Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hell of the North Race Report

Two days ago I mentioned something to the effect of this event being promoted as a 'tour', and not a race. To me, a tour is a pleasurable journey where various interesting places are visited.

"Oh, look! Ducks! And look at that lovely church. How old it must be. Please pass me a tuna fish sandwich - I'm hungry. I hope we stop soon, I have to pee."

The other day I also used the phrase sadist . . . . perhaps the tour/race organizers of the Hell of the North intended the event to be a sadistic-type-of-tour?

For me, it was not a "pleasurable journey" where I visited many interesting places. I saw no ducks, ate no tuna fish sandwiches nor had a chance to pee. It was a journey of suffering and the only place I remember visiting was the hurt locker.

This was my first road racing type event and I was a little apprehensive going into it, not knowing if I had the legs to hang on, if I was going to be able to sit in a huge peleton without causing a crash and make it look somewhat like I knew what I was doing out there amongst the unwaving, Lycra clad skinnies (a.k.a. roadies).

The race started out as a neutral start before the "tour" got under way. For the majority of the race we were on paved concession type roads, with some dirt and a few off road sections. Many were on road bikes, most were on cx bikes and one or two on mtn bikes. I rolled with a borrowed set of tires: Roly Poly 28c on the front and a 32c on the rear.

I infact surprised myself. I did manage to hold onto the pack, for at least a little while. And I didn't cause any crashes, or at least I didn't look behind to see one happening because of something I did (despite being a mtn biker, I can hold a straight line). The first 35 km's or so weren't too bad. I did my best to remember everything Phil Leggett and Paul Sherwin said in all the cycling videos that I've watched over the past two winters, so I tried to keep near to the front so that I could keep an eye on the leaders to see if a break was going to happen and to stay out of trouble - and I did so "with great courage". Let this be a lesson to you kids, you can learn anything from tv.

There were a couple of jumps in the first 30km or so, but nothing serious as we had a wicked headwind. Nobody was going to pull a superhuman effort out of their arse and break away from the group before being reeled back in. I tried to take it easy in the peleton as much as possible and draft off some fatter roadies (can you say 145lbs) so to save the legs for much more difficult times that I knew were inevitably coming.

The first real lung buster was when we hit a hard right hand turn which lead directly into a short, but very steep climb (maybe about 15%). I think it caught many off guard as some where still in their big rings pedaling up it slowly. It tore the peleton apart and caused a lot of scrambling to recover lost ground. No sooner had the pack gotten split apart by the sharp climb and it was back together again, but not for long.

Shortly after this lung busting test we hit the first section of "Hell". For me it was dejavu. Didn't I see this last weekend at Uxbridge? The first off road section seemed to be a farmers short cut between tracks of land that he must have used his tractor to drive through. Drive? Perhaps drag race through?! It started out with some snowy and icy sections that I didn't find that bad riding through and actually took great pleasure watching some roadies with lacking technical skills flail about wildly . The snowy/icy conditions soon went from bad to worse.

I thought that this must be "The Trench"that I had been hearing about.

More photos here.

This in fact was not "The Trench". Funny, it looks 'trench' like to me. A trench filled with icy cold water and mud. It was approximately, or at least seemed to me, to be close to a km in length. I ran the whole thing, grasping for trees along the way to help me from taking a swim. I am not a runner. I run like an obese, mentally challenged five year old who has drunk too much cough syrup and is blind folded. It's fugly.

This section was better suited for swamp buggy'ing.

I was spent by the end of it and had lost contact with the leaders. When I came out onto the next road section you could see a few riders here and there up ahead; this off road section really strung the pack out.

I knew that I wasn't going to make up any time or distance on my own, so I jumped on a passing train of two other guys and we started working together to pick off riders one at a time and gradually building our own pace line with more and more riders coming on, gradually getting faster. Eventually we got so fast, and after taking more than my fair share at the front pulling (what can I say, I was trying to prove myself - stoooopid!), that I got spit out the back a km or three from the feed zone. I was able to hook back up with one other rider who had also fallen off the back, and we took turns pulling until the feed. Once there he stopped and I blew through opting not to take any water. This was a mistake. Not a costly mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.

Immediately after the feed zone, the famous "Trench" began. "The Trench" turned out to be a 12km rail to trail just about at the half way point of the race. I overheard many talking about it before and during the race, but it really wasn't that bad. It was probably one of the more enjoyable portion of the race. Maybe it's the mountain biker in me, maybe it's the fact that I was entirely alone during this section (and didn't have a killer pace to hold on to). Either way, I found my groove and plugged away.

