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The flowering hopes of the season...

The flowering hopes of the season...

It usually begins around the first week of January, as soon as driven legs have given their bodies and minds a minute to relax. For many, there has to be a focus or a plan. This is how they operate. This is how they are wired. For me, I'm good with the discipline of fitness and set to task on that promptly in the new year, but the mind tends to lag behind. Agendas are fluid to me and don't always need to be buttoned up. This is as much an asset as a detriment sometimes.

"What's your racing plan this year?" That's the golden question, the one we all ask each other in the cycling circles. It's the playbook for the season...which races, where we're training, when we're riding outside, yatta, yatta. It's a fantastic club to be a part of. You can feed off the energies of each other and that adds to the excitement of what's to come.

It's been tougher for me to sort out a plan this year. I checked boxes last year and want some newer experiences. I also want to push myself a little more in places, because I'm a type B and take my time getting serious about anything.

February came and went, still no real racing plan materializing. Then March rolled around and I was still very undeclared in my racing whims. I had some notions...ok, my racing spirit isn't broken...but loose, at best. I'm happy to report that I've "welded a framework" together, but it's been a process and feels strangely lugged.

I was in the Atlanta area this past week (work stuffs) and with the glorious sunny 70 degree weather, didn't miss my chance to get outside and hike some trails. And that's where it hit me! Subtly mixed in with the hardwood trees were some flowering trees with delicate purple buds busting open, dancing in the warm sunshine. A dead ringer for the trees that I would see around Hillsboro, IL.  Trees that were the ambassadors of Spring, an assurance that Winter was a thing of the past and a signal for cyclists to lose their trainer skewer.

Hillsboro-Roubaix was a road race in southwestern Illinois that kicked Spring into gear for many of us Chicagoans. A perfectly hilly course with a stiff turn up near the end leading into a full throttle churn over cobblestones (brick). It was a gem to all that raced it. Longer than our local crits, some elevation to remind you how flat Chicago is and an awkward prayer (sponsored by a church) to send us all off into battle...mental gold. The organizers announced last year that 2015 would be the last edition of HR. Participation was continuing to dwindle and, as such, they just couldn't afford to put on the race.  Most were in disbelief right up until the end, including myself.

I, personally, have unfinished business with Hillsboro. 2012: a hidden pothole lurking under muddy water sunk my battleship; 2013: couldn't attend; 2014: piled up from a fatigued rider near the final stampede; 2015: delayed start>poor nutrition>bonked hard 15 miles in. So, in that regard, the fact of this being no more leaves a gapping hole. And perhaps is the reason for my hardship in drafting a race plan. My mind is like a ship without a compass....

All things said, there are other sufferfests to pull me along. Gravel events have blown up in popularity and I suspect have contributed for the drop off in road races. I'll pause to confess my adoration for the rough roads. I don't want them to replace the longer smooth road events, but I'm only one registration slot. It's tough for established, older events to compete with the fun new shiny thing. As well, road racing is head-head competition and has its clear winners. Everyone wins in gravel because it's more racer against the terrain. Similar to triathlons, but let's avoid that snobbery....

In summary, I miss the blooms of Spring, full of promise and awakening. Change is ever present in life. My eyes and mind will need to look for new cues, but, amen, my memory of flowering trees and rolling hills is still vibrant....

~Jen Groen

What a difference a year can make...

The other day I was in the elevator and typical small talk about the weather ensued and we all agreed we were happy we might get out of the 30s, until I mentioned how a year ago it was 70 degrees this weekend. One of the men remarked ”what a difference a year can make.” Even though that response didn’t make a ton of sense, practically everyone in the elevator said in chorus  “mmmm hmmm” like, ain’t that the truth. This made me immediately think about how this time last year I was so anxiously excited for my first bike race. Considering I am approaching my one-year anniversary of bike racing, I thought I would share a little about what my first year of racing has been like, and maybe convince someone else who is toying with the idea to give it go...

First, how did I get into racing? Well, after completing the North Shore century ride in the fall of 2011, I realized I wanted more of a challenge and soon the idea of racing got stuck in my head. I starting googling and found the Chicago Bike Racing blog among several others. I discovered this thing called a “trainer” would help keep me in shape over the winter, so I asked for one for Christmas and got on it every Saturday throughout the winter. I was excited but didn’t really know what or how this would happen so felt like I was waiting around, wondering, am I really going to race? Then an attention grabbing post on the chainlink about the Gapers Block Crits caught my eye and after reading the comments, it was clear this race would be beginner friendly and anyone could come out and just try it.  My nervousness and questions about whether this is a good idea began to fade and I signed up.

