13. Single Track Classic

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Some Sublimely Classic Single Track (photo courtesy Ted Anderton, Apex Photography)

I’m not superstitious. I’m not even moderately-stitous, but the irony of this blog isn’t lost on me. Blog #13, and it was my worst race ever. Worst. Race. Ever.

The Single Track Classic (formerly the Single Track Challenge), presented by Pulse Racing, at Hardwood Hills is a sweet patchwork Hardwood Hill’s bestest and awesomest trails, with a bunch of fresh new trails mixed in for fun, and even a few in reverse. As in past years, the crowd was huge; the course was technical, tight, and twisty; and the competition was fierce.  Single Track Classic or Challenge?  It’s was Single Track Awesome!

I’d been looking forward to the race.  Last year, before the race, my buddy had to pee, and while he was peeing, the race started.  We tried to make it, but by the time we hit the start area, everyone was long gone.  This year was a re-race!

Or maybe not.

Team Colin was a mess.

I worked late the night before, and I got to the race with about half an hour to register and prepare. Then I discovered my rear cassette was wrecked, so I spent about 20 minutes trying to fix it (The guy at Eccleston Cycle tried to help, and the rep at the Shimano tent even tried, but no luck. Awesome people by the way.). So, after mucking around for 30 minutes, the race was about to start, and I was still in the parking lot running around in the Team Colin support vehicle, trying to prepare my tool kit, change my clothes, and eat something.

I felt like a busker in a phone booth.

And where were my damn  gloves?

In the midst of my in-the-vehicle-getting-ready-yoga, I heard the start whistle, and in one movement, I pounded the food into my mouth, changed into my kit, found my gloves, and sprinted to the start.

And then the real challenges started.

Race Report:  Single Track Classic (May 28, 2016)

The Single Track Classic started with a nice shot of double track on a gentle climb.  Usually, I can seed myself within the pack in a start like this, but by the time I got to the start line, I couldn’t even see the tail end of the pack.

I didn’t want to get stuck behind a pack riders when we hit the single track, so I pushed hard to get to them.

I was not successful.

Without even the slightest stretch or warm up, I couldn’t manage my breathing. Worse, because of the early sprint, I feel like I burned through all of my already depleted matches before even reaching the pack.

By the time the single track started, I had passed a bunch of riders, but I was still in the middle of a slow pack. I was happy for the slight break in pedaling, but as the minutes ticked, I knew I was getting further and further behind the lead. It’s not a huge problem for me to be so far back because I’m typically not fighting for a podium finish, but it always stings a bit when my legs and lungs have more to give, and I’m stuck behind a slow group.

Gotta say though, it’s great the Single Track Classic draws so a variety of riders–from the exceptionally fast, to the exceptionally recreational, and everyone in between.  It’s a testament to the awesomeness of the organizers that EVERYONE feels welcome in the race.  Nice job Pulse Racing!

And then the race got really fun.

The single track at Hardwood Hills is sublime. Awesomely fun and wickedly challenging: narrow tree gaps; rooty and rocky; and scattered with giant log overs, quick grunts, zippy descents, frequent whoops, and tight corners. The older single track was worn and fast, and the new trails were raw and gritty. It was a day of tough trails, but rideable features.

And the double track that connected the trails was either white knuckle fast, or slow and grinding.  Awesome!

Under normal circumstances, I would have had a huge cramp in my face from grinning. But today was another story. Between an angry cassette (later I discovered it was the freehub), and being so tired, every pedal stroke was a chore. Every corner was a grunt.  Every climb was a wall.

Ugh.

Sensitive readers may want to skip this next part.

With about 4k to go, I felt like couldn’t do it. My back was throbbing, and my lungs were screaming. I’m not proud about it, and I’m not happy about it, but I had to stop. So, for the first time ever in a race, I stopped pedalling, unclipped my pedals and got off my bike. I only rested for a minute or two, but those minutes were hard won throughout the race, and it was tough to see 8 or 10 riders pass through.

The race ended with a quick zip downhill to the finish line.  I finished with a whimper, a fizzle, and a sigh.

