Sunday, October 28, 2007

Now That's Entertainment!

Canton happened today, and it was to be my last Cat 4 race before the big upgrade to 3. I had 25 pts., with 23 of them coming this season. So, time to make a move. I was hoping to go out in style.

This whole week I've felt like absolute dog crap. Not sick, but just lethargic with no pop in the legs. Last night, I decided to make the bold move and buy a six of Guinness. I have had Guinness at the top of the Guinness factory with a shamrock in the foam, in small pubs in Galway, in large pubs in Dublin, in Irish pubs in the Boston, and nothing compares to Guinness poured properly. I normally wouldn't commit such sacrilege, but desperate times call for desperate measures. After downing two, I went to bed and hoped for the best.

Got to the course early (as usually), hit the head, and off to the course. First race in the skinsuit, so I was sure I would be jinxed and wreck. Plenty of leaves to make the pavement interesting, loose stuff, tight turns, and long laps. I discovered it is a good idea to pre-ride the course when it is getting crowded. Helps to get a sense of what is going to happen during the race, such as where to pass, what lines you can take when you have to, and how best to avoid trouble.

I was first to the line before the race to reserve a front position. 100 guys in the Cat 4 race. Unbelievable. The road was wide enough to have 18 in a row. More fun. We had a flotilla of MRC guys on the right side.

I had another flying start. Absolutely beautiful. Struggled to clip in while people were flying by me. Once I got clipped, I went all out trying to save some spots. Thankfully, a bad start at Canton isn't the end of the world because you are basically diving from wide pavement to a wide dirt road. So, I was able to make it up and pass people.

Into the first stretch, I decided I would bunny-hop a deep groove in the course. I did it in practice no problem, and figured it would be a better line that trying to cram on the right side. I almost paid dearly for my hubris. After nearly going over my handle bars and wiping out in spectacular style, Mike Lowry commented on the beauty of my near impact. No time for complements; time to move on.

As we reached the pavement for the first time, I was about 7th wheel. As I made the turn, I heard behind my someone scrapping metal on the pavement. Assuming this was not intention, I gunned it, thinking that we would now have a gap.

Was able to start passing people through attrition and a few sharp efforts. Guy in front of me was taking really good lines, so I tried to follow. My desire was only limited by my skill level, which still is low. I would catch back up on the power section, and he would gap me anytime we turned. Until, of course, he bunny-hopped the low barriers. What an a-hole.

Ended up racing with the same pack of 5 guys for the entire race. What a blast. Trading leads, trying to attack, going too hard in corners and ending up in the weeds (again). Digging back. Mr. Rabbit was off the front, and I was with a group of three going into the last set of barriers. Guy in front thinks they lowered the barriers from 40cm to 37cm and takes a face plant. This leaves me and another guy up the finish hill. I figure he is all mine. I shift for the sprint, shift too much, legs say F-you, and I finish third by half a wheel. Bummer, but given the fun I had, I couldn't complain. I only wish they would have thrown one more lap, as we raced 37 minutes.

Great race and a great day.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Woke up "late" this morning at 4:30 because of the Red Sox game last night. Temperature outside was 37. Good thing I have my new Thermal Jacket and Winter Bib Shorts from Capo Forma. Good Stuff. Nice and toasty for my 80 minutes of riding in the dark. The full moon was pretty amazing, as was the steam rising off of Delaney Pond. It's great to get out in the dark when no one else is around and the world seems to be your own. Sometimes I like to ride and run with an Ipod (I know, dangerous), but not in the morning like this. I like to hear twigs snaps, leaves rustle, owls hoot, and other unidentifiable noises. Saw a deer hanging out, sleeping horses, and came home in time to see the sun start to rise. Pretty cool.

Otherwise, lousy week of training. My legs have felt like scrap since the 12 mile run Sunday morning. Did some riding and a little running, but nothing consequential. Tried to do hill repeats on the bike on Tuesday and felt awful. Did some easy tempo last night and felt awful. When it ain't fun, it ain't easy.

Onto Canton this weekend. Likely my last race as a 4. Doing the 3/4 35+ for Nhampton. Time to step things up a bit. Hopefully the body comes around a little more. Tri + Cross = Long Season. Should be a fun course, though, and a good time.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mansfield Race Review

Each category out of 5


Open-field grassy area after a day of hard rain has disaster written all over it. However, you park right next to the course. Was able to shuttle between car and warm-up very easily. Only major drawback as stepping in some kind of animal feces with my Crocs.

