It Was the Worst of Times. It Was The Best of Times
The Substance Projects Long Sock Classic.
- 70k of Ontario’s finest single track.
- 1,600m of relentless, punishing, climbs.
- Rocks and roots. Trees and sand. Grit and grime.
- One boss Cannondale Trail SL single speed.
- And lots and lots of teeny tiny poison ivy sprouts.
Over five hours of rolling time.
It was race #2 in the Substance Projects XCM.
Was it fun? Nope.
Was it easy? Heck no.
Was it worth it? You bet.
Was it awesome, and memorable, and totally boss? You bet…TIMES A BILLION.
Okay, so maybe it didn’t feel that way during the race…or immediately after the race…or the next morning, when my knees were fireballs of stiffness, when my lower back was a lava pit of torment, when my legs were wobbly stumps of ache, and when my new body part (now known as my SHOULDERNECK) was a lump of knotted agony.
But some time the next day (as soon as I could walk upright, and as soon as I had the strength to move all body parts independently and not look like a zombie when I wanted to see something to my left or right) it was totally worth it…and utterly awesome…and absolutely boss.
But mostly, the 2017 Long Sock Classic was a reminder of how awesome this MTB thing really is. If the Kingston O Cup was a reminder of our mud roots, the LSC was a giant wake-up call that this awesome MTB thing can also be really tough sometimes.
Prior to the race, I was worried about the distance. I’d never attempted 70k on a mountain bike and the magnitude of the undertaking wasn’t lost on me. By the way, I never even contemplated racing long distances until earlier this year when, on a whim, I decided it was time to race the big kid distance of P2A. After registering for the full P2A, I figured “What the heck, might as well register for the long course in the XCM as well.
However, the 70k at P2A a few weeks ago was mostly smooth surfaces, with little climbing, on a gravel bike. Even the 50k of the H2i didn’t compare. And 70k at the Ganny–a trail system renowned for nasty climbs and horrible awesomeness–was another thing altogether.
And because, well, I still don’t know why, I decided to register on my single speed. “Sure” I thought “Sounds about right. I’ll just ride further than I’ve ever ridden, without gears…”.
What was I thinking? I don’t know. I honestly and truly don’t know. I’d like to say I was being intentionally hardcore (grrrr) but I wasn’t (and I’m not). I’d like to say it was puffed-up confidence, but it really wasn’t. I’d like to say it was “for the challenge” but honestly, when I registered I had no idea what I was getting into. I think maybe it was just because I thought “Hey, it’d be cool to do it on my single speed” when I was registering. I should really work on my self regulation.
In any case, I was high on hopes, and (felt) up to the challenge. It was my 5th race in 7 weeks (my 7th race if you count 2 weekly series races), so my legs and lungs were in good spring shape.
Here’s what I wrote on the Team Colin Facebook page the night before:
The Team Colin support vehicle is packed: my helmet is washed; my bike is clean (my chain is literally gleaming); my kit is ready; and I’ve got a bag of electrolyte fizzes and energy chews, a tool kit and pump… I know the first 45 minutes will be spent with tight muscles and tighter lungs, and I’ll be panting like crazy until I warm up, and I know that I’ll feel strong and fast (for me) from that point until about the 90 minute mark. But then my back will pack up and go home, and I’ll finish my first lap in a goodly amount of pain about 15 minutes later… I’m not doing this because I like it. I’m doing this because I LOVE it. Each year I dread the “Hill on Top of a Hill”. But not this year. This year, I’m looking forward to it. Bring it on LSC!
Okay, full disclosure. I may have employed a bit too much bravado when I wrote that. I was wrong to talk about the Hill on Top of a Hill like that, and I don’t mind saying now I spent a good deal of time apologizing to the “Hill on Top of a Hill” during the race. Once again, I’m sorry for taunting you, “Hill on Top of a Hill”. My bad.
