Tuesday, December 30, 2014

End of the Line

By Ben Coleman

I began the 2014 cross season with the intention of writing regular race reports for each

event and every racing weekend. I let that intent slip through the cracks in the roughly four

month repetitive blur of race prep and planning, racing, and recuperating. Now that the

calendar year is over, and along with it my cyclocross racing season, I’d like to take the time to

review the memorable moments of this past season and briefly look ahead to next September

and the 2015 season.

This past year was my first attempt at a full season of racing. That means a lot of

different things to different people, but to me it meant roughly 15 races on the calendar and

traveling sometimes several hours and even a few overnight stays all in the name of muddy

suffering fun. After the literal shakedown of the Cross of the Corn race I headed to the opening

round of the Sportif Cross Cup series with high hopes. Unlike most other series, the Sportif

races offer a CAT 5 only race, and since it is always run first thing in the morning it’s usually a

small field. That along with the fact that I had snagged fourth place in the CAT 5 race at the

finale event of the 2013 Sportif series had me confident in my chances of coming away with a

good result. Unfortunately it takes more than confidence to do well in cyclocross, and my ill-

prepared legs and a minor blood sugar problem left me with 11th and 27th place finishes in the

CAT 5 and CAT 4/5 races, respectfully.

My hopes were still high and my excitement for racing was peaked going into the

following weekend and both days of the Charm City Cyclocross. I was energized about going to

this UCI event and getting to race on a professional level course, and getting to watch some of

those pros race later in the day. It was unreal watching the way guys like Stephen Hyde, Cam

Dodge and Jonathan Page put down the power. They pedal constantly at a steady cadence,

always accelerating, even uphill. And getting to see the great Helen Wyman dominate the

women’s pro field was also a treat. The course was great, very flowing, and the number of

corners and variation of obstacles made for a surprisingly technical lap. My favorite feature by

far was the flyover, which was ride-able on both sides and gave the opportunity to get a little

rad, which I did every lap. I figured if I wasn’t going to be fast I could at least be having fun! The

CAT 4/5 fields were packed both days with over 100 racers, and I was happy to finish in the top

half on Saturday with a 50th place. Sunday brought some changes to the course, mostly the

direction in which it was run, and an even better result as I managed to crack the top 30 with a

28th place finish that I was thrilled with. All in all a great weekend, I can’t wait to go back next

October 5th, Iron Cross XII. This was only my second time to this dance, the gravel-

grinder generally regarded as the Grand-daddy of the North American Ultracross Series. As

such, it’s got a sort of life of its own when discussed in cycling circles. Even more so this year

due to the confirmed rumor that Michaux may not see another one of the events in the

foreseeable future. I always want to do well at this event, as I’m sure every other person who

shows up because they think that a minimum of four hours spent dragging one’s self from one

end of the forest to the other and back is fun. But the phrase “doing well” has more definitions

here than at any other race, as many in fact as there are riders. In my first go, I just wanted to

finish the damn thing before it got dark. I had never done anything like it before, and was

constantly afraid that my type-1 diabetes would factor into some situation where I would be

unable to make it to the finish, or worse. So I didn’t let more than 90 minutes go by without

stopping by the side of the course to check my blood sugar and eat if necessary. I avoided any

medical crises that day, and finished well before sundown, but with a time of seven hours and

six minutes. I even felt pretty good at the finish, making me believe that I could’ve gone harder

over the length of the race. The more I thought about it and talked about it with others over

the following year the more determined I became to bring that time down considerably in the

2014 edition. I did longer rides, learned more about how often and how much I should eat to

keep myself in the sweet spot, and set a goal for a sub-six-hour ride.

The first Sunday in October arrived, and I was ready to go. I had pre-packed as much of

my gear as possible the day before, had my cooler stocked with baggies of provisions identical

in variety and quantity to what I would start the race with, ready to be switched out at the

midpoint, checkpoint #2. I went harder right from the start than the year before, confident in

my planning and preparation. I rolled through checkpoint #1 without stopping, and straight

through to CP#2. When I got there, I was well within the pace I knew I needed to keep to make

my six hour goal. I replaced the empty and even only partially empty packages I’d prepared for

full ones from the cooler stash and grabbed some full bottles too. Rolling out onto the second

half of the course I could tell I wasn’t as fresh as I had been at this point the year before. I

remembered how last year, the second half didn’t seem nearly as difficult as I had thought it

would be. I felt secure in these thoughts, and in my plan working out as I had hoped it would.

Jump forward, and I’m at the bottom of Hogshead. In my easiest gear. Cross-eyed. I was

passed by the particularly badass individual who was doing this race despite having an artificial

leg. I wondered if I had just imagined that. Imploding. Rapidly. I finally made it to Buzzard Rock,

and plugged on through the forest and towards Bunker Hill. I entered the doubletrack which

would shortly turn to singletrack with a pair of guys on mountain bikes who weren’t from

‘round these parts. We rode along, hopping logs and rocks to the bottom of the hike-a-bike to

Larry’s Tavern. The companionship made me momentarily forget about how much I was

suffering, and the sweet, sweet SlyFox at the Tavern made me forget about it completely. At

least until checkpoint #3.

I sat at CP#3 filling bottles and looking at my computer I tried to figure out if I was still

on pace or not. I couldn’t do math any longer. I decided that I probably was, but only just. I met

up with Ralph Pisle and we rode out of the checkpoint and to the bottom of Bendersville Road

together. My memory had returned, my ability to do math hadn’t, and so had the suffering. I

watched Ralph ease away up the paved climb, not that he was trying to drop me, but at that

point you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward. I somehow caught back

up with him again on the following bit of ATV trail and we stayed together until Piney Mountain

Ridge Road. I had told him about my pace and math issues, both of which were just terrible by

now, but I didn’t feel so bad when not even the both of us could make sense of the numbers.

Ralph stopped for a brief respite, I wanted to, but didn’t. I trudged the rest of the way to the

finish, certain that I wouldn’t meet my goal, but finding solace in knowing that I gave it all I had

that day. I wouldn’t finish with gas still in the tank like the year before. I would be lucky to be

running on fumes. Then, I realized where I was on course, how close the finish was, and what

time it was. The six-hour goal was still a possibility, and even a probability. I pushed. Somehow.

