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!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Quabbin...

A little race report that I did for my team message board.


Quabbin was going to be my day, I could feel for the past couple of weeks. My rides had been going increasingly well and there have been times that I have been absolutely flying. Following the Wednesday Night Ride I was certain that I would have the legs to bring home a result at Quabbin.

The story really does not begin there if I’m going to do it any justice. The story really begins two years ago following my last win on the road as a cat four at the Killington Stage Race. It was my first year of bike racing and I was blowing races up at will and having a great time in the process. Why would I think it would be any different once I upgraded to cat three the following week. Unbeknownst to many I had been dealing with some pretty severe gastrointestinal issues for the previous three years and had been diagnosed with a relatively rare form of colitis. The treatment plan that we were using at the time was ineffective and I was still having diarrhea up to ten times a day. That summer season as a three I got destroyed. Following a shameful last place finish at Hilltowns when I could not hold wheels on the flats the writing was on the wall. It was back to the gastrointestinologist for more testing and a new try at some other forms of treatment. I took some solace in the doctor telling me that I probably had not absorbed an electrolyte all summer which explained my exceedingly poor performances. Following a long stint off the bike I was able to rebuild some form and made my cyclocross debut in the second half of the fall season. My stomach issues were now behind me thanks to a new medication and I was looking forward to coming back in 2015.

Training thought the winter and gearing up for 2015 went well and I was poised to have a great  spring. I did the first critt in Plainville and nabbed a solid fourth place finish in the 1/2/3 out of a break that I drove nearly the whole way. I was feeling good heading toward Battenkill but I hastily committed to doing Rasputitsa the week before. On a forty plus mile descent a mud rut blew out on me and I went airborn. I unclipped my right leg as I flailed through the air desperate not to crash. I managed to hold off the worst of it but my right leg dug into the ground at forty mph totally torquing my hip. The pain increased every week and despite some fairly solid results at MSR and Sunapee I could barely walk without pain let alone ride a bike. Thankfully a friend of mine is an orthopedic Physician Assistant and was able to look at my x-rays and determine that a cortisone shot would do the trick. In the world of quick fixes I literally drove to Portland, Maine to my friends house and she gave me a cortisone shot in my right hip while we all laughed about the absurdity. Fortunately the shot worked but I ended up being off the bike for around twenty-five days total.

Fast forward to summer and again I was on the comeback trail gunning to have the form and legs to win the cat three race at Concord last weekend of July. As always form built and confidence grew as July slowly passed. I was optimistic given my strong three race series at the NCC summer practice critts where my worst finish was fourth behind the likes of Hyde, Durrin, and Clark. I didn’t know it at the time but I also clashed sabers with future teammate Tom C. a few times at the series. Hilltowns was semi successful but I left pissed with fifth place knowing that I had the legs for  the win had I been more aggressive. Things were lining up nicely and I was ready for Concord when disaster struck. In a freak accident on the bike path in Keene at a random blind, spot I collided head on with another cyclist. This was by far the worst and scariest crash of my life which resulted in three separate fractures of my right orbital bone and a fractured and displaced nasal bone and septum. On top of the fractures I had a severe concussion that left me not at 100% until January. Following my brief hospitalization and meeting with several surgeons cyclocross was in doubt. The admitting doctor was sure that I would be off the bike for six months given the severity of the fractures and concussion. Even as I sit and write this I still have problems breathing and need to schedule surgery for after this coming cross season. What the doctor did not know is that I basically have mutant healing power on par with Wolverine and I was back on the bike within fifteen days. Cross was semi successful with the exception of some ill timed flats and rolled tubulars when poised to pick up some massive points at West Hill and Midnight Ride of Cross.

Training through the winter went well again and I was buoyed with the knowledge that I would be racing on an awesome team in 2016. As I said above it was a long road to get to the race which is what made Saturday so rewarding.

Saturday morning I was up before the alarm and downing dark roast shortly thereafter. I had packed the Volvo V50 the night before and just needed to get coffee and my body out the door. On the drive the grey weather hung over me like a dark force. My old friend self-doubt came back and I wondered if I would be able to deliver the goods. I reminded myself that given Jeremy’s race plan that I had fifty miles to figure out how I was feeling so it was senseless to worry about it during the car ride. Upon arrival check in was pretty straight forward given that it was Mike Norton race and I had time to mingle and relax before the race.

Despite the cloudy cool conditions I was certain that it would clear and committed to only wearing my skinsuit. I read a silly VeloNews article earlier this spring about Tom Boonen and arm and leg warmers and wanted to honor the Tornado with bare arms and legs. At the line I was over the moon with excitement. Teammates everywhere with different strengths all ready to animate the race with their talents. Hearing Tom tell another rider that I was the guy to watch brought my confidence to another level because I thought he was the guy that could win the race!  

