blog banner

blog banner

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Biking in the Snow

I've found myself biking in snow the last few weekends. It's quite an experience, and unlike most other terrain it's very variable.

  • Depth - the deeper the snow, the more you sink in
  • Temperature - a big difference between over and under freezing. When it's under freezing the snow can be powdery and acts a lot like sand. Above freezing, it gets stickier and gives a bit more traction
  • Pack - if other people have packed down the snow, it generally gives a better surface than if you're the first
  • Ice - short of studded tires, not much you can do about ice, other than fall on your ass
My Ride Today

Today I started on a road which had been driven on, so it was packed down pretty nicely. No problem! My cyclocross tires found plenty of traction.

A little further north on the same road, the snow got deeper. This made the traction worse, the bike got squirley and was tough to find traction at times.

Then I hit the trails, where nobody had gone before. It was nearly impassible... I had to walk up hills, and nearly soiled my underwear down them. Very much like biking in deep sand, which might have been OK on my mountain bike, but on the cross bike it was very dicey. (Although I did see a couple of mountain bikers that were abandoning the trails for the road!)

Cross-Country Skiers Don't Love Tire Tracks

They were cordial enough, as they are a fairly Zen crowd... but they really don't like when we take their nice tracks and plow through them with our tires.

These are multi-use trails, so we're all allowed out there. I guess they have to lump it. I tried to not cross their tracks as much as I could, but I was on the edge of control most of the ride so it was unavoidable... sorry!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

MD80 Spy Camera & Bike Videos

Following a hot tip I found on a cycling forum, I picked myself up one of these MD80 spy cameras.

$10 or less on eBay... plus shipping. I had to buy a Micro SD card as well, but all in it was still under $30.

The instructions? Brutal. Some actual quotes from the manual:
  • Whey you charge it, green light and red light will bright simultaneously, of which states are stillness
  • Full to the folder with the use of small gimballed to the whole point of recording/monitoring functions
I tried... but eventually it made more sense to recycle the bloody thing and just fiddle with it!

For the price, the quality is not bad.

Note: the mounting bracket it came with jiggled too much, so I taped it to my handlebars, and didn't aim it very well... it was cold and I was in the middle of the ride, so I'm sure there are better videos to come!

Oh, and I don't know how to set the date. I'm sure it says how in the manual, but it's in Happy Lucky English so ... anyway I'll figure that out!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bleeding Hayes HFX-9 Disc Brakes

I bought myself a "previously enjoyed" mountain bike that has disc brakes.

This is pretty standard now on mountain bikes. The stopping power is pretty awesome, and they aren't sensitive to rain and muck like standard rim brakes. However... with new technology comes new challenges! I inadvertently squeezed the fluid out of one of my brake calipers and had to replace a piston on the other (I broke it).

To get the brake pressure back, you have to do what's called "bleeding". This is simply pumping in new fluid and getting the air out of the system.

What You Need

My brakes are Hayes HFX-9's, so I bought the Hayes Bleed Kit. It's about $20 online.

This great video and the Hayes Bleed Kit Manual got me started, and they're an absolute must before you start!

Rather than go through the whole procedure, let me talk about where I deviated from their instructions.

My Tips
  • When you start squeezing in the fluid, you have to let the bottle suck out the air as it returns back to form. Do this a bunch of times until all the air is out. It also helps to tap the calipers with a wrench to release any air stuck in the caliper.
  • When the bubbles look like they're gone and you think you're finished, apply pressure on your bottle, and sloooowly squeeze the brake. Release, squeeze more fluid in, then repeat. I did it 3 times, until I felt a bit of resistance and all the bubbles were out. This was critical (and NOT in the video!)
  • My first couple of tries, the brakes were squishy and didn't work. Tapping the calipers seemed to help get more air bubbles out, squeezing the brake lever helped... one other trick I saw (and tried) was to re-plug the master cylinder plug before tightening the bleed valve, and squeezing just a bit more fluid in. Try, try again...
  • My bleed valve on one brake was leaking like an S.O.B. when I would squeeze in fluid, and it seemed like air was getting in through it. I removed it entirely, taped it with silicone thread tape, and screwed it back in. That solved the issue, and I had much better success after that.
  • DOT 3 and 4 fluid are interchangeable, and you DON'T need the overpriced Hayes stuff... go to any autoparts store and you can get a liter of DOT 3 for like $10. It'll last you forever.
Have fun... and if you get yourself in over your head, just go to a bike store! $20 a brake and you're good to go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

DNS... ouch!

Yup, I got a DNS. Did not Start.

I signed up for a 10 mile race in Whitby... mostly to keep me motivated through the dreary fall months.

The day before the race, I was doing some plumbing repair. Long story short, I burned my hand pretty badly. Welcome to Plumbing Amateur Hour, population: me!

Ah well, if there's any time of year to miss a race it's now. I'm far from peak form and am pretty well settled into the off-season. Oh sure, I took on a 90km bike ride last week, but it was more just for fun than anything serious! (This is the way endurance addicts relax... LOL)

Next race: Peterborough 1/2 marathon, late February. I'll start run training in earnest mid-December, bike training first week of January (on the trainer). Until then, just poking out when I feel like it for as long as I feel like it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Victoria Rail Trail (Lindsay to Haliburton, Ontario)

The Victoria Rail Trail is an abandoned railway which has been transformed into a 90km recreational trail.

The main section runs from Lindsay to Haliburton along the former Victoria Railway right-of-way. There is another southern section that runs from Lindsay down to Bethany.

Along the way the trail crosses old railway trestles, goes by abandoned stations, and there's even a model railway museum in Kinmount. It's neat stuff if you are a train geek!

As a cycling challenge, it's not especially difficult - the trails are mostly hard-packed gravel, and the hills are all gradual. The distance is long, and much of it is far removed from civilization (plan for emergencies wisely!). It's not suitable for road bikes, but anything else could get the job done.

Ken Brown has put up some details and pictures on his web site.

I have done everything from Bethany up to Kinmount. I suspect the most interesting sections are further north, so next year... to Haliburton!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Uxbridge and Durham Trails

I found this awesome map of trails in the Uxbridge area:

Shows parts of Durham Forest, and how they connect to many other trails and areas, including parts of the Oak Ridges Moraine Trail and the Trans Canada Trail.

Speaking of the Trans Canada Trail, here are some Durham-area maps:

We rode the Greenwood section and the parts to the north of it over the weekend. If you plan to try Greenwood, avoid the northwest corner like the plague... leash-free area!

For more specific maps of Durham Forest, you can't get much better than Mike's Maps... especially if you're on a bike.

Have fun!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New York Marathon

Today is the New York Marathon.

It looks amazing... running through all 5 boroughs of NYC, with tens of thousands of people.

And in 2011, I will be there! Can't wait.

Three ways to get in:
  1. Be ridiculously fast and qualify
  2. Buy an over-price tour package
  3. Enter the lottery and pray... and if you lose 3 times in a row (which I have), you get a guaranteed entry in year 4!
So if you're not that fast and cheap (like me!) then you enter the lottery and 3 years later... you're in! I have my 3 strikes in the lottery, so I'm guaranteed for 2011. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Things Seen on Today's Ride

Hit the cyclocross bike and went out on a ride.
  • Snow... stupid weatherman said "sunny" and +6C
  • Forest... fallen leaves, so nice
  • Sand, gravel, rocks, mud... which my cross bike hammered through no problem
  • Swamp... which I got stuck in and put my foot down into, yuck!
  • Live Action Role Playing... where do I start with this one? People dressed up as fantasy characters running through the woods waving their swords. I only know it was called "Live Action Role Playing" because they had a sign indicating that "Live Action Role Playing" was in progress and to keep out (which we of course rode right past, at our peril!)
Did I mention I love my cyclocross bike? I love my cyclocross bike. It can go everywhere, and it's fast and awesome. I love it.

The End!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Durham Forest - Two Very Cool Spots

This post is more for me so I don't forget where these are... but if I think they are cool, you might too!

When I say "Durham Forest" I am refering to the full set of properties, including Walker's Woods and Glen Major... technically they are separate.

