Tuesday, June 28, 2011

White Mountains Classic Road Race Report

I spent the week prior to this race watching the weather and weighing options. Based on those forecasts, I was relatively certain that the weekend conditions were not going to be pleasant, with 70% chance of rain on Saturday and four days of steady rains making things a mess for Sunday. With that I decided that MTB racing was out, given primarily that I’d just finally gotten my MTB fixed up from the beating it took at Pat’s Peak. The team, that being the newly formed NEBC Junior Development Team, which I’m helping out with, had decided to commit to the White Mountains Classic race at Loon Mountain Ski Area in Lincoln, NH. I’d been keeping my eye on the race all season as it is a good location, convenient and a great cause. That said, racing in the rain wasn’t appealing.

After helping the team with last minute prep and gearing Friday and telling them I’d try to make it, I decided secretly to suck it up and go. After all, I knew some of the guys racing the master’s race and knew it would be fun and challenging and also pretty darn safe. This was the right decision. The venue was great, the course was a good fun mix, the volunteers were super and the rain held off all day. I can honestly say that this was one of the best days and experiences racing ever.

Cathy reluctantly decided to race as well, despite having retired from road racing earlier in the season. The fact that the course was "lumpy" and that there were a number of really strong ladies signed up wound ensure that the race would be a challenge. After a number of tough laps with Cathy positioned perfectly in the ever attacking group of three Sunapee women and one other ultra-strong climbing specialist, Cathy cracked. The rest of the race for his was a TT of misery, which she completed with pride.

My race started with my friend Patrick and I sitting at the back chatting at the rollout and for the first few minutes. Maybe a mile in things started to heat a bit so I moved to within the top 5 or so to watch carefully. There were some minor attacks and some very animated racers, like Marvin, but I knew Sunapee had four guys in the pack and would be a part of anything going down. My plan for the day was to just sit and not do anything at all stupid. So half way into lap two on RT112, Bruce was at the front leading things and I rotated to the front and bumped it a bit. Nobody at all took the bait and I had a 20 yard gap immediately. Was that stupid? I thought I wasn’t going to do anything stupid this time. Too late now, keep the pace and see what happens. The gap went out. Coming into Loon Village and through the start/finish for the completion of the second of ten laps, I just kept plodding along, not really drilling it at all but keeping a steady, comfortable pace. The gap remained for the entire lap.

At this point, starting the third lap, I knew it was time to make a decision, do I make an honest go at it or do I cut bait and wisely drift back to the shelter of the pack. I decided to make one hard bid up the hills after the start/finish on lap three and see what that bought me. I went hard and steady the whole way and the gap went out. On RT112, which by the way sucked as it was a miserable false flat, I could see that I had a couple hundred yards on the field but that someone was coming across, finally. I slowed my pace a bit, conserving and waiting for the catch. Just before the catch I accelerated to match the speed of the oncoming rider and gave him some shelter and a chance to recover. It turned out to be Patrick from Sunapee and we started working together immediately. The first couple laps there after were brutal as we worked hard to keep a now desperate field at bay. The gap was as low as 20 seconds but after the initial surges and attacks the pack settled down and the gap ran out to 50 seconds, a minute and fifteen and beyond. This made for a really, really tough ride as we felt compelled to keep the fire lit the entire race.

By the end of the 9th lap we knew we were away barring an incident and so the real race started. Honestly, it wasn’t much of a race. We both continued to work hard the entire time and neither of us slouched. I stupidly stayed in the back through the turn over the bridge to Loon off RT112 and that was the race. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold a sprint all the way from there but in reality, you needed to start it back there and be the first through the turns. In the end I was second, but I was satisfied with that. It had been a great race, probably the best road race I’d had in years and the first time I’d had a successful break away. Patrick is a wise racer with much more road experience than I and I respect that. It was a good day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stupid Job

So, I complain about my job quite a bit. It's mainly because I don't really value what I do, that being working in a partially service based position within the software industry. Specifically, I develop internal tools and processes for keeping large scale, multi-component, multi-site, software product builds working. This is done within the scope of a huge company and for a huge, very mature, conventional product set. Sound interesting? Yea, chicks really dig it.

Despite the relative job dissatisfaction, I long ago made the simple realization that I've got it just about as good as it gets. My reasoning for that is simple; I am paid reasonably well, it is relatively close to home (though they moved last year from 1.75 miles away to ~15 miles away), I know my job well, it doesn't have huge commitments beyond the "normal high tech 9.5hr work day" and I realize that the grass is never greener on the other side of the fence. What this translates to is me staying where I am and sucking it up, realizing that each day, week and month that goes by is another paycheck that hits the bank. I also grew up pretty modestly and in all reality never realistically dreamed that the potential was there for where I am. Nope, we're not rich by modern standards by any stretch of the imagination and we are not overly extravagant either, but we are also not overly extended, or really extended at all for that matter, and we don't want for anything. Sure, there are times when I think that I'd like something crazy like a spiffy Corvette ZR1 or a second vacation home but not so much that I'm willing to sell my soul to the man for it.

