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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Race Report: Tour de Waterloo

This race is a 130km Gran Fondo in Waterloo, Ontario.

Race website

A friend of mine suggested this one earlier this week, so on a whim I decided to go for it.  YOLO!  This was a bit of a first for me - I've done charity rides and such, Paris to Ancaster, but never a road race.

My Race - Part 1 - Drafting in a Big Pack

I had pretty low expectations for this race, as 130km would be my longest ride so far this year, and the pack looked mostly like experienced folks.  My strategy at the start was "don't get dropped", followed closely by "conserve as much energy as possible".

After the neutral start, the race was on.  I stuck with the main pack for a few kilometers after that, but soon the two split and I was in the back one.  Still, we had very big numbers and some very strong riders with us, so I didn't sweat it, stuck to my plan.

I sat on every wheel I could find, trying to find nice pockets where the wind wasn't on me.  At times we were doing 40km/h+ into a head wind on flat roads - it was crazy, but felt pretty easy for the most part!

Our group kept splintering, though.  We'd get to a climb, scatter a bit, but then when it re-formed we'd be in a bunch of smaller groups rather than one big one.

At one point, I got behind a girl who I thought was about to bridge the gap up to the folks in front of us.  Except she didn't.  I watched as a few others passed us on the left, not really bothering much about it, figuring I could grab a wheel eventually... then looked over my shoulder and oops!  Nobody left!  Just me and the girl, now many bike lengths behind.  Burned a few matches getting back to the group (and inadvertently dropping her).

I spent 77km in some form of group, and it was awesome fun.  Averaged 36.8km/h to that point, net uphill, it was a hoot.

Unfortunately, it was a 130km race, not a 77km race.

My Race - Part 2 - Lonely... so lonely

After awhile, our group widdled down to 4 guys.  We hit a hill, and I got dropped.  I busted my ass getting back to them, which was great, except there were only 2 left (the other guy had gone ahead somehow).  Then we got to the rest stop and one guy stopped to pee... and at the very next corner the other guy went wide in the corner and off the road into the long grass!  He had to stop to clean it out of his bike, so I kept on, now solo.

15km of solo, some of it with a pretty tough headwind and a bunch of little climbs.  The heat was now really bad, too - hot and very humid.  So this was very un-fun.

Eventually I saw a group coming up behind me, so I dialed it back to make sure I had enough juice to keep up with them once they caught me.  I did, and live was good again!

My Race - Part 3 - Misery Loves Company

The folks I was with now were all in various states of distress, but any wheel looked good!  At first I had trouble holding with them on hills, but as the kilometers ticked away it became easier and easier.  By the last big hill, I was the one dropping most of them!  After the descent (which I excel at, being a big boy!) I was by myself again - decided that was a bad idea so waited for a bit of a group to re-form.

Now we were down to 4, and then one guy stopped for some reason, so we were down to 3.

(Sidebar - They could definitely use one more rest stop with about 20-30km to go!)

We were all in a bit of trouble, but shared the load and chit-chatted as we closed out the kilometers.  By now I was out of water/Gatorade, my saliva was like maple syrup, it was really awful.  Still had some energy, but our pace wasn't good... headwind was tough, too.

Saw the 1km to go sign, which was at the bottom of another climb.  Buggers!  That last kilometer went on forever, but I pushed it to at least try to look respectable as I crossed the finish.


3h 55m 56"... average of 33.1km/h, 153rd of 256.  Kind of middle of the back, if I'm being optimistic!  Definitely the fastest I've ever covered a distance like that, but the group just helps so much it's hard to compare it to anything else.

Next time I would definitely grab extra bottles at the rest stop, knowing there aren't that many.  Other than that, I pretty much stuck to my plan and finished as quickly as I think I could have.  Good times.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bike Review: 2012 Norco Nitro 9.3

My new wheels!

The Norco Nitro 9.3.

Growing up, Norco was synonymous with "cheap department store bike".  No longer.  Norco makes some amazing bikes, both for on and off road.

This is slightly above an entry-level bike.  It has air shocks and hydraulic disk brakes, rather than coil and mechanical, which is definitely worth the extra few hundred bucks.  Everything is SRAM X5, also a step up (but a less significant one).

Nothing is Finer than a 29'er

This is a 29'er hardtail.  I have been riding a 26'er for the last few years.

