Race Report: Guelph Lake I – 5i50

This was my third time racing at the popular Subaru series races of Guelph Lake I, and my second doing the 5i50 distance. The 5i50 is so named because in the triathlon, at least, total race distance totals 51.50km, although the duathlon version covers 52km, comprising a 2km run, 40km bike, and a final 10km run.

Having started my season a full 4 weeks earlier in Ottawa, I’d hoped to be running nice long training distances before this race date. Unfortunately, I only squeezed in a couple of long runs, and even worse, my body let me know a full two weeks out that we were pushing it a bit hard on the training front. As a result, I had to ease up for the final 12 days before racing, making for a bit of a longer taper than I had planned.

At least I entered into the race with fresh legs.

The Venue:

Guelph Lake Conservation Area hosts the Guelph Lake I and II races in June and August, respectively. It’s a gorgeous site. We left the house a bit late, but arrived at about 7:10am, and found a fair line-up entering the conservation area. Thankfully that was moved along quickly by the friendly GRCA staff, who were abundant in number.

After navigating the slow moving parking queue in the mown field on-site, we schlepped across to drop my bike at transition and then on to complete registration. As usual with the Subaru series, the 5-step system is pretty efficient, although the line of triathletes waiting to drop off waiver forms and pick up of packets/swim caps was outrageous [Advantage: Du!]. Body marking, timing chip pickup, race bag and shirt pickup were all done in a matter of minutes, leaving me extra time to set up my gear and get warmed up.

This year’s pleasant surprise was finding that the transition zone was paved with that hardpack quasi-paving material. Carpets were down as runways for the barefooted athletes, and though I’m sure the loose bits of gravel kicked up still caused some woes, the effect of having a hard surface in transition is great for the most part [I still remember the mud and straw of the transition area at Belwood last year in July — it dried so solidly in my bike shoe cleats so that by mid-race, I couldn’t clip back into my pedals!].

With the Try-a-Tri running later Saturday afternoon, and the sprint races scheduled for Sunday, the race site was humming with a mid-sized crowd of 5i50 tri and duathletes, and a small group of spectators — of whom a good 10 belonged to team McKnapp.

Subaru series races always seem to have ample space for the site to sprawl. Lots of vendors, many volunteers to assist with registration/pickup, many portapotties, and clear directions on where to go. For anyone missing those directions there’s usually a volunteer or series staffer around who can provide direction.

The Race:

The waves of triathletes were underway from 8:00am, leaving us duathletes lots of time to warm up and spectate from up above on the roadway before our 8:20 start. As my friends rolled into the venue, I got to greet and do pictures with them while still having more than enough time to do a bit of a run, some stretching, and then queue up at the start line.

The brightest light in my pre-race prep was the surprise arrival of Lightning McQueen, to whom I dedicated this season. What a great boost just before the start.

Run 1: 2km – 08:30.7
Found a good spot in the start mob — third row back, but on an outside edge. I had set an aggressive target of 4:15 per km, and was pleased to hit it bang on. It’s hard to predict what your body will do in a race vs. what you can achieve in your training, but I felt good even pushing myself to this for the first 2km. Out and back and into transition, where I took a good swig of my Hammer Fizz, switched shoes and threw on my helmet to run back out for the bike. Transition time, though, was a disappointing 1:46. Way too slow. That’s partly due to rack location (duathlon racks were the furthest back from the bike entry/exit) but more due to my own slowness. It’s my consistent slow time, at least.

Bike: 40km – 1:14:58
I train on these roads, and have raced Guelph Lake several times, so I knew that the bumps, rough pavement and potholes on the first 4km of bike course along Watson Road were terrible. But after that, the pavement gets a bit better on County Road 22, and then becomes positively pristine for the remainder of the way, until you turn around and come back. There was no wind to speak of, so it was a great day to bike.

My mount was much faster at this race than it was in Ottawa. I’d gone out to practice the night before, mounting and dismounting the aero bike. It sounds simple, but the geometry and balance of the bike, as well as the positioning of my behind-the-seat water bottle cages, necessitates a good mounting technique. As I hopped on during the race, I gave myself a little cheer for having found a faster way to get on the bike. Even my wife commented later that it looked faster and less awkward than my usual style. No flying squirrel, which is truly fast (and awesome to watch) but still faster than previously.

All the same, I had trouble finding rhythm for the first half of the bike. For the first 10km, my quads were screaming, I guess mostly about that first run. And then I realized that I was having trouble drinking from my bottle, which I had sealed extra tight for the bumpy start of the ride to avoid losing all my hydration to splashing.

On a flat stretch, I removed the bottle lid, took out the bit of plastic cling wrap I had added to seal it, put the lid back on, and then drank way easier from there on. The Hammer Heed and Fizz combo wasn’t tasting very good in the heat, and I actually barf-burped at the 15km mark, but I managed to take enough of the mix in — and keep it in — to stop my body from cramping up or bonking later.

When I hit the turnaround at 20km, my legs suddenly kicked into gear and I found some more speed. Unfortunately I’d already been passed by just about everyone in the field, all of whom seemed to be effortlessly putting in the miles faster than me.

Coming back into the park, once again, the crowd slowed for the final speed bumps and approach to the dismount. I hammered in past a few more people and made my way back to transition. My speed for the first 20km averaged low, but I did make over 37km/hr for 10 of the final 15, averaging just under 35km/hr for the final 20km. That’s more like what I had as a goal for the ride in the first place. Not the 32km/hr I averaged over the whole course..

My cheering section was so loud and enthusiastic as I ran into T2 with my bike that I was outright laughing. Great to have all that support!

Run 2: 10km – 51:49.7
Transition 2, from bike back to run, was slightly better, and I was underway in 1:29. Still not fast, but efficient enough. The cheering section was loudly encouraging again, and as I trucked back out onto the run course, I had one goal — to clock it at 5 minutes per kilometre. This was amended from my more aggressive pre-race goal of 4:55 per km, but a required adjustment, I knew, due to the heat and humidity of the day. Sure enough, by now it was 9:50am, and the temperature was soaring.

My first three kilometres were good — I saw I was pacing at 4:50, so I slowed it down to 4:55, and then crept back to 4:51. From there, wham, the heat took its toll. Down to 5:11’s, 5:20’s, even a dismal 5:34, before picking back up to the 5:10 range. The course is largely paved, but there are two sections that require running on grass and gravel where a road used to be. Both of these have turnarounds on them, and they tend to be pretty disheartening because you can’t get a sense of how far you have left to go — not to mention that it’s a slower running surface because of the grass and gravel. By the 6 kilometre mark, I was definitely feeling low.

I knew early on that I was overheating, so I stopped at each aid station to take two full sips of water and dump the rest on my head, before trudging a few more steps at a walk and getting back up to a run. It resulted in a major slow down overall, but it kept me moving.

