Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Week Three Recap (In Progress)

Over caffeinated Wednesday mornings on a snow day make for a wonderful opportunity for a work week check in. Following my discovery that I hadn’t taken a day off all year Cratty ordered Monday to be an off day. I stayed busy by cleaning, hanging out with Eko, and cooking a huge pot of my famous jambalaya. I also listened to far too much WEEI throughout the day and felt like I knew every painful and annoying detail about the Patriots win and impending game with the Steelers. I did look at my bike for a second which gives me some sort of credit for the day, right?

Tuesday: Slept in until roughly 5:40 which is absurdly late for me during the work week. No morning ride was planned and following the four day weekend I had a pretty good plan in place for my work week. No need to rush so why not bank some extra sleep? In the afternoon I had a meeting that I had forgotten about and I needed to run to the store. Mary decided to take Eko’s afternoon patrol which was really helpful in terms of getting me on the bike at a reasonable hour. While a lot of folks have best friend duty Mary and I really spoil Eko on a day to day basis. Walking him doesn’t mean going outside so he can take a quick pee. Walking Eko means at least thirty minutes often in the woods on the trails. He gets this twice a day with some of his walks covering five miles at a time. He’s pretty freaking fit for a fifteen pound best friend. 

The ride was totally chill especially given the rest week mentality and the previous day off. I spun pretty easily at 185 watts and my heart rate initially struggled to get over 110. In previous years I would have worked harder to ensure that my heart rate was at at least 127 bpm. What was happening was that I was probably doing way too many recovery rides at 225 to 230 watts just trying to trick my brain into thinking that I was working hard enough. I am really locking into a rhythm of trusting the wattage and letting the heart rate stay as low as it wants on easy days. Ended up with sixty-five minutes for the ride. A good start to the week with only seven hours planned. 

Wednesday: Up early for a shakeout before work with an afternoon session planned. The snow didn't look serious and I fully expected to go to work on time. Roughly forty-five minutes in Mary informed me that school was cancelled. Had I expected this I would have prepared a little bit more pre ride and knocked my workout out of the park before six am. Managed seventy minutes at 188 watts with an afternoon date with Trainer Road. Trainer Road to follow this afternoon!

Speaking of Trainer Road I have decided that I am going to start referring to it as The Robot. The Robot tells me what to do and I do what it tells me to during the workouts. The Robot likes it when I hit the numbers that I am supposed to hit. The Robot reinforces this behavior by showing me a green bar when I am doing a good job being a practical cyclist. The Robot flashes a red bar at me when I am being an idiot or when I’m not doing my job on the bike. The Robot can be sort of fun but mostly The Robot is an emotionless taskmaster that doesn't really care if I get the work done or not. The Robot loves making graphs. I think The Robot knows how much I like looking at graphs. When I do a good job The Robot makes a really nice graph that gives me joy to look at. When I do poorly The Robot makes a crappy graph that makes me feel shame and worthlessness. I’ve just recently started working with The Robot and already it has tremendous power over me on a twice weekly basis. 


Wednesday afternoon I did an over / under workout with The Robot. Following the initial warm-up the workout itself was a series of five minutes at 226 watts followed immediately by five ten minute intervals at 283. I was feeling a little feisty and over caffeinated so I upped the wattage to 231 and 287 the first three quarters of the workout. The Robot was being a total asshole this afternoon. My guess is that he took exception to my earlier quips about his lack of emotion. The Robot needed his software updated before the ride and was being a real jerk about picking up the ANT signal from my power meter. Stupid Robot. Given that I was amped to get going I didn't restart my MacBook after the software upgrade. The Robot ended up being super glitchy the first thirty-five minutes of the ride which was super frustrating. My normal positive reinforcement bar kept freezing with the timer so I was forced to rely on average power on my Garmin while the glitch worked itself out. Not a great day for The Robot. I worked pretty hard the last five minutes of the fourth interval and put in a pretty sustained effort on the fifth to close things out. Between the two rides on the day I ended up with three hours and forty-five minutes. Combine those efforts with two walk runs with Eko and shoveling the driveway and my butt is thoroughly whipped. 

Hey check it out a graph!


Thursday: Thursday morning I was tired! Wicked tired in fact and I felt like a zombie walking around the house at 4:00. My brain actually felt weird as I patiently waited for the dark roast to finish brewing. I literally am not alive before I have my coffee. I am most assuredly a morning person but until that first cup of coffee is down the hatch at roughly 4:25 I am not a funny functioning human being. Thursday morning after the workout and day full of activity seemed especially bad. Unfortunately there was no choice in the matter. I had a department meeting immediately after work followed by a meeting for the library gardens subcommittee that Mary and I are apart of at 5:00. The ride had to be done in the morning or the day was going to be a zero. Super easy spin at 180 watts before getting out the door with Eko for a walk. 

Friday: Up early again because of a work commitment in the afternoon. The dreaded Friday bus duty finally caught up to me so I would be at school until after 4:00. Mary and I had a date planned so an afternoon ride was off the table. Another easy spin heading into the weekend. 

Saturday: Date with The Robot. More over under work on tap for the early afternoon. Reflecting this week on training from previous winters I am convinced that this is going to be the difference maker. In years past my workouts in the winter were pretty basic. Three or four by ten minutes was the standard that I built to throughout the winter. The effort would get harder with each and I was essentially just riding as hard as I could for ten minutes at a time. This was mildly successful but I am really seeing the bigger picture now with the work that Cratty has me doing. I want go into too many specifics because it’s all mind numbingly boring but the bottom line is that I think I am going to be a whole lot faster because of what we’re doing. The directive from The Robot was basically an over under two by twenty followed by a weird over under ten minute interval with some high wattage work to at the end. My body held up really well and the effort felt pretty manageable. Fighting a head cold from the germ factory so a couple of Sedated artificially increased my heart rate. Riding at the specific wattage makes managing the heart rate so much easier. Late in the affair my HR was hovering right at 180 and if felt totally sustainable which has me pretty excited at this stage in the game. 



Sunday: Off! Rest weeks rule! Seven hours and twenty-two minutes for the week with two killer workouts. Heading into a 12, 13, 14 three week cycle with some difficult workouts on the horizon. 