Kidding aside (okay, I’m not kidding–I’m still sorry Hill), the LSC was also a great reminder, via a sucker punch to the gut, that no matter how much you plan, and regardless of how meticulous you are in preparing, nothing beats a last minute checklist to ensure you have your damn water bottles before beginning a 35k lap. I did not complete the aforementioned checklist until AFTER the race started. So, I was halfway up the first climb before I realized I was dry. I can’t believe that I actually contemplated racing without water for a moment. Fortunately, sanity caught up with me pretty fast, and I turned around for a quick zip back to the start. With two bottles of water snuggled safely in my bottle cages, I looked at my GPS unit, and saw that I only lost 4 minutes.
4 minutes. No problem. It’s a long race, I’ll make it up…
Yeah, I can say that now, but on Saturday all I was thinking about was my spot on the podium. I’m kidding, I wasn’t thinking about my spot on the podium (because there is no podium spot for me). I was panicked. It was the beginning of a long race, and I wasn’t thinking. So I sprinted (well, whatever qualifies for a sprint when you’re Team Colin–to the casual observer it may look like “just riding”, but inside I’m on fire and giving it everything I’ve got) for the first 15 minutes or so.
And here’s the thing about a 15 minute sprint at the beginning of a long race. It’s stupid. Like, really stupid.
But I booked it anyway.
At least I had water. Yay, water…
After burning all of my matches on the fire road after the second START, and then all of my reserve matches just after that on the climb to get to the “Hill on Top of a Hill” , and then my extra reserve matches on the “Hill on Top of a Hill”, I was done for the day.
And I was only about 6k into the race.
I was 6k into a 70k race and I was spent.
And I didn’t have gears.
Aw c’mon. Really? I chose a single speed? At the Ganny in spring? What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I still don’t know.
I’ve always said that I feel every ounce of my weight in the Ganny. Every turn, climb, and obstacle is a challenge. Sure there are a few descents, but they’re usually rooty and rocky, and take almost as much concentration and energy as the climbs. Oh, did I mention my single speed has a rigid aluminium fork? Yeah, so that’s nice. Now, to be clear, there are some sections in the Ganny that I can really groove on, but riding in the Ganny is like riding through a giant, heartless, really really really mean, bank. And the Bank of Ganaraska is one tough lender. Because whatever joy you take in riding, the BOG (Bank Of Ganaraska) collects interest and a pound of flesh afterward.
And early spring in the Ganny is a special treat. It’s a bit soft and spongy, and the blanket of last year’s leaves conceal a delightful web of deep ruts, rocks, and other special treasures. It’s like knocking on the door of the Bank of Ganaraska on Halloween. The BOG doesn’t give you a trick, and it sure doesn’t give you a treat. It jams a twig into your wheel, punches you in the throat, and steals your bike.
And then it collects an ATM fee…
Hey, at least I wasn’t worried about stick wrecking my drivetrain–BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE ONE.
At least I had water. Yay water…
Okay, so enough complaining about my single speed and the Ganny. I wasn’t at a tea party, and I was riding the bike I chose. Besides, what was I expecting, an espresso and a paceline? Boom. See what I did there? A little roadie zinger.
Race Report. Long Sock Classic: Ganaraska Forest (May 20, 2017)
The first few hundred metres of the LSC is a gentle climb up some double track to a fire road. If I was with the pack I’m sure it would have been close and tight. When the course hits the fire road, things open up a bit, and I’m sure the pack of riders became close and tight AND FAST. The fire road is an undulating ribbon of deep sand, gnarly ruts, and dislodged boulders. It also either goes straight up, or straight down, which means riders are alternately chugging to keep pace on the climbs, or white knuckling it on the descents. Either way, both options take a great deal of skill and concentration. Take a read of Riot’s Race Report. He didn’t forget his water bottles, and he nailed the atmosphere with the other riders who didn’t forget their water bottles.
