Monday, February 18, 2013

Actif Epica 2013

I wonder if the racer who dropped their bike there even realized the artistic mark they left in the snow?  Found somewhere on one of the hike-a-bike sections before St. Pierre-Jolie.  View 2013 course map here
I was somewhere on Shapansky rode on the way to the floodway when it happened -- that moment in every long race or ride when you wonder why the hell you are doing this or if it was even worth it. I wondered if I just collapsed, how long it would take for someone to find me? There were runners behind me so I knew I would be found, but I hadn't seen another racer since shortly after St. Adolphe -- about 20 km ago at this point -- in fact the only sign of life I had seen was in the form of a golden retriever which chased me down the road for a while, I think, somewhere on Sood Rd or in the early part of Shapansky (it all blurs after a while) otherwise it was all dead silence, the crunch of my tires on the snow, and the lack of sun which had already set -- I had missed seeing the sunset or it no longer occurred to me to look -- but was still emitting enough glow over the horizon that lights were not yet a necessity.

I was dead tired here. It wasn't taking much to get me out of breath either. I knew my tires were going flat and I knew that was the real reason why biking felt so hard because my biking legs were fine. While I couldn't see my Garmin anymore to know my actual speed, I'm sure I was topping out at only about 8km/hr.

So I stopped, dug out a partially frozen cookie and munched with no care for crumbs, sucked on the hose of my camelback and walked with my bike, relishing the fact that I could use different muscles for a little while on flat mostly snowless roads and not be dragging my bike through deep snow as I had already done for about 10km at this point in earlier parts of the course.  The diagonal portion of Shapansky was 3.2km long. It might as well have been 100km. It was never going to end.  But I had no doubt that I would finish. The city lights were in sight.
Me and the Mani Yeti in 2012 at the Niverville Checkpoint

I had planned on entering Actif Epica a year ago when I spent the race volunteering out at the Niverville checkpoint. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to gain that understanding of what it felt like to do something I felt was beyond my capabilities.  I had done many long epic summer rides but nothing in the winter.  I wanted that experience of looking in the other racers eyes and instantly knowing what they were thinking because they were thinking the same as you.  I planned for a year that I would do it, I slowly bought gear, and then ......  I proceed to not train.

According to my riding log my last ride over 100km was on August 14th when I rode to Bird's Hill Park via the floodway path with Phil.  My last ride over 50km was on October 6th when I rode to Beaudry Park to stop in on the Lemming Loop Trail Race and watch Vern and Doris and Reid finish their events. I got a chest cold that turned into pneumonia about 2 weeks after that which killed any and all exertion based activity for about a month -- although, out of pure stubbornness, there were a few false start tries before I gave up and succumbed to my fragile lungs and antibiotics. I had a couple of weeks where I couldn't even walk down the hall or up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath.  I had done two 3-hour rides in December the last being on Boxing Day. I had rode to work -- a 20k round trip -- about a dozen times. I had done 30 minute runs about a dozen times.  The exercise plan had been light to say the least.  I was exercising like a normal person not like one of these crazy enduro racers I admired.

So I hesitated to follow through with my plan and participate but when I asked Phil if I could borrow his fat bike for the race and he didn't hesitate to say yes, I was in.  I really didn't doubt much that I could finish. I just knew I wouldn't be fast.  I knew that the reported sections where I would have to push my bike would be hard. I don't think I was naive enough to underestimate how hard ... I knew it would be fucking hard.

By the time I had my bike fully packed it weighed about 60 lbs. That's just under half my body weight. There was so much I didn't know about doing a race of this nature. I overpacked, I believe now, in retrospect. I carried way too much food.  I know I should eat more during these races but I always have trouble eating.  I would rather just get through the tough parts than stop. There was enough available food at checkpoints anyhow.  I never drink enough. In winter rides it is such a hassle to do anything with your hands.  I started the race with my hands bundled in lobster gloves and windproof covers and surgical gloves (which worked like a charm) but my hands were non functioning.  I couldn't get at my water nozzle or pull on zippers without stopping and removing layers.

Me, ready to go, coming out of Niverville  (Photo by Dave Bell)

I had never ridden a fat bike and now I was on one that was slightly too big for me.  We pushed the seat in as far forward as it could safely go changed out the stem so it was shorter.  It all helped but in my short test rides, I never got to the point of finding out how the bike would feel when I was fatigued and once I was through the first push section just outside St. Malo the reach instantly felt too long.

