BC Bike Race – Day 5: Sechelt to Langdale

2 07 2010

Girl Power: You can’t help but notice that amongst the massive, ripped, pit-bull like warriors are some pretty fresh-faced, lithe, bike chix. This should not surprise anyone, but it is worth noting, that despite their smaller frames and muscles, they are just as strong, just as fast, and just as courageous as any of the men. And frankly, if you got in their way, they would not hesitate to eat you for breakfast. You go, Girls!

Duelling Doctors: Is it a co-incidence or is there a reason that I have now met about 15 other doctors on this trail? Type A, check. Over-acheiver, check. Reward Seeking Personality, check. Get distracted by shiny things, check. No, it’s no co-0incidence. This race was made for us.

The play-by play – The day started relatively well, breakfast was a bit late, so felt a little bloated to start. I had good legs up the first climb as usual, but started to weaken as the insulin surge of breakfast hit me early into the first single track.

I did not panic, took my time, ate and drank diligently and did the water-down-the pants-thing at the first aid station. The cold water lowered my core body temperature quickly and my energy returned. I headed back into the woods with conviction, but got stuck in traffic with some less experienced riders and could not get any momentum. Every time I had the juice to get ahead,  I had to brake to avoid a collision at the next climb or obstacle. The I had to use precious resources to wind it up again. With all the stops and starts, my legs eventually turned to mush and by the second aid station, I was circling the drain, again.

Auto-rescuscitation: By the time I reached the second aid station, things were looking pretty grim. As I got off my bike, I could barely see straight. My knees were weak and my gait was wobbly. I reached out to grab the handle on the back of the Aid Station truck like an air sick passenger reaches for the bathroom door. Then, I lost control of my bladder. I’m a bit embarrassed about it, but physiology can often trump even the best manners, so I let it go, much to the horror of the aid-crew who were watching me like hawks, but in a good way. Again, I did not panic, because I had read about this in a cycling magazine recently and I knew what I needed to do. So, I calmly took one bottle after another and slowly poured them over my head, down my neck, down my pants and I was quite amazed by how quickly I felt better.

Rain Forest Romp

Then I slowly drank and ate my way back into fighting shape in what seemed like a half hour but was probably only 29 minutes… and set off for the last 400 m climb through the forest, before the sweet descent to the Ferry terminal in Langdale. This all went relatively well, although I did have to walk a significant amount, but I had the nerve and the guts to ride most of the slippery bridges and ladders that surely would have been my nemesis had I not taken the time to refocus and refuel.

Finding the Groove Again: The final descent was a spectacular series of buffed berms and bends and I felt that I rode it competently. As the trail snaked down the hillside, and the Red Bull shot seared through my circuits I found the groove again. Like driving a car, I sent the front wheel wide, visualized the apex, and squared my shoulders to the exit and down the next straightaway. Someday, I will do this automatically and effortlessly, but right now it’s still a series of mechanical tasks that need to be strung together consciously. I avoided any major heroics as I was not feeling like falling 10 feet into a creek. Moreover, I was getting bounced around quite a bit towards the bottom as my two year old shocks were starting to fail. Never the less, I arrived safely at the bottom in 5:35.


BC Bike Race – Day 4: Earls Cove to Sechelt

30 06 2010

Technical Challenges on Day 4

Trauma on the Trail: Touch wood. I have not had any major crashes. OK, my body is covered with scrapes and bruises of every size and colour of the rainbow. I have crushed both pinky fingers on passing tree trunks; I have had a handful of endos (short, for end over handle bars). And, I had a couple of good high-speed tumbles… but so far, all my injuries are “dermatological”. Crashes in cycling fall into four categories: dermatological vascular, orthopedic or neurosurgical. As I walk around our campsite every night, I see more and more people who had serious crashes, so I consider myself lucky. To be fair though, I’m also careful. I don’t go charging down the trail. I leave that to the thrill-seekers: I have kids and a mortgage. It never ceases to amaze me how fast some of these guys (and gals) go… it’s frightening, really. Having said that, these are not the guys who crash. It’s the tentative ones. In mountain-biking commitment is everything.  I’m not quite there yet, but I certainly had a lot of practice on Day 4. Off camber obstacles have often been the bane of my day. Today, I learned to power up and float, using my body positioning and leaning the bike into the turn to optimize traction… most importantly, I learned to keep my hands off the brakes, take on speed as necessary and look down the trail, sometimes looking around the corner, for a flatter, grippier section, where braking would not send me into a skid.