End. 




Monday, January 16, 2017

Week Two...

Week two of the year was, as is typically the case with the trainer, disturbingly they same. The major difference of the week was implementing the second workout and taking in the show Thursday night. Week two of the year also marked the end of the first three week build cycle of the year. Cratty prescribed twelve hours for week three and I was pretty determined to hit the number heading into the rest week. 

Monday: Absurdly tired again and didn’t get out of beg again when I needed to. I have been pretty pissed at myself taking off Monday morning because I feel like it sets me behind for the entire week. In the afternoon I did sixty-five minutes at 194 watts. Not the best but still a number. 

Tuesday: Same as Monday. Tired again and struggling to get into the morning game. Afternoon seventy minutes at 197 watts. This turned into an incredibly ho hum ride.

Wednesday: Finally managed to double up on a ride. Sixty-six minutes in the am and seventy minutes in the afternoon. I had a considerable amount of running around to do in the afternoon and didn’t get on the bike until after 4:30 so I bagged the workout. Got into a great rhythm of putting things off this week!

Thursday: Up at 3:45 for a quick snack and some dark roast before getting on the trainer at 4:40. Cratty prescribed 4 x 10 with some sprints at the end. The ten minute intervals were pretty easy from and RPE perspective and the rest felt a little too long for me. The sprints at the end really weren’t sprints because everything was set pretty low in the 360 watt range. I did let myself fire things up a bit on the last one in the low 400s just to rev the engine a bit. 

Took the afternoon off on account of the Phantogram show that night in Providence. Mary and I met up with Dave at his house and Sutton and hung out for a few hours prior to the show. My initial understanding was that the show started at 9:00 which was already a stretch for me given that I had been up since 3:45. Dave informed me that opener went on at 9:00 and that odd were that Phantogram wouldn’t take the stage until 10:00! We had plenty of time to get there and chilled with a couple of delicious beers including a Pipsqueak Penguin from Trillium which was borderline sublime. As for the show it was freaking incredible. I really did not know what to expect heading in given how little I know about the band’s live sound. Musically they were one of the better bands that I have seen live and the fact that they played incredibly loud was an added bonus. The rattled off sixteen or seventeen songs over the course of the show and I honestly felt like I was one of the only people in the crowd that knew all of the songs. When these guys really blow up this summer I’m going to take a very “I told you so” attitude. I will defiantly be seeing them again whenever I have the chance. It ended up being a pretty crazy night and I had to wrangle Mary and Dave back to the car. All told we didn’t get to bed until 2:45 which made it a twenty-three hour effort for me! Thankfully I took a personal day Friday and had the whole day to just be a waste of tired space. 

Friday: I didn’t do myself any favors on Friday being so tired and could only muster seventy-five minutes on the trainer before dinner. I passed out on the couch at roughly 7:05 with the weight of needing over five hours in two days to hit my twelve hour goal for the week. 

Saturday: Hunkered down for a longer ride on the trainer with a couple of week old CX races on YouTube. Wout completely obliterated a pretty strong field at the Belgian Championships. When he takes off on the first lap someone should at least try to go with him. It actually got to the point where it was comical how far ahead he was. On the last lap he was coming back over the monstrous flyover after the long beech section and Toon was just cresting the top of the flyover heading in the other direction. Those guys must have felt so demoralized! Anyways I managed two hours twenty on the trainer. I hatched a pretty ill advised plan for Sunday given that I planned on another late night for the Pats game. I was going to do a shakeout ride in the morning and another Cratty special in the afternoon. 

Sunday: Despite the late night I actually woke up feeling pretty ok Sunday. I dragged my feet a bit on the shakeout because I was watching the World Cup on the living room couch. I didn’t get on the bike until after 10:30 and managed to get in 55 minutes at 190 watts. I started my workout ride at 2:30 and was tired from the onset. The late nights and tired legs made the workout a drag. This was a tough one and I had to bail after the first 56 minutes of effort. I did the whole initial build and the first thirty minutes of the hour of power complete with sprints. There was no way that I was going to be able to hit the numbers the back half so I focused on hitting some higher numbers on the last ninety second efforts that closed out the workout. I defiantly want another crack at this workout in the coming weeks so I can feel a sense of redemption. 


I did hit the number and made it to twelve hours which capped the three week cycle. Looking at my training calendar on Strava my early week slacking is costing me. I haven’t taken a day off all year which probably contributed to my fatigue during the workout on Sunday. I need to be better about not digging myself a hole in the next three week build. Seven hours coming up this week with a hard workout on Wednesday and Friday. Maybe there will be a little excitement this week. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Week One Recap...

The first week of the year has gone surprisingly well given the massive rush that took place over the holidays. The last week of the year was a resounding thud due to a tweaked left knee from cranking too hard, and some mental duress that I bought upon myself. On New Years Eve I set a timer for three minutes in the kitchen and ranted away all of my stress to Mary. I got a bunch of crap off my chest and walked away refreshed and ready to tackle 2017. I what will hopefully be the first in fifty-two weekly installments I am going to talk about my week of training, what tunes I’ve been listening to, and anything else interesting that happens in my rather dull life. If there is anything that you would like to know about my training or preparation for racing please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. 

Monday was a bit of a rush job in the training department. Mary had bought me the king of all burr grinders for Christmas that I felt was a little too fancy and expensive for my novice barista skills. Due to Williams Sonoma’s wicked weird return policy this meant a trip to the Rockingham Mall in my least favorite part of New Hampshire. The drive to and through Nashua was a drag and it appeared to just be a series of strip malls and Domino’s. Not my idea of a nice drive. We didn’t get back in the door until seven so the sixty minutes I did on the trainer that morning at 190 watts had to suffice for the day. 

Tuesday I set the alarm for 4:00 am for the first day back at school. I managed to get out of bed but I was struggling! At about 4:30 I decided that I was going to use Tuesday as a transition day. I was up but I wasn’t ready to ride at 4:55 like a typical day. In the afternoon I managed 95 minutes in just over 195 watts. More importantly I figured out Trainer Road and how to sync my Garmin Vector II pedals with my MacBook Air. I had a great back and forth with my coach and we committed to a set of long intervals on Wednesday afternoon. 

