After a successful Levi’s Gran Fondo last year, I set my sights on the Whistler Gran Fondo as my big riding goal for 2019. I spent every Saturday all summer riding up all the biggest hills around, usually in succession, usually alone. This weekend the event itself capped off the summer of dedicated training.
I borrowed a car from Mom, drove up to Vancouver, and spent Friday by myself, first figuring out all the logistics of where to get my packet, where was my hotel, etc. The drive went well, except for driving in Vancouver, which stressed me out. After I had acquired my packet and checked in to my
rather seedy affordable hotel, I found a grocery store and acquired oatmeal and yogurt. They had some really strange oatmeal flavors.
Unfortunately, I decided to try a flavor unique to Canada: Triple Berry. I didn’t notice it said “with extra protein” until I started eating that nasty stuff the next morning. Ew. It’s still true: Never try something new right before a big event.
I ate dinner at an Italian restaurant on Denman, a street that’s again kinda seedy but also very multicultural, and spent some time quietly enjoying the evening by myself.
I went to bed early but didn’t sleep well, and woke up way before I needed to — and I’d planned to wake up at 4:15. Not ideal.
At my insistence, John and I met at his hotel a bit after 5:00. The paperwork said to line up by 5:30 for the 6:05 start, and to get there 15 minutes early. I took this to mean arrive by 5:15. John wanted to arrive later, and he was right — we ended up standing around waiting in the dark for a long time.
At 6:05, we set off. The sun had not yet risen and Stanley Park was dark as heck, since some of us *ahem me ahem* had not brought any real headlights. John and I had opted to do the 94-mile Forte version of the ride, which added in a lovely 3,000′ climb up Cypress Mountain that the standard riders didn’t do. Personally, I felt that was the best part of the ride.
Other people have talked about how lovely the Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler is, and while parts were quite lovely, I felt that it was the same lovely we get in the San Juan Islands or the Cascades. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — I did enjoy the views, especially of Vancouver with the sunrise as we crossed some big bridge and climbed Cypress mountain.
The great part about the ride was that they closed the highway just for us. We literally never had to stop for a traffic light and never had to worry about cars the entire ride. It was amazing.
However, it was also really crowded. I saw a number of fairly bad crashes, and I witnessed one lady hit a cone and take a really bad tumble. It was all because people didn’t have any riding manners. In this ride, people passed on the right, nobody called anything out or pointed out hazards, they didn’t hold their line. On climbs, slow people hung out on the left. On descents, fast people wove their was through other riders at speed, again without calling out. It made me miss riding in a race peloton.
In short, the many people made it dangerous. I spent the entire ride on high alert, watching other riders. It reminded me why I like smaller, more intimate rides.
Anyway, one advantage of the thousands of other riders what was that I never lacked for a wheel to draft, if I wanted one. I usually climbed alone (John and I don’t try to stay together), but found someone fast to draft on the way down or on flats.
I only stopped once, when I got low on water, but the overcast, cool weather made for perfect riding conditions.
Overall, my strategy worked well: I finished with an elapsed time of 5:38, with an average speed of 17.2 mph — very respectable for a ride with that much climbing, and much faster than my training rides. It turns out that time made me the third woman to finish the Forte distance, for my first (and probably last) podium appearance.
I don’t think I need to get into the part where we spent the next three hours hanging around in the light rain sprinkles waiting for a bus, or the three hours we spent on the bus slowly trekking back down to Vancouver. That’s the big downside of a one-way ride, and I would think long and hard before doing another such ride.
We obtained our bikes easily, cleaned up, and met up again for a rather random, not super nice meal of Thai food. But hunger makes the best sauce, so it was okay. I walked John back to his hotel to enjoy the waterfront and marina a bit, then came back and crashed.
Sunday we had hoped to do a bonus ride up Mt. Baker, which is closer to Vancouver than to our houses. But Sunday featured all sorts of surprising rain showers, and since it was probably even more rainy on the mountain, so Mt. Baker had to wait. I’m sure glad it didn’t rain on us yesterday!
That was the Whistler Gran Fondo in the books. I think next year I’m not going to plan any big events. Just going to enjoy some of the local routes without any pressure to train.
But Wait Just a Minute…
Let’s talk for a moment about the elephant in the room: my leg thing. You may be wondering, How can Katie do these long, hilly rides if her leg is so bad? Surely it must not be that bad if she can do all this training and get a podium finish in the event.
The answer is that I adapt by going slower. If I keep my heart rate low enough and don’t have to put out too much power too often, I can manage the leg not getting good blood flow… usually. I also ride less the rest of the week. Instead of commuting by bike three days a week, I commute two. I never do a casual Sunday recovery ride, because my leg doesn’t recover if I use it at all. I exercise extreme discipline when I do commute, and never engage in “commuter racing” or push hard in any way.
On training rides, again, I never push even close to my limit, but focus on staying at a level manageable for my leg. That’s why it’s hard to ride with other people — they set the pace, and I feel like I need to keep up, so I ignore the warning signs and then my leg blows up. So I ride alone at whatever speed I can manage, but it’s lonely and depressing, and one of the things I love about riding is the social aspect.
I’m not as fast as I was even a couple years ago, and I keep getting slower all the time, since I never really push myself and my leg keeps getting worse. But I’ve learned to more or less manage it, in a way that feel like I’m still slowly losing part of myself.
It’s kinda like a kid whose parent has a really short temper. You’re walking on eggshells all the time, hoping that what you’re doing won’t set ’em off.
In this respect, Whistler was my perfect ride: It had lots of climbing, but never anything over about 7%. I could pace my efforts and never had to put out a lot of power. And I rode alone, so I never had to try to keep up with anyone. But if I want to keep riding with people, or if I want to be able to actually attack, or do intervals, or anything hard… That’s when my leg fails. Honestly I wonder… in 2016, I finished RAMROD — 150 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing — with an 18.5 mph average. What if I could’ve had those legs for Whistler?