Being early, it was not yet opened, but was going after one warm-up lap.

Race numbers:
Basically thick paper on a damp day? C'mon guys.

Two port-o-johns, but plenty of woods! (Sorry ladies)

Ask me this last year, and you would have had a much different response. If a cross course is supposed to make you hurt, this one fits the definition. A little too much grinding perhaps and not enough flow given the up and down. Plus, a damp field sucked with long grass sucked the life out of you quick. While the run down to the beach is fun, it could be lost to maintain some speedy sections. Does a course need four run-ups?

A little tiny, but dual access. Not much room to stash bikes. Good thing I didn't need it.

Post-race Refreshments:
Stellar. Fresh-baked goodies galore. This race is a caloric break-even at best.

Seven deep in the Cat 4 race? Unheard of.

Great race and great vibe. Definitely worth making the trip to check out, especially if you want to test your technical skills. You'll be feeling it in the morning for sure.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

BONEHEAD - The Mansfield Report

As my wife told me when I told her about going back down to Mansfield for the cross race, "That race is your Newman." I remember going down there last year and thinking, "This is a cross course? You've got to be kidding me." Dismount after dismount. Steep downhills. Steep run-ups. A crazy off-camber. I'm told "this is what cross used to be like." I guess the phrase is "old school." When everyone was caught up in the kumbaya moment of Gloucester, we were all going to race in CT this weekend. When the dust settled and the alcohol worked through the system, there were three of us from the club.

I was determined not to make the same mistake as last year, which was screwing the first off-camber. When I drove in, I saw my nemesis taunting me. After getting my stuff together, I went off to pre-ride the course. Pretty much the same as last year. Much of the pre-ride, I stopped at the lip of something that I would normally walk down (given my lack of technical skills). I was thinking to myself, "What the hell am I doing here."

But, I have a new bike, tubulars, a year worth of experience, and a can-do attitude. "No problem" I say.

Doing the off-camber the first couple of times in the pre-ride, I was able to work high and low no problem. I hooked up with Andy from Landry's and got his downhill advice. As he would go blasting over lips, trying to make things more challenging for himself, I would EASE my way down. But, at least I saw things were possible, and how to best attack it.

Got to the line-up in the front row. Not a big field with about 30 riders. A few familiar faces, some new guys who have never done cross before. One guy asks me, "How many water stops are there?" Water stops? "What pressure are your tires? About 80?" 80? Hmm. Better keep an eye on him. Important to get the hole shot.

As we line up, I'm brimming with confidence from my last races. I have my right crank at 2:00 (thank Jorge) and looking to go all out to the first turn. Bang! Away we go, with me cranking about second wheel. I keep digging to get the hole shot, and actually get to the first corner second wheel. I pass that guy going over the first barriers, and BAM, I'm in first place. Time to starting hammering the first lap hard and make people hurt. I'm going to sail through the off-camber, hit the down hill, pound the straight-away, and go all the home to VICTORY.

Wait, my wheel is sliding out. What's going on? I'm not going down on the off-camber. I am going down on the off-camber. Same spot as last year, people cussing behind me. I'm trying to unclip. I'm running with my bike. My bike is hooked on the course tape. I have to unhook my bike. People are sailing by me. Sh*t.

I finally disengage and start going like a madman. Of course no matter what else happens, I blew my first lead in a cross race by pulling the same BONEHEAD maneuver as last year. Priceless.

The rest of the race hurt like hell. The first place guy was off the front a good ways. I was able to pass everyone else on the first lap with my adrenaline rush, which wore off two laps too early. Coasted in for second place. You gotta love it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sandbagger Fallout

After Cort has been skewered regarding his top-notch performance at Gloucester, I'm feeling left out. No one accused me of being a sand-bagger, which can only mean their comments originated in pangs of pity for me and my fellow Cat 4 brethren who were slain at the alter of the cross gods. DON'T PITY ME!!! FEAR ME!!! Whatever.

Signed up for Mansfield, to make my triumphant return after taking out the entire Cat 4 field on the off-camber from hell. Ah the memories. Hard to live that one down. We'll try 'er again this year with the tubulars and see if there is a different result. Only two more upgrade points needed before I can move to Cat 3. Not that I will of course. I still have 10 points to burn until I HAVE to upgrade. Might was well kick sand in the faces of the other Cat 4s before I end up in moderate obscurity at the hands of other seasoned Cat 3 (read "old"). If I do race 3/4 35+, at least I can be the young punk at 37.

