45. Humbler TC: 17

It Was the Best of Times, it Was the Bester of Times.

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74k later and still smiling (photo courtesy of Dan Emsley)

Northumberland Forest.  Coburg, Ontario:  The 2017 Substance Projects Northumberland Humbler.

74 kilometres.

That’s the same as driving from the CN Tower to Barrie.  Well, 20k south of Barrie. 74,000 metres of singletrack, double track, old trails, new trails, fire road, access road, this side of the road, that side of the road, back to this side of the road again…  We even did a few sliart. That’s trails spelled backward.  You know, because we rode some of the trails in reverse.

1,400m of climbing.

That’s as tall as, well something really tall.

It was my favourite race EVER.

Let me say it again.  The Northumberland Humbler was, by far, my favourite race ever.

WHATTARACE!!!

Here’s why:

  • I actually started, raced, and finished my longest MTB race ever.  74k of BOOM.
  • It capped a two month spree of epic race awesomeness.  7 big races in 9 weekends, plus 5 weekly series races.  BOOM times 7, plus 5, divided by 9.
  • Northumberland Forest is one of my favourite places to ride–AND we got to try a new trail AND, a whole bunch of it was backwards.  MOOB (same joke as above)
  • I nailed a spot on the podium:  3rd place Clydesdale (and so what if there were only three Clydesdales and I was actually 2nd last place overall).  A podium finish is a podium finish.  One third of a BOOM.
  • I got to see my favourite biking sub-community:  the folks at Substance Projects.  A big Dan Marshall BOOM.
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    Jeff Shikaze, Team Colin, and Hair (photo courtesy of Jeff Shikaze)

    And, after almost five hours of sweating in a helmet, there isn’t a single hair out of place. Thanks to my race photographer and Fatbike God, Jeff Shikaze for the shot, and thanks to great hair product. L’Oreal BOOM.

  • Honestly, if you peel everything away (the challenge, the exhaustion, the poison ivy all over my legs…) the Humbler was just a big boss, 4 hour and 48 minute long, rip (although it was considerably less time for the rest of the riders…).  Bike playing BOOM.

I’m not saying it was easy, because it wasn’t, but honestly, it wasn’t that tough either.  I started strong and with a smile on my face, I was still grinning at the halfway point, and I finished strong, with a bigger smile on my face.  This race is a very stark contrast to the desolation and hopelessness (yes, actual desolation) I felt for the ENTIRE Long Sock Classic. Very stark indeed.  While the LSC was my toughest race ever, the Humbler was the funnestest.

You might think funnestest isn’t a word, but if you raced the Humbler, you would know exactly what I’m talking about.

I still can’t believe we did it.  I still can’t believe Team Colin rode a full marathon distance, on a single speed, and it didn’t kill us.  Didn’t kill us?  Pfft.  Actually, I felt almost good at the end of the race.

The Humbler marked the end of a nine weekend racing spree that covered a good chunk of Ontario’s finest bike trails, a bunch of different riding disciplines, and almost 450k of race-pace, white-knuckle, maximum heart rate, riding…

Wait, what’s this about 9 weekend epic racing spree?

Well, from April 9th to June 3rd I raced almost every MTB race within 2 hours of my house.  Here’s my Facebook post from the day after the Humbler:

8 weeks
9 weekends
7 big races
5 weekly series races
3 shots on the podium
Over 7,000m of climbing (um, that’s almost Mt. Everest)
Just under 450k of racing (and almost half of it on a single speed)

Yup.

  1. Steaming Nostril (April 9);
  2. Homage to Ice (April 15);
  3. Paris to Ancaster (April 30);
  4. O Cup #2 in Kingston (May 7);
  5. Long Sock Classic (May 20);
  6. Singletrack Classic (May 27);
  7. Northumberland Humbler (June 3).

Oh, and five King Weekly Series races.

And yes, I know Team Colin really isn’t that good of a rider, and I know there are so many riders who are way more epically awesome than me (they ride longer, faster, harder, and better, and their results are way better than mine–like waaaaaaaaay better), and because of that, there’s usually no shortage of self deprecation on my blog.

But not today.

Nope.  Because Team Colin is now sort-of-in-a-periphery-way-kinda-almost-maybe-close-to-being in the same league as the big kid MTBers.

Not really, but almost sort of.  Um, why do I keep referring to myself Team Colin?

And even though I’m not the traditional (okay, actual) definition of epic MTB awesomeness, I always place first because I’m not racing THEM, I’m racing ME.  Although saying that, I also know that if I’m the “only person in the race”, I also place last, but that’s not the point I’m making right now.  Right now, I feel good about my riding, and I want to hold onto it for a while longer.  Besides, if you’ve ever seen my results, you know there’s plenty of opportunity for me to feel crappy about my riding.

You know, I feel better than just good.  For the first time in my racing career, I feel kinda badass.  No, I feel wickedly badass. As I wrote in blog #38, this season, I stopped QUALIFYING each race, and I started OWNING each race: The full P2A, the full Singletrack Classic, and three marathons (on a single speed)!  So cool.

By the way, I didn’t start racing the marathon distances because I COULD, I started racing the marathon distances because I wanted to see if I could.  The rationale and mindset leading to that decision is for another blog post, because now it’s time for a Race Report.

