Brandon and me decided that I'd take this Raceish report. Why Raceish? Well that will be all too apparent later. But basically I'm writing this because Brandon's posts are mostly about nutrition and stretching and success, and mine are about swearing at nature and poop jokes. And our mutual experience leaned more towards the latter in this case. If you're normally a fan of Brandon's work (which, judging by the amount of likes he gets on our instagram account, that's most all of you, even my mom) this post may have a slightly different tone than you're used to (Pen-15!).
I'm kidding. I'll be nice. And there are no poop jokes in this post (I don't think).
So I'll start with the good. It really is quite something to be able to jump on your bike and ride to Whistler with a relative degree of traffic control in your favour. Both from a physical fitness standpoint (really, not everyone can just hop on a bike and power up 122km of mountains, or in Brandon's case a staggering 152km and some 8000+ vertical feet, seriously buddy you're a machine), and from a deep-breath-mindfulness-zen-is-my-life-everything-is-great kind of standpoint.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, BC Highway 99 from Vancouver to Whistler (the "Sea to Sky") is arguably one of the most scenic highways in the worlds (all of them). Twisting, turning, undulating in all the right ways, while providing simultaneous views of pacific ocean and coastal mountains.
It's breathtaking in a car. Even more so on a bike.
It's the kind of experience we were both glad we did.....once.
Unfortunately, we got to share this experience with about 4000 other "riders" and that's where things came off the rails.
I'm not a cyclist, I make no bones about that. I don't like riding my bike on the road. I like cars, and cars and bikes are mortal enemies. So it is. When I'm in a car I hate people on bikes. When I'm on my bike I hate myself for getting in the way of cars. Cars rule bikes drool blah blah you get the picture.
That said, if I'm a cyclist girl in a cyclists' world, I'm going to play by the cyclists' rules. I'm serious about that. I'm entering their domain and so, regardless of my feelings about cyclists in everyday life, when I signed up for this race I did my research. I reviewed the cyclist rules of etiquette for things like group riding, drafting, fashion choices. I took off my aero bars. I learned and used hand signals. I did my best to know and put into practice all of those "group ride" intricacies that have developed with the sport of road cycling to, for the most part, make the experience safer and faster for all involved.
Unfortunately, 3767/4000 GranFondo cyclists did not make the same effort to mind the convention of cycling, nor to mind their safety or the safety of those around them. Basically, they all rode bikes like car2go drivers drive. In a word, it was mayhem. Total mayhem.
Brandon, doing the longer distance ride, started about an hour ahead of the pack with what I would assume were experienced athletes. I don't think he'd disagree, and from his account I think the first 30 km or so of his ride (the "pro" part) worked very well for him. He hit 78.5kph in some well orchestrated downhill drafting which is both impressive and a testament to how a well executed group-ride pack (I refuse to use that "peloton" word, this isn't the France Tour) can make you very very fast.
I had to start at the back of all the rest because of two false starts due to flat tires and broken presta-valves. That meant that by the time I was 4 km in I was rocking past people riding the road bike equivalent of beach cruisers and the seemingly never ending 6 abreast "cycling clubs" that are really nothing more than WASPs with nothing but extra money to burn on bikes and all the time in the world to spend socializing while blocking everyone else's way.
Brandon's group, after their 30km extension loop, actually tailed on to this same group of the least experienced riders. He was in the same boat as I, if even worse because he was faster, more experienced, and already 30km in.
Frustration is the enemy of all endurance athletes. More than that, though, it's the enemy of safety. When faced with an average speed far below your capability, with participants who give as much weight to the phrase "ride right pass left" as they do to "only take three ketchup packets" at New York Fries, judgment calls and decisions start to come in to play. Do I be risky to pass? Do I be slow to stay safe? What is the right call when?
The seemingly easy decision is to say "oh I'll just power by this group [on the right, up the middle, weaving through cones]", but in doing so you are unpredictable, and unpredictable actions create unpredictable results. Combine that with the promise of a dedicated cycling lane that really wasn't all that dedicated and narrowed suddenly and often, together with group riders that preferred to have the chats over following along single file minding their surroundings, and the results were too-often one or more individuals hitting the ground, hard.
And boy where there a lot of those. Some very very serious collisions with riders ending up with a face full of pavement and $3000 in repairs to equipment, if lucky. The stream of ambulances during the ride suggested that some were perhaps not so lucky.
By 50km in, about rest stop two, both Brandon and me had reached the same conclusion independent of each other: "We can't race this, we can't even push this".
We joined each other at rest stop two, shared in that sentiment together, and changed our expectations. After probably a 30 minute break at rest stop two we both set out with a different frame of mind. Brandon's was to enjoy the ride and take in the scenery. Mine was to stay upright and safe. A task that was harder than should have been.
Brandon and me had the fortune of being able to ride certain segments together. For me, that really was a treat. I don't get to ride with Brandon, ever. It was nice to get some time to actually just coast along with my teammate. We even managed a "team photo op" such as it were. These few kilometers stand out as my fondest memory of this ride.
For me, however, I also experienced probably the darkest and most painful 30km I have yet in this entire journey to Ironman.
At about 70km something came over me, something that I had not experienced in an event before. Absolute, unshakable, exhaustion.
Now this isn't the kind of exhaustion you get from a long training workout, where your lungs burn and your muscles hurt and you are tired but still pushing. This was absolutely, unrelenting, full body and mind exhaustion.
I didn't taper for this event, I trained straight through. Anyone following our progress knows our training schedules are on a pretty steep ramp-up. My body is feeling it. My mind is feeling it. I find myself exhausted a lot, often unable to stay awake at things like movies, wrestling events, the toilet (yay a poop joke afterall!), basically any activity that allows me to sit for 5 or more minutes.
At 70km of this ride, I was literally falling asleep on my handlebars. Full on head nod falling asleep.
My power output dropped to a level I have not seen since I started this sport. Barely able to maintain 17kph on flat surface. By 80km I was nearly in tears. By 90km I was pulled over on the side of the road with numb feet and a true sense that maybe I wasn't going to finish this one.
It scared me actually. I nearly quit. I could have slept right then and there for hours. I wanted to sleep right then and there for hours.
Stripping off my shoes, chugging down some caffeine pills, I regrouped and carried on. From 95km to the finish I was simply methodical. Not working all that hard, just pumping one leg after the other. Most of the people I was with appeared to be hitting their own walls of sort. The friendly chatter of hours before was gone, all that was left was heavy breathing, focused eyes. Mine included.
The finish was the most melancholy of any I've experienced. On a bike you rush so quickly through the finish corral that there is no time to enjoy, to bask in what you've accomplished. Just a quick announcement and a smash of other finishers trying to all single file their bikes out of the cattle fencing. Hoe-hum was the sensation.
I took no real pride in finishing this event. Neither did Brandon. But that doesn't mean this was a bad experience. Like I said, riding with Brandon was a genuine positive memory. I value that. Shane and Tammy also joined us for this ride, and though I only saw them for minutes at the start, their excitement, hospitality, and love for all things Whistler is infections. I mean just look at our team finish photo, we rock. And now a week or more after, I have a sense of satisfaction, not at the riding so much as having shared the ride with so many fantastic people, each on their own journey, each achieving their own goals. It is something remarkable.
At the end of the day this was not a race. It was an experience. For better or for worse, this journey Team Unicorn Sparkle Adventure is in every way about the experience.
So that's our Raceish report. No one died, only one poop joke, and the valuable lesson that sometimes you need to just reset your expectations and gaze at the mountains. Totally worth it.
ps. Okay two poop jokes.....