Early in January 2006, I got a phone call from a friend I used to climb with, Gary, saying he needed a partner to do the TransRockies Challenge. Was I interested?
The TransRockies is billed as one of the most rugged and adventurous mountain bike events in the world. The 7 day challenge covers a total of 565km and 11,300 metres of vertical ascent, through the Canadian Rockies. What better way to spend a week in August? Sign me up I told him!
Spectacular Canadian scenery -
Day 7 of the TransRockies Challenge
Training: from climber to biker
I keep pretty fit, but was glad I had eight months to get myself to tip top biking fitness. My main game is climbing (sport up to 7b+ and V8/9 bouldering), and I usually ride or run a few times a week. However, I don’t like doing things by halves so a summer off climbing was in order. Deciding to do this took some considerable persuasion of myself, by myself! I’d miss the sweaty afternoons on Peak Limestone, but more importantly, would my thighs be able to fit into my harness afterwards?
The event must be entered as a team of two, and the 225 team places soon sold out. The main role of your team mate is to keep you company, stick you back together with gaffer tape when you get damaged, and protect you from bears.
"if the training is right,
the event should be
comfortable to complete"
Gary and I signed up to the basic package. This involved sleeping in a village of dubiously pitched leaky tents (it was the job of 4 volunteers to pitch and pack up the 200 odd tents every day!). Luxuries like sports massage and bike maintenance/repairs either cost extra, or were done by your team mate… a good way to really get to know someone.
On an event like this the trick to completing, and enjoying it, is in the training. If the training has been right, the event should be comfortable to complete (in theory!). I trained bearing this in mind.
My preparation consisted of three types of training: strength training in the gym, road riding, and mountain biking.
Before cranking up my riding I spent 3 months toughening myself up in the gym. My main goal was developing a robustness that would help me stay injury free. I did some leg strength work, but concentrated mainly of core strengthening, and upper body work for stability on the long climbs and gnarly descents. On a less practical and vainer level, I didn’t want to end up a withered weakling when it came to climbing again!
The majority of my base fitness was developed on a road bike, gradually progressing my weekly mileage and time in the saddle. By a month before the trip, I was completing a couple of 5-6 hour / 90-100 mile rides a week (mostly in the Peak) and a few short sharp blasts to work in Hathersage.
Huw crossing the continental divide on the toughest day:
109km of biking with 2612m of ascent
Even with the most hardwearing running gear on my mountain bike, I seem to get through chain rings, cassettes and chains like no-one’s business (probably because I am so strong! haha). Hence most of my training was done on the relatively maintenance-free road bike. However, it was vital to complete enough training on the bike I was going to use for the event, to make sure the long days pedalling didn’t to lead to any overuse injuries (I set up my road bike as similarly as possible to my mountain bike). I competed in a number of enduro events/rides. These were typically 100km big loop events (i.e. not laps around a short course), very similar to the structure of the TransRockies - mass starts, friendly competitive atmosphere, feed stations and a fair whack of climbing.
"In the final month I tapered down my training
to high quality, short and safe sessions"
During training for the event (and of course the event itself) correct nutrition was really important. Making sure the right amount of the right types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins were being consumed to cope with the training load and lead to improvements in fitness. Luckily for me I am in the right line of work to make sure I got this right.
In the final month I tapered down my training to high quality, short and (most importantly!) safe sessions. The last thing I wanted just before the trip was a broken wrist, torn muscle or expensive bike mechanical.
August came round in a flash. I dismantled and packed my bike, including spare just about everything! Multiple pairs of padded shorts, lashings of anti-bacterial bum cream and stacks of my favourite energy bars, powders and potions.
Arriving in Canada
We flew to Calgary, then bussed it to Fernie (British Columbia) where the event started. The few days before the start were spent eating, meeting fellow competitors, eating, rebuilding and repairing bikes, eating, perving over each other’s bikes, and chilling.
Likely lads... competitors cruising the streets of Fernie before the race
The event briefing laid out the rules and set the scene and kit bags were issued. Everything you wanted between now and the end had to be put in these. Some serious scrimping was needed (surely one pair of pants will do?).
If you’re interested in bikes, I rode a Giant NRS composite. It has about 3 inches of rear travel (not a lot, but enough to take the sting out of the tail), with an 80mm travel fork with lockout up front. Hope mini-mono disc brakes, Shimano XT gears.
The main event...
Sunday morning, August 6th we were lined up with 448 other mountain bikers from all over the world, literally filling the entire high street. The atmosphere was unbelievable, excitement and fear about what lay ahead. The months of preparation now seemed irrelevant. ‘Highway to Hell’ was blasting over the PA system. Nice.
