Monday, June 30, 2008

Day Three - still complaining about the lovely weather

Mel, Eric and Christie came in at 6:24 (or thereabouts) after another hot day in the saddle. Mel was really hoping for singletrack trails today after the long boring fire road yesterday, but although there were about 15km of trail, lots of it was newly cut. This meant it wasn't well bedded in, and it seemed to have been done relatively fast rather than paying real attention to the flow. As this race is billed as being mainly singletrack, they are running out of kilometers of fire road for the rest of the days.

More baked brains today. It takes a couple of hours of serious sitting in the shade and application of ice packs to bring your body temperature down after a day out in the heat like that. Unfortunately we are currently sitting in a really exposed ferry terminal waiting for the ferry to arrive. We've staked out the only shady spot in the whole parking lot, but I have to stand in the sun to "borrow" the internet connection I'm using. In the interests of keeping my skin melanoma-free, this is going to be a short post.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day Two - like day one only longer, hotter and boring

It's not often that you would purposefully choose to spend 7 hours in 95 degree heat. Especially not when that's 95 in the shade and you are in the full sun. It gives another meaning to the term "Fire Road".

Day two was a relatively flat stage (that's flat in comparison to the other stages, not flat like a pancake). It was also a long stage, at 125km. During the course briefing the night before, the organizers even apologized for the length and boredom factor. The aim of course was to get from the end of one good stage to the beginning of another good stage, and as this is a point-to-point race, that sometimes means doing the boring bits. Also, this was their third choice for the route - choice one was a no-go because of land permission, and choice two got new snow just a week back. Hard to believe with the weather today.

Terry and Mel started off with the intention of having a more mellow day out to try and recover from yesterday. Unfortunately, Terry hadn't been able to recover from dehydration from the previous day which meant that he couldn't put in the effort that he wanted to. Ultimately, this meant that they stopped racing at 109km. This is why you won't see their results on the BCBR site. Terry's going to take the day off tomorrow and ride with me in the support car, while Mel joins forces with Eric and Christie as she isn't allowed to ride on her own.

Obviously Terry isn't too happy about taking the day off, but it's a smart decision to help him get back on track.

The Motel we are in this evening has air conditioning, which is now on full blast just trying to get the room down to a reasonable temperature. Mel is considering sleeping on the sofa in the living room area rather than in the bed as this is the coolest spot. I'm encouraging this move because I don't want to go anywhere near her saddle sores at this point.

You may not get an update tomorrow because we have to rush off after the stage finishes to catch two different ferries across to Powell River, where we will arrive close to midnight. If this sounds crazy, the alternative is to wake up at 4am ready to load up on the morning ferry with all the other racers, and then wait around until 11am for the start. Mel's looking forward to her lie-in!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day one - 89km in 95 degree heat

A warm sunny start at 9 AM can only mean one thing - hot, exposed fire road climbs at noon.

Although they planned a 5 hour race today, Mel and Terry were out for 7 hours 43 minutes. 45 of those were spent waiting for water to be delivered to an aid station that ran out half way through the race. Sensibly, they waited at the aid station for more water to turn up. Others didn't, and I saw the state of them as they crossed the finish line.

Even with that 45 minute wait, Terry was feeling the heat after going off maybe too fast at the beginning. By the end of the day, he was cramping and dehydrated to the point where he had trouble keeping up with Mel. I think it was more of an issue for Terry than for Mel, as at least she was still smiling at the end of the race.

Later on in the afternoon, when we were getting ready to head out for the evening meal, Terry started cramping again really badly. Both my and Mel's reaction was to grab cameras rather than electrolyte tablets for him. If I get a chance to upload the video I will, but until then you'll have to make do with this rather gruesome picture.

As always, more images at the BikeBooBoos Picasa Web Album.

Mechanicals happen to everyone, even the pros.

This morning, Mel and Terry went off without any apparent issues, but some other riders didn’t have such an auspicious start. Chris Eatough and Jeff Schalk, last year’s winners on the Trek VW team, apparently tried to overtake on a narrow piece of the course that crossed a newly mown hay field. We tried pre-riding the loop that they were on at the time and gave up because we couldn’t see the direction of the course. Apparently neither could Eatough and Schalk. Both of them picked up enough loose grass to jam up their rear cassettes and then wrap around their rear derailleurs – promptly pulling the derailleurs up and backwards in to the rear wheel. Chris’s bike was unrideable at this point, but Jeff managed to coast back down to the start. Chris had to run, carrying his bike because the rear wheel couldn’t turn.