Race Report.  Northumberland Humbler:  Northumberland Forest (June 3, 2017)

The race started with the Humbler’s standard quick blast out of the start, and a rip up a moderate double track climb.  There was a short rider snag at the first bit of sand, but then we were up the hill, and immediately into the sweet singletrack goodness that makes Northumberland my favourite place to ride:  long stretches of fast and flowy singletrack, awesomely railed berms, and sweet MTB awesomeness at every tree, root, rock, and stalk of poison.  For anyone familiar with the trails, we took the Hogsback bypass, which winds, in the gruntiest way, around the actual Hogsback. The bypass skirts a giant climb, but that doesn’t mean it’s gentle.  It’s almost 2k of continual output, which took us to the 5k mark.  Once at the top of that climb, I knew we didn’t have a significant climb for a long time.  The next 15k was a blur of more awesomely flowing singletrack, speedy climbs, and long descents (that always seemed to end in a 90 degree turn).  At the first aid station, I took a minute to recover with Liz, who was being assisted by Dan Elmsly, and then we we crossed the street for a quick zip alongside a pioneer stone wall (the fun new part).

At approximately 20k (across the road from the parking lot) the race transported us to Ganaraska Forest for a long haul.  Yeah, the Northumberland Forest actually becomes the Ganny for a while.  No it doesn’t, but it sure feels like it.  On that side of the road, the trails morph from the fun Northumberland vibe to the raw Ganaraska vibe.  While the trails leading into Stonewall (the fun new part) were awesome, the trails leading away from Stonewall (the fun new part) are a mean, raw and grunty mesh of tight and twisty, rocky and rooty trail that’s better suited for its intended use as motocross track instead of a mountain bike race.  It wasn’t a walk in the park, but that’s okay, because I wasn’t walking, and I had my bike.  By the time we were back on “this side” of the road, we were spent.

Fortunately, there were a few FAST stretches of trail that led to a faster switchback climb, and down to the START/FINISH line.

I hit the START/FINISH for a quick recovery before heading out onto the trails for a repeat.

Even though I felt strong, the first part of the second lap was the hardest.  I knew what lay ahead, and I knew it was still 35k until I could stop pedalling, and I knew the pain had to kick in eventually.

However, surprisingly, the pain didn’t really kick in.  On the other side of the road, just after Stonewall (the fun new part) at the 65k mark, the race became a slog, but I knew it was only 10k of lousy-ness, so I counted the metres until it ended.

And it did.  I hit the aid station for a get-off-a-bike-stretch-and-drink, before the last 5k, and a few minutes later, I finished my longest MTB race.

Smiling.  Grinning.  I was even ready to do another lap.  I’m kidding.  I was sore and tired, and I think I would have had a temper tantrum if I had to get back on my bike, but I’m not kidding about my smile.  It was an ear to ear, open mouthed, sweaty and spent, dirt-caked and trail-grimy, poop eating grin.  True story:  On the drive home, I was smiling so much that I felt like my cheeks were actually going to cramp.

End of Race Report.

So that’s it.  I rode hard, I felt strong, and I did it.

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These marathon distances are tough, but after three of them in four weeks, I feel like they’re now well within my realm of possibility.  I’m not good at them, but I can still finish.

I should rephrase that.  I’m not good at them YET.

It was an awesome day from start to finish–and I even won a set of pedals (courtesy of Bateman’s Cycle).

After the race, when the podium was finished, and most racers left, Team Colin relaxed for a post race chat/popsicle with my pal Raf (from Fatboy Nation), and the Emsleys (from Awesometon–totally a real place).  Dan Emsley gave me a bear roast to cook when I got home.  Yes, an actual bear roast.  That night, I roasted it, and Team Colin sampled Haliburton’s best.

Seriously though, what’s with me always referring to myself in the third person?

With all the fresh bear meat in my belly, I felt like I was Nick Emsley, and without even knowing it, I roared “I AM TEAM COLIN”.  It was kind of primal.  Maybe it was the fresh bear.  Maybe not.  Either way, I immediately thought “Were the heck did that come from, and what’s with this third person thing?”

And then it dawned on me.  I. AM. TEAM. COLIN.  Say that like Jean Luc Picard telling Gul Madred “There.  Are.  Four.  Lights.”  It sounds way more boss.  It’s not the epic bike racing spree, or the bike love, or the positivity, or anything else that makes me Team Colin.  It’s not even the hats (although they are pretty sweet).  It’s a feeling deep down in my belly–a primal fire in my belly–that makes me who I am, and I am totally digging it.

There are four lights, and I am Team Colin.

Ride

 

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Now THAT’S a big podium… (photo courtesy of Jenn Kennedy/Mike Orsan)

Post race update.  During the race, one of the lead riders was hurt.  Three of the leaders, Nick Emsley, Rick Landry, and Seth Stewart, stopped to help.  The three of them are awesome.  I can only imagine how tough it was for the three of them to step out of race mode to help a fellow rider–and Nick Emsley is 18 years old.  These racers demonstrated a remarkable level of fellowship.  I don’t know Jeff and Seth, but Nick sure made me proud to know him and his family.  Nice work Nick.  You’re an example for the rest of us.

To Jeff, Seth, and Nick, the three of you are the undisputed Humbler winners.

If you have something to say about the race, or anything else, comment on this blog, or send an email to: teamcolinblog@yahoo.com

 

 

 

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43. Long Sock Classic

It Was the WORST of Times.  It Was The BEST of Times

Ganaraska Forest.

