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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homemade Energy Gel

I found this recipe on the internet:

3 oz brown rice syrup
1 1/2 oz honey
1/2 oz blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

My wife found the brown rice syrup at the health food aisle of our local grocery store, most health food stores should have it. Honey is honey. And I bought a big thing of molasses for $0.45.

A 5 ounce batch works out to about $2 (vs $5-10 for the equivalent gel packs!).

Brown rice syrup is the main ingredient in some of the commercial gels. According to the wikipedia entry, it's made up of:

50% soluble complex carbs
45% maltose
5% glucose

The molasses gives you potassium (about 100mg per ounce). I found the taste too strong to deal with, though, so I scaled it back and use sports drinks to get my potassium.

I've tried it a few times - it's not bad, cheap, and I don't notice any kind of difference in energy from commercial gels.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On the Road (Bike) Again

Now that another Paris to Ancaster is in the books, it's time to transition from the hybrid/MTB to my road bike.

Last year, I had thrown aero bars onto my road bike without much consideration for my set-up. Over the winter it became clear I was nowhere close to a true tri configuration, so I made a bunch of changes.

  • New fast-forward seat post
  • New triathlon-friendly seat
  • Removed spacers
  • Flipped stem
  • Replaced MTB pedals with road pedals
  • Road shoes
  • Seat-mounted water bottles (2 new + 2 existing on frame)
  • New chain
  • New cassette (old was 12-25, new is 12-23)

All of this felt fine on the trainer, but this was the first test on the road.

Fortunately it feels great! The aero bars still freak me out, and it's even worse when your head is close to the spinning tire, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. I was most worried about the balance of the bike now that I'm so far forward, but it felt really stable.

I still have new tires to install and I forgot to remove the visor from my helmet (in the aero position, this makes it hard to see!).

We did about 60k on Saturday in 20C heat but strong winds. I underestimated my fluid requirements, 3 bottles barely got the job done. I'll really need those extra bottle holders when the rides get longer and the heat goes up.

The casette change from 12-25 to 12-23 sounds like nothing, and I have a triple (52/42/30) so I didn't think much of it. But I found myself actually using my granny gear (30) just to maintain a fast cadence on hills that I normally would have blazed through in my 42. I'll get used to it I'm sure, but for now it's a bit annoying.

Oh yeah, and my cleat fell off my shoe. Oops.

But all in all, good news, ready to put in some serious miles.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Preview: Sporting Life 10K

The Sporting Life 10K - over 10,000 people running 10,000 meters. It's one of the few point-to-point 10K races and it's net downhill, making it one of the fastest races in Canada.

The race starts on Yonge Street in Toronto, the longest street in the world, and slices through the heart of the city. After cutting through downtown Toronto, it winds down near the lake at historic Fort York.

Very cool! But no time to enjoy the scenery, I have a personal best to shoot for...

Running downhill

When you run downhill, the feeling you get is that of being out-of-control, as though you're falling. The instinct is to throw on the brakes and fight against the hill. In my experience, that's what most runners seem to do, especially when the hill gets a bit steep.

This is the wrong thing to do. First of all, it can be hard on your muscles in your shins and quads. Second, you're losing precious speed when you could be gaining it.

Instead, lean forward slightly and keep your legs moving. I found a fast cadence (ie. more steps per minute) helps reduce the pounding and combats that falling feeling. Once you find a rhythm, you'll blow by a lot of runners as if they're standing still.

Great Expectations

I haven't done a 10K in awhile, it's actually a distance I'm not terribly familiar with. My dream time is 45:00, I'll try to pace towards that and see where I end up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Race Report: Paris to Ancaster 2009

This was my fourth Paris to Ancaster, and the toughest.

Challenge #1 - The Wind

This is a point to point race, you start in one place and end in another. Very cool, except when there's a strong headwind it's going to be a headwind almost the entire ride... and that was the case yesterday. The open sections were all extremely windy, it was soul-destroying! It took a lot of mental gymnastics to keep going at times.

Challenge #2 - Course Changes

They've added new off-road sections, which makes this race even more challenging than it was before. They're really what gives the race it's unique character - farmer's fields, forrest trails, old rail beds, wet grass, mud slides... something new is being thrown at you at every turn. And they're all joined together by road sections, and just as you get a rhythm going they throw you into some mud.

