Wow! Seven solid days on the mountain bike have come and gone! I don't think I'll go into a full report on each day but give you the main points that have stuck with me.
To date, I have only ever done one big mountain bike race in my life. I have done many small races but nothing nearly as big as what I was about to partake in. Test of Metal was my first big race and in the end, I was left with a broken bike and a DNF beside my name. So, to say that I was a bit nervous heading into such a large event would be an understatement. I shouldn't say I was nervous though; more like exiting to get things going!
The pre-race pickup and Day 1 start line was located at Shawnigan Lake school. The school grounds were simply amazing. It was a gorgeous campus that reminded me of some of those famous US colleges you see in the movies. I should say here too that the level of organization and professional look of BC Bike Race was bar none. It looked liked a high end race that had been built around decades of races. Yet, here was BC Bike Race, only in its second year and giving you that feel. It was quite incredible to see the whole thing in action with tons of knowledgable volunteers to help you out.
After picking up all our race shwag (including an awesome DaKine roller bag to transport all our gear, Crankbrothers multi-tool, Syncros handlebar, BC Bike Race jersey, Honey Stinger bars, T-shirt, etc, etc, yes we got a lot of great stuff!), Gary and I headed back to my place in Victoria for a good night rest.
Oh yeah, I should mention here that I could not believe the number of high end bikes at this race. Now, I expected there to be tons of nice bikes but this was almost ridiculous. The standard was Chris King, Thomson and XTR. I think the average bike was worth around $5000. Usually, if you see someone on a Specialized S-Works Epic or Scott Spark you might turn your head again. Here, it just became the standard and after awhile, nothing would really jump out at you. Yeah, just another $5000 bike. Whatever.
I should also mention the number of 29ers at the race. There were probably 10 of us riding Niner bikes including four other RIP9s. There were lots of custom frame 29ers as well with some really nice ti frame hardtails. All four single speeders in the race were riding 29ers as well. There must have been at least 30 of us all told.
Ok, now to the race.
DAY 1 - Shawnigan Lake to Lake Cowichan
Before we both knew it, Day 1 was upon us.
The gun went off and the race started with two laps around the Shawnigan Lake School Campus. This is where the craziness started.
The course was designed to cut through a farmers field to complete the loop back to the start line. The field had been fine the day previous but the farmer had decided to cut his hay crop the night prior so that it could dry out with the hot sun that was coming for the next few days. Unfortunately, this caused straw to clog up the drivetrain of every rider (minus the single speeders :) ) and forced everyone to stop at the edge of the field and clear out their drivetrain. Unfortunately, this spelled diaster for some teams. Just 1 km into the race, and two racers had derailleurs that snapped in half due to the straw accummulating in the drivetrain. For some, this would lead to being unranked by accepting outside help; a huge blow to the start of a seven day race!
If you survived the hay field without damage, now the race really started. I did survive the field but had limited high end gears as I couldn't get all the straw out of the small cogs. It got progressively better during the race but I never got all of them back. You spend so much time making your bike perfect before the race and then a bit of straw comes along and the rest of the race, your bike shifts like crap!
The race moved from double track into single track, into the MOMAR hike-a-bike section that I yet again cursed at, and then moved into the Burnt Bridge trails.
Gary seemed to be doing quite well despite almost pulling out on me a few days prior to the start due to his injuries sustained from his Test of Metal crash. I knew that he might not be 100% though and could see that he wasn't able to pick it up on the open sections like he usually could. After some nice singletrack through the Can-am trails, we started a long climb that was in the pounding heat. The weather had been pretty benign prior to the race and now temperatures were hitting 30 degrees. No one was prepared for the conditions (other than the Mexicans and Australians) and heat exhaustion and cramping ensued. I had planned on taking in around 5 bottles of fluid during the race and here I was, not halfway through the race, 5 1/2 bottles down, and I was out of fluid. Gary started to suffer from severe cramps and his climbing ability started to plummet. This was turning into a very hard stage indeed. If we could just make it to the top of the climb we could hit up the aid station and take recovery in the long downhill that awaited. Justin Mark and Jeff Reimer caught us on this section and it looked like Justin was having problems of his own. We all pushed on and finally made the aid station.
Having been very dehydrated, both Gary and I took down over 2L of fluids and headed into the long descent. We were very suprised to catch up with Justin and Jeff at this point who (Justin) was experiencing severe heat stroke and had even stopped sweating. This would be the story of the day for many teams and unfortunately, this 2nd key aid station at the top of the climb would run out of water and leave riders dry. Eventually, race management had to make the call to stop riders from continuing until more water arrived and then deduct their wait time from their total time.
Once we got to the bottle of the climb, there was a long 25km old railbed hammer section into the finish. I lead through this section, picking off as many teams as we could, and finished in a respectable time (although much furthur back than we had anticipated). Oh well. There was still six days of riding left!