The Substance Projects Long Sock Classic.

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Long Socks! (I look like a tap dancer)
  • 70k of Ontario’s finest single track.
  • 1,600m of relentless, punishing, climbs.
  • Rocks and roots.  Trees and sand.  Grit and grime.
  • One boss Cannondale Trail SL single speed.
  • And lots and lots of teeny tiny poison ivy sprouts.

Over five hours of rolling time.

It was race #2 in the Substance Projects XCM.

Was it fun?  Nope.

Was it easy?  Heck no.

Was it worth it?  You bet.

Was it awesome, and memorable, and totally boss?  You bet…TIMES A BILLION.

Okay, so maybe it didn’t feel that way during the race…or immediately after the race…or the next morning, when my knees were fireballs of stiffness, when my lower back was a lava pit of torment, when my legs were wobbly stumps of ache, and when my new body part (now known as my SHOULDERNECK) was a lump of knotted agony.

But some time the next day (as soon as I could walk upright, and as soon as I had the strength to move all body parts independently and not look like a zombie when I wanted to see something to my left or right) it was totally worth it…and utterly awesome…and absolutely boss.

But mostly, the 2017 Long Sock Classic was a reminder of how awesome this MTB thing really is.  If the Kingston O Cup was a reminder of our mud roots, the LSC was a giant wake-up call that this awesome MTB thing can also be really tough sometimes.

Prior to the race, I was worried about the distance.  I’d never attempted 70k on a mountain bike and the magnitude of the undertaking wasn’t lost on me.  By the way, I never even contemplated racing long distances until earlier this year when, on a whim, I decided it was time to race the big kid distance of P2A.  After registering for the full P2A, I figured “What the heck, might as well register for the long course in the XCM as well.

However, the 70k at P2A a few weeks ago was mostly smooth surfaces, with little climbing, on a gravel bike.  Even the 50k of the H2i didn’t compare.  And 70k at the Ganny–a trail system renowned for nasty climbs and horrible awesomeness–was another thing altogether.

And because, well, I still don’t know why, I decided to register on my single speed.  “Sure” I thought “Sounds about right.  I’ll just ride further than I’ve ever ridden, without gears…”.

What was I thinking?  I don’t know.  I honestly and truly don’t know.  I’d like to say I was being intentionally hardcore (grrrr) but I wasn’t (and I’m not).  I’d like to say it was puffed-up confidence, but it really wasn’t.  I’d like to say it was “for the challenge” but honestly, when I registered I had no idea what I was getting into.  I think maybe it was just because I thought “Hey, it’d be cool to do it on my single speed” when I was registering.  I should really work on my self regulation.

In any case, I was high on hopes, and (felt) up to the challenge.  It was my 5th race in 7 weeks (my 7th race if you count 2 weekly series races), so my legs and lungs were in good spring shape.

Here’s what I wrote on the Team Colin Facebook page the night before:

The Team Colin support vehicle is packed: my helmet is washed; my bike is clean (my chain is literally gleaming); my kit is ready; and I’ve got a bag of electrolyte fizzes and energy chews, a tool kit and pump…  I know the first 45 minutes will be spent with tight muscles and tighter lungs, and I’ll be panting like crazy until I warm up, and I know that I’ll feel strong and fast (for me) from that point until about the 90 minute mark. But then my back will pack up and go home, and I’ll finish my first lap in a goodly amount of pain about 15 minutes later…  I’m not doing this because I like it. I’m doing this because I LOVE it. Each year I dread the “Hill on Top of a Hill”. But not this year. This year, I’m looking forward to it. Bring it on LSC!

Okay, full disclosure.  I may have employed a bit too much bravado when I wrote that.  I was wrong to talk about the Hill on Top of a Hill like that, and I don’t mind saying now I spent a good deal of time apologizing to the “Hill on Top of a Hill” during the race.  Once again, I’m sorry for taunting you, “Hill on Top of a Hill”.  My bad.

Kidding aside (okay, I’m not kidding–I’m sorry Hil, it won’t happen again), the LSC was also a great reminder, via a sucker punch to the gut, that no matter how much you plan, and regardless of how meticulous you are in preparing, nothing beats a last minute checklist to ensure you have your damn water bottles before beginning a 35k lap.  I did not complete the aforementioned checklist until AFTER the race started.  So, I was halfway up the first climb before I realized I was dry.  I can’t believe that I actually contemplated racing without water for a moment.  Fortunately, sanity caught up with me pretty fast, and I turned around for a quick zip back to the start.  With two bottles of water snuggled safely in my bottle cages, I looked at my GPS unit, and saw that I only lost 4 minutes.

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Coming back to the START for my @$&! water bottles.

4 minutes.  No problem.  It’s a long race, I’ll make it up…

Yeah, I can say that now, but on Saturday all I was thinking about was my spot on the podium.  I’m kidding, I wasn’t thinking about my spot on the podium (because there is no podium spot for me).  I was panicked.  It was the beginning of a long race, and I wasn’t thinking.  So I sprinted (well, whatever qualifies for a sprint when you’re Team Colin–to the casual observer it may look like “just riding”, but inside I’m on fire and giving it everything I’ve got) for the first 15 minutes or so.

And here’s the thing about a 15 minute sprint at the beginning of a long race.  It’s stupid. Like, really stupid.

But I booked it anyway.

