Friday, 28 August 2015

Group Ride Addict

Last year most of my rides were solo rides.  When I wasn't solo, it was usually a leisure ride with my spouse.  In my mind, cycling was a very solitary activity.  Living in the sticks means you don't often see cyclists, familiar or not.

This year I joined a local club and got a taste for riding in groups.  I went from enjoying it, to becoming an addict.  That last year of riding almost seems alien to me now.  The majority of my rides this year have all been with others, anywhere from 2 or 3 to 20.

At first it was the rider development night that got me hooked.  This is a slower paced ride where new and experienced cyclists can mingle.  It got me up and running on group etiquette, group technique and helped build my endurance and stamina  Below is a time lapse video from one of my club's development nights.

Being in a group literally means safety in numbers.  As a lone cyclist, you might be unnoticed by a motor vehicle.  But a pack of cyclists is very noticeable.  While the majority of motor vehicles sharing the road are very courteous, I've noticed I am less likely to get harassed in a group.

When things go wrong, it helps to have supportive people around.  You might be short a leer or a tube, or need a spoke wrench or a chain breaker, there's usually someone who can loan you something.  Or if you're inexperienced at a road side repair, there's usually someone who can show you how it's done.

Speed and endurance play a factor here too.  A group that is drafting is going to be able to go both faster and further than the individuals in that group could go on their own.  A weaker rider can easily be taken along in a group with a higher pace if they are able to draft the faster riders.  Eventually those fast rides become more manageable, next thing you know you are taking your turn pulling up front.

The social aspect is pretty awesome.  It's been said many times that "Cycling is the new golf."  I completely understand that phrase now.  When riding in a group, positions change often and you'll find yourself riding next to someone new quite often.  So you get to chatting.  Then the group order will naturally change; before you know it you've just talked to 15 different people!  Riding together tends to help people bond quickly.  I can see why, when every ride is a story and the suffering is a shared experience.  You can't beat that for networking!

Nowadays I ride various paces and distances but I'm almost always in a group.  I still ride solo but it's gone from every ride to once every week or three.  As a friend of mine would say, group rides are ggrreeaatt!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Ottawa Gran Fondo 2015 Part Three: Epilogue

(Continued from Part Two)

Sweaty, exhausted, sun-burnt, victorious.  Those are the words that remind me of what crossing the finish line was.  My exhilaration for the finish line was matched by my anticipation for food and a cold beer!  After eating nothing but gels, fruit bars, bagels and the occasional banana, I was looking forward to something real, tasty and not on the upper ranges of the glycemic index!!

That being said, I was really happy I stuck to the nutritional plan that was outlined for me.  Sticking to only high glycemic products (gels, sports drinks on me; bagels, bananas and Fruit2 bars at aid stations) really helped with my digestion and helped keep my energy up.  Sticking to sports drinks instead of water ensured I had enough electrolytes; though in the future I might get some electrolyte tablets for water when I need a "Gator-break" (break from Gatorade).

After ten minutes of digging through the car I found my meal ticket and headed back to the canteen area.  After stocking up a big meal, a few soft drinks, a water and a cold brew from Clocktower Pub, I met up with my small group.  Everyone chatted in french.  I struggled to keep up but I felt like I had to try; after all, everyone spoke in english to me for the last several hours.  I think I would have had an easier time but I was just so beat.  But it was good to just sit and enjoy some time with people who shared the struggle and came through it with me.  I was really thankful to have found some great people to survive the ride with.

I'd also like to mention how thankful I am to have found a local cycling club who was so supportive of my endeavor.  I got great tips advice on how to ride in both every-day riding and the Gran Fondo itself.  Two riders in particular come to mind (TB & GB) for always having me along in rides and always pushing and testing my limits.  I feel like such a strong rider now as a result and don't think I could have managed the Gran Fondo without their help!

Most of all I'm thankful for my wife's support.  She believed in me so strongly and let me know every day.  She never complained about me training incessantly even though I slacked in my chores a bit (sometimes quite a bit).  This of course in addition to her being both hot and awesome.  I love her very much & I am a very lucky man!

