Spring Thaw 2009

The UofA Triathlon Club’s annual Spring Thaw triathlon came and went this past weekend. The club puts on the race as an effort to expose people to the sport of triathlon and get people out to try the multi-sport experience. Our club even received a few thousand dollars to subsidize race entry fees for UofA students towards this end… making this the cheapest triathlon in the province for UofA students. It was even cheaper for members of the Triathlon club who all raced for free once again this year. It also happens to be a great opportunity to RACE!

Lots of the club’s big guns spent their morning volunteering so it wasn’t quite the showdown of Triathlon club skills that it could have been but non the less members of the club had an excellent showing… taking the top four spots for men and top two spots for women at the Sprint distance.

My race day started with a 4:30 am wakeup and first breakfast prior to arriving at the race site prior to 5am to help set up the transition area and some of the course. Heavy lifting before 6am! I then had to try and figure out for the first time in my racing career how to do a pre-race meal and then do another one all before my swim heat hit the water soon after 10:00 am. It was a bit tricky and I don’t think I did it exactly right. I ate a full breakfast (got rid of the overnight hunger) at 4:30 and then proceeded to try and also eat a normal meal at around 8:30 am like I would have done anyways. I wasn’t hungry enough to really eat but kind of ate anyways and drifted a bit close to the race in terms of time prior to racing that I was still eating. Ooops.

I cited a swim time of 13:30 and hopped in a lane with some likeminded people and one dude who was insistent on swimming 13:00 flat. He was very concerned about being able to pass up during the swim and so we all agreed to hit people on the feet when we wanted to get past and then to wait up and let those people past. That’s standard fare for faster swimmers getting by, no big deal. Into the water we go, I’m the first one out and cruise along at about pace for a 13:30 swim. Our friend the 13:00 swimmer has made up his 20 second deficit in swim start by the time I’m at 75 meters (Hmmm… sounds like he’s trying to swim about an 11 minute time?) and goes ahead. We’re all enjoying the draft for the next couple hundred meters and then some more passing starts to occur. Some people need to go by me and I go by a few people. It’s probably the case that no-one is strong enough to lead the line at the speed we’re swimming but everyone in the draft line would like to pick up the pace just a tad. As some people pass one another and wait up at the end one swimmer gets crammed into the little space where there previously was no swimmer before and now has no option but to hit people on the feet, now not trying to elicit the “wait up and let me pass you” response. Frustration and confusion ensues. We get to 600 meters and I want to pick it up for the last three laps. No-one else must be counting I think to myself and cruise out of the line down the middle of the lane… No one will believe a foot tap anymore. I pass three people down the middle and the heartrate is picked up a bit. It’s a tight squeeze and there had been some shoulder bumping but I pass the 13 minute dude during my last fifty and climb out at exactly 13:30 minutes. I suppose it’s a form of success?

Into T1, I’ve got a shammy towel and try to soak up some of the water in my shorts and from my thighs so they’re less likely to be chilly on the ride and cruise into the transition zone. Helmet on, number on, go!. My transition cannot be any faster as I run down towards the mount line and hop aboard the P2. I’m running my HED3 up front and aero-helmet and get some cheers and jeers from the tri-club members who are volunteering. You’re not allowed to be slow if you’ve got the gear to go fast.

I crank out the first lap including the emily murphy hill with an average speed of 40.5 km per hour. As I settle in to ride the next lap I’ve got a knot in my upper stomach, I try to ignore it and keep pushing… the second time up the hill isn’t quite as fast and I deal with a bit more traffic. By the time I’m up top my average speed has dropped to 39.8 kph… I get aero off the top of the hill and keep cruising, I chug down about a third of a bottle of gatorade. I brought 2/3 of a small bottle thinking I might drink twice but elect to just stick with drinking once. The nose of my seat starts to rotate down a little bit from level, argh! that’s not supposed to happen. There’s nothing I can do though, I’ve been riding hard out on the tip of it trying to be as aerodynamic and powerful as possible, now my seat is effectively a tad too low. I continue through the third lap and just as I summit Ben Adam is arriving off the next swim heat. He’s quick and I’m determined to stay with him for the lap. I have no problem doing so until I climb the hill the last time and don’t want to go anaerobic. I did for the first three laps but stay seated and make an effort to stay aero on the last lap so I’m not in the midst of recovery when I arrive in transition. It’s a good choice and cruise back into transition. I take the dismount a bit too quick as I leap barefoot from the bike and the pavement kind of hurts my feet. Oh well. Into T2 I come, rack the bike and helmet off. I’ve elected to wear socks even for 5km because I haven’t trained without. They probably add two seconds per foot, I’m relatively successful I decide as I stand upright again and Andy is yelling at me to show my number as I leave T2. The race belt is on inside out and the side displayed is just white! The draft marshals apparently couldn’t have given me a penalty even if they wanted. (Not that there was anyone nearly fast enough for me to draft).

The first 100 meters is quick but the subsequent 500 meters are slow. I’m frustrated as I feel like I just can’t pick up the speed. It takes probably the whole first kilometer before I feel like I’m actually pushing the pace on the run and am breathing hard. I crank out the first half and come to the turnaround. I’m far ahead of everyone else from my heat so until now the only people I’ve seen on the run course are barely moving people from the previous heat. Once on the return I feel like I can let it fly and feel pretty good. I’m running about as fast as I think I can run but not getting tired out. I’ve only got a kilometer and a half left I think to myself when I go past Cory and Simmon volunteering and they shoot my photo. I can’t run fast enough through the final stretch it seems even though the pace isn’t terribly fast. A few hundred meters to go and I switch from run to sprint and finish a bit wobbly on my legs. Once the heartrate drops back from the sprint finish I feel pretty good, I probably could run another 5 km and not be too much slower I think to myself. That’s frustrating, I couldn’t have run any faster. Serves me right I suppose, marathon training doesn’t translate to top end 5km speed.

There’s not too much time for me to to wait after finishing until Ben cruises in off his bike is out onto the run. Next off the bike is Lindsay and she’s got a pretty good gap on both Stefan and Pat who come in off the bike together. Pat flies through transition and Stefan has to tie his shoes, he’s just racing for fun today, he won his category at a bike road race the day before and has nothing to prove. Pat is off to hunt down Lindsay and record the fastest run split of the day.

Total results for myself include almost a 40 kph bike split and reasonable run at 20.5 minutes for 4.8 km. My swim time is a whole minute faster than last year when I believe I was told I was finished swimming after only 700m. In total that translates to the equivalent of about 2 minutes improvement on the swim (reality only 1 minute faster) and I cut a minute on the run as well as a bit more than 4 minutes off my bike time. I’ll attribute 5 seconds of that to the helmet, 5 seconds to the race wheel, 5 second to the new bike aerodynamics, 5 second to the new bike’s weight and 10 seconds to my better aerodynamic bike body position. That leaves me 3:30 seconds of raw ‘effort’ improvement on the bike from last year. All in all the improvement of my swim as what was my limiting factor didn’t make as much difference as the improvement to my bike top end speed which was refinement of my strength. That’s not terribly encouraging to make me keep working on the swim… but that’s where the deficit to the competition still lies. The beginner lane at triathlon club pool swims has been eliminated and I will be taking that bull by the horns next winter. Swim improvements from here on out for the 2009 season are likely to be minimal. I’m content to swim about a 35 minute half ironman pace (equivalent to this swim speed) as I feel like anything more is going to tax my ability to run a fast 21.1 km.

The annual showdown with the Spring Thaw Triathlon will come to an end in 2010 as I’ll be race director for this event which precludes me from competing unfortunately. It should still be a rocking race and I’ll likely pick up one other short course race next season just for fun to test out the speed, probably more likely to be Olympic distance than sprint though, a one hour effort is relatively rather unsatisfying once you’re tapered for it.