The days clocked up like this:
DayFromToDistanceAscent1FernieSparwood61km1225m2SparwoodCrowsnest Pass77km2140m3Crowsnest PassElkford109km2612m4ElkfordWhiteswan Lake95km1368m5Whiteswan LakeNipika108km1285m6NipikaInvermere64km1119m7InvermerePanorama Resort51km1649m
The riding was superb. To get the legs warm and spread out the field every day began with a few km of road, then the fun began. Day 1 for example had a section of singletrack that lasted for about 25km! if you’ve ridden at the Welsh trail centres, like Coed-y-brenin, imagine the best sections there, but lasting hours instead of minutes, and you’ll be getting close. Downhills in the UK might last 10 or 15 minutes if you’re lucky, and drop you a few hundred metres; but here some descents were the height of Snowdon! The climbs, sometimes in excess of 2 hrs grinding uphill were not something you can practise in the UK!
Still fresh-faced - the end of day 1.
Pity the four volunteers who had to pitch these 200 tents every day...
Each day my alarm clock woke us up at 5:45am (some holiday!), in time for a breakfast at 6. This consisted of cereals, bagels, peanut butter, fruit, waffles, eggs, bacon, pancakes and a few coffees to wash it all down. The next job was to decide what clothing to take and packing the rest of your life back into you kit bag. Kick off was at 8am every day, with Highway to Hell playing from 7:30 to get you in the mood.
"day 3 was by far the hardest,
and completing it broke a
big psychological barrier"
As the table above suggests, day 3 was by far the hardest, and completing it broke a big psychological barrier. After a massive climb to warm up I managed to take a tumble and slash my knee open. Fortunately I could still ride and a marshal at the first feed station patched me up so I could carry on. It was also one of the hottest days of the week, reaching 35°C, so dehydration was a major problem for a lot of competitors (around 10 people ended up on drips that day, and 15 or so dropped out of the event).
Chilling out at camp before dinner, day 4
The final 12km was tortuous. Everyone was expecting a long steady cruise down hill. It turned out to be a series of short steep ramps up and down along the side of a gorge, covered in tree roots that made for very slow progress given the 8 hours of riding already done! Eventually the down came and it was superb, but the state of fatigue we were in by now, getting down it in one piece was the priority! That night an American guy camping next to us was on the phone begging his wife to come and pick him up… She refused!
Nipika by night
Following each day’s ride, a routine developed to get sorted out for the next day. Finding your bag and tent, refuelling and re-hydrating, showering, washing the bike, sorting mechanicals, comparing stories with other riders… Dinner was at 6pm each day, and not a moment to soon, followed by a briefing for the following day (just to give you nightmares!) and photos and film footage from that day (it’s very exciting to see yourself up on the big screen).
The route presentation on day 4
The end of day 5 was another stunning section of riding: along an off camber, 8 inch wide strip of clay, weaving gently up and down and around trees, literally feet from a 50m vertical drop into sky blue glacier water - enough to make you concentrate. Add to that the only torrential downpour of the week just 20 minutes from the end, and we learnt how to really concentrate! Later that night, stories were flying around about a guy who disappeared off the edge, caught a tree, and managed to save his bike ’cos his clipless pedals didn’t come undone!
Huw's racing partner Gary nearing the summit after 35km uphill on day 7
With day 5 done, two seemingly easy days remained. Day 6 involved a 4km bike carry which gained 900 vertical metres up the aptly named ‘Bear Creek’ (I had a beer that night), and day 7, about 40km of climbing up gravel swithchbacks. Easy!
We finished the event in 43rd position, out of the 90 odd teams that started in the open mens category. That night a massive awards ceremony/dinner/party took place. We rolled back into the hotel at 3am, glad not to be getting the 6am bus to Calgary!
Heading down on the final day
All in all, the Trans Rockies was a fantastic experience, and a great way to meet a lot of like-minded people. As with climbing, it was humbling to see how fit the top boys and girls really are.
Lessons learnt? Train right and you can achieve a lot. Eating is everything. And don’t be afraid to take a break and try something different for a while!
The winners - surely some of the fittest dudes in mountainbiking
To find out about the 2010 TransRockies Challenge taking placethis August, go to www.transrockies.com
About the author
Huw George lives in Sheffield, and works in the Hope Valley in the Peak District as a personal trainer and pilates teacher. He can be contacted on 0775 225 4075 or firstname.lastname@example.org