Well, That’s That
P2A: Canada’s Spring Cycling Classic.
P2A: The fifth anniversary of my first bike race ever.
P2A: The cycling equivalent to root canal.
Boom! And so, the day started. Not with the cock of a crow (hehe) or the gentle chirping of birds outside my bedroom window, but with a BOOM. A loud, crackling, thunder clap. Mother Nature was angry at something. Like, really angry.
And so was I. It was 5AM, I was about to take a stab at my first full P2A, and the thunder woke me up 90 minutes before my alarm (which was set for 6:30). The day was going to be tough, and Mother Nature added her signature to it. Call it pathetic fallacy. Call it whatever.
I say: Not cool Mother Nature.
The night before the race, I posted this on the Team Colin Facebook page:
P2A Eve. Is your bike nice and shiny? Bags packed? Energy gels gelling? Whenever you make it to bed tonight, I hope your sleep is filled with dreams of boss gravel, chutes of horrible mud, rain, wind, and a big grunty climb at the end of it all. It’s P2A, it’s awesome, and it’s going to be epic. Sleep well, and wake-up ready to punch P2A in the throat.
Well I wasn’t going to punch anything in the throat at 5AM. All I could think about was the cold torrents of rain slapping my bedroom window.
I managed to fall asleep again, but still. SONOTCOOL.
I woke again at 6:30 and felt a bit better. For me, nothing can diminish race morning nerves and excitement. This year’s P2A would be my fifth time doing the race, but only my first kick at the full distance. I was EXCITED. I was in okay enough shape, and eager to test myself, but the best part was that after the race this year, there’d be no qualifier: No saying “I did the P2A” and have to add “but only the St. George distance”; no feeling that I only did half the race; and no feeling that I could have done more. I had NERVES too, and that part of me was on overdrive. I was hoping for a finish time of around three and a half hours, and the prospect of being in the saddle for that much time on such a cold day was humbling; the prospect of pushing my body to my limits was numbing; and the added prospect 30-50kph winds was, well, it was terrifying.
To add to the NERVES, I was still recovering from the gruelling mess that was the H2i two weeks prior, and the muscles in my new body part (known as my back/shoulders/neck/legs) hadn’t unknotted (which is why I was still in bed).
But then, EXCITEMENT kicked back in. I was going to do a big kid race, and I was anxious to test my physical and mental limits (okay, I’ll get out of bed now).
Boom! More thunder. Well, so much for that. I was pant-crapping terrified. Every single worry of my first race five years ago came floating back at me. How would I handle the cold…what if my new (to me) bike got angry and I had to deal with a technical…what about the rain…the wind…the crowds…the mud chutes and last climb and cramping and…
Dang, was it still like this for me after 35 races in the past four years?
Yes. Yes it was. Laying in bed I felt a healthy respect and awe for what I was about to do. It wasn’t going to be easy, it probably wouldn’t be fun, and it was sure to be horribly awful at times, but when it was over I was going to be sore and drained, and aching–hold on, I’m getting to the good part–and content in the knowledge that win or lose (likely lose), finish or not (50-50 odds), I would have given it all I had. The excitement started to build. This was going to be MY Paris to Ancaster, and I was going to OWN every second of it…
Boom? Aw c’mon thunder, I was on a roll there.
Oh well, time to start the day.
The next few hours were a blur. Get out of bed, jam some breakfast in my belly, do a pre-race checklist, pack the van, drive to Ancaster, pick up my number plate and registration kit, drive to Paris, find parking, change, stretch, pee, stretch some more, worry a bit, wonder if I should pee again, find Carl, my race buddy (who I met at Team Colin Day, and got to know the day before with a sweet warm-up ride),get into the start paddock. worry a bit more, adjust my glasses and gloves…
Boom! With the report of a musket firing, the race started. Hey, what’s with the BOOMS today? First it was Mother Nature smashing clouds together, and now it’s a dude in a boss beard, beside a bagpiper, starting the race.
In the first few seconds of the race I realized something. Initially, I thought Mother Nature had a thunder storm to mimic the nerves and terror of P2A. Nope. Mother Nature had a thunder storm to mimic the epicness of the day. She wasn’t angry, she just wanted to play bikes too.
