Tag Archives: Ottawa

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

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

Winterlude Triathlon Delivers the Fun!

Racers at the Start

Good day, ActiveFriends! Another week, another race report to fill you in on. This time, I take you to the 29th annual Winterlude Triathlon. An event I’ve done several times now, and still look forward to it each year. This, to me, is pretty much ‘the’ quintessential winter race that conincides with Ottawa’s winter festival, Winterlude every year. As with the past two years, we were lucky enough with the weather to actually have a full skate, ski, and run course laid out. This is pretty key to note, as for several years, they kept having weather issues forcing either no ski, or no skate, or only run, etc. Seeing as I was covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, it was great to be able to highlight the whole triathlon. Since I was doing full coverage this time, I can once again share lots of media with you all, starting with the folder of pictures on flick, as well as additional goodies found below. Click on through to read the full story, which I’ll try to keep brief again!

Race Pictures

For starters, I’m happy to say the weather was perfect on race day. We had a great sunny day, with temperatures cold, but not unbearably so. As the race starts at 8am, we are obviously out in the colder part of the day, but the fact that the sun was shining makes all the difference in how you feel. For the race set-up, they had chosen to create 2 different transition zones. In effect your running stuff was separate from your ski stuff, but all it really meant was that your skis were located 50 feet or so from the rest of your gear. Speaking of skis, I was pretty excited with the ski portion, as this would be my first official race using skate skis instead of classic skis. In past years, I felt that the skis held me back in the standings. Not that I was going to win, but it’s nice to go faster 🙂

The race itself is fairly straightforward. The order of events consists of skating, skiing, and running. The skate, as you might imagine, is along the canal, heading first from Dow’s lake south to Hartwell Locks, then out towards Pretoria Bridge, turning before the bridge, and returning to Dow’s like. This year’s total was about 9km. For the ski, the Arboretum is groomed the night before to take advantage of whatever natural snow features exist. When all was said and done this year, the double loop through the arboretum extended about 7km. Finally, the run portion is mainly along the canal as well. This is along packed snow for much of the way, again south to Hartwell Locks, up to the path for a while along the parkway, back onto the ice, back to the locks, and finally back to the Pavilion area. Run total was a fast 5k. That brought the grand total on my GPS to about 21km. A great distance for an early winter morning race.

Deanna and I arrived early enough for me to have a chance to set up my T-Zone, grab some footage, and even do a warm-up skate. The ice surface near the pavilion was quite rough, but workable. When the race finally got underway, I tried to position myself with my fellow long-bladers close to the front, but my speed was hurt by my inexperience on the poor ice at the start. I finally fell into a decent rhythm, but unfortunately was caught out alone, with no one to draft off. I was still pretty happy with my average speed of just a touch under 20km/hr and final time of 24 minutes. I got a few good shots out there, and managed not to fall 🙂

Next up was the ski. After stumbling through the snow / ice with my blades on, I finally managed to grab skis and poles and jog up the hill to the start area. Got the skis and poles on uneventfully and took off. My decision to have camera strapped to wrist was a bad one, and shortly after, I had to stop, undo everything, and stash the camera in my pocket. Probably lost a minute there! Yuck! On the plus side, the snow/ice was FAST. I felt like a total rank amateur, as my technique was horrible. I was trying to move fast rather than smoothly, and I’m sure you could see it. I had a hard time settling into any sort of groove in the snow. That being said, I’d say I held my own out there. Was passed by a few people, but also manage to pass a number of other skate skiers, which gave me some hope. I’d love to say I didn’t fall, but unfortunately, at the 98% mark, my tip caught some ice and down I went! And this in full view of my ‘fans’, Deanna and Jess. How embarrassing. I made up for it by getting up in lightening time and heading to the transition. I wrapped that up in 29 minutes.

Finally, the run! I’d made the very wise decision to slap the YakTrax on my shoes before heading out the door in the morning. Seeing as we were mainly on the canal, it was the right call. I wasted no time transitioning, and headed out into the blazing sun all smiles. This was my strongest leg of the race and I managed 11th in my category there. I passed quite a few people and felt good the whole way. Made a friend in the last 2 or so km who helped drag me forward, and ultimately, I reciprocated by giving her some motivation at the finish by leading us in strong to the finish banner. Once again, I managed to get some good shots, and had some fun moments like high-fiving the winner of the race as I passed him in the opposite direction. Nice to see our gap (It was pretty big!).

