Last Sunday, at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon, in the midst of light hail/snow I found myself wandering the Ancaster Community Centre with one shoe on, one shoe off and wearing only my bike shorts and jersey. And I also found myself with about a 15 minute PB on the race and 6th place in my age group, 20th overall in women. I was somewhat pleased. But I still couldn't get my shoe off, glued on with mud as it was. It was that kind of day.
I'm not sure if there is any other race like the Paris to Ancaster (long course) or St. George to Ancaster (short course). It's billed as a mountain bike race but most years it's really made for cyclocross bikes and my sweet Specialized tri-cross Trinity and I are made for that race.
I first did it 4 years ago on an over sized heavy mountain bike during the early years when I was so determined to embrace this new lifestyle and so devastated by recurring anxiety and panic attacks. The race just ended up being one horrible long attack, I was terrified by the gravel trails, the endless stream of riders behind me, and the bike was so heavy to drag through the mud slides. I hated the day.
The next year I skipped and Alex raced without having to worry about me. Alex spend too many years and too many races worrying about my mental health and it's so wonderful to be over all that and know that he can depend on a very happy smiling wife running/riding across the finish line. Mostly.
Well, I am, if nothing else, ridiculously persevering so, armed with my new bike and new brain I towed the line a couple years ago on the same course and I loved it all so much that, yeah, I did want to marry it. Oh, and I finished 10th. That was pretty much unheard of in my athletic life to date.
Last year I graduated to the long 60k course and thought I'd stick with that one. I like playing with the big boys after all and, sitting her now, I'm still thinking I love to start out in one of three waves with a whole bunch of boys trying to out man each other. I liked slipping into the cracks wearing my helmet and tiara to chick the slow ones. Plus they have bagpipes to start the waves off and I loves me those bagpipes.
This year however, the consensus was that the 3 of us, crazy English friend Dave and husband and I, would do the 35 k route. Dave wanted to race the short course with the guys he competes with in other races and I have to admit that you do get all the fun and mud with 35 k and that might be the choice going forward. Alex, after a winter of too much work travel and too little training though the short course would be challenge enough this year as well. This year's weather was so nasty that 60 k would just have been a suffer-fest and another friend dropped down from the long course to the short to round out our group.
So, on to the race. We set off into a blinding snowstorm - no exaggeration. I found myself 5 k in at the 60k half way aid station, on the side, checking my fingers for frostbite. I also started to wish I had a mountain bike as the route was so wet that there were 2-3 inch deep furrows through the grass of the parkette hosting the station. I just decided then and there that it was a mountain bike race this year and Trinity and I would just do the best we could. Not much later, when the race went through a farmer's field my aborted 50 miler training came in handy as I jogged across the field faster than most mountain bikers were riding it. At that point I reconsidered my earlier call and decided the race was back on.
There are 2 official mud slides on the route, steep narrow valleys that require most riders to dismount and trudge through. They are truly the highlights of the whole day. This year, in addition to those two there were 2 or 3 other spots that were by and large too muddy to get much riding through. If the boys on mountain bikes were off their rides then I didn't worry too much about walking those spots. I was pretty sure my competition was also on foot.
There is a spot, about 2k or so long I think, when the race takes us to a double track trail with steep sides. The first year I just about exploded on that portion, there was too much gravel, and I was sure that I was going to slide down the side, clipped in, to my death. The last couple years found me very comfortable in the right hand, less gravelly track but this year, this year, baby I was the one in the rough left hand side passing everyone as fast as I could. Once we got to the rail trail portion I was back on in passing mode - after a rest behind a couple big guys on mountain bikes I set off to say hi to every guy on a cross bike that I could catch up to. Lots of conversation there, if you know what I mean.
The last approach to the finish line is a portion of torn up road that I usually walk, not feeling very technically gifted. I always worry that I'm losing time at that portion but this year everyone was walking it as well. The mud was so thick that I was more slamming than rolling Trinity along the road and at some point something caught her back end and I continued to slam. A very hot tear hit my right wrist and I knew that I'd done something very unhealthy to myself.
Somehow I managed to get back on my bike for the ascent but was pretty handicapped by my wrist. At least that's my excuse for not being able to ride up the whole hill. Not that I've ever made it before. The weather kept sightseers at home it seems as the hills surrounding the last road are usually covered with people with cow bells and horn. Usually at that point in the race they look to me like vultures waiting for the inevitable but this year, I kinda missed them.
Back on my bike for the finish line and no one was waiting for me. At that point I realized I had a 15 minute PB and no one was there because I wasn't yet expected. That was a pretty nice feeling.
I freaking LOVE that race.
By the way, all the guys were in the top 10% of their age groups. Nice riding guys!
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