4. Fat Bracebridge

Boy, fat bike racing is hard. Like, really hard.

I did my fourth Fat Bike race on Saturday (February 27), and it did not go well. I’d like to write a boss race report, but I can’t.  If I did, it would look like this:

Race Report:  Fat Bracebridge:  February 27, 2016)

At the beginning of the race, I started pedalling. At the end, I stopped pedalling. In between, there was some climbing, a few descents, a bit of walking, some trees, a billion ruts, snow, lots of snot, ice encased pedals, and more snow.

I placed okay–mid pack in my category and overall–but throughout the day, I just didn’t feel proficient. There was a 2.5 km Time Trial race about 90 minutes prior to the official start, and it was utterly horrible. The trail conditions were pretty bad, but my riding was pretty badder. From my first pedal stroke, to my last gasp across the finish line, every second was a joke. I couldn’t find my line, I couldn’t find a rut, and I didn’t have any pace or momentum. I couldn’t even find my footing when I had to walk up the climbs, which was often. Ugh.

The conditions on the actual race course were much better, but I was still me, and I never really felt like I got in the groove.

It seems to me that a perfect storm of factors (see what I did there) have to converge to create the ideal fat bike course. I think that’s the case, but again, I’m really not sure. Saturday was only my fifth time on a fat bike, so honestly, I can’t be sure. However, I figured out this: snow plays a pretty big part in a winter fat bike race. They say the Inuit have a hundred words to describe snow. I’ve always understood the various types of snow based on experience gained making snow forts on my front lawn, but now I REALLY get it. Unfortunately, it just seems like the only snow I’ve encountered on a fat bike is the “whatthehellisthiscrapandhowdoIstayonmybike” kind. Damn.

Although I’m starting to think maybe that’s it. Riding a fat bike isn’t like riding a mountain bike, which is probably why it’s not called mountain bike riding. This seems kind of obvious to me now, but honestly, I just realized it. Riding a fat bike through the snow in the winter is different from riding a mountain bike on a dry trail in July.

Here’s what else I realized during Saturday’s race:

  • I know absolutely nothing about the proper tire pressure. It’s a total mystery to me.
  • My food choice–cold tortellini and leftover baked salmon–was bang on. I’m going to duplicate this every race. Filling, tasty, and wolf-downable while changing.
  • I still don’t know what this sport is called. Is it a “Fat Biking” or “fatbiking”? Seriously, I have a bit of OCD, and I think there needs to be an industry standard.
  • Fat Bike racing is hard.  And so is fatbike racing.

Okay, so, racing a fat bike is hard, and after the race, I had a little pity party in my van. All alone. In my van. “Ooh I couldn’t stay on my bike”. “Wah wah, I kept falling”. “I’m a loser”. Boo friggin’ hoo.

And so, I started thinking about the process. I also called on the members of Team Colin.

Here’s what I learned since Saturday:

  • First, I’m a moron. What right did I have to just get on a fat bike–a bike that looks, rides, weighs, and is built for totally different conditions from my mountain bike–and expect to just ride it–ON THE SNOW-like a champ?
  • Second, I have a bit of a learning curve to experience. Although I’m not calling it a learning curve. I’m calling it a “Learning Climb” (hey, I just made that up). Put simply, I need more experience
  • Third, I have to stop worrying where my front wheel is, and ride with my focus farther ahead of me. I don’ t know if I lack nerve, or if I’m just plain dumb, but this it tough for me. I get in a rut, bring my focus right in front of my front wheel, and then I slow down.  After that, I can’t get going again because I’m still focused on my front wheel.
  • Finally, I have to stop thinking about why I’m such a loser, because I’m not. When I think back to the race, each time I had to dismount, every other rider did too. When I was getting tossed from rut to rut (and creating new cuss words), they were too (although my cussing was way more creative).

After the race, one of the gurus from my bike shop, Andrew, sent the following message to me. Spoiler alert, it’s very zen, very cool, and holy cow, it is so damn accurate. He wrote:

“Occasionally, counter-intuitive as it may seem, feeling shitty is in itself the reward.

One does not develop technical skill by having great technical skill. Only through full awareness of lacking technical skill can one even sense the void that needs to be filled.

Sometimes the duress of a number strapped to the handlebar is the only thing that enables this sense within us; becoming cognizant of what we cannot do and what we wish to be able to do.”

And that is why he is a cycling guru.

I think I’ve got (a bit of) a  better picture of fat biking now . The good news is that the picture is of me riding a bike–and nothing bad ever happens to me on a bike.  So I’m going to ride–maybe it’ll be a fat bike, maybe it’ll be a fatbike.

My guru finished his message with the following:

“You will BOOM another day. You may even be surprised at how loudly. “

And so I will Andrew, and so I will.

Ride.

 

3. JOYride 150

I spent yesterday at my favourite place in the world—Joyride 150—with some of my favourite people in the world—high school students.

No biggie.  Just me and a group of 45 teenagers on a school trip to Joyride 150. Boom. Coolest school excursion. Ever.

45 teenagers, some of whom have never even owned a bike, chose to spend the day riding a bike.