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Calgary Police Half Marathon

I ran the Calgary Police Half marathon in 1:36:23 on Sunday April 26. It was one of my least favorite races of all time but it did result in a personal best on the distance so in retrospect I am happy to have run it. I perhaps also learned a few things while running it, maybe it’s more likely that thinking about why it felt so lousy afterward was how I learned a few things. None the less I’m pretty confident I didn’t run as fast as I could have on the day due to some poor pacing choices and I probably didn’t run as fast as I could have that week due to some poor tapering choices. The results however are good so let’s start there. I was actually quite quick, averaging 4:35 per kilometer is more than acceptable considering all the factors. I also have to consider that I ran 26.2 miles only three weeks prior and that my training focus on the run has been endurance with the focus on pushing past the two hour mark. While it seems a bit silly to suggest that the half marathon is not really an endurance event the honest truth is that it’s bordering on not being one. I have pretty good reasons to believe that my body’s glycogen stores when topped off properly run themselves out in about 100 to 110 minutes when riding a bike through triathlon club practice if not supplemented with a few extra calories. While running is different than the stationary bike and considering I did consume 100 calories of shot-bloks on the run in addition to two cups of Gatorade I had absolutely no need to run off anything more than glycogen and sugar-burning aerobic work during the race. If the muscular endurance is there to get me through about 34 kms with no ill effects and my glycogen storage is good enough to go the distance then realistically 21.1 kms shouldn’t be considered an endurance challenge, it’s an aerobic one meaning unfortunately that my speed should basically be a measure of how much my huge body could breathe and how much I was willing to hurt to stick it out. (Taking in a bit of food was probably an unnecessary safety net but as I’m used to taking 100 calories every 5 miles on runs lasting longer than 60 minutes I opted not to play with something that works, it certainly wasn’t going to slow me down anyways.)

That’s all said basically to suggest that I did run a fast race, that I have developed the endurance to crank out a 21 km run at hard effort without feeling the need to really dig deep to keep it rolling once past the ten mile mark. I found myself actually looking forward to getting some intermediate miles down between 10 miles and 12 miles, in retrospect those are normally finishing miles. I wasn’t struggling to be able to maintain the pace I ran towards the finish, I just couldn’t pick it up. The endurance was there but the speed wasn’t.

Perhaps describing why the speed wasn’t there starts with a little description of the taper, or lack thereof before I discuss the race-day strategy. Following the marathon three weeks prior I found I was capable of hard aerobic work on the bike within a few days but my ability to do any real effort while running had totally disappeared. I rode hard at triathlon club practice and wimped out on the runs, even having to quit an intervals set halfway through, I couldn’t manage it and walked slowly home from the river valley. After a week and a half I was out on my feet again and was successful for the first time at a Wednesday Night Cross country race. My legs held up for 17 minutes as I ran slightly above my aerobic limit the entire time. I felt great and likely as a result of this positive feedback to the restoration of my running I took the training hard right through the weekend and into the next week. I racked up my biggest 7 day stretch yet in 2009 with varied sport focus including two excellent 10 km run efforts at moderate pace. I cruised right along into the next Wednesday’s race, this time running a bit closer to my aerobic capacity for the duration. The taper would begin Friday for Sunday’s race by taking two days off. Not really a taper at all you might say, and you’d be right. It would have likely been sufficient to rest up if I had not just completed a serious training effort spanning 13 days without a break. Friday and Saturday were spent in recovery mode from the training load of the last weeks and not acquiring the extra bits of rest required for a good race performance.

The mental preparation for this race was also lacking, I hadn’t actually decided what my goal pace was supposed to be, I tossed around the idea of trying to run 7 minute miles and aiming for a 92 minute time. Perhaps it was my fast performances at Wednesday night races that suggested this in my head. I knew however that I was far more likely to be successful at running an even pace the whole race and probably would reasonably shoot for 7:15 miles if aiming for an even paced race. I started the race not having decided upon the plan, hopping the fence into the starting chute without really gauging whether or not I was self seeding appropriately. We cruised out of the start and I nailed two 6:45 miles in a row, I was feeling pretty good, refreshed and plenty happy that it wasn’t snowing or raining as had been forecast. This was a terrible pacing strategy and I would pay for it, I slowed appropriately to approximately the pace I should have been running the whole race by the time I went through 5 miles but was perhaps a minute ahead of all the people who were running this pace consistently through the race. That meant there was a slow and steady stream of people passing me as I went down the hill into the weaselhead, I had an incorrect picture in my mind that it was a steep downhill and short jaunt over to the uphill on the other side. The flat across the bottom was an entire mile long and I got frustrated a bit confused by why things seemed to be going the way they were and saddened that there were people getting past me. I was well within my limits running through this stretch and should have upped the pace and stuck on the tail of any one of the other runners but instead I was hesitant to choose one, worrying about the consequences of passing control of the pace over to another stranger. Up the hill I went, the cycling muscles came into play and I passed a few people on the ascent. The race gets a bit tedious here through to the ten mile point and I was still running well within my limits not terribly pleased by my pace but accepting the fact that I was sufficiently quick to still have the 1:40 under wraps. For a few miles this became the plan, keep it under 1:40? That was outrageous and when I actually calculated how slow I could go and was then starting to go I realized I had to pick up the pace. Having chosen a specific planned pace would have been valuable here but that wasn’t the case and I opted to make a last ditch effort with about 4 kms out to salvage what I was realizing was a poor race plan by picking the nearest tall guy and deciding to run his pace as he went by. It worked for 300 yards before we went up and over the overpass and I needed to pass him on the uphill. Down the other side and I was out on my way through to the final 3 kms, the disaster zone was finished and I finally picked up my pace to a moderately hard effort hovering right around my aerobic threshold and went for it. The ends of races are always interesting some people fade badly and others pick it up, as I was picking it up some of those ahead of me were also speeding up and my plans to knock them off one by one got a bit complicated or I was getting to the border of being out of it. I came through the 21 km mark with one other man who started a sprint to the finish and I started to go with him but as soon as I realized he had me beat I backed off. No point in loosing a sprint to the finish I thought to myself and just ran it in across the line.

Summary of results: here.

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Yakima River Valley Marathon

It has been a few days since the race and I decided that it’s probably a good time to write down a few reflections of the marathon last weekend before the details are out of my head.

Thursday morning I gave a presentation at school and after lunch got on a plane down to Abbotsford BC where my brother Silas picked me up from the airport. I stayed with him and his three roommates in a rather full two bedroom townhouse that they are squishing into in favour of cheap rent and the ability to buy ski tickets. The next morning we made the 4.5 hour drive south from Abbotsford to Seattle and then 100 miles east to Ellensburg Washington via the I-90. The snow up top was still DEEP but as we descended we entered the desert and the temperatures crept up. We would sleep the night in Ellensburg and the next morning I’d run down 42 kilometers through the Yakima River Canyon towards Selah Washington. After checking into the hotel I found online that upon first appearance gave thoughts of funky smells and creeky beds, but turned out to be excellent annoyance free and cheap accommodation, we drove the course. The route is winding and generally downhill and for miles 3-26 passes through a canyon that’s just barely wider than the road, a river famed for its catch and release fly fishing, and a train track. We guesstimated the mile markers as we drove and I picked out a few mental notes along the way, there’s a pacman painted on a cliff at the half marathon point and made a mental note that the downhill after the first hill is steep and the second hill has a false summit. All things I mostly knew and there were to be mile markers along the way anyways, so I wasn’t obsessive about it and we enjoyed the views. Four and a half hours of driving adds up to a pretty good amount of time to sit in a car, especially when I’m focused on super hydrating my body, enough said.

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We arrived and looked for the Selah Civic center along the west side of main street for the pasta dinner and decided to park the car, get out and look for it a bit better as the google maps pointer suggested we were pretty close. Once standing on the curb it was abundantly obvious where it was, across the street that we’d driven past twice already. Google is good but it’s not perfect!

As we chowed down on spaghetti and looked through the race package documents Silas and I came to the realization that there were more than a few crazy marathoners present at this particular race. Perhaps it had the highest concentration of what might be considered crazies at any race in the USA this year. The Marathon Maniac club was having its annual reunion race at this marathon. A club composed of people who run marathons like they’re going out of style. Some travel to run every weekend, some race on back to back days. Some are finishing up an all 50 states marathon challenge and some have already completed it. One was to run his 100th marathon tomorrow and another was on 428 or something like that. A bit of an intimidating crew! Silas groaned every time a new stat was mentioned, and then they made the marathon first timers stand up, there were 7 of us… Out of 441 people.

