Back in September Mike and Steve competed in the Kootenay Sufferfest 100km
mountain bike race. A 100km point to point event with over 4500m of
Though struggling with knee pain Mike finished the race in 7 hours 26
minutes. Steve however ended up off course due to questionable course
marking. Instead he ended up traversing an old railway line perched on top
of a 1000 foot cliff.
After a month of sorting through over ten hours of GoPro footage, here’s
the edit of their adventure at the Kootenay Sufferfest.
It was a snowy and muddy Saturday in Edmonton – perfect weather for Cyclocross!
Check out the hightlights of Mike Sarnecki (Kokanee Redbike), Mark Jung (redbike), at Aaron Schooler (Focus CX Team Canada) racing during Saturday’s muddy Open Men Velocicross race in Edmonton, AB.
A few weeks ago was The Fluffy Bunny XCM mountain bike race, hosted by Onyerleft racing in Bragg Creek AB. It was the third round of the Alberta Cross Country Marathon series and the provincial championship for the discipline. Kokanee Redbike was there and it was the second race of the year and a true test of form for my 2016 season. Though, I suppose before I elaborate on our day of racing the XCM in West Bragg, I should back up a bit.
Back in the spring of this year Kokanee Redbike team manager Mike Sarneki approached me with the proposition of racing the New Denver Galena Ghost Ride in September: a 100km point to point mountain bike race with 3200m of climbing from Kaslo to New Denver. As I am apparently easily persuaded into committing to arduous feats, I naively agreed and signed up for the event.
It wasn’t until after registering for the behemoth event that the reality sank in of how demanding the Ghost ride will be. The fact is, I have never raced that far or climbed that high in a one day event. It was at that point when the science books came out along with the Richard Simmons work out tapes and a six month training plan was put in place to prepare.
Training for the Ghost ride for me was a very difficult thing. It was not difficult because the training itself was hard but because it meant missing out on team and club events in trade for solitary heart rate and wattage monitored -monotony. However, driven by a natural self-preservation of surviving the Ghost ride in September, I diligently persisted, and tapped out the hours on the pedals as much as I could in the time that I had before September.
With the decision to do the 100km race, also came with it a change in my racing disciplines. It became clear that to improve my endurance for the ghost ride, I would have to focus on racing in fewer events and longer ones. Focusing on XCM’s, my first race of the season was the River Valley Royal Rumble (extended edition) hosted by Hardcore Bikes back in May. I felt good in that race and I was able to achieve my goal of executing a consistent pace with each lap, while keeping enough in the tank for my last lap to be my strongest lap. At that time I hadn’t been training with my new structure for very long yet signs of improved endurance were beginning to show early on. The true test for me though would be the Fluffy Bunny XCM Provincial Championship, just a few weeks ago. With The fluffy Bunny about ten weeks after the RVRR, I was very curious to see how things in my race performance had changed.
On the Saturday before the Fluffy Bunny, Mike and I headed down to Calgary in hopes of pre riding the course after the race that day had wrapped up. To our dismay, Mother Nature had other plans and washed away our hopes of a pre-ride with the damp of a rain filled afternoon. As the rain persisted on into the evening we began to fray over the conditions we’d be facing. Luckily though, a brighter day rose out from the darkest night as the deluge gave way in the morning to the warm sun. Our race day was coming together nicely.
Early race day we got to our pre-race rituals. We made extra time for breakfast given the race discipline of the day. I took the initiative of manning the frying pan but was quickly demoted from team chef to team bottle filler upper due to some dusty instead of runny eggs. It took a bit of time to get over the emotional trauma of my demotion but once I did, we were on our way to the Fluffy Bunny.
Arriving at the event we setup Kokanee City (aka K-Town) in record time and got suited up with just enough time to stage for the start. Even though we had arrived slightly tardy to setup for the race, I still managed to find the time for a pre-race (awkward) stretch session and a full on deva fit over the team pump before staging. Sitting on the start line waiting to hit the trail, conditions looked good despite the rain the night before. The weather was nice for the start, sunny and cool but warming. We were in store for a beautiful day of suffering; the bunny was not looking quite so fluffy anymore.
