Monday, October 29, 2012

HPCX & the Hurricane that Wasn't

Hurricane Sandy & HPCX: A Love Story.

(not really)

I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about weather systems off the East Coast of the US right now. So I won't bother trying. Where we're at: As the week wore on it became abundantly clear from Al Roker & the Media Circus that there would be rain on Sunday. Or there wouldn't. They pretty much nail it with those kinds of predictions, which is why I guess it's easy to keep your job as long as you sound like you know what you're talking about. I don't know, didn't know, but now I do. There wasn't rain. But it was sort of almost chilly and there was a slight breeze coming off the lake near the race. Not exactly the epic conditions that the weather drones would have you believe, but not a sunny June morning either.

Fairly typical cross weather, I'd say.

It's nice to have the MAC series right in your backyard for this stop on the 8 race tour. For once, I didn't have to get a hotel the night before, or wake up at some absurd time and drive 2 hours to be there. The race was a mere hop down the NJ Turnpike, a small price to pay when some of the other races are in Baltimore, or Providence, or Mars, or what have you. Nice and close. I mean, relatively.

So naturally I spent the night in Pennsylvania.

When I woke up, it was chilly, then it was chilly and raining. Then it was chilly and pouring. So it goes. Bring on the mud. But as I drove over Jugtown Mountain, speeding down 78 to the East, the rain stopped, the skies...well, they stayed gray, and the ground was dry. Totally dry. Bonus, maybe it won't rain today? One can hope. As entertaining as it is to watch others race in the mud, it's not actually as awesome when you're in it. Maybe I'm soft.

Anyway, fast forward 4 hours and I'm lining up in the second row. I drew #910, which means that 5 people did not show up who are ahead of me in the standings. It also means that I still sort of have a shot at top 10 overall if I have a good race today. Those of you following at home know that I've set this top 10 thing as a goal of mine this year. Why? Dunno. Why not? Because it's something to aim for. A good race at HPCX means I have a fair shot at that goal. A bad race means I don't have to trek down to Maryland in 2 weeks. I think I'm ok with either of these at this point.

As we line up, I'm talking to the guys next to me. Eric (Kissena) introduces himself, and we talk out the majority of the line-up wait. He's a good sport, and answers my dumb questions in stride (do you mind if I clip in both feet and lean on you? etc). Chuck also introduces himself, and asks if I was the one who did the recap after Whirlybird for CX Magazine.

Look ma! I'm famous!

I know before the whistle blows I'm going to have a poor start to this race. So of course, the whistle blows and I have my best race start of the year. Up the hill, I'm sitting in a good place, maybe around 15th or so. Things shake out a bit and I'm sitting in 16th, feeling pretty good, not great, but pretty good. I like this course, all except for that climb part of it at the S/F. I'm sitting on wheels, finding a comfort zone, feeling solid and liking the course and how the day feels.

Feeling good that I might end up with one of my better races of the year here. Like. I like this.

So this is where we flashback to before the race...

...Eric has built me some wheels this week and shows with them on race day. Nice new stiff carbon wheels with the Clement PDXs on there. We throw the cassette on but find that it needs a spacer. A spacer? Really? What gives here? No big deal. We go with the new Clement on the front and stay with the Limus on the rear. It's a Franken-combo just like this Franken-storm we have coming up the coast, or down the coast, or out of the closet...

Everyone's got that, right?

Naturally, after 1 lap my rear tire starts to feel soft. Ok, it's ok, This is cross. THIS IS CROSS! We bottom out once in a while. Ok...maybe not this much. And boy these tires are washing out like crazy on the turns. Crap, the bike isn't going to work. Losing too much air. Maybe a lap goes by as the tire slowly bleeds out everything it has. Bumps are bumpier, and I start to come close to riding the rim. Turns are totally sketchy, and I feel like I'm on the verge of rolling the tire off at any second. Not good, this is not good.

So I come up to the barrier area where the team tent is setup and I start yelling "pit bike!"

Nothing. I'm looking at Utah and he has this look on his face like, "I see you saying something, but I have no idea what."

Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!
Pit bike!

Finally, I think Brad or Pearl or maybe Utah figures it out and Utah runs over to the pit. Unfortunately I am past the pit by the time he gets there, and I have to go another 1/3 of a lp before I get to the other side. This is where we coin the term "bleeding". 

Bleeding: Dropping from 16th to 22nd in 1/3 of a lap when riding on a mostly flat tire. However, I will say that we executed one of the cleanest pits in the history of MTBNJ, at least when not involving Fred and Ben. Well Fred riding, and Ben pitting. This was a solid pit, and I felt like we got this as right as we could. I get back on the bike and hear Mandi yell for me to get back up there. 

I try. I really do. As you can see, I'm in a No Man's Land here...

But it's hard, I'm sort of sitting in this purgatory where you can't gain on anyone and nobody can gain on you and you're starting to hurt but it still feels good and you're having fun but you want to try to get that guy but he's just out of reach and this hill leading up to the S/F is so damn steep and...

4 laps to go? Ugh. 

So we go 4 more laps. I try to ride at this point with no brakes most of the time. While this is undoubtedly fun, I almost eat it several times before I come to the conclusion that I need to be a little more selective in how I apply, or do not apply, my brakes. This is all well and good until I wind up finally washing out my front and landing in the dirt right before the barriers. Naturally this is where everyone is spectating, and everyone loves this, and yells at me. I get up and do my best to run it out through the barriers and up the hill.

At the top, Rich Bauch (Colavita) tells me I might not want to do that so often. I reply, "I'm here for your entertainment." Someone laughs somewhere. 

In the last lap I am trying to catch the guy in 21st and also hold off 2 of the guys behind me. I am giving it all I have, and I think I have it covered. Not sure if I can catch 21 but as I round the corner to the end of the race, I tap the brakes brake pads overshoot the brake track, get locked underneath it, and my bike promptly goes from 15 to 2 mph. I lightly pedal the bike, do more or less nothing, then say screw it and get off. I get passed by 3 more people.