The Tyranny of Tenting: During the past 4 days we have been living in tents. In the evening, base camp becomes a veritable tent city with portable bathrooms and showers, etc. At night, we retitre to our small nylon homes which we share with a tent-mate. This is not necessarily bad. You get to meet an interesting person from another part of the world with whom you have a great deal in common, mostly biking, but often other interests and traits as well. It’s actually one of the best parts of this whole adventure. So far I have had two roomies, Frank from Sydney, Australia and Dirk, a South African psychiatrist who now lives in Dawson Creek, BC. The downside is that now that you have someone to talk to, you do, often late into the night. This cuts down on precious sleep time. You also sleep on the floor, which does not lend itslf well to recovery. It’s damp and depending on body chemistry and the digestive patterns of your roomie, it can also be a bit smelly.

The Play by Play – I pushed up into the ranks of the elites today on a long hilly stage. That worked for quite a while, but energy is not endless and enthusiasm has its perils. My mantra all day was, maintain position, maintain position. That worked for a while too, but all those burly descenders were soon upon me and the descents were tricky if not ominous, so I had to concede positions to my chagrin. At the second aid station my back was hurting… when I went to visit the bushes I saw my urine was dark yellow… I remebered what we were told in orientation, “every good mountaineer pees clear… so I drank about 2 l and poured another 2 L over my head and down my pants, even though we’re not supposed to do that. I figured it was better to pour that water on my head than to need it intravenously later. It sure helped. It gave me the energy to push up that nasty little climb and as I crested the next hill the cool breeze felt fantastic as it billowed through my soaking jersey. And then I felt my energy coming back. As the food and water from the last aid station started to enter by blood-stream, I felt my energy and confidence return.

The kindness of strangers:Minutes later, just after the aforementioned cool breeze, as I careened down the double track, the guy ahead of me hit the breaks and a cloud of dust obscured the apex of the turn. Suddenly a rock the size of a baby’s head appeared directly in front of me. With a flick of the wrist and a spring of the legs, I took to the air and over I went… however, this baby had a rather pointy head so as my back tire slammed into it, it caused my tire to ‘burp’. This, I am told is what happens when you hit a tubeless tire with great impact, breaking the seal of the tire with the rim, and letting out the aforementioned low pitched ‘burp’ sound. Luckily, I came to a safe stop and lost not too much time as another rider who could see I was a newbie, (I didn’t know how to put the tube into a tubeless tire, I didn’t even have a tube because I was assured I could not get a flat, and my Co2 inflator did not work) This fellow, from Endless Biking kindly stopped to lend a hand..and got me on my way. Thank God for the Good Samaritan..

Finding Flow on the Sunshine Coast

In Flow: We’re  going down. While it is certainly not my strength my descending skills have been improving all week. In the past, having always ridden a hard tail my tendency has been to find the path between big rocks and around the edges of deep grooves. That works sometimes. But sometimes the best line is the one over the rocks and into the groove. That’s where weight distribution and good shocks make the work into a game.  That is of course easier said than done. When you are scared, you lean forward, your back tire loses grip and the whole thing goes to hell in a hand-basket pretty quickly. It’s hard to believe that those rocky, dusty, steep and twisty bits are actually rideable. But they are… and it feels so amazing when you finally get it right.

This is what Mihalyi i (CHICK-zent-mi-high) calls flow. In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990) he described the flow state as one in which an athlete performs seemingly without effort, but with total concentration, feeling totally in control without thinking about it. Self-consciousness recedes into the background as total focus is upon present activity, such that someone might call you to dinner and you would not hear a thing.

To paraphrase Czikszentmihaly’s work, you get into flow when you find the sweet spot between challenge and reward. That means that the activity has to be difficult enough to engage all of one’s senses, yet easy enough that one can succeed and experience the reward of mastery.

I finished the rest of that day, thanks to the Good Samaritan, competently and in flow and arrived safely at base camp in Sechelt in 5:32.

