Friday, July 26, 2013

Ride Report: Together We Travel - Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Tanker and I were privileged on Saturday to take part in an amazing event called Together We Travel - Ride for Angels. This was a free, all-inclusive ride through Uptown Waterloo to promote the safe sharing of the road between motor vehicles and bicycles, and to honour cyclists who had been injured or killed while riding. The organizer, Heather Caron, lost her husband Barrie Conrod to an accident on May 6th, 2012 and put together a memorial ride just one week later in Hawkesville, Ontario as a memorial. Her words strike deeply:

“May 6, 2012 my husband Barrie Conrod was killed by an inattentive driver.  It was a clear day, we could see for miles.  There was no justifiable reason for the crash.  We did everything right that day.  The accident was horrific, catastrophic and it has changed my life forever.  Together We Travel Ride for Angels will serve as a reminder to motorists and cyclists to respect each other and remember those who have been affected.  I hope we can continue to remember and honour until the time comes that we don’t need to promote safety on the roads.  Safety for all.”

We convened at the CIGI campus near Waterloo Town Square for the free registration, and were asked if we knew anyone who had been hurt or killed in a cycling incident - thinking of our friend Jan, against whom we had raced earlier that day at Belwood, we both answered yes and received a red band to be worn on our left arms. It had also been suggested that all riders wear white to emphasize the memorial aspect, but of course I'd managed to forget about that.

Tanker and the sore thumb.

The turnout was amazing for a second year event (first year as Together We Travel), with the majority of riders participating for the first time.

After a pre-ride briefing by the organizers and a great cheer for Kitchener MPP Catherine Fife, who both joined in the ride and intends to advocate for cyclists' rights in Provincial Parliament, we set out for the 3km police-escorted processional ride through the streets of Waterloo.

Our route, per Endomondo.

The pace was leisurely, the day was beautiful, and it was a powerful experience to be part of such an immense line of cyclists.

I seem to have dropped a pack.

Tanker's awesome fighter plane jersey.

We stopped here and there, and got numerous honks and hollers of support from people and vehicles along the way.

Waiting for clearance from the police to proceed.

At least a half-kilometer train of bikes.
Afterward we ended up at Waterloo Town Square for a short closing ceremony, with Heather Caron giving a full account of that fateful afternoon last May. It was a moving experience, and one we shall certainly look to participate in again.

Together we traveled - alone I rode home.

If you live in the Waterloo Region, I strongly recommend watching the Together We Travel website for details about the 2014 ride. As cyclists we must stand together to promote safety on the roads - noone else should have to experience the senseless loss of a loved one!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Belwood Triathlon Relay - Saturday, July 20th, 2013

When racing for fun alone, you'll always achieve your goals.

After some really horrific storms on Friday that did massive damage in our area, we crossed every available appendage in hopes the thunderstorms would clear out before race time as I slammed back a single meal replacement shake and fixed my suddenly re-broken watch strap with Krazy Glue. It didn't look that hot, though - a few drops of rain fell as we left to hit up Tim Hortons for Café Mochas and a couple of timbits for Tanker, and there were nasty looking clouds in the sky on the way out to Belwood Lake Conservation Area.

Aim for the clear spot!

Shouldn't he be watching the road?

Breaking up as we get closer.
By the time we arrived, picked up race kit and got ourselves set up, the sun had chased the clouds away and was rapidly starting to warm the air. Not, fortunately, to the sticky, sweltering mess that last week had been before the storms washed the heat and humidity from the air - it was shaping up to be a truly beautiful summer day. We breezed through setting up our transition site, chatted with a friend who was also competing in the relay division, and chuckled a bit at a girl who wandered into transition with no clue whatsoever of what she was doing - we did, of course, point her in the right direction, but it still amazes me that with race day information on the MultiSport Canada website and in the pre-race email freely available, some people just can't be stuffed to educate themselves.

Lack of sunglasses apparently turns me into a pirate.

I don't think we actually forgot anything!

