Tag Archives: cycling

Freezing my Bits Five Times at Pentathlon

Yes, I realize that writing up a race report from the depths of the winter may be odd, given the current season, but I really have to catch up on things, don’t I? This blog post takes us back a mere two and a half months ago to the Plains of Abraham where I was taking part in the unique Pentathlon des Neiges Quebec. As the name implies, the race has 5 stages; biking, running, skiing, skating, and finishing with snowshoeing. The entire race takes place in the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, making it a fun destination. Read on to hear all about it.

Pentathlon des Neiges 2017

This was not my first time racing in this event. I’ve done both the Pentathlon previously, as well as the winter triathlon that they also host.  The Pentathlon is actually an event that spans several weekends with different events, and I had been invited back to tackle the Pentathlon. The last time, I raced in the ‘elite’ category of the triathlon, and had my butt handed to me by ex-Olympians, national team athletes, etc. Luckily, in the Solo Pentathlon, there was no ‘elite’ category, so I’d probably place a little higher (although still get my ass handed to me!).

Being early in March this year, my hope was that the weather would be decent. The last time I did the event, we had to drive over 9 hours through a snowstorm just to get to the start line, and I really didn’t want to go through that again. Given the extremely balmy temperatures at this year’s Gatineau Loppet, I assumed things would be relatively mild. I couldn’t be further from the truth, as in fact, this would prove to be one of the absolute coldest races I’d taken part in! Luckily, at least the drive from Chelsea was fairly uneventful on Friday night. We had decided to make a long weekend of it by taking Monday off, so we’d be spending three nights in the Chateau Laurier hotel in Quebec city, hopefully taking advantage of amenities like the hot tubs, as well as touring the city.

Trying ot Stay Warm Before Race

My race was the first on tap for Saturday morning, which of course meant the coldest possible conditions. Not only that, but we had a lovely little ice wind blowing just to make sure we got the full experience! On the plus side, the sun was shining brightly, so visibility wasn’t an issue. Luckily for Deanna, we had media / VIP passes, so she had a warm place to go to if required. No such luck for me, since I’d be racing. If nothing else, there was strong motivation to move fast and finish quickly!

The opening salvo was the 14.3 km bike leg, which was multiple 3.8 km loops along the roads surrounding the Plains, including a pretty significant decent off the plains to a U-turn where we had to pedal back up. It was bloody cold on that decent, screaming down a hill at 60km/h wearing only lycra in -35 temps feels more like -50, so as you can imagine, the bits and bobs were feeling it. Or rather, they felt nothing as things were slowly but surely going numb. The course itself was pretty nice, with no major surprises. After the final loop, we turned onto  a groomed snow trail to head to transition. The fast dudes were all riding cyclocross, but for my part, it was my trusty mountain bike (hadn’t yet bought my cx bike…).

Finishing Bike Leg

I rolled into transition as a veritable Stevie Ice pop, and had to get right out on the run. I’d opted to use flat pedals, which at least meant I didn’t have to change foot wear. Instead, my ice block feet got right to work churning snow on the multi loop run course. Something felt off right away, but it was hard to tell what it was, what with no circulation. Eventually, after about 600-700m, I realized the issue. While I had gone completely numb on the bike, the run was actually forcing some semblance of circulation in my feet, and it was causing extreme pain as it passed through my quite frozen tissue. Pretty sure had the bike leg been much longer, I would have had bad frost bite. As it was, the run ‘saved’ my feet, but caused much agony.

It wasn’t until I’d completed a full 1.6km lap and a bit of the run that my feet started to work again. I’d had to stop and shake them out for a while on lap 1 as well, which is quite evident from my split times on the run. Regardless, once I ‘found my feet’, I took the time to enjoy the scenery a bit more and get through the 5 km run. I gotta say, 5k of running has never been quite as challenging in some ways!

Working on Fast Transition

Coming into the second transition I’d now face my first ‘costume change’, as I had to remove my sneakers and put on my ski boots. This is where I was really, really thankful that I had heated gloves on! For once, I actually had feeling in my fingers during a winter transition, making it much easier to untie and re-tie footwear. That was a life saver for me! I had a relatively good transition, and was soon jogging to the ski put-on line. Obviously, I’d be skate skiing my way around this course, and after my race at the Gatineau Loppet, I had a feeling this might be my best leg of the event. I strode out of the stadium purposefully, hoping to make up some spots I’d lost on the first 2 legs.

Again, we were set to do multiple loops around the Plains covering a total of just under 10 km over 3 loops. The snow had been groomed quite nicely prior to the race, so although the air was very cold, the snow hadn’t become too frozen. I had good glide without being too icy. I was able to find a decent grove and sure enough, I was passing people along the way. Going into this leg, I had been 52nd on the bike, and 46th on the run, but wrapped up the ski in 30th. In my category, it was even better. I had been 16th in bike, 14th in run, but emerged 7th on the ski! With only 2 legs left, my intention was to hold my spot as best as I could.

Heading onto Ski Course

Lucky for me, with my endurance base, I can generally maintain my pace for quite a while, even when things get tough, so I was pretty confident I could stay in my place, in spite of not being a strong skater. This would prove to be another interesting leg. All told, I’d been out skating precisely ONCE prior to this race, so I was both practicing and racing at the same time. Round and round the perfect ice oval for 21 laps, that you had to count yourself. On the plus side, once again I avoided a shoe change since my blades clip right onto my ski boots. Thank goodness for technology.

I did my best to imitate the form of a speed skater, leaning way forward and trying to keep my arms in that oh-so-cool looking relaxed behind the back posture. Sadly, looking at some of the pictures, I’d say I was only about half as aero as I felt like I was. It may not have been pretty, but it was hopefully effective. Sure enough, stepping back off the ice and back into transition for the last time, I had maintained my exact standing.

