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...