Race Report: Paris to Ancaster. Paris, Ancaster (April 29, 2017)
With a bag piper playing us up a gentle climb, we turned onto the gravel driveway of an industrial area (that was now doubling as a Bike Water Bottle Recycling Centre), and onto the first stretch of rail trail. The pace was slowed by the sheer volume of riders, but passing was sort-of possible. Carl and I chatted a bit, and kept each other in sight. After a few k of the trail, we turned up a sharp, fist-size boulder strewn punchy climb that took most of us off our bikes.
Waiting for us at the crest of the quick climb–lurking for us–was the wind. It defied us to keep pedalling. We had 60k to go, and we were supposed to punch P2A in the throat, but it was a struggle just to keep the bike moving forward. I think it’s safe to say that no cyclists have ever experienced a stronger head wind. That’s probably, most likely, almost certainly, true.
We skirted a farmer’s field, onto a bit of windy road, a bit more windy gravel, some more windy gravel, a bit of windy road, and then took a shot at a sweet P2A SECTION. A “section” is gravel grinder-ese for “rotten-awesome part”. But it really wasn’t that bad. A quick detour onto a farm for a little rip around a field. The trail was bumpy, and the wind kept taunting us, but we kept at it. Back on the gravel road, we continued against the onslaught of wind. Every second against the wind was an absolute slog. The headwinds were brutal. Even riding with a cross wind was tough. Tailwinds were…well, I don’t remember much tailwind. That’s the thing about a point to point race. If the wind is coming from Point B, and you start at Point A, reprieve from the wind doesn’t exist.
This is where it’s good to have a race buddy. Carl and I took turns slicing the wind, and our pace was strong. It was a race after all, and while we weren’t pushing for a spot on the podium, we were pushing for the sheer joy of being AWESOME.
More gravel, more roads, more sections.
Some of the sections were fun. Some weren’t. The few thousand riders ahead of us had blended the sections to the consistency of oatmeal. It was slow going, but everybody was in the same boat. We hit another farm section for a long, soft, bumpy traverse between two fields. It was fast moving, but zapped my energy. At the far end of the field, we crossed the hard packed washboard that jackhammered my shoulders and killed my pace. Finally, the reward at the end of the section was…a sinking mess of driveway that drained the last bits of energy.
Some more field, a bit of road, and then we met with the 40k riders at the halfway aid station. Carl and I took a short break and I refilled my belly and my water bottles.
Immediately after starting the second half, we were met with the 70k/40k Rail Trail Logjam. It was a 15 minute stall-a-bike, and it was a giant drag. To be walking beside your bike when you want to RIDE is a horrible feeling–especially since we wasted time recovering at the aid station just a few k back.
On the road again, and battling the gruelling wind, it was another mix of more sections, single track, gravel, rail trail, road, and a few small villages. My legs still felt strong, and I maintained a constant attack. Passing slower riders, I’d look back often and see they had latched onto us for a draft. But it never laster for long because they couldn’t keep the pace. Group after group latched onto us and dropped shortly after, and we kept at it. It was awesome. There were plenty of faster riders that day (896 of them, to be precise), but it felt great to have the wheels and the legs to keep pushing.
Attacking climbs 50k into a race was a pretty humbling thing for me. Only 5 years ago, I raced my first P2A, and marvelled at the stronger riders, and here I was, now one of them. We were just booking it. That subtle boom I felt in my chest the first time I tackled Paris to Ancaster (St. George distance) was now the thundering BOOM of my heart pushing me harder and faster.
Somewhere in the middle, I saw my guy, Ted Anderton from Apex Photography. That was nice.
We hit the first big mud chute. Gotta say, it was much less epic than years past.
The condition of the mud made it unridable, so it was another drag of a walk-a-bike. After that, more gravel and rail trail leading up to the second mud chute. The wind really started to kick in, and the exposed trail was an absolutely killer. We hit the second chute, and again, it was a bit less epic than past years. At the bottom of the chute, it was a quick shot along Mineral Springs road to the finish line, which was at the top of Martin Hill. The Martin Hill climb pretty much haunts my race nightmares year round, but this year, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
It wasn’t easy, and I had to walk a portion of it for the first time (I am honestly blaming my 28 tooth cassette), but really, it was just a hill. It was a big one, and it was steep, and it was at the end of a long race, but it was just a hill. How do you finish a race? You pedal. How do you climb a big hill? You pedal. Or you walk. The simplicity of it is pretty startling. Throughout the race, when I had the legs to sprint, I sprinted. Now that it was too steep to ride, I had to walk. So I walked. No biggie.
