Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Monday, February 28, 2011

My first race back.

It was a morning of “monkey see monkey do” behaviour for me. I watched my fellow racers at the hostel carefully, asking lots of questions about anything I thought might be related to racing at breakfast (how much to eat before, how much to eat during the race, what kinds of things to eat during the race, when to eat during the race and how frequently to eat. I figured there would be a bit of an art to packing the “sag bag” (this is a bag that would be brought to the mountain top that I would have access to at 20 km and 60 km apparently). But what do you do when you want       quick food? Peanut butter jelly time right?? Apparently not. The hostel owners were super nice and gave me a bunch of carbohydrate gels, and also some Clif Bars. Alternating between eating a Clif bar and having a gel every so often seemed to be a good idea, everybody had their own preferences though. Jon, the bike shop owner’s was the best: SPAM. There are “spam singles” that you can buy that fit nicely into jersey pockets, and why not? They’re greasy and fatty and salty. What more do you want on a 5 hour mountain race? After being a little nervous of how to do this properly and taking my time, I realized I was the only racer left in the hostel and I should really be at the race course! So I packed the sag bag really quickly-pump, 2 extra tubes, some energy bars, glasses(in case of contact lens problems), tool, and 3 bananas. Mmmmm!

Upon arrival at the race course I quickly got over to the registration tables (a gongshow beside a pool actually) and got my little bib thinger with the number 233. I was shocked at the number of racers, and the way they all dressed! I was the only one wearing just my shorts-Canadian eh? I was a bit flustered, and almost forgot to put my sag bag where it belongs-good thing I had travel partners! My friend took care of the sag while I figured out where the race was starting-oops no warmup. Can't be so bad right? I was planning on having 5+hours to warm up anyways.
The start line (kp photography)

Can you find me? (kp photography)

At the start line things were a little tense for me, some Olympian guy was apparently there, and the call ups were happening-it dragged out a bit. My goal was to keep my heart rate below 160 for the first half hour-try to keep the year and  a half of pent up testosterone from not racing a year and a half at bay, but my heart rate was jumping up to 110 just standing there (compared to my resting heart rate between 50-53 beats per minute)-just seeing this made me more nervous! 

The race was finally started, 2 miles of cyclocross course, and I kept it nice and easy. One of the runups was a pretty insane pitch, and nobody was riding, but I (being a mountain biker) thought it would be fastest and most efficient to ride. I managed to get up about 3/4 of the hill (and heard on the way up "Only a Canadian could do that!") until there were just too many people in the way, where I dismounted and found myself with Jon. 

Riding with Jon for as long as I could keep up was a good tactical idea I figured, he knew the course, he's obviously fast, and he gave me the bike, so I could do some work for him if he needed it. I sat in behind Jon, and talked a bit to him (didn't want to get bored and lonely in a 5+ hour race), just got one word answers back though, so I sat in behind him and rode his pace (which had me wondering if I could hold it) until about 12 km into the course where he just looks over at me and says "settle in"-it was time to climb Springer Mountain. I settled in, and foolishly did so going a little quicker than Jon, but surely he would catch me and I would try to keep his pace. In fact I just continued up and away up the gravel/dirt road climb, watching people up ahead as they came closer. I was worried that I was getting too competitive too early into the race, and decided to cap my heart rate at about 170, which I hovered around for 9 km! This climb was about 9km long, with an average grade of (apparently) 10%-12%, and it was great to have so many people ahead of me, I watched them and saw where they were slowing down, was able to anticipate the terrain better, and also managed to catch a bunch! The top of the climb dragontailed substantially, but I knew I was almost there by the view-thinner trees, through which other mountains were visible (most of which I was higher than). 

