The Legendary Adam Hill
I’m at a loss for words. Adam Hill has written a Friends of Team Colin post for my blog.
FOR MY BLOG!!!
I’ve tried to write this intro a few dozen times, and every time I just can’t get it right. What can I say about a dude who talks about winning races, like, big races, when all I can do is finish my races on a gasp and a prayer?
To put things into perspective, at the last seven Epic 8 Hour races, I’ve finished 9 or 10 laps each time, whereas he’s finished 15 or 16 laps each time. Looking at my results, I get slower and slower each lap until I fall over the finish line. Looking at his results, his lap times are within a few minutes EVERY BLOODY LAP–and Epic 8 Hour races are his shorter races!
I literally could not stop reading this post when he sent it to me–except that I had to, because after the first few races, I was actually shaking. Reading about these races–some of the most epic races on the continent–and trying to imagine the inexplicable output, not to mention the pain threshold (and the required training regime) stunned me. It also inspired me, and shamed me in equal measure.
Adam doesn’t just do EPICALLY BIG races, he does EPICALLY BIG RACES, and then stands on the podium: Iron Cross, Mohican, El Bandito 130, Coast to Coast, Croatan, Pierre’s Hole, and the list goes on. Of the nine races he did this year, he stood on the podium each time. Wait a sec. Pierre’s what now?
Adam and I have so much in common that it’s almost freaky, and really, it’s only logical that we’re best friends. It’s a two bodies, one heart kind of thing. For example, we both ride bikes. Also, I have two legs and two arms, and so does Adam. Um, okay, Adam has hair and a nose, I have hair and a nose too! Okay, lalalala…um…oh, we both synthesize protein in our cells. Okay, so I’m kidding, we’re not best friends. Really, I think we’ve only had a handful of conversations (and only one in person), but the rest of the stuff I listed is totally true. Well, except for the protein biosynthesis. I just convert protein to another side gut flap, whereas his body converts it into rocket fuel. Also, even though we both ride bikes, I ride so much slower it’s like we are actually engaged in different endeavours–but the legs and arms and hair and nose stuff is totally our special thing.
Wait, there was also that time in the last Epic 8 Hour when we had a lover’s quarrel, so that’s two conversations in person…
Aw dammit, this isn’t even funny. I keep saying to myself “Play it cool Colin, and maybe he won’t realize you’re such a dweeb”, and here I am trying to make it sound like we’re soulmates. I mean, we ARE, but he just doesn’t know it yet. Sure, I’m his number one fan, but…wait, that has a little stalker tinge to it, and it’s not like I’m stalking him or anything. Like, I don’t have a picture of him on my bedside table with a speech bubble that says “Hey BFF!”. Oops, that sounds oddly specific–but it’s absolutely not true.
Without further incrimination, I mean ado, here is the legendary Adam Hill (PS. I hope I got this right for you, Adam):
My Race Season
My Name is Adam Hill.
I live in Orillia Ontario, and I’m a full-time clinical Respiratory Therapist at Soldier’s Memorial Hospital. When I am not at the hospital, I am usually on my bike. I’ve been involved in endurance athletics for many years. In my mid 20s through late 30s, I was primarily running long distance trail races until injuries forced me to step away from the sport. Cycling has always been a big part of my life, and about 5 years ago it once again became my main focus.
Living life around working 12-hour, day and night shifts is not easy. I work many weekends, I’m constantly sleep deprived, and I end up having a lot of free time when everyone else is working. Over the last 15 years, I have had to completely change my ideas of what it means to train, race, and have a life. I have gotten used to training mostly by myself, at all hours of the day, and some days I barely have the motivation to get out the door, but I have learned to make it work. Part of what works for me is making a schedule for a race season. I usually do it in November/December, and base my season around 5 or 6 big events. This keeps me motivated.
The 2019 season has now come and gone and here are my reflections on the major events that made up my year:
By the time January 1st 2019 started, my year was pretty much planned, with the first race scheduled in March. The first race of the year always brings a little bit of anxiety, because with new goals comes a weird mental mindset that resets my training hours and miles to 0.0.