Following dinner we headed back to the hotel, unpacked all of my junk and set things ready for the next morning then hit the sack. Up an hour and a half before the race start I chowed down on bread, jam and bananas for breakfast and some Gatorade. Silas warned me not to keep drinking or I’d spend the whole run stopping in the ditch, I assured him that wasn’t an issue as I put away a bit of milk and more Gatorade. Off to the race start we went decked out in Triathlon Club colours. It would be warm enough to start out in a wind breaker and T-Shirt and so the hoodie was stripped off even before I began. Walking 500 yards to the start was enough warm-up for me and one last watering of the bushes, a star spangled banner and we were off.

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The first mile was slow, I was happy to take it easy off the start and ran it about 1 minute slower than my planned pace. The group was starting to thin out as we wove around through some farmland before making it to the canyon. Mile two was a fast one, taking the first mile easy meant people running my pace were already a bit further up the road. It would prove to be my fastest of the day and I soon settled down and nailed the third mile in exactly 7:37. It felt good, this was the planned pace for the race and I had no qualms about running that pace. I’d been tapering my volume way down and hadn’t done much of anything significant all week long, two steady runs, two hard hours on the bike and an easy half hour in the pool. What had been a pace that felt fast during my biggest volume weeks earlier in the buildup felt completely manageable. That’s a good sign I thought to myself.

I was now tucked in with people running approximately my pace and was no longer moving my way through the field. I had to keep an eye on the clock as well as focus on my position relative to multiple runners because I wasn’t about to gauge my pace off of just one person. These are people all planning to run faster than 3:30 and I was almost guaranteed that a few of them had done that more than ten times, maybe fifty. I was in the mix with quite a few of the marathon maniacs. Up one quick rise and suddenly we came around the corner and we in the canyon. I needed to start eating already and I felt as though I had just started but the numbers don’t lie, I’d gone 5 miles and that meant I had to put down 100 calories, that’s the game plan and I’ve got to stick to it.

Things cruised along nicely as we faced no more grades through the next 8 miles. The sun started to warm things up and I wanted to lose my gloves and toque. They couldn’t be abandoned just anywhere, I needed to wait for an aid station with a garbage can. I’ll just keep wearing them I thought to myself, but it was starting to heat up and with a solid 5 kms of waiting for the next aid station I started to get warm. Looking down my windbreaker’s arms were soaked with sweat. I took the gloves off and decided to carry them as starting to drip sweat was in no gameplan of mine. Finally an opportunity came, I lost the gloves and toque and kept on cruising feeling quite nice in the sunshine. Ten miles down, nearly halfway there, I started to chat with another runner, he was wearing an IMAZ visor so we discussed the heat and wind in Tempe, he’d raced in 2005. Faris Al-Sultan had won in hot and windy conditions before going on to slaughter the competition at Kona that fall. Suddenly we could see a clock on the road up ahead. 13.1 miles down in 1:39:40. That’s a half marathon PR and I hadn’t really worked yet, that’s good though I thought. Keep it steady for another ten kms to the hill and then I can get going if I still feel good.

Another mile done and my fellow triathlete went missing, who knows where to, forwards or backwards I don’t know. Around the corner we come, aid station and a big hill. This was the short one, about 4 minutes of effort and we were up top, a few guys had a sound board out with huge speakers echoing some rock and roll off the canyon walls as we climbed towards them. Over the crest and down, down, down, this descent was steep and I tried to keep it even and smooth, light on my feet I thought to myself. The canyon widened out a bit for a stretch and I ran alongside a marathon maniac for a while. I was keeping the steady pace from before and glanced at my heart rate, 174, I’m at the top end of acceptable. I cannot let this rise anymore or I’ll be in trouble, the plan is to keep it between 162 and 172. I don’t need to slow it down yet but I have to be careful not to speed it up. Should I keep running beside this maniac or not? It’s not a good idea if it will push me, it is a good idea if my mind starts to wander a bit, it’s easier to keep it steady beside someone else. I decide to stay with her and we get to some shade. My heartrate drops back to the middle of the range and I feel alright about that. We’re back in the sun soon enough and I take off the windbreaker. It gets stuffed down the back pocket of my jersey. 20 miles down, I thought the hill was supposed to start here. It’s probably just around the corner. Nope, maybe the next corner. I start to wonder what’s going on when it’s not around the that one… it’s getting close to the 21 mile marker when it finally comes into view. I slow to a walk through the aid station as I have done once already and take a powerade and water, mix the two and chug them down, then another two cups. I’ve been drinking two cups every 3 miles but my mouth is dry and don’t want to wind up crashing into dehydration in the last 5 miles. The hill is a gentle grade but it certainly takes a long time to climb and it’s starting to feel hot. It’s getting up to 20 degrees and I’ve still got tights on. One little patch of shade three quarters of the way up and I walk for 20 steps. Out of the shade, I might as well run. One last patch of shade as I crest the hill, I resort to another 20 steps of walking.

I’m at the top of the hill now, keep everything under control until you’re at the top of the hill I had been telling myself as I felt like I could have picked up the pace for much of the morning. Once again the heartrate is 175, slightly high but I’m getting close now as I’ve eclipsed the three hour mark. It’s now time to pick up the pace but now I can’t. The slight cambers in the road as we’ve run have been mostly long sweeping right turns and sharp left turns, my left leg had been slightly higher than my right for the majority of the time and I can feel it in the sides of my thighs. I’ve been able to feel it since km 25 but now it hurts. It’s surface pain, not deep, so I’m not really worried about it, it just hurts. It’s a gentle downhill but I can’t take advantage of it, the fronts of my quads don’t want to run down a hill. I haven’t been running down hills all winter, it’s icy in Edmonton and running downhill is a sure bet to wipe out. The pain slowly notches up and up until I decide I’ve got to take another quick walk break, it’s more than 20 steps this time but soon enough I’m back at it. I’ve got to count when I start walking I tell myself, that way I’ll never walk for too long. I run until it’s too painful and take another walk break. One more time, running is just TFH (hard) I can’t run even though my head says this is not the fastest plan and then I’m back walking for a stretch. I near the 25 mile aid station and take one last look at my watch. 3:20 is gone but 3:30 is all but guaranteed if I can at least run most of the way. I stop and walk through and pound back 3 cups. Don’t pull a Paula and loose the nutrition plan on the home stretch I remind myself. It’s a good thing someone famous once made this mistake because I’ll never forget myself. Back running. It’s downhill again but I’m close now so I’m not stopping to walk, with about a half mile to go it flattens out and I’m feeling better about the situation, the pain in my quads is stable, not getting worse as I run. One old guy comes past me and consciously make the decision not to think about racing him. I’m on the border of holding it together so I’ll just hold it together.

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I see Silas in his red jacket, give him a thumbs up and come off the side of the road into the finish area. My name is announced, and I don’t really know where the line is but I have to stop or I’ll run someone over so I stop. Someone comes from behind me to pull the tab off my race bib, obviously I ran a bit too far. The race director spots the little shiny foot on my race number and give me a hug, I’m a newbie. I’m offered an aluminum blanket and a bottle of water. I chug the bottle and grab another bottle of juice. I finish it also on the spot. Another bottle and I make the slow walk to find a chair. I bend my knees to sit down and pause. All the people around me laugh, “you’re not getting back up once you get down” they tell me. I sit down and am feeling pretty chilly so I tuck the edges of the blanket in around me. Another one is blowing around on the ground and I wrap it around my legs. I down a few bananas. Another bottle of juice, a can of antioxidant baloney that someone is sponsoring the run with. It tastes awful but it’s liquid, cookies, yoghurt, some gummi bears. We chat a bit and Silas tells me that I’m number 46. That’s weird I thought, there were a lot of people ahead of me at the end, but it meant that I was actually at the front end of when things started to get busy. Look here for an illustration of that.

Getting out of the chair was a lousy process as was the walk down the road to the car. Race organizers had showers available with towels, soap and shampoo in the local Jr. High school and once I had given the quads a bit of a massage under the hot water they felt a lot better. We sought out an unsecured wireless network in the community to send a few emails and then ate lunch, I was already ready for it. 4:00 arrived quickly and we ate dinner for the awards ceremony but hopped in the car to begin the drive home before anything happened. Sleep? No way, we stayed up late drinking cheap American beer at a campfire on the banks of the Fraser river in Abbotsford once we were home.