Cool to See: Spooky Pine Forest

So there are a few pine sections along these trails, but this one is by far the coolest.

It is in the East Duffins Headwaters trails. Specifically, the Brock Tract. This is a much quieter and less used part of the forest.

How to get there:
  • Hit the Brock Tract (link to the map - hopefully this works forever, but they like to re-organize the site now and then and break it on me)
  • The pine forest is between signposts 43 and 45, along the south section of trail. I've had trouble finding it from 43, so the best bet is to ride to 45 and go south.

It's haunting... the first time we rode into it we literally stopped in our tracks just to absorb it.

Cool to Ride: Snakes and Ladders

This one is cool because it's so fun to ride.

I'm not quite sure how to get back to this one, I think it was near signpost 12 on this map. We stumbled across it in the Walkers Wood section, there was a single track sign that someone had written "Snake and Ladders" on. We hit it last year, too, but it didn't have a sign.

All I know is that it's crazy cool, you are either turning or ... well you're always turning. Left, right, left, right, between trees, up little hills, down little hills. It's challenging but in a fun way, you're on your bike pedaling, not on your feet trudging through stuff.

There is also some neat stuff between posts 19 and 18, which I think is part of Glen Major. South of the fence... banked corners and fast.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hello, off-season

Last big race of the year in the books, time to kick back, relax, and try to avoid getting fat!

What to do? I'm an addict, so I won't stop completely (not even close) but I will cut back and have virtually no structure from now until late December.


The road bike is parked, and has been for a few weeks already. This is the season to get dirty, hit the trails, have fun.

Mountain biking on the weekend for as long as I feel like going out (usually around 2 hours), cyclocross during the week for an hour or so... and that's about it.

That's not the same as mailing it in... I still go hard at times. When I feel like it. No pressure, just fun.

Once the snow falls, the indoor trainer will come out, but nothing serious until January.


I'm going to maintain a weekly long run of 15km, just so I don't totally lose my running base.

For fun, I introduce trails. Honestly, I never really dropped trail running though the season, it's something I like to sprinkle in there now and then to keep things interesting and surprise my muscles a little.

Overall mileage = who cares! Run when it strikes me.


I haven't been in the pool since my last triathlon in September... I'm re-evaluating this in general, I don't really enjoy swim workouts all that much, so it's on the back burner until I feel the urge. I'll probably get out there again soon just to see where I'm at, but won't be swim training until I decide what triathlons - if any - I will be doing for 2011.

2011 Planning... Hello, New York!

I love looking forward to the next season... so many new challenges around the corner and exciting events. Now that I have a solid endurance base, there is really nothing that intimidates me all that much, so the sky is the limit! Can't wait.

The highlight will almost certainly be the New York Marathon. I have a guaranteed entry for 2011.

Other than that, I see 2011 as being more bike-heavy than 2010, likely more off-road-heavy, and triathlon light. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Toronto Marathon

The Race

Toronto Goodlife Marathon.

I love this race... it's a fantastic showcase for the city. It starts on Yonge Street, heads over to Casa Loma, then down the Rosedale Valley, through St. Lawrence Market, the financial district, down to the waterfront for a long stretch along Lake Ontario, and then finally up University Avenue to finish at Queen's Park! Whew!

42.2km is Hard

Really, it is. I've done a lot of endurance events now, some taking much longer than the 3.5-4 hours a marathon takes, but running a full marathon beats you up and saps your energy in ways you can't believe.

My Race

I started on my pace, which was planned to be slower than my goal pace. For some reason my heart rate was higher at this pace than it had been in training, right from the start. I felt good, it felt easy, but my heart rate was high. I have no explanation for this, and I don't know for certain if this played a role in the wheels coming off later.

At about 5km, the weirdest thing happened. John Tory ran across the street directly in front of me, in a suit. OK maybe that isn't the weirdest thing, but it was pretty bloody unexpected! If it was any later in the race, I'd have chalked it up to hallucination.

I felt pretty good up to 10km, and then the downhill started. It still felt easy and fun, everything was clicking, legs moving well.

The Second Half (aka "Where it gets hard")

We hit halfway and the work began. I started feeling a bit sluggish, and keeping my target pace got a bit tougher.

From 22km to about 31km we ran into this strong headwind. I'm no marathon expert, but it seems to me this is probably the worst point in the race for this... it's when you really want to be settled into a maintainable pace, not fighting a soul-destroying wind!

The Last 10K (aka "Where it gets excruciating")

When we turned around at 31km, I knew 3:35 was gone. I felt tired. Not just tired, but like my legs weren't fluid anymore, they were stiff and took more energy to move. I think this is what separates shorter distances from the marathon, that crushing fatigue. I can get away with less running and making it up with lots of biking on short stuff, but for the marathon you really need those running miles, and I didn't have them this year.

I tried to find a pace I could hold to the end... settled on 5:30/km (vs the 5:08/km I had been planning to target), and for awhile I kept this up. But at 36km even this became too difficult... I stopped looking at my pace and just focused on giving whatever I could to keeping going, fighting the urge to walk. At 39km the course is slightly uphill to the finish... although it didn't feel very slight! I kept it going as best as I could, now hitting 6:00/km, and finished.


Final time: 3:44:06 (540/1991 overall, 64/205 of M35-39)

The finisher's medal is HUGE! After running 42.2km, it felt like 100 pounds around my neck, yikes!

Post-Race Navel Gazing

It's a personal best for me by over 13 minutes, which is satisfying. But that was two years ago, and I've been crushing my times in other distances from that era... I really expected more. Perhaps foolishly.

Timing (adjusted to chip):
  • First 21.1km - 1:46:59 (5:04/km)
  • Last 21.1km - 1:57:07 (5:33/km)
  • First 32km - 2:43:52 (5:07/km)
  • Last 10km - 1:00:13 (6:01/km)

So yeah... big drop off at the end.

It seems to come down to this: up to the half marathon, I can get away with 2-3 runs a week (one long, one tempo, one other) and enough of the cycling fitness carries over to still be able to improve and do well. But for the full marathon, there is a wall you can't get over without the big running mileage. All the cycling in the world won't make your legs efficient when that fatigue sets in.

I'm still not sure why my heart rate was so high early in this race, it could also be a factor. I felt OK, though, so not sure why that was or what role it played.

Done! Next marathon is likely the New York Marathon in November of 2011. That will be more of an "enjoying the scenery" marathon for me, a tourist activity rather than being out there to set a personal best. But we'll see!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Race Preview: Toronto Marathon

The Race

Toronto Goodlife Fitness Marathon.

This is the last time this race will be run in the fall, as it moves to spring starting in 2011. The last chance to run the Rosedale Valley with full fall colours!

Me and the Marathon

I did this race in 2008, my one and only marathon attempt (not counting the marathon at Ironman!).

It was my second year of running. My goal was to finish, I came in just under 4:00 (3:56:42 to be exact!) with a horribly positive split and some very tough closing kilometers. I learned a lot from that experience - 42.2km of running is something you need to treat with respect.

I will hit the start line this year more than 10 pounds lighter and with thousands of kilometers of running (and an Ironman!) under my belt since the last attempt.


I'm a very analytical person, and my last experienced made me very hesitant to merely go by feel... so I came up with this:

I have both pace and HR targets. Basically I will try to hit the pace I've chosen, only altering it faster or slower if I find I'm outside of the Heart Rate zone I've set.

This race is net downhill, all in the first half, and last time I let myself get completely carried away by this. I ended up going too fast, and by 35km I was in full blow-up panic mode. I've picked a slightly faster pace for the downhill section (10.5-17km) and will only go faster if my HR is very low.

So my goal is 3:35:44... how's that for specific? It's in the ballpark of where McMillan's Running Calculator tells me I should be (3:33:22), based on my half time from May. Anything sub-3:40 will be satisfying, the closer to 3:30 the more I'll start getting delusions about qualifying for Boston someday!


I'll bring a couple of gels and will rely on the course Gatorade/water. Target is 250 calories per hour, but hard to tell with those little cups. Basically it comes down to "what I can stomach".

