Having cheered on riders of the Paris to Ancaster 70k bike race many times in the past, I was well aware of the potential variability of late April race day weather – from sunny skies to rain, snow, wind and mud – and lots of it. But I never quite appreciated the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road in Ancaster – my usual spot for watching – until I did the race myself!
After winning my mountain bike last summer, I bit the bullet and signed up for the 25th anniversary of this race. After successfully completing the Steaming Nostril 65k bike race on April 8th, I was confident that I could finish the P2A.
According to the race website, “The 70km course consists of 24km of gravel and dirt roads, 5km of farm lanes, 19km of rail trail, 14km of single track (1-3km sections) and 8km of paved road.”
I paid $20 for the bus shuttle, so that I could get a bus to the start line (with my bike going by truck) and have my car waiting for me at the finish. On race morning I looked at the weather forecast (below zero at the start), and added layers to my original clothing plan. I scrapped the idea of wearing shorts and went with long pants. I also added a headband and my jacket, which I had hoped to do without.
With more than 2 hours to kill at Green Lane Sports Park in Paris before wave 4 was to start at 10:30 AM, I chatted with other riders, and made multiple trips to the portapotties. As the start time neared, I realized that I was overdressed.
At the start line of the 25th anniversary edition of the P2A – wave 4.
With the bang of multiple guns shot by people in period costumes, the race began! When the announcer (Steve Fleck) became inaudible after the gunshot, people joked that the speakers had been shot.
After the first few of the 600 riders in our wave began (the biggest P2A wave ever), other riders had the inflatable starting arch fall onto them as they rode under it. It was quickly righted and I didn’t hear about any injuries (just one damaged bike – hopefully a minor issue and they were able to race!). After a short section of gravel road, the route followed the Grand River along the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail.
From there, we rode a combination of gravel and paved roads, off-road sections including dry rail trail, wet and muddy trail, gravel farm laneway, single track dirt trails (some incredibly muddy), and wider dirt trails with varying degrees of mud. Overall, it was a less hilly route than I expected. Since I don’t have an odometer on my bike, I had no idea how far I had gone. My phone was tracking my progress, but it wasn’t accessible. I asked a few riders during the race, but I also knew that the aid station at the 35k mark would be the one sure sign of my progress.
One of the few kilometres of paved road. [Photo credit: Apex Photography]
There were several sections of the course that were memorable!
Ditch and then 1st real mountain biking off road section (at 15k)
Just after the 15k mark, I was riding along the edge of a road when I encountered congestion as everyone got off their bikes and walked. It was soon clear why. I needed to take 5-10 steps down into a ditch, and then up the other side. With wooden skids at the bottom and tons of mud, it was completely unrideable.
Then after getting on my way again, I entered the first real mountain biking off road section, a single track bit through the woods. I loved this section, but this is where I totally understood a conversation I had overheard before the race about “avoiding other riders”. In this section, which was a little less than a kilometre, I likely would have been able to ride through it completely (or nearly!) had there not been people all around me. Partly I was very conscious of not wanting to get in people’s way, and partly I didn’t want to end up falling. At times I had to unclip and walk, because it was very muddy and other riders would stop dead in front of me when their bikes got stuck. Granted I did the same thing at times. In any case, this was a fun section of curvy trail through the woods.
Muddy trail more like a rail trail (at 29k)
I’m not sure quite how to describe this trail, other than to say it was wide enough for at least 2 riders to travel side by side, but it was dirt, straight, and very very muddy. It presented me with the deepest, thickest mud I have ever biked through before. Many people were walking, but I decided to take full advantage of being clipped into my bike (still very new for me on my MTB!), and to push hard through this section. I was by no means going quickly, but I was pushing as hard as I could to stay upright! At times my tires would get sucked into ruts and I was sure I was going over, but somehow I managed to lean or push harder and continue. I had to announce my presence a few times to make sure the walkers knew I was coming through. I had one guy following right behind me, and when we emerged from the mud (which had to be close to reaching my pedals!) he said to me, “Nicely ridden!” That felt awesome.
Harrisburg aid station (35k)
I hit the Harrisburg aid station sooner than expected (1 hr 40 minutes on my watch). My legs were feeling good, my energy was good, and the race was so far easier than I expected it to be. I texted my husband and parents to give them a heads up that I might be coming through sooner than expected. Ha!
I had a quick pee break, then stopped to add water to my gatorade, but the container was empty and the next one looked like nuun, so I scrapped that plan (I still had lots) and headed off.
Stomach pain (40k)
Yet again, I suffered an unknown stomach pain that comes out of nowhere. It’s rare that I feel it on my rides, and it’s only ever when biking, but it hurts like crazy and makes bumps unbearable. It feels more like a muscle cramp than a GI issue, but it’s frustrating because not knowing what’s causing it makes it hard to prevent it! I sometimes wonder if it’s a posture thing, but I’m affected on both my road bike and MTB bike. I suffered until about the 65k mark, though it eased off gradually so it wasn’t super intense the whole time. It did make me slow down in this section though.
