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 :)
What a great race you had, Mel! When you were telling me about the woman who robbed you of 7th place (my words, not Mel's), you mentioned she played you well. I wondered what you meant; now I know. You take a little from each experience and apply it to the next one.
Sounds like you are good and ready for June 28!
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