Fixed Gear Training

About 75% of the people I tell that I have a fixed gear bike ask the question: “What use is a bike like that?” I believe they’re mostly asking why the second bike still looks like a road bike and not a mountain bike, a distiction that the average person understands. I came across the article by Patrick McCrann of Performance Training Systems and I think it really does a fine job of summing up at least the training aspect of the fixie, not entirely the fun or the awesomeness or the flow… but this is certainly an important aspect.

Single Gear Riding (SGR) is a powerful exercise in learning how to manage your effort level on the road. Instead of shifting gears to compensate for terrain changes, SGR teaches you how to use “internal” gears to deal with hills, descents and flats. This is an essential skill for Iron-distance athletes, as you will encounter a wide variety of terrain on race day – often two or three times depending on the number of loops on the course. Every small roller, false flat, and serious climb is a chance to appropriately manage your effort; SGR will give you a solid skill-set that will be incredibly useful come race day. This is not a time trial workout; I think of this as a variation on a weekly endurance ride of 2.5 hours (or more). SGR teaches you:

  1. How to “roll into a hill,” using momentum to start the climbing process . Climbing hills is hard work. The fact that we use our gears to manage the hill actually mitigates our true appreciation for exactly how hard it is to climb any given hill. SGR will give you a much deeper understanding of how tough any given hill is without a crutch to lean on. (yeah, Emily Murphy on a fixed gear is a rocking fun time!)
  2. The nuances of climbing seated regularly or on the back of your seat . One key way to manage your climbing is to maneuver your body into different positions on the bike to make the most of your effort. In the case of seated climbing, most folks can make it easier by simply sitting up. This opens their airways and facilitates quality breathing. As the climb increases in difficulty, some athletes find an advantage to shifting their weight back towards the rear of the saddle. This allows them to push the pedals forward and over the top of the pedal stroke.
  3. How to roll into a standing climbing position and keep your momentum . So many triathletes lose speed on each climb. And no, it doesn’t have to be a mountain to slow you down. If you have ever ridden with roadies, then you know that little “gap” that opens up every time they stand on the pedals. And if you have ridden behind a triathlete who stands up to pedal, then you are familiar with the jolt of adrenaline you get when their rear tire drifts back into your front wheel (yikes!). Learning how to keep your bike moving at the same pace is much easier during SGR as there is no sudden shift in cadence due to shifting. This allows you to develop the skills needed to keep your wheels turning without losing your momentum.
  4. How to pedal quickly . Lance makes it look easy, but for anyone who has tried to pedal at 110+ rpms, you know exactly how much coordination that takes. And not just on a physical level, but neuromuscular coordination as well. SGR will force you to pedal at a much higher cadence on some descents (hey, you don’t have to pedal over 28 mph!), teaching your muscles to fire more effectively. This work will make pedaling 95 rpms seem ridiculously easy.
  5. How to recruit different muscle groups . Working in a single gear will allow you to explore using different muscles at different stages of your ride. You can focus on the hamstrings pulling the pedals backwards, or on your hip flexors lifting the pedal upwards. You might try engaging your core muscles to aid you in a climb; or you can try relaxing one leg as you let the other one do a bit more work. Whatever you do, this recruitment process will make you a better rider simply by virtue of teaching you all the separate elements that work together to move your bike forward.
  6. How to manage your internal gears. This is perhaps the most important part of SGR. Riding without gear options forces you to learn when you should (and should not) pedal with force. On smaller hills, you might be able to roll up them halfway with your momentum and then soft pedal your way over the top. On the longer / bigger hills, you will be forced to learn how to provide an appropriate amount of force to the pedals in a consistent manner. Since you can’t shift, you’ll learn to moderate your effort based on the terrain, instead of just hammering your way through the ride. Your first attempts at SGR will be a bit rough (shifting is a hard habit to break!), but as you progress you’ll eventually erase the dead spots in your riding.
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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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Derek’s Bachelor Party

Packed up from work early on Friday (Aug 3) and headed out to Jasper for a long weekend of backpacking to celebrate the single life of Derek and wait with anticipation for the beginning of his new life with Jackie. More pictures are available in the Backpacking 2007 Gallery

The Bachelor

We headed out starting on the Marmot basin trailhead and made our way to Maccarib Pass over 2000 meters! We ran into a mother grizzly and 2 cubs before arriving at Amythest Campground (23 kms). We made supper and each drank our one can of beer as though it were a $200 bottle of champagne, beer is heavy you know!

