The Hell of a Series race schedule in 2011 was fairly compact at the start of the season. From May 14 to June 18 four out of the 6 races would be completed in that short 8 weeks. That is about one race every other week! Two of the most physically demanding races were only one week apart! This not only presented me with the challenge of completing the races but also with the challenge of how to train between them. Do I forget about training and just rest/recover between them? Do I treat the races like training instead of individual races and just choose a peak race? Or do I do a mixture of both? Cynthia Young from Endless Biking has endless knowledge (fitting that she trains for EB then isnâ€™t it :P) and showed me there is no right answer to this dilemma. Some racers train before the season and completely stop once the races start and some continue training at 20 hrs/week. However I had zero experience with this so I had no idea what would work for me. I chose the â€œbit of bothâ€ method with only one real race preparation method that I treated like religion. Two days before the event, take that day and completely rest. Not the day before, two days before. Other than that I stuck with my usual training but did not increase the hours like I had been in the weeks before the season.
Blah, blah, blah, I tend to go off on tangents about the training because there is so much to learn and know! Letâ€™s get to the interesting stuffâ€¦ racing!
With the 2 deadliest races (Nimby Fifty & NorthShoreXC) over I was coming to what I chose as my peak race, the Test of Metal. I chose the TOM as my peak for a few of reasons: I had done it the year before so had something to gauge; it was a good time of year for me training wise; and my folks were coming out from Ontario for the big event and even though Iâ€™m 33 I still want to impress my parents.
The night before the TOM I packed my folks and me up and headed to Squamish for the night so the next morning wouldnâ€™t be rushed. It rained, no, actually it poured all night. The next morning was still looking dreary outside but really, itâ€™s quite good conditions for a race like the TOM so I was optimistic about the day. Also this race found me surrounded by great friends, fellow Muddbunnies and, of course, my folks so I was pretty excited about the day in general.
The TOM, for those that donâ€™t know, is a very popular race that sells its 1000 entries in a matter of minutes. Therefore finding a spot in the queue can be challenging. People line up by what time they think they will finish the race in. The general rule is to line up in the section that is much faster than you think you will be. A friend and I were both feeling the competition bug for this race and didnâ€™t want to be hindered by starting farther back so we took this rule to heart. So in we go to the 3-3.5hr mark, finding an area where we could squeeze ourselves in. Thankfully there were two of us to bully our way in to where we wanted to be because just getting in line was an adventure!
But once we were in our small space the energy of the crowd took over and I was so happy and excited to be doing this again. The TOM sometimes gets flak from â€œreal mountain bikersâ€ because of the terrain but it really is such a great experience.
Finally I could hear the national anthem being belted out by a young lady and I knew we were close to start time! There are so many racers it takes a bit to actually start riding once the gun goes and once we did start moving it was a challenge with the hundreds of riders itching to get going. But everyone seems to have their race smiles on!
Once we got out of the queue area and were on open road I tried to keep a good pace and the heart pumping. The start of the TOM is a fast road climb and you have to keep up in order to have a good spot once you hit trail. My mantra for this race was, ride in the middle ring as much as possible. With over 800 riders you are riding tire to tire so it can be frustrating if you are caught behind 50 slower riders. The road was tough for me but once we hit the trail I was happy I challenged myself because I felt like I was with the right group speed-wise. I was challenged but not in an out of control or working too hard way. Perfection. Soon after my perfect spot realization I was stopped by a friend with a flat needing some tools. I only stopped for a few seconds but getting back in line took some time and by then I wasnâ€™t with my perfect speed group. But no problems, this gave me the opportunity to put my mantra to good use! Being still in good spirits I picked a marker upfront I could see from time to time (another Muddbunnie who I knew was much faster than me) and tried to keep on her tail.
The TOM is such a great event from the spectators to the feed stations. Squamish-ites and the like come out onto the roads and trails to cheer everyone on! Some are even in some fetching costumes.
Sadly, I didnâ€™t get a push from this guy but my Dad came and met me. Dad, why are you running beside me and not giving me a much needed push exactly?
The race itself goes pretty fast. Before I know it Iâ€™m on the Powerhouse Plunge, the only real technical part of the course and about 1 hr from the finish. I came across the buddies I made during the Sunshine Coaster XC race (see Part 1) on this section, walking their bikes. It should be noted that most people do walk this section probably because they are pretty tired by this point and it could result in a race ending crash if you get tripped up. But these guys, they are downhill racers. So giving them the gears for 1, me catching up to them on the downhill and 2, walking their bikes on the downhill brought me quite a bit of joy and allowed me to forget how tired I was for a few minutes. 🙂
The Powerhouse Plunge section can also get a little hairy with the amount of people trying to pass on downhill technical single track. These aggressive riders really intimidated me last year, however this was a new year and maybe a bit of a new me and I was elbows out, ready to throw down 4x styles. This was definitely my favorite part of the TOM and I grinned the whole way down!