Off the line and down the hill I chilled (literally and figuratively) with PJ. We had a few good laughs about how long it took him to shave his legs Friday night given a winter of beastdom. Our fifteen mph descent was more like a thirty mile descent and we were out of the park within minutes. Initially on the road I was way back in the bunch. There was a lot of energy being expended by some of the other riders establishing position in the bunch. I was in the second half of the group and kept an eye on all the red Lazer helmets. I got excited as I saw Scott take a dig off the front as planned and started working my way through the bunch. I found Jeremy and John and figured that my best plan was to settle in with the two of them as long as possible. Throughout the first half of the race I was hyper vigilant about fueling. Given the prescribed “big move” from ten to fifteen miles out I knew that I would need all the fuel I could stomach throughout the race.  

My excitement continued to grow as more and more teammates took flyers off the front. We even lined up a pretty awesome dig for PJ at one point and managed to block the whole front row of the race. Despite none of these moves sticking they were having a palpable impact on the race. Teams were growing frustrated with our control and were constantly wasting matches chasing down our moves. All the while my confidence was growing knowing that I would be ready when the time came.

Between forty and fifty miles the race really started to heat up. Jeremy had told me to shadow the CycleOps kid and that resulted in me being in the first five to ten riders which really set me up to make a strong move. The pace and duration of the race was apparent on the faces of the riders around me as I continued to feel relaxed. I’m not sure what mile it was but the guy I will refer to as Red Dude made a huge attack off the front. Jeremey being the ultimate badass of the day countered to try and close the gap. The pace on the front dawdled as some of the riders complained that the race was over. Up the road I could see that Jeremy was struggling to bridge when it happened. This wicked lanky kid Will exploded out of the group looking like a million bucks. I could tell that that was the move so I pushed all my chips on the table and attacked at full power to bridge across to his wheel. I made contact and we got down to business. First we picked up Jeremy and for a moment I thought the two of us would go to the line together. Unfortunately Jeremy’s massive efforts throughout the day finally caught up and he exploded after a mile. Will and I kept digging and swept up Red Dude and and we formed a solid paceline.

The first twenty minutes of an attack are all sunshine and rainbows. My digs on the flats were hurting Red Dude which I thought was a good plan. My pulls on the flats were around thirty to forty-five seconds at thirty to thirty one miles per hour. Once my heartrate would get to 177 or 178 I would pull off knowing that I would need the big guns on Route 9 and in the park. Through that weird park stretch and onto Route 9 the moto told us that we had forty-six seconds on the bunch. It seemed plausible that the move could work but our chances took a huge hit as we hit the unrelenting headwind on Route 9. Red Dude did his best to hang but he dropped on the first climb and it was down to Will and I to make this move stick. The last half of this break was pure hell on earth. Every muscle fiber was screaming in agony and my heart felt like it was going to explode under the weight of the effort. Snot, sweat, and tears blew off my face with each desperate pedal stroke. Whatever was going to happen would surely happen but I was giving my max to make this move work. With each hill and each gust of wind the gap dropped. Our best bet was to make it to the park which would hopefully demoralize the chase. At the entrance the gap was down to thirty-two seconds and I was totally gassed. I had struggled to hold Will’s wheel the last two miles and was starting to doubt it we would make it all the way to the line. Those thoughts were confirmed when I looked back and saw the group just down the road. Each turn of the pedal was an effort now as we climbed toward the finish. On the flatter sections of the climb I did my best to hurt Will by ramping up the pace to twenty-five mph. I committed to staying on the big ring the whole climb and just started laying down the power. At 2k to go Will started making audible breathing and grunting noises. I thought this was a head game so I started making noises too. I wanted him to think that I was hurting worse than he was in order to bait him into attacking too soon. The reality was that I could not hurt anymore than I was already hurting so I kept the pace high. I pulled even with Will at fifteen hundred to go and much to my surprise a small gap started to form. A quick glance and I saw Will looking at his feet seemingly trying to drudge up the last of his energy. That visual was all I needed and I found one more gear and attacked. The gap stretched and I could not see the chase coming so I went all out for as long as I could. Seeing the two hundred to go sign I knew I had it in the bag and the excitement started to grow. The last fifty I dropped it to the small ring and did my best to pose across the line. (Hopefully someone got a shot for the sponsors) I was beyond thrilled and could not wait to share the victory with the team. Initially we thought that Tom had nabbed third when in fact he was forth. Everyone met up at the tower and shared in the victory. As excited as I was to pick up the win I was even more thrilled to be able to deliver for the team. In years past at races I would simply ride back to the car pack up and head home. There was a camaraderie in the parking lot and nobody wanted to let the moment pass. It was so fun to hang out and reflect on the days work and share the experiences of everyone else. I am so excited to be on this team and I am beyond excited that I was able to deliver the result that we have been looking for. It has been a very long road the last two years to get back to the top of the podium but that struggle made Quabbin that much sweeter.  