I placed 61st out of 131 riders. Not a great position, but a quick look at my abacus tells me that I passed 70 riders.  Started from the bottom…

In so many ways, the race was awesome. Great trails, great course, lots of first timers and recreational racers, lots of kids, and lots of easy banter between riders. It’s was also nice to be part of a BIG race.  Plus, Ted from Apex photography was there.  He always makes me look better than I am.

In another way—the way that pedals a bike—the race was awful. Some days riding just hurts.

After the race, my friend Mark Summers asked me what I learned from the race. I didn’t know the answer. I’m not sure I could have changed anything: I’m a teacher, and I love working with my students, so I can’t work less; I’m a dad, and sometimes I don’t sleep well because I do my chores after the kids go to bed; and I produce school plays for my students, which takes a great deal of time.

Sometimes there just isn’t time to properly prepare (physically and emotionally) for a race.

And I know that everybody else has their list too. But yesterday wasn’t the only race of the year, or the most important race of the year.  It was just a race. Sure, it was a cool experience, and it’s nice to perform well, but we all have jobs, and family, and other obligations, and…

And sometimes eat a bowl of Mini Wheats for supper at 11PM (Wait, is that just me), and go to a race the next morning utterly unprepared.

And maybe that’s the reason Dan Marshall suggested I start this blog–so I could work it all out.  Maybe that’s why he says I’m relatable. At the top of my page, it says “Team Colin is a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races.”. Sometimes, there won’t be ideal conditions, and sometimes I will be grossly unready (and sleep deprived, and late for the race, and just plain exhausted, and…) but I race bikes, and there was a race, so I raced.

Life got in the way, but life will always get in the way.

There wasn’t a resounding boom at the Single Track Classic (although, as my heart tried to scratch its way out of my chest, it sure pounded a lot)  but the worst race is the race not done, and at the end of a hectic week, I gave it my all, and that’s at least worth a little boom.

Ride.

 

Post Script:  After the race, I caught up with Scott and Shannon Bentley.  They raced single speeds in the 50k distance.  2nd and 4th place respectively.  Beasts.  Scott and Mark Summers were the first to nurture a younger, non-racing, me, into Team Colin.  It was great to catch up with my old “coach”.  I said to Scott and Shannon a dozen times yesterday (and I always say it to Mark and Leslie Summers) that it is impossible to put into words how grateful I am to them for their support and encouragement.  Boom.

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12. SS at the LSC

For my Facebook status on the morning of the Long Sock Classic (race #2 in Dan Marshall’s XC Marathon series) I posted this:

Ganaraska Forest. Long Sock Classic. Single speed. Rigid fork. Not sure if I’m setting myself up for disappointment, or just a grueling grind of a day, but 20 years from now, I want to look back at my riding life and know that I raced a single speed not because I COULD (because today I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll make it) but because I WANTED to push myself.

I’d like to take credit for that thought, but Scott Glazier at Cycle Solutions planted the seed, and I just listened to him. I may have also been hearing Shia LeBouf’s character in the Transformers movie, when he was trying to convince Megan Fox to go for a ride in Bumblee.

And so, for the second time this season, at the start of a race, I looked down at my a with no gears. Also, for a second time this season, at the start of the race, I looked down at a bike with no gears and wondered why I was racing a bike with no gears.

The answer is because I wanted to challenge myself.   Of all the stupid, half baked, cockamamie ideas…  What on earth would push me, not just a Clydesdale rider, but Clydesdale rider at the top of the Clydesdale scale, to forgo gears on one of the toughest courses around?

Challenge.

And that’s not stupid.  Or half baked.  Or cockamamie. It’s awesome. Awe. Some.  I even dusted off the Team Colin support vehicle (my family RV) for the day. Sweet. It would have been sweeter if it was Bumblebee, but my RV has a shower.

Back to the LSC. The whole idea behind Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects is to have fun. But Dan also loves to build courses that are hard. He is a mammoth endurance racer who thrives on pushing himself to his limits, and he demands and encourages his racers to do the same. Substance Projects doesn’t run charity races in the park, they (HE) run badass XC marathons on killer trails. And the Ganny has hundreds of kilometres of killer trails to choose from, with some of the toughest climbs around.

Race Report:  Long Sock Classic (May 21, 2016)

Dan’s races are gaining in popularity, so instead of the usual 50 or 60 riders, there were just over 100 at the start line.