On December 31st I reflect fondly on a season of riding and racing…but 24 hours later I’m back to the beginning.
Race 1. Croatan Buck Fifty (150 miles). March 16th, 2019. North Carolina.
Early spring racing sets the tone for the season and is a good gauge for what to expect for the months to come. Professional Feeder Girl (aka PFG, aka Heather Dunlop, aka my incredible wife) hopped in the car and left winter behind for a weekend, and drove to North Carolina for the first race of the year. Croatan is a state park on the coast of N.C., with some beautiful flat gravel roads. The course was a 50 mile loop/out-back that we did 3 times, with a start and finish on a stock car racing track (seems appropriate for N.C.). After spending most of my weeks leading into the event on a fatbike or Zwifting, I was nervous to ride a normal bike outside with other people. With about 600 people rolling off the start line, there was a lot of bumping and jockeying for position. Oh, and potholes everywhere! One moment there is a guy beside you, and in a flash, there is a group of bikes and riders on the ground. I was lucky to avoid any major incidents, and maneuvered my way to the front quite quickly. It was difficult to judge good and bad moves being made off the front of the peloton, but being surrounded by a few professional riders, I knew I was in good company. For the first two laps, the front group kept getting smaller and smaller due to some massive accerlerations from some incredibly strong riders. At times, it was all I could do to hold the wheel in front of me. After 100 miles, the group was down to 8-10 riders and we were working well together–until about 15 miles to go, and a decisive acceleration split the remainder of us up. I was able to work with a couple of awesome guys from N.C. to the finish and came in 4th overall, with a time of 7 hours and 4 minutes. My first race was a success and it was my first podium of the year.
Race 2. Chico Racing Epic Spring 8 Hour (Solo). May 11, 2019. Mansfield, ON.
It was my 4th time at the Spring Epic 8 Hour, and I am always amazed by how different the course can be year after year at Mansfield. One thing is for certain there is usually lots of climbing. I am not sure how, but the weather gods have been kind to us in the beginning of May for the last few years, and this year was no different: nice and dry conditions with a bit of sun. Racing for long distances is certainly my thing, and for some reason I really like timed events. There is something about the process of getting through each hour and each lap, that makes this type of racing very different and quite special. It is always hard to figure out a proper pace, when to pass other riders, when to eat, what to eat, when to rest, and when to just give it all you can. I swear I still don’t know. All I can say is that an 8 hour bike race–and the Spring Epic 8 in particular–is like 8 hours of hill intervals! I did 16 laps, and it was good enough for the overall win (my 4th in a row) at the Spring Epic 8.
Race 3. Chico Racing Albion Hills Endur-O-Cup. May 26, 2019. Albion Hills, ON.
Usually, putting the word O-Cup and MTB in the same sentence, and I am really not that interested. The reality of it is that I spend very little time doing intensity intervals, and I really don’t like that aspect of riding bikes. On the medical side of my brain, at my age, I worry about the consequences of high heart rate stuff (maybe this topic can be another blog post). The other issue with O-Cups is that the courses are usually beyond my technical abilities and I really do not like hurting myself. Anyway, with the longer format of the Albion Endur-O-Cup, I was happy. Within a kilometre of the start, it was quickly down to three of us in the Master’s 40-49 Elite: Jon Barnes, Mark Brusso, and me. It was really fun to rip around a two-lap, 25km course with Jon and Mark for a couple of hours. The course was super familiar (due to two 24hours races in 2017 and 2018), it was such a different style of racing, and the constant hard accelerations made things interesting, but I managed to hold my own with a 2nd place finish.