I popped out of the final ATV trail climb and onto the blacktop. I could hear, smell, and see the

finish. I looked down at my computer, elapsed time five hours, forty minutes and change. I

rolled down the gravel path, broken, burned-up, and dizzy with exertion and disbelief that I had

met my goal. I finished Iron Cross XII in a time of 5:47:54. Even though the real race winners

had been done for hours, in my mind, I had won.

After a weekend spent not racing to fully recover from Iron Cross, I once again toed the

line at Whirlybird Cross in Bensalem PA. It was a wet, gray, chilly morning on the course

comprised of sections of tight corners strung together with long straights. It was during this

race that I decided I would definitely need to train a lot more in the coming summer to be a

regular contender for the podium. I had no problem carving through the corners with enough

speed to pass more than a few other racers, only to be blown away on the straights. I hung in

through the cold and rain and came away with a 53rd place finish, exactly middle-of-the-pack,

albeit rather disappointed after what I thought were fairly good results at Charm City.

Another few weekends off, and then back into it at Swashbuckler Cross on the grounds

of the PA Renaissance Faire. I had heard a lot about this race the year before, how the course

was unlike any other and featured unique obstacles and therefore unique challenges. During

the pre-ride Greg Mitstifer made the comment that if there were ever going to be a course

designed just for me, this was it. I wholeheartedly agreed as we made our way through sketchy

gravel corners, tight grass sections, pump-track style rollers and a few fast downhills. Looking

back on it now this was the best course I raced on all year, for sure. I had a front row starting

spot, but was less than thrilled about the first quarter mile or so being a fairly sharp paved

climb. Expressing my concern to Greg during staging he gave me what turned out to be the

perfect advice. “Think about it this way” he said, “your race is over at the top of that hill. Just

get there first and everything else will follow.” Easier said than done, I thought, but nonetheless

I stood on my pedals from the whistle, furiously stamping up the incline at the front of the wave

of riders stringing out behind me. I hit the crest only half a bike length ahead of the next closest

racer and settled in on his wheel, weaving through some difficult corners. We hit the first flat

straight section and I finally glanced backwards, something I had been afraid to do until then

because of what I thought I was sure to see, several dozen riders nipping at my wheel. But no,

there was no one there at all really, especially not within striking distance. We spent most of

the first lap like that, me trying to regain some breath from the effort I’d put into the start, yo-

yoing at the leader’s wheel until we were joined by a Team Rohan rider who had bridged the

gap. After a short time of trying to work together as a three-man train the Rohan rider dug in

and created a commanding gap over myself and the early race leader. My yo-yo string was

getting rather worn by then, and I gradually slipped back to an eventual fifth place finish. Even

though I had a shot at the front early on, I was over the moon about making the top five for the

first time of the season. Thank-you, Swashbuckler course, and thank-you Greg Mitstifer!

A night spent in a cheap but impressively clean motel had me lining up the very next

morning for the PA State Championships at Stoudt’s Brewery Cross in much colder and blustery

conditions than the day before. I was also much less excited about the course, as the majority

of it was on a single hill to be climbed no less than three times per lap. I didn’t have a great

race, but not a bad one either, ending up 19th out of 69 in the end.

The second weekend of November brought SlyFox Cross, a rowdy race at a craft

brewery across the street from a craft whiskey distillery nestled in a business park in Pottsville

PA. None of that seems unusual right? It may have been their first attempt at hosting a cross

race, but you never would have known it if you hadn’t been told. They pulled out all the stops,

and then all the yields, and eventually all the other signs of direction and reason. The whole day

was a non-stop party for bike racing weirdoes and their not-quite-right friends. Swashbuckler

may have had the best course of the year but SlyFox had the best everything else for the most

part. Type “slyfox cross” into youtube and see for yourself, just remember that once you see

something you can’t un-see it! It’s on my list as a “can’t miss” for 2015 for sure. I did alright at

this one too, finishing just outside of the top ten in 13th.

I was all revved up for the next weekend’s Kutztown Cross, but I unfortunately had to sit

out with a sinus cold. At least after explaining my situation to the promoter via e-mail I was

refunded my entry fees for both days, and I’m still looking forward to trying that race out next

winter. Turkey day came and went, and I went to Taneytown MD for the penultimate round of

the Sportif series. Since my previous race at SlyFox I had been upgraded from a CAT 5 to a CAT

4, and was eager to get some use out of it. Not the best planning on my part, as I attempted to

hold on to the CAT 3/4 field in my first race of the day, which didn’t happen at all. Not surprised

by my 19th out of 22 racers finish I set my sights on the CAT4/5 race later in the day. Rolling up

to the line, I felt like a slug. My legs were heavy, stiff, and generally unresponsive. Not a good

way to be feeling sitting on the starting grid. The feeling in my legs at the start more or less

summed up the entire race, and I left Taneytown with a disappointing 29th place heading into

the last two races of my season.

December sixth I was back below the Mason-Dixon for another brewery-hosted race,

Bike Doctor’s Milkhouse Brewery CX. The day would turn out to be defined by the weather,

which I was told had been fairly nice earlier in the day. But by the time I arrived in the

afternoon for my 3pm start the rain had been falling for a few hours and the very hilly course

built on rolling farmland had been transformed into wide swaths of deep mud in most places

and knee-deep stream crossings in others. The rain kept falling, along with the temperature, all

of which resulted in a generally miserable set of conditions to be trying to ride a bike in. There

was a lot of trying to ride, followed by a lot of giving up on that and running up the hills. That

was followed by trying to run, which for me degenerated into a heavy-footed slogging. Reveling

in the misery of it all, I somehow managed to get myself near the front and stay there, holding

on for a season-best-tying result of fifth. I hope they keep the same course next year, but order

better weather, as I think this race could turn out to be a real classic-style romp and a bully