It started with a quick climb up some winding single track. Then it levelled for a second before hitting a nasty 2k stretch of dusty, rutted, rock covered, farm lane that was either straight up, or straight down.  The deep sandy mess at the bottom of each hill made for some sweet white knuckle ripping

My riding buddy, John, pre-rode the course and warned me about the sand. “Lower your tire pressure for some extra flotation”, he said. I always listen to John. It was a good thing.

When that treat finished, Dan gave us a break for few hundred meters, before starting the climb that haunts my mountain bike dreams all year: the hill on top of the hill. A 2k slog up gently winding track that finishes with…a steep climb up the rest of the hill. I wanted to pass the riders ahead of me, and I knew I had the legs to do it, but I held back because I was worried about that damn hill.

Damnit. I hate that hill.  And the hill hates me. But I always make it to the top. And to the other top too.  And this year I made it to the top without gears. Despite myself, I even passed a few riders too!

  • Team Colin: 1
  • Hill on top of a hill: 0

I usually spend the first 10k of a race hating every second of it, trying to warm up, and cursing myself for the decision to wake up early on a Saturday morning to race.  The LSC was no different, except that I was also cursing myself for leaving my Revolver (a bike with gears, not a gun) at the RV, and feeling unsure about whether I’d be able to even finish the race without gears.

Also, I was holding back because I was worried. I was letting the race get inside my head. My friend, Mark Summers, told me that I have to stop thinking and just race. “But that’s when I solve the world’s problems…” I told him. He was right though, so I let him inside my head, and I decided to race. He also said that a 30 second push to pass a rider yields huge results.

Push to a rider ahead of me, push a bit harder, and pass. That’s want I told myself.

Then, in between grunts and curses, I came upon a rider with one leg. Yeah, a rider with one real leg, and one prosthetic leg. It was like riding behind an internet meme.

“What’s your excuse?”

Or in my case, “Quit whining you big baby. Shut up, get out of your head, pedal your damn bike, and get to the finish.”

He was fast, and I had a hard time catching up to him, although in my defence, I only had 2 times as many legs as him, while he had 20, or maybe even 27, times more gears than me. I’m just saying.

I finally made it past him, and aimed for the next rider.

The next 15k were a blur of trying to keep up, trying to pass, getting passed, and passing.  Inside my head, I kept hearing my John “Relax on the handle bars and just take it easy.  Don’t tense up.”  So I tried to relax a bit, even though the Ganny has so many tight, twisting trails, and narrow tree gaps that keep us on our toes.

For some reason, the trail from about 20 to 25 was a killer. Even tighter, even twistier, and so so so climbier. Dan Marshall once told me “The secret of riding a single speed is to lay off the brakes”. Um, what about the trees? I tried to listen to him and keep my momentum, but I either felt like I was braking so I wouldn’t hit a tree, or braking so I wouldn’t crash on the down hill sections.

Also, the course this year had a lot more double track.  The gears on my single speed are okay on tight trails, long grinding climbs, and short grunting climbs, but they’re awful on double track. Too much time spinning.

With 1k to go, I was booking it to catch up to a group of riders, and I smoked a rock and got a flat. Boom (even my tires go boom)!  “Listen to me, bike”, I said, “If you think I’m going to stop now, I’m not”. Although in reality, I think I probably just yelled a few obscenities. I kept up with the rider in front of me, but I couldn’t pass him. I finished the race with a grunt, a smile, and a flat tire. I was even surprised at the finish with a visitor from the Ottawa chapter of Team Colin! Boom (that was me, not the other tire).

2:18. 67/101 overall. 7/9 Clydesdale. 7/7 Single Speed.

When it was over, the LSC clocked almost 700m of climbing. Dang.

It was a tough race: Gruelling at times, joyous at others.

Two more pretty cool things also happened during the race.  First, I feel like the single speed may be creeping into my blood.  Second, Team Colin played an even bigger role than usual. I only had one speed, but I had a symphony of voices inside my head. Thanks Team Colin.

Also, we’ve got new team hats!

Despite my poorer than poor results, while riding the single speed in the LSC, I felt more like a racer than ever. It says at the top of my blog, ”I’m a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races”. I don’t just train for them, I RACE them.

