Grieving GranFondo

The day after what should have been a nice road ride from downtown Vancouver to Whistler has not brought me fond recollections. This is because, for the second of the ride’s two year existence, I was not able to do it – AGAIN. Last year was not so bad. While I was disappointed that I pulled a calf muscle on a run a week before the ride, I had time to make a decision and I sold my entry for its face value. This year was much different.

Perhaps I should have taken something this week as an omen, though I’m not remotely meta-physical or religious. While I registered the day after the event last year, I hadn’t checked the registered riders list since I received email confirmation and had an online receipt for ride entry. However, upon hitting package pickup on Friday, I was nowhere to be found and had no ride number assigned. A visit to the Solutions Desk was met with confirmation of payment and a quick number assignment, but activating my ride chip showed it was valid with no name attached. In other words, I may have ended up riding as nameless rider 8100. I’m not sure my non-existence constitutes cause and effect, but at this point I’ll take anything beyond bad luck.

I prepared pretty well this year, doing three months of 50-110k rides on most Saturdays and including good climbs – sometimes lots of them – in my training. When I rode part of the Ironman Canada course two weeks ago, I was climbing great. With the exception of one small mistake, my pre-ride prep on Friday was good this year, too. I stocked up on a tube (so I’d have two), Nuun electrolyte tabs to pop in my aid station water refills, had lots of gel and Honeystinger waffles for nutrition and even bought a brand-spanking new jersey. I had arm warmers, calf compression sleeves and all my cycling stuff ready and waiting the night before and all my equipment was checked and adjusted well before bed. I even got a really solid night’s sleep on Friday, something I often don’t do before an event.

I woke up feeling really good. Usually there’s some little ache or pain, but everything has felt great this past week as I did a 30k road ride Wednesday night with 8x800m intervals at the track and then took Thursday and Friday off completely to have fresh 122k ride legs. My bad luck and mistake would come just after rising in great spirits, though. I’ve decided to write it up using the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 stages of loss/grief. Some people don’t buy the model, but I find I experience something in all five stages when bad stuff happens.

Denial

My key mistake would be leaving my tires to top up the morning of the ride. I had a flat for the first time this season after Penticton two weekends ago, but it happened in the vehicle on the way back. Since I hadn’t changed a tube since I put my new tires on very early this spring all I had was two older tubes and used one of them for the flat. I found the presta valve a little manky. It was tough to get the pump to hold and inflate it, but it worked and I’d done two trainer and two road rides since changing it. It seemed to lose pressure slightly faster than my older rear tube but was fine nonetheless. This is what drove me to wait until ride morning to top it up. The valve indeed was manky and broke while I was inflating my front tire at around 5am on ride day. Whether open or closed all air in the tube wooshed out in about 10-15 seconds.

At this point I wasn’t yet changed or slathered with sunscreen for the ride, nor had I brushed my teeth or finished my ritual pre-ride oatmeal. The plan was to leave at 5:30 and have my wife drop me off about a ten minute ride from the start prior to 6am, while she continued on to Whistler for a Saturday overnight stay. Even fixing one flat didn’t put the plan too much in jeopardy. Two flats was a bit dicier and three flats was getting really risky. Imagine then, having a broken valve cause one flat and, with rusty tube changing technique and all, proceeding to pinch-flat my two remaining tubes as I struggled with my tire levers over the next half hour or so. I really just couldn’t have foreseen this happening. The reason I feel this was a mistake and not just happenstance, is that had I taken care of my tires after dinner the night before and had the same thing happen, I could have quickly gone out and purchased several tubes and taken all the time I needed to get my tires worked out.

As 5:30 rolled around I desperately looked through all my bike stuff in the garage hoping for a long-lost road tube to emerge and by 5:40 it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. I sat in disbelief in my basement family room.

Anger

I’m not sure I was angry after I was in denial or during, but I was sure pissed off, regardless. As tube after tube was going down to tire levers and wheel rims, pretty much every possible swear word was coming out of my mouth. I grumbled and muttered as I franticly searched in vain for an orphaned road tube. I don’t think my anger dissipated for a few hours, but it finally did give way to other emotions as the day unfolded.

Bargaining

OK, so I did a crappy job of changing my tubes and had no options left. At 5:45, well after we planned to leave, I was still thinking I had options to get a tube. Unfortunately, most of the people I knew who were doing the ride were flung all over the lower mainland. As they’d all likely be on their way or at the start and with no time to meet anyone, trying to call to get a tube was pointless. The event website showed pumping stations at the start, but no full mechanical aid and with no day of event contact information, I decided to try to get some kind of answer about start-line support through Twitter. After all, they were tweeting at 5:45 on ride day. I’m not suggesting that they owe a guy with bad luck any pre-ride support at all, but I was a little dismayed about their lack of response, given the message I sent.

my desperation tweet for help

I sent a couple of desperate messages and never received a response, even though there was a steady stream of ride day promo tweets. This included telling everyone to be sure to watch for celebrity cyclists almost immediately after my second plea for help. I guess they just didn’t get the tone of desperation in my tweets, but knowing the celebs would be out did rest my nerves somewhat.

Oooh, Cyclebrities! And me with a little ol' flat.

