Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Steaming Nostril 65k Spring Classic Cycle Race - Sunday, March 24th, 2013

I'm bad at riding bikes.

Sunday began with a thick layer of frost covering the trees and a vague sense of foreboding. I'd gone out the day before and done entirely too much training, including some trail recon by bike and by foot.

Running the Mill Run Trail

Dusty contemplates the Grand Trunk Trail

In fact it's possible that I did a little too much trail recon - between an hour and a bit on the bike (to the market and back), 1h25m of trail running and a 35min swim, I ended up with just over 3 hours of training on Saturday. Oh well, at least I finally knew which bike I was going to ride for the race - with the lumpiness on the trails from the ice and snow plus the sketchy traction, my wrist demanded a squishy fork and my idiocy would need every bit of float & traction possible. 

We were up, packed (mostly) and ready to go in good time and made it to the race venue with well over an hour before the start. We took our time getting ready as it was still ridiculously cold out and we weren't in a hurry to stand around in spandex to catch a chill. I brushed my teeth (seriously - try this right before a race!) and pondered what the rail trail was going to be like, eventually making a judgement call and inflating my tires to 35psi in hopes of maintaining bite while still being able to roll well on the dirt roads. The final route had been posted, and the trail would be a major feature at both the beginning and end of the course:

That curvy bit from Elmira to Wallenstein is all trail - almost 7km.

We'd been told that the trail had been plowed out, as there had been up to 2' of snow in some places. Yeah, two freakin' feet! What was left was a mixture of spongy ice, some snow in both hard- and soft-packed varieties, and some bare trail that was completely saturated with water - basically the kind of conditions that result in the closure of mountain bike trails the world over. Not so the Kissing Bridge Trailway; no, not this day!

Mounted police provided pacing for the neutral start - see video here.

It's all smiles and sunshine before the start.
Rolling out.
Photo courtesy of Joe C. aka jerrycan
Tanker and I cheered the first wave off, then lined up squarely at the back of the second wave and pedaled easy on the way out through Elmira. This turned out to be a mistake, as we found ourselves stuck behind a large number of riders on the rail trail whom we could have passed had conditions not been rather abominable. Tanker managed to get past a few, then when I tried to follow him I caught a soft spot and nearly went down - my front wheel had an alarming tendency to try to flip out from under me when things got mushy. I did eventually manage to catch Tank (after having to clip out and pause to un-clench), then hit another soft spot about 3-4km out and fell the hell over. I left a near-perfect silhouette of my right hip, torso, arm & shoulder in the ~18" deep snowbank on the side of the trail as I didn't even bother letting go of the handlebars - no breakage! 

Artist's conception.

This qualifies as race worthy, apparently.
Photo courtesy of Dan Dakin
Back up on the rubber again, I actually managed to negotiate the rest of the trail without further horizontal track standage. The last couple of kilometers were the worst part, though, culminating in a muddy drainage ditch just before our exit onto line 86. You can check out Rob MacEwen's video of the opening kilometers, including what passed for "rail trail", here. Keep in mind that we were tackling it after about 250 sets of wheels had already rolled through it, as opposed to the relatively fresh condition in his footage from closer to the front. I could hear my brake pads being ground away by the mud stuck to my discs - a sure sign the rest of the day was not going to be a bundle of joy.

Tanker and I pedaling through soup.

We both picked up a fair bit of the landscape and took it for a ride.
Photos courtesy of Joe C. aka jerrycan

Hitting some honest-to-gawd pavement was bliss, and a downhill to boot! I took the opportunity to spin my legs out a little after thrashing along through the wheel-sucking mud and snow, while Tanker went for the burst of speed by shifting to the big ring and hammering. Poor decision #2 there: his front derailleur promptly froze, stranding him sur la plaque for the rest of the race. We stopped around the 15km point as Tank needed a "natural break", so I went to work to try to un-stick the derailleur - I broke the 3/4" thick coating of ice off the cable, kicked the derailleur body, and even tried to dig out the ice and frozen mud with a tire lever, but to no avail (other than snapping the end off the tire lever, down to the metal core). Hindsight is 20/20 - he should have just pissed on the damn thing. The muddy ice was so sticky it actually formed little chickpea-sized balls on the casting threads of my tires that lasted almost the whole race.

Stuck and f..

Yes, there were 4' tall snowbanks along the sides of some roads.