Depart for Clitheroe on second day

After sleeping in late we woke up and departed to move our tents three kms down the trail to Clitheroe. After setting up camp and witnessing Adrian teach us how to eat cream cheese we were on our way to either find a glacier or climb to the peak of something. After crossing a swamp we made our way up and over suprise col, about 80 minutes of solid climbing on mostly all fours. The view from the top was spectacular.

The descent was significantly less work, as we boot skied several hundred vertical feet. Hans wiped out right at the summit and did his boot skiing totally out of control and riding on his butt, while Adrian and I practised our stem-christie.

We were up before 6 am on the last day and made our way out all the way to the Edith Cavell road before noon in perfect weather, we cleaned off with a swim in an absolutely numbing river and headed home to Edmonton.

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Moose is Loose

The run went well this morning. Most of it is in the trees through the river valley on footpaths which is nice because it keeps you cool and gravel is alot easier on the knees than plain pavement on concrete. Whenever you get out on a bridge to cross the river though it was extremely hot, no shade and you get the reflection off of the water which seemed to make it worse. Briefly the route follows:

  • Hawrelak Park, start at the shelter.
  • Run clockwise around the park all the way to the north end
  • Follow the “upper” path till you get till groat bridge and turn 180o.
  • Run back to the hawrelak bridge on the “lower” path.
  • Cross to zoo side and run (up the hill) to Quesnel bridge.
  • Follow whitemud creek trails up to rainbow valley campground.
  • Turn around and follow back down whitemud creek, cross quesnel and go through Beuna Vista.
  • Re-enter Hawrelak and run counterclockwise along edge back to the shelter.

I had calculated what time I needed to be at when I got to certain spots along the run if I hoped to finish in 100 minutes which was my goal. I started off well and was on track for the first half of the race (50 minutes) but there was a hill followed by a bridge and it was sweltering and I fell behind my “agenda” by about 45 seconds. I made up a minute as we ran through the trees in whitemud ravine but then needed to climb back over the bridge through the sun, I again fell behind my pace by about a minute. Then through the last bit I was able to latch on to a girl who was still running quite smoothly. I passed the 1 km to go needing do pull off about a 4:20 km to make it in time but speeding up wasn’t about to happen very easily. I did my best to hit a 4:20 km but had nothing left for a sprint to the finish and managed to finish in 100 minutes and 6 seconds (1:40:06) so I would consider it a big success, that is a personal record for me and considering the hot conditions it’s a time I am really quite proud of.

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Hip flexors are still trash

I was out for a run last night and decided to try and aim for around 2.5 hours. I also decided that I should try the notoriously muddy trail between the Hawrelak bridge and Mckinnon ravine because it’s been above 30 degrees for a few days here so I figured things would have dried up. I’d never tackled this trail before, it’s pretty up and down and was rather closer to a quick hike than a run but oh well that’s how it goes.

A map of the route shows the distance to be somewhere around 23.5 kms, I typically measure distances on this website to be about 5% below the actual distance so I’d say this was closer to a 24.5 or 25 km run. Not bad for a couple minutes water stop and some serious hiking along the muddy bank of the river.

My hip-flexors were absolutely trashed running up the shallow stairs out of the river valley with a km to go. I’m not certain but I would say that they might still be recovering from the thrashing I have them at the half-ironman 3 weeks ago. My knees didn’t give me any trouble but I can tell that I’ve been giving them a bit of stress they’re not used to with all the fixie riding in the past week.

