Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tour of Battenkill...


Generally the best way to start off a race day is to wake up before the alarm clock goes off. There is no drudgery wrapped up in the process that reminds you of the daily grind. I did a great job of packing Friday night so the fact that I was up at 5:00 made for a relaxing pre-race morning. I brewed up a pot of super strong and extra dark Peruvian Dark Roast from Cafe Monte Alto and searched the web and Facebag before really locking into race mode. My excitement was growing every second and my hands were already trembly. 

I was out the door at 6:40 setting sail for Cambridge, NY on a very gloomy, raw, wet morning. The drive was fairly inconsequential aside from re-connecting with Nirvana In Utero. I wish I could find a band that was like the second side of that album 24/7. I also finally confirmed my suspicion that The Black Keys album, Brother, changes colors when it gets hot in the CD player. Clearly, I’ve been spending too much time alone lately. The drive over Hogback was pretty adventurous as everything was covered in ice from the previous nights rain. Through Willmington I ascended into the thickest fog I had seen all year. I was paranoid about hitting a moose and spent about fifteen minutes strategizing what I would do if I took one out at fifty mph in zero visibility. 

I arrived in Cambridge with time to spare an found a great parking spot less than a quarter mile from the start. White Stripes Slowly Turning into You raised goose bumps over my entire body which confirmed my readiness for the race. After a port of potty run and packet pick up I was back at my car in time to meet Darren and Charles. We debated the pros and cons of various clothing options before I settled on my final choice. Trademark high black Smart Wool socks, knickers, bib, base layer shirt, jersey, and thin gloves under my cycling cloves. The biggest decision was not wearing a skull cap under the sweet S-Works Evade helmet that Darren was letting me borrow for the day. 

I warmed up on the trainer for twenty minutes and felt great. I didn’t bring my hear rate up as high as I have been at the shorter races because I knew that I was going to be in for a three hour sufferfest. The new SR4 Tarmac christened Leviathan was feeling lethal and stiff. Everything was in place to wreak havoc over the back roads of the Battenkill Valley. We got the car packed up in record time with the extra hands and went through the fueling strategy one last time for the two feed zones. I had seven Hammer Gels in a flask, a banana, two extra caffeinated Hammer gels, and two water bottles on board. At the first feed I was going to take on a mini coke and and extra gel. At the second feed I had a bag prepared with extra gels, a water bottle, and a super caffeinated drink. I erred on the side of too much knowing how mighty the effort was going to be. 

At the staging I felt relaxed. Rolling to the start I positioned myself on the front line. If anyone was going to go early I would be there. At the command we leisurely rolled out through the streets of Cambridge. The first mile of the race is neutralized so I just hung out at the front to stay out of the traffic of nearly one hundred other riders. When the moto pulled over and lead car took over a pace line established itself almost immediately. We weren’t riding fast but my hear rate stayed high out of excitement. Turning off the first main road the pace quickened significantly. We were approaching the covered bridge and everyone and their brother wanted to be there first. I coasted up the side of the group and took a semi-conservative line to stay out of trouble. The first dirt road sector gave me my first taste of what I’d be experiencing for the remainder of the day. The previous nights rain coupled with the spring melt left the roads in disastrous shape. Water bottles were strewn across the sides of the road after every rough section. I was riding S-Works 24 mm wide tires on Zipp 404 wheels which while fast were thinner than the choice of every other rider around me. I even spotted a few guys rolling 28s! I stayed close to the front onto the second sector when we took a sharp left onto the first steep climb. Looking up all I saw was little triangle and square prints in the mud. Clearly this climb had been walked by a significant amount of riders in the previous races. I shot to the front wanted to have the best line possible. I geared all the way down and went into stubborn mode continually telling myself that I needed to make this climb. I almost lost momentum once but I powered through the mud and got separation. I heard clanking and swearing behind me as the back of the group succumbed to the severity of the climb. At the top I had a five second gap over one rider and together we had about fifteen seconds on the field. It was way to soon for that sort of foolishness so I sat up. What I didn’t realize was that my acceleration combined with the mud shed thirty guys off the back that would never be seen again. One rider pulled through and wanted the group to work. I suggested keeping it smooth and working together. As he eased back he accused me of being Mark Miller. At that point he let everyone in earshot know about my exploits as a runner and triathlete proclaiming beast status. In all honesty I was pissed because I knew at that point that I’d be a marked man for the remainder of the race. Through the next series of hills I shifted around at the front assessing who would be a good breakaway companion. On one of the few paved climbs I put in a small dig just to see what would happen and the field immediately stung out. A rider named Will came up and commented, “nice” with a smirk. I had found my friend for the day I just needed to wait for the right moment to pounce. Will and I sat in for the next twenty minutes and talked a little bit about getting away if things played out right. 