Onto other news, thank god for saline nose spray. With the dry weather, I have been absolutely dying from nasal drip and a burning sensation. I can roll through a box of tissue no problem once the irritation starts. A few squeezes of this magic potion, and I'm right where I need to be. Better living through chemistry.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Early morning riser

I'm typically an early riser, but this is ridiculous. 2:43am and I'm awake. I'll pay for this later. Hailey work up at about 1:20am, and I went in to see if I could help. The downside of that is, once I am up, I'm can't get back to sleep very easily. Also, my intense guilt won't let me go back to sleep when I know my wife is up with the baby. So, I'm hosed. The cat keeps wanting attention, and she is about to get launched. I'm usually a very caring and compassionate person, but not at the moment. Being nurturing without sleep is not one of my strong points.

No need for more Gloucester race reports. Short story for Sunday, I finished 4th. It is amazing the difference between third and fourth. While the other guys were on the podium, I was washing my bike. I could hear the call-ups to the podium as I'm trying to clean crud from my dérailleur pulleys. Nice. At least I got to see the crash in the Men's 3/4 race at the start. Nothing like scrapping metal to get your attention.

I was battling with another guy for third the last few laps, struggling to get his wheel, getting it, passing him, trying to drop him, trying to let him lead me out in the wind, then face-planting in the sand pit. Gotta watch those high-speed dismounts. I guess if you're not crashing, you're not trying. The other side of that is if you are crashing, you need better skills. I still keep running the last lap through my head. Gotta learn to let things go a little more.

The upside was everyone from the team hanging out and doing well, telling stories from their races. This is the great side of cross: the social and community nature. It has a different vibe from other types of activities. That's why you see such a strong on-line presence as well. Adam Meyerson had an interesting interview once about the virtual and co-located cross community. There is a lot to be said for it, and something people should experience more.

I was able to open the training back up after taking Monday off. Track work on Tuesday, with 1 mile and then 4 x 800. I dropped the last scheduled 1 mile. I figured 3 miles of speed work two days after Gloucester was good enough. Plus, cross practice tonight. I don't know what kind of shape I'll be in after 4 1/2 hours sleep, but what the hell. It's cross season.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gloucester Day 1

Arrived at the course nice and early, like running down stairs on Christmas. A few other cars were there, including two teammates. So, after getting myself dressed and situated in the cold wind, I went out for a warm-up with Cort and Rich. It's always fun to explore a course for the first time to see what the designers dreamed up in their diabolical minds. The course was FAST. The front section was basically the same as last year. Except for a lot of bumps and one hairpin, it was downhill all the way to the water. They changed things up a bit on the rest of the course. You had to go into a steep lip left turn, followed by another really fast downhill toward the rock monument. This is where the barriers were located, as you had to make a short "climb", into a short downhill slop to a tight left set of run-up barriers. The barriers already seemed tall, but given they were on a slope they seemed taller. Downhill fast toward the rock, along the grass pass the pits, tight turn left, toward the rock, sweeping turn along the water, other end of the
park, a few turns, and into the sand. The sand had turns in it and was rideable, but also runable. Down past the pits and into a short uphill and hairpin downhill into an off-camber and the SRAM corkscrew. Fast along the baseball field, turn right onto the road, and uphill to the finish. Repeat.

At registration, I was told that I was in the 4th starting position, which put me in the first row of 125 guys (and evidence of a quick finger for registration). The start is uphill, so I worked out my gearing before during warm ups. Everything was set for a good start. Of course, I had a bad start, not being able to clip in. On a flat start, clipping in right away is not so important; on an up hill it is very important. I go into the grass in about 10th or 12th. Not horrible, but not where you want to be when the lead guys are gassing it.

I was able to pass some other people right away, powering through the downhill and flat sections. A group of about 5 or 6 quickly formed. With me toward the back. Cort was up front in this group, and I was about 4 or 5 seconds back. This is the way it stayed for most of the race, with me chasing Cort. The guys I was with peeled away, as Cort was leading with another guy in tow. I was trying desperately to bridge up to them to give Cort some help, but ended up stranded in no-man's land fighting the wind. I had two guys behind me and two in front. Somehow I always find the gap. I was surprised to see me in third place by a good margin. Coley kept yelling "You're 15 seconds back. You can catch them." Yeah, right.

