Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One more season in the books

Effective October 2013, I've moved my active blog to ShutUpLegs.org. You can view this post and all my latest posts and on my new website!

Well, the leaves are finally starting to turn, the mornings are getting cool, and the days getting short.  With the arrival of fall comes the end of the race season.

I'm happy to say that I'm really happy with how this season went for me.  It began with a couple of select run races early in spring where I really held back and treated the races as tempo efforts rather than racing all out.  If I learned one thing from taking that approach, it was that you can some good performance feedback on where you're at that early in the season, without risking injury or having to spend a couple of weeks recovering.  At the Calgary Police Half Marathon and the Calgary Scotiabank 10k my goals were to run strong races without digging into the red zone.  Basically I treated them as tests to see what kind of comfortably hard pace I could put down, so that I could go straight back into training after just a couple days rest.  It worked out well and I think paid off towards the mid season.

Thanks to Dawn and Nikayla Hopkins for this awesome shot!
In June my only race was the Chinook Half Ironman.  I didn't have the best race there and I'm honestly not
totally sure what happened to me that day.  It's a challenging course, but certainly not one that I would refer to as overly difficult.  At that race I executed a fine swim, a good bike that I rode well within myself, but when I got to the run I just felt a little more tired than I would have liked.  I managed an even split on the run, but didn't walk away feeling like I'd had my best day.  I was pretty quick to move on from that race though and in retrospect I'd probably chalk the performance to my nutrition on the run not being as consistent as it probably should have been.  Honestly, I've done Chinook three times and I simply didn't feel like dissecting this "okay" day.  The way I figure, some days you're the hammer, and some days you're the nail.

Home sweet home...
Then came the floods.  About a week after Chinook, Calgary was hit with what's now referred to as the
most costly natural disaster in Canadian history.  I live in a building that was impacted by the flood and was out of my home for about two weeks which wasn't so bad.  For all of that period, training was basically the last thing on my mind. I know everyone has their own priorities but I honestly think It's a little unreasonable to spend hours upon hours training for goals that for most of us are just that, goals, while other people in your home city worry about putting their lives and homes back together.  When things go sideways for your neighbour, if you can help, you help.  It turns out digging out basements, cleaning up mud, and tearing down drywall is great cross training.  The floods were a test for our city and I'm happy to say that I think Calgary came through in true western fashion.  It was time to clean up, and move forward.
First time actually racing in a tri with Jon and Dave who raced their first IM's this year
Credit goes to Paul Anderson and the entire team that made Ironman Calgary 70.3 happen.  I hadn't signed but as soon as they confirmed it would go ahead, and move the venue, I signed up.  It was a fast course and a course that went along a lot of the routes that I was very familiar with.  I wrote a pretty lengthy post on how to actually race the bike course, so once I did that I figured since I told everyone how to ride it, I'd better do a damn good job of it myself.   Well, turns out I did all right.  I raced to a Half Ironman PB of 4:50, and though the course was a little short, I gave myself enough of a buffer to be satisfied that I would have cracked the sub-5 even had the bike course been the couple km's longer.
up for the race, and was on the fence about it after the flood after hearing about the state of Ghost Lake.

The awesome team of Pace Beavers at the SeaWheeze Half!

Two weeks after that I flew out to Vancouver to run as a Pace Beaver with all my great Lululemon friends.  Though myself and neither of my fellow beavers Natalie and Rives had no idea how to pace a run group, I think we did a pretty good job!  It's always a pleasure to be out in Vancouver and running alongside thousands of stoked athletes made my last long slow distance run before the big IM a blast.

My and my AMAZING cheer squad in the rings in Whistler

Finally on August 25 it was time for Ironman Canada, Whistler style.  I've already written so much about that race, so I'm not going to go much into it.  It was a great day, and an incredible way to cap off the season.  I was elated with my finish time of 11:21, which was 9 minutes quicker than my first IM in Penticton two years ago.  But with Whistler, I'm putting the IM distance to rest for a little while to focus on shorter distances, pick up some speed, and get a bit more balance with my business and personal life.

I'd now just like to thank all of my readers once more.  I had the pleasure to meet a lot of you at the races this year and seriously, every time someone comes up to me and says they read my blog, it makes my day.  And if anyone feels so inclined as to go for a ride sometime this fall, shoot me a tweet, leave me a comment, or message me on Facebook, and lets get it going!

Next week I'll be posting on dealing with the post season blues!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ironman Canada Whistler Race Report

Effective October 2013, I've moved my active blog to ShutUpLegs.org. You can view this post and all my latest posts and on my new website!

After a year of anticipation, the 31st Ironman Canada came and went this past August 25.  For those of you who may not have been as close to the history of the event, this year was the first time that mainland North America's longest running Ironman race had been been held outside of Penticton, BC.  The new venue, the western Canadian alpine village of Whistler, British Columbia.

After racing Ironman Canada in Penticton in 2011 my plan wasn't to return to Ironman distance racing for at least a couple of years.  I'd done my 226 km race and it was checked off in the books.  In the meantime I'd switch down to 70.3 racing which I really love and can race more of.  But after volunteering as a catcher in 2012, and upon learning that Whistler would be the new venue, I couldn't resist, and Ironman once again beckoned.  As soon as the date was announced, I booked my accommodations, and as soon as registration opened, I signed up.

So here is the race report.  I won't compare the two courses much in this post unless it fits the context, I'll just focus on this Ironman Canada, and compare the two in a later post.

Maybe grab a coffee and go for a bathroom break, because this is going to be long...

Pre Race

I drove out to Whistler from Calgary on the Tuesday before the race.  It had been my plan to get out to the area a little earlier to recon the new course, but as fate would have it, with the floods in Calgary in late July I just couldn't get away from home to make the trip out.  From Calgary its about an 11 hour drive if you take the 99 rather than passing through Vancouver, and I have to say the last couple hours through Lillouet are some of the most scenic roads you'll ever encounter, as long as you can stomach the winding roads.

Arriving in Whistler it was easy to see that the town had already embraced the race.  Banners and signage were up for the race, and the 2700 Ironman athletes were beginning to make their way into town.  That being said, the town of Whistler is no one trick pony, besides boasting one of North America's largest ski resorts, its also a great summer destination for mountain bikers and has a vast and truly awesome landscape built for downhill and XC riding.

I managed to rent a house that in the winter would be a ski out on the lower slopes of Whistler mountain.  A big plus for Ironman moving out of Penticton and heading over to Whistler is that Whistler is a true tourist town.  The accommodations inventory is far superior to that of Penticton and while the town only has a residential population of about 10,000, it accommodates closer to 30,000 during the peak of the ski season.  So accommodations for the most part were better, and cheaper as you'd have your choice of anything from a small B&B, to an OwnerDirect or VRBO rental, to a Hilton, Four Seasons, or whatever else you choose.

You could immediately tell that Whistler definitely had a resort feel, versus Challenge Penticton's small town, family feel.  I said this before in a post comparing the two races, I'm not saying that one is better than the other, they're just different.

As far as race swag goes, we got a pretty sweet Ironman Canada backpack, a voucher for a local restaurant on athlete briefing day, some coupons for local attractions which were pretty decent, and some Oakley coupons, which I also thought were pretty good.

The Swim

The swim course is a two lap, counter-clockwise course in a decent size alpine lake.  The water temperature
was surprisingly warm at about 19C on race day.  With air temperatures closer to around 9C, it actually make getting into the water feel like getting into a lukewarm bathtub.  Always a plus.

As far as scenery goes, this was top notch and in my race experience second only to Two Jack Lake where the Subaru Banff Triathlon swim is held.