Wednesday afternoon I synced everything up and did my first truly organized trainer workout of my life. This is my fourth winter training as a cyclist and I have never really had any structure. This was always heightened by my lack of a power meter which by my estimation always saw me riding way way way too hard. Previous winters I rarely worked out in January and just ground out hour after hour on the trainer while listening to music. No Zwift here, no Netflix here, just music and a trainer. Thankfully I love to jam out so my time on the trainer gives me a great opportunity to obsess about whatever band I am currently listening to. The Trainer Road Session called for 2 x 26 with some VO2 sprints worked in followed by some high wattage efforts to end the workout. I was surprised at how well my body responded to the 2 x 26 especially given the jumps that I was doing throughout. My heart rate and RPE raised steadily throughout the workout but I never got to a point where it wasn’t manageable. The sprints to end the workout were another matter entirely and I felt smashed at their completion. Great first workout of the year. 

Thursday morning I was shelled. I could tell that I had worked hard the previous afternoon and knew that I would need to be diligent about keeping the watts in the 180s on my recovery ride. In the afternoon I had a faculty meeting after school the morning was going to be my only ride of the day. As planned I kept the power down and easily spun through the ride. I didn’t feel beat up or anything but I just felt heavy which reinforced that I had done an appropriate amount of work the day before. 

Friday was a planned double with the potential of it being interrupted by dinner guests. I was on the trainer before five and got in another hour plus effort. Legs felt dramatically improved since yesterday. Monday night I made an adjustment to my sleeping position to try and alleviate some problems being caused by a head cold. I added an extra thin pillow under my memory foam pillow and it has made a huge difference. Since my accident a couple of summers ago I have become a snorer. After making this adjustment I didn't snore once this week and I slept like a rock. Solid recovery is key and sleep is a key component to that. Dinner guests cancelled in the afternoon so I got in another six plus on the trainer. It’s crazy how sometimes you just feel better after one ride. I was holding myself back making 200 watts for the ride knowing that I would be doing an effort on the weekend. 

Saturday morning after sleeping in Mary was fired up to bring me to a coffee place in Peterborough for coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I’ve had Parker House coffee before at home and thought that I was in for a treat. Their Midnight Oil in the proper proportions was on the mark so I expected a pleasant cup of dark roast. Much to my surprise and disappointment the coffee was actually pretty pedestrian at the roaster. Their darkest roast Robusta, was more of a bust than anything and their espresso was a step or two bellow what I produce at home with my machine. In the afternoon I did a pretty ho hum ninety minutes at 200 watts. I felt good and was consciously holding myself back for the duration. 

Sunday I was pretty psyched to squeeze in my ride before CX nationals. Pre ride I watched the U23 race and got a few glimpses of my teammate Patrick racing to a top twenty-five finish. My left knee was a little sore again so I held off on the workout and just cranked out two hours at 191 watts. Nothing spectacular but I got through the ride with time to shower and crack a beer before the elite mens race started. It was disappointing to see Powers have such a bad day. I was really rooting for the guy after all the bad luck that he has had this year. It’s hard not to be psyched for Hyde. Super cool dude and tough as nails as evidence by winning in those epically insane conditions. I wrapped up the week with eleven hours with one solid workout. Looking to hit twelve hours this coming week before heading into my first recovery week of the year. 


Musically this week I have been continuing to listen to Phantogram at every opportunity. I am seeing them live this coming Thursday in Providence with Mary and my old college roommate, Dave which should be awesome. They fall somewhere in the Indie Electro Rock spectrum and I have been digging their sound for a few years now. They have been a mainstay on my CX warm-up playlist the past two seasons. Their new album Three really made me into a fan this fall and I have been listening to them on a daily basis. A pretty neat fact about Phantogram is that they are from one of the towns on the Tour of Battenkill course. I have no idea why that is cool but I think that it is pretty neat. Friday morning I was a little bored and decided to to some exploring on Apple Music. One of my former students DJs at the college now and has been on a crazy hip hop journey. This is a kid that listened to The White Strips like it was his job for years and is now getting into the hip hop world. I have another student currently that occasionally rocks a Wu Tang shirt at school. Somehow these two thoughts came together and I decided to give the Wu a shot Friday morning. Pretty crazy stuff and I feel like I missed out a little bit back in eighth grade when these guys really broke. It seems comical thinking of a one hundred and fifty pound white guy jamming to the Wu at five in the morning on his road bike in his basement in New Hampshire. Weird wild stuff. 

Mark

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review Part Two...

Part two of the year in review starts before part one even ended. It was early evening at day two of Longsjo after a disappointing showing by MRC in the cat three race. Our presence at the front was not what we had hoped it would be early on and we got overrun with the speed and intensity of the race. Cratty and I had a few unsuccessful breakaway attempts that were constantly thwarted by the other big teams in the race. Nobody wanted to let something go on a course that was technical and bumpy enough to cause problems in the form of crashes and mechanicals. In the last couple of laps I somehow found myself in the mix and thought I had a shot at sprinting for the podium. On the last downhill sweeper all of that changed when the rider in front of me decided to pedal through the corner at full gas. His inside pedal struck the ground and he was catapulted into the air right in front of me at forty plus. A quick evasive move on my part kept me out of the carnage but I am still haunted by the sound of his carbon Giant hitting the curb contrasted by the dead thud of his body doing the same thing. That instant a gap formed and all I could manage was to sprint for the minor placings. After the race I cooled down and vented to Cratty. Somehow we got on the subject of coaching and within a few minutes we decided that Cratty would take me on as an athlete under one condition, I had to commit to buying a power meter. I finally relented and made it my top priority when I got back from my vacation in Las Vegas the following week. 

Ben Berman at 365 Cycles has been trying to talk me into a power meter since he met me four summers ago. At that point my road bike was an aluminum Felt S22 that I had converted from TT bike to road bike. The thing weighed a ton but I was still taking all of the local KOMs at will. Ben gave me a great deal and within a couple of days I was rocking a brand new set of Garmin Vector II pedals ready to commit to following a plan. 

