Sunday, July 19, 2015

Carrabassett BC Challenge 2015

BEST 100K COURSE IN THE WORLD. (maybe just New England...my sample size is not substantial)


Its probably one of the better 50K courses too for that matter and really becoming one of the best events in New England in my opinion.  They have come a long way since the last time I did it in 2013.

Lets talk about the trails first.  They (Sugarloaf, Town Of Carrabassett, NEMBA, LL Bean (I've heard not sure if that is true)) have invested TONS of money into the region specifically for trail development.  And when I say tons I'm talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. 300 thousand with plans for another 2-3 hundred thousand over the next 2-3 years.  Thats crazy. What does that get you? Expertly built, fun as hell stuff.  Berms, rock work, its unreal.  At the end of the course we did a sustained 2+ mile descent on a nearly completely machine built trail.  Massive berms, tons of flow.  Keep in mind this was not on Sugarloaf or at a MTB park.  This was in the woods, free to the public.

Second the production value and the support are really getting dialed.  They have learned lessons and really have a pretty well oiled event going.  They are starting to incorporate all those little things that really set events apart.  Food truck burrito with reg, Pedro's on hand for bike wash, custom medals made out of trees, huge raffle, tons of great swag.  Aid stations were well stocked and volunteers were spot on.  They have an eye for safety.  They take measures I have never seen done at any other race and while some of it some might seem annoying (mandatory dismounts here and there etc) I think its smart.

So yeah if you can't tell I love this race and I would recommend just about anyone who likes riding/racing bikes should make the drive and ride either the 15,50 or 100K.

I'm going to have to check the archives but I think I'm safe saying this is the best a race has ever gone for me.  Both from a result stand point and the amount of fun I had attaining that result.  I won the SS 100K at the Wildcat years ago but this course was 1000x better and my time was a pretty major milestone for me that I have been gunning for since shortly after I started doing longer races, specifically 100Ks.

The spoils.

Its funny to think that before all this awesome happened things were looking grim on the start line.  I had one of those "What the hell am I doing here??, Why do I do this to myself??" moments as the Expert field was staged to start.  Forecast wasn't awesome and the rain just started to come down pretty hard.  It cooled things right off and I was standing at the line shivering, getting soaked and looking at 6ish hours on the bike.

Luckily the rain only continued for the first maybe 10-15mins of the race and that was it.  Rest of the race was just overcast and mid to high 60s.  Pretty perfect really.  Trails were a bit greasy but it had been pretty dry up there the week prior so no real bad mud holes.  All in all pretty manageable and actually quite fun.  Ended up being the conditions I really love.  Greasy, loose, on your toes stuff but not enough to completely ruin your gear.



It was a mass start so I ended up slotting in with teammate Erik for a roughly 11mi two man TT through the early sections of the race.  I'm the captain so I put him on the front obviously.  He gap'd me a tad on the main haul up Sugarloaf and I wouldn't see him again until mile 40.  Funny how fast little gaps can become big gaps before you know it.  There was all kinds of new singletrack on the Sugarloaf side of the course.  First 20mi is a lot more like a small XC race at a ski resort within the bigger 100K course.

here I am wheelsucking

This was an odd 100K for me in that I felt pretty metered and strong during the entire race.  Usually I go through some pretty dark times during these efforts.  Felt good early, felt good in the middle, and felt 'good' at the end.  I was pleased with my power on the flats, I was able to stay with and in some cases drop groups when historically that is where I would lose time that I would have to claw back on climbs.  Luckily this course has two 3+ mile climbs later in the course in which to do that.

I was passing people here and there most of the day but really had no idea where I was in the field.  All I knew was that I was feeling good and I was on sub 6 pace past the 40 mile aid where I stashed my drop bag.  The aid at mile 40 was a life saver, I had pushed a bit too hard on the long false flat single track prior.  Its hard not to, its a sweet trail with some rollers and it works much better if you just keep the momentum up and power over those rollers so its almost like small mini intervals for 5-7mi or so.  I was also trying to catch a group of 3-4 guys that were perpetually like 5-10 secs ahead.  Never did quite get there though.

why wouldn't those guys just slow down and let me catch them?

Those efforts had me just about at the edge of empty and cramping but I knew that aid was coming and I was keeping a close eye on calories and fluids I had left.  Restocked at mile 40 and went out to hit the little out and back cul-du-sac section.  That's a great place to get an exact gauge on where people are around you because you can see them coming back while you head out.  The group of 3-4 had put about a minute into me through the aid and were already into paceline mode on the road so I gave up on that fight.

