Thursday, August 20, 2009

Darkhorse 40 race report

Let's lay some groundwork here. Here is a brief list of facts that should be considered while reading this report.

1) I have never done a race longer than a standard XC race. 25 miles, 2 hours, that's my bread and butter.
2) I have never raced outside of New England
3) I'm of Irish heritage, and therefore feel comfortable in cold, rainy climates.
4) I was coming off the 24 Hours of Great Glen, and had spent the week living life as an animated corpse.
5) I have never spent the night before a race in a tent.

The game plan.

Thom came up with a plan to head down to the venue Saturday, since waking up at 4:30am and driving for hours is bad race prep. We hit the road Saturday afternoon with the intention of showing up at Stewart State Forest with enough time to get in a lap of the course. We made it just in time, and finished up our lap as the sun was setting. My initial impression of the course was two fold, on one hand there was "OMG!!! this is like sooo totally, like, rad!", on the other hand there was a the steady stream of sweat running off my chin. This was a great preview though since Sunday's action would be dominated by the incredible course and unbearable heat.


I should probably mention that I may have had a few too many beers on Friday night, and was feeling less than stellar all day Saturday. I didn't want to race, I wanted to go home and crank the air conditioner. Ironically, after Hodges Dam, feeling like I don't want to race is a harbinger of a great race. I was kind of psyched about not wanting to race, and therefore looking forward to racing. Figure that one out.

We don't need no stinking sleep

The night before the race was possible the most miserable sleep I had gotten in years. It was horrible. The humidity put a thick layer of dew on everything, including me and my sleeping bag, and the mosquitoes were fucking nuts. As soon as the sun went down, I was ready to retreat to my tent, away from the mosquitoes, and lay my hungover head down on my pillow. Problem was, the mosquitoes found a way into my tent.

I alternated between two different sleep modes. a) Sleeping in my bag, waking up soaked in sweat, but safe from mosquitoes. and b) outside the bag, not being able to fall asleep because I was on full body mosquito watch. Plan b did work occasionally, leaving me waking up soaked in dew with mosquito bites on my arms, legs and face. Yes, I got a mosquito bite on my face. Back and forth I went, in the bag, out of the bag, until morning finally came. I think a cloud of insomnia follows crazy Thom Parsons everywhere he goes. I set my tent up a little too close to his, and therefore was in the cloud.

Let's race.

I eventually got all oatmealed up, and had my morning eggs and toast in the form of a smushed egg salad sandwich. I mixed up a bunch of bottles, headed over to registration early, then went to shake out the legs. I still wasn't feeling it, and the wet, miserable, mosquito bitey sleep didn't help much. I don't function well in the morning and I'm new to 9am starts. I think my list of excuses has now reached a acceptable length.

We stage, and the Pros, Singlespeeds and 30-39 Cat1s are all let out in the first wave. This is a gigantic, and very fast group. The starting stretch is quite long, and straight. Then turns onto a long and straight section of double track. Drafting and road-type tactics played a roll in the first mile as everyone scrambled for position.

(All of the following pictures were lifted from here. The individual that goes by the moniker gtluke is an excellent race photographer and I encourage everyone to purchase some of his images, I know I will. )

Lap one

Have you ever seen such a spry and alert mountain biker? I was on form for the first lap. I was in the groove. I settled in behind Sean Cavanaugh, the super fast Josh Wilcox, and a Team Bulldog rider. I didn't know the Bulldog rider, but I figured if I could hang with Sean and Josh, I was in good shape. And hang I did, for pretty much the entire first lap.

Lap two (The "Linnea Koons rules" lap)

It was hot. Super hot. Like racing in a furnace hot. The breeze in your face felt like a hair dryer to the face. In conditions like this a poor hydration strategy will break you like the dry, dead twig you will surely become. Enter Linnea Koons (thought I was going to link to the October blog, didn't you?). She raced Windam the day before so she was spectating today. We chatted on the start line and she offered to hand me bottles, I was grateful. What I didn't realize is how awesome it would be flying through the feedzone, getting a high speed choice of refreshment, and a perfect pass off without losing any time. Heading down the double track at the beginning of the second lap, my perfect feed gave me a gap on the rest of the group. My brain was still working at this point, so considering the heat and the length of the race, I waited up and settled back into the train instead of trying to crush it solo for the next three hours.

