Blog #100, Race #89, and the End of Summer
The Pulse Racing Fall Epic 8 Hour, presented by Trek Bicycle Store.
10k of Hardwood Hills, over and over again…
230m of climbing per lap
My 7th Epic 8 Hour race.
8 hours of hurt.
8 hours of community.
8 hours of grime and grit and determination, and a helluva lot of grunting.
8 hours of playing bikes!
I went into the Fall Epic 8 Hour with a plan: ride a hundred k.
The 100k pin hangs over the head of every solo rider, and it’s always my carrot.
So, devoid of reason and ignoring whatever the course held…or the weather…or my health…and everything else, I was going to ride 100km for my 100th blog post (seriously, the number is right there). Also, after the Summer Epic 8 Hour, and the joke I made that the course was a giant love letter from Glenn Meeuwisse of Pulse Racing, Glenn actually sent me this email:
The work week got worky, and I had a bunch of house chores to do on Friday evening, but my bike was ready, my gear was packed, and, most important, I was ready to ride 100k, so I got in my RV, and drove to Hardwood Hills on Friday night in order to get a good start the next morning….
I didn’t fall asleep until 1:30AM, and I tossed and turned for the rest of the night, before waking up at 6:30. Okay, not a great way to prep for a race.
“Ain’t no thing” I thought to myself, “You can race when you’re tired”.
The course started with That Damn Hill from the chalet up to the ridge. On one hand, I hate that hill, but on the other hand, pfft, I was on late summer legs, and the hill was a snap. So was the next hill, and so were the next two hills, but not the next one (that one was a killer). Anyway, I was riding strong, and as Glenn said, the course was another love letter.
Except it wasn’t. Okay, I’ve got two things to say. First, Glenn, we’re breaking up. Second, holy crap it was a cooker on a single speed. No flow, some awesomely technical bits, deceptively climby, and just whoa.
So, between a lousy sleep, a bit too much of the teaching job, and some pretty weak fuelling prior to the race, I wasn’t feeling it. In the first three laps, I bombed by two different arrows diverting riders off the double track into the singletrack (yeah, twice). I even rode over some white tape at a corner (no kidding). I was dazed, and dozey, and not-at-all on my game.
“Whatever Colin, just ride; your 100k pin will be waiting at the end of the race.”
Bad pace or not, I was getting a pin. 100th blog post, 100k, remember?
Here’s the numbers game I play for pretty much ALL of the race:
- 8 hours x 60 minutes per hour = 480 minutes
- Divide by 10 laps = 48 minutes per lap
I knew I wouldn’t need an actual break until after the 3rd of 4th lap, and the first lap always takes longer because of the log jams (and I knew I’d need to take considerable breaks later in the day), so I budgeted the following times for my laps:
- Laps 1-3: 40-42 minutes per lap, no breaks, just water stops
- Laps 4-6: 45-48 minutes per lap, including food and pee breaks
- Laps 7-10: 48-51 minutes per lap, with no break after the 9th
- Laps 11-15: …what, a guy can dream, right?
I figured if I finished my third lap by noon, I’ll be fine.
Race Report. Fall Epic 8 Hour: Saturday, September 21, 2019. Hardwood Hills.
That Damn Climb was cut short near the top for a detour to another hill. After that, the Fall Epic 8 Hour was singletrack heaven, followed by singletrack bliss, followed by a bunch of quick shots of singletrack awesomeness, separated by fast bits of doubletrack uppy-downy stuff. What can I say, it’s Hardwood Hills, and it’s all wickedly cool.
Hey, you know what? I love this shot and I HATE this shot. Look at my belly. Ugh. I didn’t want to post it, and I really wanted to crop it to just show my wheels getting (very small) air), but then I thought “Well, that’s how I look”. Gotta own it.
We spent most of the lap on top of the ridge, before taking Coffee Run down to the solo pits, and then it was a quick shot of a few switchbacked jumplines, before winding back to the START/FINISH/LAP area.