I throw the bike on my shoulder and run the rest of the race. I cross the line, drop the bike, and stop right there. This isn't exactly how the race is supposed to go. But sometimes it does. I look up, and Kelly Cline is sitting there looking at me with that face, that one that sort of says, "Been there, at least you finished. What can you do?" I shrug my shoulders and mention something about the brake. As much as I want to throw the bike, it won't help. So I don't.

Overall, 25th. Given that I dropped 6 spots before the pit and 3 at the end, I'll take it. Not an ideal race but if you're going to have a mechanical, might as well line them all up in 1 day and get them out of the way. 

So...Fair Hill? I guess we'll see. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Providence 2 Day CX Festival, by Norm

Here I am, back for another cross recap. I won't be the first nor the last person to talk about the Providence weekend. But I may very well be the most mediocre, at least this week. Let me say, cross racing in the NJ series is fun and playful. The MAC is business. This like international politics, or more specifically, like 1980's Cold War Era politics. Hard, fast, and intense.

Ok, so that analogy isn't really very airtight. But I think you get what I'm saying. If they remake Red Dawn into a movie about cross races, this is where they'll be for field research. What I'm trying to say is this. This #^@% is real. No, I mean like for real.

Why go?

The short answer to this question is either "just because" or "why not?" The long answer to this question is because Eric & Allison invited me up, as they occasionally go to this race. And really I have no reason not to. Well, the driving, the tiring weekend, the expense...but you have to live a little, which is what this season is all about. Plus, once in a while it's nice to line up against national-level racers and see what you bring to the table.

As you'll soon see, in this metaphor I bring very little. Maybe like a napkin, or a pepper shaker, to the King's feast. Maybe I'm the meal.

So Friday night I pack up the car and start my journey to Providence. To be exact, we were going past Providence to the Cape, to our secret weekend hideout where Allison's family occasionally spends the summer weekends. I planned on talking about the wonderful phenomenon that is Connecticut traffic. But, you know, I'm not going to outline something that is already well-known, which is that 95 stinks. Traffic is a given, like dung heaps in a cow pasture.

Late Friday night, we get to our destination. A foreshadowing note: I have not had to pee in at least 6 hours. So I re-hydrate with 3 beers. This makes sense, right? I also have a PBJ sandwich right before bed. I'm a pro at this. Trust me.

Day 1

I wake up and this is what I see out the back window:

In the end, one could make an argument that I should have stayed right there. But I don't, and we are off to the races a bit after 7:00, which brings us to the venue at a very early 7:53, at which point Allison rushes out to do a pre-ride lap, as her race is at 10:00. I don't remember if I did a lap then or not. But in all, I do 4 laps, and sit on the trainer for a bit. See last week's recap for my thoughts on how exciting this is.

How do I feel today? Flat. Just like Baltimore day #1. These long drives seem to leave me wrung out, and spit to the curb. Not a great way to start a race against the toughest field I have ever done. I am lining up with guys who are competitive in the MAC UCI races. Why am I here? I...don't have a good answer to that question.

Recently we have been talking about race starts on the team forum, and I am generally of the opinion that how you feel that day more or less dictates how you will start. Feel good? You'll easily sit in the envelope and hit the first turn. Feel like crap? You'll hang on like some tin cans tied to the bumper of the El Camino after a low-rent wedding.

Today, I am the tin can. All I am missing in this pic is the string attaching me to the bumper. Witness:

This was a tough race for me. One can only be left to wonder why, but things are what they are. At one point, the guy numbered 509 (9th seed in the race) is in front of me and I am about to pass. He decides he has had enough, and pulls off the course. To use the word jealous here does not do justice to how much I wanted to follow him. Again, witness that wonderful picture above to get an idea.

The course has 4 things of note. The first is a flyover, which you can see here. That's Fat Marc at the top:

Marc races the MAC 35+ with me, and we often spend some of the race together. In general, it goes like this:

* Marc starts fast, I do not
* In about 3 laps, I start to reel him in for good
* I pass him and sometimes make it stick, depending how I feel

Today I made it stick, but barely. The other course features were a set of man-made barriers, a set of 2 steps that were possibly rideable (I ran them in day 1, rode in day 2), and some concrete steps. The course was a mix of many things, some fun flow, punchy climbs, and of course turns and grass and painful accelerations out of the corners.

In the end, I am almost lapped by the junior winner, who started a few minutes before us. I cross the line before him but they pull me anyway. This is all well & good, since everyone behind me got lapped and the last lap would have been some form of torture as devised at Guantanamo Bay. I am content to not add a gratuitous lap to my race to prolong my agony.

I finish 39th, but they do not officially score me for whatever reason. That's fine, since nobody needs to know how badly I did. We can just keep that between you & I, dear reader.

That night, we eat lots of wonderful food, have a few drinks, and I saw a small mini-pint of ice cream in half to enjoy with Allison. Eric was too busy checking to pay much mind to our ice cream needs. So he lost out.

Day 2

Day 2 always begs some tough questions like... I really want to get out of bed?
...where am I again?
...why do I do this to myself?
...wait, really, where am I?

...and so on. Sunday morning brings nothing new in this front. But I sleep in a little bit, then eat some apple pie for breakfast. I drop some Greek yogurt on top to give it the ice cream effect. It's good. I highly recommend pie for breakfast. This is cross after all, it totally goes. I decided to skip the beer for breakfast. Too Jim Morrison-ish.

Despite the dire forecast of cold, rain, mud, and general carnage, the day is crisp, clear, and beautiful.

I do feel better this morning. I don't know what that means, given the nature of these fields. Something I forgot to mention yesterday is this. The fields here are way stronger, but for some reason not nearly as deep. It's sort of like Battenkill in a way. People don't show up to race unless they belong, or have delusions that they think they belong. The top 50 guys are strong, then there are a few end-pack guys. But the usual pack fodder does not show, so you don't have the luxury of beating 50+ guys by default who don't belong. It's like every one of these guys is a seasoned cross racer.

Anyway, my start is better today, and I'm with the envelope fairly easily. I see Eric a few racers ahead, Marc, and...wait, who is this on the ground? Maurice? That's so odd. I pass him. So in consecutive weekends I have been ahead of both Roger Aspholm and Maurice. Odd, but I'll take it.

Like last week, he shortly passes me. And like last week, I try to stay on his wheel. I do a reasonable job for a while, but then...