Mark

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hill Climb Season...


Following my summer medical woes and subsequent decision to skip The Green Mountain Stage Race I choose to focus on two of the late season hill climb races. The Greylock uphill time trial presented by the Northampton Cycling Club and Kearsarge Hill Climb hosted by the Hopkinton Rotary are both unique challenges. Greylock is as advertised a time trial format that rewards the ability to suffer alone while Kearsarge is essentially a road race for the first half of the race complete with tactical games and maneuvers. I competed in both of these events last year and had mixed results. After a strong forth place showing at Greylock I raced like a moron at Kearsarge and got dropped before the real racing really began. With a year of knowledge under my belt I felt good about my chances in both events. Given my lack of racing miles but encouraging recent Strava stats my goal was to be on the podium at each event. 

Greylock is an awesome mountain for many reasons. The proximity to my home town and fact that it was the first big mountain that I had ever seen only enhanced its reputation in my mind. A car trip to the summit when I was eleven planted seeds that grew into my adult obsessions. Being high above the surrounding country was appealing. As I aged the thought of gaining that elevation under my own power was a constant source of excitement. Last year at Greylock I was an unknown quantity and raced with little to no pressure. I simply showed up and rode as hard as I could for just under forty-two minutes. In that time I passed twenty-one other riders that had started in front of me at thirty second intervals. I walked away psyched and eager to start my road racing career in 2014. This year I had established myself as a climber to be reckoned with with my victories at Quabbin and Killington and felt pressure to perform. Looking at the entry list the days prior to the race I had a feeling that I would be in contention for the podium with a chance at the win if the conditions were right, and if I managed to race like a rational individual. 

The drive to Greylock is always fun and this year was no different. Again Tool blasted as I had my greatest career drive over the curvy western features of the Mohawk Trail. Dead Mans Curve and Hairpin Turn are like candy for the euro handling package and turbo charger of the V50. The thrill of the drive only enhanced my excitement for the coming madness. As with every Mike McCusker run event check in was a breeze and I was back at the car preparing for my warm-up within a few minutes. Looking at the start list my excitement continued to grow with the knowledge that Erik Vandendries would be my thirty second man, and that we would be the last two riders in the wave. Erik had crushed me over the last humiliating mile of Keargarge last year and I was hell bent on revenge. I had great legs throughout my warm-up and my heart rate was cooperating. I knew I was on a great day and that I was ready to rock the climb. 

At the start the weather was already chilly with reports of sub forty degree temperatures with wind and freezing fog at the summit. Thankfully I had packed a summit bag this year so freezing to death was not going to be a concern like last year. Standing at the start the time seemed to fly by as my start time approached. My only strategy was to crush and to ask questions later. 

Three, two, one...

Off the line I hammered with everything hoping to demolish the climb. My heart rate quickly jumped into the low 180s as I tried to find a steady rhythm. I was riding a new 28 tooth cassette on my mechanic Nate’s Zipp 202’s for the first time and was trying to stay in the saddle as much as possible. In the first mile I had already taken twenty-five seconds out of Erik which only enhanced my frenzied state. I put another log on the fire and went to work trying to catch him. If you were to poll all of the great masters cyclists in America, unquestionably, you would find a common denominator, they’re all reasonable. While I was mashing out an estimated 450 watts near or beyond my lactate threshold Erik was quietly and calmly setting a reasonable tempo. (I would later see in the data that I was 1:07 faster than winner Gump over the first mile. Whoops!) Just as the pass appeared immanent past the ten minute mark in the effort Erik began to glide away. Part of me was already cursing myself but I told myself to shut the hell up and got back to work. I had committed to this suicide strategy and now I needed to suffer for another thirty minutes to salvage my goal of finishing on the podium. Through the middle steep sections that included the epic hairpins I continued to pick off competitors one by one on my way up the mountain. I was riding well and doing everything I could to go as fast as I could but I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to beat Erik. As I continued to gain elevation with every pedal stroke the temperature continued to drop while the winds increased. I was nurturing hopes of smashing the upper section as I had last year when I stole the KOM from the overall climb record holder. It was no surprise however that when I hit the exposed flats that the head wind combined with my dwindling watts was standing in my way. I fought and clawed for every second in the last mile but in my minds eye I knew that I was going slower. Across the line covered in sweat and nearly frozen spit and snot  my suspicion was confirmed. The crippling headwinds combined with the unsustainable early pace saw me finish a minute plus slower than last year. I quickly gathered my summit bag as my core temperature rapidly dropped. Being that it was roughly thirty-five degrees with three hundred meters or less of visibility I decided that there was no need to hang out at the summit. It was fun not nearly dying on the decent and I was back at the car and changed within the next half hour. One of the more appealing parts of the Greylock race is the after party put on by the NCC. The most satisfying beef stew, salad, and gingerbread cake is served in an old train yard with free Berkshire Brewing Company Steel Rail Ale. The results took forever which gave me time to catch up with my buddy PJ and his wife Katie over a couple of beers. In the small world department I even shared a table with a two random guys that now live in my home town and are friends with my cousin Wendy. Finally the awards started and I was psyched to find out that I had held on for third place behind the legendary Jay Gump and the aforementioned Erik Vandendries. Overall Greylock was again an awesome experience and will continue to be on my yearly calendar for years to come!


