One of the things that I forgot about when I decided to sign up for my first GranFondo, was that part of the process would be hard and that there would probably be times when I wouldn’t be having any fun. Sounds crazy, I know. But I am an optimist and often think about the finish rather than the process. I focus on the feelings that come with a great accomplishment; I love what completion feels like. When I did my first big ‘brain dump’ I wrote about each stage of the 160 km Valley GranFondo race. As the days past after the race and I kept glancing at my finisher medal, I realized that there was more for me to share than just how I felt during the event. Yes, there are great lessons about training, fueling and hydration that I found worked for me but frankly I am taking away more than that.


I have always loved competing. I love the vibe and the energy that comes from an organized event. I love looking around at people who are about to challenge themselves. Some reading this may think I am just referring to an athletic event but I am not. With parenthood and life I realize just how hard it can be to commit to a goal, so when I hear of anyone challenging themselves to something new for the first time it fires me up. So as I entered the starting corral at the Prospera Valley GranFondo and surrounded myself with 1200 other cyclists, I felt a charge… a big adrenaline rush! It was a surge that I realized I love and I remember that feeling more than the undesirable ones that came with my experience.


While waiting in the corral for the countdown to start I checked in with myself. “Don’t go out too fast, eat and drink often; and you will have a good race.” I also said, “You got this!” I knew that although I didn’t know exactly how my day would feel, that I was going to be able to finish.


Deciding to take on the Valley GranFondo wasn’t one that I came to randomly. I fell in love with road cycling three years back and completed a 100 km ride last year for the first time. I knew that this season I wanted a bigger challenge. So I sat down with the good people at True North Strength and Fitness and came up with a plan for my training. Most fondos have a training plan included on their website that include distances and ‘recovery day’ ideas. I train with a group of people that were able to look at the distance recommendations and pair it with power and endurance strength training to help me prepare.


I picked the Valley GranFondo for many reasons. The primary being I could get the bulk of my training done while the kids were still in school with the weeks leading up to taper off. I trained four days a week; two of those days are no more than an hour in the gym. One session is in the morning and the other is in the evening… and my kids come with me if they have too… much to their chagrin. The other two days are on the bike. I did one longer ride with my little group on the weekend and one shorter one, solo, focusing on hills and interval training. The plan recommended one more day of cycling but four was all I could manage. I have to be efficient with my time like most parents balancing family, work and activities.


The second reason I chose the Valley GranFondo was because they are a ride that gives back to the community and is a not for profit event. They support youth cycling and development in BC and Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. My teammates and I joined the London Drugs Ride for Hope and helped raise $5000 for this amazing charity!!!! I believe the total for the day was $21,000.

Back to the ride itself…


I felt fantastic for the first 75 km of the ride. I seemed to be eating enough and drinking enough and the body was feeling really good. I got to see Erin and her family at the rest stop with a fantastic sign and big smiles! But when I got back on the bike my legs felt like lead. The winds were behind us up to that point and we were able to push up to 34 km/hour which felt great.  Then all of a sudden at the 75 km mark my legs got really tired. I knew that around 90 km we were going to be climbing up Majuba Hill on Vedder Mountain and I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I could feel a bit of a cramp starting in my left calf (which had never happened before). I had a supply of salt tablets which I brought just in case, so I popped one and pulled back on my pace to allow my body to recover. Within a few minutes the cramp had settled down and I was able to attack the hill.


As we came out of Yarrow the winds were strong against us. All of the athletes were working really hard. When you cycle as a group there is something called ‘drafting’, which is where you take turns leading a group of cyclists and being in the front to take the head wind. This allows you to be efficient with your energy output and can be great to maintain your pace and recover the body. I was able to team up with a couple of fellow fighters and together we were able to draft and help each other. Once through ‘the soup’ we pulled into the rest stop at 110 km and enjoyed a Clif Bar together… true bonding…LOL.

One of the things that I understand makes the Valley GranFondo such a huge challenge is the massive climb up Sumas Mountain at 112 km. The climb is grueling and all I could think of was ‘one pedal stroke at a time’. I have a bit of a confession to make… I have a part of my brain that loves to feel my body work really, really hard… suffer even. I call it ‘my dark place’ and where I have discovered my ‘true grit’. I get this slightly sick pitted feeling in my stomach when I know I have to enter it but then I crave the feeling after I’m done. It is the place that I know my body pushes itself the most. It’s the place where I can think of only one thing… the task at hand. It is the place that I am focused on my breathing, my heart and every working part of my body. It is the place that I don’t really hear anything and take each moment as it comes. It is the place that I become better. Sumas Mountain for me was one of these moments. I knew I was stronger than before I hit the summit, even though my body was more depleted. And the winding ride down the backside of the mountain was a fantastic and fun way to celebrate.


At 150 km, as I pulled out of the last rest stop, I hit another little wall… I was tired. I had ridden 150 km on Canada Day, which was the farthest I had every gone and I was ready to call an Uber. I wasn’t having fun anymore. I just wanted the whole thing to be over. I told myself I never had to do another Fondo. That I could be done and move on. But after I allowed myself the space to feel these feelings and go through these emotions, it was at this point that I realized that the worst was over and that I was actually going to complete this crazy goal that I set out for myself seven months ago. Yeah my legs were tired, I had a sore knee and my shoulders hurt, but there was a great peace that came over me in knowing that I’d done the hard work, my body was performing the way that I’d hoped and all I had to do is keep going… to just keep doing what I was doing and eventually I’d finish.

As we headed into the final 5 km stretch towards the finish line the adrenaline surged once more and the pace increased. My ‘Ride for Hope’ teammate and I took turns drafting the final bit towards the finish line. I am competitive and so when I saw other people approaching the finish line before me I knew I couldn’t let that happen. My teammate is the same and we gunned it down to the finish line. It felt amazing to finish this event with the heart pumping and the legs throbbing.


There were times during the event and the training that I wasn’t having fun and my body was tired. I didn’t always feel like getting up early on a Sunday morning and riding in the drizzle.  Or throwing my bike on the trainer in the garage; watching Netflix on the iPad propped up against the red tool chest after a long day of working, activities and solo parenting. I made the time for something that was important to me because I am a parent that still has personal goals and dreams. My finisher medal is in a special spot that I can see daily. I look at it and feel such pride for what I accomplished. It is a reminder to dream big!

‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ ~ Nelson Mandel

Is this a sponsored post?: Yes, however my experiences and my thoughts are my own.

Check out my other blogs about my GranFondo training and how I Stepped Back into Fitness!


Article Written By: Sarah McConnell