16. King City SS

King City SS.  It sounds like the name of a disco group.

I raced this week’s King Series on my single speed.  It was awesome.

After I bought my single speed last year, it waited for me in my garage, lonely and unridden, for almost two months.  Plainly put, I was scared to ride it.  I was unsure of my abilities and thought it was going to be a horrible experience, so I let it be until the ideal opportunity arose.  Now, I look back on that time as “The Idiot Months” because I. Love. Riding. A. Single. Speed.  Let me say it again:  ILOVERIDINGASINGLESPEED!

I did the same thing this year at the King Series.  I didn’t ride my single speed because I was scared.  Pfft.  So I brought two bikes to each King race–my geared Norco Revolver and my single speed Cannondale Trail SL.  I chickened out at the last minute each time, and rode my geared bike.  What a dummy.  Okay, it was probably a good thing last week because the climbs were killers, but every other race would have been a sublime experience.  Sometimes, I almost prefer my fully rigid (with a very unforgiving aluminium fork) $700 single speed to my carbon frame, XT componented, sweetly forked, geared bike.  Shhhhh, don’t tell my bikes.

In truth, I couldn’t pick a favourite bike any more than, I could pick a favourite child, but each has a definite purpose and distinct joy (I’m talking about my bikes here, not my kids) and I really dig my single speed at the moment.

After the race, I thought “Why on earth would I choose to ride a single speed?”.  I realized “Because I can”.

And I did.  I powered up the short climbs, and ripped through the twisted maze of trails at Centennial Park in King City.  My placing was better than usual, my pace was perfect, and everything else about my performance felt awesome…

I usually follow statements like that with “…for me.”  Not this time.  I don’t know whether it’s the benefits of riding a single speed, or just a product of natural progression, but I feel more like a racer than ever these days.

And it’s awesomer than awesome.  It’s the awesomest

Race Report:  King Weekly Series:  June 27, 2016

There were only 17 riders, and many of the heavies stayed home.  Pfft.

I placed 7/17 overall, and 2/3 in the Master Men category.

So, not a huge field of competition, but every race is different.

I had an all-too-short warm up, but started strong.  Mid pack.  I wasn’t sure if I could maintain the quick initial burst of the race without higher gears, so I triple pedalled to keep up, and I managed to hold steady.

Once again, it was an awesome course.  I don’t know how the organizer, Jamie Davies of Evolution Cycles, pulls these courses together so well, but week after week, they are ridiculously cool.

I caught a usually strong rider in the first lap, and passed him, which is a rare move for me.  However, there was someone close on my tail, and I knew I had to keep up the pace in order to stay ahead.

And that’s when one of the joys of mountain biking happened.  We chatted.  In the middle of a race, through laboured grunts and puffs, around trees, and over roots and rocks, we talked about the awesome time we were having.  His name was Stephen, and after about a lap, he flew past me.  I didn’t catch him again.  After the race, we introduced ourselves to one another.  I asked why he spent so much time behind me when he was so much faster.  He said he was pacing himself.  Hmmm.  That word again.  Pacing.

I booked it through the rest of the race.  Then, in the last few hundred metres I caught sight of a rider’s movement far ahead.  Time to sprint.  He was tough to catch, but I made across the line about a second behind him.  Sweet.

The King Series is such a great way to spend a Tuesday evening.

There was even a Team Colin hat as a spot prize.  Boom.

The morning after the race, the organizer, Jamie Davies, posted pictures from the prior week.  Four were of me.  One of them is at the top of this post.  Looking at them, I had a bunch of mixed feelings.  I posted an album of the four shots on Facebook, with this:

I see pictures of me on a bike, and three things come to mind. First, I still can’t believe I race a mountain bike. That’s just effing awesome. Second, I look like a giant compared to the other riders. Third, damn, I have to do something about that belly. Seriously, I’m on my bike two or three times a week, but still, I compress like a giant salami…

Salami or not, I’m on a roll.

Ride.