Race 4. Mohican 100 Miler. June 1, 2019. Ohio
Mohican has quickly become a mainstay on my race schedule: amazing race course, incredible competition, camping, beer and good company. The race starts in downtown Ludenville, where the mass group of a few hundred goes off like a rocket ship–and the pace does not waver from that. The first 5 or so km is on road, which then changes abruptly single track, and I was in the 6-8th spot rolling into it. Now this is the most important position of the day to be in, and it requires some risk, strategy, strength, and luck. My positioning was perfect hitting the 20+ miles of singletrack. A few gaps opened-up, and eventually we had a group of about 4 riders (a perfect number) and cruised along for 4-5 hours. Typically, in a 100 mile MTB race, by the 70-80 mile mark your racing strategy changes dramatically to a race of attrition, and with a few big climbs, and longer sections of dirt roads, I was securely in 5th position, with no one behind me. This would be the final outcome of the day for me with 5th overall and a time of 7 hours and 14 minutes. It was my best ever finish at Mohican, and the final spot on the podium.
Race 5. Coast to Coast Gravel Grinder (210 miles). June 23, 2019. Michigan
For months I had been looking forward to this event for two reasons: First, the idea of racing across the state of Michigan from the East Coast to the West Coast, on rolling gravel roads seemed so awesome. Second, I was so excited to do a race that was 200+ miles and only had 3 aid stations.
The race rolled-out at dawn from Point Au Gres Marina, on the shore of Lake Huron, with a neutral start lead out by the race director and ultra endurance legend, Matt Acker. It was a beautiful sunny and cool start to the day, and the pace at the front was moving pretty quick right from the start, but no one was too keen to push too hard, or stay at the front too long, because 210 miles to the other coast was a long way off. One thing for sure was that everyone wanted to be in one of the top 20 spots. It made for some nervous energy, and not a lot of talking was going on.
The Coast to Coast is also also challenging because, for the most part, the course is not marked. Riders carry printed directions and a downloaded race course to their preferred GPS device. It was actually a really cool element to the race, and to be honest, it really broke down the event into way smaller segments, which made the day go by super quick. I was always staring at my Garmin 530, watching the digital map for my next turn. In the first hour, the peloton was a few hundred riders, and it was incredible to hear the beeping chorus of GPS devices signalling the approaching turn. I got quite a kick out of it.
Three aid stations existed, and it was also a self supported event, meaning each rider was responsible for their own food and fluids. The aid stations were at approximately 50, 100, and 150 miles.
The course was mainly flat for the first 50 miles, and the main peloton was still quite large by the time we rolled into the aid station. Also, at this point no one was crazy enough to split things up with any hard attacks. This made for a very chaotic stop. Heather was waiting for me away from the main stop, at the far end of a long parking lot, which worked-out perfect. She always knows the perfect spot. I dropped two bottles, and grabbed two bottles, plus a couple of gels, and I was gone. This stop was actually quite pivotal because it really split-up the large group. It seemed that the group of about 20 at the front was keen to keep it that way, and worked really hard for about 15 minutes to push the pace so that others riders couldn’t catch back on. Perfect!
The first off road section came about 4-5 hours into the race. It was about 5 km of sandy, bumpy, ATV, trail. It was a sharp right hand turn from the pavement, to rough double track, and the pace from the two riders at the front increased dramatically. This put the group of about 20 into full panic mode, and really stretched everyone’s abilities to the max. By the time we had made it through this section of the race, we had decreased the group by half and, put a bit of a sting in everyones legs. It was actually a great indication of the abilities of the group, and a bit of foreshadowing for later on.
This group of 10’ish worked well together up to the 100 mile aid. Sure there were a few people not happy with others for not working and taking pulls on the front, but hey, that is racing, and really it was still a long day, so I get it. Rolling into aid station two, I could feel the vibe was going to be the same as the first one: no wasting time. Heather was waiting for me.
Back to the race: Each member of the group rolled-in quickly to their respective support person. I saw Heather waiting for me–I love seeing her for those brief seconds, and it’s always a great reset, plus a chance to defocus. She removed my bottles and replaced them with fresh ones as I quickly drank a bottle and grabbed some gels, she also handed me a half frozen XL size Mr. Freeze. I know that it is toxic to ingest rocket fuel, but if there was a drinkable version this would be it. Electric blue, 100% high fructose corn syrup: wow! It was perfect for the half-way point and yep, there was still over 100 miles to go.