The first week with power was a wash of conflicting emotions. My initial twenty minute test I couldn't get out of my own head. I was convinced that if I rode at an absurdly high cadence that I would throw out some big numbers. To the contrary I had some embarrassingly low numbers and had the honest feeling that I would be at the same level forever. Two days later I did a five minute uphill test and rode like myself. I smashed a big gear and ground like I typically do when the going gets tough. The 435 five minute number was a huge confidence booster after the weak twenty minute showing and I set out to close that gap. 

I was determined to make it through Cratty U. based on his assessment that only one athlete ever had made it all the way through his summer base block. I fully committed to hitting every number every day from July to September. It all started to pay off in the last weeks of the build when I did two by twenty minutes at 347 watts. It was clear that the initial twenty minute test was an aberration and that if I was true to myself and crushed a big gear that I would put up the numbers that we knew I was capable of. The summer training was a joy but in my quest for power I neglected riding my cyclocross bike as much as I should have leading into the season that I was pinning all of my training around. Despite the lack of time on the bike I was confident that I had the form and fitness to have a great fall. 

Cross started off at Blunt Park in the sketchy neighborhood of Springfield, MA under blistering heat and unrelenting dust. I’ve done a lot of outdoor activities in my lifetime but I’m certain that this is the dirtiest that I have ever been in my life. As for the race my start absolutely sucked and the heat and dust kicked me in the face. The middle rooty rocky section was more than I was prepared for and I lost some valuable time every lap. On the wide open sections I crushed and rode to a solid top ten placing the netted me some great points give the strength of the field. (See White, Durrin, Donahue) I coughed dust and pulled sand and debris from my nose and eyes for a full day. 

Up next was Quad Cross on another stiflingly hot and dusty day. This day was plagued by bad luck from the start due in part to not getting to bed at a reasonable hour. My wife had hosted a dinner party with our friends the night before and despite not drinking or having too much fun I did find myself exhausted. I carried a six year old a half mile through the woods at one point and was doing dishes into the wee hours of the night. From the moment I woke up everything seemed to go wrong for Quad Cross. I couldn’t for the life of me get my brakes set up right on my race wheels. I couldn’t find my gloves which given the heat were a must, and to top it all off I felt like crud. Yet another bad start and a valve on my rear wheel that wasn't properly installed sealed my dnf. Walking through the woods I was so angry and so pissed off at myself that I let all of theses tiny details get past me. Looking back I should have been a bad host and sat on my rump and drank water, shouldn't have led a hike out to the pond, and should have actually taken some care to set up my bike like I have become so accustomed to doing so many other times. Most of all I was pissed that I had let down the team. My precocious teammate Patrick Collins took an awesome victory but we had two guys starting in the front row and it could have been an awesome show of force for our newly founded CX team with two in the top five. This race is already on my radar for next year. 

With Quad Cross in the rearview mirror the best part of the season started. Cyclocross at White Park through West Hill is always my busiest stretch of the year. The season stretches from dust and heat at White Park, through the night races, an ends in the cold and wet of West Hill. This stretch of racing was my primary focus for the entire 2016 campaign and I attacked it at full speed. 

White Park was my best P/1/2/3 to date and netted some great points. I had my best start to date and I found myself in the lead pack battling it out with some of the bigger guns in New England CX in the form of Dylan McNicolas, Al Donahue, and Trent Blackburn. Being in the lead group was a great feeling the first quarter of the race. Unfortunately on a tricky off camber downhill turn I was a little too close to Dylan’s back wheel when he started to crash over his bars. Not having the time or space to take evasive action I followed in the same manner. That broke apart the race and I ended up in a three man chase that battled the whole race. What would become thematic of the entire fall I decided to race for the front rather than playing tactics in a group racing for fourth. I did loads of work and when push came to shove late in the race I was gapped by the two younger riders and finished sixth. Despite failing down the stretch I was proud of my grinding effort in the heat and walked away with incredible points heading into the upcoming night races. 

Midnight Ride of Cross was the debut for the newly formed Minuteman Elite Cyclocross team powered by Wachusett Brewing Company. By the time Midnight Ride Rolled around I was finally feeling confident in my bike set-up. My new S-Works Crux that I got from my great friend Darren at a steal was finally where I wanted it to be. New XTR pedals and Fizik saddle finally got the bike feeling like it was ready to rip. 365 Cycles spent countless hours working on the bike to make sure everything was perfect for the remainder of the season. Midnight Ride was really one move away from being an incredible night. I lost my nerve on the start due to my poor night vision and found myself racing from behind all night. My power appeared to be off the carts on the straightaways but I was never able to fully overcome the bad start and walked away twelfth. 

The following Wednesday at Night WeaseIs I was once again foiled by my poor night vision and made some early mistakes that led to another race from behind. These two races cemented my commitment to getting contact lenses solely for these two races next season. I went deep in this race climbing back from the high twenties all the way to eleventh place and the first spot out of the money. Evan Huff confided in me after the race that he had never gone harder in his life than he had trying to hang with my on the final climb. Without the two early crashes I am certain that I could have been with the group fight for fifth. MRC was out in full force that night screaming at the top of their collective lungs. I am so proud that I hung tough and battered the whole way despite the early mistakes. Additionally I was rewarded with a windfall of 232 points from the race which had a major impact on my average heading into the following weeks. 

Next on the calendar was a day that will live in epicness for years to come. The Minuteman Road Club CX race became the token Belgian day of the racing season. Everyone watches Belgian races at one point or another and craves the deplorable conditions the rain and mud creates on a CX course. Minuteman became that day with heavy rain throughout the day prior to the mens elite race. This race became suffering personified in every sense of of the word. the words heavy, and slog can only begin to describe the conditions. Later as the weight of the exertion settled on my shoulders and legs the terms death march and ritualistic suffering began to echo in the dark reaches of my sanity. Literally every pedal stroke was a struggle in the mud that was at times eight to ten inches deep. The only people that were on the course in the downpour were MRC riders shouting encouragement from the beer garden. Cold, drenched, and suffering as the race stretched for the entire hour of allotted time. Finishing I was covered with a mask of mud, drool, and snot that still disgusts me to this day. Not only was I completely shattered following the top ten but so was my bike. Chain = DONE! Brake pads = what break pads! Bottom Bracket = FUCKED. Everyone loves the Belgian day but the two hundred dollars you spend the next week fixing your bike is what resonates later in the year. The aftermath aside from the ruined equipment was minor. My teammates not only helped clean my bike, but also brought it to the car along with my gear so I could focus on getting to some sort of level that could be associated with warm and dry. Looking back this race may be one of my fondest memories of the year. 