The swim was a rolling start so athletes had the opportunity to swim out to the far end start line about 100m from shore, or start with their feet in the water on the closer end of the start line.  The swim itself was pretty much what you'd expect from a rolling 2700 person start, crowded and with some random folks deciding to switch to breast stroke, backstroke, or treading water, but for the most part organized and familiar for any triathlete with a race or two under their belt.  No chop or waves, and buoys were 5 foot buoys every 100m, and 8 foot buoys on the turns, and small 2 foot buoys marked the start line and were removed after the start.

My only gripe was that there was a short period between turns two and three, on the second lap, that athletes were swimming directly into the sun.  At this point I couldn't even see the buoy until it was literally a few feet in front of my face.  Judging by the other swimmers I think this may have caused some athletes to cut, or almost cut the course.  Next year however the race will be a month earlier which should mean the sun won't be so low in the sky at race start, and this shouldn't be an issue.

My swim went pretty well.  I'm not the strongest swimmer and having only put a half dozen swims under my belt the entire months of July and August didn't really seem to help.  That being said, all but one of those half dozen swims were in open water at Lake Mackenzie, the Calgary 70.3 swim venue, and either 2km, or 4km.  Getting a 4km swim in two weeks before the race was a huge confidence booster for me and really put me at ease going into this race.

I exited the water at 1:22:39, 1329th overall, so smack dab in the middle of the bell curve which I was happy with.  That's about 6 minutes faster than my first Ironman Canada swim time.


Not a lot to report here, swim exit was organized with a good number of strippers to help get things off (no pun intended... okay, pun intended).  I did end up running right past my Swim-Bike bag, totally my fault for not doing a better pre race run through transition the day before.  But of course the awesome volunteers were there to save my ass and grab my bag.  Also hit the restroom before going to the bike.

Time ended up 6:06 for the Swim to Bike transition.


So, when I first blogged about the comparison between these two courses, I was going on data that suggested that the two courses were roughly comparable in terms of total ascent.  I figured this course would be tougher though because it had an uphill from 150km into T2, rather than a big downhill like in Penticton.  I was wrong.

Early riders recon'd the course and reckoned the total elevation to be closer to about 6000ft rather than the Ironman quoted 4200 feet.  They were right.

The bike course begins with a ride out of the Alta Lake community and south on the Sea to Sky Highway out to Callaghan Valley Road.  In this case "valley" doesn't mean you ride into a valley.  It means you make a 410m ascent up to the highest point in the race.  The total climb is about 12.9km with an average grade of 2.8%.  Knowing that the course was just showing us a little of what she could do and that the toughest part of the course was still hours away, I kept my pace conservative and relaxed and let others pass me.  On this section I stuck to around 190 watts which got me up the ascent in less than 40 minutes, averaging about 20kph.  Coming back down, the speed was closer to 50kph.

After the Callaghan climb you ride back through Whistler and north towards Pemberton.  Coming through Whistler was like riding through an alpine town at the foot of a challenging climb in the Tour de France.  The crowds were tremendous and made up of both locals and the families and friends of athletes.  The whole section from Callaghan to Whistler is pretty flat and pretty straightforward.  Roads weren't closed by athletes had a lane right down the middle of the road which was wide enough that you definitely felt safe and comfortable.

Past Whistler, once the Sea to Sky Highway turned into the 99, athletes had the entire road to themselves.  I'll say that again, BC Transportation allowed the full closure of a numbered highway giving athletes exclusive rights to a huge stretch of road for the entire race.  Impressive, most impressive.

Whistler to Pemberton is a descent, one long, 25km descent, punctuated by just the odd abrupt climb,
one of which was actually the steepest ascent of the entire course at maybe around 13%.  It's great, you make up tonnes of time on this section, but you know that what goes down must come back up.  What seemed like a while to ultimately descend would most certainly be an eternity to climb back up.  So... you had that to look forward to.

After Pemberton on the way out is a long flat out and back section where you ought to be able to make up plenty of time.  Pavement was decent here, but probably the least looked after on the entire course.  My big issue with this section was that the long flat allowed people to form draft packs.  This was pretty frustrating to see as course ref Jimmy Riccitello had stressed to no end that they would be strictly enforcing drafting rules.  Nope, none.  I'm a pretty weak swimmer, but a pretty solid cyclist.  The benefit of that is that I see and pass a lot of people out on the bike course and I was bridging from one small peloton to the next and seeing that many of the riders had no inclination whatsoever towards breaking up.  Groups ranged from 3 or 4, to probably as large as 10-15 and these guys knew exactly what they were doing.  It was pretty clear that these weren't just clumps of age groupers who couldn't separate on a steep climb, they were solid sub 5:30 guys who knew how to ride.  But you know what, I race my race, they race their race.  If I had bothered to settle in with a draft pack I would have given up time and not moved up the field as far as I did.

I should mention here that I got my second wasp sting of the bikeride here.  I don't know what it is, but they loved me last week.  Both times the wasps flew into my jersey by the neck, got caught in there, got stressed out, and stung me.  Poor little dudes, my instant reaction both times was to grab the shirt where I felt the sting, and crush whatever it was as hard as I could.

So, you hit the end of the out and back, turn around, and get ready for the climb.  The total out and back distance is 50km, so a good distance and a good time to refuel, and prepare yourself for the next section.  At this point in the ride I also had the pleasant opportunity of exchanging a few kind words with a blog reader named Liam.  Liam, if you're reading this, once again, it was a pleasure and I hope you were able to make your dinner plans.

The Pemberton to Whistler climb starts around 145km.  Having read the many forum and blog posts from riders who'd recon'd the course, I'd prepared myself for the strong wind out of the south that would be a headwind into an already gnarly climb.  Luckily, the weather decided she'd cut us a break that day and it was a relatively calm day.

Back to the climb though.  Rather than one long consistent climb the ascent was a series of undulating grades varying from 3% to 7%.  From Pemberton to the transition in Whistler the elevation gain is 710m over about 32km, an average 1.4% grade.

As with any Ironman, for the most part the other athletes tempered their efforts and by this point in the race most the athletes were patiently making the ascent, fully conscious of the marathon waiting on the other side of transition.  Throughout the bike course it was pretty clear that one of the most valuable tools for this kind of a ride is a powermeter.  Over the last 30km I was able to stick to about 180watts, just as I'd planned.

In the end, I couldn't have executed the ride any better.  Going into the race I'd figured out my target power based on triathlon guru Joe Friel's guidelines.  Target power was 68% of ftp and I was spot on with my target, managed to keep my HR in the low 150's, and never exceeded my threshold power for more than a minute or two at a time.  I took in one strawberry powerbar gel every 20-30 minutes, and drank a sip of strawberry HEED whenever thirsty.  By the end of the ride I'd gone through about 3 and a half bottles of fluid, with the lower temperatures and overcast skies I was careful to not over-hydrate.

Bike course time was 5:50:19, average power 178watts, average heart rate 152bpm, cadence 88, and speed just over 30kph.  The recorded distance on my Garmin was 175.7km though that was a little short as I'd had some problems getting my Garmin Edge 500 going (bike time on my Garmin was closer to 5:47).  My position getting off the bike was 662nd.

Bike course data;


Again, transition went pretty smooth.  The entry into transition was lined with crowds and supporters, the volunteers were there to grab and rack your bike, and guide you to your transition bag.  In and out just under 3 minutes.

The Run

The run is another two loop course through Whistler's beautiful surrounding areas.  Runners start out in the village and run along paved and unpaved trails through the forest, and through some open areas along the lake and highway.  The natural beauty of the area is more than enough to take your mind off the hurt in your legs.