My chain falls. This is kind of a mistake on my part. On the concrete steps I was in the small ring, and accidentally knocked it off on the run-up. This costs me 5 spots, and of course buckets of lost dignity as this is a crossing/observing spot. And given the road section is right here, I should have pre-shifted to the big ring to be ready for it. I won't call it a rookie mistake. But this is not something you should be doing in the 35+.

I felt good in this one. So then my chain fell off again, but this time got wedged between the chainring and frame. That was awesome. I'm pretty sure at least 618 people passed me here. I am frustrated now, but really there's not a lot I can do. I swear a few times, which does nothing. Eventually I get the chain out and back on, after swearing a few more times. I think swearing at bicycle parts, especially on a cross bike, is like playing classical music to your plants to help make them grow.

I then ride it out and try to catch a guy who I have already passed twice. Where is the justice in this? I don't manage to catch him, but we do sprint at the end of the race. I have to qualify the word "sprint" here, as what we were doing likely looked similar to the old people who walk the mall in the morning. I'm sure my average speed went down on the sprint. It was laughable.

Anyway, I finish 33rd, and actually get scored in this one. If I give myself a minute for the 2 dropped chains, that would get me to 20th, which is where I would have hoped to be. But I can't give myself a minute, so for the sake of making myself feel better, I'll say the dropped chain cost me 5 minutes, and I should have won the race.

Seems fair, no?

In the end, I never did get to meet Molly, which is a shame because I was looking forward to it. But it turns out that we went to the same college and grew up like 5 miles from each other, albeit 16 years apart, roughly. Small world, when it comes down to it. Though like some famous comic once said, I wouldn't want to paint it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Norm Does the Whirlybird

Whirlybird 2012, race #5 in the 2012 version of the MAC series, which is a mere 8 races this year for no good reason. Where are we? We are in Bensalem, PA. For those not intimately familar with this place, it's kinda not really anywhere. Regardless, I get to not really anywhere in about an hour from my parent's place up the river in PA, near Easton. At this god awful time of day, it only takes an hour. Getting home would be another story, which I wont tell here other than to say it can be summed up in a few words: cars & traffic lights. We've all been there.

I've set a goal for myself this year, to finish top 10 in the 35+ class in the MAC series. Now most people who do a series know that more often than not, the series is over after 2-3 races, and only 5 guys will end up doing the whole thing. But the 35+ is different. And people seem to keep going in this one. A top 10 would be an accomplishment, at least for this guy. I came into the series 15th, and managed to draw bib #110, putting me in the second row in the starting grid. With some of my competition up at Glouctester today, I know that things will be a little thinner in this race. But the bulk of the series leaders are there, which I guess at this point includes me, for better or worse. 

So...since the series is my main goal this year, I came into this week off the Charm City double and did exactly zero rides this week. I put this in I Am Ted King's category of eating salad as a pre-race meal, listening to NPR on the warmup, and doing jumping jacks before your race. You know, sometimes life gets in the way. Life can be good like that. So we show up to the race, possibly the MAC race where I will have my best shot at a top 10, in absolutely no form, with no miles in my legs, and severely underslept. I did drink 2 beers the night before, since it was National Drink Beer Day and all. So I had that going for me. Which...well, you know. 

But first, the team circus tent gets put up:

Yes, that is me sitting down with the blue hat on, doing absolutely nothing to warm up for the race. I figure, if you're going to something poorly, might as well do something poorly with absolute authority. Shortly after this picture was taken, I eat 4 fat-free fig newtons. I don't know what that has to do with anything. But it may help complete the puzzle. I also ate 2 PB & bagel sandwiches at 8:00 am. My race was at noon. I guess I had some coffee this morning too. You're writing all this down, right? No? Well that's ok, I got you covered. 

So to warmup, I do the following:

2 warm laps before the C race at 9
1 warm lap before the 45/55 race at 10
1 hot lap before the women's race at 11
Then I sit on the trainer until I get bored, maybe 20 minutes? I forget. It was boring. 

Note: after the first lap, the lack of an actual "whirylbird" is evident. So this means that 50% of the MAC series is now misnamed, HPCX & 2xNittany being the others. No matter, it has all the elements of a cross race, namely grass, tape, barriers, and 2 miles of course in an area that does not seem able to support that long of a course. So we're good. Titles are superficial anyway. 

Flashing back to Charm City the week race on day #1 was pretty poor, and I had come off a rest week, and did nothing really to warm up. So instead of doing more or less nothing, I warmup up properly today, both before and after eating the newtons. I drank some water and scientifically constructed sports drink at various points beetween 8 and 12. And I had 2 GUs. Given that I am up over 180 pounds right now, I figure those 50 grams of sugar are going to make or break my day. I consider eating 16 more, but decide I'm still going to need to fit into that dress come Monday morning when I need to go to work. 

I wheel the pit bike over and Lance offers to tend the pit for me, which is nice. I get to the start grid and do a few race starts, and check out the prolog a bit. Then I do some circles like you will often see 10-15 minutes before the start of these races. Before long, enough of us have congregated and the officials blow whistles, look at their clipboards, say the same things we've all heard 243 times, and line us up to start the race. I am in the second row, all the way to the left. Roger Aspholm is in the same row, 2 riders to my right. I have as much of a right to be lining up with Roger as I have being on the court with Michael Jordan. I actually used to have a solid 3 point shot. So maybe I actually belong on court more than this starting line. 

No matter, you get the point. 

You may be thinking at this point, boy, this is awfully long for not even having started the race yet. Just hold on, it gets less exciting soon enough. 

The whistle blows, and I feel really good, so I mash and stick up close to the top 10, which has been really hard for me so far this year. Either the warm-up is working, I'm getting used to this, or the week of not riding and staying up too late is some sort of magic potion to good race starts. I'm opting for the latter. 

Soon I am on Roger's wheel, and I stick there as long as I can. This lasts about half a lap or so. When Roger zigs, I zig. When Roger zags, I zag. But when some douche flies up and dives a corner, slams into Roger, and knocks him to the ground, I decide not to fall down and follow him here. I ride on and pass Roger. Not for long, but I pass him nonetheless. I think I am sitting in 14th at this point. 