One minute warning, thirty second warning, oh wait! I scrambled to open the menu on my Garmin and shut off the heart rate alarm just in the nick of time: menu, menu, home screen… And we’re off.
With my new methodology and this being a longer race, I really focused on ignoring the pace of the group and doing my own thing instead of my usual tactic of blowing up while trying to maintain contact. In turn, I found a comfortable cadence and kept a tidy line to the right of the trail. I maintained my composure as a large portion of the field passed me by. We only had a few hundred meters or so of flat double track and trail until we were set into the first climb of the day up to Rangers Summit. It was there that I observed something that I hadn’t experience before.
Rangers summit is a testament to K-Country mountain biking. With 310 meters in elevation and over 4km in distance it very much set the tone that this would be a climbers race. Thanks to my new training structure, on this climb was where I had a new experience. As the climb persisted on and my fellow competitors and I slogged our way up the winding steep grade, I continued to maintain my comfortable pace. While churning away in climbing gear, I began to notice that I was beginning to catch up to a few of the racers that had overtaken me at the start. Even more incredibly, when we reached the top of The Summit I not only caught up to them I began to pass them back!
After reaching the summit of Ranger’s Summit, we were dropped down into Snakes and Ladders, a flowy trail of berm riddled switch backs. This winding decent was such a blast and a nice reprieve from the climb before. It was a great section to really carry speed; that is until the trail rolled into the Ladders portion which was true to the name. Racers now had to serpentine up from the bottom of the snake pit with the Ranger’s Summit climb already in the legs. We were only to settle in again and really see how our legs could power through. After the first climb up to Ranger’s Summit most racers felt that they had enough, and this was only the first lap! I could hear the comments and moans of whoa emerging from the valley below as racers at the back of the group stepped onto the first rung of the latter. For me, I still managed to maintain and didn’t fade as I embarked on the second big climb of the day. I settled back into my happy place and once again chewed away at the mountain in front of me. This was what was new for me, compared to my previous seasons this change in endurance was drastic.
I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Before trying this new training structure, this amount of climbing would have caused me to fade to a slow crawl but I was persevering. The Fluffy Bunny was where I came to test my new engine before the Ghost Ride in September and the improvements in that were shocking. All that time in the saddle, practicing diligence and patience, not knowing what it would come of it until this moment. With this revelation my confidence went up and I thought, maybe I can survive the day! In life though what goes up must most certainly come down and nature has its way of maintaining balance.
Feeling good, I failed to maintain the smoothness that had got me this far in the race. After Snakes and Ladders we stepped onto the Ridgeback trail and while feeling overly confident, I stepped on the gas. Up on Ridgeback the terrain changed and not in a way that benefited anyone like me racing on an XC hardtail. Roots jutting out from the soil and gardens laden with jagged stones; this was the wrong place to loose composure and amp things up. I bashed through the rugged downhill side and as I did, I felt my fork begin to feel more and more ridged. Hammering on through the garden of rocks and roots I knew something had gone wrong. Moving onward into Bobcat I was certain that I had completely cooked my suspension fork and all short travel damping was no more.
Strange Brew was the last decent before heading into the start finish to lap through: 3.6km and 240 meter decent of rough hand tingling roots and muddy (on this day) uneven terrain. In previous seasons where my ability to climb had been lacking, the descending was where I learned to make back time. Here however with a near ridged fork on a hardtail I had to hold back in the downhill shaving off speed in order to hang on the bike. I lost significant time during this section and even worse the fight to hang on wore me down and thus caused my endurance to fade much sooner once in lap two.