Race Stats

Post-race, I grabbed some delicious hot chocolate which was on offer. There was also hot soup, bagels and bananas for all the racers. Awards were sort of given out ad-hoc as there were still people on course, but no one really felt like standing around in the cold in the transition zone for an hour. Looking back on past years, it’s hard to say how whether I improved or not. With differences in the courses, distances, and equipment, it’s a lot like comparing oranges to pineapples. However, I certainly had a great time and felt like I had a strong race. I don’t have a single regret on the day, and hope I’ll get to do it again next year, especially since RD Rick Hellard confessed he’s hoping to make the skate a point-to-point for the 30th anniversary! Well, time to go for me. Lots to prep and lots to rest to get ready for the Canadian Ski Marathon next weekend! Keep your eyes on this site for the story that will unfold from that event. 160km of skiing in 2 days?? Yup, I’m nuts!

Video Race Review

Triathlon Tune-Up in Nation’s Capital

Happy at Finish

Welcome to another race report from me in this glorious summer weather that we’re having. As is often the case during the summer months, it becomes a bit challenging to keep things current on my website. There are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, it’s summer! I’d rather be outside doing stuff than trying to write great prose on my keyboard. Second, being summer, I have a lot of races and ‘stuff’ going on. Again, this limits my time to get things documented. And finally, this year, some of my races also have me acting as a race reporter, which adds to my post-race duties by producing and editing videos of the events. Getting tons of footage down to a 2 minute clip is actually quite challenging I’ve found, and takes a fair bit of time! At any rate, enough whining. I’m trying to catch up by writing up my race report for this year’s National Capital Triathlon that I just competed in. It was my 6th time competing in this event, and 4th doing the Olympic Tri distance (the other two times I did the Kayak Tri). Looking back, it turns out I haven’t done a proper Tri in almost 2 years, and it sort of showed in my results. I’ve swam about 3 times in that time, so I didn’t have very high hopes. However, with a looming Iron-distance triathlon, I knew I needed a little tune-up, so this event, a month before the Iron, seemed a good idea! Read on for a bit more on my race, and don’t forget to check out some pictures Deanna snapped!

Going into this one, I really had no pre-determined goals or time ideas. In fact, I didn’t even look at my past results or anything. I had no clue how my swimming speed would be, or whether I’d be able to push super-hard in all the disciplines. What’s even more refreshing, I didn’t care! I wore no heart rate monitor, and just wanted to go out, race hard, and have a fun time. My current trend in racing now is more about realizing that I will not improve without a lot more training, and I simply don’t want to commit to that much training for the improvements. Life has a lot more to offer me than training and the sacrifices that go with it. I have a motorbike now! Ha ha. I also have a new kayak that I like to paddle. But more specifically, I’m helping someone else grow their abilities on the bike and in the boats. Yup, I’m just enjoying spending time doing those things with Deanna. As a result, something had to give, and for me, that was podium dreams in most races. I’ll still go for it, but the obsession is just a little less these days. As long as I’m keeping fit and staying healthy and having fun, that’s good enough for me. After all, the pro sponsorship opportunities just never seemed to materialize. Guess I’ll be a working sucker till retirement!

Anywho, on with the actual race report. Luck was with us all once again on the weather front. It was an absolutely stunningly gorgeous day for a race. I was glad that the gun was going off at 8:30am, as a later start would have just been painful in the heat and sun. So, as groggy as I was getting up (and slightly resentful), it was for the best. Also, the early start meant we had the rest of the day ahead of us, and plans had already shaped up insofar as after the race, we’d be loading up the kayaks and heading to Meech Lake for some awesome Kayaking. I got to the site a little late, and had to rush to get my T-zone set up, as well as get my timing chip and body marking done. Along the way, I bumped into my friends Nicholas and Christine Allen, who were doing the Olympic and Sprint Triathlon respectively. I seem to see them at all the events I do, like ARs, Spartan race, and now this! Too funny. Great to see them though, and Nicholas and I ended up sort of racing each other within the race, which was fun. After getting my final checks done, I headed to the beach to zip up the wetsuit and await the start of the race.

