Team Colin took on the Summer Epic 8 Hour at Hardwood Hills (presented by Pulse Racing) on Saturday, June 14, in a Triple Ess of Defiance (Solo-Single-Speed) and it was…
Before I talk about the race, let me give some context.
Hardwood Hills is never nice to me, and Epic 8 Hour races are downright cruel to me, so I was not eagerly anticipating this race. Like I said in my last post,
After the spectacular bonk that was the 2017 Fall Epic 8 Hour (also known as “The Time I Rode on the Surface of the Sun for 8 Hours”), and the horrible technical at the 2018 Spring Epic 8 Hour (also known as “The Broken-Spoke-Spectacular/Single Speed Sort of Save the Day”), I had something to prove.
Really, the last two Epic 8 Hour races (also my first two Epic 8 Hour races) generally had their way with me. So, looking forward to Saturday’s race, I needed to regain my pride. Fittingly, I also wrote this in my last post:
I’ve been storing a bucket of retribution, a box of vindication, and a satchel of seething vengeance, for the Epic 8 Hour, and all three must be served: swiftly, decidedly, and ice-cold (in that order).
But I knew I wouldn’t deliver. Not slowly, undecidedly, or even luke-warm. Not this time at least. To put it plainly, I’m exhausted. Lately I fall asleep a billion times throughout the day (unintentionally and without warning) and when I go to bed, I either can’t fall asleep, or I fall asleep–for half an hour–and either way, I toss and turn and get up and toss and turn and see most hours pass until 6:30.
There was the usual angst about the race, so I read a description about the course on the Pulse Racing website, and figured 7 laps would be doable.
Or maybe 8 if the course was 5k shorter than posted…
Although maybe I’d do 9 laps…you know, if the course was entirely downhill and had a t-bar at the bottom…
So heading into the race I knew I’d have to put my bucket of retribution on a shelf beside the box of vindication, and hang my satchel of vengeance on my Revenge Hook, to wait for another chance.
What, you don’t have a Revenge Hook?
With the heat, and the, well ME, my plan was to stop to refuel (read: hydrate) every lap. The solo pit area was just after the TRANSITION area, and that made things easier.
The day started well. I was on time and my bike was primed. I seeded myself nicely in the START corral. I was riding my new (to me) Trek Rig single speed, which I absolutely love.
Prior to start, I did a mental check of my body. I had some new pains, and some old ones. My State of the Union:
- lower back: the usual gong show of throb (hello, old friend)
- left wrist: aching and sore (hey that’s new)
- right forearm/elbow: aching for some reason (maybe too much texting lately)
- legs: jelly (I. NEED. SLEEP.)
- right wing: low level aching and very sensitive (when did this become a problem)
- mental spirit: awesome–pain be damed, we’re playing bikes for a whole day
Before I finished cataloging the various and sundry aches and pains associated with 46 years and some arthritis, too much riding and not enough stretching, not enough sleep and too many bowls of 10PM Lucky Charms, and…the race started. “Aw, c’mon, I’m sort-of not-really ready.” I clipped in and started a journey that would end 8 hours later.
Daunting, that’s a good word.
Unsureofmyselfandtired. That’s another good word.
How did I do?
I did my first two laps without stopping, and nailed 3 laps in 2 hours. I felt strong and paced well (37-43 minute laps). The first part is always easy, and I was rolling strong.
My lap 4 and 5 times, including breaks, were 45 and 47 minutes respectively. At 1:35 (3.5 hours into the race) and with 5 laps under my belt, I ate some actual food for lunch, and went live on Facebook. I was cheerful and still in the groove. Not sure how, but I wasn’t dying. In fact I was kind of enjoying myself.