That brings me to my 14th and last serious race of the year. Well, as serious as I get at a

cross race. Limestone Cross at the Kiln was the event, and Matt Pisano had cheerily volunteered

to be my co-driver, mechanic, coach, and cheerleader for the day. In fact, there were a lot of

familiar faces there, not even racing, but supporting myself and Michael McCormick in his bid to

secure a podium finish to his 2014 MAC Series conquest, and Bill Haley in his Master’s category

race. Matt and I arrived at the race venue before dawn, which actually was only a little over an

hour before my start time. We walked the course in the dim light, Matty all the while pointing

out lines and being his generally jazzed self. It was something that I appreciated, his guidance

and support, and his inevitably psyching me up for what he was sure was going to be a killer

course and race for me. I was inclined to believe him as we traversed the well-laid out corners

in the grass, the several woodsy sections that each held their own technical aspects and

features, and the ripper of a decent down a steep, swooping grassy sweeper. I was feeling good

about the course and my chances of doing well, so long as I could do two things in the race. The

first of which was getting a good start from my second row spot and being able to hold it

through the always-volatile first lap. The second was finding a way to get myself to the top of

an almost ride-able run up that seemed to go on forever until it terminated in a wall of small

boulders at the summit. Running is not my strong suit. Running while carrying a bike that

weighs nearly 30 pounds is a suit that isn’t even in my closet.

Myself and the rest of the CAT 4/5 field assembled at the grid for call-ups and eagerly

awaited the start. I didn’t have the greatest launch off the line, slipping my right foot and not

clipping in until the second try, but I managed to slot in with the initial top five and held it into

the bottom of the run-up. I think I managed to pseudo-jog the whole grade on that first lap, but

that was the only time. Every subsequent ascension was made at a tortoise pace, head down,

bike on the shoulder, looking forward at the mud until the mud turned to rock. It seemed like

most everyone else was having similar issues with this climb also, so it turned out to not be a

race-breaker for me like I feared it would be. I kept Matty’s lines in mind, in one corner in

particular, stayed off the brakes like we agreed I should, and swooped through it every lap. It

was awesome, that feeling of railing a corner and swinging out of it on the wheel of someone

who had led me into that corner by 20 yards, jumping on the pedals to keep the momentum

working, flowing it into the next series of switchbacks. Matty and ‘the boys’ were excited too,

as any other sounds were drowned out completely by their cheering every time I was within

their sight. It made me a little lighter, a little faster, and one time even gave me the pep to

sprint out of a bend, out of the saddle, and throttle past one and then another racer as I

screamed into the next corner. My mind may be embellishing this memory a bit, but that’s how

it happened in my head, that’s how it made me feel, and that’s the way I’m going to remember

it. I rallied in this support and put all I had into this last race of the year on a superb but tough

course, and came away with another top-10 finish, this time eighth, and a feeling like I raced

the way I always want to race. What a way to end the season!

It was definitely a bit of a roller coaster ride, from the good times and good results to

times when I felt as though I was merely suffering through and ending up in the back of the

pack, and the plateaus in between. Looking ahead, there’s Fast Forward’s own Highpoint CX

Relay, which is guaranteed to be a proper hootenanny to roll up the season of this big crazy

shag carpet of a sport we love. Come on out and join us!

Looking a bit further, beyond the January blowout bash relay, there is a sort-of

restructuring happening. My desires, focuses, goals and determinations are changing and

evolving, and I’m looking forward to giving it my all in 2015 to come away with a consistently

successful cross season. All of this combined is supporting my move from the Fast Forward

Racing Team to Blue Mountain Velo in the New Year. The kits will be different, the name will be

different, but the faces will generally remain the same. This is cross after all, and what’s more,

this is the cycling community, all disciplines included, we have here. I’m looking forward now

more than ever to making myself into a better bike rider and bike racer with lots and lots of

help and support from those around me, doing the same for others whenever I get the chance

to, helping out at events, and sharing in the good times we collectively create all the while.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Double Race Weekend #1 – A Mansion & A Maze

by Ben Coleman
Saturday, August 30th – King’s Gap Time Trial/Hill Climb
Since 2011, the Harrisburg Bicycle Club in association with the Friends of King’s Gap volunteer organization has staged an individual time trial type hill climb event at the beautiful King’s Gap State Park. It’s a very low-key affair, with more emphasis on riders getting to enjoy the park’s grounds, the Cameron-Masland mansion, and the outrageously smooth and pleasantly twisting ribbon of asphalt that allows access to the park than finishing times and final standings. It is also a very well organized and operated event, due mostly to the dedication and endless work of Kelly Szymczyk and Mark Riordan who every year wrangle a crack team of volunteers to make sure everything goes as smoothly as the road we’re racing on. If you've never attended this event or ridden up King's Gap Road, I strongly suggest doing both at least once.

With my moving to Mt. Holly earlier this summer, there is now only five miles between the park entrance on Pine Road and my front door. Knowing that the parking lot would fill up quickly, I decided to ride to the event. Shortly after sunrise I donned my warmers (it was a cool morning) and headed out. On my way down Pine Road I was passed by several cars toting bikes heading in the same direction I was, driven by other competitors also making their way to the event. Turning onto King’s Gap Road and beginning my first ascent of the mountain that morning I began getting passed by more and more drivers, many of which were all smiles and waves as they went by. I began to feel the vibe of this event wash over me, where no one is concerned with what category you are, what tire pressures you’re running, or even if you’ve ever done any bike racing before. We all come to this ‘race’ just to see familiar faces and enjoy time on our bikes. Yes, there are numbers on riders, and the ascent is timed, and there are awards for the top three finishers in each gender, but that’s where the similarities to any other race end.
After picking up my number packet and getting some help with pinning it from another rider, I rolled back down the mountain to begin warming up for my 9:33 start time. I had just over an hour’s wait once I got to the bottom so I headed further south along the base of the ridge to explore back roads and keep my legs spinning and loose. It soon became time for me to head back to the park and the race staging area, and as I rolled my way along I began to really think about my goals and the possibility of achieving them that day. This would be my third time competing in this event, and the previous two years had gone well. My target time for the first year was 15 minutes, which I ended up missing by just over 30 seconds. Last year I merely wanted to do better than my first performance a year earlier, and I was still determined to beat the 15 minute mark. I did so that year, and finished the ascent in 14 minutes and 22 seconds, cutting over a minute off of my 2012 time. This year, I thought that expecting to drop another minute was a bit too ambitious, but I did want to crack into the 13 minute range.
By the time I rolled up to the starting queue and found my place in the starting order with my fellow riders I was plenty psyched to get going. So much so that I actually found myself slightly surprised, thinking I was getting way too serious about it all. But it was a good anticipation, free of any nervousness or tension. Four riders were left to start in front of me. I was feeling good, I knew the course and the characteristics of the climb. It always seemed to me that the steepest sections were in the bottom one-third of the mountain, so I planned to take it easy from the start and try to not burn myself up too early. Three riders to go, then two, then just one. The last rider before me rolled off the starting line and I took my place at the start. A few friendly words with the man working the stop watch in between his time warnings kept me feeling loose and relaxed, and even when he called 10 seconds to go I still felt calm. He counted down from 5 seconds, and then I was off, on my way towards the top of the mountain.
It was a conscious effort on my part not to go all-out off of the line, and I had to remind myself several times in the first half-mile to keep a conservative pace. A little further up the mountain the grade would get shallower and then I could spin harder and build more momentum to carry through the rest of the climb. I still felt calm and relatively strong at the halfway point and was thoroughly enjoying my ride and how well I perceived it to be going. Entering the second hairpin corner of the ascent I spotted one of the photographers and gave him a quick thumbs-up from across the road. Shortly before the finish, where the road splits into a one-way loop around the mansion lawn, there were plenty of volunteers offering final cheers and motivation to finish strong. I grabbed another gear and forced my legs to turn it over and over as I pushed towards the finish. With the last 100 yards in sight I gave it everything I had left and hit the line, gasping for air but happy about my ride. I knew it would be a while before I got to see what my time actually was, but I felt good that I had ridden the way I wanted to, the way I hoped I would.