Once back at the start, three mechanics started out to fix the bikes. This involved removing the rear derailleurs and finding new derailleur hangers. The hanger is a piece of soft(er) aluminum which is designed to break in these situations. Chris’ did, but Jeff’s hadn’t, so his derailleur was broken in two. Still, both derailleurs needed replacing because they were stuffed so full of grass. I guess the advantage of racing on a pro team is that you don’t cry over the cost of the replacement parts, just over the time you are losing while they are being replaced. Luckily, Jeff was carrying a spare derailleur hanger which the mechanics used on Chris’ bike. Two replacement derailleurs and one snipped-out broken spoke later, and the guys were on their way. I think they may have missed the second starter loop but nobody was counting at that point.

Going in to the main portion of the trail in dead last place, the two Trek riders still managed to pull themselves back up through the field to finish in third place at Lake Cowichan this afternoon. I just hope the effort wasn’t too much for them to sustain over the next six days.

I haven't had time to paste any images into this blog posting yet, but you can find several scary images of broken bike parts at the BikeBooBoos Picasa Web Album.

Interesting thought: if I had helped Mel or Terry to fix their bikes during the race, they would face disqualification. Somehow I don't think that's going to happen to the third place riders.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day Zero - Hurry Up and Wait

Chris here, posting because Mel's already in bed getting some rest.

Today was registration day. We got to the registration area early because we wanted to do a little pre-ride. We drove straight past the entrance first time round, because it looked much too pleasant to be a bike race venue. Shawnigan Lake School is an up-market private school in its own grounds. Driving through the stone gateposts you are presented with an idyllic vista - fountains, Tudor-style buildings, a clock tower, and a massive inflatable bear on the top of the registration tent. OK, so we realized that we were in the right place after all. Trust the mountain bikers to bring down the tone of the place!

Registration was pretty orderly in comparison to other races. They made us sign lots of pieces of paper and then they gave us a very large bag full of goodies as various as socks, handlebars and "Sharkies" - little gummie fish full of sugar to help us on our climbs.

With several hours between registration and the evening pre-race briefing, we went back to our lovely faux-wood paneled motel to do last minute packing. There are certain items that Mel and Terry have to carry - medical supplies, a lighter, rain jackets, etc. and so we both went through all of our tools to make sure we had what we needed and no more. In keeping with yesterday, most of our consideration was given to how much food they could fit in. Terry will be carrying nearly 4000 calories worth of goodies, and his goal is to consume all of them, plus whatever Mel can't manage. Mel finds it hard to eat when she's pushing hard on the bike. Terry has no such issues. He has a digestive tract of titanium (he got the lightweight upgrade from the regular steel model).

At this point, we just want to get started. Bed time now, and an early morning start so that my two racers can get even more food inside them and digested before they start.

You'll see photos in this post some time tomorrow after I've arrived at the finish area and had a chance to get set up. Until then, check out the pictures on the BikeBooBoos Picasa album where we'll be uploading additional images to the ones shown here.

Day Minus One (Packing it In)

Yesterday was a day of packing. In fact that is pretty much all we did.

After packing the car all we had left to do was pack ourselves full of food. It was a long journey and what better way to fill the time than to eat!

Officially known as ‘carb loading’ we took our task very seriously. Robyn’s parting gift of home baked cookies was calling us from the moment we took off. We didn’t even make it to the border with Canada before they climbed out of their container (right at the bottom of Terry's pack) and into our tummies . Our packed lunch was pretty much gone by noon and then we had to break into our trail mix. Terry was confused as to what should go into trail mix and thought that ‘Fiber One’ would be good. We quickly corrected this and balanced it out by adding a bag of chocolate drops.

Because Terry ate so much, we had to go and stock up on more food at the local store.

Hopefully this will have been our longest stage of the race – 7 hours to reach our destination of Shawnigan Lake on Victoria Island, BC. Terry took the challenge of eating very seriously and Chris made a valiant attempt to keep up, but Terry won the day when he managed 3rds at supper time. I have selected my partner very well.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day Minus One - Off to Victoria, BC

This is it, finally we are taking off today! Feels like I've been packing for days now in preparation for this race. I've had so many lists of things to take and not forget to do, I think I should probably have had a list for my lists.