We approached the first feed and I surged again and got a perfect hand-up from Darren. I managed to pop the top on the Coke and get a few solid sips before discarding it at the end of the zone. I had been doing really well with my fueling up to that point so I didn’t feel the need to take on the extra gel. 

Shortly after the feed we came onto what seemed like the only longer paved climb on the course. Judging from my Strava stats I would say that it was Joe Bean Road. Will and I ended up on the front and by the top of the climb with fifteen to twenty seconds on the scrambling bunch. It was still really early but I had the echos in my mind that I would be marked all day so I asked Will if he wanted to make a run at a long breakaway. Will committed right away and we hatched a plan to take short smooth pulls and put as much distance into the chasers as we could. One of my major mistakes on the day was that I relied on Strava data to predict the race time. I was counting on a 2:48 to 2:50 effort which looking at where we were seemed conceivable. The chips were on the table at this point. The commitment had been made. If I was going to win Battenkill it was going to be out of a two man breakaway over the last thirty-eight miles of the race. In Will I had found my equal. He was strong, tall and gangly like me and seemed to have the courageous spirit to pull this crazy move off. Through the slop the roads continued to deteriorate. We were now catching riders which complicated matters because we didn’t have a choice of the best lines to take. Somewhere around thirty-three miles we made a long 180 degree turn over the train tracks and were immediately smacked in the face with a menacing headwind. I didn’t really think about the wind as we were riding away but now that we had to fight it I realized that we were in for a major battle with the conditions. Will, who had just seemed indestructible a few minutes before was now asking to take it easier because he was struggling. With the wind and roads I knew that it was way too early to go alone. It would be suicide to try and solo that far out. I went into protection mode and did my best to protect Will. I let him take pulls on the downhills but I did the majority of work on the climbs. The thought ran through my mind that he was working me over but moments later he started cramping. We were limping along but the thought of the chase started to linger. I decided that I would keep Will with me until the second feed and that I would go solo on the next big climb. At the feed I had a small miscommunication with Darren and got the wrong bottle. I wanted the big hit of caffeine but instead I got just a water bottle. In hindsight I had caffeinated gels I was just too wrapped up in the moment to think straight. 

Rolling down the next hill I hit the gel flask hard. Looking up there was a mountain and a dirt road that went straight up! I laughed at the absurdity as we started the climb of Herrington Hill. When Will cracked he was gone immediately. I feel bad because we didn’t even get to say goodbye. We had just blown up the race together only to probably never see one an other again. On the climb things got tough. Let me rephrase that things got nearly impossible. I’ll be one hundred percent honest and admit that on Herrington Hill I wanted to stop and walk. Those thought were fleeting and I hardened the fuck up and got back to work. On the decent I dropped into TT position and smiled. I was exactly where I wanted to be doing exactly what I wanted to do. A winters worth of training and visualizing was coming to fruition. My passion for the classics of Europe was manifesting itself in the now. Hours in front of the TV or computer watching my idols suffer in the harshest conditions on the Pro Tour could not match what I was living in that moment. Whatever happened I knew that I had confirmed that I was a hard man like my idols. 