I was channeling every single inspirational thought and mantra I could, but in the end, I had to just picture a magnet on the HR strap on my chest, and a magnet at the finish line pulling me in. The mantra became “Finish Line”. Over and over. One foot, the next, then the first one again.

By the time I hit the final 200m to the finish, I was feeling pretty woozy. I managed to speed up for the slight descent to the finish, but as the volunteer took my timing chip off my ankle, I had to hang on to the fencing to stay upright. For the first time in my life, I was officially overheated.

I collected my finisher’s medal and cold bottle of water, and parked under the nearest shady tree. In the end, I sought a cold pack from Medical, who were awesome about checking in on me for the next while, and spent the next 30 minutes trying desperately to cool off while still visiting with my awesome friends who were there as spectators. Chef d’équipe was great about getting the fluids in me (including procuring plain shaved ice from the snowcone station — brilliant!), collecting my post race snacks and even going and checking results. Within 45 minutes I was feeling magnificently better.

Final time: 2:18:32.5

I placed 9th overall in a field of 47 racers, and 4th of the 9 competing in my age group of 40-44 year old men.

I was less than a minute out of medals for my age group (for medals, they grouped together the 40-44 and 45-49 year old men). Sufficient to say that I’m angry at myself for not pushing harder on the first 20km of the bike, and for being so pokey in T1!

All the same, a top ten finish at this distance feels really good, especially considering I haven’t felt like I’ve had the miles in for a longer distance race. Given that the 40-44 Men’s age group took four of the top ten slots, I think it’s safe to say we had a good group. The field was small but very competitive.

The Positives:

Total race time was two minutes faster than last year. While I had hoped to shave more time off with the faster bike at my disposal, I am happy that I had a much faster first run this time, and I know I can do faster still — I look forward to it.

My supporters were amazing — getting up early to be onsite for 8am, and cheering their hearts out not only for me but for all participants. It’s such a great boost, and I can’t even begin to express how touching that was.

Finally, I consistently love the vibe at the Subaru series races. Perhaps because my first 4 faces were Subaru series, or for who knows what other reasons, I really enjoy showing up to compete in this series. And racing locally, on home turf? That feels pretty comfortable, as tough as the race itself might be.

The Negatives:

I was much slower than I wanted to be on the bike, so I know what I need to work on. I’ve taken the bike leg a bit for granted since my first race two years ago, but it’s clearly becoming something to work on — now that I have a faster ride, I need to get accustomed to riding faster. I’ve also been riding without a bike computer on the tri bike, thinking I could rely on my Polar V800 on my wrist. Unfortunately, that doesn’t let me see my pacing easily enough in real time, which seems to help me govern my efforts. I’ve already added a Cat Eye wireless to my rig since the race, and sure enough, having the speed in sight makes me work harder.

As for my final run? Worse than last year’s 10km run at this same race. But clearly my body gave all that it could. And despite how awful it felt, I just kept running. I’ve got lots of summer left to work on my endurance, and I’ve already re-doubled those efforts.

With the weather being up and down this spring, but mostly down, we’ve all had limited chances to train in the heat. It certainly had an impact.

Next Up For Team McKnapp

We’ve got four weeks until Niagara takes place July 17. The sprint du in Grimsby challenges with a mix of trail and road running and a short but very steep escarpment climb on the bike. I raced here in 2014 and look forward to trying for better splits all around this year. It’s also a great venue — very small, but festive.

We’ll be on vacation in BC leading up to this race, and I’ve got a bike rented for the final four days of that, in Victoria, to allow me to train consistently. From Niagara it will be just two weeks to the “A” race in my season, the Kingston Triathlon Weekend, where the duathlon provides a unique 4km/30km/7km distance, and I get to share the race weekend with The Gazelle, who will compete in the long course triathlon.

So now, after a solid three days off, including a great recovery massage last Monday night,  plus some light recovery workouts and a weekend back fully training, I’m looking forward to both Niagara and Kingston races, and pondering whether I can make a go at the Olympic distance in September.

 

 

I Can.

I grew up, for the vast majority of my youth, playing team sports. Always with a coach. And sometimes, with a very good coach.

Now that I’m pursuing an individual sport – and completely without a team or coaches – I appreciate even more fully what coaches brought to my sporting life.

In addition to the sports-specific knowledge coaches share through endless drills and diagramming, they also drive their athletes to peak physical fitness and performance. When you think you can’t go on, a coach will tell you that you can. When you feel like you can’t go any harder or faster, a coach will tell you not only that you can, but you must. One more set of lines. One more lap of the track or field. One more round of cone drills.

You can. You will. Now go again.

The encouragement, guidance and drive imparted upon me by many of my best coaches has stuck with me, and will often pop into my head at different points in time. Heck, this blog is named for one of those coaching tidbits.

A coach can’t create work ethic. Nor can they create dedication. But a good coach will spot these traits and foster them. A great coach will spot these traits and others and work to mold a better athlete.

So here I am, pursuing this solitary endurance sport, wishing I had a coach — and pondering, even, paying the big bucks to acquire one, even temporarily, to help me sort out the science of my sport, if not to also provide the emotional guidance.

At the same time, I am relishing the mental battle involved in being your own coach, your own motivator to do one more hill repeat, to push just a little bit harder on that next kilometre, to do one more set. Where I really need a coach though, is the reward of positive feedback.

Getting up early to do a tough workout on the weekend is powered by work ethic. Giving up hours of social time and forgoing many other hobbies is dedication. For the most part, and I do mean 99.5% of the time, I’m able to get myself in the saddle, out on the road, up the hill or around the track. The question is what I’m doing in my mind at any point.

To succeed, though, to flourish and excel in any sense, I need to give myself positive feedback.

Without a doubt, I’m at a point where I need to elevate my planning for training cycles. It’s getting harder and harder to nail the sweet spot of pushing myself hard without over-training. The last couple weeks have more than illustrated this point to me. I’ve gone well past my own understanding of how to periodize training, and how to push the envelope for distance and speed. I spent my winter training, trying to get faster, with nowhere near enough recovery cycles worked into the months of trainer and treadmill sessions. A little too late, I’ve come to realize that this is a problem. All my going faster in the winter hasn’t helped me go farther, or faster, this Spring.

You might think it would be an easy thing – train, rest, train again. The difficulty is in figuring out how much time, at what intensity, and how to balance it out with that rest and recovery cycles. Add in that I’m chronically insecure about my performance, and my capabilities, and you get a tendency to push too hard and recover too little – ironically, more detrimental to performance than anything.

The best description I’ve read of over-training is that it’s better called Under-Performance Syndrome. If I feel I am not ready to race (not enough miles in, pacing below my goals, etc), I fear under-performing. So I’m going to compensate by training more and training harder. It isn’t necessarily training smarter.

This, in turn, leads to actual under-performance — slower run times, less power on the bike, and a loss of focus — focus that’s required to succeed in any sport.