I finally crested the hill and saw the "sag stop". I had finished about one and a half bottles of water and eaten on the way up too, so I stopped off for supplies. I was a little bit confused, but I filled up my bottles, grabbed an energy gel and a powerbar from the free food table, and headed on my merry way, wondering where my personal bag was. As I got past, looking for the bag I finally saw it-the only Canada Cup musette around a quick turn around to strip my armwarmers and then I was on my way-looking for Jon, because I figured he wouldn't stop at the stop (dude already had his spam in his pocket-he was set). The descent was simply terrifying. I found myself going way too fast on that little 'cross bike, but I wasn't going to slow down! I was catching people, and if you're gaining on someone (without any extra energy expense) the last thing you will do is slow down. I picked several people off as I descended the mountain, doing over 60km/h on washed out gravel roads. I quickly found a limiting factor though- I was unable to stand up and pedal in the big chainring up front (would drop chain and smack my knee on the stem because of the short top tube), and sitting down on these descents was not an option, so a good little speed crouch was the trick. A couple of cars were (for some reason) winding their way up the road, but I squeaked by and kept up. 

After a couple of two-wheeled sideways powerslides, a couple of close calls with cars and some serious bunnyhopping over potholes and washouts I was out on the open (paved) road. Some guy drafted me the whole way back until we entered the forest for the bottom of the second major climb, by which time he said "Thanks for the pull", and I responded "yeah what can I say, I'm Canadian". I wound my way up the gradual incline for what seemed like forever, waiting for the second climb to really start, only to find myself shocked and somewhat disappointed that I was at the top of the mountain again refilling my bottles at the sag stop. The descent this time was unreal. The road was like riding on a giant washboard, and I literally thought my biceps would fall off. A horrific descent and I found myself down the mountain and in the last 20 miles of the course.  I had heard that the final 20 miles would be all rollers, and prepared for a fast time to get to the finish. Rollers in Ontario and in the mountains are VERY different things. These rollers each had 100m or so of vertical gain, and took a couple of minutes to climb up.
My friends missed my finish so we had to retake the picture-this is what it would have looked like though! (kp photography)

By the time I made it back onto a nice safe road, I had caught yet another guy, this one was pretty fit. We raced along the road, me holding my effort a bit below my threshold now, figuring that he wouldn't be able to match the pace (a na├»ve thought from a mountain biker), and got drafted. He tried his best to ditch me on every hill, but I came back on the descents, the two of us were well matched by this point. Upon turning a corner with a marshall, I asked how far to go and was told 6 9km. I could do that. It's an Ontario Cup lap. So that's when I made my move. Still this guy stuck to me, drafting like a good smart roadie, and then it finally happened-the last 2 miles was the cyclocross course that we had started out on. 

I got to the first run up ahead, but this runup was so steep that I had to go up sideways, and when I got to the top, I didn't clip back into my pedals on the first try (lack of proper shoes and pedals for mountain biking are my problem here), so we were neck and neck again. There was no way I could not pass this guy after over 50 miles of racing. He had to be hurting just as much as I did, so I kept it up. After some tight turns and a couple of straightaways, I finally ditched him, and to my delight was catching more people ahead too!

I finished with a strong sprint to the end, having passed maybe 5 people on the cyclocross course and with nobody ahead. This was surely a successful race.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The day of...

Woke up this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am, super tired, and not sure of much. Do you eat a special breakfast? Should I drink a couple of litres of water? Maybe Gatorade? What to pack for eating during the race? But the big question is do my legs feel OK? I still don't know yet, I just came to the computer to write a blog post and put a photo up.
I almost forgot how to eat breakfast (kp photography)

Friday, February 25, 2011

They call this "Drinking from the Firehouse"

