Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Race’

A GranFondo Retrospective. Try It, You’ll Like It.

September 23, 2011 5 comments

The beginning to a long day

My first hitch of the day was applying sunscreen to my arms, and then trying to roll up my arm warmers. The forecast for the day was hot: yet leaving my house by the light of the moon and riding to the start of the GranFondo required warmth, thus the sunscreen/arm warmer combination. The two don’t mingle, it turns out, and I think all of my sunscreen was scraped off by the time my arm warmers were in place.

These are the things you just can’t plan for, but they always make race days memorable.

I left my house at 5:45 am to ride the 10 kilometers to the start (in effect making it a 132 km event, since my mind did record every kilometer we passed), when the second hitch struck. There are no streetlights on my road, and I couldn’t see a thing. I gingerly glided down the hill in the dark, hoping I didn’t spill before I even got to the starting line.

Once down on the well-illuminated main road, I was immediately caught up in a cheerfully growing peloton making their way over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, to the start of the race on Georgia Street. Thus began the camaraderie – I knew no one, but felt a common bond. For those who don’t do these races, this a big part of why we do them.

A full hour before the race, thousands of riders were already in place for the start. It was a sea of spandex and rubber, so I had to text to find my friend. Once in place, we watched the circus unfolding around us. Finally at 7:00 am, Barney Bentall and Jim Cuddie sang our national anthem, and then hopped on their bikes for the 122 km ride to Whistler. I know, cool, right?

This beginning section was what I feared most: bikes everywhere in a narrow corrider, unclipping from my pedals hundreds of times until we got some space between us to ride freely. But my fears were unfounded: race organizers did a bang up job and it went off without a hitch. We were on our way.

Riding through West Vancouver was so much fun – it was thrilling to have our own lane on the highway, and spectators huddled on overpasses and along the exits to cheer on riders. I was so relieved to be actually on my bike and upright after the start, I felt rather invincible.

That wouldn’t last long however: shortly after Horseshoe Bay riders were off their bikes and motioning for us to slow down. A rider had crashed and looked badly injured, medics were already on the scene. One look at the accident and I lost my mojo, slowing considerably for a while after. A split second can change everything.

View from Horseshoe Bay (taken on another day)

I had lost my friend but found her again as we rode up the Furry Creek hill. We decided to stop at the next rest stop in Britannia Beach and grab some food. The rest stops were somewhat of a party, with hundreds of bikers milling about and always familiar faces. It was nice to get off that seat, if only for a couple of minutes. We refueled and hit the road; it was literally all uphill from here: the biggest increase in elevation occurs between Squamish and Whistler. I had ridden to Squamish and back in training, but didn’t have much knowledge of the road from that point on.

It is drastically different when driving.

As luck would have it it was getting hot as we started the uphill slog after Squamish. I noticed lots of riders beginning to slow down, and could see the distance was taking its toll. My knee was starting to throb, and getting up out of my seat was painful. I kept my head down and hoped the pain would subside eventually, since I otherwise felt fine, if a tad tired.

I pulled into the rest stop at the Salt Shed, with about 30 kilometers to go. Thankfully the medical tent was even closer than the water station. I walked in and asked, “What do you have for pain?” One volunteer sat me down and started rubbing what I hoped was miracle cream on my knee, while another got me Advil and refilled my water bottles. As this was happening two other riders came in asking the million dollar question, “What do you have for pain?”

With 30 kilometers to go, I was fairly certain I could finish, even if I had to pedal with only my left foot. But eventually either the Advil kicked in or the cream started to work, and I felt better. This was fortuitous because this is where the killer hills lurked. The sun was beating down on the asphalt and reeking havoc with tired riders. Many were pulled over during the last fifteen kilometers trying to stretch out muscle cramps, while others were losing their lunch. I focused on the road in front of me and counted down the distance; the kilometers at this point passing almost intolerably slowly.

I like to think I was passing this car...

Finally we were at Function Junction, and the tree cover provided a break from the unrelenting sun. The undulating hills that brought us in to the village were much kinder than the previous steep climbs, and of course there was the knowledge that the finish was near. Things were getting better.

Riding the last couple of turns were actually pleasurable – despite the pain running through my body, from a sore neck to an incredibly sore butt – knowing the race was behind me, the finish line in sight, and a beer would taste incredibly good soon.

Sitting on the grass later that evening, listening to 5440 play an outdoor concert as the sun fell behind Blackcomb mountain, it was hard to argue this was not an amazing event. I had been nervous about making the jump to road riding, but was euphoric I had done it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Advertisements

For GranFondo Virgins, Myself Among Them

September 9, 2011 4 comments

If you plan on heading to Whistler this weekend, pump up your tires and join the crowd: you will be served better by two wheels than four. The RBC GranFondo is in town. If your Italian is rusty, GranFondo translated means long race, massive pain. The upside is that cyclists will have their very own precious northbound lane along the Sea to Sky corrider from early morning until late afternoon.

For this special day, cyclists will not have to choke on exhaust. They will not be forced onto the gravel shoulder of a road by cars insistent on hugging the white line. They will be able to enjoy the breathtaking views in their peripheral vision without the distracting roar of engines.

Combine these attractions with the aging demographic, who find cycling easier on the joints if hard on the pocketbook, and you get 4000 participants in last year’s inaugural event. A huge turnout by any race standard. This year the event has almost doubled in size – it sold out in April to 7000 riders.

And yes, I’m one of them.

I have logged hundreds of miles, much of them uphill, in preparation. I’ve gone from shakily practicing those damn toe clips in my driveway to manouvering skillfully through intersections. I’ve only fallen once this summer (and that was down stairs without my bike). I feel ready for this challenge – but for one caveat.

I’m used to avoiding hulking weapons of steel, otherwise known as cars, on my rides, but what about the 6,999 other cyclists? I’ve ridden with the occasional friend in my training, but it’s hard to practice riding in a pack without, well, a pack.

So I’ve been busily interviewing every cyclist I know and Googling the hell out of “Tips for cycling races.” The best advice I’ve had so far has been from my friend and uber-athlete, Chrissie, who told me NEVER, in any circumstances, take your eyes off the road. This may seem obvious, but I frequently shoulder check while I ride, which entails taking my eyes off the road for a millisecond. This is a no-no. I am to use my peripheral vision to shoulder check.

Eyes front.

The other thing she told me was to not watch the wheel of the rider in front of me, but rather look through them at the level of their hips, in order to see the road in front of that rider (as best you can without possessing x-ray vision).

So eyes front and slightly raised.

But what about all of those obstacles that we swerve to avoid, like broken glass and large potholes? Cyclists that I know will point these out with a wave of their hand if they are in front of me. If I’m alone however, I sometimes don’t see them until the last second. The answer, according to bloggers, is to slowly and steadily steer around these obstacles, with the emphasis on slowly and steadily. If you see it too late, and if it’s not big enough to swallow you and your bike whole, then ride through it rather than swerve and risk the rider behind you crashing into you.

Once again, the message here is eyes front. I’m getting it.

So it goes without saying when reaching for water bottles or fuel, do it without taking your eyes off of the road. My friend caught grief from riders in the Napa GranFondo when she inadvertently dropped her water bottle. Of course it was a mistake, but one that could have had consequences. I’m planning on not touching my bottles until well out of the pack.

Eyes front, steady hands.

Of course there are other niggling worries for the 120 km ride: proper nutrition and hydration, fatigue, my incessantly complaining ass. But they all pale in comparison to staying upright through the thickest of things. My biggest challenge will be to remain focused on the road in front of me, even if the rider beside me is naked.

Eyes front, smiling permitted.

Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished