Single Speed 201.
Team Colin went for a big, giant rip in Dufferin County Forest on Saturday, in race #1 of the Substance Projects XC Marathon: The Homage to Ice (presented by Cycle Solutions).
And let me tell you this: Homage was paid.
Except that I paid homage to everything except ice.
Homage to rain and mud.
Homage to Dan Marshall.
Homage to the big boss riders who served my arse to me on a mud splotched, platter.
And sure, homage to AWESOMENESS (just not mine)
On a very personal–and physical level– I paid homage to pain, more pain, a bit more pain, and then some other pain for good measure.
This is my 5th year racing Dan Marshall’s XC Marathon, and I haven’t missed a race yet. 4 races each year. 4 years. 16 races in total. But this year, it was different.
This year I decided to race the marathon distance. Yeah, the marathon distance!
Okay, it was really tough, but I’m going to say it right now. Boom.
1 speed, 2 laps 3 hours and 50 minutes on my bike.
Lots and lots of rain.
A giant mass of KNOTTED muscle where I used to have shoulders (plus a pair arm flaps that are going to be basically useless for a few more days), and the gentle satisfaction that I DID IT.
Last place overall, 2nd place Clydesdale.
Lemme say it again. Boom.
So H2i 2017 was my first kick at a full race. My first kick at a race distance that I couldn’t even fathom attempting a few years ago. It’s the first time that I don’t have to give a disclaimer afterwards. “I did Race X–the half distance…”
BUT HOLY CRAP IT WAS TOUGH. So very very tough. Remember when I said it was an “…homage to awesomeness”? Yeah, well it wasn’t. It was gruelling, tough, and just plain hard. Damnit, it was so hard.
When I finished the race, on the drive home, and in the days since, I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically bleak. Aside from being physically drained, I’m beating myself up for doing so poorly…for having spring legs…for not being able to get into a groove…for not training as much as I should have…for not training as hard as I should have…for getting passed by the half marathon leaders (who started half an hour later then I did) at the 15k mark…and for actually thinking I could do the full race.
Seriously, what possessed me, a half marathon racer (and not even a good one at that) to attempt the full distance?
I know someone has to come last, but still…
And to add insult to injury, there were even a few riders at the race who did the Tilsonburn 100 Mile race the day before. Check out Riot’s post about it. So let me get this right. I couldn’t handle the race, but other racers did an ever BIGGER race the day before and still managed. I get it, I’m not them, but still…
My overall time was 3:51. The winning Single Speed category time was 2:36. Ugh. Seriously, I was an hour and 15 minutes behind first place. Heck, I was almost an hour behind the second last place rider. Double Ugh.
My first lap time was 1:48. My second lap was 2:02 (what, I really needed a few breaks).
I felt pretty stupid, a bit embarrassed, and kind of demoralized. But then I realized something. If I’d raced the half marathon, I would have beaten a few pretty fast riders, and placed 7/9. Well that’s not so bad. Hmm. So everyone else had a tough time too. Sure, a bunch of riders were waaaay faster than me (in both races), but I held my own, and my results were consistent with my prior races.
Sure, I’m still not that great, but I’m not worse than I was last year, and I might even be getting better. Edit. I’m getting (a tiny wee little bit) better.
Flashback to race day morning: It was 108 km to Mansfield, I had a full tank of gas, it was bright, and I was wearing sunglasses. I was listening to some tunes and ready for my first big boy race. The forecast for the day was a high of 20, with a chance of showers. I was worried about tackling the full distance–no, I was terrified–but I was excited too. Excited to be challenging myself. Excited to have the chance to push myself hard. Excited to be ABLE to even think about the longer distance.
But I was mostly worried.
It started raining while I was driving. Stupid forecast. Fortunately, I was prepared for any weather. Bib pants or bib shorts; Short sleeve or long sleeve jersey; full finger or fingerless gloves; and I even packed my neck muffler and helmet liner as a precaution the night before.
Wait, my gloves were still in the clean laundry basket waiting to be packed.
AW DANG IT!!!
I was supposed to get to Mansfield with more than enough time to prep. I was supposed to have a relaxed drive. I was supposed to STRETCH before the race. Nope. A quick exit…turn around…pick up my gloves…back on my way. 30 minutes lost.
I made it to the race about 35 minutes before start time. 35 minutes to mentally and physically prepare for the biggest race of my life. 35 minutes to register…say hello to everyone…change into my race kit…put some air in my tires..check and repack my tool bag..jam some food in my belly…think about the task at hand…
What the? It was 10:59, the race was about to start, and I wasn’t ready.
Race Report: Homage to Ice. Dufferin County Forest (April 15, 2017)
The race started, I still wasn’t ready, I hadn’t stretched, and well, I JUST WASN’T READY! The pack booked it down the doubletrack, and out of sight. I wasn’t even on my bike in time to even see the tail end of the pack.
My gearing is pretty low, so I pretty much spun my wheels for the first few k of double track. I passed two friends who were trying to fix a bent chain, and then hit my first sweet singletrack rip of the year.
The rain wasn’t heavy, so the course was wet, but not too muddy. However, Dufferin Forest is so tight and twisty, and there was very little chance for me to just let it fly, no chance to find a pace. Worse, between the tight trees, the slick mud, the giant (and awesome) logovers, and my gearing, I spent every pedal stroke either braking or trying to crank back up to speed. I realized almost immediately that the day was going to be a slog.
And then it started to really rain.
I hankered in for the downpour, tried to maintain visibility though my glasses, and just tried my best to keep some sort of pace. In dry conditions, the course would have been great but tough. In the rain, the course was not great and tougher.
