The news is good though. I finished 216th out of 800 starters, 28th out of 201 Men Aged 40-49. My time was 3h 53min 11sec – comfortably under my goal time of 4 hours. Satisfaction all around I say – but like any 4 hour suffer-fest, it was ne’er a dull moment… I owe credit to Frank Overton of FasCat Coaching and his 8 week course in building on my Spring fitness base. There were key points in the race where I knew Frank’s program was paying off – more on that in a minute.
How Did We Get Here?
If you’ve been following along at home, you’ll know I have been training the last 8 weeks specifically for this event – the 67km Test of Metal mtb race in Squamish, BC – the hardest bike race I’ve ever done. Working full time on PEZCycling News and enjoying my first year as newly-weds with Mrs. Pez means I don’t have endless hours to ride and train like the “good ‘ol days”, so I asked Frank what we could do with about 8-10 hours a week of riding time to build on my established base of winter and Spring fitness.
I stopped racing a few years ago, after I’d accomplished most of what I’d set out to do, and found the grind of training to race became more easily displaced with interests commonly associated with people in their late 30’s. So now I pick and choose my events, and really wanted to maintain the fitness I’d honed while riding in Belgium this Spring. The Test of Metal was the perfect goal.
Saturday (June 19) dawned bright and sunny, with temps aimed at the low 30’s C ((low 90’s F) on the race course. I was well rested, and had planned my strategy to be one of conservation, with the second half of the course containing a 12 km dirt road climb that gains 1800 feet – this after you’ve already climbed over 1200 ft in the first half – I knew I’d need as much jam left as possible. As a small rider with a climber’s build (I’m 5’8”, 136 lbs) I also knew this is where I’d make my time up. My technical descending can only be described as “Graf Zeppelin-ish” – I’m often seen going down in flames – so there would be lost time as well.
The course is an awesome mix of some paved roads, lots of dirt roads, fast single track, and gnarly single track that tests your climbing, descending, technical ability and bike handling, as well as your endurance – hence the name.
At 11:00 AM sharp we were off – Through the start area, and turning right onto Hwy 99 – which was 3 lanes completely closed for the race to pass through – nice touch. I was seeded around 150th of the 800 riders in the mass start, and quickly began working my way past tons of riders as we turned onto a 4km paved climb through residential streets to string us out before we hit dirt and single track. I made sure I stayed within my comfort zone, never letting my breath or hr get too high.
The local fans who live along the route set up camp to watch the race go by, and aimed their sprinklers at us to keep everyone cool – great to see the support from the folks whose streets we’d taken over, and a testament to the general support of the whole community.
Because the day was so hot, I sacrificed an old polka-dot jersey to the cause – cut off the sleeves and snipped slots in the dots to aid in ventilation. Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m not the kind to go around wearing a revered leader’s jersey from the world’s greatest race – but today this made sense, since Mrs. Pez was along or her first time to see me race, and with 800 riders, seeing each other at the feed zone was kind of important. Wouldn’t you know it – of the 800 jerseys – mine was the only KOM polka dots… Of course Mrs. Pez was outfitted in a matching jersey so I could find her (isn’t love grand?) And sure – I drew a few snide-ass comments from some riders, but I actually got more shouts of “hey I like your jersey” from the fans lining the route.
THEY DON”T COME TOUGHER
I’d done this race twice before, and ridden the route many times, so knew what to expect in terms of fatigue. The course forms a sort of figure-8: two 33km loops joined in the middle by the Feedzone. If the first half is tough, the second is just plain torture. I felt good through the first half – taking it easy and saving my strength for Part 2. The only trouble I had has an ill-fitting shoe that required a stop to adjust the insole, and a poorly tightened saddle that came loose on me. I was about to chew out my mechanic but realized the energy would be better spent riding than talking to myself… Stopping to retighten the saddle cost me about 3-4 minutes.