The world got a little bit smaller for the remainder of the season as my next three races were all what I would refer to as local. First up was my two year anniversary of my first race ever at Pumpkincross in Surry. The best part of this race is that it is literally ten minutes from my house. This was also where I captured my first CX victory in my very first race which cemented my passion for this crazy discipline. Hanging out at this race all day and watching my local friends race is always a highlight. My friend Bill got into CX around the same time that I did and it has led us to become great friends. We ride together two or three times a week during cross and getting to see him succeed in the 4/5 field is always a highlight. 

Throughout the morning morning Greg and Kody from 365 Cycles once again put my bike through the ringer. Greg wasn't pleased with how my Crux was shifting so he literally tore the shifter and cables down and started from scratch. Once the race started my bike preformed better than it ever had under full power. I’m so lucky to have such a committed crew at my local shop! 

The race itself was close to being awesome and I’ll chalk it up as a near miss. If you ever get a chance to check out Pumpkincross it is worth the trip north of the border. Surry Mountain Reservoir is an ideal setting for a race with its epic scenery and full gas course. Tim Trotter does an amazing job with the race and I can’t wait to see it continue to grow. Off the line I had one of my better career starts and easily established myself at the front. I became apparent early on that it was a three rider race between myself, Jules Goguely, and David Kessler. We easily distanced ourselves from the chasers and pummeled each other over the course of the sixty minute race. It was so windy during the race that a huge oak tree fell parallel to the start stretch while we were going full gas. The three of us took a second to laugh at the absurdity before resuming battle. Later I would learn that David and Juels were conspiring against me as former teammates. I went a little too hard late in the race making a power move riding the run up in an attempt to drop my breakaway companions. I paid the price on the last lap with a crazy hamstring cramp. Somehow I managed to claw my way back to the front and made one last desperate attempt at the win before getting lit up in the sprint. My consolation prize was a step on the podium and the title of New Hampshire Champion.

The West Hill Classic in Putney the following weekend was easily my best race of my CX career and had it not been for an ill timed mechanical I may be writing about a win. West Hill is a classic in the true sense of the word. If you’ve never done West Hill you’re missing out, case closed. After a great start I settled into an early routine of DROPPING BOMBS. Knowing this course better than anyone in the race I decided to do my best to dominate. I was hell bent on beating Adam St. Germaine figuring that he would once again be the rider to beat. Early in the race I made a huge attack which literally blew the race apart like an atomic bomb. It came down to a three man break yet again between myself, Dylan McNicholas, and Michael Owens. This three man breakaway literally became a knock down drag out slugfest with each of us trading blows trying to break the other. Two thirds of the way through the race while leading on the run-up I dropped a chain and had to chase back the remainder of the race. I raced so hard at West Hill that the notorious hecklers on the run up actually started rooting for me as I brought the two leaders back. It was a huge effort but I managed to catch back on in the last two minutes of the race before being dispatched by Dylan and Michael. I took solace in the fact that Dylan had beaten me by nearly two minutes at White Park and by only ten seconds a couple of months later. I was pissed afterwards and am certain that I was going to win that race. Taking the win as West Hill remains at the top of my list heading into 2017!

Unbeknownst to me at the time my racing season ended a couple of weeks later at Cycle Smart in the Masters 35 plus race. I made a solid showing and racked up another top ten and was one of the top old dudes in the race after the young guns up front. My plan was to do a base block and get ready for nationals but my body had other ideas on the matter. The cold that I had been fighting all fall along with a couple of niggling ailments were dragging my body down. Some stress in my personal life also made things difficult. Finally the inevitable draw of holiday cheer and parties put the final nail in my casket. 

Looking ahead I'm ready for 2017. I will admit that I have been in a pretty extreme funk the last few weeks and have been internalizing some serious stress in a self destructive manner. I am hoping to put all of that behind me in the coming days and get back into a healthy training rhythm. 2017 ended up being the first year that I got to race from March until November without the interruption of injury or illness. I am looking forward to building through the winter and tackling some new objectives throughout the new year. My tentative plan at this point is to once again race frequently throughout the New England “hardman” season and work on completing my cat two upgrade. Throughout the summer I will once again train heavily for CX but I am hoping to add in some mountain bike racing to supplement my bike handling skills. CX will again be the main focus of my year and I imagine that I will continue to focus on the smaller grass roots races like I have the past two seasons. Additionally I am hoping to get into a regular if not daily routine of updating this blog. We’ll see how long that lasts!

Ready or not 2017 here I come. 


Friday, December 30, 2016

Year in Review Part One...

Looking back in the rearview mirror 2016 2016 was probably my most successful year ever as a bike racer. To start it off I started racing for the best team in New England in Minuteman Road Club. I had incredible fortune and managed to avoid injuries and bad luck throughout the entire year from March until November. 

Signing on with MRC was a huge boost through the winter months as my training started to take on the most unpleasant monotony that only the trainer can produce. With Elm City Velo imploding by the second an impulsive text to my buddy PJ changed my prospects as a bike racer forever. For the past two years I had become what could best be described as a steady performer. I had my moments where I was in contention but I was continually banging my head against a glass ceiling of my own inexperience with training and racing on the bike. MRC changed who I am as a rider and racer and at thirty-six I'm looking at a few more years of upside before the inevitable decile of age. 

MRC and its infinite awesomeness took hold the day before my first race at Plainville. Mark Beard changed his vacation plans to meet me at a random industrial park to give me my race kit. Mark talked my ear off about racing and rides before hopping back in the car with his wife en route to Maine. Driving home I was flabbergasted and emboldened by Mark’s commitment to the team. I was instantaneously committed to this team that I had never met. The following day I worked on getting into breaks and raced without a ton of confidence. Coming off a terrible year plagued by injury and illness I was a shadow of my former self. I raced scared and raced like a rube. 

