I worked in a very small bike shop for four summers and I think that is where I heard about the “Paris to Ancaster” race. At that point I have been already riding as a sport for just over a year and I was even a member of a road cycling club. I was getting experience a bit everywhere but I was still really new at the sport even more new to racing. Also, while I helped a lot of people getting into the sport of cycling or triathlon later on, I was the first in my family and amongst the friends to get into an endurance sport of any kind. I did not know what I am getting into and had no mentor to help me get to the starting line.
Ok, so there I was, filling in the registration form. All I knew, that it was a mountain bike race going from Paris (the Ontario one) to Ancaster, 60km long and using all kinds of different styles of routes including asphalt, gravel, dirt and mud. I also heard that there was food at the finish line and a shuttle to get us back to our cars. I swear it’s all I knew! Let’s just say that I learned a lot that day!
First, I must say I was really lucky that year because conditions were perfect for a rookie. As a spring classic race, it can surprise you with anything from snow to rain, and hail to strongest gusts of wind, which, I might add, I all got since my first race in 2008. Never the less, that day it was warm and sunny so the only jersey and a pair of bike shorts that I brought to the start line did the job. For sure, now that I know better, I travel with a lot more options, but that day it could have snowed, and I had nothing else.
Second, I went there with no plan whatsoever. Since I liked cycling very much and we had a warm spring, I was able to get few nice rides in but I didn’t have any training plan. Also I didn’t really enjoy the minutes on my indoor trainer and I think I used it 5 times in the whole winter. I was fit, but I am not sure I was fit for that level of the competition.
So my fitness was good enough to survive, the weather was perfect, what could have gone wrong? Here are five lessons I learned that day (yup, they are all about nutrition…)
Lesson 1: One bottle isn’t enough
When I was riding with my cycling club on the road I would drink one bottle and a half of sport drink. That day, I thought I would be ok so I thought if I take one big bottle I should be good to finish the race. Just trust me on this, never take only one water bottle.
Lesson 2: When it comes to food – more is always better
I guess I really wanted to travel light, so I took only one gel. But why did I even take it then? Well, you know, I wanted to finish with some energy. Let’s just say, after that day, at all my races my bike looks like a Christmas tree decorated with all sorts foil pouches filled with nutritious liquids.
Lesson 3: Haste makes waste
In the first 5km I was still in the middle of a crazy start. There were dozens of people around me, nearly touching, but instead of worrying about falling down or crashing into someone I wanted to stay on top of my nutrition. I reached for my bottle and dropped it! Seriously, there could not be any other way this situation would unfold.
Lesson 4: Leave nothing behind
So remember how I only had one bottle? Regardless to that, I decided to keep going without it. I did not want to waste any time stopping to pick it up, because, really, how bad can it be?
Lesson 5: Always follow the label
The first hour wasn’t bad, I was able to enjoy the ride but I slowly got thirsty and since I didn’t have something to drink I reached for the only gel I had. Most gels on the market warn you that you are suppose to have them with water, well I learned why after that one. At the only aid station at the halfway mark I was able to get a cup of water and a cookie down and kept going. And that is where everything started to come together. Sadly, not in the way I had hoped for.
The second half was slow but survivable. At this point, my legs were starting to feel funny. 4km before the end we entered the famous powerline mudslide which is about 300-400m long and is usually ankle deep. That year it didn’t take long before I fell and I had to carry my bike across the whole chute. At that point I felt really weird with some pain all around. After cleaning my shoes enough to clip and my bike so it can roll, I kept going towards the finish. This is where seeing the course or at least asking questions to the right person would have helped. The race finished with a 1.5km hill halfway through which one I discovered what the pain in my legs was and what kind of damage the dehydration can do to a person. Both my legs cramped including my quads and hamstrings so I just slowly fell to the side, pulled my bike off the path with me. I tried to get up, but my new friend me who was suffering from the same problem beside me told me to stay down for a few minutes.
I finally got up, walk and rode the hill and crossed the finish line. I was hurting, dehydrated, tired, dirty and didn’t know what to do but I was smiling. I went to pick up my food, got on the bus to my car and on the way I started planning next year. I was not only hooked on racing but mostly on getting better and improving myself. It’s been a fun journey so far.