My Race

I started out near the front of the second wave (of three). Some people really pounded it right from the start, I let myself get passed into the first corner and started to settle in.

The first rail trail was far less congested than I'm used to - being near the front and having fewer people in my wave was a big benefit. I tried to resist the urge to go out too fast, but I lost - I went out too fast. We hit the first off-road section and I was breathing hard and well into the red. Note to myself for 2010 - don't go out so hard!

I nursed my heart rate down through the next few off-road an on-road sections, finally finding a comfortable pace. There was a lot more mud than in other years, which really bogged me down at times, but I kept it going.

The long road sections are usually where I shine, but this year it was a struggle with the wind. I tried to keep my effort reasonable so I wouldn't blow up and mostly succeeded.

Drafting was a problem... in previous years I managed to get behind a good pull and get a free ride, but this year I was the one pulling. At one point I looked back and there were about 15 riders behind me! I tried slowing down assuming someone would hop up and take the lead, but nobody did... bunch of free-loaders. Finally I signalled to the guy behind me to take the lead... he did for awhile which was nice, but it was one of the few times I had a wheel in front of me rather than behind me. I have to learn how to manage that better!

By the time I hit the 1h30 mark, I was starting to feel the early signs of muscle cramps in my legs. This was not something I expected... it killed my race last year, and here I was facing it again. I've done so much training this winter, I thought I was good, but no such luck. I backed off the pace and focused on spinning at a high cadence, hoping to clear the lactic acid.

Then I lost my chain trying to down-shift to my granny gear. When I put my foot down to stop and fix it, my leg completely locked with a cramp. Argh! I managed to get the chain on and get my legs moving, but it was tough...

There are two nasty mud-chutes in the closing kilometers of this race, both of which I walked last year. Despite the massive mud everywhere else, the first chute was actually not bad, I managed to ride most of it. The second one was as bad as ever, I walked/ran down with my bike on my shoulder.

Then the final hill... the lowest point in the course going up to the highest point of the course in the last 2km. It's steep, the "road" is rutted and broken, and when you've been going hard for 2h30 it's a killer. I knew my cramps would get me, so I just focused on low gear spinning and trying to keep my legs moving. I was doing OK until the last couple corners and I just had to stop... I was standing there, both legs locked with cramps and some spectators yelling "go, you're almost there!!!" Umm, yeah, thanks, I know I'm almost friggin' there!!! I managed to walk again, so pushed the bike for a bit then hopped on and rode the last 100m or so to cross the finish.

I'm disappointed - I lost a lot of time to cramps, and I know I had the energy in the tank. I could have had a really smashing time, but two years in a row I've cramped up at this race. And it's only this race, I've never crampted up at a running event, not at a marathon, not a triathlon, not at a century ride! Only this race. I have to figure it out for 2010, because I don't want to see a really good result turn to just a decent result again.


Final Results: 2:50:34 (429/1202, top 36%)

A little slower than last year, but the course changes made it a lot tougher and the wind was brutal. Last year I was barely in the top 50% with a faster time, so I'm really quite happy in that sense!

Cramping My Style

I did some research on cramping, again.

It wasn't electrolytes or dehydration - I was fine on both. I was well fueled, I had energy right to the end, that wasn't the problem.

I wasn't undertrained, I've done more training to this point than I ever have before.

However I believe I was wrongly trained, at least for this kind of race. My focus is on maintaining a steady effort over a long distance, that is the task at hand for Ironman. I have been focusing almost exclusively on this, which is the right thing to do - for Ironman.

But Mountain Biking is different, and I didn't fully appreciate how different. Reading this article, however, it became quite clear. When you are off-road, the effort isn't even, it's hectic. You go hard up a small hill, then you're off completely as you bomb down the other side, then you're hard to get through some mud, then you're easy on some flats, then you're hard up another hill... that intensity and recovery cycle is harder on your muscles than a steady effort. And I believe it is what eventually gave me cramps.

The prescription, according to the article, is "tempo burst intervals". As an example, they suggest riding for 9 minutes at a tempo pace, jumping out of the saddle (in the saddle?) at the 3, 6, and 9 minute mark and bursting for 15s of all-out effort. Repeat that 9-minute set twice, then do 9 more minutes at tempo and stop.