Non Ideal Form

And now for the penultimate stage of the Pentathlon. The snowshoe! This leg could prove interesting for the simple fact that I was running on completely untested gear! I (or rather Deanna) had literally picked up a pair of snowshoes in a mad scramble on Friday afternoon that  had ordered in a few days earlier. A completely new design consisting of a plastic frame that I’d seen around a few races, and wanted to try. They were TSL symbioz hyperflex racing snowshoes, and were almost HALF the weight of my other snowshoes, so I was keen to try them out. As Deanna was driving us on Friday, I was in the passenger seat making adjustments and setting them up to fit my shoes perfectly. My only testing consisted of jogging in the hotel about 10 feet to make sure they were secure!

Lucky for me, things worked very well. These beauties were so light that you barely felt any swing weight at all as you were running. I took note on the course of just how many people had converted to this snowshoe. They have definitely taken the top-end racing scene (at least in Quebec) by storm. I can also vouch for them now. They are sturdy. Given the very cold temps, this was a good test for whether they’d become brittle or cause blistering issues. I’m happy to report I emerged unscathed, and also managed to gain a spot in my category, and 2 in the overall classification.

Last Minute Push

So, the final tally for me? Well, in what I’d consider a very competitive field, I ended up 29th overall, 26th male, and 6th (of 24) in my category. I was happy with that. And even more happy that I could get out of the cold!! It was time to warm up first with a hot chocolate, and later, a beer and a meal! We did also find time to hop into the hotels hot tubs (which were cruelly located outside, meaning a VERY cold bathrobe stroll to get into them. Although we had grand plans to tour Quebec City a bit more this time, we decided it was too bloody cold to make that very enticing. The following day, we watched the elite team competition, which was pretty exciting to watch. Lucky for them, the weather was a little warmer.

All in all, we had another great time at this event, which is definitely one of the best organized winter events I’ve had the privilege of taking part in. I was also covering the event for the magazine, so I had plenty of camera gear in tow. Sadly, footage from my own event was pretty tough to obtain, given that all my gear basically instantly froze out there. Batteries are no match for those really low temps. However, I had much better luck the next day when I could protect the gear between shots. As a result, if you haven’t done so yet, please check out the video I shot below. Till next time, see you out on the trails!

Perfect Bike Touring Weather?

Howdy folks. Today’s blog post will take you on a wondrous journey from Ottawa to Kingston and back by  bicycle. Yes, I’m speaking of the famous Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, the yearly fundraising group ride organized by the Ottawa Bicycle Club. This year marked the 44th time the event took place, which is a pretty astounding number when you stop to think about it. To properly commemorate the event this year, I dragged along some cameras and even made a video for Get Out There Magazine. You can see the video at the end of the post, if you haven’t already seen it. I also took a few pictures along the way, which you can enjoy below.

As many of you are aware, RLCT has a number of different route options and lodging options each year. For routes, there are now no less than 4 options. The Classic (177km each way), the Cruise (185km each way), the Challenge (225km each way) and the Century (100km each way). The first three depart and return to Algonquin College in Nepean, whereas the Century starts and returns at the Perth Curling Club. In all cases, your first day finishes off at Queen’s University in Kingston. Once there, you have the choice of either sleeping and eating on campus, student style, or taking care of your own accommodations in town. Since I was filming the event, and wanted the ‘Classic’ experience, Deanna and I had signed up for that route, and also booked ourselves in the luxurious dorm accommodations on campus. After all, that’s really the easiest way to make the most of that particular weekend.

My cycle training leading up to the event was actually quite decent. I’d racked up more than the minimum recommended 1,000km of training, and that, combined with my ongoing running, skiing, snowshoeing, etc. etc., meant I wasn’t too worried about the ride itself. Unfortunately, Deanna hadn’t been able to log as many kilometers on account of working from home, and she also ended up spending most of the week prior to the event sick! In spite of this, she was excited to participate, and I knew she’d push on in spite of any perceived weakness on her part. While we knew other people participating this year, the majority of them were registered in the Century ride, so we had already planned to just ride our own ride, taking our time as needed, stopping  to ‘smell the flowers’ and just generally enjoy the weekend.

The promised (and delivered) forecast made that enjoyment pretty damn easy this year. Generally speaking, it’s hard to get a ‘perfect’ RLCT. Usually you’ll have one or several of the following challenges on the way: rain, cold temperatures, headwinds, mechanical issues, etc. However, upon setting out on Saturday morning, we were happy to note that we had near cloudless skies, favourable winds (mostly tail- and cross-winds), and reasonable temperatures. While it was a little chilly as we took off, it was obvious that it would warm up to a goldilocks temperature (juuuust right!). As the weekend wore on, I’m happy to report that we also had no mechanical issues at all!

We took advantage of packs of riders whenever it was convenient for us. In other words, if a group of cyclists travelling only slightly faster than us passed, we’d tuck in and join the draft. After a little way, we found a great little group that we worked together with until all the way to Perth (at the 70km point of the ride). We were in great spirits and really enjoying the day. Having some snacks and drinks, we headed back off, and the rest of the ride progressed at a nice pace pretty much all the way to Kingston. At about the 30k to go point, Deanna was a little tired, so we had a nice little rest at the last checkpoint before riding into Kingston with a group of people and big grins.

In the end, we pulled off the ride in about 6 hours of pedaling time. Not TdF worthy, but very respectable. In fact, upon checking in and heading to the luggage tent, we were shocked to see what appeared to be MOST of the luggage still there! This was a big difference from the last time we had done the tour, arriving towards the ‘back of the pack’. This was definitely another mood booster. We were so early (in our minds) that we took the time to shower, change and get settled in our dorm BEFORE going to the beer gardens.