As the last dozen or so riders rolled in with various gaps between them I relaxed on the grass and enjoyed the atmosphere at the finish. Once everyone was in, final times were tabulated and the results posted. I found my groups’ sheet and scanned the page for my name, excited to find out what this year’s time was. I had climbed the mountain in 13 minutes and eight seconds, putting me sixth in my group, and more importantly, and surprisingly to me, one minute and 14 seconds faster than I had just a year before. Very happy with my result, I packed my gear up and rolled back down the King’s Gap Road and home to Mt. Holly.

Sunday, August 31st – Cross of the Corn
Coming off of what I felt to be a good performance and just a good day on the bike the day before, I was especially excited to be heading to the first “real” cross race of my season in Aspers at the Fields of Adventure complex. This is the first year that I’ve decided to put any actual effort and planning into racing a full cross season, I even bought a USAC license (although I felt a little dirty doing it) and I have plans to get my $70 and then some out of it! A short drive through the apple orchards and thick morning fog delivered me to the venue, a family-fun kind of place featuring a corn maze, zip-line, and other fall-themed games and activities built on two rolling hills of farmland. I ran into Bobby Lee on my way to the registration table as he was coming off the course from a few recon laps. “How is it out there?” I asked. “Bumpy” was his answer, “bumpy and fast.” I had no idea at the time just how bumpy he meant.

With my number pinned and other pre-pre-race prep complete I headed out with Bobby and Dave Wilson for a few sighting laps of my own. My first thought was ‘Does anyone know for sure we’re going the right direction?’ Not exactly, but it seemed to be the general consensus of the other riders near us so we went with it. I have to say, for a USAC sanctioned event there seemed to be a worrying amount of confusion and lack of information available, but I was hopeful that things would smooth out before it was time to get the days’ racing underway. Another thing that I, and I think everyone else there, wanted to see smoothed out was the course. It was literally ‘built’ on farming-type fields. When I say built I mean that there was a path that had been mowed through the grass, weeds, and scrub brush that covered the property. Then a bunch of stakes connected with ribbons of course tape were added, and that was pretty much it. There was also a short section utilizing part of the on-site corn maze, a few uphills, and a gravel driveway included as well. With two sighting laps completed I was able to determine several things about how the day would go; first, to say it was bumpy would be like saying that beaches are sandy. A true statement, but mostly unnecessary due to the fact that the vast majority of beaches are nothing but sand. Similarly, this course was nothing but bumps and holes and shallow ditches. There was no smooth part to be found, anywhere at all. Now I’m not the kind to lobby for groomed courses and perfect features, far from it. But when your fingers begin to go numb from vibrations after just two laps it takes a lot of the fun out of racing. Second, there was nothing technical about the course. It was the kind of course that would favor the kind of rider who could turn a big gear for a full race, with no need for moments of recovery. Third, these two facts combined meant that my hopes of doing well at this race were quickly washing away.
I returned to my vehicle to do the last bits of race prep and chat with fellow racers as last minute details like course boundaries and the location of the pit were sorted by the USAC officials. Soon enough it was time to get to the line and organize ourselves in the call-up to the grid. The sentiment gathered from the chattering on the line was that many of us expected were in for less-than-good races. Oh well, at least we’d all be suffering together. The 30 and then 15 second warnings were given, the start whistle was blown and the 31-racer CAT 4/5 field was off. I got a pretty good start off the line and was near the front as we immediately began pulling ourselves up the rising incline of the long gravel driveway that funneled into a 90 degree left turn. I held back a little on this first climb, not wanting to have to back off the pace and recover somewhere later in the lap. I was passed by a few riders, but I was still within the top ten after we had ridden the outline of two sides of the corn maze. Then, in the left turn into the corn maze section the rider two wheels in front of me had his front tire swept out from underneath him by one of the ruts we had to traverse diagonally through the corner. The rider directly behind him had nowhere to go to avoid him, and packed up into the back of the crashed racer. I also had no other option than to make it a three rider pileup. Obviously not the way I wanted to start the race, but it happens sometimes. With the field streaming by and the two other riders involved in the wreck back up and underway I remounted and tried to rejoin the group. Half of a pedal stroke later I realized that my chain had dropped in the crash, and with no momentum to be able to try and shift it back on I was forced to dismount and fix it manually.

