Monday, December 14, 2015

The Ice Weasels Cometh 2015

Picked a good one for my first Ice Weasels. Or for 2015 more like 'El Nino Weasels' or 'T-Shirt Weather Weasels'.  Venue moved to Riverpoint CX park in Warwick RI and it was a balmy 60(ish) degrees on race day.

This is a tough one to recap succinctly.  There was a whole lot of rad stuff going on and I'm not sure I can accurately remember all of it but I'll try. The park and course were excellent.  At least for a rider like me.  All kinds of varied technical terrain, flowy, punchy, two longer runs, sand.  Roadies were probably mad but if you were having a hard time with the course you could just stop in the Danger Zone and grab a beer.  That is the magic of Ice Weasels.

I mean just check this out.

It was apparent early on while I was spectating that while the course was super fun it was also pretty brutal at race pace.  Watching the Beginner races and the Killer B's everyone was coming through looking pretty shredded after just 1-2 laps.  The beer started flowing pretty early and the central portion of the woods section AKA The Danger Zone slowly ramped up in heckle intensity as the day progressed.  By the time I was racing in the SS race it was fully blown keg party in the woods.

I hadn't really decided if I was going to truly "race" this race or just sort of ride hard for a bit and then take advantage of the unique atmosphere.  It felt like there was a pretty solid 50/50 split in most of the races between folks actually racing and folks just having a good time.  I figured the SS race would probably have a ratio leaning more towards fun / drunk with it being the last race of the day and I certainly didn't want to be the only bro actually trying to go fast when everyone else was having fun.  Figured I ride hard for lap 1 and if things were going well and folks were racing around me I'd continue to ride hard.  If I wasn't feeling it...DANGER ZONE.

entrance to the #dangerzone

I also realized I had a great opportunity with the strength of the field and the chance that most of that strength was tired and getting drunk to get a decent result and lower my points a ton.  After my Cat 3 upgrade denial I have changed my goal to having the lowest crossresults.com points of any Cat 4 ever (or at least in New England). I got a second row start so I figured I might as well give it one really good hot lap and see where I shake out.

Got a decent kick off the line but got jammed up in the 2nd corner and lost a bunch of spots but probably still top 15.  Made a few passes here and there before getting to the true gnar portion of the course and found myself in a small group with Tyler Knapp and Scott Rosenthal who are typically stronger than me so I was content to settle in there and see how things went.  There was a bit of jockeying and trading spots here and there and I was anticipating getting dropped coming through the field on lap 2.  But I was able to get in the wheels and hang in.  I was farther up than I had thought was possible so it felt like I should probably race this and see where it goes.

I awp'd that log ALL DAY

Lap 2 was similar we were already catching traffic so there was some recovery on offer.  I was feeling like I could ride some of the chutes and techy spots a bit faster than the group if I had room so I tried to start to find spots to put pressure on.  The runs were the easiest spots.  They were both pretty long and they favor me.  I don't really remember where the gap really opened up but I came through for a pull just before the pump track section and I figured I should try to shred those next few features to see if I could get some room while I had a clear shot.  Starting there it was pump track, chute, sandy hill run, chute, danger zone, flat sand section, granite stairs run.  I don't know what happened behind me but I rode it all cleanly and had gotten away.

Did I mention Tyler was in a hot dog suit?

I also picked up some sort of weird clicking sound that was bugging me but didn't seem to be affecting the bikes functionality so I continued on.  Traffic had worked itself out for the most part by this point so my final laps were just shredding and trying not to crash.  I believe this was right about when the fireworks started getting set of.  I think I just missed getting to ride through them.  The party in the danger zone was enticing, what with a New Orleans brass band and all, but I figured I was probably very close to top 10 so I wanted to push on.

here's my clicking sound. rode 2 laps like this lolz

They cut our race at 4 laps, a bit short but there was probably daylight and party getting out of hand concerns.  I ended up with a surprising 9th but considering I was taking things a bit more seriously than many others I'm not going to let it go to my head.  But crossresults doesn't take the party into account so I scored some really rad points to provide a huge first step towards my goal.  I am now a Cat 4 with 362 crossresults points!  Woo!