Once at the beer gardens, we met up with a bunch of different friends to hear how their respective rides went while enjoying beer, sausages and chips. Supper wasn’t for another couple hours, so we just enjoyed the afternoon sun with like-minded folks. It was awesome! We had supper with another friend from the group who had basically ridden the Classic route solo that day, and made tentative plans to find each other in the morning to make the return journey together.

After a hearty post-race supper, I was planning on making my way downtown to meet up with others and convince them to join me at the local brewery. Well, Deanna was quite pooped by now, and decided that if she had any hope of completing the return trip in its entirety, she had to get some shut-eye. So on that, I dropped her off back at the dorm and wandered downtown alone. Before long though, I joined another big group at a restaurant where they had just finished supper and convinced 5-6 of them to join me for a night cap. After a round of drinks and many laughs, I wandered back to the campus to essentially get to bed around 10pm. I know, it seems early, but we were getting up at 5:30am the next morning again to catch early breakfast and hit the road hopefully by 7:30am after dropping off gear and getting ready.

We met our buddy Paul, and the three of us started the long journey home after a quick tire pressure check with the fine folks at Velo Fix, who were lending support to the tour. Although the legs felt a little stiff starting out, it didn’t take too long to work out the kinks and fall into a decent rhythm once again. Paul and I did the pacing by swapping leads, while Deanna drafted off us and conserved a bit of energy. As it turns out, she was quite tired still, and uncertain whether she should have simply jumped in with the century riders that morning. Either way, she was stuck with us until at least Perth now :-). Her spirit was willing, but the body was not convinced. Being sick the week before had caught up.

We kept a relatively relaxed pace, and took a few extra breaks along the way on the second day. The three of us chose to just ride together, and not try to join any other groups as they went by. Once again, the weather was remarkable. Amazingly, overnight, the wind actually changed directions so that once again, we had tail- and cross-winds. I can not stress just how unusual it is to have two completely perfect cycling days at Rideau Lakes. While it was quite as sunny on the 2nd day, it was still comfortable temperatures the whole way. For the most part, I was completely comfortable in my shorts, jersey, and keeping the arm warmers on. We never really needed jackets or anything.

Another bonus of the extra stops was that it gave me the chance to take advantage of some of the road-side rest stop offerings. Namely, tasty home baked goods like chocolate peanut butter rice krispy treats and date squares. YUM! Nothing better to power you through a long ride than home baked goods. I also managed to get some good footage for the video. In fact, I had so much good footage it was hard to cull it down for my summary video!

As the kilometers racked up, Deanna became increasingly frustrated with her lack of pep, and was worried she was holding us up (which she definitely wasn’t). As a result, she pushed herself a bit too hard, and was pretty wiped out when we hit Perth. At that point, a difficult decision was made by her. She opted to stop her ride there, and make her way to the curling club to meet up with the group of friends that were riding the century route. They had already offered to take her back to Ottawa if she didn’t feel up to the whole ride. Honestly, that’s the most difficult thing in a situation like this. You KNOW you have a way out, and can stop the ‘suffering’. I personally fight against that instinct, but I know it can be tempting. She was a bit disappointed in herself, later admitting she is pretty sure she could have ridden the last 70k with us, but the temptation was just too great. I still think she did an amazing job, and we kissed and parted ways at the Last Duel Park in Perth.

This left Paul and I. Paul also admitted to being a little tired, and requested we didn’t take off like madmen from there. Ironically, I felt amazing. This was the strongest I’ve ever felt at an RLCT. I credit this to the fact that 2 weeks before, I had been racing in Pennsylvania, where I had spent 35 out of 40 hours (31 hours of which were non-stop ) on my mountain bike with a LOT of climbing big hills. As such, I was happy to lead the whole way if needed. Sadly, my slight frame does no provide much relief in the form of drafting to anyone following my wheel. So rather than a 20% benefit, I’m guessing folks only get a 10% benefit. Regardless, Paul is far too nice a fellow to suck a wheel the whole way, and we got into a nice little rhythm of trading leads. Then, at one point, we were passed by a quick group of guys, and decided to hop on the caboose.

ZOOOOM! We were making amazing time with this gang. Over the course of the next hour, we covered roughly 40km! It was awesome, and put our time back on track. We stopped at the final rest stop and had an extended break to re-fuel, allowing our group to leave ahead of us. We rode the final 30k as a duo once again, finishing up at Algonquin College once again in the top end of riders. It was still relatively quiet at the BBQ and beer gardens. Paul hung out with me for a while, then headed off as I was left to wait for Deanna’s return. Unfortunately, they had decided to go for a meal in Perth, which had slow service, so I ended up sitting around alone for a couple hours waiting alone. I filled my time doing a little filming and sorting my gear.

When all is said and done, this was my most enjoyable RLCT in memory. I felt strong the whole way. I got to share most of the ride with the love of my life, laughing and talking the whole time. I met up with good friends and shared more laughs and beers in Kingston, and the weather was perfect. What more could I ask for in an early summer active weekend? Nothing! Even my bed and shower in the dorm were great! With this ride out of the way, it is now time to focus on the next big challenges of the year, including a 1/2 and full Ironman triathlon in Muskoka! So with that, I must bid you adieu and get back to training! Now get out there and enjoy the summer!!