Lapping through to start my second lap, I was still confident and feeling good with my climbing despite my struggle on the last downhill toward the start/finish area. My pit stop was a fast, quickly switching to a fresh bottle and off again up to Ranger’s Summit. Second time through on this long climb my form still held strong. Climbing up out of Snakes & Ladders I started to feel the stepper grades taking their toll even with 30 plus km’s in the legs. The second lap, for the most part was very much business as usual for me and not too much unlike the first. I even found myself enjoying the uphills more than the descents, due to my fried suspension. With a lesson learned on my first pass through, I was able to smooth things out riding through Ridgeback the second time. I ran into trouble again when it came time to tackle strange brew on lap two. This was where things went almost disastrous for me. Hammering through with almost no squish the first time was bad enough, taking it on a second time was pure agony. My hands and arms ached and weakened so badly that I had no choice but to stop. I attempted to adjust my faulty fork into performing with some level of decency by letting almost all the air out of the shock chamber in hopes of gaining some motion. In the time I spent on my mechanical issue, the racers who hadn’t caught up to me during my abusive and sluggish decent manage to catch me here. The fatal nail in the time coffin for me was letting the pain and fatigue cloud my judgement. I had I been watching the clock and odometer more closely I would have realized there wasn’t enough time in the race to allow for a third lap as we in the team had originally strategized to do. If I had the sense to do that I would have realized that even fixing my suspension would not have made any gains with only one downhill section remaining.
I recently listened to Mark Allen the great Triathlete say, “the only bad race is one you don’t learn anything from”. Originally I left The Fluffy Bunny with a sense of disappointment as I found myself fixating on the issues with my suspension, poor judgment and misguided time tactics at the end of the second lap. Now that I’m looking back at this race as a whole I have a great feeling of satisfaction. For me this event above all else was a trial run before the 100km Galena Ghost Ride. Bearing witness to a drastic improvement in my personal fitness, I also made some mistakes to learn from and take into New Denver. With the Fluffy Bunny done and dusted I’ve already made adjustments to my equipment as well as my strategy and mental approach. I feel making these errors and experiencing these challenges have better prepared me for what may come this Sunday in the 100km New Denver Galena Ghost ride.
We dug up buried post from our favourite contibutor greazypanda to help tie us over between MTB and ‘Cross season. Please enjoy wisely…
Conventional wisdom would say that testing out a fractured right elbow by going resort downhilling for a week is pushing all forms of luck. Well, who has two thumbs, speaks limited French and likes to push his luck? This moi.
Every summer, my pedal adverse friends and I head off to British Columbia for some brotherly bonding and full-face helmet downhill cycling, which involves taking a chairlift up a mountain to ride the designated trails at full speed. It’s quite a production, as we have to transport 4 portly 40-year-old guys, 4 downhill bikes and “glam” camping equipment for a week. This year, we decided to head back to Silverstar in Vernon because we had such a successful trip last year, which was full of drunken moments and the most disgusting beach in the Okanogan.
Going downhilling for me is such a wonderful respite from the series of racing during the local and ABA season. This kind of cycling involves just suiting up in protective gearing, drinking Redbull and vodka, and rolling off the chairlift to just ride down the hill without having to pedal up it. It really is a breath of fresh air, figuratively and literally. The runs are marked and rated based on their difficulty just like ski runs in the winter, so there are green, blue, black diamond and double black diamond runs. In a rare occasion of common sense, we decided to start the trip by dropping into a green run called Challenger, which had numerous off-shoots of blue obstacles like log “skinnies”, drop offs and small “kickers”. It’s a great warm-up run just because it’s still an exceptionally fun ride for a green run and it’s relatively safe. Even after the first run, my hands started to cramp up and get sore from the frequent braking. It eventually gets better as the body gets used to it, but it’s also the fact that you just start ignoring the pain or you get used to releasing the grips in the middle of the runs when you can.
After the first run and feeling edgy and tentative, we started taking some of the fast and smooth blue runs, Superstar and Shazaam. These blue runs discern themselves from the green runs by adding “tabletop” jumps, which are larger jumps with a flat top before the transitions starts, and larger berm turns. These runs are perfect for practicing the air jumps that you never get whilst cross country racing, at least for me. They have little pink flags at the start of the jumps so you are prepared for them and to mitigate the odds of a surprise launch into the air.
The next run you graduate to is called Jedi Mind Trick, which is a perfect mid-sized jump run because it is full of bigger tabletop jumps with higher lips off to the side so you can take it to get more air if you choose. This is where you start getting used to the float of a properly executed jump and appreciate the collection of body armor you have on.
