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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mountain Biking - Joy and Pain

The Joy

There is nothing quite like bombing through a forest on your bike, a bed of fallen leaves beneath your tires. One moment you're in a sparse maple forest, the next you're on a bed of pine needles shadowed by towering spruce trees.

Not only do you get to experience nature, but as a cyclist it's a whole different challenge. Staying upright as you navigate between trees, across sand or mud, over a stump, around tight turns... you figure out how to keep a bike upright very fast, or end up on your butt.

If you attack the trails, you get the adrenaline junkie experience of trees whipping by your head and being just a little bit out of control. Or you can back off a bit, take it easy, and soak up your surroundings.

And the surroundings can be spectacular... especially when the fall colours are at their most brilliant, it's amazing.

The Pain

With the challenge comes the occasional painful moment. I had two this weekend.

First, we ended up on a trail blocked by several downed trees. As we crawled over and under them, I managed to get a few good gashes from dead branches that were sticking out (see picture). No big deal, they clotted and I kept riding, but not for pretty boys!

Second, as we rode down a rather narrow trail, I failed to notice a thick branch at head level... as I went under it, it clipped the top of my helmet, snapping my head back. My neck immediately hurt which made me quite concerned I'd done serious damage... fortunately it felt better within a minute and after a sleep it's fine.

Most of my spills have been at low speed and didn't do any damage, other than to my pride.

But we've had other incidents over the years... a buddy of mine cracked a helmet on a fall, that and I had a pretty good spill at high speed when I hit some sand that knocked the wind out of me. Both were scary, as you realize just how far away any real medical assistance would be. We've been more cautious since, and we're better riders than when we first started.

Joy > Pain

Is it worth it? Absolutely! If you're just starting out, here's some tips:
  • Stay on the main trails ("double track") until you get used to it and get your bike handling skills up to snuff
  • Keep in control - and that really means keep the speeds low, especially downhill. It's easy to get going quick, only to realize too late that there's something in your path.
  • Watch for mud and sand... these can be right smack in the middle of the trail, and it takes practice to be able to navigate through them without taking a spill.
  • Wear a Lid - helmets are absolutely critical while mountain biking, it's suicide to be out there without it.
  • Carry first aid stuff and cel phone - just in case
  • Don't ride alone
And have fun!

Next up... mountain bike skills 101.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good-bye, 2009... Hello, 2010!

My last race of 2009 is in the books, so I figure it's a nice time to reflect a little.


I started the year dreaming about Ironman Canada. I'm ending it still glowing from it.

It was awesome, the greatest experience of my life.

When 2009 started, I had one season of triathlon under my belt. More specifically, I had completed a try-a-tri and a Sprint! So to close out 2009 as an Ironman is a pretty awesome feeling, it represents a year of dedication and training that I couldn't have imagined even a couple short years ago.

Other Stuff

In the spring, I did Around the Bay for the first time, the oldest road race in North America. That was really neat, especially the finish in Copps Coliseum.

I crushed my 10k personal best at the Sporting Life 10K, and went sub-45:00. I had to gut out the finish to get under 45:00, now that was suffering!!!

I set a personal best at the 1/2 marathon in Peterborough in February (then beat it again at the Hamilton 1/2 in November).

I finished my 4th straight Paris to Ancaster, an annual mountain bike race and the first race of any kind I ever did.

My triathlon season was all about Ironman preparation: the Muskoka Long Course in June, the Peterborough 1/2 Swim/Bike and the Belwood Sprint Tri in July. Some success, some failure, lots of lessons to apply at Ironman.

And I finished it all off by doing my first bit of trail running in the fall, building up to the 25k Vulture Bait trail race.


How do you top 2009? You don't. It was a special year, one I doubt I can ever repeat. First time doing anything is special, first Ironman was once-in-a-lifetime.

