Last Sunday was truly a marathon day as Disco Stu and I headed down to the Ganaraska forest for the first XC Marathon race of the season. This was to be my first time in Ganny and I was warned that the single-track, (how could there be such a thing as too much single-track?), would be unrelenting !
The day started in true Mike fashion as I awoke to the sound of the doorbell at 5:35....shit...turns out I set my alarm for 5 pm not am....typical for the few times a year I use an alarm clock. After about a 7 minutes turnaround we were on our way...till I realized 30 seconds later that I forgot my food and bottles in the fridge - I don’t think too well in the mornings. Finally we were on the road by 5:50 and facing a 3.5 hr drive which actually went pretty fast.
At the race site teammate Tanya was there with Joanne Thompson and Kiwi Lisa Morgan who had spent the night partying with CN workers at a local motel. Ottawan David Wright was there as well as our local boy speedster Ryan Atkins along with a few various elites and super fast old guys.
The race started out hard and fast on a wide trail where I managed to get into reasonable position prior to entering the single-track. Stu and I leap-frogged once or twice and he ended up just ahead of me in the first bit of single track when his chain slipped off on a short little climb, I skirted by as nimbly as I could through the thicker growth but got one pedal unclipped leaving me trying to one-leg it and got bumped by the next guy behind (a single speeder tying to keep his mo going). This pushed me off the bike and I had to run the last bit losing at least 3 places.
The first part of the race held a lot of pump track type of whoop-de-doos, and was fun. I was basically riding with a single-speeder and a guy in a yellow-jersey (mentioned in Stu’s report here) who was a 40+ and apparently a roadie. He was very strong in the open sections but left a bit to be desired in the single-track. Now I am not making that an assumption, after we had lost the SSer, another guy appeared in our mix, it was Terry Vanden Heuval who I did not know but as the three of us chatted in an open section easing up a bit he asked (noticing the TT jersey) if I knew Rob Parniak, and asked the other dude if he was a roadie. Me, and SS and yellow jersey guy had hammered past the first aid station in a furious attempt to bury each other. I had one bottle and a mini-camel-back which holds about 1 litre, and it was cool so figured I would be Ok til the second feed. We played cat and mice for a while but with the undulating terrain lost SS guy, then I dropped off on a longer road section feeling a bit spent, but eventually caught yellow-jersey joined by Terry VdH in the next single-track after which the three of us rode together for some time. About 1.5 hrs into the race I started feeling my body come around a bit as the initial pace was quite fast. As I had done very little in the previous week I felt I needed to do something before the race to shake up my stale fitness.....lets just say that running speedwork on Friday evening is not the best way to wake up the body...at least not if you want to keep the legs fresh!! My engine was fine but the legs had nothing for anything resembling a hill.
So after having dropped Yellow-jersey my mission was to try and keep Terry in my sights....it was a tough mission, he lives ½ hr away so rides these trails like a god and has the fitness to back that up. Being one big loop there is basically no one passing and with all the twisty stuff you never really see anyone in front or behind. At the second feed I stopped to fill my bottle. I figured I was in 4th place 40+ (not sure why but I knew there was one guy well ahead, plus Terry, and I thought another that had passed me earlier). I was wrong tho - unbeknownst to me at the time I was actually in 3rd only 1 minute behind Terry.
The single-track really is relentless, it is hard to find a good place to feed and drink and even when things look like they straighten out for a bit and you think you can put the hammer down....all of a sudden screech....gotta slam on the brakes for a hidden corner. As I was getting tired and dopy there was a lot of either scrubbing too much or too little speed going into corners. At about the 3 hr mark my stomach started to feel a bit woozy and I had to try and manage my energy as well as the upset. I was looking back on every straightaway to see that I had no one in any kind of sight and hoped I could simply hold a steady pace and my position....if I was currently in 4th that would be the best I could do. I passed the third feed-zone at about 60 km on my odo and asked about the remaining distance as I had expected it much sooner, they yelled 15 km as I blew by.....WTF, it is supposed to be a 67 k race !?! I’ve had this experience before so thought ok maybe they just don’t know, but then shades of Intermontane 2009 crossed my mind when one day they were off by like 12-15 k on a 80-90 km day.....this does NOT impress anyone when the temps are running close to 40 degrees and racers rely on reasonably accurate distances between feeds and finish.
I figured even if it was 15, I should be ok with half a bottle and a few gulps left in the camel. At one point in some really back and forth single-track I even saw Terry, still about 1 minute ahead only. Having been regularly looking back and never seeing anyone I thought great...but the end needs to come sooner than later ! My stomach was not helping the situation tho and finally one guy caught and passed me, and he was a single speeder, so while I felt demoralized at least I had not lost a position. Those SSers are amazing - major props to them ! Then shortly after another guy came up and he unfortunately was a 40+, I was doing all my body would allow but it just was not enough. The odo kept ticking away, the sun started to heat things up and I just needed to be done. Finally some buildings came into sight, but with a cruel twist the race organizers sent us past the staging area and away from there to another gravel road, then down though a huge mud puddle and finally around the outskirts of the buildings and then into the finish. 74 km and 4:10 for a race that was supposed to be 67 km with an expected winning finish time of about 3:15 ! Well Ryan was about 3:45 so nuff said on that prognostication !
Turned out I finished 4th (not 5th as I suspected after getting passed in the last 10 km), still just one minute behind Terry. The guy that passed me put 2 minutes on me and 1 on Terry to take 2nd place - good job to him. Me - I was a bit disappointed to have lost a podium spot so close to the end and by such a narrow margin : - ( All in all, not bad, could have been better but as someone said, “You can’t complain about 4th”. At least this time I got to have a post-race burger : - )
Stu finished well, just 5 minutes back of me on his first mtn bike race of the year. Tanya had a rough day (her story here) but I bet she would have kicked my ass if I had subjected myself to the 7 consecutive days of punishment that she had just one week prior. Joanne and Lisa both got on the podium and Ryan...well he won the day of course.
The marathon day was not yet over...there still remained the long drive home, which seemed a lot longer than the way down. Perhaps the various stops for chip wagons, ice cream, pee breaks and Wendy’s contributed??
Next up - 24 hrs hammering on a team as opposed to the usual solo plodding along...should be an experience !