I was riding when I heard Richard Fries yell "There's been a lead change". Uh oh. Cort went down in the sand. I didn't see it happen. But I could see Cort a short distance in front. If I could catch him, it would be a bummer to have to pass him after he led for so long. But, that dilemma never ended up being an issue, as I couldn't quite get there. Ended up with a fist-pumping third place.

Overall, I was happy with the race, minus the start which cost me a chance to be with the leaders. The positives were less breaking, no crashing, and keeping it pegged riding solo "against the wind" which was pretty strong the entire race. Negatives were my start, not being able to bridge, and my start. Another positive was the tubulars stayed on (Tim Johnson can't say the same). At the end, I thought I was going to start dry heaving, which is another sure sign of a good cross race. Hung out till 2:00 watching the other races on a beautiful day in Gloucester.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Radiohead "In Rainbows"

The new album is out, pay what you like, direct download from their website You gotta love the direct marketing and sales. While you can download it for free people are still anteing up money. I know I did even though I didn't have to. It is an interesting social experiment to watch.

Making progress

Decent week of training thus far. I have no idea what I did on Monday, although I am sure I did something. Who knows. The days tend to run together, punctuated by the 6 hours or so of sleep that I am able to link together.

Tuesday did a nice workout on the track: 8 x 800m. To make things interesting, I tried to put surges in the 800s to simulate cross efforts. First 200 really hard, settle in for 400, last 200 really hard. Was able to hit around 2:41 per 800 doing this. Not too hard of an effort; just enough to get the heartrate up and work the turnover. It was depressing in that the light was disappearing rather quickly, even though we started at 5:30. Winter in NE bites.

Wednesday we had a nice cross ride in Concord. About 7 of us screwing around, going hard, easy, riding different terrain, etc. I finally got my tubulars mounted, and wanted to test them out. Seemed to work fine. Thanks to Jorge for hooking me up with the final step of mounting. Very helpful and educational. Of course, if I race poorly, it is his fault. I reserve the right to make whatever excuses are most suited to account for any abysmal performance. Also good to have some excuses pre-race. And if you having an exceptionally poor race, it is a good time to think about what excuses you will use at the end. Saying something like "I don't make excuses" is just evidence of a lack of originality or creativity.

Thursday a wonderful 8 mile run at 4:45am. My legs felt below empty. But, it was nice to do an easy run in the pitch black and drizzle. I watched Ghosthunters last night, so that made running in the dark fun. I wish I had a graveyard to run by. Good for speed work.

Onto Gloucester this weekend. I have a Belgian-stew recipe in the slow cooker for tonight. Calls for 2 12oz beers to cook in. Can't wait to taste it. I love cross season. I have no idea what I did before it that was meaningful (oh yeah, marathons).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How to make 20 gears into 4

Traveled up to Biddeford on Saturday for the Casco Bay Cross race. No bay to be seen, but a pretty fun cross course. Having to leave at 5:45am was painful, but having raced tris all summer, I'm used to the early hours. Poor roadies were suffering though.

Wanted to arrive before the Cat 4 race to preview the course. Good thing, because it was a course that you could cook through if you knew what to expect and where to go. This would be my second Cat 3/4 35+ race, and I was hoping to stay competitive after Bedford. After riding the course with my Minuteman teammates, I felt pretty comfortable. A nice uphill start into a section with tight turns, followed by a barrier run-up into a steep descent with a tight sandy corner. More downhill into a hairpin uphill (proper gearing essential). A nice and fast twisty downhill into a flatish section where you could carry a lot of speed. More flat with some turning into a beach section. Rideable, but also runable. More turns, a barrier log, and then a tough uphill grind on a dirt road. Repeat.

Got to the start line in plenty of time to get a prime spot. I wanted a hole shot and to be in good position to be with the leaders. At the whistle, I was able to hit about 7th, which wasn't too bad since my starts are typically awful. Things were looking good was we went through the barriers and the downhill. I wasn't hitting the brakes much, trying to put into racing what I practiced during the week. Hitting the brakes has been costing me time and effort, so this was what I wanted to focus on. The fast downhill section was where I was going to make up some time and stay with the leaders.