But I still have things I want to accomplish.
  • Muskoka Ironman 70.3 - I've wanted to do this race since it started, it's local (Ontario) and the course is quickly becoming legendary for its difficulty. This won't be a "I just want to finish" thing, I want to rock it! I plan on doing a lot of work to improve my swim, and I think I have room to improve in the bike/run as well.
  • Full Marathon - I've done one, and as soon as I crossed the finish I wanted to try another one. I didn't want to risk a spring marathon in my Ironman year and I wasn't up for training that much in the fall, so 2010 will be a better year to go for it
  • Trails - I enjoyed the trail running and love mountain biking, so I want to put it together for an adventure race or something along those lines. We're eyeing the Moraine for Life Adventure Race.
I have some other smaller goals, like completing my 5th straight Paris to Ancaster, maybe improving my 1/2 marathon best, etc... but I'll firm those up in more detail as the season unfolds.

2010, bring it on!!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Race Strategy: Take the Shortest Path

"The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line"

I ran a 1/2 marathon over the weekend, part of which took place on a very wide 3-lane highway. I noticed that most of the runners were sticking to the far-right lane, as if they were driving in a car. This put them on the outside of some long sweeping corners.

However when they measure a course, they actually use the shortest path.

How do you figure out the shortest path? Look far ahead to where you're ultimately trying to go and race toward it. This will typically mean making as straight a line as possible from the inside of one corner to the inside of the next.

Of course, you don't want to be cutting people off, so be aware of who is on your right or left... I'm looking at you, Mr. iPod!!!

How much can this save?

The better question is - how much is taking the long way costing you! Every extra step you take is a step away from your goal time, or worse, away from a Boston Qualifier.

The cost depends on the course - it is highest on a wide course or one with many corners, lowest on a narrow straight course. Once you have your mind dialed in to take the shortest path, though, you'll find you naturally gravitate toward it and it's really just "free speed".

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Race Report: Hamilton Road to Hope 1/2 Marathon

The Race

Hamilton Marathon - Half Marathon.

The course is great for a Personal Best, it was mostly flat with a good 3K or so of very fast downhill. Lots of room on the roads near the start, and the wide paved trail it uses at the end.

I have only two complaints:
  • The kilometer markers were all off by 100m, 1K was at 1.1k, 2k was at 2.1k, etc. The end distance seemed correct, though.
  • No sports drink, pop, juice at the finish!? Not even in the lunch tent! I needed sugar, bad, and I had to resort to eating some sour candies I picked up... not good.
Other than that, things seemed well organized. Lots of porta-potties, the buses worked out well for me.

My Race

The Garmin Data
(Elevation is pretty neat! I didn't realize the downhill was in such a short section, felt like longer)

I had a pretty aggressive number in my head, 1:45:00. My PB before this was 1:49:17, but I figured for a bunch of reasons that I could kill that number.

Didn't work out that way...

I started out feeling great, and immediately got on my target 5:00/km pace. A few kilometers in, a buddy from my tri club caught up to me, so we chit-chatted for the first 1/2 of the race. Everything seemed OK.

I noticed my heart rate climbing a bit from the 170's to the 180's around 11k, so I tried to back off just a bit, but kept my eye on that 5:00/km. I still felt OK, like I could carry this to the end.

But my heart rate didn't stop there... climbed through the 180's and by kilometer 15, into the 190's. I wasn't sure what to do, I felt like I should back off, but that would mean kissing my 1:45 good-bye. I stupidly chose to stick to my 5:00/km pace, which I did successfully until kilometer 17k...

... and then the wheels came off. I ran out of gas, tried to take a short walk break to get things under control, but it just didn't help. My 5:00/km pace became 5:36, then 5:22, 5:48, 5:46... and finally, mercifully, the finish line.

Final results: 1:47:43 (271/934 overall, 25/44 M30-34)

A personal best (but a very unsatisfying one!).


My goal, while reasonable, was a bit too aggressive. But I compounded that mistake by not abandoning it early enough. That cost me even more time.

I'm pretty new to heart rate monitoring, but the signs where there - as soon as I hit the 190's I needed to back off. Lesson learned!

Next Up...

Nothing! How weird, I've been training for something for almost a year straight.

I'm going to do a bit of swimming to work on my form, a weekly spin on my bike. I want to take a couple of weeks completely off running to let some lingering aches and pains heal up, then I'll ease back into it.

Base training for 2010 starts January 1st... wh00t! :)