How I prepare for P2A

This is my second year as a P2A ambassador and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to spread the word and share my experience in the event. This blog also appears on the webpage where, in previous blog entries by other ambassadors this year, you can read about Rob MacEwan’s push to get into the top 100 at P2A with focused training, Meg Siegel’s non-panic approach, or Alex Flint’s conversion from an ultra-distance runner to cyclist. In this blog entry, I’ll tell you about the different ways I have prepared for P2A as a mid-pack rider, having entered the event each year since 2002.

As an active member of the Waterloo Cycling Club since 2003, I have got to know all levels of cyclists, from elite racers who spend most of the year with specific training plans, to beginners who want to enter for the sense of accomplishment that comes with these types of events, and all levels in between. I fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Some years, I did zero training over the winter and P2A was my very first time on the bike in months. Other times, I’ve been able to do a fair bit of outdoor winter riding to maintain some level of fitness, and other years, I spent countless hours in spin classes and in my basement on my stationary bike in an effort to start the spring in better shape. Regardless of the number of hours I’ve prepared, P2A is challenging.

To help those who need a little advice, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for P2A:

1. Training:
a. Ride: Indoors or outdoors. CX bike, MTB bike, road bike, fat bike. Any bike! Get miles into those legs.
b. Core: Doing some core strengthening won’t hurt, particularly with the occasional hike-a-bike sections of the route.
c. Fuel: Eat right!

2. Bike preparation:
a. 2016 will be my second year riding a Cyclocross bike for P2A. In previous years, I’ve been on a mountain bike – sometimes a full suspension bike with 2.0” knobby tires, sometimes on a hard-tail bike with narrower tires. The cx bike is ideal.
b. Tire pressure: This is a debate I have with my fellow club members regularly. Some ride lower pressure to get better grip in the slippery sections. I prefer harder pressure for the road sections, somewhere around 50-60 psi. The higher pressure also means less likelihood of pinch flats.
c. Drive train: I clean and lube the chain before every event, and I make sure the derailleurs are shifting smoothly.
d. Bike inspection: I check brake pads, rims, cables, pedals, cleats for wear and tear and make sure everything else is doing what it’s supposed to do.
e. During the race, I carry a mini pump plus a mini pack under my seat with a spare tube, multitool, tire levers, chain quick-links.

3. The course:
a. The start: As usual, I’ll be starting in Wave 2 this year. Each wave tends to have an energetic start as riders jockey for position before the first rail-trail section. Along the rail trail, riders can be aggressive as they try to pass in spots that are narrow. I find my pace and settle in to a rhythm here, allowing riders to pass if they want, and passing others when there’s an opening to pass safely.
b. Dismounting: Regardless of how warm and dry the weather has been in the days and weeks leading up to the event, expect some hike-a-bike sections. Some sections you may be able to ride, but rider traffic ahead of you may dictate that you’ll have to dismount.
c. Open roads (paved and hard-packed dirt): If possible, get into a group of riders to get some protection from the wind. You’ll be able to ride faster and use less energy to go faster.
d. The mud chutes: I’ve ridden these, but for the most part, I carry or walk my bike down these chutes. It’s slower, but the bike accumulates less mud and I’m ready to ride when I get to the bottom (as opposed to pulling handfuls of mud from the wheels).
e. The climb: If you haven’t experienced the final Martins Road climb at the end of the race, you’re in for a treat. It’s not long, but it’s steep and has enough turns in it that you are never quite sure how much further you have to go to the top. I use my easiest gear and spin up at a speed that isn’t much faster than those who are walking the hill. At the end of a 70km ride, this hill is always painful for me. But the energy of the crowd gets me to the top.

Walking the mud

4. Nutrition:
a. I eat a good breakfast of granola, a banana and juice and then I’ll have a Clif Bar in the hour before the race.
b. On the bike, I’ll carry a Clif Bar, and a flask with about 3 gels in it (mixed with water). I’ll also carry 2 water bottles with electrolyte drinks (that may require re-filling at the half-way point).

Lastly, have fun! With the exception of the top riders that are competing for placings in age groups or overall, most of us are there to challenge ourselves and enjoy the event. I ride hard and push myself, but I’m satisfied with completing the event (and making it up the big hill each year). 2016: Year 15 of P2A and counting!

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