The Video Re-Cap

Winning and Touring

Unnatural Fitness Lab Rats

Note, the title is *not* wining and touring. This is (perhaps unfortunately) not a post about cycle touring in wine country :-). However, I’m still happy to say it does involve some drinking, lots of cycling, and even another race victory! As most of you know, I’m really more of an avid endurance racer than sprinter, but I find myself doing a smattering of short races these days, and actually faring quite well. My latest foray is the shortest to date, a 5-person 10km relay race, meaning I was only running 2km! I was actually kind of nervous about that, as I have no idea how to pace that distance. However, the majority of the post is dedicated to Deanna and I taking part in the annual Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. I’ve got a bunch of pictures from that event to share, but no video, as this was purely for fun (and some good in-the-saddle training). Now read on to learn about both of these events!

The Challenge in the Pasture

First up, a decisive win at Tunney’s pasture for Team Unnatural Fitness Lab Rats. If you haven’t guessed, it’s a play on the name of the group I do most of my trail running training with, Natural Fitness Labs. Our team of 5 brave public servants consisted of some of the speedy guys from the group who decided to put in a team and see how we’d do on the pavement over a short course. Of course, the race organizer also happens to be married to our team captain, so there was some pressure to take part, but I was happy to do so, as the main goal was to raise some funds for the local United Way campaigns anyway. So as you see, win-win for all.

The race was set up as 5 individual ‘waves’ leaving 5 minutes apart, rather than a baton hand-off type of relay. As such, each of the 5 of us were in a different wave, then our combined time dictated our placement. I was in wave 2, and with no frame of reference, arbitrarily said I’d like to finish between 7 and 8 minutes for 2k, and the closer to 7 minutes, the better. As it turns out, I finished 1st in my wave, and 4th overall with a time of 6:52.7, less than a second behind the 3rd place overall winner. This also put me as the fastest on our team! Needless to say, I was surprised (but happy!). My strategy was to go out hard, stay ahead of everyone, keep a little in the tank for a final sprint if needed, and win. Seems to have worked pretty well.

All the gents on our team put in great times in their waves, finishing near the top of the heap for each wave. When the times were put together, we finished in 1st place for the teams, about 3.5 minutes faster than our nearest competitors. There was a bit of jeering when we accepted our ‘trophy’ in our matching race shirts. We were accused of being ‘pros’. Ha ha. Regardless, I’ll take it. In spite of the falling rain, we took the honours and had a fun time, and I learned that I *can* lay it out there for a sprint race if needed. Now onto the bike….

Two Long Days in the Saddle…

For those of you unfamiliar with the yearly Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (RLCT), this is an annual bike touring event that goes from Ottawa to Kingston and back again the next day. There are a number of routes to choose from, ranging from 100km to 220km, and goes rain or shine. No timing, no prizes, no fixed start time, just good fun riding your bicycle for a full 2 days in the Ottawa valley. This would be the 3rd time I did the tour, and the 2nd for Deanna. My other experiences were with a smallish group of 6-8 riders working together making our way along the course. Due to life getting in the way, this year, it was just Deanna and I alone on the ride itself (although we obviously ran into plenty of people we knew on the far end).

For the 2nd time, we also chose to do the ‘cruise route’, which this year was a 174km route. It is limited to 250 riders, and offers no support. On the plus side, there are no masses of cyclists to contend with (like there is on the ‘classic route’), and relatively quiet roads. On the downside, no roving support vehicles, and less people to draft off of and/or rely on for directions (in my mind, neither are a detraction). It was just us, my trusty GPS, and our own food and water, although we were never without an option for refreshment along the route in the form of gas stations, and church ladies (more on that in a moment).

This year, in a first, the organizers actually published the various routes electronically on a site called Ride with GPS. It was my first time using that service, and I must say it worked quite well for the most part. After signing up for my free account, I was able to download the .gpx routes, and load them into any number of GPS devices I own. I opted to use my eTrex Legend HCx, as it provides me turn-by-turn navigation. My only nit-picks here were my GPS seemed to assume a speed of 60km/hr for the time estimates, and in a lot of spots, I had conflicting info (like instructions saying “turn left at right06”, or arrow icons pointing the wrong way. However, as long as I followed the actual ‘purple line’ on my GPS, it was bang on. It ended up being a little game to guess which of multiple instructions was right before upcoming turns.

The riding itself this year seemed superb to me. Although we did start with rain on Saturday, it wasn’t too heavy, and by the time we’d hit Merrickville, things more or less dried out, and we rode in merely cool, overcast weather, which is fine for a long day on the bike. Even though we were only two, we made pretty decent time, riding at a pace that was comfortable, but not pedestrian. We only stopped a few times in the day, twice for nature breaks and/or quick refuel breaks, and once in Toledo for a proper lunch.

Why Toledo? Well, the local church there rolls out the proverbial red carpet for this route. The church ladies have a great menu of soups, sandwiches, drinks and deserts on offer for weary cyclists. These are offered at very reasonable costs, served with a smile, and occurs pretty much halfway. There is also free drinking water for all there. I had an awesome egg salad sandwich (can ANYONE, except church ladies, get this right?), a huge date square, and a special peanut butter / corn flake cookie for later, all for 6 bucks. The place was hopping with bike riders fueling up when we stopped on Saturday. On Sunday, we stopped there again, but it was a bit quieter. The main reason is that we weren’t sure they were serving, as it was actually 11am, peak church time! However, they were there again, serving tasty food. This time? Grilled ham and cheese, date square and cookie.

Once we arrived in Kingston, we got sorted, showered, and changed, then headed to the beer gardens with hundreds of other like-minded cyclists. It didn’t take long to find a gang of our friends from the trail-running community (and most of my team from the race above…). In spite of a now-persistent rain falling again, we enjoyed a few beers outdoors before heading to the dining hall for the inevitable carbo-load recovery supper to prepare for the next day. I can safely say that I ate entirely too much food for my size. Not sure where it all went, but one thing was for sure, I’d be needing a post-food walk!