I was still rocking pretty tight form, but I either look sleepy, or I got something in my eye. Both are possible, I was tiring, and my eyes seem to be crap magnets. Halfway through the second lap, I could hear some more riders coming up behind us, hopping on the train. This made me nervous. This was my ride to victory, I can't let others just hop aboard whenever and where ever they please. When the trail spit us out onto one of the paved sections, I made my move. I came around to the front and pushed the pace. I wanted to drop a few dudes off the victory train. It worked. A little too well.

Lap three

I came through the starting stretch alone I dropped the rest of the train. I grabbed another bottle and went to work. Lapped traffic was pretty bad at this point, but after Harding Hill and Great Glen (what!?! no race report to link to? WTF mate?), I've honed my passing skills.

Oh no, not looking too good, starting to show signs of cracking. The arms and legs seem to be going strong, but zombie face has made an appearance, giving a slight glimpse into the inner workings of the quickly fading racer. I was finishing an entire tall bottle each lap, but I knew that wasn't going to be enough. Regardless, I kept the pace high, but conserved a tad by dropping down to the granny ring to spin up the punchy climbs. No sign of my competitors, this is good. Hang in there buddy.

Lap four

Almost there. I knew I wasn't drinking enough, the bonk was inevitable. My bike only has a single bottle mount (not counting the retarded one under the down tube). I just hoped I could delay the bonk until I was close enough to smell the finish line. I couldn't. Halfway through the fourth lap I cracked. The heat got the best of me with about six miles to go. I was off and running the short climbs, which soon changed to off and walking the short climbs. Then the cramping set in. At the top of the climbs when I remounted, my legs protested. Ooooooh did they protest. My groin muscle, from my upper thigh all the way to the inside of my knee was cramping, bad, on both legs. Screams were let out. I came up behind a few lapped riders while screaming and punching myself in the groin, trying to work out the cramps. It was horrible, the pace dropped to a crawl.

You can see I appear visually smaller in this picture. I shrank up like a raisin. I lost 35 pounds and 6 inches in height during this race. I stopped at the beer station for water. Water was not readily available, but there were about 30 PBRs set out on the table. For the first (and hopefully last) time in my life I was angry that cold beer was so available when I was looking for a drink. I waited about 30 seconds, looking over my shoulder the entire time, for a cup of water to be poured. I actually needed about six cups of water, but after drinking one half, I went back out on the course.

I knew I was going to get caught, and there wasn't much I could do about it. Chris Gagnon soon came flying by me, and I clung to his wheel, hoping for a second wind. It worked. I was able to ride at his pace. Once we got out onto a paved section, he sat up for a drink and I went around him because I am an idiot. My brain had shut off and I was back in race mode. I kept the pace high for a bit, and didn't see Chris when I looked over my shoulder. I thought I was good to go, until I remembered I was in the middle of an epic bonk, and Chris soon came flying by again. Turns out I didn't drop him at all. Since he is a smarter racer that I, he probably stopped at one of the aid stations to refuel, while I attacked with an empty tank.

I was unable to hold Chris' wheel, and he disappeared up the trail. Next up? Team Bulldog. Oh please let this be a non 30-39 Cat1 Team Bulldog rider. I remember just about every other name on the pre-reg list was Team Bulldog, so I tried to convince myself that this guy was just a Cat2 rider and I could let him ride away. Didn't work. I asked him how he was feeling and he responded with a peppy answer that alluded to how soon he would be drinking beer at the finish. Shit. He sounds fresh, his brain is clearly still working, and his legs have him up the trail and almost out of sight.