Ride.

 

11. It’s Tuesday Night!

It’s Tuesday, and that means one thing.  King Weekly Series race.  I know I already wrote about the King Weekly Series a few weeks ago, but I want to write about it again because something really awesome happened in the last week.  Ted Anderton (King of Photography, and the man who is responsible for most of the awesome shots on this blog) and Dan Marshall (King of Substance Projects and General Coolness) shared my blog on their Facebook pages.

BOOM!

Aside from being awesome and cool that people (okay, only two people) liked my writing enough to share it with other people, it was sweet to watch the power of the internet take over.  Within a few hours of sharing the Team Colin Blog (hey, that’s me), traffic to the blog went from the usual 2 or 3 visitors a day, to about a hundred visitors.

WordPress even sent me a message saying that my page was “Booming”.  Honest, they totally used that word.

I don’t know if people will return to the blog, but for anyone who does, I’m going to give some advice. Many riders already know it, but if I can encourage just one person, I’ll feel even more chuffed than I usually do (which is a lot because I am always chuffed).   My advice is this:  DO A WEEKLY SERIES.  Holycowtheyareawesome.  Like I said a few weeks ago, and like anybody who works regular day hours knows, a weeknight ride is a stolen ride.  It’s stolen from laundry time, watching tv time, cleaning time, errand time, and the list goes on.  But all those things can wait.

Riding cannot wait.  And weekly series races are so much fun.  Great people, relaxed and chill atmosphere, fast and furious courses, and soooo good for the body.  I did a bunch of King Series races last summer, and one Thursday night race in Durham Forest, and each time, I felt invigorated and renewed for the work week.  This summer, I’m going to try to make it to the other two series:  Coulson Hill on Wednesday, and Hardwood Hills on Thursday night.  I might even bust out three the same week.

Honestly, with three weeknight of races to choose from, there is never an excuse to be tired and cranky after work.

Wash the clothes on Monday night.  Pick up some groceries on the way home from work on Friday.  Clean under the fridge on Sunday evening.

Do a weekly series race on one of the other nights.  Or maybe even two or three of the other nights…

You’ll feel better, connect with other riders, and support a local bike shop or race organizer.

That is all.

Ride.

10. Connection

Something awesome happened after I started riding that doesn’t even have to do with pedalling a bike. I found a community. MY community. I call them Team Colin, but they are far from mine. They are Team Colin because I NEED THEM.

I need their advice, and inspiration, I need their encouragement and support, and I need for them to be in on the fun with me, because really, Team Colin is just an awesome joke that happened to get a lot of traction.

And so, for my tenth blog, I wanted to pay homage to my riding family. And, like every other post, the content smacked me in the face while riding with one of my heroes, Mark Summers, last Saturday at the DMBA Pancakes In the Forest Mountain Bike Festival.

I not only got to ride with Mark, but I rode with his wife, Leslie Summers too. Awesome.

But then the universe took over, and the blog wrote itself. The seed that was planted on Saturday grew into something different. Originally, I wanted to talk about MY close community–MY bike shop, MY riding buddy, and MY family and friends–who give me invaluable and endless support, but then, later in the week, a woman named Sarah Rosen died while riding her bike at Kelso.

Sarah Rosen.

My heart goes out to her family and friends. I don’t want to imagine their loss, and I hope they somehow find comfort in their grieving.

Sarah Rosen is a rider who I’ve never met, but is still a member of MY community—the community of everyone who rides a bike, and more specifically anyone who rides an XC mountain bike. After reading about her on so many friend’s Facebook pages, I realized how connected WE are: One of my friends was trying to make plans to ride with Sarah; another friend rides with her in their community of riders, the Lapdogs; Leslie from Joyride talked about seeing Sarah ride at the park; and the connections went on.

Someone from the community that I joined a few years, died while riding on the trails at Kelso–a place where many of US ride–doing something that I love. That WE love. The connections are profound.

A few weeks ago, I wrote how I feel connected to the trails when riding my single speed. I loved how the bike made me feel like part of the trail. I now feel that same connection to OUR community though an event that won’t touch my life in any way other than in a periphery sense.

