Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015: A year in review

I'm pretty tired.

Which is good. Or at least ok this time of year. 2015 has been pretty busy and successful from a fitness and racing standpoint.  Especially considering the shit show that was 2014.  Who would have thought a gluten-free experiment would be my savior from a slew of weird joint issues?  Still don't really have a solid diagnosis and I can still tell there is something off with my joints and how inflammation is working in my body but staying away from gluten seems to keep things at bay and allows me to do what I like to do just about as hard as I want to do it.

So what did I pull off this year?  I took a much more laid back approach to my MTB season.  I did a few XC races, really more for training than anything else with my focus being more on a few endurance events that I like.  I was pleased with what I was able to accomplish in those events.  Got a 5th at Millstone on a real tough weather day.  I got back up to the BC Challenge this year and was able to break the 6hr 100K time threshold which was a milestone I had been working my way towards since my 100K times started getting faster during my NH100 run of 5 races.  That was a pretty good indication that my endurance fitness is just about the best its been which is nice.  After last year I was forced to accept that I might not be getting any faster from there on out so it was nice to see I still had some results in me.

I really liked my approach to my MTB season this year because it left me a decent amount of time to do other stuff that I used to miss out on a bit when I was racing more frequently.  Got to hit the beach more with Gina, do some hiking with Mike as well as a lot more riding for fun. Finished up the MTB season doing the Cat 2 Marathon at Landmine which I was able to win.  Another pretty good indication that my longer range fitness is good and definitely the thing I should focus on for MTB.  That focus also ends up working perfectly because it racks up all kinds of great aerobic capacity to build on for Cross in the Fall.

Cross was my pre-savior of sorts for 2014.  It allowed me to partially salvage a crap season last year.  My shitty joints could handle the slightly more tame riding (as opposed to trail riding) and I was in some pretty intense PT just prior that had gotten me to a slightly better spot joint wise.  I did well enough last year to realize I really liked the format and the 'scene' and that I wanted to make a more targeted run in 2015 with an actual Summer season of racing under my belt.

Turns out a few months of riding and racing hard does wonders for your results in the Fall.  I hit the ground running in Sept with a somewhat surprising top 10 in the 4/5 race at White Park.  It became pretty obvious in the first few races of the season that I was going to be towards the sharp end of the 4/5 field and my points came tumbling down.  I also built up a SS race bike this year and dabbled in the SSCX scene.  Very likely that becomes my 'thing' for 2016.  Not sure my body can handle SS MTB anymore but SSCX isn't quite as brutal on the body and there is a reason I was a single speed MTB'er for so long.  I just really like SS riding.  Plus I really like the mentality of the SSCX scene.

Guys take CX pretty seriously and the vibe is different than MTB. The category races can be pretty "physical" and I would imagine that will only get worse if/when I progress to Cat 3.  SS just has a better slant to it for me, you can still race hard and compete but fun is prioritized much more.  And the bikes are so simple and light!  Plus I'm pretty sure I'm faster on a SS anyway.

Speaking of my progression to Cat 3...that was a goal of mine once I realized I was about at that level.  I never quite scored that many USAC upgrade points because of how I was often doubling up etc.  I think if I had made that my main priority I could have gotten more but I had thought my SS results would have held more weight.  I was beating Cat 3's in those races and I was always just outside the points in the races I missed them and everyone beating me had already upgraded by the end of the year. It seemed apparent to me I was tangling with Cat 3's all year and I thought I had a case for an upgrade.  I applied with less than required upgrade points and stated my case with the results I had.  Didn't work.  Got denied.

I was a bit surprised but ultimately I didn't have the upgrade points.  Maybe I'll prioritize chasing points next year but that doesn't sound as fun as just racing SS.  Maybe I'll set a goal of having the lowest crossresults points of any Cat 4 ever...or maybe the most Cat 3 upgrade denials of all time.  Yeah that sounds more fun.

Racing bikes in New England (both MTB and CX) seems to be gaining steam and getting pretty rad.  Kenda Cup East seems to be taking off...we've got an HC event in the greater Boston area next year.  CX events seem to get bigger and better every year.  2016 should be pretty damn sweet, can't wait.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

VT Double: Paradise CX and Putney West Hill CX

I did the NH double in Sept so it only made sense to also do the VT double in Oct/Nov.  I did Paradise last year but Putney was new to me.  I've heard all kinds of great things about the course and I wanted to get in another SS race before the end of the year.

I needed to do some stuff around the house so I decided to only do the late SS race at Paradise this year.  Its a pretty good course for SS and it was riding perfectly this year.  The grass was matted down and super grippy.  The turns were very rail-able and fast.

