Why would you spend 8 hours on your bike?

First of all, I should start with a bit of “pre-story”. The second race I ever did in my life was an 8 hour mountain bike relay race on  a team of 6.  Rules were simple, the team that did the most laps of the 10km course won. There was a number of different sizes of teams: 6 being the largest and going all the way down to a lonely solo.  That was September of 2008 and I really enjoyed the festival, or party, style of the race and how most people didn’t care losing 1 minute being behind a slower rider, because…  well … you have whole  8 hours to gain back that minute.  

Since then, I have been a part of team in all sizes: from 6, where you don’t ride too much, to 4, where I had a lots of fun with my brothers and friends, to 3, where my little brother and I introduced our dad to this style of racing (good sons as we are, we did it on the hardest course we ever rode in that series) and tag team, where I rode with my little brother Francis and we managed to finish on the podium.

 During all that time, I would see those riders with a back plate saying “solo” and I thought they were crazy.  Then, with time and experience, I started thinking that I would like to try it, but always chickened out when it come to time to sign up.

 Couple years ago, I was supposed to be in  a tag team during the fall race, with my other little brother – Vincent, but once we got to the race site he realized that he forgot his cycling shoes.  Looking at our options, I mentioned that if he didn’t want to ride, I was still going to race. “Are you going solo?!” he asked, and I answered “Yes I will!”  And for the first time, I picked up a back plate that was saying “SOLO” from the registration table.

I was proud and I thought it was a good idea.  To make a long story short, it was painful but I was hooked on the endurance side of the challenge.

Race day atmosphere

This race is part of a 3 race series, one in the spring, one in the summer and this one in the fall.  The the spring one is held at Mansfield Outdoor Centre and the other two are Hardwood Ski and Bike park. Both of them are just outside of Barrie.

 The Epic 8 hour races are very well organized and are great place for a beginner.  Volunteers direct the flow in the parking lot and make sure we all have a good spot to camp and pass the day between the laps.

 After you parked, you head to registration which is easy if you follow the step by step process: sign waiver, pick up your plate number and your chip, you head after to pick up the goodies and you are done and ready to race.  They do have a captains meeting in the morning to review the the rules, where does the course pass, and how and where  the exchange of the timing chips between teammates should happen.

The course is very well marked and very hard to get lost.  It has something for everyone making it beginner friendly but still interesting and fun for the advanced riders. You have nice flowing singletrack challenging your technical side, few climbs to split the groups and show off your leg power and some doubletrack to make passing easier for everyone.

From the many races I did in that series I believe only one course shouldn’t be considered beginner friendly but the weather could of played a factor in that.  The race organizers take everyone in consideration when tracing a course which is different for every race.

On the course you see people from all age, you even see families competing together or against each other. There are also about 4 marshal stations where you can report injuries or mechanical problems.  At the timing tent, which is where the transition takes place, there is music to entertain spectators and cheer up the racers.  Officials make sure that people dismount and remount at the right place, and if you don’t do it up to their satisfaction, be prepared to do some push-ups.

At the end, there are medals for top 3 people (or teams) in each division and a small pin for every solo who did 100 km or more.

And for sure, there is a lot of cheers and positive energy for any one out on the trails. By the afternoon, you will smell campfires and hamburgers everywhere around the park, you will hear the clicking of beer cans opening, crazy mountain bike stories from earlier in the day and laughs. So if you want to try a mountain bike race with a low profile feel where everyone cheer for each other – then the Epic series is for you.

And how was yesterday?

So yesterday was my fourth time I competed in Epic 8 Hour race as a team of one.  Francis and his girlfriend were in a team together and Yulia came to support us. Well, she came to support mostly me, since I was going to be on the race course for 8 hours.

A week before, we  went pre-riding the course and realized that it was going to be a tough day (I will try to write another post about why you should pre-ride a course sometime soon).  The first half of the 10 km loop was an uphill and the second half only had 3 little, but steep, inclines. Also there were quite a few of technical spots.  Easy, right?

I had my nutrition all planned out (not like the first time racing) and Yulia knew what to bring and when.  My goal for the race was to complete 11, maybe 12, laps. I even had a simple strategy for it: go hard for the 6 laps and try to hold on for the rest.  It sounded like a great idea at the time.

So the horn went off and we all started our 8 hours adventure.  I was able to follow Francis for the first half of the lap and then he went away at his own speed.  I managed to do my second lap with my fastest time of the day and the food and the drink were going  down easy.  After 3 laps I was surprised that our on the go bottle swap with my wife looked almost like something you would see in professional race and kept going.  After all, my first 6 laps were done under 4 hours and everything was going good. At that point, I even had the right pace to do 12 laps easily.  

After 7 laps though, my legs didn’t like the first half of the course with all its climbs and my energy was low no matter what I ate or drank.  After 8 laps, I was in the survival mode and my body was having a hard time taking the impacts of the jumps in the second half of the course.  On the 9th, I decided to take the GoPro with me for a lap, trying to get a bit of motivation and distraction  from filming.  Well, not only I did not get the push that I hoped for, but I also lost the camera in the first 5K of the lap. On my next lap, I did try to look for it and I told the marshal about it and kept following the path on autopilot.  On my last lap I was enjoying the course for the last time (oh yeah, I knew I am not coming back for the 12th round of pain), thanking volunteers and taking in all the cheers and support that people gave to solo riders. Also, do not worry, that same marshal told me that my lost gadget was waiting for me at the timing tent.

So after all, I raced just as I planned. Was it a good plan? I think I will have to revise it since I don’t want to suffer as much so early in the second half of the race.  But that is part of the fun – finding ways to get faster and better for the next time.  I managed 11 laps in 7 hours 32 minutes,  which placed me 14th out of 40 among the solo male riders under 40. But most importantly for me, I received my pin for doing 100+ kilometers on my own.  Today my legs are not too strong, I have two bruised hands and my energy level is quite low but I’m happy about yesterday and the results of hard work.  Now it is time to recover and get ready for the next challenge: half-marathon in 5 weeks!

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