In the interim between Greylock and Kearsarge I had an epiphany thanks in part to my friend, colleague, and training partner Bill Gillard. Out on our Wednesday ride as we approached the legendary Leviathan climb in Hinsdale, NH Bill prophetically reminded me that Perceived Effort does not directly correlate with Wattage. In laymen speak, going full gas at the beginning of a climb to get my heart rate high probably means that I am making huge unsustainable watts. Settling in early and sustaining would produce a fast time. That knowledge and application saw me shave eleven seconds off my best overall time and twenty-five seconds off my best solo time on the climb that I had been hunting for over a year. The hard data that I was now only ten seconds off of Gump on a four mile climb gave me a huge confidence bump heading into Kearsarge. 

As I mentioned earlier Kearsarge is a different animal than Greylock. Essentially it is a four mile hilly road race followed by a four mile hill climb. The organizing committee spices up the early action by having a big prime bonus for the first rider to hit the base of the climb. Last year there was five hundred dollars on the line so every Tom, Dick and Harry within a hundred miles that thinks he can sprint showed up for the money making the race super fast from the gun. With the prime dropped to two hundred dollars this year I hoped that cooler heads would prevail. 

Always a good sign I was up before the alarm and out the door early despite being underprepared. I had left my socks at home and didn’t bring any warm clothing to warm up in due to the forecasted eighty degree temperatures. Also I was sans awesome dark roast and instead had to rely on my in laws brew combined with a terrible Dunkin Donuts espresso. Map Quest totally screwed me and without cell services I drove aimlessly until I happened across Route 89. My early departure had saved my butt and I arrived early even with enough time to stop in town for a bathroom break. Friday had been Mary’s birthday so I was giving myself a pass on my lack of appropriate preperation. This continued when I discovered that I didn’t bring a skewer to use with my trainer for my warm-up. No way I was going to use Zipp skewer for this race! I quickly shifted and headed out on the road with my parking lot neighbor John Cico. My warm-up garb was very New Hampshire to say the least. Throw away purple running gloves, the race tee shirt topped by a brown plaid shirt. I won’t lie I was actually very comfortable in this get up. John being an awesome dude hooked me up with a sweet pair of socks after the warm-up that matched my kit. Even better was the fact that the socks had skulls and crossbones on them with the words Death Ride woven in to the top collar! What was super awesome about John was that he is a former University of Penn runner that volunteers at the Penn Relays every year. We exchanged stories from the Relays and I bragged about the fact that Mary is a two time champion which blew John’s mind. 

Following the pre race meeting I scanned the faces on the line and knew that I was in for a battle. Winning was going to be tough, in fact even getting on the podium was going to be a victory of sorts. Hill climb specialist and defending champion Eric Follen was front and center at the start along with last years runner up and former GMSR cat two champion Sam Evans-Brown. Greylock vanquisher Erik Vandendries was looking fresh as was CCB’s Kai Wiggins who has been tearing it up all year. To tie it all together in a nice box of suffering year long rival and all around badass cyclist Will Crabtree lurked out of the shadows in the last few minutes before the start. Whatever was about to happen I was sure of one thing, the shit was going to hit the fan on the climb. 

