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Cram training for the Taiwan KOM Challenge

Melanie Chambers got a last minute entry to the event which features 3,275 m of elevation gain and now she needs to prepare for the big climb

Melanie Chambers

by Melanie Chambers

Melanie Chambers
Melanie Chambers and Paul Reinis ride in Yarmouth, N.S. Credit: Sandra Phinney

Ten days and counting until I line up at the start line for the hardest road bike race of my life. Taiwan’s KOM (King of the Mountain) starts at sea level and climbs to 3,275 meters.

Correction, I won’t be racing, there’s not enough training time for that. I just learned I’ll be going a week ago. Long story short, a spot opened up on a media trip and fool that I am, I agreed to ride this thing with about three weeks of training. Not months, weeks. Every time I think about the race, my gut does a flip, my chest seizes a little and my mouth goes dry. But I also get a whiz of excitement. I freaking love climbing.

I travelled to Taiwan about two years ago and cycled a portion of the KOM—about 30 km; it took me about two and a half hours. So by that calculation, it will take me about six hours to finish the KOM. But it’s not just the climbing that’s a challenge. The heat is definitely another. It’s humid as hell in Taiwan and yet the ride itself was remarkably beautiful. At times, the paved road tunnel cuts through the mountain, sweeps under rock gorges, passes waterfalls and temples. It’s spectacular scenery, perhaps meant to take one’s mind off the pain of climbing?

Taking on this assignment, sort of Gonzo journalism style, I feel like journalist George Plimpton whose experiential writing had him doing insane feats such as playing in the NFL and boxing a heavyweight champion—all with minimal training. Doing the KOM is my version of getting pummeled. Hard.

By normal standards, I’m in shape. I ride four or fives times a week, mostly on my trainer in the basement lately, and I teach spin classes. I’m also primarily a mountain biker. All this to say my cardiovascular shape is, well, passable. I got the news of the KOM while my partner and I were on a Thanksgiving road trip to see family. We live in Toronto and drove to Halifax. Luckily we had both our mountain and road bikes in the car, and now with this news, we were compelled to ride the crap out of them.

The day after the news, Paul and I were in Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia—perfecto. Valley means hills. Short of being in British Columbia, this was the next best spot for climbing, in my estimation. We did the same route two days in a row—about 50 to 60 km on an undulating series of climbs and one giant one out of the Gaspereau Valley that peaked at the end with a 19 per cent grade. “I didn’t think I was going to make that last part,” said Paul.

Not long after that we were back in the car to Yarmouth, the south shore of the province, to visit another friend—it’s the same region where I raced in the Baie St. Marie Gran Fondo a few years ago. Booyah, more great road riding. That day we rode about 87 km mostly flat, it was still a challenge with ocean crosswinds and drafting behind Paul, whose legs and lungs are off-the-charts strong. Finishing, I felt good—like I could take more. Now, just tilt that road a few more degrees and I’m there, right?

The race is Oct. 26. Less than two weeks. Oh frig, my mouth just went dry.

Stay tuned for updates on my last minute training, the day before the race and then, the day of doom.