As I made my way out of that section I saw Erik again...behind me thanks to a navigational error on his part.  I contemplated waiting so we could collaborate on the long gravel section but not too far behind him was a competitor of mine so I got on it knowing I could extend the gap on the road and make it very hard for him to come back.  There is a pretty gnarly section of singletrack after the longer gravel section that is tailor made for a strong rider on a full suspension to catch a guy on a hard tail and sure enough Erik caught me at the end of a descent and we got back into two man TT mode.

We came into the last aid together and set about getting to the last climb that brought you up to the crazy machine built descent.  I was hoping to stay with him and maybe have a funny mano-a-mano sprint at the finish but that climb got STEEP at the end and his gearing was a bit friendlier than mine (and hes a tad stronger) and he rolled away.  I was digging pretty deep on that climb.  I was still good for sub 6hr heading into it but it was substantial and posed a serious threat to my overall pace. Cramps were threatening but luckily never really materialized.

At the top I knew I still had a shot depending on the terrain I had to deal with getting down.  Luckily that terrain was a super fast, amazingly built, amusement park of a bike trail called Oak Knoll.  Even though my body was in 'we need to be done with this, like, soon" mode I couldn't help but shred with a huge grin on my face.  Such a treat to end such a long day like that.

I kept the pressure on through the last little section of singletrack along the river watching the clock the whole time.  Hit the mile to go sign with about 11mins to spare on the 6hr mark and a whole bunch of tension that I didn't know was there released.  Unless things went horribly wrong in that last mile it was in the bag.  Crossed the road and got onto the final switchback climb to the Touring Center.  Legs still felt ok and you get that little surge knowing you are so close to the finish. Crossed the line in 5h53m good for a very surprising 3rd place in my class.  I was not expecting a result like that with the names on the start list but I've always said these types of distances are the great equalizer when it comes to me being competitive in an 'Expert' field.

5h53m is a roughly 35min improvement on my previous 100K PR.  Hard to tell how much of that is fitness and how much is suspension and gears.  I certainly surprised myself and had a blast doing it.  Very unlikely I'll miss this race in the coming years.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Pinnacle EFTA NECS #3

This recap won't be nearly as entertaining as Millstone.  The weather and the course was basically perfect.  My race prep was far from it however.  Although it was far from it on purpose.  Overall goal for the weekend was maximum fun not necessarily my best race performance and I think I met that goal.

Heading into that weekend Naro started working on a bit of an impromptu bachelor get together for Dano.  Saturday pre-Pinnacle was what was going to work and the plan was hitting just about every brewery in Portland before a BBQ back at Naro's house.  Initially I didn't think there was any way I could pull both off but the extended forecast was looking so good and I REALLY like racing The Pinnacle...


Plan was hatched to go for the double knowing full well it could end in catastrophe.  Had a blast rolling around Portland trying all kinds of craft beer and throwing bean bags into a hole in a board in parking lots.  Back at Naro's it was just meat, meat and more meat (and beer).  Many in attendance thought for sure I would bail in the morning but I got up feeling "ok".  Luckily the expert race didn't roll until Noon and it was only 1.5hrs from Naro's to Newport.

I got my bearings and some hydration and figured I felt good enough to at least head up there and give it a go.  I'll be honest there were several times on the drive and shortly after arriving that I contemplated bagging it in and just going home to get in bed.  Just kept hydrating and eventually started rolling around the parking lot and my head started to clear.  Started chatting with some teammates about their race earlier in the morning and catching up with the usual suspects and mentally got in line, LETS DO THIS.

Felt pretty normal at the gun and thought I might have a shot at a decent race.  Vet I field was about 10-15 strong.  I slotted in about mid pack in the initial parade loop but as we went up and up and up I could tell I wasn't quite firing on all cylinders and I was definitely sweating pure IPA.  Got overtaken here and there by a guy or two and before long I was tail-gunning the group but holding on.  Towards the top of the first round of climbing I dropped my chain in a rooty section and that was the last I saw of our group.  Vet II's swept through as I was trying to fix it.

I have begun to have issues with this 1x setup keeping the chain on in the rough stuff.  I dropped the chain again two other times later in the day.  Not a hard fix but certainly very frustrating and excellent at killing any momentum you might have.  Best guess is the clutch in the derailleur either needs some tightening or adjustment (if you can even do that?) or its shot and I just need a new one.

I tried to get back on terms but I could only really ride threshold, any punch I might have had was weighed down due to excessive meat consumption.  I settled into an ok groove though and actually felt pretty good for laps 2 and 3 all things considered.  I was certainly having fun at least and that was the goal.  Having suspension and gears for the first time on this course certainly helped to decrease the required suffering.  Not sure I would have survived the day on a rigid SS.

