“Well, it’s two nights before the big day. I never believed this was possible. My story may not be that unusual but I am proud to be realizing a personal challenge and am almost there. I am 62 years old and in the past year, retired from my 38-year teaching career and completed my doctoral studies at SFU. On top of that, one year ago I had open heart surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm.
“This had been monitored for about 10 years after the sudden deaths of my brother and my father. Coroner and autopsy information suggested that their deaths were related to heart rhythm issues, which was followed by the recommendation that my 10 remaining siblings and I be tested and screened for cardiac issues. Of all of us, I was the only one who displayed the unusual heart rhythm. This led to the discovery of my aortic aneurysm.
“The ensuing years have been a time of well-followed intervention by my heart rhythm and aortic cardiac teams. Although nervous, I continued to grit my teeth and to stay fit, cycle moderately, and generally stay active, all the while knowing that I could have some kind of unpredictable cardiac event. After surgery, It took three months to be close to my normal “old” self, and 5 months to where I seem to have gone back in time, literally feeling the energy of a 20-year-old.
“During the past 4 years my family has been involved in the RBC GranFondo several times. For one of my four sons and my husband, this will be their third ride. For another son, his second. For me, my first. My only nerves relate to getting out of the marshaling area and managing clip-in shoes/pedals at the start.
“As far as the ride is concerned, I am excited. I received a new road bike for my spring birthday and my husband has been an overly tolerant and encouraging coach. We have spent the summer on the Sunshine Coast where we live, creating road circuits, riding up the coast to Pender Harbour and throughout the rest of the area. I have learned to be brave and endure areas of no shoulders, bad pavement, and the odd close vehicle encounter.
“I am loving the hills and at this point feel fit and ready. I am doing this ride to honour everyone who has been in my court over the past few years, particularly my family and wonderful cardiac team.
“Nothing feels as good as being on a bike, with the breeze in your face, and the road under your pedals.”
On September 9, 2017, Marian completed RBC GranFondo Whistler in a time of 8:15:37. On the KOM/QOM hillclimb competition, she rode faster than 284 other participants.
The Forte is the toughest category at RBC GranFondo Whistler, with 3100m of climibing and 152km distance. We sat down with Anneleen Bosma, of London, UK, to discuss her victorious 1st place in the Women’s 2017 Forte and see how she prepared:
This was your first time riding RBC GranFondo Whistler. What had you heard about and what attracted you to enter the Forte category?
I visited Vancouver a couple of years ago and rode with someone that was training for the Gran Fondo. It’s such a beautiful route! I entered the Forte category as I love to challenge myself and I having never climbed a mountain before, this was the perfect challenge for me.
What were your experiences in riding as an overseas athlete?
I had a great experience! I met some really lovely people at the start line and rode most of the route with a really great guy called Sean, who actually supported people on their journey to their First Fondo via the GranFondo Whistler clinics. The event was very well organized and I really enjoyed the burger at the finish line!
You ride with Rapha Cycling Club. How did you go about training for the ride?
I joined Rapha Cycling Club early July, which has been life-changing. Riding with friends is so much more fun, a great motivation to get up early to train and really helps you push yourself to get stronger.
I mainly trained by doing longer (hilly) rides on the weekend, weekly race training (sprintervals!) and I started racing crits three weeks before the Gran Fondo. In the months running up to the Gran Fondo I did several sportives, all quite long distances (160-305k) and very hilly (3500-4600m climbing).
What was your strategy for pacing, nutrition and the ride in general? How does the Forte rank in your spectrum of riding achievements?
I arrived in Vancouver three days before the Gran Fondo and as I had never climbed a mountain before, I went up Cypress Mountain on the Thursday to check it out and see what pace I could maintain on such a long climb.
On the day, I tried to ride in a group up to Cypress Mountain, but decided to stick to my own pace on the climb to prevent burning out too quickly. Halfway through I started passing people that passed me earlier so I knew that my strategy was working. When I got to the top of Cypress, I realized that I hadn’t seen any women descending yet so that motivated me to just push at my max pace for the rest of the ride.