I must say I get all the hype and accolades now.  Ice Weasels is super condensed no rules #necx all jammed into a single day.  And its pretty amazeballs.

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.

rollers!

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 up...to 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?...like 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!

Monday, September 28, 2015

GP of Gloucester 2015 Day 2

I skipped these big races last year because they sell out early and I wasn't even sure if I was going to really like CX at that point last year.  It is an understatement that there is a lot of 'hub-bub' around Gloucester and Providence.  Holy Week...New England World Championships.  Crossers in New England love them some Gloucester.  And I can't say I blame them.

Stage Fort Park is a pretty special spot.  Between the topography of the coast and the history and everything else it is really cool and a damn near perfect venue for a race.

early morning course inspection

Eric could only do day 2 Sunday which was fine with me.  Doing both days would have been a lot of travel and after three sessions of doubling up into this weekend only doing one race on one day was a nice change of pace.

It was an early morning with my race going off right at 8am.  Its nice racing early when its hot and dusty out though.  We did a sunrise course walk / inspection.  It was an interesting course.  Pretty climby for being right on the coast with some techy cross fall-line stuff, some sand, but unfortunately lots of flat power pedaling sections.  Not ideal for me but I'm getting better at holding groups close enough on those sections to roll back in once things get turny or technical.

ROCK

I had managed to get my points low enough for a 3rd row call up.  Gloucester draws people from all over so the fields seem to get a bit stronger.  I was shooting for top 20.  The start went up a little uphill pavement drag and I got a decent jump and was able to move up a bit and out to the left which is where I wanted to be heading into the first few turns and barrier section.  Eric and I had identified several spots where wide and fast was much better then tight and sandy where most people were going to gravitate to.

I've been fortunate to have avoided any enormous 4/5 carnage pileups so far this year but heading into the first turn someone to my right must have had his head down because all of a sudden hes got both wheels locked up and skidding.  Luckily no one got twitchy and he managed to ride it out and we got around the turn without issue.  I stuck to the plan and stayed way wide left.  Everyone else started trending right trying to take the turn into the barriers as tight as possible.  Was able to come in and up the uphill barriers with some momentum and managed to pass several guys jammed up in traffic on the right.

lap 2 working traffic

Same plan coming into the cross fall line chicane section.  Everyone wanted to try and stay tight but there was actual grass at the bottom of the turn and you could come in WAY faster and again come up to the stairs with momentum.  I also decided to run the entirety of the chicane section.  It was rideable if everyone was hitting their remounts and not riding like idiots but in our field that is not the case.  Made another few passes through here.

Eric got through the lap 1 chicane relatively unscathed

Lost some of these passes on the back pedaly half of the course.  I would get a few back here and there in the sand or in some of the gravely turns over on the playground side of the course.  I was also able to close gaps lapping through up the pavement drag.  Rinse and repeat that was pretty much the rest of my race.  The 4/5 race at Gloucester is only 30mins instead of the 40 I'm used to so it was a bit frantic and intense.  Last lap hurt.  Everyone was going pretty deep, I caught some guys and was caught and a little group of 5 or so was formed on the long stretch along the ocean.  I got gapped a bit but there was a high speed 180 hairpin at the end of the straight so that gap disappeared but it was immediately out of the saddle and sprinting into the next long grass drag.

I was staying in there but I was very near my limit.  Luckily there were some twisty bits right before the final drag up the pavement to the line.  I was able to rest a bit through this section and eliminate any gaps to the back of the group.  Unfortunately the middle of the group was not as good at cornering as the front two and they got a tiny gap.

Hitting the pavement I chose the bigger guys wheel to follow initially.  I figured he would have a whole lot of power on the earlier flatter section.  Which he did and we immediately dropped one group member with three more just ahead.  He was gaining fast for a bit but when the pitch kicked up a bit he immediately started to fade.  I dropped a gear and popped around his right and went all in.  I don't do these red lining sprints very often (or ever) so I had no idea how my body was going to respond.  Luckily the power was there, I caught and passed on younger guy but there were still two more guys just ahead.  Unfortunately for me the road flattened out a bit.  I was still gaining on them but not as quickly.  I got up to the rear wheel of the second guy but that was it by the line.

