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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Race Preview: Whitby International North Marathon (Half)

This is the first year of the Whitby International North Marathon.

I signed up for the half marathon back in December, as I live in Whitby, ON, and there was a good incentive for early registration.

At the time, the course presented was net downhill and fast. I immediately thought this would be a great course for a personal best!

Fast Course, begone!

Well, it would have been... but a few weeks ago, the maps on the site changed to a significantly different course. Gone is the point-to-point net-downhill, replaced with multiple out and backs.

It's their first year, so I get that there could be some difficulties and challenges... but the moment I looked at the original course I thought "wow, that's a lot of road closures". Every east-west road north of the 401 in Whitby would have been effected, including Highway 7, it would have paralyzed our town of 110,000. I'm surprised they would publish a route that was clearly going to be a struggle to get approved.

The New Courses

The new half course is down by the lake, which is really quite a nice area. It's flat, and should be fast (assuming proper road closures!). Not generally keen on out-and-backs, but at least they're in decent areas.

Despite my initial disappointment, I think it should be a good time. At least it's close to home!

The full marathon course... well, that's another matter. Let's say it isn't something I would ever choose to run, not with all the other spring options out there (Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga). The first half is similar to the half, but the second half is pretty rough. Not only are there several out-and-backs, but there are some tough hills and a long stretch of commercial/industrial wasteland. Not my cup of tea.

My Goal

I want to get the sub-1:45 personal best I've been gunning for. I was close last race, 1:45:26, and that was early in the year, colder weather, and a few pounds heavier! I think I can do it now, my heart rate has been lower in training at the sub-5:00/km pace I need.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Overcoming Challenges

Life is full of setbacks and challenges. It's important not to let them get in the way of what you want to do.

Here are some I faced on my road to Ironman - none of which could defeat me (although that truck came bloody close... read on...)

Crohn's Disease

I was diagnosed in 2000 with this nasty condition. I haven't talked about it on this blog because frankly, it's embarrassing. But I think there's value in those who suffer from it to know there is life beyond the diagnosis.

I've been lucky in many ways, as despite a few flare-ups my doctor has found a combination of drugs that has kept me healthy for a few years now. I can't help but thing my change in lifestyle provides some benefit too, but that's just speculation on my part!

IT Band Syndrome

I have yet to meet a runner who went from starting running to running marathons without some kind of injury. Mine was ITBS.

This cost me several months of running a few years in a row, many visits to physio, and finally - mercifully - a visit to a podiatrist, who found that I was a severe over-pronator. He prescribed orthotic inserts, and I've been running injury-free since.

Getting Hit By a Truck

I was on my bike, commuting to work, and I got hit by a truck.

He was turning left, I was going straight, he didn't see me and I couldn't stop in time.

The result: a mild concussion, a banged up face, puffy hands (and permanently bent pinky fingers!).

It took me a few weeks to get back on my bike, and even longer to feel like I wasn't about to get smacked again any second!


I love my kids, but balancing the demands of family life and training has always been a challenge.

Tuck the kids in then head out for a 9pm swim. Wake up at 5am to get in a 20k run before work. Saturday sleep-in? Nope - up at 6am to do 160k on the bike before lunch, so the rest of the day can be spent with the family.


Lose weight, gain weight, lose weight, gain weight... it's a vicious cycle. If I don't watch my diet I gain weight, no matter how much I'm exercising. I even managed to put on pounds during Ironman training!

And So On...

Ultimately there are a million reasons not to do something hard.

Most will never try. Some will give up. And a few will overcome and succeed.

Which one will you be?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Race Report: Paris to Ancaster 2010

Paris to Ancaster is a classic 60km mountain bike/road/cyclocross race from Paris to Ancaster, Ontario. I yacked about it in this post from 2008, if you want all the details.

This was my fifth attempt at this beast of a race, and despite a few glitches, the most successful!

The Start

Overcast, windy and cold (6 or 7 degrees). Did a quick warm-up, then got in line (and cooled down, sigh!). I was excited to do this race, but more nervous than usual... just not feeling it.

