Thank you Hannah Clarke

Thank you Hannah Clarke

Friday, September 11, 2015

Racing in my stomping ground

This past weekend was the Ontario Marathon Championships for the cross country marathon discipline of racing. The race took place at the local trails here just north of Kingston; a two lap 79km course. Marathon races are a true game of attrition, and it was 28 degrees (before the humidity) on a technical, rocky course. I was feeling pretty confident, hoping for a top 3 result, figuring that local knowledge and good preparation would let me show my true fitness for the first time this season.

Riding the trails the day before with Taylar and Colin

I stashed my bottles in the barn for Colin to find and pass to me and hustled over to the start line. Marathons don't usually start overly fast, but I was on a mission that day, and got to the front position in the first few hundred metres. The course was farm lane for a kilometer before getting into some fast single track. Guys tried to get by me before the singletrack, but I kept the pace up and didn't let anyone by, and led my way through some really twisty trails. My good friend John Cauchi was riding my wheel in second place, and Luke H was on his wheel, with a whole stream of rides behind us. We got to a section int he trail that was a slight uphill and I put some accelerated, and now my group was less than five people at the breaking off the front of the group.

We popped out of the forest with a group of about 6, and I rode a good tempo across some very bumpy farm lanes/horse trails, and when I motioned for another rider to come forward and pull us in the wind, nobody came. I checked back and had about a 10 meter lead on second place. My options were to slow down and let those guys do some work while hiding from the wind, or just keep building my lead. I felt aggressive that day and kept moving away from them, and it was a beautiful thing to be on my Felt Edict 1 on that bumpy stuff! 

The next trail involved a quick left hand turn that nobody ever rides, and I made a mistake and got caught, so we were a big group riding through the soy field toward the first chance for a feed and the downhill jump track. Luckily Colin was on the ball, handed me his own bottle of water (no need for a repeat of the last provincial championships with the threats of disqualification). I led into the berms and jumps without looking back. 

Oldie but goldie, coming out of the pump track last year

Some kids from the Boys and Girls Club that I volunteered with doing the first set of pumps
When I finally did look back, I had hit all the jumps and berms so hard that I couldn't even see second place. See ya! I didn't plan on letting them find me either. I threw a savage first lap out, I knew where to go hard, where the hills were, and where it really wasn't worth the extra effort and to take a break. I had the proprietor Rob giving me time splits, and I liked them. I was solidly pulling away from second and third place with a minute and twenty seconds between me and second place by the time that I was going into the last trail of the first lap. I had a few goals that I thought would help me to wind; keep out of sight, use extra energy only on the hills or inclines, and ride smoothly. 

I came through the start/finish area and the crowd went wild! It was amazing, the people that knew me from Ontario Cup racing were really excited for me, the locals that ride at Kingston were screaming my name, and I was just looking for a water bottle. 

Unfortunately Colin wasn't there to hand me anything, but I'd be back through the feed zone in about half an hour, so I didn't stop and just kept going (trying not to be seen by anyone of course). I just spun my legs faster instead of pushing them harder, and kept out front with no sign of anyone else until I started lapping people. Not taking a bottle was a bit of a mistake, as I really felt dehydrated in the after the first third of the second lap, but I was being driven by something that hasn't happened all season - I was finally winning. 

This is how I looked after the race...Foreshadowing?

I stopped at every aid station after that, going crazy with how long it was taking to fill my water bottle, refusing to eat food, and hopping back on my bike. Being in first place brought me to a new level focus, it's amazing what optimism and reaching your potential can do. I even started planning my victory salute - all the big shots do it right? I was totally going to reel in the finish line like it was a big trout, and I did cross that line first. Everyone cheering me, yelling that I was a beast, and saying my name. I put my arms up and crossed that line, thinking that all of the work, injuries, frost bite, and perseverance was worth it. I won by 10 minutes, though my biggest competition didn't have the best races. 

Beer, great prize!

It was a tough haul, I make it sound like it was easy but that race, and the dedication that it's taken me to get through this season took some real grit, full of highs and lows. Highs are things like sauteing everything in butter the day before, eating things like rice cream (just ice cream on rice), having great shakes (thanks Progressive), and having an excuse to sleep 10 hours/night. Preparation and the proper support is key, I don't know where I'd be without MTB Kingston building these awesome trails, or always having Clif bar products at my disposal (I LOVE shotblocks, those kept me going through this race bigtime!). It's hard to say what makes me ride so much after nerve problems in my back, and with no good results this season, but it's a lifestyle and I really enjoy it. Motivation also comes from knowing that people are reading my blog, and when people ask me about my racing or grad school. 
Thanks guys, I'm now the Ontario Mountain Bike Provincial Champion of the World, or OMBPCW for short. I'll be racing Marathon Nationals this Sunday at Horseshoe Valley, hoping that aggressive tactics can bring me another great result, but the best kept secret in cycling is finally out - I'm actually fast!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Provincials 2015, lucky to be in the results at all!

