Canadian Marathon Championships

This years Canadian Marathon Championships took place on a rather short but very challenging 62 km course in arguably Canada’s capital of xc singletrack riding, Squamish BC.  The course designed by race organizer Dwayne Kress and his crew was a tour of  some of the  highlight trails intertwinded with a bit of fireroad to mix it up.

The night before the race I opted for  a solo camping mission along one of Squamish’s fireroads.  Hiking 2 minutes into the woods finding a stellar campsite pitched on a 20 ft cliff overlooking a small river down below.  With a mossy forest flooring, the sound of rushing water and some fresh air this made for a great nights rest.  The next morning I woke up and hiked down to the river for a chilly dip.  This was is better than any cup of caffeine and immediately shook all the cob webs out of the system. When I got out of the water I looked up to see a race official on the other side of the river setting up the start finish arch.  This was great to find out camp was just 300 ft from the startline and made for easy preps.  It was just a short wade across the river t0 the race start and I could easily return to camp for last minute preps.

From the get go it was evident a tight race was going to be on hand as a number of Canada’s top XC riders were on the start line including Canadian XCO Champ Geoff Kabush, holder of 12 National Titles (8 xc, 4 cyclocross) and fresh off back to back 12th place finish at the World Cups.   My teammate Kris Sneddon and I new he would be a force and had a plan layed out to give Kona its best chance at glory on the day.  Early on we would set the pace breaking apart the elite pack into a group of 5 including rising xc stars Evan Guthrie, Evan Mcneely and Kabush.  It became clear  that the two Evans were already getting stretched thin, and that Kabush had no interest in taking any pulls or doing work at the front of the group.  Kabush is a tactical racer and he was already pulling some strings to get the race in his favour.

To counter this I launched a mini attack up the first climb, with Sneddon letting the gap go, causing Kabush to chase.  We would get a small gap coming out of the first singeltrack section onto a fireroad in which again he just sat on my wheel claiming to be tired and not willing to work.  I sat up, waited for the other 3 and then we would cruise the fireroad for 10-15 min before hitting the next patch of singletrack, this time Kris going off the front.  This worked great with Kabush having to burn a few more matches chasing back up.  Just as he caught Kris half way up the 25 min legacy climb, I also caught on and went off the front again, dropping Kris and stretching Kabush thin.  Again he would catch my wheel as we headed down the Angry Midget decent and back onto a fireroad in which he would just sit there on my wheel.  Going into the next singletrack he launched off my wheel and attacked, and slowly pulled away using is technically superior skills.  Not long later Kris would come by on a long descent, this was no surprise as he has had his A++ trail riding skills this summer already claiming victory at both the BC Bike Race and Singetrack 6.

For the next 45min-1hr the race would stay this way with Kabush leading, Kris 45 secs back, and myself another 45 secs back.  Mentally this was a tough time as those guys were out of sight and we were riding a lot of technical trail really hard. All I could do was hang on and try not to lose any more time at best.  Thoughts started going through my head that this wasn’t going to be my day and I started comforting myself by making up excuses that the course was just too short and too technical for my abilities and that 3rd place was still very solid against these two.

This lasted for a few minutes until I got angry at myself for thinking this way, got out of the saddle sprinted all out for 30 seconds to get the adrenaline firing, sprayed water across my face, essentially trying everything to  snap out of this negative mindset.  I cursed a couple times and then put every once of energy into the pedals to at least stay close to these guys so I would have a chance to real them in on the next climb or in case they blew up or mechnicaled.  Going through the last feed the gap was still around the same, with 15 km left to go it wasn’t looking very bright but once I hit the legendary 5 pt climb everything changed as I looked up  3 switchbacks to see a labouring Kabush. 

This lit a fire under my ass, catching him  at the top was a huge rush and it quickly became  evident he had blown through all his matches and was a very hurting man.    Not too long after I started to catch glimpses of my teammate Kris which was suprising as we were going through a long singltrack section.  This alerted me that he must also be running thin on matches and I told myself to just chill and not make any mistakes in the next bit of trails.  After that there was about 4 km of fire road in the last  6km of the race which I was confident I would have the leg power to outride him at this stage of the race.  Once on the fire road I caught up to Kris  and charged past him.  Getting about a minute gap on the small climb was just enough to allow me to cruise the last section of trail and then sprint home on an all time high of adrenaline and endorphins to defend my National title  and earn the right to wear the Maple Leaf for another year!