Felt like I finished strong, I passed a few guys later in the race to avoid the DFL and still had some gas in the tank so I'm feeling good about my 100K and possible 100mi goals for later this year.  Early season block of racing/training is done.  Its a bit of a break now, NEMBAfest, fun riding and eventually the Carrabassett 100K.  Vive le Summertime!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Millstone Grind 2015 Kenda Cup East #3

This past weekend was an excellent example of the 'wait 5 minutes' New England weather experience.  Late Spring / Early Summer can be a bit of a crap shoot.  Saturday was 80+ degrees and blazing sun.  Race day was low 50's, windy and pissing rain.  I actually like riding in conditions like that (to a certain extent).  I certainly like it better compared to 80+ degrees but there is a tipping point when things get a bit ridiculous.  Sunday started on the fun manageable side of 50's and raining and eventually ended up solidly in the realm of the redonkulous.

This is gonna be a good one.  Buckle up.

SPOILER ALERT: it was muddy

I'm gonna skip right to the start because I feel like this could get long...Marathon'ers were sent off first to stay in front of the Sport/Novice field.  We had 14 pre-reg'd and it felt like maybe 10-12 on the line.  I love longer distance starts.  So much more civil and reasonably paced (sort of).  I slotted in at the tail end of the 'front group' per usual.  Sitting maybe about 5th heading into the first sections of single track. It wasn't actually raining quite yet at that point.  There had been some big T-storms overnight so everything was damp but the trails were more tacky than anything else with slick rocks and roots.

lined up at the start

Those are the conditions I love and the first lap was actually really enjoyable.  Just enough to make things really interesting but not enough to really cause any issues with gear or crashing really.  It was slowing things down a tad at least for me with my first lap time coming in about 3mins slower than I had wanted,  I was hoping I would get in a groove, get used to the conditions a bit and dial things up in the coming laps but Mother Nature had other plans and slowly started to dial the rain up.  Rain started at some point during the second lap and conditions started to change quickly.  There is sort of a spectrum to mud and its consistency as water is added.  It goes from tacky to peanut butter to soup and then back again as the moisture dries out.

First lap was tacky, lap two was peanut butter.  Luckily a good portion of the course was under canopy and held up for a bit as the rain came down.  Exposed sections got bad fast.  Mud was starting to stick to everything.  Ikon's shed mud fairly well but not this stuff.  Rotational mass of my wheels skyrocketed, mud was getting flung everywhere.  Eyes, mouth, drivetrain, brakes.  Nothing was sparred.  Lots of wasted watts that lap spinning out on climbs (and flats).  Much respect for my former SS brethren, climbing out of the saddle was near impossible.  Lots of mud sticking to kit and gloves and bottles made feeds interesting.  How many calories does mud have?  I would say at least 25% of my nutritional intake during the race was quarry dirt.

Towards the end of my second lap I started having issues with shifting.  Grabbing cable to shift up was still working ok but trying to drop cable to drop gears was a no go.  Spring was having a hard time pulling the cable through all the mud gummed up at the ends of the housing.  I figured out that if I dropped 2 gears to increase the tension and then reached down and wiggled the small piece of housing at the top of my seatstays I could get it to go.  Obviously this maneuver is not ideal while trying to stay upright in those conditions and it is also not efficient or timely in any way.  So I spent much of the rest of day under geared.

Fellow NEMBA racer Erik caught me just as my gears went sideways.  I was able to claw my way back up to him and we lapped through together heading into lap 3.  I was getting a nice draft through the first part of the field and then we started heading down the slight descent into the woods and I started getting a huge rooster tail of water and mud to the face from his rear wheel so I let him go (that and he probably would have eventually dropped me anyway)

Lap 3...ah lap 3.  This is where things go wholly ludicrous.  Its been raining for a while now and has even increased in intensity a bit.  On lap 3 we begin to move from peanut butter to slicker than snot soup mud.  Kinda like riding on ice but way dirtier.  The margin for error disappeared.  If your weight was even slightly askew from where it needed to be you were going down and FAST.  I avoided catastrophe for maybe the first 1/3 of the lap but then things went south....when it rains it pours (GET IT!?).

