Monday, April 16, 2012

Paris to Ancaster 60k - April 15th, 2012

I've said it before and I'll say it again: a triathlete doing a bike race is like bringing a rubber chicken to a swordfight - you're definitely not going to win, but you're almost sure to get some laughs.

This qualifies as a "beautiful day" for P2A.

Inauspicious beginning - the rain just kept getting harder as we got closer to Paris, and I spent most of the time between arrival and the start hiding in the car and drinking my pre-race cafe mocha. They were calling for a possibility of thunderstorms around noon, but it was already 14c and would climb to 20c by the time the race was over, at which point it would clear up and be a lovely day. Further proof that race director Tim Farrar special-orders rain for race day!

About to head to the start.

I decided to go with pretty minimal kit - merino wool short-sleeve base layer, merino wool socks, bibs, knee warmers, short-sleeve jersey with arm warmers, a tech fabric cycling cap and my mountain bike gloves. I hemmed and hawed about adding my vest, but decided against it as I didn't want to be too warm and wouldn't have a pocket big enough to ditch it. As I tweeted after running into a friend and discussing apparel choices, "#P2A resembles the red carpet in Hollywood: everyone just talks about what they're wearing."

Ran into Jon from the Hub and Trevor, with whom we've rode a few times.

I also dropped my tire pressures from their usual 85psi (for road and rail trail; the max for the tires I'm using)  to a more traction-friendly 47psi. I knew I'd be dealing with a lot of mud, and my bike handling skills leave a lot to be desired! To make things even more interesting, I discovered that the centre nubs on my rear tire were showing significant wear; perhaps I should've looked into this sooner, as it looked like I was going to have some issues. Nothing to be done then, though, so I mounted up and found some more friendly faces on the way to the start corral - we chatted a bit while the first two waves went off, then lined up to get after it. Zero warmup other than schluffing up to the start.

Blowing my soigneur one last kiss before the gun.

The rain was coming down pretty well as we set off, and the rail trail on which you ride the first 6 or 7 kilometers had a slick of water on top. I was immediately coated with spatters of mud from both my wheels and those that I followed - the trail bottlenecks the hundreds of riders in each wave, so you're constantly looking for space to make a pass. I managed to make my way through quite a number of riders, and bridge up a couple of packs. I was rolling really well on the rail trail (when I had space), and feeling reasonably confident even in the muddy spots; the tire pressure seemed to be bang on and I was pretty comfortable.

Top of the fire road - where we stopped last year to let Tank remove his toe covers.

We made the turn onto the fire road and the rear wheel broke loose almost immediately on the wet stones, but I managed to stay upright and merely stepped off my bike. I walked this hill last year, and it looked like I'd be walking again this year. No big deal; it's a long day, and I knew it wasn't the last time I'd be dismounting. After snapping this pic I re-mounted and rode on until we hit the first stretch of mud off McLean School Road, where the wheel-jamming mud I remembered from last year reared its head. My drivetrain also started to sound like crap, which is typical of the P2A experience.

Almost everyone is walking, including me.

Not as terrified as I look - just out of breath.

When I say wheel-jamming mud, I really mean it - I remembered it from Charlie's Farm at about the 50km point last year, but I was only 10km or less in and already the wheels were sticking solid every 30 yards! I found a small chunk of stick to help me poke the mud out and dubbed it my Paris Ancaster Specialty Tool, then stuck it in my jersey pocket for the next time I needed it. I also tossed back a tangerine eLoad gel to supplement the bottle with 2 scoops of eLoad endurance formula I'd been sipping, washing it down with water. My bottles and the gel pack were covered in mud, though, so it wasn't the most pleasant experience.

This is why you need a P2A Specialty Tool - that wheel won't move.

Up until it became impossible to ride, though, I'd actually been rolling through the mud much more confidently than last year. Some time spent on my mountain bike in 2011 improved my handling skills a bit, not to mention last year's P2A experience, and the lower tire pressure was working well. Things were still quite sketchy, but I developed a little mantra that helped me immensely: "eyes up, light on the pedals". As long as I kept looking where I wanted to go and just kept the wheels rolling along, I managed to straggle through.