Including my lunch/Facebook break after my 5th lap, my 6th lap took 55 minutes, but starting the 6th lap, my legs and lungs still felt good, especially after the short reprieve (well, good-ish). I knew the dark times were coming, and hoped my small meal might help me attack the looming wall ahead of me. Astonishingly, I was peeing regularly, so I knew I was hydrating well. I know it’s gross, but hydration is a BIG deal in a long race, especially at my size. With a clear stream of pee and another round of electrolytes, I was on my (sort of) merry way.
My disbelief continued, and at 3:30PM, I hit my goal and finished my 7th lap (in 51 minutes). This meant I had 2 hours before the final lap cut-off time of 5:30, and 2.5 hours before the race was over. I took to my pit for a much needed five minute sit. An 8 hour rip has so many challenges, and I sometimes think the mental game is as important as the physical game. I’m kidding of course, it’s a total gong show physically, and I still don’t know how I manage. Seriously, 5 years ago, 40k of MTB was my limit, and there I was still living after 70k of riding, about to embark on another 10k lap…and hopefully another 10k…and if I was lucky, even one more.
Lap 7 was tough. At one point, I confused my elapsed time with the time of day, and saw a beam of light stream into the forest. “I’m almost done” I thought “It’s 4:30, only one more hour until cut-off time. Thank god”.
It wasn’t 4:30, and there wasn’t an hour before cut-off. I had been riding for four hours and 30 minutes, and there was three hours before cut off. That feeling…that realization…dang. Throat punch.
It’s a continual numbers game. Each quicker lap puts a bit of time into the “Last Few Hours” bank, and each break makes a withdrawal. I spent so much of the race shuffling numbers and assessing lap times, break times, and anticipated time of wall hitting.
If lap 7 was a challenge (to say the least) laps 8 and 9 were dark. I wasn’t in a really really bad place, but close to it. Fortunately, I had a buddy riding with me (just behind to let me ride at my pace) so my mood was cheery, but breaks or not, idle bike chatter or not , I was feeling the effects of 6 hours of continuous output. My right shoulder was a throbbing mess, my left wrist had spasmed off my grips a few times, and everything else either ached or pained or throbbed or simultaneously did all three. The same roots and rocks that were speed bumps a few hours ago threatened to topple me at the blink of a half-closed, dirt-encrusted, dellusionaly weary, eye.
But I was still sort of on. “Sort of” and “on” being relative terms.
At 5PM, after two very consistent laps of 48 minutes each (no kidding, 48:53 and 48:05 including breaks) and with one hour to finish, I fell onto my anti-gravity chair for exactly 5 minutes, grasping for breath and searching for a regular heartbeat. I had to calm the twitch that had started in my back an hour or so ago, and maybe have a nap. Oh, I wanted so badly to have a nap. A nap wasn’t doable in such a short time, so I figured a short heart attack would suffice…
It was 5:05. I had nine laps under my belt, and I/we had 55 minutes to do our lap–my tenth lap.
I lumbered back onto my bike at 5:06.PM and banged out a 51 minute lap (including my brief jaunt into cardiac arrest). Despite a small technical, I finished the race with a final burst of energy at 5:50PM.
4/5 in the Solo Single Speed category.
Yeah, I’m pretty surprised about it too (and yeah, I just cussed).
I posted a post-race video on the Team Colin Facebook page.
The whole damn day was cuss-worthy (see what I did there), but not in the “Oh, #@*%, this is tough”. It was cuss-worthy in the “Holy #%@*, I’m actually doing this, and I haven’t bonked, and I think I might do 10 laps”. Seriously? Me? 100k?
Okay, it wasn’t easy, and there was plenty of bad cursing, especially at the climbs, which (in case you weren’t there, or in case you were there and forgot) were:
- the gravel-spinny climb up to the solo area (which really wasn’t that bad)
- the gravel-spinny one after the solo area (which really was that bad)
- the nasty two-part hill after that one (which was worse)
- the grassy bugger (which was even worserer–totally an apropos made up word)
Honestly, none of the climbs were actually that bad (really, most were just hills) and I rode all of them my first laps. However, by lap 5, I was walking the “two-part” and “the grassy bugger”, and by lap 8, I was actually crawling up those two hills like a desert cast-away, dragging my bike through the rocks and dust like a lifeless, aluminium and rubber cadaver.