To refresh everyone’s memories, in an olympic tri, you first swim 1.5km, then hop on bikes for a 40km time trial, and cap it off with a 10km road run. Taken individually, those are all relatively straightforward races, but string them together in one race, and you can have a lot of fun and challenges on any single leg. For the swim, as mentioned, I haven’t swam in a long time. However, I always say swimming is more art than strength. If you have a good stroke, you’ll always finish strong. Although I’ve not swam much, the overall time wasn’t too bad. I finished the swim in 30:46, which is about 2 mins. slower than the last 2 times I raced, and 2 minutes faster than the first time ever I’ve swam it. In other words, it was average for me. I was 41st out of the water to head to the bikes. The actual swim? Well, boring I suppose. As usual, the excitement at the start is when all the people are clamouring to get their space, with arms and legs flailing, you unavoidably get hit. Nothing new there. I focused on keeping my pace and swimming straight. Had I done a better job, I would have been faster. However, I felt good at the exit, and was ready to tear it up on the bike course.

Now on to the 4-lap, 40km individual time trial bike portion. When I hit the road, there weren’t too many other souls out there yet. I managed a pretty quick transition, and passed a couple folks while in the transition. Good start. Hopped on the bike, tucked into my aero position, and started mashing the pedals. As usual, the bike was super-comfortable, and I got into a nice groove. I expected to be able to maintain a pretty decent clip, and sort of hoped my time would compare to other tris I’ve done. Turns out my legs were a bit slower though. Perhaps it was the hard 50k I’d logged 2 days before with Kev in Gatineau Park, or perhaps I’m just too used to my leisurely commute riding rather than hard racing. Either way, my average speed was around 33km/h for the 40k course. That’s about 2km/h slower than my best, but faster than the other two attempts. However, it was good enough to have the 32nd fastest bike split of the race. So again, I’d call that a solid performance, perhaps slightly better than average for me. That only leaves the run course.

Ahhh running, how I love to hate thee :-). My transition from biking to running seemed even smoother than the swim to bike. I racked my bike, threw on my running gear, and was back out on the course with a very quick turnaround. Again, I noted that I passed a couple folks that had come off the bike at about the same time as me. I settled pretty quickly into a steady pace, once again paying no attention to what my watch might tell me about pacing, and rather, just focusing on my stride and how I felt. I got down to the business of picking people out ahead of me, targeting, and ultimately passing them. After a little bit I saw my friend Nick up ahead. We had been pretty close through the whole race, but he had said the run would be his undoing. I resisted the urge to sprint towards him, and instead just kept my pace. There was a woman with me keeping me at a pretty good pace. I found out at the finish that she was actually the 1st female overall (due to my help, stay tuned!). Working together, we got closer and closer to Nick. He glanced back a few times, seeming to be just waiting for the pass. He said he could hear my breath getting closer. I finally passed him on the first half of the 2nd 5k loop.

Once I had passed him, I kept my pace steady, running along with Michelle and chatting a little with her. At a few hundred meters to go, she said “We have to catch her”. This was in reference to a tall figure up ahead of us. Seeing as I liked targets, I said “sure thing” and gradually picked up my pace, dragging Michelle along with me. The gap was getting closed painfully slowly, and I finally caught up to the other woman on the final climb into the finishing chute. I picked up my pace slightly at the finish, crossing the line just ahead of them, unsure which of the two crossed first. If you look at the results, you’ll see all 3 of us had a time of 2:29:34, but Michelle was just after me, than the other woman. She credited me for the win, as I had paced her perfectly in order to get the pass at the finish. I felt a bit bad for the other woman, but was also kinda happy to be part of a rivalry out there :-). My time of 46:09 for the run was good enough for 14th overall in the run, and sewed up 22nd overall for me in the race. Best I can recall is that at the end of the bike, I had been sitting at 40th overall, so I made up 18 spots on the run. Very respectable. I’m pretty sure I’ll be counting on a strong run at the Iron distance tri to make up for shortcomings in the water and possibly on the bike!