The unrelenting wind continued to kick my ass either as a straight head wind or crippling crosswind from the right. I knew my power was dropping but I was almost there. At the base of Stage Road Darren and Charles were going crazy. I had pictured this climb all week while grinding out one more god-dammed ride on the trainer. Unfortunatly as I attacked the climb I started to crack. My head was light and my legs began to tremble. Warning lights and sensors all around my body were flashing dangerous warning messages. Just as I crested the climb a lone rider in black passed me looking surprisingly fresh. My mind refocused as I realized that this guy was in my race. The lead car dropped back and confirmed my suspicion. The thoughts that I had been nurturing of riding into town solo were dashed. My mind raced as I went through the mental catalog of every race that I had ever watched. I needed to do as little as possible at this point. If the guy wanted me to pull I would tell him to piss off because I had been solo for much of the day. I tucked in and tried to save as much energy as I possible could. I had been sprinting well the past month but that was after fifty minutes of racing around an industrial park. There was no comparison to what I had just put myself through. I took two pseudo pulls in the last two miles before settling in on the wheel of my rival as we passed the kilometer to go sign. I had to wait. I had to be patient. I was already half an hour over my budgeted time allowance for myself. Quite simply I was shattered. Onto the last straight I continued to play the waiting game. The din of the crowd grew louder and louder as we approached the line. Finally in the last hundred and fifty meters I sprinted with everything I had left. I pulled even with twenty meters to go and even inched ahead. My vanquisher found one last gear and took the lead back in the last meters relegating to a bitter second place. Over the line I was smashed. I felt like I had let everyone down by not sealing the deal. At the Mavic neutral support trailer I smacked a barrier so hard it fell over on its side causing quite a stir. Darren and family were there for the aftermath to pick up my exploded psyche. What more could I have done?   

In the thirty minutes after the race I put together the pieces of what had happened by talking to the winner ironically also named Will. When the ten man chase went through the second feed they saw that “breakaway Will” had blown up. They knew that ten guys working together could pull back one guy that had been alone in the wind the majority of the race. In some ways they were right but if I had to do it all over again I would do it the exact same way. Had I stayed with the group I could have made it to town and had a ten up sprint for the win. Had I continued to nurse Will the chasers would have caught us before the final climb. I did what I had to do to put myself in a position to win. After the race the two people from the lead car tracked my down and congratulated me on the effort. They both agreed that they had never been pulling harder for a rider in a race before. They really seemed to share in the disappointment. In bike racing more than any other endurance sport the best man doesn’t always win. I have to be satisfied with the knowledge that I blew the race up and doled out three hours and fifteen minutes of epic suffering that rattled me to my core. This race was the hardest thing that I have ever done and I’ve done it all!  If winning was easy it wouldn’t be special. If I didn’t care about winning I wouldn’t race. Driving out of Cambridge all I could think about was Boxer from George Orwell’s  Animal Farm. The only thoughts that ran through my mind were “I will work harder.”



Mark




Huge special THANK YOU goes out to Darren, Charles, and Maddie for the support along the course. Thanks for standing in the freezing weather all day to watch a bunch of cooktards racing road bikes in the mud!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Evolving into a Bike Racer for 2014...


Earlier in the week I started a 2013 year in review but it was honestly quite boring and I wouldn’t want to subject anyone to something that dry. Clearly 2013 was a transitional year. What started out pointing toward London and the World Championships fizzled when my posterior tibialis and hallucis longus tendons tag teamed me to end my days as a runner. What initially had me incredibly depressed has faded into a moot point and I have no desire to run right now. There have been little signs the past few weeks that have really let me know that I am at ease with that chapter of my life ending for a while. Since the summer of 1999 I’ve obsessively worn a running watch for some stupid reason. Perhaps I thought a race was going to break out at some random time or I’d be expected to run an all out 400 on my lunch break? Anyways now that I am a cyclist I could care less about my running watch. I’ve even started looking at cool stylish watches for the first time in my life! I haven’t run a serious step now since September when it became apparent that the cortisone shots into the tendon sheaths did nothing to help. The closest thing I do to running now is chasing Eko through the woods on our morning walks! 

Enough looking back! Let’s talk about 2014!

It is a very exciting time right now in the local cycling scene. I have banded together with    Darren Phaneuf and Tim Trotter to form a new venture that will be known as Elm City Velo. Through Elm City Velo our aim is to continue to bring together competitive local riders that will compete throughout the northeast. 

Elm City Velo Mission Statement:

To form and maintain a cycling racing team that will compete in the northeastern United States with a goal of allowing all members to achieve their personal and team goals while fostering a culture of well-being and positivity to contribute to the local cycling community.

More details will become available over the course of the next couple of weeks as we complete our team charter, hold elections, and obtain our USA Cycling team license. 

I’ve set some extremely lofty goals for 2014 that I don’t care to make public at this time. At this stage in my life I am going to fall back on my talent as a hard worker and just let my legs do the talking. My training will speak for itself when racing season comes around. 

As for the Evolution? 