I know, that sounds really pitiful but I'm a realist and have seen the alternatives. I could have a really sucky job, like working in a large scale machine shop doing piece work in ultra hazardous work conditions, which I did one summer in college. I could be out in the fields slinging hay bales which I did many summers as a kid. I could be working 100 hours a week for a crappy startup which I did for exactly 7 weeks until I literally left a note on my boss' desk and walked out the door at 11PM one Sunday evening. I could take my passion and convert it into a business and have it become all consuming, to the point where the passion is lost.

The bottom line is this, it's a job and it is work, otherwise you wouldn't get paid for it. The biggest trick to pull off is the balancing act between work and life. I think in my case, that is about as good as it gets. Work affords me the luxury of doing the things that I am passionate about and that I choose to do. This has been working just great for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, as stable as things had been ... did I mention that I'm all about stability and not a big fan of change? Anyhow, the stability has shifted. First there was the campus consolidation to the god forsaken, unreachable depths of nowhere, also known as Littleton. This sucked as it meant my 1.75 mile commute, which was the primary reason I took the job in the first place, changed to a 15 mile commute. OK, so I work from home at least twice a week and bought a motorcycle that gets 75 mpg to combat this. Yes, I could ride my bike but the direct route is horrible and an extended 20 mile plus with a laptop, a half gallon of coffee and lunch and planning for a ~6:30AM arrival so I can leave that place at 4PM to get home and ride my bike isn't really practical. Last week they decided to consolidate teams and in doing so, my boss, a man who literally has chosen to give the better part of his life for the job, found himself redundant. He was the lucky one. Our group now reports in through, of all places, Mexico. The new manager is here this week and is doing 1x1 meeting with everyone. I've opted to purchase a ton of tickets for the layoff lottery and am still hoping.

How do I get out of this whole thing of not being fully satisfied with work you may ask yourself? I don't know. Another day, another 75 cents or so after taxes. I went and redid the resume and opened it up to the public, which is the normal first course when I get to feeling like that. That typically results in a ton of response for stuff that really don't want to do anyhow. I've considered asking my buddy if he needs help for the construction business he started up solo this spring and have also toyed with taking some time off and doing some part time work at the bike shop or something, just for fun.

The reality is that I'm likely here until dismissed because that is what is comfortable and again, every day I spend here gets me a day closer to retiring from this whole field, a goal which I don't foresee as being all that far off in the future. Will see. Maybe I'll get laid off this week or maybe something new will catch my fancy. Bottom line is that regardless how bad this may at times seem, put it in perspective, at least I'm not cleaning the combustion soot out of the tubes of a really big industrial boiler or insulating the steam pipes above the dryer (think large scale here) in a glorified paper mill over the 4th of July holiday plant shutdowns, jobs I gladly did a little over 20 years ago. Yes, both were really, really hot and really dirty and both sucked ass. I won't even go into the summer I spent cleaning used paper mill equipment that was being reconditioned for use at the plant. Of course, as bad as that was it wasn't nearly as bad as the crap that the riggers went through. Man could those guys drink though. A story for another day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Low Key

I don't really have a ton of content, so this is just going to be a vanilla weekend recap that will likely emphasize what a lackluster life I really live. Sad but true. After what seems like a string of weekends containing some for of racing or another we decided to lay low this past weekend and just take it easy.

I was wrecked the early part of the week from the race last weekend and even though I didn't do much for a couple of days after that, I did get out for a ride Tuesday followed by the CBTT Wednesday, which wasn't so special, and a killer SS MTB ride on Thursday which I led for the GB NEMBA group in the PR. As a disjointed aside, these Thursday night rides have really helped get me psyched about group rides again. It's been great to be able to show some new people the trails and to get new people to dog me and keep me moving hard. Anyhow, a couple hour road ride on the SS cross bike Friday put me right back into the category of spent.

Naturally, on Saturday I wanted to get a good ride in but had a bunch of errands and chores to take care of first. We knocked those off in the AM and in the early afternoon headed out on the SS MTB's for a version of the big loop. I'd just torn the EBB apart on my SS and re-lubed and Teflon taped the crap out of it in order to try and remedy the persistent creak it had developed. This fixed the creak for the first hour and all was well but right as I started running out of steam, the creak returned with a vengeance. It is hard to think of anything that is more annoying than a creaky bottom bracket. Well, I guess there is the sound of a bent wheel rubbing on the brake-pads or worse yet, the frame. That's annoying and is also robbing you of precious power and possibly destroying components. I did have that BB debacle on the new bike during the Weeping Willow race, where the bearings let loose and the creak and grind were also stealing power to pepper-mill the ball bearings into a fine powder.

We finished up the death march in about 3.5 hours with sore upper body from wrangling the bike around, sore legs of course but also some serious monkey butt action going down as well. Cathy used some of the ladies special Mad Alchemy chamois cream with great results so I think that shall be on my short list of purchases. I find that the baggy shorts with the liners tend to have fairly crappy quality chamois pads that also don't fit very well. Mine tend to move around more than desired, which would be not all all, and cause frictional chaffing on my ample, but supple, butt cheeks. By the end of a ride it feels as though I'm seated on fresh 60 grit. Not pleasant.

