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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.