The first lap was more jammed than usual, but it was a nice gentle pace. I got to talk to my pal Karen, from Team Van Go, for most of the lap. On the second lap, just before the Ridge, a rider went down, fast and hard, two riders ahead of me, and I stopped to see if he needed help. A toonie sized chunk of skin hung from his brow, but he was lucid and calm.
I saw the time rolling on my GPS. His face was covered in blood. Two minutes, three minutes…
He shifted his leg downhill. Time kept ticking.
So, um, I have neurocardiogenic syncope, which they also call vasovagal syncope, which is to say that I have “Aw, c’mon, don’t faint” when I see LOTS OF BLOOD. It reared its head, and I felt the pangs of nausea. What? I’m delicate.
I wasn’t sure whether the passing riders understood that he needed medical help, and although he wasn’t in danger, I was, so I made the decision to ride on, and inform Pulse Staff. I didn’t like leaving a fellow racer, but I didn’t have the luxury of time–or a calm belly and a steady heart rate.
I clipped-in and rode, but after that my pace was even more off, and my flow was even more offer–and the race had hardly started! Looking at the time, I knew I had to pick up the pace. With a woozey belly, I finished my third lap at 12:25: twenty five minutes off pace for 10 laps.
Back to the numbers game, I knew I had to shave a few minutes off each lap, and skip a few breaks, but I still had time for 10, and the carrot was still in sight!
Lap 4 was quick, and I was back on track.
But it didn’t last. I needed a fuel break after my fifth lap.
During my 6th lap, I did a whole bunch of calculations and recalculations in my head, and it didn’t look good. On the screen of my GPS, and before my eyes, I saw the prospect of 10 laps disappear.
The strain of an 8 Hour race is fraught with physical and emotional breaks, and the realization was heartbreaking. I’d like to say I cried (you know, because I’m delicate), but it was so hot the tears came out as puffs of dust and clumps of salt.
The race got tougher and tougher and tougher, and by the 7th lap, I was worried about whether I’d even have the time–or be physically able–to do 9 laps. The 8th lap was a killer, and I was limping my bike around the course. The hills that I grunted up only a few hours earlier were out of reach, and I was dismounting two or three times each lap. I welcomed the breaks in pedalling.
How bad did I look? I looked so bad, a Pulse staff member saw me between laps and offered me a water bottle that she had just opened for herself.
How bad did I look? For the first time in a race, medical staff saw me mid-lap, and asked if I was feeling okay.
How bad did I look? When I staggered up to the Team Van Go pit Eric and Emily sprang into action, offering everything and anything to lift my spirit and fuel my body. Thanks again you two. You’re awesome. Seriously, ALL of Team Van Go are awesome. Love ’em.
I started my 9th lap at 5:07PM
Dang it, I had 53 minutes to finish my lap, and, exclusive of breaks, I hadn’t done a 50 minute lap since my 5th.
Well, I sure wasn’t going to finish the race sitting on my arse waiting to time out, so I clipped-in, gripped my bars, and started the lap. It got tougher and tougher. The tears made a solid chalk line along the course, and I grunted loudly every time I hit a sketchy part. Every pedal stroke was a curse, and I was inventing new curses every minute. 5:46 PM, I was walking up the last short climb of the course. I knew I had 15 minutes of trail in front of me, but only 14 minutes left to finish. I steadied myself for the disappointing crush of only 8 laps (and having to finish this lap like a chump).
I was literally falling backwards while walking up the hill, and another monumental hill came from behind: Adam Hill. He said to me–he yelled at me–“Get on your bike and finish this race! Do it! Now!”. There was no nicety in his tone, he was angry and aggressive, and he was almost taunting me.
And it was everything I needed to hear. Adam Hill was invested in ME!
I got back on my bike and did the one thing I really didn’t want to do, but knew I had to: I pedalled hard. I pedalled as hard as I could. I still didn’t know if I had it in me to finish on time, but Adam knew I had it in me…
Besides, maybe a miracle would happen and I’d finish before 6PM.
Dang, there was still so much trail to rip.
