My name is Colin. I’m a rider. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a teacher. I’m a racer.
Five years ago, I was somebody else. My lower back ached, I had two torn menisci, I was flabby, and I was out of shape. I had always thought I was in okay shape, with at least a good base health, but, as I was nearing 40, I quickly realized that perhaps I WAS in okay shape–in the past–and maybe I HAD a good base health–in the past–but that then. Now, looking in the mirror, I WASN’T and I DIDN’T.
I was 39 years of age, and I was kind of a mess. After all of the time spent hatching into an adult–getting an education, becoming an adult, becoming a husband, becoming a father, becoming a father again, and then burying a parent after a lengthy illness–it all went sideways.
I needed a change.
And a change happened. I’m really not sure exactly how, but a combination of things brought me and my bike to Joyride 150 (an indoor bike park) in the middle of the winter. When I first entered the facility, I was blown away. It was awesome. And when I started riding my bike over the obstacles, jumps, and trails, I felt like a kid again.
So, on many nights throughout the winter, after putting my kids to bed, I went riding.
Fast forward five years. I now live and breathe bikes, and I ride as often as I can. More important, somewhere along the way, I started competing in XC mountain bike races.
Most important, somewhere along the way, I was transformed. Almost every aspect of my life has changed–my body, my weight, how I handle stress, how I feel about myself, how I feel about others, and how I handle daily challenges.
However, one challenge I still have difficulty with is how to become a better rider. You see, even though I ride as hard as I can (usually), try as hard as I can (most of the time), and ride as often as I can (as often as I can), I always feel like I’m just not as good as the other riders. I’m never last place, but I’m very often close to it. I guess I’m okay with being just okay, but if pressed, I have to admit that I really would like to place better in races.
I know I’m becoming a better rider because I can feel it and see the improvements, but when I race, or ride with better riders (which is everybody), I feel like a big old loser. Again, I guess I’m okay with that, but not really.
Everyone has their excuses for not being a better rider, but mine are worse.
No seriously, they’re worse.
Okay, I know my excuses aren’t worse, but they sure feel like it. At every race, on every ride, and each time I see other riders, I feel like I’m the anomaly. Remember that game on Sesame Street, “Which one of these is not like the others?”. It’s me. I’m not like the others.
I’m not like the others because I weigh 250 pounds. There are plenty of other riders who are my height (6’2″) but there are very few who weigh as much as me.
Race organizers have a word for racers my size: Clydesdale. A clydesdale is a horse–a majestic, giant, hairy, workhorse. That’s what I am. Except, instead of pulling a wagon full of lumber through a forest, snorting, panting, and whinnying, I pedal my bike as hard as I can through a forest, snorting, panting, and whinnying.
Okay, I don’t actually whinny. But close to it. And I’m the exact opposite of majestic.
Clydesdale horses lack agility and speed in exchange for raw power. They are built for the long haul. Pfft. Somebody should have told that to my body. In lieu of agility and speed, I’ve been blessed with…positive energy and enthusiasm.
While positive energy and enthusiasm do nothing to help pedal a bike, they make it a lot more fun. And I have a lot of fun when I’m riding a bike.
“Did I ever tell you about my worst ride? It was AWESOME!”
All the people I’ve met through cycling are so supportive: the staff at Cycle Solutions (my bike shop); everyone at Joyride 150 (my indoor bike park); Dan Marshall (Head of Substance Projects); my riding buddy John; and a bunch of other people I now consider dear friends.
While my downfall is my weight (and lack of conditioning, and general suckness, and…) my upfall is me. Regardless of how I ride, I love riding and everything about it. And apparently, it’s infectious, because, when I talk to other riders, and ask them about technique, or get their opinion on something, they not only help me, they get excited about riding too.
They are amazing. Combined, they have become Team Colin. We have hats!
Back to when I was 39. The summer after I started riding regularly at Joyride, I was on vacation with my family in Mont Ste. Anne, and we stumbled on Velerium, a pro mountain bike race. Watching the race, I thought “This is cool, maybe I should volunteer to help at a race next season.”
Throughout the rest of the summer, fall, and winter, I rode my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to help at a race the following summer.
Then, one day in March, I was reading Canadian Cycling magazine, and I saw ads for a few bike races. They were promoted with words like “Racers race, riders ride”.
And I rode my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to help at a race the following summer.
One day, after a ride at Joyride 150, I was talking to Scott Bentley and Mark Summers (the co-owners) about bike races and they suggested I try one. “Me?” I asked. “I could never…”
“You should just try racing…”. They told me about Paris to Ancaster, and a race series organized by a guy named Dan Marshall”.