As the clock was rolling toward 6am I had to make a decision. Try to throw everything together and get downtown, hoping to find the mechanical help I needed at what would likely be 6:30-6:40, with 20 minutes to ride time or just pack it in and cut my financial losses … This would mean my wife driving me right to the Hornby and Georgia chute and having a load of luck on my side. It would also alter my wife’s travel plans and get her stuck trying to navigate to the #1 highway through all the race stuff.

I was very close to heading down, but I also know myself too well. When this much stress is piling up and putting me way behind I don’t deal with it particularly well. Would I luck out and get the help I needed to change my tire? How would I still then have a spare tube for the ride? Could I actually consider grinding this thing slowly on a heavy mountain bike? That last question wasn’t really a consideration, but it went through my mind. In the end, partially cutting my losses and reducing the stress won out, but not easily. As I write this, I still haven’t digested it all.

Depression

As we rounded 6am, and my wife had assured me over and over again not to worry about the wasted money and telling me how sorry she was, I really was a sunken guy. I know this was a ride, not a race and since the cycling training actually benefited my running significantly this year, I haven’t once been mopey about wasted training. However, I was feeling the best on my bike I had in ages, the day’s weather was going to be nothing short of spectacular, I was happy I was going to be able to make up for having to pull out last year and, with the pre-paid hotel, the financial loss so far was about $400. I hate wasting money.

So, now a secondary decision to make. Should we go up to Whistler to use the hotel in heavy race-day traffic, watch the first riders come in and then just chill overnight, or just not bother? I really didn’t care, but my wife was looking forward to an overnight stay in Whistler and we could keep the costs reasonably low. So, probably somewhere around 6:30am, with me bummed out, pissed off and in disbelief, we headed over the 2nd Narrows Bridge to the upper levels highway toward Whistler. I wasn’t sure if going to the scene of the event I couldn’t do would be any kind of distraction, but it didn’t end up being.

The rest of the weekend

By the time we hit the Lynn Valley area the traffic was at a pre-ride standstill, clearly prepping for the controlled ride of 7000 cyclists up Taylor Way and onto the highway. Knowing we’d be stuck in traffic anyway, we headed off the highway to get coffee and a snack in Edgemont Village in North Vancouver. In the first good thing to happen all morning, we chose to head out to Horseshoe Bay via Marine Drive and had pretty clear driving all the way to the highway.

Winner Zach Garland
2nd and 3rd battling, Adam Thuss and Craig Jones

We got up to Whistler around 9:30, got parked at the hotel and even made it to the finish line to watch the first few riders come in. As you can imagine, I was not in the greatest of moods. Watching people finish something I was supposed to be doing, from the sidelines, did nothing to quell my mood. The 3:17 or so winning time was pretty blistering. I say “or so” because posted results only show the top three Giro riders and no actual time(PDF). I guess this is in keeping with the spirit of a ride, as opposed to a race.

We went off to hunt down a little breakfast and coffee and had, perhaps, the worst food and service in recent memory at the BG Urban Grill. I’m afraid rebranding Bread Garden is doing nothing to hide how bad it has become. After a little dodgy nutrition, we pretty much noodled around the village the rest of the afternoon on what is rumoured to have been the hottest day of the year so far. It felt very much the same three weeks ago in the Village when we did the 5 Peaks Whistler-Blackcomb, but regardless, it was toasty. We had an early dinner at one of our favourite little Whistler eateries, La Brasserie and then caught the first few songs of the 54-40 show at Celebration Plaza. It’s fair to say that celebration was not really on my mind.

54-40 at Celebration Plaza a little after 7pm

I was coming around but still out of sorts and, besides, four or five three chord, 4/4 rock tunes is about my limit. We grabbed a cold drink and walked around until 8:30 or so and then closed off a quiet night with Donnie Brasco on the tube.

I guess if there’s a silver lining to going up is that last night I had what might have been the best night of sleep in ages – nine hours of completely uninterrupted deep sleep. While I’m still licking my wounds a bit, I feel a lot better today. I’m always of mixed feelings when I go to Whistler, as I love doing events and outdoor stuff up in the mountains, but the poor vegetarian eating options, crowds and overpriced everything really generally leave me flat on every visit. In hindsight, given my mood, it might well have been better to lose the $150, than spend the gas and food money. All in, aside from cycling related costs, not doing the ride ended up being $500+ and the not doing the ride part made going up far less enjoyable.

Takeaways

Every event or race, good or bad, has lessons to impart and my non-2011 RBC GranFondo Whistler was no different. I was pretty well prepared for the actual ride, but when it comes to events with a mechanical component in particular, I will leave no key adjustments or maintenance to the day of the event. The most I should have left to do was eat, get dressed and put everything in the car.

Until recently I thought I was jinxed on the Scotiabank Half Marathon, as something or other always killed my entries, with the fourth time being a charm. I’m not sure I’d spend the money required for the GranFondo every year, feeling kind of jinxed on this one after two bupkis attempts. I expect my road riding will only increase, though, as it’s had such a positive effect on my overall fitness. I won’t plan the GranFondo in advance again, but there are always riders looking to transfer entries the week before the race and I might consider doing it again that way.

Right now, I’d really rather not think about it too much.

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