BC Bike Race – Day 1: Nanaimo

28 06 2010

Andrew Handford of Different Bikes

The buses rolled out of Inter-river park at 7 am, BC FERRIES bound to Nanaimo. Inside, were nearly 500 riders on their way to the first day of an epic 7 days of riding the best single track, BC has to offer. As one of the organizers said, “it’s a whole summer’s worth of mountain biking in one week”.

I would certainly have to agree with that. Actually, it seems like a whole summer’s worth of single track in one day. Because as I write this, I am sitting in my tent, at the end of day two in Cumberland, blogging about day one, because I was too tired yesterday to move one extra muscle to blog about anything.

The United Nations of Cycling: Here at the BC Bike Race, you don’t have to stand or sit beside someone for more than a few seconds before they introduce themselves. I figure that by the end of the week I may know more than a hundred new people from all over the world, by name. That’s pretty rich. Today I met Jesse from Hong Kong, Chris from Thailand, Marco from Mexico, Carlos from Argentina, Morgan from Calgary and Karen from Victoria. That’s just between North Vancouver and Nanaimo.

Think about it. How many times have you passed someone at work or in your neighbourhood and you don’t know their name or a thing about them. It’s pretty common. So, from a human interaction point of view, this really is more like summer camp for mountain-bikers, than a seven day stage-race.

The Power Move: Today we started by climbing into the hills above Nanaimo, where the skill du jour is the “power move”. That means that in order to lift your bike over an obstacle: a root, a fallen tree, a rock, a sudden steep rise in the trail… you need to power up, and over it and to do that you have to be in  your middle ring (not your granny gear) And, yeah, we did that about a thousand times before the first aid station. Luckily, having spent most of last year climbing hills in my middle ring, this was not beyond me, and I was having fun.

West Coast Special:  The next major activity of the day was the rooty, rocky, twisty, sudden drop-off into the abyss, single track. This is a west coast special. And, the guys and gals around here are very, very good at it. Me, not so much…and so at this point, I was not having so much fun. I can do it, just not fast and not for hours in a row. These elite cyclists, or elites as I call them are figure skaters in the Olympics. They make it look easy, except you and I know, it isn’t.

AID STATION ERROR: One of the reasons I wasn’t having much fun as the afternoon wore on, was probably because I did not eat enough at the first Aid Station. This is a typical newbie error. You think, “wow, here are all the people who just passed me; standing around. I think I will just pass them back.” DUMB, dumber, dumbest. They are not standing around they are refuelling. And, if you think that is a minor consideration, you will soon see their backs as they speed by you.

Besides being nervous and not sleeping well the night before, I didn’t eat much for breakfast, or during the first part of the race. Then I skipped the aforementioned refuelling, so eventually about 5 k before the second aid station, I bonked.

Carbs are the Remedy: Luckily, I had my secret weapon (rice pudding and chocolate milk shake). So after I downed that, my brain and then my muscles started to work again. And, lo and behold, we have got ourselves a race after all.  Carbohydrate is essential for mountain -biking fun because it increases brain serotonin levels. It is essential for maintaining concentration too because rapid rises in glucose stimulate dopamine release. Carbs are essential for performance because they keep your muscles from going into lactic acidosis, which means you don’t hurt as much as you are grinding up that hill before the big drop. When your on the BC BIKE RACE and your into your third, fourth or fifth hour. Carbs are not just a factor. They are the Remedy!

Love it or Hate it: The third element of mountain biking is the fire road. Flat or uphill, most real mountain-bikers hate it. Me, I’m a more of a roadie, so I love it. This is where I slowly move ahead, only to have the same guys I passed on the way up, barge past me again on the way down. Oh well. I guess it all comes out in the wash.

So, Day 1 ended in the middle of Nanaimo Stadium. My time was 5:28, nothing to write home about, but not the worst either. I waited for a cold shower, had a heavenly massage, washed my bike and my water bottles, waited to eat a pretty tasteless plate of pasta, then crashed in my tent at 9 pm.