Fear of under-performance can be based on plain old insecurity as much as looking at the data from previous race times, current training, or accumulated mileage. There are plenty of places for me to go to find proof that I’m not ready to race this week, including the mirror. The ever-present “I’m an overweight, middle-aged wannabe” line of thinking puts a limiter on my confidence, and I have no doubt, acts as a speed limiter to my legs. And with a big race this weekend, the Guelph Lake I 5i50 duathlon, all of this is fully occupying my head.

The reality, of course, is that there’s always cause to panic. Whether it’s an injury, a tough few weeks of training due to competing priorities, or some kind of other interruption, there’s usually something that makes it worrisome before the starter’s horn sounds. At least I know that come this point in preparing for a race, there’s nothing more to be done in terms of physical training. I’ll go out for a mild “stay loose” workout later this week, but the last couple days of training have maxed my legs out and I need to give them a good rest.

Preparedness, with just four days to go, is about rest, nutrition, gear readiness and planning. Driving to and from work usually involves podcasts, but this week, it’s all upbeat, fast-paced pre-race music from my “Get Moving” playlist. I’m reminding myself of my race strategy (as unscientific and amateur as it may be). I’m making sure to get enough sleep, and eating even a bit healthier than usual. Lunch time is spent watching inspirational endurance and multi-sport videos on YouTube. And I’m enjoying, as usual, that pre-race sweet spot — even though it’s doubt-laden.

Always, the lingering doubts.

Of all the aspects of the race occupying my brain right now, it’s the 10km final run that worries me. I really don’t feel I’ve got my base miles down, but more so, I’m dreading the course. It’s a meandering, boring and hot traipse through the Guelph Lake Conservation Area campgrounds and back roads, with little shade and even less distractions. The first run is short enough that it doesn’t stress me out the same way. And although 40km at full speed on the bike is difficult, it’s on familiar roads that I’ve trained on many many times in all kinds of conditions, and let’s face it, I enjoy hammering down on the bike.

Since the long run in any race is already my mental weak point, never mind on one of my least favourite run courses, I’m working this week to not only boost my confidence in my physical preparedness, but to re-position my thinking and prepare for those low moments mid-course when I need to re-focus and be positive.

All those years of being coached, even if it was mostly in team sports, need to guide me now. There may not be a coach over my shoulder, yelling from the sidelines, or giving a pep talk in a strategically called timeout, but the spirit remains true.

Cue the inner coach: You’re trained. Your body knows what to do. Now let your legs prove it to you.

When, after 1.5km, I’m feeling like another 8.5 is going to be impossible; at 5km, when my left foot starts throbbing; or at 6.5km, when the heat is so oppressive it feels like I’m running in an oven set on bake; when, at the 8km marker, I’m debating how fast I can possibly go to make it to the finish without keeling over; and at the bittersweet 9km marker, trying to compel an exhausted body to push harder to make the finish with nothing in reserve; at all these times, I need to have that inner coach, the self-coach, ready with positive, encouraging coach’isms.

I can.

I will. 

Now go, feet. Go.

 

No Excuses.

We’ve all seen the t-shirts and the memes: “No excuses”.

Usually it’s on a black oversized t-shirt, written in a gimmick font that looks like a stamp or rusted metalwork, worn by some scruffy 19 year old whose idea of sports is watching the MMA or scuffling up the street with a cigarette in his mouth. Sometimes, it’s emblazoned over a black & white picture of The Rock or some other muscle-bound guy who clearly takes it to heart.

In any case, it’s an oft-repeated cliché.

Cue the scene.

Yesterday was cloudy. It was windy. And due to both of those, as well as a current low front, it was cold. Colder than forecast, even. When I popped out at lunch to go get a coffee down the block, I was chilled, even though it was 1pm and it was supposed to be 17 degrees Celsius. I was in pants and long sleeves and I can say it was not even close to 17.

Add to the mix that I was feeling bone tired. My workout loads have been higher and harder, and my body is reminding me that I am supposed to introduce more rest into my schedule. Because… 42.

The night before, after hockey and a quick sprint, I came home lamenting that my legs just have nothing in them. While I’m skating fine, I feel like I’ve got no gas in the tank while I’m on the ice. And worse, I feel like I’m making no progress on my run times. There’s no zip in the legs, no spring in my step, even though I’m in less pain than I have been in ages.

So at the end of the workday yesterday, when it came time to change into the cycling gear that I had dutifully packed the night before, to go and drive out to the middle-of-nowhere to go for a 40km ride on the aero bike I had wrestled into the car before work, that is when the excuses started lining up in my head.

“You’re overtired and there’s a race next week. You should rest.”
“The wind is 25km/hr with gusts of 35km/hr. Nobody should ride in that. You’ll blow off the road.”
“It’s cold and given what those clouds look like, it might even rain. You only packed for a chilly ride, not a cold one.”

It’s a solid 20 minutes from my workplace to the community centre where I planned to park. Of that drive, a good chunk is on open, un-windbroken roads, where every gust rocked the car. Further proof, said my fading willpower, that I should pack it in and head home.

“I could do my weight workout tonight instead.”
“I need a rest day. I can just ride more on Thursday instead.”

The problem is that the wind is only supposed to get worse all week. Much worse. And if I wanted to make a rest day work, it ought to be today, Wednesday, when I have a massage appointment and household obligations that make fitting in a run or ride almost impossible.

And yes, there’s a race next week, but I shouldn’t taper yet, though I definitely need to back off a bit on the training this week to recoil the springs in my legs. If I didn’t want to double up on some upcoming days, even closer to race day, I really needed to fit in this session as planned.

So I resolved, just moments after almost caving to my own arguments to head right home, that in fact, I would go as planned to the parking lot. I would get ready, putting on every piece of clothing I could, and get out on the bike. If I felt too cold, too tired, after 10km, or if I blew right back off the bike, I could call it a day.

This strategy has worked many a time for many a workout.

Don’t want to run? Get dressed, get out there and start the warm-up walk, and run the first two kilometres. Don’t want to lift? Go down to the gym and start with a single set of everything. Chances are, just about 100% of the time, that workout is going to not only get started, but finished.

Sometimes, legitimately, it’s not safe to train. The weather turns to snow or lightning threatens, or the body really honestly needs a break. But the body and the weather conditions should make that call, not my willpower, sitting comfy and cozy in the heated seats of my vehicle.

I start each week with a plan for the running, biking, strength training, athletic therapy, and cross-training I’ll do. Weather and other factors might cause some of those plans to change, but it at least defines for me what’s ahead, and how it fits in around work, social commitments, and the tasks that make up responsible adult living, like, oh, grocery shopping and ironing.

For the most part, if I’m dragging my feet on doing a workout, I can pep talk myself into getting out and doing the session because this is the path I’ve chosen. If I want to be Marshal McLernon, age-group duathlete of unparalleled mediocrity consistently finishing middle of the pack, I need to do my training.

Incredibly, this can work most of the time. But sometimes, you have to kick yourself harder. And so there’s the “just put on your shoes and start” approach.