Finally making it through the corn maze section I popped out into the open straightaway the fed into the back end of the course. I was now dead last, off the back by at least 50 yards. My race strategy had now gone from conservation and survival to as high of a pace as I could bear at any given moment, desperate to get back in the bunch and try to salvage a decent result. With my head down and my legs full of frustration, I managed to pass eight or nine riders by the end of the first lap. The field was quickly getting strung out and separated as small groups formed here and there throughout the pack. This made it harder by the minute to gain back positions as the race went on. I kept working, kept trying to hold onto a pace that felt unmanageable over the bumpy course that was getting slicker from the grass being folded and beaten down with every passing tire. I had lost count of how many riders I had passed by the halfway point of the race, and the further up through the field I got the harder it was to make passes and have them stick. I got around a group of three or four riders in the back section of the course, only to have my pedal strike a tree stump hidden in the grass that bucked the rear end of my bike and nearly took me down. One of the riders I had just passed re-passed me in the incident, but offered a “nice save” as he went by and rode away.
With two laps to go I found myself in no-man’s-land, not fast enough to make contact with anyone ahead of me but refusing to slow down and be caught by anyone chasing. My hands were so numb now that I was having difficulty shifting and braking. I began looking to see where my fingers were on the levers to make sure they were where they needed to be to get the right shift before I moved them. Coming out of the corn maze and heading down the straightaway something hit me just to the outside of my left eye. I quickly found out what it was as it proceeded to get stuck in between my helmet strap and face, furiously buzzing and repeatedly stinging me near my temple. With one numb hand on my bars and the other frantically trying to poke the kamikaze insect loose I kept pedaling, because at that point in a race like that it’s just what you do, because what else can you do? Bastard bug dislodged and knowing I was nearing the end I had a moment of acceptance that I had done what I could with this race, and would most likely finish in the position I was currently in. I had no idea what that position was, but I knew I was still on the lead lap at least.
Exiting a section of corners where the course doubled back on itself I saw my Indecisives teammate from a week ago, Bobby Lee, in the thick of a three man battle that also included one of his Blue Mountain Velo teammates Paul Sieber. The look on all three of those riders’ faces told me that there was a proper fight going on for that spot, the spot just behind me. Knowing they’d all be going maximum attack through to the end I summoned up everything I had left and put it into that last lap. I pushed to stay away, to not get caught, swallowed, and spit out by the ferocity of three ‘crossers dueling for position. Entering the last corner before the rolling straight up to the finish line I looked back to survey the gap that remained. It was almost gone. I knew that if their battle went to an all-out sprint for the line I would surely be caught. I dug in one last time waiting to hear the sound of tires clawing for traction from behind me, but it didn’t come. I managed to finish ahead of the three man group in 16th, but only by the slightest of margins. As I crossed the line I looked over my shoulder to see where they were, and all I saw were BMV jerseys. I’m not sure how that race within the race played out, but Paul and Bobby got themselves around the third rider, and from Bobby’s account Paul nipped him right at the line.
So a crash on lap one, a course I wasn't at all suited for, and a bee sting in the head. Not the way I had envisioned my first real cross campaigning year starting off. Although, I can't feel too bad about my riding that day. I came from dead last through nearly half of the field to finish mid-pack and still on the lead lap. No, not feeling bad about that one at all.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Relays are Rad

Relays are Rad

By Ben Coleman

Photo's stolen from Dave Wilson's and Bobby Lee's Facebook pages

It may not be the most common way to kick off a season of cyclocross racing, but it may

be one of the most fitting ways to do so. Round up one, two, or three of your like­minded buddies

who can’t wait to get their drop bars muddy (or go it solo if that’s the kind of person you are) and

head out to a field on the side of a mountain for a full day of celebrating all things ‘cross. That

means bikes, barriers, singletrack, mud, grass, beers, hand­ups, costumes, slip­n­slides, and

riding so hard that you think you’re going to puke and then going just a bit harder. Multiply that by

four riders and four hours, and you’ve got the International Intergalactic Global Open Cyclocross

Team Relay Championship of the Multi­Friggin­Verse.

It was a damp morning with the temperature rising as the clouds parted and the sun

began peeking through, a sure sign that the course would be changing all day, and thankfully

most of those changes to come turned out to be for the better. What a course it was, somewhere

around two miles in length, containing short punchy hills, one gradual grinder of a climb, logs, tight

trails that threaded between the trees, and two fast descents, one of which was a real screamer

when brakes were forgotten about in the joy of going faster than you think you probably should.

There was also a section where racers could choose between a set of tall barriers on a short,

steep hill followed by a grassy diving “S” turn, all the while being heckled and squirted with hoses

and water guns or racking their bikes and running to the top of the hill and utilizing the slip­n­slide

option. That's right, I said slip­n­slide option! Sections of slimy trail and slick grass soon dried out,

lines were easily worn in and by the halfway point of the race everything was well settled but still

loose enough in spots to allow you the fun of letting the bike drift and float if you dared.

There was plenty of time between recon laps and the start to set up coolers of food and

drink and chill out with my teammates for the day, my FFRP brethren Bill Haley, Bobby Lee (Blue

Mountain Velo), and Greg Mitstifer (Mountainside Ski & Sports) and discuss our racing plans in

the coming months as well as the day’s slip­n­slide strategy. The order of rider rotation was

already determined through registration at the organizer’s discretion, and it was my duty to take

the start for our team. Everyone gathered at the starting area, which was at the bottom of a short

gravel road that climbed up to the transition area and made a sharp right turn to enter the course.

Some last minute instructions and suggestions were given by race promoter Mike Kuhn and Dave

“Mr. Baconsuit” Pryor along with thanks to those who were helping run the show and Funk’s

Brewery who provided a very nice IPA for the day.

A simple, somewhat sneaky “GO” was uttered and we were off, blasting up the gravel

towards the course. I didn’t have the best start, but managed to exit the first corner fifth or sixth

which I wasn’t disappointed with at all. On the following ascent through the trees on some grassy

doubletrack I managed to hold my position even though the lead group was out of sight by the

time I turned to start down the first descent. I made sure to pick good enough lines through the

several sweeping corners to allow me to keep my fingers off the brakes up until the final off-
camber left that emptied into the barriers at the race HQ area. In that descent I had managed to

not only get quite a gap behind me but also reconnect with a rider who had come off the back of

the leaders. I managed to make the pass shortly before the slip­n­slide section, which I opted to

partake in as the rider I’d just passed went for the barriers. We came out of that section with the

same amount of separation we had entered it in, and I was able to hold my position through the

rest of the lap.