It's not all cheers and good news though.  I am really disappointed with Wahoo Fitness.  In addition to the speed/cadence sensor dying, it also lost all data from my ride.  The app crashed when I was trying to save after the ride.

When I contacted Wahoo Fitness afterwards, I was told sorry but you lost your data!  I'm not sure if "sorry" as in "sorry for your lost data" or "sorry you're bugging me."  I honestly felt like I got the brush off from their support.  I was told my situation was unique and they had no data for me.  When I mentioned I had sent in lots of crash dumps, they said they would forward my message to the developers.  When I asked for possible causes (so I could avoid crashes in the future) I was basically told there was no problem.  When I tried to push further and offered my free time to help them diagnose the problem, they just closed the ticket.  For a company that prides themselves on fitness data they certainly take a flippant attitude for it.  Can't say I'm impressed with their product!  If you are shopping for a bike computer and you're serious about fitness data, save yourself some anguish and just get a Garmin!

All in all, I'm really glad I signed up for the Gran Fondo.  I'm also really glad I took it seriously and trained up for the distance!  I'm already on the lookout for more Gran Fondos and long rides.  In addition to joining long club rides, I'd like to try out this year's Thousand Islands Gran Fondo.  Next year in addition to the Ottawa Gran Fondo, I was looking at trying out the Tremblant Gran Fondo and the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Ottawa Gran Fondo 2015 Part Two: The Ride

(See Part One here)

So on race day I helped myself to a very carb rich breakfast in preparation of the event.  I also had a few "carb load" low GI bars to eat about an hour before the actual ride.  Between all this and the heavy carb meal from the night before, I was almost vibrating with energy.

While going through some pre-checks I discovered my Wahoo speed/cadence sensor had stopped working.  Not sure if it was malfunction or a battery issue but I was not impressed.  So I enabled GPS on my phone for speed; not a great option if you were trying to set the pace as the speed is delayed and jumps around a lot.  But since this was the 11th hour I didn't have much of a choice.

For those of us on the "Gran Fondo" distance (180 km), riders would leave in two waves.  I was under the impression that Group A was fast and Group B would be slower; but neither would be crazy fast.  I also figured if I got dropped by Group A, I could always get picked up by group B.

At this point I am reminded of a famous quote from a Robbie Burns poem, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."

I left as one of the lead riders in Group A.  Speed built up on the flats in the 35-45 km/h range.  I was behind a few riders so it wasn't impossible to keep up, but I was definitely pushing my heart rate in the higher part of my anaerobic range.  Then the first timed section came up, which included a decent size hill.  That's where I got dropped like a rock while everyone rocketed past me.

No worries, there were other stragglers in Group A.  I managed to snag a wheel and keep up with them.  Then we ran into another hill.  Dropped.  Then Group B came along, which was maintaining the same pace as Group A.  Another hill, I got dropped again.  Passed two aid stations but still was self-sufficient so I skipped them.  Occasionally I would run into other stragglers and hitch a ride.

One guy I met up with was struggling with hills too.  He gave a good effort but didn't seem to have any group experience.  He didn't point out obstacles or hazards, would ride aero bars while pulling and broke pace rocketing down hills at top speed.  Other riders seemed to be offended by it and would break off from our tiny group.  Eventually we parted ways at an aid station.  I saw him a few times later and I sincerely hope he was able to complete his ride.

In retrospect it made me appreciate all the group ride training I had gotten from my local club.  I might get dropped because I was slow on hills but I'd never get dropped because people were unhappy with my behaviour.

For a little while I rode solo, then caught the wheel of a rider on the MediaFondo (100 km) route.  I could tell as we were all easily identified by coloured bracelets.  We never exchanged a word; in fact I never saw his face.  I just caught his rear wheel and followed him for a while.  I remember he had a sticker on his back that said "In memory of Mum," which was very touching.  He let up a bit on the hills but eventually we hit a big incline and I got dropped again.

After another brief solo ride period, another group of 4-5 riders caught up and invited me to hitch on, which I did for a small period of time.  They needed to hit the fourth aid station and by that point, so did I; I could have kept going but wanted a bio break and to re-apply sunscreen.  I also wanted some cold water and something that didn't taste like gel.  I took a bit longer and they headed off.