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Birkebeiner

The Birkebeiner is a 55 km ski race that happens annually just east of Edmonton at Blackfoot recreation area. It’s a Norwegian themed event in commemoration of a story of way back along time ago when some Norse guys saved the baby prince of Norway by carrying him 55 km on their backs to safety… eventually he would grow up and reconquer some other part of the country and re-establish his rightful role as monarch… it’s supposed to be a good story that makes you feel all nice…

Well the way it’s celebrated doesn’t exactly feel so nice. Or at least the last stretch of it for myself was a really serious challenge. I don’t think I’d say that is is definitively the most difficult thing I’d ever done in the world of sports. It was however the longest stretch of time that I put out a good solid effort without really stopping to take a break. Total time: 6:10:44. I’ve ridden my bike more more than 6 hours on numerous occasions but they all either included good breaks or periods where I didn’t exactly feel like I was asking a lot of myself. Skiing yesterday on the other hand, I spent almost the entire time asking a bit more out of myself as I skied.

The morning started Uuber-early as I caught a ride with a couple friends (Ben and Lindsay) who were volunteering as medical staff at one of the stations along the route. This meant that they were supposed to check in at their site at 7 am and needed to drop me off on the way… Leaving some time just in case we got lost it meant that I was up, dressed, packed and had fried 4 eggs for breakfast by 5:30 in the morning. I was the first skier there by more than 20 minutes and took my time looking around and then just sitting my bum in a chair to wait it out. I learned a few things watching people arrive. The early people are all old. The early people almost all know eachother (or at least they know some people). The early people like to discuss waxing techniques with words and phrases that are all totally over my head. The early people all have very practiced routines. I could tell because they often paused, looked at something and made a mental checkmark. I learned an interesting way to carry energy gels: They are slipped into the sleeve of your shirt at the wrist inside the outer layer (which is tight… all early people wear tight clothes) and one goes above and one below the wrist, an elastic band (that is red so it matches the shirt being worn… early people all have color-coordinated racing gear) is wrapped around the gels and the shirt. To remove a gel from this location while skiing along and holding a pole you just bring your wrist to your mouth and pull the gel out by your teeth. Then it’s only a one handed affair to grab, rip, spit, suck, squeeze and throw the empty gel to the ground without loosing any speed. Early people are intimidating to people wearing relatively loose clothing that wasn’t color co-ordinated. Had no race morning routines, knew none of the other early risers, and I planned on carrying the bit of food that I did have in my backpack and relying mostly on the aid stations for my nourishment. I switched somewhere in there from the generic to the personal. Let me be specific then… I was unprepared.

I made up my morning routine as I went along, put my ski boots on and sauntered down to the start with my skis and bag. I tossed my skis in a snowbank and weighed my pack… rules required it to be 12 lbs or heavier. Mine was more than 12 kg before I emptied it, most of my stuff went into the dry gear bag but the things I figured I would want or might need during the day stayed on my back. I cut it down to 15 lbs. I was using my backpacking backpack because it has my preferred shoulder straps and waistbelt. It meant thought that I needed to keep my sleeping bag in the bottom to maintain it’s shape so the waistbelt is actually good… Another rookie mistake… carry more than you absolutely need to.

I saw a few people I knew, my supervisor from school and his wife along with one of the other guys (Graham) from our lab. I tested out the wax job I had done for my skis and it was acceptable. I had done something correctly! I chugged a liter of water, ate a muffin and made a washroom pitstop and soon enough it was time to line up. The start is 12 skiing lanes wide and heads out across a lake where the lanes eventually disappear and people have to merge. There are a few signs along the side telling you how to seed yourself in the back and I choose to stand by the slowest sign. The countdown begins with a 15 minute warning. A ten minute warning, seven minute warning someone sings O Canada with a voice that either has decided it is too cold or too early in the morning… A five minute warning. I comment to one of the guys standing near me that calling them warnings isn’t the most encouraging of choices of vocabulary. He laughs and agrees, it’s his first time too and we’re both happy to know we’re not alone in the sea of people who are starting to hop up and down with their skis on and doing arm circles to loosen up. I take off my fleece jacket and put on a windbreaker when we hear the three minute warning. The one minute to start isn’t a warning, just a notice, and both me and my new friend glance at eachother with smiles on.

The horn sounds and we’re off. During the final three minutes there have been about 8 rows of people accumulating behind me and the pressure is on to ski and not hold them back too much, everyone skis at the pace of the person in front of them even though that’s a terrible strategy for spreading out and merging together. I pass a few people who are standing up between the lanes shuffling backwards trying to retrieve a dropped pole or a missing toque. I’m not a total screw-up thus far and keep on trucking along way faster than I’ve pretty much ever skied before. After a couple merges the clump I’m in is really getting bunched up and I glance at my watch… oops I forgot to start it. That sucks. Before we know it the lake has come to and end and we’re narrowed down to 3 lanes. The race leaders are tiny ants on the horizon and we just passed the 2 km mark.

I ski the first 7 kms or so in the midst of some pretty big groups. It’s going good, I feel the permission to ski at my own pace. I see Graham ahead of me and slowly reel him in… he’s going about my pace but his stride is funny compared with mine and it’s distracting to ski behind him. I realize I need to find someone to follow who is mentally relaxing to ski behind and going my pace. The problem is that now there isn’t a huge selection of people to choose from. I’m skiing in a little group. One guy goes by and I like the look of his feet so I want to follow him. Problem is someone else is on his tail so I can’t switch lanes. Maybe it takes a whole kilometer to get behind him… oh well something to think about. I latch on behind the orange coat guy who I notice is on rental skis… I wonder what his story is. We pass a sign giving us a 1 km warning to the first station. We pass an outhouse and my orange coat pulls off the track but I’m not stopping to wait for someone to follow and continue on to the aid station. I pull off the track and have someone right in my face with a tray of gatorade. It’s steaming and warm, another new experience, but this one is great. I drink two cups. Eat two pieces of banana and a cookie. I realize I’d better get skiing as no-one else seems to be taking this long at the stop. I shoulder check and step back out into the track and then finally look on up the hill ahead. There is not a soul in sight. I only stopped for 1:06, what happened to my group?

I ski along largely alone and pass one person who is going so slow I can hardly imagine how she was still ahead of me. I start to look around and take note of all the hoar frost on the trees. I hadn’t really noticed until now, it doesn’t really show up sparkling until the sun shines on it which it was starting to do. Soon enough the trail merges with the 31 km route and there are people all around again. They started 1/2 hour later than the 55 km skiers but took a shortcut so they’ve traveled less distance than us but are on the same track. None of them have packs and the timing of their start and distance mismatch puts me amongst slightly faster people than I had been skiing with alone. That’s okay with me as long as there are some people around and I pick a small group to follow. We come into the next station and I find myself having skied past all of the drinks and need to do the awkward backwards shuffle for a while before someone notices what I’m trying to do and brings me two cups of warm gatorade. I drink them, take a cookie and a piece of banana. I shoulder check and wave to my friend Scott who comes past in the 31 km race. I can’t step into the track quite yet and have to wait for a bit. I’m skiing along in a clump again and prefer it at least for now. We come down around a corner and the hill suddenly gets steeper. I’m standing bolt upright and suddenly my balance is off. I’m balancing on one foot and then am sliding on my side. Quickly I’m back upright before I get run over but managed to force an older lady to hop out of the tracks in the left lane to dodge my skis. She isn’t pleased with me and tells me not to fall, that I should try to balance better and then maybe I wouldn’t fall. I apologize and continue along. The route is getting a bit hillier, or at least the hills are longer each time than they were earlier in the game. The wax is still holding up great and I’m pretty proud of myself. Another aid station warning and before I know it we’re at the next stop. Another two cups of gatorade. They also have ‘cup of noodles’ soup but I don’t want to take the time to eat it. A few pieces of banana, some cookies and see that there is blocks of cheddar cheese. I think back to the summer bike riding and always having some cheese strings while on the bike… yep I can eat that I’ve done that before. It seems like other skiers are avoiding taking the cheese like a plague. Is this a bad choice? I wonder as I pop a whole handful into my mouth and ski off down the hill and on towards the next aid station. It’s protein I tell myself and put the questions out of my head.