I added all the pepper I could (which wasn’t much), and gave it all I had (which wasn’t much either), and before I knew it, Coffee Run loomed ahead. I might not finish my lap on time, but at least I was going to finish on my bike. The roots and rocks were a jackhammer on my tired and aching arms, but I nailed it…almost. On the last tight corner, just before all the crunchy stuff was done–you know the corner where you HAVE to take the line on the left–I was ripping. A fellow racer had a technical, and their bike was upside down ON THE LEFT SIDE of the trail. I was in my zone, I was delirious from almost 8 hours of riding, it came on me too quickly, and I didn’t have time to react. In an flash, I was over my bars and trying to untangle my instantly cramped legs from my bike.
The race was all but over for me. I looked at my GPS. I had less a few minutes left, and it was just too far to finish.
Multiple camps. Exhaustion. More camps. I went down hard on my wrist and it was already sore. Shit.
I said I wasn’t going to finish the race sitting on my arse, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to finish the race walking to my pit, or worse, “just pedalling” to the end. I got back on my bike, and hit it.
When I got to the pits the entire area was yelling “Three minutes”. What the? I poured it on for a strong finish.
At the end of the pits, someone yelled “TWO AND A HALF MINUTES!!!”
At the bottom of the short climb before the jumplines, I heard the roar of the crowd just over the hill, and Coach Brendie counting the time. I had 5 switchbacks, a whole bunch of jumps, bricks, berms and other stuff ahead of me, and no clue how long I had–or how long it would take to ride–to the end of the course.
The noise of the crowd was almost deafening, my legs were stumps, and my wrist was getting worse. My lungs were on fire, but so was my heart.
I sprinted. Damn I sprinted hard.
I finished my ninth lap at 7 hours, fifty nine minutes, and 16 seconds.
End of Race Report.
Holy crap that was close! Honestly, I get chills thinking about it. What a moment, and what a blessing to be able to experience it. 44 seconds to go, and I finished. Boom.
Such an awesome day. I always say this about an 8 Hour, but I gotta say it again:
There just isn’t any way to slice it; an 8 Hour bike race is a slog…of EPIC proportions.
Honestly, I feel like a solo rip actually changes me every time.
So that’s the story of the seventh time I rode my bike for 8 hours…but wait, there’s more. Actually, there’s so much more, and a lot of it has nothing to do with the riding part.
The camaraderie and community of this sport lives and breathes at a race like the Epic 8 Hour, and the short lap format not only removes barriers for a while bunch of ages and abilities, but it also exposes ALL of us to EACH OTHER. Also, since we’re all in it together, the level of support is profound, especially FOR the solo riders–and BETWEEN the solo riders. Like I said, I wouldn’t have finished on time without the giant push from overall leader, Adam Hill, but I likely would have lost my way a long time before that if not for the constant compliments and encouragement from fellow racers (“Nice work, Solo”, “Dude, single speed? Awesome” and, “Hey Team Colin!”), and people in the pits. Each lap, every lap, other team’s support crews were clanging bells, screaming encouragement, and in the case of Heather Dee, actually coming to my pit to offer assistance when I felt as close to death as I was away from it. Thanks Heather!
I’ve talked about it in the past, and I call it the Matt Factor. It’s a thing, it’s always there, and it’s bloody awesome. I hope people know how incredible it is to hear a simple word of support. It means the world in a big tough race.
You know what else means the world in a tough race? Chamois cream.
Pro Tip: Chafing is a thing. Poor Little Team Colin.
And THAT’s the time I rode from 10AM to almost 6PM, chafed, crashed, rode some more, got yelled at by my hero, and finished with nary a minute to spare. Okay, so I suck (seriously, I wonder how my friends feel every time they see me in a race and realize this “I suck” thing isn’t an act), and I didn’t hit the mark, but I gave it all I had (and I even beat a few teams as well). Besides, my ego will heal , my body will recover, my with a little luck, my legs might even un-cramp….
I did something Epic for my 100th blog post, and I wasn’t even close to the epic I had planned. Hmm.
Some shots after the race:
Congratulations to all the winners. Here are a few shots the podium:
I’ve been thinking about us, and it’s just no good.
I’m breaking up with you.
Who am I kidding? I can’t quit you Glenn. We’re back on! See you next season.