We cleaned up and headed for Beer Works in Lowell for dinner. Unfortunately, there was a Spinners game in progress and there was absolutely no effing parking left anywhere in Lowell. Change of plans and we hit the Outback Steakhouse, for which we had a gift-card anyhow so it wasn't all bad. They had Blue Moon on tap with a smiley wedge of orange, which has become my favorite warm weather draft. From there go out to my friend Ryan's place in the middle of nowhere Pepperell to snag a SS MTB he's selling for another friend, then high tail it to Lexington to feed, water, poop-scoop and visit George and Gracie for our friends T&S. Fortunately the awesome 80's were on so we rocked out to tunes from the decade of decadence.

Sunday started with some bike work, including tearing my SS MTB down and building it back up on the new frame that has been hanging in the basement since Chad at Soul Cycles graciously sent it to me last winter. The day then progressed to yard work for the rest of the morning. Mowing the lawn and then transplanting a whole mess of Lillis. If anyone ever offers to give you some Lillis, proceed with caution in planting them. The things are like the plague; they multiply like mad and just take over. The same basic thing happens with Iris' as well. Anyhow, we moved a bunch of those to thin the cover for some of our shrubs and bushes and also transplanted a couple of bushes to better locales.

We finally gathered up enough motivation for a ride late in the afternoon. We needed to go visit George and Gracie one last time so rode MTB's out the old Reformary Branch railroad bed trail to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary in Concord, which for those who don't know houses markers for a large number of authors on Author's Ridge including Thoreau, Emerson, Hawthorne and Alcott. Then we were off to another piece of colonial American history, the Minute Man National Historic Park Battle Road and then onto the power-lines in Lexington. It was then a criss-cross of side streets to get to T&S' place. George was happy to see us as it meant food and some company. Gracie was no place to be found, which was typical. We departed and headed for home via Vine Brook, Willards Woods and finally to the Minute Man bikeway.

Last up for the non-stop thrill ride of a weekend was dinner and a movie, which consisted of a big old rack of beef ribs, garden salad and Anthony Hopkins in the Rite. Not a bad movie and actually more interesting than I though initially. Good weekend. Too bad it is well over and we are into the cold hard reality of the work week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Six Hours of Pat's Peak Report

Also known as, the six hours of cold, rain and mud. It had been two years since I'd attended the Pat's Peak MTB festival last. That year I competed in the Elite XC MTB race, which is held on Sunday. The weather in 2009 was easily summed up in one word, wet. It rained constantly, the entire season and the entire year if I recall correctly. The race itself was brutal and I flatted on the first lap thanks to the stupid 'Ramp of Doom', or rather my stupidly hitting the 'Ramp of Doom'. The course is hard in and of itself, with a lot of climbing and some solid technical challenges. Compound this by the weather and much of the course became a slog-fest through sucking mud-pits and 'Romancing the Stone' like mud-slides of epic proportion.

Fast forward right past 2010, which saw the pain of 2009 still too fresh in my mind despite the fact that the weather and conditions were actually dry, and right to last weekend. For some reason I've been in the Sunday races suck but Saturday races are much better mindset of late. I guess I'm sick of blowing Saturday and only getting to do a half assed opener ride and feeling compelled not to booze it up so I'm fresh for Sunday. Typically I end up having to mow the law on Saturday anyhow which isn't the best pre-race activity either. I much prefer to get the racing over with on Saturday so I have Sunday open for a fun ride and to mow the lawn and do chores.

Anyhow, the weather forecast was mixed all day on Friday. There were glimpses of hope which, at the very last moment, I decided to believe and registered for the six hour solo race, which was on Saturday. I figured six hours isn't that long, I've done tons of six plus hour rides. Plus, all around good guy Pete S. is racing it well. Game on, this could be fun as I like racing Pete. As soon as I registered I saw that Dylan M., you remember Dylan from earlier in the week when he crushed me at the Rumpus, right? Well, he registered too. Great. So now we had a serious race on our hands. And then the rain started.

I awoke Saturday to temperatures in the 50's and overcast with a light mist. This didn't seem that bad as it hadn't rained that much during the week so as the course may be OK. On the drive to Pat's Peak, however, it started to pour. The rain never really ended that day, though it did subside for the last hour or so of the race. Cathy, who had not pre-registered, decided wisely to sit this one out and luckily for me, performed as crew for my race keeping me fed and hydrated as well as keeping em as warm and dry as possible with glove and arm-warmer changes mid race.

