Canadian Climbing, XTERRA Style

As published on Some fun rides in Victoria….

June 20, 2007 — Victoria, British Columbia is known for double-decker buses, afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel and a who’s who of Canadian endurance sport. Part of the reason Victoria is so exceptional for triathlon training is the incredible riding. We have many beautiful rides from 3-7 hours that you can enjoy without pedaling down the same road twice. The only thing Victoria is lacking is an extended climb. You can ride 5-25 minute climbs to your heart’s content but if you want to ride uphill for an hour or more, you need to drive to Courtenay to enjoy the legendary Mt. Washington climb. Here are three of my favorite climbing workouts that I believe make all the difference on race day.

My number one favorite climb is the aforementioned Mount Washington. Located just outside of Courtenay, BC, this is Vancouver Island’s ski paradise and our only summer lift access for mountain biking. The downside of doing this ride is it takes all of two hours to drive to it, which means I have two hours in the car on the way home with screaming quads. But, for some reason, it’s always worth it. When I go alone, I get into Courtenay and park in the closest mall. I hop on my bike to ride the “old route” to the Mt Washington ski area. Since the new highway has been built to the North Island, there is only local traffic.

The road winds through a rural area of town with fields of hay, horses and cows. It is a constant false flat all the way to the base of the mountain. Once you cross the main highway onto the mountain access road you ride a further kilometer or two before you hit the first and meanest pitch of Mt. Washington. It’s about 2-3 km of 18% grade. This is the absolute worst part of the hill. At about 5km a “downhill” section which always is accompanied by a headwind leads you into the next very steep section of the mountain that I like to call the “wall”. It is probably only 800m (you know it’s coming when you see the sand barn) but it’s the steepest section of the climb. Then you will climb at about 5-6% for another 2km, go up another 300m wall of about 8% (which at this point feels like 18%) and you will descend again. You are in the homestretch! The final bit is a nice 6% grade winding past the chairlifts fooling you into thinking you are finished only you are not – you have to go another 2km to actually reach the lodge. Once there, cool beverages and a lot of free ride mountain bikers will greet you. Lately my new fun workout is to descend back to the sand barn and climb again from there. This year I am planning a double date with the mountain – two times up. My best time up the mountain is 57 minutes to date so I invite you to crush it.

My second favorite climbing workout is Goldstream Heights in Victoria. When I just don’t have the extra four hours of travel time for Mt. Washington, this workout will do the trick. Riding from Victoria, it takes just over an hour to reach the turn off to Shawnigan Lake. Turning left, you descend a skinny winding road. Before you reach the bottom of the road there is a new development called Goldstream Heights. Take that left hand turn and turn on the jets! It is somewhere between 11 and 13 minutes (for me) to get to the top of this road. The road is all new asphalt leading to a new housing development. Who knows what percentage, but the great thing about this ride is it’s just long enough to force you into a rhythm, but it changes grade numerous times on the way up to force you into all sorts of climbing positions. I find this one especially tough because you come off a very flat section straight into a windy, steep uphill section. The big gear to small gear transition is tough! Once at the top, admire the view of Shawnigan Lake briefly then ride down and circumnavigate the lake. That was the warm up. The meat of the day is an all out effort from the bottom of Shawnigan Lake Road to the top of Goldstream Heights. With about 22 minutes of hard effort within a four hour ride, these little climbing episodes are perfect.

My last climbing workout is on my mountain bike. I have a group of super-strong mountain bike guys/XTERRA guys who join me for our “Hour of Power”. We have linked together a 6 minute section of climbing with 3 minutes of technical fast descending that we repeat 6-7 times to get our desired workout length. This is a killer. The first part of the ascent is all road climbing but it climbs in steps so your legs power up a section, spin for a second, then power through another section. After about 4 minutes you go into a single track climbing section where you need to hop over log pyramids, roots and fallen trees before the trail levels and you head into the descent. That is the fun part, but you have to be very careful because tricky, superfast single track is hazardous at maximum heart rates. I have hit a tree in this section and I will not be the last person to do so. My lap record to date is 9 minutes flat (in traffic on the descent), a time I fully intend to demolish before the Maui World Championships this year. The key to this workout is even splitting the laps.

So there are three of my favorite rides in Victoria. Mixing in some runs off the bike, particularly after the Hour of Power, and you will be ready for anything on the XTERRA circuit and particularly the Maui World Championships.

Happy training!


Based in Victoria, Canada, Melanie McQuaid is a three-time defending XTERRA world champion. For more information about McQuaid, please visit

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