My name is Colin. I’m a rider. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a teacher. I’m a racer.
That’s me in the picture. I’m carrying my bike up a hill during a race because, well, the hill was just too steep to ride up. See the expression on my face? See the dirt on my calves? Yeah. Awesome.
Six 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 always thought I was in okay shape, with at least a fair base health, but, as I was nearing 40, I quickly realized that I WAS in okay shape, and I HAD a good base health–but that was long ago.
I was 39 years old, and to be honest, 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 sort of went sideways physically.
I needed a change.
And a change happened. I’m really not sure how, but a combination of things brought me and my bike to Joyride 150 (an indoor bike park) in the middle of the 2012 winter. Entering the facility, the first time, I was blown away. I didn’t realize at the time how profoundly life changing it would be, so I did what the park was designed for: I rode.
Riding my bike was an awesome way to get fit. It also became an outlet for stress and a boost to my emotional well being. Even better, the park’s obstacles, jumps, and trails, made me feel like a kid again.
And so it came to be that on many nights throughout the winter, after putting my children to bed, I went riding.
Fast forward six years…
It’s 2018. I live and breathe bikes (as much as I can with a family), and ride and race as often as I can (you know, family). I have a community of friends and supporters, a house full of awesome bikes, a closet full of riding kits.
I even have an alter ego: Team Colin (hey, this is MY blog).
Most important, somewhere along the way, I transformed. Not a small transformation. I’m talking about a life-changing, all-consuming, full body, heart, and mind transformation.
Sure, I lost a bit of weight and my body has undergone some pretty significant alterations (read: cuts, contusions, bashes, crashes, and even a little breakage) but the how I handle everything else has also changed as well: 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 (okay, maybe once or twice), 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 see the improvements in my technique and overall fitness, but when I race, or ride with better riders (which is everybody), I just don’t seem to measure up. 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 are.
Okay, I know my excuses aren’t worse, but they sure feel like it. At every race, and on every ride, I feel like I’m the anomaly. Remember that Sesame Street game, “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’m 6’2″ and weigh 250 pounds. Sure, there are plenty of other riders who are my height but there are very few who weigh as much as me.
Race organizers have a word for riders my size: Clydesdale. For those lacking in animal husbandry, 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 yeah, whinnying.
Okay, I don’t actually whinny. But close to it. Oh, and I’m the exact opposite of majestic.
Clydesdale horses lack agility and speed in exchange for strength and 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 have…um, well, I have positive energy and enthusiasm.
While positive energy and enthusiasm don’t do much to help pedal a bike, they sure make it a lot more fun when I do. To say that I have an excess of positivity and energy would be an understatement.
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: my guy Andrew and the staff at Cycle Solutions (my bike shop); Mark, Leslie, and everyone at Joyride 150 (my indoor bike park); Dan Marshall and Substance Projects (my race people); my riding buddy John; Jamie and Evolution Cycles (my weekly series peeps); and the legion of other riders, acquaintances, buddies, pals, soulmates, and otherwise, that I now consider dear friends.
Together, we have become Team Colin! We even have hats. Okay, I’m actually Team Colin, but they’re Team Colin too. It’s complicated.
So, 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.
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.”
That summer, fall, and winter, I rode my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to volunteer at a race the following summer.
Then, one day in March, while reading Canadian Cycling magazine, and I saw an ad for a bike race that said “Racers race, riders ride”.
And I rode my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to volunteer at a race the following summer.
I saw other races advertised with the same sentiment: “Racers race, riders ride”. It didn’t really click with me because I WAS NOT a racer.
One day, after a ride at Joyride 150, I was talking to Scott Bentley and Mark Summers (the co-owners) about bikes and they suggested I try a race. “Me?” I asked. “Um, wait, what, me?”
“You should try a race.”. They said, and told me about a bike race called Paris to Ancaster, and a mountain bike race series organized by a guy named Dan Marshall.
“Um, wait, what, me?”. Yeah, me.
I’m still not sure why, and I’m still not sure how, but I decided to look into, thinking about, considering, trying a race, and with that thought (and utterly without warning) I heard a little “boom” inside my chest. It was an awakening.
And it wasn’t just a thought. Immediately, it became a plan. I was going to do a bike race. Along with the thought/plan came absolute doubt, wavering indecision, and stark fear, but make no mistake, I WAS GOING TO DO A BIKE RACE!
So, instead of volunteering at a race that year, I raced. It was as simple as registering. But which race would I do, the Paris to Ancaster “bike for all” race, or the Substance Projects Homage 2 Ice mountain bike race?
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…again, 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 polar fleece 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 and manageable, so I rode.
Well, it was fairly flat and manageable for the first 39k.
At the 39k mark, with 1k to go, P2A meets the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment 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 so, with 39k under my first race belt, muddy, tired, and more tired, I found myself at the bottom of the Niagara friggin’ escarpment.
So I rode.
But then it got really steep. “Um, yeah. There is NO WAY I’m riding up this hill” I thought to myself, “I’ll just ride until I can’t, and then walk the rest”
So I rode.
I didn’t have to get off my bike and walk. At the end of my first bike race, I rode up the Niagara escarpment.
The FINISH line was everything I dreamt it would be: Crowds of people cheering their friends and family as I rode under the FINISH banner. They even announced my name.
There I stood (well, I sort of leaned against my bike, on one knee), caked with mud, and a little choked up, and 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…
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.
I did it. I didn’t look pretty, but I did it.
End of Race Report.
While waiting for my family, I took a look at the result board, you know, just for a laugh. I saw my result and figured there must have been a mistake. Nope, no mistake. I placed 8th in the Clydesdale category.
8th place BOOM!
Since P2A went fairly well, I wanted to race again. Talking to Mark and Scott, we decided I’d race again the next weekend, at the Homage 2 Ice. So, six days after my first race, I did my second race. 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 finished. I even placed somewhere in the middle of the pack. After two consecutive weekends of racing, I was pretty 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 had 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. Yeah, 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 and walk, I get off my bike and walk. When my legs are sore and my heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest, I just 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.
UPDATE: December 31, 2017.
Since 2013 I’ve raced every Paris to Ancaster (and even did the 70k last year) and every Substance Projects XCM race (that’s 20 races). I’ve raced in every conceivable weather condition, on MTB, fatbike, road bike, gravel bike, and cross bike. I did 8 races in my second year, 10 races the year after that, and 16 races the next. Last race season, I not only tackled the 70k at P2A, but I did the marathon distance–on my single speed–in each XCM as well (50k, 70k, 75k, and 78k). I did my first 24 Hour race, the 60k at Paul’s, and my first Epic 8 Hour–which I did SOLO. I raced 5 consecutive weekends in September, and competed 18 races in 2017. How does a 250 pound Clydesdale do 18 races in a year? Easy, he just registers.
59 races and counting…
Can’t wait for 2018
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