And so, last night, I parked my car in the shelter of the treed corner of this community centre parking lot. I gritted my teeth and got out into the cold, and started layering my warm clothing. I had a race t-shirt and arm warmers layered under my long-sleeved jersey. Luckily I also had some compression calf sleeves in my bag, so I put those on to help keep my legs warm. With a set of light cycling gloves, I knew I’d be able to shift despite the windchill. And so, mildly chilled, off I went, fully expecting to have to turn back after 10k, but resolving to at least get my butt in the saddle and give it a shot.

In fact, the butt stayed in the saddle for the full 41.5km. The first 5km were terrible, as my body tried to warm up against the wishes of my sulking mind, which had clearly lost the argument with my willpower.

It wasn’t speedy, what with the winds, and at times it was a white-knuckle ride, due to same winds and a lack of shoulder room on one busy road. Though I wasn’t terribly cold for most of it, I was truly chilled by the time I finished — so cold that my feet hurt and my hands didn’t want to operate my car key — but I still managed decent time with a perfect amount of effort.

As I told my wife afterwards, it was a relief to be tucked in aero position — not only to cut the wind, but also because there’s warmth to be had when you’re all folded in on yourself like that.

Added bonus? There was some solidarity to be had out on the road as the few of us cycling passed one another and mentally high-fived our like-minded brethren.

And that decision to work out? I remain convinced that deciding not to work out can’t be borne of “what if” and “well but” thinking. While we need to cut ourselves some slack and ensure that we take the right amount of rest, it needs to also be strategic, and not based on a lack of willpower. It requires a fine balance and some reasoning skills, but also the determination to follow through.

That is “No Excuses”.

 

Race Report: Ottawa Early Bird

 

May 21, 2016 | Carleton University | 2km/31km/5km

Though it was my ninth duathlon, this was the first race I have done outside of the Trisport Canada (Subaru) and MultiSport Canada series.

Organized by Ottawa-based Somersault Events, the race appealed to me for the flat, closed bike course and the early race date. Trisport opens their season June 5, while MultiSport starts theirs a week later.

I have the Guelph Lake I 5i50 race planned for June 18. As a result, I welcomed the opportunity to train for and compete at a shorter distance, almost like a test, with plenty of time to train up before that next, much longer competition.

Somersault offered two duathlon distances at the Ottawa Early Bird. Their sprint was 2/25/5, while the “long” was slated to be 2/35/5. Anytime I have a chance to do a longer cycle segment, I’ll do it, since that’s my stronger sport. And since the next race I have booked has a 40km bike leg, I need the time in the saddle anyway.

I knew that this race wasn’t sanctioned by Triathlon Ontario, and I knew that it wouldn’t have a large duathlon crowd, based on years past. For 2015, only 12 competitors did the “long” du. Still, I figured the positives were going to make it worth the trip.

So first race of the year, and the first in a whole different series. How did it shake out?

I was a bit disappointed to place 6th overall, just scant seconds behind my nearest competitor. But I was a good 3 or 4 minutes ahead of the next competitor, and I did nail my target run paces. The best part was finishing the race without any pain or injury. I can’t remember the last time I raced without a nagging pain in either my foot or my leg — or both (big cheers for my athletic therapy team of Susan McGregor and Craig Earley!).

The Trip

Sadly, the Team McKnapp Chef d’équipe had to stay home to tend to our pooch — a familiar story, as this is how we started last season too. She deputized my sister Sue to take over her role for the race. This was a last minute decision, but we had known for a week that it was likely.

I had taken the day off work to allow me to get on the road to Ottawa before long weekend traffic started, so I was packed up and on the road by 11:00am. Race kit pickup was scheduled from 3 to 6pm in Ottawa, so I knew I had to make okay time but wasn’t in a mad rush. I packed a lunch, snacks and loads of water into the car so I could be sure I was getting the right foods into my body before racing, and headed out in full pre-race excitement.

Traffic was, of course, abysmal. Thanks to podcasts and satellite radio, I managed not to lose my cool. I was even able to chat through some work related matters with my boss while en route, which helped clear my head. And despite the slow going, I made it to Ottawa for 5pm, and onto the Carleton University campus to pick up my kit with time to spare. I did a quick walkabout of the transition and finish line areas, and then headed to my sister’s house for dinner and the night. We managed to have a nice visit — including a walk to loosen up my legs after a day in the car — and I still had time to do last minute bike and gear prep before making it to bed at about 11pm.

Race Day: The Positives

Race morning dawned warm and sunny. When I got up at 5:45 the sun was already up — that’s Ottawa for you! Sue and I were onsite by 7:05am, a full 55 minutes in advance of the start. I loved having my race kit already — just had to scramble for someone to assist with body marking and then go find my timing chip. I always prefer to have pre-scouted the race site to lessen confusion and stress the morning of races, and again in this case, was glad I had done so. From parking to finding transition entrances to getting your chip, there’s a lot to scout out while you’re also trying to get physically and mentally ready to race!

Here’s what else worked out well that day.

Taper & Rest: Hit my taper week bang on — by the time I went to bed Friday night, I was just about to go from “balanced” to “undertrained” on my watch. This is the sweet spot for me. And despite travelling all day, I had a great night of sleep. Though it was only 6 hours, it was a restful, sound slumber. By race day, my legs were rested and loose. I’d had acupuncture on my IT band on Monday at physio, and a very intense massage focused largely on my hips about 10 days before race day.

Pre-race nutrition: Sister Sue had planned a delicious and healthy meal entirely around my needs for dinner the night before, so I had a good base to fuel my race. My amazing friend Lisa had dropped off some of her famous turbo muffins before I left Guelph, so I had my familiar breakfast of those and Greek yogurt with about a scoop of  all natural whey protein, as well as a banana. Only had about 3/4 of a cup of coffee, but felt alert. As usual, I tanked up on water as soon as I got up. I’m prone to dehydration, and drinking about a litre of water between arising and racing seems to be a requirement. Sure enough, I felt good throughout my race — both properly fuelled, and hydrated.

In-race fuelling: I had two bottles with Hammer Fizz  at my transition mat. I drank about 500ml of it from when we arrived on site to when I went to the start line. On the bike, I was carrying the XLab Torpedo system I had just installed two nights before, with 700ml of Hammer Heed (at 125% concentration) with half a Fizz tablet added. I always add a bit of powdered vitamin C to my Heed mixture to give it a more acid, too — this makes it way more palatable. Given my hydration issues, I was worried about only having one bottle on the bike, and since it’s a new bike and an even newer hydration system , I wasn’t sure how it would go — but I made sure to sip frequently throughout my laps of the course. Although a couple of big bumps lowered the levels in the bottle, I did manage to avoid cramping and take in enough fuel. No need for a gel on such a short course, though I carried one in my jersey pocket just in case.

