Winning and Touring

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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!

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