June 17, 2007

I Passed 'The Test'

Test of Metal 2007, 810 riders, sold out in 48 minutes...the most successful mountain bike race in Canada, 67km in length with over half of it on single track trails...and all right out my back door!

I had competed in 'The Test' once before in 2005, it was my first ever mountain bike specific event. It hammered down rain in the days leading up to the event and hardly subsided throughout the race, the course was a sloppy, muddy mess. I went out too hard, cramped up late in the race and fell off my bike and onto the forest floor in a pile of pain in Crumpit Woods. I lay there for almost five full minutes before I could even consider getting back onto my bike. I managed to salvage a time of 3hr50m finishing 136Th overall. I walked...no limped away with a greater respect and understanding of what it would take for me to improve my mountain biking. I needed to work on my technical riding and to actually start getting some decent training hours in on the bike, instead of just running for fitness which was mainly what I was doing at that time. 2006 was all about improving my riding and paddling, while just trying to sustain most of my running fitness. I raced the Cheakamus Challenge at the end of 06, my second ever mountain bike event, and was pleasantly surprised at my riding improvements. Through this past winter I spent many an hour sitting on my bike trainer while watching hockey or listening to my I-pod, and had set a goal for myself of a top 50 finish in The Test of Metal 2007.

The two days leading up to the race were perfect biking days. A little overcast, no precip and decent temps. I crashed out at midnight the night before and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the sun to get me out of bed the next morning...I woke up at 6am to the sound of rain pounding down on the house. It was another dreary, rainy, soggy day, and I was still in my boxers at 10:10am (race starting at 11am) praying for just a little break in the clouds. I was ridiculously nervous and excited for the race, but I was not looking forward to another mud fest and I was trying to hide from the rain for as long as humanly possible. I live about 900 meters from the start of the race, so it was 10:35 before I actually decided to leave the house, bike to the start, squeeze into a decent starting position and try to calm my nerves until the event began.

They started with some announcements followed by the singing of O'Canada (pretty damn cool) and then, boom, the insanity begins. 800 riders instantly jockeying for position. There is a pace car to guide us out onto the highway (2 lanes, not a freeway) for 400 meters before we turn off again and start the initial climb. It is important to have established a decent position before you hit 'Jack's Trail' as this is pretty much the first single track of the race. To get stuck behind a slower rider can cost you seconds, and even minutes depending on where you end up. Due to this, the first thirty minutes of the race are a full on climbing sprint to make it to this trail as quickly as possible and help set yourself up for success throughout the rest of the race. I fully believe that this is the main reason that so many racers end up cramping later on. You go from resting to red line instantly and it is bound to catch up with you after a few hours of riding.

By the time we hit Jack's I had some breathing room, which was nice. I was sticking to the wheel of the rider in front of me and had over 100 meters to the next rider behind me. We managed to pass a few people along this trail as any rider who comes off their bike is pretty much forced to step aside and let the other riders continue on.

Jack's Trail pretty much spits you out onto a forest service road, still climbing of course, and it was at this point that I found myself in no man's land, just back of the pack in front of me, as the rider I had been tailing lost contact with them, and just ahead of a chase group behind me. This is not a good place to be in a bike race as the pack chasing you can catch and swallow you in no time and working to get back on the lead pack is never an easy task. I stood up and started working hard to close the gap before it was too late. It took me a few minutes, but I was able to do so.

About an hour into the race there is a short hike-a-bike section which is finally followed by the first significant downhill portion of the event. As we crested the hike I immediately ran past three riders and put in a final push until we turned into Cliff's and Rob's corners, again single track trails in which you are pretty much stuck in whatever position you entered at. I needed to have made it past one, maybe two more guys. They were not slow riders, but I was continuously looking for any section of the trail where I might be able to pass them as I knew I could open up through here after riding it so many times in training. As I was looking for an opening where you might be able to make it past, should the rider in front of you hold up for a fraction of a second, I ran straight over a tree stump. It threw my seat post into my crotch and nearly took me off my bike altogether...I was sure that I would hear air escaping my tire at any second. I kept looking down to see if I had a slow leak, which wasn't helping me ride any smoother and was only adding to the problem. I spent a good sixty seconds praying to the mountain bike gods to spare me on this day...I have picked up so much garbage on these trails in anticipation of banking karma for a situation just like this one and thankfully I was spared a flat and able to continue on without incident.

I came out of 'the corners' like a man possessed, I shifted into my big ring and didn't look back, it's a double track trail and I just kept yelling,
"On yer left! On yer left!"
I passed no fewer then eight riders in a span of less than a kilometer and for a fraction of a second my balanced, rational side cowered in my right ear...
'This doesn't seem like a great idea, if you bail your day is over and you will be lucky if you're racing again by August...'
Of course that was immediately countered by my competitive side,
'Shut the f$%k up pansy ass, keep sipping your latte and go get a beer ready for us (my bike and I) at the finish line!'

Back into single track on Roller Coaster and once again, I was just two riders too slow. Nowhere to pass, although my handle bars caught one guy in the ribs while I tried my damnedest,
"Sorry"...but not really...

Roller Coaster was the absolute highlight of the entire race for me. People come out en mass to support this event and generally Roller Coaster is where the second biggest party happens (outside of The Feed Zone). They were lined up four deep and you could see camera flashes going off every few hundred feet. It's a great vantage point because you get to see riders switch-backing towards you for a few hundred meters and there are always a few good wipe outs to be had. I heard my name a few times, which is always nice. Of course I have no clue of who was up there as the eyes can't loose focus on the trail, but thanks if you happened to be one of them!

I was dieing to get past these two riders and finally it widened enough for me to do so, they went left and I ducked right. It was the final stretch of Roller Coaster before you get spit out onto the road for a kilometer, and the most technical section of trail in there. I let loose and felt like a total rock star as I bombed down over everything and instantly dropped the riders I had come through there with.

There was a huge gap before the next rider, in fact I could not see anyone on the pavement at all and for a split second I questioned if I had gone wrong...which would effectively be impossible out there anyways. I hammered on the pedals to try and track down whoever the next riders were and it was not until crossing Darwin's (a few km down) that I managed to do so. By this time the people I had lost on Roller Coaster were back on me again. It was blatantly evident to me during this race that my technical riding has become my saving grace. As soon as we hit the next downhill section, going into 'the feed zone' area, (the other main party spot on course where hundreds of people hang out, support their friends and family, pass along food and fluids, etc) which we pass through twice, I again dropped these guys. However after the feed zone you are confronted by Nine Mile hill, code named 'Bonk Hill' and pretty much self explanatory.

It was at this point in the race that my legs started to talk to me. I have learned the hard way that if you don't listen to your legs they will ensure that they find a way to be heard eventually! I knew that I had to take it down a notch, not worry about any riders around me and stay within my means. I did not want a repeat of 05 and it was all feeling eerily similar, although I knew that I was thirty minutes ahead of my time for 05 already. In what was the hardest thing for me to do in the entire event, I let a pack of riders drop me on the climb. I counted ten guys at one point...ten placings right in front of me and I was powerless to take advantage of it!

Nine mile plateaus a few times and for each one you can squeeze in some short heart rate recovery for the the legs. I was just a little shocked at the second to last plateau, in which you can see a few hundred meters ahead, to find that I was all alone again. The pack had put some serious time into me in a very short distance. There was one final climb to go, The Lava Flow. This is initially where I fell apart in 05 having to walk the entire thing and stop numerous times due to cramping. I promised myself that would not happen again and was effectively saving myself for this section, the last serious climb of the entire race. I turned the final corner into the last big push and there they were, all of the riders who had just left me. It was rewarding to pass a group of them on this stretch as they seemed to have made the same mistake I did two years earlier.

At the top of The Lava Flow were local bike shop owner Dave Heisler and all around good guy Ron Enns, both manning an aid station. They each took the time to give a nice booster push as I came past and for a fraction of a second the legs felt good again. Heading into 'The Rip' and 'The Plunge' it was once more necessary to find yourself a good position as these are fast, lengthy, fairly technical downhill sections. I sprinted past three guys at the entry to The Rip and managed to catch another four riders on the downhill portion.

