This past weekend I had the opportunity to race at Albion Hills Conservation, just outside Bolton, Ontario, for the Ontario Cup #4. It was an incredibly fast and hilly course which was perfect for a 29’er!
The trails were in perfect condition for the race but Mother Nature wasn’t so kind with the temperatures. The thermometer hit 35 C with the humidex. The air was thick and hot and the breeze…well there wasn’t one! This was going to make for a sweltering race that would make a rider feel like they hopped inside an oven that was set to broil!
I was psyched to be racing but not happy about the heat. I fair better in cooler temps so I knew the broil factor would be a tough go. I figured it out when spinning on the trainer in the shade for my warmup and my core temp was skyrocketing in seconds. I knew I had to be careful to not overheat so I didn’t end my race before it even began.
The start of the race started up a sandy, sluggish hill baking in the sun. It was one part of the course that could be a spirit breaker! It only took seconds to hear the heavy panting from other racers as we entered the hill of despair. I felt my core start to boil like a pot of hot water. As I gasped for air that seemed to be filtered through a wet blanket, I told myself, “an hour and a half…this is only an HOUR AND A HALF!” Besides the lack of air and boiling core, the rest of me felt incredible.
Blasting through the shaded singletrack, I recouped some energy. I couldn’t help but smile as I felt on my game and in crushing mode. A quick shift of my gears to start to hammer and my chain jumped off. Fixing it required getting off my bike. Time was passing fast and I got back on my bike cyclocross style. I still haven’t mastered the mounting technique by the pain I experienced jumping onto my saddle.
I put the throttle down to try and make up some time. It didn’t take too long before I saw the women that I was chasing down before my mechanical. I was ready to make a move to pass and then “bam,” I had another chain issue. I jumped off the bike, fixed the problem then repeated the painful mount.
I pounded on my pedals as hard as I could again to make up my lost time when I was clipped by another rider on my back tire. Off into the forest I went as we tangled bikes and body parts. Untangling everything was a task but we eventually succeeded and were back on our bikes. My momentary rest was a benefit and my legs felt revived. Off I went to try and get back to those that left me in their dust.
Heading into the third lap, my amazing husband and feed zone man, passed me my bottle and said 45 seconds. I knew I could make up 45 seconds and I was ready for the pain. Our friend Gabe Dreyer stood further ahead in the feed zone and passed me a bottle of water to pour on myself. It was a magical liquid. The chills from the water dropped my heart rate instantly and I felt a surge of energy as my body cooled.
I told myself, “time to disconnect!” I can disconnect from the pain with one memory of a chemo treatment. Disconnecting became a crucial skill during treatments and I appreciate the ability to continue to do it when necessary….trying to make up 45 seconds in 8 km.
My legs and lungs felt ready for the task and I stood up and began to drive my pedals as hard as I could. The twisting trails felt straight as the bike whipped through the turns and the downhills were done at breakneck speed which is what a 29’er does! My inner dialogue was on repeat and it was just one word, “Fight, fight, FIGHT!!!” I felt incredible and then I had a chain issue. “NOOOOOO!!!!” I shouted out loud. Jumping off my bike while I was still moving, I came to a quick stop, threw the chain on, began to run and jumped back onto my seat.
“Fight” came back into my head. “You can do this, now FIGHT DAMN IT!” was the shouting I heard in my mind. I pushed and pushed, gasping for air as my legs kept turning the pedals. I stood up as often as I could and kept sprinting. The finish was only 1 km away. Prepared to drive my body to the greatest depths of pain I went to change gears and “Kerplunk, kerplooy!” I looked down and my chain was hanging on my crank arm resembling a badly tangled necklace. “Oh …… (you can fill in the blank) was the only dialogue I had. Staring at the kinked mess, I tried to unravel the frustrating puzzle. Time was passing and my frustration grew. At the moment I debated separating the master link to unravel the chain it somehow unravelled. I got the chain functioning again and set off for the final hammerfest. I knew that I had lost the chance at 1st place but I sure as hell wasn’t going to surrender a podium spot.
Coming into the finish I wasn’t all smiles. I have to admit I was frustrated….it was a tough race filled with mechanicals, a crash and unbearable heat. Looking at it, that is what racing is suppose to be. It is meant to be tough, painful and perseverance is key. I definitely had perseverance.
I have a five minute rule on feeling crappy that I created when I was diagnosed with cancer. There is only five minutes allowed to be miserable or feel sad for myself. I didn’t even get my 5 minutes since I became ecstatic to find out that Rhonda Guzda Stickle of Erace Cancer Cycling had won first place in her category. This was an incredible victory for an awesome friend and I wasn’t about to let it get spoiled by my personal grumblings.
Coming in 2nd place is an amazing place to be. I had to fight hard to be there. Perseverance is the main ingredient in my recipe to racing and I used many cups full of it to finish. Each race holds its own challenges and it is up to me to determine how quickly I will rise up after having to eat dirt!
Noelle Wansborough came in 1st place and she earned that spot. I am so happy that she didn’t have any mechanicals this race and had a chance to do what she does best…ride fast, hard and crush. Tabitha came in third and she was the one person that said, “I love this heat!”
The next race….Sudbury….rocks, rocks and more rocks! I can’t wait, I love pebble wrestling!