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 naïve 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.


  1. I'm really glad it went so well for you... congrats, keep up the blog! :)