One addition to my arsenal - Endurolytes. I first tried these at the Ironman Muskoka 70.3, and it really seemed to help fight off any cramping. I've had trouble with cramping before, so it can't hurt.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Mountain Biking - Joy... and Pain

Too much pain.

A buddy and I went out yesterday, it was an awesome day for it - a bit cool, getting into autumn, some of the trees starting to turn their colours.

Crash #1 came early on - I was trying to get my MTB feel back and somehow I managed to hit my headset (the part that holds the handlebars in the middle) with my groin. Ouch. I just slipped forward off my seat and whack... that stunned me for a bit, but no long-term damage.

This was followed by two hours of adventure, lots of single-track, found new trails we hadn't been on (which, given the number of hours we've spent at Durham Forest is pretty amazing!). Really beautiful and fun.

After 2 hours of riding we were ready to call it quits. On the way back to the parking lot, there is a quick little single track you can take... so of course I call out that we should take it.

And that brought on Crash #2... maybe two minutes away from the car!

I was going along pretty well, and suddenly I was flying over my handlebars and smack into the ground. Ouch!!! My chest and back immediately hurt, I was a bit winded, so just laid there for a little and took some deep breaths. When I finally got myself back up, I looked at what I'd hit - it was a big stump, about 6" high, that had been hiding behind some foliage. I didn't see it at all, didn't react to it, didn't brake, just smoked it. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, there was a safe line around the stump I could have taken... not quite sure. I just know it HURT.

So here I sit, the next morning, with some bruised ribs and soreness. I'm too old for bike wipe-outs!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Race Report: Durham Cyclo-Cross Classic

The Race

I talked about it in more detail in my preview, but it's a Cyclocross race here in Durham, Ontario.

This was my first ever cross race, so I'm a total newbie. I bought my bike 3 weeks ago! So I wasn't there looking for any kind of special result, just experience and fun.

The race consisted of 40 minutes of laps around a conservation area. The terrain is very mixed, there's a bit of everything - forest trail, gravel, sand, wood chips, asphalt, grass... even a rocky creek bed. One steep climb and one steep descent, the rest was mostly flat.

My Race

My age group started first out of our race.

I had a tentative start, as my goal was basically not to be in anyone's way! There were two other groups starting behind us, some of whom had some pretty fast people, and I didn't want to mess their race up.

The climb went OK, I had practiced this a few times before the race. It's steep, but I managed to get up it every lap. By the last lap, my heart rate was shooting through the roof...

The barrier didn't go so well! I hadn't practiced this at all, so I was very clunky. Some guys just attack it, and in one smooth motion swing off the bike, run, hop the barrier, and pop right back on... it's incredible to watch, and obviously takes a fair bit of practice to perfect! I, on the other hand, would grind to a stop, stumble off, clammer over the barrier, then fumbled to get clicked back into my pedals. Lost a lot of time here.

The steep descent was tough - very deep sand. In the early laps I had a lot of trouble with it, and was really quite terrified! But by the end I was riding down pretty well, staying on the bike and had learned a few tricks (don't brake through the deep stuff!!!). Sand is always hard, but on the narrow tires of cyclocross it's just that much tougher.

I feel like I did OK through the windy sections, mostly following the lines that had formed in the grass from previous riders.

The creek bed was tricky - I got this wrong every lap except my last one. You had a steep short chute to get down to it, then a sharp left turn, a rutted hole type thing, then a narrow tricky trail leading back to the main trail. I kept getting at least one thing wrong, and once you're off it's tough to get the rhythm back.

All in all, I learned that I have a lot of practicing to go before I can do a Cyclocross race justice! Fully expected. Can't wait to try this again... in 2011.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Race Preview: Durham Cyclo-Cross Classic

What is it?

A Cyclocross Race at Heber Downs Conservation Area in Whitby, Ontario.

This is very close to my house, so I took a spin over there yesterday. As luck would have it, the race organizer was there too, and he directed me to where the course was and what markings to look for! I did a few laps to get a feel for things.

The course starts in a parking lot, then immediately hits a hill that can better be described as a 10 foot wall... dismount for me! Then we go across a grassy area, a bridge, and immediately up a very steep hill. Several laps of that hill are going to make the quads burn, it's a tough one.

At the top of the hill there is an old campground road, which takes us over to a wood chipped trail for a bit. Then it's a steep and sandy descent, with a bunch of hairpin turns and trees... it took me 3 laps just to get comfortable enough to do it without unclipping in terror.

Next comes another grass section, which you leave briefly for a rocky creek bed, only to resurface at the parking lot where it all began.

Very cool course, a lot of varied terrain and challenges, I can't wait!

There are also supposed to be some obstacles on course, not sure where they will be placed.

My Goal

I've only owned my Cyclocross bike for a few weeks, and this was my 3rd ride on it... so my goals are very conservative:
  1. Not crash
  2. Not cause other people to crash
  3. Get cyclocross race experience
I've done a fair bit of off-road riding on my hybrid, and raced Paris to Ancaster 5 years in a row now... but being on the cross bike is a much different feel. I just don't have the confidence yet to really throw the bike around, so I won't be fast. Just out for fun and experience!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Race Report: Ironman Muskoka 70.3

The Quick Version

I broke my goal and went sub-6:00, had a horrible swim, solid bike and awesome run. The course is hard and made me very sore. The End.


Not enough for 'ya? Then read on...

The Race

It's a real gem. Deerhurst is lovely, and the scenery around here is some of the best Ontario has to offer. Race organization was second to none, just a great time.


I have been dreading this swim, and my performance lived up to my dread.

It is not a difficult swim course, basically three turns. Lake is calm and the current is weak to non-existent. A competent swimmer should be able to set a fast time.

But I haven't been hitting the pool nearly enough - once a week more often than not. You can't expect to do well over 2000m when you haven't put in the time, and I haven't. So I got what I deserved, a dismal 51:07 swim.

The only positive was that I kept my cool and left the water feeling not too horrible - I didn't fight the water, just slowly and calmly swam. This paid off later.

Swim Result: 51:07 (2:41/100m) 808/863 overall, 129/133 Men 35-39

Transition 1 (Swim to Bike)

I had a slow transition, but most of that time was getting from the water to transition - 300m straight uphill! Crazy.


This bike course is legendary for being very difficult and hilly. Everyone I know who has ever done it tells tales of quad-busting horror... I was braced for a long and painful ride.

To my surprise, it wasn't that bad. The worst part is the stretch coming in and out of transition, which you do once in each directly (about 8km each way). After that, there are hills - some steep and horrible - but there are also long stretches of high-speed high-gear spinning. The last 30km or so are rolling and occasionally quite tough, but I felt really good the whole ride.

I do a fair bit of off-road stuff (mountain biking and now cyclocross) so I'm probably a bit more prepared mentally and physically for that cycle of hard/recover/hard/recover. It just felt like a very good and fun bike ride, I overtook a few people in my age group who got ahead of me during the swim.

Bike Result: 3:06:07 (30.3km/h) 323/863overall, 60/133 Men 35-39

Transition 2 (Bike to Run)

I racked my bike in the wrong spot at first... once I got that sorted out it was quick and unremarkable.


The run course is exactly as hard as people said it was... harder, maybe. It was so hilly, and this time truly start to finish. There are some very steep sections, too, along this recreational trail and on some of the roads. And once again they save the worst for the start and end of the run!

I decided not to focus on pace, since the hills were so unrelenting it was completely meaningless. I just focused on keeping my heart rate around 160bpm, if it went too much higher I'd back off. This seemed to work out really well, as I felt strong pretty much start to finish. I walked a few of the steeper hills in the 2nd half, but more to conserve energy than out of necessity.

During my run, Lisa Bentley (past Ironman Champion and race organizer) pulled up on her bike and was wishing everyone well. Everyone greeted her with a "hi Lisa!" as if they'd known her their whole life. She's just that kind of person, always so friendly and smiling, that you feel instant comfort meeting her. Great ambassador for the sport!

Run Result: 1:52:26 (5:19/km) 277/863overall, 45/133 Men 35-39

Overall Result: 5:57:04 - 373/863 overall, 68/133 Men 35-39

Post-Race Navel-gazing

When I started this sport, biking was my strength, running was something I was working on, and I was a bad swimmer.