The real preparation for this race started back in January though, with base training. Long slow hours on the bike in the in the most joyful of Seattle weather. There were times when it rained so much I thought I would never dry out. I swear if it had gone on any longer I would have started going mouldy. It was good to build intensity after this base training. Shorter hours, but harder effort. Some racing pepped things up a bit. The weather improved marginally, and there were even some gloriously sunny training days.

For the past couple of weeks now I've been tapering - way shorter hours and less intensity. It's amazing how good you can feel when you do this. This past week I've had a bunch more energy and it's been hard stopping myself from doing other stuff (like yard work) with the extra time and energy I've had. A lot of time was spent making lists and packing though, so it's not been that hard staying away from chores. Oh yes, and the lawn tractor mysteriously died, so I couldn't take care of the mowing either :) The knee high grass will be interesting to deal with on our return!

As excited as I am to get going on this race, I'm also really nervous. The problem is, I can't change anything now. I just can't get stronger than I am now. It's not like exams that you can 'cram' for the night before in the hope of being that little bit better. I just can't put more time on the bike now in the hope of getting stronger. If I do, I can potentially make myself weaker. I guess this really is it. I am what I am.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Introducing Team

I’m not in this race alone. I’ll be racing it as part of a 2 person team with my good riding buddy Terry Turpening. The craziness must be infectious! We’ve been challenging each other in our riding together for years now, and I’m looking forward to taking on this new challenge together. We’ve always pushed each – who can get to the top of that steep climb first? Who can descend faster? Who can clean that gnarly technical section? It just seems right to be taking on this race together as a team. We’ll have to stay within 2 minutes of each other through every stage of the race or face a penalty. Now there will be the biggest challenge – push each other to be as fast as we can be, but not so much that we kill each other!

We are not in this race alone. Supporting this duo will be (check out the website for a wealth of information on fixing your mountain bike) and Pacific Bicycle Company (where I bought my first full suspension mountain bike, road bike, ‘cross bike and everything else I’ve ever needed for riding and racing.) To top it off, we have head mechanic, driver, soigneur (you name it, he gets to do it), my biggest supporter and fan club, Chris, AKA hubby.

We are a strong team with great support, I’m feeling confident and can’t wait to start.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why Didn’t Someone Hit Me With a Two by Four?

It’s taken a while (2 years) but I’m back at it again. After my first ever 7 day stage race (TransRockies) I asked Chris to ‘hit me with a 2x4 if I suggest doing anything this silly again’. Well I resisted for a whole year, but at the beginning of this year I must have forgotten the pain and signed up for another one. I guess it’s a little like child birth – If anyone remembers just the pain, then it’s not likely you’ll do it again. However, that’s not the case, and the human population isn’t in danger of extinction and I’m a week away from giving birth (again).

So to be fair, I have selected a different stage race this year. It’s the BC Bike Race 

Who could resist with a logo like that anyway? A bear riding a bike? That’s the one for me! Actually, it’s the opportunity to ride some of the greatest singletrack around for a straight 7 days that pulled me in again to this craziness. Starting at Lake Shawnigan on Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada), it heads North to Cumberland, takes a ferry over to Powell River on the Sunshine Coast, down the coast to Langdale, takes another ferry to Horseshoe Bay and continues to Squamish and finishes in Whistler. All in all, about 530km (330miles), with a few hills on the way!

As the race is fast approaching, I’ll be blogging more regularly, and will do my best to report after each stage. Feel free to leave your comments – it’ll help us get through the week!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Test of Metal June 2008

The Test of Metal (ToM) seems to have become a yearly pilgrimage for me now. I just don’t seem to be able to stay away from it. This was my 5th one in as many years. A pre-ride of this course 5 years ago was my first taste of Squamish singletrack. I was addicted from the first hit. The race is 67kM long with 1,200 meters of climbing. It has a taste of most things that Squamish has to offer – sweet, fast, zippy singletrack; gnarly, rough ‘oh shit’ singletrack; natural obstacles and man-made ladder bridges; and of course, climbs! Short, long, steep, loose, you name it, it’s got it! Riding it is great fun, racing it is great focus.

The course itself is not however the thing that keeps me coming back for more. It’s the ‘vibe’ of the race. There’s so much community support and energy around this race that it’s infectious and you want to share it with others. It seems like the whole community is out there cheering you along. Nowhere more intense is this than on the steep, technical, gnarly stuff. Yes, they are there to see the crashes, but they are jolly supportive at the same time! There’s also nothing better than seeing the faces of friends complete the race for the first time – there’s a range of shocked expressions from the look of ‘I just survived a car wreck’, to ‘I was in that car wreck’, to joy of ‘I just survived that car wreck’, to elation of ‘that car wreck was way in my rear view mirror’. The best part is in knowing that they’ll be back for more one day.