Which was good because the final hour of the TOM is all lovely, super fun single track but with punchy climbs so you need to save some energy for this section. I went in behind my SSC buddies but quickly passed them and held my lead until we hit the pavement and the last push to the finish line. They very quickly blew by me on the road and I just couldnâ€™t keep up. I finished happy and only a few seconds off 3rd place. Had I known I wouldâ€™ve pushed her out of the way instead of telling her how great she was doing. 😉 Time for some Red Racer and self-patting on the back, finishing almost 1 hr faster than my 2010 time, yippie!
Next up for me was the Gear Jammer, a full month after the TOM. I had been in race mode for 2 months straight and it was weird to have so much time off. Crankworx and planning for my Switzerland trip would keep me busy in this time though. During the first weekend of Crankworx (and a Muddbunnies Race Team calendar shoot) my boyfriend went down while practicing on the Canadian Open course, dislocating and breaking his wrist. The next week was full of doctor appointments, surgeries and emergency room visits. None of these went well. The two days before the Gear Jammer found us in various hospitals and their emergency rooms as well as waking up every three hours to make sure he took his morphine pills so he wouldn’t go back into shock from the pain. Oh and I was leaving the morning after the race for a 2 week European trip. Needless to say I had zero mental or physical preparation for the race and man did it show.
I showed up to the race tired and pretty nervous having not pre-ridden this course and knowing not much about it. I was also completely solo again and for those of you that read Part 1, you know how much I enjoy solitude at races. Basically I didnâ€™t really want to be there.
At one point I took a spill and smacked my knee. It hurt enough that I wasnâ€™t sure I could finish. Being in the crap mood I was in, I wondered if I just wasnâ€™t using that as an excuse not to finish. So I made myself ride for another 10 mins before I made a final decision. The pain went away in that time and on I went to cross the finish line. This was the first and (thankfully) only race that I was not happy when I crossed the finish line. It was finally over and I just wanted out of there! The course itself is awesome though and I would love to go back and ride it again (when I’m not stressed out and tired). What I learned from the Gear Jammer: preparation and circumstances leading up to a race really effect the outcome for me and how I feel about the ride in general.
I have no pictures of the aftermath of the Gear Jammer so Iâ€™ll post one from a few days later in a happier placeâ€¦ Switzerland!
By the beginning of August I was back in the homeland and thinking about my next and final (!!) Hell of a Series race. The Just Another Bike Race or as many know and love it, the JABR (pronounced Jabber). On a very hot and sunny Sunday a glutton for punishment friend and I, both fresh from Switzerland, headed to Squamish to pre-ride the course. Neither of us new the trails but the course was marked so off we went exploring some excellent and newly refurbished-from-moto Squamish trails. The JABR is basically a showcase of the trails Squamish has to offer and in my head I was ready for it and thought I knew what I was in for. Which I suppose I mostly did however the end of the course is tough and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere until suddenly its all over and you are finished. It reminded me of riding at Sumas. If you’ve ever been on the Peels you may have noticed that one minute you feel like you are seriously out in nature and the next you are at the cars. Its kind of trippie. Both of us found the ride surprisingly taxing, which I’m sure it is, however the 30 degree weather and beer break half way through probably didn’t help either.
The race itself was held on another 30 degree sunny Saturday and I was pretty nervous about it. My pre-ride nearly killed me so I wasn’t sure how the race would go. This was my final race and the course was amazing and I really wanted to enjoy everything about it. So I decided to just take it easy, not burn out and most importantly, finish. My only goal for these races was to start and finish each one. And I would be lying if I wasn’t nervous about finishing the final race. But my boyfriend as well as another Race Team member were there and things were looking good on all fronts so I was feeling optimistic! 🙂
Once the race started I held back, got in a good groove and had a blast enjoying the excellent mix of trails.
About half way through I realized that I felt really good and realized I held back too much. So I upped my speed and finished the course much stronger then I had during the pre-ride. But I finished so I was ecstatic!!! The famed belt-buckle was mine, muah ha ha!
I was expecting some serious red carpet treatment for the belt buckle receivers but it was pretty dang uneventful. However I did get some pretty sweet cupcakes as a reward for completing the series, thank you Aimee!
This belt buckle may not look like its worth much but it took me hundreds of hours of effort to earn it so to me its like gold… lined with diamonds! 🙂
Throughout 2011 I learned more about riding and what I can expect from myself while riding than I thought possible. It was more challenging then expected yet so much more excellent! Even though I don’t have any current racing goals in 2012 I’m really looking forward to the race season and supporting the Muddbunnies Race Team throughout it!