Oh how I wish I was exaggerating.
By the way, if you feel bad for all the malice I threw at the hills, trust me, they deserved it. Stupid jerk hills. Also, hills don’t have feelings.
Most of the climbing was in the first 3k of the race, so I always knew that once atop the ridge, the fun stuff started…until the next lap of course.
Like I said, that’s where an 8 Hour race always gets me. It’s not the course, or the climbs, or the bike, or anything else, it’s the nagging feeling that, after the endorphins of the first 3 laps wear off, there are STILL 6 MORE HOURS of lap after lap after lap.
And after the energy of the next few laps wear off, there are STILL 4 MORE HOURS of lap after lap after lap.
And after the muscles are eroded during those laps, and my body is a tangled mess of violently writhing spainasm (pain+spasm), there are STILL 2 MORE HOURS.
And 2 hours is a decent ride on any other day!
For me, every bit of preparation, and every second spent on a bike before a race, is in anticipation of those final 2 hours in an 8 Hour (or the final 2 hours of any Substance Projects XCM race). Those last hours are bleak and dark and so very hard.
Also, I was lying, it IS the course AND the climbs AND the bike and EVERYTHING else.
To be clear, those hours are bloody awesome too. Regardless of how difficult it gets, or the demands on my body, it is a huge blessing to be able to sit on a bike, and play in the forest for 8 consecutive hours. Like I just said, that’s like four, decent two-hour long rides, without having to drive to the trails or make allowances to be away from my family. The freedom, the connection with the planet, the solace, and the knowledge of overcoming a challenge, is remarkable, and it never wanes.
The Epic 8 Hour was such a great course too. After those first few climbs, and once on top of the ridge, it was awesome, fast and flowy singletrack (divided by a nice amount of double track for passing), and lots of sweet little technical bits to remind riders not to nap. There were a few short punchy climbs, some sweet descents, and then that damn grassy hill (which I guess wasn’t that bad), before some more awesome stuff, and then a truly awesome last 5 minutes of almost exclusively downhill before the end.
Lather, rinse, and repeat.
The trails were dry. So very dry. A fine silt swirled in the air and coated everything: bike, body, water bottle, and face. I wiped and lubed my chain three times during the day.
The trails also had a few photographers hiding in the brush. Ted Anderton and Apex Photography were there capturing lucky riders. They spend their day, cramped over a camera, giving themselves carpal-tunnel syndrome (and not the fun way either) so that we can have a cool Facebook post. If you haven’t already purchased your shot, you really should: Apex Race Photography.
That Time I Almost Bought it Bad
My bike performed beautifully…until the last lap when my seat post snapped. There was a horrific “TINK”, and, as I fell backward, I narrowly missed the barbed aluminium remnant of post left behind. It snapped in the middle, and could have had dire consequences. I wasn’t thinking, and continued riding with the soon-to-be anal lance jutting up from my seat tube. My buddy carried the other half (the rest of the post and the seat). For the next kilometre, I had to stand in tense anticipation of a very rude (and jagged) awakening. By the time I realized that I could take out the broken post and just jam the broken post/seat in reeeeeaaaallllly low, it was almost too late, and my knees and thighs were absolutely fried. With 3k to go, I stood when I had to, and sat when I could. It was like riding a BMX, and it wasn’t fun, especially after 7 hours and 35 minutes of riding.
But…I somehow held enough energy for a final sprint to the finish.
My first Graduation was 100k of gravel. Graduation 2.0 was my first marathon distance MTB race. This race is Graduation 3.0 because I nailed 100k with only one gear.
A Lesson Learned
I learned something BIG during this race.