This year we had near perfect conditions – dry and warm (but not deathly hot) made for a very fast course indeed. I not only wanted to beat my time from last year, but I wanted to get a time under three and a half hours. This would mean shaving off almost 20 minutes from last year and 10 minutes off my personal best. With the training I’ve put in and the course conditions this was possible!

A couple of interesting 360 pics here.

My race went well – good pacing from the start and only really getting tired going into the ‘plunge’. With my upper body really tired from the ‘big ring rip’ I made a silly mistake and endoed. My skinny 1.8 tire choice was maybe not the best for this gnarly stuff either! This woke me up a bit and I made it safely out of the woods. It wasn’t until the feedzone that I realized how crooked my handlebars were from the tumble and required a quick adjustment. Fortunately I had already passed Chris and I could just wrench the handlebars straight rather than getting out an allen wrench to make the adjustment. (The bruise on my face is now developing nicely into the look of domestic violence victim.)

Coming out of ‘The Plunge’ I also experienced some intense cramping in my inner thigh. I guess my muscle objected to being out of the saddle for so long during the technical descending. Fortunately it was short lived and I took a few salt tabs from Chris when I passed the feedzone again, just in case it was electrolyte related, and managed to work it out pretty quickly, which was a relief as I didn’t want to do the final ‘Crampit Woods’ with only one leg working! I’ve had bad times in this place before and it’s easy to blow your whole race here because you have nothing left to give. This is where I’ve lost a couple of places to gals passing me in previous races. I was determined this wasn’t going to happen this time.

I wasn’t feeling too bad, and was surprised to catch a gal who had been ahead of me the entire race. She was pushing a steep, loose section and I came by still on my bike. She didn’t look too happy and didn’t give me any room to pass either (which she should have done given she was off her bike.) I stayed ahead through ‘Crumpit Woods’, not knowing quite how much time I was ahead of her. I soon found out, because getting out onto the road section I put my head down to put as crank it so she wouldn’t see me when she came out, but just a few seconds later she was flying past me drafting behind a big guy who was moving way faster than me. I wasn’t going to have her beat me by tagging a guy to draft behind, so I dialed up the pain threshold and cranked it harder to stay on her wheel. The guy at this point blew up and just couldn’t pull anymore leaving us together to fight it out. As soon as he pulled off she got all squirrelly as she didn’t want me on her tail. Dodging across the road and slowing down put me in the ‘lead’ again. I backed off too, but she backed off more. A few other guys got in the mix at this point and I couldn’t tell exactly her position, and I couldn’t get any of them to pull either. My only choice was to just gun it from there and hope I could lose her as we got into the mellow trails leading to the finish. Flat easy trails, but going all out was interesting as I didn’t know the turns and some came as a bit of surprise to me and I ended up ‘off course’ a couple of times. One of the guys following me started to calling out the turns ahead of me so I wouldn’t go off again, kind of like rally car driving. This wasn’t what I wanted though and tried to convince him to lead me in, but he was quite happy to sit on my wheel. How the hell was I going to lose the gal at this rate?

Coming into the final stretch she was right behind me (obviously a lot smarter than me!) Gravel became grass and had just enough smarts to lock out my fork going into the final sprint for the line. At this point I must say that I had not planned on a sprint finish. I wasn’t trying to get a certain place, my goal from the start was a time based one. But with a direct competitor right there, I just couldn’t let it go. I was going to fight for whatever place we were fighting for! Sprinting after an epic race is a weird thing indeed. I didn’t think I had anything in me, but I got a surge of energy from somewhere and I held her off right up until the end. Now that’s where our stories will differ. From my perspective, I’m pretty sure I had my wheel across the finish line first, I’m sure from her perspective she saw her wheel cross the line first. Now that’s where I gave up and coasted. She on the other hand kept going a little further and got to the volunteers taking our plate tags before me. That was my mistake, whatever happen at the finish line was pretty much decided by our tag order. She took 7th, leaving me with 8th. But this wasn’t all, my hauling ass towards the end of this race (something I wouldn’t have done without a little competition) meant that I shaved a few extra seconds off my time and actually achieved my real goal of a sub 3:30 race – 3:29:46 to be exact. Thanks 7th place gal :)