The race starts with a small hill on paved road, then immediately fires onto a downhill gravel section. It's pretty key to get the first bit right, as it determines the crowd you'll be around on the rail trail.

I felt strong and managed to move up from my starting position pretty quickly. Maybe too quickly, by the time we hit the rail trail I was drafting with a pretty fast group, and my heart rate was through the roof trying to hang on! Every year I tell myself not to go out to hard an every year I get caught up in the excitement and go out to hard. Ah well.

Cool it, Now!

By the time I hit the first off-road sections, I was feeling the need to dial it back a bit. Cruised through, caught my breath, and nursed the heart rate back down.

Most of the first half was pretty uneventful. The farms we go through were unusually wet and squishy, my tires sunk in pretty badly, but everyone was struggling. At one point it felt like I was biking on a mattress!

At the halfway point I had one of those race moments that make you smile. Some kids had put out a jump in the road, you didn't have to hit it, and most were avoiding it... but the guy next to me nailed it, I looked over and saw him in mid-flight, it looked amazing! The kids hollered "YEEAAAAAHHHH!!!", I started laughing out loud... awesome!

Cramps, Again!?

It was shortly after this that I felt some cramping.

I have been plagued with cramps at this race, almost every year. I try something every year to fix it, and it never works... this year I focused more of my training on high intensity bursts with recoveries, and for the race I added two Nuun electrolyte tablets to my Gatorade, but still, there they were!

My new theory is that it's related to balancing, I seem to be balancing my bike with my legs and sometimes I do a panice/seize-up type thing, that seems to be when the cramps start.

Keep it Going!

I backed off a bit and tried to keep my cadence high, trying to nurse my muscles back to performing properly. At this point my buddy caught up to me, so I used his draft for a few kilometers, that helped.

After this I found "a wheel". Not just a wheel, but the greatest wheel ever... this guy was a little bit faster than me, steady, and didn't hammer it out of corners. And he didn't seem to mind me drafting off of him for kilometer after kilometers. Thank you, yellow jacket wheel man!

I stayed absolutely glued to him, refusing to let anyone grab on. I must have been back there for almost half an hour, through fields, rail trail, road, it was a huge help to my race.


The infamous "mud chutes". Two steep downhill sections with at least 6" deep mud.


I don't know what happened this year, but the first mud chute was almost completely dry, top to bottom. I rode the entire thing for the first time in 5 years of doing this race... as did almost everyone around me. The second mud chute was the normal mess, though. I popped the bike up on my shoulder and slopped through the mud to the bottom.


The last series of hills at the end of this race are a beast. Your legs are fried and it's granny gear steep, not to mention rutted and not passable in anything less than a Hummer!

My cramps caught up with me pretty soon after I started up, at the same point where my race fell apart last year. But this year, I managed to get going again within a minute, and with low-gear spinning brought it back. I kept it in low gear and span, span, span... until the very top when it's so steep, then I mashed, mashed, mashed. The cramps didn't come back, and for the first time ever I didn't walk the last hill!

I charged across the finish.


Whew! 5 in the books. Final time was around 2h36.

If you'll indulge me for a moment (isn't that what blogs are for?), I just want to bask in how far I've come. The first year I did it I had a fleece top, track pants, and finished in the bottom 10% at almost 4 hours... I was clueless on nutrition, not in anywhere near the right shape for this race, and totally shocked by the course.

This year I smashed my old times. SMASHED 'em. And the 2009/2010 course is for sure harder than the older versions... more off-road (although I didn't miss 2009's headwind!)

2006 3:54:44 (970/1096)
2007 2:56:21 (632/1136)
2008 2:48:07 (513/1064)
2009 2:50:34 (429/1202)
2010 2:36:12 (463/1272)

6 in a row in 2011? We'll see! Part of this race's appeal was discovering it, and now that I can remember it in my sleep it's not quite as exciting. I'd like to try something different, like attacking it with a cyclocross bike or something. We shall see!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Trail Pythons - Moraine for Life Adventure Relay

A couple of friends of mine and I have forged together our team "The Trail Pythons" for the Moraine For Life Adventure Relay!

