P2A: A Look Back and a Look Forward
My name is Colin. I’m 45 years old, and I’m going to race my 5th Paris to Ancaster this spring. I’m a rider, a dad, a husband, a friend, and a teacher. I’m also a racer. I love bikes. MTB, gravel, fatbike, road, whatever. I even have my certification to ride the Mattamy Velodrome.
But I wasn’t always this person.
Here’s how it all started.
Flashback six years. Imagine science fiction time travel SFX for this part. In the fall of 2012, I was a different person. My lower back ached, I had two torn menisci, I was flabby, and out of shape. I always thought I was in okay shape, but then, looking in the mirror, I saw a 39 year old me, and I was kind of a mess. After hatching into an adult–education, career, sick parent, marriage, the death of a parent, parenthood, and parenthood again–I was living on auto pilot, and I neglected to hatch into ME.
I needed something.
And then something happened. I’m not exactly sure how, but I found myself at Joyride 150, an indoor bike park in Markham Ontario, in the middle of the January. Riding my bike along the trails, and over the obstacles and jumps, I was a kid again. Stress melted, adrenaline pumped, and I felt energized.
And so, throughout the winter of 2013, after putting my kids to bed, I played bikes. But I wasn’t just a kid again and having fun, I was a kid again and I was getting FIT. Slowly, flabby me turned into less flabby me. And out of shape, me turned into less out of shape me…
Flashback to the present. More science fiction time travel SFX. It’s 2017, and I try to ride at least two times a week (although I wish it was seven); I’ve got too many bikes (because there are too many cycling disciplines and they’re all way too awesome); I’ve entered (and FINISHED) over 30 races; I race every Tuesday night in the summer; and I even blog about riding. It’s the Team Colin Blog. Somewhere along the way–sometimes incrementally, and sometimes in massively huge pedal strokes–I transformed: my body, my weight, how I handle life, how I feel about myself, how I feel about others, and how I handle, well, everything.
I ride as fast as I can (usually), and I try as hard as I can (most of the time), and I ride as often as I can (as often as I can), but between a family, a job, and life (bottomless laundry baskets; grass that always grows; a house that seems to mess itself; and the kid’s basketball, tae-kwon-d0, trombone, that astronomy project, playdate this, and who said that…) it’s tough.
I place mid pack (or so) in most races, and that’s okay. The expense of putting myself closer to the podium is time, and time is just too valuable at this point in my life. Plus, snuggle time with my kids is so awesome.
Everyone has their excuses for not being a better rider, but mine are worse.
No seriously, they’re worse.
Okay, I know my excuses aren’t worse, but they sure feel like it. At every race, on every ride, and each time I see other riders, I feel like I’m the anomaly. Remember that game, “Which one of these is not like the others?” It’s me. I’m not like the others.
I’m not like the others because I’m 6’2″, and I weigh 250 pounds. There are plenty of other riders who are my height but there are very few who weigh as much as me. When I started riding, I weighed almost 260-something pounds, and in the past few years, I’ve weighed as little as 242 pounds. Right now, I think I’ve settled at 250. It’d be awesome if I weighed 230 pounds, but poutine is too tasty, cheese is an awesome snack, and I just really really really love food.
Race organizers have a word for racers my size: Clydesdale. A clydesdale is a horse. A majestic, giant, hairy, workhorse. That’s what I am. Except, instead of pulling a wagon full of lumber through a forest, snorting, panting, and whinnying, I pedal my bike as hard as I can through a forest. And yeah, I’m also snorting, panting, and whinnying…
Okay, I don’t actually whinny. But close to it. Also, I am the exact opposite of majestic.
My downfall is my size, but my upfall is me. Regardless of how I ride–or what I look like in spandex–I love riding and everything about it. And apparently, it’s infectious, because, when I talk to other riders, and ask them about technique, or get their opinion on something, they not only help me, they get excited about riding too.
Combined, they have become Team Colin (we have hats!). Team Colin isn’t a real thing. It’s just me and a collection of bike shop people, my friends and family, race organizers, riders, and supporters who have become dear friends. They. Are. Awesome.
Back to when I was 39. The summer after I started riding regularly at Joyride, I was on vacation with my family, and we stumbled on Velerium, a pro mountain bike race in Mont Ste. Anne. Watching the race, I thought “This is cool, maybe I should volunteer to help at a race next season.”
Throughout the rest of the summer, fall, and winter, I rode my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to help at a race the following summer. Then, one day in March, I was reading Canadian Cycling magazine, and I saw ads for a few bike races. They were promoted with words like “Racers race, riders ride”.
I kept riding my bike, thinking about how cool it would be to help at a race the following summer.
Then, one day, at Joyride 150, I was talking to the co-owners about bike races and they suggested I try one. “Me?” I asked. “I could never…”
They told me about a race series organized by a guy named Dan Marshal, and about Paris to Ancaster.
Then, and I’m still not sure why, I decided to consider looking into thinking about pondering whether I could actually try a race. Suddenly, and without warning, I heard a little “boom” inside my chest. Along with it came absolute doubt, wavering indecision, and stark fear, but the feeling was unmistakable, and the seed was planted.
And it grew.
Instead of VOLUNTEERING at a race that year, I RACED the 2013 Paris to Ancaster.
The Paris to Ancaster bike race has two different race distances: 40km, and 70km. I chose to register for the shorter race, which actually travels from St. George to Ancaster. Every walking, waking, riding, and sleeping minute of the month leading up to the race, I was terrified. What would I do if I got a flat? What about trail conditions? The course? What if I just couldn’t finish? What if I had to pass a rider? Forget that, what would I do when I got passed? What if it snowed? What if it rained? What if it was sunny? What if…
What if… The list went on and on.