While there isn't anything really steep, the rest of the course did have its share of rolling hills and since most of it was on dirt roads rolling resistance was a definite factor. Tanker gamely did his best, but since I had a much wider range of gears available (having stayed in the middle ring from start to finish I had no issues with front shifting, and my 11-34 cassette gives me lots of options) I would end up riding away from him on the climbs and then stopping to wait for him at various points along the course, with lots of soft-pedaling in between. This made it tough for me to stay warm, and my fingers, thumbs and toes quickly turned into sensationless blocks of ice. We rode through the countryside of Mennonite farms, winding over creeks and the Conestoga River, watching innumerable horse-drawn carts prance down damn country lanes.

Not conducive to fast rolling.
I ate a Larabar after hour and a quarter, kept sipping at my bottles (the small one with water, the large one with eLoad), and kept grinding away. My legs hurt, but were responsive, and I was getting a fair bit of rest while waiting for Tanker to catch up. I could tell the day was wearing on him, as each time it seemed to take him a little longer to pull back up alongside. I ate another bar at 2h20 of rolling time, right around the 41km mark, and had plenty of time to finish it and wash it down with some fluids before Tank hove into view. I suggested that maybe he consider dropping when we got to the rest stop a couple of kilometers further on, and he said he'd see when we got there.

The long stretch of Chalmers Forrest Road leading to the aid station was right into a nasty headwind - it picked up all of the chill of the snow-laden fields and seemed to cut right through your clothing to your very core. The nostrils of the horses drawing Mennonite buggies were indeed steaming, and our own were certainly streaming! While the forecast had called for sunny, light winds and 4c, the reality turned out to be rather different:

Under "feels like" for every hour they should have said "bloody freezing".

Reaching the rest stop, I dumped my bike in a snowbank and hustled over to the portajohns to adjust my hydration levels. Because I was wearing a jacket, full-zip thermal jersey, winter tights and bib shorts, I had to strip damn near starkers in order to take a leak, leaving me in my soaking wet short-sleeved merino base layer. I started to shiver, which became almost uncontrollable as I re-donned my wet and now freezing cold kit. Despite getting out of the wind, I was now going hypothermic!

Pretty much sums it up.
I wandered into the tent at the aid station to try to warm up out of the breeze, but to no avail. The sun had disappeared behind gloomy clouds, and my core temperature continued to drop. I thought I had overdressed for the conditions, but I had clearly under-dressed for the circumstances in which I found myself. Fortunately the on-course support sprang into action:

I will be making a donation to SJA of Kitchener-Waterloo today. 
While I shivered and slapped self-adhesive toe warmers on my chest and back, Tanker came to grips with the fact that his day was done.

Tough go..

He'd soldiered on to this point like a boss, but single-speeding halfway down the cassette in the big ring just wasn't sustainable into the headwind we were fighting and there was still the rail trail left to go. The sag wagon was contacted and would be there in 15mins or so. While we waited - with me still in the St. John's Ambulance techs' truck with the heat going full-blast - a few more people came into the aid station and left again. I thought long and hard about abandoning, especially since I still couldn't seem to get my feet to warm up at all, but then thought about the fact I really had no excuse; my bike was still functional, I wasn't injured, and I was just being a wuss. If I didn't have to stop and wait for Tanker anymore I'd be able to work as hard as I wanted to keep myself warm, and I had the heat packs to supplement my own internal furnace. Yep, it was time for me to get going before the broom wagon showed up and I lost my nerve! I un-bundled myself from the blankets, pulled on my gloves and climbed out of the truck.

Tanker, of course, wanted to know what the hell I thought I was doing. The medics weren't exactly keen on my idea of continuing, either, but I explained that I felt like I had to give it a shot. After all, they'd be sweeping the course anyway so if I got into serious trouble I'd just flag someone down to give me a ride. I almost changed my mind as the wind bit into me once more and I was told I had another 5-6km left to go with it in my face, but I clambered onto my bike anyway and pedaled off after getting a kiss and "you're out of your feckin' mind" from my sweetheart. When I left, two other participants were just pulling in to the feed zone and another lady was waiting for her ride.

Pulling away alone into a headwind was not exactly a fun time. I'd averaged 19.6kph per my cycle computer getting to the rest stop, but between fatigue, the dirt road and the resistance I was down to a spectacular 15.7kph and wondering if I'd made the wrong decision. My legs protested at turning cranks after being off the road for at least 30mins (judging by the timestamps on my tweets), and my adductors made it clear that they'd had more than enough of climbing. The heat packs on my chest were coming unstuck as I sweated, so every now and again I'd slap them back in place, serving only to confirm to any onlookers that I had in fact lost my bleeding mind. What kind of idiot thumps their chest while crawling along a country lane on a mountain bike?

