Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paris to Ancaster Race

This past weekend I participated in the Paris to Ancaster bike race. I say “participated” because it wasn’t your usual race. You don’t need a UCI licence or any kind of permit to race it. It goes out in waves of hundreds and for all intents and purposes, it’s a massive sausage fest. Out of 1217 participants, only 84 were women. Before I start I’ll try and explain what exactly the P2A race is. 

Ready? Okay, it’s an EVERYTHING kind of race. Clear enough?

No, I didn’t think so. (click the link up there for a real persons explanation). 

THE ROUTE! This is kept confidential even up until race morning. It changes slightly every year to account for trail conditions and private properties. We are not privy to the route until we do it. This makes it difficult to follow the journey or to drive ahead to get to good spectator spots. Vetrans of the race know where to go.

There are short road sections interspersed with gravel, dirt, mud chutes, farmers fields, rail trail, single track, and whatever else you can squeeze into that “everything” term. I coined it the “white trash version of the Paris Rubaix race in France.” It’s kind of similar. It’s always early in spring when everything is at it’s wettest and coldest. It’s a sufferfest to the nth degree in our little corner of Ontario. People walk away from it with bragging rights. It’s where we attempt to earn our “bad ass badge” for the season. 

In a way, I feel like a lot of it is just for shock value. In another way I damn well earned my bad ass badge.

If you want to read a really in depth and detailed description of the race from an elite level athlete, go read Jany's blogpost. I was blown away by her recollection of it all. She precisely describes the mud in it's realistic form! Lucky for her, she was in the first wave and got to ride the mud 'n such before it got trampled by hundreds upon thousands of riders.

Chilling out before the start

I was kind of talked into doing this race by a few people. I’ve never done it because after I left mountain biking I was strictly a roadie. A large portion of people do ride mountain bikes (some of them full suspension!) but the fastest folks use cyclocross bikes. I was lucky enough to have access to a borrowed cx bike (and borrowed tires) through Ryan’s workplace. I couldn’t back out and really had no more excuses.

It’s not like I didn’t want to do it. Okay, I didn’t want to do it.

I didn’t know what to expect. I treated it like a giant unknown. I wasn’t stressed about it because it wasn’t a “race” (or at least that’s what I was telling myself). I think my biggest worry was how to keep my kit white knowing I was probably going to get really dirty. I realize now that was the least of my worries. The night before I rigged the bike to suit my fit. Lowered the handlebars, threw my cadence/speed sensor on, switched pedals, saddle and tires. I didn’t have time to take it out for a test spin so once we got to the race start that was the first time I had ever ridden a cross bike. Initially it felt weird. Coming from a mountain bike background the cross bike was like a road bike on a mountain bike frame, hence the name “cross”. It felt so upright and oddly comfortable. (click link a couple paragraphs up for wiki explanation of cyclocross).

Diabetes was evident this race, I took my usual Lantus. To avoid highs like last weeks race, I took a couple units with my green smoothie in the morning. After warming up my BG before the start was at 7.6mmol/l (137mg/dl). I ate 2 shot blocks. The course was only 65km long BUT due to the nature of the terrain I was going to be riding for more than 3 hours. We were off after waiting for the elites and wave 1 to go. I was humbled in the first 10 minutes when I got passed by half the field. I panicked as I quickly realized this was not going to be enjoyable. I think I started counting down the kilometers about 20k into the race. What had I gotten myself into? Big guys on full suspension mountain bikes with platform pedals and cargo shorts were passing me.

At the first corner. The last time Ryan would see me for many many hours.

We hit the first muddy off-road section. I rode until I got stuck behind a line of people walking. This happened a lot. Eventually I got comfortable throwing it into the weenie gear and just turning the pedals as much as I could whenever we hit a mud/field section. This was soul crushing madness that I've never really experienced. One pedal turn was like climbing up a 20% incline. The pain and strength to go absolutely nowhere was debilitating. Is this shit for real? Why do people do this? Put me on a road, at least I'll move forward with a pedal stroke. I learned early on to trust myself. If I was going to fall over it was only going to be in mud and I wasn’t moving very quickly. I haven't quite been right off-road cycling since my mountain bike crash a year and a half ago. I lost all my confidence and technical ability to intense fear. Fear was never something that held me back before but the injuries I sustained from that crash changed everything. I usually get mild anxiety when I think about it. 

This is where I tried to stifle those fears. I ate them up and swallowed them down. I grit my teeth and told myself to just TRY. Just stay on your bike as much as you can. Use your balance and your years of experience on two wheels. Tap into that old dormant off-road history. I ate it up. I hit sections and pushed it all away to just pedal and y'know what? It fucking worked.  