The First Run: Got stuck middle of the pack for the duathlon start, but there was lots of room to pass to get myself out of the crowd as needed. We ran the first kilometre in a full lane on Colonel By Drive, then at the turnaround, were supposed to run on the grass alongside the roadway. The competitors ahead of me chose to run on the road beside the curb, and I did the same — there were no cyclists on the course yet. First run didn’t seem very fast for anyone — I was in reach of the leaders the whole time. Nailed my target pace per kilometre, and felt like I’d pushed myself without going beyond my early season ability. I can do better, way better, but this was a shaking off of the rust.

Transition: Had a smooth T1 to the bike. Changed shoes, put on my helmet, took a big swig of fluids, and ran out to hop on the bike. It was my first race on the tri bike, so I was a little slow mounting, but I was still back out on the course in under 1:25. For the season’s first race, that was pretty much what I had expected. I’m never particularly fast in transition, but this felt pretty efficient to me. T2 was equally efficient, and I felt great in the first 200m of running out of there again. I’ve managed to keep doing bricks through the off-season, and plenty in training leading up to this race, so the cycle-to-run legs never went away.

The Bike: In addition to being my first race and only my fifth ride on the Ridley tri bike, this was my first time riding a closed course, and I loved it. It’s also a flat course, which is fun for a guy used to the rolling hills of the Guelph area. I kept count of my three course loops without issue, and though there was definitely some discomfort adapting to being in aero position, I felt pretty loose and had good concentration throughout. My pace was about 32.7km/hr, which can definitely be improved upon, but it torches my times on the road bike by about 3km/hr, all while preserving my legs for the next run. I did experience equipment woes in that the big bumps jarred my water bottle loose, so for the next race, elastics will get added to the existing retention system.

Second Run: See my thoughts on the course below — possibly the worst-planned course ever — but all the same, I sucked up that part, as did everyone else, and raced on pace, even on the grass. I also didn’t blow a hamstring, despite the perils. That’s a definite win. Last time I ran grass ditches (Guelph Lake II in 2014) my hamstrings rebelled.

Gear: While I had packed for every weather possibility, race day was sunny and warm, with mild to no wind. My DeSoto TriBib shorts are amazing, offering lots of compression, and a good distance chamois. Though they’re relatively new, I had no reason to notice them during the entire event — well, maybe just before I started, as I wrestled with them in the porta-let!  I’ve also recently found I no longer think of my orthotics when I’m running — which means my feet have adapted, finally. It helps that I just switched shoes for my longer runs, going to the Brooks Glycerin 12. What a great shoe – cushioning galore, but with great ground feel and agility. I’ve gone through so many different models of shoes in the last two years trying to find a good match for my foot woes that it’s not even funny. This one may be the keeper!

Spectators and (Almost All Of) the Volunteers: A loop course gives spectators lots of time to cheer you on, and they did. It was awesome to come ripping by on the bike each time to hear not only my sister, brother-in-law and nieces and nephew cheering me on, but the other spectators too. Volunteers at the turn-around points on the bike course were amazing for cheering everyone — especially the ones at Hog’s Back, who made me smile each time because they were so enthusiastic. A few run course volunteers were clearly just filling their requirements for high school, but the ones at the aid station mid-point were great, as were those funneling us around the corner to the finish line, who gave inspiration as well as direction. I don’t know if every racer feels the same, but I really draw strength from this kind of cheering — it’s an amazing thing. And I will say that although having young kids on the bike course makes it a bit challenging, I enjoyed cheering them on as I went by. Courage, kids!

 

The Not-So-Positive:

Site Organization: Somersault has been running races for almost two decades. They’re good people who care about multi-sport, and know what they’re doing, but there were some organizational hiccups. Chief among these? They had just three (yes, just 3) portable toilets onsite. Because the triathletes were starting in the athletic facility (it was a pool swim) the assumption seemed to be that they’d use washrooms there. Duathletes trying to find relief before the start of the race were contending with a line up 16 to 18 people deep, and after the races, all of the competitors, spectators and volunteers were forced to do the same — for what were by then some extremely full portable toilets. (But at least they had Purell!)

Transition Zone : Transition racking was marked sporadically. I bypassed racks marked “Olympic” because that wasn’t what my race was called in any of the pre-race material. Later, I found out that was supposed to be my rack — and illogically, they has assigned the longest-distance athletes the worst racking positions. Furthermore, athletes were allowed back into transition right after their races, though there were still competitors coming through competing in their races. That made for some spectacular near-misses. And finally, why get Sportstats for timing, but not have transition zone timing mats? There was no timing going in or out, so  it opens your race up to cheating (which one would hope isn’t an issue, but hey, why leave the opening?!), but more importantly, mucks with people’s times and pace measurement in a serious way.

Worst Run Course, Possibly Ever: The 5km final run was largely on grass, alongside Colonel By Drive. In some spots, there wasn’t even space for a lane of people going out and one coming back, as the space between the curb and a sharp embankment was too narrow. Never mind anyone trying to pass another competitor. Since there were many race running at once, including Try-A-Tri, there was a lot of passing required. It seemed like an odd route choice given that the race was at a university campus. Surely, having taken the trouble to close down Colonel By Drive both ways for the bike course, the race organizers could make a safer, race-friendly running route. Getting to the mid-point turnaround for the 5km run involved, after some 1.5 km on that grass, running down into a deep ditch, onto a paved sidewalk, then on a single-track trail marred by exposed roots and rocks, and finally a section through sand and debris — and again in reverse heading back. The chute to the final 100m before the finish line was a single lane rough-mown through a ditch coming up beside a bank of porta-potties (ones which we were not allowed to use!). It was a run course to endure, not one to torch. Totally unexpected given the university campus location, and the beautiful bike course. And not what a person was prepared for given the course descriptions, which yes, I did study carefully in advance.

Course Length Discrepancy: While I signed up for a 2km/35km/5km race, the bike course was decidedly shorter — like over 4km short! Run distances also came up short — they seemed to factor in a chunk of the transition zone, which is arbitrary for each competitor based on their racking position. I know this seems petty, but when your distances are all off by 10% or more, it seems odd.

Unsanctioned = Unmarshaled: I never thought I’d miss the Triathlon Ontario (TO) officials barking at people, but they do lend order to races. There were several transition zone infractions that made me wish an official was present (sprawling gear, bags and towels and gear set up at the ends of racks). The bike course could have used a few attentive TO officials, as several competitors were riding in blocking positions (hogging the left side of the lane) for long periods of time. With young kids on the course doing Try-A-Tri, a person needed to pay attention and practice really good race etiquette. Ours is a sport of community, but not everyone knows the rules or how to abide by them. TO officials can come across a little strong sometimes, but they do keep races running cleanly and safely. While Somersault had people on the course (thank you, volunteers!), there didn’t seem to be much in the way of rules and order.