The course was well marked with mile markers through the course.  Aid stations usually came shortly after mile markers and were well stocked and staffed with helpful and supportive volunteers.  Even the local wildlife came out to support the athletes along the way.

In all seriousness though, one of the messages that the bike and run course captains stressed at the athlete briefing was to not litter or leave food on the course, simply because we are in fact guests in nature's yard.

Early in the run I was feeling good overall but still very much like I'd ridden 180km.  My legs were slightly fatigued, and I could feel the calories in fluid in my stomach trying to settle along the run.

Throughout the run I was very aware of where my stomach was at.  At times I was backing off my pace to lower my heart rate and allow me to digest more calories.  When I felt good I'd up the pace a bit and take advantage of the moment to push a little harder.  A marathon is a funny thing, just like any experience in life it has ups and it has downs.  Sometimes you feel good, and sometimes you feel bad.  So when things felt good I made sure to take advantage of that and push a little harder, keenly aware that there would still be some tough moments in the marathon.

Another little life lesson that came into perspective on the marathon was that we can only control whats happening in that single moment.  About 5km into the run my left knee started bothering me.  It was nothing new and something that I knew any other day I wouldn't have issues dealing with, but that day wouldn't be the ideal day to have to deal with a tight IT band.  In the days leading up to the race I could feel that slight pull but did my best to ignore it.  Eventually I figured my knee would just loosen up and get better as the run went on, or tighten up and slow me to a walk.  Either way, I was getting to the finish line so in that moment I may as well just keep calm and carry on running.

Into my second lap I had the pleasure of meeting another friend I'd spoken to on Twitter.  John and I exchanged pleasantries for a couple hundred meters, then kept running.  If you're on twitter be sure to give him a follow.

My plan through the marathon was to break it down into miles between aid stations.  This strategy worked well for me at ITU Worlds last year.  A marathon is a pretty daunting thing if you think of it as one continuous 26 mile run.  But break it down into a series 9 or 10 minute runs with a brief walking break at every aid station, and suddenly its actually a pretty reasonable undertaking.  So with the exception of the very last aid station, I took advantage of the aid stations to walk and get calories in.  The walking breaks provide a great neuromuscular break and there's actually a fairly solid sport science basis for this strategy.

In the end, the run had a few more hills than I had anticipated as well.  It wasn't an exceptionally challenging run course, but it certainly wasn't any easy one.  I managed to run a 3:59 marathon, a PB for me, though this was only my second marathon (the first one was at Ironman Canada, the first time).  Average heart rate in the low 160's.  Finishing the marathon I had moved up to 474th place overall.

Here are the technical deets on the run course.


The halfway point of the run through Whistler was lined with crowds and spectators.  Coming into the second loop towards the finish the spectators were welcoming and urging athletes to the finish line.  The finishing chute to Ironman was every bit as sweet as I remembered it at Ironman Canada in Penticton.  I crossed the finish line at 11:21:10.

Families and friends are welcome in the finish area in the Whistler Olympic Plaza which served as the expo area for the race.  I'm not sure how Challenge Penticton is set up these days, but this was a welcome change from Ironman Canada in Penticton where a small finish area was somewhat separate from the friends and family greeting area.

I've got to say, I was amazed at how into the race the locals in Whistler got.  Following the race I went into the village to grab a well deserved beer with my brother and friends who'd came out to watch and support.  Walking through the village each athlete guiding their bike back to the hotel, or draped in a reflective thermal jacket, would be greeted with a roar of cheers and applause from locals and tourists sitting on patios and enjoying a couple rounds.  I spoke with one of the locals on the patio later on and was sure to thank them for their hospitality, and I was happy to hear that they were just as stoked to play host to us.

We stuck around right until midnight when the last few finishers came in.  I was tired, but glad I stuck around.  I've got nothing but respect for those racers who come in at those late hours, walking through the dark, alone and cold takes a different type of grit and mental fortitude than a lot of people, even fellow Ironmen have.  The cheers and applause they received were well deserved.

I had an amazing time in Whistler and am grateful to the people of Whistler, the scores of volunteers, and the amazing spectators of Ironman Canada.  And a big congrats goes out to all of my fellow athletes!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I just want to say thanks

The day before the race is generally my least favourite of the entire journey to race day.  Once you've dropped your bike off at the check in, checked your gear bags in with the volunteers, and gone through your final race day checklists, there isn't a whole lot to do besides worry and wait... or blog.

I feel prepared and confident going into Ironman this year.  I think that has a lot to do with a culmination in a lot of things going right.  And that has a lot to do with all of the people that have taken me this far and supported me.  I'm going to name a few off right now, and I'm no doubt going to miss someone, but I'm going to try my best here....

First and foremost, I'm going to thank my wonderful wife Shirley.  Usually I save my thanks for her til the end, but not this time. Nope.  She's been incredibly supportive and any Ironspouse will tell you that its a challenge to be in a relationship with someone who's also in a relationship with their bicycle.  This summer has been a little bit chaotic following the floods, but she's pushed me and made sure that I held myself to my fullest potential, never skipped out on training, and kept my goals in mind.  So to Shirley, thank you and I love you.

To my family, my parents, and my brother and sister, thank you for all of your support and patience with my endless hours of training!  And to my sister, I can feel the love all the way from Spain Jacky!

Of course, I must also thank my many friends who have trained with me, raced with me, or put up with me talking about training and racing.  For friends like Keith, Jon, Ang, Shayne, Dave, Marj, Blair, Jen, watching you guys at your races the past couple years has been amazing and I'm grateful to have been a part of that.  Knowing the race anxiety, the nerves, and the mental obstacles that we all have to overcome before getting to our first start line, I really do draw inspiration from you all as well.

To Rob and Nic, thank you for letting me swim in your lake all those times! I'm stoked to watch you guys run your first half marathon this November in Vegas! I may or may not be there, but nevertheless, can't wait to see what you guys run!

To Melissa, thank you for waking up sooooo early to bodymark and then catch at Calgary 70.3!

I'd also like to give a big thanks to my amazing friends at Lululemon, the small army of fellow ambassadors, and all the awesome folks who come out every Tuesday night to my run club!  The community at Lululemon has really afforded me a lot of awesome opportunities to learn, meet new people, and share my passion for sport.  For that, I thank you a million times over and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of that community.

And to my friend Lindsey, who this last week left for NYC to follow her dreams at Parsons New School of Design, thank you for your friendship and guidance.  I know we'll talk soon but I'll really miss our chats for now.  Rock it Linds, you're meant to.

I've also got to give a big thanks to the awesome crew at Ridleys Bike Shop in Kensington.  Ron, Travis, and Jon are awesome guys and they put up with me being such a bike geek, so I've got to give them a big shout out.

To all my friends, the Facebook ones who I've only met once or twice, the Twitter friends who I hope to meet someday, and everyone who I'm fortunate enough to see all the time (but promise to buy a beer for because I didn't mention specifically here), thank you.  I've seen all the texts, good lucks, the well wishes, and the words of encouragement on Facebook and each and every one means a lot to me!

To my fellow racers, many of you I know read my blog, thank you and good luck tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.  Before every race I look around and am in constant awe of the focus, determination, and fitness of all of you, and it's an honour.

Time for me to sign off now though.  In the next day or two or three you'll see a race report right here.  And I'll just leave you with this photo. Where I sat when I wrote this post... maybe it'll create more of a connection or something...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Calgary 70.3 Race Report

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on ShutUpLegs.org! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

I know this is about two weeks late, but its been a busy little time for me and just got around to writing this race report now.

