Back when I was running marathons, we used to call what I did for about an hour in Saturday’s (Sept. 8) RBC GranFondo Whistler “the survival shuffle.”
It’s the part of the race after you “hit the wall” and you either are out of gas or have some other problem — most commonly sore, stiff quadricep muscles from all the pounding. You’re just doing your best to get to the finish line ASAP — whatever that means. Of the 25 marathons I ran between 1987 and 2009, only once did I feel great all the way to pay dirt and not have to do “the shuffle.”
On Saturday, I discovered that there’s a cycling equivalent. I’ll leave it up to the cycling magazines to come up with an appropriately alliterative term for it.
This was supposed to be the GranFondo where I proved Lance Armstrong wrong: It IS about the bike. Readers may recall that, last year, I rode the 122 kilometres on my 19-year-old, steel-tubed two-wheeler with the shifters mounted on the frame. This year, after the old beast rusted out to the point of being unrideable, I finally sprung for a shiny new Specialized — not a pricey carbon-fibre-everything model, but unquestionably a couple steps up the ladder from last year’s ride.
Going into the race, I thought: All things being equal, the new bike should be worth a few minutes; if I can make my pit stops a bit snappier, I should be able to drop my time from last year’s five hours, 25 minutes to around five hours.
I thought my training had gone well: three rides to Whistler, including one in which I went a ways past the Village — 65 km or so. All were in the heat of the afternoon, so I felt I was sufficiently trained up and acclimated.
On Saturday, the first half went fine — though, puzzlingly, three or four minutes slower than last year. But no matter, I thought. I’m strong on the hills — or at least I was last year, when I powered past something like 300 to 400 riders between Alice Lake and the top of the Cheakamus Canyon while only being overtaken once.
This year, inexplicably, I didn’t have the same snap in my legs. In that section, I probably was passed by almost as many as I passed.
Then, in a word, I bonked.
Somewhere near Pinecrest, I ran out of fuel. Sure, I was still pedaling, but my energy just wasn’t there — and this after I had taken plenty of sustenance at the previous two aid stations. Or so I thought.
By the Brandywine aid station, with 20 km to go, my neck and bum were killing me and I felt like dropping out. My friend Catherine saw me there and asked if I wanted an ibuprofen for the sore spots. I gratefully accepted.
My “survival shuffle” consisted of shifting into the lowest gear to get up the last few hills, then moving to a higher gear and pushing a bit to gain momentum going into the next hill, and repeating that process to the finish.
You start looking for consolation prizes at this point: “OK, I’m not going to achieve my target time, but what CAN I do? Oh, I can break six hours.”
Just before turning onto Village Gate Boulevard, I checked my watch: Two minutes until the six-hour mark. But it wasn’t to be. I crossed the line in 6:00:26. Ugh. I guess it’s not about the bike, after all.
The silver lining? Maybe it’s that I kept alive my string of never having dropped out of a race in any sport — running, cycling, cross-country skiing. Or maybe it’s the fact that, while I didn’t have the endurance on this day, I know my aerobic fitness is decent — when I had my heart rate checked a few months ago, it was still a slow (i.e. quite fit) 35 beats per minute.
Or maybe it’s the simple fact that I was able to do a 45-minute run on Sunday, without once needing to break into my survival shuffle — and that I lived to run and ride another day.