My trusty steed of 17 years was acting funny in the shifters the other day so I took it into the shop. I was on my way to my swim workout when my mechanic sent me a message:
The front derailleur mount tab thing had split and was about ready to let the derailleur just fall off my bike. That explained why I was having trouble shifting into my big ring all of a sudden.
There was some consideration of whether it could be welded somehow or ground down and replaced by a clamp style derailleur, but at the end of the day it was just another step in a downward spiral that had been going on for a while. The bike was showing its age. It was getting less and less worth it to invest repair money in. I had been planning on getting a new ride next year; this just moved up the timetable.
I talked over options and was eventually convinced to test ride an Orbea Terra, which is technically a cross bike kind of, but has road bike geometry. So it’s a road bike you can put wider tires on. Which is a big advantage where I live because the roads aren’t great, and being able to ride on gravel opens up a lot more options.
I was concerned that it might be a slower solution. I am not objectively that concerned with speed but I didn’t want to feel like I was downgrading my ride, or riding a mountain bike.
I took the bike out for a spin of about 20 miles, with about 1600 ft of elevation, and was pleasantly surprised by the results. My average was great, easily comparable to my old road bike, if not faster, and I hit a max speed of 47 mph, which was perhaps my fastest descent all year — and I barely noticed.
The wide tires make for a really comfortable, stable ride, but don’t seem to sacrifice much speed at all, surprisingly. And it’s a carbon frame, so climbing felt light and strong. The gearing is different and will take some getting used to but I already like it a lot. I felt fast on the hills, both up and down.
Best of all, come race time I can put 25mm tires on it and I’ll be good to go.
I had been feeling pretty sad about losing my old friend. But things are looking up. And bonus points: I think my old ride should still be useful as an indoor trainer bike.
I’ve started an experiment of recording training journal diaries for each day of my current training plan. I don’t know yet whether I’m going to do anything with them. But it’s a quick way to get a certain kind of thought out, often much more easily than typing. Right now I’m thinking I’ll stick to it for a week and then get a second opinion on whether they should go public.
We have started looking ahead to summer planning for next year already, and that is bringing my mind around to figuring out a race schedule. This year was learning about triathlon and doing 3 sprints, to see if I liked it. Next year is going to be something more. Whether that means Olympic or bigger challenges, I’m not yet sure. I’m hoping it’s something that coaching can help me figure out in the coming weeks.
My main concern is avoiding burnout. I want to find the right trajectory that will keep me interested and motivated over the long term, and won’t leave me susceptible to massive post-event backsliding like I’ve experienced in the future.
Today I rode on wet roads and my bike looked like I went trail riding by the time I was finished.
After a few weeks of mental floundering following my third triathlon, I decided to check out the help that a qualified coach could provide me. I don’t know how to get from where I am to where I want to be, without doing a ton of research and workout planning. I’d rather spend it training, and learn from someone as I go.
I recently discovered the Crushing Iron podcast and have been addicted ever since, so I decided to sign up with Coach Robbie to get his Q4 training plan and an add-on trial period of coaching. If it’s ultimately not for me, I know I will at least gain a ton of knowledge from the experience.
The 12-week plan begins tomorrow. Here goes nothin!
After falling behind on posting, I have been attempting to write two posts every time I write a post and to catch up to the present day. It’s clear that it’s never going to happen, though, so I need to revise my strategy. I don’t need the extraneous, self-generated pressure of feeling like I need to archive every significant workout I do in written words. So I’m going to jump straight ahead in time to my third triathlon, which took place on September 1st, and then just start posting in the present tense again. And if I feel like going back to recount an experience I can, but I’m not going to try to catch them all up. Just keep moving forward.
So, without further ado, here’s my race report for triathlon #3!
I sort of built my season targeting this as my ‘big race,’ even though it wasn’t all that different from the first two I did in all practical terms. I traveled to Ottawa to do this race (had friends to stay with) so it felt like a more exotic and exciting way to do a race. So it was a goal race for me in terms of being a culminating event of my season.