My first incident and probably the best was on a very fast double track descent heading back into the field/feed zone.  To that point the mud had been sticky enough so that you could let it run without issue.  There were some roots and rocks to pop over here and there, things would get a little loose but hook up before any problems would result.  So like an idiot even though the conditions were changing I still barreled into the descent at full speed.  At the beginning of the double track section as you pop out of the woods there was a slight bump in the terrain with some roots that you could ever so slightly pop over, get a bit of air and be on your way.  Things were going to plan, but this time around I landed and my bike just disappeared.

Not sure I have ever had a bike come out from under me quite that fast before.  With cardio dulled senses my perception was that it was there and then it was not.  Without a bike I was quickly on the ground and thanks to my horizontal velocity and the well lubricated trails I began hydroplaning down the trail at a good clip.  The world has a tendency of slowing down during life events such as this.  Probably some sort of biological adaptation to help us fully realize and remember the error in our ways so as to be avoided in the future.  As I flew down the trail on a thin layer of mud I glanced to my left and noticed something flying along down the trail with me just a few feet away.  It was my bike.  Also hydroplaning.  Luckily my slide path was free of debris and once I came to a stop about 10-15ft later my bike was right there (and still in one piece) and off we go!

Things got progressively worse after that.  I'm not exaggerating when I say it was like riding on ice.  You could easily spin out on flat ground and rooster tailing and sliding out through corners was a near guarantee regardless of how well you balanced your weight.  My next crash of hilarious significance happened in a somewhat innocuous corner.  I think I just got lazy (or tired).  Going down was pretty straight forward nothing funny there but once I was on the ground things got weird.  I don't think I can accurately explain how this happened but I somehow ended up on my head and spinning like a top, or more accurately, an 80's break dancer.  I only got maybe part of one rotation but I was pretty impressed with myself.

My next issue came about 1-2miles later and this one was nearly heartbreaking.  I lost traction and slid out navigating a small rock garden and my line was adjusted just enough to send me hurtling into a very sharp and pointy rock on the edge of the trail.  As soon as I hit it (at the speed I was going) I knew I was screwed. 1 second later I hear the tell tale sign and see the Stan's mist spraying into the sky.  Now I have had some issues with Stan's sealing up in conditions like these and I was in no mood to try and get a tube in with the amount of mud that was everywhere.  I knew very quickly that if this didn't seal my day was over at 3+ laps of 4 and that all that suffering would be for naught.  So I started yelling.

I screamed at Stan's to do its job, go to your home, get in that hole etc.  I threatened it with bodily harm.  I promised it riches.  AND IT WORKED.  I was actually somewhat amazed.  I've had pretty poor luck with Stan's but it came through when I needed it most.  It stopped spraying and best I could tell it was holding.  I started riding away somewhat gingerly and slowly got back to 'normal' riding without issue.  Turns out I probably could have been running my tires a bit softer because things were actually working a bit better with the 1-2psi I lost and I still wasn't really rimming out anywhere.

The rain began to die off towards the end of lap 3 and during lap 4 the mud gradually swapped back to a more peanut butter / tacky consistency.  Lines got easier to hold but things got sticky again and shifting got tricky and pushing up climbs wasn't getting any easier.  Luckily the trails at Millstone are very well built and were draining really well throughout.  Surprisingly very little damage done to the trails and the few spots that got a little more whupped will likely recover in a week or two with a little love.  I got a bit of a second wind last lap but I was also running low on fluids and calories.  So it was a balancing act of pushing harder but not too hard so as to crack before the finish.  Lap 4 ended up actually being almost 2mins faster than my 3rd lap.

I came in at about 3h:52m, almost an hour longer than expected.  Results sheet had me in 5th of 7 finishers at the time I checked it (ATTN Root 66: when are you going to ditch those hand written results sheets and get into current century????).  Not sure if the rest DNF'd or just hadn't come in yet.  I proceeded to use my drink ticket for some Heady Topper and even got a free Turtle Fur for some modeling work I did (pic coming soon hopefully).  Turns out an old friend from PSU is a Turtle Fur rep now so we got an opportunity to catch up which was nice.

I'm a model!

All told it was a hell of a day.  Memorable to say the least.  The trails at Millstone are really great and this course is probably one of the more fun I have ever done.  If they keep this event earlier in the year like this and keep offering a marathon class I will probably continue to come back.  I mean free Heady Topper and a meatball sub with your reg fee? c'mon

Monday, May 18, 2015

Weeping Willow 2015 Kenda Cup East #2

Ah Willowdale.  Always such a brutal welcome back to the race season for me.  I got pretty thoroughly smashed but it felt really good to be back racing off road albeit in a slightly modified form from what I'm used to.