Luckily, we’d made plans with the group to head over the Kingston Brewery Company (website currently kaput) for some additional tasty beverages before retiring for the day. This was another departure from previous years where we just hung out on campus. I must say though, this field trip was well worth it, as I truly enjoyed my Dunkelnacht dark beer :-), oh, and the numerous others I had! We chose to drink on the outdoor patio, as the joint was packed. There was no server there, so we had to get our own beer at the bar and bring it out, but no one minded, and while we started the trend, it wasn’t long before the whole patio was packed with other cyclists. However, I’m happy to report we outlasted them all, and were the last to leave for the night (at the late hour of 10ish…). Back to the dorms for a well-earned night of sleep.

The next morning, we got up again far too early for a weekend to pack up, have a big breakfast and then make our way out on two wheels once again. While there was no bacon, there was sausages, eggs, french toast, potatoes and lots of other goodies to fuel up on. We hit the road before 8am under the beginning of a beautiful day. While we set out with arm and leg warmers on, it wasn’t too long before we started moulting our spandex in favour of bare arms. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for riding. Deanna sadly missed a few spots with the sunscreen and got a burn, but it was still awesome! Our routine was pretty much the same as the day before, although we may have added an extra stop later in the day, as we were getting a little pooped after over 300kms in our legs.

Once again, we did the whole journey alone. You really start to notice the headwinds when you are only 2 out there. The final 80k or so seemed to pack some persistent little winds. Not fall-over strong gusts, but steady winds. Of course, that just makes you even more happy when you are on the final 10k of the ride, and know it’s just a straight shot up Woodroffe to the Algonquin campus, where our car was parked, our bag was waiting, and the post-ride bbq was in full swing. We didn’t stick around too long, as there was no free food on offer, and the line-ups were pretty long. We decided it may be easier to just hit the grocery store and grab something we wanted for supper. Pizza was the ultimate choice 🙂 A perfect end to a great weekend cycling with my friend, my partner, and my future wife. I count myself truly lucky to have found someone to share many of these adventures with. We honestly had a blast together the whole way:-)

The other fringe benefit of 350km of bike riding for me is that it gave me a lot of training time in the saddle to prep for Leadville later this summer. Gotta get in peak bike shape! The next weekend was slated to be a ‘training weekend’, then it’ll be off to Maine for a last-minute 24-hour adventure race called Untamed New England with a speedy US team (I got drafted in due to an injury… very flattering!). Till then, enjoy the fine weather, and keep the rubber on the road friends!

Gran Fondo Ottawa AKA Line-up From Hades

Me on the Keg Bike

Looking back on my various race and event results, I have now been a pretty physically active fellow for almost exactly 10 years. I have done countless events of every type and description. Short 5k runs, up to 7-day major international events. I’ve done grass-roots style events and slick corporate-backed mega-events like the Boston Marathon. They all have one thing in common. Registration and kit pick-ups. This is sort of the ‘welcome mat’ to an event, and sets the tone and stage for what follows. It says a lot about the overall event’s organization and ability to execute. In these 10 years, I don’t believe I’ve ever had to wait more than 30 minutes to deal with this part of a race. Until GranFondo Ottawa. So shall begin my little post on this inaugural event in Ottawa, and my PERSONAL opinions of the entire weekend. I also covered it for Get Out There magazine, so you can check out my ‘official’ video review which will be a little kinder than this post will be. You can also check out some pictures that I posted from our group. Now, please read on to get my full impressions 🙂

Event Pictures from the Day

Two hours and 10 minutes! That’s how long it took to snake our way through the ever-expanding line to pick up our jerseys, swag bags, and get our race numbers. This is utterly and completely inexcusable. I’d like to say that the RD was apologetic on this matter but this was not the case Friday night. He was just standing there watching, making no apparent attempts to fix this or call in for help. The ‘race expo’ on Friday night? Non-existent. Starbucks had packed up and left by around 6pm. The Enervit booth? Packed up with no-one in sight. Just lots of very moody riders waiting as patiently as they could in line. To be clear: 1 line. 3 volunteers trying to sort everything out, with what can only be described as very spotty actual records on who was registered. There were lots of incidents of them just giving out a number on the spot while riders assured them they had paid. Jersey sizing? Well, never mind what you physically ordered. You got what they had, which in the case of several, was too large, as all the smaller jerseys had been given out already.

As my friend pointed out, this is simple math. You have about 1700 riders. Each one could take up to 2-3 minutes to deal with. That’s 3400 person-minutes, or 566 man-hours. For the love of Pete, set up at least 3-5 registration spots, either numerically, alphabetically, or whatever-the-hell you want. It’s the absolute simplest concept to understand if you’ve EVER organized an event. And yes, I’m speaking as someone who has helped at numerous events and registration processes. Enough of that. On to the sling bag. Here’s a quote from the website while it’s still up there: “sling|musette [rider bag] w/$300.00+ [no, not a typo] in cycling & related items”. So what was in mine? Two water bottles, one plastic cup with lid, bottle opener, tire levers, a small sample of chain lube, and a couple coupons (think X% off). My guesstimate value? $15-$20. Hardly what we were promised.

Sadly, the super-long registration also threw a major wrench into our fun Friday plans of a carbo-loading supper with friends, along with wine and some hot-tubbing. Instead, it was a mad scramble to cook the supper, wolf it down, then go our separate ways to prep for the early morning call for the ride.