My Own Mental Game: As always, I self-defeated on the longer run. While I was pleased to be in reach of the lead pack in the first run for the first time ever, it wasn’t because I was going super fast. On my final run, I was negative in my head the whole time, and I know for a fact that it cost me a placing overall, if not two. This will be my biggest challenge going into my next race — when the final run is twice as long. Frankly, as I’ve dedicated my season to friend Lightning McQueen and anyone else touched by cancer, I feel this was a particularly poor showing. My mental fortitude still needs work.

My Run Times: While I hit my target pacing for both the short and longer runs bang on, it was hardly a lofty goal — so slow you’ll note I’m not even sharing them. I’ve got the miles and the fitness to do better, so I’ll really need to draw on that between now and the next start line. At least I know I can pace to target. Now to improve the target.

Rebounding For June 18

Overall, it was a solid first race, but not an event series I’ll rush to repeat appearing in. I’m glad to have branched out from my usual series, and thrilled to have had such an early start to the season. And 6th place isn’t anything to sneeze at, I suppose.

For June 18, and the 5i50 at Guelph Lake, I’m working on the following:

  • Find more mental toughness, especially for run segments
  • Get back to speed for the 2k run, increase mileage to ensure I’m ready for 12km overall in the race. Due to injuries, I’ve been coming up a bit short so far this Spring
  • Increase overall comfort on the aero bike
  • Ensure I can climb strong on the aero bike
  • Drop at least some of the excess baggage I didn’t manage to drop this winter. Ottawa race pics weren’t kind to my self-image, but it’s very good to be jolted into action!
  • Keep up the work to stay pain-free and injury-free

Onward!

 

PS: Though I’ve highlighted some brands and merchandise, nobody’s paying me to do so. I have searched long and hard to find the nutrition, hydration and gear that works for me, so I like share what that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The [Much] Bigger Picture.

Pink“Hold a higher purpose in your mind. Think of someone, something, much bigger than yourself and race for that.”

Whether a piece of advice is helpful is hugely subjective. But when advice resonates, it can really touch your soul.

There’s a lot of advice to be had on just about any topic, so of course it’s also true of endurance sports. Some of that advice is conflicting, and some of it is pure garbage, but much of it can be helpful to the average age-grouper as much as the elites. From the scientific to the psychological, there’s no shortage of counsel to be had.

Sometimes, the advice is there, but hard to digest until you hear it phrased in the way that just reaches your soul. That line up top, well, that’s some advice that immediately touched my racing soul. From the moment I heard it, straight from the mouth of a pro Ironman competitor in a cheesy but inspirational video, I knew this piece of advice would be key.

For each race, I set tangible goals. But I also sit, a few days ahead of time, gathering my thoughts to bring forward the “something bigger” that I will bear in mind. Truthfully, it has frequently been my brother, who passed away three years ago after a brave lifetime of medical woes. I’ve finished races in tears because the drive to compete with him in my heart was so strong, so compelling, that it was as if he was there watching, every step of the way, every stroke of the pedal, right with me.

Racing, much as there is a strong tri and du community, can be a very solitary sport. After the starter’s pistol (or air horn) sounds, the masses thin out and it’s every competitor for their own self, and largely by themselves. You are left alone to battle your doubts, digest your thoughts, and overcome your physical limitations, be they perceived or real. Spectators see us and cheer at the key turns in and out of transitions, or the finish lines, but there are a lot of miles put in with nothing but your own thoughts or the sight of the next hill looming ahead.

I can’t imagine racing without my brother Adam in my mind or heart. But this year, someone else, and a cause ever so much bigger than myself, will be top of mind, and deep in my heart.

My former work colleague, and now friend, was diagnosed very suddenly with cancer just a couple of months ago. Without getting into telling her story for her, let me just say that she has been an incredible picture of fortitude, from when she first heard those words, to when she heard the next bit of bad news, and the next, right up to and including now, on the doorstep of a long, difficult series of treatments. Stoic, strong, and still sassy.

Tomorrow, this friend I call “Lightning” McQueen — a mother, daughter, sister, wife, and friend to a large crew who clearly love and admire her — embarks on what will be the better part of a year of chemo, radiation, and recovery. Her family is with her, and they and her friends will support her, but ultimately, this must be a terrifying moment, one where she steps over a doorstep onto a journey that few but other cancer patients and survivors can ever understand.

Nerves for an amateur athlete, toeing that start line? Nothing. Even. Close. 

Friends, family, and extended family (not to mention the family of our friends) have gone through their own cancer battles. It’s a horrible disease, and we know it will touch even more of us as the years progress. As soon as those words are spoken from doctor to patient, life has changed irrevocably.

For all the public face of the disease, the pinkification of sport, the fundraisers and the awareness campaigns — for all the support people have gotten, they still each had to walk down the hallway to start that road to treatment, one foot in front of the other.

Let us hope that nobody faces that walk alone.

And so here I am, starting race season #3. It is a completely arbitrary, self-imposed, self-indulgent thing. A glorified hobby. Just as friend Joanne’s first treatment fully kicks in, I’ll toe the start line in Ottawa. Much as I know it’s just a coincidence, the irony is not something I can shake. This hobby of mine does mimic what is true about life — that it’s sometimes hard, that it requires flexibility, and that we can push ourselves well beyond our perceived limits to endure.

Endurance, for those of you directly affected by cancer, is a very real thing.

I can not possibly complain about a tough training session or an injury, about race conditions or placing, when I know just how trivial it is relative to the real — yes, very real — issues people face. One can hardly quit because it’s uncomfortable, when there’s no such option to quit for people like Lightning, for all the Lightnings.

“Uncomfortable” pales in meaning.

This year, I’m adding a bright flash of pink to my race kit. Let this be my reminder, but more so, my shout out to this particular rock, Joanne, and to the rest of you touched by this stupid awful thing called cancer — in the past, in the now, and forever.

It takes a phenomenal strength to face down that which we have no choice but to face.

Mad respect, Lightning.

 

 

 

How Far We’ve Come…

My week was heavily front-loaded with workouts. Partly because social plans negated working out tonight, Friday, but also because weekends just allow for more time training.

After two bike-fittings last Saturday, I headed out to scout the Milton duathlon course, admittedly ignoring the bike fitter’s advice that I take it easy and avoid the escarpment for now. Sunday brought a short-but-intense brick – 4/32/1 – my first fully outdoor brick since the Fall. On Monday, after physio, a hard skate at hockey, followed Tuesday morning with my annual birthday run — just 6km, but including Guelph’s notorious 100 steps and some steep hills.

By Wednesday, my legs were pretty happy to have an easy day, with just a strength and core workout and lots of physio exercises and foam rolling.

All of this detail is leading to last night, Thursday evening.

With a shiny new Tri bike sitting in my dining room (sorry, honey, but it is temporary, I promise), I’ve been itching to get out and start riding aero. Since I want to start with some non-city routes (the shifters and brakes are a long way apart on an aero bike!) I had thought I might load it in the SUV to go out for a ride after work. Alas, weather reports were gloomy and I needed to be the one to head home after work to free the dog and his bladder from captivity.