My year changed the following Wednesday when I attended the MRC spring meeting and ride. My memories of the ride are so vivid that I could write a mile by mile account of the ride if I were so inclined. Somehow I got on a group email for the ride and brought up the possibility of riding my CX bike with road tires. Jeremy Cratty scoffed at the notion sarcastically suggesting that I would be “fine” on my CX bike. The nerves driving to that first MRC ride were maddening. I did’t know these guys and how could I ever expect them to take me into their well established file to race for me at the bigger races? Unpacking Leviathan in my fancy boy purple shirt and party boots I struck an image that was less than intimidating. My mismatched kit of the new freelancer was only set off by my leaders jersey from the Killington Stage Race. 

Within five miles it was apparent that the ride was going to be hot. While I sat back and played it conservative the initial miles fellow newbie Tom Colman started dropping bombs from the beginning in his NCC kit. At the foot of Oak Hill Tom took a massive dig. Realizing that this was a bid for status amongst my new teammates I went full gas to get to his wheel. Tom’s attack jettisoned everyone except Chris Pare and I within a matter of meters. I remember being so close to cracking but digging that little bit harder knowing that the harder it got the better off I would be. Pare soon dropped and it was down to the two new guys trading shots across the bow in an attempt to prove their worth for their new teammates. Tom and I have become great friends throughout the year and I firmly believe that the relationship was cemented that first ride on Oak Hill. We traded punches all the way up the climb, neither rider willing to concede anything to the other. As we dead pedaled over the top and the group came back together Tom and I shared a look knowing that we had cemented our status as solid additions to the team. 

The rest of the ride was a series of land mine attacks by everyone. Flyer after flyer was launched in good humor with the frustration of thousands of miles of trainer rides throughout the winter finally manifesting themselves in real time. The ride was a success and the team meeting that followed set the stage for the season. Powerpoint presentations galore, free gear, a stern warning that we needed to earn our keep through racing and promoting our sponsors. Oh and great beers and conversation. I immediately felt at home and connected to this group. I rode home with a ear to ear smile knowing that I had found my home as a bike racer. 

Somehow I didn't race again until Quabbin which blows my mind given my form. The race itself was a watershed moment as a bike racer. In terms of racing smart I've never done a better job, in terms of suffering on the bike I'm pretty sure this was an all time high. My biggest regret of the year is not getting a power meter sooner. I would love to know the numbers from the last forty minutes of that race. Red line city doesn't begin to describe the feeling as the attack went from fun to terrifying. Jeremy set up that race like the wily old racer that he is. When he was up the road chasing Al and the attack came out of the bunch I was certain that the winning move was unfolding in real time. Given how close the chase got on the lower slopes of the last climb part of me is still shocked that I managed to stay away until the finish. 

Myles Standish was my next outing and once again MRC showed up in full force. While waiting in line to get my number the guys behind me were conspiring against MRC and admitting that our presence was overwhelming the lesser teams. When they started discussing Quabbin and the guy that won I had to chime in that I was in fact that guy. We had a good laugh, well I had a good laugh, they were clearly frustrated. Standish was another victory for the team with a perfectly executed attack for Pare. I had never been a teammate in a win and I relished the role. I blocked and was a general pest for the chase that tired to organize itself in pursuit of Chris and his attack partners. Such a great victory for Chris!

My biggest disappointment of the year was undoubtably Battenkill. With this being the last year of the race in its traditional form our team had serious designs on the top step of the podium. Perhaps it was our success up to that point in the season that was our undoing. Rather than racing tactically smart as we had been the previous month we simply tried to overpower and strong arm the race. Admittedly there was a palpable frantic energy in the bunch that led to an attack fest however we were far too reactive to everything the first forty plus miles of the race. On Joe Bean Road late in the race I drilled it at a high wattage. What I know about myself and my power at this point I venture to guess that I was making 420 watts the majority of the climb. The effort shelled the field and four MRC riders were in the group over the summit. My predetermined attack hill was significantly closer than I thought and I was feeling the effort. I was there when the winning move went. In fact I was practically on his wheel. Unfortunately I did not have the goods to follow given my haphazard racing and cramped. Man I wish I had that first forty miles back! As a team we tried in vein several more attacks but nothing stuck. I made a last ditch attack on the final climb to try and set up Pare and PJ but it was all gone at that point. Somehow I managed to attempt to lead Pare out before I nearly blacked out and fell in the bushes. I think we all left Battenkill with a bitter taste. 

With the heat of summer my racing took a significant negative downturn. At Harvard I was poised for a great result before being foiled by debilitating cramps the final assent of Oak Hill. Bad luck and heat limited my success at Critt Week. Heat destroyed me at Hilltowns essentially reducing me to a recreational cyclist the last six miles. One final spat of bad luck at Concord where I had a high speed blow out in the last turn put a nice little bow on my road season. 

The one exception to my summer of discontent was our teams Gran Fondo powered by Wachusett Brewery. While I’m still not 100% sure what my responsibilities were as the lead rider I am sure that we had a blast. Unintentionally this turned into a hammer fest as we approached the New Hampshire line. A couple of dudes that were doing the shorter version started crushing. My natural response when people start crushing is to crush back. Apparently we had ten guys with the same reaction. By the time we fueled up at the last aide station there were roughly ten MRC guys and two dudes that could hang. The final climb of the ride is an ascent of Wachusett before plunging back down the hill to the afterparty at the brewery. On the climb I decided to take a big dig and try to drop everyone. The move succeeded and I had five or six minutes to take in the scene at the summit before regrouping with the boys. Cratty and I demolished the decent and our attack would have gone clear to the line had we not been thwarted by a jeep not willing to yield the road to us. After we regrouped there were a series of digs and counter moves. Pare and I worked free over the last mile and sprinted the last two hundred for the imaginary win. Pare cracked and I rode solo to the empty parking lot! Huge imaginary victory. Perhaps the biggest imaginary win of my career. The after party was awesome and good cheer was abound as summer kicked off in style. 