I rode through things I probably couldn’t do on a mountain bike. I just kept thinking, “wow, I’m still upright and everybody around me is either walking or falling over, this is rad!”. This one big sopping wet farmers field section I was wondering why everybody was walking. My legs burned with each pedal turn and each pedal turn a lot of the energy was wasted slipping the tires but I kept going even when I felt like I couldn't possibly turn another rotation. It always seemed faster than walking and I wanted this thing to be OVER with! I questioned later (when everything cramped and I could barely move) if that’s why people were walking. To save matches. Hmmmm….. 

After 2.5 hours I was hit with the reality that this was never going to end. I breathed a sigh of relief when we hit gravel and dirt roads because it was a rest. I started to heavily dread any time I saw the bikes turn off the roads and into trails. NO!! please not again!! Each time I thought, I can't do this again. I can't handle another 200m even of soul sucking mud and wet grass. I was still so far from the finish. Why was this so bloody hard?! I was starting to wonder why I had opted to NOT bring my glucose meter with me. I had eaten the rest of the pack of blocks and part of a banana I picked up at an aid station but otherwise I was uneasy taking in carbs without knowing my BG. I knew I was working harder than ever but I also knew not to eat more than I had already. I was getting really hungry though which is confusing when you have diabetes and are pushing yourself to insane limits physically. Certain kinds of hunger is a sign of highs and lows. Luckily this hunger was simply that. I was fucking hungry! I felt better just going with the less is more theory. If I tank, I’ll know. At this point I didn’t care enough.

Then we hit the mud chute of all mud chutes. Being that I was in the second wave and had already been passed by an army, the mud chute had seen better days. HUNDREDS of riders had already gone and torn that bitch up (I wish I had pictures!). I made the mistake of pushing my bike at first which it then became too heavy to lift. I have a bruise on my shoulder from trying. I saw a dude do an endo (ass over tea kettle) followed by a face plant into the mud while his bike remained sticking straight up. We all laughed, it wasn’t dangerous. I was a bit pissed that they go and save the biggest mud chute in the final 5kms of the race. I swear it was just for show and shock value as we cross the finish line caked in mud. I was fairly clean up until that point. I managed to keep myself pretty white probably because I didn’t fall over. I couldn’t get my shoes clipped in for the rest of the race either because of mud which made climbing the motherfucker of a hill at the finish line impossible. I got off and pushed like 90% of the people around me but not for long. I got back on as soon as I could but not having my shoes clipped in made it brutal.

The first words out of my mouth? “Never again!”. My thoughts now? Maybe. I might do it again but I’d like to do it with friends because it would be less of a suffer fest. I also would know what I’m getting myself into.

All I wanted was to know my blood sugar. It was making me absolutely crazy. I was scared I was dealing with highs. I was sitting at 11.1mmol/l (200mg/dl) and let out the biggest sigh of relief. High but not sickly high. I was fucking starving. I struggled with lows at night and all the following morning. The pain in my legs kept me up during the night despite rolling and stretching. I also woke up frequently during the night to relive moments that traumatized me which was disturbing to say the least. Not often does a race replay in my head for that long after it’s over.

That shit wrecked me good. I grossly underestimated what I was getting myself into. My finish time was pitiful but my legs tell me I did the best I could. My best is never good enough in my mind. I want to do better than that. Yeah I know this wasn’t exactly a normal race for me and embodied things I couldn’t comprehend before but there are no excuses in my head. A lot of the race was just covering ground on rail trail, gravel and dirt roads. I should’ve been moving faster on those parts and that’s where my head is stuck right now.

I have to give a shout out to the race organizers because this was SO WELL done. If you see my Garmin route map you can tell there were more turns than kilometers. At each of those turns there were amazing volunteers marshaling us. The OPP had stopped traffic for eons (sorry drivers) on all the major road crossings. I tried to thank as many volunteers and cops as I could. It was one of the best organized events I've ever done.

I love this picture. My hair is horrendous but my kit is still white! My borrowed steed even matches. That was the best "smile" I could muster though.

I may or may not be back next year. We will see. Suffering begets more suffering.


  1. I am SO impressed at how CLEAN you are. I mean, I expected you to be able to balance and not fall over, but damn, that is a clean kit.

  2. After the last year or so, I'd say you've earned your badass badge every day. Congrats on finishing a tough ride!

  3. You look so *happy* in these pictures. ;-) Sounds like quite the race/ride/sufferfest.

  4. As usual, your writing makes me feel like I'm riding along with you. I'm happy I'm not.


Due to low life spam monkeys I am forced to moderate comments and I hate it (But I hate spam monkeys more)