I am into it now, my journey to the Trans Rockies Classic - a 7 day, 550 km, 15,000 m mountain biking stage race from Fernie to Panorama (wondering why? You can read about it here).
I have no mountain biking experience, no stage racing experience (no bike racing experience at all, actually), and know nothing about bike care or maintenance. But I’m driven, love a challenge, live for adventure, and thoroughly believe you should do things that scare you a little and excite you a lot. The TRC is all of these things.
Admittedly, the whole experience is pretty overwhelming, and training for the TRC is a daunting and inevitably time consuming task. So I am trying to take small manageable steps. The goals this season are to develop a good base of mountain biking skills, get some race experience with a couple of long but not so technical races, learn some basic bike maintenance, experiment with long race nutrition, and do some riding in the actual Rocky Mountains with my brother who will be my TRC riding partner (read more about our relationship here). I am happy to report all of these goals are well underway.
I spent the bulk of my training this past winter developing some bike legs, so I could begin the 2019 mountain biking season fit to ride. The idea was not to be struggling with bike fitness at the same time I was learning technical skills. I used an online training program, and spent hours on the trainer listening to audiobooks on sports psychology and my guilty pleasure, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend podcast. I also did a power lifting program to maintain some of the leg strength I had spent several years building by doing CrossFit. It worked. When the spring hit, I felt pretty strong on a bike, even stronger than expected, and my cardiovascular fitness was good. So it was time to try some racing and I entered the Beachburg Spring Chicken.
Note: In case you were wondering, my winter training regime consisted of 3 days lifting and 4 days cardio: usual 1 day cross-country (skate) skiing or running, and 3 days riding on the trainer. Times totalled 2.5 hours lifting, and 8.5 hours cardio on weeks when I managed to complete all workouts. I also found about half way through the winter my leg strength was developing rapidly, and I developed a minor overuse knee injury, so mobility made its way into the regime, 20-30 minutes of stretching and rolling, 2-4 times per week.
I was pretty excited to give the Spring Chicken race a try. I was (incorrectly) under the impression it wouldn’t be technical riding, and I was reasonably fit, so I committed to the 60km distance. When I showed up on race day, there were two clues that I was in over my head. The first was when I asked a couple of fellow racers getting their bikes ready what tire pressure they were riding. Their response was “25 psi, definitely not more than 30” one guy on oversized tires added he was riding on 15psi. In case you didn’t know, this is quite low tire pressure for a race that you are expecting to be primarily on gravel roads and not technical (especially for men that weigh more than I do). Low tire pressures provide better grip and allows your bike to maneuver over technical terrain more easily. However, the cost can be inefficiency. In a long non-technical race, you would expect someone to choose a higher tire pressure to gain efficiency and speed and 60km is a long ride on a mountain bike. First clue overlooked, I was still oblivious to what was to come.
Second clue. As I was lined up for the mass start, I looked around. There were only three other women in a group of close to 50. No youth, not a fit teenager. Just a large group of men. Huh.
Then it started. The lead peloton took off, and leave it to a group of overly competitive men, they didn’t listen to the multiple people directing the course, took a wrong turn, and cut 2 km of single track off their race, which split the group early and left the second pack, which included myself, to take the proper rout and head into the forest. The first 20km went well, the terrain was windy with a bit of roots, well within my wheelhouse, and I was feeling good and following my nutrition plan. Then reality kicked in. Rugged terrain, rocky technical climbs, ridges, high roots, narrow trees. This was not within my wheelhouse. I fell, over and over again, so many times. I knew the mental breakdown was near, that ‘what the !@#$ am I doing, how do I quit this race, get back to my car and never do this again.” But I persevered. I repeatedly got up, got back on my bike and kept riding. I wouldn’t let my mind wander and was determined to finish the race. Fall, get up, keep riding. Walk through a section, keep riding. Try to ride over those rocks, fall, get up, keep riding. I had 30km to go. I couldn’t stop. There was so much left.
I got a bit better as the ride went on. Call it baptism by fire. I rode a more technical section near the end with a bit more success, and I rode the last 8 km on gravel roads into a head wind with surprising strength, despite tired legs. Though this did not spare me any mental anguish. No one was immediately in front of me, no one behind me. I didn’t know if I was the very last person, or maybe missed a turn and wasn’t even on the course. As it turned out, I finished 25 minutes behind the guy in front of me, and 25 minutes in front of the guy behind me. I rode most of the day alone.
So I wasn’t actually last. In fact, I managed to beat close to 10 people (yes, I’m competitive to a fault, I know). Despite all of this, I actually had quite a bit of fun, and I learned a lot. I learned that I posses a pretty good ability to persevere, but mostly I learned that I don’t know how to mountain bike. I guess that’s one way to start the season.
Next Up, the Wilmington Whiteface 100km, and some bike lessons with Ride Ottawa.