I’m now skiing behind some really funny guys. They’re on the short course and making jokes, I stick behind them for a bit. Their km markers are different than mine because of their shortcut detour. Theirs are a bit closer together than 1 km it seems to the guy. The difference between the 55 km markers is longer than the distance between the 31 km markers and joke about the implications not knowing that I’m listening. When they get two markers within a single one of my km markers I pipe up… we all laugh and continue on.

The next aid station arrives and it’s the one where Ben and Lindsay are volunteering. I down another two cups of gatorade a few pieces of banana and a cookie. We take a picture together but it has to be on Lindsay’s camera because mine is frozen solid and says it needs a new battery. It’s easy to be over 12 lbs when you carry dead weight like that. I stop here for a bit and dig through my bag so I can change which gloves I’ve got on. My gloves have turned into big wet bags on my hands with all the sweat and are in need of a change. Wet gloves into the backpack and dry ones out. That adds weight to the pack I thought to myself… oh well.

Leaving station four is straight up a hill and it’s a long one too. There are still lots of 31 km people around who all seem to be happy with the fact that they’ve only got about 10 kms left. I’ve got more than 30. I realize as we climb one of the hills, maybe it was the first one, maybe it was the next that my groin was starting to be pretty tired. I keep trucking along and the uphills are all pretty long, after having realized I was starting to get sore (I’ve been a bit tired for quite a while already) that this was going to be a long 30 kms. Someone pulls up next to me and says “Hey, are you Josh?”. I have no idea what the connection is and he explains that he’s the husband of another grad student and had been with Graham when we saw eachother before the race. He gives me a bit of encouragement as the two routes split and John goes the way of the 31 km tour. I turn left and continue uphill. I’m in behind a familiar person, the girl in the purple jacket. I think the guy in the orange jacket was following her just before we got to the first aid station. I tuck in there and am pleased with that situation. I pass her going down a hill and she never re-passes me. When I shoulder check I can’t tell who is behind unless they’re in the other lane so I have no idea if she is still skiing with me or not. A few more exciting downhills with corners at the bottom and I pull into the next station. I’ve got the pattern down now… Pull in drink a cup of warm gatorade and chow down a few bananas and a cookie. The bananas are starting to be frozen bananas because the time gap between the first people and me must be getting longer. I drink the second cup of gatorade afterwards so I don’t have a cold mouth and hop back in the tracks. As I’m leaving the station I’m passed another bit of banana, this one is peeled for me so I take it. I’m barely finished chewing and a lady is trying to put a cookie in my mouth. I take it between the teeth and keep skiing. I wonder if they’re trying to fill me up because they’re starting to think of us people at the back of the pack as in need of care and attention. That frustrates me as I feel okay and keep skiing. I’m happy to be fed cookies but what about their motivation for feeding me?

Off we go into a tough stretch. I’m in behind an old guy in a puffy red down jacket. He has a bit of a stoop and doesn’t hold his head up straight but I can’t ski any faster than him. I stick in behind a guy who is likely close to 50 years older than me and barely can hang on. My wax starts to fail me just as I’m being humbled by an old guy. It’s getting warmer and warmer and I’m probably wearing off quite a bit of wax with all of my weight and the crystals in the snow, it’s pretty abrasive stuff in these conditions. I tough it out starting to slip now and again as I cruise towards the 6th station. I’m super pleased when I see the 1 km to the station sign and manage to stay with the old guy all the way there. Not being able to pass a 70 year old is one thing but to have been dropped by him would have been another story.

I’m focussed on getting some wax on my skis as I come through the station and am looking for somewhere out of the way. I only grab one cup of gatorade and pull over. Skis off and get the wax out. Failing to have grabbed any food I pull out a fudge and protein bar as well and chow half of that down. I look at the little thermometer hanging off the back of my pack and it says minus 8. I can’t believe that, it’s supposed to be minus 15 right now I think to myself. I ask the others who also have stopped to wax if I should be using blue. They all say that’s what they’re putting on so I do two coats of it the first one thin and I make sure to spread it evenly the second one my hands are starting to get cold so I spread it a bit thicker and don’t so such a good job with the cork. Forget it I tell myself, I’m going to be bleeding from the knuckles if I don’t get my gloves back on. My body apparently is starting to direct it’s attention towards locomotion and not doing such a good job with the peripheral roles. I wonder if I’m digesting anything that I’m eating. The protein bar was probably not the best choice, sugar would have been better. A quick pee while the outhouses are convenient and I’m back on the skis.

I bomb down a great hill onto a lake and head out across the lake. It’s spectacular and the sky is mostly blue. I can see skiers up on top of a hill along the lake ahead and realize I’d better savour the flat lake while I can. I get off the lake at the same time as a girl in blue splash pants. I think back to the morning and think that she doesn’t qualify among the early crowd with baggy pants like those. Off we go up a hill and approach a guy decked out in a matching dark green outfit. He qualifies for the early crew I think to myself and we pass the 35 km sign. Only 20 kms left. As we’re passing Mr. Green I realize that he’s probably only 23 or 25 and gets the boot from the early-risers list, not old enough. I tell him that I noticed he was checking his watch at the 35 km mark and ask him if he thinks we’re on track for a 6 hour finish. He says that he hopes so. I’m encouraged and get back to work and chase down the girl in blue pants. 6 hours would be great. I calculate my finishing time based on that estimate… it’s three o’clock pm. I then realize that I felt like that was a whole calculation, adding 6 hours to 9am! That’s not a good sign, maybe I’m getting a bit stupid as well. No time to think though, I’m on track for six hours and I’ve got to ski. We cruise through some hills and have some really exciting downhill stretches. There’s been yellow signs that say caution on top of lots of these hills, just a notification that you’re going to be going down a hill. One of them actually means caution here though, sharp left midway, then the pitch gets steeper so you can gain some speed just in time for the sharp right at the bottom. I’m having fun and feel like I’m really cruising along. Into the next aid station I tell myself that I can’t stop too long. I down two cups of gatorade. A few bits of banana and a cookie. My mouth is frozen from the bananas and I drink another gatorade to warm it up.

The people at the aid station tell me that the next 5 kms is the hardest part. I look at the course profile which is taped to my ski pole and it looks hilly, no worse that the section where I was trying to keep up with the old man though and now I had good wax. I motivate myself to give it a solid effort as I can make it to the finish in 6 hours and huff out of there and up a big hill. I’m doing more herringbone with my skis than I have been doing for most of the day. It’s been about 15 kms since I decided my groin was tired and it’s now categorized as totally worn out. My hip flexors are tired and pulling each ski through is taking quite a bit of work. I feel like my strides are getting shorter and tell myself that if my strides are getting shorter then they’d better be getting faster. I don’t know if it helps me increase the cadence. I meet up with a guy who has a timex GPS unit on his backpack and I ski next to him for a while. We debate the merits of the Garmin unit that I’m using versus the timex one that he has. He’s a mountain biker and just bought XC skis at Christmas. He’s also totally out of his league and thinks that all of his friends are probably done by now. He’s efficient on the uphills though and pulls away from me even though he says his wax isn’t quite right. I think that means I’m getting tired.

The next station warning happens at the bottom of a short hill and as soon as I’m at the top I can see it down the other side. That was the shortest kilometer of my day for sure, it’s making up for that longer one earlier I think to myself and am happy that the long one wasn’t second, I don’t know how well I’d deal with a long kilometer at this point in the game. This aid station is all about efficiency they don’t want us to stop here, just ski slowly and they’ll keep feeding us. I think it’s because they know if we stop we might not start again. The guy hands me a gatorade as I slide along and just as I do my pole jabs in in front of me and my arm goes shooting up. That cup is on the ground. Efficiency is not the order of the day right now, survival is. I step out of the track and eat my requisite two pieces of banana and drink two cups of gatorade without spilling any more of them. I take a cookie as I leave, chew on the way I tell myself. I can still make it in six hours.