All through the season I had been planning on racing Calgary 70.3.  The plan for the season was a couple run races in the spring, Chinook Half Ironman in June, Calgary 70.3 in July, and Ironman Canada in Whistler in August as the goal race.  When the flooding happened in June it affected Ghost Lake and things became pretty hectic anyways, so I decided I'd wait and see for Ironman Calgary 70.3.

Well, as luck would have it, about two weeks before the race it was announced that the swim venue would be changed from the chilly waters of Ghost Lake, to the warm, tranquil waters of Lake Mackenzie, where I'd be doing open water swims in prep for Ironman Canada anyways.  A swim in Mackenzie meant the bike route would change dramatically and be a lot more like the Chinook course, which is on highways where I spent my years getting into road cycling on.  So I signed up.

The Swim

Having swam the swim course a couple of times already I was fairly familiar with the lake even before it was moved to that venue.  The man-made lake in Calgary get fairly warm by August by virtue of the fact that they're fairly shallow, and fairly small.  Typically the swim isn't my strong suit but having trained in this exact venue and put down reasonable times in training, I was pretty confident going into the swim.

The swim was a waved start with all the male AGer's heading out in the same wave.  The start was exactly what you'd expect from a 400 person start, a little chaotic, a little bit of shoving, but by the first turn the field had opened up a bit and I could find my own space just fine.

Confidence is a big thing in swimming, if you're nervous at all about your ability in those surroundings it'll make you want to rush the whole swim and it'll translate into a poor swim stroke, and a poor stroke means wasted energy.  With a bit more confidence this go I was able to swim an MOPish 40:20 1900m swim which believe it or not is a PB for me.

Here's the swim file... and no, I didn't go on shore at the island, it was interference coming out of the tunnel in the swim.

 The Bike

So like I said before, I was fairly familiar with the bike route.  And by fairly familiar with the bike route, I mean I know every inch of the course since I grew up about a 5 minute drive from right where the route goes by.  Knowing that a lot of people were going to be thrown into a bit of a tailspin from the drastically changed bike course, I wrote a fairly lengthy post detailing the route and giving some tips on how to ride it.  When you write a post like that, you better own the course because you're telling everyone else how to do it.

The bike was business as usual.  I spent the first 10 or 15 minutes getting into a good rhythm and calming down from the swim.  After that I started to make my way slowly up the field.  I played cat and mouse with a few other riders for the first half hour, with them passing me on the uphills, and me passing them on the downhills.  Riding with a powermeter, I really try and focus on keeping my power consistent with I'm ascending or descending, which is a practice that I really encourage other riders to get into.  I know that some riders have a strategy of going a little harder on the climbs and planning to recover on the descents, but I think its a failed strategy for anything longer than an Olympic distance ride because on a half or full iron you just end up burning through too many matches.

The first half of the ride is rolling foothills with quick downs followed by some punchy short and steep climbs and most of the course's 2300ft of climbing.  The second half of the ride is a long false flat with a tailwind for a good 30km.  The first half I probably averaged about 30kph, the second half probably a lot closer to 39kph with a total average of 34.7kph.

I was taking a gel every 20-30 minutes, and drinking whenever I felt thirsty.  I used to subscribe to the "take a sip every ten minutes" approach to hydration, but I found I was always needing a nature break about an hour or two in with that approach.  By the end of the ride I'd only gone through one bottle of drink, but felt pretty well hydrated, but note, the air temp was about 15C at this time, had it been warmer or sunnier I could have easily drank twice that.  Going into Ironman Canada, I think I'll focus on listening to my body for hydration rather than a 10 minute timer.  As far as gels go, I'm comfortable with one every 20-30 minutes.  Between the two I net about 250 calories per hour, and just for reference I weigh about 160lbs.

The bike route was a bit short at 86kph, so I can't take all the credit for a good bike split, but my time was 2:26:19, which was good for a 66th ranked bike split in a field of 730.  My watts average Very happy with this result.

Bike Course Technical details:
Time: 2:26:19
Average Power: 198 watts
Normalized Power: 205 watts (75-78% ftp)
Average HR: 161 bpm (81% ftHR)
Average Speed: 34.65kph
TSS: 151

The Run

With such a good bike split I was a little nervous about how well I'd execute on the run.  I knew that I didn't exceed any thresholds on the bike, and didn't push too hard at any point, but nothing comes without a price and I was finding it a little hard to believe that things could go so well on the bike without paying a little on the run.

As per usual I found myself constantly having to back off the pace on the run.  Getting off the bike its pretty common to have your legs moving faster than you think when you've been spinning at 90+ rpm.  For the first couple kilometres I kept having to back off from running 4:20min/km.  Eventually I got into a groove and was running steady with my HR in the 160-170 range.

Around 6 or 7 km in I found my heart rate monitor kept slipping down and having to adjust it.  Feeling pretty good about my RPE I decided I'd just take it off and turn the function off on my Garmin.  I've spent about half my runs this year not using a HR monitor and just focused on listening to my body, so this was one scenario where that kind of prep really paid off.  I was in tune, and feeling good the entire run.

I finished the run feeling pretty good and pulled out a 1:39:24 run split which was ranked 99 overall and was a PB in the half iron distance for me.  Up until the last couple of kilometres I was feeling a little anxious that I'd suddenly hit a wall and the endorphins would just evaporate, but it never happened and I finished a great half marathon.

The Finish

I finished the race 93 overall out of a field of 730 and PB'd with a 4:50:20 half Ironman.  My goal for the race was to break 5 feeling comfortable, but going into the race I knew that if I needed to push hard to break 5 hours then I'd back off since Ironman Canada was only four weeks away.  I managed to get the 4:50 without leaving that comfort zone and executed the race with a solid B-race effort of maybe 7 or 8 out of 10.  Ten minutes under 5 also gave me some relief around breaking that all important mental threshold,  if I'd just squeezed in under 5 hours with a bike course that was 4km short, I'd have an asterisk on the race result in my mind.

The volunteers and Paul Anderson did a phenomenal job of making this race happen.  The Calgary floods really put a curve ball onto this race and they responded in true Calgary fashion by figuring a way to get it done.  Kudos also goes out to the Mackenzie Lake Community Association for being gracious enough to allow us to take over their lake for a few days and hosting our race.  Also a huge shoutout to my friend Miss Melissa Reuame who volunteered for both body marking in the AM, and catching in the PM!

Lastly, I have to say, Ironman Calgary 70.3 this year probably had the best finisher medals I've ever seen.

Belt buckle... It's a giant belt buckle.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How to be a great fan

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on ShutUpLegs.org! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

Well I've written plenty of posts on how to effectively race triathlons, but it didn't dawn on me until watching the last couple stages at the Tour de France, that I've never really talked about how to be an awesome fan at a race.  Now I know that sounds a bit odd, but there is definitely a way to be an awesome fan, and then there's a way to be a fan that doesn't really encourage anyone, which I guess would constitute a "bad" fan.

As an athlete I can honestly say that spectators and fans make a world of difference during the race.  Their cheers can instantly transfer a seemingly endless amount of energy to you, and their enthusiasm can be the difference between qualifying for a Kona slot or going home empty handed, or the difference finishing the race with a walk and a smile or taking the dreaded DNF.

So here are a few pointers that I've put together.  Feel free to share them with your friends, family, or anyone who might be headed out to IM Calgary 70.3, Ironman Canada, Mont Tremblant, Challenge Penticton, Kona, Vegas, or wherever else!