We pass through the feed zone twice, and it had been set up like a full-on party-zone. There was a dj, announcer, food and water for racers, girls in bikinis, and ton of super-soaker squirt guns – all of it much appreciated and a nice mental break from the growing on-bike anguish.
Mrs. Pez ran the pits with F1 precision – pre-peeled oranges and banana… she’s a keeper.
I’d prepped Mrs. Pez on her duties as my pit crew the night before, but she was still nervous – she didn’t want to slow me down, drop a bottle – you know the stuff. I’m happy to report she performed like a well-oiled F1 crew – ! Her job was to supply me with fresh ice-cold water, some peeled orange and banana and other power-food , and of course – take pictures! When I came through for stop #1, I needed to readjust my seat for the second time. Mrs. Pez took this in stride – she snapped a few pics as I rolled in, then did exactly as I instructed to help me adjust my seat – and somehow managed to pass the camera to a friend along with instructions to shoot more pics! I was outta there in no time, and was duly impressed by her calmness and agility in getting’ me through the high pressure pit-stop.
Somewhere in there I heard a fan yelling “Go PEZ, go PEZ!!!” – which surprised me since none of my nickname calling buddies were around, and I didn’t recognize the voice. Then I figured the only explanation was the appearance of an actual PezCycling News fan – right there along the course! Later in the day I met him – Todd has been following the Real Rider chronicles, and had seen the mighty PEZ-logo on Mrs. Pez’s hat! Okay – this may be self-indulgent – but what the hell – that was cool!
THOSE IN-RACE BATTLES
Soon after the feed zone, and about 2 hours into the race, we hit the 12 km of climbing. Stretched out before me was an endless string of riders clearly suffering. We’re talking granny gear slogging, bullets of sweat streaming from under helmets, and the joviality from earlier in the race long since gone. Just one eerily silent chain-gang. Here I got a couple more comments about my polka-dot jersey – this time spoken with some envy as I continued to climb past rider after rider. I enjoyed the payback in silence, but it inspired me just a bit more.
Like any race, you settle into personal battles with other riders. I had two. The first happened on this climb, and was with a lady who appeared to be in her 30’s, and was riding strong. I first caught and passed her, and I assumed she was another chunk of flotsam I’d jettisoned on my way up. But as we crested the first of three passes, she pulled by me. No words were exchanged, not even a look, but I sensed I’d met my running partner for the next few miles at least. Sure enough – she took the lead and her speed actually forced me to dig bit deeper – she was obviously a worthy adversary, and I wasn’t about to be beaten by a girl just yet. She led into the next valley, I passed her as we climbed the next pass, but she was still there at the top. She took the lead again into the second valley and we finally exchanged words – “how you doin’?” – “good” was all we said. She stopped for water at another feed zone just before the start of the final big climb that would take us to the furthest point from the finish and signify the “turning for home” point of the race.
OUTTA HERE! The body-contortion is actually the result of the cramps setting in… aaaaagh!!!!
The first two climbs had taken a lot out of my reserves, so I figured my best plan was to keep on truckin and tackle the third. I could see by my watch that I was still a good 90 minutes from the finish, and I’d been out for about 2 hours 30 – so no time to relax. I left her behind and dug into the last climb. Near the top I had to get off and walk through some loose shaley-shit that saps more energy on bike than off. Mentally I was pummeled – the 3 passes that make up the 12km of climbing are very tough – and in the heat.. fahgeddaboutit… I pulled over and offered pieces of my orange to riders who came by…including my female nemesis. She rode by looking strong, and that was the last I saw of her. She went on to beat be by some minutes.
The descent from the back end of the climbs is one wild ride. It starts with about 6-7 km of rocky big ring single track that’s akin to that chase scene through the woods in the second Star Wars movie. Very fast and pretty dangerous – lots of flat tires and a few crashes. This turns into a very technical descent that requires big balls and big balance. Well, at this point I couldn’t feel anything between my legs, and given my creeping fatigue, I couldn’t trust my balance. Much walking and lost time ensured.
