race of truth

With everything going on in the world it seems almost irreverent to write about a 25-minute bike race. But at last night’s time trial, held along a stretch of road in the coastal village of Sidney, BC, things almost, just for a second, seemed to skirt the edge of normal.

That is, if normal is a gathering of people on bikes, or pinning a race bib to your jersey, or the rush of adrenaline as the starter counts you down.

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Six, five, four … for a moment, the world isn’t whirling madly but is as still as the Canadian flag in the yard nearby—barely moving in tonight’s windless, perfect conditions.

Three, two, one … here we are, arms open to doing this very hard thing during an already paramount year in the suffering department.

With regards to that, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. In fact, despite the absence of many of my favourite things, this year has been good to me so far. So good, in fact, that I find myself expecting real suffering—not the athletic kind—at any moment. I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that this is not how it works. Good and bad fortune are random, impersonal forces. They are not doled out.

I told my bad-ass cycling/San Diego/blogger friend Rachel that it felt too indulgent to post about these things. “A 25-minute race in 2020—that’s more than most can say,” she said. (She’s been doing the opposite: epic, long-distance gravel adventures like her gravel circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula.) We joked that we always read each other’s blog posts twice. I hope you’ve got some extra time today, Rach.

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One of the many bright spots this year have been these little Tuesday evening TT’s put on by the Sidney Velo Cycling Club. They’ve been doing it since the 80s—getting out there week after week with their pylons and folding tables and giving local cyclists a chance to test themselves along a flat 17.4-km circuit in what has been dubbed the “race of truth.”

I ripped the bandaid off on July 14th. I went in completely blind to the course and with zero expectations. I used to be kind of obsessed with TT’s when I lived in San Diego. I got my Lezyne bike pump as a gift for winning the Fiesta Island series one year, and every time I use it I think of those days. However, it’s been years, and a lot of life changes, and I didn’t expect to go as fast as I used to.

Good old Fiesta Island.

Racing Fiesta Island back in 2013 (where 25.9 mph/41.7 kph is my record for the 20km course.)

Fiesta Island with friends back in 2013.

Suffering is always better with friends.

Funny thing about that? I did. No borrowed disc wheel. No goofy trainer warm-up. Just me and my faithful Cervelo, which I had to extract from my trainer in the basement and buff up for its first outdoor voyage in three years. Then it was time for the aerodynamic costume: tri suit, nerdy helmet, booties. This was as good as it was going to get.

One of my favourite parts about these nights is actually the ride out and back to Sidney with one of my fellow Element teammates. I’m not used to working out this late in the day (we leave at 5:45 and race around 7 pm) and so by the time I leave the house I’m feeling kind of stale, despite a rare 4 pm coffee.  I’ve been sitting all day and I’ve had way too many snacks. But once I hit that old familiar saddle, the fresh air revitalizes me. On the way out, the city is busy with commuters, likely giving us odd looks as we zoom past in our racing getups. On the way home, the gravel trail we take kicks up dust, blurring the fading light filtered through the canopy of trees overhead. We ride through a farmer’s field, the smells prairie and comforting.

With Amanda and Heather at the finish.

With Amanda and Heather at the finish.

Bib numbers and booties!

Bib numbers and booties!

I got far more out of myself than I expected on that first night, and I was elated. Home at 9, can’t sleep, high on adrenaline and elevated heart rates.

Last night, my legs felt tired on the rollout, but a bunch of women from our team showed up and suddenly I felt the rush of healthy competition. (I don’t have a pic of all of us because our start times were so spread out and the organizers are understandably cautious about gathering around the start/finish area.)

With Heather and Amanda at the finish.

Same people, same spot.

I didn’t look at my power or heart rate because my power meter is busted and I don’t trust my Garmin. I went out with the goal of being faster (duh), even just by 10 seconds. I tried to work harder, corner better, and never get out of aero position.

As I said, it was a perfect night with cool temps and almost no wind. The small tweaks I’d made gained me 37 precious seconds and I crossed the line in 24:39, landing me an age-group record (Master 40-44) and the segment crown on Strava. (I think my first ever!)

TT4

So what’s next? Specific training? Maybe. A better taper? Perhaps. The fastest female time on the course is the Olympic track cyclist (and London bronze medalist) Gillian Carleton’s 23:05 record.

The initial sting of COVID is gone. It’s now just a daily grind. This thing is going to be with us for a long, long time. And when it comes to start lines—the things that give many of us meaning and purpose—the future is still uncertain.

So what can we do?

We can do something that challenges us. We can find reasons to keep training, because of the way it makes us feel or for a local race if we’re lucky to have one.

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Celebrate small victories: Buy your kid a chocolate bar when he conquers a bike park jump (thanks Kristian for that one). Crack open a second beer just because you ran a little bit farther or a little bit faster.

Map out your own epic adventure or excavate a version of yourself you thought was long buried—you might just find meaning, momentum, or if you’re lucky, magic.

Sidney Velo Cycling Club TT Results, 2020

July 14

Distance: 17.4 km / 10.8 miles
Time: 25:16
Speed: 41.3 kph / 25.7 mph
Avg Power: 269
HR: Not working

July 28

Distance: 17.4 km / 10.8 miles
Time: 24:39
Speed: 42.3 kph / 26.3 mph
Power: 272
Avg HR: 161