The BikingWomen of Corsica: Dawn Barnable
The last edition of BikingMan Corsica, a 700km/13,000m self supported ultra cycling race took place in April 2019. Due to the current global pandemic, the 2020 edition, which was supposed to be underway at the time of publishing, has been postponed. To relive the magic of the 2019 edition, we’re taking a look back at the 8 women who competed, and successfully completed, this painfully beautiful race.
Name: Dawn Barnable
Nationality: Canadian residing in the UAE
Age at race time: 38
Profession: Owner and Director of a Public Relations Consultancy
Solo entry in BikingMan Corsica
Hey so this is me! What to say other than at the time of doing BikingMan Corsica, I was five months into cycling and had finished BikingMan Oman with about 3 months’ experience. I won’t say that I was unfit before I started cycling, I was fit-ish and had dabbled in running, CrossFit, and obstacle course racing, none of which I would say I was particularly good at. I fell in love deep with ultra-cycling however, the adventure, the challenge and the people. I wanted to finish this race in 100 hours or less and did it in 88 hours. Here’s my BikingMan Corsica story, in my own words:
Why BikingMan Corsica?
I had completed BikingMan Oman (1037km/7500m) in February 2019 after picking up cycling about 3 months prior. It was a life changing experience for me and once I had a taste of ultra-cycling, I wanted more. There was also a part of me that felt I still had to prove something to myself; that me completing BikingMan Oman wasn’t just beginner’s luck.
Tell us about your training for the race.
For BikingMan Oman, I built up to long distance rides very fast and in hindsight, I had probably over trained a little. For BikingMan Corsica, I already had a good base of fitness given that BikingMan Oman was about two months earlier but I did engage a coach, Niel Copeland of Turn Cycling who gave me a program that saw me maintain my fitness post-Oman without overtraining. On my biggest weekend before Corisca, I did Jebel Hafeet x 3 (68.17 km/2,252m) and then 100km on flats in sandstorm conditions the next day. I also worked on practicing mechanics a bit more, which thankfully was not needed, and also gave more thought to strategy and route recon. Importantly, I also practiced eating on the bike and was better at that as well for this race, as given how much you eat on these races, getting off the bike every time you need to eat could be a real time killer.
I have to say, given that I had trained so hard for Oman, I was wondering if what I had done was enough physically for Corsica, but I trusted Niel’s programming and he was right in the end.
Thoughts on the start line?
For me in Oman and in Corsica, there’s was an underlying thought of “well this is it, whatever happens, happens” when you’re lined up early morning waiting for it all to kick off. There’s also an excited/nervous group energy that you can’t help but to feel. I was just hoping that nothing would go wrong early in the race as that would be mentally very trying, to have a set back say, in the first 100km before you get into the groove of the race. I was also hoping that we wouldn’t have rain as despite being a Canadian, I’ve grown accustomed to desert living and don’t do well in either cold weather, wet weather or both. I generally try not to get too worked up as this is something I paid for; nobody is forcing me to do it so why stress?
What was your race strategy, and did you follow it?
My strategy was to try and reach each one of the three checkpoints each day. Given that I was a relatively new cyclist, I wasn’t that comfortable riding in the dark, nor was I very good at descending at that stage so I wanted to finish in less than 100 hours overall but ideally if I could reach a checkpoint a day, I would have finished well ahead of that. My strategy also included eating ALL THE TIME and bringing enough food with me to get me through to after CP 1 as I knew not much would be open from start line to CP1, in Ghisoni. In Oman, I lost 3kg on the race itself and another 3 came off in the weeks following so I don’t think I ate enough there.
I did follow the strategy for the first two days. I reached Ghisoni at about 7pm or so on Day 1 after about 175km/ 4,116 m of climbing. Day 2, I also reached CP2 in Ajaccio but after a few challenges on Day 2 and a mental low, I took the pressure off myself a little and changed tack so I didn’t reach CP3 on Day 3 but I did early on Day 4, the day I ultimately finished.
What was the most challenging part of the race for you?
I had thought that before the race, that the amount of climbing would be the major challenge as it was 13,000m, meaning that for a few days, I would have to cycle up more vertical meters than I had ever done… and in consecutive days. After the first day, I couldn’t really feel my legs, but they just kept moving so climbing became the least of my worries, what got me was DAY 2, most of it, nearly all of it.
Day 2 started with me at CP1 with little food and my Wahoo (bike computer) not loading the base map, meaning I just had a line to follow with no map for context. It started with a climb to the highest point of the entire race. Besides a suspicious looking cow on the way up – suspicious because one had charged one of the guys on this stretch the night before – the climb up was beautiful. Early morning, pleasant temps, idyllic forest. At the top I stopped to put on everything I could before the descent, arm/ legwarmers, jacket, gilet and started down. As a Canadian, I have NEVER EVER been so cold, in all of my life. I seriously considered quitting and called myself a fool who had paid money for this torture. Things got considerably better once I found a Spar, ate 4 croissants and bought a rag to put under my jersey and they got worse again once I reached Ajaccio riding on a highway at rush hour with no base map to guide me.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of the race?
Besides Day 2, all of it was enjoyable and even Day 2 had its moments. I think perhaps beyond the scenery, which in the case of Corsica was beyond beautiful, it’s the weird little interactions you have with people along the way that make a race. For me, it was seeing Matteo and Massimo, the Italian pair who were often just behind or ahead of me, the trail runner who yelled something friendly at me as I passed him and the group of tourists from mainland France who I somehow managed to explain to what I was doing with my race map. It was seeing the media crew, David and Didier who often appear when you’re doing something embarrassing.
What most stood out however was on Day 3, the day I decided to chill the eff out and enjoy the ride, I was climbing a particularly steep mountain out of a particularly unmemorable valley and knowing that I was not going to make CP3 that night. Riding up struggle street with the sun hanging low before sunset, a caravan approached with a driver and passenger riding shotgun. As they got closer, I could see that the passenger was a woman who, with fists raised was cheering me on. I burst into laughter and waved – they waved back confirming she wasn’t cursing this silly cyclist - and then I promptly burst into tears, crying from joy, pain, gratitude and everything in between until I reached the top.
What advice would you give someone thinking about doing an ultra-cycling race?
Start pedaling. Buy a bike and start riding, put a hard goal in the diary, like a race and do everything in your power to make it happen. For me with my first race, that meant putting blinders on with my own training, focusing solely on what I was doing rather than others and blocking out anyone or anything that wasn’t conducive to me finishing the race.
Only you know what you’re capable of. Don’t let others’ self doubt infect your mind and thoughts and really only people who have done these races can speak with authority on them. Also, ask for help… before the race of course. Friends who had done these races - and people who fast became friends - were a valuable source of information and motivation for me.