Feels like its been a long road back even though it really hasn't been in the grand scheme.  But I think this was proof of concept that even though I will continue to deal with RA or whatever the hell I've got the dietary stuff I'm doing is working and I'll be able to come out on Sundays and brutalize myself.  THANK GOD.

DUST.

I had pretty realistic expectations going into this race.  I figured I wouldn't know how to use gears properly at race pace (confirmed) and I figured I was going to get shelled out of the Expert Vet I field pretty fast (mostly confirmed).  I have settled on the fact that my fitness profile really doesn't lend itself to the shorter XC stuff.  Things seem to break down for me pretty quickly when efforts are near max for prolonged periods but I am perfectly happy at 80% for 7hrs.

But racing like a spaz at MAX can be so fun!

And man did I go full spaz first lap trying to hang a bit above my pay grade.  I realized very quickly that I had become very accustomed to that SS governor that keeps overall speeds in check to a certain extent.  I'm not used to dropping gears and getting up to 25+mph and barreling into singletrack with 30 other dudes.



I'm also much more used to all that early traffic blowing right past me relatively quickly.  Lap 1 was probably the longest I have spent in the middle of the Expert field 'scrum' in my whole career.  It was a bit nutty.  I'll be the first to admit I don't really have that killer instinct when it comes to making passes and really racing for yourself at the expense of others.  I'm far too friendly in those scenarios.  It was interesting to see more of those interactions of guys getting pissed and making sketchy passes, mid-race heckling...good times.

I was trying to hold wheels as best I could but I was getting pretty thoroughly swamped.  Riding the opposite of smooth, very unsettled on the bike.  I even managed to drop my chain not once but 3 times on lap 1.  I have never dropped the chain on that 1-by setup before yesterday but apparently diving into root fields at ludicrous speed all while trying to pedal the whole time will do it.  Those chain drops did a great job of getting me dropped and passed by large groups of guys.

attempting to finish strong

At the very least those spaz induced issues got me into a bit of open space so I could start to ride my own race.  Looking at my data it appears like my second lap was only about 2 minutes slower than my first which is a pretty good sign for any endurance endeavors I might have for this year.  In my head I was pretty well out of the mix so I wasn't really consciously trying to pull anyone back.  Per usual I was actually more in the mix than I thought and if I had gone about things differently I think a top 15 could maybe have been in the cards but that would have required riding like a spaz again so screw that.

Tail end of the second lap I fell into a small group of Elite women.  I got stuck with them for a bit because I didn't want to force any weird passes and risk crashing someone out.  I did get yelled at to close some gaps which was awesome. Yes Ma'am right away!  I was able to finish decently strong and I certainly felt like I had more in me and today I have almost no race hangover and feel 80-90% recovered.  So I think the message is clear.  XC is fun / training but if I actually want to be competitive stick to the 3hr plus races.  And I'm ok with that.

Next up is The Grind up at Millstone.  Been many years since I've raced/ridden up there, very much looking forward to it.  Doing the Marathon class...not very long at 24 miles but the trails are much harder up that way so it should be a long / hard race. #yeeehaaa

Saturday, May 16, 2015

VT Style IPA

I'm actually not sure if there is an official "VT" style of IPA but if there isn't there probably will be soon.  If you travel over/up that way and try any of a number of local breweries IPAs I think you will notice some similarities and an overarching trend.

Those Green Mountain guys and gals LOVE their big and bold punch you in your face floral citrusy hop bombs.  And bless them for it because some of the beer coming out of that region is seriously awesome.

I got the idea to do this batch while hanging out with my bros up at Grandpa Grunts in way northern VT.  I had been working on my gluten-free brew at the time as well as trying some commercial gluten-free beer that weekend.  I had a funny exchange with Dano after he had tried some of one of the gluten free beers I had (it was not very good, I think mine will be better).  Suffice it to say Dano DID NOT like it AT ALL and went on to comment that if he had to go gluten free and had to drink beer like that there was no way he could go on living.

I admired his dedication to the beer that he loves and he now has a reputation (at least with me) of always showing up to wherever hes going with some of the rarest most sought after VT craft brew around.

I crunched some numbers in my head and discovered that if I started another batch shortly after bottling my gluten free beer that I could have my own attempt at a beer Dano is willing to die for ready in time for July 4th and wouldn't you know it...Dano's wedding.

I doubt I'm quite on par with the Alchemist's and the Lawson's of the world but I think this should end up in the ball park.  The aroma and initial punch is certainly going to be serious.  2oz of Citra hops for 10mins at flame out and I'm going to dry hop with 1oz of Cascade and another 1oz of Citra.

Gluten be damned!
A video posted by @kevinorlowski on