One of the things I like best about relays is that you don't have to try and gauge your

efforts on each lap based on how much you want to have left in the tank for the laps that follow.

On a four man team, with a course with an average lap time of over ten minutes, you can go out

and more or less blow yourself up each time. There is plenty of time between laps to recover,

grab a bit of food and a beer and slap your teammates on the ass as they go by. Good times

indeed. It seemed as though we were all taking advantage of this opportunity to go 100% every

lap, and I don't think Bill, Bobby, or Greg gave it less than their all every time they got on their

bikes. I know I didn't. Lap after lap, hour after hour, we all were having a great time and enjoying

the unique atmosphere of a 'cross relay. It's a lot different than any other kind of bike racing I've

seen, and different is definitely good!

With less than an hour to go our team mathematician Greg was working out whether or

not he would get another lap in, being the second man in our rotation. It was clear that I would get

another, barring any sort of catastrophe on Bobby and Bill's last laps. It was going to be close, we

weren't sure how close, but close enough to know that it would be up in the air until I came into

the transition area for the last time. Bill and Bobby both put in clean and fast laps to finish their

efforts for the day and I was sent out on course for my last lap with more of a buffer on the clock

than I'd expected. Greg was ready and waiting, as it now looked like he would be tasked with

putting in a sixth lap too. I wanted to give it my all and not waste my last chance on course, so the

brakes were touched only when absolutely necessary and even then very lightly. The course felt

great at this point, and I felt fast. Some of that feeling may have been due to a few beverages I'd

had throughout the day, but I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you feel fast you'll ride fast. I

caught and passed a rider just before we entered the longest bit of singletrack on the far end of

the course, and shortly afterward caught another rider in that section of tight, twisting trail. There

was nowhere to make a pass, even when I thought about jumping out and going for it I would

immediately have to grab hand fulls of brake to keep from running into the back of the rider in

front of me. At one point it even got so close that I buzzed his rear tire and got buzzed by the rider

I had just passed before the entrance to this trail section simultaneously. I definitely didn't want to

ruin Greg's chance at another lap my doing something dumb, so I sat in, slightly frustrated, and

waited to pop out of the trees and back into the fields where I could easily get my pass made.

With clear course in front of me once again I put the hammer down, all the way down,

and rode the last third of that lap as wide open as I could. I was waiting to hear some sort of

countdown coming from the timing table as I got closer and closer to the end of the lap, but it

didn't happen. I shot up the last little riser before the line and hit the transition area. Greg was

already moving, rolling out to get his, and our team's, last lap started. We exchanged a few brief

shouts of motivation while we high­fived to complete the rider exchange, and as he blasted into

the woods I head the announcer call “four minutes left!” That was it, Greg was out on course and

the clock would expire before he made it back to the finish. I made my way over to where Bill and

Bobby were and we all talked about how well we felt we had done that day. Cyclocross is usually

an individual sport, with a single person's efforts and skills determining the day's outcome, so it

was a great feeling to be able to share in our collective satisfaction and even impressed thoughts

about each others riding that day. Greg finished his lap, nearly puked (but didn't, I don't think

anyway) and joined in on the conversation of how we though we did. Unfortunately, Greg also had

some pretty important matters to tend to back in the real world and wasn't able to stick around for

the final results. As Bill, Bobby, and myself listened to the overall results being read off, starting

with the eight­place team, I thought to myself 'we did pretty well today, we might have made it to

seventh or sixth place' but as the results continued to be read, out team wasn't called. That is,

until the announcer declared that the teams finishing second and third had tied on points, which is

the sort­of black­magic way this thing was scored, and that the higher honors would be given to

the team who had done more laps. With a hesitation in the reading of our team name, “The

Indecisives” had taken third place!! The three of us collectively let out a big cheer of surprised

excitement and collected our prizes. We spent the next few minutes asking each other how we

had managed to pull that result off before I remembered to text Greg with the good news. Minutes

after I did, he called back and the first words out of his mouth were “You're joking, right?” No, sir,

not joking at all.

Bikes are cool, people who like bikes are awesome (mostly), Bill, Bobby, and Greg are

great guys to race with, cyclocross is f­ing great and cross relays are entirely rad. Can't wait until

January to do it again, this time on the lovely property of the McGill's at the Highpoint Team CX

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ending the Year with a Bang…or a Snap