It was a smaller field of about 13 or so.  I got a pretty good start and was siting just off the front group of 4 and was ahead of Griggs and Spencer who I figured I would probably be battling with. Spencer disappeared (mechanical?) but Griggs was still creeping just a few seconds off.  Front group also crept away so I was in no man's land just trying to ride hard and get a good workout and high speed cornering practice.

pre barrier explosion

Little did I know my streak of issue free racing was coming to an end this day in a pretty spectacular fashion.  The barriers were a tad awkward.  You came in at pretty high speed and there were some irregular patio stone type things right before that required some attention and steering to counteract the bumpiness etc.  Nothing too crazy but just enough to possibly mess up your rhythm if you weren't being 100% attentive.  Do you see where this is going?

Third lap I came into the barriers staged and ready to go and this all happened really fast but best I can remember I went to clip out my left foot to start my run/jump sequence and when I thought my foot was free so I could pull my foot off and go it was not.  Foot stuck, weight shifts and I get all flustered.  All I've got time for in that moment was to throw the bike down and hope that my foot came out.

Luckily it did and I avoided personal injury and sadness but unfortunately I threw my bike down and directly into the barrier at speed.  The wheel took the brunt of the forward impact and my right drop / brake lever took the brunt of the downward impact.  Broken spoke, trashed brake lever and it was even brutal enough to bend my handlebars. Bike wasn't exactly rideable in that moment so I had to DNF for the first time ever.

Luckily a drunk guy in the beer garden had a super strong heckle game and was immediately ready with a "that wouldn't have happened if you had gears you filthy hipster!". Well played sir, well played.  I immediately rolled back to the car, called Eric and said I was en route to the shop straight from the race to try and get it back and race ready for Sunday.  We had to do some weird stuff involving a breaker bar but we pulled it off.

I believe Putney West Hill has the title of longest continuously running CX race in New England with this year being the 25th edition.  Its a well balanced course with an iconic run up right before the finish.  The top section has some really fun MTB-esque features with a ripping descent down to the bottom corn field section that is a bit more roadie / power oriented.  Although this year they added a ton of turns down there that limited the extended threshold work which was better for me but made it hard to close gaps.

There was a decent gap between the 4/5 race and the SS so I figured I'd double up.  I was hoping to do well in the 4/5 race and maybe get some more upgrade points but I could tell there were some day of sleepers in the field as well as some fast folks who just don't have that many crossresults points.  At the gun I did a great job of negating my front row start by slipping my left pedal about 3 secs in (I think I might need new cleats).  Luckily I didn't crash but it was touch and go for a sec.  I lost probably 5-6 spots and really had to dig deep to get back up to 5th/6th wheel heading into the course after the start chute.

I was stuck in some frustrating traffic early on, getting jammed up in corners and having to soft pedal with nowhere to go.  That continued through the corn field, I got stuck behind a kid who didn't corner very well but had good power out of the corners so I couldn't get around in the short straightaways.  Front group got away and I was in my familiar just off the front group no man's land.  I got caught by Adin Maynard at one point but was able to get away again and distance him.  I had a group of 3 that seemed to be closing on me late in the race, which is always a delightful feeling.

I felt like I had just enough heading into the field but they were close enough that I'm sure they could smell blood.  I hit the stretch of road with a gap and put down as many watts as I could manage.  About 100yds from the run up I snuck a peak under my shoulder and the dude was head down in the drops hammering about 1 sec behind me...uh oh.  I was worried / not worried.  He obviously had a bit more in the tank in this moment but we were also coming to a huge run up that I was going to hit first AND I don't know why but I KILL run ups.  Particularly steep hard run ups.  So long story short I put 5 secs into him in the span of less than 50yds and held on for 7th.  Not a bad result but not good enough for any upgrade points.

The SS race was more fun. Per usual. Not sure why really but its probably the same reason I was drawn to SS mountain biking.  Its just simpler, more pure, less noise...hard to explain accurately.  This race soothed my soul a bit because I was still feeling a bit stupid from my crash the day prior.  But low and behold the guy winning the race at the time exploded at the barriers in much the same way! Fast guys do it too! they are just like me!  The difference being he didn't DNF. He ran to the pit, changed bikes and still beat me #sadtrombone.

I feel like racing with faster guys brings the best out of me.  Even with the fatigue from the first race I felt like I raced the SS race better and faster although looking at the numbers I bet that isn't quite the case.  But I'd be willing to bet when fresh I'm just as fast or probably faster on my SS bike. Stayed relatively consistent and finished strong for 10th of 21 in a field made up of primarily Cat 3's so I'm happy with that.