Soon, Roger passes me, and I try to jump on his wheel again. It works for a little bit, but his acceleration out of corners is too much for me. I do end up sitting on some other guy's wheel for quite a while, and figure I'm content there, as I think I am going to be able to keep him in sight, and the waiting game of him cracking will pay off eventually. 

But that never happens. Somewhere in the second lap he gaps me a little out of a corner, and I can't respond. He manages to bridge up to a Kissena guy, and they work together for a while, basically keeping a 6 second gap on me for what feels like forever. At the end of lap 2, they have firmly established that 6 second gap. I am in 15th. 

Lap 3, nothing happens.

Lap 4, nothing happens. 

Lap 5, nothing happens. 

Lap 6, nothing happens. But Chris does inform me, "The guy ahead of you is an hour ahead. The guy behind you is an hour behind. Just ride it out."

So I ride it out. And I finish 15th. This is my best result in the MAC series to date. I came into the series in 15th, and 5 guys did not show. I figure this can only help my series standings overall. Maybe I get lucky and jump up to 13th after today. Or who knows, maybe 12th if I get more lucky. I guess we'll see in a few days when the series standings come out. I'm sure you'll all be waiting at the edge of your collective seats. 

So the moral of the story is this: don't ride, drink wine (yeah I left that out), stay up late, and have your best result of the year. I...hesitate to suggest everyone run out and do this. But science is science. And this is the data I have. Make of it what you will. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nittany Cross Weekend in Photos

MTBNJ had a huge gathering of people this weekend at the Trexlertown Veledrome for The Nittany CX Weekend. Good weather and a great course made for a great 2 day event. Words don't really describe these events well; You have to be here to enjoy them. Photos help though:

ChrisRU railing the corners on Day 2. Much drier grass meant much faster race.

The MTBNJ tent in full swing on Day 1. Also doubled as a daycare for some. Base of operations had many special guest appearances.

Norm suffered a bad start at Day 2, but picked his way through the pack for a great finish.

Gotta eat; In between laps in the pits with Pearl and Norm.

Ilya had a messed up chain on Day 2, but finished strong.

Jeremy and Pearl on Day 1 found the way to the main group, but only one finished with it.

Robin and Melissa in the mix.

The CX ladies after the 3/4 race on Day 2.

Allison seemed to be passing someone every lap on both days.

Eric stylin' over the infamous Nittany log feature on Day 2.

Jeremy over the barriers on Day 1.

4'11 and barriers? No problem. Mandi throwing her bike to the moon!

Note the shades; Mandi was in a tight battle the whole race with Michelle Lee; Great racing by both!

ChrisRU, Pearl and Brad on the only real climb of Day 2.
Brad on the run up; With two great finishes over the weekend.

Norm up and over; floating.

The highlight of the day is here, Capers on Day 2 uses his bike as a machete to cut through the competition.

Jeremy touched the podium both days, 2nd on Day 2.

One thing about cross is the whole weekend is a blast. Spending quality time with your buddies after you suffered for 40 minutes is what this whole sport is about. The MTBNJ tent will head south to Baltimore, MD for the second stop in the MAC Series, Charm City. Others will travel north for the Westwood CX race up in Harriman, NY. Where will you be?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Two Ways to Bearscat

Why do people do this ? I have no idea, there is a point at every endurance race I've done where I think to myself I should not sign up for a race like this again. Sure enough though, as soon as they are over I can't wait for the next one. Yesterday's race was much more brutal than last year's. The course was awesome and Black Bear put on an awesome event, but the conditions were rugged. So it goes.

Day started off beautiful. Slightly cool, sunny, and seemingly perfect for a race. Endurance races always seem more low key before hand, I love the vibe. People aren't as "in the zone" warming up and things seem more laid back than other formats. The game plan was to go self supported for the race. With the 2 laps I would only stop at my cooler on the lap turn to swap out supplies. That meant carrying 2 bottles of Gu Brew on the bike and 1 bottle of water on my back. For foods I went with Gu Chomps and Gels. I got my shit together and just rolled around until the meeting.

I was a little late to lineup so I was towards the back. I've done enough of these to know your either out front or stuck in the caravan that ends up forming as the trails bottleneck the field. I wasn't planning on going out hard, but as the horn blow the pace wasn't too hot so I was able to work my way through the crowd and get through some traffic early. I settle in line as things start to gum up. Coming up to first section that bobbles people up (the right hand turn into a muddy/armored section) there is a long line of people seemingly happy to wait their turn to get through. I decide to be a bit aggressive and just ride around everyone. I probably passed about 20 people here. Similar story at the rock bridge, people were fumbling around so I just shouldered the bike and jogged my way through advancing a few places.

To my surprise, traffic was pretty much non-existent after the bridge. It was also very apparent early on that this was going to be a slick and muddy race. My feet were completely soaked through within the first few miles. For the first lap I found myself riding on and off with the same 2 guys, we chatted on and off trading spots repeatedly. We would fall out of contact then end up crossing paths again. Having contact with other racers helped to keep things moving along. I tried to race smart, I didn't bother killing myself grinding though stuff, and opted to walk some short sections if I thought it would be more efficient. I was able to clean most everything I decided to ride, only getting hung up a few times. Overall I thought my first lap was really uneventful. I thought I paced solidly and felt good. I reach the road for the lap turn. I'm pedalling along all dumb and happy, then BAM!, I almost get knocked off my bike. Without warning, my legs cramped up so bad I almost ate it. I think to myself its way to early for this, as I spin the rest of the way to my cooler. Swap out my supplies, pound a can of coke, and off I go.

As I head back into the woods I look at my Garmin and see that my first lap was 3 hours. Wow. I wasn't expecting any stellar results but was hoping to be a bit quicker than that, I now knew that I was in for a really long day. The conditions were just a killer on keeping any speed up and I was battling to keep the cramps away. The trails were greasy, rocks were slick, and the fire roads didn't offer much relief as they were bombed out with deep mud and bike swallowing bodies of water.