Off the line, much to my surprise, the pace dawdled. Last year my heart rate was was redlining in the first three minutes as I chased down attacks. This year it felt like all hundred riders rolled together as one big group. I am in no way a sexist but I knew the pace was slow when everyone seemingly let the lead woman set the pace at the front of the bunch. I worked the group as I had all year finding the right wheels. I was focused most on Evans Brown and Crabtree because their styles most closely resemble mine and I knew that if they moved early that I needed to go with them. With every pedal stroke more and more of a pissing match broke out on the road and nobody wanted to do the work. I was content to sit in the bunch and watch for any serious threats. Four hundred meters out from the sprint prime Follen, John Badessa, Evans-Brown, Crabtree, Wiggins, and a few followers contested the sprint. My lesson learned from Wednesday burned in the back of my brain and I held off every competitive instinct that I have and let the sprint go. Into the park I was sitting eighth and slightly worried about the gap that had opened as a result of the sprint. The seven man group was settling in and I went to work upping my pace. The pretenders fell off right away parring the group to five. Wiggins was next to fade and I quickly dispatched him on the early steep sections. Follen and Badessa had gotten a gap on Crabtree and Evans-Brown as I sat in forth roughly twenty seconds down. Crabtree began to falter and I jumped across the gap thinking that he would hop on my wheel one last time this season. Unfortunately Will didn’t have the power leaving me to chase solo. I was feeling great and a tiny voice tugged at me to be content with forth. Why should I hurt myself to chase a seasoned racer like Sam? Instantly I hit the override button on my brain and told myself to shut the hell up and got to work. The gap seemed locked at twenty seconds until we got to a flat section on the mountain. Rather than recover and prepare for the next steep section I shifted onto the big ring and went full gas easily making the gap vanish into the high mountain air. On Sam’s wheel with three miles to go I could see the two lone leaders up the road a further thirty seconds. After a brief recovery I again shifted to the big ring and attacked Sam. His years of experience and power quickly covered the move and suddenly I was where I didn’t want to be, pulling a strong climber and sprinter up to the leaders. At this point the blinders went on and it became a two up race. Third place was going to be my own personal victory on this day. Rather than chase I let the pace slide and I made a few paperboy moves across the road to try and get Sam to pull. I made a few pseudo attacks to keep the pain level high before Sam counter attacked me on a steep section with just under two miles to go. I fought unbelievably hard to get back up to Sam’s wheel and felt a strong sense of satisfaction at making it back. Just as I settled in on Sam’s wheel however he again powered away and established a quick ten to fifteen second gap. I was hurting pretty bad with a mile and a half to go but I was having so much fun at the same time. With a mile to go I decided to trust myself and restarted the chase. I utilized another big power section on the course and raced back to Sam’s wheel. My heart rate zoomed through the 180s and I crossed over into the haze of the 190s. I knew that Sam must have been hurting from tying to drop me so I hit him right away, and I him hard. Finally the gap opened and I could taste the blood in the water. Over the two tenths of a mile when I went full gas I hit a maximum estimated wattage of 630 with an average estimated wattage of 400 for that minute for a 5.9 watts per kilogram number. None of these numbers mattered as the gap continued to open. In the last four-hundred meters I continued to crank knowing that no lead is safe in the mountains. Across the line I allowed myself a small fist pump to mark the occasion. In all honesty I was totally stoked with third place because of the epic battle that Sam and I had embarked on over the previous fifteen minutes. Weather at the summit was sensational and Sam, Will and I hung out and caught up on all things cycling and beyond. The awards were again long and the free beer and cold fog was replaced with free coffee and high temperatures setting the scene for another beautiful fall day in New Hampshire. 

Time to gear up for some Cyclocross! The next big objectives will be PutneyCross, Northampton, and New England’s. 

Cheers!

Mark


Addition: Though my time of 33:41 was only twenty-eight seconds faster than last year the real pearl in the data is the last four miles of the climb where I was a minute and fifty-seconds faster than last year. With Vandendries forty-five seconds back my reasonable approach worked and makes me think of the missed opportunity at Greylock.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Concord...


Saturday afternoon I headed down to Concord to hopefully recapture some form following this most recent medical debacle. Thursday afternoon I consulted with a new gastrointestinologist and discussed my recent woes. I walked away with some sound information regarding my condition that really explained my recent struggles. The most startling revelation is that my electrolyte absorption has essentially been non existent for the duration of this flare. My recent struggles with hydration and cramping can been seen in a much different light with this fresh perspective. On top of a hardy dose of information I also walked away with a new medication that should right the ship over the next few months. Heading into the Concord Crit I would be forty-eight hours into the new medication. Given that I wasn’t expected to see any real results for the first seventy-two hours I was hoping I could at least get a mental bump knowing that I was on the path to recovery. 

I showed up with nearly two hours to kill before the start. The awesome Elm City Velo Specialized tent was set up and waiting for me in the team area. After unloading the car and going through the normal number pick up and bathroom routine I settled in for a few minutes before kitting up. Shortly before I started my warm-up Darren arrived closely followed by Tim and John. Once I was on the trainer our little group swelled to include Mary and her parents. My warm-up actually felt great despite the high humidity in the air. My legs were spinning well and my heart rate seemed to be cooperating under the effort. This was going to be my longest crit ever so given my lack of riding during the week I wanted to make sure I was running hot headed to the line. I debated my fluid options for the race and decided to err of the side of hydration by bringing two bottles for the thirty plus mile effort. 