And tire pressure -- the science eludes me a bit and I have a novice understanding. On a fatbike it is critical.  I wanted to just ride the race and never touch a bike pump.  Impossible. This is roadie thinking where the difference between riding with 100psi and 90psi is not that critical. On a fatty the difference between 12psi and 8psi is noticeable and huge.  It was during the neutral start out of St. Malo that it occurred to me that I never checked the tire pressure on race day. The last time I had pumped them up was on Wednesday morning before my ride to work. I put them at 12psi and thought that would hold. Given what happened later in the race, it likely hadn't.  The lead out pace felt too hard and it shouldn't have. We did no more than 15-17km per hour.  I was too out of breath and we were only a km into the race. I had Dave pump them up to 12 in Niverville and I sailed to St. Adolphe.  Didn't even check them before leaving St. Adolphe and paid for it on Shapansky.  Sometime after the race when I was at home and unable to roll over in bed, it occurred to me that I had been carrying the solution in my bag all along in the form of 2 CO2 cartridges.  But the mind does not work too optimally at that stage of racing. I had a small hand pump too but I had no desire to sit in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes in the dark to add 2 psi to my tires. My arms and back were too fatigued at this point to even think about using that small pump.  I would get to the floodway and hope Tom had a floor pump.

But that's the boring details.  I was behind almost everyone from the start and it was a good 2 hours of riding and pushing before I caught my first runner (they started an hour ahead of us) just outside St. Pierre-Jolie. I was alone for most of the early part of the ride but I could usually always see someone. I was OK being alone, it was sort of how I visualized myself doing this race. Alone. I very much needed to stick to my conservative plan.  I then caught two more runners before the checkpoint at St. Pierre.  I leapfrogged with Jason on the bike to Niverville.  Jason was riding heavy too and he had this elaborate and self-admittedly fussy routine at each checkpoint of stripping off layers of clothing and some of his gear and reorganizing. Most of the time I wasn't sure what he was doing. I left the early checkpoints before him and he always caught up.  We suffered together through the farmer's fields outside Niverville.  Just before we arrived at the check point my Garmin told me we had completed the last 10k in 79 minutes.  An hour and 20 minutes to do 10km. I probably could have walked it faster. All the runners we had passed earlier, caught up and passed us here. When we finally got to ride again, we faced strong cross winds on Crown Valley riding East into town.
Pretty much.

I seized up pretty good sitting too long in Niverville.  I've never had the patience for long stops in the middle of long rides.  I'd rather just keep moving.  After Niverville, Jason and I had said that we would stick together but our differing race plan styles proved to make that impossible by St. Adolphe.  Jason had near completely undressed himself and I didn't even want to take my gloves off. I just wanted to go.  I sat for about 20 minutes waiting to see if he would be ready to go.  I chatted with Derek, the Swamp Donkey "Mummy", and John and Kurt of the Swamp Donkey crew.  I vaguely remember calling Kurt (who I knew in a past more youthful time in my life), John's "man servant". I think they laughed. I was delirious.

Jason riding no hands on Gauthier Rd just before St. Adolphe.  Much less graceful due to crosswind than how he had done it on Krahn but I didn't have the camera ready then.

Lindsay Gauld was there too just stopping in for a visit, supporting the racers.  I sat at the reception table in the church participating in the conversation.   Derek innocently looks over at Lindsay and says, "Everyone seems to know who you are. What is it you do in cycling?"

I chuckled wondering where this was going to go.

Lindsay says: "Oh I am just a guy who rides bikes."

While I don't know Lindsay well and I've known of him by reputation for a while, I've begun to get to know who he is and what he was about as a person since I showed up to a handful of Saturday morning breakfast rides to Nick's Inn.  Lindsay had answered pretty much how I expected he would so I said,  "OK, he's going to be modest... so I will tell you who this guy is.... "  I picked three key items off the Lindsay Gauld massive CV: Olympia Cycle and Ski, 1972 Olympics, 1, 000, 000 km.  I barely scratched the surface.

I left without Jason shortly after that and told him he would probably catch up. He always did.  He said he doubted it.  So I pressed on and while cruising north with a tail wind down highway 200 outside St. Adolphe at an impressive 15km/hr (sarcasm intended), I was already starting to suspect I had a problem with my tires.

I think the happiest moment of the entire day was coming up that final slope of the floodway and seeing the headlights of Tom's car.  I had pushed my bike for a km at that point because the tires were too flat and it was pretty much unridable terrain anyhow.  It was pitch black and I was guided by the reflective flags through the middle of the floodway.  Jason at that point only turned out to be about 5 minutes behind me.  At some point before I had turned to climb the hills of the floodway I could see a bobbing headlight behind me in the distance. I thought he was the two runners, Sue and Helen who had left St. Adolphe around the same time as me. I figured I had been moving slow enough for them to catch up. I drank Tom's hot apple cider while he pumped my tires. He tweeted about it after I left.  Less than 5 psi in both.  What I recall is 5 or less in the rear and no reading in the front.

