Friday, April 27, 2012

Performance from crankiness

Just a quickie post today, since it's my wonderful husband and best friend's birthday! Love you sweetheart!

He really does rawk my world.

Something I've noticed in the last few years is that, like anyone else, I'll have days where I simply don't want to do the work. I'll have a session planned, start procrastinating and thinking of reasons I can't/shouldn't do it, and generally turn into a crankypants about the whole thing.

Last night was like that. My trusty Timex Ironman Race Trainer watch band snapped on me, traffic was awful on the way out of town, we had a ton of errands to run (including sending the watch back to Timex, since the band isn't replaceable), and we ended up getting home quite late. It was cold and windy for the run (which was supposed to be super easy, but I tend to run faster than I should when pressed for time), and I was going to be late getting to the pool.

Consternation - it's not replaceable.

I was tempted to bag the whole business and just sit on the couch, but the next day being both Friday and Tanker's birthday meant there was no way I'd be doing any training, so rather than take two days off I rolled off to the pool. Got there just after the time I'm usually in the water and discovered the hot tub is operational, but cold - they'd been doing repair work earlier in the day and had shut the heater off. Oh well, at least I wouldn't be tempted to jump out of the pool 5mins early to hit the tub!

Finally started my workout at 9:10pm, when I'm usually leaving the wall by 8:55. I had something I wanted to try: 3 x (300m, 200m, 100m), descending all intervals. That meant the 200s and 100s had to be faster paced than the 300s, and the third 300 would be faster than the second, which would in turn be faster than the first. Lots of changing gears!

I set to it, and felt like crap; halfway through my 4th length, I just wanted to give up and go home. I wasn't sure I could even do the first 300m, let alone complete the workout. I pushed on, though, since I had already used up a swim on my 20 pass and I'm too damned cheap to waste that!

As has happened so many other times in the past, despite feeling lousy and wanting to quit, I not only made it through the workout but I did so almost flawlessly. Let X represent the pace per 100m of the first, painful 300, and my splits were:

Set 1:  300 @ X minus :00/100m, 200 @ X minus :03/100m, 100 @ X minus :10/100m

Set 2: 300 @ X minus :02/100m, 200 @ X minus :06/100m, 100 @ X minus :14/100m

Set 3: 300 @ X minus :04/100m, 200 @ X minus :05/100m, 100 @ X minus :15/100m.

So I cracked myself a bit with that last 300 and swam the last 200 a little slower than the second, but everything else was properly executed. I swam a nice easy cool-down and reflected on how often it happens that the workouts I want to do the least end up being ones in which I surprise myself. I've had it happen with swim, bike and run, and it never ceases to amaze me. 

The best part of all is that afterward, instead of the guilt of having bagged a workout (which would only add to the negativity that made me want to skive off in the first place), I usually feel better than I have all day! Next time your brain is trying to talk you out of training for no good reason, let your body do the talking instead*.

(*Note: missing training due to illness, injury, work or family obligations is necessary and healthy. This post refers only to skipping training due to lack of motivation and the gravitational pull of your comfiest piece of furniture.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Trail ride perfection

While running a local trail on Saturday with Tanker chasing me on a bike, we discovered that part of the trail that had been closed for the last two years was finally open and resolved to return on Sunday to ride it and explore.

Broccoli-scallion scramble, peameal bacon and latkes with greek yogurt.  We take brunch seriously!

My day got off to a great start with a swim first thing in the morning. Despite it being a fasted workout, I actually hit a pace I've never before achieved for 10 x 100, and each one of my intervals was bang on time (ok, one of them was 1 whole second slower). I headed home and snacked on a microwaved sweet potato with almond butter and cinnamon, then went to wake up Tanker but ended up napping for an hour myself! Felt great afterwards, though, so I made us brunch while we listened to the Food Show on 570News and ended up winning tickets to the Waterloo Region Food & Drink Show.

The tube wasn't the only thing that was flat.


We had some running around to do before we could ride - Tanker had ended up riding my mountain bike to chase me on the run yesterday after discovering his rear wheel's valve had parted ways from the tube, and we didn't have a spare tube on hand. He'd also been in dire need of a new rear tire for months, so along with a couple of other errands we got what we needed from Grand River Cycle and got his bike ready to ride. Fortunately, while we didn't get out until later in the day, the weather cleared up significantly from the overcast and chilly temperatures of the early afternoon!

Closest trailhead to us.

We hopped on our bikes around 5:30pm and rode up to the trailhead at Kuntz Park, then set off on the trail under beautiful sunny skies. It wasn't terribly warm, but a base layer and arm warmers were all I needed to be comfortable, and Tanker was happy in a wind jacket.