On the line I chatted with a few of the guys that I had been racing with for the majority of the season. I shared a quick conversation with John echoing our earlier discussion. Given the right opportunity I was going to jump into the break and work hard if it had enough horsepower. If the right group didn’t come together I was going to sit back and maintain position for the sprint. Looking at the amount of teams that were well represented on the line I knew that it was going to be a difficult day to establish a break. There was too much interest from too many teams to let something get away that could potentially make it to the line. 

The start was fast and the group settled in right away at a high pace. It was immediately clear that this was not going to be a walk in the park for anybody. There was a near constant stream of attacks off the front by many of the pretenders in the race. They would quickly get five to ten meters and then sputter our and get reabsorbed into the group. Team Zip Car and Team Gougan seemed hell bent on keeping everyone together. I wasn’t sure who Zip Car was working for but it was clear that the Gougan’s were working for young Kevin that has been lighting up the scene all summer. Kevin and I had gone one on one last year in the cat five race but it was clear that I was dealing with a different animal. This kid has developed legit top end speed over the last year and had a whole team working for him to chase down breaks. Tim took and early dig to string things out but it didn’t last long because of the high pace. Early on I took a flyer up this hill and put ten seconds into field right away. I was hoping to take some power with me and establish a break. Over the top of the hill I was well clear of the group but decided to sit up. My heart rate had shot up to 188 bpm which I knew I could not sustain for another fifty minutes alone. Back in the group I shifted my plan and decided to fight for position the remainder of the race and to follow Kevin’s wheel at all costs. The pace stayed hot for the rest of the race. John put in two beastly efforts off the front which only increased the pace further. Every time John would attack Zip Car and the Gougan’s would look at him and then look back at me. Clearly I was a marked man and was not going to be allowed to get away late in race. As the pace increased so did the contact in the field. There was a lot of leaning and a lot of pointed elbows over the last twenty minutes of the race. With two laps to go as John’s last move was absorbed and the pace hit warp speed. There was a lot of disarray in the filed and it was clear who the good bike handlers were. At the bell the pace shot up even more. I held the wheels that I wanted to the top of the climb where the pace dawdled. There was shouting and chaos as a rider slipped off the front. I lost the good wheels and had to go wide into someone’s front yard with Dave Brown to keep the pace up. A gap had unfortunately developed but we were able to get back in a line heading through the big sharp nasty corners. I was further back then I wanted to be maybe in fifteenth heading into the last corner. The lead out train stayed to the inside as the sprint opened up on the outside. Gougan launched right away and everyone else got right after him. The rider directly in front of me either took a crappy line or sat up forcing me to sprint from behind. Once I was clear I was flying and seemed to be picking off riders left and right. I shot across wheels to catch drafts and managed to catch one last rider on the line for what I thought was forth. Apparently I hadn’t noticed that there was one other rider on the extreme inside that I didn’t see and barley missed out on passing. 

The end result was fifth place in the sprint which was still good enough to pick up the New Hampshire title. I was very pleased with the effort and proud of the patience that I displayed. I think with a little more work on my positioning and bike handling skills that I can be a constant threat in bunch sprints. Back at the tent the cost of the effort caught up with my still recovering body. I was dry as a bone once again indicating that I was really dehydrated. After Mary and her parents left I had a few dizzy spells and almost fell over. Darren had me sit for a few minutes before my cool down just to drink extra fluids. Once I got thirty-two ounces of fluid into the system sweat started to reappear on my arms and I felt a little better. This incident really shook me a bit and is leading me to a new position. Proceed with caution. My best estimate is that I am operating at about eighty percent of my maximum right now. Rushing through this medication adjustment is only going to delay my progress further. The Green Mountain Stage Race was a big objective for the year but I’m not willing to risk my health to have a sub par race. I am going to try to get back to semi-normal training the next ten days and will make my decision then based on how I am feeling.  

Cheers!

Mark

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hilltowns...


Writing about epic awesome victories is much more fun than terrible death marches that make you question why you compete. Writing a blog about training and racing makes you accountable to readers that deserve to know just as much about the awful days as the awesome days. 