In the end, I had consumed 10 1/2 bottles of fluid and still managed to down several litres of coke, cranberry juice and water at the finish. This would be recipe that I would continue to use for the rest of the event.
The end of each day would become routine after awhile with the following being the breakdown:
- Drink lots of fluids
- socialize with other finishers
- take the bike to the bike wash and clean it up
- claim a tent
- pick up my race bag
- take in some recovery protein powder, glutamine, a multi-vitamin, fish oil, a honey stinger protein bar, and more fluid
- shower and some shower laundry (cold)
- hang up washed race gear in sun
- avoid sun
- socialize and get in more food if possible
- elevate the legs
- massage (yes, this was definitely a treat to have after every stage!)
- another shower (as cold as it goes)
- elevate the legs
- post meal awards and next stage overview
- lube the bike and take care of any issues (like removing the last of the damn straw!)
- put out next days race gear
- repeat x 6
I should say here again that the level of organization that went into this race was top notch! When you finished a stage, the tent city would be set up, a bike wash would be ready to go, a full bike service centre was ready to help you, and your gear was ready for pickup. If you had any quesitons, you simply needed to find someone with a bright red HH shirt (which were everywhere) and they would point you in the right direction. I cannot stress enough how awesome the volunteers were at this event! Top notch service! The environment was such that all you really needed to worry about was racing. Other than that, you had minimal things to take care of. Simply ride, relax and fuel, sleep, and repeat.
As painful as this race may have been, I'd take this daily routine any day over a day job!
DAY 2 - Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni
Gary getting ready for Day 2
Some last minute prep before the start of Day 2. Check out those matching MOMAR jerseys and North Shore Athletics bib shorts!
At the start line with Helly Hansen Vancouver Island - Jeff Reimer and Justin MarkDay 2 started with a rolling 10km paved leadout by the HH vehicle. Once the road turned to dirt, the race was on. However, this stage would turn out to be primarily a road stage. At over 125km in length, only 2 km at the very end consisted of single track. There was another route planned from Lake Cowichan to Port Alberni but unfortunately, due to active logging, we had to take the flat and relatively uneventful route. There were a few hills early in the stage which separated the riders into several packs.
Gary and I made the top pack and cruised with everyone until around the 80km mark. This is when the pack would explode.
I was feeling really good but Gary was suffering from the previous days cramping and simply did not have the climbing legs. The pros simply hammered up the hill and left the rest of the pack strung out to fend for themselves. We edged up the climb, and were then alone for the next 45km which consisted of pulling hard up front, suffering in the scorching sun, and hoping that we could just catch that pack in front wherever they were.
During this section, I was amazed to see a solo rider in complete no man's land. In this race, you have to stay with your teammate and cannot be separated by more than 2 minutes. This guy's teammate was completely gone and had left him to suffer alone in the heat. As crazy as this was, there seemed to be several ego-centric people at the race that would simply hammer, drop their teammate, and then wait for them down the course. One team ended up getting a penalty for this every single day! This is a team race! One particular individual would drop his teammate, hammer to the line, and then wait as if to show that 'hey, this is where I should end up finishing!'. He was rightfully booed at the closing ceremonies of the event.
After long kms on the road, we finally hit up the singletrack which finished the stage. As we were completely covered is dirt, including our sunglasses, I made the right decision to take them off so that I could see the terrain better. Less than 30 seconds later is when it happened. The trail turned into a washed out cobble infested trail that was pretty knarley. I cleaned it fine but then heard a loud crash behind me.
Gary had taken a hard fall right onto his right side; the same side that he had crashed on in the Test of Metal. I could tell immediately that he was in a lot of pain and he could not get up under his own power. I quickly dropped my bike and helped him to his feet.
I thought then and there that his race was over.
Amazingly, he screamed in pain as he got back on his bike, and we continued as best as we could to the finish.
I was sure that Gary was done. However, after inspecting the damage, Gary hadn't hurt his quad at all (which worried me the most). Rather, he had landed hard on his hip and right elbow which were now quite bruised. He was sure that he would be able to continue so we then went right back into the routine.
Fluids and socializing first!
Tent city under the fading sun
Tent city under the fading sun
Lubing up the bike for Day 3
Day 3 - Port Alberni to Cumberland
Gary woke up feeling ok and we were both ready to put in a solid day on the bikes.
The race start was quite the sight with a rolling start that led around the track and up the road. Kim shot a great video of this that would be great to post.
Waiting for the gun
We both decided to not go as hard off the start as we had on day 1; however, this turned out to be the wrong decision. Shortly after the race started, we were funneled into singletrack which was a big bottle neck. If you were at the front, great. We were not right at the front though.