I was also super happy I'd remembered to put on my 12-27 cassette, as I was spending most of my time in the mud in 36/27 in an effort to keep from breaking the rear tire loose. Even at that, I found myself on a number of occasions just turning over the pedals while the rear wheel spun in the loose, wet mud - fortunately, I always managed to get a foot out and on the ground before I fell over.

The mud just keeps on coming.

I was feeling pretty good, too - more confidence than last year, and better fitness. There were even a few points where I broke into a run with the bike when I couldn't ride, though I'm not going to tell you that I was moving very fast or that it happened very often! Still, I was having a great time and even the rain had stopped.

It's not foggy - I'm shooting through a ziploc baggie!

I also stopped periodically to take some photos, because I don't really have any illusions about actually racing P2A. Might as well enjoy the day! I knocked back another gel; trying out the new peanut butter flavour of Gu. Super tasty stuff, and went down really well! Will have to keep that one in mind for the future.

Taking some of the landscape along for the ride.

The part that always makes me laugh is coming out to a road section (either paved or dirt; they're mostly the latter) after one of the muddy stretches - when you pick up some speed, clumps of mud come flying off your wheels! I actually managed to reach down and glove off my tires to try to keep mud from building up on the brakes as I was riding - probably the closest I'll ever come to being a cyclocross stud.

More mud? What a surprise!

After the bit of a rest from walking my bike (sometimes having to carry it) through the unrideable bits, I was able to crank really well when I actually got out onto non-technical terrain. My legs were responding to the mini-taper and carbo loading, and I felt great! I blew past dozens of people on the road and rail trail sections, particularly those on mountain bikes; every time I think about riding my mtb for this event, I try to remember how much time I make up flying along at 30+kph on the roads. I was amazed to see one gent riding the same Tim Hortons Roll-up-the-rim-to-win Raleigh full suspension mountain bike that Tanker won in 2002; that bloody thing weighs 35lbs if it's an ounce, and the fellow riding it didn't look like a spring chicken, either! Good on you, whoever you may be, sir!

Muddy Snorky in Harrisburg.

I finally reached the Harrisburg aid station (close to the halfway point) at about the two-hour mark after nearly losing it on a poured gravel driveway - it was only about 100 metres long and I managed to make it through about 85 of those, but then my rear wheel tried going sideways on me and I had to stop. Rather than trying to get going again in the gravel, I walked the last few feet back onto pavement. You can see the first half of the course, including the aforementioned gravel, in this video from Hamilton Spectator reporter John Rennison. You can also see Jay from the Hub on his unicycle - that kid is freakin' nuts.

Snorky and I in Harrisburg.

I stopped at the aid station to fill bottles, using one full bottle of water to hose off my brakes and derailleurs  then topping it up again so I'd have some water to wash down gels. I topped my eLoad endurance formula bottle off with water, too, just to keep hydration levels up; I didn't intend to stop again and didn't want to run out of beverages. I only ended up taking one more gel - one of the mild apple eLoad gels that Chris from Endless Endurance had hooked me up with before the race - and did so from the saddle on one of the paved sections. Thanks again Chris!

Route map from Peter Mogg's Strava data

I don't have any photos from the last half of the course, which features 2 sections of farm lane including "the Prenderlaan" (new for 2012; 1.2km of double-track squishy mud and grass that replaces a paved section), 2 stretches of rail trail (on the Hamilton to Brantford leg of the Trans Canada Trail), the two main mud slides (Charlie's Farm and the Powerline Mudslide), and a number of hills. I was actually pretty proud of the fact that I managed to ride the whole of both of the farm lanes, and I didn't end up walking on any of the paved or dirt road hills (the one exception being part of the final hill) - that was a huge improvement over last year, when I wussed out a couple of times. Might have just been the 27t cog (vs 25t as my largest last year), but I'd like to think I'm improving!