Saturday morning I was up without the assistance of the alarm and could tell that I had good legs for the Tour of Hilltowns Road Race presented by the Northampton Cycling Club. After reaching the kitchen I had the unpleasant realization that my coffee grinder had broken. I was a little stressed about his development but a quick trip to Target in Keene quickly made the complication a distant memory. The biggest complication of the morning was the unrelenting diarrhea that accompanies my microscopic colitis that I have been battling the last month. I was diagnosed with this relatively rare autoimmune condition three years ago just after we moved to Marlborough. Unfortunately over the last month my symptoms have flared pretty dramatically and I haven’t been able to get things back under control. Over the last ten days I have been super diligent about addressing my symptoms without any relief. My ability to absorb nutrients or stay properly hydrated has been significantly compromised lately. Being the stubborn idiot that I am I really thought I could continue to train and race through this unsettled period. Saturday those delusions vanished and I accepted that I need to take a step back and address my health before I can be competitive on the bike. 

Upon arrival at the race I realized that it was pretty muggy and that hydration would be a major focus of the race. At the packet pick-up the woman that was running the table wasn’t going to give me my number because my racing license didn’t say that I was a cat three racer. Fortunatly pro cyclist and all around nice guy Anthony Clark stepped in told the woman about my racing prowess. She relented and gave me the number thanks to Anthony! I was truly grateful and even happier at my decision to race all of the NCC crits through the month of July. 

Back at the car I got kitted up and ready to rock. I wore my traditional Elm City Velo kit and S-Works Evade helmet to cut through the wind. The high temperatures led me to forego a traditional warm up knowing that the early climbs would surely suffice for such a long race. The race was two thirty-one mile laps with six climbs per lap that required respect and attention. At the rollout I was confident and settled in at the front end of the field. On the early steep hills I followed PJ McQuade’s wheels and we succeeded in stringing out the pack. Over the summit Will Crabtree joined me on the front and we crushed the steep scary downhill. Around the dangerous high speed corner in Buckland center, where my parents were standing, I had established a ten second gap. I sat up and waited for Will and we debated making a run for it only ten miles into the race. Once the bunch realized that it was Will and I they quickly got organized reeled us in on the downhill. Up the major twenty minute climb of Clesson Brook Road I felt fantastic. PJ was setting a hard tempo on the front trying to string out the field. My legs felt fantastic and I did my best to maintain position in the first ten riders. My heart rate was hovering in the 168 to 170 range which is completely manageable. Over the top of the climb I took a flyer and established another gap. Scott Yarosh from NCC joined me and immediately went to work crushing the downhills. While I didn’t expect any of these moves to stick I did expect them to tire out the competition and get ride of any passengers or sprinters. Through the end of the first lap I felt great and was actively planning my strategy for a big attack on the second lap. My plan was to try and get separation on the early climbs with the hope that another two or three riders would bridge up to me to create a breakaway that would stay away for the remainder of the day.

On cue right before the climb I attacked off the front again I easily established a gap. This time however something was different. My power was zapped and I could feel the early signs of cramps in my legs. I was worried and sat up and waited for the group. Suddenly as the catch happened I struggled to hold wheels. Everything felt terrible up the climb and I started to suffer. I had to turn myself inside out to get back on to the back of the second group up the second major climb. We chased on the decent and were able to get back on to the back of the group. This came at a huge cost and warning lights were starting to flash all over on the control panel. Onto Clesson Brook I was fighting for survival with every pedal stroke. Despite my best effort at hydrating during the race my skin was already starting to feel dry. The cramps really started to take hold and three quarters of the way up the climb I blew up and got spit out the back. 

At the top of Clesson Brook I could have taken a right and coasted downhill all the way to the parking lot and been on the road before the race even finished. I scoffed at the notion of quitting, especially in a race that I cared so much about. Thus started the hour and fifteen minute solo cramp filled death march to the finish line. I tried to rally by drinking and eating everything that I had left but it was too late. I was cooked! I pedaled squares for the last hour and cramped so badly that I’m still sore two days later. The masters race came past me like I was riding a mountain bike. The cat four race came past me on the decent like I was on a single speed. I was so upset that I wanted to cry riding the last ten miles to the finish. Across the line last in my race with the exception of the dropped riders that dropped out rather than shamefully riding across the line fifteen minutes after the winner. I was so embarrassed and upset riding through the finish. I felt shame and disappointment. I really felt like I had let my teammates down that have supported me all season. We were all excited about this race and I laid an egg out on the course instead of delivering. 

Looking ahead getting my gastrointestinal issues at bay is the top priority. Yesterday afternoon I researched different treatment options outside of the conservative approach that I have taken the last three years. If I have any hope of riding strong at the Green Mountain Stage Race this needs to be fixed within the next week. 

Sorry to disappoint! 

Mark

Monday, June 30, 2014

Longsjo Classic...