It's been a bit of a roller coaster of a year; I spent the first part just trying to find my form competing against those who had been down south training all winter, missed some bottle feeds on hot days, then there was the three weeks in bed with sciatic nerve problems, a big trip to Quebec for some big races in which I floundered after the back thing, then a flat tire in the last Ontario Cup! Needless to say, I felt like I would never really get to show the strength that I had built and rebuilt this year. In my last couple of weeks of training I've felt unstoppable -  sprinting my bike up to 64km/h, training huge hours at high power outputs day after day, sleeping early and eating right. I came into provincials thinking that it would take something pretty bad to keep me outside of the top 10.

Lots of nights spent rolling into town late after big rides
I loved the course, except for when I got stung the day before by a wasp! It turns out that I'm quite allergic to wasps now - and I got stung by a yellow jacket riding the course the day before. This time of year they're out of whack, I swear. The rotten fruit falling off trees is fermenting, and they're getting drunk on the juices - and wasps are just mean drunks. That's the only logical explanation for 7 stings in the last 2 weeks right?

does anyone know how to get rid of swelling? Benadryl doesn't work for me

The closest that I'll ever get to looking like Popeye, it's still swelling two days later

Apart from that my day was pretty great, and I got to stay on course in a farm house with a bunch great friends and a great dinner. What could go wrong tomorrow, right?

I got a good warmup before the race, even though I got stung again on the chest (seriously, why do bugs hate me?), I stayed focussed and the race start went according to plan, and I was probably 7th or 8th place going into the first piece of singletrack, and I came through the first lap just outside of the top 10. I  wasn't too fluid through the trails, I was pretty stop and go and guys were catching up to me in the trails that I'd usually use to distance myself from those behind me.

Check out my arm here, all of that fluid stuck in my swollen forearm makes me like Popeye!
Thanks Mary Lynch for the photo and the support over the weekend
Going into the second lap I was still riding strong, but by mid way through the lap I was starting to cramp up in my legs. For some reason my quads were seizing and calves felt like there were being charlie-horsed. No problem, this is why I pack space food, right? I slurped back a CLIF electrolyte gel, and avoided standing and pedaling until it kicked in (usually about 15 minutes, so 2/3 of a lap). By the time I got to the same spot the next lap I was still sitting and spinning my pedals fairly easily though the trails and up the hills. I had chugged all of my drink mix (a special potion of caffeine, electrolyte powder and sometimes beta-alanine), and I was still seizing up - so I slugged back another gel and kept putting in the effort - staying seated and spinning up the hills.

Staying seated through some pretty rocky business, thanks Marta Kocemba for taking the photos! 
It's been great to have you at the last few races.

By about my fourth lap (out of five), I had some flow mojo going in the trails and was getting down the big hill quickly enough to drop some guys. I came to the feed zone at the start of the fifth lap with high hopes of "picking off the zombies", and catching the guys who were really slowing down in their last lap until something happened that made me panic a bit.

Thanks Mary Lynch for getting a photo that shows my late race determination (or desperation). 
As I came into the feed zone for my final lap (fighting persistent and increasingly painful cramps), there was a mixup, and my feeder wasn't there. I went into my last lap with nothing to drink, on a pretty humid day.

All sweaty but still somehow smiling on my fourth lap.
Thanks Hannah Clarke for taking these pictures all season long!

As I came through a steep uphill near the start/finish there were spectators everywhere and I saw Simon (the rock in our team always helping us and keeping us together at the race), I yelled for some water, which turned out to be a pretty bad idea.

The drink that had a lot of repercussions after the race (thanks Marta again)
I survived my final lap without getting passed (or doing any passing unfortunately), and rode into 14th place (my best result at an Ontario cup, and this was provincials). I sat on the ground because my legs were not in the mood to hold me up anymore and was passed some more water which drank and cooled off my swollen arm a bit.

Funny finish line face, confused about what just happened and how I just finished the race I think
(Marta Kocemba photo)

Just happy to cool off my arm a bit. (Marta Kocemba photo)

As I was sitting down nursing my wounds I was approached by the commissaire.

"Did you take some water outside of the feed zone?"

He explained to me that I was disqualified for doing so, and that as an elite racer "I didn't know" or "I wasn't thinking" is not a good enough excuse. I told him that I just wanted to finish the race, and that I was cramping, but at my level of cycling there are rules and we have to stick to them. I tried to find the penalties for breaking these rules when I got home but I couldn't..

Great. DQ'd. It's not allowed for me to receive help outside of the designated feed/tech zone. I went to the commissaires about 15 minutes later to appeal to them, and they informed me that they were wrong. Because it is a provincial championship, it falls under the regulations of any pro championship race, and I would actually be fined $200. For taking a drink less than one minute after I passed through the feed zone. After a bit more talking, they decided to drop my fine to just a warning - for that I really thanked them. But now there is a black mark on my international cycling record that says I like to accept help in the wrong spots I guess. Could be worse, right?

Apparently all of the cramping wasn't a big surprise at all either, with all of my body fluid stuck in my arm there's less to move around to my muscles. I thought that it was pretty weird to cramp like that over nothing, and I'm happy to know that there may be a reason that was outside of my control that caused it. Stupid drunk wasps.

I've still got a couple of chances to keep it together for a great result! The Ontario Marathon Championships and Canadian Marathon Championships are this weekend and the next in Kingston and Horseshoe Valley, respectively. Then it's University Cup races and the Redbull Race the Place race coming up. Still training hard, eating right, stretching, and strengthening with as much motivation as ever!