The Good

  • Volunteer- What better way to be a good fan than to volunteer for the race!  Volunteers are what make triathlons and almost any other sort of race or sporting event possible.  I can't say enough about how grateful I am to the legions of volunteers that make Ironman happen.  Whether its package pickup, body marking, aid stations, transitions, medical, or finish line, the smiles and enthusiasm of volunteers go a long way towards supporting the athletes... Plus you usually get a t-shirt, which makes you as much a part of the race as the athletes.
  • Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud- It may not seem like it sometimes, but in the race we hear everything.  At Ironman, we literally have nothing to do but keep moving forward, so listening to the fans becomes a big focal point.  And when you're cheering, the louder the better.  When I was racing Ironman Canada a couple years ago I was completely taken aback by the enthusiasm and support of everyone at Yellow Lake, after 4.5 hours on the bike coming into a tunnel of screaming spectators on the steep pitch of the climb was exactly what I needed.  
  • You wanna be where everybody knows your name- When you're on the side of the road, pick a person, look at their number or name on the bib, or even just the colour of their shirt, and give them a callout and tell them how they're doing, or give them some words of encouragement.  It shows that you aren't just yelling and cheering for the world, it shows them that you're pulling for them at this very moment.  Its very Canadian of us to sit quietly on the side of the course and only cheer for the people we know and I've seen it at many of the local smaller races, but once you catch the smile and thanks of that stranger whose race you made a little better, you'll be hooked.
  • I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes I saw the sign- I don't think there is an athlete out there who doesn't love a good sign written on a poster.  The cleverer the better.  For some good ideas check out these two sites; Best Race Signs, Buzzfeed.  I've got to give a special shoutout to all the Lululemons I've seen bring huge cheer squads out with some pretty catchy signs, they've got it down to an art.
  • Think about what's important to the athlete- Are they on track to break the 3:30 marathon mark?  Are they chasing down the next person up the road?  I they struggling to get in just under the time cutoff?  Let them know that they can do it.  Some meaningful words of encouragement that fit the context of their goals can go a long way and you can make more of a difference than you could imagine.
  • When the going get tough, the tough get going- Ironman is one of the few sports that celebrates its final finisher maybe even more than its first.  If you've ever been at the finish line of Ironman just before midnight, you'd know that something magical happens at that time and the crowds come alive to cheer that last person in.  The adversity and loneliness that many athletes overcome with in the weeks and months leading up to the race, and during the race is a testament to their character and strength.  I know sometimes its tempting to just roll out whenever your friend or family member finishes the race, but feel free to stick around and be that someone special who provides words of encouragement for those brave souls who forges ahead after the crowds have gone.
The Bad
  • Know the rules- At Ironman there are very few rules that pertain to the behaviour of individuals not participating in the event.  The biggie though is that athletes cannot accept outside assistance from individuals not in the race or with the organizers.  Which means technically you can't give us water or nutrition, but more importantly it means you cannot pace us.  Its a rule that varies in its application and the frequency with which its enforced but it basically means if you see your buddy, you can't run or bike alongside him or her and doing so could lead to their disqualification.  That being said, if you run alongside someone climbing a hill for 10 feet no one is going to accuse them of cheating, but its something to keep in mind.
  • Traffic-  This has only ever been an issue for me at Ironman Canada, but its something worth keeping in mind.  The bike course at an Ironman is 180km often on open roads with some lane closures.  If you'd like to go out and see your loved one racing, consider taking a route that is not the course route or don't go at all.  Local traffic needs to get through, and athletes need to get through, and if added to the congestion is a thousand cars full of spectators looking for their friends, things can get uncomfortable and even dangerous.
  • Be respectful to the locals- Its out of the good grace of community associations and municipalities that races as big as half and full Ironmans have a place to call home.  Make a habit of being respectful or people's property and considerate of their community.  This means don't park in front of their driveways, don't litter on their laws, and don't do anything that you wouldn't want someone to do in your community.  From time to time an athlete may drop something by accident, by and large most of us try to keep the course free of any garbage, but if you see this happen, just grab the litter and toss it for us.
  • Don't hit us- If there is one thing that scares the bejeezus out of me at a race its a car, bike, spectator, or pet crossing out path as we ride or even run by.  Please, look both ways before you proceed across a road or intersection.  A collision at even a low speed is dangerous for both parties.
The End

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  Volunteers make these races happen.  Ironman Calgary 70.3 is still looking for volunteers this weekend so if you have a couple extra hours this Sunday, please sign up here.  I'd love to see you out there!

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Calgary 70.3 Bike Course

Effective October 2013, I've moved my active blog to ShutUpLegs.org. You can view this post and all my latest posts and on my new website!

The recent flooding in southern Alberta has forced a lot of Race Directors to spring into action and make some serious course corrections on their routes.  Unfortunately a number of events have been cancelled altogether such as; the inaugural Gran Fondo Canmore, the Hi Hostels Kananaskis K100, and the Banff Marathon.  Other events like Gran Fondo Highwood Pass have received serious changes in the routes.

News came out yesterday that the Ironman Calgary 70.3 route will be getting a big overhaul.  The debris accumulated at Ghost Lake made the swim course impassable for the number of athletes expected for the race.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the revised route, and I think anyone who lives on the south side of the city who is familiar with the route would be on the same page as me.  It's one of the best routes around with stunning scenery as you climb through the foothills to right to the base of the Rockies.  Race Director Paul Anderson has also been doing an incredible job making the race a reality in light of the hectic few weeks the city has had.

Here is a link to the proposed revised route.  You may want to open another window and go through the map while reading this post at the same time.

So here are a few pointers on the revised bike route, though it is subject to change as the route is pending city and provincial approval.
Highway 22x heading west later in the day

