It’s been over 10 years since my last *real* mountain bike race, and while the last one was a tight loop on a 2km course, this one was a completely different beast.

For the uninitiated, the Bow 80 is an 80km loop around Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country (Alberta). It claims to include some of the best mountain biking around – and they aren’t lying. Whatever your heart desires, this course delivered. Winding single track, sincere climbs, and brake shredding descents – not to mention some nice scenery along the way.

7:30am found us all huddled around the start gates – everybody’s breath steaming in the air, shuffling side to side to try and keep warm (it was ~2°C). I was pretty nervous for the 200 rider mass start, but I had forgotten that this was an endurance event – the gun sounded nothing much happened. Not quite the crazy start I was thinking of originally. The mass eventually got moving and after about an hour things threaded out nicely.

Despite the rain earlier in the week, the front half of the course was in great shape – and the majority of the field (so far as I could tell) cooked through it. Things really started to thin out when we hit the “big” climbs, namely Jumpingpound Ridge and then up to the summit of Cox Hill. I believe the race drop-out sign prior to Cox hill read something like “Left: Drop Out, Right: More Pain.” They weren’t lying.

The second leg of the race was both the best and the worst. The descent down Cox Hill was stellar despite the snow and slippery conditions, my forearms literally ached at the bottom. Once at the base of the hill however, things quickly turned almost bog-like. There was to be very little riding for the next bit, as everybody did a little bit of pushing and carrying to get through the vast slogs of mud. It wasn’t so much hard as it was demoralizing… All you wanted to do was get on your bike and ride! 

Eventually perseverance would pay off and I managed to get the majority of the mud off the wheels (well enough for them to turn freely, anyway) and was on the bike again. Taking us home was Tom Snow (one of my favorite trails), and despite some sogginess, it didn’t disappoint – fast, rolling, I kept the hammer down as best I could ‘til I hit the finish line.

Elated and a few pounds heavier with mud, I’d entered back into the world of mountain bike racing and it felt grand.

A few random thoughts:

  • Overall, the race was great! The volunteers were well organized and sign-in was a breeze. 
  • The swag was great – all of it stuff I would actually use.
  • Great ‘afterparty’ – plenty of cut fruit and Spolumbo’s sausage… Can’t go wrong.
  • Awesome volunteers – everyone of them was encouraging, had a smile on their face, and looked genuinely happy to be there.

What I learned:

  • Ride your own race.
  • Encourage your fellow racers – Even though I wasn’t always in the mindset for it, whenever I heard “Nice work man, keep it goin’” or something like that, it helped keep the legs moving.
  • Lube, lube, and more lube – Especially in light of the conditions many racers stopped with chain problems
  • I need either bigger brakes, or bigger forearms.