Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Few Good Books

As some of you may know, I recently purchased an iPad 2, its not really a life changing device, but in some ways over the past couple of months it has really helped me to start using my time more efficiently. To be specific, I read A LOT more now. Previously my reading material was limited to select newspapers and magazines like Triathlete. But thanks to the smart integration of Kindle to the iPad and iPhone that allows you to pick up where you left off with either device, I am never without a few books in my pocket.
So having read a few great sport related books in the past few months I thought I'd share my must reads.
It's Not About The Bike - Lance Armstrong
This book isn't so much about the Lance we know today, but about the Lance that battled through cancer. Cyclist or triathlete or not I would urge anyone and everyone to pick up and read this book. Cancer is an ugly and destructive thing that doesn't discriminate but it's something that we can fight. In the fight against cancer and adversity, no hope is too faint to hang on to, and that's one theme that really shines through in this book.
Its Not About the Bike is probably one of the most powerful books I have ever read and at times this is actually a difficult read because of the raw emotion it elicits. This is a story of inspiration and heartbreak, and regardless of your position on Lance I would challenge anyone to read this book and not be moved by the inspiring story of a cancer survivor who went on to conquer Le Tour.
Bike Snob- BikeSnobNYC
If you're a cyclist, triathlete, hipster, lone wolf, mountain biker, cyclocrosser, or just a person who owns a bike, this is a must read. In his clever and chuckle out loud examination of "bike culture" and it's sub cultures, BikeSnobNYC has put together a great book full of "it's funny because it's true" facts and moments.
In addition to the stories and goofy cycling references, the book actually does have a lot of useful facts for cyclists just being introduced, or reintroduced to the bike. I'd go so far as to say that if you're going into the local bike shop to buy your first new bike in a few years, you buy this book on the way there.
The book is a little like a ride on a rolling course, some ups, some downs, but at the end you were happy that you did it and have some favourite parts that you'll want to do again. My absolute favourite part of the book was when it went through type by type of cyclist, really hitting the nail on the head with each group (Triathletes and Roadies being my two favourites of course).
Born to Run - Christopher McDougall
This was a good book, but definitely one that I read with a big grain of salt. In it Chris talks a lot about, our ancestral evolutionary roots in running, tribes and individuals who still practice basically prehistoric running today, barefoot running, and a little bit about how running shoes are the root of all evil.
The premise behind the overall theme of the book is relatively sound, that human beings are born to run, and 100,000 years ago when we were chilling on the African safari, if we could not run to save our lives then we would be lion dinner. Likewise, if we couldn't run, we probably wouldn't be able to go after our own dinners. But somewhere between the covers of this book, this seems to somehow translate into how we don't actually need running shoes to run on cement surfaces, which last time I checked were not present on the African safari.
There are a lot of great concepts in the book and I do firmly believe that more people running would lead to the world being a better place, but until archeologists uncover a ten millennia old concrete river pathway in Kenya, I'd suggest hanging onto your New Balance runners.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Velocity Stage Race Report

I've always considered myself a cyclist, and was on the bike racing other unsuspecting riders on the roads since I was probably about 14 years old. But I never formally raced a bike race other than the races that come after a swim and before a run until last weekend in Edmonton at the Velocity Stage Race (I raced Cat 5). And here is how it went...

The Time Trial

If I had to consider myself any sort of specialist I would say it would be a time trial specialist. The type of training triathletes typically do lends itself very well to time trialling and there is something about the simplicity of just being you, the bike, and a clock that I love. In a time trial you bring yourself to your upper threshold and hold on for dear life until you finish the race, if it doesn't hurt you're not doing it right.

So at 8:42:30am I pushed off the start into a brutal headwind and went all out for 10km. About 4km in I caught the two riders ahead of me (30 second increments) and was feeling pretty good. Looked down at the powermeter and I was pushing about 290 watts which was roughly where I wanted to be. At around 7km I passed two more riders and was starting to feel the burn. The beauty of such a short time trial is that there's very little mental endurance required, so 3km more just meant one last push.

Finished the 10km TT in 14:25 with an average heart rate of 183bpm, and average power of 299 watts. That was good for fourth place overall out of 54 riders and would have been a top 10 time all the way up to Cat 3 that day. 14:25 seems a little slow for that power but the winds that day were a force to be reckoned with... But we had no idea what was in store for the rest of the weekend.

The Crit

So crit racing is tough. This was my first crit and I knew it would be technical and very challenging. My number one goal was to keep the rubber side down, and finishing in the peleton would be my second goal. I achieved only the first goal.

The first few laps I managed to stick with the group but was acutely aware of the fact that I was working when others were taking it easy, and ending up too gassed to work when others were attacking. It was probably the fifth lap where in one fell swoop I was passed by about 15 riders because I just wasn't pushing hard enough. After that I was relegated to a chase group of seven riders where I stuck it out til the end of the race.

