First mountain bike race, hardwood single track challenge in 2014

Hardwood SingleTrack Classic 2014

Shortly after finishing Logs, Rocks, and Steel in September of 2014, I realized two things, adventure racing is awesome, and unless I want to kill myself, I need a real mountain bike. Not even a week later, I purchased the bike I still ride today and quickly signed up for my first mountain bike race, the Hardwood SingleTrack Classic 50km, what could go wrong?

My first real bike the Rocky Mountain Vertex 930

As you may recall from the last my post in this series, after running my first half marathon in 2012, I quickly lost my groove, before getting reinspired in August 2014 to try my hands at my first adventure race, Logs, Rocks, and Steel.  

Logs, Rocks, and Steel combined paddling, mountain biking, and trail running, through the beautiful grounds of the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve.  I went into that entirely unprepared, with the worst equipment, but came out of it inspired, discovering that not only did I love mountain biking, but it was time to purchase one that will be up to the demanding tasks that I have planned.  

With that, I headed over to my Local Bike Store, Silent Sports, where they helped me select the bike that still rides like new today, and continues to do everything I need it to, the 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930.  The Vertex 930 has 29” tires, and 100mm of front travel, although not the most manoeuvrable, there’s nothing it can’t handle. 

I just want to call out a quick thanks to the team at Silent Sports.  I came in with a set budget and had to choose between an entry-level full-suspension or a higher-end hardtail.  The team advised that with my budget, I would get the best bang for my buck with the hardtail, and they weren’t wrong.  

Over the years, I have debated switching to a full suspension, and there are lots of good reasons to own one, but at the same time, when you think that local legends like Olympian Emily Batty also ride hardtails, I don’t think they can be all that bad.  Although you may lose a bit in comfort, it should come in a lighter frame with easier climbing.  Plus with the money you save by not upgrading to a full suspension, perhaps you can get a gravel or fat bike instead.

Signing up for the Hardwood SingleTrack Classic

Thanks to the magic of Garmin and Gmail I can tell that I rode my new bike for the first time on 9/28 for 70min through some easy trails in Uxbridge, followed by a short 50min on some local gravel walking paths.  Then six days after that first ride, I promptly signed up for the Hardwood SingleTrack Classic, only two weeks away.

Not wanting to make this easy on myself and with a bit too much overconfidence I decided that I needed a real challenge, so I chose the 50k version, rather than the much milder 25k, hoping to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

For better or worse, if there is one thing I’ve learned about myself, its that I can sometimes be a bit overconfident, that I can go into something a bit too blindly, experience a bit of a wake-up call, and have to find ways to quickly adapt.  Although this sounds like it could be a perfect recipe for disaster, I would counter that it has caused me to push myself by attempting things, while learning valuable lessons, that I would never have, had I known better.  

As I write this and think back to signing up for Hardwood SingleTrack Classic, I can only smile at my total hubris.  I say that because I remember thinking two things as I signed up for this.  That cycling is easier than running, and since I can run a half marathon, how hard could this be.  Two, I’ve ridden what equates to a bunch of rail-trail, how much harder could singletrack mountain biking be.  

It turns out I had a lot to learn.

Arriving at Hardwood Ski and Bike

I learned a few things this day that still prove invaluable today, dress for the weather, planning is everything, and embrace the positives.

Let’s start with the weather, I drove up to Hardwood, from my home in Vaughan, with a fine mist in the air, and temperatures hovering around 4 degrees.  

Although this cold, wet weather, could have been the start to a very bad day, I’ve come to realize that weather doesn’t matter, what matters is preparing for the weather, having the right equipment to suit the conditions can make any conditions enjoyable.  To this day, I much prefer racing in cool, overcast conditions, perhaps even with a slight drizzle, then full sunlight and high heat, since you can always dress up, but you can only dress down so much :).

Arriving at Hardwood, I was in awe. The venue was awesome, they were very well organized, and had a great race day vibe.  If you haven’t been, Hardwood Ski and Bike, is a beautiful facility, with 11 trails covering over 80km of well-maintained trail, including a good mixture of easy to advanced trails and everything in between.  In addition to the trails, they also have several facilities onsite for eating, bike cleaning, event hosting, and a fully stocked bike shop.

Similar to Logs, Rocks, and Steel it was while unracking my bike in the parking lot that I began to question my overconfidence. As I overheard conversations about recently returning from trips to Moab and 24-hour bike races, while noticing the spandex, and the bikes that looked liked works of art.

While unpacking my bike I discovered that I had forgotten my bike shoes, I ran to the store to see if they had anything in stock, being the end of the season they didn’t, and instead had to ride in my Van’s, not the ideal setup.  To this day, as I prepare for any event, I think back to this race, and prepare in extreme detail, typing out everything, then laying it out, and checking it twice. 

Racing the Hardwood SingleTrack Classic

A few memories stick out from start of the race itself.  

My amazement with the pure intensity that some of the elites put into their pre-race routine, just watching them made me feel exhausted.  

How uncontrolled my heart rate was.  Starting at that race, and for at least the next two years, as I would wait in the starting queue of any race, my HR would start climb near my race peak, then slowly taper down over the first 10 minutes of the race, to a more reasonable level.  I guess nerves can go a long way to affecting performance and heart rate.  For me, the only cure for this has been experience, and preparation, knowing your prepared and that you belong goes a long way to calming pre-race jitters.

That I was slow, I don’t know where I got off thinking that because I ran a half marathon two years prior that this would be a cakewalk, I was wrong.  I started about mid-pack, then within the first few km’s, I realized I had no business being here and quickly did everyone the favour of pulling over to allow the real competitors the opportunity to pass.  

I also discovered that single track mountain biking is a beast, and I love it.  Although the elevation evens out in the end, if you don’t have technique, even the downhills will feel like uphills, since you won’t be able to carry that brief speed gain through corners or transition it into the uphills.

In the end, I finished the 50k in a time of 4:05:04, 1:42:29 behind the winner, and securing fourth last overall, not including the 11 DNF’s.  If I wanted to put a more positive spin on things, if I had a little less hubris and had signed up for the 25k my first lap time would have put me in a slightly better position at the bottom half of the pack.

The worst part, after the race, the finishing food was fresh salsa and nacho chips, and by the time I got there, it was all gone :(.

Highspeed cornering at the 2014 Hardwood SingleTrack Classic
Looking Fast at Hardwood

Final Thoughts

I really liked this race, and continued it into 2015, before it transitioned from an end of season race to an early season race that conflicted with my still favourite race Storm the Trent.  In 2015 I transitioned into the 25k version, placing about mid-way.  To this day, I might be a much better runner than I am a biker, but I probably enjoy cycling more.

Times don’t matter, the experience does.  When I race, I know I’m not going to age group, so instead, I focus on beating my expectations.  If I can’t do that, then at least taking something from the race.  At the Hardwood I took a few things.  The importance of planning.  To lose the hubris, because there are a lot of great athletes out there that have been doing it longer than you.  You will never get what you don’t train for.  Most importantly, just enjoy the day, even if everything goes wrong, at least you are there, and that’s awesome.

Thanks for reading, 

Cory

— What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned that still hold true today?

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