Pre race business went smoothly as I sipped on a bottle of eLoad, and I was into my wetsuit in plenty of time to get a warmup swim in. Belwood Lake was very warm at 77f/25c so there was no need to acclimatize to cold water, but I needed to get my arms and shoulders working and let my heart rate get over that initial spike. Tanker zipped me into my wetsuit - which is fitting a fair bit looser these days - kissed me and sent me on my way down to the beach. Grand River Conservation had increased the flow through Shand Dam in the week prior to the race to ease flooding threats on the Grand River, causing in a 1 meter drop in the water level of Belwood Lake - the shore was a bit mucky as a result, and there was a lot of murk in the first few metres where swimmers' feet had churned up the silt. I got in, threw on goggles & cap, then swam out past the first orange buoy - I was feeling pretty good (despite a mouthful of water from a rescue boat wake as it headed out), and wanted to get at least 250m in, because I planned to swim fairly aggressively. Reckoning that the first leg was probably around 300m, swimming out to the halfway point would get me nicely limbered up. I made my way back in again with about 3mins before the first wave start, which would give me 11mins to try to keep loose as relays would be in the 3rd and final wave with the 50+ men and 40+ women.

The wave ahead setting off - photo credit My Sports Shooter.

Clapping and cheering as the first two waves set out, I swung my arms around a little and got a great heads up from one of the course photographers - the mats they'd laid down to cover the gravel run-up to transition from the swim exit concealed some small potholes and other tripping hazards, so I'd have to watch my footing so I didn't take a spill or roll an ankle. I thanked Bob for the warning and then waded down into the water, noting that most people had wandered out a few feet past the two green buoys that were the official start line. I stayed behind, partly because I'd rather pass people than have them swim over me, and partly because I play by the rules. I felt awful for a young man who set out just a minute or so before my wave - he was in a red cap, which denoted he was supposed to be in wave 1, and he was starting with a 7min disadvantage! There are advantages to arriving early.

Soon enough, the horn sounded to send us on our way and I quickly settled into a good rhythm. It was a relatively small field and I was able to swim without much contact, but I did find myself on a decent set of feet in the first few yards; they seemed to disappear after 50m or so, though. I sighted on the first orange buoy, which looked an awfully long way away, but reassured myself I'd already been there and back - in fact, had already done 1/3 of the total swim distance as warmup. I just kept my turnover steady, aiming to swim at what would be a comfortable pace for 400m and just try to hang on through the latter half. My strategy seemed to work fairly well, and my navigation was bang on - I was passing a lot of people and came down squarely on top of the first green buoy, seeing some yellow caps from wave 2 as I made the turn toward Shand Dam.

The wind was starting to pick up a bit, but I had it at my back as I crossed the shortest leg of the course and made the final turn to head for the shore again. I was starting to tire a bit, and realised that my form was coming apart as a result - I focused on really pulling with my lats and pushing my chest down, but it seemed to take forever to crawl my way along past the dam itself. I had really clear, open water at this point; all of the feet I had tried to follow had dropped away, so it was a solo effort into the finish. I tried to bring it in strong despite the overwhelming fatigue as I pulled toward the big yellow sausage buoys guiding me toward the swim exit, only standing up once I couldn't take a stroke without bottoming out. It was tough to hang on with the pace I'd set myself off the start, but the official race photos show me as 9th out of water in my wave, so mission accomplished!

How sad is it that this is the most flattering photo ever taken of me on the way to T1?
750m swim: 15:39 @ 2:05/100m (incl. run to T1) - 4/6 in Relay divison

The run to transition is a long one here, or at least feels like it - I'd actually love to see MSC set up a second timing mat like they do in Welland to keep swim and run-up times separate, as I'm pretty sure I put in my fastest-paced swim ever here. If I allow 1min for the run-up itself (which seems reasonable), I actually clocked a 14:39 at 1:57/100m; a definite PR, and a far cry from my absolutely pathetic 2:48/100m fiasco when last we did this relay (as part of that other series) in 2011. I pulled off my cap and goggles, but didn't bother trying to unzip my suit - I'd have plenty of time for that once I'd "passed the baton". I met Tanker at the our rack spot after hauling my butt as fast as I could into transition, pulled the timing chip off my ankle and secured it around his, then sent him off with a pat on the bum to pedal his heart out on the bike course.

T1: 0:37 - 3/6 in Relay divison

With nothing but time on my hands, I stripped off my wetsuit in leisurely fashion and turned it right-side-out again before packing it, my cap and goggles into the wet compartment of my transition bag. I wasn't feeling all that hot - my belly was upset, and I had a bit of a headache. I suspected that the murky water had caused the former, and the latter often happens if I don't do a proper cool-down after a hard effort. I hoped both would resolve before I had to go run, or else I'd be sorely letting my sweetheart down. While Tanker cranked away on a brand new route, I took a moment to post an update on facebook and take narcissistic photos.