I tend to find it quite difficult to eat well during a ride (gels and bars make me feel nauseous) so I try to consume about 400 calories/hour by drinking sports drinks and by eating Haribo!
The Forte ranks as one of my highest riding achievements, up there with getting my to Category 2 race license 6 weeks after I started racing!
What would you say to someone who was thinking about whether to enter the event?
If you’re thinking about it, just do it. Join a cycling club to train as it’s much more fun to train with friends than on your own, and when the big day comes, enjoy the ride and the incredible scenery!
“My dad is a pretty fit guy (always has been) and he never seems to stop moving; he is always working on his vintage sports car or drafting the plans for a new renovation to the house. He has always been fairly athletic, but he really tested that athleticism by completing his first Whistler GranFondo the day that he turned 50 years old.
“At the time that dad completed his first Fondo, there was no possible way that I could comprehend the amount of mental and physical strength and willpower that it took for him to complete that task. I was morbidly obese, stressed out of my mind in a toxic relationship, I was suffering from an unstable mental health disorder, I had zero motivation to exercise or to make any healthy decisions and I was incredibly unhappy with the direction that my life had taken. This was all very evident to my dad and he worked very hard to set a positive example for me and to encourage me regularly to start taking control of my health. His persistence eventually paid off and I was able to slowly turn my life in a direction that encompassed healthy living.
“On the week of dad’s 55th birthday, he rode his third Whistler GranFondo and I wanted to see him cross the finish line ever so badly. My mom and I stayed in Whistler Village the night before the race and we woke up early to stake our place along the fence to cheer for the cyclists crossing the finish line. I will never forget seeing the look my dad’s face when our eyes met moments before he crossed the line: I felt electricity run through my body, and I immediately new that the Fondo was something that I needed to experience from the saddle of my own road bike.
“My dad did everything in his power to support my dream and my training the coming year. We started swimming olympic lengths together during the winter and I also started cycle training on an indoor trainer for the first time.
“In the early summer 2016, we set two endurance tests for ourselves that we would have to complete together before we registered for the Fondo: ride from Kitsilano to White Rock/Crescent Beach and back (122km) and to cycle up Cypress Mountain. Both endurance tests were THE most difficult challenges that I have ever put my mind and body through. However, were able to complete both tasks by mid August, so that meant that the 2016 Whistler GranFondo was a “go”!
“I was a nervous wreck the morning of the Fondo, to say the least! The amount of adrenaline running through my body was astronomical and it only increased when we crossed the start line in Stanley Park. I was terrified to cycle up Taylor Way for the first time, but little did I know that this tiny little steep climb was only a drop in the bucket compared to the Britannia Beach and Fury Creek climbs!
“Throughout our 8 hour ride, regardless of how fast or slow I was cycling, my dad was either by my side or faithfully at the top of the hill waiting for me with a huge smile on his face or a hug for encouragement when I was feeling low.
“My dad and I were two of the very last people to cross the finish line in Whistler Village that day, but the important part is that we FINISHED! Words can’t describe the sense of accomplishment that I felt when I saw my mom cheering me on at the finish line, and with my dad’s hand on my shoulder as I wept tears of exhaustion and happiness all at the same time. I never could have imagined completing such a physically or mentally challenging feat without my dad’s steady encouragement, patience, understanding, sense of humour, time, energy and hugs while I cried tears of joy in celebration of my victories.
“With his influence in my life, I am now in a solid routine of exercising 3-5 days a week, I have lost 85 pounds and my weight continues to drop, my mental health disorder is stable and manageable, I choose to eat healthy and well balanced meals, I have a solid sense of self confidence and I have a renewed sense of joy in my life.
“I will never give up on training to become the best version of myself, and I have my dad and the Whistler GranFondo to thank for that.”
In 2017, Liz and her dad rode together again and took 90 minutes off their 2016 finishing time. In 2018, they’re aiming to shave off another hour.