Everyone has an opinion on 26-vs-29'er, and I certainly won't claim this is the right way to go for everyone.  But at 6 feet tall and doing the kind of riding I do, this is the right choice.

I instantly noticed just how much easier the bike rolled over just about everything.  Roots that used to chatter my brain were barely noticeable.  One of the 26'er crowd's complaints about 29'ers is they don't have the same trail feel - this is almost certainly true.  I felt like the bike was dealing with everything for me!

The larger wheels do have some disadvantages - when I had to take very tight turns, I felt like I really had to muscle the front wheel to get it pointed where I wanted to go.  This was rarely an issue, I mostly did singletrack with lots of tight turns, and there were maybe a couple of times where it was noticeable.

SRAM vs Shimano

This is my first bike with SRAM shifters.

It may not seem like a big deal, but their lever layout is different.

With Shimano, you click with your thumb toward the front of the bike to shift to a larger sprocket, and then pull with your finger from the other side to shift to a smaller one.

With SRAM, the shift to the larger sprocket is the same, but the smaller one is a separate lever just below it that you again use your thumb for.  This took a bit of getting used to, but within 15 minutes I had it down.

The side effect is that it is easier to feather the brake while shifting, if you ever need to, as you don't need to use your fingers to get to the shifter.  With mountain biking, you never know when you have to grab that brake unexpectedly, nice to have your hand on it all the time.

Bottom Line

For the price I paid (about $1000, 2012 purchased in 2013) this is a heck of a lot of bike!  Great value (about $300 off retail).

The only downside is the weight - it's a pretty heavy bike.  20" frame, 29-er, everything just is bigger and the weight is the penalty.  It's comparable with the other bikes in this range (ie. the Trek Cobia). I would have to spend a heck of a lot more to rectify that, though, and I am not really willing to do that for what I need it for.

Very happy with my purchase!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Race Preview: Tour de Waterloo

This race (ride?) is a 130km Gran Fondo in Waterloo, Ontario.

It's kind of a race, in that there are timing chips and prizes.  It's also kind of a ride, in that there are recreational folks just out there to tour around Waterloo.

Having never done a true cycling race, my plan is to try to stick with the "racers" as long as I can, until I get spit out the back and have to find other groups to work with.  Then I predict I will spend an hour or two hating life until 130km is done and I can go home.

Obviously my goals are a bit loose here!  Really, I just want to not embarass myself.  I'm not that used to having the pace dictated to me by circumstance, usually I have the luxury of pacing myself according to me!  That's true on solo rides, but also in triathlons, and most of the other little racey things I've done.

So we'll see! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Race Report: Moraine Relay 2013

Beautiful day!

This race is a 160km cross-country adventure through the Oak Ridges Moraine near Toronto, Ontario.  It's a true gem that we have so much conservation land in this province, and great volunteers that keep the trails maintained.

This is my 4th year doing this race, but the first where I haven't been the captain of a team.  It was a bit more relaxing not having to worry about the logistics!  Our team was the Ridge Racers, an established team from years ago that needed a few extra bodies, which we gladly provided.

Stage 4: Run (6km)

My first run was stage 4, one I had never done before (although we'd scouted part of it by bike once).

We were in 3rd place overall at this point.  I wasn't sure how far back 4th was, but we seemed to have a pretty good cushion.

This one starts out in some nice wide trails, but with all the rain we've had there was a fair bit of mud.  Thankfully I had on some decent trail running shoes, which made a very big difference - lots of grip.  A few hills, some challenging.

Soon after, it diverts to a very narrow winding single-track trail.  It's quite overgrown and tricky, had to keep a close eye on the trail blazes to not go off-course.

At 2.5km it opens up onto some road sections - first gravel, then paved.  These were hilly but managed to get a pretty good pace through this section.  Only problem was there was little protection from the sun, which started to take it's toll!

At 4.75km you can see the finish across the highway... my kingdom for a bridge!  Instead, you have 1.25km of really tough trail ahead.  The first part seems like it should go downhill, like the highway does, but instead it mysteriously takes you UP.  Then down.  Then UP again!  Finally you get the big downhill... but it's so steep you can't really run it, just survive it.  At the bottom is the tunnel, and then...