At least I now had water.  Yay, water…

After burning all of my matches on the fire road after the second START, and then all of my reserve matches just after that on the climb to get to the “Hill on Top of a Hill” , and then my extra reserve matches on the “Hill on Top of a Hill”, I was done for the day.

And I was only about 6k into the race.

I was 6k into a 70k race and I was spent.

And I didn’t have gears.

Aw c’mon.  Really?  I was on my single speed?  What was I thinking?  Oh yeah, I still don’t know.

I’ve always said that I feel every ounce of my weight in the Ganny.  Every turn, climb, and obstacle is a challenge.  Sure there are a few descents, but they’re usually rooty and rocky, and take almost as much concentration and energy as the climbs.  Oh, did I mention my single speed has a rigid aluminium fork?  Yeah, so that’s nice.  Now, to be clear, there are some sections in the Ganny that I can really groove on, but riding in the Ganny is like riding through a giant, heartless, really really really mean, bank.  And the Bank of Ganaraska is one tough lender.  Because whatever joy you take in riding, the BOG (Bank Of Ganaraska) collects interest and a pound of flesh afterward.

And early spring in the Ganny is a special treat.  It’s a bit soft and spongy, and the blanket of last year’s leaves conceal a delightful web of deep ruts, rocks, and other special treasures.  It’s like knocking on the door of the Bank of Ganaraska on Halloween. Instead of a trick (or a treat), the BOG jams a twig into your wheel, punches you in the throat, and steals your bike.

And then it collects an ATM fee

Hey, at least I wasn’t worried about stick wrecking my derailleur–BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE ONE.

But I had water.  Yay water…

Okay, so enough complaining about my single speed and the Ganny.  I wasn’t at a tea party, and I was riding the bike I chose.  Besides, what was I expecting, an espresso and a paceline?  Boom. See what I did there?  A little roadie zinger.  Also, there were plenty of riders who smoked through the course way quicker than me.  It likely wasn’t the bike, or the Ganny, or anything else.  It was me.

Race Report.  Long Sock Classic:  Ganaraska Forest (May 20, 2017)

The first few hundred metres of the LSC is a gentle climb up some double track to a fire road.  If I was with the pack I’m sure it would have been close and tight.  When the course hits the fire road, things open up a bit, and I’m sure the pack of riders became close and tight AND FAST.  The fire road is an undulating ribbon of deep sand, gnarly ruts, and dislodged boulders.  It also either goes straight up, or straight down, which means riders are alternately chugging to keep pace on the climbs, or white knuckling it on the descents.  Either way, both options take a great deal of skill and concentration. Take a read of Riot’s Race Report.  He didn’t forget his water bottles, and he nailed the atmosphere with the other riders who didn’t forget their water bottles.

After the fire road, the track turns up a gentle, winding, climb that brings riders to the bottom of the “Hill on Top of a Hill”.  It’s a 2k grind up that part of the hill, and leads to the bottom of a steeper hill.  It’s brutal.  This year, the climb was rutted deeply, and covered with leaves and branches for an extra bit of challenge.

But we all did it, and nobody died on the hill. Kinda felt like dying the second time I did it, but alas, I wasn’t so lucky.

Immediately after the HTH (Hill on Top of a Hill), the LSC hit the first bit of single track for a long section of awesomeness.  The trail was tight, twisty, and FAST.  It was a quickish 10k zip of sweet single track, punctuated by little shots of double track. Lots of space for passing.  Oh wait, I was waaaaay behind the pack so there was no need to pass.

But I had water.  Yay water…

I finally caught up to Angie Emsley, one of my racing buddies, who was taking a stab at her first marathon distance. She was riding strong.  Nice work Angie!

Liz was waiting at the aid station with some much needed cheer and nutrients. Some e-load, bananas, chain lube, and jujubes.

I took a 2 minute breather.  I wasn’t tired, but I was trying to pace myself for the long ride ahead.  Angie stopped for a second, and left ahead of me.

The 12k or so after the aid station was tough.  The track was raw, tight, and twisty.  I was feeling the full effect of my early sprint, and the alternating climbs and zig-zagging was relentless and punishing.  Like I said earlier (and last year too) I felt every ounce of my 250 pounds.

Strangely enough, however, my body wasn’t the mess I had anticipated.  The early sprint really hit me, and I was slow moving.  Also, most things ached, but my usual trouble spots hadn’t ignited to Pain Level: Inferno.  I was really slow though.  Did I already say that?  Because I was really really really slow.

The last 5k was a swoosh down some awesomely fast and slightly technical double track, with a bit of single track nirvana thrown in for good measure, and then a grunty climb. After 2 hours and 27 minutes of riding, I hit the Start/Finish for a short recoup and refresh, before realizing something.  My race was only half over.  I was riding for 2 hours and 27 minutes, and I now had to do it all over again.

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One lap done, one lap to go.  Ugh.

It was the same with my first marathon distance race the month before, the H2i. You know, there is no amount of positivity and awesomeness that can negate how hard it is to finish a really tough lap, and then have to start all over again. I knew every climb, root, dismount, and rock that was waiting for me, and it was a killer the first time.  I was so bloody tired and spent.  Clipping in for the next half was really really tough.

But I did. I pedalled, and I pedalled, and I got off my bike a few times, and I pedalled some more, and I finished.  My friend and mentor Dan Marshall (also the organizer) once told me “You know how you finish a race?  You pedal”.  That’s what kept me going–knowing that if I pedalled enough times, I’d eventually finish the race.  There were times when I was looking at the metres rack up on my GPS, not kilometres, and there were times when I just didn’t want to pedal, but I did.