I still feel at home on the bike, but my running has come a long, long way. They're pretty much equal disciplines for me now.

I have room to improve on the bike, maybe more focus on training rather than just goofing around... nah, sounds like work! This is supposed to be FUN, right???

Swimming - I think I will take a few months off, or at least limit my swimming to one-offs until I get the desire back. I don't find I look forward to the pool, and while I never miss a chance to run or bike, I never miss an excuse not to swim... that's either got to change or I'll have to become a duathlete!

All in all, a fantastic event and I'm pleased with the result. I plan to do this again someday.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Race Preview: Ironman Muskoka 70.3

Muskoka 70.3

The race site: Deerhurst Resort. Beautiful Muskoka, Ontario.

Ironman 70.3 vs Half Iron Distance

An Ironman 70.3 is exactly half the distance of a full Ironman: 1900m swim, 90km bike (94km at Muskoka!) and a 21.1k run.

So before I arrived here, I figured this would be a lot like the other half Ironman triathlons out there.


What's the difference, other than the fact that it cost me twice as much?

For one, as you walk around you see big triathlon stars like Craig Alexander wandering around with his bike. Lisa Bentley is one of the organizers, she's here too. And there's clearly a lot of out-of-province and out-of-country competitors you just don't get at the other triathlons. Prize money and Championship spots are on the line, so the big guns show up.

Most of the athletes are staying on-site, rather than driving up the morning of the race. It has an "athlete's village" feel to it, fancy bikes and skinny people in lycra as far as the eye can see. It's the first time in a long time that I feel like the fat guy!

There is just a vibe here that is very exciting - not quite Ironman, so let's call it an Ironman-lite feeling.

The Race

1900m swim in a nice peaceful lake, followed by 94km of torture on the bike and 21.1km of torture on the run.

It's not the distances that inflict the torture, it's the terrain. It is crazy hilly here. There are no big mountain passes, just relentless hills that you're either going up or down the entire race. Some are rollers, some are long climbs that take several minutes to get up, but it all adds up to one heck of a challenge.

My Goals

I am not really ready for a 1900m swim... I have not been in the pool much this year, so it's going to just be a matter of surviving the swim and then trying to make up ground the rest of the race.

You don't lose a lot of time with a bad swim - maybe 5 or 10 minutes over a race that will take me around 6 hours. But a bad swim leaves me panting and in bad shape for the bike, as I found out at the last race! So I am going to try my best to control my effort and stay as fresh as I can, even at the expense of a few minutes.

Overall I would like to be in that 6 hour ballpark. Under 6 would be fantastic, slightly over would be OK too. I'm excited to see how well I can run tomorrow, conditions should be cooler (possibly wet) and that should make a real difference for me.

Give 'er!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cyclocross - the first ride

I love it.

I can't remember having this much fun on a bike... hammering through a forest trail in a road position (down in the drops) is just an amazing thrill.

In general it feels like a road bike - same type of handlebars means same kinds of positions and similar feel.

But then you can hit a trail, or gravel, and it just floats through as if I were on my hybrid. No shocks meant full power from the pedals to the wheels, it's got a great solid feel.

  • Sand - thinner tires + narrower handlebars = tricky
  • Brakes - I don't know if they're just new or this is status quo, but I had to really squeeze to get the bike stopped, especially downhill
  • Gearing - this bike has a double on the front, which on some of the steep trail hills will be a challenge (my hybrid has a triple). I'm used to spinning, now I have to learn to spin a low but even cadence uphill
  • Faster than the hybrid - no shocks means all the power at the pedal gets to the rear wheel, and the position is much more aero
  • Stronger than the road bike - takes the wider tires with no fear of puncture, it's an off-road machine that can deal competently with on-road
  • Great feel - I could really feel what was under me and how the bike was reacting to what was under me. Maybe this is the lack of shocks, but I felt very confident even when I got moving fast!
I'm going to be riding this bike a lot... off-season and on! It's just too much fun not to, my new favourite.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Ever since I heard about cyclocross bikes, I wanted one!

The Sport

Cyclocross is an odd bird in the cycling world. The races take place in the fall (in North America, later in Europe), and consist of several laps around a marked course. There are usually man-made obstacles requiring you to pop on and off your bike and tight turns to test your bike handling skills.

The Bikes

My new bike:

The Kona Jake the Snake. I'm really excited, can't wait to get on it and put it through it's paces!

It's basically a hefty road bikes. Wider tires, slightly wider handlebars for control, geometry a bit more suited toward handling rather than optimal aero position, and gearing focused more toward quick starts and stops rather than pushing big gears.

What I Will Do With This Bike

  • Ride it! I have a lot of gravel roads and trails around my house, which usually I've ridden on my hybrid. But this bike is much better suited toward all but true mountain biking... it opens up a lot of during-season training options, rather than simply sticking to asphault on my road bike I can hit trails and give myself some different challenges.
  • Race it! I have done Paris to Ancaster 5 years in a row, but the cyclocross bike is the ideal tool for the job. Can't wait to do that course justice!
  • Cyclocross Races? Maybe... I'm not sure if my bike handling is quite up to snuff, but I'll probably try enter as a beginner sometime. We'll see!
  • Love it! I got into cycling to lose weight, but in the process fell in love with riding. This bike is going to be fun, a new adventure, and I can't wait!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ride Report: Ride 4 United Way Century Ride (+40k!)

The Ride

Well organized, very well marked course, friendly volunteers and organizers, great swag, great after-ride food... it was really well done.

The Course

Challenging. If you're just trying to cross 160km off your list, this isn't the ride for you (unless you're an awesome climber!). But if you've done it and are looking for a great challenge? Go for it! It's pretty wicked.

I'm not much of a climber, so this one was very tough. Lots of 10%+ grade hills, some very long (the highlight being the 12% "Heartbreak Hill"). It smacked me around, even with the triple chainring.

My Ride

I decided to make this a 200km instead of 160km, not realizing just how challenging the course was. I did it, but it wasn't easy!

I originally planned to do 35km before the ride, register, then tool around for 5km before the start. But on my way there, one of the roads I planned to use was under construction, so I ended up doing all 40km before the ride. Worked out well, got there in plenty of time, had a little breakfast and was ready to roll!

The first 50km went by pretty fast - I was mostly riding in larger packs. At first it was about 50 people, but by the rest stop I was down to a group of about 6. We had dropped a bunch on the rollers - I don't know what it is about these things but it seems like few people know how to carry downhill momentum onto the next uphill very well.

That's about where the fun ended for me, as from there on there were a lot of steep hills, and I just couldn't keep up. It was my turn to be dropped, and from there on I was mostly by myself, picking up the odd small group here and there.

At 80km (120km for me!) disaster... I missed the rest stop. They had signs for the 100km and 160km course diversions, but I didn't realize that was also the rest stop. I should have read the map better, or listened to the volunteer who I couldn't quite hear due to blowing by too fast... by the time I realized it I was 5km up the road with 3 nearly empty bottles and 25 brutally hilly hot kilometers to the next water.

Worse still? The huge hill challenge was on this stretch, Heartbreak Hill.

I suffered, barely limping into the water station, only to find that it was just that - a water station. No Gatorade, no food, just water. Ack! 15km to calories. So all told, I did about 40km of the hottest and hilliest part of the course without consuming a calorie. The only saving grace was that I had Nuun tablets with me, so at least my electrolytes were replenished.

By the time I got to the food stop, my heart rate was way down and I was just turning the pedals with nothing to give. I scarfed down as much as my stomach would take - 2 bananas, 2 granola bars, a bunch of Gatorade, some orange slices - and didn't puke! Awesome. Filled my bottles, and got back out there.

The last 30km were mercifully quite a bit easier, a few hills but nothing compared to the rest of the course. I found myself getting stronger as my body absorbed the much-needed fuel, and finished strong with a smile on my face.


I'm happy to cross this one off my list. I can't see myself doing more than 200km in a single day, but multi-day rides are possible (ie. the Tour for Kids, 2 or 4 days of 200km/day). Ultimately I wasn't quite well enough trained to do this course justice and mucking up the nutrition made it hurt! Live and learn.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ride Preview: Ride 4 United Way Century Ride (+40k!)

