be part of the series. It cost them nothing and helped encourage attendance at their races, so they were happy to participate. 71 women from 30 teams raced in series races. Keeping track of series points is now easier than ever, thanks to Colin Reuter, whom my friend Emily recently described as tied for her “favorite Internet male feminist.” It’s not too late to try this again for the 2014 road season if someone wants to take the idea and run with it. 

I was lucky enough to get my start in New England racing through the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. By percentage of overall racers, they have 2-3 times the number of women racing than USAC racing in New England. Collegiate cycling teams tend to train together and have (usually volunteer) coaches – this really helped me improve a lot in a short period of time. Shortly after I graduated, the ECCC took a top-down approach and led the way among all collegiate conferences by instituting equal series points for women (which was highly controversial at the time). They also added more fields for women (the number of women’s fields are now equal to the number of men’s fields – the hope being that if the ECCC builds it, the women will come), including an “intro” field that features experienced racers mixed in to instruct the beginners in a race situation. This sort of thing is possible because with all the travel involved in collegiate racing, everyone who is racing tends to arrive at the venue at the same time and then stay all day long. There are some factors unique to collegiate cycling that can’t be duplicated in senior/master’s racing, but some that can.

I hope this was helpful and thought-provoking. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'Cross season is here again

Thanks, I'm sure, to Floradix, I felt ready to work out much sooner this time around than I did with Elliot. I've been swimming, taking spin classes at the local Y (on-site childcare!), and getting in rides on the weekend whenever I can. Ed is joining me at the races this year, which has been super fun and also adds a new element of difficulty -- getting the whole family out the door on time is more challenging than the race itself.

We started out with Quad 'Cross. Ed has tons of fitness right now but at the time hadn't ridden his 'cross bike much, so he would get ahead on the power sections and then overcook the turns. I felt like my bike-handling skills were lacking and got passed by numerous women on every climb. But we were both happy to get back out there. After my race, one of the women I had raced with said, "I can't believe you fed your baby and then raced. That's awesome. You win!" That totally made my day.

I also got to use my new camera and my new telephoto lens ("the big guy") to get some photos during Ed's race. 

We raced again this past weekend at Sucker Brook and were both really happy with how we did. I matched my crossresults.com seed and felt really great except when I was off the bike. Ed was seeded 54th and finished 15th. I was so proud of him!! My dad came along as well and took some photos of us.

I think there's a possibility that this year I might exceed the 8 races I did last season, but we'll see. I'm going back to work in 12 days and I'm sure we'll all be super tired as a result. I can't believe it's so soon already!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer fun

One of the hardest parts about being pregnant (for me) is forgoing group rides, which is how I get a lot of my exercise and adult social interaction. I'm not quite back on the bike yet. Maybe next week? But I think about it all the time.

My team, HUP, periodically hosts rides where we just go out in the woods and have fun riding 'cross bikes. Then we enjoy coffee at Ride Studio Cafe afterwards. This ride was in June 2011. I've seen a few others get organized since then and I keep wishing I could go!

I rode the Grand Fundo in July 2011 with past and now again, current teammate Brenda. I was so unprepared but my friend Brad told me to go slow and eat real food. I followed his advice and made it to the finish just fine. It was so fun to ride with Brenda again!

I finished up the summer of 2011 with Tour of the Unattended. My team, HUP, helped put it on, so I got to help select some of the stages. It was so much fun and amazingly, I won the Prospect Hill climb, probably because the strongest rider waited until after dark and wasn't sure where the finish was. I should also mention that there were only three or four women, but we still all had a lot of fun.

Here I am with the family at the Ride Studio Cafe-hosted after-party.


I hope to be back on the bike soon. I already registered for two 'cross races!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Big House Project: Part 11

Today, we have the conclusion of the big house project. It was mostly finished up last fall, but the final finishing touch was done this spring.

Ed did all the electrical work and the town inspector was quite impressed. :)

Ed finished up the railings.

Then, he started the interior finishing, with lots of supervision from Elliot. He looks so small in this photo. He would have been about 18 months old.

Dr. Horrible installed our insulation.

My dad came to visit last summer and helped with the drywall.

More insulation, this time underneath.

