BC Bike Race number plate

3 Crucial Decisions I Made During BC Bike Race

In 2018 I rode in the BC Bike Race. The race’s tagline reads ‘The Ultimate Singletrack Experience’ and I have to agree. The riding is out of this world, and the atmosphere around the race is amazing. Now that it’s all over I can look back on a great week of riding and be proud just for having finished the race. There were 3 decisions I made during this edition of BC Bike Race that proved to be crucial to me finishing.

My race wasn’t all fun and games though. BC Bike Race 2018 was one full of problems for me. It wasn’t my first stage race, but it was my first where mechanicals could have been a deciding factor in the outcome. By outcome I don’t mean a podium finish. My goal at the start of the race was to finish somewhere near the middle of the pack, and in the end I did. But, along the way, there were 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race 2018. A different decision on any one of the three could have meant not finishing the race at all.

I want to share these with you with the hope that if you are ever confronted with similar circumstances, you might be able to use my experience to your advantage. These decisions aren’t exclusive to helping you in this one race, they can be applied to other races, rides and even life!

The race

In case you aren’t familiar with BC Bike Race, it is considered by many to be one of the world’s premier mountain bike stage races. It takes place over seven days in July on Vancouver Island and along the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. It follows some of the best singletrack in the world through some of the most sought-after riding areas on earth.

Start line at Cumberland, BC - BC Bike Race 2018
BC Bike Race stage 2 start line in Cumberland, BC. (Heather Marshall/RideSphere)

According to the BC Bike Race 2018 Racer Handbook, the race that year had 625 participants representing 40 countries. There were 300 kilometres of singletrack (81% of the race) and 10,000 metres of climbing.

The decisions

The 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race all related to mechanics and mechanicals. These weren’t straightforward decisions like bike choice or what to pack. They were difficult mental decisions that don’t always have a clear answer when you’re in the midst of a difficult race. And, unlike the numerous small decisions made over a week of racing, these decisions all had the possible outcome of ending my race early.

Here are the three things I decided:

    1. I can’t do everything myself.
    2. The easy way isn’t always the best way.
    3. To fight to the end.

The mental game

I recently read a book called “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Matt Fitzgerald. In the book, Fitzgerald discusses how the thinking behind the mind/body relationship and their effect on athletic performance in endurance sports has changed over time. It used to be that the mind and body were considered separate entities when it came to athletic performance. Improvement meant training the body, while the mind had little to do with performance. But this thinking has changed.

“Many aspects of endurance performance that were always presumed to be biological in nature are now known to be mind based,” writes Fitzgerald.

This means that the mind can have a much larger effect on endurance performance than previously thought. For example, Fitzgerald uses the example of a study on dehydration to illustrate the effect the mind can have on performance:

“[E]xcept in extreme cases, dehydration, which is biological, does not cause athletes to slow down in races; instead the psychological condition of feeling thirsty does,” he writes.

The idea that the mind has a huge effect on athletic performance may not be particularly new. But it can be hard to remember, as the hours and days of racing begin to add up, that the decisions we make under stress can have a lasting effect once the race is over.

For me, the decisions I would have to make meant that finishing BC Bike Race 2018 would be as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

Decision # 1 – you’ve got to pay to play

One of the first decisions I was confronted with had to be made before the race even started. It was also one of the 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race. The question was:

Do I sign up for the bike maintenance package or not?

As an add-on to the registration fee at BC Bike Race, a racer can choose to buy a maintenance package. The package includes (if necessary) building your bike if you have traveled with it in a bag or box and breaking it down for transport at the end of the race. It also includes washing your bike after each day of racing, tuning it up, and transporting it to the start line the next day. All of the work is done by mechanics working for Obsession Bikes out of North Vancouver. This doesn’t come cheap. I believe the cost in 2018 was about $500CAN.

It’s expensive and I like to be in control

For me, deciding whether or not to sign up for the maintenance package was a tough decision. I would be driving out to BC Bike Race so my bike would already be assembled. The $500 now only included a bike wash, tune up, and transport. Bike wash stations are provided for all riders at the end of each stage, so I would be able to wash my own bike if needed.

On top of the cost, I know that I can be a bit of a control freak. It would be hard for me to simply drop my bike off with strangers after crossing the finish line and hope that it would be waiting for me the next morning, ready to ride.

Is the maintenance package really worth the cost and giving up control?