I quickly reeled in a couple of ladies who had left the aid station a few minutes before me, giving a friendly word and then speeding (relatively) away after making the turn onto Buehler Line. The course is a net downhill from just past the rest stop, so with a crosswind I was able to spin things back up a bit and make some time. I pulled past another girl with whom we'd been trading places all day, feeling good about the fact I'd managed to catch someone who I know left the rest stop before I even got in the truck to warm up. Of course, I was now completely alone and heading for the rail trail - it had been bad enough after 200+ riders had chewed it up, but what would it be like after 400+ sets of wheels and the bit of afternoon sun? The intersections still had police offering traffic control and directions save for one, so despite not knowing the time I figured I couldn't be too terribly late.

I eventually found my way back to Line 86, this time having to climb the hill where Tanker's front derailleur froze. I had a fit of pique as I was hungry (having eaten nothing since before the aid station) and something in the area smelled hugely of fresh-baked pizza - I'm sure I was hallucinating at this point. The volunteers directed me to the trailhead, and warned me to stay to the side as the mud in the middle was nigh impassable. I thanked them, walked my bike over the drainage ditch and looked at the conditions, and promptly decided I was better off on foot. This end of the trail had been the worst part earlier in the day, and things had certainly not improved. I'm actually happy that the fast people had to ride the same bit of trail a second time just to see the mess they made of it!

I walked a fair bit of the first portion, then mounted up and found that the stone dust trail had gotten even wetter and muddier, with many more sections of soft snow. It was an endless cycle of mount, ride anywhere from 50 to 250m, then dismount and walk. Just to add insult, my cleats iced up horribly and I lost the ability to clip in my right foot; this meant I had to spin rather gingerly to avoid losing the pedal (which happened a few times anyway), costing me even more speed. I spent a disheartening amount of time slogging through the muck in the largest cog - I'd already seen that my granny ring was nothing but a doughnut of muddy ice and completely inaccessible. While I was sure I was walking at least as fast as I was riding, my cycle computer told a different tale; my walking speed topped out at 5.6kph, but I could ride consistently at close to 11kph. I might have been more aggressive about staying on the bike if there were other people around, but as it stood I had no idea if there was anyone who could come to my aid if I fell and injured myself - I figured I'd already used up my luck by finding a soft place to land in my early spill, so it was time to take things conservatively.

As I pushed onward, both by bike and on foot, I'd occasionally catch glimpses of two other riders ahead on the trail. I slowly but surely gained on them, finally exiting the gawdforsaken rail trail just a few dozen metres behind. As they dismounted to walk their bikes up the dirt hill to Snyder Ave, I managed to spin past them while my legs screamed in protest. Finding myself back on pavement - halleluja! - I clicked up through the cogs and rolled past a sign that told me I was just one measly kilometer from the finish.

Still alive!

A quick right-left jog and then one final turn to see the glory of the finish line in front of me. I pedaled through somewhere between 4:04 and 4:05pm - almost exactly five hours after the horn had sounded to start wave 2. My legs were not on speaking terms with me, my butt was sore, and my wrist was aching in spite of the squishy fork. Oh, I'd also managed to go hypothermic AND get sunburned at the same time!


Tanker almost had to pull me off the bike.
Tanker loaded my bike onto the rack and I was invited into the Lions Hall to warm up with a delicious bowl of butternut squash soup. Several people kindly congratulated me on finishing, and I did my best to politely thank them while using most of my energy just to keep from falling over. As I ate and changed into warm, dry clothes, feeling slowly returned to my extremities but I could tell that the ride had taken its toll. Awfully glad I slept in instead of going for the half-hour run I'd intended to in the morning before the race!

Bringing the trail home with me.

Back of my jacket. The mud crept in everywhere..

Tanker and I packed my sweaty, muddy kit into a garbage bag and bundled ourselves into the car with our stash of snacks (cheese curds and corn chips and a chocolate macaroon, oh my!) then set off to take care of the mess our bikes were in.

Check out the chunks of muddy ice under my bike - Tanker had to break them off by hand.
Because I was apparently 5mins too late getting to the finish, there is no official result for any member of ill advised racing for this day. I may have a technical DNF at the inaugural Steaming Nostril, but I think rather more importantly:

1) I stayed with my husband while he was having a rough go.
2) I wasn't even last, and I was passing people right up until the very end.
3) I didn't quit.

I also keep my word.

Final results per my cycle computer give my rolling time as 4:08:23 for 69.13km - an average of 16.7kph. Had I not spent the first two thirds soft-pedaling behind people on the trail and trying to keep Tanker on my wheel (resulting in the hypothermia) it would have been a very different day...but there's always next year.

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