One issue that I had at this race is that even though riders would be seeded in an 'A, B or C' group, teams that would finish farther back would rush to the front only to slow down the faster teams once you got into the single track. This happened time and time again. It was like this at the Test of Metal as well; everyone thinks they're sub three hour but when you look at the finish results, it's another story.
Once out of the singletrack, we went to work on the logging roads. Today was much more shaded that the previous days which was a nice relief from the hot sun. We were going along well when Gary noticed my back tire was nearly flat. Shit!
I got off, gave the rear tire a squeeze and found that the pressure was down from 32 psi to around 16! I was running a new tubeless setup and really didn't want to have to tube it up. I put in some air and we were off again hoping that it would hold. Stopping lost us some spots but not putting a tube in was the right decision as the the tire held up for the rest of the stage with no other issues.
During the stage, we had a freezing cold river crossing that felt great on the legs! I think everyone enjoyed this section.
Just on the other side of the river was the first aid station where we fuelled up and were off once again. I was feeling quite strong during the stage and managed to make up some good time on teams that had gapped us during the early part of the stage. Eventually, we hooked up with a group of riders including fellow adventure racer Aaron Vanderwaal and pushed to the last section of the stage; 15km of sweet Cumberland singletrack. I was stoked! Just before we got there we caught up with Justin and Jeff of Team HH Vancouver Island but weren't able to hold on. I was just eating up the singletrack on my new ride and just wanted to open it up.
Unfortunately, Gary was having significant issues with with bike and this really held both of us back. I have never seen him ride singletrack so slow before. Unfortunately, he got a new bike that is way too big for him and also seems to have a rear suspension problem with the shock never engaging and getting very little travel (Specialized Epic). We nonetheless made it through this section and finished off the stage in Cumberland. Other than the singletrack, Gary had his strongest day so far and was looking at pushing hard over the rest of the race.
Gary and I with Dave Howells at the finish line
Day 4 - Earls Cove to Sechelt
The Day 4 start was somewhat painful as it was very hard to get to sleep the night before (since it was very hot and humid) and we had to be packed and on a bus by 5:15am to make the ferry crossing to Powel River. This didn't sit with me well and left me in a bad mood the rest of the day. If I get a chance to do this race again, I would definitely do the travelling the night prior, stay at a B&B, and get a long and good sleep prior to the 11am start in Earls Cove.
This stage was a hard one for more than one reason. After getting off the bus to get on the ferry to Earls Cove, Gary called it quits. The fall on his right hip was bruised purple and he had some kind of lower abdominal issues that was giving him severe pain whenever he coughed.
Luckily, he had it looked at by a medic, decided to get on his bike, and since it didn't give him any problems while riding, he decided to give it another shot. I was concerned for his health and safety at this point but would back up his decision 100%. The race was on.
I took a fall early in the stage and banged up my knee a bit. Nothing big but enough to break me down even more than I was feeling. Oh yeah. I also had awoke with a sore throat that manifested into a very hoarse cough and a large accummulation of green phlem. Four days of sick riding awaited me. I'm not sure how I picked it up though. Maybe it was from one of the many buffet spoons that I shared with 600 other people every single day. Hmmm...
Gary was feeling quite good once he got going and I seemed to be the one who was suffering a little more. Gary even got some pulls in so I knew he was happy about that :)
This stage was really nice with lots of logging road interspersed with singletrack with broke up the flow well. Just as you were getting sick of road, you would be spit out into some singletrack. We pushed through and ended up in Sechelt in a respectable time considering our situation.
Day 5 - Sechelt to Langdale
This would be the best and worst stage of the race for me. Gary was in good spirits and we headed off the line for the start of day 5.
At this point, all of the stages started to blend together so I don't really remember how things occured here. What I do remember is coming down a trail with a deep depression full of sand and falling but not doing any harm. I got up, started walking up the facing slope and warned Gary of the sand at the bottom. Gary came down with speed, slipped in the sand, and landed hard on his right side. I knew immediately that he was in a lot of pain. A camera crew and helper were at the scene and helped me pick him up and take a rest on a log. He was visually shaken, in pain, and needed a small break. The camera crew told us that the 1st aid station was not far so Gary got up and started riding as best as he could. We had a good hike-a-bike section and then hit up the aid station just down the road.
The first plan here was to fuel up and then assess the situation. Gary was noticably still in shock, and did not look well at all. We put down our bikes and tried to come to a decision. It wasn't until Gary asked me if I was cold in the 25+ degree weather that I knew that he was in trouble.
"I don't want to make this decision for you but from me looking on from the outside here, I think you should pull out."