Drywall almost done.

We continued the tile from the kitchen into the addition. The bright orange dining room has since been painted a more subdued creamy tan color. I miss the orange but we'll bring it back by changing out the curtains and the seat covers.

Ed finished up the deck railings as well. We've been paralyzed by indecision when it comes to deck furniture (everything seems to look really cheesy or costs more than furniture that is inside our house), so this is a bicycle track and soccer field at the moment.

Here's the sunroom, completed.

The kitties love this room.

We love IKEA, obviously. These are Billy bookcases set up for winter coat and toy storage.

This was the final project, closing the gaping hole over the fireplace. After hours of searching, I found the right piece of art at art.com and Ed mounted it on wood and hinges.

We love the fireplace, but getting it hooked up was such a pain. Ed spent a lot of time calling the gas company and I had to resort to Twitter to get them to finally come out and hook up the gas. The whole process took four months. Monopoly.

As a reminder, here's what the house looked like before -- basically the same as when we bought it.

Here's the after:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Resemblance, part 2

I did a post about this for Elliot. Here's one for Anja.





Wednesday, July 25, 2012

7/21, or The Cat Who Killed My Blog

I didn't mean to stop blogging (I enjoy having it for myself more than anything else -- I've always assumed that my readership is very limited). But it happened because we got super busy last summer and I got out of the habit. But I mean to start again.

Our beloved cat, Betty, accidentally got out on May 31, 2011. We got her back on July 21, 2011. We were having lots of work done on the house and the storm doors were off. She's very social and was standing next to Ed while he waved goodbye to me and Elliot that morning. Elliot was waving especially vigorously and Ed had the door open, waving back. Betty, who was not trying to get out, got too close to Ed's legs and she went the wrong way when he tried to shoo her back in.

We called up a pet detective right away, Danielle Robertson of compassionatepetservices.com. Here's the summary of our story that's on her site:

"Betty is an indoor-only cat who accidentally got out at the end of May. She is a skittish, formerly feral cat, and I knew it would be difficult to recover her, so I called Danielle within a day. She told me exactly what to do and came out to my home to assist with searching and setting up feeding stations with motion-activated cameras. She improved my posters and helped me figure out where to place them. We were in touch throughout my search and I appreciated her calm and scientific approach. We got a picture of Betty in my next-door neighbor’s yard one week after she was out and then didn’t see her again. After a month had gone by, Danielle helped bring in a colleague with a search dog, who did a track that led us to expand our poster/flier area (consistent with Danielle’s recommendations based on Betty’s personality, background, and the amount of time she’d been out). That led to a credible sighting about 1/4 of a mile from my house. We set up a feeding station and got Betty on camera 4 days later! We botched our initial trapping attempt (we were using a drop trap instead of a cage trap since Betty is trap-shy, and didn’t get enough tension on the string). Betty stopped coming, so we took the trap away. Once she was eating at the spot regularly again, we put it back, heavily camouflaged with foliage, as recommended by Danielle. On July 21, my husband took food to the trap and Betty was waiting. She ran off when he approached, so he put the food under the trap and waited in the car for her to come back. When she did, he pulled the string on the pull-stick and trapped her. We are so happy to have her home and she is back to snuggling everyone in the family. We absolutely could not have gotten Betty back without Danielle’s calm guidance and arsenal of cat-recovery techniques. I would recommend her without reservation to anyone who needs help finding a pet."

Anyway, it was a grueling 52 days. Looking for a cat is a part-time job and Ed and I both sacrificed a lot of workouts and sleep to make sure we were doing everything we needed to do. Once we had Betty back, we took it easy for a few weeks, and by then I was emotionally drained and out of the habit of blogging.

But that brings me back to 7/21. This year, on July 21, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Anja Marie. We are absolutely in love. Having done this once already, I am much more excited about relaxing and enjoying my maternity leave -- whereas with Elliot, I wasted a lot of time feeling anxious about not being productive and getting stuff done around the house. July 21 will always be a special day in our family -- it's the day that two of our beloved girls came home.

I have a lot of catching up to do on the blog, so despite what I said about relaxing on my maternity leave, I'm hoping I will have a few spare moments to start writing again.