I somehow managed to keep things steady on the second lap. I was definitley feeling fatigued, spinning up the short punchy climbs that rather than attacking them, and not being able to keep my speed as high through the flats like I was on the first lap. I did an ok job eating and drinking the first lap, but I don't think I ate enough and was now paying for it. At some point the skys starting looking pretty ominous, and thunder could be heard. Sure enough, it began raining on and off, and did so for much of the second lap. I didn't really mind the rain, I was already soaked so it didn't matter much.

The first half of the lap went quickly, but I found myself bordering on zombie mode after passing the aid station. The aid station to finish seemed to go on forever. I was mostly by myself at this point, but got some mental relief by being joined by Mitch for a brief spell, and then Liong a bit later. I was happy to only be passed by those two and one other rider between the aid station and finish. After what seems like an eternity, I finally hit the pavement again, and even though no one is near me, I make what I think is a strong finish. There are alot of friendly faces along the road cheering me on down the home stretch, which was awsome. As I cross the line, its 6 hours and 23 minutes since I started. Good enough for 37th out of 109 starters.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Iggy Does the Bearscat

Me and Kirt role into Wawayanda at about 7:45 am, for those keeping score at home this is my 9th race this year. They park us along the road heading toward the beach area. This makes for a very convenient pit as you make the turn of the lap. Not having to drag my 500 lb. cooler two miles up the road made me very happy. Also it gives you the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, when you're done your race and changing out of your bib shorts you can stand there bare assed and cheer other racers on at the same time.

The warm up is more about trying to calm the jitters before the race then about getting the legs ready to tear into the single track. We are gonna be on our bikes for over 5 hrs. After some race instruction by Jeff we line up by category and start the 50.

The open men go off first and then us 45+ guys start 5 minutes behind them. Me and teammate Clapper stay together with the plan to keep it dialed back at tempo on the flats and fire road climbs but push a little in the tech stuff to flow through the rocks. This worked until about pickle were the course began to get gummed up with guys off there bikes. With Clapper behind me I was riding aggressively yelling UP UP as I approached people fumbling through rocky sections. UP UP is my nice way of saying get out of my way and it seemed to work. I made it through pickle and rattlesnake cleanly but when I looked back Clapper was not with me any longer.

Kris Weber became my riding partner up rattlesnake, he made an Aerosmith reference when he mumbled rattlesnake shake. At the time I just heard him say Aerosmith rattlesnake. Aerosmith Chip Away at the Stone would have been more accurate at wayway. For the record Mama Kin is my favorite Aerosmith song. Ok lets move on.

So me and Weber are trading places back and forth for like the next 10 miles. Coming into sitting bear I decide to thrown it down, its so much fun bombing down into it in this direction. I've done this section enough times to know the lines but still dab in a few spots. Coming out of sitting bear and heading toward the aid station I put a gap on Weber and a few others that I was riding with. These guys find me again on the climb up red, my chain popped off when I downshifted and they pedalled by me.

I put the chain back on the ring and continue the climb up red behind Weber and crew. At the top I decide to pull out ahead and bomb the downhill, another section I know well and feel confident with carrying speed. As I take off Kris stays right behind me all the way to the bottom and as we make the hard right to the punchy climb I hear Weber yell from behind me have a good race Chris I'm out. But at first I didn't know what the hell he said. After I continued on and realized he wasn't behind me my brain pieced together Weber's message. After the race he told me he double flatted, bummer.

Alone again I roll the rest of the way solo and finally come to the start finish. The last few miles of the lap seem to drag on forever, its always more fun when you're riding with someone. At the start of the next lapped I rolled along with one of the VTC/Bike tech guys, I didn't get his name. But it made the time go quicker and we pushed a good tempo pace to keep from lagging on the second lap. We stayed together until the climb up to lookout, at the top my VTC friend was not in sight so I bombed down and headed toward pickle.

This time this section hurt more, I didn't have the energy to power through the tech stuff and had to dial it back. Pickle then the climb up rattlesnake took a lot more effort then the 1st lap. Despite the fatigue I felt no cramps and was still passing people along the way.

There were sections on the course that I saw no one for awhile and I would panic until I saw an arrow indicating that I am was going the right way. Occasionally I encouterd hikers that seemed befuddled. One woman asked me inquisitively as I rode by Is this the end ? Not knowing what to say I shot back just as inquisitivley of the world?

Finally I caught up to someone in team colors, Santalucia. 26er is a real good technical rider but his tank was running low and I ended up passing him. As encoragement he gave me a heart felt fuck you as I passed. This seemed to work, passing 26er made me feel good. He also told me Kirt was about 1 or 2 minutes up the trail and he didn't think there were many 45+ guys up ahead. Suddenly there seemed like light at the end of the tunnel.

So with thoughts of placing well in 45+ in my head I continued on through fisherman's with renewed vigor. Coming out of the turn I hit the gas and my chain just went clunk. I looked down and saw my derailleur dragging on the ground and in and instant my strong finish was smashed. Game over.

I walked out to the fire road and wished 26er luck as he passed me and I stood there with my useless bike. I took note of the time and waited for the next 45+ guy to come through so I would be able to reference myself with his finish. Clapper rolled by me 9 minutes later, which was good enough for him to get 4th place at the finish line.

So I guess I would have finished 4th if I didn't break my derailleur, but I guess a lot of other guys who had mechanicals could have also said the same thing. oh well. The funny thing is with very little endurance training this year I was pretty much putting in the same finish I had as last year, 4th place. The thing that helped me this year was I felt a lot more comfortable in the tech stuff. I really enjoy the big 25mile laps as well, it feels like your going on an adventure when you start the lap. I wish they had this race again in the fall, it sucks that I have to wait until next year to do this again.

Congrats Clapper

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Norm's Jungle

I'm a roadie prick. You know this. 

They say the first step in addressing any problem is admitting it. I say they're out to lunch, and the first step in addressing any problem is to open a beer and think about it, preferrably on the deck or patio. If your problem just so happens to be beer, then drink wine or something. Don't ask me, I just try to ponder as much as possible these days. 

Ok, let's rewind a bit. Well, let's see. First the Earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil. And then the Arabs came and they bought Mercedes Benzes.

Wait, too far. Let's go back to the winter, when Utah said he wanted to peak for Jungle. We never bring up the W word. W implies you have more control of the situation that you do. When it comes down to it, you are merely a P. That would be pawn, in game of life. Like Mongo. You can only work hard, line things up, and step up to the line on race day. Most of the rest is up to chance. So the W word never comes up. But you can try to have things lined up for that single day. never know. 

