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?
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.