Submitted by Sandra Walter for Test of Metal Inc.
The first time I tackled the infamous 67ish-kilometre Test of Metal MTB XC Marathon race in Squamish, BC, was when I was still a junior in 1998. To be honest, I can’t remember much about that experience (It was kind of a long time ago), but according to the event’s records, I finished first (the only one in my category) in a time of 4:09:16. Since then, I have finished eight more Tests and won twice in the elite category – once in 2001 and then again in 2013.
I know, that’s quite the time spread between my two wins. In 2001, I was a fresh-faced racer in only my second full season as an elite. I honestly have no idea how I managed to win. It was completely unexpected and one of the most exciting victories of my 20-year racing career (Yup, on par with Canada Cup and Canadian Championships wins). I was flying so high on endorphins after I won, my parents insisted on driving the 1.5 hours from home to watch the awards ceremony and drive me back. After hearing me on the phone when I called to tell them I won, my Mom was worried I wouldn’t be able to drive myself in my state. I distinctly remember making the call from pay phone outside the Brennan Rec Centre where the race starts. Yeah, a pay phone.
My Mom was most excited that I had won $1,300 in prize money, but I was more thrilled by the huge armful of gorgeous podium flowers I received. Hey Test of Metal organizers – you should totally bring that back. Seriously. My romantic young self thought they were maybe even better than cash. My wiser self now realizes that money is more practical than bouquets (and can actually be used to buy things like flowers), but there is definitely something special about receiving a token like that on the podium.
A couple of years before, in 1999, I had seen Canadian Olympian Kiara Bisaro win the elite women’s race at the Test and get those lovely flowers and I said to my Mom: “Wow, I want to win, so I get flowers.” My Mom, ever the pragmatist, said: “Forget the flowers! You should win so you get the money!” I suppose that little snapshot tells you I haven’t been competing in this sport for the last 20 years to get rich.
When I won in 2013, I was once again thrilled with my victory. The many years between wins made it that much more special and is a testament to the depth and talent of the field it attracts, despite not being a UCI-sanctioned event or a qualifier for anything. It’s pretty much a grassroots race, a super-fun day on great trails with a bunch of like-minded people of all stripes and abilities who are there mostly for the personal challenge and the BBQ afterwards. Even though the Catharine Pendrels, Geoff Kabushes, Alison Sydors, and Max Plaxtons draw the headlines, it is truly an event for the people. There’s a reason that its January 1st registration day has often sold out in less than an hour and crashed multiple computer systems.
My 2013 race was the perfect example of how challenging the Test of Metal is, as well as how it ain’t over til it’s over. Read my blog after that race here: http://www.sandrawalter.ca/2013/06/race-report-test-of-metal/. The way I was feeling at the beginning and even up until the halfway point, I didn’t think I would win, let alone finish. I felt awful, sick, slow, tired, discouraged. But from past experience, I also knew that the race was long enough for things to turn around. I dragged myself out of the negative zone I was in and when I got to the infamous Nine Mile Climb (the longest climb of the race and the one that often cracks souls), I just kept trying to push a little harder, and when that worked, I pushed a little harder still until I was crushing that hill and passing struggling riders. Re-motivated, I laid down an amazing second half and when I passed through the feed zone the second time, I was in the lead. I finished in my personal best time of 3:00:08 – yup, a mere eight frustrating seconds off the three-hour barrier, which is a big goal for lots of racers. I still haven’t broken three hours. That’s still on my list.
That 2013 victory was so different from 2001. In 2001, I felt awesome and invincible from start to finish, while 2013 was a true mental and physical struggle. I don’t think my 2001 self could have won in 2013. Mountain biking is so much about experience and mental toughness as well as fitness and technical prowess. It’s really a multi-faceted sport and that’s what has kept me in it for so long. It never gets boring, things are always changing and you really have to be on your toes and aiming for constant progression.
1. It’s all about perseverance. Mind over matter, boys and girls!
2. Fueling properly helps. A lot. Set an alarm as a reminder to eat and drink at regular intervals – drink every 15 minutes, eat every 30-40 minutes. Be strict with yourself on this one or it will bite you in the butt, big time later in the race! As a sponsor of the Test of Metal and me, consider including Q Drink Healthy www.qrinkhealthy.com in your training and racing fueling regimen. It’s a local company that supports events and athletes in the community. Read my own review on this product here: http://www.sandrawalter.ca/reviews/reviewed-q-energy-drink.
3. Pace yourself. Don’t get carried away at the start and go into the red early. It’s a long race and you will probably regret it if you do. Focus on riding your own race and pacing to finish strong.
4. Pre-riding is key. If you get the chance to ride the course beforehand, do it! Being prepared always pays off.
5. Remember to have fun. If you’re too serious, you’ll forget why you’re there. Checking in with yourself to ensure you’re having a good time (while simultaneously suffering) will help keep you relaxed and in the moment and hopefully out of that miserable and lonely place called the Pain Cave.
Sponsored by Q Energy
Sandra Walter’s website : http://www.sandrawalter.ca/reviews/reviewed-q-energy-drink/