Because this part of the course runs deep in the woods, you really have no idea where you are, but at some point descending the singletrack switchbacks, the sounds of the main feed zone stared to reach our ears. We could hear the announcer calling rider names as they passed, the fans screaming and cheering… I knew my escape from this slow slog was near, and I found the motivation to kick it up a notch.
Then I was out – back onto dirt road and headed for stop #2 at the feedzone – I was looking forward dot seeing Mrs Pez again – I needed some of her energy to carry me through.
We started the race at 11:00 AM sharp, and I pulled into feedzone at 2:15PM – 3-1/4 hours into the race. I had estimated 45 minutes to get though the last section of gnarly momentum-snapping singletrack and to the finish. So after all this it was still going to come down to the final strokes if I was to beat 4 hours.
THE PEZ VS THE KID
And then came my second battle of the day. At first I wasn’t sure if the rider in front of me was in the race – he was riding strong – gliding over roots and shoots that were tossing me every which way but straight… and he was small – . As I got closer I could see he was a kid – I guessed about 12 – and riding a small bike, wearing baggy skate-board shorts and a t-shirt about 5 sizes too big – with a mop of hair growing sideways out of his helmet. I then saw the number on his bike and was stunned – and impressed – that this kid was in the race – and looking way fresher than I felt.
As we plunked through the single track – well, I plunked and he rode – I’d pass him on the short climbs, or at obstacles that he couldn’t get his too-big bike over. Then he’d cruise by me on the descents – looking smooth and effortless. This kid was good – but since I’d already lost one battle to a girl – I wasn’t about to be beaten by a kid!
And herein lies one of the great things about cycling – at some point, on some level, it is a great equalizer of people – we stop being men, and women, and kids, and become cyclists – just pedallin’ our bikes, and suffering together. Perhaps we should begin sending bikes to politicians and world leaders? But I digress… back to reality and the 12 year-old butt I had to kick.
This kid was good – he bested me in the rough single track… but I knew my time would come on the flat 2km paved run in to the finish. As soon as we hit that paved road, I found the legs that had been missing for the last hour. I dropped it into the big ring, bent over the bars, back flat, thinking “egg”.
And I heard Frank’s words ringin’ in my ears as he had instructed me so many times over the past 8 weeks – “Zone 5”, “Zone 6”, “go as hard as you can, make a deal with the devil”. If I had anything left in the tank, I was gonna use it here.
And I motored.
For the next couple of minutes I felt good – legs were strong – the speed was there. I dropped the kid like any self-respecting 41 year-old should… (hey – he deserved it – he kicked my ass in the single track!), then caught and passed several more riders.
I crossed the line – and checked my watch – 3:53:13. Wooow. I made it – just barely – but I was in under 4 hours! Then I fell over and layed on the ground for about 10 minutes.
It was done. I was spent. I was alive – .
DID THE TRAINING WORK
It did. I beat my goal of 4 hours set in the same race 7 years ago. But where I really noticed the work we’d done in the past 8 weeks, was the 12km of climbing in the second half of the race. Here I felt way better – much stronger – than on our pre-ride 7 weeks ago. I also noticed it on the finishing straight, where I TT’d my way in – I was surprised by the kick I had left to get me to the line on time. All those intervals and testing sessions really did pay off. And for that my hat goes off to Frank. We proved that 8 weeks was enough time to make a difference, and that even with as little as 8 hours a week of training – there can still be measureable benefits.
So what’s next? For me it’s recovery – a few days off the bike for sure. But now that I’ve got some good fitness, we’ll have to explore how we can maintain it… Hmmm, sounds like another Real Rider series…
Thanks to Frank, and thanks to everyone for reading.
Now get out there and ride!
Curious about working with your own coach? Drop Frank Overton a line.
Frank is a USA cycling certified Expert coach and category 1 road racer. Frank’s company, FasCat Coaching in Boulder, CO specializes in training advice and customized training plans to improve your performance.