 

 

PS.  The day after the race, I rode to school with my kids, and I realized something.  My idea of pacing was borne out of riding through busy streets in Scarborough when I was younger.  I would book it to the traffic light, always giving 100%, trying not to get hit by a car, catch my breath while the light changed, book it to the next light, and repeat.  That wasn’t pacing, it was survival.  But it carried over, and now I spend much of my time in races doing the same damn thing.  Stephen didn’t, and I’m learning.

15. The Humbler

Team Colin raced the Northumberland Humbler yesterday (the third race in the Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon. Team Colin is a bit tired. Team Colin has a sore back. Team Colin is HUMBLED.

And it feels awesome!

I’m tired because I worked hard and didn’t leave anything on the course. My back is busted because I raced my rigid single speed and had to grind up each hill (and shoulder every bump). I’m humbled because my body let me get on a bike and bomb through a forest for two hours.

I could have taken up golf and spent the day in a golf cart (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or I could have taken up sailing and spent the day jigging the main sail (not that there’s anything wrong with that—or factually accurate because I don’t think you actually jig a main sail). Instead, I took up mountain bike racing.

And it’s awesome!

I think the race went well. I can’t really gauge my results against last year because I’m in the Single Speed category, but I’m pretty sure I at least did a bit better.

I placed 64/81 overall (compared to 53/72 last year), and my time was within 30 seconds. Last year I had gears. This year I didn’t. So I’ll take it as a win.

And that’s awesome!

Plus, the whole rigid fork thing was a killer.  It probably added at least an hour to my time…

They say Northumberland Forest is “single speed friendly” because it’s “fast and flowy”. Maybe “they” are right, but after two hours at race pace, it didn’t feel fast or flowy. In fact, after the first hour it felt slow and trudgy, and it got worse from there.

And that’s not so awesome (but I’m okay with that).

A word about my pacing. I started at the absolute back of the pack, with 80 riders ahead of me. I wanted to set my own pace, and not feel the push to keep up for the first few minutes (and burn too many matches) and it worked. I held back from my usual pace, and by the time we hit the start of the second hill (2 or 3k in), I had energy. Lots of it. I picked-off almost a dozen riders in the first 20 minutes. I had the lungs to pass riders, and the to legs to attack the climbs. With gears, I usually only pass on the double track, and fall back on the single track. Without gears, I attacked everywhere. I didn’t have to attack on the double track, because I had already passed a rider or two on the single track (which is something new for me). I even felt strong on the descents, and instead of working my brakes too much (because I’m usually gasping for breath and feeling unsteady), I had the strength to just let go and fly.

Northumberland is kind of my home forest. My riding buddy, John,  and I ride there often, and despite sometimes getting lost when I’m not with John, I sort of know the trails. So I had something to prove, and I think I did. Not to the 63 riders who bested me, and not to the 17 riders that I beat, but to myself. I raced my single speed for the fourth time, and I finished with a smile.

Race Report: Northumberland Humbler (June 18, 2016)

The race started with a 700m choke up a dusty hill. It made us all look like we were coal miners. It was so dusty, at times I couldn’t see the actual ground on the single track. Thanks for the shake up, dust obscured roots and rocks.

“They” were right. The first 16k of the course was awesome. Fast and flowy. The descents were long, winding, and fun, the climbs were long, winding, and fun, and everything in between was…fun. Even the (very short bits of) double track were fun.

But then there’s a road crossing that brought the course to a moto cross trail for the next 6k. If the word to describe the first part of the course is FUN, the word to describe the second part of the course is SHITTY.

The second part of the course was like an angry country song about a cheating boyfriend. And you’re the boyfriend. It was 6k of raw, beat up, single track, scattered with steep climbs and rocky descents. When that section was done, there was a long shot up some double track to the next 6k section, which was better, but not by much. That part of the course was like an angry Taylor Swift song–mildly annoying, but you’re still the jerky boyfriend.

My truck wasn’t getting its’ headlights smashed, and I wouldn’t need four new tires, but my back sure took a beating.  Track like that is not the Clydesdale’s friend; I felt every inch of my 6’2” frame, and every ounce of my 250 pounds.