And there were a few times when I had to dismount for a climb, and just walked alongside my bike for an extra minute because I couldn’t fathom having to get on my bike again.

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A little bunny hop at the end.

But somehow, I pedalled enough times.  I nailed the HTH, the awesome first sections of singletrack, the aid station, the nasty bit after the aid station, the swoosh of the last 5k, and I finally saw that last climb out of the forest and up to the FINISH line.

Here are the full race results.  Pretty much everyone else was faster than me.

End of Race Report.

Easy2?The Bank of Ganaraska collected a bucket of interest from Team Colin at the LSC, but I paid back every penny.

And, I now have a new qualifier after the race.  But it’s not a BUT, it’s an AND.

I did the Long Sock Classic full marathon distance AND I did it on my single speed.

And I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

I’ll just make sure I’ve got water.

Ride.

 

PS

As always thanks to Substance projects, Dan Marshall, and the amazing sponsors.  And thanks to Dan’s mom and dad, Sherry, Jenn and Simon, Liz Grootenboer, and Dan’s awesome team of staff and volunteers (especially the day’s cook, Lorraine), and my wife (tireless supporter and photographer) and my kids (cheerleaders, horn blowers, bell ringers, and little bits of awesomeness).

If you read this and have something to say, make a comment at the bottom, or send an email to me at: teamcolinblog@yahoo.com

Oh, and since there were only two Clydesdale racers in the marathon distance, I placed second.

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Two Happy Clydes

 

Post Race Recap (Wednesday, May 24–4 days after the LSC)

After my first kick at a marathon distance last month (the H2i), I was in rough shape. Like, really rough shape.  I spent the next week recovering.  After P2A a few weeks ago, I was also a mess for a few days.  However, after Saturday’s race, I spent Sunday out with friends, and Victoria Day cutting the lawn and playing with my kids.  Sure, I was tired and a bit sore (and yes, I had a loooong nap on Sunday), but I wasn’t completely zonked. In fact, I even raced last night, and I felt amazing.  Hmm.

38. Homage to Ice ’17

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Photo credit:  Jeff Shikaze

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.20170415_154552

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 pedalled.

And pedalled.

And walked a bit.

And pedaled.

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.20170415_153520

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.

Ride.

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: teamcolin@yahoo.com

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.

20170413_183223

28. Sausage Suit ITT

2016-10-sausage-suitSome Awe At A Race.

I raced my single speed in the Substance Projects Sausage Suit ITT on the weekend; a 30k romp around the Team Van Go trails in Dufferin County Forest. There is usually no shortage of the word awesome in my blog, and there was definitely no shortage of awesomeness to be had at the race.

Because riding a bike, racing a bike and everything about a bike is…wait for it…awesome.

And here’s why the Sausage Suit ITT was awesome. It wasn’t because of my performance, which was really really good, and it wasn’t because of the course, which was even more really really good, and it wasn’t even because of the weather, which was really, sublimely good for mid October. It was awesome for all of these reasons, and for one more big one: the people.

The people.

Dan Marshall is a people, and he’s awesome. His cast and crew are people, and they’re awesome too. The Team Van Go folks (the ones with the super cool VW camper vans) are people, and they’re farfegnugen (That’s German for awesome, right?). All of the racers are people, and they were awesome even when they were passing me. All the Team Van Go dogs, aren’t people, but they’re pretty awesome too.

Looking back, it was a perfect race. 74 (awesome) people raced, and a few dozen more (awesome) people came to support us.

In all, about a hundred people.

And that’s a lot of awesome.

But here’s the thing: Races usually change me on some way or another. Something momentous ALWAYS happens during a race that transforms me. At the Sausage Suit, there was no life changing realization about the universe (or bikes). There was no epic journey of discovery (about the universe, or bikes). There were no feelings of massive euphoria, crushing disappointment, frustration, or accomplishment (even though I gotta say, racing a single speed is always pretty beast, and comes with an inherent sense of accomplishment). Really, the day was just a bunch of people, getting together in the forest, to enjoy a beautiful mid autumn day–on bikes (even though some weren’t on bikes because they were behind the Substance Projects registration table, or they were under a tent in the middle of the forest–thanks Liz, you’re the best–or cheering on their loved ones from the sidelines, or sniffing each other’s butts). The dogs, not the people.

Also, since it was a late season race, and would be the last race of the season for many, nobody was amassing points, worried about the next race, or trying to perform, so the relaxed atmosphere was even more relaxed than Dan’s usually relaxed vibe.

Oddly enough, there probably were a few life changing realizations…and probably an epic journey…and some massive euphoria…and crushing disappointment…and frustration…and accomplishment.  It was a race afterall.  But I was too busy having fun to notice.

Because for every second of the day, I was playing bikes with great people.

Funnest Race Report Ever: Sausage Suit ITT (October, 15, 2016)

Befitting the name, the Sausage Suit ITT wasn’t a regular MTB race. It was not only a race that openly acknowledged we were a bunch of people stuffed into sausage suits, but it also had a time trial element: Riders started at 30” intervals, and either did one 15k lap, or two.

Janet Eagleson started each of us with enough energy and gusto—15 SECONDS–to carry us through the first bit of the–THREE, TWO, ONE, GO—race. And with her blessing, we rode.