Well let's disect that statement for a second, what does it mean to drink from a firehose? Could you? That may be 1 cubic metre/second, I know maybe one or two people that could throw a cubic metre back in a second...But that's not much.
A couple more guys from Canada showed up at the hostel; endurance cyclists. They were riding super 29ers, and were super friendly. We had some beer and all hung out, and they told me about how they had raced the Trans Alps race in Europe last year, frequently do 100mile rides, and manage to travel and do this while working (they do some sort of computer tech stuff). These guys don't ride the roads on their road bikes, they spend ungodly amounts of time on their mountain bikes. Soon enough they had me thinking that it would be a great idea to race this 100km cyclocross race how bad could it be? 2+km of vertical gain, fire roads, gnarly gap riding, and beautiful weather! Surely this would be nothing but cupcakes and sprinkles!
We have a couple of problems-firstly I had no bike to ride it on, but the crazy guy at the bike shop (who can apparently marry people too) could potentially fix that problem, next I only have road shoes (full carbon soles, and pedals that only clip in on one side), also I had never raced an endurance event before, I had been training hard in the mountains all week, and lastly I haven't raced since Ontario Provincial Championships in 2009 (August).
But then again, what could go wrong? Last time I raced I was great at it! So I decided to do it. How long could it take? 6 hours? big deal.
The next day I was stoked to go in and try to wrangle some sponsorship from the local shop here's the plan. "Hey, if I race in your jersey and place well can I race one of your bikes for free?". So that's what I did, the shop owner just laughed somewhat maniacally "now that's what we call drinkin' from the firehose!" and he seemed to take a liking to me. Guess he thinks I'm crazy, maybe he respects it, or maybe he's stoked to see a major crash and burn. The following sentence came next "Y'all should come to my party Saturday night! There's gonna be dirtbikes and fireworks and shit! It's gonna be awesome!". Who could refuse?


Life at the Hostel here is good, free breakfast, comfy beds, and new company every single night! Hikers pass through here as they start their [ambitious] trip all the way along the Appalachian trail (which was apparently started by blacks as they fled north during the slavery times). I have this general theory (which has yet to be disproved) that outdoors people are just nice people in general, which seems to be true no matter where in the world you are.

The riding here is fantastic, mountain passes/climbs are referred to as "gaps" here, they will take up to 40 minutes to get up, and have varying grades. Andrew (one of my 2 travel partners) is loving it. First time up in the mountains, and improving at an alarming rate, we are going up these mountains, and screaming down the other side, becoming more confident with each "gap".

The most notable gap of the trip is the "Brasstown Bald" climb (see below for pictures and stats). When I got almost to the top I tried to get ten 30sec as *hard as possible* intervals with 1:30 rest, but promptly broke my chain. after fixing my now super short chain, the last one of us was up and we just had to make the rest of the ascent to the very tip top. I went up, got the car keys, went back down for camera and beers, and then we had a great time at the lookout station at the highest point in Georgia.

Rolling Rocks up top!

Crit racing on the deck!
We got over to the local bike shop Dalhonega Wheelworks to check it out and met a couple of pretty interesting guys. The owner of the shop is John, an ex pro mountain biker/cat1 road racer who runs a shop now, coordinating rides, events, and getting people stoked on bikes. I got in there and heard about a 100km cyclocross race that's going on Saturday. My first thought was "WHY would anyone punish themselves on a cyclocross bike, in the mountains, with over 6000 feet of elevation gain (roughly 2km), this early in the season-or ever?". John quickly made me aware that he wanted me to do it, I told him my brain injury story, and then he REALLY wanted me to do it, I said maybe-which meant no.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Here we are in Georgia

Arrived in Georgia Saturday night to ride bikes for 8 days! Long drive down south (15 hours), had some pretty funny sightings though! One notable part of the ride was our rest stop in Cincinnati where we hopped into a "Waffle House" for lunch. Cheap food that came alarmingly fast, and a good old southern accent; I do love being called sweetie. A little later in the trip we saw another carload full of western students whom we promptly passed while I "paddled the canoe" out the window without a shirt and as they passed us back gave my number. Plenty of shenanigans between the two cars kept us busy for about an hour and a half until they peeled off to switch drivers, somewhere in Kentucky. Our last stop of the day was at an Asian Cafe in Tennessee where I had sushi (though it it's probably not advisable to eat raw fish in the southern USA) I loved every bit of it. Also my wonderful travel partner shared some wonton soup with me-though she ate all of the wontons herself.
A happy guy at the Detroit border (kp photography)
We finally got to our destination; the Hiker Hostel in Dalhonega Georgia, ready for a week of meeting new people passing through the hostel every night, tons of cycling, and some good southern hospitality