All in all, it was a good day out on the race course, and I felt great for the whole event. So good in fact, that after eating and cleaning up a bit, we loaded up the kayaks and went paddling for over 3 hours on Meech Lake. Our reward for the day? Well, from our kayaks, we spent 20 minutes at one point watching a mama bear and her two cubs from about 10m from the shore. It was pretty incredible. They were foraging, playing and just generally wandering around near the water. At one point, mama let me know I was getting too close by standing up and snorting and huffing a bit. That was enough to convince me to back off a bit. She looked surprisingly large when standing up! Luckily, we were pretty sure we could out-paddle a swimming bear. Best I can tell is that a black bear can swim up to 8km/hr, whereas in my boat, I can easily manage 10+ km/hr (faster if being chased by a bear I’m sure!). So to summarize the whole day: perfect! Great race, great paddle with Deanna, and great relaxing once all was said and done. Next up: a short adventure race with Deanna, including a video review for Get Out There.

A Little Urban Adventuring

Team on Boats

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard of the Amazing Race, and that most of your are familiar with adventure racing, and that you’ve perhaps also heard of City Chase, a race series that sort of (loosely) combines elements of both AR and the Amazing Race. In a word, they call City Chase an urban adventure challenge. Well this post will give you a taste of how the City Chase actually works, as Deanna and I recently competed in the Ottawa installment. Like the Spartan Race a few weeks back, I was taking part in the race to provide a video race review for Get Out There Magazine. If you’d like to see the video I put together (it’s kind of frantic), have a look at the YouTube video. I actually had no idea how the race would actually play out, as I only knew roughly what it was about, which is that you race around the city using public transit to complete ‘Chase Points’. First team of 2 that does 10 of them and returns to the finish wins. Plain and simple. Well, as we learned, it isn’t quite as straightforward as that. For our first time, we were actually pretty happy to finish in 172nd place in a time of 5hrs 26mins out of over 500 teams that started out. Besides the little video review I put together, you can also check out the photos that I snapped and posted on flickr. As I was focused on the video and racing, there aren’t too many I liked. When you’ve had a peek at those, pop on back and read about the race!

Okay, so we’ve established that in City Chase, there are Chase Points and you race around the city. You can only go by foot or public transit, which in the case of Ottawa means the O-Train or buses. Every participant was given a 1-day bus pass to use for that purpose. Being a Saturday though, I knew a lot of the routes would have limited bus runs, so Deanna and I did a lot of walking instead of waiting. Lucky for us, the weather on race day was absolutely gorgeous. Sunny skies and temps that would eventually climb to around 30 degrees. Hydration would be important over the course of the 6 hours. I should point out that the race has a hard cap. All teams must have crossed the finish line by the 6 hour mark to officially finish. This can be tricky with the public transit equation, and plays into strategy. Given that 40 or so teams ‘tied’ for 384th with a time of 6 hours even, I’m guessing they let that slide a bit. Amazingly, the top team finished in just over 3 hours! Preparation is the key, which leads me to the explanation of Chase Points.

After a group warm-up at city hall, and a race briefing, the Chase was on. We were told the Official Clue Sheet was available at Lisgar Field, meaning all 1100 racers would be bolting over there to get the information. The clue sheet outlines the Chase Points, and lays out the rules. In total, there were 31 possible Chase Points set in 4 groups. In the first 3 groups, you HAD to complete at least 2 of the chase points (these groups had 3, 4, and 4 CPs respectively), then choose 4 from the 4th group. I expected each clue would just tell you where to go and the nature of the challenge. Nope! It is actually a list of different puzzles, like cryptograms, plays on words, cryptic clues, etc. For example, our first CP we went to was called “Tinkle Toes” and the clue read: Bih-kuhm uh pruh-fesh-un-nl bawl-room dahn-ser aht wuhn uhv thee lee-ding dahns stoo-dee-ohs in ot-uh-wuh. Meet uhs aht wuhn huhn-drid and fif-tee-wuhn Chap-uhl Street. Obviously it was just a phonetic clue, so I got it quickly, but there were all sorts of other puzzles to unscramble.