After this section it was back onto the road and into the strong wind. It wasn't a long section of riding into the wind, maybe seven kms or so, but it was demoralizing and energy sucking. Luckily, a right hand turn put the wind at my back and up'ed my speed on some very nice smooth road. I could see Jamie, who had passed me shortly after the Trench section up ahead about a half a km or so. He was riding strong and I was tempted to hang on his wheel, but I had to do a little recovering so wished him a good ride and let him go. It was a long straight stretch of road and I could see him up ahead. I worked hard at keeping him in shooting range, but also keeping the pace down enough to start feeling good again. Getting closer to the 70km mark I picked up my pace with the goal of trying to catch him. I was almost out of water, but I was going to giv'er to catch him. No big deal, I only had ten or so kms to go, right?

I did manage to reel Jamie in at around the 77km mark and mentioned to him that we must have only a few more kms to go to complete the 80km route . . . . that was stated on the event's webpage. That's when he informed me it was in fact 90+km. D'oh! Not taking water was a mistake, as I had about a mouth full left to finish the last 14 or so kms. But what was a bigger mistake was not paying attention to the actual distance of the race. D'oh.

The last bit of the race was somewhat of a blur. Fighting off a cramp in my left quad, spinning and then standing up the climbs (seemed like quite a climbs towards the end of the race - maybe it seemed like more because I was tired), and a couple of off road, really very messy and muddy sections. I managed to roll across the line happy to be done, but feeling very good with my effort. The Fisticuff rode extremely well on it's maiden voyage - not an issue, no mechanicals, nothing, stable, sturdy and smooth like budda. More on it later.

The race was very well run, all corners and road crossings were marshalled and manned. The after race lunch was yummy and everyone got a door prize (a sweet Rapha cycling cap). Interesting note: this race was organized by Michael Barry's old man. Any cycling fan would know Barry as Canada's most prominent professional roadie racing on US Postal, T-Mobile, Discovery Channel and now presently Columbia. You can read his father's (who's name is actually Mike) blog here.

If you want to read a much better race report than mine, from someone who was actually in contention and did very well, head on over to Matt's report on Tall Tree Cycles Ride Log. I'm actually considering only racing the events that Matt is going to do this season just for the fact that I can poach off him and paste his reports here.

The Top 25:
98 starters
1. Cameron Jette 2:55:47
2. Nathan Chown 2:58:11
3. Justin Hines 2:59:48
4. David Dermont 3:00:18
5. Bryan Rusche 3:05:12
6. Andrew Bradbury 3:05:13
7. Sean Kelly 3:06:50
8. Matt Surch (64) 3:10:14
9. Jamie Davies 3:11:00
10. Marco Li 3:11:16
11. Evan Mundy 3:12:30
12. Derrek Ivey 3:12:44
13. Rodd Heino 3:14:10
14. Kyle Douglas 3:14:59
15. Jay Murad 3:15:44
16. Tom McDonough 3:19:24
17. Rick Meloff 3:20:00
18. Paul Beit 3:21:10
19. Sam Bail 3:23:01
20. Mike Greenberg 3:23:02
21. Gary Fogelman 3:23:15
22. Craig Barlow 3:23:18
23. Keith Hopkins 3:23:24
24. David Anthony 3:24:00
25. Rod Olliver 3:25.58

Jamie ended up 32nd
Brad was 40ish

*stole the above race results from Matt


Sandro said...

Impressive, good job man.

asminhas said...

I'm in the middle of the post! Big & tasty report!!! I love your writting! João

Peter M said...

Solid placing dude, you're in with a pretty quick bunch and not exactly experienced in these type of races yet. The only part I didn't like was the shot at the fatty roadies-- you know I gained weight this winter and I'll be under 145 again real soon I promise!

The Vegan Vagabond said...

Great race report! Instead of actually racing this year maybe I'll just read your blog and Matt's tall tree blog. Its will be almost as good and a lot cheaper.

Yeah Peter's right. You did awesome in this race! Heavy competition.

Big Bikes said...

Sounds almost nuttier than The Battenkill race all the folks around here are so hyped up for this weekend.

Nice job out there.


the original big ring said...

Sank you, sank you very much.