I haven’t posted lately. Why? Not much to write about. Crappy weather, stupid work schedule, and unrideable trails (that were almost rideable a few weeks ago, but then it rained for a week and they weren’t rideable, and then it stopped raining and they were close to rideable, but now they’re back under a few inches of snow and once again a few weeks away from being rideable).
An unrideable trail is a horrible thing. Unrideable isn’t even a word–either is rideable, but whatever–so it’s a good thing there’s a remedy: Joyride. However, as great as it is being able to ride at Joyride–any day of the year, regardless of the weather–when the trails are this close to being open, my body is screaming to bounce off some single track.
However, the weather has different plans.
Thankfully, an answer came last Sunday with the 4th annual Steaming Nostril. The Steaming Nostril isn’t a CX race. Or a Mountain bike race. Or a road race. It’s an Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Race. Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Races are wickedly, horribly, awesome. If the weather condition exists, you’re almost guaranteed to experience it–in each race–at 15 minute intervals. Sun, wind, snow, ice, clouds, wind, more wind, repeat.
The Steaming Nostril is a 70k bike race, with the option to do the Runny Nose distance of 35k (which was lengthened this year to 38, and then changed to 39 to accommodate a missing bridge, but was actually 42 on the GPS–except that a few of us missed a turn and it turned out to be 45). Whatever the distance, the race was a grind over pavement, gravel, mud, freezing farm lane, wooden steps, sort of thawed farm lane, ice covered bridges, precarious river fords, limestone trail, and any other bit of surface that organizers could manage to piece together in and around the town of St. Jacobs, Ontario. And given the weather this time of year, the race is aptly named. Although I also had numb fingers, number toes (more numberer?), frozen testicles, and lots of wind burn.
And so I raced on Sunday.
One word to describe the race: holycrapitwascold
Another word: holycowitwaswindy
Both are good words.
Here are more words to describe the race, in the form of a Race Report:
Race Report: Runny Nose (April 3, 2016)
I got to the race on time, which is rare. I even had time to do a short warm up. It was a gentle neutral start, but I noticed a pack of lead riders starting to form. Before the race, I planned to experiment with my pacing. I decided that I would keep MY pace instead of the pace of the other racers. Most riders take off at the start of a race, and many of them seem to falter later in the race. When I hold back at the beginning of a race, I usually start passing riders in the last 10k. So, took it easy, so that I’d have enough power at the end of the race.
But the lead pack was getting further ahead.
I thought my pace would leave me behind the leaders, but I’d at least be able to keep up with the slow pack. I was wrong—I struggled to keep up with the slow pack.
And the lead pack was getting even further ahead.
So I struggled and kept pace with the slower pack.
We got going and I was struggling less. In fact, I left the pack I was with, and aimed for the lead pack. That meant that I was riding without the aid of other riders to cut the wind. I was by myself in an epic battle of lone rider against the cold, faceless, wind—a grunting, panting, sweating, epic battle. It sounds a bit dramatic, but when it’s really really really windy, and your heart is bursting, and your legs are on fire, EVERYTHING is dramatic.
As every race is, the Runny Nose was tough, but I didn’t bring my teacup to a garden party. I brought my mountain bike to an Early-Spring-In-Southern-Ontario-Bike-Races race, so it was kind of expected.
At the 10k mark, I leaned over to de-snot, and I noticed three riders directly behind me. They were drafting me! Me? THEY were drafting ME. Three thoughts came to mind.
- If they think I’m going to shoulder the load so they can smoke me in the last 10k, they’ve got another thing coming.
- They’re drafting me. That means they think I’m the better rider. They’re putting their faith in me to set the pace. Cool.
- Whatever. I’m going to ride as hard as I can. If they smoke me, they smoke me. I’m just going to ride my best for as long as I can. This was the thought that stuck.
They were with me at 15k. They were with me at 20k. They were with me at 30k. Despite trying to let them pass, begging them to pass, and willing them to pass, they would not. I sprinted to 45k/h, and they followed. I slowed to 15k/h, and they slowed. I pulled into the lose gravel on the shoulder, and they pulled into the loose gravel on the shoulder.
And it was sooooooo windy. Dorothy and Toto windy.
At least I had lots of water to drink. No I didn’t, my water bottle froze within the first half hour. Damn.
At the 32k mark, the race organizers did something that only race organizers do. They sucker punched us. The course turned into a farmer’s lane, and then down a steep descent into a gully. The descent wasn’t even close to rideable. It was tough to just walk. Since they couldn’t draft me, my tag-alongs fell behind. But the organizers didn’t want to keep us in the gully for long, because after a few pallet-for-bridge river crossings, and a mostly-walked meander through a freezing wet gully, we hit the bottom of a wall. Not a hill, or a cliff, a damn wall. We shouldered our bikes and grasped at anything we could to scale Mt. What-The-Heck-Is-This (which would have been a killer if it was warm, dry, and not in the middle of a bike race.
To steam the nostrils a bit more (or just make them a bit more runny), when I got off my bike, I felt the beginning of a leg cramp. I knew we had about 8k to go, and I knew that there were 9 flights of stairs at the end of the race. But up we climbed. By the time I scaled Mt. Crappy/Slippymud, the cramp was hammering my leg. And the icy gully had caked the ice into my pedals so badly that I couldn’t clip my left shoe no matter how hard I tried to dislodge the ice.
7k to go.
I was riding up an endless hill, following a rider at about 50 meters. My leg was cramping worse.
5k to go. We saw a rider approaching us. What the? We missed a turn. So, thanks to a poorly positioned Mennonite family, a poorly positioned arrow (on the wrong side of the road) being blocked by the poorly positioned Mennonite family, and a poorly positioned invisible marshal, I didn’t turn where I should have…
And the Runny Nose just got about 5k longer.
By the time we doubled back, and neared the correct turn, I was leading the three riders, but the closest rider ahead of us (who didn’t miss the turn) was almost a speck in the distance.
So, it was back to 7k left in the race and my thigh was promising me a world of pain.
I massaged my thigh. I stood up on my bike. I rubbed my thigh. I banged my frozen water bottle against my thigh. I swore. The cramp didn’t get worse, but it didn’t let up either.
The end of the race was on farm lane and river trail, so there wasn’t even a chance to draft anyone.
So I rode.
And my thigh screamed at me.
3k to go.
2k to go. I’m with a small pack, and we’re sailing through downtown St. Jacobs. The stairs are up ahead.
We hit the stairs, I’m behind a rider. I dismount, and start the climb, anticipating that my leg cramp will immobilize me at any second. It doesn’t. I get to the top of the stairs, and the rider in front of me is spent. But I’m not.
The detour cost at least six minutes and probably three places, but who cares. It was a Sunday afternoon, I awoke at 6:30 AM, drove 90 minutes so that I could be an hour early, booked it for 2 hours through the wind, snow, and a killer cramp, and placed 10th out of almost 40 riders.
Boom. I did it on my own. No drafting. No pack to pace me. Nothing. Just me and my bike.