You know, like a typical triathlete.

There was also an osprey wheeling around overhead near the bike in/out that was a treat to watch, gliding gracefully through the air:

Photo credit My Sports Shooter.
Tanker tells me that the new bike course involves a few more hills than the old one, with some sustained climbs in the last third - it was also slightly long, with his cycle computer showing 30.5km afterward. The wind had whipped up a fair bit, too, and was directly in his face through the middle section. He put in an amazing effort, though, and got high fives from all of the police officers as he thanked them along the way!

Look at that guy killing himself to try to keep up!

At least the last few kilometers had a tailwind.

I drank the rest of the bottle of eLoad, changed into my running shoes, and did my run warmup trotting over to a portajohn (having been cleared by the Triathlon Ontario official to leave the transition area as I pleased) to relieve myself before Tanker came back on the bike. I watched in awe as the race leaders came flying through T2, and got to see the first few finishers come in from the tri and duathlon. Just to be on the safe side, I also downed an apple cinnamon Hammer gel about 15mins before I expected Tanker to come in - my unhappy belly and head were feeling ok, so I just had to hope legs and lungs were good to go. I did some high knees and butt kicks to stay loose, then managed to snap a pic of Tank as he came hauling in from an incredible ride!

I'm so proud of him!
30k bike: 1:07:51 @ 26.5kph - 4/6 in Relay division.

I stripped the chip off his ankle and strapped it back on mine, then with a quick kiss I was on my way out of transition and heading for the Elora Cataract Trailway.

T2: 0:40 - 3/6 in Relay division.

Strategy for the run was going to be similar to what I attempted in the swim - go out at what felt like a sustainable 5k pace and just try to hang on as long as possible. I hadn't put in a single run under 6:00 per kilometer since the Welland Half Iron 4 weeks beforehand, from which I'm not entirely sure I had recovered completely - I generally figure races of 60+mins take me about one week per hour of racing before I'm ready for another 100% effort, so I was about a fortnight shy. At least the course was nice and flat, and the day wasn't nearly so punishingly hot and humid as Welland had been!

A short out-and-back, then a longer one.

My legs actually felt pretty snappy as I headed out, so I had hopes of at least not embarrassing myself - well, any more than exposing my pasty white belly for all to behold. Maybe the real strategy was to blind the competition so they'd be unable to run; too bad it didn't work out, as I was passed like I was standing still by another relay team runner before I even managed to make it across the dam.

Do not look directly into the midsection without eye protection.
Also: the ill advised racing gang sign.

I was delighted to discover lots of shade on the course, and the wind that had been such a source of consternation for Tanker on the bike was actually doing a wonderful job of keeping the heat and humidity levels tolerable. I made the first turn-around feeling pretty good, bypassing the first aid station completely and heading out for the longer stretch of trail toward Fergus with the only little visible rise out of the way. I was starting to get very warm despite the breeze, so grabbed a cup of water at the second aid station and dumped all but a sip of it down my back.

Happiness in suffering.
By this time each kilometer marker seemed to be twice as far as the last one had been, and the death whistle kicked in at full force by kilometer 4. I had no idea exactly where the turn-around point would be, so was extremely happy when I finally saw the 5k marker on the other side of the trail as I knew it couldn't be much further. I convinced myself that I'd have a nice tailwind for the way back (not realizing that the trail curved so much), and redoubled my efforts to keep up the pace. I'd skipped the third aid station, but revisiting it after making the turn-around brought another sip of water to wet my mouth and a splash down my front to try to cool me down. 

I managed not to pee myself!
By the time I reached the 5k marker "for realz", my legs wanted to fall off and I'd have happily laid down in a shady ditch and taken a nice, long nap. My stride was going to hell, so I had to force myself to focus on leaning forward and using my glutes to push me along; flat courses challenge you to stay with the same muscle engagement for the duration, and some of the crushed limestone gravel on the trail was energy-suckingly soft. I kept telling myself that I only had 2km or so to go, and it was rather pleasing that I had been passing people throughout the entire course while only being passed once or twice. There are real advantages to having someone else do the bike leg while you take a bit of a rest! Eventually I made it back to Shand Dam, taking a brief look over the West side as I ran to take in the gorgeous view of the Grand River far below.