Going into a left-hand turn I overcooked the corner a little. Nothing major, just went off course a touch into some tall grass and weeds. As I peddled out of it, I noticed my chain starting to skip and would catch the cassette. I looked down to see my entire cassette engulfed in weeds that had become wrapped around the cassette. I was starting to lose spots as I tried to figure out what to do. Some guy goes by me and says "You're all wrapped up." Thanks for pointing that out.

Decision time. If I stop and try to fix it, game over. Might as well turn this into a training ride. If I keep going, might still be game over. I figure people ride single speeds all the time. I was able to find two gears (21 and 23) that seemed to work. Coupled with my big and small chain ring, this gave me four speeds. Alright!! Here we go. I started to catch back up to the end of my group as I worked these gears. I also noticed that if I worked the gears that were skipping, the teeth of the cassette would eventually chew through the weeds. This was a promising development. So, if I was behind some people and "coasting" a little, I would work a gear that would skip, hoping to break it free.

This was the strategy throughout the race, and I started to get some more gears back. By the end of the race, I had about 8 gears to run (out of 20). Not too bad. I started to pass people, and found myself in 7th overall (4th in age group, not counting the two juniors that were ahead. By 3/4 of the way through the race, shifted from offense to defense to preserve my position.

This worked, as I held off two guys that I had passed that were working together to chase me down. Finished 4th in the 3/4 35+, which is an improvement over Bedford. Happy with the way I rode, not having gone done at any point, and working the corners aggressively. During practice, I was able to ride the sand, but opted for running during the race, which was as effective. I was cooked at the end in the heat, but happy with the result.

Overall, a nice race with a lot of potential. Parking was a tad out of the way, but not bad. Pit location was brutal. Even though I had pit wheels, getting to them would have lost too much time. Plenty of port-a-johns in the area. Nice features on the course. Perhaps next year the family can make it a cross weekend by camping or something. Definitely worth considering.

Made it a good training weekend by running 13 relatively easy on Sunday. Looking forward to logging some time on the bike this week working on some technique, and then onto Gloucester.

Friday, October 05, 2007

You can't go home again

Just returned from a quick trip to Detroit, doing some consulting work. I wondered how long it would take before "home" stopped feeling like home, and I found out on this trip. From the moment I was walking through the airport, things felt weird. I can't put my finger on it, but it seemed less familiar even though nothing in the appearance of the place had changed. Driving to Warren, I took note of the lack of trees compared to here, the number of people smoking in their cars compared to here, the lack of people exercising compared to here, and on it goes. The grid streets that exhibit careful planning but lack any quaintness or character. The whole thing just seemed foreign.

I got the chance to watch my nephew play waterpolo. A completely undecipherable game. No idea what was going on, outside of the goals. I can tell that water polo referee seems like a pretty good job. Basically stand in one place, blow a whistle, and make hand signals that no one understands. No one can get in your face to complain about a call because they are in the water. Plus yelling and treading water at the same time takes too much energy.

Went to the Olive Garden. Endless salad and endless pasta. Only problem is, endless amount of lousy food doesn't make it a better dining experience. The highlight of the night was the guy with the cigarette in his ear. I don't know why it was in his ear. Could be his lucky cigarette. Might be whispering things to him. Could be his way of saying to the world, "Even though I am sitting in the non-smoking section, I am in fact a proud smoker and sit here under protest." Hard to say what it meant, but this is another way to divide up the world: people who would wear a cigarette in their ear and those who would not. Now, I have known people who have worn cigarettes in their ear. I have enjoyed their company and some have been wonderful conversationalists, spinning yarns of how many people per cell at the county lockup, best remedies for persistent unemployment, and their views on matters of public policy. But, in this instance, the cigarette-in-the-ear guy just was a symbolic exclamation point on my trip back to Detroit.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Where does the time go?

My 2 1/2 year old Amelia just got her first haircut. I didn't expect it to hit me like it did. She came back cute as ever, but I feel like I lost a the baby that I knew and got a little girl in return. For some reason, her haircut put an exclamation point on all the changes she has gone through. Amazing what a good haircut can do. Of course, Hailey still doesn't have that much hair, so they balance each other out.

Did a skills workout last night. The new bike felt very good, even without the new tubulars on yet. When am I going to get a chance to glue? Who knows. Hopefully this weekend. Working on braking less, turning faster, and reclipping in shorter times. Cross is like working on your golf swing (if I had a golf swing).

Carl Edwards got jobbed. Race should have stopped after the second rain delay, and he would have been sitting pretty in the Chase. Onto Talladega.