I couldn't let it happen. I dug deep, tried to shake out my cramping legs, and clawed back up behind him. We were pretty close to the finish at this point, and I was on his wheel. I used everything I had left to go around him, and immediately put a few lapped riders between us. I turned onto the paved Start/Finish stretch, put it in the big ring and got up to speed. I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing. Sweet. I got aero and spun towards the finish. Glancing over my shoulder again, there he was, and closing quickly. I stood and hammered, both legs immediately cramped. Again. Screams were screamed, pedals were mashed. We put on a good show for all the beer drinkers, bike washers, and porta-pottiers we flew past. At the line, I was still in front, by a single second. After the line, a rolling fist bump was performed between the two of us. The level of effort this fist bump required caused my shoulder to cramp. I had absolutely nothing left. After checking results, I learned the Team Bulldog rider was Noah Meineke. Nice race Noah.

Turns out the sprint to the line was for second place. Sweetness.

Post race

This is Mike, I'm not sure what his official title is, but I'm going to call him The Host. I know what you're thinking, races don't have hosts; races have officials, timekeepers, volunteers, promoters and what-not. This is true of most race, but most races aren't the Darkhorse 40. Mike made it his mission to make sure every racer felt welcome, got everything they needed, and went home happy. A tall order for sure, but Mike crushed it. Smiles all around, free beer (best beer on the planet no less), free BBQ, well stocked aid stations, the quality of the swag only outdone by the quantity, generous payouts, and to top it all off, the dopest t-shirt (and medal) I have ever gotten at a mountain bike race.

Mike, you are truly the man. See you next year.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Great Glen procrastination report.

I hurt always, and I'm hungry, and tired.

I go to work, and eat constantly, while drinking coffee.

I get home, I eat and go to bed.

I wake up and my legs still hurt.

I can't shake Great Glen, it was a 24 hour hammerfest. No sleep, no letting up. The squirt gun show has gotten loads of traffic this week, surely from Thom's and Colin's Great Glen posts, so I feel I need to explain why I haven't written a race report yet. Well, because my legs hurt and I'm going to bed, after I swing through the kitchen.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hodges Village Dam, How The 6th Place Was Won.

It is with a tip of my hat to Cosmo Catalano that I present to you, How The 6th Place Was Won.

Eyes on the prize.

My performance at Hodges was atypical, so in the interest of duplicating it I am going to look back and over-analyse everything I did differently. First off, many fans of periodization will assume I was "Peaking" for this race, judging by my performance and the fact that it was the Massachusetts state championships. I was not.

Some day I'm going to write up a series of blog posts detailing everything I disagree with Joe Friel about. The top of the list is "Peaking", or the theory (and practice) of not sucking twice a year. I suppose this approach would work if you are on top of your performance plateau, and have to train just to maintain optimum performance. That doesn't describe me though. I am getting faster month to month and year to year, and I'm content with my gradual, long term improvement. Planning to be really fast in July, and so slow in August and September that it's not even worth showing up at the races, doesn't appeal to me.

I employ more of a Black Swan training principal; I basically show up ready to race my best at every race, and leave the door open in order to invite the unpredictable. No expectations, therefore no disappointment.

Preride hammerfest.

As I mentioned in the race report. I showed up nice and early so I could get a look at the course, and see just how bad the flooding was. After registering, I wandered out onto the course amongst the beginners and first timers. Unlike the douchebag Cat2 preriders that did their best to try and derail my race, I did not come with 20 feet of the racers. I would wait for a gap, then ride, with an eye constantly over my shoulder, until I came up behind someone. At that point I would step off the side of the trail and stretch for awhile, waiting for a gap, then repeat.

About halfway through the course, I came up behind a father/daughter tandem team. It was slow going. Real slow going. Slow enough that I got nervous. I asked a hiker/spectator what time it was, and they said they didn't know but asked what time my race started, and I said "11:30." Their response was "whoa, you're probably cutting it close."

I panicked, and dropped an entire bagful of hammers. Luckily when I caught up to the tandem it was on a fireroad where I could easily pass, and there wasn't anyone in front of them for a long ways. I kept on the gas for the entire second half of the course, riding at or above race pace. On the fire road that leads to the start/finish, I saw Nathaniel Williams soft pedaling. This was a good sign, him telling me I had a half hour until the start was a better sigh. Off I went to set up my feed.