Turns out that group was coming in for the last few top 20 spots and I got the last one on offer for 20th.  I think if the race had been 40mins and if we had another lap to go I might have done a bit better but I'm pleased with the result.  Points are down to 419 now and rain is in the forecast (finally!) for Night Weasels on Wednesday.  Then its a nice little break from racing, Squamtoberfest and then more racing bikes.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Midnight Ride of CX 2015

Holy Week is here and I'm already suffering from #dustlung. Is this how it works?  I don't really know.  I'm just an ok Cat 4 (but on a meteoric rise to perhaps being a horrible Cat 3)

#dustlung

This past summer I had committed to making a solid go at CX this year and so I reg'd for a pretty serious block of racing in Sept through Holy Week.  We're in the thick of it now.  Midnight Ride is classically considered the kick off to Holy Week which consists of the UCI races in Gloucester this weekend and Providence next weekend with Night Weasels in between next Wednesday.

This was my first really big field (100+) of the year so I was interested to see where I would shake out.  Usually the fields get stronger as they get bigger and closer to a population center like Boston.  I was predicted and staged in the low 30's but I was hoping to do better than that.

Start went ok.  I didn't move up all that far but I also didn't move back or get swamped.  I immediately started moving up once the course started turning.  Kinda funny the amount of free speed I get on many of the other guys towards the front of a 4/5 field.  I just sort of slide past guys going through corners because they are on their brakes more than I am.  Picked a few more off at the barriers and towards the tail end of lap 1 I was up in the top 15-20 in a small group of 5-6 guys.

Group was a mix of characters with different strengths.  I was dangling a bit in the straightaways but never far enough to not catch back on easily in a corner or barrier section.  Most of the middle portion of the race was little gains and little errors, gaining a spot and loosing a spot.  Not much comedy or epic crashing though, just dusty suffering.  After awhile 2 or so guys faded out of the group and there were 3-4 of us going into the last lap.  I was up against Jesse Lowe again (the guy I sprinted against at Sucker Brook on Sunday) and I was trying to figure out how to avoid that fate again.

I think I handle a tad better than him but hes no slouch when it comes to pedaling.  I was having a hard time finding a pass without really having to go way into the red or take a big risk taking a corner at speed.  We came into the final section of the course 1-2 in the group we were in.  We hit some lapped traffic and things got a bit frantic as we all tried to navigate through cleanly.  Similar to Sucker Brook I was right there but positioned just a bit too far off heading into the final straight.  He got me again but I held the rest of the group off for a pretty solid 12th in a really big field.  My best points result to date.

I had gone pretty deep in the 4/5 and immediately after finishing the thought of having 15mins until the SS race was HILARIOUS.  Seriously considered bagging it and just hanging out but 5 mins after that I felt ok and was 'ready' to go.  I remembered that SS is mostly party anyway and if I bonked midway through I already had a good result and I could just party in to the finish. #party

I decided to forgo my staging spot and just line up at the back.  Figured working up through the field would be better mentally than getting blown out from the get go.  Eric did day of reg so he was back there as well.  I figured we could team up but at the gun he dusted me something fierce and I spent the first 2-3 laps or so trying to work my way back up to his group.  Eric had snuck off the front of his group and I managed to sneak through it and up to him with 2 to go.  I announced my arrival and offered to take a pull to increase said gap.

we worked together through the final laps and got some sweet pics taken of us in the process: 



We even managed to reel in @Ge_Willi on the final false flat drag and sneak around him for one last placing before the finish.  Another good 'ole painful day of racing in the books.  My points are down to 431 heading into Gloucester which has me staged 22 of 125. How low can I go?!

Monday, September 21, 2015

NH Double / Double

And we're off!