I haven’t done many triathlons yet, so I wasn’t entirely sure if my judgment was off or not, but my first impression of the transition routes was that they were terrible. They seemed to be really far to go, particularly for a sprint, and through some ungainly terrain. I wasn’t looking forward to running up a sizable hill from the beach, barefoot, on an unswept asphalt bike path. I also wasn’t looking forward to running super far in bike cleats — including up and down some small hills, across a football field and along a dirt footpath into a gully (I bike in socks, so I couldn’t do the shoes-clipped-in-already method; might be something for me to work on in the off season) But maybe I had just been spoiled at my other events and this was normal. I didn’t really have the experience to know. And anyway, there was nothing to be done but make the best of it. The transition area was in the middle of an Olympic-sized running track, which was fenced all around. Athletes could only enter from one end, so I had to walk halfway around to get in. Security was tight on seeing numbers and matching bike tags. God help you if you forgot anything. I appreciated the care taken to ensure people’s bikes were protected but I think the entrance could have been closer to the other side of things. I ended up having to sprint from the transition area to the beach in order to make the race announcements. My fault for not arriving early enough I guess, but I didn’t realize how long it would take to get everywhere.
The swim was pretty similar to the other two I had done, which is to say I don’t think there was anything too exceptional about it. It was in the Rideau Canal, which technically has a current, but I didn’t notice much. The water was a comfortable temperature, but quite weedy and murky. I was aiming to simply stay relaxed and find my own rhythm, and I was able to do that for the most part. Only got kicked a couple of times, which was an improvement over my other races so far. The guy who did the race announcements high-fived everyone as they got out of the water.
I left the beach and ran for the track. As expected, it turned out to be an effort. I started on the asphalt but then started running on the grass, as my feet were hurting. I was a little nervous about what might be hiding in the grass to poke my bare feet (rocks? snakes? tiny Canadian leprechauns?) but I didn’t end up stepping on anything. I felt more winded by the time I got to my bike than I had when I exited the water. I got my stuff on without trouble and headed out with my bike. First out of the track area, then across a football field, down a forest path, down and up a gully, across a road and finally to the mount line.
Cycling is my strongest discipline and the one I look forward to the most. I knew my biggest challenge here would be pacing. The course was virtually flat, which was a disadvantage for me because I’m a Clydesdale and I get a lot of benefit from the downhills. With no hills to speak of, it was entirely up to my legs without much of a gravity assist. I paid attention to my heart and breathing, trying to keep things steady and not going overboard, while aiming for my mph average. I thought it went pretty well. I wasn’t breathing very hard for most of the 3 loops, and only really started to feel it at the end of the 3rd. I also caught a bunch of people, some even from the first swim wave that went out 5 minutes before mine, so I felt I was doing ok. I had been nervous about losing count of my laps, but they had people announcing your name and what lap you were on, which was awesome. It was also cool to see all the different racers on the same course, because it was a looped route. The iron distance folks were doing 9 laps to my 3. I nailed my average speed goal. Once I hit the dismount line, things got awful.
Running after the bike is not comfortable, as we all know. For me, this was way worse because I had to traverse the same off-road route back to the track, in cleats, with jelly legs. I tried to run, but I mostly couldn’t and had to walk. My calves started seizing when I tried to run on elevation in my biking shoes, and having had a calf injury earlier in the season, I wasn’t willing to risk hurting myself. So I walked it in.
My watch failed on the run – just wouldn’t work for me at all, so I had no idea of my current pace. That was frustrating. I felt pretty awful, which I have come to expect for the first mile or so. Usually it evens out and I find my stride, and things feel better after that. Not so today. I kept it going but I was riding the struggle bus the whole way. I felt underhydrated, especially in the sunny sections. The last mile was a mental battle. I ended up only about :15 off my goal pace, so it turned out it wasn’t as bad as it felt.
I had passed a couple of other Clydesdales (I could tell from body marking) and none had passed me, and I didn’t see anyone my age pass me, so I had suspicions that I did relatively well in the rankings. When the results were posted, I saw that I had won the Clydesdale category! I checked to see where I would be in my age group, had I picked that option, and I would have been second! I was the 17th male, and 20th overall out of 115. They were by far my best results, so it turned out it felt hard for a good reason. I got a ‘gold champion’ lanyard to add to my finisher’s medal and other race swag.
The race was organized pretty professionally and seemed to be run well; my only complaints were that the transitions were so challenging. It seemed like they were expecting more people – there were lots of empty racks and a ton of space on the field. Maybe a low year for them.
I’m not doing any more triathlons this season, but I’m excited to continue training and to work toward Olympic distance next year. I don’t really have any idea how to make that leap, but I’m motivated to find out!
This only barely qualifies as a brick, but I did technically ride a bike and then go for a run, so I’m counting it.
