23. The Kingston XCM

2016 Kingston XCMWohoo, the Kingston XCM/        Oh No, the Kingston XCM

I have a love/hate relationship with the Substance Projects/Cycle Solutions XC Marathon Kingston Trophy, held at the MTB Kingston farm. On the HATE side, it’s the furthest race from my home (over two and a half hours drive), the date has fallen on a steaming hot day for the last three years, it’s the longest race of the XCM, and it’s one hell of a tough course. In the past, the race has just slaughtered me—I feel like a tool on the technical stuff (and have to walk many of the features), and I push so hard on the rest of it, that I always finish the race like a zombie. I’ve raced it three times, and each time I get beat up.

On the LOVE side of the equation, it’s a bike race, so there’s that. Plus, I figured I was up to the challenge. After all, I’m in way better shape this season because I’ve been riding my single speed so often, and I just did two, one hundred K rides in the last few weeks (although not on a mountain bike)…

Also, I had something to prove. Last year I missed the turn from the road to the Start line, and rode a frantic 6k prior to even starting the race.

And, since the Kingston XCM is the last mountain bike race, on the last weekend of the summer, it would be a great chance to squeeze the last bits of cycling out of an awesome summer holiday.

Finally, the Kingston XCM was the day that my wife’s cousin’s daughter was getting married in Niagara-On-The-Lake.

Wait, what?

Aw dangit. How on earth could I race in Kingston in the afternoon, and then make it to a wedding that was four and a half hours away.

Oh crap.

With a bit of fancy talk, my wife’s family agreed that I could skip the wedding ceremony, as long as I made it in time for supper at 7PM. Okay, maybe it wasn’t whole hearted agreement, but they more or less acquiesced to the idea. Wohoo for tacit approval!  They would pick up my wife and kids, and drive them to the wedding.  I’d show up for dinner in my car, and then drive them home.  The A-Team couldn’t have planned it better.

The race started at 11:30, and dinner started at 7:00: That gave me 7.5 hours of DO time. So I started doing some math. I love doing math. The race would last two and a half hours (or so); it would take me about an hour (or so) to cool down and shower; another two and a half hours (or so) to get back home to Scarborough; about half an hour (or so) to change; and about 90 minutes (or so) to drive to the wedding.  That’s about 8 hours of DOING, and a lot of “or so” that could complicate the endeavour.

Double crap. Stupid math.  Okay, so maybe I’d miss the first course, but I’d totally make it in time for the salad–I mean, what were the chances there’d be traffic or construction on the highway into, through, and out of, Toronto, on a long weekend?

Triple crap. The chances of traffic and construction into, through, and out of, Toronto on a long weekend were about 100%

Okay, so all I had to do was find a way to bend time-space continuum in order to accommodate me.

It wouldn’t be easy, but I’m Team Colin, and I’d find a way. My team was counting on me. Yes, I’m aware that I am the entire team.

I love planning, so the first thing I did was figure a way to break the day up into manageable chunks. I assigned 4 parts to the day I would now call

The Day Team Colin Did The Impossible.

Here’s the plan:

1.) Get to Kingston

2.) Cram body into spandex and race the Kingston Trophy XCM

3.) Drive home, shower, and cram body into a bow tie (and a shiny blue suit!).

4.) Drive to Niagara-On-The-Lake in aforementioned bow tie and blue suit, be charming, and engage in general wedding frivolousness.

Chunk 1: Get to Kingston

I figured I’d camp in Kingston so that I’d get a better start to the day. I conscripted my friend to keep me company and be my co-pilot, packed the Team Colin support vehicle, and drove to Kingston on Friday afternoon. Getting there was easy, I thought, I could totally make this happen.

Just after parking my RV on Friday night, a guy named Bryant popped up beside me. Bryant was using this race as a training ride for the Single Speed World Championships. I was the loser in the single speed category of the last three XCM half marathon races. There could not have been two more disparate riders camped out beside each other. He totally threw my confidence. I spent the night wondering why I was there, and how I could call myself a racer compared to him? It was my 10th race of the season, and I hadn’t been even close to the podium. But that’s for another blog post.

I shook it off, fell asleep, and awoke the next the morning, fresh and ready to race.

Chunk 1 completed.

Chunk 2: Race the Kingston XCM

It was a bit of a ride from the parking lot (and camping area), to the start line, which was on a farmer’s lane separating two fields. I met my riding buddy, John, at the Start Line, and we hovered near the back of the pack. Dan Marshall arrived, announced a few cautions, and the race started.

Race Report: Kingston XCM. September 3, 2016

The pack bolted along the gravel farm track, before heading across the field on a bumpy grind to the trails. It didn’t do much to thin the pack, and on reflection, our start position was dumb (even though it was nice to ride together for a while) because it was a dreadfully slow pace at times. We got hung up by the group every time there was a narrow tree gap, or at a tough technical feature. Kingston doesn’t have giant climbs, but it has rocks, roots, and trees, and the trail builders have mastered the craft of utilizing them very very well.

It’s not enough to call the trails at MTB Kingston awesome. They are funner than fun, awesomer than awesome, and excellenter than excellent. Put plainly, it’s a bunch of sweet, technical, awesome single track. We were going at a slow pace, but the tight corners, techhie rock gardens, and angry trees kept us on our game.

Just like the day was separated into chunks, so was the race: the north side that was perched on a ridge above a lake (with a sweet maze of tight and twisty single track); the corn field, barn, and pump tracks (so sweet) that led into some more super fun single track; the off camber section that led to what Dan called “The Rocky Stuff; and the last bit of single track that ended with a short climb to the finish. There would be aid stations at 15k (in the barn) and at 30k.