We opted to go to the start early in the morning in case there was more madness to contend with. The 220km route was slated to leave at 7am, but didn’t get going till around 7:20am, under a bit of confusion from all involved. And why the confusion? Well, there was no event announcer, no official start, no proper lead-out, no nothing. Not only that, but anyone who actually wanted to take part in the ‘timed sections’ (there were 4) had to pick up a chip in the morning. That’s right, it was separate from registration on Friday. What did that mean? Another line-up where someone actually physically wanted you to hand over a piece of ID for the day as a deposit for the chip. As if. It goes without saying that a LOT of us opted out of this. Not like we’d win anything anyway. Another thing missing at the start? No water to hydrate. Some coffee, but it disappeared fast. Just a lot more confusion. Heck, we missed our own event start. We were just regrouping when we realized the ride was getting underway!

Now, gentle reader, please excuse the overall negative image I’ve portrayed thus far. I promise you that I have been quite objective in my assessment, and vowed at every twist to not let a prior disappointment colour my opinion of the next aspect. I’m old enough and have done enough events to know that there are always elements out of control of the organization. With that in mind, let’s turn our mind to the actual ride now!

Overall Ride Stats

I was really happy to be riding with 6 of my best friends and a group that I’d collectively say have good experience on bikes and have great patience. I knew that no matter the outcome, we’d have fun and still be smiling and laughing at the finish together. I was not let down in that aspect, and we most certainly were, but the journey was not without it’s challenges, some of which were self-inflicted, others due to design. At 8am, we got underway, and started rolling at a nice clip of 28-30km/hr moving speed. This was pretty much ideal. The gents would take turns at the front in different configurations, keeping the pace nice. There was lots of chit-chat, and some great catching up, as we don’t see each other nearly enough these days. And this, I would say, is the real spirit of a GranFondo or Cycle Tour. Camaraderie.

Our route was 170km (well, ended up at 175km total, but close enough), and took us through a number of small towns in the Ottawa Valley. Namely (and in order), Ashton, Beckwith, Tennyson, Perth, Balderson, Lanark, Almonte, Blakeney, Panmure, Carp, and back to the Kanata start/finish. In my opinion, the course was actually quite well marked. You had to pay some attention, but for the most part, the indicators where there. There were 3 sets of painted arrows and major intersections. Blue for the 220k route, Green for our 170k route, and Red for the 100k route. This should have ideally been supplemented with some sort of printed instructions or map that should have been included in our race kits, but no such thing existed, so we were on our own.

As I understand it, that did cause some consternation for some riders. I’m not overly surprised at that though. As an adventure racer, I’m used to route-finding and keeping a close eye on where we are at all times, and having a good sense of where we should be. To those ends, there was only one place where we paused and nearly missed a turn. More on that (and it’s unfortunate result) in a moment.

Along all routes were also rest stops. For our route, there were five such stops. In the lead-up, riders had been told that all these stations would have water, Enervit and that they’d “do [their] best to offer bananas, bagels, peanut-butter/jelly and some baked goods”. My suspicions were raised immediately by the ‘do our best’ comment. Aid station #1? Two coolers of Enervit, and a pump bottle of water, with 3 volunteers. This station was common to all 3 routes, ergo was supposed to serve 1700 riders. No food of any sort. No big deal though, as it was early on. Luckily, stop #2 was the big one in Perth, in a park. Here again they had a 2-3 coolers of Enervit, 2 water coolers, bananas, and tasty peanut butter and jelly bagels. There was also a local vendor on site selling lots of baked goods. This was a great place to stop, and most people languished in the shade here, due to the mounting heat. However, there were NO PORTA-POTTIES set up anywhere!!

And that is where we had our own little issue. As a group, the ladies used a public restroom. The gents decided we’d head a little down the road and just use a shady tree once out of town. However, on leaving, Bonnie discovered a flat tire, so she and Grant doubled back to the bike mechanic at the park. We all agreed we’d meet up down the road and we’d go slowly. That’s where we NEARLY missed the turn, but took the right route. We found shade, relieved ourselves, and the 5 of us waited for Bonnie and Grant. And waited. And waited. Eventually, I doubled back and cycled all the way back to Perth. No one left. Crap! They must have missed the turn! A little later, Kev finally got a call from them. They were in Balderson, quite a ways down the road.

When we were finally re-joined, we learned that they, along with about 100 riders, missed the turn, headed all the way to a highway, then took a different road to Balderson, cutting off about 8km, but leaving us waiting in vain. Time lost? Probably 40 minutes, AND we were now basically at the very back of the ride. Ha ha. No one really got too miffed on that one, as we probably should just not have split up in the first place. Live and learn.

With that ‘behind’ us, we rolled on uneventfully to Lanark, then Almonte, both very compact rest stops offering 1-2 jugs of enervit and a jug of water. Luckily, one stop also had tasty pre-packaged cookies that we all enjoyed. At this particular stop, the event director also happened to be there, and was chatting about the Friday snafu. Rather than sounding apologetic, he actually had the gall to talk about another ‘event’ he attended, that was celebrating it’s 40th year, where the waits were 4 hours to register! I loudly exclaimed sarcastically that it just proves there are obviously amazingly even worse-organized events out there.

Our final bit of bad luck happened just outside Almonte. As we were biking along, we came across a railroad crossing where a rider was motioning to slow down. There was a rider down, and injured quite badly. As we slowed to pass, one of our own also managed to take a tumble and take a bump to the head. Then, a few minutes later, a third rider went down! As we waited a little bit there an ambulance and police finally showed up. Unfortunately, the first girl had a broken jaw and had to be whisked off to hospital. Our rider also felt unable to continue and therefore we had 2 riders from our group abandon and wait for the sag wagon. This dangerous crossing continued to claim riders as the day wore on. Rumour is that the OPP were going to pay a call to the RD on the fact that this was not signed, marshalled, covered off, or even warned about. Personally, I was ok, as I’m used to pretty gnarly riding, but many others are not as experienced., and hence this was not safe to be left as it was.