If there was one race all year I wanted to win it was this one.  With the shorter distance, technical course, and level of riders showing up to contest for the jersey there were a lot of question marks.  If I started thinking about it too much it would’ve been easy to mentally lose the race before it started.  Instead the lead up to the weekend was perfect which boosted the confidence that this thing was winnable if all the cards played out right and I had some luck.  Too boot I had my Kona Hei Hei Supreme dialed in which was the perfect bike for the rough course.

Growing up Kabush was a rider I looked up to as he was always down to earth, approachable, stood for clean racing and hauled ass!  Too this day I have the upmost respect for him, for what he has accomplished and for going through the dark doping era as what seems to be one of the few clean riders who was at the top.  He pushed through this dark time in the sport and to this day has been dominating the North American racing scene and preaching the “Race Clean ideology.”       It was hard having him sit on conserving his energy in this race and then having him launch a massive attack, but that’s bike racing and Kabush is well known for being one of the wisest most tactical racers out there.  Luckily Kris and I had a plan coming in and stuck too it.  It worked out great for both of us and it was a full team effort to finish 1-2 again this year once the dust settled.  It was the same picture last year as Kris and I road away from the field working together to build a massive lead and then opted to sprint it out.  It’s a bummer there can’t be two winners in some races but when it comes down to business we both know we will play fair and fight it down to the line once we have tried to work over the rest of the field.

After the race we had big plans to head up to Whistler to watch the finale of CrankWorx but after the dust settled it seemed wiser to chill around Squamish for the evening to let the day soak in over a couple ciders and another peaceful night in the woods.  The rest of the weekend was rad going on cruisy spin with the Balance point crew, burgers in Whistler with Neal Kindree, a trip to Kona USA to re-supply for the next round of races, a night with Dik and his family in North Van, a North Shore ride and then a nice boat cruise back to Victoria to recharge for some fall time adventures oversees!

Huge thanks to Ryan Edwards, Ruedi Schnyder, and Spencer Paxson for the feed zone support.

Summertime in the Rockies- Singletrack 6

Summertime in Canada is virtually  impossible to beat.  For this reason I try to make sure the racing calendar is based around home for this time of year.  After a couple solid weeks training and chilling in fresh waterfalls and ocean water around Victoria, it was off to the Rockies for first the 24 Hours of Adrenaline in Canmore AB.  This is a big reunion of Albertan riders and a chance to race on the wicked trails up at the Canmore Nordic center, right below the massive Rockies looming above.   For a change I got to enjoy the atmosphere racing on a 5 person team with the Jasper Freewheel Fatties. It was rad ripping around for a while and getting to actually chill for a bit instead of riding myself into the ground for 24 hrs.  

Next up was hometime in Jasper, my favourite place in the World and a chance to visit with Mom.  This year I had visitors from the UK, Matt Page and Catherine Williamson join me as well as Victoria local Jammer.  We ripped around on glorious trails, got spoiled with home cooking and great visits with Mom and then it was sadly  back on the road all to soon.  The sadness left pretty quick as we were off  to take on the inaugural SingleTrack 6 day stage race from Calgary-Revelstoke, in the olden days this race was called the TransRockies.

The old school TransRockies was an epic battle through the heart of the mountains, battling weather, logistics of camping, bears and huge fireoroad days.  It truly was a challenge but took us into some of the most beautiful outreaches of the Canadian wilderness.  The new Singletrack 6 is more of a bike holiday with short stages, awesome trails, and lots of time to soak in the cool mountain towns the stages were based out of.  Missing the adventure side but still a rad time and easier for families and friends to join in on the fun.   Truly opposite races, but both offering loads of good times!

The night before the race we were chillin down at Leighton Poidevins house in Canmore when we receieved some horrible news that Banff local Crazy Larry had been in a bike accident and was airlifted to Calgary for emergency treatment.  Crazy Larry is possibly the most unselfish guy I have ever met and spends his time helping kids out, volunteering wherever he can, supporting bike races, and in his spare time picking garbage up out of the ditches.  He is an unreal dude and as soon as we heard he was injured we rushed off to Calgary to help in whatever way we could, the first thing was to identify him as the people at the hospital had no info or ID on him.