The Ride

Ride 4 United Way - a 160km organized ride, touring mostly through rural areas of Durham Region.

I have not done this event before, but it looks like a typical supported century ride. Unique features include a hill climbing challenge (chip timed, 12% grade, whoooah nelly!).

I see your 160km and raise you 40km!

I have done 160km before a few times, twice in organized century rides and twice on my own while training for Ironman. I also did 180km as part of Ironman, with two mountain climbs en route... so as a friend of mine correctly pointed out, the next logical distance is 200km!

I plan to ride a 35km route from my house to the start, register, then do an additional 5km before the official start. That will give me 200km for the day and a new personal longest ride distance (with the help of some serious drafting, I hope!)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Race Report: Bill Harper 5k

The good news : I came in sub-20:00... 19:48.

The bad news is the course was 250m short! I confirmed this on 3 GPS devices, and I knew all race my pace wasn't good enough for a real sub-20. So I can't count this one... would have likely been around 20:40-ish with the extra 250m.

I had a great time, though, a bunch of my friends were there including two doing their first-ever races. All met or beat their goals, lunch and a T-shirt were included, lots of prizes, all for $10! Best deal in town.

Conditions weren't great, the rain mostly stayed away during the race but the air was thick with humidity.

My splits:
4:25 (ouch)
3:02 (not a full km - pace was 4:17/km)

I would have been better pacing to a 4:10-4:15/km at the start and hopefully speeding up, but that would mean conceding that I couldn't run sub-20. Someday I'll get it!

My experiment with Tylenol was a bust, I felt just as much pain as the last 5k and my pacing was almost identical. Fail.

Unfortunately this is the last year for this race, they are retiring it. Kudos to the organizers, it's been fantastic for years and I've appreciated all their hard work to pull off such a nice race.

Next up: Century Ride! Ride 4 United Way, 160km.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whacky Wonderful Weight

Get out of bed, hit the scale, write down the number.

This has been my routine for a few years now.

The result is a weight history going back to January, 2008 (194.6 pounds). I can tell you exactly what I weighed the mornning of the half marathon I did that Febuary (195.8 pounds) or on my birthday in 2009 (187.6).

The highest number? 197.8. April 18th, 2008... almost 40 pounds down on my true all-time high, but still a big number. The lowest? 172.6. March 2010.

One thing I have learned is not to trust a one-day number.

This last week is a great example, from Friday to today:


Now there is no way I lost 7 pounds in 6 days... not of real human fat! I biked 100k, ran 30k+6k, and watched what I ate. Optimistically, that's about 6000 calories burned - which represents about 2 pounds of fat loss.

Not 7 pounds!

So what is going on? A lot of things... that 181.6 number is artificially high because the day before was my anniversary and we ate (and drank) without restraint.

The 174.8 number is artificially low because I did my 30k run yesterday at night, then went to bed without eating all that much. I depleted my glycogen stores, which hold a lot of water weight, and then went to sleep. The result - instant pretend weight loss! I should patent this... "Lose 7 pounds in 5 days!"

The bottom line is that the number on the scale is just one piece of information to help track your health. There needs to be some context to make it meaningful, otherwise it's easy to jump to wrong conclusions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Race Preview: Bill Harper 5k

5K race for $10! Can't beat that. And it's on the lovely Toronto Islands.

Race web site

I did this race in 2008, it was a hoot, so I'm back for another try. It's a nice fast 5k course as it's pancake flat.

Sub-20:00... is it there?

At my last 5k in July, I managed a 20:34 finish, a personal best... tantalizingly close to the sub-20 mark.

I've done little since to really improve my 5k pace, as I'm focusing mostly on longer stuff leading up to the Muskoka 70.3 and a fall marathon. You never can tell, though, if conditions are perfect and I feel really good, it could be there for me.

My plan is to start at a 4:05-4:10/km pace and speed up from there if I fell it's in me. If not, then I'll try coast in sub-21 and leave sub-20 as a goal for next year.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cycling Back-to-Back Days

I successfully rode 211.6km in 2 days as planned. It was surprisingly easy!

The Tour de France is really what inspired me to try it - the guys go hard one day, then get back on their bike and do it all again the next. I had never ridden long two days in a row, so figured I would see what it was like.

Sunday: (106.8 km)
Monday: (105.0 km)

The keys to going back-to-back:
  • Stay out of the red - keep the power smooth and steady, no big bursts
  • Hydrate - I drank around 3 liters of Gatorade each day (just under 1 liter/hour)
  • Calories on the bike - Gatorade, bananas... I even ate sour soothers (which I don't really suggest, but mmm!!!).
  • Calories off the bike - Right after the first day, I made sure I had a big glass of chocolate milk and a bunch of carby snacks. The rest of the day looked pretty much like the day before a long race, lots of small carby snacks and carb-heavy lunch/dinner. I also made sure to re-hydrate by drinking a lot of water.
My legs were a big sluggish getting going this morning, but within a few kilometers they loosened up. By the last hour, fatigue had settled in and I was struggling a bit for pace, but nothing too serious.

All in all, a success!

Next up, century ride. This will be my 5th 160km (6th if you include the 180k ride at Ironman!), so looking forward to tackling the big distance again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

211.6 in 2 challenge

The plan

Bike 211.6 km over 2 days


Because I will be on vacation and have the time to do it.

What's so special about 211.6?

The route I like is 105.8km long, double it is 211.6km. I'm nothing if not practical.

Don't you want to take a different route each day?

No. Stop asking questions.

Good Luck!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Race Report: Gravenhurst Olympic Triathlon

One word: Ouch.

The Race

Gravenhurst Olympic Triathlon (Part of the MultiSport Canada Triathlon Series)


The race itself was great, I would do it again. They use a Muskoka Steamship to transport everyone out into the lake, then you jump out and line up in the water. Very neat!

Organization was stellar as usual. My only beef was the traffic during the bike - it was really bad at times, lots of frustrated and incompetent motorists. Not sure if they can fix that, but it was worse than any other race I've been part of.

My Swim... Buoy that was hard

It started so well! The steamship blew its whistle to signal the start, and I immediately got into a nice rhythm. In fact, I can't remember ever being that comfortable in open water, I felt smooth and fast. I got to the first buoy at 500m feeling very strong, surrounded by blue caps from my wave. I was delighted!

And then... disaster. The sun was right in our eyes, and I could not for the life of me see the next buoy. I started to follow other people who I assumed could see the buoys.

They couldn't.

So at some point, I see a canoe pull up next to the few of us and two girls are frantically trying to get our attention... I pop up and she says "you're going the wrong way!". I look and finally see a big orange buoy between the island and the shore (which I had mistaken for the island). Sigh! I don't know how much extra swimming I did, but it was a lot.

From there on my swim was scrappy and frustrating, I never got my flow back, and by the end of the swim I felt spent... with two more sports to go! Sigh.

My Bike... A bit of vengeance

It took me 10-15km to really feel comfortable and get my heart rate down, but once I finally settled in things went well. The hills were nowhere near as bad as advertised, Muskoka and Coubourg were way worse.

The turn-around points were ... amusing? So many triathletes have no bike handling skills... guys with their inside pedal down trying to make a 180 degree turn, one woman overshot the turn-around, and when she tried it she hit the gravel. Yikes!!!

There were some rough sections of road, but very much what I'm used to. I just put my head down and pretended I was Ryder Hesjedal on the cobblestone stage at the Tour de France and hammered by everyone I could! One of the benefits of having a cheaper bike, you aren't so dainty with it!

I ended up just over 30km/h, which isn't fantastic but isn't horrible. I'm happy with it, especially after spending the early part in the red.

My run... hot, hilly, horrible

I had these delusions of running this at 5:10-5:20/km pace... ha ha. I could tell about 2 minutes in that wasn't going to happen! The heat and humidity caught up to me, the sun was beating down with almost no relief from it, and with the steep rolling hills it was just too much.