The next section was the longest and most difficult of the race: multiple long sections of ATV trail, some MTB trail, some sand, and some moderate punchy climbs. As expected the ATV trails blew the race apart. Some hard accelerations from a couple of guys really stretched the remaining lead group to its’ limits, and I did my best to sit in 3-4, and ride it out. At about mile 140, I definitely hit my low point in the race. The pace was high, the trails we were on were so technical and hilly that they really hurt my legs, and it was all I could do to hold on. I was out of fluids, and only had a couple of gels left, but the pace remained so high, and the course was to rough, there was nothing else to do but hang on and pedal as hard as I could. Finally a paved section came up, with about 10 km before the aid station, and I consumed my final two gels (and my last bit on calories). I was not the only one affected by this long and difficult section of the race, and only four of us remained in the front group. It was all the motivation I needed to keep pushing.
I wish that I could say we rolled into the final aid station with a bit of a truth between the four of us, but that was not the case, and I stopped. I was so depleted that I had no choice. I swear, within 30 seconds of getting to the aid station, the three riders that I was with were already up the road, and I had a mouth full of Pringles, Coke, and Mike & Ikes. Heather quickly recognized the desperation in my eyes, stuffed my pockets, replaced bottles, and pushed me on with my favourite phrase: “See you at the finish line”. I can hear still hear her say it.
I rolled out of the last station alone, looking up the road as the group of three rounded a corner and out of sight. Ugh! All that hard work was dissolving before my eyes. I quickly moved away from my pity party (I have learned that this doesn’t work), and thought “Hey there is still 50+ miles to go–let’s go!”. I cruised along for about five minutes, eating almost everything Heather had put in my pockets: a bag of Oreo’s, a bag of Mike and Ike’s, and a fistful of Pringles–and I still had and crushed a bottle of Coke. Within about 15 minutes, I was feeling brand new. My power came back online, I tucked down into the drops, and was back in full race mode.
I was well into another twisty ATV trail system, and this time it was much smoother but there was some infamous loose sand to manage. About an hour after leaving the last aid station, I caught two of the lead group riders. By the time this happened, we had left the last of the trails behind and were back on gravel. I was still feeling strong and managed to convince the other two to start a rotating paceline. We could see the lead rider up the road by about half a kilometre; too far away to judge if we were closing-in. The three of us took some really hard pulls on the front, and slowly but surely we caught the lead rider. I couldn’t believe I had gotten back to the front of the group! I was buzzing. As soon as the four of us were back together, we started a paceline again (just to help everyone rest a bit), and within a couple of kilometres our group of four became three.
The three of us stayed together, working well until about 8 km to go.
It was my turn at the front of the paceline. Chin to the handlebar, counting down 1 minute, I looked behind me to swing off, only there was now no one behind me. The other two riders were about 200-300 meters back. My adrenalin spiked, I put my chin as low as it would go on the front of my bike, and I pressed as hard as I could on my pedals. I promised myself I wouldn’t to look behind me for 2 km, and just pedal. When I finally looked back, the gap had opened up more. I had another boost of adrenaline, and I felt like I was flying. My Garmin was showing a left turn onto the final road next to Lake Michigan, and the finish line was just a couple of kilometres away in Ludington. With a wonderful tail wind to bring me home, I was pedalling so hard that I ran out of gears! No one was going to catch me, and as the final km turned into 100s of meters, I knew that I was going to win. I rounded a corner into the finishing shoot, with Heather screaming with excitement, and my hands raised above my head, coasting across the line. I still can’t believe that I came out with the win. What an incredible feeling. It was also a course record as well, with a time of 11 hours and 4 minutes.
Race 6. Pierre’s Hole 100 Miler. August 3, 2019. Wyoming
Under the guise of doing an MTB race, Heather and I packed our awesome camper van and headed west for a two week road trip.
We arrived a day before the race, to stunning blue skies and the magnificent snow capped Grand Teton mountains. The race venue was the cool ski resort of Grand Targhee Resort, sitting at about 8,000 feet above sea level.