Last year I did 7 races total.  This weekend I did 4 and on Wednesday I'll do 2 more...back to back.  Its addictive, I dare you to try it.

Last year was an experiment that went pretty well.  An attempt to salvage a year screwed up pretty decently by injuries and health issues.  This year I'm hitting the CX season with a solid block of MTB riding and racing in my legs as well as some new bikes.  I was interested to see what that would mean for my results. Spoiler Alert!: I'm a bit faster now.

I love the NH double weekend.  Two days of racing close to home on some great courses, both pretty difficult in their own different ways. First up was White Park on Saturday in Concord.  Probably one of the cooler city parks I've seen.  It incorporates a lot of cool things for the community in a tight little space and is really well maintained.  (Just watch out for dead bodies every now and then.  We have a heroin problem in NH right now ok?!  We're dealing with it...hopefully)

Started the day bright and early with the 4/5 race at 8am.  Grass was still wet with dew and a bit slippery.  Temps were mild, pretty great racing conditions really.  I was staged a bit better than mid pack maybe 3rd or 4th row thanks to last years points right behind teammate Eric.  It was a pretty big field of about 63 riders or so.  Turns out being behind Eric is a great place to be at the gun.  He is real good at lets call it riding with purpose and establishing his line such that other riders sort of need to get out of the way.

He went motoring up the left side and I went right along with him through the first chicanes.  Easily moved two rows up and had a bit of room by the turn around the baseball fields.  Got a good lead out and came around him heading into the climby chicane turns.  I remembered to grab some gears before we hit it and got real lucky and found gaps as people got bogged down and was able to sneak through and make several passes.  I think this ultimately was the move of the race for me as it got me clear of the bottleneck and into some space where I could ride the difficult back portion of the course without needing to worry about squirrelly Cat 5s.

riding to 7th a few laps in to the 4/5 race

They made some slight changes to the course this year including adding a much steeper loose run up.  I started to realize this last year but it is now fully confirmed...I'm good at running in a CX race.  No idea why. I passed 3 people the first go at the run up like they were walking and at this point I'm all of a sudden in the top 10 with plenty of room to take the lines I want and settle into a bit more of a TT ride as opposed to a punchy sprinty race where I'm reacting to moves etc.

I was really pleased with the way I rode the rest of the race.  Real clean, good pace management and I was actually using my gears at the appropriate times.  Although I did have one moment coming into a turny bit where I suffered from a classic lack of oxygen to the brain moment.  Light was changing as the sun got higher in the sky and the course tape was yellow.  Coming into a left hand turn I couldn't see the tape in the sun (even though I had done that turn at least 3-4 times already) and basically just went straight and almost plowed through the tape and off course.  Then I proceeded to basically completely forget where I was on the course and couldn't figure out where to go for like 2-3 secs. #DERP

SS race did not go as smoothly.  Like in most disciplines SS is an Open category so there are some fast dudes in there.  These races are more fun/training for me.  Not really anticipating much on the results sheet.  About 2 laps in I came to the realization that I did not quite snug the bolt that affixes my left brake to the handlebars adequately.  I could feel it sliding up and down a bit as I would pull and torque on it.  It quickly got progressively worse until ultimately this happened with about 2 laps to go:


Bolt completely backed itself out and the only thing holding it on was the cable to the brake itself.  This made racing a tad difficult but not impossible.  Just started riding everything in the drops and only using my rear brake.  Needless to say I got real sloppy.  Eric swept me up but surprisingly no one else did and I still managed to beat a few guys.

still fully functional at this point.

Finished the day up with 7th/63 in the 4/5 race and 18th/28 in the SS.  Not a bad days work and dropped my points from 491 to 471.

_________

Sunday was supposed to be a little wet in the morning and be cool and cloudy the rest of the day.  Instead it was bone dry and sunny and dusty and windy.

Sucker Brook usually draws slightly bigger crowds probably mostly because its a bit closer to Boston and I suppose it would probably also be considered a bit friendlier of a course to most CX riders (especially those who trend more roadie). The 4/5 field was over 100 racers but split U35 and Masters 35+.  Even though my racing age is 35 (eeeeeeeeekkk!) I'm not mentally prepared to race Masters yet so I toe'd the line in the U35.