That may be just about it for CX racing for me.  Body is definitely calling for a bit of R&R and my soul is calling for a bit of low key fat bike shred.  We'll see how it goes.  Might be writing up my application for my Cat 3 upgrade soon...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Orchard Cross at Applecrest Farm 2015

This was one of my favorites last year and I believe it was also my best points result for 2014 as well.  It really is a great venue and event.  All kinds of nicknames are forming...Grassroots New England World Champs will stick I'm sure.  I don't know how hard Applecrest Farm orchards but if its anywhere near as hard as they CX then that is pretty impressive.  They certainly seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.  That new market / bistro thing they built is pretty damn impressive.  If we lived down there I bet we would be there a lot.

This year they used their farm equipment might and the help of a local landscaper to build an entire pump track in a field the night before the race complete with two big table tops, a 180 degree berm, and a series of rollers to pump.  The rest of the course was pretty comparable to last year with some grass straightaways, high speed corners, two sets of barriers, and a run up with stairs.


The 4/5 race was fully loaded at 100 riders and I had managed to lower my points enough this year for a front row start.  Not only that but race predictor had me on the podium which was very new for me.  It had been raining a bit all morning and the course was greasy and slick during pre-ride.  This had me very pleased.  Mud always seems to do me favors when it comes to my results.  I staged up middle left because of the line I wanted going through the little chicane turn before the first straight-away false flat.

Got a good start and was 3rd wheel heading into said chicane.  My line was correct and I exited said chicane winning the race.  This was VERY WEIRD.  I have never been at the front end of any cross race let alone a full 100 rider field.  Knowing that there is this mass of riders right behind you but having your path be completely clear and quiet is weirdly surreal.  I traded spots with Addison Minott a few times but I led a decent amount of the first lap.  I lapped through in second and was feeling pretty comfortable being there.  There were 4 of us in the lead group, pace wasn't too volatile early on lap 2.  Seemed we were all getting sorted and settled into something resembling a sustainable pace before we started attacking.

lap 1 run up at the front of the race

Unfortunately for me I didn't make it to the fun attacking part because heading into the run up on lap 2 I forgot to bring my bike with me after my dismount.  Not sure exactly what happened but as I went to clip out right before the stairs and grab my bike to run I either slipped or just missed the grab and basically just dropped my bike on the ground right across the track.  Luckily I didn't screw anyone else up but the lead group ran away while I got sorted.  Lost about 15-20 secs and finished about 15-20 secs off the podium. CYCLOCROSS!
A video posted by @kevinorlowski on

There was a bit more intrigue than that though.  I wallowed in no mans land for the rest of lap 2 and much of lap 3 trying to bridge back no avail.  Brian Cole was creeping behind me the whole time and eventually I could tell he was closing.  Lap 3 or maybe 4(?) I had a temporal issue getting back up onto my big ring on a straight-away and Brian powered past me.  I got shifting issues sorted before I lost his wheel and got back to proper racing.  Towards the end of 2 to go Jose Ordovas came up to us out of nowhere and we were a group of 3 going for 4-5-6.  Jose promptly crashed in one of the slickest corners on the course and I thought that was probably it for him based on the gap that opened up.

Brian and I were working relatively well together but Jose did it again and completely snuck back up out of nowhere.  He redeemed himself and made a good pass on the corner were he had crashed the previous lap.  He got a tiny gap heading into the pump track section and I was worried about diminishing real estate to get him back so I went all in at the entrance to the pump track section.  I left it in the big ring and was out of the saddle and hammering the whole way up.  I think I was probably a bit more comfortable than Jose on those features and was able to sneak by on the rollers.  I held the gap heading  back up to the grass but he passed me back shortly after.  I had to dig REALLY deep to stay on his wheel.  All that was left was a few turns, the barriers and then a short little out and back with a 180 before the finish.

I was hypoxic but right with him heading into the barriers.  He bobbled ever so slightly on the entrance and I got a half step through the barriers that turned into a bike length on the remount.  I think my remount must have been a bit smoother as well but I'm not entirely sure what was happening behind me.  I was focused on getting through the 180 fast and clean because from the other races I had watched coming by someone who didn't mess up that turn was near impossible in the distance that was left after.  I didn't leave anything to chance though and went as hard as I could to the line to take 4th.

I was really pleased to win out of that group.  That killer instinct to make those moves and hold those wheels when needed is not something I excel at.  I blame my lack of a truly competitive nature but I do like getting the most out of myself and there were certainly a few times my brain was telling me I did not have the capacity in that moment and I ignored it to great effect.

