If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. On Saturday, that’s exactly what I did. On my third attempt at the 100km Paul’s Dirty Enduro, I completed that gruelling race. I’d been carrying around the demons of failure for many years. This year, however, I was determined to emerge victorious.
In 2005, my first attempt, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I was way out of my league. So much so that I was cut-off at the last check-point, I rode just 92kms. Since completing the 60km course a couple of times, in 2012 I came back for more of the 100km challenge. Early in the race I broke my derailleur hanger and had to abandon. A spare was back at camp, I’d removed it from my kit the night before in an effort to save weight. In certain circles, this has earned me the nick-name, Hanger.
Early in 2015, the year of the 20th anniversary Paul’s Dirty Enduro, I promised myself this was my year, this time I would finish that damn race!
Over the past five years, long distance mountain-biking has been my focus, so I knew I could manage to ride my bike for 7-10hours. I’ve had a good season on the bike, particularly early. Of late however, I’ve found it hard to get in the miles I thought it necessary to train properly for Paul’s. The intensity of these trails, the constantly twisting single-track and steep, sandy climbs would take their toll, this I knew. Not to mention the mental pressure I was putting on myself.
In the week or two leading up to the event, I really tried to stop thinking about it as a race. I went into Saturday’s event with the attitude it was just going to be a fun–albeit long–day on the bike with many friends riding trails I know well.
Around 7am Saturday morning, as I stood chatting with Fraser–the Ganaraska Forest Centre’s new Forrester–just above the trees the rising sun caressed the clouds with the softest hues of pink and orange. The air was fresh but warm. I felt calm and confident, at ease with where I was and what I was about to do. I knew at that very moment I was going to have a triumphant day.
The plan was to conserve, conserve, conserve, particularly during the first 40kms. If I had anything left in the tank by the last Feed Zone, I would amp it up and finish strong. For those first 40kms Bevin and I rode together, keeping each other in check but also making sure we rode well. We hooted and hollered as we flew through the Western Forest. We had a blast, it was so much fun, not the ugly grind I always remembered it to be. At 2hrs and 55mins, we’d come back through the Forest Centre, re-provisioned and were back on the bikes, passing by the 60km racers just moments before their start.
A little later, I lost Bevin behind me. Soon enough, I was on the wheel of Susan and a few other strong 60km riders who had ridden past me. I stayed on her wheel for well over an hour, she setting the perfect pace. I was riding strong, riding well, but still not pushing it too hard. All of a sudden there was a kerfuffle ahead of me and I had to sprint past Susan and the others, never to see them again. From that point I rode alone, chasing people down ahead of me, not letting any others pass.
As the day wore on, I found myself staying strong, never cramping or feeling week; I just kept riding well. At the last Feed Zone I was told I had just 10kms to ride. “Really, I thought it was 15kms from here!?” I sped off, riding as hard and as fast as I could muscle. I attacked every climb, threw the bike into every corner like a down-hill pro and was still yelling with glee. I knew then that I would finish. Better still, I was going to destroy my personal goal of a sub-eight hour finish.
Rolling across the finish line arms raised, pumping my fists in the air to celebrate my long-awaited victory, I felt such an immense sense of relief. I’d done it. I’d conquered what was such a challenge in my life, a failure I needed to overcome. And that’s really what this event is all about. Sure, it’s a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association, an organisation that has helped me greatly. Sure it’s an event in memory of Paul Rush, a man I never knew but with whom I share many friends. But really, Paul’s is about getting out there, going beyond your comfort zone, challenging yourself to overcome obstacles, both physical and mental.
On Saturday, I faced my demons. Moreover, I stopped letting them be demons. I made friends with that 100km course, simply by being myself and doing what I love most. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Paul’s means to me; triumph.