After the fire road, the track turns up a gentle, winding, climb that brings riders to the bottom of the “Hill on Top of a Hill”. It’s a 2k grind up that part of the hill, and leads to the bottom of a steeper hill. It’s brutal. This year, the climb was rutted deeply, and covered with leaves and branches for an extra bit of challenge.
But we all did it, and nobody died on the hill. Kinda felt like dying the second time I did it, but alas, I wasn’t so lucky.
Immediately after the HTH (Hill on Top of a Hill), the LSC hit the first bit of single track for a long section of awesomeness. The trail was tight, twisty, and FAST. It was a quickish 10k zip of sweet single track, punctuated by little shots of double track. Lots of space for passing. Oh wait, I was waaaaay behind the pack so there was no need to pass.
But I had water. Yay water…
I finally caught up to Angie Emsley, one of my racing buddies, who was taking a stab at her first marathon distance. She was riding strong. Nice work Angie!
Liz was waiting at the aid station with some e-load, bananas, chain lube, and jujubes.
I took a 2 minute breather. I wasn’t tired, but I was trying to pace myself for the long ride ahead. Angie stopped for a second, and left ahead of me.
The 12k or so after the aid station was tough. The track was raw, tight, and twisty. I was feeling the full effect of my early sprint, and the alternating climbs and zig-zagging was relentless and punishing. Like I said earlier (and last year too) I felt every ounce of my 250 pounds.
Strangely enough, however, my body wasn’t the mess I had anticipated. I was slow moving, and most things ached, but my usual trouble spots hadn’t ignited to Pain Level: Inferno. I was really slow though. Did I already say that? Because I was really really really slow.
The last 5k was a swoosh down some awesomely fast and slightly technical double track, with a bit of single track nirvana thrown in for good measure, and then a grunty climb. After 2 hours and 27 minutes of riding, I hit the Start/Finish for a short recoup and refresh, before realizing something. My race was only half over. I was riding for 2 hours and 27 minutes, and I now had to do it all over again.
It was the same with my first marathon distance race the month before, the H2i. You know, there is no amount of positivity and awesomeness that can negate how hard it is to finish a really tough lap, and then have to start all over again. I knew every climb, root, dismount, and rock that was waiting for me, and it was a killer the first time. I was so bloody tired and spent. Clipping in for the next half was really really tough.
But I did. I pedalled, and I pedalled, and I got off my bike a few times, and I pedalled some more, and I finished. My friend and mentor Dan Marshall (also the organizer) once told me “You know how you finish a race? You pedal”. That’s what kept me going–knowing that if I pedalled enough times, I’d eventually finish the race. There were times when I was looking at the metres rack up on my GPS, not kilometres, and there were times when I just didn’t want to pedal, but I did.
And there were a few times when I had to dismount for a climb, and just walked alongside my bike for an extra minute because I couldn’t fathom having to get on my bike again.
But somehow, I pedalled enough times. I nailed the HTH, the awesome first sections of singletrack, the aid station, the nasty bit after the aid station, the swoosh of the last 5k, and I finally saw that last climb out of the forest and up to the FINISH line.
Here are the full race results. Almost everyone was faster than me.
End of Race Report.
The Bank of Ganaraska collected a bucket of interest from Team Colin at the LSC, but I paid back every penny of it.
And, I now have a new qualifier after the race, but it’s not a BUT, it’s an AND. I did the LSC–the full marathon distance AND I did it on my single speed.
And I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
I’ll just make sure I’ve got water.
As always thanks to Substance projects, Dan Marshall, and the amazing sponsors. And thanks to Dan’s mom and dad, Sherry, Jenn and Simon, Liz Grootenboer, and Dan’s awesome team of staff and volunteers (especially the day’s cook, Lorraine), and my wife (tireless supporter and photographer) and my kids (cheerleaders, horn blowers, bell ringers, and little bits of awesomeness).
If you read this and have something to say, make a comment at the bottom, or send an email to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, and since there were only two Clydesdale racers in the marathon distance, I placed second.