  • First and foremost, athletes should be happy that the frigid waters of Ghost Lake are being replaced by the bathwater of Mackenzie Lake.  Last I heard water temps were around 19C, and with the warm weather expected in the next two weeks, expect to be racing in water temps closer to what you'd get in Penticton for Challenge/IMC
  • Riding south out of the city from Lake Mackenzie to Highway 22x will be pretty flat on controlled community streets, nothing fancy here. Just find your legs, calm yourself down, and get set for the ride.
  • When you're headed westbound on 22x is still technically in the city.  There is a short descent, and a steep climb out of of the Bow River/Fish Creek Valley, followed by a number of other rolling hills until you hit the 15km mark.  At this point in the ride you should still be finding your legs from the swim. Take it easy on these hills.  Between km10 and km15 its easy to burn your legs up so you should be on your easiest gear and spinning here.  There will likely be some traffic control as your cross the overpass, but don't stress, after this you're pretty much cruising.
  • When you hit km15 you'll start a long gradual descent.  This is where you can make up time from the climbing you've done so far.  The prevailing winds are out of the west in Calgary, but usually don't pick up until mid-morning so if you're putting down 200watts here you could easily be cruising along at +40kph (25mph).  You'll have a great view of the countryside and the mountains in the distance here. Every once in a while there will be a turnout from a gravel road, hopefully its all swept before the race, but just in case, keep your wits about you.
  • At the 20km mark you're into the foothills which means rolling hills that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  You'll being doing a lot of going from your biggest gear to your smallest gear so keeping momentum and knowing your shifts will save you a lot of energy.  I really mean that, you'll go from your biggest gear to your smallest in the course of 300 meters in some spots here.  Know how to smoothly go from the big ring to the little without losing momentum by being able to shift your rear derailleur at the same time as your front.  Some of these descents will be quite shallow, if you're an average cyclist, this is a great time to recover from the punchy little climbs. If you're a strong cyclist with a powermeter, or are running a standard (53-39) crankset, you can probably spin in your biggest gear and hold a lot of your momentum.
  • The hill from km30 to km35 (Strava name "Lower Cowboy Trail") doesn't actually seem like a hill when you approach it but it's actually a grade of about 2-3% over 5km.  It's hardly anything remarkable by cycling standards, but for a half Ironman its a climb that you can definitely end up burning matches on.  It's also a curved hill with a flat section right before the steep part, so you can't actually see the end of it and you might think it's over before it actually is. Once again, be smart with your gears and ride this hill conservatively, the hill isn't over until you're going downhill.  Also, as you crest the hill and you start your descent, take a moment to enjoy the scenery.  This is one of the most beautiful points on the course with ranches along the highway, and the mountains and foothills right in front of you.
  • The descent from km35-km37 is fast, and curves to the right. I would strongly recommend you ride the horns on this one rather than descent in aero position unless you're a very strong cyclist.  At this point you're entering a valley and the crosswinds can seriously throw you about here.  I'll say it again because it's really important, be smart about your descent here, you can gain some serious speed faster than you anticipate and you need to keep in mind that you may be passing people who aren't as confident as you are descending.
  • At km37 you hit another climb (Strava name: Cowboy Trail Climb") that averages about 3-4% for about 3km.  I'd say this is the most serious climb of the day.  You'll be in the easy gear on this one and I'd probably put it on par with the Cochrane hill climb if you've done the race before.  The key here is patience.  Focus on using gravity and your body weight to pull you up the hill by dancing the bike left to right with each pedal stroke.  You'll gain back the time soon enough because in about 10 minutes this course is going to get very fun.
  • Km44 is a descent, and then you turn north onto Highway 22 towards Bragg Creek and you're now around the halfway mark.  Once you pass the Shell station at Bragg Creek you begin a long false flat descent.  If you paced the first half of the course well you ought to be flying here.  Up to the traffic circle at km60, 200 watts could easily net you 45kph in some spots.  This is the only time you'll have a true crosswind but the trees should actually protect you from most of it.  
  • One you turn back east after the traffic circle you'll be on another long false flat descent.  As the temperature rises throughout the day the prevailing winds out of the west begin to pick up and should really push you along.  In the evening when the winds get really strong I've definitely done out and back rides on this stretch of road averaging 20kph at 220 watts on the way out, and riding back at 50kph on 160 watts on the way back.  This is a good time to refuel and start preparing yourself mentall and physically for the run.
  • A little past the 75km mark there will be a couple more short hills where you may to push a bit out of the saddle, but you're just about onto the run now so the end is in sight.
  • Route stats: 85.6km distance, +749m ascent, -678m descent, prevailing winds out of the west.
Overall the entire bike course has great pavement, and while it's not really what you'd consider a very technical course, you'll definitely be using your biggest and smallest gears quite often.  So you may want to invest in a quick tune up and the local shop before you head out to the race.  The shoulders are very wide and I'd consider these roads to be some of the safest stretches around.  That being said, the speed limits on these segments range from 70-100kph (40-60mph), so when passing be sure to keep to the right of the white line and be conscious of where there are rumble strips at the line.

If you have any questions at all feel free to post them in the comments section below.

Once again I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Paul Anderson and all of the volunteers striving to make this race happen.  For those of you coming from out of town, it's been a crazy three weeks in Calgary and many of our communities are still recovering from the floods, but come hell or high water we'll do our best to make your stay, and your race, one to remember.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Challenge Penticton Bike Course

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on ShutUpLegs.org! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

Note: This post was originally written a few weeks before IMC2011 after I pre-rode the course.  I've updated it to include some of my experiences from the actual race last year.  At the bottom is also the Garmin file from my ride in 2011.

I'd really like to encourage anyone interested in doing Challenge Penticton this year to give it a shot, whether you do it all yourself, or relay it.  Challenge puts on a great event and there's no better example than Challenge Roth, which is arguably one of the best put together Iron distance races in the world.

For anyone who is doing Challenge Penticton and won't have the luxury of riding the bike course before hand, I've come up with a few quick pointers based on my experience and the advice of others.
Perfect Ironman Strategy
  • If at any time during the ride you feel like you are going hard, you're going too hard.  Listening to your body during IM can be pretty tricky.  Out of the water and onto the bike you legs may not feel like they're really there yet, but give them about a half hour and they'll find you.  The trick to a solid second half of the ride, and a solid run is listening closely to your body.  That especially means your heart, your lungs, your legs. If you feel like you're going hard at all, you're going too hard.
  • Know the weather.  The weather in Penticton seems to be pretty variable from year to year.  In 2010, I had many friends who raced Ironman Canada/Challenge Penticton and there was no shortage of stories chronicling the cold and difficult conditions at the passes with rain, hail, and sleet at the higher elevations.  The year I did it in 2011, temperatures were scorching and the heat was the main obstacle for many athletes.  That year, many athletes in the front half of the race were using water liberally to try and keep cool while the back half of the field was actually running out of water.  And last year, conditions couldn't have been better in the 20C range with a mix of sun and cloud throughout the day.
  • Be sure to hydrate.  I usually take in about 750ml of fluid per hour and in 2011 that wasn't quite enough as the temperatures rose to about 37C down by Osoyoos.  If the temperature this year is in the 20's you should be pretty safe to stick to your usual nutrition plan, but if it gets into the 30's be sure to up your fluid intake.  By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated and you could end up digging yourself a hole.
  • The ride down to Osoyoos is fast and a slight downhill, if you find yourself cruising along at 40kph and your HR is relatively low, consider taking advantage of that time to hydrate and relax. The work starts at Richter, and you can start to build there.  Also, depending on where you come out of the water, it could be a pretty crowded course while the field sorts itself out.   How some triathletes handle their bikes still boggles my mind sometimes, so when you pass someone, make sure they know you're there by yelling "Left!" or "Passing left!".  
  • Take your time up Richter, its not as bad as people make it out to be if you have a plan. Be mentally strong here and be very patient. I'm a strong climber/cyclist but I made a point of sticking to my planned 200 watts up Richter. For me this meant I was climbing at about 9-10kph. For my friend Keith, an average cyclist/triathlete who was trying to stick to 160 watts, this meant climbing at 6-7kph.  If you aren't racing with power, just climb at a pace where you can still hold a conversation with someone.  Richter is way too early to be burning matches so if people are passing you, Keep Calm and Carry On.
  • Learn to descend comfortably, it may be a little late for this less than 2 weeks out, but a couple rides with some long descents will do good to prepare you for the IMC course. Even if you just do the climbs and descents of the IMC course in the weeks before the race, you could save a couple minutes on the ride by being familiar with the long descents on the back of the Seven Sisters and Richter.
  • On the rollers after Richter you may be tempted to try and take the momentum from the last descent and power over the crest of the hill to the next descent.  Don't.  These rollers are a little too long and few many to do this without burning up your legs.  At the race last year I definitely played cat and mouse with a few Maillot a Pois Rouge wannabes.  They would climb past me on the up, and I'd pedal past them on the down.  The difference between my approach and theirs was I was shooting for steady power output up and down, where they were attacking the climb and not pedalling on the descent.  Amateur hour, I didn't see most of them past the sixth roller until the finish line.
  • The out and back kind of sucks.  Its long and hot, and like any other out and back section of a looped race, it feels like you're only doing it to ride longer, which is exactly why its there.  This will probably be your first and only glimpse of some of the people who are going to beat you handily.  Buckle down mentally and think about why you're out here, think about crossing the finish line, and about everyone who is out there volunteering, cheering, and racing with you.  
  • The only good part about the out and back is that its where you get your special needs.  If you're like me and are totally comfortable sticking to race course nutrition, consider throwing an extra tube and CO2 canister in your special needs.  If you don't use it, thats $10 down the drain, if you need it but don't bring it, that could be 10 months training down the drain. Better to be wrong on the safe side.
  • Not long after the out and back you'll approach the Yellow Lake Climb. It starts so gradually that you may not even notice you're starting to climb. Here and all over the course you should always be mindful of your power/HR/perceived exertion. There are a lot of false flats and a lot of sections where the terrain will deceive you into thinking you aren't climbing when you actually are and this is definitely one of them.  This is a tough section, but near the top of Yellow Lake you'll come into a Tour de France style tunnel of cheers and fans.  Relish that moment, if you're going to get out of the saddle at any time on that course, that's the place to do it.
  • Staggered start this year.  Ironman Canada veterans will say goodbye to the mass start this year at Challenge Penticton.  I think this is a good thing, with such a large field the swim and bike course were incredibly crowded.  This approach will also encourage you to ride your own ride as the people ahead of you or behind you aren't necessarily competing with you for position.
  • Save your energy for the run. At the end of the day, incremental power on the bike isn't as valuable as incremental power on the run simply because you're trying to overcome far more wind resistance when you're riding at 35kph, than when you're running at 10kph. Going 5% harder for 6 hours on the bike might mean you get out of the saddle 10 minutes sooner, but with that you end up shuffling for an extra hour on the run. Its not worth it, people rarely say "I wish I'd gone out harder on the bike", but often say "I had a great ride, but things fell apart on the run".  The fact of the matter is that its all legs and its all related, so on a course like IMC, your patience on the bike will be rewarded on the run.
Edit: For a more in depth look at the Ironman Canada and Challenge Penticton Bike Courses check out this post.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Everything you wanted to know about triathlon but were too afraid to ask