One thing to note was that there were some course changes from the last time I raced Pat's Peak. They did a ton of reroute work at the very top and completely redid the old, mainly fall-line descent back to the base. It was now a serpentine mass of tight and twisty rolling trails. They were extremely well laid out and made use of numerous natural features to add some very technical sections as well as some fast flowing sections and twisty power sections. This was a vast improvement and the trail appeared to be much more sustainable as well, judging from how it looked at the end of the race vs. the start. The only real trail complaints are the use of the old, bombed out single-track to the far left of the mountain that ends up being a mud/water catch basin when it rains. This is the section where you soon turn and start the cross slope ascent. Speaking of that cross slope ascent, that is the worst. Wet, swampy grass is the worst way to climb in the world. It's tough on equipment and tougher on people. It was just miserable.

The race started promptly at 12PM Saturday Lemans style, with a short, mass start with the 6/12/24 hour racers running to their waiting bikes. From there it was a jockey for position. I settled in behind Pete who settled in behind Dylan. The pace was high but nothing crazy. It wasn't long until things settled out with only a select few choosing to continue the pace. At some point I got by Pete and when Dylan made a wrong turn I settled at the front. Coming into some of the more technical sections I was able to open a little gap but when we hot the first real climb Dylan was able to catch me. I caught back up on the next descent and held close back up the top but he put a good gap in before we started back down. Again I was able to close and we finished the first lap in about 38 minutes with me only a few seconds back.

The next lap played almost exactly the same with me getting gapped hard on the hills and regaining on the descents. At the end of lap two we were only an hour and fifteen minutes in and I realized that this effort would never scale for the next five hours. Time to back it off a bit and be realistic. So from there I chose to ride my own race, alone in the cold, wet mud. The next few laps were a blur of cold, pain and the onset of fatigue. The nearly constant need to be using really high power to get through the mud and up the climbs left my legs reeling and on the verge of cramping. I'm not a great climber, especially on the mid length climbs. Short power climbs I'm pretty good with and the longer, steady sustained stuff I can find a rhythm and survive but the ones that are a few minutes long and vary in degree kill me. This course saw a couple of those very climbs. I never saw Dylan again but the gap went out to 3 minutes and then 5 minutes and then settled somewhere this side of about 10 minutes.

As the day wore on, the bike took more and more of a beating. This of course resulted in degradation of the drivetrain due to mud and wear. The course was such that I was spending a large portion of the time in my granny gear up front, which on my 2x10 drivetrain is a 26 tooth chainring. I have an 11x34 cassette in the back which when combined with the 29er wheels, a stiff, soft, muddy climb and really sore legs didn't seem nearly as low as I'd hoped. Worse was when the persistent chainsuck started in. When the chain is dry and caked with mud and the small front chainring is also full of mud, the chain likes to stick to the teeth on the ring and overpower the tension applied by the rear derailleur cage. The result is that the chain rides up and onto the chainstay or wraps back around the chainring and stops things in a hurry. When you hear it happening, you can often backpedal and it will release, but inevitably will likely happen again. The last couple of laps I stopped and hosed the bike down which provided temporary relief but by the time the climbs hit, the bike was a mess again and the chainsuck had returned. The last lap I was forced to use the big ring, which meant more running. Even if my tired legs could push it over, the torque required when coupled with a dry, beat up drivetrain could easily spell disaster in the form of a broken chain or blown hub.

Speaking of the last lap and broken chains, I came through the checkpoint for lap number 7 at about 5:15 for what was going to be my last lap to find Cathy cheering and handing me food and drink as she had so graciously done all race but also to her and our good friend's Chris and Jill from Root 66 saying that I was now leading. It seems that the conditions had taken their toll on Dylan's equipment and he had destroyed his chain. Unable to obtain a replacement and choosing not to run the final lap, he withdrew after having completed 7 laps. I can't blame him, running a lap with a bike would probably take nearly an hour and a half. However, speaking from experience, on a course like this you can run the flats and ups and coast the downhills, of which there were many, and you're not actually that much slower. I did this at the Putney race a few years ago for 1.5 laps.

Anyhow, Chris graciously hosed my bike off for me as I slammed some PBJ into my face and headed back out for lap number 8. I rode this lap cautiously, trying to take it easy on the fragile equipment knowing that I just needed to make it back around. On the course I passed other riders who were wrapping things up, chatting and basically happy to know that the end was in sight. For me, besides the chainsuck and having to resign myself to using the big ring, the lap was uneventful. My nearly nonexistent at that point in the day brake pads still maintained enough purchase to keep the speed in check on the descents, though I'd been trying hard to use the brakes less.

I finished up at a handful of minutes after 6PM, cold, tired and caked in mud and grit but glad to be finished. I know that Dylan was the stronger racer that day but also know that resource management is part of racing. Cathy was waiting at the finish as were Chris, Jill and Pete. Congratulations flowed and we took some pictures then went off to clean and change before hitting the pub for some food and the awards ceremony. We had all though that Pete was sitting in 2nd place but as it turned out, there was one other rider, Brandon from Bikeman, who had snuck ahead of Pete when he'd flatted mid race and remained secretly ahead of him, finishing just behind me with 8 laps also. It was still a podium though and a great run. Many thanks to my wife Cathy and friends Chris and Jill for their support. All in all, a good day of suffering spent with great people. In hindsight would I do it again? I'll get back to you on that.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shades of Gray

Here in the northeast we have been treated to some pretty extreme weather so far this season. That is not too say that we are the only ones that have been experiencing some harsh conditions. It seems that the weather has decided to kick it up a notch on many fronts. Yesterday we had another round of early evening, hot and humid meets cooler weather front, thunder boomers and torrential rains move through. We have not had a ton of these this season but we have had a few good ones.