The family and I loaded up the car with all of our bikes, all four of ‘em, and headed to a nearby bike path. Our kids are still learning how to ride, so the flat, protected area was perfect for them.
We saw some amusing sights along the way, including a goat corral where goats were being used to help eliminate some poison ivy. Apparently they love the stuff.
As it turns out, their names are Ruth, Bader and Ginsburg. Not even kidding.
After we got home, I went out for a longer run, even longer than my run earlier in the week. I had already begun to think past my third triathlon to next season. I knew I would have to start extending the time I spent on the roads, both in my shoes and on the wheels. No time like the present to start that process, I figured. I had a couple of weeks until triathlon #3 so I wasn’t too worried that I would affect that performance.
A frustrating thing was that my Fitbit Ionic crashed on me during this run, so I wasn’t able to record the GPS data or heart rate, and had to manually calculate my pace after the fact based on the times that I left and returned, and by knowing the distance of the route using Strava.
5.20 mi Distance
That was really a bummer because the stats help motivate me, and this was the longest run I’d done so far in this training program. I wanted the numbers and the route, as a milestone entry in my log. But I had to settle for a manual entry.
I don’t quite have enough evidence yet to fully substantiate this with data, but anecdotally I feel like I always have a really good training week after I do a race. This week, for certain, was pretty huge.
I took the day after the race off, then swam for 18 minutes the next day, which was a longer swim time for me at that point. Then the next day I ran 4 miles, much farther than I had been doing on most of my other runs. I hadn’t run that far in about 9 weeks. When I finished, I felt like it wasn’t enough.
The next day I still felt fired up, so I went out to tackle a ride I’d been eyeing for a long time, wondering if I’d actually be able to do it with any measure of performance. It was about 32 miles, and according to Strava included 3 category 4 climbs and one category 3 climb. I was feeling really good about my climbing legs, particularly after the second triathlon, so I decided to give it a go.
The biggest climb came early, starting at about mile 4. I cranked my way up, feeling the heat and sun but not getting beaten down by it. I wasn’t going fast but I wasn’t slowing down, either.
I was grinding it out about a mile from the summit when I realized that I was in my middle ring on the front, despite thinking for a long time at that point that I was in my small ring. That was frustrating. I could have been spinning a lot easier and using a lot less energy for nearly the same speed, had I only been paying attention to my riding. On the other hand, it was also a relief. I had gears I didn’t know I still had, and the rest of the climb was made significantly easier.
The extra effort I put in by grinding the bigger gears ended up taking a lot out of me. When I got to the final set of climbs near the end of the ride, I was pretty pooped. I wasn’t down for the count, though, and finished out the ride feeling pretty good about it overall.
There’s nothing quite like a good climb to teach you some lessons.
It was a day to learn a lesson about mental focus, and also a day to learn about my own capabilities on a climb. I really hadn’t had a lot of confidence I could do the climb at all; as it turned out, I could do it with more effort than was even necessary.
My second sprint triathlon was a solo endeavor. The family was tied up doing other things, and the race was about an hour and a half from home, so I didn’t have anyone coming out to see me race.
I was kind of okay with that, for this one. So much of triathlon training is done in isolation, and my plan was to look at this race as a hard training session for my 3rd race at the end of the summer. so it kind of fit.
I prepped my gear at home, wandering about in the same fog that settled over me the day before the first race. I felt incredibly tired, as if my body knew what was coming and was trying to get all the rest it could beforehand. It probably was.
The drive down was fantastic, taking me though the mountains on some roads I’d never seen before. The race was taking place at a state park with a campground, so I had reserved myself one of the very last tent sites and borrowed a backpacking tent from a friend (our family tent was too large for me to want to deal with). I planned to head down in the late afternoon, set up camp, drive the course, get some dinner and have a relaxing, solitary night camping outdoors. When I woke up, I’d already be at the race site.
That’s pretty much how it went, too. I set up camp without trouble, then was able to drive the bike course (which included the run course), pulling back into the campground just as it was getting dark. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found – it was a 14-mile loop that was downhill or flat for the first 75% of the ride. There was one significant climb, but it wasn’t anything I was afraid of, having done a lot of climbing in my training over the summer. Then a flat run into T2. The run was on the same course, with some slight rolling hills.
I picked up dinner at the local store, as well as some fuel for the next morning, and after a small fire at my campsite and a few minutes reading, I went to bed.