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Something to aspire to…

When I’m 54, I’ll still be riding my bike God willing, but I don’t think I’m going to be setting any world records. When you think about a world record that a 54 year old dude might set my mind thinks of bottle cap collections, and maybe longest nose hair. A world record for farthest distance traveled on a bike in 24 hours isn’t one of them.

Well, Mike Secrest is 54 and he can bike 535.868 miles in 24 hours. I heard about him listening to Competitor radio, he’s got a few interesting things to say and if you’ve got an hour or so I’d recommend listening.

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Chinook Half

For those of you who aren’t super familiar with this kind of thing the bulk of your training ends between 10 and 14 days prior to the race at which point your body can no longer reap the benefits of high intensity or high endurance training in time for the race. Two weeks prior to the race I simulated the race over the course of 2 days, a 40 minute lake swim followed up by 2.5 hours of cycling with some triathlon club friends (interpret this as “go hard or go home”). The next night I ran a 2:05 half marathon at consistent but not fast pace. Based on that I took a good guess at what I thought were reasonable goals for the race coming up in 2 weeks. I figured 40 minutes swim, 3:10 on the bike and hopefully be able to hold things together under 2 hours on the run. That would allow me to go under 6 hours which I thought would be an excellent first crack at that race distance. If things went well I imagined I might be able to bike 32 kph with no wind and maybe run as fast as I did last summer at this distance which was 1:55. That would put me closer to the 5 hours 30 min mark for a best-case scenario.

During the 2 weeks prior to your race just because you won’t directly benefit in terms of strength or fitness you’re not going to benefit by laying on your back and getting fat, but you’re also not supposed to go out and do hard strength workouts. This wasn’t exactly how things panned out—Intervarsity Christian Fellowship held a leadership-retreat slash canoeing-adventure the weekend prior. I took it relatively easy i.e. not trying to race down the river, but I did solo a canoe for more than 4 hours but that’s another story. I wasn’t feeling to sore when I arrived back in Edmonton, Derek and I ran 32 minutes at 4:45 pace and I felt great. I headed to the pool Tuesday after work and that was a completely different story. My shoulders were super tight and I was having a tough time getting any speed in my turnover. Perhaps super repetitive use of relatively unused muscles was a bad idea, who would have guessed? I called things quits after only swimming a kilometer somewhat frustrated and, to be honest, more than a bit worried. Wednesday we (tri club) made our traditional trip out to the lake to go swim, I took it relatively easy and because I could focus on breathing in choppy water my shoulders didn’t cry bloody murder, I ran 26 minutes on 4:20 pace out of the water and could tell that I was starting to get antsy, not having done more than a 2.5 hour workout in more than a week.

Chinook Half-Ironman

Race morning arrived soon enough: I claimed the 5th best spot in transition for my bike, made good friends with a bottle of SPF 45, and put in about 600 calories for breakfast before 6:00 am. The race started at 8:00 am sharp and was 2 laps of the lake. I got in behind some good feet from the start and was able to follow in their draft and keep my sighting to a minimum. My first lap was 1X:XX but all I could see on my watch at the time was the 1, so I knew I was on track for a good swim but had no idea that I was on track for a really good swim. I lost the good feet for the second lap and breathed in a bit of water so I was a bit slower for round 2 but still climbed out in 36:27. Needless to say, I was surprised and also pleased.

Chinook Half-Ironman

I passed more than a dozen people in transition and ran into a bit of trouble knocking a bottle out of a cage while leaping onto my bike. I was concentrating on getting my foot into the dangling shoe and it cost about 20 seconds.

Chinook Half-Ironman

I cruised out onto the course, passing 3 and being passed by 3 others in the first half hour. I started eating at the 25 minute mark and got 400 calories in within the first 70 minutes. The wind was calm and the sun was in and out. By the time I reached the first aid station I had passed about a half dozen more people, this is where the bike course gets hilly.