I can’t do everything myself

I thought about the cost of the package compared to how much had been spent leading up to this race. A lot of money had already gone into training, race entry, travel, food, gear, etc. Choosing the maintenance package would be like insurance. Having my bike checked over every night by professionals and knowing it was ready to ride each morning would give me the best chance of finishing the race and not wasting the money I had already spent in preparation.

mountain bikes awaiting transport
Mountain bikes awaiting transport at BC Bike Race 2018. (Heather Marshall/RideSphere)

I was able to get past my need for control by thinking back to other stage races I had done. While there would be a bike wash at the end of each stage, I knew from experience that they are usually busy and I would have to wait in line. At the start of a stage race this doesn’t seem like a big deal. But after a few days of racing, as the fatigue grows, there are much better ways to spend your time than waiting in line to wash your bike.

I signed up for the maintenance package.

As you’ll see in the next two decisions, signing up for the maintenance package proved to be even more useful than expected.

Decision # 2 – finishing ain’t easy!

The second of the 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race came on day four. Up until that point, things had gone relatively well. Overall I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, right where I wanted to be. But then, my hub blew up, and I was confronted with the second of the 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race 2018. I had to answer the question:

Do I finish this stage, or take the easy way out?

According to the 2018 Racer Handbook, stage 4 was 62km long with 1758m of climbing. By distance it was the longest stage of the race.

“Now with about 10km left in the stage, I was on foot.”

I’m not sure exactly where it started, but somewhere around halfway through the 62km course I started to feel some slippage as I was pedaling. At first, it was only noticeable on steep ascents. Quite quickly it became clear the problem was originating at the rear hub.  I decided I would pedal very carefully and consistently on the climbs and hope things didn’t get any worse. Things did get worse. After limping along for a while, the slippage got so bad that I couldn’t get traction on any sort of incline. To make matters worse, my freehub stopped freewheeling.

Now with about 10km left in the stage, I was on foot. My bike had essentially been turned into a singlespeed. Without a functioning freehub I couldn’t even coast down the hills without losing my chain.

A long road (trail) ahead

Not long after I started pushing my bike, one of the moto patrol riders stopped to see if they could help. They couldn’t. We decided that other than a new hub, there wasn’t much that could be done. So, I continued walking.

It was pretty slow going. Uneven, steep, rooty terrain made the walking difficult. And my stiff carbon-soled shoes didn’t help either.

A few kilometres, and maybe an hour into my walk, the course passed close to a logging road. A woman had walked the short distance from the road to the trail. I believe she was part of the BC Bike Race support team. As I walked by, she asked if I would like a ride back to the finish line.

Now I had a decision to make.

The easy way isn’t always the best way

At this point I had been walking for about an hour. I had covered maybe three kilometres. Earlier, I had gone over the course map with the moto patrol rider and I had my cell phone with a Trailforks route of the course. If I kept on going, I figured I had about 5 or 6km more of singletrack to walk, and then there would be 1 or 2km of relatively flat, paved road to the finish. If I can make it through the singletrack on foot, I could use what little traction I could get from my hub and slowly ride the last 1 or 2km to the finish. My guess was that I had about two more hours of pushing and 15-20 minutes of riding to the end. It was a bit disheartening, to say the least.

“I knew that the feeling of not finishing the race would be much worse than the discomfort of walking the rest of the stage. “

If I dropped out of this stage I would be allowed to ride the remaining stages, but I would give up my chance to officially be a BC Bike Race finisher.

From past experience, I knew that the feeling of not finishing the race would be much worse than the discomfort of walking the rest of the stage. For various reasons, I had dropped out of races in the past and knew that taking the easy way out now would only lead to regret later.

I thanked the woman for her offer and kept walking. As planned, I walked most of the rest of the stage and coasted across the finish line.

Mechanics save the day

It turned out that the mechanics from Obsession Bikes were able to fix my wheel. Having purchased the maintenance package, I was able to drop the bike off for repairs as soon as I crossed the finish line. By the start of the stage the next day, the mechanics had rebuilt my rear wheel with a new hub.

By the next morning, I was ready to move on from the events of stage 4. I had lost a good deal of time the previous day, but now I could at least officially finish the race. If things went according to plan it would be smooth sailing from here.

But things don’t always go according to plan.

Decision # 3 – don’t give up the fight

With the hub problems behind me, the next two stages went well. It wasn’t until the seventh and final stage in Squamish that I was forced to make the last of the 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race. Here I had to decide:

Do I have it in me to push through one last obstacle?

I woke up that morning in Squamish feeling tired from six days of racing, but also excited that I would be finishing the race that day. The weather was good and the Squamish stage sounded like a lot of fun.