Jason and I headed off together for the last stretch before U of M. We had 2 hellish sections to face. The floodway climb was bad enough but the strong south with blowing the razor sharp snow off the snow banks on Seniuk Rd parallel to perimeter highway was worse.  Who would have thought a 60 pound bike (over 100 lbs with the rider on top) could be blown sideways?  Riding close to the snowbank for more shelter was worse as the blowing snow blinded us.  We rode that section in silence which I broke as we approached St. Mary's Rd and tree shelter, "Just when you think the worst of it is done, it gets worse."

More "worse" was yet to come through Maple Grove Rugby Park.  The trail we were supposed to take was trodden by everyone who came before us but at over 100km of ground travelled, at this point the agony was exponential. At times when I misstepped I sunk to a depth that was up to my thigh.  The climb to the perimeter bridge was steep. I'm not sure how I would have done it without Jason.  I pushed Jason up from behind and he climbed down and pushed me up from behind. Alex Mann was there at the end of the bridge to say congrats and smooth sailing home.  And then climbing down to Kilkenny Drive, I dropped a pannier and didn't notice.  But I was in a no-wait mode and I was off peddling and didn't hear Jason calling me back.  He kindly carried my pannier the remaining kms to the university.

At the University I was greeted by a somewhat worried Dave (I was about 2 hours behind schedule at this point) and with a surprise visit by Phil and Carolyn. My back tire was OK but the front was back down to about 5psi again.  Dave pumped it up while I drank a coke.  Jason was in full check point routine and had stripped down to his base layers again.  Coming into the university is when I finally passed Steven and then Craig, the lead runners.  Steven looked like hell and completely dazed. I met Steven orienteering a few times and I'm not sure he recognized me. He dropped out at that point due to trashed feet. Craig came in and out of the university in about 2 minutes.  When I left to do the final leg, I passed him at the start of River Road.  He finished the race only 40 minutes behind me (one hour and 40 minutes in race time).  Runners amaze me. I simply do not have that gift.

On one of the good sections between Otterburne and Niverville. Tires not flat here.  When I finished the race, Phil and Carolyn gave me a card with a print of this picture on it. Love Phil and Carolyn. (Photo by Dwayne Sandall). 

The city was familiar and after 110km of prairie nothingness, weirdly felt safe.  I crossed at the lights from St. Vital Road intended to make a left onto the sidewalk along Dakota but had to wait for the walk light because of a car. The walk signal turned on immediately but the car pulled forward to turn right on red and blocked my access to the side walk.  Ah, yes, this. I am finally home.

I made a few minor navigational errors getting myself onto Churchill Drive. Then I was finally on the river. It was near 10:30 at night and the skaters were out and the young partiers in the warming shacks were laughing and not having a clue who I was or a care about why I was out in the middle of the river riding my bike.

The front tire was going flat again and the bike was pulling heavily to the left.  I can't say I felt much at this point other than relief and this sense of numbness.  When I finished the Calgary 70.3 I had so many self doubts about my abilities at that point in my life that I had choked back sobs at the end.  I knew Actif Epica would be harder but I never had those doubts. So I rode in feeling calm. Maybe a little numb.  Glad to be done.

Sometime just as I made the left turn onto the Assiniboine from the Red the Louis Riel Weekend Fireworks started and burst over my head as I rode into the forks.  Perfect.

Done at 10:33 pm.  14.5 hours of "racing." Still smiling.  To be followed by a celebratory beer.  Didn't much care that I was drinking in a public venue. Security didn't seem to either but the Forks race volunteers wisely tweeted an incognito photo of me and the brew.  (Photo by Dave Bell)

Special thanks to my parents who watched my kids all day and past my predicted deadline.  And to Dave, of course, always, I am grateful.

Garmin Data of Entire race


JP said...

Great Report Kim!! Thanks for sharing! And congratulations on a battle well fought!!

Anonymous said...

Great read. Really enjoyed it. Never got a chance to say congratulations at the Forks. So...CONGRATULATIONS!!!


Sue said...

Great race report Kim. Wish we would have had to sit and chat in Niverville. I don't envy you for having to push and carry that bike in Mary Grove Park.

Kim said...

Thanks for your comments everyone and congratulations on finishing the event yourselves. We are all endurance heroes

Anonymous said...

Greetings Kim!
Great story! I was actually in the race with you. I am a RRC student currently putting together an anthology on the experiences of women endurance athletes. I would love to try and convince you to write an article for the publication. Please contact me at so I may send you the information.

Kim said...

Thanks Carrie, I have heard about your project before. I will email you.