Part two of the year in review will be posted soon. I will cover my first experience with coaching and a power meter and retell the tales of a fun and successful cyclocross season. Stay tuned. 




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Northampton...

Thursday 11:44 pm…

Sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, sneeze!

Now I’m really awake. For some reason I can’t stop sneezing and my nose is running like a creek during a rainstorm. Compounding the issue my sinus are literally throbbing. Ever since I broke the upper part of my nasal bone a couple of summers ago this has been the new normal. When things are especially bad I can watch my pulse by looking at the swollen upper part of my nose.

No panic. Tomorrow is election day and I don’t have to go to work. Friday will be a breeze and I will be able to rest up for Saturday morning. Being a considerate husband I left the bedroom and retreated to the living room. I had just changed the sheets on the guest bed and wasn’t in the mood to make more work for myself.

I managed to angle myself just right so my head was tilting back enough to stop the flood of fluid cascading out of my nose. Of course Eko joined me for the rest of the night making the couch that much more uncomfortable.

Sure I felt like turd but I knew I could put my game face on for Saturday morning and the 35 plus race at the Cycle Smart International CX in Northampton. Two years ago this was my first exposure to a big cross race. I had done my first ever race the weekend before and picked up a win and a second place. The whole idea of Cross Results points was foreign and I figured that I would just show up and smash everybody like the previous weekend. That first week I had also upgraded from cat five to cat three on the strength of my road and mountain licenses so the caliber of racer that I was facing was also going to improve dramatically. That first year at Northampton I started in the back row because of a data entry error on Cross Results. In a running race starting in the back isn’t that big of a deal. In a cyclocross race starting one hundred and twenty out of one hundred and twenty is a death sentence. Despite being furious about the mistake I still raced for the win. On top of the call up the conditions were unquestionably Belgian. Forty degrees with a hard wind driven rain. I went deep that first year and passed one hundred and one riders on my way to a nineteenth place finish. A couple of untimely spills took away my shot at the top ten. Later that afternoon I discovered an avulsion on my shin from one of the crashes. I had to decided between sewing it up with a needle and thread or supergluing it shut. Hindsight is twenty twenty, I should have opted for the thread, the glue didn't really stick!

Last years race marked the end of my season due to a heavy crash in the last lap of the race. I had been riding as a force in the lead group and got caught not riding in the moment. I was planning my attack on the second run-up and was going to take advantage of a line in the following off camber turn that none of the other leaders had ridden the entire race. From there I was going to ride clear and solo to the finish. Paying attention is supremely important in CX and in that instant I rode into one of the steaks that was dug deep in the ground. I crashed hard over the handlebars, knocked the wind out of myself on my stem, and hit my right arm so hard that I thought I had a hairline fracture for a couple of weeks. Dazed on the ground a concerned Al Donahue approached and reminded me about how much it sucks crashing out of a race, especially when you’re in the money.

Sure I had a nasty head cold and felt like a pile of garbage but this after all was NoHo and I desperately wanted to have a good race.

Saturday morning I was up early and feeling slightly better. Fluids and Sudafed can work magic in a pinch. While I was making coffee I had a sudden moment of panic. While resting the previous day I had never gotten around to cleaning and setting up my bike. Fortunately I was up early enough and had plenty of time before hitting the road just before 8:00.

The ride down was uneventful other than the fact that I wasn’t amped at all. I felt like it was just going to be business as usual. No need to worry. My form has been great and my thinking was that if I showed up and rode my race that the rest would take care of itself.

Set-up and warm-up were straightforward with the exception of the rather obnoxious guy that was parked next to me. This dude clearly was under the impression that he knew everything about the sport and was working hard to impart all of his knowledge on the woman that he appeared to coach. I actually had to plug in my headphones and warm-up on the other side of the street because the dude was so obnoxious.

I warmed up to Phantograms Turn to Stone off their first EP which got me in a good groove. I headed to the start early not wanting to get caught up in the crowd.

This was my first ever 35 plus race in an attempt to gain some experience prior to nationals. What was new to me was the fact that the race was split between old dudes and young guns. The junior men that are on the fast track to being awesome talents would be sharing the course with us which would ensure a hot pace.

My call up got me a good spot on the outside of the second row and I was focused on having an awesome start. Knowing what I know about teenagers they typically don’t sit around. They typically go full gas at everything from the starting gun. NoHo was no different. At the bell these kids absolutely killed it down the first stretch. Rather than immersing myself in the pack I drifted to the outside and found some space to find my rhythm.

Typically my strategy in a cross race is to withstand the initial full gas attack and then to get down to business with my diesel engine. Through the first lap I was in the lead bunch but something felt slightly awry. I was driving the bike exceedingly well and making good power but something was missing. It felt like the very top end of my power was missing which made for a crazy ride. From that moment the race really became a terrible and painful game of cat and mouse. From the led group of twelve, someone would attack. Without my top end power I would get dropped and face a gap of ten to fifteen seconds. Resisting panic I would settle in and slowly reel the bunch back in. Typically these attacks and pace changes would shed one rider at a time. Once I was latched back onto the tail of the bunch, boom another attack. Ugh. Gap struggle, grind, catch back on, repeat.

When the suffering really takes hold a race seems like an eternity. I honestly don’t even remember any spectators on the course. All I remember is that awful feeling that most closely resembles throwing a rotten tomato against a wall and watching it slowly slide down to the ground to meet its final demise. Every attack I slid further and further down the wall inching ever closer to total implosion.

Somehow in the last two laps I was still holding on. As bad as the pain and suffering was I was hanging in there. Despite the alarming suffering that I was enduring I was still managing to sprint out of the saddle on the drops on the longer straightaways. I could even still see the front of the race which probably kept me fighting so hard. In the last couple of minutes I caught and dispatched one last rider and even mustered a meager sprint for ninth place.