The next morning I woke up feeling pretty good. I had slept well, which was good considering the extra variables that camping can potentially throw at you. After my morning routine, I suited up, got my transition gear on my back (in a backpack this time!) and rolled over to check-in.
The scene for the swim was amazing. I couldn’t imagine a much more beautiful place to do a swim.
After I got set up in the transition area, which was quite crowded, I wandered around the beach playing the “age game.” Everyone had their ages put on their calves at body marking, so I would look at a person and mentally guess their age, then look at their calf to see how close I was. It was awesome to see so many people, particularly older people, in amazing shape. And plenty of others working hard on it. That’s one thing I’ve found about going to these events – the atmosphere is pretty inspiring. It always feels like a pretty good crowd to be hanging out in.
600 yd Distance
The swim was a wave start from the beach. It proved to be a much better swim than my first race, in terms of the crowd. The swimmers spread out quicker and I wasn’t really fighting anyone for space the whole way. There were people close enough to me that I could have drafted if I had that skill in my playbook, but as of this point I’m still learning how to just get the swim done, so I just focused on what I was doing and tried to keep my rhythm. I came out of the water feeling less tired than I did during my first triathlon, and felt ready for the bike.
The transition run was short, just up the grassy lawn from the beach. I had no trouble getting into the area and locating my machine.
13.94 mi Distance
39:50 Moving Time
621 ft Elevation
Avg Speed 21.0 mi/hr
Max Speed 40.7 mi/hr
As expected, the ride was a blast. I was able to keep a pretty high speed up for most of it, especially down a couple of big hills where my weight went to work for me. I passed a bunch of people without even really trying, letting gravity and inertia do a lot of the effort, and at the halfway mark I still felt very fresh and prepared to attack the hill.
I kept it steady on the climb, focusing mostly on my cadence and trying to keep my spin rate up. I didn’t want to sprint it, but I didn’t want to go too easy, either. I felt like I hit the right mark, especially as I caught a couple of people in my age group on the way. One or two superstars with full aero gear passed me on their way to the second lap of the Olympic distance course. I did my best to remind my brain that they were not my competitors; nobody was, in fact. Just myself.
I crested the hill and then cruised the last two or so miles on the flats around the back side of the lake back to the transition area. No troubles again on transition; just racked my bike, switched my shoes and headed out.
3.10 mi Distance
I was able to shake the jelly legs at about a mile, and then felt like I had my feet back under me. I found that the small climbs and descents on the run course really helped; working against a little elevation seemed to clear out the dead feelings somehow. I did get passed by a few people I had caught on the bike, but I was expecting that, knowing that running is probably my weakest discipline. I kept at it and was able to finish feeling pretty strong. For my current state of training, my final pace was really fast.
Results were posted live on a screen next to the transition area, so it wasn’t long before I was able to see how I did. I was expecting to see something like my first race, but was pleasantly surprised to see my name considerably higher in the standings – with my overall time of
1:23:52.5, I finished 4th in my age group, and 26th overall out of 166! Later, the results sheet was revised to remove the top 5 finishers out of their respective age categories, leaving me 2nd in my age group! My transition times improved over my first race, at 2:14 and 1:25. The results also confirmed my internal convictions that the bike is my jam, especially when there are downhills: I had the 12th fastest bike ride of the day.
After picking up my race shirt and watching some more folks finish, I went back to pack up my campsite and drive home. I felt satisfied and very happy with what I had accomplished. I was already looking forward to the next one.
While I was visiting the friends I would be staying with when I did my third triathlon, in addition to scouting that route I also did a ride in Gatineau Park, which is a protected park area just outside of Ottawa, on the Quebec side of the border from Ontario. I guess it would be something akin to a state or national park here in the USA. The place is pretty amazing; it’s a huge area that contains 63 lakes and countless miles of trails, including bike lanes, asphalt bike paths and mountain bike trails.
I put Strava’s route builder to the test and found myself what appeared to be a nice figure-8 loop through the lower part of the park, passing by a few lakes and other points of interest. I didn’t have cell service in the wild, so I’d be relying on Strava on my phone entirely to tell me where to go.
The entrance to the park was about a half hour’s drive away. I drove for about 25 minutes before I realized I’d forgotten my helmet. I had to turn back, pick it up, and do it all again. That was pretty frustrating, but I tried to put it out of my mind and salvage the day.
It wasn’t difficult to do. Gatineau Park is beautiful, and ideally designed for cyclists. There are wide, groomed shoulders almost everywhere, barricaded bike lanes and they even shut down car traffic on Sundays so that bikers can be completely unhindered.