The last 500m are brutal.  Uphill, loose rocks, in the blazing sun.  My heart rate was well into the high 180's, which for a 37-year-old is near-death-experience zone (my max is around 195bpm!).  I dialed it back a little, then gave it a final charge when I finally (mercifully!) saw the finish line.

Only 6km, but tough stuff!

Stage 11: Bike (12km)

It had been a few hours since my run (about 4) so I was feeling very recovered.  Had lunch, drank fluids, and got myself ready to hammer a bike.

Had my cyclocross bike, which is the right tool for the job.  Mostly roads and packed trails, no reason for a big heavy mountain bike with shocks and stuff.

We had just dropped to 4th as my bike started, and the team now in 3rd had a good 8 minute lead when I started.  Not sure how far back 5th was at this point, but no way I was letting them catch me anyway, so it was moot!

Saw our runner and hammered it from the start.  First challenge is a long paved climb, I was pretty eager at this point so flew up it.

At 2km you turn onto the first off-road weirdness of the day... this is a rocky steep weird trail.  I hesitate to call it a trail, because it's really more just a right-of-way that you can kind-of bike through.  I flew through it anyway, throwing caution to the wind and letting my bike absorb the bumps (which, being a cross bike without shocks, it doesn't do very well - hang on!!!)

Thankfully this only lasts about a kilometer, then it's paved until the 9km mark.  I got down into the drops and powered it as best as I could.  This section was mostly uneventful (other than some @#$%ing guy in a minivan cutting me off while talking on his @#$%ing phone!).  Slight headwind, but that just made the cross bike that much more of an advantage over MTB.

At 9km this fires into the York Regional Forest.  Beautiful trails, well maintained, wide, I absolutely love this section.  It always feels longer than I expect, but with the scenery and fast speeds through the forest it's just exhilarating.

I kept hoping to see the team in front of us, but 8 minutes was just too much to make up.  In the end I took 5 minutes out of them, reducing their lead to 3mins, so hopefully that closed the gap enough for us to finish on the podium!

Biked back to my car along the trail.  Didn't see any other teams in the forest section (although I did see two chimpmunks doing it... umm, weird).  Finally saw some teams coming through on the road sections, but none were elite, so I don't think we were in any danger of losing 4th.

All in all a great day!  I love this race, everyone involved is just really positive and awesome.  Volunteers are amazing, participants are chatty and social, it's like a day-long party with a bit of racing thrown in.

2014 - see you there!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Race Preview: Moraine for Life Adventure Relay 2013

This is probably the coolest race in Ontario.  Before it even starts, it's epic!

160km relay.  14 stages.  Canoe, bike, trail run.

And the neatest feature?  It's a stone's throw from the largest city in Canada.  All that wilderness, wildlife, and natural beauty, just a short drive from Toronto.

I've captained a team the last 3 years.  This year we had some difficulty getting the group together, so a few of us have joined another team!  We're still in the "Elite" category and we will bring our A game!

I'm doing two stages, a 6km train run (stage 4) and a 12km bike (stage 11).  I have never done either in the race, so I'm pretty excited about it.  And not having to have the stress of organizing a team is a nice relief - all I have to do is run and bike?  Easy peasy.

Volunteers - awesome!  Course - awesome!  A day to remember every single year - awesome!

If you're even slightly inclined to enter a team, do it... see you in 2014.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Race Report: Alfie Shrubb 8k

Result: 33:43 (4:13/km per results, 4:18/km per Garmin)

6th of 48.

I had no expectations for this race, and no real goal, other than the idea I would be around 4:20/km.  So yesterday I went for a 65km bike ride (and a moderate pace), drank a few beers, and just didn't really prepare for the race at all.

Seemed to have worked out pretty well for me, bang on my target.

The Course

Out 4km, back 4km.  Tough steep hill right at the turn-around.  A few minor rollers in between, going up on the way out, down on the way back.  Quite pleasant.

My Race

I settled into a pace a little above my target near the start, but soon realized we were going slightly uphill so backed it off a bit more by 1km.  At this point I was in 4th and feeling pretty good.  I could hear a couple of guys behind me talking about their pacing, so I pretty much gleaned they would be faster by the end... put them out of my head and kept my pace up.

Just before halfway a couple of buddies showed up on their bikes!  They had been out for a ride, stumbled on the race, and were looking to find anyone they knew.  They paced along side up the brutal hill, with a few  words of encouragement (and poking some fun).  Funny how those little things can help with the mind games.