That part of the course is also where I got a killer case of poison ivy last year, so I was riding tentatively the entire time, on the look-out for the bastard stump that jumped out at me last July…

It zapped so much of my energy. I tried to pace, but I spent most of the 12k bouncing off rocks, careening down sharp descents, navigating (and stalling) around tight corners, walking up a few of the climbs (embarrassed face) and trying to keep my momentum over the. Stupid. Bumpy. Uneven. Trail.

I hate you Elderberry and Firefly trails!

By the time we crossed the road again, I was pretty shaky. For the second time this season (and in all of my races), I had to stop to catch my breath, refill my water bottle, and take a knee—even though I knew it was less than 5k to the end. There were two riders about a minute behind me, and it gave them a chance to pass (I never made up the deficit). My imminent heart attack also gave the one rider ahead of me (Angela Emsley) a chance to take off. Angela and I spent most of the race (and the past few races) dancing back and forth, and it would have been nice to finish with her, but she had the legs and lungs.

The end of the race was a snap, and my stupid rest break gave me lots energy for the last climb, with about 2k to go, which wasn’t really much of a grind.

A quick shot down a fun hill, through some fun pine trees, and boom, it was over.

Overall a pretty awesome day: I spent the first 7k beside my riding buddy, John (until I couldn’t keep up with him); I paced myself okay; and I gave it my best shot.

And Team Colin even doled out some frozen treats after the race!

Boom.

Oh, and my race photographer was there too.  Ted Anderton from Apex Photography was on hand to capture my glorious (and ample) spandex clad frame.

The course didn’t humble me—I humbled myself when I took up racing mountain biking as a hobby, and then developed into a racer. Scratch that. It’s not a hobby, it’s much more than that.

And it’s awesome!

Ride.

 

PS.  If you golf or sail, that’s cool. I was just making a joke. Whatever makes you boom, keep doing it.

14. Angry Face Bike

My Revolver has been pretty angry with me these days.

After a lousy performance at the Single Track Classic a few weeks ago due to a worn cassette (yeah, that was the ONLY problem), I needed a repair. So, I replaced the rear cassette and chain. Unfortunately, I also needed the chain rings replaced, which I didn’t do, so I went to Tuesday night’s race a few weeks ago without working gears, and lacking the ability to crank the one gear that I had.

It’s okay bike, I forgive you. Because I learned something.

I learned that if I can’t book it at a race pace, I can just ride. And that’s okay. It was nice to just get out and pedal through the forest. No burning lungs. No wobbly legs afterwards. No cramps. No sore wrists and throbbing back. Good lesson.

And my placing wasn’t horrible either. Really, I was just a few spots behind my usual standing. It made me think. If I can just ride at a normal pace in races, I’ll still do okay, and I might not be so zonked after the race. So there really isn’t a need to give 200% of myself in a race. Not just a good lesson; a good lesson with a handy outcome.

Thankfully, that half-baked, idiot-moron-dumbass reasoning lasted about as long as a tub of my hair product. Which is to say, it didn’t last long. What? Don’t touch my hair.

If I’m not riding in a race at race pace, it’s not a race.  Race pace shouldn’t be easy. Or fun. Or relaxing. It should be nasty and gritty, and involve lots of aching, cramping, and wobbliness.

I feel alive when my lungs are on fire. My body likes wobbly legs (because it makes me appreciate when they aren’t). And when I’m not cramping, it’s because I’m not moving, which is a giant waste of time.

And even though racing isn’t fun, and it comes with lots and lots of cussing, mixed with copious bouts of “Why am I putting myself through this?” the feeling afterward is always worth it.

On the other hand though, it would be nice to get a bit better.

So, after the moronic notion to “just ride” in races dissipated, I started thinking about a nagging idea I’ve had for a while: Pace. Pace? It’s been dogging me for some time, but I can’t seem to nail it down. I start a race and give it everything I have for every second until I have nothing left to give, and then I keep giving a very diminished everything until the finish.

But I have to reexamine that approach, because I am a mess at the end of a race. I don’t want to start lollygagging in a race like I’m in a parade. I’m talking about a calculated pace that will enable me to perform better, and ride across the finish line instead of scamper across it. In his blog “Riot On Racing”, Michael Tourond calls us zombies.