A bad race was bound to happen sooner or later. Everything has gone so well on the bike this year that I was starting to think that I was going to kill it every time I threw my leg over the top tube. Unfortunately a few factors came together yesterday that resulted in getting shot out the back like a club rider in the tour. 

Tim and I headed out from my house around 9:45 and made the short drive down to Fitchburg. The drive was a snap and we were even able to find a parking space relatively close to the start finish line away from the major crowds. We picked up our numbers and did a short walk around the course before setting up for the action. I decided to warm-up on the trainer because I have a much easier time controlling my hear rate while working through the zones in a controlled manner. After fifteen minutes I was adequately warmed up and despite the heat I was feeling pretty good. I could tell I wasn’t great but I was feeling good enough to be in contention. As I was making my final preparations at the car Darren and Maddie joined us and informed us that the race was red flagged because of a major crash in the fifty plus race. I guess it was pretty bad and they even had to bring in a fire truck to wash the blood off the road. Scary, scary stuff! I hope everyone is ok! 

This delay really threw me for a loop. I went from being really locked in to unfocused over the course of the thirty minute delay. In hindsight I should have stayed at the car longer and done more work on the trainer. This was probably the big disadvantage of being parked further away than everyone else. I did get away for some riding on the road but I was hesitant to really open up the legs given the amount of traffic that was weaving around the city. 

At staging I got a good spot on the outside of the front row and was as ready to rock as I was going to be. At the start I botched my mount and had to do a little work to get back to the front to regain my position. This was the biggest criterium that I have been in so far which was very exciting. I had no real problems managing my position, and the crowds in the fast turns didn’t bother me in the slightest. Early on I took a few small digs off the front but nothing serious. I was just stretching the legs. While I wasn’t great I was still making good power and I seemed to have the ability to separate in the right company. I chased back a few moves and was establishing myself as a presence at the front of the group. The heat was a pretty major factor but I seemed to be managing it over the course of the short race. 

Somewhere around mid race I was sitting eight to ten wheels off the front coming down the fast part of the course. The rider directly in front of me made a fast move to his right. In the blink of an eye at thirty miles per hour I had to make a decision. I could jerk out to the right and cut some wheels or I could ride out the storm. Opting for safety I rode out the storm. The storm consisted of a triangle of cobblestones that led right into a bark mulched traffic island. I negotiated the cobbles like a pro and bunny hopped the traffic island but was still carrying too much speed to make the sharp turn back onto the course. I was heading directly toward the big sidewalk curb and a group of spectators so I had to get on the breaks hard. I was at a complete stop and had to unclip, change directions, and restart. By the time I was rolling again I was twenty seconds off the back of the race and thirty seconds from the leaders. The thought of stopping never really crept into my mind and I instantly went into chase mode. I chased as hard as I could for two laps solo. After the first lap I was able to overtake to motto. The second lap I was back in the group. Three laps later I was back at the front of the group. The cost of the effort was huge and I was having serious doubts about my ability to finish effectively. With nine laps to go I made an acceleration through the start finish and totally blew up. The warm-up, the chase, and the heat working in combination got the best of my. Three hundred meters later I was struggling to hold wheels at the back. By the downhill I was popped out the back struggling to survive. It was really weird because it seemed like my body totally quit. After I was dropped I kept fighting and was hammering the corners out of the saddle on the drops but I was going nowhere. My heart rate dropped into the 160’s and I couldn’t get it back to where it needed to be. It was like my body was saying game over but my brain wouldn’t agree. The heat really took over the last seven laps. I was able to overtake one rider which provided the slightest twinge of satisfaction. Richard Fries, the famous cycling announcer even noticed anomaly of me being off the back. As I was coming through with five to go I could hear Fries say. “The heat is really having an impact today. Guys that are usually off the front making races are totally exploding off the back.” For my part I gave a little wave on my way though. I kept trying my hardest but I was going slower and slower. The writing was on the wall and at the bell the USA Cycling official pulled me from the field. 

I rode over to the barriers and passed my bike to my teammate Brad. As I was attempting to climb the barriers I slipped and fell flat on my ass on the sidewalk. The final insult. Brad’s wife, Jen, thought I was having a major heat related emergency and went into pro recovery mode and got me all the water I could handle over the next few minutes. I managed to get myself to a bench and my frustration swelled to the surface. Darren was a pro talking me down and reminded me that I had very little racing experience in the heat thus far. Within then minutes Tim and I were back at the car packing up. Within fifteen minutes we were on the road trying to put the day behind us. Tim stayed in the group the whole day capping a week of four races in five days. Not the best day ever on two wheels but not the worst either. 

Time to build with some huge mileage in preparation for the Tour of the Hilltowns at the end of July. 

Cheers!

Mark