I was third row which I'm starting to find is just about all you need in a 4/5 field.  Gets you in front of just about anybody that might be slower off the line and most everyone in rows 1 and 2 are way less likely to have crashing issues early on.  I had another decent start and moved up a few spots to high teens or so.  Luckily no massive explosions in the field like last year.  There are A LOT of turny bits in the early part of the course and I made good work of them moving up several spots early to just outside the top 10.

club row was a good time

I have noticed I can close a lot of little gaps just by needing to use my brakes less.  Free speed folks!  I was trading spots with a few guys between the front and back half of the course sitting about 11-14th or so.  I was opening up gaps in the long sand pit running section (I love running! (no I don't!)) and eventually the gap finally stuck.  Last lap and a half I noticed I was also slowly clawing back the guy in front of me and last lap I got very close in the turny stuff only to have it extend back out on the long fire road.  But it didn't extend enough and I was fairly confident I could catch him near that sand pit again.

Unfortunately I learned a cyclocross lesson the hard way.  I had estimated everything just about exactly right.  I came into the sand pit just behind him and caught him before we exited. In that moment I had to decide: dig deep and pass him now even though you are red lining and will be pretty dead on the remount OR rest a bit now so you can try to get him in the sprint.  I chose to rest and I chose poorly.

I stayed right with him through the lead in to the finishing straight and I had a solid sprint but he had a similar sprint top end in that moment and had just enough to hold me off by half a bike length.  If I had made the pass when I had the chance even though I would have been gassed it would have been hard for him to pass me back in the lead in to the finish without taking a bit of a risk and I would have had the half bike length to take 10th instead of 11th.  LESSON: If you've got the pass, take the pass.

Sam is very good at yelling at people

The SS race was just hard.  4th race of the weekend.  Flat, fast, non-stop hammering.  This was the last race of the day so the course was good and chewed up.  Interesting to see how a course changes over the course of a day, hadn't experienced that last year.

I realized something that in a way I already knew but I had never really been cognoscente of until this race.  My SS build is heavy as shit.  There was a good amount of dismounts and running required and my arms were getting tired by the end of the race.  Luckily this whole SSCX thang is really more training than anything else and if I'm towing an anchor around thats pretty good training.  Surprisingly enough I held my mid pack position and even gained a spot late on the last lap.  This time I didn't wait.  A sand pit pass was the plan but he let up heading into a corner and went a bit too wide so I dive bombed and railed through.

My advantage in the sand pit netted me close to 10 secs and I was good to cruise into the line.  Good for 14th/24. Sunday got my points down to 453 which should keep me near the front of the start grid for most 4/5 races from here on out.  My points would be lower but I've still got a 500 point race dragging me down from last year.  Crossresults only takes the lowest score from a multi-race day otherwise I would be a bit lower.  Should take care of that Wednesday.

Midnight Ride of CX is next!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Landmine Classic 2015

Not sure how I talked myself into doing this race after re-reading my report from 2013.  I got wrecked that year to the point of abandoning so as to not mess with my chances at Bradbury which I also abandoned and so was the beginning of my joint issues heading into 2014.

Part of my motivation was redemption as well as it being one of the best values for a Marathon race all year.  Plus I have suspension this year AND gears so how brutal could it be? *still pretty brutal.  Figured it would be a good last shot of base fitness heading into cross season and its an easy drive so bing bam boom I'm back heading to a race that broke me two years ago. Race amnesia is a hell of a drug.

redemption achieved!

Weather on the day was just what I like, 60's and a bit of rain but nothing too bad.  Course wasn't muddy by any means but roots were greasy and you had to be on point.  I was set for the Cat 2 Marathon which I was a bit conflicted about.  I'm used to flogging myself in categories that I barely belong in and frequently coming in or near last.  Been doing it for years at non sanctioned events between SS and now Expert with the geared bike.  I don't race sanctioned MTB very often and have come nowhere near accumulating enough results to warrant a Cat 1 license so racing Cat 2 was my only choice.  But it still just sort of felt off for me.  I'm a DFL kinda guy.