I wonder if any seas were parted.

The prelude was particularly spectacular, providing some very interesting cloud cover. These shades of gray are in stark contrast to last weeks brilliant compliments of color that we say as the storms that produced all of the tornadoes in the state were rolling through our are. Despite their lack of color, last night's clouds made up for a narrow palette with spectacular contrast, providing some biblical visuals.

The storm clouds fought to black out the sun.

After the clouds moved in, the wind picked up and the cooler front rolled through. With it came a steady driving rain with interludes of torrential downpour and some steady thunder and lightening. This foiled my outdoor ride plan of once again joining in on the local NEMBA MTB ride. The rain wasn't actually all that bad by the time the ride was supposed to start, only a light drizzle but the ground and foliage were all wet and I didn't really feel compelled to venture outside. Instead I retreated to the basement and spent an hour easily spinning away on the rollers in from of the TV. The legs were pretty tired anyhow from the week's activity thus far so this was a good break. Tomorrow's plan is for some MTB racing I think, depending on the weather of course.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

First TT of the Season

For quite a few years, since 2004 in fact, Cathy and I have been regulars at the Charlie Baker Time Trial, a local Wednesday night training time-trail race that is held in Concord, MA and is promoted and run by our club, NEBC. In fact, it was the CBTT that got us into NEBC in the first place. Actually, come to think of it, that is also what got us into road racing which got us firmly hooked into cyclocross racing and eventually got us back into MTB racing. Cyclical, isn't it?

This year we have a spiffy sponsor for the TT series, Armand from Speed Merchant Aero but unfortunately, the Wednesday weather in conjunction with road work that is being done on parts of the course has resulted in an unusually large number of cancellations of the event and as it has worked out, neither Cathy nor I had been able to participate at all this season. Early last week it looked like the road work was finally at a point where the event could proceed with caution. Alas, tornadoes and severe weather forced yet another misfire.

Yesterday however, the stars aligned and things all looked good. The weather was sunny and hot as sin, something that we in the northeast have seen almost zero of to date this season. I tried to take it easy on Tuesday and not overdo it on my solo road ride, in order to save some legs for the TT as well as to minimize the damage I did this week overall, after a super hard effort at the Rumpus Sunday.

As usual, my plan was flawed and in typical form I found myself hammering out to Harvard and then meeting up with the Tuesday hill ride. I'd been going hard but trying not to tax my legs or dig too deep. I figured maybe I'd hang back and do a few hills at a social pace. So, as we hit Oak Hill for the first interval of the night and Johnny Mo is pushing steady tempo doing over 20 mph constantly I'm not seeing a problem. It felt really comfortable in fact. As we approached the final kick-up I could no longer resist the urge to go to the front and set pace. I laid in a steady hard seated power. I'd guess it was about 600 watts average for about a minute, which for me is pretty hard. The legs loaded up and I could feel the damage being done. This was a bad idea; reason said I needed to stop the madness, now. So I called it quits after one hill with 30 miles in and started the uneventful, rolling ride home. The legs never felt the same after that effort though, I must admit.

Back to the TT, the actual subject matter here, we got dressed and donned our new Garneau golfball-esque TT helmets and rode over to registration in Concord. This is a good warm-up ride though once we got there we proceeded to sit/stand around and chat with folks for a half hour before the rider's meeting. The re-warmup consisted of the ride from the parking lot to the start, which is about a mile. Spinning on a trainer for 1/2 hours would have been much better but I just hate to drive and burn dinosaurs to get to a local bicycle race. It just seems wrong.

My TT bike in current configuration with new bars, tires and a 60mm front vs the 100mm I had

The start was harried as I arrived a bit late, just as I was on deck. Off the line I put in a hard effort and didn't really look at the computer, which has a 4 line display. I typically pay attention only to the average MPH. This lets me know how I'm going as I know where I need to be at given checkpoints for a given time at the finish. I'm usually good for a 1/2 - 1 mph loss between the first and second half of the ride. This is mostly due to course variation with the 2nd half significantly more rolling and also containing the only real climb. I hit the mid section with a good average speed, just under 28mph, which would be a PR. I felt really good and had gotten through cleanly. The ride that started ahead of me Tom, who sets very similar times, was just up ahead and a forced slowdown for traffic put me in for the catch and release.

Unfortunately, this was not one of the hardest sections of the course, a false flat on RT225. I couldn't hold him off and he passed me back. Not wanting to cheat myself, I settled back out of his draft and paced. While this felt nice I actually tailed off in terms of effort. The old trap of settling for a perceived level of suffering when you really should be suffering just a little extra. Another exchange occurred shortly after on River Road as I went up and over the town line roller but Tom took it back again just before the horse farm. Once again I dropped back out of the slip and paced as he was moving well and I know, can go downhill really well.