At a bend in the river.

Most of the trail is easily navigated.

This was the first time I was riding anything but rail trail with clipless pedals on my mountain bike, but I never really thought about it until we got into one of the more technical sections - there are stretches of deep, poured gravel that are like riding through porridge, then washed out parts where the trail is covered in cat's head-size river rocks that bounce you around like crazy.

Looking back after riding through some rocks.

Looking down from the same point; this was the first place that I thought I could stop and get going again!

I was a bit nervous through the tricky bits, since my off-road skills are practically non-existent, but I gained more confidence as I rode along. Having just done Paris to Ancaster a week beforehand on my 'cross bike with clipless pedals, my legs seemed to have a clue about what they were doing and I employed the same mantra of "eyes up, light on the pedals" to get myself through. Fortunately,the technical bits are all interspersed with nice, easy stretches of rail trail where I could relax and grab a drink.

Dam on the Grand River and a fish ladder.

I actually managed to get comfortable enough that I stopped looking for the easiest way through, and started to challenge myself with bouncing over some of the bigger and looser rocks. I came through it just fine and really enjoyed myself! Tanker was much happier on his own bike with the new rear tire on it, too; he hates my full-rigid rig, and was pleased to have his full squish back!

Schneider Park at Freeport.

We rode as far as we could, across the river to Freeport, but the trail that will eventually extend from there hasn't been built yet. We could have gone back home via King Street, but we were out to ride trail!

Coming back through.

My trail riding partner and his boat anchor.

I had even more fun on the way back, just bouncing around in the rocks and slewing my way through the soft, poured gravel as the evening sun tinted the landscape with the honeyed colours of spring. I couldn't keep a smile off my face if I'd tried - the beauty of the valley, the excellent company and the joy of riding my bike all ran together in a river of delight flowing through my whole soul.

I love this photo.

Fern along the trail.

We rolled our way back to Kuntz Park and saw a bit more trail leading to an informational sign - we rode across and discovered the Clarica Lookout at the Betzner Farmstead, which affords an amazing view overlooking what will be a future extension of the trail. I can't wait for them to build more for us to explore!

From the Clarica Lookout

It was past 7pm by this point, so we made our way home with just one more stop at the top of the driveway for River Edge Golf Club, to take in a last panorama of the Grand River Valley.

A quick 5.6km transition run on legs that felt wonderfully zippy wrapped up a near-perfect day of training. Sometimes it just all comes together - when it does, it's pure bliss.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Growth and shrinking

One final note on Paris to Ancaster - I'd like to thank all of the volunteers and police officers who are such an essential part of the race. It goes without saying that these fine people give up their day to stand out in the wet while keeping us safe on the roads and providing valuable direction to addle-brained cyclists, not to mention much-appreciated cheers. I try to thank everyone along the course as I pass, but for any I forgot, I am truly grateful!

Towing someone up a hill, while another cyclists walks it.

The day is also made possible by the many land owners who generously allow two thousand people and bikes to run roughshod over their property. Many parts of the route are on private land, and it's only through the enthusiasm of the owners and the hard work of the organizers to maintain good relationships through the years that we're able to continue to enjoy the challenges that the terrain presents. It's wonderful to see some of these kind people out on their driveways and porches, clapping and smiling as wave after wave of mud-covered hooligans roll through their little slice of the landscape! I try to do my part by thanking them on my way by, and by refusing to litter - all gel packet pieces go back into a jersey pocket rather than being dropped on the ground.

Covered in mud.

Thus, I was very happy to hear that the organizers were able to donate $550 to the Langford Conservancy Co-operative; one of the private landowners who so graciously allow the Paris to Ancaster route to run through their property and advocates for the preservation of Brant county.

With P2A out of the way, my focus turns now to the Mudpuppy Chase 10k just over two weeks from now. My legs have been feeling pretty good on the run, and I've managed to put in a few pretty zippy kilometers lately. I've also continued my efforts to eat a little less, and been rewarded by my clothing fitting a bit looser. Here's the same shirt, pose and lighting as 6 weeks ago:

Think I've got a little more room in that top.

I'm also down about 3lbs from the last update, and very close to the lowest weight I hit in 2011 (which was toward the end of June, just before the Welland Half Iron). I would still like to drop a few more pounds, but I'm heading in the right direction without compromising my training or recovery.