Experienced teams took clue sheets and basically sat down with a map and smartphone. They worked at unscrambling the clues and trying to figure out where each of the challenges was, and tried to plot an efficient route between them that they could complete as quickly as possible in order to get back to the finish line quickly. Also, those keen on winning probably did CP #1, which was done in advance by raising at least $50 for Right to Play. Deanna and I were not quite as experienced, instead trying to figure out a nearby one we could start with. However, there were also 3 CPs which were awarding VIP line passes to the first 25 teams through, allowing teams to skip to the front of the line if they got to busy CP. I thought that might be a good idea, so with that in mind, we bee-lined for the dance studio to do Twinkle Toes. This was a matter of a jog through downtown to get to Rideau and Chapel. Luckily, we were amongst those first 25 teams, and the challenge, which had us do a dance routine, wasn’t too hard, and we were awarded our VIP pass. Happy with this, we set back out into the sun to get to our next CP, which we hadn’t decided on yet. We’d already burned up about 45 minutes for 1 CP!

To solve a couple of the clues, we had to get creative, first calling on Kevin to try and work on a crossword puzzle for us, then rummaging in a store recycle bin to get a Friday newspaper, which had a clue buried within it. While working on the puzzles, we headed back to the Ottawa U campus on foot, where one of the CPs was, and it was right up my alley! Put on by the Ottawa Orienteering Club, you were given a map of the campus indicating the location of 10 control points that you had to punch. I got to work on it right away, running from point to point with Deanna on my heels. We got all 10 controls in about 17 minutes, one of the fastest times of all the racers. Having completed only 2 CPs, we were starting to get nervous already, as we had 8 to go! We decided we’d need to actually do a little planning and strategizing. We now had 2 ‘optional’ CPs done, and needed all our mandatory ones. With that in mind, we solved a bunch of the clues and made a rough plan. We would head downtown where we could pick up 1 CP on Queen Street, 2 CPs on Bank Street, then head out to LeBreton for another CP. Grab a bus towards Westboro where we’d pick up 2 more CPs, then take a bus to the O-Train. From there, take train to Mooney’s Bay for our final 2 CPs before transiting back to the finish line. With a freshly-minted plan, we headed out on foot with purpose.

Our next CP had us at the Royal Oak at 188 Bank, where we had to each prepare a drink and serve to the judge. There was a huge line-up, but our VIP pass was used for maximum benefit here, allowing us to skip the line. Perfect! Sadly, there was no real alcohol in the drinks, and they weren’t something you’d want to sample, as it was dirty glasses and questionable ingredients. Too bad, as it was getting pretty darn hot. Deanna had one slight problem with her drink. Rather than reading ‘1/2 oz’ of Vodka, she tried pouring a 1/2 glass of vodka! The judges admired her strong drink mixing skills, but decided it might be best to try again :-). In spite of that, we were in and out quickly.

Further down the street at Bank and Gilmour, we grabbed a Blackberry from Rogers for the next challenge, which was to take 4 pictures (out of 6 possible clues) within 30 minutes and bring them back to the judges. This was another pretty quick task, which we completed lickety-split. We were now getting a bit more confident and had found our groove. There were lots of other teams out and about, all having a great time and shouting out to each other all through downtown. We now headed up to Queen Street to find the GoodLIfe fitness. Once there, we had to spend 7 minutes on spin bikes sweating it out as an instructor shouted instructions. If we weren’t totally hot from the sun, this workout put us WAY over the top. We finished the challenge and stepped back out totally drenched and looking for some relief.

Lucky for us, our next CP was just the ticket. We now made our way to the west end of downtown to find the whitewater practice area around LeBreton Flats, where inflatable kayaks awaited us. For this challenge, we had to grab a boat, and navigate the whitewater gates down the river for a bit before pulling out and carrying the boat back to the start. The water was a nice refreshing treat, even though we didn’t get to stay or swim for very long. However, the rocks and sand were absolutely scorching, causing both of us to burn our feet! Once again, we had a great run there, and were back on our way soon, this time heading for the transitway to grab a bus to Westboro. Destination? The Ottawa Gymnastics Centre for a super-fun CP where we got to do trampoline work, climb ropes, play on the rings, the pommel horse, balance beam, and the rings. The piece de resistance for us here was doing 5 cartwheels in a row, which anyone who knows Deanna might realize she wasn’t particularly good at those. However, under pressure, she nailed it!