Ever-present and all-pervasive.

I didn't even stand to climb; just stayed in the saddle, at most moving my hands to the tops to open up my hip angle and concentrating on keeping my upper body quiet while pedaling full circles. I passed a lot of people on the hills who were walking and even managed to pass a couple of folks in the mud! I hiked the messy downhills, though, since I still don't have a lot of confidence in my bike handling and my brakes' effectiveness was badly compromised by the mud. Better to get out un-injured! I did see quite a number of people go down at varying levels of severity, but most people's falls were cushioned by the ever-present mud. I was just enjoying myself, and even saw the sun try to poke its head out a couple of times.

Quite literally head to toe.

Hamilton Spectator reporter John Rennison's second video here is a pretty good summary of the latter half of the race, though he doesn't really capture the nasty little dirt road rollers that try to tear your quads apart before you reach the Powerline Mudslide. I was able to hammer along brilliantly and make up some serious time (and placings) on the rail trail and road, but even walking some of the mud, like Charlie's Farm and Martin Road, was enough to make you suck wind. Nothing, however, can quite prepare you for the suck of the final climb up the escarpment to the finish line.

My quads hurt just looking at this.

I tried to hold as much speed as I could as I came out of the last of the mud, and shifted down a couple of cogs so I'd have somewhere to go when my legs started to protest. I made it through the first 50 metres or so, then the grade started to kick in and I had to drop to the 24t cog, then the 27t, then stand up to make it through the first third...and then give up as both legs just about seized up on me. That damn hill goes to something like 13% in the middle section, and after the preceding 59.5km of quad-shredding terrain it's all I could do to even walk the bike up it. I do, however, have proof that I passed somebody on the final climb:

Thanks to Chris Teschke for the GoPro video.

I panted and gasped and pushed Snorky along through the second third of the hill, then re-mounted where it flattens out a bit for the last third. At the very least, I could ride my bike across the line after having taken it for a walk through the countryside!

Just crossed the finish line.

Tanker was waiting for me at the finish, snapping the pic above and then coming over to be his usual wonderful, supportive self. Of course, we got the obligatory covered-in-mud post-P2A pics:


Made sure to get one of my back this time - forgot last year.
You can just see my P2A Specialty Tool sticking out of my left jersey pocket.

A few moments later, Chris appeared (he says I managed to gain 2 minutes on him on the final hill alone), so we got a pic together. We'd spent most of the race passing one another as the various sections played to our strengths and weaknesses!

Good times!

Then we headed over to the car so I could get changed out of wet gear and load up the bike to go home. My time was 4:07:52, which was a bit disappointing as I'd hoped to break 4 hours this year and felt like I had rode much faster than 2011. I had improved almost 5mins over last year's 4:12:36, and I believe the course change (swapping a paved section for the Prenderlaan farm lane) made for slower times overall. 2011 and 2012 overall winner Mike Garrigan went 1:44:46 last year but 1:48:23 on this outing, and Nathan Chown  (9th in 2011, 3rd in 2012) posted a 1:49:09 last year but went 1:56:08 on the new course. From this I'm going to deduct that I was probably a little more than 10mins faster than last year, which isn't too shabby! My placing, however, sucked: 1127 of 1275 overall, 85 out of 102 women and 15/22 in W30-39. Hey, I'm not a cyclist! I'm sure I also could have made up 8 minutes to break 4 hours had I not stopped so often to take photos in the first half, to see if a girl who went down in the first mud section needed me to call for help, or for the few minutes to try to rinse off my derailleurs at Harrisburg.

Calf sleeves made of mud! 