It was scary seeing him motionless with tubes stuck down his throat and a huge gash on his head.  We were worried but couldn’t do much about it so left him in the good hands of the Nurses and hit up the Wendys drive through for a midnight snack before heading back to Canmore for a light rest.  This part of the night was rather amusing as Leighton was eating a Wendys baconator, fries and having a smoke at 1 am while his competitor in the ST6, was x doper Filip Meirhaeghe and who knows what he might have been doing to prepare for the race. 

The next day Leighton would beat him and win his category in the opening stage of ST6 in Bragg creek, somehow bouncing back off 4 hrs sleep etc.  Leighton kills every training technique and scientific study known to man.   My race was alright as well, feeling sluggish at the startline I tried to make the first move to force the body into race mode.  It worked as teammate Kris Sneddon and I would work together for the stage, coming in 1-2 just for 4 seconds apart at the finish.  Without a solids crash 4 km from the line I think it would’ve been even closer.

After the stage we called to check on Crazy Larry and were blown away when they handed the phone over to him!  It was unreal to here his voice after seeing him in a coma the night before.  Visiting him at the hospital that afternoon was crazy as he was just like his old self and already cracking jokes and trying to pick up nurses. Tough as nails he is.  This made our week and gave us confidence our friend was going to make a speedy recovery and be back out there spreading his positive joy of life very soon.   Get well buddy!

After a coma of a  sleep for Leighton and I, it was off to Nipika for stage 2.  The riding here is Rocky mountain tough as the trails are littered with roots and some are built more for the hooves of the local elk population then bike wheels.  It is also beautiful as stretches of the trail curve up along the banks of the Kootenay river and you get a real sense of being out in the wilds.  This was Kris’s ideal stage with endless rough singletrack as he would take the win again.  I got stuck up in traffic at the start spotting him a big lead and then cruised in with questionable legs to take 3rd, with Matt Hadley squeezing in between us on the podium.

Stage 3 in Radium was rad as we raced through some new trails through burnsites, along canyons and over a fair number of climbs making it one of the most physical challenging rides of the week.  4 of us had a good lead on the field before we ran into some monkey business as a local lady had lost her mind and started pulling directionaly markers from the course.  We got really lost and had to back track, soon running into 12 or 15 other racers, who then started running through the woods, cutting some of the course but at least they got us back on course.  From here we cruised in for a neutralized finish.  Everyone was yelling at us to ride harder when they witnessed us getting near the finishline but little did they know the race that day had already turned into a gongshow and was over long ago.  It was a bummer way to finish the stage but the spirits were soon lifted with a refreshing swim in a near by lake.

Stages 4 and 5 in Golden were rad.  Kris and I smoked everyone on Stage 4 up on the slopes of Mt Shadow.  Unfortunately we were smoking everyone so good some of the volunteers thought we had cut course and jumped in our way as we were attacking up the last climb about 4 km from the finish.   “You guys are lost and have to go back!!”  Uh, ok, where to we go?

“Were not sure, but come over here, you guys have a minute right?”    Yah sure, I guess we have a minute.  what do you want to talk about?

Umm, you guys possibly took a wrong turn as your here way to fast, were not sure where though, just head back  there.”      Yah sure, we’ll head right back up the mtn and sit there for a while to kill some time..

It was a silly couple minutes before they finally asked if we were the race leaders and then decided we were probably still on track  and ok to keep racing to the finishline, this time Kris in 2nd and myself taking the W.

Stage 5 across the valley on the flowy moonraker trails was a favourite for many riders.  Pushing hard from the start Kris and I created a big gap and were hauling.  Once he took the lead on the dh singletrack I was stretched to my limits.  Trying to pedal through a rough section to keep up I snagged a pedal on a stump and got launched through the air at 30 km/hr +.  These crashes are the worst as you don’t see them coming but rather get launched unexpedatly into orbit.  Coming down hard on my left shoulder and opening up some wounds from the stage 1 crash.  I was grateful for the rough landing as if I had landed on the other shoulder it woudlve guaranteed ended my race as it is solid like a piece of soggy spaghetti.

I’d catch back up to Kris on the fireroad climb but would eventually be gapped again on the endless singletrack to come in just over a minute down.  All in all it was a rad day as we had solidified our 1-2 positions for team Kona and also got to take in some awesome riding along a huge canyon at one point.