The second day we decided that we had the audacity to hit the dreaded black diamond runs. To get to the advanced runs, the ski hill place a small jump that floats you over a collection of rocks. This obstacle was designed to test the rider’s ability, so if you didn’t feel that you could handle this jump, you shouldn’t continue on to the runs. I really loved this idea as it quickly and easily dissuaded some riders who shouldn’t be riding such dangerous trails from trying them out. Silly enough, this is where I had my first sketchy moment as I pedaled hard into the jump to get up to speed, but I overlanded the transition and hit the front end first and swerved off the trail. After a quick recovery, I had myself a nice, “Get it together, Mark” moment under my breath. The rest of RockStar was pure bliss with nothing but big smooth berms, tabletops and dropoffs. Tim said after that run, “Now, that’s why I come all the way here for!”
Next run was WorldCup. This was the run that everyone could appreciate as it had a little bit of everything: choppy technical sections, ladder bridge drop offs, tabletop jumps, step ups, wood bridges with a steep run off and huge wood berms. I could have done this all day long without getting bored. To make this trip even more memorable, Tim and I decided rather haphazardly to take the jump off of Walk The Line, which is a double black diamond. The ramp just launched me into the air for an uncomfortably long time where I landed nose heavy and thought that I was going to crash face first. Remarkably, the lovely Rockshox Boxxer World Cup absorbed most of the force and the rear of the bike followed through beautifully. Crisis avoided. Tim and I counted our blessings and cut off early and headed to Pipe Dreams, which was a more suitable double black diamond.
By the end of the trip, our hands were sufficiently sore, blistered and cramped, Tim injured himself, Stefan blew out his $500 RockShox shock and Ashley spend $200 in new equipment and repairs; a pretty typical trip. But, I don’t think anyone of us care because we had such a brilliant time. If any of you cyclists never ventured out to try resort downhilling, you are doing yourself a major disservice, as this is such a different and unique aspect of cycling which can help you with your handling skills and remembering why you loved cycling as a child. It’s just fun jumping off of things with your bike.
With the Canada Day holiday on a Wednesday this year, it only made sense to make bookend cycling trips to maximize the holiday time. At least that is the perfect justification to take a week off and going mountain biking in Fernie, Coleman and Jasper.
Multi-day stage races has been hosted in Fernie by the TransRockies racing series, Furious 3 and now the Fernie 3, and there is good reason for this as the trails are challenging, varied and right in and around the townsite. Fernie 3 is in its second year, and it has some problems with its inaugural race last year that has been somewhat resolved, but new ones had developed in this year’s race (I will discuss more about this later). I crashed pretty heavily on my left shoulder last year and I was still healing up from a broken right elbow so I was disappointed with my race. I even didn’t start the third day because I felt like I couldn’t ride effectively or safely in my condition. As it turned out, they didn’t count the third day due to most of the field getting lost because of poor course marking. While I actually got a finishing time and placement for the race, it didn’t assuage my disappointment that I abandoned from the race.
This year, I wanted to make amends and have a solid showing at the Fernie3 so I started by getting a bike specifically for the race. I chose the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition because it had the Rock Shox Pike 130mm travel fork that I needed for the long and rough descents in Fernie as the downhill portions is where I lose time. I don’t fancy myself as a climber so this makes me very sad. I put on a set of gossamer Beard built Enve/Tune/Extralite wheels to help with the grueling climbs (F-you HyperVentilation).
With a proper gun heading to a gun fight, Brad picked me up Friday afternoon and headed to Mike V’s house, but we got delayed by a fellow cyclist with a huge bike trailer taking up an entire lane. Was this prescient for things to come this weekend? Anyways, once we were on the road we were surrounded by montage painted RV’s on Highway 2. My favorite one was this Lion King themed portrait on the back of a huge RV going 140km/h. We didn’t get to the condo till 1:00am so instead of going right to bed, we drank beer till 2:30am. How else would you reward yourself after a 6-hour drive in a lowered Subaru Forrester with floodlights attached to the roof.