Capping your preride with a 20 minute anaerobic effort? Helpful? Discuss.


This one is huge. The day before Mount Snow I switched to my "experimental" short spindle pedals. The experiments were proving to be successful, and I was ready to call them up to the big leagues. You know what they say, a 3mm reduction in your bike's Qfactor is worth three weeks of intervals.


Yes, for the first time in a race, I took a gel. I had been carrying a gel in my jersey pocket for the last few races because I figured it was a good idea. At the end of the race, it always ended up back in my bag, unconsumed. Not at Hodges. On the third lap, I pulled onto the fireroad right after the three short punchy uphills. I was hurting, and the last thing I wanted to do was blowup when I was having such an awesome race. That's when I remembered about my little passenger. I pulled it out and sucked it down. Why not right? Couldn't hurt and I was looking for any help I could get, I was hurting and still had a long way to go.

Not sure who at Hammer Nutrition decided that mixing bleach with ball sweat tastes like orange, but they were wrong and should be fired. Ask me for some orange Hammer Gel next time you see me, I've got a bunch that I'm never going to touch.

I am not a climber.

Just about everyone that has ridden on the road with me thinks I am a climber. I may be, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that I suck on mountain bike race courses that feature a lot of climbing. Pats Peak, Mount Snow, Putney; all have major ascending. Hodges Dam? Not at all. It had maybe four sections that could be considered a climb, and each of these sections can be cleared in 20 seconds or less.

If you look at my results from past years (no link for you!), I have always sucked at the climbing courses. Unfortunately I decided to jump into the Pro/Open races as soon as the schedule got to the climbing courses. I'm guessing (hoping) that Hodges is more of a "typical" race performance for me, and Mt. Snow, Pats Peak and Putney were as bad as my results will get.

Knowing that climbing courses are my weakness, you can understand my frustration concerning the stipulation that only National Calendar events (in New England read: ski area events) counting towards a Pro upgrade.

Cat1 Times

Not that this (or the next topic) has anything to do with why I may or may not have had a good race, but while I'm emptying my brain, let's shake out the last few items.

It was with the hope of telling British Petroleum to "suck it!" that I compared my time to the Cat1 times. First up the ever-fast 40-49 class. Bold, Rowell, Gunsalus, Rutter? Wow, this marks the first time I have beat any of them. Needless to say, I was very impressed with myself. Wait? What's this? A 30-39 time that is faster than mine? Who the fuc... oooooh. Brian Wilichoski. Just dropping by to let me know that I ain't shit. He must have caught wind of our one sided rivalry (the over all score is something like BW 8, KS 1). I think beating him at Harding Hill was akin to poking the dragon. It took me four years to beat him once, it'll probably take me four years to beat him again.

Oh Joy, I see he's pre-registered for the first weekend of the Verge series. Second place isn't so bad.

Blocking. (Surrender nothing!)

In my time spent mixing it up with the fast dudes towards the front of the Pro race, I picked up a few tricks. First, if you have a mechanical and have to stop and work on your bike, don't do it on the side of the trail, lay your bike perpendicular across the singletrack and make everyone go around you while you sort our your issues.

Also, If you decide to run a difficult section, do it right down the middle of the trail. If you carry your bike, carry it sideways. If you push your bike, push it way out to the side. To object here is to take up as much of the trail as possible. Bonus points for slowing to a pace that forces the rider behind you off their bike, then speeding up once they are off the bike.

Welcome to the Pros junior.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hodges Village Dam race report.


There are a few things that turn me into a whiny bitch. Heat is one of them, not being able to ride is another. The recent weather pattern of oppressive heat, downpour, oppressive heat, downpour, (...and repeat) has sucked my motivation dry and basically turned me into a whiny bitch. Heat also suppresses your appetite, and not eating leads to less energy. So I basically have been sitting at home, sweating, with no energy, trying to find the motivation to go out and ride in the mud between downpours. waaaaaaaaa.

That's the long way of saying I really didn't feel like racing. I had my ear to the intertubes this week, and the rumor was that the race course was underwater. I checked again the morning of the race and found that some brave souls had pre-ridden and posted this...

yar mattie, grass off the port bow.