After the first few k, the trail widened into farm track, and John and I upped our pace. We passed a dozen or so riders.

We were at the 8-10k point of the race, flying through a corn field on the south side of the road, and it happened. TWINK! I popped a spoke. I didn’t think much of it, and kept riding.

GNARRRRRLTKTKTKTKTKTKTKTK.

What the?

My stupid damn spoke—a few riders passed–wound itself around my cassette—a few more riders passed–and jammed my rear derailleur up and into my other spokes. Riders kept passing.

I spent a few harried minutes trying to remedy the situation. Finally, with my spoke out of the way (and bent around a different spoke) and my derailleur sort of straightened, I got back on my bike and pedaled. It was no good.

After three more tries at straightening my derailleur and trying to ride, I was at least able to pedal. I was within eyesight of the parking lot and could have easily taken a DNF, but I was there to race, and even if it took me all night, I was going to finish.

Each time I pushed hard, my gears clunked and skipped. Through the barn, out onto the awesome pump track, and back into the forest. I could only coast or pedal gently, and kept getting passed.

And then, ahead of me on the trail, Matt Morrish (the manager of my bike shop—and sponsor of the race–Cycle Solutions) stood, bathed in a ray of light that broke through the treetops. Birds fluttered around his head, an ethereal glow surrounded him, and through the haze of my cussing and frustration with my disabled bike, I heard him shout, “Take my bike. Get on it. Ride. Ride! Go! Go! GO!”

He’s about my height (but not quite) and not even close to my size, but when your bike shop manager tells you to finish a race on his bike, well, you finish that damn race on his bike.

We traded bikes, and I was off. There was no time to adjust the bars or seat height, and I even took off with his water bottle and GPS.

I faltered, struggled, and generally looked like a boob. I’ve never ridden a full suspension, and felt like I wasn’t balanced. My bike for the race was my geared Norco Revolver (a hard tail with a 2x drivetrain), and I usually ride a rigid single speed. The bike Matt was offering was a full suspension behemoth, with a 1x suspension.

Plus, I didn’t know how the bike would handle the trail, how much I needed to work the bars at a log or rock, or even how to climb. And since his suspension was dialled for him (a mere wisp of a fellow compared to me) I kept bottoming-out at every log over and root.

I like to get out of my seat and grind up climbs, but I just didn’t have the comfort to stand. So, when we hit the off-camber section of the race (that went up and down a steep ridge a bunch of times) all I could do was stay in my seat and pedal the best I could. With no flow, poor cadence, and little climbing power, I rode like a chump.

And then came The Rocky Stuff. I don’t know who Peter is, but Peter’s Loop nailed me to a tree. It was awfully, horribly, awesome. It was especially tough on a foreign bike, and I had to walk more times than I care to admit, but I got through it. We sailed through the track on the side of a field, and came out to the aid station. Since I was panicked at the first aid station, I didn’t stop. Then, when I traded my bike with Matt, I forgot to look at the GPS to see where I was in the race. Consequently, I raced most of the course without a clue where I was. Based on how I felt, I figured I was the at first aid station (at 15k). I wasn’t. I was at the 30k aid station, and there was only 6k to go. I guess all the time I spent beating myself up made me forgot about my last two rides—both of which were over 100k, and both of which were somewhat easy. I was racing, I felt like I had only ridden 15k, and I was hardly tired. I finished fuelling, and got back on the bike for the last stretch of single track before the Finish line.

In those last few km, I finally felt comfortable on the bike, and had the confidence to book it. It was 6k to the end, and it was awesome. Great trail, great bike.

Even though I felt strong, I held back a bit in anticipation for the last climb, which always kills me.

It didn’t kill me this year. I don’t know why, but it didn’t kill me.

2:23. 4th place Clydesdale. Without my technical, I know I would have finished under 2:10. I’ll take it.

I cooled down, showered the race grime off my body, ate a burger, and came down from an awesome adrenaline rush.

The Kingston XCM may have hurt me in the past, and it did a number to my bike this year, but I think I proved my point.

Chunk 2 successfully managed.

It was almost 2PM. Five and a half hours until dinner.

Chunk 3: Drive Back Home

I made it home in by 5:30, showered again, and successfully changed from a guy crammed into spandex, to a guy crammed into a bow tie.  In the last few minute of the drive home, I started to feel the tiredness. It took me a bit longer than I thought it would to unload my bikes, shower, snack, and get dressed. By 6:15, I was back in the car.

Chunk 3 done. 45 minutes until dinner. 115km of driving. Okay, so maybe I’d make it for the desert table…

Chunk 4: Drive to Niagara

The drive across Toronto was slow at times, but the rest of the drive was smooth sailing. I made it to Niagara-On-The-Lake a bit late, but not too much. My salad was waiting at my place setting. I missed the soup, but I made it to the wedding. All in all, a win for team Colin. Boom. I can’t recall eating the salad, but after a day of racing and driving, it was good. I could have inhaled it with a straw.

Chunk 4 done.

I ate the rest of my meal, I danced, I was merry, I fell asleep in an armchair the foyer for a moment or two, and well after midnight, I sleep-walked to the car, and fell into a deep slumber as my wife drove us home.

Impossible day? Pfft. Impossible is just a big rock garden, or a gruelling climb, or a crazy trail feature. Sometimes you ride it, sometimes you walk it, and sometimes you carry a borrowed bike over it.

And that’s how Team Colin finished the race on someone else’s bike, and made it to Niagara-On-The-Lake in time for the salad

Ride.

PS.

For another perspective on the race, check out Riot On Racing’s post Riot On Racing.  There might even be a picture of Team Colin in the post…

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