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on ShutUpLegs.org! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

If you’ve ever spent much time around triathletes, cyclists, or runners, you learned pretty quickly that endurance athletes have a tendency to overshare.  The letters “TMI” have no meaning to them, and facts about bodily functions that would normally be considered cringe-worthy and inappropriate are shared as routinely as discussions about the weather or last night’s episode of Survivor.

But for the uninitiated, or shy, here are a few questions an answers that you may not be comfortable just coming out and asking the staff at the local bike or tri shop.

Question:  Is it true that triathletes sometimes pee in their wetsuits?

Answer: Yup.  But remember, it's a wetsuit, not a dry suit.  So water is circulating through the suit, so maybe that makes it a little better.  Some also pee in the pool, but there's a never ending debate about the morality of that one.

Question:  What do you do about friction and chaffing?

Answer:  Really actually depends on where.  Over the course of a 10+ hour race you'll discover basically anything can chafe but there are some specific problem areas like the back of your neck against the wetsuit, or the arches of your feet against your shoes/socks.  For areas like that stuff like Body Glide a great thing to have.  You'll want to apply it liberally anywhere you've ever had that problem.

If you you're going for long runs and rides and find yourself a little burned down between the legs, there are many different creams and skin lubricants that are designed specifically to reduce friction in that region.  Products like Chamois Butter, Assos Skin Cream, and Hoo Ha Glide can work wonders and I highly recommend them.  A word of caution, if you've already got a bit of a rash or chaffing going on, DO NOT apply these products, they'll burn like a mo-fo.  Go to a product like Assos Skin Repair Gel instead.

QuestionWhat do you wear under your bike or tri shorts?

Answer: That’s a trick question.  The answer is nothing.  Cyclists and triathletes go bare underneath their kits for one very good reason (and it’s not to avoid underwear lines), friction.  Seams and stitching have a nasty habit of causing friction against the skin when you’re in the saddle which can very quickly lead to chaffing in a very sensitive part of the body.  Shorts designed for cycling and triathlon have fewer seams and a special pad called a chamois that is designed to reduce friction, wick moisture, and provide padding for the areas where your body comes in contact with the sadly.  Your run of the mill pair of undergarments interfere with that process and can easily cause chaffing, and worse yet, provide ideal conditions for saddle sores, rashes, and infection.  Think of putting on a pair of bike shorts the same way you’d think of putting on a bathing suit, your favourite cotton skivvies just wouldn’t feel right.

Question: How do you deal with *ahem* numbness… like… down there?

Answer:  You really shouldn’t have to.  If things are going numb down south it’s a serious sign that you’re either; riding a bike that doesn’t fit you, riding a bike that isn’t set up to fit you properly, or your saddle just isn’t the right one for you.  Numbness is a sign of reduced blood flow to that part of your body often caused by pressure on the wrong part of your… saddle.  If this is a problem for you, then next time you get on the saddle be very conscious of where the pressure is being applied.  If most of the pressure is not on your sit bones (the two boney parts of your bum) then something is wrong.  Get a proper bike fit and test out different saddles to see which one fits you best.  Your anatomy is very specific and chances are the saddle that comes OEM on the bike you purchased isn’t necessarily the one that fits you best.  The same way you’re selective of your running shoes you should be selective with your saddle.

Question: The Ironman bike ride is like, 6 or 7 hours, what racers they do about going to the bathroom?

Answer:  This is personal preference and a little sport dependent.  In pro cycling when nature calls and they can’t just pull over to the side of the road, the one rider will have two teammates create a horizontal train side by side to basically push him while he stops pedaling to relieve himself.

In triathlon things are a little different and there are a couple methods.  In descending order of appropriateness, here they are...  The best bet is to wait until you get to an aid station and hit the porta potty, that’s why they’re there, so you may as well use them.  But when you gotta go, you gotta go, so what some people will do is just get off their bike when it’s safe to do so (or they *should* when its safe to do so), take a few steps from off the road, and just go.  The problem with that is that it’s public indecency and in some races you can actually be DQ’d for it.  The last solution is to just go while you’re on the bike, I’ll let you be creative as to how exactly to figure that one out but if this is the method you’re going to use make sure there isn’t someone drafting you (unless its someone you really really don’t like).  Honestly, there are very few circumstances where the third one is really necessary, but if you’re chasing Olympic glory or something like that some people might understand.

Question:  My toenails are starting to look weird. Why?

Answer:  The most common among runners is bruising or slight bleeding under the nail from repetitive trauma of the top of the shoe striking the nail with each step or the toe sliding forward into the end of the shoe.  This is commonly seen in runners and triathletes training for long distances races and in highly competitive runners training for shorter distance races but at high intensity and volume. These nail injuries are generally not painful, although sometimes the nails do thicken. They will heal when the training volume and intensity decreases, and the repetitive trauma ceases. A shoe with adequate toe room will also help in some cases as this may also be a sign that you're shoes are too small.

Question:  Why do cyclists and triathletes shave their legs?

Answer: Ummm, why wouldn’t they?  It makes us faster and more aerodynamic by shaving off valuable hundredths of a second per hour… no pun intended.  Honestly though, there are a few good reasons as to why one might choose to shave their legs.  If you’re regularly getting you’re calves and quads massaged you probably don’t want that deep tissue push to be pulling out hairs at the same time.  Another reason is that many athletes today are using kinesio tape or are taping their joints and having adhesives pull hairs out of your leg is every bit as painful as you’d imagine it to be.  Thirdly, if you’ve ever cleaned up road rash, you’ll know how much of a pain that hair can be.  Fourth, it makes your legs look more muscular.  And finally, it’s tradition.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bike Racing... and You Can Too

Effective October 2013 I'll be providing all my latest posts and updates on ShutUpLegs.org! Feel free to view this post and all my latest posts there!