- Was. Terrified.
To add insult to injury, I was registered as a Clydesdale. A gigantic, hairy, snorting, panting…yeah, that’s me…
And so, on Sunday, April 14, 2013, I competed in the Paris To Ancaster bike race.
Race Report: Paris to Ancaster
I didn’t really own cycling clothes, so I wore some black long johns that looked like tights, a bulky sweater, and giant, furry gloves. All good choices because it was cold, but maybe not the best looking riding attire.
The race was hard. Very hard. But none of my actual worries came to be.
Also, within minutes of starting, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about racing: How to pace myself, or how much to exert, and when, or… Again, the list went on. In those early moments, I felt totally unprepared. So I just did what I knew how to do. I pedaled my bike.
I pedaled as hard as I could.
It was windy, muddy, and windy. There were obstacles and giant mud chutes (exactly what they sound like) but the course was fairly flat. Lots of gravel, a farmer’s field or two, some rail trail, a few little villages, some more fields. It was actually kind of sort of almost easy–for the first 38k. At the 38k mark, with a bit more than 1k to go, P2A meets the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment–yeah, the Niagara (Falls) Escarpment–for a horrendous grind up to the finish line, which is at the top of the escarpment.
And so, at the end of my first bike race, I rode up the Niagara escarpment. What the what? How did that happen?
Easy, I just pedaled my bike.
The FINISH line was everything I dreamed it would be: Crowds of people, riding under the FINISH banner while my name was announced.
I placed 8th in the Clydesdale category.
I did it. I didn’t look pretty, but I did it.
End of 2013 P2A (St. George distance) Race Report
And just like that, I became a racer. Not a great racer. Not even a good racer. But a racer who could ride up the Niagara escarpment at the end of a long race. Caked with mud, and a little choked up, I breathed it all in. And I heard it again. No, I FELT it again. In my heart and in my bones…
Boom. A body-shaking, earth-shuddering BOOM.
In the three P2A races since then, I’ve raced the St. George distance each time, and each time it was an absolute blast. It wasn’t easy, and I’ve experienced all that P2A is famous for: sun, snow, rain, wind, mud, windy mud, muddy wind, downed trees, happy residents, cheering crowds, a cramp with 100m to go, exhaustion, utter bliss, a bit of Zen, riding through a rider’s spit spray, more mud, and more wind. And every single moment has been life changing.
I did seven races in my first season. Yeah, seven. At the end of that season, I even raced twice in the same weekend. Yeah, two races in one weekend. Cue neighing, snorting, and whinnying.
Sure, I got passed. A lot. But I passed some riders too. I got a flat during a race, so I fixed it. My front derailleur broke at the beginning of a race and I had no gears for two hours, so I raced without gears for two hours. I raced in the sun and snow, I raced against the wind and through the rain, and each time a new problem sprung up, I dealt with it.
Riding and racing have become a big part of my life, and the lessons learned guide me. When my children face a problem–you know, the complexity of schoolyard snow fort ownership, which pants to wear when the laundry isn’t done, or how conjugate the verb avoir–I tell them what I do in each race: When I see a pile of rocks, I ride over them. When the trail goes up, I go up. When the trail goes down, I go down. If I have to get off my bike and walk because the trail is too tough, I get off my bike. When my legs are sore and my heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest, I just keep riding. Because whatever the trail throws at me–whatever life throws at me–I do my best, and I find a way to figure it out.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to get better. Eddie Merckx said “Ride as much or as little or as long or as short as you feel but ride.”
So I ride.
But there’s a problem. What? A problem? Nothing bad ever happens to Colin on a bike. How could there be a problem. Well, here it is: In each of the past four P2A races, I did the shorter distance, and after each race, I always had to qualify myself and say “I did the P2A–St. George distance”.
Well not this year.
My name is Colin, and even though I’m going to race my 5th P2A this spring, for the first time, I’m going the full distance. No disclaimer after the race, and no wondering if I should have raced the “longer one”. n April 30, 2017, I’m doing it.
And I’m terrified. What if I get a flat? What about trail conditions? The course? What if I just can’t do it? What if…
The list goes on and on.
But that’s okay, because I think I’ll figure it out. I’m not sure exactly how, but I look forward to the whatever the dirt, gravel, rail trail, and road between Paris and Ancaster throws at my wheels. Did you hear that? Yeah, I did too. Boom.
April is going to be an awesome month. On April 9th, I’m also going to race the Steaming Nostril (Runny Nose distance—because it’s cool to do the short distance too), and I’m going to race Dan Marshall’s Homage to Ice on April 15. If I could fit it in, I’d also race the Tour of Pelham too (that’s April 1st).
Why do you need to race P2A? You’ll have to find your own answers, but I’m going to race P2A because of the sun, and the wind, and the rain…
And the snow, and the cramps, and the EVERYTHING.
I’m going to race P2A because it pushes me to my limits, and pulls me deeper into the awesome world of cycling…
And because the joy and thrill of doing SOMETHING is profoundly important.
And because two wheels and one heart make one heck of a connection to the earth.
I’m racing P2A because Sunday April 30 is a day, and I might as well make it an AWESOME day.
Did I get this right? If you have something to say about this post, P2A, or riding in general, comment at the bottom, or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you race on April 30, let me know afterward.