Within a few kilometers I was just in survival mode, walking the steeper sections and trying to keep the legs going to the aid stations. I gulped down as much Inifite as my stomach would handle, but just never recovered. My average pace was a crushing 6:07/km... I'm surprised it was even that good, I felt like death (and most of the athletes around me looked like death too!).


Learned two things:

1. Triathlons are hard

I can do a fast run, a fast bike, but what makes triathlon uniquely challenging is switching disciplines in the middle of a race. It's something I've only got right a couple of times, once in the shorter Sprint Triathlon at Belwood, and once at Ironman Canada... but I have been crushed a few times too, Muskoka Long Course and today.

2. I pay dearly for being a weak swimmer

It's not so much the time I give up, but the effort I end up putting in. I come out of the water in bad shape, and once behind the 8 ball it's tough to get back on top of things.

At Ironman, the event was so long (and so was transition) that recovery was a piece of cake. At sprints, the swim is short so it's not as desperately bad. But in these middle distances, it's very very tough for me, and something I have to address if I'm going to continue doing this sport.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Race Report: Honda Indy Run, Walk, Wheel'athon (5k run)

The Good

I finished 2nd among adult men and 4th overall, and set a personal best at 20:34 (by my watch)! My previous best was over 22:00, so this was a huge accomplishment... and I've never really won anything.

The Bad

Just about everything else about this race was awful.

I hate to say it due to the charity affiliation, but I have never seen a more poorly organized event.

To give you an idea - they didn't even know there the start line was supposed to be.

The Botched Start

A lap of the Indy track is 2.8k, so for the 5k run they decided to do 2 laps but start us 600m up the track. Fine. So the runners all walked and walked, but nobody in charge knew where to stop. At one point, a young lady in a car told us we were there, but I looked at my Garmin and we were only at 250m! So I told her it had to be further up... we kept walking until 550m and she once again declared us there.

Close enough.

As we stood there waiting for someone to tell us to go, we saw the walkers and wheelchairs had started behind us. They then caught up to us... there was mass confusion, were we supposed to start?? Wait? A bunch of people decided to go, but this was chip timed, so I wanted to make sure I started when the official clock did!

Then out of the blue everyone starts going and people are saying "go go go!". I figured they must have got word to start, so I went. The race was on... I guess!

My Race

Kilometer 1 - 3:56
Kilometer 2 - 4:03
Kilometer 3 - 4:04
Kilometer 4 - 4:24
Kilometer 5 - 4:05

I started a bit too fast, a bit charged up with frustration. My goal in my head was around 4:10/km, and getting faster toward the end if I had it in me, but I just couldn't quite get myself to back off. Paid for it by kilometer 4!

All in all I was happy with my pacing. I crossed the line and they gave me what I thought was a finishers medal, then I heard them telling someone who finished after me they were 4th... I was like "wait, if he's 4th, what was I?" They said I was 2nd, but I knew two people had finished ahead of me. Turns out I was 4th and 2nd among adult men! Crazy.

The Botched Post-race

Now remember, it was hot and humid... high 20's, humidex in the 30's.

I asked someone at the finish if there was any water, he said it was back at the tables. Annoying, but fine.

I walk back to the tables, ask for a water. $2.50. This was the Hooter's tent at Indy, so it was all Indy pricing.

How can you not have free water at a race???

Seriously! They had free burgers and hot dogs, though... but not water? It's July, people!
  • No bag check
  • No water
  • Started late
  • Confusion over where/when to start
  • No guidance on where the track edge was - fences? red and white race track strips?
  • Told me to wear the ankel chip on my arm (which wouldn't have worked)
  • Had to dodge around Walkers/Wheelers blocking the course on both laps

So despite the low entry fee and the cool venue (Indy track), I won't be doing this one again. It was just too poorly organized to deal with a second time. Hopefully organizers read this and fix it, though, because there is so much potential here...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Preview: Honda Indy Run, Walk, Wheel'athon (5k run)

The Race

Running on the Toronto Honda Indy race track??? Now that is cool! The only thing cooler would be doing it in a race car.

Race Web Site

5K for $25? That's cool too!

My Goal

This is a bit of a dry run for me for the Bill Harper 5k which I'll be doing in late August.

My previous 5k best is 22:26 on a similarly flat course, but that was two years ago (and 20 pounds ago) so I think I have quite a bit more in me. I have not been doing much speed work, though, so I have to temper my optimism a bit!

I did a 10k run and run two of the kilometers at around 4:00/km pace to remember what it feels like. It feels awful. I hate 5k races!!!

I am not sure how close to 20:00 I can get, but I think I can get pretty close... I would be disappointed with anything over 22:00. I really believe I can break 21:00, but we will have to see how it shakes out... doing a couple of kilometers at that pace is one thing, stringing 5 together is quite another!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Preview: Gravenhurst Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

The Race

Gravenhurst Triathlon, up in the Muskokas. This is an Olympic distance triathlon.

I wanted something between a 1/2 Iron but more than a Sprint, so this was the one. It will be my first Oly.

Cool feature of this race: it starts on a steamship! How cool is that? You get on the boat, they steamship you out onto the lake to the start.

Ouch, that swim...

The Olympic distance is a bit more swim-heavy than I would normally prefer, being a weak swimmer.

1500m Swim
40km Bike
10km Run

And to make matters worse, I tweaked my shoulder/back two weeks back with a fall during a mountain bike stage at the Moraine Adventure Race... and haven't been in the pool since! Two weeks with no swimming and a swim-heavy race in two weeks.


On the bright side, it's feeling much better today, so I think I will get back in the pool in the next few days.


Get through the swim, hammer out a nice bike, and run as strong of a 10k as I have in me to the finish!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Life's a Beach... Biking in Deep Sand is NOT!

In our recent attempt at the Moraine for Life Adventure Relay, we encountered a lot of sand.

Some of these areas once formed shores of Lake Iroquois, so when I say it was like riding across a beach I mean it very literally - it was once a beach!

We had varying degrees of success getting through it, but in the process learned a fair bit.

I also found this article very useful.

Lesson #1 - Use wide knobby tires

We used two different bikes - a hybrid and a mountain bike. My hybrid had narrow cyclocross tires, the mountain bike had wide knobby tires.

Winner - mountain bike.

It might have been different if things were hard packed, but in sand you need a wide surface area to prevent the bike from sinking in. On the hybrid, I was left searching the edges of the trail for anything remotely solid to keep me near the surface, but often there was just nothing... it was awful!

Lesson #2 - Keep moving and pedal fast

Downshift, downshift, downshift... a quick cadence with even pressure helps keep on top of the sand. Sudden acceleration will dig deeper and kill your momentum.

Lesson #3 - Steer gently

There will be the odd jerk in fear to correct what look like an imminent fall... that's hard to avoid! But in general the key is not to move the wheel suddenly, or you dig up sand and sink.

Lesson #4 - Find the grip

Some trails I was on had deep sand in the middle, but the edges had vegetation holding things together. In other cases there were ruts where vehicles had passed that were a bit more packed and had better grip.

It takes a bit of trial and error to figure out where the traction is, but it's often worth a shot.


Ultimately, you can read tips on blogs and forums until your eyes turn red... but it's experience and practice that really give you the feel for what works and what doesn't. I'll be ready for next year!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Race Report: Moraine for Life Adventure Relay

The Race

160km of canoeing, biking and trail running across the Oak Ridges Moraine.

There are 14 stages, one canoe, the rest biking and running. You can assemble a team of anywhere from 2 to 15 people.

Our Team

The Trail Pythons - 8 of us took on from 1-3 stages each to take on the Moraine.

Trail Pythons - the Video

Special thanks to Srijit for shooting the video and Boris for editing it so nicely!

Stage 1 - The Canoe

This was a big question mark for us, as none of us have spent much time in canoes. The goal was to get through it without sinking, which we accomplished!

Not content with the distance of a straight line, our guys zig-zagged across for an extra challenge! They gave it everything, and muscled through some difficult windy conditions.

Stage 2 - Biking on Sand (Me!)

This stage is mostly in Ganaraska Forest.

I love almost everything about cycling, except sand - and this stage was sand pretty much from a few kilometers in to the finish.

Loose, merciless sand.