I’m going to ride at Kelso again. Maybe I’ll be more cautious on the trails because of Sarah, or maybe I’ll ride a bit harder because of her. But I’ll ride, and I’ll do so with a deeper sense of connection to the community.

Ride.

9. King Weekly Series

When I got home from work this evening, my feet were sore from a savage day.  In fact, I was so spent from the day, I left work earlier than usual and got home before my kids so that I could have a ten minute dirt nap.

The all-too-brief nap did nothing to soothe my sore, throbbing, swollen feet.

But tonight was the second race in the King Weekly Series.

Sore feet, aching back…bike race on a Tuesday night…

Sooo tired, just want another nap…bike race on a Tuesday night…

Swollen feet from standing all day…bike race…

Tired…bike race…

Bike race!

And so, I wolfed down dinner with my kids, ignored their pleas to “play with me”, changed the tires on my bike, showered off the funk of the day (well, I tried to), and got in my van for the wretched 45 minute drive to the far west, far north, end of the city for a, wait for it, bike race.

Toronto had other plans.  Those plans included: traffic jams; some traffic; a bit of traffic; and traffic.  Good times.

All was well though, because I was going to a ride my bike.

And so, at the end of a gong-show of a work day, and after the drive to the race when it seemed like I was actually driving in reverse, and with two clumps of feet at the bottom of pasty white spring legs, I made it to the race.

And it was awesome.

Riding a bike on a weekday, when you have a job and a family, always feels like a stolen piece of time.  I feel like someone is going to tell my mom, and she’ll call me inside to finish my homework.

To make it even better, Jamie, Ryan ,and the guys at Evolution Cycles are such a cool part of the cycling community.  They make great courses, put on a great event every Tuesday of the summer, and welcome and encourage everybody who comes out.  Each time I see them, at every race, and on every lap, they are shouting words of encouragement, ringing a bell, or just being cool.  They are awesome.  In short, they embody exactly what I love about racing and the cycling:  They make it fun for everyone.

What can I say, it was a tough day at work, but here’s my race report:

Race Report:  King Weekly Series Race 2 (Tuesday, May 3, 2016)

I RACED A BIKE ON A WEEKDAY!

I always have trouble finding the time to stretch before  a race, and it’s something I’m working on.  Tonight was no different.  I was a bit late so there wasn’t much time for a proper warm up.  After a quick zip around the first part of the course, I made it the starting line just in time for the race to start.  I was stuck at the back of the tail end of the pack.  So I tried to pass, and I did.  But the course is so tight, and I saw the lead riders slowly getting farther and farther ahead.

Worse, there was an 11 year old ahead of me, and I just couldn’t catch up.  It’s kind of demoralizing when you can’t keep up with a rider that young, but she just had the legs and lungs, and I didn’t.  Good on her.  I saw her up ahead throughout the race, and I kept on thinking “Man, how is that kid so fast”.  And then I realized that I was thinking about the person on the bike in front of me, when I should have been thinking about the person on MY bike.

But here’s the thing: after the race, I discovered my results weren’t horrible.  I placed 20th out of 29 racers.  That means, 9 riders behind me could have been thinking “Man, how is that big guy so fast”.

We all have someone faster than us.  Tonight, it was an eleven year old, and 19 other riders.  Maybe some other night it’ll be an eleven year old and 18 other riders.  Or maybe it’ll be an eleven year old, her younger brother, and a hundred other riders.Whatever it is, I can live with any result as long as I’m on a bike, trying my best, and RIDING.

When I say to myself that it’s not about the results, it’s about the ride.  They aren’t empty words.  Really, at my size, it’s a good thing I feel that way, otherwise I’d have quit a long time ago.  However, as tough as it is sometimes to separate the results from the ride, tonight was a good chance to practice it.  I knew I rode well.  That’s enough for me.

Oh, and it was Norco demo night.  I already have 5 Norco bikes, so there was no need to test ride another, but when the Norco van was packing up, I asked the rep if I could buy a shirt.  “Nope” he said.  “Damnit” I thought.  “But…” he continued “…you can have one”.  Sweet.

And my tired, swollen feet?  No worries.  There is nothing like a 60 minute, white knuckle mountain bike race, to invigorate and un-swell your extremities.

One savage work day tamed.  Boom.

Ride.