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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...