Pierre’s Hole is a 3 lap course, which was perfect because the lap format meant I would to able to quickly get familiar with the loop, and Heather was able to stay at the resort while I was riding. Also, she got see me two times per lap by walking around the parking lot.
Race morning: I hopped on my Specialized Epic to find the rear shock–“the Brain” of the bike–had stopped working. The suspension was fine but it just moved a lot. The race started with a climb to the top of the ski hill (about 10,000 feet above sea level). I positioned myself at the front of the race for all of about 200-300 meters and quickly realized I was working way harder than my bike was actually moving. The last time I felt like this was in Leadville Colorado. It was a really crappy feeling. I quickly found a pace that I was feeling comfortable at, and “let” the top riders go. I was happy to get to the top of the climb, and was in the top 12 or so riders–certainly not as bad as I was expecting. The rest to each loop was a series of incredible descents, climbs, and singletrack through flower-filled alpine meadows. What an absolutely stunning race course. Honestly I was just happy to ride 100 miles of mountain singletrack for over 9 hours.
By the end of loop two I was in 7 position, and started finding my groove a bit better. My legs didn’t feel as weak as the start, and the warm sunshine was a nice and uplifting change from the cold couple of hours at the beginning of the race. I caught the 6th and 5th riders about 20 km into the last loop, and the 4th and 3rd riders were in eye sight at the halfway-ish aid station. A quick stop so that Heather could replace my bottles, a handful of Pringles, and the token “see you at the finish line”, and I was off. Within about five minutes, I caught up to the 4th place rider, who was from Maine. We rode together for a little while, and it was nice to chat about how awesome the race was–a great distraction 8 hours into a 100 miler. I managed to have enough energy to accelerate up a long climb with about 5 km to go, and was in sole possession of 4th place. I crossed the finish in 9 hours 3 minutes, and placed 4th overall. So awesome!
Race 7. Substance Projects El Bandito (130 km). August 24, 2019. Brimacombe, ON.
I had heard so many good things about El Bandito: Not a gravel race, not an MTB race. No bike is perfect. Awesome.
The race started with a sprint up the Brimacombe Ski Hill, followed by a super sketchy descent down the back side of the hill, and continued down and off the property of the resort. A quick right hand turn onto a road, and steep climb sat in front of the already reduced peloton–and we were only a couple of kilometers into the race. The pace was high up the short steep climb, and the group quickly reduced to four, with a small gap forming. I have to say that Andrew Jonker won this race, and he deserved to win it from the get-go. He was riding so strong from the beginning, allowing our group of four to pull away, and by 10 km into the race our group was all alone. I definitely felt like the old guy in the group. In fact, I think I was more than double the age of the other three riders. I love that the younger generation is into this type of racing (and they were racing it well too). At every steep and long climb, the accelerations came fast and hard. After the halfway point in the race, the speed popped me off the back of our 4 man group. My saviour was a Ganaraska Trail section! Having spent a lot of time on my Norco Threshold (cross bike) on stuff just like this over the last few months, I was able to catch back on, and Andrew and I put a gap on the other two riders, which was to stay that way for the remainder of the race. The Ganaraska Trail network is beautiful, hilly, and rough. I am absolutely sure that my experience at Coast to Coast helped me hugely through the last half of El Bandito. Also, I’m still not sure how my bike doesn’t just blow up from races like this, but it certainly says a lot about the quality of the bike(s).
Andrew accelerated on a road climb with about 15 km to go, and he was just too strong for me to hold his wheel. I cruised past the finish line at 4 hours and 28 minutes, with 2000+ meters of climbing, and 2nd place overall.
What a race Dan and Substance Projects!
Race 8. Pulse Racing Fall Epic 8 Hour (Solo). September 21, 2019. Hardwood Hills.
