This was my fourth Paris to Ancaster, and the toughest.
Challenge #1 - The Wind
This is a point to point race, you start in one place and end in another. Very cool, except when there's a strong headwind it's going to be a headwind almost the entire ride... and that was the case yesterday. The open sections were all extremely windy, it was soul-destroying! It took a lot of mental gymnastics to keep going at times.
Challenge #2 - Course Changes
They've added new off-road sections, which makes this race even more challenging than it was before. They're really what gives the race it's unique character - farmer's fields, forrest trails, old rail beds, wet grass, mud slides... something new is being thrown at you at every turn. And they're all joined together by road sections, and just as you get a rhythm going they throw you into some mud.
I started out near the front of the second wave (of three). Some people really pounded it right from the start, I let myself get passed into the first corner and started to settle in.
The first rail trail was far less congested than I'm used to - being near the front and having fewer people in my wave was a big benefit. I tried to resist the urge to go out too fast, but I lost - I went out too fast. We hit the first off-road section and I was breathing hard and well into the red. Note to myself for 2010 - don't go out so hard!
I nursed my heart rate down through the next few off-road an on-road sections, finally finding a comfortable pace. There was a lot more mud than in other years, which really bogged me down at times, but I kept it going.
The long road sections are usually where I shine, but this year it was a struggle with the wind. I tried to keep my effort reasonable so I wouldn't blow up and mostly succeeded.
Drafting was a problem... in previous years I managed to get behind a good pull and get a free ride, but this year I was the one pulling. At one point I looked back and there were about 15 riders behind me! I tried slowing down assuming someone would hop up and take the lead, but nobody did... bunch of free-loaders. Finally I signalled to the guy behind me to take the lead... he did for awhile which was nice, but it was one of the few times I had a wheel in front of me rather than behind me. I have to learn how to manage that better!
By the time I hit the 1h30 mark, I was starting to feel the early signs of muscle cramps in my legs. This was not something I expected... it killed my race last year, and here I was facing it again. I've done so much training this winter, I thought I was good, but no such luck. I backed off the pace and focused on spinning at a high cadence, hoping to clear the lactic acid.
Then I lost my chain trying to down-shift to my granny gear. When I put my foot down to stop and fix it, my leg completely locked with a cramp. Argh! I managed to get the chain on and get my legs moving, but it was tough...
There are two nasty mud-chutes in the closing kilometers of this race, both of which I walked last year. Despite the massive mud everywhere else, the first chute was actually not bad, I managed to ride most of it. The second one was as bad as ever, I walked/ran down with my bike on my shoulder.
Then the final hill... the lowest point in the course going up to the highest point of the course in the last 2km. It's steep, the "road" is rutted and broken, and when you've been going hard for 2h30 it's a killer. I knew my cramps would get me, so I just focused on low gear spinning and trying to keep my legs moving. I was doing OK until the last couple corners and I just had to stop... I was standing there, both legs locked with cramps and some spectators yelling "go, you're almost there!!!" Umm, yeah, thanks, I know I'm almost friggin' there!!! I managed to walk again, so pushed the bike for a bit then hopped on and rode the last 100m or so to cross the finish.
I'm disappointed - I lost a lot of time to cramps, and I know I had the energy in the tank. I could have had a really smashing time, but two years in a row I've cramped up at this race. And it's only this race, I've never crampted up at a running event, not at a marathon, not a triathlon, not at a century ride! Only this race. I have to figure it out for 2010, because I don't want to see a really good result turn to just a decent result again.
Final Results: 2:50:34 (429/1202, top 36%)
A little slower than last year, but the course changes made it a lot tougher and the wind was brutal. Last year I was barely in the top 50% with a faster time, so I'm really quite happy in that sense!
Cramping My Style
I did some research on cramping, again.
It wasn't electrolytes or dehydration - I was fine on both. I was well fueled, I had energy right to the end, that wasn't the problem.
I wasn't undertrained, I've done more training to this point than I ever have before.
However I believe I was wrongly trained, at least for this kind of race. My focus is on maintaining a steady effort over a long distance, that is the task at hand for Ironman. I have been focusing almost exclusively on this, which is the right thing to do - for Ironman.
But Mountain Biking is different, and I didn't fully appreciate how different. Reading this article, however, it became quite clear. When you are off-road, the effort isn't even, it's hectic. You go hard up a small hill, then you're off completely as you bomb down the other side, then you're hard to get through some mud, then you're easy on some flats, then you're hard up another hill... that intensity and recovery cycle is harder on your muscles than a steady effort. And I believe it is what eventually gave me cramps.
The prescription, according to the article, is "tempo burst intervals". As an example, they suggest riding for 9 minutes at a tempo pace, jumping out of the saddle (in the saddle?) at the 3, 6, and 9 minute mark and bursting for 15s of all-out effort. Repeat that 9-minute set twice, then do 9 more minutes at tempo and stop.
(Click on the link for more work-outs based on this idea).
I'll have to decide in 2010 if this is something I want to target in training, it will depend on how it aligns with my season goals.