          I haven’t been blogging this year for the simple fact I haven’t had much down time.  This past year I have been trying to remain focused and train towards the goal of competing at USAC Mountain Bike XC Nationals.  MTB Nationals moves venues every couple years, and last year and this year it was hosted at Bear Creek Ski resort near Allentown, PA.  When I first learned that nationals was going to be in PA last year I was both excited and nervous because this meant I could easily go race only 2 hours away from home.  When Nationals is out west, which it tends to be, it is hard to try to commit to the time and expense of traveling out there to race….so it was game on! 
            When I raced at Nationals last year I raced in the Men’s Cat 2 19-29 and I did not have to qualify to go race at nationals.  When I made the decision to upgrade to Cat 1 this year than that meant I now had to qualify for Nationals.  Qualifying wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was expecting and I actually qualified at two different races I competed in this year.  Everything looked like it was coming together for Nationals.
            So now I am qualified, training is going good, and Nationals is just around the corner.  I was doing my best to keep my nose to the grind stone and get ready.  A couple weeks out from the race I was getting nervous but feeling ready.  I was making my final preparations for the race, getting ready to tapper my training, and begin crossing of the days leading up to the big day.  Months of training and preparations was all coming together for one day. 
            Race weekend finally approached and I took a couple days off work, I was ready.  The day before the race I arrived early at the venue, got camp set up, got in a practice lap on the course, dialed the bike in, and relaxed waiting for the next morning to arrive and the race to start.  Race morning arrived, woke up at 6am, made coffee, had breakfast, and began getting ready for the race start at 8am.  An hour out I was kitted up, all my supplied laid out, bike ready to go and I began to warm up on the trainer.  Ok, ok, okay….I’m ready….got everything I need….check….bike is good….check….feed zone is set…check……..time to line up at the start. 
            When I entered staging for the racing I felt surprisingly calm, I felt prepared, and I let fate take over because I knew at this point whatever was going to happen was going to happen.  They called our group up to the start line and I actually received the last call up slot, so got to hear my name being announced as I toed up to the start line (felt pretty cool).  We received our pre-race instructions and we all wished each other good luck……tick, tick, tick of the clock…..whistle blew to start the race.
            Off we went into the woods immediately into a climb, and we were going to be climbing for the next mile and a half or so.  Heart rate pegged immediately and I was sitting toward the back of the pack in the start.  I remained calm and reminded myself to stay strong, steady, and race smart as I still had 2 hours of racing ahead of me.  The first lap I felt good but didn’t feel like I was as fast as I would like but I was getting into a groove and felt I would be able to maintain a strong pace the entire race.  I made it up the climb and started down the backside of the mountain.  I made it through the heckle pit (awesome) and entered the dreaded switchbacks and fumbled once, not a big deal.  At this point in the race the woods were chaotic.  There were so many racers in the woods all at once and the leaders of the groups that went off after our group were franticly shouting trying to make their way through the other riders.  I tried not to get flustered, tried to be courteous to the other guys out there, and tried to hold my lines and race my race.  
            I saw the 1km to go sign in the woods and was about the finish my first lap of three…steady as she goes.  As I popped out of the woods heading towards the start/finish area I heard a snap and no longer could pedal…..shit, did I drop my chain?  Then I hear from a rider behind me “broken your chain, broke your chain!”.  After a couple expletives muttered I grabbed my chain off the course and was preparing to do whatever repairs were necessary.  As I reached into my jersey pocket to grab my chain tool a panic began to come over me….where is my f-ing chain tool?  I emptied my pockets onto the grass…not there….did I lose it somehow on course?  So now what?  Do I start asking other racers for a tool….no, this is to be self-supported and you can’t offer or accept assistance from other racers.  So I stood on one pedal and scooted towards my pit area hoping maybe I had something there I could fix it with. 
As I go through the start finish area I hear the announcer saying…”and here comes the first of today’s many mechanicals!”  As I enter my feed zone I empty my bag onto the grass and begin searching for my tool.  As I do this a USAC race official informs me that I am not allowed to access my own supplies that I must repair my bike only with items I started the race with.  My heart sinks….I give him the ‘I’m finish’ signal and he records my race number for a DNF.  It took a few seconds for the reality of what just happened to sink in.
When it sunk in what happened I was crushed, pissed, depressed, and many other negative emotions.  I wanted to throw something, curse, cry, I didn’t even know!!!  I sat my bike down, took off my helmet, paced around for a few minutes, then grabbed my stuff and had to walk away from everyone.  It was a long emotional walk back to my van as I heard the commotion of the event going on around me.  I reached camp and saw my chain tool laying in the van….I never even grabbed it this morning.
At that point my anger was increased and it was directed towards myself for making such a rookie mistake to forget something as simple yet important as that.  All I could do was sit there for a few moments with my own thoughts as I cracked a beer and collected myself.  Six months of training and preparation was thrown away all because I forgot one simple little tool.  I have been doing this long enough to realize that this is part of bike racing, especially mountain bike racing and this realization still didn’t make it very easy to swallow.  I ended sticking around the rest of the day and enjoyed watching the rest of the racing going on and hanging out with friends.  I still had a good day overall but I was emotionally exhausted.
I learned an important lesson and completed a very difficult rite of passage in the cycling world.  I walked away from the whole situation still feeling pretty good about myself thanks to the support of many friends and family.  I realize I am not the first nor will I be the last person for something like this to happen too.  I lift my chin back up and look forward as I still have lots of racing to do this year….but first time a take a couple weeks off the bike before getting back into it.
Thank you all for your support!!!!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Race, Race, Racin'

So far this year I haven’t felt as strong to a degree as I did last year at this same point in the season, and part of that I blame on the harsh winter. I am not a trainer junkie and the trainer is not enjoyable to me but I try to commit to completing my workouts and sometimes that means hoping on the trainer. The other side of the equation is that I am not racing the Cat1/Expert class so all my results from last year and years prior are irrelevant for comparison which also makes gauging my fitness difficult.

Yesterday I competed in the Michaux Maximus 20 miler race which was a repeat from last year. I was hoping that this race was going to be a good gauge for improvement as I have done a lot since last year this time and would be racing on a sweet new bike. Last year I completed the race in 2hrs and 3 mins official time pulling in 3rd come in under 2 hrs and show an improvement.

I started the race yesterday feeling pretty confident and had a good start going into the single track in 2nd work any harder than I had to and conserve energy until later in the race. This worked for a little while but then before I knew it the rider behind my passed and pushed me back into the
spot. No biggie I thought as they were never too far in front of me and I was in the belief that conserving a little energy in the beginning would help me in the long run and allow me to catch as pass.

As I climbed the trail called Dead Woman’s Hollow I could see them still not too far in front of me and I was still feeling pretty good. As we entered the next trail around the halfway point called 3 mile trail I realized my mojo in the single track wasn’t where it needed to be to make good time and before I knew it I started to dabble and realized I was not going to get a good run on this trail. It was also in this trail that I realized that I must have setup the front fork with way to much air pressure as I never utilized more than about 60% of the travel on a trail that should have used it all…dammit.

So 3 Mile trail chewed me up and spit me out with less confidence than I had going into it. I was chasing the leaders with all I had and realized it would probably not be enough. After more trail and some interesting additions/changes to the course last year I entered the final climb back to the finish with the leaders nowhere in sight. I pushed and felt on the edge of cramping and finished several mins behind the leaders and roughly 15 mins slower that last years’ time and again in 3rd where down too hard to say if the course conditions had changed played an impact.  Looking at some of the results it looked like all of our times

Overall I felt pretty good during the day but I think I was in better form last year. Comparing last year to this year it looks like I was faster in some places and slower in others. I guess all I can keep doing at this point is to keep up the training, keep up the riding, and enjoy the journey! Until the next one…

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scotts Trainin'