But I don’t want to be a zombie… What’s the emoji for petulance?

Pacing. I know it sounds pretty obvious to experienced riders, but it’s a huge challenge for those of us just starting—yes I still feel like I’m just starting even though I’ve been racing for four years—and when race starts, I immediately struggle to keep up with the pace because I don’t want to be stuck behind a slower rider. Survival takes over, and pace takes a backseat. And that’s stupid, because I’m not racing them.

I’m racing me.

So I’ve been investigating on the Google.

And on the Google I found a few things.  Unfortunately, my investigation raised a bunch of new questions. First, what on earth is Functional Threshold Power? Second, VO2? Seriously? Third, J-Shaped what now? Finally, huh? Just plain huh?

And to make matters worse, everything seems to be written for elite racers, and riders with a normal body type. However, when you’re like me–anything but average–the game is entirely different. I get it, we all have different body types and physiologies, and a multitude of other challenges, but I just can’t believe that the pacing and output considerations for a 150 pound rider are the same for a 250 pound rider. If they were, and I could match my power-to-weight ratio to other riders, I’d melt the rubber off my wheels.

Sonic Boom.

So if pacing and output are very precise considerations, and small changes make a huge difference for everyone else, where does that leave me, the husky rider–Hey, that would have been a great name for this blog: The Husky Rider.

And while I was thinking about all of this, I realized that it was Tuesday again, and Tuesday means King Weekly Series. Why think about pacing in a race, when I can actually pace in a race. So I experimented with pacing on Tuesday night.

Race Report:  King Weekly Series (June 14, 2016)  

Pacing For The Husky Rider (Hey, I knew that term would come in handy):

First, I did half of a warm-up lap, and it felt great. Ding. One point for my pacing experiment.

Then, because I was out on the trail warming up, I got to the starting line a bit late. No worries. I was two minutes behind the pack, and that meant I wouldn’t be relying on their pace. So I rode hard, at my pace. Not a killer race pace, but a very strong pace (which felt great because of the warm up). Ding. Another point for my pacing experiment.

After the first lap, I felt strong, so I rode a bit harder. And the funny thing is that I had matches to burn. Usually it takes me a long time to warm up in a race, but by the time I’m warmed up, I’m spent because I burned through all of my matches.

But I hadn’t burned any matches, so I still had a full pack. Ding.  A third point for my pacing experiment.

It all worked. My body was primed for a ride, I felt power as I rode, not struggle, and by the third lap (and the fourth lap that I did just because) I was able to amp-up my output a bit–because I could. I started a bit slower, I attacked the climbs, and reassessed my output as I rode (instead of my usual coping with my lack of power).

So I rode.

And my results for the night? Crap. None of it worked. If I had booked it at race pace, I probably would have been about a minute (or even two) faster per lap.

End of Race Report.

But thanks to my moody bike, I at least have a benchmark. I’m going to look into four areas:

  1. Warming-Up. This one is obvious.
  2. Neutral Starting. But I’m going to call it “Team Colin Starting” and try to ride my pace at the beginning. My races are long. If I get stuck behind someone, I’ll find time to pass them, which leads me to the next point.
  3. Power to Attack: If I have matches to burn, I’ll burn them when I need to pass, or when I need to climb.
  4. Reevaluating My Output: If I have more to give during a race, I’ll give a bit more. If I don’t, I’ll pull back a little.

And I’ll have plenty of time to put these things into practice this weekend at Dan Marshall’s “Northumberland Humbler” (A Substance Projects race), which is one of my favourite races of the year (although I think they’re all my favourites). I pre-rode much of the course twice on the weekend: Saturday and Sunday. It was a killer both days. I saw another single speed racer, Bob Ramsey, on both days. He’s awesome. He smokes me. How on earth am I supposed to beat a guy like him when he’s already way better than me, and training at least as much as me—and probably more? The answer is easy. I’m not. Because I’m not racing Bob. Or anyone else. I never was, and I likely never will be. I’m racing me.

And I’ve won every race I’ve ever done.

Ride.

 

PS.  It’s all better with my bike now.  We had a talk and worked things out.