With slightly heavier hearts, our remaining group of 5 rode out the remainder of the route. There was another ‘fun’ section a little further on, with a 2km gravel section, entered by crossing a treacherous gravel bit, but there was a volunteer warning riders to dismount to cross the spot where the railroad tracks had recently been removed, so that went without incident. There was one final rest stop located on the side of the road in Carp, and from there, it was a mere 12km or so to the finish. This last bit took us along nice shaded roads for a bit before finally re-entering suburbia proper in Kanata.

The finish was almost as anti-climatic as the start. We turned into the parking lot and under the GranFondo banner, and that was that. The actual finish line was located a parking-lot away from the ‘fest’ area, so we just sort of rolled over to where all the other participants were hanging out. The barbecue was in full swing, and there was lots of food on hand to re-fill our bellies. I had braised beef on a bun, and some pasta salad, along with a San Pellegrino drink, and eventually, a glass of tasty Kichesippi Beer. There once again was no race announcer, or any discernible events of any sort going on apart from the food and beer. After about 30 minutes, a live band did take the stage, which was fun, but by this point, most riders had already departed to their homes to presumably shower. I will say that the finish was actually pretty well organized. We had no waits, and we did get pretty much exactly what we were told we would, so I will not complain about that 🙂

All in all, I’d say I pretty much got what I figured I’d get out of this event. Being the first time it was put on, there would obviously be a few hiccups that could be addressed should the event be put on once again next year. I stand by my initial assertion that the registration issue is not one that should have happened, but that’s life. Judging by many comments on the facebook page, there are others that were much more irate than me, and several people making no bones about the fact that there is no way they would return. It’s a shame really, as this event could be a great destination event for cyclists looking for a good 1 day challenge rather than committing to the full 2-day Rideau Lakes tour. Time will tell what will happen to the GranFondo Ottawa for 2013. Personally, I’m not convinced I’d return. Again, I’m reminded how nice it might be to just organize a small group ride and put the money towards a nice meal at the end instead of forking over the money to a big event and not really get that much value for our monies.

At any rate, this event kicks off 5 weeks in a row of races for me, so I’ll sign off now, and get back to, umm, resting? training? eating? Sure, all those things! Next up: the RockstAR 8hr Adventure Race with my buddy Carl at the Bark Lake Leadership Center. Stay tuned for that report in a week or so! Till then, stay cool (and preferably not too dry!!).

Video Review of Event

Cycling Through Toledo and California

The Team Ready

Welcome back to another report from me, Activesteve, on my latest exploits. This time I’ll be covering a little cycle touring that Deanna and I did with a group of friends last weekend. The tour? Rideau Lakes. The distance? 370km over the course of two days. Biking from Ottawa to Kingston, and then back again. Yes, it’s a lot of time in the saddle, but with good weather and great friends, it really doesn’t feel all that bad. And luckily, we had both those ingredients with us on the weekend. I’ve done the tour once before, but this time, we were a different group, and took a different route. Read on for the whole story, and don’t forget to check out the pictures that I snapped along the way!

The decision to do the tour was actually rather straightforward. As most of you are aware, I plan on getting my first Rudy Award this year, and one of the mandatory events is to participate (and complete) the Rideau Lakes Tour. So that was that! Back in February, I was waiting for registration to get my name in early. The tour sells out every year, and I didn’t want to miss out. It was especially important because of the route I wanted to take. The ‘Classic’ route accepts thousands of riders. However, the ‘Cruise’ route only allows 250 riders to sign up. This makes the Cruise route much more relaxed and ‘touring-like’ in my mind. You’re not constantly being passed by large groups of cyclists. Of course, it also means that there is no support or signs, but I was definitely willing to forego that. After all, the essence of touring is being out there on your own, right?

Along with signing up myself, I had already convinced Deanna, a now ‘cycling convert’ to join me. However, the more the merrier, so Dave and Meghan were also enlisted as I knew they were doing more cycling as well. And to cap off our ‘six-pack’, both Kevin and Grant agreed to join in. For me, that was pretty much an ideal number. With 6 people, we can move at a steady pace, and rotate the lead enough that no one should get too tired at the front. Also, you don’t have to wait as long each time you stop for everyone to get sorted out. Here we were, months away, and already excited to embark on the tour!

The other aspect of the Tour is that you really should be doing some kind of prep work and putting in some good saddle time. On the site, they recommend putting at least 1000km on the bike in advance of the tour. As it turns out, the mileage wasn’t a great problem for us, but the time was. You see, Deanna and I commute to work every day by bike, so the kms added up quickly enough. However, we rarely got out for longer rides, as there was lots of other training and racing going on, particularly my prep for the marathon as well as some adventure races. In the end, I think we only went on one ride of over 60km I think! Needless to say, Deanna had a bit of trepidation as a result. I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve watched her becoming a stronger cyclist, so I knew she could tough it out no matter what.

Of course, all that doesn’t matter if the weather turns sour. The most hardened cyclist can turn tail and run home when the weather turns to 8 degrees and the rain pours for hours on end! That’s precisely what happened last year, when, for the first time ever, the tour organizers had to charter buses for riders to get home! So in my mind, that was our only obstacle. Personally, I was willing to do it no matter what, since no Tour, no Rudy Award, which is what happened to a few last year. Luckily, in the days leading up to the ride, the weather forecast kept improving and improving, to the point that on Friday night, it looked like we would like barely get any rain, and by the time we got up at 5am on Saturday to head out, it looked like smooth sailing till Kingston at least!

