My TransRockie partner (Fritz McKellar) and I made the trip down to Mansfield (west of the 400) on Friday. Although partners for the TR, we were doing the Epic 8-hour as solos. This would be good training for the demanding TR stages.
The road trip was pleasantly uneventful with little traffic along with 416/401/400. When we pulled into Mansfield at 2:30, there were only a handful of cars and the race organizer: Chico (Sean and Adam Ruppel). You wouldn’t know that there was about to be a sold-out 8-hr race the following day. We chatted for a little bit with Sean and then headed-out for a pre-ride of the course.
As courses go, Mansfield is the anti-Fortune. The course was in perfect condition with very hard packed dirt, but with also a few really slow, wheel-wandering sand pits to bog you down. It was 9.6 km of smooth, flowing, fun singletrack with a few longish climbs to get the legs warm and a few short, but steep climbs to really test the legs. There were also a few steep downhills that gradually wore-down because of the high volume of riders over the duration of the race. There was very little in the way of rocks and roots that would inhibit speed. It was very similar to riding a roller-coaster...you could let the brakes go and use subtle body movements to rail around the bermed corners! All-in-all, perfect!
We ended riding 2 laps of the course on the Friday and then headed into Alliston for some Pizza Hut. After dinner, we headed back to Mansfield to get our number plates, some last minute bike tune-ups and to get ready for the evening. Plus, we had a few beers while we relaxed.
I had brought my wife’s minivan, which was pretty packed with the typical bike stuff, 3 bikes (my spare singlespeed 'cross bike...just in case), coolers, etc. Plus, we had to add the necessities required to stay over-night. For the night, we ended-up putting the bikes on the roof rack, throwing most of the stuff in the front seats and then layed-out an air mattress in the back of the van. It worked perfectly! But, damn it was cold! The low was +3C with frost! We were pretty much the only racers who camped-out, but there were a few others. The majority of the racers were from Toronto and would be heading down the morning of the race.
We awoke at 7:30am to the sound of commotion and traffic. A steady stream of cars were making their way into the venue. A quick breakfast, some much needed coffee and some last minute preps and we were ready for our 9:30am captains meeting...the race begins at 10:00am. We left all of our race necessities in the solo pit area, which worked great. I had 8 pre-made water bottles of Cytomax (mmm, love that stuff), 4 flasks of HammerGel (mmm, Vanilla), a bunch of bananas, some bagels and PB, some granola bars, a big tub of Ju-Jubes and some dried apricots, plus a spare Hydrapak Airscoop. Before we knew it, we heard the "5 minutes to start!" call. So, we hurried to the starting area.
Even though we were solo, Fritz and I planned on racing the race together. But, as luck would have it, on the way to the starting line, we got separated. It was only with 1 minute left that I saw Fritz on the other side of the very wide starting group. Ah well. That would be the last time I saw Fritz until after the race.
As starts go, I tried to pace myself for the long 8-hr race, but I also knew that I’d have to be aggressive early in order to make passes and to avoid the long lines of racers that would get caught in the technical singletrack. So, I pushed hard for the first couple laps hoping that I wouldn’t regret it several hours later.
8-hr solo races are tough since they aren’t quite long enough to really demand a slow and moderate pace (like a 12- or 24-hr solo), but yet, they are short enough that the pace can be quite high. Finding the fine line is the difference between finishing and DNF’ing. Plus, as a singlespeeder, I really have to be careful because I’m racing against others with 27 gears so they can quickly drop to the granny to climb…I can’t.
Sure enough, even though I made huge grounds on the bulk of the pack on the start, I still encountered a lot of traffic for the first 2 laps and actually got taken-out by an inexperienced rider who got snagged on a branch and crashed into me. Fortunately, most racers were very courteous and would allow faster racers by...but, some wouldn’t or couldn’t. Gradually, passing became less of an issue in the early laps (but would come back every couple laps as lapped traffic began to re-appear) and I managed to hook-up with an experienced O-Cup racer (Steve Smith) who pushed a nice, fast pace and knew how to pass racers. So, I stuck to his tire like glue. Plus, having someone to talk to helps to pass the time. I found sound laps went by in a blur, but others were like snails.
Steve should be racing Master Expert with me, but is racing Sr Expert in order to get points to go Pro, so he knows what he is doing. He set an excellent pace that we maintained for the first 6-7 laps. But, we both knew that this pace would be too fast so early in the race, so I started to let him go. I'd see him every so often, but never really pushed him. I just wanted to keep him in sight.
Fast forward to lap 12. Everything has gone according to plan so far. I’ve stayed hydrated (even though it was very cool), swapped to a new hydration pack, and managed to keep eating, albeit, very little. Steve and I are back together and are still chit-chatting.
As I started the 13th lap, I had actually opened a ~1 min gap on Steve. I was heading out of the Transition Tent and he was just heading in. So, if I could just maintain my pace without blowing-up, I could beat him. But, I’d been through this scenario with Steve before where he’d let me open a slight gap, only to close it again. So, I could never be too sure.
At this point, I’m not entirely sure where I stand in the standings, but I knew I was at least in the top 5. As it turns-out, I was sitting in 4th.
In looking at my heart rate monitor, I know that time is quickly running-out and this would be my second last lap. Feeling good, I start to open it up a bit. By the end of lap 13, I had increased my gap over Steve to about 2 minutes.
Finally, it was time for the last lap and I was beaming! I love last laps! But, you still have to be very conscious that things can still happen. Flats, busted chain, bonking, etc. could easily strike me down...hard! I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see Steve. But, he wasn’t there. As the last kilometers ticked away, I was starting to feel even more alive! Plus, traffic was all but gone so I could really rail the singletrack, berms and downhills. Once I finished the last climb with Steve nowhere in sight, I knew I had him. I finished the last downhill and singletrack and then scanned my chip one last time. I was done!
Fritz (finished 6th) and I mingled at the finish area for a bit. We had a few recovery drinks...the beers were kept cold on ice in the feedzone. As we sat, I was continuously looking for Steve, but never saw him come in. Perhaps he had already finished but I missed him in the finish-line commotion. As we were leaving, I ran into him and he was just finishing. I had managed to open up ~15 minutes on him in the last lap. He bonked hard!
Also, as I started my last lap, I noticed a rider just off the feedzone in the fetal position receiving 1st aid care from the Canadian Ski Patrol guys. He was also receiving oxygen...not a good sign. I assumed he had crashed during the last nasty DH section right before the transition area. But, after speaking with the 2nd place racer after the race, he was actually the 2nd place racer up until the last lap. I guess he pushed a blistering pace, but just couldn't finish the last lap. So close, yet so far. But, he finished 5th.
Fritz was kicking himself afterwards because he came in at 5:50pm (or, 7:50 hours of racing) and after looking at the leaderboard, opted not to go out for his last lap since it wouldn't have done much in the final standings. However, after Steve’s and the 2nd place rider’s bonk, it could have pushed him into 4th because he could have possibly caught Steve on the last lap. You can never tell with last laps.
The weather, the course, the organization, etc. could not have been any better! Ultimately, I finished 3rd out of 64 solo men in a time of 8 hours 15 minutes with a total of 14 laps (135km). I was extremely happy with my placing and was even happier when I compared my laps/time with the overall field. I finished unlucky 13th out of all the solos, 2-, 3 and 4-person teams (248 teams!).
Like the ride to Mansfield, the drive back to Ottawa after the race was uneventful. My bed has never felt so nice.