Sunday, May 24, 2009

My first Donut

I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but yesterday I did my first Donut Ride in Toronto. What is the Donut Ride you ask? Good question. Before Friday, I had no idea either. In fact, I had never even heard of it before. It was only brought to my attention by one of my newest followers on Twitter, who is also a roadie from Toronto.

Through our tweets back and forth, I got the basics of it and looked it up online for a few more details, which I found on Wikipedia. To make a long story short, the Donut is an informal ride held every Saturday and Sunday morning (and Holidays) that attracts well over 100 cyclists for rides ranging from about 85-125 km depending on the route taken. Its actually been a bit of a cycling tradition in Toronto, dating back about 35 years now. The reason it's called the Donut ride is that it starts in the parking lot of a donut shop, or at least it did in the early days. Apparently, the donut shop is now a bagel shop.

Anyway, you don't have to be at the start to join the ride. A lot of riders join in as the peleton progresses north, which is exactly what I did. Turns out the route runs relatively close to my house, so I joined in at roughly the 10k mark. There was a pretty large group and being somewhat unfamiliar, I chose to jump on to the tail end and see how it went. I have to say that it was very cool being at the back of a peloton of what was easily over 100 riders, and maybe closer to 150. It reminded me a lot of watching a shot of the Tour peloton taken from a motorcycle at the back. All I could see ahead was a sea of helmets. I did notice though that a lot of riders were wearing local team kits, so it was apparent that this wasn't going to be any kind of leisure cruise. These were real cyclists. I was feeling pretty confident that I could at least hang on to the back though as I have been thinking that I'm in pretty good riding shape. As a matter of fact, after 600k in a little over a month, I'd say I'm probably in the best cycling shape of my life.

This is where my story starts to tred the fine line between a good thing and a bad thing though. Once out of the city and onto the clearer roads to the north, the peloton picked up the pace significantly. I wish this was an exaggeration, but I was dumbfounded at the speed at which it took off. Like I said, I'm in the best cycling shape I've ever been in, and these guys dropped me like a bad habit on New Year's Eve. I was riding literally at about 112% and could not even come close to staying in touch. Sure there were a few stragglers that were in the same boat as me, but even staying with those guys was a monumental task. Here I was at maximum capacity and these guys made it look effortless.

The Donut Ride group just after our pit stop
The Donut Ride group just after our pit stop. The full peloton had well over 100 riders.
Afterwards, I discovered that the main peloton took off at about 50kmh, while I was lucky to be doing 30, which is pretty much my current max for a steady cadence ride. Sure I can go 50, maybe 55 in short bursts and with a little downhill help, but over a long distance, forget it. I can't even chalk it up to being 43 years old, because there were guys there a lot older than me who seemed to be doing OK. I chatted with one guy who is 61 who I finally caught up to, but that was well after I got dropped by the pack.

Fortunately there's a coffee break at the halfway point and a lot of the group came back together. It was shortly after the remount that I managed to snap my picture and I was happy that I managed to stay with this group for some time. Eventually though, I got dropped again and was once again left with a handfull of stragglers that it took all of my concentrated efforts to stay with. Before long, I was alone and heading home.

Now I'm not quite sure how to look at this. A couple weeks back I talked about wanting to maybe race again. That's pretty much out the window. Finishing last is one thing. Getting destroyed doing it is something different entirely. On the other hand, I did do 86.5km in 3h07 for an avg of 27.75kmh, which is faster than my usual. So it was either a very good personal ride, or a very discouraging group ride. I'm leaning to the former as I'm actually not that discouraged. I sure would like a nice new carbon-fibre road bike though. Yeah..that's right. I can always blame it on the bike.

Oh, and as a footnote, the guy who tipped me off to this ride apparently has over 7000k in this year, compared to my now 696k. Maybe the distance and training is the secret, but even if I could do 7000k, I just don't see it improving my performance much more than its current state. Hell...I'd have to quit my job to have the time to do half that anyway. Hmmmm... (to be continued).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another 100k and past the halfway mark

Wow! I'm really behind on my blogging. Here it is Wednesday and this is the first real chance I've had to write about my latest ride, which was on Monday. After my ill-fated attempt at a group ride last weekend, I decided to try my luck again this week by once again joining in with the Toronto Bicycle Network weekly ride from Finch station.