Well, I figured it would be easier to throw it in autopilot and go through the race day routine, instead of sleeping in then trying to peel my whiny ass off the couch to go out for a ride later in the day. Basically, I went to the race to force myself into a training ride.

Race day.

Funny thing about the current weather we are experiencing is no matter how many times you have ridden a course in the past, this year it is probably going to be different. With this in mind, I figure I needed a preride to see exactly what I was working with. Basically, there were a bunch of mud puddles, one or two long stretches of mud, but nothing too bad. The water was something I had never dealt with before. There were two enormous puddles you had to ride through, but hit them with enough speed and you could pop out the far side without too much effort.

"That one part".

Then there was "that one part". This is the part in the picture above. It was maybe 50 yards of water that put your entire pedal stroke (at least for us little guys) underwater. It was like riding a trainer, with the resistance jacked way up. Kind of like grinding up a super steep incline, but without any threat of losing traction. It just sucked the power out of your legs. On the plus side, it did rinse all the mud off your bike and your legs, and it was quite refreshing. On the negative side, I don't think my bike is going to move again until I replace every bearing.

The floating bridge.

Ahhh. Almost forgot. One of the stream crossings was so flooded that the bridge that spanned it was floating. It must have been chained down underwater to keep it from floating away, but who knows. At the start line, the official told us this was a mandatory dismount, meaning you're not allowed to ride it. That was probably a smart call. The edge of the bridge was about three feet from the "shore" and when you put a foot on it, it would teeter-totter, sending the far side up out of the water, and your side underwater up to your knee. As you crossed it, it would be maybe ankle deep in the middle, but as you got to the far end, it would teeter-totter the other way putting the water back up to your knee. Of course after these repeated dunkings, it was as slick as wet wood could possible get. I have to admit, this thing was pretty awesome obsticle, but probably belonged in a funhouse more than on a race course.

Get to the racing already!

For the first time in my life, I'm to the start line before we are called for staging. When the call goes out, I am second to the line. I line up directly behind the only other person there, taking a spot in the back row when there are about 10 open spots on the front row. "We got plenty of room up here in the front" I'm told, "Nope, I'm going to stay back here, out of every one's way" I reply. I know my role, it's to not get trampled, and to not ruin the start for the actual pros.

On the start line, it was decided that we would only do four, instead of the advertised five laps. Deciding the race length 30 seconds before the start seems to be becoming the norm for the Open/Pro race. I'm cool with whatever method results in a two hour (+/-10 mins) race, and based on this metric, four laps was the correct call.

The start is a long, slightly uphill fireroad, with a few turns. I'm going with the flow, mid-pack for most of it. I notice some gaps forming, so I make a few moves. Next thing I know I'm in towards the front, with a bunch of fast dudes behind me. My race could not possibly be won in the starting stretch, but my retardation could end someone elses race in the starting stretch. This is why I always line up at the back, I don't want to interfere with the actual Pros. I'm kind of panicking, and I feel out of place, but pick up a few more spots after some riders in front of me bobble once we're off the fireroad.

Kevin Hines is behind me, breathing down my neck, asking to get by. I'm following someone who has let a big gap open in front of them. My main goal right now is to not slow down Kevin Hines. I see an opening, and make the pass. I should mention that the first mile of this race is some of the most fun, flowy, bermy, smooth trail I have ever raced, it's like riding a roller coaster. So after my pass, the trail is mine and I open it up. Hines eventually comes around me and I glue myself to his wheel. A few minutes down the trail he bobbles, and I make the pass.


I'm towards the front of the race, and I just passed Kevin Hines? It's at this point that a switch flipped. Up until this point, I was just happy to be in the Pro/Open race. My goal has been to beat at least one other guy, and not make a fool of myself. At no point do I actually feel like I am competing against the guys that actually belong (aka, have a pro license, and a chance of winning) in the Pro race. After a little back and forth with one of guys that actually belong in the race, I start feeling my fucking oats. (coincidentally, oatmeal is usually part of my pre-race routine, but I accidentally left it out this morning, when I realized this somewhere along the masspike, I ate every energy bar I could find in my car. So no, I wasn't literally feeling my oats, just a few Clif Bars)

My time in front of Hines was short-lived, but I hung onto his wheel again after he re-passed. Next up is John Foley, I assume he bobbled somewhere because he's running a rock garden. We pass him, he hops back on his ride and joins the train.


