I wasn't the only one. Many cyclists shared my decision of a short sleeve cycling jersey and shorts, but even the ones in jackets were soaked to the bone. Though they probably had some advantage in wind blockage and those in a base layer were the smartest of all. It came to the point where for the last hour I dreaded downhills just because the wind chill was so painful. I had considered a base layer but thought I'd be working hard enough not to need it. It turns out my average heart rate was 118 bpm, and I never really felt physically stressed on the ride, certainly not enough to generate the heat I would have needed. My rookie cycling decision cost me a triumphant finish that would have otherwise had me smiling across the line.
Want to avoid making my mistake? Watch this video on how to dress for cycling up a mountain road.
The course itself is gorgeous, if you enjoy cycling I highly recommend it. Unlike my last (shorter) event in Victoria this one had a traffic lane closed the entire way. We even cycled over the Lion's Gate bridge without cars. About 4500 cyclists take part and aside from the serious people up front it's mostly a relaxed group ride up to the mountain resort town of Whistler. My watch showed 1895 metres elevation gain (I think that's well short of the official climb measure) and 4:49 minutes riding. My finish time was 5:13 so I spent 24 minutes spread out over 5 rest stops which I'd committed to stopping at.
YouTube users are posting a lot of videos of the 2017 Whistler Gran Fondo. If you want to get an idea of what it is like to ride it click here.
This was my first time cycling this distance, in previous training rides I'd never exceeded about 80km. I'd also never done this much elevation gain on one ride. In the end I didn't find it that hard either in terms of distance or climbing. Where I live is pretty much all hills so I'm no stranger to them and I believe my run fitness translated well to enduring the lower effort of the long bike ride. Even my butt handled the saddle time like a champ which surprised me. The only physical casualty was a sore neck from being in the crouch position and near hypothermia. Of course the ride would have been tremendously harder had I pushed the pace. I suspect I could have done the ride in under 4 hours had I committed the effort, but I'm glad I stuck to my guns and relaxed into my first fondo. There is always time to race a future one, which I think may be the Okanagan one in July next year.
If you plan on doing Whistler, I'd advise bringing a jacket in case the temperature drops as you climb. This was admittedly a particularly bad year with many cyclists finishing in distress. They were checking riders for symptoms of hypothermia, ensuring we had warm food and dry clothes quickly and virtually nobody hung around for the outdoor post race celebrations. I particularly felt bad for the riders that took 6 or 7 hours to ride the course as they must have been absolute Popsicles when they arrived. I was very grateful for a hot shower.
One decision I made correctly was to practice group riding before the day. I'd gone out on several rides with my local cycling club where I learned about drafting, pace lines, hand signals and general comfort in groups. When you start the race in particular you are shoulder to shoulder with riders and drafting happens often. I also had my bike serviced by my local shop before the ride, swapping out tires specifically for wet roads and ensuring it was in good shape. I passed dozens of riders on the side of the road and there were a significant amount of crashes as the roads were getting their first rain in months. We'd endured a very hot summer so none of the riders were practiced on the wet and in the chill. I can't imagine the agony of shivering through a snapped chain or flat though I will say the mechanical support on the ride was top notch. The volunteers were plentiful and amazing. This event is impressively well organized and rest stops all had vegan options including fruit, gels, electrolyte drinks, water and various energy bars.
Cycling still doesn't hold the allure for me that running does, it lacks the simplicity of sneakers and a road or trail. But I will say that this event was incredible and I could see myself adding one gran fondo a year to my calendar. As the weather turns I'm looking forward to putting my bike back on the smart trainer and using Zwift again. Cycling has proven to be an effective way to improve aerobic fitness without the impact of running. It's a great compliment to a training program.
Next up, the Victoria Marathon, I have one more long run before my taper begins (I actually used the Whistler Gran Fondo in place of one of my long runs in my training plan) and I'm looking forward to it so I can return to less structured workouts. My last long run (35km) felt rather easy and I've had no return of foot pain which is a good sign. The plan is to simply enjoy the race, much like I did the Gran Fondo. 2017 isn't a year to race for me, it's one where I'm enjoying a return to injury free status and getting fit. Much of the feedback I've been getting is that my current fitness could result in a PB marathon, but I lack the desire or instinct right now. I'm enjoying being fit, happy and healthy. I know the competitor in me will return but feel no urgency to welcome it early. The plan for the marathon is to go out at about a 4:30/km pace and adjust based on how I feel and what I'm interested in doing that day. It could very well be my fastest, or slowest marathon, and either way I'm completely fine with that.