It was another brutally windy day and the closing stretch was always right into a headwind so when you rounded the corner it was like hitting a wall and then standing to sprint. I thought I had a strong sprint but I just couldn't hang onto the wheel of some of those other guys even in Cat 5. In the end I was about a minute back from the main group of finishers. Not bad for the first time out, but not great, I really wanted to stick with the peleton.

The Road Race

It was a 70km road race with a peleton of 55 riders in the category. We knew it would be a windy day but no one had a clue of what the wind would do once the race began. The course was essentially 3 loops of a 23km square starting eastbound and going clockwise. The wind was coming out of the southeast which meant that at least half the time we would be going into it.

I was nestled in the middle of the peleton and stuck with it for the first 15km before the attacks started. I managed to keep with the group until then but after that things started fragmenting with the winds pushing guys into each other, and even off the road in some cases. Around 20km with a tailwind there was an attack and I fell about 10m behind which was enough to lose the draft with about 15 other guys. I was leading the group and motioned for someone else to come up when I started to fade but no one wanted to do any work which really pissed me off. As a result the 10m quickly turned into 100m. After a rest I tried to bridge but got swallowed up by the chase group I'd previously been leading.

After the first lap we were a ten man chase group about a minute behind the main group. But pretty early into the second lap, 10 guys turned into four which wasn't nearly enough horsepower to deal with the strong winds. The course was prairie flat with little or no coverage to offer respite from the wind. Halfway through the second lap the guy in front of me flinched, so I flinched, so the guy behind me crashed. We stuck with him to make sure he was fine, and then he told us to go ahead. Down to three, it wasn't long before we lost one more guy who couldn't hold the pace.

So into the last lap it was me and one other guys from Mud Sweat and Gears. We worked together as well as we could in the winds and eventually he dropped me (oddly though I finished before him). I was exhausted and couldn't keep my HR up during the last lap. I took in the gels that I had and just pushed through til the end.

I came in 28th out of 54 in the road race about 18 minutes after the first guy across the line. We found out after the fact that winds were sustained 45km/hr with gusts up to 70km/hr. I have never ridden my bike in that kind of wind, some of the gusts slowed us down to 10km/hr. Cat 5 had 11 DNFs and 7 DQs from centreline infractions. It looks like Cat 4 stuck together pretty well but had about 1/3rd of the field DNF, Cats 1/2, and 3 showed the real attrition though with about 60% of riders DNFing.

The End

I came in 25th in the General Classification which wasn't bad for my first outing I think. I was very happy with the TT, came away safe from the crit, and finished the road race. I took solace in the fact that one of the more experienced riders said I'll probably never race in conditions that like that again. New guys (like me) racing in Cat 5 (aka Crash 5) combined with high winds made for an exceptionally dangerous race for newcomers. All in all though it was a great learning experience for me and I've gained a new level of respect for road riders and the level of strategy and pacing that goes into that sort of riding. I've got the engine but there's way more to it than that. All in all, a great training weekend.

In closing, I leave you with a video a friend of mine sent me before the race, some inspiration for everyone riding this week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Best of You

Yesterday the cycling world lost a young and incredibly talented individual when Wouter Weylandt succumbed to the injuries he sustained during a tragic accident in the Giro d'Italia. I caught a brief glimpse of one of the images from the scene when I was watching the recap and its was just one of those moments where your heart sinks, your eyes water, and a lump swells in your throat.

I think that watching today's footage from today's stage of mourning at the Giro was even more difficult. In the rare display of respect and solemnity that occurs when a rider is lost in a tour, the stage started quietly and there was no racing as each of the tour's teams took turns leading the peleton through the stage. In the final kilometres towards the finish the members of the Trek Leopard team were summoned to cross the line at the front with Weylandt's close friend Tyler Farrar from Garmin-Cervelo. Arm in arm the eight men crossed the finish line, many in tears for the friend and team mate that they had lost.

Today the Trek Leopard team, as well as Farrar, all announced that they would withdraw from the race. Talking to some other cyclists several of them mentioned that they would have hoped to see Farrar, as well as Leopard continue the race and fight for a stage win in tribute to Weylandt. I honestly would have hoped to see that sort of a poetic triumph as well, I think any other athlete would have hope the same. Its because in them we would like to see what we hope that we would do ourselves. We would all love the strength and courage to look grief and loss in the eye and win one for those we've lost.

The truth of the matter is that no one knows how they'll react to the loss of a best friend or team mate. Its only human that facing loss the last thing we may want to do is ride, or run, or work. But once we get past that stage of emotion, what we can do as athletes and individuals to honour the memory of those we've lost, is give the people and the activities we love nothing less than our best.

Tragedies like this one serve as a sombre reminder of the value of life. I don't advocate sayings like "live every day like its your last", its hopelessly irresponsible, and if we all adhered to that advice there would be credit defaults and unplanned pregnancies galore. But in sport I find a moment in every day to give something the best of me and I think we can all find a nobility in that which honours those whose time has come to pass.