I was managing to keep a decent pace through most of it, until I hit this one downhill section. It seemed not to bad at the top, but once I got some speed I hit a deep sand rut... my front wheel dug in and I went flying over the handlebars.


A little bloody and in pain, I got back on the bike and managed to finish off the stage with a bit of oomph... but it was a long tough stage.

Stages 3 and 4 - Trail Running... and more sand

More Ganaraska Forest, more sand! Our guys fought valiantly through it, putting in great performances to get us through and out of the forest.

Stage 5 - Running

I will update this description after I talk more to the guy who did it... he got a bit lost and I didn't have time to ask him about anything other than getting lost!

Stages 6 & 7 - Biking on tough "roads" and Long Sault

What looks like a road on the map is often a barely passable forest trail. In the case of stage 6, a rocky, sandy, hilly "road". Stage 7 sounds like more of the same, very sandy and tricky at times.

Stage 8 - Biking and finally, speed!

A fast bike on mostly paved and gravel roads. Some people were even on road bikes! We will have to consider that for future years, this is probably a good way to make up some time.

Stage 9 - Trail run in Durham Forest and Walker's Woods

Nicely groomed wide forest trails - at last! This area is my home turf, and our runner did a great job flying through it.

Stage 10 - Trail run (and the Nasty Wet Marsh) (Me!)

This was my only run stage, and it was pretty tough. 11km of trail running.

It started out on roads and nice trails through some beautiful woods. Soon after, though, it turned a little tricky - long grass and weeds with only a narrow path where people had stomped down on the vegetation to make somewhat of a trail...

And then the marsh. I was running along and saw what looked like a fairly big puddle of water covering the entire trail... but when I stepped into it my foot sank down into the muck and filled with water. The very next step I lost my shoe! Ankle-deep in the muck, I fished around and retrieved it, my socks were now black with marsh muck, it was pretty nasty.

I managed to keep my time respectable, pretty close to my target pace, but once again a fairly tough stage.

Stage 11 - Lightening Fast Bike

A shorter stage and lots of roads meant our guy could absolutely hammer it. In fact he was so fast, we missed him finishing! He reported nice groomed trails and fast road sections.

Stage 12 - Trail Run

Gorgeous groomed wide trails - welcome to York Regional Forest! No more marsh crossings, these trails are beautiful, and our runner did a great job (despite adding an extra 1.5km to the route by going the wrong way!).

Stage 13 - Another Fast Bike (Me!)

My last stage of the day and I was determined to hammer it.

This stage was a mix of paved road and very wide and fast trails. It was starting to get dusky, especially in the woods, so a bit tricky to see at times. I put my trust in my bike and the trail and just went as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, right at the end someone had moved one of the signs! It was pointing the exact opposite way of where it was supposed to be - clearly someone's stupid idea of a joke. That cost me about 5 minutes of going the wrong direction before I finally went back to my GPS and figured it out.

Stage 14 - Running... in the dark

A mix of road and trails, which in the dark was difficult. But our guy did a smashing job and brought it home, completing a very very long day!

Final Thoughts...

The results are still being calculated, but I think we did pretty OK for our first go at it. We learned a few things about navigation, equipment, and preparation. If we take it on again, I think we'll be able to improve our finishing time significantly!

The toughest part of the race was the organization - pulling a team together, getting everyone to their start points, learning the stages, food, drink, etc. We have worked on it for months, and in the end it went without a hitch.

The race itself was just awesome. The volunteers were exceptional and very pleasant. The course was remarkably well marked, considering it spanned 160km! I was very happy with everyone I dealt with and I think they pulled off a wonderful event.


I'm a little too sore and exhausted to think about next year right now, but I suspect we'll be back... we have unfinished business!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ray Zahab: Extraordinary Ultramarathoner

I had the chance to see Ray Zahab speak today.

To call Ray an ultramarathoner really understates what he's accomplished. 42.2km, 50km, 100km,100 miles - he's done it all, and apparently it left him underwhelmed... as two years into his running career he decided to run across the Sahara Desert.

Yes, that Sahara Desert.

Nearly 7000 km over 111 days. You do the math.

It was such an impressive attempt, that Matt Damon decided to capture it in film in the documentary "Running the Sahara".

That's just scratching the surface... he's also run to the South Pole and in Siberia, among many other running exploits.

He founded a foundation - Impossible 2 Possible - which inspire and educate others to take action in their own lives, to maybe change the world or merely take on something they don't feel they can do.


The talk today was really a motivational speech in a corporate environment. I felt like the non-runners in the crowd were very impressed with the guy and left inspired.

Anyone Can Do It... Or Can They?

Unfortunately, I think he also left them with a sense that anyone can really do what he did... and I don't think that's true. In fact, I think very few can.

He took up training just 2 months before his first race - a 100 mile race in the Yukon.

And he won.

I've spent a lot of time around runners and would-be runners now, and his experience is so wildly out of whack from most that it almost strains credulity. To rattle off a 100 mile race without even really having trained is absolutely stunning, and very out of the ordinary.

Giving people the expectation that they can get out there and come anywhere near repeating that feat without putting in the training is setting them up for failure. It's far more likely they will strain something over-doing it and will give up running.

So while I appreciate his infectious enthusiasm, I think it needs to be offset by some degree of caution. If everyone could be Ray Zahab, a lot more of us would be, and he wouldn't be the extraordinary story that he is.

On The Other Hand...

... you'll never really know unless you try, will you?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Event Preview: Ride for Heart 2010

The Ride for Heart is a 25k/50k/75k ride on the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto, Ontario.

I started doing this ride when I moved to Toronto back in 1998, and I've done it almost every year since.

In fact, I give this ride credit for introducing me to longer distance cycling in the first place, which got me riding longer and longer and eventually doing Ironman! It's really the start of everything that followed, and so to them I am ever grateful.

This year, I will be doing the ride with my daughter Meghan. She's 7! We did 50k two years ago when she was 5, with her on the trail-behind bike - I think that speaks to her tenacity and patience. She'll be on the trail-behind again this year, as it's a bit much for her to do it on her own... but in a few years... who knows!

She's already built a love for cycling and this event, and I'm proud to share it with her!

Update: Sadly, the weather didn't cooperate and we had to miss it this year. I plan to do the Tour de Grand with her next week to make it up...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Race Report: 2010 Zoot Open Water Swim (2k swim)

The Race

An open-water race held annually just north of Peterborough, Ontario in Buckhorn Lake. Water is clear and shallow, and very warm even early in the year.

There are three options: 1000m, 2000m, 4000m. They all use the same 1000m course.

I gave the 2009 edition of this race a shot last year. Temps were in the single digits, the wind blew the buoys out of place, and it ended up getting canceled.

What a difference a year makes! Hot temperatures, very warm water.

My Race

I had no goals or aspirations for this race, it was really just a chance to get in a nice long open-water swim in a fun environment. Brought the family for a nice morning at the beach, it was all quite lovely.

I elected to do 2000m, which more or less matches my goal race (Ironman Muskoka 70.3).

The first lap it just took me awhile to get comfortable. This was my first time in open water since Ironman Canada last August, it just feels different. I felt pretty constrained by the wetsuit, not sure why.

Sighting was tricky on the first lap - I couldn't see some of the buoys due to the sun. I just followed the other swimmers around me to try keep on track, which mostly worked out OK.

By the second lap, the current had become quite strong on the way out... it was tough. You see the bottom, but it ain't moving - it's very disheartening. Just seems to take a lot of work to go nowhere! Going across the current wasn't much easier, as you get blown off course and have to kind of re-adjust your trajectory to keep a somewhat straight line.

All in all, I didn't do very well, finished the 2000m in about 50 minutes. A bit off my pace at Ironman, but conditions weren't as good and I wasn't nearly as comfortable. Just in general, swimming has been low on my priority list... my first tri of the year isn't until July, while I have a bunch of running and biking stuff scheduled.

To the pool!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Race Report: Whitby International North Marathon (Half)

The Race

This was the first ever Whitby Marathon.

You'd expect some glitches in a large undertaking such as this, and there was a big one: the course was completely overhauled just weeks before the event. That was unnerving, but in the end it was the only negative thing I have to say - race weekend was a blast.