The hills are tamer in the next stretch but they’re not getting any easier. I ski next to a guy from “out east” for a while. He’s also having a tough time, 55 kms is a long way. Slowly though we drift apart. It’s now less important to try and ski alongside someone else or tuck in behind someone whose stride is not distracting. I could care less as I’m now giving things a really serious effort. The six hour goal is motivating me and I have that little bit of hope that the course is getting easier the closer we get to the finish.

One kilometer to the next station seems to be a long kilometer and it finished with a big uphill. As I get to the top I can really feel my heart racing. I am having a tough time and I think the people who are feeding can tell. One guy is peeling my piece of banana for me and when I protest he just does it anyways. “That’s what we’re here for” he says. I get some gatorade in me and this station has definitely taken advantage of the fact that sugar solubility in water increases with temperature. They sure were able to dissolve a lot of gatorade I think to myself… it was about 10 kms ago that I couldn’t add six hours to 9 am and now I am having no trouble thinking about chemistry. Some things are weird that way. I feel like my heart rate is not getting under control and check my monitor. It’s not recovering as quickly as it should. I feel like my body is making the decision about the six hour goal on my behalf and with about 8 kms remaining I had better not be to intent on that for my first go round.

The difficulty of the course was leaning towards my favour but I wasn’t really intent on taking advantage of it. My friend with the timex GPS unit who had stopped at the “highly efficient” station to rewax came by like I was standing still. The route was mostly straight and we could see where we were going. I thought back to the road into Snowville Utah that I rode this past summer on my bike. It was one of my favorite days, endless pedalling in a straight line. I think part of it was realization that the sense of progress is somewhat arbitrary. I was cycling about 38 kph for a long stretch that day and it felt like we were going nowhere.

The diversion to thinking about riding a bike was appreciated and soon enough the straight bit had come to an end. Another station, this was the last one. Remembering Paula Newby Fraser falling apart in the 1995 Hawaii ironman due to skipping some of the last aid stations and being passed by Karen Smyers for the win I pulled in and drank my two cups of gatorade. Another bit of banana and a cookie. I had 5 kms to go and the 6 hour goal was out of reach. Out onto the trail again we soon joined up with some of the other events in progress. No 31 km skiers were to be seen but the 13 km skiers were plentiful. They all had lots of energy and were moving all of their body parts with full ranges of motion. That was certainly something I hadn’t seen in a while out on the 55 km course. Everyone moving my pace had developed their survival skiing mode and was implementing it in fine form. These skiers were doing another fine form and it wasn’t particularly uplifting.

We got to split off of the trail of the quick skiers after a short stretch and got back onto our own route. The snow was quite grainy and in places where herringbone was necessary to ascend a hill the track was chewed up into a sand pit. Pushing against mooshed snow suddenly became incredibly demoralizing and even though these hills were tiny compared to the long ones earlier the challenge seemed enormous. Slow progress down the trail. I switched to the left lane because it was slightly less chewed up as I was all alone. No-one could complain about not being able to pass me as I had been alone for the better part of three kilometers. The one km to go marker came and went and then I heard someone coming from behind me. I planned that I was going to try and race him if he was carrying a pack. I was not about to be passed by someone this late in the game. The mental preparation for the sprint finish was building and building. I felt already like I was going as fast as I could but I was pretty sure that if this guy actually passed me I could just tell my body to go a bit faster and it would have to find another gear. Slowly the sounds were closer and I checked over my right shoulder. This guy had a green bib and wasn’t carrying a pack. What a relief! I wouldn’t have to race to the finish after all. I slowed it right down having passed the final 100 m marker and skied in to the finish. All by myself.

After having my timing chip removed I slid over to the guy weighing packs and he hung mine on the scale. 9.5 kgs. My pack had gained about 5 lbs since being weighed. The pad on the back was saturated with water, I hadn’t weighed in the fleece jacket that I had ended up carrying the whole way and swapped mitts. I was congratulated on having weighed in with the heaviest backpack of the day thus far. No-one else skied the Birkebeiner 2009 with a backpack heavier than mine any faster than I did. That’s a record I don’t think I’m going to try and keep for next year. I don’t know if that means I should switch backpacks to one with less comfortable straps and waistbelt or I should figure out a lighter way to pack this one with everything I need.

I’ve never eaten a hotdog that tasted so good in my entire life before.

I tabulated a few stats based on data from my Garmin:

Station Rest Time HR recovery
1 1:06 0:20
2 2:53 0:36
3 3:11 1:07
4 11:00* 1:01
5 2:45 1:06
6 12:40** 0:59
7 2:46 0:58
8 1:41 1:34!
9 3:16 2:16!
10 1:31 1:11
Finish N/A 5:14!
Total: 39:49
* Picture with Ben and Lindsay and mitts
** Waxing and washroom break

A few graphs from the garmin: Heart rate – Elevation – Speed

birkie
birkie
birkie

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BE: Bread Experiment or Bleeding Extremities

The stories of the last weekend are worth mentioning… I wound up bleeding from both hands, one elbow, a knee and an ankle on Sunday afternoon after crashing the Surly on Sunday afternoon on Scona Hill. I was also successful in a culinary experiment on Saturday evening.

Saturday’s accomplishments involved hitting the pool for a few length, spending far too long in the lab preparing a deposition chamber and making a half dozen loaves of bread. I had a giant Yam sitting around since Thanksgiving that hadn’t been eaten yet and I decided that because it was mostly carbs I would try and put it into a few loaves of bread as an experiment. It turned out fantastic and although not every potato bread I’ve ever eaten has been good this one is actually great. I’ll admit it doesn’t do so well with just a bit of jam aboard for a ride but cheese, a fried egg (well three fried eggs, it’s not worth frying eggs unless I’m going to eat three), peanut butter, and plain toast with butter are all good ways to go. We’ll see what becomes of this new adventure, I’ve been making bread on a nearly weekly basis for the last year and besides using the water from boiled potatoes I haven’t actually tried very seriously the option of using potato starch as a considerable ingredient in the mix. The basic idea was dice up the yam into small bits and then enough water to cover and nuke it until it starts to mush up. I then pureed the yam and used that slime/slop along with some more water to get the temperature right to proof the yeast. I typically use molasses for simple sugars in the bread but used demerara sugar instead so the yam flavor didn’t get overpowered. A cup of wheat germ spread over 6 loaves and then flour, mostly keynote 39 and not so much whole wheat because I wasn’t sure if the dough was going to be excessively crummy due to the potatoes which I think is one of the main beef’s I’ve had with other potato breads I’ve eaten in the past.

So… On to the story about the wipeout. Cyclocross provincial championships were happening at Gold-Bar Park out on the east end of Edmonton. Dave, one of the other bike coaches from the University of Alberta Triathlon club was racing as well as a bunch of others that I know via the cycling grapevine. The elite race was set to go at 1 pm so we rolled out from my place around noon to head over there. The sun was shining as we cruised along Saskatchewan drive, Neil was rocking the Surly Cross Check and I was riding my Surly Steamroller which now has winter tyres and my winter gear on. I was blasting out a stupid cadence of 120-125 revs per minute (38-39.5 kph) as Neil tucked in behind for the draft. I think we were both quite enjoying the view over the river valley which is mostly brown now, the leaves are for the most part all gone. We’re ready for winter here. So we get to the end of the road and turn left down Scona Hill. The downhill means that my cadence is really going nuts and I was easily over 45 kph (around 145 cadence and could have been upwards to 155rpm: 49 kph). So, those kinds of speeds on the fixed gear are a real hoot but they do mean I’m at the limit and Neil and his gears are still going to get away from me. I clock 60 kph down that hill all the time on my tri-bike and am incapable of spinning the 190 rpm it would take to do that on the fixie. So now Neil is out front of me, a bit to the left as we come to the place where Connors Hill Road merges with Scona and there are some serious lane bumps due to heavy trucks and a few potholes here to boot. Suddenly Neil is on the ground and his bike is in my half of the lane. I ride right over his front wheel as I unclip from my pedals and wind up on my hands and knees after kinda jumping over my bike which manages to tangle with Neil’s as it goes past. I’m quickly up from the pavement and grab the two bikes which are caught in a loving embrace and jump over the guard rail onto the grass. Neil is also on the grass and we share a few seconds of “whoa” and “oh shit” and “dude!” before sending the cars away that had stopped with overweight women hanging out of the windows offering to call the ambulance. I only convince the one to leave by showing her my cell phone. A car full of friends from triathlon club also manages to drive by while we stand over the guard rail and I wave them on. Giffin is recruited via cell phone to come pick us up with the jeep. Neil’s front wheel did a less spectacular version of the potato chip bend that I did in August but it looks like it’ll need to be replaced. His brake lever was upside down. My stem is a bit off center and the bar tape that was already hurting is really shredded now.