My cycle computer tells a story of greater improvement than the race results: last year's data showed 56.2km in 3:35:50, for an average of 15.5kph (when the real wheel was actually spinning), whereas this year's readings were 60.4km in 3:33:20 at an average of 17.0kph. I felt good through the whole race, fueling went well (I had 2 extra gels with me, but didn't feel I needed them), tire pressure seemed well-judged and clothing was perfect. I had good speed on the roads, way more confidence in the technical sections, didn't crash, spent much more time on my bike than walking beside it (including the hills), and I even managed to run a bit. I'm pretty happy with my effort overall, particularly since this was only my 8th-ish outdoor ride of the year! The trainer just can't prepare you for anything like this.

Result: no, I'm not very good at this. Still have fun, though!

Of course the sun came out just after I finished, when it was all over but the post-race gluttony!

Beer for Tanker and cider for me!

It did, however, give me perfect weather to give poor Snorky a bath. After some serious hose time and a good rub down with a towel, he's all cleaned up and ready for more abuse!

Love this bike!

Then it was my turn for a thorough showering: mud had even made its way through to the inside of my bibs and base layer, not to mention getting caked into my hair.

I don't think it's a look that will catch on.

Final casualty list: I wore holes at the big toe of each of my socks, scraped up the back of my left calf somehow, blackened the nail of the 4th toe on my left foot, and stairs sucked a lot. While I'm mildly bitter about the socks, everything else was assisted by the application of first an empty cider can, then an empty beer can. My vastus medialis muscles (those ones that form the lump over the inside of your knee and work to extend your leg), my neck and my shoulders are a bit sore today, but that's all! I'm feeling good about the work I did on the course since I know that yesterday's efforts will lead to this season's bike fitness, and I'm looking forward to the next cycling event - the 160km Cambridge Tour de Grand!


  1. Thanks for a fun recounting of your P2A race last year. I am entering this year and it is my first race ever of any type -- you just scared the crap outa me! All good thanks for heads-up.

    St. Catharines

    1. Thanks for reading Joe! I'm sure you'll do just fine - it's a fun event with great support, so just relax and enjoy the mud!

    2. Thanks for the encouragement -- I am looking forward to seeing what I can do(survive). There is a lot of moisture in the ground this year -- thinking about putting some aggressive mud knobbies on for this race -- what percentage of the course is off-road compared to tarmac or hard packed country road?


    3. The website says "The course consists of 24km of gravel and dirt roads, 5km of farm lanes, 19km of rail trail, 14km of singletrack (1-3km sections) and 8km of paved road." ( If it's like the past 2 years, you probably won't need anything really knobby because the nastiest sections aren't rideable without your wheels jamming solid. You certainly don't want road slicks, but any cyclocross tire will do and won't slow you down as much in the paved/dirt road/rail trail section where you can make up time. I've just (finally) replaced that worn rear tire with another Kenda Small Block 8 (, which laughably describes itself as ideal for wet/dry pavement and dry hardpack!

  2. Wow Ok thank you so much -- excellent advice -- I'm on a mountain bike with the centre knobbies 1/2 worn -- it rolls well on hard stuff but has the extra side knobbies for heavy sloggin -- maybe I'll stick with that and see how it goes...

    Most important question -- is the beer nearby at the end of the course! Haha

    You are a great source of info for me -- thanks again!

    1. You're very welcome! Those part-worn mtb tires sound about perfect, with the added bonus that you've been riding them so their handling is familiar to you; when the mud hits the fan, knowing how your rubber reacts is worth quite a bit!

      If you're using the provided shuttle back to Paris, be sure to get after that first before thinking about grabbing any "recovery beverages"; it took Tanker and I until nearly 5pm to get back to our car in 2011. While I'm told they were trying to improve the service for last year, I don't have any info as to whether or not that worked out as I had a driver to pick me up. Tank will be riding with me again this year, so we'll find out if things have got any quicker!

  3. This is a great account of the P2A.
    I started cycling last year and I have signed up for the 2014 event (40km).
    This will be my first ever race of any kind!!
    Looking forward to it after reading the updates, better start putting in some Km's if only this snow would clear away!!



    1. That's fantastic; you'll have a great time at the St. George to Ancaster! Best of luck getting your training in - thanks for reading, and for your kind words.


Go on, have at me!