(Click on the link for more work-outs based on this idea).

I'll have to decide in 2010 if this is something I want to target in training, it will depend on how it aligns with my season goals.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ironman Bike Training - How far, how long, how often?

After writing my blog entry on Ironman run training, I figured I'd add an entry like this for each discipline.

Unlike running, the risk of injury biking is fairly minimal. You can push it hard and still walk the next day, so no need to hold back. It also helps that I have a lot of riding under my belt, and have done century rides (100 miles / 160km) twice before and countless 100K rides. 180k isn't going to be easy, but I'm mentally ready for the distance.


I know, it's spring, you forgot winter already... but I had not choice, I had to start training in winter. This meant using a bike trainer.

To combat trainer boredom, I signed up for a 2-hour triathlon spin class since misery loves company. I also used the Spinervals DVDs at home, they help pass the time by putting you through a barrage of different work-outs in each session.


When the snow cleared (mostly), I switched to my hybrid and hit the gravel/mud/trails. For motivation, I signed up for Paris to Ancaster, a mountain bike race that I've done 3 years running. I've managed to get out for a few 2-3 hour rides at pretty solid intensity.

After this (May-August) my plan for the bike is quite simple:
  • Long steady ride weekly, lower intensity, building from 3 hours up to 5-6 hours (including one or two rides of 160-180k)
  • One or two shorter 60-90 minute rides each week at high intensity - typically hills or a sustained effort like a time-trial

There are lots of bike workouts you can do, but personally I can't stand doing intervals... I want to get out there and hammer it without checking my watch.

That's it! Not too complicated, just get out and ride.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Preview: Paris to Ancaster 2009

Description of the race from last year

Race report from 2008

2006 3:54:44 (970th/1096)

2006 was a nightmare - I had no idea what to expect and was overwhelmed by it. It was my first ever race of any kind. I cracked, the race broke me, I'm lucky I finished. All the way home I cursed about what a stupid race it was... then I started to think about what I could have done differently... and a year later I was back.

2007 2:56:21 (632th/1136)

A dramatic improvement! I knew some tricks - pick up your bike rather than rolling it through mud, for example.

2008 2:48:07 (513th/1064)

Another improvement, but not as good as it could have been. I had a great start, felt strong most of the race, but then cracked on the last hill - I had killer cramps that stopped me dead. I managed to get back going and finish, but it cost me a fair amount of time.

2009 ??:??:?? (???th/????)

I want to nail it. I want to finish knowing I gave it everything, that I covered the 60k of mud and gravel as fast I could. My off-season has been great, I got in way more cycling time than I ever did before, and I've felt very strong in my training runs.

The organizers made one change that should help a lot - they've added a third wave to ease course congestion. In previous years it got so ridiculous, where you actually had to wait in line to get through some parts of the course! Instead of almost 1000 riders in my wave, there will now be 400.

To the mud-mobile!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ironman Run Training - How far, how long, how often?

I ran a 30K race last week, so now it's time to stop training like a runner and start training like a triathlete.

Article about Ironman run training by Joel Friel.

For novices training for Ironman, Friel suggests these key runs each week (it's basically the same through the build and base periods):
  • Long run - 2.5h - with walk breaks
  • Hill run - 60-90 mins
  • Brick (Build phase only - 15 mins following long ride)
In the first two cases, he suggests running at an easy LSD pace - this will be around 6:00/km, which puts me at a 25k long run and a 10-15k hill run. For the brick he suggests a "goal effort" pace, which for Ironman is going to be pretty slow... I can't see this varying much from my LSD pace.

Now the jury is out a bit on Friel... some people think he's bang-on, others think he's out to lunch. Typical run training would have you doing longer runs, and having at least some tempo runs mixed in to up the pace a bit.

I'm prone to injuries while running, so while I'm weighing doing some longer runs, I'll likely stay fairly close to what he's suggesting here. I would like to get in at least a few 30K runs (3 hours) to help me be more prepared for the fatigue, as long as I'm doing the walk breaks I'm fairly confident I can do that without injury.

I will almost certainly switch out some of those slow hill runs for tempo runs.

Run, Forrest, Run!