Muskoka Training Weekend Recap – Part 1

Man, why is it that short weeks always feel the longest? I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday. I hope that your week is moving along a little quicker than mine is!

So, this morning I owe you one BIG training weekend recap (sorry it’s coming to you a day late)! I’ll start off by saying that the weekend was an enormous success; I am so thrilled that we went up and did it. I’m feeling so much more confident about the race now then I was 5 days ago.

Matt and I hit the road for Muskoka on Friday afternoon around 4:30pm (I know, are we crazy trying to get out of the city at 4:30pm on the Friday of a long weekend? The traffic wasn’t as heinous as I thought it would be thank god). It was a 2.5 hour drive, and we made it to our hotel in pretty decent time. We were both a little surprised at how empty the hotel was, there were literally three other cars in the hotel parking lot when we pulled in. What we failed to notice was the absolutely massive tour bus that was parked around the back of the hotel, which had evidently brought about 75 Asian tourists to the hotel for the night. We strolled into the lobby of the hotel literally mid-sentence commenting on how dead the hotel was, and walked into the total and complete pandemonium of 75 non-English speaking Asian people trying to check into the hotel!

Oh irony, you never fail to amuse me.

Neil and Jess made it to Muskoka a little later in the evening; they were trekking in from Kingston so it was a much longer drive for them. We were all pretty exhausted so we hit the hay pretty early on Friday night. It was going to be a big day of biking the next day.

On Saturday morning I woke up totally stressed and freaked out, and thinking furiously of some way to get out of this whole biking thing. One thing after the other contributed to my escalating stress level. It was everything from me absolutely hating how my legs look in my new Lululemon bike shorts (I think they look like Bratwurst sausages) to the horrific realization that there really wasn’t going to be a “bike lane” on the roads that we needed to bike on and that we would be biking alongside cars on the road. By the time we got to the boat launch that we had decided would be our starting point, I was about one piece of stressful news away from a heart attack.

Bratwurst Sausages
Bratwurst Sausages


We got out of the car and instantly got swarmed by FLOCKS of black flies (I’m serious, flocks), so Jess and I hid out in my car while Matt and Neil put Jilly and Neil’s bike together outside. The plan was for Neil and I to start out together, and see how we were feeling. Although we had set the goal of  biking 50 or 60 kilometres that day, we knew that there was no shoulder on a lot of the highway that we needed to bike on, so we decided to play it by ear and make a judgment call when we got to those points in the course. We hopped on our bikes and started away down the course. Here goes nothing.

Sara Neil Bike Start

I was so beyond freaked out for that first 10km stretch. We were on a relatively quiet road, but every car that passed us scared the bajesus out of me. Our average speed was about 15km/hour for that first stretch, and we only came across about 2 hills that were serious enough for me to remember them now. I got my first taste of climbing a “real” hill on a bike (not the imaginary hills that the spin class instructors put in front of you when they tell you to CRANK THAT DIAL).

It was somewhat different then spin class, that’s all I’ll say.

That being said, although hills suck considerably more on the road then they do in spin class, you really do miss out on the absolute best part of road biking when you’re stuck on a stationary bike, and that is the downhills. In that first 10km stretch, we went down several downhills, and I have to admit, it was pretty phenomenal. I had a death grip on my brakes the whole way down the hill, but still got moving at a decent clip. By the time we met up with Matt and Jess at the end of that first stretch, I was feeling much more comfortable on the bike, a little less afraid of cars and starting to find my groove.

Sara Bike Smile

Something clicked in me at the junction where we first met up with Matt and Jess. We were coming off of the quiet road that we had been on, and had to turn onto the Highway 60, which is the main highway around Muskoka. The 60 is four lanes of fast moving traffic, no shoulder on the side of the road, and nothing but rock cut and steep ditch on either side. There really isn’t much margin for error. I had originally remained steadfast and stubborn that there was no way in hell I was going to ride my bike on that road with all of those cars and hazards, but for some reason when we got to that junction, something inside of me just switched off. Or maybe a more accurate depiction is that something inside of me switched on.

Yea, you might die on the side of the road getting hit by a car or a truck. You might crash your bike into a rock cut and maim or disfigure yourself. You might get a flat tire or lock up your wheels and wipe out going 40km/hour down a hill and have road rash and broken bones for years to come.

Or you could be sitting at home in bubble wrap, safe and warm with your feet up as secure as you can possibly be, and have a doctor call you up and tell you that you have cancer.

What’s the point of living in fear? If we don’t live while we’re alive then what the hell is the point? So you make it to your grave at the age of 98 without a scratch, scrape or crooked bone on you, having never really lived? Is it worth it?

Matt and Neil were discussing the road conditions, Neil said that he was game to give it a try and see how he made out, and the words came spilling out of my mouth before I could think to reel them back that I was in, let’s do this.

