Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nationals: A lot of racing

As anyone who's paid much attention to my blog lately will know, this past weekend was a big one for me; Nationals. The Canadian National Championships was held just north of Barrie, ON and included a lot of different events that I was able to take part in. I went into this weekend with a bit of a "last race of my season" mentality for a few reasons, one of which is my new job in Algonquin Park! Other, potentially bigger things are happening, but I don't want to broadcast that on the internet, anyone can ask me in person though!
As for cycling, however I started the weekend on a much different note than I ended on! The racing at Nationals for me started on Thursday the 18th at the XCE or Cross Country Eliminator race. The idea of this race is to have riders go out in waves of 4 on a course that is only a couple of minutes long and has open, flat sections, then sudden highly technical obstacles that will cause a bottleneck. The course started on a flat, open wood chipped area, came through a big sweeping S-bend (which was for some reason hayed), then you had to either go around or hop a 2 foot tall log, ride through the forest for about 10 meters, go over some logs, then through some rocks (all tight trail), the course then opened up for a second before pitching riders off a stairset, through some trees, then up a rock nearly 4 feet in height. This rock was not too hard to make it to the top of, but you couldn't see the other side, which was basically a stairset of increasingly less wide rocks. The next section was a straight section with a bunch of small jumps, concluding in two large jumps, then a 1.5 foot drop around a corner and and straightshot to the finish.

I took the opportunity to race this with the idea of getting my poor performance in Sudbury out of my head. The race itself didn't turn out as I had expected; there was a qualifying time trial beforehand. I wasn't so excited about this, because I know that one of my strengths is to beat others to a bottleneck, and because it is always hard to gauge your speed without others to race against. This race was also less of a big deal compared to what else I had lined up so my strategy for the time trial was simple: hammer through the straight sections, and ride the jumps and obstacles conservatively. This didn't pay off however, and that was the end of my racing for Thursday. Though my racing was a bit of a bust, Thursday night was when I got over some of my biggest obstacles (mentally and on the course), and without this practice time on my own up the trail, I wouldn't have raced with the confidence that I did!

Part 2 - Nationals

By Saturday, everything was rolling in full swing at the Nationals course, exhibitions, tents, sponsors, and a big podium. The course was buzzing with excited spectators, and pro riders everywhere (Saturday is when the fastest riders race, followed by a more Ontario Cup type race on the course Sunday). As I got ready to race and started warming up, I couldn't help but to notice my company - Olympians, racers with reputations on the world stage, and so many riders with full trailers and support crews that follow them from race to race. It's pretty surreal to be competing at this level, but also a bit scary! Maybe I'd rather watch the pro race instead of race it? Time will tell I guess!

Looking down from the top of the jump course to the finish (taken from the Hardwood Ski and Bike Facebook page)

The race start was fairly typical for me - it happened too fast and I wasn't terribly well warmed up, so figures that I am riding in the caboose of the elite field, completely aware of the repercussions of what a bad start means. Because of my poor start, I was stuck behind traffic jams and unable to even ride my own pace (or the features of the course that I had practiced) for the first 2 laps (of a 6 lap race). I made back time on any open sections, particularly the start of every lap which is a long meandering slow hill. By mid way through my 3rd lap I had climbed the ranks to 25th or so - at Nationals! I was fighting a great race, and only gaining momentum until I had to stop and fix my bike for a couple of minutes...

Trying not to be too nervous and waiting for my call up
When I got back on my way I tried to push it like I was before, but 5 or more guys had gone by and as much as I hate to admit it, I lost a bit of my competitive drive. I hung in and kept plugging away racing my own race, but was pulled from the course going onto my 5th lap. In a race like this it is pretty normal; of the 40 starters, only 22 were allowed to go on their 5th lap. At least I could get the best of both worlds; race with the pros, then watch the pros! It was pretty cool to watch the end of the race as Canada (and the world's) top athletes went through the course on the same features that I had just ridden, awesome!