As the 2014 season kicks into higher gear, its a good time to assess whats transpired to date and what it means moving forward. This season both Joe and I have been utilizing the service of Zach Adams for training plans. Zach has been providing his plan thru training peaks, which I really like. The website, as directed by the coach, sends you an email every days with your training plan for the following day, giving you enough time to plan your day around fitting it in and either dreading it or looking forward to it. Focusing more on what I do on the bike this year when I do have a chance to ride has been a game changer for me. Not a group rider anyway, this has been a relatively easy transition. What I am finding is that if you want to focus on training, scheduling to meet up with a bunch of other riders of varying abilities doesn’t always work well. Training with focus is a lonely. For me, that’s ok. Focusing on a specific interval set actually allows me to focus on something other than thinking about work or all that is on my plate. Its my time on the bike, even if it hurts, and after completing a hard workout, it pretty rewarding. While there have been goals set for the year (why we set our all our goals based on the time it takes the earth to around the sun I don’t know – think annual budgets, sports records – bizarre). Anyway, a goal might be to lose 20 pounds. A system would be to eat healthy every day. My goal was to improve in the endurance realm. The system is sticking to a training plan, resting when I need rest, eating well, and preparing for each race, like its my job. Basically taking control over the things I can control. While setting goals is important, putting the systems in place to make it happen is the difference maker. One would assume that at 47 I would have figured this out long ago, but alas, it has been an eye opener.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

School of Hard Rocks

The Michaux Mountain Bike School took place last weekend and was filled up despite more cold and rainy weather in central Pennsylvania.  Hearty participants came from as far away as Georgia to learn new skills or brush up on old skills from the knowlegeable instructors.  Registration for next year's version will be opening soon, so if you missed this year's event be sure to sign up early to take advantage of a $50 early bird registration discount.

Friday's instruction consisted of a half day of fundamental skills training conducted in the field right in Camp Thompson.  The instructors were Harlan Price for the men and Sue Haywood for the women.  In this field there were logs scattered about along with makeshift barriers created by the school crew.  Sue and Harlan began the day with everyone together and they discussed proper bike set-up and how the set-up impacts rider performance out on the trail.  This primarily consisted of cockpit set-up and we did not cover suspension set-up.  I learned that my two fingered braking method isn't ideal and I corrected my lever position to better accomodate one fingered braking.

When everyone was happy with their set-up the men and women split up and began the fundamental skills training.  And I do mean fundamental.  We covered everything from basic balancing positions on the bike, to shifting, braking, cornering, suspension loading, and track stands.  There was definitely a method to the process because we learned how to utilize these skills to go over progressively taller drops and to clear increasingly higher obstacles.  I didn't poll the group but I'll go out on a limb and say that everyone learned something new and became a better rider.  Harlan made the instruction easy to understand and took the time to patiently answer everyone's questions.  I'm sure the women would say the same about Sue's technique.

An unexpected bonus came when Harlan volunteered to lead us on a 30-45 minute singletrack ride which wasn't part of the published itinerary.  We ended up being out for closer to two hours because Harlan couldn't help but stop the group at various points to reinforce the instruction that we received earlier.  We took turns tackling various obstacles and trail conditions and everyone had a great time.  There were a couple dismounts but no injuries and we returned to camp with smiles on our faces.  We were very appreciative of Harlan going the extra mile for us.

That evening we met the additional instructors and the other participants who hadn't signed up for the Friday fundamentals session.  The other instructors were Jay de Jesus and Ryan.......for the men , Cheryl Sornson for the women, and Gunnar Bergey and Jeff Bahnson for the juniors.  Last but not least was....who taught the Lil' Rippers.  The crew had a series of games that were designed for us to get to know each other and they were effective and fun.  After that, Jay couldn't contain himself and was soon teaching everyone how to do wheelies, stoppies, and various other advanced techniques.  Many of the participants caught on quickly and were soon doing stoppies like naturals.  Jay is a trials rider and his expertise in this area brought an added dimension to the instruction.  The crowd slowly thinned as people began to grow weary and retire to their cabins.  That brought back memories because it was either like summer camp or the army with ten people per cabin stationed in bunk beds.  There was some snoring and late night calls of nature but I was unbothered and slept like a rock as usual.  Truth is, it's entirely possible that I was the King of Snorers but I wouldn't admit that to my cabin mates!

We woke on Saturday morning to dry but colder conditions.  Everyone went through their own morning routines and headed to the dining hall for breakfast.  The school crew had their hands full trying to feed this hungry bunch but I think everyone got nourished in the end.  My only critique of the entire experience was the shortage of bacon and hot coffee.  Cyclists seem to be coffee drinkers by nature so the coffee pot was empty quite a bit.  This was the largest attendance the school has received yet, so I am confident that Zach and his staff will get that situation squared away for the next session.

After breakfast we divided up evenly amongst the instructors with the idea that we would rotate among all three to get the benefit of each one's special knowledge and teaching technique.  The participants that had attended Friday's session hooked up with Harlan first.  I consider myself lucky because that meant that we hit the trails first thing rather than covering more skills work in the field.  We headed out on a similar route that we had taken on Friday but this time had more time to 'session' the various sections of trail.  Again, we worked on employing the techniques that we had learned the previous day.  The rain began to fall shortly after we started but everyone was dressed properly and was carrying spare clothing.  Harlan went the extra mile again and we ran over our alotted time so were the last in line for lunch.  It was worth the delay because we learned much out on the trail.  After lunch we rotated through the remaining instructors and continued the training.  Sunday was dedicated to riding the singletrack in groups of varying distance and speed.

Rather than continue to go on and on about the details, I'll just say that this school was worth every penny paid and if you haven't had the opportunity to attend this school or another like it I highly encourage you to do so.  This instruction will have a much greater impact on your ability and enjoyment on the bike than any new set of wheels or other accoutrement that you think you need to go faster or better.  Some certainly agree with me because I met several people that have attended before, and some that have been to every edition.  Now it's just up to us to practice and employ the skills that we have learned.  I immediately wrote down all that I could remember so that I could review the information whenever I began a practice session.  The beauty is that practicing the basic fundamentals can be done in your back yard with a few makeshift obstacles.  

For those that want to heed my advice, Harlan Price does skills instruction through his TAKE AIM CYCLING.  For those intending to do the Pennsylvania State Championships, Harlan is also doing course specific instruction and the registration page is HERE.  For the women you will find Sue Haywood leading rides at the upcoming  DIRT FEST, and along with Cheryl Sornson the CANAAN MTB SCHOOL - LADIES WEEKEND.  Get out there and have a great spring!