I’m still not sure why, but I decided to look into thinking about considering trying a race. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I heard a little “boom” inside my chest. Along with it came absolute doubt, wavering indecision, and stark fear, but the seed was planted.
And it grew.
So, instead of volunteering at a race that year, I raced. It was as simple as registering.
The Paris to Ancaster bike race has two different race distances: 40km, and 70km. I chose to register for the shorter race, which actually travels from St. George to Ancaster. Every waking, riding, and sleeping minute in the month leading up to the race, I was terrified. What would I do if I got a flat? What about trail conditions? The course? What if I just couldn’t do it? What if I had to pass a rider? Forget that, what would I do when I got passed? What if it snowed? What if it rained? What if it was sunny? What if I just couldn’t finish the race?
I. Was. Terrified.
What if… The list went on and on.
To add insult to injury, I was registered as a Clydesdale. A gigantic, hairy, snorting, panting…yeah, that’s me, except without the majesty.
And so, on Sunday, April 14, 2013, I competed in the Paris To Ancaster bike race.
Race Report: Paris to Ancaster
I didn’t really own cycling clothes, so I wore some black long johns that looked like tights, a bulky sweater, and giant, furry gloves. All good choices because it was cold, but maybe not the best looking riding attire.
The race was hard. Very hard. But none of my actual worries came to be.
However, immediately after the race started, I realized I didn’t know how to pace myself, or how much to exert, and when, or… The list went on. In those first few moments, I felt totally unprepared. So I just did what I knew how to do. I pedalled my bike.
I pedalled as hard as I could.
It was windy, muddy, and windy. There were obstacles, and what they call mud chutes (exactly what they sound like) but the course was fairly flat–for the first 39k. At the 39k mark, with 1k to go, P2A meets the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment–the same landform that makes up Niagara Falls–for a horrendous grind up to the finish line, which is at the top of the escarpment.
When preparing for the race, I saw videos online and knew many people walked up the hill. I promised myself that I would do everything I could to RIDE up the hill.
And I did. At the end of my first bike race, I rode up the Niagara escarpment. Hmm.
The FINISH line was everything I dreamed it would be: Crowds of people cheering as I rode under the FINISH banner, while my name was announced.
And the best part was when I saw the results, I figured there must have been a mistake. Nope, no mistake. I placed 8th in the Clydesdale category.
I did it. I didn’t look pretty, but I did it.
And just like that, I became a racer. Not a great racer. Not even a good racer. But a racer who could ride up the Niagara escarpment. Caked with mud, and a little choked up, I breathed it all in. I know it sounds hokey, but I heard it again. No, I FELT it again. In my heart and in my bones…
Since P2A went fairly well, I decided to race again the next weekend. So, six days after my first race, I did the Homage to Ice, the first in Dan Marshall’s Substance Projects XC Marathon series. Once again, I was terrified. Like, shaking and nail bitingly terrified. Once again I was worried about things like not being able to finish, being passed, technical malfunctions, and so on. This time, most of the things I was worried about actually happened. However, I dealt with each problem as it happened. It sounds simple, but it’s true. The race was tough, and I was totally spent, but once again I did it, and I placed somewhere in the middle of the pack. I was tired though, and figured that two races within 6 days was just too much on my body. The day after the H2i, I vowed never again to ride two races on consecutive weekends.
Five months later, I was nearing the end of My First Season Racing. I raced the other three XC Marathon races (The Long Sock Classic, The Northumberland Humbler, and Kingston Trophy), and wanted more. So, while checking the OCA website for other races, I saw that Paul’s Dirty Enduro was on Saturday, September 29, and the Tour de King was the next day. Both races seemed pretty cool, but which race would I do? I had vowed to never race on consecutive weekends, but I never said anything about two races in one weekend…
So I raced. And I raced the next day too.
Seven races in My First Season Racing. BOOM.
I got passed. A lot. But I passed some riders too. I got a flat during a race. So I fixed it. My front derailleur crapped out in a race and I had no gears for two hours. So I raced without gears for two hours. I raced in the sun. I raced against the wind. I raced in the snow.
Each time a new problem sprung up, I dealt with it.
And that’s how I now deal with life as well. When my children face a problem–you know, the complexity of schoolyard snow fort ownership, which pants to wear when the laundry isn’t done, or how to prepare for a test on Area and Perimeter–I tell them to try to do what I do in each race: When I see a pile of rocks, I ride over them. When the trail goes up, I go up. When the trail goes down, I go down. If I have to get off my bike, I get off my bike. When my legs are sore and my heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest, I jut keep riding. Because whatever the trail throws at you–whatever life throws at you–you do your best, and find a way to figure it out.
Now all I had to do was figure out how to get better. Eddie Merckx said “Ride as much or as little or as long or as short as you feel but ride!”
So I ride.
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