There's one thing I'd greatly like to grow, though - my donation pot for KidsAbility! I implore you all to click the link and make a donation of whatever you can - even if it's just a dollar. You can use PayPal or any major credit card, and you'll receive a tax-deductible receipt. The best part of all is that you'll be funding programs for developmentally challenged children who need a little extra hand to reach their full potential. Please, show your generosity to KidsAbility - they do amazing work, and they need your help!

Watch the video above to see Graydon's journey with KidsAbility - thanks to donations from people like you, Graydon will be racing the 3k mini-Mudpuppy Chase on May 6th!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Paris to Ancaster 60k - April 15th, 2012

I've said it before and I'll say it again: a triathlete doing a bike race is like bringing a rubber chicken to a swordfight - you're definitely not going to win, but you're almost sure to get some laughs.

This qualifies as a "beautiful day" for P2A.

Inauspicious beginning - the rain just kept getting harder as we got closer to Paris, and I spent most of the time between arrival and the start hiding in the car and drinking my pre-race cafe mocha. They were calling for a possibility of thunderstorms around noon, but it was already 14c and would climb to 20c by the time the race was over, at which point it would clear up and be a lovely day. Further proof that race director Tim Farrar special-orders rain for race day!

About to head to the start.

I decided to go with pretty minimal kit - merino wool short-sleeve base layer, merino wool socks, bibs, knee warmers, short-sleeve jersey with arm warmers, a tech fabric cycling cap and my mountain bike gloves. I hemmed and hawed about adding my vest, but decided against it as I didn't want to be too warm and wouldn't have a pocket big enough to ditch it. As I tweeted after running into a friend and discussing apparel choices, "#P2A resembles the red carpet in Hollywood: everyone just talks about what they're wearing."

Ran into Jon from the Hub and Trevor, with whom we've rode a few times.

I also dropped my tire pressures from their usual 85psi (for road and rail trail; the max for the tires I'm using)  to a more traction-friendly 47psi. I knew I'd be dealing with a lot of mud, and my bike handling skills leave a lot to be desired! To make things even more interesting, I discovered that the centre nubs on my rear tire were showing significant wear; perhaps I should've looked into this sooner, as it looked like I was going to have some issues. Nothing to be done then, though, so I mounted up and found some more friendly faces on the way to the start corral - we chatted a bit while the first two waves went off, then lined up to get after it. Zero warmup other than schluffing up to the start.

Blowing my soigneur one last kiss before the gun.

The rain was coming down pretty well as we set off, and the rail trail on which you ride the first 6 or 7 kilometers had a slick of water on top. I was immediately coated with spatters of mud from both my wheels and those that I followed - the trail bottlenecks the hundreds of riders in each wave, so you're constantly looking for space to make a pass. I managed to make my way through quite a number of riders, and bridge up a couple of packs. I was rolling really well on the rail trail (when I had space), and feeling reasonably confident even in the muddy spots; the tire pressure seemed to be bang on and I was pretty comfortable.

Top of the fire road - where we stopped last year to let Tank remove his toe covers.

We made the turn onto the fire road and the rear wheel broke loose almost immediately on the wet stones, but I managed to stay upright and merely stepped off my bike. I walked this hill last year, and it looked like I'd be walking again this year. No big deal; it's a long day, and I knew it wasn't the last time I'd be dismounting. After snapping this pic I re-mounted and rode on until we hit the first stretch of mud off McLean School Road, where the wheel-jamming mud I remembered from last year reared its head. My drivetrain also started to sound like crap, which is typical of the P2A experience.

Almost everyone is walking, including me.

Not as terrified as I look - just out of breath.

When I say wheel-jamming mud, I really mean it - I remembered it from Charlie's Farm at about the 50km point last year, but I was only 10km or less in and already the wheels were sticking solid every 30 yards! I found a small chunk of stick to help me poke the mud out and dubbed it my Paris Ancaster Specialty Tool, then stuck it in my jersey pocket for the next time I needed it. I also tossed back a tangerine eLoad gel to supplement the bottle with 2 scoops of eLoad endurance formula I'd been sipping, washing it down with water. My bottles and the gel pack were covered in mud, though, so it wasn't the most pleasant experience.

This is why you need a P2A Specialty Tool - that wheel won't move.

Up until it became impossible to ride, though, I'd actually been rolling through the mud much more confidently than last year. Some time spent on my mountain bike in 2011 improved my handling skills a bit, not to mention last year's P2A experience, and the lower tire pressure was working well. Things were still quite sketchy, but I developed a little mantra that helped me immensely: "eyes up, light on the pedals". As long as I kept looking where I wanted to go and just kept the wheels rolling along, I managed to straggle through.