Fear not blogosphere Evolution of an Athlete is not going away. Right now my Strava account is serving as my training log so I will not be posting in that format this year. This blogs primary function will become recapping training rides and races for the coming season. Lets face facts, the race reviews are really the only thing worth reading on this blog. The reality is that they’re also the only thing that I get excited to write about in this format. If your desperate to follow my training hop on Strava and become a follower. Strava has really revolutionized the way I approach training and I’m sure it has the ability to change the way everyone tracks and logs their exercise data. 

In the next month I will be solidifying my race schedule for the year and I will outline the major targets. For now rest assured that I will be cranking out major miles and hours in the basement in preparation for a huge year. 

Cheers!

Mark

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saturday Morning Hospital Ride...

Fighting a Nasty Cold...

Thursday afternoon a cold of biblical proportion descended upon my body reducing me to a coughing, sneezing, sniffling mess. Rarely do I ever come down sick to this level. The last time I was actually sick was fall of 2003 so a decade gap between incidents seems fairly reasonable. Through Thursday night and into Friday I barley slept. When I did fall asleep I dreamt of vomiting and as I woke the nausea continued and I spent several minutes dry heaving in the bathroom. Ugh! Fortunately my day of work consisted of organizing a file in the Special Education office so my chances of transmitting my peril on others was minimal. Friday night I was almost equally as pathetic as the night before and was starting to think that I had the flu! I loaded up on cold medications and emailed the Saturday morning crowd and told them that my presence was doubtful for the 7:30 ride. 

Much to my surprise I awoke Saturday morning and felt overwhelmingly adequate. I bolted out of bed at 6:30 in a mad rush convinced that I could make the ride. Dark roast was brewed, gear was gathered, and tires were pumped in record time. Mary rose to my typical overwhelming self and started to plan her morning alone. As I drove through Keene I thought of all the messages I had sent the previous night. Suddenly as I finished off the last sip of Peruvian Dark Roast from Cafe Monte Alto I wondered if anyone was going to show up for the ride. It was after all early and cold with a bitter moisture in the air that made it feel colder than the thermometer read. 

As I pulled into the lot at Cheshire Medical I saw Bill's bright yellow jacket and felt better about the chaotic last hour. After I unloaded the Tarmac with Jet 6's Dr. Tom came charging into the parking lot in his fancy minivan. Dr. Tom unloaded his sweet new custom ride with Sram Red and Renyolds 32 tubulars in super shiny black. One of the sweetest rides I've seen in the last month or so. With the arrival of Dr. Tom I knew that we were in for a solid ride. Our agreed upon loop would take us out through the flats of Surry, along the river into Gilsum, up and over the steeps of Mine Road, into Alstead, over the Walpole Valley climb, and back along the 12a time trial into Keene. 