Dan Marshall always says that Team Van Go have a policy of turning every downed tree into a logover. He isn’t wrong. The logovers in Dufferin County Forest are legendary: They’re big, meaty, rideable (but just barely) and fun. If a tree falls in Team Van Go’s forest, does it make a sound? Yup “Logover!”. They were daunting to look at it, but awesome to nail–especially in the rain. I spent the entire race alone–utterly alone. However, I took some comfort that I was riding in Team Van Go’s forest. They have such a cool vibe, and I always feel it when I’m riding there.
The course followed a bunch of awesome singletrack for the next 5 or 6k, and then, at about 8k, there was a wickedly sweet, twisting descent. The rain made it slick and a little gnarly. Awesome.
The course for the next while was tight and winding, uppy-downy, and tough. Man, it was tough. I just couldn’t find my pace.
And then it stopped raining.
No it didn’t. It just rained harder. There was more single track, punctuated with very short sections of double track, and then the course came to the first aid zone. What the? The aid station was at 12k, but it felt like I had been riding forever.
Liz and Jenn at the aid station were kind and generous with their words of support. A quick snack, a bottle refill, and I was back on the bike. More singletrack, a few grinding climbs, and the “10K To Go” sign. Dang. This wasn’t getting easier. The rain proved to be a menace at this point, and it slowed me even more. The climbs were even tougher, the corners were even sketchier, and it all just sucked. I was off my bike to walk a bunch of climbs (but I attacked a few too), and then came The Wall. I didn’t even try to attempt it, and dismounted when I started losing traction, and hoofed it up the rest.
“5K To Go” C’mon. This race was taking forever.
At about that point, my back didn’t want to play any longer, and went home. “Okay back, I’ll finish this thing without you”
And then the sun came out. No it didn’t. It just rained more.
Some more tight track, lots of mud that was quickly turning to muck, a few little climbs, and out into the driveway for a short zip to the finish line.
Phew, the race was finally over. No it wasn’t. There was another lap. It was the halfway point of the race. After an hour and 48 minutes, all that work, the slogging, and all the pain, I was only halfway finished. I needed a break, so I spent a few minutes at the Start/Finish. I refilled my bottle, guzzled some pop, had a PB and J sandwich, and tried to stretch (Yeah, nice move dummy–you’re two hours late. Shut up brain). And where the heck was my back? Dang, I was sore.
At least the rain had finally stopped.
I was in last place, and I was looking forward to a complete rerun of EVERYTHING I just covered. Every log over, every climb, every dismount, every wince, every muck pool Everything. Every ache of my back and throb of my shoulders.
Yeah, my shoulders. My single speed isn’t just rigid, it’s fully rigid–with an aluminium fork. After 25k, my neck and shoulders were… Well, they were sore.
I have to say, the stark realization at that point of the race was pretty bleak. In the first few minutes of the second lap (really, for most of the second lap), I experienced my darkest time on a bike.
Dan Marshall always says you finish a race by pedalling until it’s over. So I pedalled.
And walked a bit.
The same climbs, the same descents, the same trees, the same logovers, the same everything.
With 1k to the aid station, I saw Jenn and Liz through the trees, and they rang their bells and hollered words of encouragement. After the aid station, there was still 13k to go. They were a beacon of hope and positivity. Refill..stretch the shoulders to try and break up the knot…have a snack…back on the bike.
And then it got easier. No it didn’t. It got tougher. People always comment about my enthusiasm for the sport, and I have to say that it’s a good thing I’m so amped. It kept nipping at my heels and propelling me forward when all I wanted to do was quit.
10k to go…ugh.
5k to go…ughhhhh.
Out of the valley, back onto the driveway and the race was over.
They waited. I was last place, and they waited for me to finish until they started packing up. Dan didn’t scream my name, he SCREAMED MY NAME.
End of Race Report
I did it.
You know, I always talk about the love groove, and the strong connections in my MTB world, and I always say I know it’s not very MTB. But I think I’m wrong. I think the love grove is the very essence of MTB. We’re all in the same boat. We all love riding. We all support each other. I would not be riding without it, I wouldn’t have tried the marathon distance without it, and I wouldn’t love the sport so much if it wasn’t such a big part of it. It helped me finish the race on Saturday. And whether it was Liz and Jenn at the aid station, or Dan screaming “Team COLIN!!!” at the finish, or all my fiends after the race, it was heartwarming and awesome. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. No it isn’t. Can I talk about Heather for a sec? She wants to the the 8 hour in May, and she’s training. So what did she do? After the half marathon, she did another lap. Just because. No timing. Nobody cheering her on. Just because she’s awesome.
I loved my first big race. I laughed, I cried, I winced, and I experienced an epiphany. But it wasn’t the epiphany I was expecting.
At some point in the race, or maybe it was some time after the race (don’t remember–delirium) I realized that I hit my riding ceiling. I realized that my ceiling–at this point in my life–is just a bit below a full race.
And it kinda sucks. No, it doesn’t kinda suck. It just plain sucks. But it’s okay, because my ceiling 5 years ago was well below a half marathon. And my ceiling next year? In five years? Well, who knows.
Scratch that. I know. I know it’ll be higher. And I’ll make sure my gloves are packed the night before.
I raced the marathon distance in Saturday’s Homage to Ice. Boom.
PS. Hey, did I capture the race? If you were there, and I missed something, let me know. Anything to say? Comment here on the blog, or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you really want to read about last year’s course–my first time racing a single speed, check it out here.
Oh, one more thing. Team Colin hats are in. Awesome.