The first day of racing at the Fernie3 started at The Cedars, which is a new development on the resort side of Fernie, and the reported high that day was 34 C so managing the heat and hydration was paramount. I took a risk and took only one waterbottle with me as I knew there was going to be a lot of initial climbing and there were two aid stations-or so we were told. After the massive dustbowl that was created at the start due to the dry conditions and a twig stuck in my rear derailleur, we started the singletrack climb right away. Perhaps it was the one bottle strategy or the new Giro Synthe helmet keeping me cool, but I felt strong behind Steve Martins. We passed numerous racers who started faster than they should have so I knew we were in the top 20 at that point. At the first aid station, I filled up my bottle and continued on with Neil as he rode by. Similarly to the early ride with Steve, we set up a good pace together and caught and passed more racers. The three of us were riding well together, but then came the downhills-my nemesis. This time, while I did lose contact with Steve and Neil, I didn’t lose any spots from racers coming from behind me. The Thunderbolt allowed me to keep my speed up and take the faster, more technical lines. “Blue Thunder” kept me upright and smooth on the downhills without any crashes. I finished the day not getting lost which a significant number of other racers did due to a tricky turn in the Dark Forest trail. Overall, the first day was full of long and steep climbs, and with the heat, it was a day of sadistic attrition where racers had to show their mettle. The big bonus was that the race organizers had free beer at the end of the race; the rest of the day was a blur.
The second day started at the Aquatic Center and the race organizer promised us more cross-country trails despite starting us up HyperVentilation, which is an infamous switchback climb with a fantastic view that you can’t actually enjoy due to your heart rate hitting its max. But, after the climb, we rode Kush and The Coal Discovery Trail which were fast and flowing and added a fantastic sense of ease during the pain. This is why Fernie is known for their mountain biking trails. Continuing with the sadistic tendencies, just before you hit the finish line, you have to climb Sidewinder up for almost no other reason than for added suffering. Brad was quite upset about the emotional let down of that climb and the boring descent so close to the end, but I was just glad it was the last climb. The second day was significantly more enjoyable than the first day due to the sheer amount of amazing singletrack riding. I got mesmerized at one point in Kush and didn’t go race pace and I kinda didn’t care. At the finish line, most of us were wondering why the race organizer didn’t make the single day racers race the second day instead of the first. There was almost just as much elevation, but the course was mostly singletrack instead of the loose gravel trail on the first day and the climbs were more steady.
The third day was like a classic XCO race as the climbs were shorter and the course had some long stretches of flat trail-it was absolutely a pisser of a race. Great steady switchback climbs, flowing downhill, punchy singletrack. It had everything a mountain biker would want. It suited some racers really well as Jason R and Bob W rode with me that day and looked very strong. I was also mesmerized by Bob’s luscious blonde hair blowing in the wind behind him. At the finish line, everyone was very happy with the day’s race as it was the finishing one and the most fun. The race was so fast the times were very close from group to group. We even had some secret beer at the finishing area for those of us in the know.
Without the egregious course marking from last year, people were significantly more celebratory at the end of this year’s race. There were some obvious criticisms that the Fernie3 race organizers should seriously take as sage advice. We were not impressed with the cheap paper number plates and the twist ties they gave us to fasten the plates to our bikes. They didn’t have enough marshals, properly stocked aid stations, ambassadors or EMS on the course. First aid was non-existent at the finishing area, there were no timed downhill sections and they ran out of jerseys. I know that putting on a race is onerous, stressful and ultimately thankless but hopefully they will make the appropriate changes for next year. The one thing they got right was having free beer at the finishing banquet. Things got slightly out of hand.
We finished the weekend with a guided tour of the Coleman trails by locals Troy and Lance. It was another hot day, but the trails were worth it because they were technical and rough. I didn’t bring enough water or food so I bonked on a very long climb to the top, but thank goodness Trevor is always prepared and saved me from being left in the woods to die. It has been quite a while since I’ve been in the back end of asshole intervals.
Now it’s off to Jasper for two days of more climbing and descending.