Also, when you take a closer look at the hill, it’s really only 700m of the gruelling stuff. Pfft.
As it is every year, the crowds lining the hill were awesome, However, this year, my family was there and I got to high five my boy as I passed. He ran beside me through the finish line. As always, the finish line was everything that I’ve come to love about the sport: People cheering, riders basking, and buckets and buckets of epic awesomeness.
And just like that, it was over.
End of P2A Race Report (NOT the St. George distance).
Hey, here are two fellow bloggers who nailed the day pretty accurately. Have a read:
P2A: It was cold. It was windy. It was awesome.
What, you were expecting a beautiful sunny day? Well there’s no fun in that…
And here’s where things change gears a bit (see what I did there). I was expecting a transformation of some sort (like I experienced in the Eager Beaver last August). I undertook a pretty epic journey at this year’s P2A and I wanted to feel something epic inside me as well. But it wasn’t there. Had I become inured to the experience? No. In fact, quite the opposite.
The transformation was there…
The satisfaction was there…
The realization of the depth of the experience was there…
But all of it was gentle and quiet (which is rare for me because I am the opposite of gentle and quiet). The journey of the day wasn’t finishing the course. The journey of the day–the transformation of the day–wasn’t the DAY at all.
It was a slow burning culmination of 5 years of epically awesome boss choices.
Every part of the race was a choice. From waking up, to driving 90 minutes to get there, to my warm up ride with Carl the day before, to what I wore, how my legs propelled me, and what kept me pushing when my body begged me to STOP. I chose to be cold, and cramped. I chose to have snot dripping from my nose and wipe it on my sleeve. I chose to do the full distance even though I was terrified.
I chose to race even with the knowledge that so many were waaay better than me.
It was the same for everybody who raced P2A. WE rode and trained. WE registered and shined our bikes. WE packed our kit bags, woke up early, and CHOSE to get out there and give it our best.
And whether we rode the 70k or the 40k. Whether we rode a $10,000 piece of bicycle art or $100 piece of, well, you know. Whether we rode beside our kids, on a tandem, solo, or with a group of buddies, we all made the choice, and we all have a story to tell.
I have a story to tell, and it’s boss. And so what if I didn’t punch P2A in the throat. I embraced it and let it become part of me. P2A wasn’t AGAINST me. P2A just wanted to CHALLENGE me to be a better ME.
When I started this blog a year ago, my first line was “My name is Colin. I’m a rider. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a teacher. I’m a racer…”
Well, in April of 2017, I raced the Steaming Nostril (Runny Nose Distance), the Homage to Ice (full marathon, single speed), and P2A. I can now say this: My name is Colin. I’m sore. But it was MY choice to be sore, and it’s awesome.
3:40:08. 17/41 in the Clydesdale Category. 897/1426 Overall. My 40th blog. My name is Colin, and P2A was MY race this year.
PS. So, what have I learned about P2A in the past 5 years?
Here’s a completely, totally definitive list of 9 things:
- Shoulder your bike and walk the mud chutes. A mud-caked bike doesn’t work.
- The Martin Hill climb really isn’t that bad, and there’s no point worrying about it, because it won’t change and it doesn’t care.
- Water water everywhere… Drink lots of it to avoid cramping.
- Ride whatever bike you want.
- Register early. Wave 1 or 2 if you’re doing the 70k and want to avoid the rail trail logjam.
- Pass when you have to pass. Stop when you have to stop. Book it when you can.
- Weather is weather. It’s going to be unpredictable and crappy. Dress appropriately and pedal your bike.
- Ride. Just ride.
- Remember to remember all of it. Breathe it in, soak it in, experience it. Celebrate that you ARE there.
Hey, did I capture the day for you? Were you there? How’d you do? Anything to add, ask, or say? What’s your story? Comment on the blog, or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
And THAT’S how you write a 2,730 word blog. Sorry for the length this time.