When I was ready to depart I rode on solo again for a while.  Shortly afterwards I ran into a husband/wife team riding alone.  I asked if I could hitch a ride and they were happy to have me along.  We hit a hill... and we all maintained the same pace!  They both had extremely good group etiquette as well, not only pacing well but even stated change in position (saying "UP!" each time they stood on the pedals) and a holding the bottle out clearly any time they were going to drink.  While they were francophones they spoke in english for my benefit (my french comprehension is so-so but terrible while exercising).

After riding for a bit we introduced ourselves; my fellow riders were Carl and Marie.  There were two others who would ride ahead and drop back around us (I can't remember their names now) but this was the group I ended up staying with for the remainder of the route.  We took turns pulling in the wind and kept a pretty good pace the entire ride.

As my odometer began to climb I noticed I kept getting closer to the magic number of 125 km.  That was the longest I had ever been on a bicycle for a consecutive ride.  Any distance beyond that officially qualified as my "longest ride".  My excitement built as I got closer and closer... that's when the worst happened.

I pulled over to the side of the road to discover that my front derailleur had malfunctioned.  The bracket that contains the chain had literally snapped in two different spots.  I tried to use duct tape to fix it but it was apparent that there was nothing I could do to get going.  My companions came back for me to help and asked me if I needed to call in for a ride, with crestfallen looks on their faces.  I knew at that point I had three options.  One, give up.  Two, call the roving repair station and hope to hell that they somehow had a front derailleur I could use.  Or three....

..... I could just keep on riding with just the small chain ring up front.

I remembered a quote we like to use in our local club, "Suck it up, buttercup!"  It would be harder but I knew I could do it.  When you think about it, I really needed the small chain ring most of all for climbing.  I knew I could go downhill fast on mass alone; for the harder parts I knew I could employ a fast cadence to keep up.  I gave my riding companions a big smile while telling them what my intent was.  So we headed off again.  Each consecutive kilometer thereafter was my new long distance record and I wasn't going to get held up by a bum derailleur.

Even without problems, a long distance starts to take its toll.  I had started feeling a bit sore around the 80 km mark but was feeling a second wind by the time we hit around 110 km.  After needing to stop at the 125 km mark, I was a bit sore again until I caught my third wind.  But by the time 140 km rolled around, I was really feeling sore.  I stood up a lot just to get some blood circulation in my rear end and ended up stretching my legs and back a lot while riding.  My hands were buzzing from the long distance and some of the rougher roads we traversed.

Coasting down hills was normally a good break for me.  At this point of the ride it was more of a hindrance than anything else.  After coasting downhill for a good stretch, my legs felt sore when I began spinning again.  The only way to keep them fresh was to continue spinning my legs, even when I didn't need to.

At some point another group caught up to us and asked us if we had lost an iPhone.  After saying no, I put on an impish grin and said, "Wait, is it an iPhone 5?  Upgrade time!" and everyone had a good laugh.

While enduring the growing pain and exhaustion I noticed another milestone pop up on my odometer.  One hundred and sixty kilometers, or as people south of the border know it, 100 miles.  It was my very first imperial century distance.  Around that time we ran into the second last aid station.  We stopped to stretch, scarf down more food and fill our bottles with sports drinks and water.  The volunteers manning the station told us there was "only one little hill left" and that we were almost at the finish line.

We discovered afterwards there really was only one little hill left... because the rest were monstrous!

A few kilometers later, my companions would encourage everyone by saying how much distance was left in french and english.  I remember when they said, "Dix kilometres!  Just ten kilometers!" because it was the start of the longest ten kilometers of my life. 

Our group continued to count down the kilometers but it felt like we were no closer to completion.  We were still riding on rural roads even when two kilometers away.  But right around the last kilometer we found ourselves in Kanata on urban roads and just moments away from the finish line.

As we pulled up on Innovation Drive in Kanata, other riders began clapping and giving us the thumb's up.  Volunteers were ringing bells and chimes and spectators were clapping as we crossed the finish line.  As I passed that line I felt a surge of pride in myself and a feeling of great accomplishment.  At that moment I felt like I knew what I was made of,

Continued in Part 3, the prologue.