Katrina Strand likes to be well prepared for races, so the Trans-Provence enduro race was a bit of a departure.
It wasn't anything in the mountain-biking veteran's control, though, as practice sessions aren't allowed as part of the six-day stage race, which took riders from Clamensane to Menton, France. In the 74-rider field, Strand ultimately finished 35th overall, and fifth among women with a total of 3:25:30 in the 24 timed stages. The short timed stages are connected by much longer untimed stretches.
The 300-km-plus trek has over 8,000 metres of climbing and over 15,000 metres of descent. Strand said the longest day was about 10 hours with the shortest clocking in around six hours. Racing took place from Sept. 21 to 26.
It was only the second time Strand had gone into an event blind, and even that was a cross-country event.
"Coming up to a stage and going full-throttle into something you've never seen before is pretty interesting," she said. "What you're capable of doing on instinct alone is pretty incredible. You figure it out.
"We were all moving pretty quickly, and I didn't know when the next corner was going to be coming up."
Strand explained that she took an "eyes-wide-open" approach to the course, especially with a path that isn't particularly well marked.
That was compounded by some difficulty getting a handle on the local terrain. Though Strand had competed in Europe before, she said there was a learning curve that she gradually ascended as the race progressed.
"I'm familiar with the terrain, but it still felt like new terrain for me," she said. "I just got quicker and quicker as the week went on, and I think a lot of that had to do with my fitness level. I was fit and I was strong, so I didn't fatigue like a lot of people did."
The greatest difference was that since the course was designed for both hiking and biking, as opposed to being cycling-specific, there were a major number of switchbacks on the course.
"I'm OK if I don't see another switchback for awhile," she chuckled. "It's really hard to explain how tight they were."
Strand acknowledged the course's looseness was something she was able to account for, as local trails were in a similar state because of this summer's dryness.
In addition to the course itself, Strand faced early trials and tribulations — she suffered one mechanical issue, and she got lost on each of the first two days.
Strand explained there wasn't a specific daily start time for riders, so they could all make their schedules accordingly, picking who they'd like to ride with and how'd they'd like to approach each day.
"It's the epitome of what I love about riding — big, epic adventures, competitions, amazing places, amazing people," Strand said.
Strand planned to race in the 2013 edition of the race, but injuries forced her to bump back a year to the sixth-annual event.
Shortly afterward, Strand also took part in the Enduro World Series race in Finale Ligure, Italy, where she finished 16th out of 31 finishers with a time of 50:11.29. The race was held Oct. 4 and 5.
Strand is also focused on her high-performance program, which she runs through her business, Strand Training. The high-performance conditioning program — with the newly added winter on-bike coaching — is growing quickly. That is in addition to the strength and conditioning coaching, mental training, and nutrition coaching she already offers.
Strand, a Whistler Secondary School mountain bike team coach, has been working with youth for the past decade.
She feels her ongoing work as an athlete have complemented the education she's received to push her forward as a coach.
"Over the years, I've learned a lot about strength conditioning," she said. "My roles as an athlete help as far as mentorship goes, as far as mental training goes, things I learn just by being in competitive situations have taught me."