Like the six days before this one, I ate breakfast and changed into my riding gear. I picked up my bike from where they were stored overnight, like I did every morning. At this point there was about an hour before the start of the stage, so I used the time to get in a bit of a warmup. Everything was going according to plan and at about 20 minutes before the start, I went to use the washroom so I would be ready to start finding my place at the start line.

I exited the washroom and began walking toward my bike. I had leaned it up against a pole and as I walked toward it, I noticed something didn’t look right. The bike seemed to be sagging a bit. As I got closer the problem became clear. My rear shock was sagging and seemed to be missing about half of its usual travel.

What was I going to do about this 15 minutes before the start of the stage?

The last straw?

By this point in the race I was happy to be finishing and that was keeping me positive that morning. But, I was also tired from six days of racing.

“Mentally exhausted is where I found myself on the morning of stage 7.”

Personally, I find that after the first few days of a stage race my body settles into a bit of a groove and I’m able to just keep riding at a consistent level from then on. On the other hand, I find that after the first few days, my mental fortitude begins to deteriorate a little more each day. I become a bit more mentally exhausted each day. Mentally exhausted is where I found myself on the morning of stage 7.

When I looked at my sagging shock several options popped into my tired mind:

  1. It was the last stage of the race, so I could just try and ride the thing. The shock would likely end up destroyed, but at least I would finish.
  2. I could call it a race and be happy with having made it through six stages.
  3. With 15 minutes before the start, I could run to the mechanics tent and see what they could do.

None of these seemed like great options. It felt like this could be the last straw for me.

No point giving up now

I decided to start with option C. This was a difficult decision to make because being able to get the shock fixed seemed like a long shot. I was dreading going over to the mechanics tent only to have them tell me there was nothing they could do. But, even if they couldn’t fix it, I would still be left with options A and B.

I walked over to the mechanics tent, bracing myself for bad news. Luckily for me, there was nobody else there this close to the start of the race. The other racers were busy lining up at the start line. I asked one of the mechanics to take a look at the problem.

mechanics working on a bike at BC Bike Race
Matt, Karel, Owen and Fraser, working for Obsession Bikes, furiously try to fix my shock minutes before the start of stage 7. (Heather Marshall/RideSphere)

He knew what the issue was right away, but the look on his face didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me. He seemed worried that they wouldn’t be able to do anything with so little time before the start of the race.

But, before breaking the bad news to me, he called over to one of the other mechanics and asked if it was possible to fix the problem in the 15 minutes before the start of the race. He said it was, and they went to work getting my shock fixed! At one point there were four people working on my bike at one time. These guys are professionals, and everything went like clockwork. They had my shock off, seals replaced, and remounted with time to spare.

I rode over to the start line and joined the race just seconds before the gun went off.

A new lesson to take with me

I’m glad I made the decision I did that day. Stage 7 turned out to be one of my favourites and I am an official finisher of BC Bike Race. In my state of mental fatigue, it would have been easy for me to assume that the mechanics couldn’t  fix my problem and give up.

stage 7 start line - BC Bike Race 2018
The start line on the final stage of BC Bike Race 2018. (Heather Marshall/RideSphere)

As one of the 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race, this one may have been the most difficult. I knew from past experience that quitting feels terrible, but I had no prior experience dealing with mechanicals so close to the start of a race; now I do, and I can take that experience with me to future races.

I also learned that positive things happen if you can see past the doubt and keep fighting to the last minute.

Final thoughts

It’s highly unlikely that many people will have the same bad luck I did with mechanicals. But I believe the 3 decisions I made during BC Bike Race 2018 can serve as a much broader guide for how to approach a race like this. In my experience, attitude plays a huge role in stage racing. Long multi-day stage races can be mentally exhausting, and it can be very tempting to take the easy route.

At the same time, for most participants, these races are a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not finishing a race may mean giving up the only chance we will ever have. In the moment, it might feel good to take the easy route when things get tough, but the disappointment of not finishing will stick with us much longer.

This post is based on my personal experience, and in this case I made what I consider to be the right decisions. But I’ve done many races and the decisions I made in this one largely came as the result of things I learned in the past. I’ve given up on other races, figured I could take care of everything myself, and doubted myself.

My hope is that if you are new to racing, you’ll be able to use my experience to help you make the decisions you need to make to finish a race, or even a ride. I hope you never have to make the same 3 crucial decisions I made during BC Bike Race. If you do, remember that not finishing can feel much worse than many of the hardships endured during a race. So, get out there and ride, and race hard!

I’d love to hear from you! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section below, or you can contact me directly from our Contact page.

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