On the Punkatassett Hill climb I managed to motor by and made it up and over, though it hurt a very, very large amount. A slight brake check on the downhill for a turning car but clean otherwise. I expected to see Tom pass me again but hit the turn at Liberty Road first and kept drilling it over the line. Time on the line was 21:38 for the 9.75 mile course, which is well off my PR but a good start and within a few seconds of the best time that I turned in all of last year. I can live with that. I'd also avoided a number of minor aero advantages like a skinsuit as I needed pockets to carry tools and a phone, I had a cage and water bottle, no aero shoe covers and I didn't put valve-stem hole covers on the rear disc wheel. Minor, I know, but something.

Cathy had a fantastic ride and set one of her top times ever as well at 23:58. This despite the fact that she was slowed by traffic and also fully stopped to check on a racer who had crashed. What a good president she is. Had she gotten those seconds back it would have been really close for her.

Ah yes, another season has officially begun. I'd completely forgotten just how much pain and suffering there can be in a 20 something minute effort. It now feels like summer.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Big Ring Rumpus

The Big Ring Rumpus is a dirt circuit race thinly veiled as a mountain bike race. It is in it's second year of existence and is part of the EFTA sanctioned MTB race series. Cathy and I both did the race last year and had a good time despite some crazy weather and Cathy wanted to do it this year so we figured that we'd give it another go this season.

The alternatives were to road race on Saturday in Maine, which I was all for but Cathy wanted no part of citing the fact that the women don't actually race save the last 50 meters. The men's 35+ masters field had a very small draw at the race as well so I wasn't all in. The 1/2/3 race was almost all young and really strong guys and I wasn't sure I really wanted to go that route either. There was a alternative MTB race on Sunday, Domnarski Farm which is part of the USA Cycling sanctioned Root 66 series and is promoted by a really good guy, Matt, whose family also owns the place. As much as I wanted to support him and the series, the extra hour drive for a course that was, from past experience, a little on the wet and muddy side wasn't super appealing either.

So, the Rumpus it was. The course is not terribly interesting as it is basically a 4 mile mix of old railroad bed and access road double-track with a small section of cyclocross style taped course at the lap/finish. In that diverse mix of terrain there were a couple of small rises, a number of sections that had a few rocks and maybe a half dozen semi interesting high speed corners. What the course lacked in detail it made up for in speed. It's always funny how going crazy fast can make something that is pretty mundane, really interesting and challenging. Taking some of those corners at or near 20mph was indeed, interesting.

We lucked out in terms of weather and got sunny blue skies with temperatures in the mid to upper 70's. Given the lack of sun and warm weather that we have had thus far this season, it seemed down right hot out. Still much better than the crazy showers that we got last year. Pre-registration for the event in the Men's Elite field, which I stupidly chose to enter once again, was thin and of those registered, a total of 5 of us, I self ranked myself cleanly at the bottom end. Good to be optimistic with oneself up front. At the start line it became evident that there were at least a few others that decided to join in on the fun. That's always a good thing.

I'd tried to take some downtime and get some legitimate recovery for my weary self so was actually feeling pretty good. In truth, my pessimism was actually thinly veiled, not trying to be overly confident, optimism. I knew the guys that I was racing and had raced against them all in the past. This crew included JB, Dylan, Brian W. and Andrew Freye as well as a few unknowns. The main guys all crush me in cyclocross and I've had mixed results in MTB but I was in hopes that this may play out more like a road race and I could suck wheel and hang, maybe. Time would tell.

From the go the pace was high, and continued to bump for the first lap or so with everyone except me taking digs. We then stabilized a bit and folks started to get antsy. Then the attacks started. Freye was putting in some digs and generally not playing well with others; basically racing it like an MTB race. However, given the nature of this race, I could tell others were taking exception to this. All the time I was trying to conserve and let the infighting go on and hopefully soften the competition. Late in the 3rd lap we'd just finished some digs and I took a stab at breaking things up by launching really hard. Unfortunately, they let me go and nobody wanted any part of the action. This felt awkwardly familiar, very similar to so many road races. As soon as I realized that I was solo I made the decision to sit up and recover as much as possible for the coming freight train and likely counter attack.

Luckily the catch was near the taped cyclocross style finish area so it wasn't that bad. I did get gapped a bit through the feed as did Freye and I had to bust it to get back on. Through the start area on the long slightly uphill railroad bed section Freye had been gapped a bit but despite a hard pace by the lead, he managed to get back on. Everyone took turns pulling and I could tell that an earnest attack was in the wind. Sure enough it came at the worst of times, when I was on the back and a split opened between Freye, myself and the rest of the group, being driven really, really hard by Dylan. This kept up for a really, really long time and despite trying our hardest, we couldn't get back. We dangled for a lap falling further and further back until they were gone. Within another lap, after he and I working well together, I was solo as he'd had enough. In the process I did manage to gain a large train of 50+ racers who sat on my wheel after I caught and passed through them. Not entirely comfortable with impacting the outcome of their race I went hard, for as long as I could, which turned out to be the remainder of the race. This shelled all but Bob B. from my draft, netting him his category win. I just couldn't get rid of him but didn't feel comfortable working with him either so just TT'd it in for the rest of the race.