We were at the top of a ridge, with a gentle descent to a pine forest, and almost immediately into the “Awesomely Fun, Horrible Pain-In-The-Arse” area. Although I think it’s actually called the Heckle Loop—even though I was heckled nary a once.

The Heckle Loop is the tightest, twistiest, coolest terrain park north of Joyride 150. It wasn’t impossible to ride, but almost. Without any speed or momentum, and only trees, pedals, and balance, it did a great job of centering us for the task at hand. Between the tight, tree lined berms, and the ramps, skinnies, and logs, it was like a day at the spa. A bike spa. Heckle Zone? Pfft, it was a huge chunk of peace. After navigating a few hundred metres of Zen, the race kicked into gear.

Well, I didn’t have gears, so I stayed in the same gear, but the race started.

We left the garden for a quick zip across some of the only single track we’d see that day, for a shot up a sweet, twisting, climb, that led to more and more sweet single track, some sweeter climbs, more and more sweet single track, a billion log overs (some of them were absolutely giant, and some were gianter), and then more single track. There was a sweet switchback climb knocked me off my ride for a quick hike a bike, and a few log overs that scared the awesome out of me. There were even a few ramped skinnies to keep us even more on our toes. Awesome.

We hit a few stretches of double track, but they were scattered, and2016-10-sausage-suit-itt never lasted more than a few metres. The Sausage Suit ITT was a single track spectacular.

That is, until what I thought was a sign announcing the Gorina Hill. It was Gorilla Hill, but I had a tough time deciphering the sign when I was in the middle of my race pace heart attack (vision is often a challenge during 2 hours of sustained cardiac arrest). I had a weak line, and had to dismount for an embarrassing walk. What am I saying, there is no line I could have taken that would have seen me ride my single speed up that hill.

I got on my bike just in time to see Ted Anderton from Apex photography.   He snapped this pic.

After shucking my way up the Gornia, I heard the awesomeness that was surrounding the START/FINISH line. Fun people having a fun time. Bells, whistles, and general whooping. It was a quick pedal towards the end, and I found myself at the bottom of the first hill. My family was waiting to see me lap, and I had the wheels to book it, so I sprinted up the hill, and around the post, to start my second lap.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and it was over.

Except near the end of the second lap, I chugged a beer with a gorilla. Don’t ask.

Sad face to see the end of one of the last races of the year, and the end of the Race Report.

30k, 2:24:36, 680m of climbing, and, cue release of doves, 3rd place Single Speed!

2016-10-sausage-suit-podium

While deeper investigation may reveal there were only 3 single speed riders in the 30k distance (and one more in the 15k), I finished only 15 minutes after the first place SS rider. There were over 70 riders at the Sausage Suit ITT, and a small handful of us chose to do it without gears. I earned my spot on the podium.

What a great time. I have to say, the ITT format was unsettling for me at times. Honestly, for the first 20 minutes or so, I felt like I was getting passed every minute. Not sure, but I think it’s because for the first 20 minutes I was getting passed every minute or so.  

Although seriously, at the start of the race, how did the next rider after me catch up to me–at the bottom of the first hill. He left 30 seconds after me, but I think he transported directly to my tail because I’m pretty sure he passed me within the first 30 seconds. Fortunately, I was in the middle of finding my zen, and he couldn’t pass until we left the garden. Take that, guy who can zap through space and time.

And hey, thanks Joyride 150, for giving me the skills to nail the Heckle/Zen Garden/Zone without stopping.

Anyway, with all of the faster riders out of the way, I had a chance to sit back (and stand up, grunting) and finish the race at my own pace, without the polite “Next chance, if you don’t mind song of the better riders to diminish my buzz.

After the race, we all gathered around the podium, and the cheers of support, and howls of sincere laughter, shone a light on the MTB family that lives in my heart.

A few of the dogs even stopped cleaning their genitals long enough to populate the podium in place of the absent riders. After a bunch of lengthy goodbye chats, and a quick shower in the Team Colin Support vehicle, we met the Team Van Go passel at the bonfire for a few minutes of post race chat before the drive home.

It’s funny, Dufferin Forest was the site of my first official mountain bike race 4 years ago (the 2013 Homage), and the sights and sounds and smells felt so familiar. Riding there is always a homecoming of sorts, and it gave me a great perspective on the last four years. I finished the 2013 H2I without a familiar face in sight—and it felt like it was the start of something big in my life. On Saturday, I finished the race with family and friends close by—and now it is my life.

Nothing momentous occurred at the Sausage Suit ITT, but a whole bunch of moments combined to make the day one of the highlights of the season.

Ride

 

 

PS

Wanna see my bike?  sausage-suit-bike

I bought a new fish eye lens for my camera.  Awesome.

12. SS at the LSC

For my Facebook status on the morning of the Long Sock Classic (race #2 in Dan Marshall’s XC Marathon series) I posted this:

Ganaraska Forest. Long Sock Classic. Single speed. Rigid fork. Not sure if I’m setting myself up for disappointment, or just a grueling grind of a day, but 20 years from now, I want to look back at my riding life and know that I raced a single speed not because I COULD (because today I’m honestly not sure whether I’ll make it) but because I WANTED to push myself.