45 teenagers, most of whom experience withdrawal symptoms when they are not tethered to a cell phone, chose to trade their electronic devices for knee pads, elbow pads, a helmet, and two wheels.

45 teenagers chose to bounce off the ground, grunt and sweat, and push themselves to learn something new, instead of their day-to-day grind. Yes, their alternative was a day in school, but still, they chose to ride.

And they rode.  Non-stop. For five hours. They rode and rode and rode.

WE rode.

We killed it on the pump tracks. We smoked the skinnies. We pounded the jump lines. We bombed around the XC Loop. We hit the Street Plaza.  We even played bike limbo. How low can I go? I can’t, but I sure can make the limbo bar bounce off my helmet.

And so, we rode.  We crashed.  We shared stories about our crashes.  And most important, we laughed. We laughed when a friend flew around a corner like a boss; when anyone got air; when a friend kissed the concrete; when WE kissed the concrete; and when we finally nailed a sweet line. We laughed when we cramped during the 15 minute bus ride home and had to hobble off the bus. Well, the kid’s teacher (hey, that’s me) didn’t cramp or hobble, so I laughed at them because every stumble and wince was a reminder of how much fun we had.

And that’s it. In one word, riding was fun. All 102,000 square feet of Joyride 150 buzzed with the electricity of 45 kids having fun playing bikes. 46 kids having fun playing bikes if you count me.

And that’s awesome.

There are always a million reasons NOT to go for a ride, and sometimes it feels like there are very few valid reasons to GO for a ride. In the last ten days, I found every reason NOT to ride. Actually, the world seemed to find those reasons for me. I spent the days at work aching to get in the saddle, and then, after work, or on the weekends, life conspired against me. Guilt about the time away from my family, another load of laundry, I was too tired, the shower was leaking…blah blah blah. When I type them now, not one of those reasons seems like a valid one (except for my guilt for being away from my kids) but at the time, they kept me away from riding.

However, whenever I ride, I feel happiness and joy. Spending 5 hours on a dirt jumper, riding with 45 teenagers, was a great reminder of that.

While we were at Joyride, one of my students crashed. She came to me with a busted lip, covered in grime from the spill, holding an ice pack, to ask a question. “Can I still ride even though I fell?”

“Yep” I said.  She had a busted lip and she still wanted to ride.  I had a lot of different busted lips last week and didn’t ride.  Hm.  I should have.  Because we feel JOY when we RIDE.

Joyride.

 

2. 251 Pounds

251.5 Pounds.

Damn.

A blog for a mountain bike racer that starts like this can’t be good.

I’m writing this blog because a good friend, Dan Marshall of Substance Projects, suggested I write about the challenges of being a working dad trying to fit riding into his life. He said people would relate to me, and it might encourage them to race.

Initially, I wasn’t convinced, so, I talked to Mark and Leslie Summers, the owners of Joyride 150, about whether to do it.  They said my story might inspire other people like me to start racing.

I think it’s because my weak, lame, half assed, results, are easily achievable.

Can you eat too much, ride too little, weigh a tenth of a tonne, and place poorly in mountain bike races? Yes you can.

For this blog, I catalogued each of the 28 races I’ve done: distance, time, category and overall place, gap from the leader, and a few notes about my performance.  Yeah, I know, how did a middle aged Clydesdale, with average riding experience, complete 28 races in three years?

Easy, I registered in 28 races.

So thanks to this blog, I now have an overall picture of how I placed in those 28 races? The picture is this…

I don’t know.  I thought I was riding hard. I thought I was eating right. I thought I was getting better. But I guess not.

I’d like to say, “I guess I’m just a lousy rider”, but I know I’m hard on myself, and my friends hate hearing it.

I’d like to say “I guess I’m an okay rider”, but I just don’t feel it.

So I’m seeing this picture as a living image.  Always changing.

However, I think human nature is taking over a bit, and I want to see some improvement in my riding. Some improvement. Any improvement. Plus, I’ve devoted a good chunk of my disposable time in the past four years to riding (and a good chunk of my disposable income–my mini van is 10 years old, but I have 7 bikes) and still, I was almost last place in the Snophy.

I know that every race has it’s own DNA, and that even the same race course from year to year can be totally different, so it’s tough to gauge my progress through the years, but I have noticed something. Regardless of the course, the trail conditions, how much my damn back ached, the skill of the other riders, whether I slept the night before, the bike I was riding, or the weather, my results just aren’t very good.

I know it’s not about results. It is about riding: the thrill of a trial; the freedom of two wheels; the pride of achieving something; the log overs, rock gardens, the berms, and the list goes on, but still, I want more.

So, here’s what I want to do. I have a limited amount of free time and poutine is sooooo good, so I know it’s not as simple as saying I want to eat less and ride more.  I want to understand how to make a few small changes that will garner bigger results.

I’ve got four ideas. No they’re not resolutions, they’re ideas.

1.) Ride four times a week, even if it’s my spin bike in the basement.