Following the race I was awash with many conflicting emotions. I was so proud that I hung in and fought every second of the race. I was pissed that this cold finally got the best of me at one of my target races. I literally get sneezed on once a day at work so it’s a wonder I held it off this long. I was encouraged and frustrated in the same instant. Close enough to see the front of the race but lacking the top end power to be there. My most positive takeaway is that I was the first rider age 30-39 which leaves me feeling hopeful as nationals approaches.

For now my first priority is getting healthy so I can get back to work. Coach Cratty and I are planning a four week block of heavy training followed by three weeks of sharpening heading into Hartford.


Sorry if this recap is missing some snap! I’m so hopped up on cold meds that I can’t focus on one thought for more than five seconds at a time.

Mark

Monday, November 7, 2016

West Hill...


With no school tomorrow and a couple of beers down the hatch on an off day I figured it was time to write a race recap. If you’ve never done West Hill you are missing out on everything that is right about grassroots New England cyclocross. Incredible fan support, pastoral Vermont setting, and the gnarliest run-ups in New England. This year tacky mud was added to the fray which made for a day to remember.

Waking up at 4:11 after inadvertently setting my alarm when I changed the time for Daylight Saving time the previous night I was instantly nervous. This years West Hill Classic would mark the anniversary of my first ever one, two, three race two years ago to the day. That race happened to be my third race ever on a cx bike and was marred by unfortunate and ill timed bad luck. Coming off the pavement twenty seconds into the race I pinch flatted my rear tubular. Despite a quick wheel change I was in no man’s land the whole race and despite my best effort I finished 16th. Fast forward to last year and again I was nagged by bad luck and poor timing. Twenty minutes into the race after making contact with the lead group after a third row call up I rolled a tubular a ways away from the pit. Crestfallen and frustrated in the same instant I threw my bike to the ground in the pit refusing to go full gas for another forty minutes alone in the woods. I came back in the ¾ and won by over two minutes in a hail of heckles telling me that it was time to upgrade. My nervousness was clearly deep seeded and founded following the previous two editions of the race.

Things brightened up on the drive to the race as the overcast sky opened and started dropping a nasty sleet that dropped the temperature below forty degrees. The weather was on my side and it was looking like a hardmans kind of day.

Upon arrival the West Hill vibe set in with its usual bohemian flair and panache. During the late summer and early fall I head over to West Hill every Wednesday night for practice which makes this my home course. Pumpkincross is ten minutes from my house but West Hill is my home course.

My warm-up was given an extra bounce when my buddy Ned came back to the parking lot after the cat four race with his first CX win in his pocket. The stars were were moving into place and I was becoming increasingly certain that I was going to have a great day.

At the line I was jitter free. Coach Cratty was in my head demanding a fast start. My head was in my head telling me to ride and drive clean. My power numbers were screaming at me to inflict pain on the flats. I was ready. No excuses. Put up or shut up. This is going to hurt so freaking bad. This is going to feel so freaking good.

Thirty seconds…

Off the line I was clipped in and rolling full gas right away. Chris Niesen took the whole shot and was drilling it with everything he had the first few minutes. I knew that Chris was less than confident with his form so I let him take the initial salvo as the contenders stacked up. The guy to watch the first lap was Adam Saint Germaine. The winner of the last two editions of the race and an annual top ten finisher at 35+ nationals he was someone that I wanted to beat. The early laps were hard but manageable. Watts were pouring out of my legs but the effort felt like something I could sustain for the entire race. The third lap I was feeling especially good and decided to try and hurt some folks and break the race up. My plan had the desired effect and the race literally detonated in the wake of the move. When I finally sat up after crushing the run up at top speed it was clear that it was a three man race. I kept working but I was smart and allowed the others to share the load as we continued to telescope away from the chase. I distinctly remember seeing the sign for five laps to go and thinking. “Five to go? I can do this effort for five more!”



As the battle continued and cross brain set in attack after attack came. I weathered every storm and dealt out my fair share of blows when disaster struck. Leading into the run up I went a little too hard. As I pumped my bike through the mud rut I hit something that caused my chain to jump off. As I ran up the hill I begged the universe to have let the chain fall off on the inside. As I continued to lead up the run an unfortunate sinking feeling fell across me as I felt the chain slapping against my backside. I remounted and tried to jump the chain back on but the writing was on the wall. I need to stop and manually put the chain back on the ring. The quick repair cost me roughly thirty second after my two breakaway companions attacked my bad fortune.

Rather than panic I set about the absurdly difficult task of trying to bring back the leaders. Throughout the school year I have been trying to teach my students about growth mindset and grit. Never was there a better real life instance than the last third of a silly bike race in Vermont. I couldn’t quit. I wouldn’t quit. Rather than falling into a fixed attitude that I couldn’t catch up I fed on the energy of the crowd as they willed me to make it back to the front. Mary was an absolute pro and seemingly knew the right thing to say every time I passed. After the initial panic subsided she looked at me and simply yelled “RIDE!” As beautiful as she is she is also wise and incredibly practical. Right just ride! Who knows this course better than I do? Who has suffered here more than I have? The next lap as reality set in she forcefully yelled “GRIND” which is exactly what I always hope to do.

The gap slowly came down as I turned myself inside out trying to get back to the front of the race. Through the bell I found legs that I had never had in a sixty minute cross race and I clawed down the gap and had it to five seconds. The whole chase I knew what I was racing for. The reality was that I was racing for third. I wasn’t settling for third I was grinding and riding for third. Just as I was about to make contact with the leaders they surged again as the last of my energy stores evaporated like the spilled beer from the hecklers in the mud. The last few minutes are a blur but I do remember doing my best Belgian and hitting the bars as I crossed the line. Somehow it’s not a race at West Hill without a little bit of bad luck.

Despite the mechanical this was the best cross race of my life. I raced a clean race and drifted my tubulars in the mud like a genuine Belgian. I fought harder than I’ve ever fought and was rewarded with a spot on the podium of the classic New England cyclocross race.




Thank you Mary for the yelling and continued support! Thank you Darren for the equipment hook-up! The Crux is amazing! Thank you Chris and Katie for being such a positive support structure this season! Thank you Jeremy for getting me fit and ready to race! Lastly THANK YOU Minuteman Road Club for giving me the opportunity to race bike with baddest bunch of badasses in New England!