BC Bike Race – Day 0: North Vancouver

27 06 2010

BC Bike Race

The fourth running of the BC Bike race got off the ground today. Throughout the infield the sounds of comraderie, co-operation and connection were in the air as old friendships were rekindled and new friendships bloomed like the flowers on the surrounding blackberry bushes. It took about ten seconds, before Stu, the long and lanky guy ahead of me in line, and I were chatting and getting to know each other. Before long, I was in a scrum of about 8 people, laughing, sharing stories and offering words of wisdom. I also met big Bruce, the guy with whom I rode up to the start line. He invited me to stay at his place in Georgia (the state, not the country) and Nick, an somewhat pasty and slightly overweight expat who lives in London, UK who kindly held my bike while I visited the blackberry bushes. Then he let me start ahead of him, because I guess, by the way men communicate, I gave him the impression that I might be overtaking him as soon as I had a chance.

The reason, for all this friendliness is also the down-side of the day… all the time we stood around waiting. I think I spent nearly 2 hours getting through registration and at least an hour waiting in what could have been sun-stroke weather, at the start line. Why not do all the registering on line, verify with one signature on-site, and have the other information taken/ or services offered by people with clipboards or mobile phones. As far as the prologue start. We could have “started” in groups of 10-15 at base camp and used the ride up to the timing mat to thin the pack so that we still entered the single track one-by one.

A Massive Undertaking: I don’t want to come across as a complainer… because, to be fair, this is a massive undertaking. Organizing 500 mountain-bikers through registration and a prologue, before sitting them all down for an hour-long briefing, and then loading the whole show into trucks and buses and moving it to Nanaimo for the next day, must be a logistical nightmare. So, with all that in mind, I’d say it definitely cleared the end of the runway and yes, “Houston, We have Lift Off”.

It was a perfect day for mountain-biking… not too hot, with a signature North Shore breeze and cloud cover to keep things cool. The general vibe was warm… there was a circus-like feel with music, food vendors, sponsors and the big tent forming the periphery of the base camp.

Swish Swag: Thanks for the bitchin’ shades from RYDERS, the fab gear bag (on rollers) from DAKINE, the black socks (essential for mud bunnies) from SOCK GUY, a black BC BIKE RACE T-shirt and a top drawer BC BIKE RACE cycling jersey.

Catherine Pendrell - winner of the women's prologue

Rip and Hammer: And, it was over nearly as soon as it started. The brief rip and hammer through the North Shore woods was as adrenaline packed as any you could imagine. After a quick spin up a gravel path, a little twist and turn through the meadow, we rode along a rocky, rooty ridge, then dropped into granny gear for the not-too technical, but anaerobic micro grind… and finally down a choice section of old school single-track with just enough edge to test the mettle of our technical riding skills. All that in about ten minutes…Phew!

From the bike geek perspective, it was wise to pull a few psi out of the front-tire in order to avoid being bounced around too much, and you had to keep your head up to see the best lines, but otherwise, there was no particular technical adjustment or bike style that would have given one bike an advantage over any other. Ditto for nutrition.

Different Shapes and Sizes: Athletic events make for interesting people watching. As a physician, I am in the noticing business, so my comments are not meant as judgements, just observations. Bikers have a certain look… As a rule they are not too tall, lean, maybe a bit anemic. Most of them have short hair (to avoid overheating in their skid-lids). They are muscular: wiry, rather than beefy… and they have fantastic calves. You never saw such beautiful, sculpted, legs in your life.. and veins. These legs have veins in places, you never even thought there were places. Oh, and did I mention, shaved smoooooth, to within a hair of their life. So, if you want to see great legs, this is the place. Oh and that’s just the guys. The women are attractive in a different way. Fresh faced, yes. But their bodies are hard and shall we say under-estrogenized, but hey, that’s what it takes. This is not the Moulin Rouge! On Day 0, I also saw a lot of bodies that, well… just didn’t seem to fit… There were pot bellies, saggy bottoms and jiggly thighs. Who knew? So, if you thinbk you have to have a perfect body to be a mountain biker, you are wrong.

The last order of business, the racer briefing was actually one of the high-points of the day. The race executives: Dean Payne, Andreas Hestler and James from OBSESSION: BIKES  educated and entertained us. In the process, we all had a few good belly laughs and all that waiting was forgotten. PS. How do you tell a brown bear from a grizzly bear? The grizzly bear scat has bear-bells in it. How do you escape a grizzly bear if it is chasing you and your partner? Trip your partner. See you tomorrow in Nanaimo… and don’t be last.

Anthony M Ocana MD