I'll be looking to put the finishing touches on my race resume for my Cat 3 upgrade request this coming weekend with the VT double of Paradise and Putney and then after that it might just be fat biking to end out the year.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hanover CX and Casco Bay CX Double Weekend

After two weeks off its back to business with another multi race weekend.  On tap was Hanover CX on Saturday and then Casco Bay CX in Portland Sunday.  I was feeling decently rested and looking to get some good results.  I've decided I'm making a full run at a Cat 3 upgrade this year.  I feel like I'm close to having the resume required and I might as well try to get it while I'm close.

Hanover CX

I did Hanover last year and didn't have an amazing day due to a crash and some resulting bike issues but its a challenging course that in theory should suit me and with the smaller field I was hoping I might be able to battle for a podium spot and some actual upgrade points.  It was going to be tough, there were some sandbaggers present and I was predicted just off the podium but I had a front row start so no excuses.

Got a good jump off the gun and the only two in front of me heading into the first turny bits was the Cat 3 roadie and the Cat 1 mountain biker (who went on to finish 1-2).  I was feeling pretty good and holding my position heading into the large sandy beach section.  You have to make 4 passes across the beach with 4 180 turns.  Sand was mostly rideable with really soft corners.  If you went wide the sand was holding up and you could keep momentum well.  My lines worked pretty well first time through and I was holding in 3rd in a group of 3-4 or so.

I was feeling confident heading in the main grassy chicane turning sections leading into the barriers and shredding pretty hard.  Unfortunately I think I may have gotten a bit too over zealous and overcooked a turn and went down at speed.  I think I may have had a tiny bit of help due to a crossed wheel by someone behind me but that's racing and I wouldn't fault anyone, they just finished what I started.  I slid across the course and that small group was right on me and they all snuck by as I was getting sorted.  Luckily no bike issues resulted and I was right back on it.

I was having a bit of a time clawing back up to the group, its a hard course to make up time due to all the rhythm stealing techy stuff.  I finally caught the dangler of the group on lap 3 coming through the start.  He made a good pass back heading into one of the steep ups to singletrack followed by an immediate steep down.  Shortly after I plowed through a techy section trying to bridge back up and dropped a chain.  Couldn't pedal it back on and spent 10-15secs getting it situated.  That was about it, after that I was stuck in no man's land behind the front group but with some space to the rest of the race and came in for 7th of 50ish starters.  Not bad but I felt like I should have been a bit farther up.

Casco Bay CX

This was my first go at Casco, last year I had opted to do the 'No Brakes' MTB race in Stratham but seeing as I'm making my Cat 3 push I figured I would stick with CX this year.  Plus I've heard a lot of good things about this venue/course.  Course is setup on the Eastern Promenade in Portland, another great ocean locale kind of like Gloucester.  I did Hanover completely solo but this was a full team affair, we all loaded into Sam's truck for the drive up.  Sam and Eric were taking on the Masters 1/2/3/4 in the morning and I was doing the SS, 4/5 double in the afternoon.

Sun was out but it was really breezy right on the coast and pretty damn cold first thing in the AM.  I was very glad my races were a bit later in the day. Those Masters races look hard.  Those old guys still go real fast and Eric and Sam had to do all kinds of traffic battling through the early parts of the race which makes it hard to get in a groove.

Eric probably red lining shortly after getting over the long run up

The course was really cool, probably one of my favorites now.  Pretty well balanced all told.  Longer power sections, plenty of turning, some technical stuff, lots of off camber, some climbing.  Eventually it came time for me to have a go at the SS race.  Promoters combine the SS with the Men's 1/2/3 race (probably to save some overall time because part of the road is closed during the race).  Luckily they gave us our own start 1min behind the 1/2/3's so we didn't have to worry about getting caught in any scrum but that also means we were 1min closer to getting lapped and possibly pulled.

I was actually ok with that because it meant I wouldn't have to ride a full 50mins and initially I was just planning on using the SS race as a warm up.  PRO TIP: This never works.  When the whistle blows you are gonna race hard, there is no escaping this.  It was a small SS field but I got a good start none the less.  Things split fairly quick on the false flat drag up the pavement.  If you can spin you were up front, if not see you later.  I think my 42-19 gearing was pretty ideal as well which helped.  So by the end of the initial spin fest I was sitting in the front group of 4 with some pretty heavy hitters.

this little bermed turn was super fun to hit at speed

I was a bit surprised to be hanging tough through basically the whole first lap.  Donnie Seib crashed towards the end of lap 1 and for the end of lap 1 and part of lap 2 I was sitting in 3rd until he caught and passed me.  I was extending my gap on 5th and feeling pretty good.  I was keeping Donnie close but wasn't making up any ground and eventually that elastic snapped and he got away.  Late in the race I was waiting to get lapped but it wasn't happening and it was looking more and more likely that I was going to make lead lap.