That’s the jist of it, Neil’s bike fit in the jeep and mine didn’t really fit so I used some hockey tape from the back seat to tape closed the missing patch of skin on my left palm and started to head home. After a bit of backtracking I realized I didn’t actually need to go home as the pressure on my hand from the hockey tape was helping a lot so I turned again and continued on to the cyclocross race which I had missed the start of. It was great fun and we got to watch a few guys go head over heels trying to cross the sand trap. Aaron cleaned up in the race and won by a good margin, Jon was really fried at the finish and had come sixth, Dave had won his category earlier in the day and Bridget had come second. I am borderline convinced to race next season, it looks like a load of fun, I’m just not sure what equipment I’m going to have to use. Riding the sport category on my fixie is an option but I’m not sure how good of an option it is. That’s part cyclocross and part horsing around in a field, The other options however aren’t very cheap at all.

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A couple long days

Thursday morning arrived early as usual… actually the earliest day yet in my experience I agreed to wake up at 5:30 if you believe it. Steph was going to try riding the whole day and wanted an early start. So I crawled out of my tent and had it packed away by the time breakfast was set to go, it was weird having all the selections remaining in the breakfast line and for packing a lunch.

We were out of camp at 6:50 am. Now as impressed as I was at being on the road before 7 there were still probably 50 people ahead of us. The sun wasn’t exactly “just rising” as we left but it was awfully close. The breeze was from our left as we rode and while it was a cold departure (required arm warmers that morning) I didn’t want to carry a jacket and all the other junk because I’d just need to carry it for the rest of the day. So off we went and the miles ticked by riding two abreast when heading east and then Steph drafting off me whenever we needed to head north into the wind.

About 50 kms into the ride we were greeted with a Hsssss and a tyre change was in order. Steph’s time was only 8 minutes, much much better than Hilena’s 37 minute tyre change a couple weeks ago. No problems though we were back on the road and the miles continued to tick by until Rockford. We ground to a halt and found some shade in the park and just sat down. The problem with sitting is that you don’t stop sitting. Some endurance sports enthusiasts will know the motto “beware of the chair”, it’s something you hear now and again. Basically no matter how slow you’re riding your bike or are running you’re moving alot faster than when you actually take a seat because you’ll be there for a while. Well those sayings don’t start without reason because once we sat down in the park it was a long long time till we got rolling again.

The final 50 kms wasn’t terribly quick but we were “wary of the chair” so to speak and continued along without another big break. Some more windmills graced the horizon (which was pancake flat for a good portion of the day) and a few calculations and estimates measured the tip speed of those big long blades to be 120 miles per hour. That’s fast!


The arrival at our destination in New Hampton did eventually occur and instead of pulling in and setting up camp we went off in search of ice cream first. Well, there is no ice cream shop in town so we had to stop by the grocery store and buy a whole half-gallon. We came back to camp with that half gallon of ice cream and 5 lbs of ice for our knees and parked in the field. Aaron helped us with the ice cream but that was mostly a 2 person affair. I ate 1100 calories of Blue Bunny goodness all by myself.

Friday was another 100 miler, the third in a row, and while I had done 6 in a row last week this one would prove to be the toughest one to date, but I’m giving away the ending so I’ll start at the beginning. It was a damp morning and I felt like I had paid my dues as far as waking up early was concerned for the entire week so slept right till 6:45 and snuck into the breakfast line just before 7 am when it was going to be packed up. I had to dig around camp for a spare map for the day as mine had gone missing and was nearly the last person out of camp besides the sweep team at 7:45 am.

The road started out rough but the hills were rolling and the sky was blue and there were loads more trees than I’d seen in two whole weeks so I wasn’t complaining. I caught Steph and Justin quite quickly and let them draft me to the 40 km mark. From there on out they were interested in longer stop than I was and I continued to work my way “through the pack” so to speak.

I was making good progress and was on track for a quick ride above 30 kph while riding solo. The miles ticked by and I caught up to Art Smit who was driving a support vehicle in one of the towns. I high tailed it down mainstreet and was able to catch the draft of his 10 passenger van as he left city limits. For the next 3 kms I stayed in that draft doing between 60 and 70 kph up and down hills until we needed to pull over to let a silo on top of a flatbed semi-trailer pass us in the other direction. From there on though Art accelerated too quickly and I lost him.

My sandwich consisted of two meatballs each the size of my fist which I proceeded to eat at my “time to eat reminders” at about this point. That meant however that I consumed zero carbs for about an hour and a half three hours into my ride… hold that thought.

We descended into the Mississippi valley down a big hill and I videoed the occasion.



Following our arrival in Wisconsin I needed to climb back out of the valley. The climb was a great grade and I was till feeling relatively strong at around the 130 km mark of the day and decided to really hammer up the hill. My arrival at the top greeted me with a bit of lightheadedness. I continued to roll along for a few more kilometers and I was getting dizzy. I started to eat and drink, I took in some salt pills not exactly sure what was going on. I then started to get a bit shakey now only 20 kms from camp and decided I’d better have a seat and let my body catch up with me. The meatballs although they tasted great weren’t getting processed in my belly as I rode with the intensity I was riding with. That meant I might as well not have eaten anything for the past couple hours. My glycogen levels were down and my body was telling me to stop so I did. Only 4 more people were ahead of me at this point in the ride and I parked in the ditch and fell asleep under a tree. An hour later I woke up when someone decided to take my picture. I still wasn’t 100% and went back to sleep for another half hour. I stole this photo from Pete Vannoord who snapped it as he rode past, quietly of course allowing me to sleep right through.

By the time I did finally wake up and finish off those final 20 kms more than half of the riders had passed me again and camp was a bustling city upon my arrival, everyone also felt the need to ask me how my nap was.

Today was my most intense experience of “bonking” (cyclists speak) or “hitting the wall” (runners speak) ever and it wasn’t a ton of fun. I guess it did teach me though that while meatballs are wonderful they’re probably not a good idea to have as my sole source of food for such long portions of a ride.

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Special Delivery

So, if you’re reading other blogs about this bike trip there’s a good chance that you haave already heard that there was a little excursion on Monday that added a few miles to the route for three cyclists. If you are only reading this blog, I’m sorry that there wasn’t an update on Monday but the two events are related.

Reuben Vyn (Portland Oregon) left his bag of toiletries in Settle last Monday and had it shipped via UPS to Sunnyside (our Friday stop) so that his medication would meet us there. It didn’t arrive due to some lousy communication at the front desk in Seattle before Independence day… it was then set to be delivered to Sunnyside by the end of the business day on Monday. The trip from Sunnyside to Kennewick last Saturday was an 80 km ride and the ride from Kennewick to Pendleton set for Monday was a 107 km ride. Reuben recruited Nicolas Ellens to come for the extended trip to pick up the medication on Sunday afternoon. I was out for a run in the park on Sunday evening and upon my return to the campground the invitation was placed in my lap to come for the ride. I flip flopped on the issue for about 15 minutes before agreeing to come.

I was up at 5:30 which you might think is early but is actually “sleeping in” by seatosea standards and we were on the road by 7 am. The ride back to sunnyside greeted us with a headwind to begin our day but our legs were fresh from the day off and hoping to be in Sunnyside to coincide with the earliest possible delivery of the package at 9:30 we co-operated well and managed to average 20.5 miles per hour. In and around 33 kph. We arrived at the delivery address on time and began to wait on the arrival of the package. While sitting on the front step of the local school a UPS truck drove down the road. Unfortunately everyone had their bike shoes off and we weren’t able to chase the guy down. After a bit of searching in town the UPS truck was found but the news wasn’t exactly ideal. There were two trucks making deliveries in Sunnyside that day and the package was on the other one. It would arrive around 2 pm, which was going to make for an extremely late night so we arranged to meet him a further 8 miles up the road in the next town at 12:30.