For the last 5 years the Fall Epic 8 Hour has been a great way to finish my MTB season. It is nice to see everyone together, and rip around Hardwood Hills on a 10 km loop for 8 hours. The Fall Epic 8 is always busy, there are always lots of people on course, and always a few fast riders. This year, Andrew Watson came out and tackled the solo division, which was awesome to see. The race started off blazing fast, which is fine (might as well get a couple of super quick laps in before the congestion starts). I had the absolute privilege of riding with Jon Barnes and Andrew W. for a couple of laps, followed by another couple of laps with Peter Glassford–definitely the highlight of the day. Like all 8 hour events, the race turns into a process: ride hard when I can, relax when it is busy, stay consistent with my nutrition, and count down the hours. This year was certainly a bit on the slow side, and it was really hard to get those sub-30 minute laps in the first half. I quickly knew 16 laps was out of the question, but that is okay. I knew I would still race hard enjoy the course, and say high to everyone out there. I finished the day with 15 laps, in just under 8 hours, and placed 1st overall.
Race 9. Iron Cross. October 20, 2019. Pennsylvania.
I have known about this race for many years from a couple of Orillia legends, and this year a few of us made the trip down (Jason VanMeijel and Heather Stanley).
This was the 17th edition of the Iron Cross, 65 miler. Race morning was cool and threatening rain. From what I understand, we were lucky it wasn’t snowing! The race rolled out of Williamsport PA, in a neutral start with a police escort. Honestly, what a nice change, with some anxious pedalling by myself, I was sitting in the top 10. As we left town, the police escort pulled away, and a lead motorbike took over. It brought us past a real firing cannon to signal that we could now ride as fast as we wanted to–and that we did. The pace ramped-up hard and fast, and onto a double track gravel road, which quickly turned into a very rocky ATV trail (the first climb of the day).
The course continued to be rocky, and climbed steadily for about 8-10 minutes, followed by a very rocky singletrack type of descent. This first hard effort of the day really split up the race leaving about 10-12 of us at the bottom of a couple km’s road climb. This would be the trend of the day. Long climbs on mostly rocky ATV trail, followed by a screaming descent. Sometimes it was gravel, sometimes it was pavement, and sometimes I wish I had my mountain bike. The decisive move for me came on a long gravel climb, about 70km into the race. I was feeling super strong on all the climbs and my legs were still really fresh. The grade of the climb was perfect for me. I dropped into a big gear and powered-up as hard as I could. By the time we reached the top, only three of us remained. After an infamous runup that was incredibly steep, with big rock boulders, I put in a hard effort on the descent off the climb, down a beautiful gravel road.
After about 5 km we reached the bottom, and two of us were left at the front. Another climb and descent, and the two of us were at the bottom of the final climb to the finish. I put in a hard effort while we were still on some pavement, and I could see that we would be making a left hand turn ahead. The other rider was not pulling through, so I continued with my effort. I looked behind me as I made the turn to left and onto the ATV trail to find I had about a 50 meter gap. The trail was rocky, rough, and steep, I had run out of easy gears, and I thought I was for sure going to get caught.
I pushed as hard as I could, I didn’t want to look back. I kept expecting the pass but it never happened. One more left turn and I could see the Stan’s No Tubes finishing arch. One more hard push and I was through the finish line.
1st place overall!
Well that is my 2019 season. I hope that anyone who reads this to the end enjoyed my account of what happened this year. Thank you for taking the time.
Thank you so so much to my incredible wife Heather. None of what I do would be possible without you and your support. I love you.
Thank you to Sue Sinclair at Kind Living Yoga Studio for keeping me healthy.
Thank you to Crank and Sprocket Bicycle Company for all your help.
Do you see what I mean? Nine epic races and nine epic stories. Awe inspiring. I could only hope to have a fraction of his bossness. Also, Heather, you’re awesome.
- Iron Cross: Firespire Photography
- Coast to Coast: Jamie Geysbeek
- Spring Epic 8 Hour Race: Apex Race Photography
- Fall Epic 8 Hour (and header image): Doris Xiaoting Liu)
- Other: Heather
- Race Reports
- Cool Bikey Talk
- Bike and Gear Reviews
- New Race Information
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