Concentration - looking down the trail

Up and over one big and intimidating rock! 
I took a lot more back from this race than people would think, and had a great time regardless of how I finished. It is awesome just to be in races of this caliber, the fact that I'm competitive at this level means a lot to me, so I don't focus so hard on results! As far as results go, I figure I slipped from 24th or 25th down to 29th by the end, but that's my absolute ranking in Canada! Cool! I fought a hard race and was competitive, which at the end of the day is all that really matters! My fan section was outstanding, thanks to all of the people yelling my name around the 6km loop, you were fantastic! I couldn't believe the support I got and even the next day people that I didn't know recognized me and said I did a really good job. Lastly, I'm happy that my technical skills were recognized, as I was told that I looked very under control and was dusting the technical sections of the course faster than a lot of guys who were riding them, and apparently not even everyone was riding the whole course and all of it's obstacles! I'm happy to have raced with the best, and to have raced my best.

This is a video of the fastest guys coming through one of the big rocks early in the race, even with the top pros we can see the "domino effect" of slowing, and that some guys still won't hit it! And we can see just how much Tori loves my buddy Kelsey, who is a total gentleman, and available, ladies!

Big thanks to Trek Bicycles and Trek Canada (Toronto/Barrie/Aurora stores) for not only supporting me, but for sponsoring such a major event! This is one of the reasons that I am so proud to ride with Trek

Friday, July 19, 2013

Building up to Nationals

This year, the nationals course is actually quite close to home - at Hardwood Ski and Bike which is just north of Barrie, Ontario! This is a top-notch facility that is home to a great development program, and as the name suggests, it is a year round facility with skiing in the winter. The trails here are taken care of and built by the Glenn (who doesn't need an introduction on the cycling scene), and are ridden and raced every week by a plethora of riders and range of age/skill levels. Glenn put lots of thought and effort into building the perfect nationals course, and the Elite (which at this level is almost synonymous with pro) course is full of action. The course is a 6km loop that doubles back on itself a lot, with tons of challenging obstacles, making this an incredibly spectator friendly and action-packed course; either the riders are climbing a hill or riding a technical section. The size of obstacles and technical toughness of these features however is leaving a lot of riders with mental blocks.
Personally, I was having some serious problems with these obstacles, and it affected me more than one would think. The features in question are two rocks that are big kickers that are about 2.5 feet tall. When I say kicker, I mean basically wedges that ramp you up that you have no choice but to jump off of. These are big features, but I knew that I had the skills to ride them. So why not? Why couldn't I just take the leap? The first one is the scariest, a really steep rock that pitches you right into the trees, but I should be able to get it. The fact that I wouldn't even try was bothering me and my affected my confidence deeply. I was simply disappointed with myself, which is a way I can't be before a race. Between these rocks and my burnt out state of fitness I was in a serious slump. In order to overcome these obstacles (which I knew were only in my mind) I just rode my bike through some of the faster and more technical sections, slowly boosting my confidence and handling skills back up.

We also set up a driveway ramp to all work together on these skills

But finally I got it

Getting over these obstacles was all that I needed to get me into shape mentally for the biggest race of my year, tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sudbury Canada Cup

This year has been quite a summer for me, if anyone has followed my blog lately it probably won't come as a surprise to hear that I had been a little nervous before my last race; the Canada Cup in Sudbury. Canada Cup racing is certainly a whole other step above any other racing that I do, the competition is fierce and people come early from across the nation to practice the course. These are the nation's top athletes, olympians, world cup racers, and the french. The aggression in the riders in races like these frightens me sometimes, and given how tired I am these days, I decided to get to Sudbury as early as I could. I arrived at Sudbury Thursday morning, set up camp (a friend of the family actually got me my own apartment). I'm lucky to have some great friends in town (the Wolfpack), and got out for plenty of riding on course.
The course itself is an amazing one, 6 km laps with tons of rock, one very punishing climb, and TONS of blueberries.