So Utah's goal is Jungle, and as many of you either know or have figured out, I've been moving around the chess pieces on his board for a while now. This is his big day, so I want to show support and be there for him. This all begins a few weeks back when we go for a pre-ride of what we think the course may look like. 

In the rain.

I had the SS that day and felt fine. It was our Tuesday ride which I'm used to by now. I seem to ride well on Tuesdays, which is funny, because most of you know that in general Tuesday sucks. Fast forward to the weekend, 1 week before the race. We meet again, this time with RU, young Rob, Jeremy, and Matty. Rob brought me an greatly undersized Jet 9 which I hated, then I did a lap on my SS which I hated some more. We knew the course by now and rode what the race was going to be. 

After 2 laps, I was done. That night at the team gathering I declared I was out of this race. It made no sense. Why would I do this? Like I said in the start, I'm a roadie prick. Rocks and trees and stuff? No chance, this course will kick my ass. And what am I thinking riding an SS at this race? That's just asinine. I can support in a lawn chair. 

Ok, so my race is over before it begins. But then this guy in Japan says that he'll make a deal. If he flies back the day before and races at 9:00 am, I have to race. Fine, I can't argue that. I'll bring the gears, dumb down expectations, and just try to make it a hard training ride. We pre-ride the course again, but this time I have gears, and I admit to Utah the gears make a big difference. In the back of my mind, expectations & goals start to build up. This happens. When we're not pondering on the patio, we usually think too much. 

I promise there's a race in here, somewhere.

We watch the cat 2s go off real quick, then head back to the cars to sit down for a few minutes.

Right before we roll we talk to Mike, Utah's biggest nemesis coming into the race. Shortly after we do a full lap pre-ride with Pearl. At his request, I do my best to keep Utah's mouth from ruining his pre-game, and we get out at about 9:35, which brings us back to the lot with about 10 minutes to spare. I want to be warm, and Utah is up for the long warm-up. I suffer from bad starts usually, and tend to warm-up too little. So I want to make this one longer than normal. In the end, it's just an experiment.

We go off as the 4th class, and I think Lombardo is gone before I cross the start line. For as much as I saw him they may have started him on the course. Our class is deep, which is why I have no expectations on much of anything here. I want a top 10, which seems a reasonable goal for me. This is only the second time racing this bike, and my first non-SS race of the year. With the deep class maybe top 10 isn't reasonable, but I don't care.

I get on Bill Romolino's wheel to start and on the fire road pass him, then get into Warthog in maybe 10th or so. The start hurts, but not as much as usual. Once in the woods I do my best to just follow a wheel, as I find that this keeps you on your game better. By the end of Warthog I am at the back of a fairly long train, and I see Pearl ahead and he pulls over to let us go. He was going to try to hold me off all race, but he only had a 1 minute head start, not 2.

In the back of my mind I'm wondering who the first 30-39 racer is that will catch me. As I pass Luke, he is floored that I am ahead of Utah, which makes me laugh. Or blow a kiss, or whatever I did.

All of the small spots that were tripping me up on the various pre-rides were not an issue today. The tight left that kicked me off every time, the first turn into Otter Slide, the big rock wedged in between the trees - none of these are an issue. Pre-riding is good. The only thing that got me was the end of that Tiger Pit, or whatever that uber rocky thing at the end was called. Cleaned it every time but the gravel at the end got me every single lap. Stupid gravel.

Anyway, as I turn on to Boon on the first lap, I hear Utah behind me, "YOU GOT THIS!"

Right, no pressure there. I do clean it and somehow gap him a little bit. We ride out the ST to the pavement and talk a little. He tells me he's pushing too hard, and I tell him to dial it back and make sure he paces properly. He says he will, then continues to push too hard by jumping ahead.  I ride his wheel most of the rest of the lap. The rocky Tiger Pit end-lip gets me, and he gets a small gap, which he holds through the lap.

As I ride through the S/F I get some yells and comments about how close to Utah I am. Well, at least for 1 lap. I know I won't be able to maintain this and he will. But for a lap, hey look, here I am!

At the end of Warthog I engage in what I would call a little team strategy. I know Utah is out ahead, and he's being chased by Mancuso and another guy. So the longer I can stay ahead of him, the more likely Utah stays out ahead. At the base of Otter Slide Steve asks me in perhaps the kindest tone if I could find a chance to let him by. He also admits that it's not a great place to pass.

I do my best to stay on my bike and hold them off. I manage to stay in front all the way up to the top, but they eventually get by and I follow them for a bit after that.

Roll through lap 2 with less fanfare than lap 1.

At the start of Warthog I catch 26er, who I had been seeing on & off for a while. He does his best to hold me off, but eventually he overcooks a line and ends up in the weeds. He gives up the fight there and pulls over and lets me go. As I pass he says, "Keep at it, Frank is right up ahead."

Me, like an idiot, "Really?"


Ok ok, eat me. I keep riding, my legs hurt. Up Otter Slide, my legs hurt more and almost-sorta want to cramp. I go past Luke and he tells me I'm catching Utah. Uh oh, not good. I was afraid he cooked too much to start, but I hope he's got enough of a gap to hold it.

As I run over the pipe, I know that 26er is behind me and is a solid 30 seconds behind me by now. At this point I know I just need to roll it out clean to hold server. I dial it back so I don't end up in the weeds, and roll out the lap. Other than the stupid Tiger Pit gravel, I ride it clean & easy, and roll through the S/F.

I see Utah and ask, he shakes his head yes. He managed to hold it off, which is awesome. I end up 8th in a deep field, so I'm happy. I roll it out a bit with Iggy, then get dressed and hang out with the crew before heading home.

But I'm still a roadie prick. Who likes to ponder.

Monday, May 21, 2012


As hannibal liked to say...I like it when a plan comes together.  And truth be told, today was all a plan, put together many months ago....Every detail thought out at mental patient level.  From my diet, to training, to my new bike....the goal was to win this race.  Everything else was secondary.  So by the time today came I had run every turn on this course, every rock, every tree, 1000 times.  I certainly wasnt sure that I could win it, but I was sure that I had done every bit of homework possible. 