Bags packed, bikes loaded, we got to Carleton at 6:30ish on Saturday morning to meet the ‘team’. By about 7:20, we were off! To summarize the entire day’s riding, using a line from Grant, it was “the least eventful 180km ride of my life”. That’s a good thing. Apart from Deanna going off the shoulder once and rolling down the grass a bit, we had zero incidents. No flats, no mechanical, no wipe-outs, no close calls, no winds, no rain, great temps, no exhaustion, etc. etc. We kept pretty much a constant speed the whole way down and made it to Kingston in about 6hrs and 40mins. Our average pace was around 26.5km/hr. We wouldn’t win the Tour de France, but that was right where we had hoped we’d be.

Along the way, we made our way through a number of back roads and small towns. Merrickville, Toledo, California, Elgin, Battersea. All pretty rural towns that if you blinked in a car, you’d miss them, but from a bike, you get a slightly longer glance of life in rural Canada. Oversized stuffed monkeys? Small general stores? Courteous drivers? Friendly waves from tractors? Yup, it was all there. Oh, and how about lovely little old ladies from a Church group? Yup, we had that too. Our ‘lunch stop’ was in Toledo at a Church. The volunteers there had a nice menu posted at the entrance and were making fresh sandwiches and had all sorts of baked goods, not to mention cold water and tables all laid out for us. It was the equivalent of the ‘royal treatment’ to some. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and a big cookie. I also snagged a brownie for further down the road. Bellies full, we headed back out.

Once in Kingston, we were faced with the reality that this is in fact a large tour, as hundreds of people were streaming into town, and the campus was abuzz with lycra clad superheroes who had all finished their respective rides. We checked in, got our keys and headed to our ‘quaint’ dorm accommodations. Spartan as they were, the shower I had was absolutely awesome. After cleaning up and lounging a bit, we all headed over to be in the early group for supper. Silliness ensued, and we stayed quite a while, everyone marveling at how much food I could shove into my stomach, and wondering where it all went. I was so full that I paid Kev to go get me deserts 🙂 Good times. It’s always a good sign when the people you just spent the day riding with are still happy to stick together and socialize. I should also mention that while we were eating, the heavens opened up outside. I’m talking massive thunder and lightening, and huge downpours. It couldn’t have been timed better. We hoped it would all rain out by morning.

After supper, the socializing didn’t stop. As a group, we visited each others rooms while heading over to the beer gardens. There were not many partiers, but we stayed out there for a good bit, with Kev, Dave, Grant and I each having 4 beers! It was also the site of our ‘red nordic berry challenge’. Basically a blind taste test of real Swedish Berries that Deanna had, to knock-offs that Kev had picked up in Battersea. It was no contest. Everyone to a T, regardless of conditions, accurately identified the real deal. Well, all but Grant, but he doesn’t count, as he didn’t even know what they were supposed to taste like!

Beers and chips done, and it was off to bed. There were two single beds in the room, but I’d have nothing of it. Deanna and I snuggled up into one bed and drifted off to sleep, ready to face the next half of the trip!

The next morning, the skies were pretty grey, but the forecasts we looked at along the route looked like we’d avoid most of the rain, as it would be clearing in Ottawa by noonish. Sounded great to us. Off to a 6:00am breakfast with the team. We were shooting for a 7am departure, but in the end, it was once again after 7:30 by the time we were rolling out of the campus. It was also raining just a little bit, so we had rain gear on. However, after the first 15km or so, the rain was all but gone, and we had made our way to the ‘rollers’, so we took the jackets off at Battersea, and rolled on in dry skies and roads. The legs were all a bit stiff, but we still managed to keep the same pace we had the day before, probably assisted by the slight tailwind.

In an unfortunate navigational error (which I’ll partially take credit for), we actually ended up cycling an extra 3.5k or so at one point, as we missed a turn. Dave and Meghan had called it, but were not given their due attention. After all, we were rolling at a good pace and had the wind at our backs. When we reached a highway, we realized that we’d definitely made a mistake. Ooops. Well, a little doubling back and we were back on the right track. After getting on our road, we ended up back in ‘Thunder Alley’, a spot we’d nicknamed that on account of all the high tension towers that we figured would be a cool place to be during a big storm.

This was about the time where our discussion turned to the best aero position to be in for downhills, and Grant stated unequivocally that it would be the ‘superman’. This is so named as the rider puts his ass behind the seat, put his belly on the seat, unclips, and sticks his legs straight back. I gave it a half-hearted attempt, foiled by my safety flag. Then our of nowhere, Grant gave it a try. Sadly I didn’t have my camera out. Deanna described is as a giraffe looking like it was falling over. Not pretty. He also almost wiped out.

As we kept pushing on, the wind started picking up the closer we got to our finish line. By the last 15km or so, I think we were all ready to call it a day, but we did finish strong and as a group, rolling back onto the Carleton campus around 3:30pm, received warmly by volunteers who clapped and cheered for us. It was a nice way to finish off. Quick pose with our certificates (and a full complement of smiles), and it was all over. We bid each other adieu and went our separate ways to find our post ride meals. For Deanna and I, that was take-out Chinese food. Yum!

And there you have my little tale of a 370km ride in one weekend. I was very relieved with how smoothly it all went, especially since I needed to have this done for my Rudy Award. With the ride out of the way, I’m now 80% of the way done. Just one tiny little Iron-distance Triathlon to get out of the way. Child’s play, right? Not quite, but I’m looking forward to doing it on the Labour Day weekend. Hopefully some of you will be able to make it out along the canal to cheer me on during my 11-12hour race! Till that time, I’ll fill you in on the rest of my races from now till then. I think I have something like 5 more races between now and then! Next up, Ultimate XC at Mont Tremblant!