Chinook Half-Ironman

I was no longer gaining quickly on those ahead of me and put in 200 more calories by the time I made it to the turn around. I passed a pair of guys in my age group right before the turn around. You needed to cross a cattle grate twice right at the end and I lost the same bottle again here because the cage was slightly bent and wouldn’t hold it tightly. I was passed by those two people whom I quickly re-passed. I had a tough time staying focused between kms 50 and 60 but by the time I made it to the big hill and ate a powerbar I was refocused and kept myself relaxed and my cadence high. It was a good thing I got that under control because a head wind cropped up and I really needed to concentrate on keeping an aerodynamic body position. I reeled in about 5 more people on the last quarter of the bike, including the top two females. I didn’t put in quite as much fuel on the return as on the way out, finishing the bike with 1050 calories in me. I didn’t want to start the run full and because I had met my target of > 280 cals/hour I wasn’t super concerned. I was off the bike in 3:05:34.

Chinook Half-Ironman

T2 was very quick and I passed two or three people there, I was instantly passed by one guy on the run, I ran the first 2 kms alone and was really concentrating hard to keep my turnover high, descending the hill into the park I could certainly tell that I had pushed hard on the second half of the bike and took a couple E-load salt tablets right away. A guy named Kevin slowly caught me from behind and I decided I would try and stay with him to see what kind of pace he planned on running. We cruised through the 5 km mark in 23 minutes. I said I thought I should have been closer to 25 and he agreed that he was a bit eager as well. We slowed gradually to an 8 minute mile pace and we stuck together at that pace for quite a long time. I took 200 calories of gel on top of the gatorade.

Chinook Half-Ironman

Kevin got away coming up hear break hill from the valley but I caught him at the top. We continued through the majority of the second lap together but coming up with 3 kms to the finish I walked an aid station trying to get in two full cups of gatorade, Kevin didn’t and put in a gap. I kept pace with Kevin (maintaining 8 min miles) for 1 more km but it was really starting to hurt and I couldn’t quite catch him. With 2 kms to go I couldn’t keep the 8 min/mile pace and Kevin started to pick things up. I slowly fell away, I took caffeine at the last aid station and walked the steepest portion of Heart-Break-Hill. I managed to run all the way to the finish but was having a terrible time doing so. With about 200 meters to the finish the lead female caught me and ran right past, you don’t need to give me a hard time about being beat by a girl because my mom already did. I couldn’t do anything other than try to keep moving at that point but finished the run in 1:45:54. Almost 10 minutes faster than my half-marathon personal best (without going for a bike ride).

Chinook Half-Ironman

Overall my time was 5:27:54, more than 2 minutes faster than my “best case scenario”. My last 2 kms took about 12 minutes, obviously falling back a bit from my pace earlier in the race, I guess those 2 minutes faster in the first 5 kms came back to get me at the end. Anyhow, all that turned out to be good enough for third place in my age group. So I’ve got a cool soapstone trophy and a big bronze medal (because this was the provincial championship).

Chinook Half-Ironman

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Build week number one

So, following the race last weekend I stuck together a nice stack of workouts this past week I’m down 5 lbs from last Sunday morning (that’s more than hydration on any account) but I’m feeling good, A long ride and short run Sunday and I’ll take a quick break early next week, (just swimming). That should set me up for a very big bike volume long weekend.


  • 36 hilly km recovery ride following the race (10 min run off bike)
  • 8 repeats on Emily Murphy hill followed by 17 km at 5:20 pace
  • 13 km hills at 5:50 pace
  • Swim 8 times 250m at 4:40, 4:43, 4:43, 4:45, 4:53, 4:39, 4:43, 4:50 – pretty good rhythm if you ask me.
  • Long bike ride … Calmar and back … 96 km. Comments and photo here

New Balance

I also picked up some new shoes from the sidewalk sale at the Running Room. They’re New Balance 1023, supposed to be high mileage trainers, They keep me a bit more on the ball of my foot than the Asics (GT2110) that I’ve also got. I figured I might as well buy them now because they’re a good deal, I don’t know if I’ll wear out my Asics first and then swap over or go with both at the same time, giving my feet a change once in a while…

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