This past week or so with the company of my team I think I did around 8 or so pre ride laps and initially i was pretty bummed about the removal of goat and animal chute.  They are classic jungle death trails and once you master them, your ability to gap people in this race can be staggering.  I felt that the real hard stuff was missing today and the harder the course is, the better for me.  That said, it was still a great course and the road sections were pretty minimal and the majority of the course was my idea of a XC race. 

So as I have mentioned many times in the past, Norm has been my go to for training advice and this week I really followed everything to the letter.  Soon as I got on the bike this morning to start warming up, I felt as good as I ever have for a race.  Norm, Pearl and I rolled around for a full lap to warm up and all systems were go. 

Chat with the current king of my class Mike Merrit.  He murdered blue and waywayanda with little or no pre riding so I feel I still have a pretty big task ahead of me today. He told me how he had never ridden at jungle before, ever. This usually is not a good formula for JH. Its just not like any other h2h course.  Its brutal hell and there is a huge difference between doing everything on the course and doing everything at race pace. 

Headed over to the start and lined up.  This time we are lined up behind 40-49, 19-29, SS and Pro.  Not a huge fan of this.  Jungle is not the easiest place to pass at and with the tech section you tear though groups of people in minutes.   So anytime, prep time is over...KILL!!!!!

We rocket off, someone stands up and pulls off the front, mike drops in, then Steve, then me.  Pace is now death.  We hit the fire road leading to the parking lot and the leader pulls off leaving Mike, Steve and I.  No idea who is behind me and for the first time in a cat 1 race, I could give a shit...I see that mike is heading for the hard left into warthog at 110mph and since he hasnt ridden it before, this is going to get ugly.  He loses the front end into the turn, but recovers quickly.  We are now all wheel to wheel as we hit the ST. 

Instantly we hit traffic and this is about the worst place to pass.  Its monumentally important in the first 10min of a race to NOT let the leader gap you and fall off his wheel.  Mike gets a couple of breaks and steve and I are struggling a bit to make our way though.  Props to steve though, he was all over everyone and moving everyone out of the way in rapid form.  And really I dont like doing this, but nothing was going to stop me from letting go of mikes wheel....thus I did trade a bit more paint that usual today.

Steve lets me by after a few min and I make my way to mikes wheel.  The pace is super hard, but im feeling ok.  I made a stupid move and passed someone in the weeds that would not move over...this knocked me off my bike for a second and caused my chain to drop.  Really dumb and could have ended my day.  Steve repasses me and I know have to peg it to catch back up. 

Into the rocks we are now well into the 19-29 guys and im really struggling to make my way around and stay with mike.  Mike is also have no trouble clearing whatever is in front of him with zero mistakes.  Im thinking any tech advantage I might have could be moot....but otterslide is coming. 

We hit the base and im close behind, steve right behind me.  Mike has to run the start of the second switchback, but a gang of walkers keeps me from passing.  I stay close and get ready to attack. Next switch back, mike has to jump off and thats it, I dropped the hammer.  Put my head down and blew though the remaining part of the climb like I have done countless times.  I see Iggy and let him know that I just got the lead...He cheers me on then sends me by. By the time I hit the tanks, i have opened a gap. 

Rip the downhill hard!  Pass Kirt who also cheers me on, then soon see Norm up ahead.  about this time I look down and in 20min, my ave hr is now 170...this is nuts and will never hold.  Im glad I did run into norm when i did because I could really use his level head right now.  And Norm delivers as he usually does.  I need to switch from insano CX pace, back to xc pace and this is not easy when you are being chased.  I stay with him for a bit and try to ease up.  We stay together until near the end of lap one, then i pull away a bit. 

Hit the lap button
31:35....christ...nearly 5min faster than my fastest pre ride lap...Just goes to show you what race pace does. 
Ave HR 169.  Highest ever for a lap 1 for me.

I dont blow up like I used to anymore, but it was clear that I just drilled it at level stupid for 30min and now im going to have pay for that.  I look back and I cant see anyone that looks to be in my I try to ease up and calm it down.  I pass Victor on the pavement and he latches onto my wheel though warthog.  Kept it very clean and smooth this time and vic is keeping me pushing.  Pass 26er and Eddie V who both give me props and send me on my way. and asshole I catch my bar, then fork on a sapling on the side of the trail and literally have to get off my bike and yank it off of it.  Im fuming, angry utah pissed off now.  Hate this...stupid mistakes that i assume are costing me tons of time.  Anyway, I soon get my shit back together and hit the climb.  Im really feeling the pain now...I pass luke and im pretty certain that if there is anyone on my tail, im now powerless to respond.  Pace is still ok, but im well into the pain cave. 

The downhill and following flats help me out a bit and I try to take it nice and easy for the rest of the lap. 

Hit lap 3...lost a couple min, but still a solid 33:30 lap.  So back of my head now is 30 or so more min of pain and its over.  My legs have now gone from pain to numb and this helps.  I make it to warthog still in the clear.  Chris Ledonne lets me by at the start and I had a very clean, very smooth ride though this section. 

Last time up otterslide and im in massive amounts of pain, but I still keep it clean.  I look down at some point and see who I think is Mike Ahearn.  Hes a ways down the hill, but im doing the math and I think its maybe 30sec to a min?  No idea, but that was it for me.  Locked out the fork, stood up and drilled it.  I caught falcon on the top of the big drop and tried to stay right with him. 

I pass and tell him to stay with me.  He sticks right to my wheels and helps me greatly though the final 15min of the race.  Yelling at me to pedal whenever I let up a bit and keeping my head in the game.  By this time, im quite miserable and im thinking to myself that I never ever want to do another race again....usual stuff.  The pain cave is not a fun place.  But falcon is keeping my mind occupied.  Hit the river crossing and I feel like if i can clean this, its over, I got it!  Nailed it perfect!  Hit the hill after and im certain that its over. 

Roll the tunnel and finally....VICTORY!!!! (thanks for the pic robin!)