The two guys that had been chatting passed me after the bottom of the hill, and looked pretty fresh, so I put them out of my mind.  But there was another guy that I thought I had a chance to beat... I matched his pace for the next few kilometers, just a few steps behind, hoping he'd crumble or I'd find something special.

Instead, with about 1km to go, he started to pull away... I could feel that if I tried to match his pace it wouldn't end well, so I stuck to my own and let him go a bit.  Near the end it was actually pretty close, I don't think he beat me by more than 4-5 seconds, but just didn't have the oomph to get there.

Felt pretty good about the result, about in line with where I figured I was (and at my current weight).  Heart rate was about where I'd expect (mid 170's in the first half, 180's in the second).  Just felt like a good race.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Race Preview: Alfie Shrubb 8k

This is a local race I've been meaning to do for a long time, but it's never really jived with my schedule.  Found out today that surprise - it jives!

The race is a tribute to Alfie Shrubb, who set a bunch of records in the early 1900's.

This year, they've expanded from just the 8k to a bunch of distances... too many IMO!  Do you reaaaally need a 5k, 8k and a 10k?  No, you don't.  But whatever, I'll be doing the classic 8k distance and will ignore all the other goofiness.

Am I ready to run 8k?  A little.  I did the marathon 4 weeks ago, my training has been pretty spotty and inconsistent since - lots of biking, with a few runs sprinkled in.  I'll try hold a 4:20/km as long as I can.  This is supposedly a pretty hilly course, so best to just wing it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ride Report: Ride for Heart 2013

The Ride

A 25, 50 or 75km bike on the (closed) freeways in Toronto.

This was the first time my kids were doing it on their own bikes (other than my youngest) - so we chose the 25km and I crossed my fingers they'd be able to make it!

The weather was dreadful on the way there, pouring rain, so it was looking like a tough day...

... but it dried up, and miraculously stayed clear the entire ride!  Then poured rain again after we finished... whew.

Kids did great - almost no complaints, just peddled their hearts out (so to speak) and finished smiling.  Great day!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Race Report: Canoe the Nonquon

The Race

Canoe the Nonquon is a 26km canoe race in and around Port Perry, Ontario.

The race is in it's 45th year!  So we're quite late to the party...

Our Race

We were in the "recreational" men's class, which basically means you don't have one of those C1/C2 missles made of carbon fiber!

Twisty River Bits

The race starts on the Nonquon River.  The first 8km or so are very twisty and have the potential to be quite shallow.  Fortunately there had been a lot of rain in the week before, so water was nice and high.

Our boat is a flat-bottom 17.5' canoe, which is great in a straight line - not so great in curves.  Still, we've done a lot of work to practice our cornering skills, and I'd say we held our own.  Certainly the current helped, and we were averaging something north of 8km/h through this section.

There was a canoe that had started a minute or two in front of us that we caught up to in this section, but we couldn't quite get close enough to pass.  But keeping them in sight proved motivational!

Straight(er) River Bits

The river widens significantly as you near the village of Seagrave.  We thought our pace would increase at this point, but it didn't quite turn out that way... in fact our pace slowed.  I think this was partially due to the slower current, partially to the weeds, and partially we were starting to get a little bit of fatigue creeping in.

Fortunately there was that same boat in front of us... we got as close to them as we would all day early in this section, before they crept away from us and widened the gap.

The Lake

We were looking forward to going fast in a straight line.  Not quite how it turned out.

There was a very strong headwind directly in our face the entire way back.  Worse yet, the water was very choppy when we first enterred the lake... this killed our speed, and we watched helplessly as the boat we'd been chasing pulled waaaay off into the distance.  We could still see them the entire time, being a lake and all, but they soon became a speck on the horizon rather than a target we felt we could catch!

After awhile that headwind wore us right down.  It felt like we weren't moving at all... I kept looking at my GPS watch just to make sure we still were!  Our pace went from around 8km/h way down to the 4-6km/h range, I think we averaged 5 and change.  Sad.  But it was our longest ever canoe by 10km, and by far the longest we'd ever paddled straight, so not entirely unexpected.


3 hours 17 minues... still not sure on how we placed, we left before everyone had finished (and at the time we were 4th in our category).  We were hoping to go quicker, but didn't expect that bad of a headwind either!  Glad to have done it, great experience and learned a bunch.