I was also super happy I'd remembered to put on my 12-27 cassette, as I was spending most of my time in the mud in 36/27 in an effort to keep from breaking the rear tire loose. Even at that, I found myself on a number of occasions just turning over the pedals while the rear wheel spun in the loose, wet mud - fortunately, I always managed to get a foot out and on the ground before I fell over.

The mud just keeps on coming.

I was feeling pretty good, too - more confidence than last year, and better fitness. There were even a few points where I broke into a run with the bike when I couldn't ride, though I'm not going to tell you that I was moving very fast or that it happened very often! Still, I was having a great time and even the rain had stopped.

It's not foggy - I'm shooting through a ziploc baggie!

I also stopped periodically to take some photos, because I don't really have any illusions about actually racing P2A. Might as well enjoy the day! I knocked back another gel; trying out the new peanut butter flavour of Gu. Super tasty stuff, and went down really well! Will have to keep that one in mind for the future.

Taking some of the landscape along for the ride.

The part that always makes me laugh is coming out to a road section (either paved or dirt; they're mostly the latter) after one of the muddy stretches - when you pick up some speed, clumps of mud come flying off your wheels! I actually managed to reach down and glove off my tires to try to keep mud from building up on the brakes as I was riding - probably the closest I'll ever come to being a cyclocross stud.

More mud? What a surprise!

After the bit of a rest from walking my bike (sometimes having to carry it) through the unrideable bits, I was able to crank really well when I actually got out onto non-technical terrain. My legs were responding to the mini-taper and carbo loading, and I felt great! I blew past dozens of people on the road and rail trail sections, particularly those on mountain bikes; every time I think about riding my mtb for this event, I try to remember how much time I make up flying along at 30+kph on the roads. I was amazed to see one gent riding the same Tim Hortons Roll-up-the-rim-to-win Raleigh full suspension mountain bike that Tanker won in 2002; that bloody thing weighs 35lbs if it's an ounce, and the fellow riding it didn't look like a spring chicken, either! Good on you, whoever you may be, sir!

Muddy Snorky in Harrisburg.

I finally reached the Harrisburg aid station (close to the halfway point) at about the two-hour mark after nearly losing it on a poured gravel driveway - it was only about 100 metres long and I managed to make it through about 85 of those, but then my rear wheel tried going sideways on me and I had to stop. Rather than trying to get going again in the gravel, I walked the last few feet back onto pavement. You can see the first half of the course, including the aforementioned gravel, in this video from Hamilton Spectator reporter John Rennison. You can also see Jay from the Hub on his unicycle - that kid is freakin' nuts.

Snorky and I in Harrisburg.

I stopped at the aid station to fill bottles, using one full bottle of water to hose off my brakes and derailleurs  then topping it up again so I'd have some water to wash down gels. I topped my eLoad endurance formula bottle off with water, too, just to keep hydration levels up; I didn't intend to stop again and didn't want to run out of beverages. I only ended up taking one more gel - one of the mild apple eLoad gels that Chris from Endless Endurance had hooked me up with before the race - and did so from the saddle on one of the paved sections. Thanks again Chris!

Route map from Peter Mogg's Strava data

I don't have any photos from the last half of the course, which features 2 sections of farm lane including "the Prenderlaan" (new for 2012; 1.2km of double-track squishy mud and grass that replaces a paved section), 2 stretches of rail trail (on the Hamilton to Brantford leg of the Trans Canada Trail), the two main mud slides (Charlie's Farm and the Powerline Mudslide), and a number of hills. I was actually pretty proud of the fact that I managed to ride the whole of both of the farm lanes, and I didn't end up walking on any of the paved or dirt road hills (the one exception being part of the final hill) - that was a huge improvement over last year, when I wussed out a couple of times. Might have just been the 27t cog (vs 25t as my largest last year), but I'd like to think I'm improving!

Ever-present and all-pervasive.

I didn't even stand to climb; just stayed in the saddle, at most moving my hands to the tops to open up my hip angle and concentrating on keeping my upper body quiet while pedaling full circles. I passed a lot of people on the hills who were walking and even managed to pass a couple of folks in the mud! I hiked the messy downhills, though, since I still don't have a lot of confidence in my bike handling and my brakes' effectiveness was badly compromised by the mud. Better to get out un-injured! I did see quite a number of people go down at varying levels of severity, but most people's falls were cushioned by the ever-present mud. I was just enjoying myself, and even saw the sun try to poke its head out a couple of times.

Quite literally head to toe.