Forward: This is actually a post I stole from my bike blog. But I figure it's a pretty introductory post to cycling so it'd be suited to the runners!

If you're anyone who has spent any time around me talking about cycling, triathlon, running, etc., you'll probably know that I really like to encourage people to give some sort of organized racing a shot.  I do this because I think that a little competition is a great way to meet new people, challenge yourself, and push yourself a little outside your comfort zone and have great fun in the process.

When it comes to cycling, there isn't a whole lot of info out there to show new entrants to the sport what the options are.  I've often had conversations with ladies and gentlmen who own road bikes but are wondering where the race scene is and how they can get involved in some organized, friendly competition.  So the purpose of this blog post is to provide a little direction as to what sort of organized competition is available for cycling in Calgary and Alberta, and how you can get involved.  Note, that the prerequisite for all these types of racing is in fact a road bike with drop bars (ie; no triathlon or time trial bikes, no mountain bikes or hybrids, and fixies/single speeds only if you're completely badass and have the engine of Fabian Cancellara).

Gran Fondo

Gran Fondo is literally Italian for "big ride".  Typically this non-competitive form of racing is where road cyclists can get together and celebrate their passion for the bicycle in a friendly but structured way.  Gran Fondos are large supported rides complete with aid stations similar to what you'd find at charity rides like the Ride to Conquer Cancer, or the MS Bike Tour.  The difference is that you don't have any fundraising goal to meet and the the reason the riders are there is to simply enjoy riding in the company of other cyclists.  

Gran Fondo is probably the best type of cycling for someone looking to bridge the gap between charity rides and actual cycling.  The distances are similar in that most Gran Fondo rides are between 80km and 160km, and its not as competitive an envionment as road races or crits.  If you're looking to measure up to the top riders, often Gran Fondos will have a small purse for the winning riders, but these really are "rides" more than "races".   These types of rides are a great place to introduce yourself to riding in a peloton, meet other cyclists, and find new routes.  In Alberta we're lucky enough to have three Gran Fondos across some truly extraordinary terrain;Gran Fondo RockiesGran Fondo Highwood Pass, and Gran Fondo Banff.

Road Racing

Traditional road racing is what's most commonly associated with big races like the Tour de France.  Alberta in fact has many multi-day road races throughout the season starting in late April/early May.  Often a multi-day "stage race" may include several types of racing which I'll talk about in seperate sections including; time trial, road race, crit, and hill climb time trial.  Some races like the Pigeon Lake Road Race are just a single day road race, while others like the Banff Bike Fest will take place over four days and include all of the previously mentioned races.  In a multi stage race there will be one or two types of racing on each day, each with its own winners, and an overall winner with the best total time or "General Classification" time awarded at the end.

Traditional road racing is draft legal complete with teams, tactics, and strategy.  The majority of the field races along in the "peloton" which is the large pack of riders you see flying through the countryside every July in the Tour de France.  Occasionally you'll have some try and break off from the group, or you'll have a team try and work together to make a break and give their top guy a chance at the win.  Depending on what level of race you compete in, these races may range from 60km on the short end to 150km or more at the top local levels.

For this type of racing it's important that you be confident riding among a pack of riders and have a solid base level of fitness.  I'd say for this type of riding, at the entry level you be able to ride for at least 2 hours and be familiar with concepts such as drafting, and communication with fellow riders.  Before you show up at a road race I'd encourage you to think about joining a local bicycling club.  More information on this type of racing and a schedule for the season is available from the Alberta Bicycling Association.

Crit Racing

Crit racing is Fast and Furious meets the cycling.  Crit races are short, fast races of multiple laps often on a 2-3km loop with several corners.  Races will usually last 20-30 minutes, after which a bell will be rung signalling how many laps remain.  Crit races are full of close quarter riding in the peloton, with sprints, attacks, and breakaways.

If I had to liken the intensity of this type of riding to anything I'd say it would be like 30 minute all out a spin class with the meanest spin instructor you'll ever meet.  Crit racing provides a fantastic high intensity workout and a great place to sharpen your group riding skills.  The great thing is that since they're so short, they're held quite often, Midweek Mayhem organizes them every Tuesday night through the summer in fact at the U of C Research Park.  For anyone looking to get involved in road racing, I'd strongly encourage they give crit a shot.  The nice thing with crit is that at the lower levels, if you get dropped out of the pack usually for the first little while they'll let you rejoin the group on the next level (you just won't be competing for the win), so in that sense its actually quite beginner friendly.

I'll put a word of caution into this one though, in such close quarter racing, communication and bike handling skills are crucial.  Thats why its important to start this type of racing at the beginning of the season, when everyone is still coming out of hibernation.  There are always newcomers to the sport and its safest when everyone is on the same level.  If you take a beginner and start them with a bunch of other beginners doing crit in May, then by July they'll all be way up the learning curve and you won't want to join in the fray when they're all on another level and you're still trying to figure out how to clip into your pedals.

Track Cycling

My old high school teacher CP Walsh wouldn't be too happy with me if I left Track Racing off the list.  Taking place at the Calgary Velodrome, this type of racing is the bicycling equivalent of track and field.   Velodrome racing is among the most exciting bicycle racing around, for both riders and spectators. Riders start from a stand still, on fixed gear bikes, in a velodrome with banked turns.  Track racing can be very physical, with riders going shoulder to shoulder in full sprints to the finish! This makes for exciting and spectator-friendly racing, because everyone can see all of the action.

To many cyclists, track racing is still considered the purest form of cycling and has certainly been around for as long as road cycling. With the steep banked walls of the modern velodrome offering excellent close-ups of the action, it is a fantastic spectator sport and particularly popular in Europe and Australia, with a recent resurgence in the UK.Now, this type of riding sounds intimidating, but I've got to hand it to the Calgary Bicycle Track League, they do an amazing job of making it a beginner friendly sport.  Throughout the season they hold clinics for beginners getting into the sport, and to boot they also provide bicycle rentals.

I'm not going to lie here though, this is the one type of riding I actually haven't tried out yet.  So I can't speak a whole lot to it.  But there's a pretty wicked video that can do the talking for me available here on Vimeo talking about Aussie track cyclist Shane Perkins.

Women in cycling

I've talked to a lot of women who have been looking to get involved in cycling.  With the popularity of spin classes lately I really do encourage individuals interested in cycling, especially women, to give it a shot.  Spin classes provide excellent conditioning for cyclists and I'd love to see some of those huge aerobic engines crafted through the winter out at the races in the summer.  Several races in Alberta often provide free entry for women in an effort to get more of them involved in cycling and deepen the ranks of ladies in the sport from the local to professional level.

The success of the Specialized Lululemon team with speed skating legend Clara Hughes last year is just one example of how women are starting to make a name for themselves in cycling.  If you're a woman interested in cycling I'd strongly encourage you to contact your local bike shop and ask them about shop rides, or no drop rides that they may host through the summer or even contact me directly on Twitter or through Ridleys as I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.


I'm passionate about cycling and I love to share this sport with others.  One of the best decisions I ever made was to take the leap and get involved in triathlon and racing at an organized level.  It certainly seems scary, and its intimidating to not know where you stack up against the field when you're just getting into a sport.  But nothing is worth trying out if it's not a little scary, and the only way to become a faster cyclist is to ride with faster cyclists.  So take the plunge now, find a local club, or sign of for a Gran Fondo, or even just go into your local bike shop and ask about shop rides, you won't regret it.

You can follow me on Twitter @raflopez or visit my other blog at Keep Calm and Ride On.