While visiting the truck stop in the next town (Granger) we put back a sizable lunch and continued to consume water at an incredible rate. We had a few good conversations with the locals there about what in the world we were doing. Both the package retrieval as well as the poverty cause we were riding in support of. One gentleman filling gs askedus how far we intended to ride that day was rather astonished with the reply “oh about 170 miles” that he gave us some apricots from the back of his truck that had been picked fresh that morning. They were a hybrid variety of his own making and were by far the best and biggest apricots I’d ever eaten (peach sized).

Mr. UPS arrived as agreed at 12:30 and we greeted him on the curb, and immediately mounted our bikes and started to head in the correct direction for the first time that day. Instead of retracing our steps and picking up where the rest of the group was riding we opted to climb out of the valley and cut across the mesa south towards the Columbia River. Setting out with what we believed to be 107 miles left to ride for the day we picked up where we had left off with the 20+ miles per hour pace. Water continued to disappear and while re-filling at a gas station just prior to the first big climb Reuben and I questioned one another when the last time Nick had eaten anything was… The answer wasn’t quite to our liking and the reminders began. Drink even though you don’t want to drink. Eat even though you don’t want to eat. Turn over the pedals even though you’d rather coast. Take your turn at the front even if it’s short because the rest o us are hurting too. While it was Nick who needed the first reminder it was only a matter of time until I needed to be reminded to keep eating and even Reuben himself was reminded on occasion that it was a good idea to put away a few more calories.

The 5% grade out of the valley has just been paved within the past few years and still had the really black blacktop that new asphalt has for a few years. It was HOT! The climb culminated with a rather intimidating sign warning truckers to check their brakes before the descent and we broke out of the valley and onto the top of a mesa that stretched out for 30 miles to the south and s far as we could see to the east and west. We battled a serious headwind while riding south and arrived in the columbia river valley almost run-dry on water and in need of a bit of recuperation. The truck stop that hosted us was rather entertaining one. Staffed by a lone 30 year old woman and having 6 men in line to order take out supper we parked ourselves at the table in front of the A/C machine and helped ourselves to the gatorade in the fridge, the water in the washroom and the entertaining posters on the walls. After cooling down we set out eastwards towards the bridge over the Columbia River. I forgot how big rivers can be, the Bow, North Saskatchewan, etc etc, in Alberta are all pretty tame in comparison.

The wind was mostly from the side through this section and were within an hour of the river crossing within a half mile of getting back on the intended course for the day. We stopped at a state park that had a funny geological formation called “Hat Rock” to refill water and take a peek at the big rock. The general store was “Closed Mondays” so we helped ourselves to some warm hose-water from around back, stuffed back another few hundred calories and once again started climbing. After climbing out of the valley on a 5% grade for a few miles the hill smartened up and was much more gradual. We decided that farmland in this area must be very expensive as the road wound its way through the bottom of a steep sided valley instead of arrow-straight across the plain. With only 50 kms left to ride the heads were down and effort was high, there was a rather significant amount of saddle shifting going on and even though we were climbing at a quick rate we managed to keep the average above 18 miles an hour for the final stretch up the hill.

We arrived at the summit (well second summit) for the day around 7:30 and could see down in the valley the town of Pendleton. We descended into town and were at camp at approximately 8pm. My totals for the day were 21 bottles of water, (30 lbs of water!) 12 pee breaks, 281 kilometers, 8 hours and 46 minutes ride time, 31.7 kph average speed. I estimated burning 8500 calories and ate approximately 5500 while on the bike. (2.9 times my BMR!)

The devotion last night with small groups pondered the wonder of a bicycle wheel, the different components working together to make an amazingly functional tool. The commentary suggested that for a cyclist perhaps a wheel is the kind of illustration we need to remind us what it is like to be members of the “Body of Christ”, our community of cyclists and believers. Well, the body of Christ is so called because it’s a fine example in itself of different parts working together. While there’s was a whole ton of effort put in by the leg muscles yesterday they did little complaining today. The effort put in by the mind yesterday was amazing, I could tell We’d put in a solid day’s effort of mental energy. The effort put in by the digestive system was amazing, while it started out taking everything I was throwing in it’s direction it eventually decided that it only wanted to process sugar, and in some sense that’s OK. But it didn’t get any reprieve when we rolled in to camp, it got to work hard for the next couple hours. The effort put in by my “seat area” is one that non-cyclists are always amazed at. Well I don’t typically like to admit that a bike seat can be anything other than comfortable, the final 50 kms riding with clothing saturated in sweat did put that notion to the test. If “hurting the next day” is the best way to measure the amount of effort put out, then the backside contribution takes the cake.

The question other cyclists around here like to ask when you mention that you’re not sitting comfortably today is “are you worn raw?”. Now I have no idea why someone in their right mind would ask that question when there is the potential of dealing with a “yes” response, but plenty did today none-the-less. Oh, and by the way the answer is no, I am quite content to keep riding thank you very much.

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Brews on the road

When in Central America, tap water is off limits and buying it from the store is no fun when beer is approximately the same price. So I made sure I capitalized on the opportunity to try as many different kinds over the vacation as I could.

  1. Cerveza Dos Equis
  2. Cerveza Superior
  3. Cerveza el Sol
  4. Belikan
  5. Belikan Premium
  6. Belican Stout
  7. Tecate
  8. Red Stripe Dragon Beer
  9. Monte Carlo
  10. Gallo
  11. Dorada Draft
  12. Brahma
  13. Lighthouse Lager
  14. León
  15. Negra Modelo

These additions to my “100 beers” list puts me at a total of: 77

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A long bike ride

Derek got married in Whitecourt this weekend. It’s about 180 kms “nominally” from Edmonton to Whitecourt so I figured it would be a good bike ride, an Iron kind of effort… it would be the furthest I’d ever ridden but not by a whole bunch so I figured it would be a good opportunity to take a day off work and go for a nice ride in the countryside.

north alberta
north alberta

I arranged to have Matt and Jill pick up my camping gear and take it out with them with the plan that they would meet me at the rehearsal dinner on Friday evening. I then learned that the rehearsal dinner wasn’t at Derek’s parents’ place in whitecourt as I had assumed. It was 25 kms north of town. I then also found out that the 180 kms between Edmonton and Whitecourt is based on Whitecourt to the edge of town, it was 10 kms further to Blue house in the middle of town.

The trip (map link) ended up being approximately 215 kms and took me 7:48. That time includes a 30 minute break in Mayerthorpe to lay on my back, chow down some food and refill my water bottles. There were a couple other quick breaks to snap photos so my average total time was 29.5 kms per hour, I would guess I was around 30.5 to 31.0 kph if I would have only counted cycling time. My only other time check was when I first met up with the Alaska Highway and that was an average speed of 31.6 kph to that point.

I brought 4 powerbar – chocolate harvest bars, 2 Protein Blast – caramel fudge bars, 2 Oskri (vegan oddly enough but 460 cals!) – coconut bars, a decent dose of Gatorade and a granola bar. So 2500 calories while on the bike (my basal metabolic rate is only 1900!) I put in nearly a thousand calories for breakfast and that rehearsal dinner tasted pretty awesome but I have no idea how much I ate…

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Wine Library

An interesting thing that Nathan Nelson Fitzpatrick pointed out to me last week in the eng-phys club… I’ve watched a couple episodes, some are really good and others are a bit of a waste of time but as of yet I think it’s one of the best places online that’ll help you learn a thing or two about wine. I realized early on that watching the episode of the day is largely irrelevant but if you go back through the archives and find something about a type of wine you’re currently drinking or have had recently then it’s interesting to note the kinds of comments he has about that wine style. What makes a good Cab-Sauv? A good Merlot? Pinot Gris? Zinfandel? Well I still don’t exactly know but I’m getting a better idea. The thing I really like is that this is not a tv show about $50 bottles, most episodes are $12-$20.

WLTV

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