Stage 6 on the Mcpherson trails in Revelstoke was fun for the first hour but then soreness from the previous 5 days set in and the  fun kinda ran out as it was now to time safely cruise to the finishline to celebrate Kona’s dominance of the race.  Kris and my Kona Hei Hei’s had rocked the trails all week and really are a secret weapon out here!

The Singletrack 6 crew really know how to pull of stellar events and this was no exception. Next year the race will move to 6 days of glorious riding in the Okanagan region.  Should be A+!

Spending the weekend in Revy after the race was a nice way to relax.  A couple Yukon jacks, a few beach days, some BBQ’s with the Deadgoat racing team and then Leighton and I had the bright idea of racing the 26 km Steamer hill climb up mount Revelstoke.   I was overly excited to be in the mountains and road my mtb 4 hours up to Frisbee ridge before the road race.  I was well warmed up for the race but after crushing the first 20 minutes the body detonated and the next 1 hour was a struggle to the top.  The only thing that kept me going on this one was the thought of the fresh alpine mountain air up top.  It was well worth it!

I was a train reck the next morning and have since been hunkered down in Kelowna with my Jasper buddy and owner of Balance Point Racing Luke Way.  Easy cruisy rides, good food, new training ideas and some interesting chats have passed the days and things seem to be coming back online again.  Luke is always full of the latest training techniques and is constantly brainstorming ideas to get his athletes to the top level.  We came up with a few new tricks to test out in the coming months..   Next up is a trip out to Squamish to spec the Nationals course, some island time for rest and then game time @ Marathon Nationals August 16th in Squamish!

*Big Thanks to John Gibson for the two ST6 pictures in this blog and Dirk Handke for the BPR picture!

Marathon World Champs

For the first time ever I was lucky enough to take part in the pinnacle of Marathon racing at the UCI Marathon World Champs in South Africa.   South Africa is an interesting country with beautiful landscapes, huge game reserves, and one of the Worlds largest gaps between rich and poor.  Its the economic backbone of Africa and supplies over 2/3rds of the continents electricity.  It also has one of the biggest Mountain bike Marathon scenes in the World highlighted with the Cape Epic, The Munga (million dollar bike race), and this year the World Champs.

Racing in Europe beforehand was the ideal place to prep and get adapted to the high level of fitness which would be on display.  Even with that, I was nervous as heck when I saw the start list and realized the top 50 or 60 riders were all World class and use to winning all the races on there side of the globes including 6 past Olympic and World Champions.    Too have all these guys converge on one place was going to create an epic battle as you were basically putting a pile of sharks in a small fish tank . Race day started early in the brisk South African morning under a beautiful African sunrise with 90 of  us nervously waiting to ignite our fuses and kickoff the firework show.

Booom! the start pistol went off and it was a pure out sprint for position as there were a number of xc World Cup racers here eager to show off there snappy legs.  This sprint continued on for the whole 97 km race which was insane.  From the start I could feel I had good legs, but was still fighting to stay in the top 60 and was somewhat worried if the pace didn’t slow down a little.

 

Once things started to simmer down I found myself around the 40′s riding with some really strong dudes in French champion Thomas Dietch, Colombia champ Leo Paez and German Karl Platt.  Things started to splinter about 45 minutes in with a lot of riders already cracking, pretty soon I found myself in no mans land, just back from a group of 6, and just ahead of a couple solo riders.  The mind wasn’t completely focused and I ended up losing a great deal of time over the next 1.5 hours.  There was one portage section which helped get the momentum going again as I used some tree planter moves to hop down the hike a bike descent passing a couple guys and catching back up with Dietch.

Struggling to stay on his wheel we headed into the first of two big climbs on the day when out of the bushes came two 30 ft camels.  It was unreal, I figured they were fake as they limbered along in an out of this world fashion.  Seeing this flipped a switch and soon I dropped Dietch and over took 6 other guys on the climb as I started my fight back into the race.  Getting told I was in 35-40th position wasn’t what I was looking for and further ignited the legs.

 

The next 2 hours were great charging past riders, having a helicopter hover above for a couple minutes and hitting some sweet single track to finish off the first 74 km loop back into the stadium.  Here it was announced I was in 21st as I headed out onto the final 19 km loop.  Having missed a feed the tank was running on empty for the first part of the loop, fighting off a chasing Dietch, and just 30 seconds behind 3 riders, including the top 2 South Africans.  Holding on I made it to the final feed where Saya had a bottle waiting which lifted the spirits and energy reserves.  4 cute feedzone girls were dancing, singing “Oh Canada” as I rolled bye which further boosted the moral.  This was enough for one last surge to get past a Spaniard and into the top 20.    With a bit more realestate a top 15 was in the cards as there was just 2.5 minutes of separation and it was coming down fast.

