This past weekend was the Iron Maiden XC/Organ Grinder Marathon at the Canmore Nordic Center – a guaranteed double-header suffer fest. The Nordic Center has it all – great trails that keep getting greater every year due to some phenomenal trail building and maintenance, amazing scenery, great facilities, nice town… If you haven’t ridden there yet, what are you waiting for?
Both Mark and I signed up to race, but Mark also signed up for a 40-year-old boys gone wild weekend, so this was destined to be a solo donkey trip bringing back fond memories of my early days racing as an Independent. Luckily, a late 2:30pm Saturday race start even permitted me to perform a gig Friday night in Edmonton and have a full night’s sleep. The drive to Canmore went quickly with the new Daft Punk to keep me company, and I pulled up with a generous 90 minutes to get ready for the XC race.
Let’s just say my race prep in the days leading up to my first couple of races this season has not been ideal – I arrived to the Lethbridge Coulee Cruiser with little more than two hours of sleep and working the nightshift, and the Summer Solstice race (not affiliated with the actual summer solstice in any way shape or form) had me rolling up to the line not even a day after arriving home from two weeks in Germany with a serious case of jetlag as a souvenir (I don’t know how the pros do it…). These “shananigans” rewarded me with two last place finishes and left me questioning my ability to duke it out with any of the girls in Elite. Needless to say, I felt a bit nervous as I put on my kit and zipped tied my race number, especially with a very stacked ladies field including the likes of Trans Portugal dominatrix Kate Aardal and Olympic track medalist Tara Whitten. Yikes. Racing Elite is a funny thing. You learn early on how to keep things in perspective and choose your battles and set your goals wisely. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, and I knew from last year’s race the course was an awesome one requiring a complete skill set to match the technical trails, I decided early on to focus on riding a clean race and, with any luck, to not finish last.
The start was fast, and Kate, Trish Grajczyk, and Tara immediately gapped the other four of us and carried on to scoop up the podium spots in that order. I knew from a hesitation and mistake I made last year that I needed to make it to the single track before some of the more fit but less technical riders, so I dug deep and managed to hammer into the single track in fifth place. I quickly realized with the number of technical descents and climbs to follow, if I could ride clean and steady I could maintain my positioning and perhaps move up one more spot. Well, moving up one more spot wasn’t meant to be, but I did ride an exceptionally clean race, which I was very happy with. I also came away with something I lost after the first two races this season: the confidence I needed to call myself an Elite rider. Even though I don’t have the natural fitness and lung power of most in my category (I like to joke my VO2 max is more of a VO2 min), I can say I have some pretty good skills, as evidenced by my ability to clear all of the advanced “A-line” sections of the course consistently on an outdated, aluminum 26er from 2008. Sweet.
Celebrating my draw prize and new race-walking kit
Because the weather was so glorious, clean up and pack up was quick, and I even won a killer draw prize – a kicky visor and headband combo that will come in handy when I start my next athletic pursuit: race-walking. Visors off to the SpinSisters for putting on a great event complete with schwag and post-race eats, two things that are sadly becoming few and far between at many ABA races.
I was able to steal Mark away from his mountain man-cave sausage fest for supper, and we enjoyed some fantastic flatbreads and a celebratory pint from the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. We then parted ways as Mark wasn’t racing the five hour enduro the next day and had a bonfire to build, so after a quick stop at the Sobey’s for some chocolate I turned in early to rest up for five hours of fun and punishment (phunishment I like to say) the next day.
Reason to race #17: No guilt for eating things like this
Like the SpinSisters, the Cyclemeisters promised to also put on a quality day of racing on Sunday complete with schwag and post race food. This event is one of my favourites if only for the all-you-can-eat Spolumbo sausage post-race barbeque. Marathon XCs are an interesting beast; for some reason they attract quite a different field of racers that don’t attend regular XC races, which undoubtedly makes for an unpredictable race full of dark horses. On the other hand, I can usually pull out a pretty good result at these events because they complement my steady-eddy, donkey style of riding. On the other hand, I was a bit unsure of how I would actually fair at this race having not yet raced a marathon yet this season, so I kept my goals reasonable and told myself if I completed three of the 12km laps I could call it a day and earn myself a sausage with all the fixins.
The start was typical of an enduro: the fast racers took off and jockeyed for positioning while the rest of us eventually sorted ourselves out according to our desired pace. I quickly found myself in an enjoyable group of chatty guys (whoever says women are chattier riders is dead wrong – men are total riding social butterflies) and was enjoying the trails and moderate pace. However, to add a little spice to the mix, the weather gods decided to be not quite so kind on Sunday, and by halfway through the first lap an off and on, yet persistent drizzle settled in, and each lap the trails became a bit more challenging.
By the third lap, I had no idea where I was in the mix, but I did know I was getting tired and starting to make little mistakes. With the trail conditions only deteriorating, I told myself I just needed to finish off this third lap to earn my sausage treat and call it a day. I was really looking forward to finishing as I pedalled towards the start/finish, but then an interesting thing happened. As I walked my bike through the transition area with nothing but the thought of sausage in my head the commissaire casually mentioned I was in 3rd place with the 2nd place rider just 30 seconds ahead. I couldn’t stop now. I had a podium spot to defend. Crap! With two hours still left in the event, any girl behind me merely had to ride another lap to steal third place. I silently mouthed a creative series of expletives, and after a morale boost of supporting words, a rice krispie treat (thanks Ryan!), and a delicious homemade cookie (thanks Aleks!) I hopped back on my bike and told myself I could have a second delicious sausage if I rode a fourth lap and defended my position. Well, those sausages and my love for them proved to give me the upper hand that day as I ultimately caught that second place girl and built up a seven minute gap to give me my first podium finish of the season. My aged bike also helped out in its own special way, as it and the muddy conditions conspired to make riding in the granny ring a futile battle with chain-suck, forcing me to push bigger gears than I would have otherwise chosen to do.
Unlike the day before, it took a long time to clean my bike and myself of the coating of mud and forest floor debris, but I did finally get my two sausages and a chance to enjoy the glory of the podium. And what a payoff it was. Four and a half hours of suffering and second place in the Open Women’s category earned me a Knog blinkie light. It’s a good thing I don’t do this for a living. I do it for the sausages.