Our reward for a job well done awaited just down the street at the CP called ‘The Mask’. This CP was located at a spa, and entailed me giving Deanna a lovely cucumber and peppermint facial. She had to wear the mask for 3 minutes. Once the time was up, I cleaned her up, and we had to take a ‘mystery shot’, which ended up being apple cider vinegar. YUCK! Luckily, it was watered down by the time we got to it, thanks to the many teams before us. With this CP done, we were left with only 2 more CPs, both of which were at Mooney’s Bay. A bus and the O-Train later, we were jogging to the site. First up was a puzzle CP where we had to assemble 6 puzzles of places in the world, and match the name of the place to each one after making the puzzle. The puzzles were pretty straightforward, and we quickly worked through them, also correctly matching the place names since I knew most of them from sight. Our only problem was the wind which had picked up and kept blowing our puzzle pieces away. Kind of frustrating, but what can you do?

Our very last CP was right up my alley as well. It involved paddling a kayak out to a buoy and back. However, it wasn’t THAT easy. The real challenge was that your teammate had to be seated on the front of the boat as you paddled. If you flipped, you had to start again. There were a range of boats, and one caught my eye. Fat and wide. Ultra stable. I told Deanna to just hop on the front and we’d get ‘er done quick. Sure enough, no problems. As we were out there, we saw another team trying the same, but they had picked a sleeker kayak, and didn’t fare well. In other words, they flipped! On our return I suggested they take our kayak. After all, we were all done and only had to get to the finish line now. Wrapping up was quick and painless, as we just had to take transport back to the Rideau Centre and walk over to City Hall. We’d had a great day and were plenty hot, so we were looking forward to finishing up. Hand in hand, we ran to the finish to complete the Challenge. Once there, they told us we were among the first 180 teams to finish, and directed to get a goodie bag.

Amongst the goodies? Two free beer tickets to use at the Hard Rock for the post-race party! Awesome! What a great way to finish the race. After hanging around for a little bit, we hit the market and the bar for beers. We sat with a few other racers and swapped stories. It was fun to hear about some of the other CPs that we didn’t get to try, including one where you had to let a tarantula or snake crawl all over you! The bar was totally full now, as more and more teams finished off and made their way here. We only stayed a little bit, as we’d also decided to head over to Zak’s for milkshakes, then join Dave and Meghan at Hintonburger for some delicious supper. All in all, a really fun way to spend a summer day with Deanna, and getting to show her a bit more about the city she now calls home. Can’t say for certain, but I can see us doing it again next year as well. Next time I’m sure we’ll approach it even more strategically and try to better our last time :-). Till that time, have fun, and hope you’re all enjoying the fine weather as well! Ciao.

Making the Best of the Season

Well hello there everyone! Seeing as I’ve finally gotten caught up on all my race reports for the past little while, I guess I can take the time to write up a post on something other than hard physical activity. Let’s start with a little question for everyone. What is the single best thing about winters in the Ottawa / Gatineau Region? Well, I’d say just the simple fact that we have them! Yup, there are so many fun things that we can do even when the temperature drops and the white stuff flies around. With that in mind, I present to you this blog post, which is meant to share a few of the things that Deanna and I have been up to over the past couple months of winter wonderland weather. Between Gatineau Park, weekend guests and the yearly Winterlude, we’ve been outside quite a bit.To see a bunch of pictures from our various winter outings, check out some of the pictures that I’ve posted to flickr. For more of the gory details, just read on my friends!