I knew at these distances that I should be towards the front of a Cat 2 field and going in my goal was a podium.  The field was pretty large though at about 20-25 riders so I figured there were probably some other strong guys in there.  I ended up staged on the front row for the start and at the gun the start was pretty civil.  No need to sprint when you are looking at a 5hr day but I did manage to get the 'holeshot'.  After about 30secs to a minute I even had a sizable 'gap'.  I was off the front! That never happens!  I was not going that hard but I'm guessing the rest of the field thought I was a joey going too hard too early.  Little did they know that the endurance game is my jam.

shootin' the hole!

I remembered the early parts of the course being a bit more fast and forgiving so I figured if they are going to give me a gap I might as well get out of sight and out of mind while I can.  I pushed the pace a bit and was even able to catch and move through a bit of the SS and Cat 1 field that had been 1-2 minutes up on us.  Now I had a gap and some traffic between me and the rest of the field.  I got into a small group with a SSer and a former teammate Fabian racing in the Cat 1 field.  This helped a lot to keep things moving mentally but good god is the second half of that course brutal.

I was riding well but taking a beating.  We dropped the SSer and Fabian eventually got away from me a bit in the rough stuff on account of full suspension (and hes good at tech stuff).  I pulled an excellent maneuver 1st lap heading into a little rock drop / feature.  Somehow managed to clip a pedal and then in my quick balance recovery move pull my other foot out as well and ended up rolling this thing at speed in textbook spread eagle formation.  Luckily my line was good and I somehow managed to not explode.  It was a great reminder that a long race like this one can come unglued real fast.



I started riding a bit more consistent and conservative after that.  Lapped through as many of the Novices were finishing up their shorter loops.  I tried up'ing the pace again on the easier part of the course.  I wanted as much of a buffer as I could manage heading into the rougher section of the second lap because I knew I was going to suffer there.  I could feel hot spots forming on my left hand and my back and arms were pretty well thrashed.  Lap two was pretty lonely.  Our fields had pretty well sorted themselves out and there were no other XC riders on the course any more just Marathon riders.  I caught Fabian in the pedal'y stuff and we leap frogged a bit and traded pulls.

#hotspots

Surprisingly the second lap went by pretty fast, at least the first part.  Before I knew it there was only about 10mi left. Unfortunately it was one of the roughest stretches of riding I've done in a while.  My hot spots were full blown blisters at this point and feeling AWESOME.  My back was toast and I was riding on the verge of explosion just about constantly.  I managed to stay on the right side of that verge though for the most part.  I took a poor line up a punchy technical climb and clipped a rock with my pedal and my foot flew out and I fully extended my leg and my quad said "oh! here let me help you with that!" and proceeded to lock up real tight.

A muscle of that size fully cramping is a unique feeling that is hard to describe.  Long story short I stood there trying unsuccessfully to bend my leg for a good 20 seconds or so.  I was finally able to massage it out and get rolling but it was really tender after that and I had to baby it for a bit.  I'm pretty good at cramp management at this point and I hydrated and got another of my electrolyte pills in and got it back on terms for the most part.  The miles were ticking by very slowly at this point and mentally I was pretty rattled.  REALLY wanted to be done and was literally cursing the course in spots because I just wanted a smooth section of trail for maybe just 100yds to rest.

I was still turning the pedals over ok but I was running out of the will to keep pushing hard.  I was trying to steal some momentum everywhere I could get it.  For the most part I kind of checked out and tried to go to a happy place for the last 3 miles or so after the final feed.  The drone of sound coming from the finish area was one of the best sounds I've heard for awhile.  I had held off the field with a final gap of around 5-6mins to second place and a finish time just north of 5hrs at 5:02.

 podium jersey and everything.

All in all a pretty good but brutal day on the bike.  Winning was also a nice change of pace for me.  Now I get to swap 5-6hr efforts for 45min ones. #CXISHERE

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