This is a 14-stage relay race covering 160km of the Oak Ridges Moraine, a protected environmentally sensitive area north of Toronto. It involves canoeing, biking and running across 160km of Moraine trails and connecting roads. The race raises money for the Oak Ridges Trail Association, to help them establish and maintain the awesome trail system.

A team can have up to 15 people (two people are needed for the first stage in the canoe). We have fewer, with some of us taking on several stages.

While we have enough to compete, we still could use a few people to pick up a stage. If you canoe, bike or run and are interested, please let me know!
  • We have both experienced athletes and beginners doing their first race, all are welcome
  • Looking for anyone willing to canoe, bike or run a stage (or two!). Space is limited, but we should be able to find room for a few more people
  • $35/stage - what a bargain! Fully supported
  • Reply to this post with a comment if interested
Information about the race can be found on their web site.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Wussing Out

Good-bye Road Racing

My first foray into road racing (cycling) has taken an unexpected turn.

Last week, at a road race in Ontario, there was complete carnage. Many crashes, many broken bikes. But worst of all, a rider in a coma.

The Story

Crazy Crash Pics #1
Crazy Crash Pics #2
Crazy Crash Pics #3

I got into cycling for my health. I was a chubby guy who was getting chubbier and I needed to lose weight. Racing came later, motivating me to get out there and push myself. It's fun, exciting, challenging... it keeps me going.

Ultimately, though, I have three kids at home that need their dad in working condition. Going out and breaking bones (or worse) just wouldn't be smart.

So with that, this aspiring road racer is done.

Options for going fast on a bike for wusses

  • Triathlons and duathlons - no drafting means no pack riding
  • Century Rides - some pack riding, but at a more recreational pace
  • Centurion / Gran Fondo - a timed long ride - these are gaining popularity, they are races in a way, but in a way not. They certainly aren't as competitive as road races.
  • Mountain biking - well, it's not entirely for wusses... when you're whizzing downhill on loose tree-lined trail, there's a risk element.

Next up for me is Paris to Ancaster - a bike race on roads, trails, mud, rail trails... it's fun, the pace is slower, and the pack riding is minimal (and groups are small). It's not entirely risk-free, but neither is life!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Road Bike + Gravel Road = Weeeee!!!

In preparation for my likely participation in the Tour of Bronte, I decided to take the road bike out for a spin on some gravel roads.

I'm no stranger to gravel - I ride on gravel roads a lot. But always on my hybrid, with wider cross tires (700x35c) with grippy tread and nice wide handlebars.

The Set-up

The only change from my normal road set-up was to swap out my 700x23's for some meatier 700x25's (a Gatorskin and another similar tire).

The Roads

A 40k loop near my place, about 60% gravel roads.

The neat thing was the different types of gravel roads, and how the bike reacted to them.
  • Hard packed surface - this was almost the same as asphault, hammer it!

  • Loose gravel - a bit squirly, needed to let the bike step out a little and a few "woah" moments

  • Sandy gravel - the worst. Even riding straight proved challenging.

Keeping Upright

The lack of grip was immediately apparent, although honestly it wasn't as bad as I had expected.

Far trickier was the narrow handlebars - I'm used to correcting a lot with the wide hybrid handlebars, which are more like a mountain bike. With the narrow road handlebars, you have to do more work and have better balance from your core.

Getting down into the drops helped a lot with this, the lower center of gravity seemed to settle things down when they were getting squirley.

The other thing that helped was smoothing out my pedaling, especially on the sandier gravel where the back wheel wanted to step out. A nice smooth spin helped keep this in control, while sudden jerks tended to get the rear wheel loose.

All in all, it was a blast! The speed combined with being just barely in control was a rush and a half... can't wait to try it again.