I love my bike shop (Love. My. Bike. Shop) but they were just too busy and couldn’t accommodate a last minute repair on Friday afternoon. That meant I spent a good part of the day wondering if something was going to fail on my bike. Are my brakes too squishy? Is my chain tight enough? Is everything else tight enough? Are the things that shouldn’t be tight, loose enough?
With a fairly consistent race card, lots of training rides, and a pretty busy schedule otherwise, it’s sometimes tough to make it to the shop. Also, since I always do a little rip a day or two before a race to suss out any problems, I always need a little (or big) repair and some general bike dialling. Also, with a big race and imminent thrashing, I like the comfort of having a mechanic give my bike a glance before I start. The fear of a technical is almost paralyzing in a race.
So I need to be more self sufficient, and perhaps maybe even forge a new relationship with a few other shops. I love the social aspect of going to my shop, but I also need to be absolutely confident about my gear, and Friday exposed a weakness. I simply lack the knowledge and confidence to dial my bike before a long ride, and I can’t always expect that my shop will be there for me.
Fortunately, I went to a different shop, D’Ornella’s, to buy a new spoke so that I could fix it myself, and Reggie actually replaced and trued my wheel on the spot. Look at ’em.
The Tyler Factor (formerly, the Matt Factor)
A complete explanation of the Matt Factor is in my blog about my first Epic 8 Hour. Essentially, it’s a comment on the genuine respect and support shown for solo riders (and everyone, really) in an Epic 8 Hour bike race. It was high in this race. Between fellow riders giving words of support, the awesome energy of the crowds, cowbell guy (also known as The Beard), and the dudes who said “You got it, keep it up, one more down” in the middle of every lap: you’re awesome.
But it was my buddy, Tyler who really exemplified the Matt Factor on Saturday.
Tyler and I are casual race buddies. We chat occasionally on Facebook, and see each other at races, but we’re not close “Hey pal, let’s go for a ride” buddies. Well, we weren’t before Saturday…
He was right behind me for my final three laps, giving occasional words of encouragement, and distracting me from the task at hand. He also kept me on track, and when we hit the pit area at 5PM, he threw a warning at me “Take a 5 minute break, and then we’re gone”.
But then, in the middle of my final lap, when my seat post broke, and my legs were dead, and my resolve was flailing, he actually PUSHED ME to help me along.
We rode together for my last wearied pedal strokes until the final sprint.
Plus, his daughter is a beautiful bundle of adorbs. Totes and utters adorbs By the way, if “utters adorbs” catches, I coined it.
So That’s It
Yup, my third kick at an Epic 8 Hour, my first kick on a single speed (for the whole thing), and my longest MTB ride. I even got a 100k pin. All that’s left is to put my broken seat post in my retribution bucket; tear up my vindication box and stuff it in the recycling bin; use my vengeance satchel for next year’s Indiana Jones Halloween costume, and toss my grimy kit and filthy gloves in the washer so they’re ready for the next race.
I’m deeply proud of this race, and the feelings of accomplishment will last a lifetime; the other stuff–the worry, the pain, and the anxiety–will rinse away down the laundry drain.
Epic 8 Hour. Epic indeed.
Congratulations to all the winners, particularly my fellow solo riders, and especially:
- Adam Hill, overall winner with 16 laps (and my pal David Vigneault close behind with 15 laps).
- Glen Anderson, winner of the Solo Single Speed, with 14 laps (and my fuel guru, Richard Bowers, with 12 laps
Some awesome folks from the day: The 100k pin winners, One helluva handsome Tyler (with a sponsor brew from Northwinds Brewery–I chugged mine in a nanosecond), and fellow Lapdog, Richard Bee.
Were you there? Anything else to say about the race? Comment on this post, post on the TeamColin Facebook page, or send an email to: TeamColinBlog@yahoo.com
Gotta say it, I love this picture. Ted Anderton and Apex Race Photography always make me look way better than I am.