So my laps  were  31:35, 33:31, 33:35.  Not sure how I matched 2-3 together, but whatever.
Finally!  Its been since ringwood in 2009 since I got to stand on top of a podium.  Since then, 2 brutal years of getting cut to pieces in cat 1.  Not that I ever had any thought of giving up, but many times I have thought "these guys are just too fast and you will never get there"  So it was a great feeling of payoff today for alot of hardwork.

Cant say enough about my team and the part they played in my win today.  Norm helping with training and focusing on what my goal is.  Kirt, Bill, Iggy, Woody, Luke falcon, norm......the whole gang out there all winter putting group rides together.  The A rides, the short track series...all were key to today.  This team really is the best and made up of the best group of people I have ever been a part of. 

thanks for the pic iggy...cant wait to see how miserable I look in lukes pics

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hunting on Hunter, by Glick

Most people associate Hunter Mountain with skiing however Saturday they held the first annual Hunter Mountain Spring Classic Road Race. The same people that do Battenkill, Tour of the Dragons, Tour of the Catskills and a handful of other ultra punishment road races put on this race. 

I shared the ride up with Shawn Ericksen (Elite racing cat3) and Alex Cooper (Tenafly Road Dawgs cat 4) on what was about as perfect weather conditions and as beautifully clear sky as you could have. Sunny clear and cool (60s ish). Walking over to registration I introduce them to my teammates Ben and Kush, as they are both in these guys groups. The overall vibe was really great and I have to think that the weather had everyone in particularly good spirits. I was a bit surprised and glad to see Roger of Fincraft there for his first race since his severe crash last season. Great to see him back in racing action on a bike. 

This race is 80mi, 5k' of climbing and although not super hot it was going to get a little warmer and regardless it’s a long way to go with no water. I was concerned about being short a bottle but I wasn't going to carry 4. Ultimately it didn't turn out to be an issue and they did have a feed station shortly after the lap 2 start where they handed out poland spring bottles and I was able to snag one. Oh that reminds me, as I entered the feed zone at the start of lap 2 I had my empty in my back pocket so I went to toss it off the side of the road by the 300m to go sign so that I knew where to find it later and my toss had such amazing aim that it actually hit the post that the sign was mounted on sending it shooting back like a grenade hitting one of those baseball practice thingys and launching it right back into the pack. I held my breath for a few seconds praying I wasn't about to take everybody down. Yikes.

I'm not going to give a play by play but to summarize, the front of my group stayed together for the most part all the way to the big climb in the second lap which was around 65 miles in. At this point we were down to 7 riders and this is where I began to struggle a bit. For the first time I had to work harder to stay on and sure enough another rider and myself came unhitched not far from the top. This was very physically and mentally frustrating because I knew if I could just hang on for like 15-30 seconds longer I would be able to stay with the lead group probably to the end. Amazing how a race 80 miles long comes down to critical seconds. When we got over this I could see that someone else had popped also and was dangling between the leaders and myself. I worked like a bastard to get to that person fast enough before they totally popped so that we could work together and try and get back on. But as I have experienced so many times this always seems much more possible in your mind than in real life. We chased for 15 miles and were never able to close that down but holy crap was that hard just to maintain that gap of what eventually became like a minute. So close...

 In closing, overall it was a great race experience and I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to do a long road race that has 2 major things going for it logistically: first it is not quite as early in the season as Bkill so you are likely to be in better shape for a big event and second, it is significantly closer to get to than Bkill. Course is also much easier on your body and equipment, there were holes but they were clearly marked, nothing compared to Bkill terrain. In closing, this is likely a not to miss event for the predictable future for me. Oh and lastly can we make arrangements for the same weather next year?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Kirt Rocking it at Waway

Waway. Clapp meet me at my house & we headed up to grab Iggy in Booton. Always better cruising up with people just makes the whole day more complete. Got there early enough to take our time getting ready & warmed up. 

Lap 1

The prologue had me a bit worried but it turned out to be a non-factor. Hit the double track about 2/3 back from the front. The 1st little rocky up & the group is off & walking. Jump back on & decide I need to make a move, really lots of moves. I guess at this point I decide to just go for it. Lap 1 would be my make or break lap & second would be the try & hang on lap. I'm being super aggressive, which is not normally my thing & passing a bunch of people. Finally settle in behind Esteban who I know is always up there in the end. Hang on his wheel for a while, even pass him after Outlook. Didn't last long as he runs by me on 1 of the slimy ups & is gone. Felt good while it lasted. In sitting Bear I get a glimpse of Victor, new target. Get to about 30ft off him close to the S/F & decide to fuel up before I try & make the move. 

Lap 2

Eat my gel (must bring the flask next time, just so much easier) pop a few Sportlegs & I'm off chasing him down again. Climbs & fireroads are uneventful. Come up on JimV at 1 point & crash trying to catch him, ouch #1. Back on the bike & I'm now chasing Jim again. Catch & pass him at 2 Bridges & then he passes me back on the next climb. I try to hang on which is a good thing as he pulls me to within 20 feet of Victor, bad thing is as he passes Victor, Victor try's chase Jim down, big gap again. Damn. We finally get into the ST & I pass Jim 1st as he's off on the rocky up. I'm clean on both & I close to the back of Victor's wheel. I'm riding clean & he is not so he just tells me to pass. Ok I'll take it because my legs didn't want to try a pass. Next I pass Mandell who's off the bike. I had decided at that point I was going to walk the Outlook climb as the cramping is getting worse. Get there & look back & Victor is closing. Damn I have to ride it now & I actually make it. Man did it hurt. I was so spent I crashed on the next rocky DH right in front of TomH (the bike patrol guys), ouch #2. Get back up & keep plugging away. I get to SB & the cramps are starting to get really bad. Mandell rides my wheel for a bit & finally passes. I stay with him until the last climb (MattyB's hangout) & he's gone as are my legs. I'm toast!!! Hit the end & couldn't be happier it's over. 8th out of 25. 2m off 7th & 3 off 6th. Not unhappy with that at all. All the faster guys beat me. I felt like I gave it everything I had & more. I'll keep working hard & hopefully can close the gap a little more each race.

Great seeing & hanging with everyone. I agree the whole scene was so much better with the format change. Congrats to Utah, Alex, Patty, Allison, Eric on the podiums, you guys earned it.