In the end I finished up in 4th place, a little more than 2 minutes back of the leaders who I believe stayed together working as a group until near the end. I'm disappointed in myself for launching a stupid attack and then for letting myself get popped off the back. That said, I felt pretty darn good all day and went steady and hard the entire time. I didn't give up and I didn't slouch. Had the lead splintered more I think I may have had a chance but those guys all know how to race a race like this one so it was not to be. The numbers went something like this, just about 32 miles in 1:37:19 with an average speed of 19.5mph. That would have been the 4th fastest time of the day if pro-rated to match the other races slightly fewer laps. Not as good as last year in terms of a result but almost 6 minutes faster on the same course, albeit with slightly better conditions. Not bad and I can live with it.

Cathy had a great race as well and won her category, again this year. She has been doing truly super in the dirt. Once I get all of the 411 worked out on the 29er platform I foresee a new bike in her future. She is tall enough that a 29er may make sense for her as well, as long as we can get by the weight penalty issue, particularly in the wheels.

The new bike dialed in at a respectable 26.2# as it sits.

Speaking of 29ers, my new bike, the 2011 Specialized Epic Expert Carbon 29er, in it's final configuration performed flawlessly. The good folks at the Cycle Loft got her back up and running after a premature bottom bracket failure during the previous race. Configuration changes to the bike included a new (to me) set of 2011 Easton Haven 29er alloy wheels, some super lightweight and inexpensive rotors and a matching set of 1.95" Specialized Renegade minimal tread tires. Some suspension tweaks and the bike just worked great. The bike was absolutely railing the corners and pedaled great on the flats both seated and standing. They really god the Brain Fade system worked out nicely. I'm looking very forward to lots more quality time on it in the near future.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Natural Instinct

I've often heard about natural instinct, particularly in wild animals, but it isn't all that often that I've had the opportunity to witness it first hand. On Friday, Cathy and I were riding MTB in Estabrook Woods on Two Rod Road, a miserably rocky and bumpy old colonial era cart path. I happened upon a small fawn (baby whitetail deer) who was on the trail headed in my direction ahead of me. He took a couple of steps and then literally, collapsed flat, legs splayed awkwardly and bizarre angles. The front legs dropped first and then the hind quarter sort of sank down to the ground, right there on the trail just in front of me.

Naturally, I feared the worst. With a baby this young, mama should be near but visibility was good in all directions as we were in a fern covered, coniferous/deciduous mixed forest with little undergrowth, save the ferns. We stopped near by not wanting to torment the poor little guy, whose eyes were open but who was making nary a movement. Every so often is nose would twitch just a bit, which proved he was still alive. Minds racing, we thought possibly his mother was dead and he was alone or possibly coyotes had been chasing him. Calm, soothing talk and pleading did no good so we decided to ride off well out of sight and then loop back and check on him. I was reluctant to take many pictures as it somehow seemed really morbid and wrong to be snapping pictures of an animal that was possibly in distress. It's amazing how a cute little helpless animal is cause for heart wrenching concern.

This doesn't look very comfortable.

When we looped back through, he was gone. In retrospect, I'm sure he was just practicing natural instinct, when faced by danger he gets low and remains still. Had he been 10' to the side of the trail, in the ferns, we never would have seen him. In fact, I'll bet that is where mom was. Anyhow, we were very relieved to see he was off on his way.

Friday, June 03, 2011

New Again

Last night my buddy PK and I ventured to the Greater Boston NEMBA MTB ride at my home trails over in the PR (aka the Landlocked Forest). I knew that the rides were going on but when I'd contacted another buddy, ThomP about riding last night, he'd told me his plan to attend and lead the A ride. He invited me to join and maybe take over as the tour guide, since I'm pretty familiar with the trails. It had been literally years since I'd done an organized NEMBA ride. In fact, the last ones I did were ones that I organized and lead in that very same area, many, many years ago. The previous century to be exact.

Why you may ask, have I avoided NEMBA rides like the plague for over a decade? It's not just the NEMBA rides, it's large scale organized group rides in general. Rides where the participants are unknown quantities tend to put me off. I'm not trying to be elitist or anything, it's just that with unknowns comes risk. Risk that folks will overestimate their ability. Risk that folks will be ill prepared. Increased risk that there will be mechanical incidents or god forbid, injury. Worst of all, risk that people will show up late. All of these cut into my ride time which is why, over the years, I've taken to cultivating and riding with only a very select group. You may at this point be saying to yourself, "wow, you're a dick", to which I'll reply "yes, but not necessarily for this particular reason". Time is limited and I'd much prefer to spend it riding vs. sitting around getting eaten by the bugs.