I’d like to take credit for that thought, but Scott Glazier at Cycle Solutions planted the seed, and I just listened to him. I may have also been hearing Shia LeBouf’s character in the Transformers movie, when he was trying to convince Megan Fox to go for a ride in Bumblee.

And so, for the second time this season, at the start of a race, I looked down at my a with no gears. Also, for a second time this season, at the start of the race, I looked down at a bike with no gears and wondered why I was racing a bike with no gears.

The answer is because I wanted to challenge myself.   Of all the stupid, half baked, cockamamie ideas…  What on earth would push me, not just a Clydesdale rider, but Clydesdale rider at the top of the Clydesdale scale, to forgo gears on one of the toughest courses around?

Challenge.

And that’s not stupid.  Or half baked.  Or cockamamie. It’s awesome. Awe. Some.  I even dusted off the Team Colin support vehicle (my family RV) for the day. Sweet. It would have been sweeter if it was Bumblebee, but my RV has a shower.

Back to the LSC. The whole idea behind Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects is to have fun. But Dan also loves to build courses that are hard. He is a mammoth endurance racer who thrives on pushing himself to his limits, and he demands and encourages his racers to do the same. Substance Projects doesn’t run charity races in the park, they (HE) run badass XC marathons on killer trails. And the Ganny has hundreds of kilometres of killer trails to choose from, with some of the toughest climbs around.

Race Report:  Long Sock Classic (May 21, 2016)

Dan’s races are gaining in popularity, so instead of the usual 50 or 60 riders, there were just over 100 at the start line.

It started with a quick climb up some winding single track. Then it levelled for a second before hitting a nasty 2k stretch of dusty, rutted, rock covered, farm lane that was either straight up, or straight down.  The deep sandy mess at the bottom of each hill made for some sweet white knuckle ripping

My riding buddy, John, pre-rode the course and warned me about the sand. “Lower your tire pressure for some extra flotation”, he said. I always listen to John. It was a good thing.

When that treat finished, Dan gave us a break for few hundred meters, before starting the climb that haunts my mountain bike dreams all year: the hill on top of the hill. A 2k slog up gently winding track that finishes with…a steep climb up the rest of the hill. I wanted to pass the riders ahead of me, and I knew I had the legs to do it, but I held back because I was worried about that damn hill.

Damnit. I hate that hill.  And the hill hates me. But I always make it to the top. And to the other top too.  And this year I made it to the top without gears. Despite myself, I even passed a few riders too!

  • Team Colin: 1
  • Hill on top of a hill: 0

I usually spend the first 10k of a race hating every second of it, trying to warm up, and cursing myself for the decision to wake up early on a Saturday morning to race.  The LSC was no different, except that I was also cursing myself for leaving my Revolver (a bike with gears, not a gun) at the RV, and feeling unsure about whether I’d be able to even finish the race without gears.

Also, I was holding back because I was worried. I was letting the race get inside my head. My friend, Mark Summers, told me that I have to stop thinking and just race. “But that’s when I solve the world’s problems…” I told him. He was right though, so I let him inside my head, and I decided to race. He also said that a 30 second push to pass a rider yields huge results.

Push to a rider ahead of me, push a bit harder, and pass. That’s want I told myself.

Then, in between grunts and curses, I came upon a rider with one leg. Yeah, a rider with one real leg, and one prosthetic leg. It was like riding behind an internet meme.

“What’s your excuse?”

Or in my case, “Quit whining you big baby. Shut up, get out of your head, pedal your damn bike, and get to the finish.”

He was fast, and I had a hard time catching up to him, although in my defence, I only had 2 times as many legs as him, while he had 20, or maybe even 27, times more gears than me. I’m just saying.

I finally made it past him, and aimed for the next rider.

The next 15k were a blur of trying to keep up, trying to pass, getting passed, and passing.  Inside my head, I kept hearing my John “Relax on the handle bars and just take it easy.  Don’t tense up.”  So I tried to relax a bit, even though the Ganny has so many tight, twisting trails, and narrow tree gaps that keep us on our toes.

For some reason, the trail from about 20 to 25 was a killer. Even tighter, even twistier, and so so so climbier. Dan Marshall once told me “The secret of riding a single speed is to lay off the brakes”. Um, what about the trees? I tried to listen to him and keep my momentum, but I either felt like I was braking so I wouldn’t hit a tree, or braking so I wouldn’t crash on the down hill sections.

Also, the course this year had a lot more double track.  The gears on my single speed are okay on tight trails, long grinding climbs, and short grunting climbs, but they’re awful on double track. Too much time spinning.

With 1k to go, I was booking it to catch up to a group of riders, and I smoked a rock and got a flat. Boom (even my tires go boom)!  “Listen to me, bike”, I said, “If you think I’m going to stop now, I’m not”. Although in reality, I think I probably just yelled a few obscenities. I kept up with the rider in front of me, but I couldn’t pass him. I finished the race with a grunt, a smile, and a flat tire. I was even surprised at the finish with a visitor from the Ottawa chapter of Team Colin! Boom (that was me, not the other tire).

2:18. 67/101 overall. 7/9 Clydesdale. 7/7 Single Speed.

When it was over, the LSC clocked almost 700m of climbing. Dang.

It was a tough race: Gruelling at times, joyous at others.

Two more pretty cool things also happened during the race.  First, I feel like the single speed may be creeping into my blood.  Second, Team Colin played an even bigger role than usual. I only had one speed, but I had a symphony of voices inside my head. Thanks Team Colin.