Coming across the finish line was a great feeling to have come so far from Canada and accomplished a top 20.  There were a lot of obstacles in the way this spring of getting this result but with some help from sponsors (Kona, Mongolia bike Challenge, Wild Mountain, Russ Hayes, Freewheel Cycle) and some friends along the way things came together just in time for a great ride.

I will look forward to working on staying focused and maintaining a better position in the early start of these races so I can be up there to fight with the big guns towards the end.  In the last 2 hours my times were within the top 7-10 and not far off the top 5 which is really motivating.  Until now these top riders seemed untouchable but I can now see the light and will be refining a few things to get up there with them.

Huge hug to Saya for zipping around to the different feedzones to make sure Yuki and I were fed.  Travelling to these races without support adds another element but with you there it made it possible to have a good ride! 

After the race Yuki, Saya and myself headed up to the tourist town of St Lucia on the north east coast to set ourselves up for a Safari in the HluHluwe Game reserve.  Getting up at 4:30am to get the Safari was like having teeth pulled, but being at the Game reserve at dawn to see a Lion 30 ft away eating a water buffalo was insane.   Elephants, Giraffes, Zebras, Warthogs, Gazzel, Water Buffalo, Condors and even some Rhinos were witnessed on what was an unforgettable experience. 

 

The amount of life in the African Savana is ridiculous with animals wandering round everywhere.  It’s said these grasslands  have over 30 species per square km, a greater biodiversity then that of a rainforest.  We have some cool animals up in the Canadian Rockies but the abundance of them is about a tenth of what is over here.   After a short nap following the Safari we headed down to an estuary by the ocean to see a pile of Hippos.  Those things are a cross between a cow and a submarine as they float about the lagoon making weird grunting sounds.

The next morning was another early one as we headed down to the sea for one last South African sunrise before my Japanese friends returned to Durban to catch there flight to the USA, and I started an epic 8 hour back road journey to Johannesburg via Highway 2.   15 minutes into the drive I started to get bored so changed the route to go through HluHluwe game reserve again, heading northwest on hwy 618 towards Nongoma.  This made things a little more interesting with some more game sightings and then a drive along some ridge tops overlooking a poverty stricken region of the country and some beautiful landscapes.

Getting into Nongoma I couldn’t locate a petrol station but was advised by some guys there was a gas station 40 km north on hwy 66 which would return me to the main road and back to Johannesburg in time for a 8 pm flight.  10 km from the gas station the gas warning light came on and the paved road turned to a pot hole infested dirt track.  Not quite what I had envisioned for the day.  Rolling into the gas station there was a pile of vehicles lined up, and soon found out the station was out of gas and they were waiting for the gas truck to come, sometime later that day.  Uh oh, I asked around but no one had any gas to spare. With no time to wait I crossed my fingers as I started back north hoping there was enough fuel to get to the city of Pongola 40 km away.

The heart rate went up as the gas gauge went down, luckily the angles were watching down and provided just enough fumes to roll into Pongola.  South Africa is a really nice country, but it does have a certain edge to it.  It wasn’t exactly a place I would want to be sitting on the side of the highway with a load of gear and $7000 bike.  That being said I ran into no troubles on my visit, rather just a lot of nice and helpful people.

After a rather long 30hr + journey I made it back home to Victoria BC and have since been hit hard by some jet lag.  Totally cracked I opted for 7 cliff bars for dinner the first night home.   Going to bed at 10 pm, waking up at midnight and up for the night, it’s always a struggle getting back into the groove  but it seems after 3 or 4 days things slowly come around.  The 2nd and 3rd days back with little sleep left the mind in the thought field that jumping off a bridge would be fun.  Returning from these trips is the biggest challenge of racing.   Back down for some R&R in the cave to let this pass as there’s a stellar Canadian Summer waiting up ahead!

Over and out.

PS  Special thanks to Liam Philley @ Canadian Cycling Magazine for the Canadian support at Worlds and the riding pictures in this blog and Saya & Yuki for the rest of the shots!