In years of both Cathy and I leading rides, particularly open rides including the old NEMBA rides, we found that each of the above points get wildly exploited. I got to the point where I was overly aggressive with the disclaimers on my rides, which if you have followed at all, I take pride in having elevated to an art form. Still, I would consistently get folks showing up who had drastically overestimated their ability which meant the rest of the group would suffer. Of course, Cathy would see the same though at one point she amassed a large group of many of the best female MTBers in the area that would regularly ride together. Other than that though, it was mayhem. This ultimately led to us withdrawing and become hermits, which other than a few forays back into the fold of society for some negative reinforcement, is primarily where we have been ever since.

We took time to stop and admire the flowers, not.

Anyhow, last night PK and I got an early start and a good hours ride in the PR before showing up to the 6PM ride at 6:10PM and still standing around for 10 minutes waiting to get started. Of course, we had the fast group end up being the last of roughly ten thousand to start, immediately putting us into lapped traffic. This was OK, except we lost ThomP who was monkeying around with his camera apparently, and didn't even notice. The first but not the last casualty of the take no prisoners/left for dead, I mean Smurfy rainbows, group hugs and hand holding ride. We had a good group that included some old friends and some new guys who I've raced with but had never actually met. Great stuff and one of the seldom cases where change is actually a good thing.

I basically looped around and did the same old trails that I always do; all of the trails, in mostly both directions. However, it was fun to be showing them to new people. There were also guys that were dogging me hard which was great as it kept me motivated. I tried to show everyone all of the secret or extra credit big boy lines, which also forced me to do the big boy lines. This is something I often avoid, either because I'm by myself or because I'm a big fat wuss. Regardless, I was full of new group courage and had a good time running with it. The fact that I was on the very sweet Yeti 575 fun-hog that Brian hooked me up hard on last year, didn't hurt either. That bike really rocks the trails in the PR if you have the suds to get onto the throttle. Brian was also there last night rolling on his slightly under-geared SS 29er MTB.

Other than a couple of minor logistical issues, such as the start, I had a great time and got a good old fashioned ass-whupping by the end. It's a tall order to lay down nearly 25 miles in the PR given the nature of the trails but when I rolled home on my second nearly flat rear tire of the night, that was what I had amassed. Today my legs are tired but not totally blown out. I'm hoping that some rest over the past week has something to do with that. My lower back and upper body is defiantly tired and sore though from wrestling the bike around on the tight twisties for over 2.5 hours. All in all, I'm thinking this is just the type of thing that I need to help keep things fresh if I can possibly work it into the "training plan". It will also be good to get a fresh crowd to put the smack on me and maybe help me suck less. It really is funny how cycling and life for that matter really is cyclical and that something old like leading NEMBA group rides, could become new again.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Strange Days

Storm rolling in with some very interesting colors.

Today was a very, very strange day indeed. Not just because it was the first day back to work after a very long weekend. Today started off just fine, in fact I rode my motorcycle in to work. I work in what could be referred to as a big ass factory, tucked well away from outside contact like windows and I also get to work early, well before most. Apparently at about 9AM there had been rain, winds and hail, at least in many local areas. It wasn't until later in the day though that the true course of the weather began top unfold and we got to experience the first real taste of tornadoes, at least the first that I've been exposed to.

Blue sky turned to pink and faded to an ominous yellowish green.

The initial warnings came mid day and seemed bizarre and remote. Later in the afternoon the weather radar lit up with some very interesting, typically reserved colors. The storms were forming in the western part of the state and they were coming east. I decided to leave a little early to beat the weather and already there was a brisk wind and very active cloud cover forming. When I got home I switched on the local weather and all of the local channels were going nuts. It was coming.

Shot with a flash from ground looking up at the sky.

Cathy and I watched for some time as the initial storm developed into a tornado that struck Springfield. At the same time it looked as though there was another, twin storm forming just north of the first. One that may track a little further north-east. The two storms eventually converged and laid a path of waste eastward for the next couple hours. Later, another storm developed over Springfield and then a third. Around that time a storm cell came into focus in southern NH on the MA border. That one looked like it might just be headed for us. Reluctantly, I broached the topic of readiness with Cathy and we pulled some stuff together and made a plan. Admitting the potential for danger or even disaster was the most surreal aspect of the whole night.

The light was extremely eerie and wrong.

Luckily, where we are in the state was spared. It looked questionable at a couple of different points but we simply got some spectacular lightening, rain and hail. All in all a pretty uneventful evening, at least as far as things worked themselves out. Regardless, not really something we were expecting or necessarily prepared for, though based on the statistics found in a quick search, it appears that tornadoes really aren't that rare an occurrence in the area. For that matter, they really aren't that rare anywhere in New England, even up north thought the intensity tends to remain on the low side for the most part. Fortunately we got lucky. This weather really is crazy. Strange days indeed, though maybe not quite as strange as we might imagine.

The sky oddly matched the color of our mudroom in ME, cantaloupe.