So sure enough, I drove home from work in sunshine, cursing my choice to skip bringing the bike. No matter, I thought, I’d head out for a ride from home. Alas, as soon as I parked and went in the house, the dark clouds appeared, looming over the south end of Guelph. I threw dinner together and pondered putting a bike on the trainer, or heading to the fitness club for a dreadmill session. Blech. Having gotten back outdoors in the past few weeks, the last thing I feel like doing is an indoor session.

When the clouds passed back over, it was about 7:15pm. Sunset was pegged for 8:25pm, leaving me just enough time to grab my gear, pump up the road bike tires, and hit the road. Aero bike could wait for Saturday, when I will load it up into the car and head out to the quieter roads .

So back to the front-loaded week.

I’m working back up to full training volume, now that the intensity is back, so I’m wary of over-taxing my poor SI joint and IT band. Between the physiotherapist, my new RMT, and the bike fitter, I’ve been told quite clearly to be careful. So yesterday’s workout was supposed to be just 40 minutes or so, capping my week at a decent amount of training and cross-training, with no garbage miles at all.

The route I chose for my last-minute sunset-beater ride is my go-to for short cycling portions of a brick — it can flex from 20 to 25km with strategic turns, and though it’s largely within city limits, it allows for some good hard time in the drops, thanks to lesser-travelled streets, fresh pavement, and great bike lanes with a minimum of traffic lights. By the time I hit the road, I had about 45 minutes ’til the sun went down.

And yes, I made it. With plenty to spare.

I’m not bound for an overall podium spot, not dreaming of elite status. But for a guy who used to be 70 pounds fatter, and a whole lot lazier, a quick, fast ride after dinner on a Thursday night at 28km/hour feels like something to celebrate. Especially with wooden legs from a good hard week of training.

This weekend, we finally go aero. Can’t. Hardly. Wait.

Rounding The Corner

As slowly as late Fall and Winter have gone, I was suprised to realise in the past few days that in just six weeks, racing starts again.

Team McKnapp has sat down to finalize the racing schedule for 2016, and I’ve locked in the dates as much as one can this far ahead of time. The goal is to complete the International Distance that injuries prevented me undertaking last year (the 5i50 was close, but a few kilometres short on the run). I’m aiming for a total of four races, and managed to select four that are spaced a month apart from each other. Recover, train, train more, taper, race, repeat.

All my hours in the gym this winter have maintained some fitness. Now we start to work at being race ready again.

Barring work, life, or injury interference, I’ve set my race dates as follows:

May 21: Ottawa Early Du – Long Sprint (2/35/5)
June 18: Guelph Lake I – 5i50 (2/40/10)
July 16: Gravenhurst – International (10/40/5)  “A” Race
August 14: Orillia – Sprint (2/33/7)

These are penciled in with room to flex if a particular race gets threatened – fortunately, there are lots of options to swap one for another. Holidays and work requirements are all slotted in, so we should be set to launch the season on this schedule in May.

I am looking forward to the May start. Last year I started at Guelph Lake I at the end of June, and it felt like a long wait. This May race is a Somersault series event, which will be my first du not in the MultiSport Canada or Subaru Trisport Canada series. It will be interesting to see how the organization and energy is. Energy will certainly be helped by my Ottawa family members coming to cheer me on!

More to come in the weeks ahead, but for now, we can all clearly see that my time in the gym and on the road is about to get serious.

And if I’m really going to go aero this year on a tri-specific bike, I had better get it soon!

 

The Adjustment Period

It’s been a long while between posts, I realize. I’ve been looking forward to getting back into writing about duathlon, training, life and more.

In the past month, we’ve done multiple family visits for the holidays; I’ve done a really stupid flip over my back porch railing, thankfully emerging with “just” a bit of facial scarring; and, the Chef d’équipe and I managed to make it for our week in sunny Mexico, where my “I love to run on vacation” came head-to-head with both a challenge and a reward — challenging due to the searing heat that made even slow 6 to 7km runs difficult, but rewarding in that I got to see real, live, crocodiles sunning themselves just 25 feet from the sidewalk. Survived the heat and the crocodiles, and got back in time for me to start my new job January 11, with just a hint of a black eye from the aforementioned flip, and a really nice tan.

My last post spoke to the pending job change, which was fraught at the time with both excitement and uncertainty. I’ve been in the position for just about three weeks, and the adjustment is taking a bit of effort. The commute is undeniably longer, the days in the office more demanding, my day-per-week of working from home is gone… and it’s all resulted in perpetually feeling rushed to get everything done.

That said, I’ve managed to keep training — to the point that I’m telling myself it’s time to ease up.

I’d like to be averaging 6 hours of solid training each week by May, and for the past few weeks, I’ve been logging 5 hours each week — a mix of tempo “dreadmill” runs and biking sessions on the trainer, plus my weekly cross-training in the form of a hockey game. This is topped off by another hour and a half, on average, of strength and flexibility work in the form of full body weight sessions and yoga.

Not only is the time taxing the household in terms of hours devoted to workouts, but it’s taxing the body — and, I realise, unnecessarily. Knees and IT band are starting to complain. As I learned last year, heading into the season injured doesn’t make for much of a season. So I’ll back off for a while and start building more training time back in by March and April.

The added bonus is that I’ll have a little more time for the new work demands to normalize before I start ramping up again.

More time, too, to finish mapping out the ideal race season, and to finalize my goals for a third year in duathlon. Because let’s face it — when I’m not training for it, I’m still thinking about it.

Must find new hobbies.

With Every End, A New Beginning

Today is my last day at my current workplace.

I’ve been in my role for three years and a couple of months, and it’s my second job at the level of a “senior manager”. So when the opportunity came to move on to a “director” level position at a local financial services company, I was happy to pursue (as happy as I was to be pursued by them. It’s really quite a flattering thing!).

Many months later, I’ve accepted the employment offer, presented my notice, and wrapped up all the work in front of me in order to move on. The change in position is as welcome as the change of company, and quite honestly, I’ll be relieved to move away from my not-for-profit salary, too.

With the new year will come a new role at a new company in a new sector, and of course, many new responsibilities. I’ll pretty much be a suit guy, which is exciting, and I’ll be running marketing & communications with a direct reporting line to the C-suite — intimidating as much as it is exciting.

One of the things I find myself fretting over, at least at this point in time, is the impact this change will have on my training.

The new job brings a bit of a longer commute — nothing horrible, just more to the tune of 40 minutes each way than my current 20. But it will also come with longer hours, and more travel. The prospect of losing time in my day terrifies me because I don’t want to lose the training time.

I’ve been fortunate in my old role, in that it was pretty consistently an 8-hours-a-day affair, with minimal evenings or weekends required. Over the summers, my otherwise maddening workload eased off a bit, allowing me to focus on my obsession with run-bike-run — and even to do some of that right from the parking lot of the office, as we were more rural than urban, and great riding was just outside our doors.