Things went great for the first half of the ride. The weather was slightly rainy, but it wasn’t too cold – just enough to keep me cool as I pedaled the climbs. It was a great feeling of being out in unexplored territory (for me), on great cycling terrain where I could just go as I pleased. With my second triathlon coming up on the weekend, I didn’t ride too hard, just got my legs moving and tried to keep things steady.
Eventually, the road I was on started to deteriorate. Most of the roads had been in great shape so I wasn’t worried; I was coming up on an intersection with a more major thoroughfare soon, so I figured it would improve.
It did not.
In fact, the road just straight up disappeared. It stopped entirely, at a wall of trees. There was no intersection, just a dead end. I peered ahead carefully and saw that there was a trail, and a thinning in the vegetation that implied that maybe it had once before been a road, at least an unimproved one. I knew I was close to the main road I was headed for, so I decided to walk my bike and check it out.
The path developed only slightly into a muddy track. It didn’t look like it was going to get better anytime soon. Sure enough, before long I found myself just standing in the middle of a swampy forest, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and wondering what the heck to do.
I had no cell service so I didn’t know where to go if I were to turn back, except to go exactly the way back that I had come. I didn’t really want to do that; I wanted to see more of the park. My 23c tires weren’t going to make it through the underbrush though, that much was clear. My phone told me I was really close to the main road, so ultimately I decided to heft my Bianchi onto my shoulder and hoof it the rest of the way.
I saw some frogs, splashed through some puddles and climbed over some fallen trees before finally emerging on the clear roadside. My feet were muddy and soaked, but I was satisfied to be back on my route.
I rode on, stopping at a place called Pink Lake, which was not pink. It was, in fact, green, and was named Pink after its discoverer, I believe. There was a cool little elevated platform that you could climb up onto to see the view.
When I got back to the parking area, I took a closer look at the signboard map and discovered that it did actually show the lack of a road. I guess Strava just skipped over it because it was so close, it assumed it counted as an intersection.
It made for a fun diversion, anyway, and a great time discovering a new place to ride.
During the brick workout in my recovery week, I had the opportunity to scout the bike route for what would be my third triathlon of the summer. This was the first time I’d been able to preview a race route before the event.
It turned out to be flat – very flat. Without a doubt, this was going to be the flattest course out of the three triathlons I’d signed up for. As someone who generally rides a lot of hills, this got my brain working.
What would this mean, exactly, for my riding style? I wondered if aero gear would be somewhat of an advantage. I didn’t (and still don’t) have any; I ride a relatively normal road bike with a normal road helmet. I was still only doing the sprint distance, so I didn’t think it would matter all that much for my own performance if I didn’t have aero bars and an aerodynamic helmet. I could just ride in the drops and hammer. Aero gear would probably only gain me a few seconds over such a relatively short course.
The flatness of the course was probably going to be my biggest challenge, I figured. Because I weigh a fair amount, I generally have an advantage on the downhills – I can coast faster than other people can often pedal, and I don’t have to do as much work to do it. That gives me both a speed boost and an opportunity for rest. On a flat course, there wouldn’t be those bonuses. It would just be up to me and my legs to do the work.
I felt good about having seen the route, though, and it was a nice ride along the river. After I got back, I went out for a 2 mile run, feeling a bit tired but okay.
The second triathlon I had signed up for after my first was only two weeks away. It wasn’t originally supposed to work out this way; I had planned on doing one that was three weeks after the first. But that one got canceled (with an oddly passive-aggressive email from the organizer), so I went to my second choice for my second triathlon, which was scheduled one week sooner.
My plan for bridging the two-week gap between the two events was to do one week of moderate workouts, followed by a week of light workouts. I guess the idea being that I would maintain one week and do sort of a taper the next. I wasn’t particularly worried about it, since I had proven to myself that completion shouldn’t be a problem.
I did a couple of mountain bike rides, one of them with a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time, at a place that was new to me for riding. I also did two swims, about 20 minutes each, and a short run. I capped the first week off with a brick, which I was able to do as a scouting run for the third triathlon I had scheduled (more on that later).
Overall I felt pretty good. Recovery didn’t seem to take too long, which didn’t surprise me. I had gone hard at my first tri, but in the end it was only about 1.5 hours long, so a couple of days at most to get back to feeling normal seemed about right.