Sara Neil Highway

From that point onwards, everything changed. Our average speed picked up from 15 km/hour to hovering between 23 and 28km/hour. I stopped braking on the downhills and hit a top speed of 48.8km/hour coming down one of the steeper hills. Neil and I started chatting on the flat stretches and marveling at the absolutely stunning surroundings (okay that was more me then Neil, but he gamely listened and agreed with me when I squealed about rock cuts and glittering lakes). We both agreed that biking is WAY kinder to your body then running and spent about 10km discussing the reasons why (sorry Matt ;)), and by the time we reached our second water/snack station (set up by Matt and Jess who were the best road crew we could have ever asked for), we had crushed through 52km.

 Sara Neil Junction

Sara Neil Rest Stop 3

Rest Stop Supplies

We both felt absolutely terrific, we were joking around and laughing, taking pictures with Matt and Jess…at this point I was wondering what all the fuss with this biking thing was about. It was fun! The decision to finish off the extra 8km to make our 60km stretch goal was a no-brainer, Matt and Jess took off to wait for us 8km ahead, and we set off to finish the bike for the day.

What could possibly go wrong in 8km….right?


Immediately after setting off, Neil turned to me and said “I don’t think we should have stopped”. I was feeling the same thing. Although my legs weren’t in pain, they felt sluggish and heavy. The road was a rougher pavement then the one we had been riding on all day, and it was starting to bite back against the tires. And then we hit the hills.

Oh the hills.

We had been up and down hills all day long, but these last three really took the cake. When we came across the first one, I think we both swore a bit inside, but somehow we made it up together. The trouble arose when there was no downhill section between that hill and the next beast of a hill. There was a couple hundred metres of flat road, and then it was right back up again. This was where things got interesting.

Both Neil and I were TOTALLY dying. And I mean totally dying. It’s a bizarre feeling to be dying on a bike, because when you’re running and you’re dying, you just stop running. But on the bike, as we learned, sometimes you don’t get to make that decision for yourself. Sometimes, your legs decide when they can’t go anymore, and that’s the end of the discussion.

I should mention that Neil and I have completely different styles of climbing hills on a bike. Neil, in his yellow leader jersey no less, climbs hills like cycling legend Lance Armstrong. He likes the low gears, gets out of his saddle and climbs from a standing position with a bit of sway side to side.

I, in my pink long sleeve shirt, climb hills like the somewhat overweight German cyclist Jan Ullrich. Ullrich was famous for showing up at the Tour de France slightly overweight (don’t believe me? Type “Jan Ullrich” into Google and “Jan Ulrich fat” is the third most popular search term that appears. No joke). He was a powerhouse rider that climbed mountains from a seated position in a high gear. He rarely ever stood to climb.

Can you spot Neil and I??? ;)
Can you spot Neil and I??? 😉

So Neil hops out of his saddle to climb this second hill, and I’m chugging away in my saddle like a big German diesel engine. We are both totally dying, and then Neil’s legs made the decision that they had had enough and were going to stop on him. I was in my own world of misery and had no idea. He told me to keep going and I chugged slowly past him and up the rest of the hill, to thankfully, a nice downhill on the other side.

While I was gasping for air like never before cruising down the hill, I turned my head at the bottom, and was relieved to see Neil coming speeding down the downhill after me. He caught up to me at the bottom of the hill and neither of us really spoke. We had both seen what was coming next, and knew that it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Another hill. Maybe two grades steeper than the last two.

We came up on that third hill, and the wheels just came off for both of us. Poor Neil’s legs (and bike by the sounds of it!!) quit on him and I chugged past him towards the top again, but then my own legs gave out on me as well, and I ended up swerving off the road and burying Jilly’s front wheel in the sandy shoulder. I had to get off and walk her the last third of the hill. When I got back on, I assumed that Neil was right behind me. Thank GOD the rest of the 8km was downhill, and I’ve never been so happy to see Matt in my entire life.

When I did pull in to where Matt was standing, he joked “Oh I see you’ve made your move!” to which I tersely replied “We got our asses kicked”. I assumed that Neil would have been right behind me, but minutes went by, and no Neil to be seen. I was freaking out that I had abandoned my training partner back on the hill, and after he had stayed with me all day!

When he did pull up shortly after, he was covered in sand on one side of his body, and I was totally horrified thinking that he had wiped out. Turned out that his legs had quit on him just like mine did back on the third hill, but he wasn’t able to unclip his clip-in pedals in time to get his foot down on the ground, and so he kind of toppled right over with his bike into the sandy shoulder – thank God not onto pavement.

(It’s okay to laugh – we all sure did ;))

 Sara Neil Bike Finish

And so concludes our day of bike training. We had a good laugh about that last 8km (I’m still laughing actually, what a total disaster that was), cleaned ourselves up, Matt went for a run around Muskoka, and we all sat in the hot tub before heading out for dinner. The next day we had plans to run between 10 and 15km, the weekend was far from over yet.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the run day recap – and sorry for the marathon post!! 🙂

Before you head out, tell me, what did you get up to on your long weekend?!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s