That looks far more comfortable than what I was doing.

Pushing with every last bit of energy I had, I tried to muster a bit of a kick for the finish, seeing 2:13:xx tick past on the clock as I gasped and wheezed. Finally my efforts were rewarded by the archway, the timing mats and my amazing husband cheering for me at the line.

I can haz collapse now?

7.5k run: 40:29 @ 5:24/km - 4/6 in Relay division.

I'd say it's pretty clear that my run wasn't up to much that day, as that's 13sec per kilometer slower than my open 10k pace last spring, but it's also one heck of a lot faster than I thought I'd manage. The only thing that really mattered was that we had great fun making our return to Belwood - so happy to have it back on the race calendar, and that we don't have to leave the MSC series to do it!

There's noone with whom I'd rather race!
Official time: 2:05:16 - 5/6 in Relay division.

After the race we scarfed down our Hero Burgers, then jammed out quickly to get on with the rest of our day...but that's a story for another time!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A pedal down memory lane

My bike was my transportation when I was a kid, as well as being my weapon for some mediocre downhill racing in my teens. Growing up in Mississauga (where I still work, and where my Mom still lives in my childhood home), I'd ride all over - my parents were busy professionals who already spent hours shuttling me to dance classes, gymnastics, hockey games and lacrosse practices, so if I wanted to visit friends after school or just missed the bus, I'd hop on my bicycle and ride. My paternal grandparents lived in Port Credit, and I'd keep a bike at their house, too; if my grandmother was babysitting me during summer vacation, I'd be given two dollars and told to pedal over to the Lions Club Pool where I'd spend the whole day in the water before riding back, sunburned and hungry.

It didn't look like this in my day - the pool was renovated in 2011.

My school in grades 2 and 3 was about 5km from home; for grades 4-8 I moved to another school about 9km from my house, then I attended highschool at Lorne Park Secondary which was about 10.5km away by bike. Most of my friends lived in Lorne Park or Clarkson, so I racked up some pretty decent mileage. My bike was my freedom, and when I was attending sailing school in the summer at Port Credit Yacht Club, I'd often ride my bike there and back as well. I spent a fair bit of time as a cycle commuter, though I wouldn't hear that term until I was well into my twenties. I had 3 bikes stolen in 3 years (a Diamondback, a Mongoose and a GT stolen from a friend's driveway, a friend's garage and my own garage respectively), then in 1995 my Dad bought me a Kona Hahanna and a really good lock, and told me if I lost this bike I could consider myself out of luck.

My faithful companion, Dusty.

I was 15 at the time, and I guess I took it to heart since I still own the bike (and the lock) to this day. His drivetrain is a bit rough, his wheels don't like to stay true anymore, and his chromoly frame has some paint chips and rust - I never quite grew into the 19" size, either, but I have put countless miles on the bike through the years. He was stolen twice while I was in Edmonton (since my ex would ride him and not bother to lock him), but both times he was returned to me again. I got a new mountain bike last August, but I still ride good old Dusty for commutes to the farmers' market in poor weather - he's seen some horrible conditions and always comes back for more - plus the occasional recovery ride.

Some of which are sillier than others.

As I wrote about previously, I've taken to bringing a bike to the office on Wednesdays to ride to my Mum's house after work. This past Wednesday was a bit different - we were going out to dinner with my mother for my birthday, down at the Pump House Grille at Lakeshore and Stavebank. Since Tanker had bought me a spanky pair of Chrome Vanya knickers as a birthday gift, it seemed only right that I throw them on and pedal my way down to dinner!

So spoiled!

Ordinarily I'd load up my cyclocross bike, but there was a 60% chance of thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon and evening and my CX bike got a really thorough cleaning after Paris to Ancaster, so I was loath to get it covered in road grime. Instead, Tanker loaded faithful old Dusty into the back of the car, and I packed up a rain jacket along with my usual commuter kit. 

Carrying rain gear is, of course, the best means of ensuring sunshine.

I was bound and determined to ride in anything other than life-threatening weather, since I'd realized that the restaurant's location gave me an unrivalled opportunity - on my 34th birthday, I could ride the bike I'd owned for over 18 years on the roads I used to ride constantly when I was in my teens! 

With platform pedals and Chuck Taylors, no less.