Half Acre Women continued to shepherd us newbies out of our comfort zone and get ready to race--  in the weeks leading up to Gapers, I read and re-read a blog post about what to expect in your first crit, learned what a paceline is on my first real group ride with Half Acre,  and I practiced cornering in the Soldier Field parking lot. All this helped me feel a little more prepared for my first race but I still felt like I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing. Finally, race day came.  I rode my bike down to Calumet Park, registered and lined up. The whistle blew and just like that,  I was racing! I was pretty much expecting to fall off the pack and soon enough I had. Eventually I found a few others to ride with and we finished the race working together. The race ended and while it was probably one of the hardest things I have done, it was also one of the most fun things I have ever done. I was hooked.

The second night I decided I would try my best to stay on the pack, and I did! This was even more fun!  I still didn’t know what was going on so basically tried to copy the people around me, that is until the end came and everyone was suddenly gone-- I hadn’t figured out the sprinting part (and I’m still working on it...).

By the end of the week, I felt like all I wanted to do was race. No really, ALL I wanted to do was race. I remember chatting with one of the other new women racers and she said something about how most of us will never be category 3 racers, but I already knew that was my new goal. I knew it would take time and a lot of work, but I got so excited at the thought of winning a race.

The next race was the Burnham Super Spring Crit located in South Beloit- almost 2 hours outside of Chicago, but I knew it would be worth the trip. My alarm went off at around 4am and I definitely hesitated for a moment and wondered what have I gotten myself into... that lasted for a few seconds, but then I thought about lining up at the start line and woke right up.

This was technically my first “real” race since the Gapers crits are more like practice races and include a whole lot of people that have never raced before. I was a little nervous when I realized this and wondered if I would fall of the pack, but I knew if I did, I would still get to ride my bike as fast as I can and that would be fun. Well I did stay with the pack and actually was at the front quite a lot. I had no idea what was going on, but thought that similar to riding in a paceline, we are all supposed to take turns at the front. So I took my turn and then I’d move to the middle, but actually liked it more in the front so I kept moving up. Now I know that is not “smart” racing, but I don’t care- it’s more fun. I ended up coming in 6th out of 15 and was pretty psyched about this. I figured if I would make the drive out there, I may as well do the women’s open race too. After running this idea by a few people, most people gave me a look like “Really??? Are you sure?” but I just shrugged my shoulders and figured “why not?” So I signed-up for the open race and found myself lined up right next to Kristen Meshberg, cat 1 racer, who I just met at the Q&A session after the first night of Gapers. This was definitely a bit intimidating and I thought for sure I’d get dropped but I didn’t really care. Well,  I did manage to stay with the pack, even during several surges! But once again, when it came to the end, the field took off in the sprint finish and try as I might, I was all left behind all alone.  I came in last, but that was one my  most memorable races and made me like racing even more.

That is pretty much how the trend kept going-- I continued racing all spring and with every race I did, the more I liked it.  I don’t have a car so would usually get a ride from  a couple Half Acre women I had met. There is nothing like a long drive to and from a race to move a friendship along, so we got to know each other pretty quickly and talked about me joining Half Acre. I wanted to join a team and HAC seemed like a great fit so I  joined that May.

Over the last year,  I made a ton of new friends, rode countless miles with my new teammies, learned a whole new racing lingo, raced in a bunch of small towns I never knew existed, got a fancy racing bike, started an actual training plan, and experienced a million other things I never saw coming this time last year. It's been the best.

So yes, man in the elevator, what a difference a year can make....

-Annie Byrne

The Year I Found My Wings…

It couldn’t have happened anymore unknowingly.  I didn’t set out to prove a point or find something I was missing.  I wanted to honor my bike with riding …  without pause for distance, terrain or weather.  I happened into a relationship and a circle of friends that were ‘impassioned’ with the thought of riding bikes, too.  So we rode, beginning in December 2011 and didn’t stop.  We talked bikes, we talked classic races and racers, we raced ourselves, we trained … and we rode constantly.

During all that, I became unemployed for a good five months, which so happened to fall in the spring/early summer time … a precious time to dig in and find some legs.  I had the good fortune to be connected with others who had flexibility in their schedules and/or willingness to get out on two wheels. So we rode.

