I race a lot and I know that to race stronger it would be good to pick and choose and not just jump on the bandwagon in the fall and stay on until there is no more bandwagon. I’ve pretty much always raced in this manner mainly because it makes me happy; earlier in my days I would race whatever event I could find as long as it more or less involved bikes of some type.
Throughout the years I have learned which aspects of the sport I truly love and recognized that when I’m having the most fun I can push myself that much harder consequently whittling my focus down to cyclocross.
There is more to pursue in my travels than just the obvious outreach, experience, and results: I savor the excuse to travel to the various locations with the knowledge that I will always get to see my tribe of people. Because I only visit these places once each year, each location holds something special that draws me back, be it my host family, the area riding, the community, or the race itself.
Few things compare to showing up to a new location and finding the holy grail of cyclocross: motivated riding buddies, endless trails, beautiful roads, and a super fun venue complete with dumping rain.
Really Rad was a new to me venue and a first time UCI race. I guessed the terrain would be flat being that we were in such close proximity to the beach but it was satisfyingly rolling. After a perfect training week of plentiful sunshine and warmth the rain clouds once again regrouped for the weekends festivities and despite the rapidly draining soil, mud emerged to take over the course and large sloppy puddles were in abundance.
The race was a blast minus a few random course features that were unintentionally but decidedly terrifying. The course wound around the Cape Cod fairgrounds venue, there were plenty of corners to handle and ups and downs to power through. The rain slowed to a stop as we lined up to race but the wind picked up in epic fashion.
Within the race separation happened fairly naturally between fighting the wind and negotiating the mess of mud. As fresh as it was, the abundance of water on the course made for thin mud so despite being thoroughly covered in it the bike stayed light and handled it well. Brake pads on the other hand were a hot commodity between the sandy soil and the deep, lengthy twisting sand pit.
I had a blast navigating the muck but this was one of those weeks where my training load took a sharp increase and I was feeling the effects. It's the trade off though, if I want to race every weekend I have to pick the races I will be okay with feeling less than optimal at.
The clouds moved on later that day so I expected that the Sunday would be much drier. What I didn’t expect was that the water would be nearly gone! It was as if someone had come and vacuumed up the largest mud puddles. There were still plenty of treachery to slog through but those sections were dryer and isolated to certain locations on the course that allowed passable lines to emerge as the day progressed.
The course felt a bit more punchy on the second day and after a beautiful longer training ride before the race I didn’t really focus on warming up, just went straight into the race and was surprised at how good that made me feel. I was pretty amazed how peaceful I felt after a few hours out of the venue exploring the area roads and logging miles on very scenic roads along the beach. Racing is so social and to a degree, stressful: there’s a timeline to adhere to and a sharp focus to your day. It’s interesting to carry the vibes of a solo training ride right on into the start line, almost as if you can maintain that singular focus of your own performance with less attention on the other competitors around you.
For me this surprisingly translated into a better result and while I couldn’t quite catch onto the lead group I had a front row seat watching the tactics play out as we burned circles into the dirt for the better part of an hour. I held my ground for the duration, riders would make up time on me but never quite make contact, all the while I had sight of the large group in front of me but never could reel them in.
It was confidence boosting to have tried a new approach to my day, I was definitely tired from having trained before the race but I felt better than I would have thought. I had a few moments before heading to the start line of pure bewilderment trying to decide if I should indeed run through my standard warm up or just get dressed, the later overruling my better judgement but as it turns out, with no regrets.
After the weekend was compete another long but loosely structured training day opened up a perfect opportunity to explore the surrounding area. Armed with a fat bike borrowed from a local shop, my host took me out to tour the peninsula known as Sandy Neck within the Cape Cod harbor. Accessible only by four wheel drive or fat bike, we headed out on the north side along the bay before stopping by the lighthouse and adjacent home historically owned by his family. After a complete tour of the lighthouse built in the early 1800’s, we rode back through thick preserved costal woods in what felt like area appropriately heavy mist.
The adventure was satisfying even if my host was less than amused at my desire to constantly stop, marvel at the surroundings, pick up rocks (a personal vice), and take pictures. I headed up to more central Mass excited for longer rides in more desolate areas after concluding that longer road rides on the actual cape would result in lots of stopping for traffic.
I planned to stop mid drive for training but my arrival was a bit late to complete the route I had mapped out. After a lengthy and confused mid interval session brainstorm of my ability to make it back before dusk and the likelihood that the park I had left the van in would shut the gates in the evenings to match the very well posted signs declaring park hours, I made the wise (and rare) decision to back track. I’m always disappointed to have to resort to such adaptations but as I retracted my steps to the park and dusk settled in I was glad I wasn’t out on the narrow roads in the dark. Daylight savings is always such a transition to get used to!
I settled into my host house in the Northampton area and had one better timed day out on the bike before the cold and rain set in and I was reduced to the horrors of trainer riding. When workouts are short and concise I can stomach a stationary hour or two like anyone else but when faced with three or more hours I tend to look for any excuse I can to delay hopping on. This round it was cleaning and I will say that I was fortunate my host was grateful for the household TLC I put in.
I made it through a very chilly week in a drafty old farmhouse before heading out to the race venue to get some Friday laps in. It’s pretty significant to log uninterrupted time on the course before race day and I was happy that despite the cold and drizzle I had a high level of comfort for what to expect that weekend. Even better was reuniting with friends I hadn't seen since DC.
The skies opened up overnight and once again I had high hopes that the course would be sloppy. NoHo has some woodsy portions that are a blast to ride through and the course switches up for the second day to feature more of this but the first day is typically heavy with wide open, pancake flat grass. The uphills are all off the bike running and the woods section is short Saturday which equates to much time wondering when the fun parts of coming up again. The rain didn’t accumulate on the open spaces like I’d hoped to make them more interesting but it did make the woods slick and treacherous!
I find I race better the more fun I’m having and Sundays added woods made for a more impressive effort on my part. I’d be perfectly content if the whole course was twisty and technical but it’s also good to mix it up! The upped fun factor transpired to give me more go on the second day and consequently I raced better.
I stuck around the following week despite the cold and forced indoors time. The temps dipped down into the teens and I was beginning to get pumped to finish up my time in the northeast. Just in time to head to New York for the last race on my New England campaign, the weather went south also and dumped 8 inches of snow.
It took a lot of digging to remove the van from the driveway that hadn’t seemed that large in the previous days of K turning my way onto the adjacent busy road. But if shoveling for an hour isn’t some solid cross training at least it’s completing my winter experience before I head south!