To put this post in perspective, I should mention that Deanna is not really used to cold and/or snow. It was one of her apprehensive moments when taking the plunge and moving in with me. In order to properly get her ready, I warned her that there would be some really cold days and lots of snow. However, those things just make a nice hot chocolate and/or glass of wine by the fire that much better, right? Also, we kitted her out with a really nice poofy down jacket and heavy mitts before she even moved here. Once she arrived, we also got her into a nice big pair of stomping boots. And for Christmas? Some long johns and merino wool socks of course. Outside of the weather stuff though, I also told her there was tons of fun stuff to do, and it was my personal mission to show her the positive side of winter.

For the most part, this winter has managed to deliver all the right ingredients, without being overly insane. Low snowfall for the first while, mixed with some really cold periods, then warmer periods. Then a nice big dump of snow, and of course, very agreeable weather for Winterlude (well until the final weekend, but that’s okay, we still got out lots). As I was planning to do the Mad Trapper snowshoe races, the Gatineau Loppet, and the Winterlude Tri, I knew that I’d want to get out for skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. Lucky for me, Deanna is always keen to try new things and join me outside.

Since the new year, we’ve managed to get out on the canal several times, as well as a few times on an oval track by Lac Leamy. We’ve also been out skiing many times, especially since Deanna really got into and bought her own full set of gear. As for snowshoeing, we’ve been out a few times as well, both here at Lac Leamy as well as out at the Ark during and after Mad Trapper races. Every time we’ve gone out to do stuff, I caught Deanna smiling many times, and am pretty sure she’ll now admit to not hating winter tooo much!

Besides the normal outings we’ve been enjoying, we even got to both head out and try something pretty new. Deanna had been out once, but me? Never? What am I talking about? Snowboarding! Yup, ActiveSteve tried something new. It was humbling (and frustrating) to pretty much be a complete novice at something. Things were made all the more difficult because the day before, I’d raced the 51km Gatineau Loppet, which had me feeling pretty much like I do after a marathon. Muscle control was lacking, and pain was prevalent. However, I stuck to it for almost 6 hours, including our instruction with a good teacher. I pushed myself to improve and get the right technique, and am pretty sure that with practice (and a couple more outings), I’ll get it! It pervaded my brain so much that for the next 24 hours, I dreamt about it, and kept visualizing what I had been taught. Deanna was equally challenged with this, as the only other time she went, it wasn’t a true ‘mountain’ experience in her mind. Edelweiss was much bigger than she expected. Trust me, we were both equally sore for the next couple days 🙂

Some of the most fun we’ve had was also sharing winter with family and friends. Deanna couldn’t wait to get out and do stuff with her sister when she visited. So on that weekend, we did the canal skating thing, and also went for a nice cross-country ski, where Deanna was already improving to the point that she would give pointers to her sister. It was great. A few weeks later, another couple friends from Toronto came to visit, and once again, we found ourselves skating and skiing. We’d hoped to go for a snowshoe as well, but in the end, it was too much to cram into 2 days!

However, while the last friends, Karen and David, were in town, it was also the start to Winterlude! On arrival, we headed to the Museum of Civilization for the kick-off celebrations. It was amazing. The fireworks were probably the best we’d ever seen! And that included both Canada Day this year AND the fireworks competition. We couldn’t believe how long they went on for, and the great music to accompany. Afterwards, we wandered the snowy venue with hundreds of others. The next day, it was off to check out the Snowflake Kingdom, where we went for a sleighride (before the horses went crazy!), and did the big snow slides. Also, we checked out the amazing Ice Sculptures in progress. The following weekend, we returned to look at them again, under the coloured lights. As always, the work was dazzling and amazing!

A few of the other things that make winter special and memorable are things like walks in the snow and playing in the backyard with Jonah. Also, just generally strolling in the winter wonderland can be pretty special. And what wintery active day is complete without a nice cheese fondue? We’ve had several since the start of the new year. This was made especially nice by the fact that my dad bought us a nice new set as a ‘housewarming’ gift for Christmas. Yum!

So there you have it folks! A little story about the fun of winter. I know others like Kev working on backyard rinks and the like. Although it sounds like a lot of work, I know he also loves that stuff. Bottom line is that I hope you are all making the most of the winter we are lucky enough to have! It isn’t all that bad, right? Tomorrow I’m off to my final winter race of the season, then it’s time to actually start thinking about spring / summer training. Yikes! Bye for now!