Hamilton Spectator reporter John Rennison's second video here is a pretty good summary of the latter half of the race, though he doesn't really capture the nasty little dirt road rollers that try to tear your quads apart before you reach the Powerline Mudslide. I was able to hammer along brilliantly and make up some serious time (and placings) on the rail trail and road, but even walking some of the mud, like Charlie's Farm and Martin Road, was enough to make you suck wind. Nothing, however, can quite prepare you for the suck of the final climb up the escarpment to the finish line.

My quads hurt just looking at this.

I tried to hold as much speed as I could as I came out of the last of the mud, and shifted down a couple of cogs so I'd have somewhere to go when my legs started to protest. I made it through the first 50 metres or so, then the grade started to kick in and I had to drop to the 24t cog, then the 27t, then stand up to make it through the first third...and then give up as both legs just about seized up on me. That damn hill goes to something like 13% in the middle section, and after the preceding 59.5km of quad-shredding terrain it's all I could do to even walk the bike up it. I do, however, have proof that I passed somebody on the final climb:

Thanks to Chris Teschke for the GoPro video.

I panted and gasped and pushed Snorky along through the second third of the hill, then re-mounted where it flattens out a bit for the last third. At the very least, I could ride my bike across the line after having taken it for a walk through the countryside!

Just crossed the finish line.

Tanker was waiting for me at the finish, snapping the pic above and then coming over to be his usual wonderful, supportive self. Of course, we got the obligatory covered-in-mud post-P2A pics:


Made sure to get one of my back this time - forgot last year.
You can just see my P2A Specialty Tool sticking out of my left jersey pocket.

A few moments later, Chris appeared (he says I managed to gain 2 minutes on him on the final hill alone), so we got a pic together. We'd spent most of the race passing one another as the various sections played to our strengths and weaknesses!

Good times!

Then we headed over to the car so I could get changed out of wet gear and load up the bike to go home. My time was 4:07:52, which was a bit disappointing as I'd hoped to break 4 hours this year and felt like I had rode much faster than 2011. I had improved almost 5mins over last year's 4:12:36, and I believe the course change (swapping a paved section for the Prenderlaan farm lane) made for slower times overall. 2011 and 2012 overall winner Mike Garrigan went 1:44:46 last year but 1:48:23 on this outing, and Nathan Chown  (9th in 2011, 3rd in 2012) posted a 1:49:09 last year but went 1:56:08 on the new course. From this I'm going to deduct that I was probably a little more than 10mins faster than last year, which isn't too shabby! My placing, however, sucked: 1127 of 1275 overall, 85 out of 102 women and 15/22 in W30-39. Hey, I'm not a cyclist! I'm sure I also could have made up 8 minutes to break 4 hours had I not stopped so often to take photos in the first half, to see if a girl who went down in the first mud section needed me to call for help, or for the few minutes to try to rinse off my derailleurs at Harrisburg.

Calf sleeves made of mud! 

My cycle computer tells a story of greater improvement than the race results: last year's data showed 56.2km in 3:35:50, for an average of 15.5kph (when the real wheel was actually spinning), whereas this year's readings were 60.4km in 3:33:20 at an average of 17.0kph. I felt good through the whole race, fueling went well (I had 2 extra gels with me, but didn't feel I needed them), tire pressure seemed well-judged and clothing was perfect. I had good speed on the roads, way more confidence in the technical sections, didn't crash, spent much more time on my bike than walking beside it (including the hills), and I even managed to run a bit. I'm pretty happy with my effort overall, particularly since this was only my 8th-ish outdoor ride of the year! The trainer just can't prepare you for anything like this.

Result: no, I'm not very good at this. Still have fun, though!

Of course the sun came out just after I finished, when it was all over but the post-race gluttony!

Beer for Tanker and cider for me!

It did, however, give me perfect weather to give poor Snorky a bath. After some serious hose time and a good rub down with a towel, he's all cleaned up and ready for more abuse!

Love this bike!

Then it was my turn for a thorough showering: mud had even made its way through to the inside of my bibs and base layer, not to mention getting caked into my hair.

I don't think it's a look that will catch on.

Final casualty list: I wore holes at the big toe of each of my socks, scraped up the back of my left calf somehow, blackened the nail of the 4th toe on my left foot, and stairs sucked a lot. While I'm mildly bitter about the socks, everything else was assisted by the application of first an empty cider can, then an empty beer can. My vastus medialis muscles (those ones that form the lump over the inside of your knee and work to extend your leg), my neck and my shoulders are a bit sore today, but that's all! I'm feeling good about the work I did on the course since I know that yesterday's efforts will lead to this season's bike fitness, and I'm looking forward to the next cycling event - the 160km Cambridge Tour de Grand!