At the end of The Ring Creek Rip, there is a short flat trail that you have to peddle until you get into The Powerhouse Plunge. It was at this point that my legs just exploded. I was forced to bike with my knees at 45 degree angles to the bike just to keep from completely cramping up. I just wanted to get through this and onto the downhill portion of The Plunge without having to walk. I was then passed by two riders, Justin Mark and Andrew Clarke. I have an immense amount of respect for both of these people as great bikers and all around athletes, and I fought through the pain to jump on their wheels. We were tire to tire going into the most technical part of the entire race. I had pre-rode this section of the course two days earlier and cleaned the entire route, but not 200 meters into it I managed to go over the handlebars! I hadn't gone over the bars in over a year and was laying there in shock as I watched Justin and Andrew disappear down the trail. I tried to get back on my bike, but I had lost all momentum to carry me over the obstacles and I was forced to run with it for a bit before I was able to get back in the saddle again.

I was able to shake off the fall, feeling none the worse for wear and went about tracking down an additional five riders. At the bottom of The Plunge you go through the feed zone for the second time. The race has but twenty minutes left to it at this point. I was again all alone as I biked through here, with no one directly ahead of or behind me. Keith Nicoll, me boss man, was manning a North Shore Athletics tent and was kind enough to share the backwash remains of his Red Bull drink...it still helped.

From the feed zone there is but a short ride through Crumpit Woods, also known as Cramp It Woods, and a blast past the Smoke Bluffs and some flat trails to the finish line. I was absolutely dieing and as soon as I hit the trails in Crumpit I came off my bike and had to walk. I was however able to keep moving and I had stashed away a Nuun tablet for just this occurrence. I popped it straight into my mouth and let it fizz away. To my amazement I actually seemed to be making time on the rider in front of me and I could see no one coming from back down the trail. I was again catching up to my buddy Andrew Clarke, he was suffering just as bad and I was able to pass him a gel as I went by on the last section of the climb.

The Nuun seemed to work wonders and although my legs were burning up, I was able to continue riding and even managed to bike up and over the final few climbs. I dropped out into Valley Cliff and was shocked to see Justin Mark and one additional rider just a few hundred meters up the road. I fought hard to close the gap, came flying past the Smoke Bluffs faster then I ever would have dreamed to be safe, and managed to catch them both just as we crossed Logger's Lane into the final section of the race.

Less than a kilometer to go. I told myself to play it smart, try to conserve and then out sprint them on the final straight away where it would be wide enough to do so. A few tight turns and there it was, the last section of the course, I knew my legs were done and only hoped that the adrenaline rush would carry me through.

"On yer right!"

I sped past both riders and into the final turn, a ninety degree sweep to the right which led us over a grassy field and across the finish line. The line wasn't where I remembered it being, it was 100 meters further on, I had no idea what was happening behind me and was trying to fight through the overload of lactic acid...with only meters to go a wheel surged past me at the line...he freakin beat my by one second!!

It actually took me a minute to realize what I great race I had and forget that I had been taken at the finish line by Justin. I congratulated him on a good race and spent a few minutes waiting for my legs to properly function again.

My official finish time was 3h14m even. I was later ecstatic to learn that I was 3rd in my age group and 29TH overall! All in all a phenomenal race for me. Team Helly Hansen/MOMAR racer Megan Rose was also out and she managed to win her age category in a time of 4hr5m27s, finishing as the 15Th overall female!

Although I cramped it was from riding beyond my means and not lack of nutrition. I completed the entire event on just one bottle of Carbo-Pro 1200 and one Nuun tablet...the perfect mix.

No time for rest, as before Friday morning I have to work 40 hours, move into my new place, recover from this race and be on a plane heading to Prince Rupert for Raid The North Extreme. I will not be home again until July 2ND and in all likelihood this will be my last posting until that date. In the meantime, be sure to follow team Helly Hansen/MOMAR's progress up north on the RTNX website and Sleepmonsters.ca

Wish us luck!!


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