I even caught the back end of the 1/2/3 field and actually made some passes.  Low and behold I made lead lap (even with a 1min deficit to start) but unfortunately that also meant I was looking at a full race and being at the end of the field it was going to be 50+ mins...about 55min to be exact.  They were only offering 10mins between fields so my next race was in 5mins time when I rode into the finish.  The 4/5 race was actually already completely staged and ready when I crossed the line.

Eric was waiting with my other bike, swapped my numbers out and I rolled straight into my front row staging spot to some cheers and some "wait you're racing again? right now?" from other racers.  Sam had some black coffee for me to hit to warm up and get a little caffeine spike.  Certainly pays to have teammates present that's for sure.  Thanks guys! I couldn't have entered that deep deep pain cave without your assistance!

The 4/5 race was a bit of a blur.  All I remember was being really tired and trying not to crash.  I also remember Eric and Sam screaming at me constantly.  Eric was very good at finding me whenever I was basically drained on the bike soft pedaling and was quick to offer the advise of standing up and sprinting.  Which for some reason I did every time.  Sam also kept reminding me that no one on the course with me was my friend and that I should swallow my vomit and not allow them to beat me.  Also great advise.  I was thoroughly toast and fading throughout the race but teammate heckles are key to suffering successfully.

All things considered I held tough for a top 20 finish at 17th in a field of 73.  Not a horrible result and a great day of training that's for sure.  Got some great points from the SS race with my 4th place finish in a field of mostly Cat 3's.  My points are now down to 393 and I'm now one of the sandbagging a-holes I like to point out in the 4/5 race predictors.  I'm predicted at 2nd for this coming Sunday at Orchard CX.  I don't like that kind of pressure!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Night Weasels 2015

Finally! A cross race in 2015 that I don't have #dustlung after I finish.  I was really hoping for a crazy slippy slide-y mudfest, which we didn't quite get but I'll take no #dustlung.

Second time racing under the lights in the past week and a half although I personally don't race under the lights because as race announcer Ryan Kelly likes to point out we are just Cat 4/5's and are not good enough to race in the actual dark (probably mostly true).

I went into this race with higher hopes than usual.  Its a good course for me with all the climbing and descending and if its wet its even better.  The whole wet thing didn't really pan out.  New England got hammered Wed morning but it had been so dry much of the moisture was absorbed in short order and the course being a ski hill it drained fairly well right down and off the 'mountain'.  Course was probably dryer than it was last year.

you can tell I'm going faster due to the more pronounced speed blur

I was staged third row in the combined u40 and 40+ field of about 100 or so.  I got a good start and moved up to top 15 quickly.  I was feeling good early on the first climb and was the first into an alternate / faster line and passed 4-5 guys about halfway up moving into top 10.  Powered up the rest of the climb and was feeling good.  I didn't know it at the time but I had gone out a bit too hard.  I hit that climb on lap 2 and immediately felt bogged down.  Heart was a tad pinned and I was having a hard time bringing it back down.

Dudes were coming back to me in short order (including my nemesis Jesse) and I wasn't able to latch on as they came by.  3 or 4 snuck by in a small group and got about 5-10 secs pretty quickly.  I was riding the descents clean and making up time in the barriers and stairs but over the next lap or two I was swapping places with a few guys.  Including one young guy with lets call it an enthusiastic riding style.  He came by early on the first descent but then found one of the hidden pot holes in a spectacular fashion on the way down.  I could have warned him, I saw him heading right for it but he's young and made of rubber and this is a race so I let him endo and learn a lesson the hard way.

Katie always gets some good shots (check it)

I eventually got my heart rate sorted out and got a second wind of sorts but of course it was only in time for the bell lap.  It appeared like I was ever so slightly closing on a guy who had passed me with 2 to go.  So I made that my goal.  I timed the catch with pro peloton accuracy and caught him in the final turn before the finish straight.  He took it wide and I was able to cut it tighter in the inside and got the jump on him and held it to the line.  Unfortunately I somehow managed to not notice that there were also two more guys right in front of him that beat me by maybe a few bike lengths.  I think if I had realized that and pushed a bit harder earlier in the last lap I might have been able to make 3 passes last lap and gotten 10th instead of 12th in the combined field.

I was 5th in the u40 field two places better than race predictor had me.  Its been a pretty successful run of CX this month but also pretty tiring.  8 races in the last 12 days.  I only did 7 all of last year.  I've lowered my points from 491 to 403 and it's looking like I might actually need to consider a Cat 3 upgrade by the end of this year.  BIKES!