One friend (past team mate) became a major push in my "Volare":  . He, being a hub of ride groups, dragged me out, even when I feared I was too slow.  He told me to hang on as long as possible and next time will be a little longer.   He grabbed my wheel when he saw me fading.  He showed me the way to toughen up inside and out.  The pinnacle of our adventures together was attempting the Bone Ride – a fairly unpublished 120-160 mile fast ride across Wisconsin.  After putting it to ourselves on the Wednesday night CCC ride, we sipped our usual ‘recovery sodas’ at JJPeppers and my friend mentioned this ride.  I knew I could ride 120 miles.  I had heard there were a few hills along their route and they kept a certain pace.  Perhaps my legs were foolishly full of confidence, but all seemed doable, on paper at least.  11pm that night, as sensibility had started to sink in, we’re texting each other, “Should we?” “Wanna?” “Are we being dipsh*ts?”  After a good five minutes of lamenting, “Whelp, let’s do this.”

I won’t go into all the details, but it lived up to its rolly hills and swifty speeds (avg 24mph).  We gave it our best on 5 hours of sleep, a bagel/cream cheese and un-rested legs.  We held strong for the first 45 of 60 miles.  A sag wagon, quick lunch, failed attempt to catch back onto the return stampede, left us returning to Pewaukee alone.  Along the way, we found out just how flat Chicago truly is, that our legs could ride 120, albeit not in record times, and that a shared cliff bar / water are the foundations of lasting friendships.  Oh, and a can of cold, cold Coke is like heaven.

Many a narration has been written about bikes and the passion they evoke.  "The Need For the Bike": , for example.  A bike may seem a simple machine, but the feelings it musters up can be quite complex.

I continued riding and racing all summer long.  I saw improvements in both.  I got head nods from fellas on group rides, acknowledging a lady with some legs and ability.  I found myself being approached by faster racer women to recap races with.  I learned the meaning of "Do The Ride": .  I found "La Volupte": , that magical feeling as you float along.  I found confidence in me, on and off my bike.

My eyes well up when I put these words down, because I found my soul through all this, thanks to the perfect culmination of persuasion and companionship on the road….  I’m eternally grateful to the people and forces that put me here.

-Jen Groen

Camp day 4: the attempt at Mt Michell

Ben says:

We tried to climb up to <a href="">Mt. Mitchell</a> today, but at mile 13 of 30 we ran into a little bit of a road block. It was amazing! In less than about a mile we entered the cloud, saw a patch of snow and then suddenly the road was impassable. Kevin Clark <a href="">took this</a> as I rode back to the group from my recon ride. The difference in time from this picture to the one just before this in my flickr stream is about 10 minutes, maybe less.  Still did some serious climbing and enjoyed 50 mph descents!

(Photos below by Zach) 




Today at camp...

Zach sends us day 3's highlights, <a href="">tunnels</a> and <a href="">misty mountains.</a>


(Missing from photo: Jerilan and Vince)


Training camp, day 2

Jamie says:

Day 2: big brekkie, F1, 2 rides, 70 miles, ~6000 feet of climb, rain and pain. our cabin is perched on top of death mountain, 3 miles of climb that starts out at around a 12% grade... If you want to get home, you gotta earn that s**t. there isn't a flat piece of ground in Asheville, but man we are loving it!

Kate says:
lessons from riding through the Appalachian Mountains: do not use baptist churches as landmarks.

Quotes from today's rides: "Car back. Car back. Car back. Car up. Wolf." "Car back. Car up. Hole. Car back. Car back. Herd of wild turkeys. Car back." Jason: "They don't put those at the bottom of the mtn." Vince: "What?" Jason: "Radio towers." Vince: "I feel like fing Lewis and Clark." Kate: "I don't think Lewis and Clark had Garmins." Vince: "We don't either- not picking up a signal."


Half Acre Cycling training camp

Jamie reports in from Asheville:

"Day 1 recap: not enough sleep. hills. 40mph descents. one killer 6-8% gravel climb. chocolate chip cookies. hills. baby smooth Blue Ridge Parkway. hills. epic start!"


A Boat Ramp Limerick

There once was a hill by the lake,

Which would give riders all they could take.

It's 25% grade

for training was made

To make city riders' legs quake.

(photo: Dave)