Kit pickup was fast, T-shirt nice, and the facilities at Iroquois Park ideally suited for something like this. And the extra finisher's shirt was a nice touch!

The Course

I did the half marathon, which spared me some of the worst of the course changes.

It was fairly flat, mostly the hills were gradual inclines. The only exception was one short trail section connecting two roads on the far east end - it had a couple of decent climbs that could throw off the unprepared. I'd run them in training to check them out, so no surprises for me!

Mostly there were nice things to look at and in the later half of the 1/2, good crowd support - including my biggest fans!

My goal was sub-1:45 - I'd just barely missed it a few months ago at a half marathon. The plan was to start around 5:00/km and bring up the pace as the race went on.

I ended up starting a bit faster than that, 4:55/km, but my heart rate looked good so I didn't back off too much. At the 2k point, a girl fired off the course to use the washroom at the conservation area... REALLY??? Talk about bad planning!

For the first 8k or so I felt great, it felt too easy! After the 8k point, I picked it up just a little, and found myself still feeling comfortable. At about 15-16k I picked it up even more, and that's when it started feeling like work... in fact shortly after that I had a brutal stitch in my side. I walked for about 10s and it almost immediately went away... not sure what that was about.

My fans were cheering for me around 18k, which got me going a bit quicker than I should - immediately paid for that little burst! From there I knew I had sub-2:45 in the bag, I just hung on to the 4:50/km pace I was running and hoped to see an even better number at the finish.

Rounded the final corner to start my finishing kick, and there was my buddy and family, all cheering! Gave her to the finish and was stunned to see 1:41:10.

1:41... where the heck did THAT come from??? Course wasn't short by much, maybe 100m if at all per my Garmin... I'm shocked! I didn't think I had that in me, not yet! All those tempo runs paid off!

The Fans

So many of my races are far away and really early, so it was great to have one in my hometown so the family out there to share the race with me! And very inspiring to have fans out there who you don't want to disappoint.

Overall, a nice event and I had a great time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Did Lance Armstrong Dope?

The answer is almost certainly "yes".

Landis has now thrown Armstrong under the bus in a series of e-mails to cycling officials. This has to be the final straw for anyone who still thinks Lance was clean... although I suspect it won't be.

Full text of the e-mails.

"He [Lance] and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test"

The reality is that in that era, doping was so prevalent you simply could not compete with the dopers without doping. Almost everyone who came close to Armstrong in those championship years has been caught doping, one by one. Is it really possible that Lance was so much better that he beat the best cyclists in the world doped but was clean himself? It strains credulity.

If we look at Lance's ex-teammates, well, they're a pretty sorry lot. Several have been caught doping, the most notable being Floyd Landis, Roberto Heras, and Tyler Hamilton. A few years ago, Frankie Andreu and one other admitted it outright. They claim they never saw Lance do it, but where there's this much smoke, can there really not be a fire?

And of course there is the 1999 positive test for EPO... there was no test available in 1999, but the samples were stored and later tested, and found to be positive. It was not an "official" test and his name was not supposed to be revealed, so the cycling folks had to apologize and not count it.

Some people won't believe it until it comes out of Lance's mouth. We want our heros to be good guys, clean guys who beat the evil dopers.

Sadly, the evidence does not support that.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Lure of Ultra-Endurance

What constitutes an Ultra Endurance event?
  • Ultramarathon - run longer than the marathon distance (>42.2km)
  • Ultracycling - bike longer than a century ride (>100miles/160km)
  • Ironman Triathlon - 3800m swim, 180k bike, 42.2k run in one race
Ultra Endurance means taking a ridiculous distance and going even further. It's about testing just how far you can go, and for how long.

My "Go Longer" Mind

It has always been with me, from when I first got a bike as a kid. From going a few blocks away from my neighbourhood, then you go a few streets over, then further, then further.

I biked to school in juniour high, a distance of 16km each way. I remember my parents thinking this was crazy at the time... eventually I was doing longer rides of 25km.

Then I stopped and got fat.

I started riding again in Toronto and almost immediately picked up on the 50km Ride for Heart. Then I did the 75k Ride for Heart. Then I worked my way up to my first 100k ride. And finally, I did the Ride for Karen century ride, 160km and almost 6 hours in the saddle!

The "go longer" mindset finally lead me to my first ultra endurance event - Ironman. 13 hours, 57 minutes of swimming, biking and running.

What Next?

You can't really go longer than Ironman... well I shouldn't say "can't", some can, and do. But I think Ironman is sufficiently ridiculous to have satisfied me!

But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to push the envelope.

My longest bike ride is currently the 180km at Ironman, but surely if I can do 180km on the same day as I swam 3800m and ran a marathon, I can do 200km! 250km? 300km? I believe it's all possible.

My longest run is a full marathon. Most don't go beyond this, but I got my beak wet when I did a 25k trail run last year, Vulture Bait. As I left, I saw the 50k racers starting their second loop... at the time I thought they were crazy. I still think they're crazy... and this year, I just might be crazy with them!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Biking in the Rain... Storm.

I really don't mind biking in the rain. You never know what you will face on race day, might as well get used to it. It's a chance to test your clothing and build a thick skin. I like the feeling of fighting the elements and coming out on top.

To a point...

I checked the forecast today. Sunny, then scattered showers. I was planning on a 3 hour ride, about half would be in scattered showers.

No biggie, right?


About half an hour in, the sky started looking ominous... the wind was strong... it felt much less like a little rain and much more like a storm brewing.

I decided it would be best to cut the ride a bit short, from 90k to 75k.

Well at about the 45k point the skies opened up. The wind absolutely pelted me with huge drops, and was so strong it nearly knocked me off the bike more than once! A bit miserable, but I knew it would pass soon enough...

... and then the lightening started. Kaboom!!! The first one was a little ways away, but the second was very close - I heard the thunder almost instantly after the flash.

At this point my mind was racing - what do you do? I was nowhere near anything, just empty fields and the odd farmhouse. Is riding a bike in lightening just a little stupid, or really stupid? I wasn't sure if it was like golf where you become a lightening rod, or if the rubber tires protected me? I still don't know, but it sure felt dangerous.

I kept going, trying to just get through the storm front. At this point my glasses were useless, I couldn't see much, and I was fighting the wind to stay upright. It lasted for about 5-10 minutes, but felt like an eternity.

Finally the lightening was over and it was just steady rain for pretty much the rest of the ride. Oh and without about 20k to go, the road was completely blocked by a fallen tree, a testament to the strength of the storm that had just blown through!

I fought the elements and won! But riding in storms is one biking experience I could live without!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Triathletes and Death

It's one of the great paradoxes of triathlete training.

You take up biking, running and swimming to improve your health. To live longer. To enjoy a better quality of life. To drop those unwanted pounds.

But there are risks involved in these activities.

Swimmers drown.
Cyclists get hit by cars.
Runners drop dead of heart attacks.

This week, a woman was killed in Burlington, Ontario, while training for triathlon. Reports say she was taking a corner when she lost control and slid into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

36 years old. Mother of two young girls. An inspiration and role model for them... and while taking part in the activity that made her an example for them to follow, she loses her life. My heart goes out to her family, it's very tragic.

It's hard not to relate to her as I approach my own 35th birthday with 3 young kids that I am trying to be an example to. I've had close calls, I've even been hit by a truck.

But what is riskier - swimming, cycling and running? Or sitting on a couch 50lbs north of where you should be?

This chart pretty much sums it up.

When I started this journey, my BMI was 32 - I was at "high risk" of mortality. Not from being hit by a car, not from drowning, but from just being too fat for my own good.

I had bone density problems. My knees and back were often sore. My cholestorol was starting to show signs of trouble, blood pressure was getting high. And the final blow was my insulin sensitivity started showing early warning signs... this is serious stuff!

... all of which went away. My last physical everything was 100%.

So yes, there's a risk when you get on the bike, or go for a swim.

But on balance, I personally enjoy a significantly higher quality of life taking part in these activities. I've increased my odds of being here for the long haul, being here for my kids and their kids.

The risk of not doing anything is far higher than the risk of exercise.

That being said - be careful out there!