I was well prepared for the race in most every way, though admittedly a bit tired. The race start was chaos; 70 riders, with people jostling to have the best position. As one might expect, there was a big pile up probably 10 seconds into the race. My poor friend Matt's bike went flying about 10 feet into the air and everyone got jammed up. As I passed the the carnage I saw Matt looking around, dirty, bloody and confused looking for his bike. Of course I yelled at him where his bike is and seeing if he's ok but I doubt he heard. The usual pileups and bottlenecks happened in the first couple of pieces of trail but soon I was able to ride my pace. I wasn't moving quickly, but I ignored this in my head, refusing to think of how overtired I was feeling, but instead focusing on my strengths. As it turned out, my technical ability was gaining time through the descents and singletrack, but just wasn't enough to make up for my physical form. Though it was a 70 rider start, I raced the race on my own, wishing I had people to pace with. I fought a hard race, remembering a meaningful compliment that I received before the race
"You'll be fine Chris, I've seen you before, you're a fighter"
I fought my way indeed, and even when my bike started giving me troubles I was off, fixing it and back on board. But when it rains, it pours and unfortunately my bike began to act like a fixed-gear or a fly wheel and I could no longer coast. I tried my best to take apart the hub on the side of the trail, desperate to finish the race but with no luck. I was told though that I fought a great race, apparently always looking strong while coming through spectator areas, and I never really felt alone riding the course because of all of the spectators yelling my name/sponsors/race number.

steaming in for some water in the feed zone

I was lucky to race before my girlfriend this week and had a great time watching her and my friends race after me. We had practiced the course together and she was riding impeccably well - absolutely geared for a win! It was fantastic to see her coming through strongly every lap, and Tori took the senior expert women's field by over 12 minutes! All wasn't lost that day as I got to share the joy of a win with her and eat blueberries while watching it happen!

Wolfpack racing throws down with some big time results, local boys know it best!
Also U of G favorite up on the podium Will "the Shermanator" Clarke killing it!

Keep posted for more updates, the nationals XC eliminator is tomorrow, I've taken time right off the bike this week to hopefully get some rejuvenation in my legs and body - time to prepare for nationals!
Honourable mention to my car for rolling over 100000 this weekend!
is half a million too much to ask for?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summertime update!

Summer 2013 has been an eventful and fun time, I've pushed myself to new challenges in more ways than just racing. In terms of races, I have had a great time camping out on the courses with my friends for the weekend (both at the Ontario Cup (broke my bike this weekend) and at the 24 hour race (which my team won)). Most recently I was pitted against extreme fatigue to finish a 60 km mountain bike marathon race in which I was stung by wasps twice on the shoulder, once on the lip, once just below my eye. This particular race was the breaking point for me it seemed as I had been working and riding and not sleeping well for the preceding weeks, I didn't know how I could keep my pedals turning. Another detail that compounded the issue was my losing a bottle on the second lap in 34 degree weather. I always say that I would rather finish dead last than not finish a race, and this one was pushing me hard, in the end, the real reason that I was able to finish the race is because I thought of all the support that I get. What I really mean by this is that every time that I'm in a tough place in a race, or thinking of whether to train or not in the rain, or whatever else may it be, I think of my blog, and the people that read this and send me messages. It shows a lot of support that you are just looking at this right now, and some of the private messages that I have gotten really mean a lot to me.

Looking confident on the start line
Not the same look on my face after the race

This brings me to the other bit that I alluded to above - I've been busy off the race course as well. Thursdays I spend riding with some really talented kids from the Collingwood area at Duntroon Highlands (which is also an Ontario Cup course). These guys rock! Thanks to Jen and Noelle for getting this program going and letting me tag along - I seriously enjoy coming and helping the kids to work on their bike skills. We practice different types obstacles and abilities, it is really inspiring to watch these kids try things that frighten them and watching them overcome these obstacles reminds me really what it's all about.

Lastly, the real way I've pushed myself out of my comfort zone recently is by taking some advice that was given to me - to do motivational speaking in some capacity. I went to a highschool in Vaughn and was incredibly well received by both the students and the teachers, while I made did two fifty minute presentations to over a hundred students on cycling, perseverance, and goal setting. I look forward to seeing where this goes in the future.

This weekend and the coming week are the two biggest races that I've got planned for the season; Canada Cup up in Sudbury, ON and Nationals at Hardwood Hills (north of Orillia). I am comfortable on the Canada Cup course in Sudbury, and have a great handle on most of the nationals course (though I've got some work to do still). Wish me luck!