Gary knew it was the right decision. He was suffering from a broken pinky finger, a huge blister on his right hand, a bruised forearm, a purple deeply bruised hip, a deeply contused quad, and a painful abdominal issue; all on the right side of this body. Yes, that is what it takes to pull the plug from someone as strong as Gary Robbins. Most people wouldn't have even considered giving the race a go in the condition that he started in let alone continuing after his crash in Day 2.
Gary quickly pushed me on to catch up with and join Aaron Vanderwaal's team who had just passed by 5 minutes prior.
I hammered up the course and quickly caught up with their team who had been joined by Jay Latiff (who's partner had to drop in Day 4). It didn't take long for Jay to realize the situation (about 1 second), join up with me, and hammer the rest of the course. Little known to me, Jay is a super strong rider who was just raring to go after being held back from the first four days of racing. We were off and it was now up to me to do everything I could just to hang on.
Day 5 was definitely the day that I started to crack. With around 3800m of climbing in Day 4 and 5 combined, my body was just taking a beating. I was not used to the amount of climbing that was thrown at us and I just started to suffer on any grade. I held Jay back a bit but once we hit up the final 15km of downhill continuous singletrack, I was in my element.
Yes, I did say continuous singletrack. This stuff was absolutely incredible.
The last section of trails was easily the best singletrack experience that I have ever had.
There were tons and tons of bridges and log rides, and just fast flowing swoopy trails that were guaranteed to put a big smile on your face. Jay was absolutely loving it as after pushing hard on the trails he found me right on his wheel which just pushed him to go harder. We flew through the last section and hammered into the line. It was a great finish for both of us: both of us happy to have someone to complete the rest of the race with, and both of us at similar levels so that we could go hard.
After a quick ferry ride, we were now in Squamish and ready to take on Day 6.
Day 6 - Squamish
Day 6 was another great day although we both started to suffer at different points. I gave it everything on the climbs but was noticably slower than on climbs in the early stages of the race. This did slow down Jay a bit but we flowed well together on the singletrack.
Going up the long 9 mile climb, I started to suffer in another way. My right achilles started to flare up and climbing only made it worse. While the pain wasn't terrible, it didn't feel good at all and I had visions of pushing it hard and it just snapping off my heal. Not something that I would wish upon anyone. Fortunately, I made it up Lava flow ok and then the downhill section ensued. Everything was ok from here except the Powerhouse Plunge. I just ate this trail up! My bike was just designed for this stuff. I almost rode the entire trail clean and had to wait up for Jay who had some past bad encounters on the trail which hindered his speed. While I was slower on the climbs, I was glad to at least drop him in the singletrack.
Jay started to suffer a bit in crumpit woods and I ended up pushing the pace at the end to the finish. Our goal was to break 4 hours and when we rode into Brennon park, the clock was showing 3:59 and change. We both dropped the hammer and came flying across the line just in time. It was a good ending to a painful but great day!
Day 7 - Whistler
Unfortunately, Day 7 would be my least favourite stage of them all. I woke up with my achilles inflamed and sore. I couldn't even walk properly on it without fear of doing more damage than had already been done. My tendon was simply overworked and wanted to be done. One more stage to go.
At this point there was no way that I was going to let my achilles pull me out of the race.
The stage started with a huge steep climb that put me in the red-line and hurting zone right away. The stage basically went like this for us:
- climbing with 50% of my right leg and 100% of my left
- getting passed by teams that we should be ahead of
- getting stuck behind a slow team in the singletrack
The entire stage was spent in the hurt locker and not from muscle fatigue but from tendonitis. It really sucked. All I cared about was finishing the race. So, even though we were riding some absolutely amazing singletrack trails (some of the best out there), I just could not enjoy a moment. Jay also started to bonk and was hurting as well. We both just wanted this race to be over. After hurting all day, Jay and I finally came to the line to finish off Day 7 and the end of BC Bike Race.
Jay Latiff and I at the finish of Day 7
Congrats to a strong finish by Justin and Jeff of Team HH Vancouver Island
Taking some time after the last stage. Seven days of racing with no flats and no major mechanicals. I love you bike gods!
Post race party up on Whistler Mountain with all three Helly Hansen Teams
I can say that post race, I've been feeling quite good although lately all I've wanted to do is sleep. My legs feel suprisingly well although my achillies is still causing me issues and I'm set to see my physiotherapist this week to have it checked out. It is getting progressively better but still will need some time to heal. There were many ups and downs over the race and while, in the end, I couldn't wait for it to be over, now I can't wait to come back stronger next year!
A big thanks to Kim Picard who was a great support crew for the whole race!Thanks so much to Bryan Tasaka at Mind Over Mountain Adventure Racing and to Marc Campbell of Helly Hansen who both made this event possible for me.
Thanks to all the volunteers and to anyone else who helped me complete this amazing race!
See you next year!