Heading out I instantly regretted not wearing my Craft Nordic jacket as the rawness in the air was cooling me to the core. I knew that it was going to warm up later in the ride but in the here and now I was freezing. Between the weather and the lingering illness it took me a long time to fall into a rhythm. Tom, Bill and I rode in tight formation all along 12a through Surry before easing up a bit for a chat on River Road. On the smaller climbs toward the end of River Road I made some power on the climbs to test my legs before the punch in the face that was looming in the form of Gilsum Mine Road. Through town we soft pedaled and at the foot of the climb I immediately down shifted to the small ring. The climb is nearly a mile and ramps up to nearly seventeen percent in places. A real kick in the tail for a first major climb of the day. We regrouped over the top and Bill mentioned how he had recently driven the climb and was ruing the day that he would get dragged up it on a ride. The rest of the Mine Road we worked a pretty tight paceline. On one of the later ramps Tom jumped out of the saddle and hit the power pretty hard. I immediately jumped around Bill and latched onto Tom's wheel. As the pace leveled out Tom told me that he was trying to stay warm. Apparently Tom hates riding in thick gear so he was in short tights, a light jacket, and gloves! No hat, no shoe covers! BRRRRRR! We made a quick stop at the intersection of 123 to check on Tom's tubulars before a rocketing and precise decent into Alstead. The tight configuration was a stark contrast to last weeks ride that was overwhelmingly sloppy. Bill took a long pull on the initial steeps before Tom further ratcheted up the pace. Heading out of Alstead along the river I took a looooooooong pull on the front to try and get in some work. As we eased up at the next stop sign Tom and Bill remarked on the strength of the pull and we plotted and planned for next summer and the Green Mountain Stage Race. The last major climb of the day was up Walpole Valley Road, a category three climb of nearly four miles with segments of climbing well over ten percent. This climbs reminds me a lot of the Fish Hatchery Road climb only longer and steeper. Walpole Valley is a good climb for me so at the base I went right to the front and made some power. The lingering congestion that I was feeling was holding me back slightly but my legs felt surprisingly strong. I was surprised to see at the conclusion of the ride that my time up the major climbing section was only thirty seconds slower than my best from earlier this year. Bill, Tom and I regrouped on the decent and it was decided at the intersection of 12a that we would make a go at the Time Trial KOM on the way back. We hatched a plan that Bill would take the first pull then try to grab my wheel as Tom and I passed. Bill was starting to feel pretty gassed and was unsure about how much energy was left in the tank. After a strong pull Bill momentarily clung to my wheel before getting dropped. I yelled up to Tom that it was down to the two of us and we got back to work. Tom was turning over a massive gear though the last of the rollers before pulling off. I jumped on the front and went to work dragging us up the long gradual climb to the Surry Mountain School. I needed a brief break close to the top of the climb so Tom went back to the front for fifteen seconds. I could feel the pace lagging so I jumped back around and pulled us into the flats. Tom came around and went back to work past Pond Road heading toward Surry Reservoir. Tom pulled wide and said that his legs were fried with two miles to go. I wasn't willing to give up the ghost just yet so I jumped out of the saddle and went full gas for the remainder of the segment. Given the wind and weather I was satisfied with my performance that slotted me in at 4th on the leader board. I wish I was an avid Strava user summer of 2011 when I was doing all of my TT training on this stretch. I'm very curious about what best actually is on that stretch? We regrouped at Darling Road and rode easily the last few miles to the hospital. Tom and Bill seemed extremely pleased with their rides and there was a good buzz in the air. I was thrilled that I even made it out the door so to have a solid ride was a huge bonus!

The ride wrapped up at just over 43 miles in two hours and sixteen minutes. Hopefully this post is making you want to get out for this ride! I'll be at Cheshire Medical again next Saturday at 7:30 looking forward to another awesome group ride. 


Cheers!

Mark

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday Ride...

Monday Ride...

It's always nice when a three day weekend rolls around at this time of the year because it enables me to get off the trainer for the day. Unfortunately I was mildly overzealous while doing yard work and did not save myself enough time for an adequate over distance ride. I managed to squeeze in an hour in a quarter of very solid up tempo riding.

As I was heading out the door with the Tarmac equipped with the Hed Jets I realized that I hadn't taken the time to put on my heart rate monitor strap. Given that I didn't feel like redressing I decided to for go the monitor and just ride on feel for the day. The temperatures were in the low forties with a fairly constant wind out of the west that added extra bite to the air.

Down 124 I was sizing myself up and was curious about what the ride would bring. I felt ok but was seemingly a little flat from working in the yard all day. Onto 101 opportunity reared its head again as a Waste Management truck was passing. With the echos of Saturday in my head and a clear road I jumped into the draft of the truck and started hammering. The driver of the truck could sense my presence and my impression was that he was slowing to drive at a pace that I could maintain. I worked pretty hard for five minutes making big power all the way into Keene. At the Stone Arch the driver pulled over and gave me a pretty serious earful. I honestly felt awful about the confusion and later called Waste Management to apologize. I really thought the driver was setting tempo for me and was not trying to be a jerk! I felt awful all night thinking that I had ruined this guys afternoon. Off 101 into Keene I decided to hit some hills at a moderate pace. I made a pretty go effort up Roxbury Road to Peg Shop Road and got into the low 1300s VAM wise. I felt like there was more in the tank if I needed it which I will chalk up to having four weeks of training under my belt. After the climbs I mostly just rode moderate through West Keene before jumping back onto 101 for the cold ride home.

My training goal for the week is to hit twelve hours so this ride can be tallied as an ok start toward that mark. I'm hoping to put together another group ride for Saturday morning if anyone is interested. Plan on meeting at Cheshire Medical at 7:30 and be prepared for a hilly 45 to 50 miles.

Cheers!

Mark

Sunday, November 10, 2013