Heading West instead of East at the 403 (47k)
Just before the 47k mark, we started heading West instead of East – this was slightly hard psychologically because it made it feel as though I wasn’t as close to the finish as I thought I was. We crossed under Highway 403 and headed East again.
Crossing Highway 52 (65k)
At all other intersections on the race route, police held up traffic and I just sailed through. But Highway 52 is a busy road, and so I waited for 5-10 minutes to be allowed to cross. There was a group of 20 or so riders by the time we crossed.
Mud chute at Mineral Springs Road (66k)
This section runs from Highway 52 to Slote Road, and while the beginning part is rideable (there are houses and it is driveable), the later part is not. This part of the road is blocked off with big cement blocks, and is overgrown with trees and bushes. I’m sure you could ride this section if you were one of the very first people passing through. But by the time I got there the mud was way too thick to ride. As I pushed my bike along, mostly downhill, it accumulated so much mud and vegetative matter that my front wheel wouldn’t even turn. My bike is not light, so carrying it was not an option, though I did have to keep lifting it slightly to change angles. It was tough slogging!! I heard my husband cheering for riders (walkers?) then saw him, my parents and my daughter. My mom had been waiting patiently for me with a little container of pure maple syrup – but I had no interest in it, despite having given it to her to bring to the race!
End of the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road. [Photo credit: Neil]
I spotted a lineup of riders waiting for their bikes to be hosed down – yes, during the race! We weren’t at the finish yet. I decided to wait, because I had no idea how I’d be able to ride my bike otherwise. While waiting 10 minutes or so for my turn, I picked out as much of the sticks and mud as I could. My dad said that next year, they will be there wearing gloves prepared to help people clean out their bikes! I’ve seen muddy bikes coming out of that section before, but this was crazy!
Bike wash at the end of the mud chute at Mineral Springs Road [Photo credit: Ailish]
Attempting to clip in after the bike wash [Photo credit: Alasdair]
I said goodbye to my family and headed up the Slote Road hill. In my training I’d done all the gravel roads in this area quite a few times, so I knew what to expect until I reached the Powerline Road mud chute.
Powerline Road mud chute
The top part of this hill was rideable, but then… forget it! Another super thick muddy section that I walked down. I attempted to keep my bike out of the mud as much as possible. Didn’t I just get my bike washed 1-2k ago?!
Mud chute on Powerline. [Photo credit: Apex Photography]
My only fall in this race was on Martin Road before the final hill, on another very small hill that was super muddy. I fell – in slow motion – into a thick pile of very cushioning mud. As I started pushing my bike up to a more level spot, another rider fell in front of me, with his bike landing on top of him – he was still clipped in. I asked him if he needed any help extricating himself from his bike, which resulted in laughter around me. He was fine.
Martin Road hill to the finish line
I had 2 goals for this race: 1) to finish! and 2) to successfully climb up the Martin Road hill, which is how this race ends. Part of this dirt hill is a 17% grade. I rode the hill in training, after about 30k on area roads, and wondered how I would manage it after riding 70k. In fact, it went better than expected! I knew the hill, and knew that once I did the steepest part, the rest would be easy. I never felt that I was in danger of losing momentum and falling over or having to unclip. And since almost everyone around me was walking, I got great cheers from the crowd, and from one enthusiast spectator in particular – thank you random stranger! It helped get me up the hill!
Woohoo! I made it all the way up the Martin Road hill (17% grade at one point)! [Photo credit: Apex Photography]
From there it was a very short ride to the finish line (at the 73k mark!), which was rather anticlimactic. I asked a woman to take my picture, then I decided not to get a bike wash given that I had somewhere I had to be later that afternoon, and after getting into the food line-up, I scrapped that idea too because there had to be 100 people in front of me. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that they were handing out P2A medals inside, and I missed out. I’ve never been in a race where you had to go elsewhere for a medal.
Done! [Photo credit: random stranger]
I really enjoyed this race, except for the part when my stomach was hurting. Thankfully, the wind wasn’t too bad, and I wasn’t too warm despite being overdressed. Despite thinking at the half way point that I might possibly finish under 4 hours, this was most definitely not the case. Next year! Because yes, I’ll be back!
Thank you P2A for a great race, and to the landowners who allowed us to tear through their properties – I thanked every person I saw who looked like they might own the land I was riding on, including the farmer on his front porch!
- Distance: 73k
- Time: 4:36:37 (15.8 km/h)
- Placing women 40-49: 35/45
- Placing all women: 129/150
- Placing all riders: 1482/1623
The state of my bike after the race.
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