Also, we’ve got new team hats!

Despite my poorer than poor results, while riding the single speed in the LSC, I felt more like a racer than ever. It says at the top of my blog, ”I’m a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races”. I don’t just train for them, I RACE them.

Ride.

 

7. Single Speed 101 (H2i)

Single Speed 101.  Also known as “My Lessons on a Single Speed”.

Gears?  Pfft.

Team Colin got schooled at last weekend’s Homage To Ice, the first of four in Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon. It’s my fourth year racing, and it was my fourth time doing the H2i, so I knew exactly what to expect.

No I didn’t. I didn’t have a clue. Aside from the fact that the course, trail conditions, and weather have been entirely different each time, this year I tried something new. I raced a single speed. To be more precise, I raced a single speed with a rigid fork.

I placed last in the single speed category (7/7), and 74/100 overall.

It was, by far, my worst actual race placing ever.

Horrible.

And despite this, the 2016 H2i was also, by far, my best ever actual performance ever. Ever.

Really, I didn’t even choose to ride a single speed. I didn’t even consciously choose to buy a single speed in the first place. I just did. As with most other things riding, it just happened organically.

Rewind to last year, when the universe conspired to put me on a bike with no gears. First, my riding buddy rides a single speed and always says they make better riders. It’s easy for him to say, he’s already a better rider. Second, two close friends of mine are avid single speed riders, and raced single speed exclusively for years. They love single speed bikes. By the way, they’re also better riders. Finally, in the late fall, I took my family to the York Region Take Your Family Mountain Biking Day. We won a $20 gift card for Spoke O Motion, so I thought I’d visit the shop on my way home, to support them. A Cannondale Trail SL was sitting on the rack outside the front of the shop. It was calling to me. Beckoning to me. Screaming to me. Also, it was half price ($699). A few days later, after conferring with the guys at my local bike shop, I bought it. Then it sat in my garage for two months because I was scared to ride it. True story. I bought a bike that I was terrified to ride. No gears? What the hell kind of torture is that. In late November, I met my friend, John, in Durham Forest for what we thought would be our last ride of the season. After packing my usual bike and gear, I put my single speed in the back of my van. Just in case. We rode for a few hours on our bikes with gears. You know, because gears make riding easier. Then, when we were cooling off, I said “Hey John, Do you think we should do a quick lap on my new single speed?” John never says no to a ride. So we did a quick lap on my new single speed.

It. Was. Awesome.

The weather held out for a few more weeks, and I had my new single speed out on the trails three more times before the snow fell. Each time, I loved it more. I didn’t love it enough to race, and it wasn’t like riding my Revolver–which is like poetry–but it brought a new dimension to the sport for me. Cool.

Fast forward to last Thursday. The H2i was sandwiched between the Steaming Nostril and Paris to Ancaster. Both of them are sort-of CX races, so I put thin CX tires on my Revolver (a 29er with gears). I could have changed back to my MTB tires for the H2i, but the CX tires were so hard to get on the first time…

And that was it. My Revolver was out of commission, so I got my single speed ready to race. My coach didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because I don’t have a coach, my friends didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve seen me ride, and my shop didn’t tell me to do it—mostly because they’ve also seen me ride. I was nervous, I was terrified, but I figured I was ready for a new challenge. Single Speed School was in session, and I was about to get a crash course.

Race Report:  Homage 2 Ice (April 16, 2016)

Two 15k (or so) laps for a total of 30k (or so) of sweet single track that was mostly quick, sometimes spongy, a little icy, and always awesome.

But no gears? Or suspension! (NOTE:  For $699, even when the bike is half price, you don’t get front suspension.)

The race started with lots of spinning on double track, and I was kind of annoyed. Everybody just took off, and I was left behind, spinning like I was in the wrong gear. But then we got into the single track. Boom. It took about 30 seconds before it hit me in the face: Single speed bikes are wickedly cool. With no gears to think about, and no shifting to fiddle with, I felt connected to the trail. Connected to the ride. Moreover, without a suspension fork, every bump was mine—but in a good way. I felt like I was a kid again, bombing through trails on my old BMX. I never chose the wrong gear. I never lost a pedal stroke while shifting. I didn’t bounce around. I just rode. And that’s what it’s all about: The ride. Let me circle back for a sec.  Actually, I bounced around. A lot. Without suspension, my deltoids (I think that’s what they’re called) were flapping so much, I thought I was going to take flight, but I was bouncing along WITH my bike.  I honestly felt like I was one with my bike.  Super cool.

Two laps: the same bloody giant hill twice; the same log overs; the same twists and turns; and the same connection to the trail. It was a game changer. I was schooled in the art of single speeds, and by the end of the race, I graduated to the league of riders who don’t need gears. And even though I finished last, I finished with a smile, and hard earned aches and pains. But none of it mattered because I knew I gave it all I could, and left nothing on the trail. It was all me and my bike. It’s never been about placing–only about riding. And I rode the H2i as hard as I could.

I don’t know whether I’ll race my single speed again, but I know that if I want to, I CAN. And that’s one sweet lesson.

Ride.

 

 

PS

As an added bonus to the day, two of my friends from Joyride150 raced.  Trish and Erin embodied the spirit of Dan Marshall’s races, and the cool atmosphere got that much cooler with their presence.  I even guilted my bike shop manager, Matt from Cycle Solutions, to race.  Sweet.