2.) Find out how to use my heart rate monitor (and then actually use it)

3.) Eat nothing after 7PM on week days, and remove cheese and sweets from my diet.

4.) Find out how to train smarter.

I think it’s time to call on Team Colin to help me.  They’ll know what to tell me.

Wait a sec, maybe instead of no cheese, less cheese.

250 pounds, here I come.

 

 

PS.  The picture above is from The Snumbler, Dan Marshall’s 45NRTH Ontario Fatbike Series.  Ted Anderton from Apex Photography took the picture.  There is no race report.

1. Kingston Snophy

The third race in 2016.

My fourth year racing.

My 28th mountain bike race.

My fourth time on a fatbike.

Ugh. Kingston isn’t really that far from Toronto, but when you have to drive there, compete in a bike race, and drive home, in one day, it sure feels like it.  With a start time of 11AM, registration an hour earlier, and a two and a half hour drive to get there, February 6th was an early morning.  To make matters worse, I was tired from a pre-race sleepless night, and week of horrible sleep.  I just wasn’t in the race vibe.  And, for a bit if icing on the Pity Party cake, I was unsure about the conditions (MY condition, and the condition of the COURSE).

I did not feel like racing.

But I never feel like racing on the morning of a race.

The drive to Kingston was snowy, foggy, rainy, and all around crappy. Not the kind of weather you want on race day, and not the kind of weather you want while driving on the busiest highway in North America. And because of the weather, the drive was painfully slow, which just added to the stress. When I was still about an hour away, and knew I was going to be late, I realized it just didn’t matter.  I like to start a race on time, but if I missed the official start, it didn’t really matter–I was going to ride my bike. Standing on the podium is never really an option for me, so all I ever want to do is ride as hard as I can, and have fun.

I made it to the race 25 minutes before the start time.  While changing into my race kit, I wolfed down some chicken risotto, guzzled some Endurafuel, selected what I hoped would be the right gloves, and talked to as many people as possible about my tire pressure. Then, I ignored whatever they said because there wasn’t time to change the pressure.  Also, I don’t have a proper tire pressure gauge, so I kept my tires at the same psi from the last race.  I’m wasn’t even sure what it was. I know that proper tire pressure on fat bikes depends on the conditions, and I’ve been told that a difference as small as 0.5psi has a big impact, but I still don’t get it, so I figured it really wouldn’t matter.

There were two different races (a 3 hour race, and a 1.5 hour race–I rode the 1.5 hour) and there was a mass start for both at 11:00.  Dan Marshall blew the starting horn, but I was still at my van!  I jumped out, clipped in, booked it to the start, and saw the tail end of all 45 riders in front of me.  Yay.

Other blogs have a report of the race, so I have one too.  Here it is.

Race Report:  Kingston Snophy (February 6, 2016)

After a short climb of about 200 meters, the group bunched up at the entrance to the barn–yes the race went through a barn–and instead of unclipping from my pedals, I nailed a sweet trackstand.  Despite the worry, the race was off to a good start.

We got out of the barn, and I realized I never really warmed up.  Actually, I didn’t warm up at all. I didn’t even crouch to stretch my legs while putting on my shoes–and I had just sat cramped in my car for over three hours.  My legs were tight, and my lungs were more tight. Shit.

The first 30 minutes of every ride are a killer for me, but with no stretching or warm up, very strong wind, and a temperature hovering under zero, the Snophy was going to kill me before I hit my first lap.

There was only one thing to do:  Ride.

So I rode. My tires were soooo squishy, my lungs felt like they were actually getting smaller, and I felt like I just couldn’t get my bike moving, but I kept pedalling.

There wasn’t much snow on the trails, and there was even some slushy mud, there was a bit of ice, and a huge portion of the course was completely dry.

So I kept pedalling.

By the end of the race, I had pedalled through 4 laps of the course (even though the first 7 riders did 5 laps).  I placed 8th overall (out of 20), and 6th in the 35-49 age category (out of 8).  I missed the cut off time for an additional lap was by about 2 minutes.

I feel good about the race.  Here’s why:

  • I passed a rider coming out of the barn on a really tight turn;
  • On the final lap, the race photographer (Ted Anderton from Apex Photography) snapped a cool picture of me getting some boss air on a jump (even though when I landed my feet unclipped from my pedals, I hit a patch of ice, and felt the familiar “oof” as my bike and body met the frozen ground);
  • I passed a few riders who usually beat me;
  • Near the end of each lap, there was a steep climb, and I did it each time; and
  • I managed to stay on my bike on all but one of the icey patches (see above re: “boss air”) .

I never feel like racing, but I always love the way I feel after the race.

The Kingston Snophy was even cooler because it was the day before my 44th birthday. On Facebook the next day, I posted a picture of my jump, along with the following

“Today I’m 44.  Yesterday, I was forty awesome. Final lap of the Kingston Snophy Fat Bike race. There was a photographer. There was a jump line.  There was air.  Boom. Happy Birthday Team Colin”

The Kingston Snophy.

The third race in 2016.

My fourth year racing.

My 28th mountain bike race.

My fourth time on a fatbike.

My first blog.

Ride.