Those benefits, however, don’t outweigh the need to move onward, and upward. So training will become something I work at fitting in again. Some part of me knows that the drive to train is so firmly embedded in me that I’ll make it work. The other part of me is afraid that I’ll fail. With failure comes getting fat again, and I’m not interested in going back there ever again.

It’s not like I never had to make a squeeze to fit in the sessions of running or cycling, or strength training, in the old job. But I imagine that for the coming months, if not more, I’ll be working harder at working out when I’m not working. This may mean more after-dinner workouts (whereas I currently scoot home or to the gym right after work) and will certainly mean more long workouts on the weekends. Or, heaven forbid, I may need to tackle some morning workouts.

The company offers a health club/fitness benefit, which I’ll happily take. And I’ve heard that its president goes across the street to the gym at lunch each day. So that bodes well for a guy like me, who wants to be sure his fitness doesn’t fade to fatness.

After all, I’ve got some snazzy new suits to fit into.

Toe Cover Riding

This kind of view can make the chilly slog even more worthwhile.

This kind of view can make the chilly slog even more worthwhile.

It’s toe cover season.

Bike shoes are highly ventilated, which is great when the temps are over 15 degrees.  From there down the thermometer, not so much.

Toe covers are a lycra or neoprene fabric cover that goes over the front half of the bike shoe (or in the case of booties, the complete shoe) to keep a cyclist’s toes and feet warmer — and more dry — in inclement conditions.

Mine are a simple lycra affair, but they pretty much do the trick. As soon as “feels like” temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celsius, my shoe covers go on, and they stay there until I stop riding for the winter. Combined with some warm wool socks, this simple cover extends riding season by a good two months.

I’ve enjoyed cycling this fall, though I missed the warm sunshine filled weeks in late September while coming down off the summer of duathlon — while taking it easy, I was also doing such awesome things as stepping off a roadside curb and popping something in my leg. So the break was voluntary to a point, but also enforced by a tired body.

Though most cyclists appear to have decided to pack it in by early October, I was truly looking forward to getting out for some long rides that were strictly that — rides, instead of training sessions.

It’s been a long while since my bike and I were alone for anything approaching two hours or more. In the lead up to duathlon season, my spring rides were limited by an SI joint and IT band combo injury that restricted me to 25km of riding at a time, most of it in serious pain. As I got into the season, I was focused on race distances — I’ll generally ride race distances plus 10 to 15% while I’m training. There’s simply too much training to do, and too little time in the week to do it in, to be able to head out for more than 45km at a time. The time for building endurance is over the winter and early spring.

I think I treated myself to a 50km ride at some point in the late summer, for a break from my usual duathlon training mix, but that was it.

So the autumn rides, however bone-chilling, windy, and lonely, have been great, if only for the fact that I’m riding just to ride. My pace matters, but the fall winds have a way of making you forget maintaining high speeds to instead just focus on covering the distance.

It’s not glamorous in the least. Riding in temps between 2 and 10 degrees requires careful clothing choices — gloves, liner gloves, shirt and socks merit as careful selection as the myriad options of outer layers. Riding will generate heat from the workout, but unlike running, it also generates serious wind chill that negates the warmth. The difference between the warmth from climbing a hill and the chill from descending it is hard to manage with just a front zipper.

Winds seem even more harsh and unforgiving in the fall — harsh for the cold, unforgiving for the exhaustion that results from a 25km headwind or crosswind gusts of 40km or more. In the cold air, any wind makes my eyes tear up so badly that I have to stop and empty out my sunglasses a couple of times — usually after big downhills. And even if I empty them out, by the time I get home I can hardly see, because my lenses are actually crusted with dried salt from those tears.

Since the sun sets so early now, realistically, one can only ride on weekends. Even so, there are few other cyclists on the road, so it can feel pretty lonely out there — on a 2+ hour ride last weekend, I did not see a single other cyclist of any kind. I had not quite realized before how much one’s morale benefits from seeing kindred spirits on the road.

But on the plus side, and obviously there is one, fall in Southwestern Ontario brings some of the most spectacular views — gorgeous fall colours, and sharp contrasts between blue skies, dark gray storm clouds, or a field of verdant green amidst the dull browns of those that were recently harvested. The sun is at a different angle as we approach the winter solstice, meaning each weekend brings new light, new shadows. Whereas my fuelling on a training ride happens on the go, for these shoulder-season rides, I’ll often pull off to the side of the road and nosh while admiring the view — because a few minutes appreciating that makes one appreciate the riding even more.

Roadwork is mostly done for the season, leaving me dodging fewer potholes and enjoying some new pavement — although as the leaves pile up roadside, with no bylaw enforcement from the city, bike lanes and curb lanes do get perilous.

With the right clothing, we can manage the conditions. I’m a big believer in merino wool base layers, but lately, have fallen in love with Under Armour’s Infrared technology. Having had some success in other UA clothing featuring Infrared technology, I invested in a pair of liner gloves and a base layer shirt specifically to wear when cycling — and I am thoroughly impressed at how well it works. It’s as warm, if not warmer, but costs less than a comparable merino wool item. Whereas my hands used to be in excruciating pain in cold conditions to the point that I couldn’t effectively shift or brake, I can now keep my grip, hardly feeling any cold in my fingers. Frankly, little matter whether it’s classic wool or technical blends — thin, warm and breathable fabric is an absolute asset to cycling.

For reasons I don’t understand, motorists are being kinder in the shoulder season, much more patient and accommodating. Motorists with a clear right of way have been insisting that I go ahead of them. I’ve been waved through more turns and stop signs by drivers in the past five weeks than I was for the previous 5 months. It’s kind of nice to be given the space and the respect, even just for this short time.

Also on the plus side, a long session in the cold and wind is a true test of physical fitness and form. I may not be trying for race pace, but I’m not exactly cruising, either.  On a cold day, by the time I’m cranking out the last 7 to 10 km of my ride, I’ll be working exceptionally hard to stay focused and to maintain good form. Being cold doesn’t mean it’s okay to be sloppy.

And cycling in the fall presents a different kind of challenging workout from the run-bike-run of the last five months. While I’m still running, it’s a lot less than over the summer (and will pick up again over the winter). Long slogs on the bike in less than ideal conditions are a really good workout that challenges my body as much as a brick workout at peak fitness. It’s just straight-up endurance, not multi-sport endurance. I’m not saving my legs for the next round — just all out on the road in front. I welcome the change for the offseason.

This time of the year is always a bit gloomy as we cycling types get ready for a long, dark winter of training indoors. So each time I can hop on my bike and go out for that road-based session, I value that it’s time I won’t be inside, with another bracing shot of fresh air. You never know when the snow and ice will start, and bring toe cover riding to its end — so each ride is ridden like it will be the last for the season.

For that, I’ll deal with the layers, the tears and the wind — with a smile on my face. Okay, maybe it’s a grimace. But there’s also a smile under there, really there is.