• Bloomer Park, Rochester Hills, MI

  • Racing the Provincial's Crit 2014

  • Forest City Velodrome - London, ON

  • Larkenville Challenge, Buffalo, NY

  • Winning the Sprint at the ForestCity Velodrome

  • Track Nationals 2014: Keirin

  • Track Nationals 2014: Points Race

  • OCUP #1: Feb 2015

From Wikipedia: Hairshirt: originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.

Strava Data: http://app.strava.com/rides/11665456

Cycling is a religious tradition, isn't it? Ever since I moved to Toronto to go to College at age 19, I have always wanted to cycle to Niagara Falls. It is where I grew up and where my parents still live. It's 160km approximately door to door from where I currently reside. When I started taking bike riding seriously a few years ago, it was one of those things in the back of my mind: ride to Niagara. Last summer, I not only rode to the Falls once, I did it six times. I found different roads ranging from 160km to 210km. I did half of those rides on my own (without support) including the last 210km ride. Riding to Niagara is no longer a challenge - although, I find it a good way to get a ride in and visit my parents at the same time.

I had heard of the Hairshirt ride from bike club members some time back. That ride is a 322km ride to Niagara Falls and back in one day. I added that ride to my bucket list. I had wanted to do it last year, but missed out because I just did not check the TBN calender soon enough. This year, I made a point of putting it on the training plan. True, it has nothing to do with racing and it's a Toronto Bike Network ride - a club of which most roadies like to make fun. But, they won't after they do this ride!

The date for the ride this year was June 24, 2012. I approached the date with some trepidation because I had never done a ride that long before. We did a warmup ride to Niagara about a month ago: 233km one way to Niagara to test out the legs and on that ride I almost bonked.

Start of the Ride

The Hairshirt ride started at 6am at Mississauga Square One. I spent much of the day prior chasing down last minute items like energy bars, salt pills, etc. and ways to carry the supplies on the bike without looking like some "commuter". The morning of I was up at 4am. After packing the car, I managed to make it to Square One by about 5:20am. A 30 min drive. Driving to the start was kind of weird because I'm used to riding all the way to Niagara. However, at 5:30am, riders quickly filed in, including fellow riders from my France 2012 group, Richard and Glen, and Robyn.

There were about 51 riders out from all categories. There were as many carbon bikes with carbon wheels as steel bikes and everything but saddle bags. The ride was pretty tame from the start. The entire group for the most part stuck together. Some riders decided to roll off the front....and I had to wonder why when guys in plain jerseys and crappy bikes take off the front. One has to wonder what they are thinking. I don't know how many times we rode around guys that went to the front and blew up. Welcome to the TBN, I guess. I sat in. I figured if someone else was dumb enough to pull - let them.

The whole ride changed on the first climb around Hamilton. The Lapdog guys went to the front, and pushed the pace and shredded the group. While I was with the leaders at the front, I had to fall back to catch up with Robyn who kept to a more moderate pace. As it were, we passed the Lapdog guys on the side of the road some 20 mins later: flat. Glenn, Richard, Robyn, and I stuck together. We paced ourselves at around 32km/h. It was a sustainable pace.

To our surprise, when approaching Welland we caught up with the Lapdog guys - the same guys we passed. Apparently, they thought it was a good idea to take a shortcut to catch the "leaders". Once again, these guys ramped up the pace to 40km/h, and shredded the group of 20 people. Of course, it was funny to watch them pull off the road some 20 mins later - obviously, someone in the group blew. We managed to catch and mostly drop others as we rode along with keeping the 32km/h pace for ourselves. We stopped for a water break in Wainfleet some 100km into the ride. That was about 10:30am in the morning. I suggested we push through to Niagara-on-the-Lake for lunch.

Standing at the Falls

We managed to make it to the brink of the Falls by about noon. We got a tourist to take the photo below.

Hairshirt2012It was still another 20km or so down the road to the lunch stop. Feeling good, I took to the front and pulled half the way. I wanted to hit the descent in Queenston first and flew down it at full speed.

At around the 200km mark, we stopped at Corks in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a much needed recovery beer. We noticed the Lapdog guys rolling by about half-way through lunch. Lunch ended with a double espresso about an hour later. It was a much needed break. After riding for about 7 hours, my knees were killing me. After lunch, they were fine. I guess the beer did its job. I was ready to rock the climb back up escarpment some 30km ahead.

Riding through St. Catharines seem to go quite fast for me. That route was part of my ride back from Niagara to Toronto in the beginning of May. It was spitting light rain for about 20 mins, but nothing serious. After crossing the QEW, we got closer to the impending climb. As we started up, it looked like it was a series of short rollers leading progressively higher to the top of the escarpment. I hit every one of them hard. On the last one, Glenn decided to "try" and pass me, but I managed to stay ahead of him. Some 230km in my legs, and I managed to sprint up a hill. I didn't have that in me a month ago.

After another 45km or so, the next step in the ride was the screaming descent down 50 Road around the Stoney Creek area. I have climbed it several times, but never went down it. It was a tamer descent than I thought, but we took it easy anyways. There is a switchback near the bottom, and the possibility of a car - no use becoming a hood ornament.  We passed a small group of Hairshirt riders on the side of the road coming into Stoney Creek - some guy broke his seat post. Not fun. We kept pushing on to Burlington. We saw the Lapdog guys again as we crossed the QEW into Burlington. Our third planned stop on the ride was the Second Cup where Lakeshore Rd points it way to Toronto. It's my designated stop on any ride through there to Niagara.

Fueled up and ready for the last 45km, we hit the road. The skies were starting to blacken as it looked like we were heading for rain. It was supposed to have rained all day, but never did - at least for us. Apparently, Toronto wasn't as lucky. Glenn went to the front and ramped up the pace to the point were I was starting to struggle, but I said nothing. Robyn was keeping up.  We hit a head wind up Third Line and a tail wind across Upper Middle Rd and Burnhamthorpe Rd. With Square One in sight, and the thought of not having to ride anymore, I went to the front and hammered it all the way to the parking lot. I just wanted off my bike. We arrived at 7:10pm after starting at 6:17am. 12:53 total time and 10:25 moving time. 

I didn't come close to my goal time of 10 hours, but I have to wonder how the top guys did it? 10 hours means riding basically non-stop....and I know we saw the Lapdog guys in Burlington well past the 10 hour mark. Reporting your time is on the honours system. If they were reporting moving time, then we did it in 10:25.

What I Learned

The basic take away is it is possible to ride almost any distance in one day; however, one must take in as many calories as one burns. I made that mistake on the 230km Niagara ride a month earlier. So, I set my Garmin to beep at me every 30 mins to remind me to eat something. I consumed mostly gels and bananas. I also did something different than normal: used a solution in my bottles. For the last year and a half, I had been using plain water. On this ride, I bought the Skratch Labs "Secret Stuff" - this is the powder produced by Allen Lim of Team Radioshack. Apparently, he developed it for use with his team on the pro-tour because all the other "stuff" was too sweet. All salt and little sugar. It works and is almost tasteless. Also, at the water stops my secret was to refuel on something more "hardy" like chocolate bars and soda pop. Only a fool thinks a long ride is about losing weight.

We were also lucky that is wasn't hot out. It was 25C at the top of the day. I've ridden to Niagara when it was 34C out and water stops starting happening every 20-40km when it get to that temperature. For this ride, we stopped three times.

The Bottom Line

Hairshirt 2012 done. Eat, drink and be merry to ride really long.

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