You see, Hurontario Street has been a traffic nightmare my entire life, but there are a limited number of bridges across the Credit River to get to the West end of town from Cooksville. So, to avoid Hurontario, I'd ride down Stavebank Road to the Lakeshore instead. I also used to ride my bike down to Port Credit Arena on Stavebank to watch Mississauga Tomahawks Junior A lacrosse games, and my grandparents home was only blocks away from the river in that quiet, tree-filled neighbourhood off Mineola. The route I'd take from my office to the restaurant would almost go right past my parents' house (which they bought before I was born and have never left) and along the exact way I would take to get almost anywhere in my teens.

Though the bike lanes certainly didn't exist back then.

The weather held hot, sunny and humid all afternoon - the temperature reached 34c/93f with a humidex of 44c/111f by the time I set out, but I couldn't have cared less. Each pedal stroke seemed to take me back a week in time, and my "nice easy noodle" turned into a crazed hunt for speed as I hurtled down the hill on Confederation Parkway as I had in my youth - I hit 53.9kph according to my cycle computer, on 2.4" knobby tires, and giggled at exceeding the speed limit on an old steel mountain bike. The 16km ride flew past as I saw my old haunts through the eyes of my 15 year old self again; just a girl and her bike, rolling along in the hot summer sun.

Happiness is..

The dinner and celebration with the people I love most that awaited at the end was wonderful, but that fleeting 40 minutes of recaptured childhood was truly something sacred - an experience I will treasure and recall fondly for years to come.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Of absence and fondness

The 9 days we spent on the road were amazing. For the first 5 days it was just Tanker, myself and our motorcycles camping our way through Michigan and Wisconsin - we cooked all our meals on a single-burner backpacking stove, lived in a simple tent and breathed in great huge gulps of crisp, clean air.

The south end of Higgins Lake, before reaching the Upper Peninsula

Miners Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Miners Falls
We did some hiking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, taking in the incredible beauty of the varied geological formations on foot after winding along the endless beaches of the North shore of Lake Michigan and the twisting forest roads along the South shore of Lake Superior on our motorbikes. Our days were filled with breathtaking sights, exciting riding and the unique challenges of minimalist camping on the go.

Our campsite on the South shore of Lake Superior, where the temperature dropped to near freezing overnight

Munising Falls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

A view worth shivering for.

It wasn't until the 4th day on the road and our entry into Wisconsin that I finally found some time for a run, tackling the 3.5 mile Forest View trail at Governor Thompson State Park. I did so with a bit of trepidation, as we spotted a young black bear just 300 yards from the trailhead! Fortunately I only encountered a doe on the trail itself, who was very obliging about moving out of my way - the terrain, ankle-height grass and hot, sunny day left me panting just trying to run at an easy pace so there's no way I could have moved quickly enough to ditch a bear. The scenery was gorgeous, and it was a wonderful way to explore the park.

Not really designed for running.

A hot and sweaty run!

This reddish sand was everywhere, especially on the uphills.

I only had time for 2 more runs on the whole trip, while at a friend's place in the West side of Central Wisconsin. Having moved far away from the Great Lakes, the temperatures soared and we absolutely roasted in the heat and sunshine! Add in the hilly terrain and lack of shade and you have a recipe for suffering rather badly, while still enjoying the opportunity to see more detail of the countryside than I ever would from my motorcycle.

They don't go much for flat in WI.

This is not the recommended way to spend a hundred degree day.

When we finally returned home on Monday after just over 3,000km in the saddle, it was right back to training. Despite a butt sore from 926km in the final 2 days (plus a ferry ride across Lake Michigan), I ran Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evening. I missed going to the pool on Tuesday (the idiot swim schedule changed, so we missed our chance to cool off - grr!), but was able to head to my favourite local outdoor pool last night for my first swim in two weeks.

Who wouldn't want to swim here?

Not only am I still able to swim and run decently well, the time away has renewed my appreciation for training. It was wonderful to feel myself sliding through the water last night, and I've been thoroughly enjoying the cool evening breezes as I run around my familiar neighbourhood routes. The joy that can sometimes elude us all as the weeks of training pile up has returned, and where I might have had to convince myself to get out the door a month ago I now find myself eager to see what the next workout will bring. While I'm still quite slow, tired and a bit sore as my body protests resuming normal training after its vacation, my mind is refreshed and I can truly enjoy the process of building to my upcoming races instead of just the end result.

I can't wait to get out for a pedal this weekend!