I just passed Foley? This is getting weird. It's like imagination land. Halfway through the lap we come upon Josh Wilcox, who beat me in 9 of 9 Cat1 races last year. Hines takes off, and I'm left sucking Josh's wheel. Somewhere along the way we lost Foley. Towards the end of the lap, I test my legs by coming around Josh to lead the train (of two) for a bit. I open a little gap, but he stays 5-10 seconds behind me through the Start/Finish, I hammer through the feed like the classy gentleman I am, and lose him. I'm alone now, I look over my shoulder and see nothing. I take a drink, settle into a nice spin and look over my shoulder again to see this:


Blogger won't let me make that any bigger, but it should take up your entire field of vision. I'm basically staring into the middle of Foley's chest, as he is two inches off my wheel. For all I know he dropped from the sky. It was a long straight fireroad, and it was empty as far as the eye could see 15 seconds ago. I immediately move to the right and ask if he wants to come around. He doesn't say anything, or come around, so I hammer into the swoopy, bermy part again with him hot on my tail. A few minutes later I over cook a corner, Foley passes on the inside, and I'm back on his wheel.

I commence to ride directly behind Foley for the entirety of the second lap. On the fireroads, he would either eat/drink and I would stay with him, or he would ride, dropping me with ease. Little known fact: John Foley actually owns every fireroad in Massachusetts. I didn't see any U-Haul trailers in the parking lot, so I assume Foley drives a pick-up, I don't see any other way for his to transport all his watts to the race. As soon as the trail got smooth and wide, I would watch his bulging calve muscles disappear up the road. I managed to catch back up each time we got back into the rocks, roots and mud.

Foley, Sunday cruise. Me, 185 BPM. (cred:

It kind of started to feel ridiculous after awhile. I was on his wheel for over a half hour. It was like take your kid to work day, and Foley was nice enough to take me along for a ride. "Hey, John, can we pass that guy next? Can we, can we, can we?" That guy was Seamus Powell, Pro series leader. I went through the start finish at the end of the second lap sandwiched between the two guys who are first and second place in the Pro series. Not to mention that Foley was fresh off his win at Mount Snow last week, where he finished 15 minutes in front of me. Yes, 15 minutes in front of what I considered one of my best races.

The unspoken word.

What you have probably assumed, but I have not mentioned is that this entire time I am digging deeper and deeper into my pain cave. We're only halfway through the race, and I'm just about out of matches. At the beginning of the third lap, Foley does his fireroad thing up the long starting stretch and don't have an answer left in my legs. He's gone. Now the true test begins, can I maintain "Pro Pace" on my own? Now was not the time to recover. I grabbed my shovel and burrowed deeper into the cave.

I consider the very back of the pain cave to be Tony Martin going up Ventoux. I also call this "zombie face." Eyes barely open, mouth agape, wishing for death. Let's compare me, with the back of the pain cave. Here is Tony "Zombie Face" Martin and Myself:

Brains, BRAINS!

Similar, but my mud-catchers, errrr, I mean eyes, are way to alert. I actually think this photo was taken pretty early in the race, I don't even seem that dirty. Coming through to start the fourth lap I was a mess, I actually made the concious decision to wipe the drool and snot off my face so I didn't scare any women or children.

This is getting long, so....

In summary.

I turned myself inside out and did not get passed in the last lap and a half. I successfully rode "Pro Pace" all on my own after daddy left me out in the wind. I had a breif moment of panic when I looked over my shoulder with about 45 seconds to go, and saw Mike Joos sneaking up on me at high speed. I shat my pants, then got my wits about me and opened up a sprint for the finish that seemed to last forever, eventually crossing the line in 6th place, out of 20.

Don't worry, I will be writing more about this race once I get a chance to nit-pick the results.