The TBN Group gathers at Finch Station
The group slowly gathers at Finch station.
My first thought was to join in on Sunday, but as some of you may have read in my Twitter tweets, Sunday's weather just didn't add up to an enjoyable ride, at least not for me. Although it was sunny, it was cold (only 7*C) and very windy (35kmh with gusts up to 50). For the most part I can deal with the cold. After all, my first ride this year was in -6*C weather. The wind on the other hand I can't deal with so I chickened out in hopes of more favourable conditions on Monday.

Now on Mondays, I'm usually at work, but being in Canada we of course had our first long weekend of the summer, otherwise known as Victoria Day which has something to do with the former Queen Victoria I think. For a lot of Canadians (especially Newfoundlanders) it's better known as the May 2-4 weekend, not just because it's usually on or near May 24th but also because it's the first camping weekend of the summer and 99% of the time, the weather is too miserable to do anything but sit in your tent, trailer or cabin and drink a 2-4 of beer. Anyway, that's all a bit off topic.

Monday was much nicer with slightly warmer temperatures and a lot less wind, so off I went to the parking lot where a lot of the TBN rides start from. A pretty large group of riders quickly assembled, but split off into 2 groups with 2 different route options. Hoping to crack 100k again, I opted for the longer route and our group hit the road. I have to admit though that I'm really a bit uneasy about riding in a group, probably because I'm just not used to it. Avoiding the unexpected twists, turns and slowdowns of other riders as well as the ever present and unseen hazards in the road ahead is a bit unnerving. One thing I did make sure to do this week was to avoid my pothole. We were taking the same route and I knew almost exactly where it was and when to expect it. Sure enough, I spotted it, gave it an obligatory sneer, and breezed right by.

The core group cruising on McCowan Rd.
The core group cruising north on McCowan Rd.
For some reason in these group rides, there's always a couple of guys who think they're in a race and feel compelled to shoot off the front. Once those guys got flushed out, we settled into a pretty steady group of 7-8 riders heading for the wide open side roads north of Toronto. After an uneventful first 40k on familiar roads, a left hand turn took us to a middle section that I had not been on before. The section started out with some gently rolling hills which gradually seemed to grow exponentially larger and more frequent. On no less than 5 occasions, my relief at cresting a hill was immediately displaced by the horror of seeing another steeper, longer hill ahead. After 3-4 of those, my legs started to wobble a bit and I have to admit I dropped into the granny gears for just a bit. Even crossed my mind to stop, but I sucked it up and forced my way to the top. How these pro guys, juiced or not, do 250k over HC mountains I'll never understand.

The hills split our group a bit, but on the turn back south on more gently rolling terrain, most of it came back together for the run into the scheduled lunch stop at the 80k mark. Unfortunately for me, it seems like the worst thing I can do is stop. I always find that when I climb back on, my legs are as useless as a couple of broken rubber bands. I wanted to stay with the group however, so I joined in on the 1/2 hour pit stop for cup a coffee and a pecan butter tart.

After that, the first 5 k of the remaining 20 were a struggle to regain my legs, but they came back OK and myself and one other rider (the rest had split off by then) finished out the last 10k or so back to the start point. With the parking lot in sight, I was at 96k so I decided to carry on a bit longer for the extra 4. I pulled back into the lot with exactly 100k showing on my computer in a total of 3h54 of riding time. All in all, it was a great ride and I was very pleased to have gotten to 100k again without so much as a single muscle cramp (thanks possibly to my new regimen of electrolyte drinks).

I'm also happy to report that I weighed in this morning at just under 175lbs, down from the 182 and change I was just about a month ago. This week's ride also pushed me past the halfway point of my 1200km goal for the year. 608 down, 592 to least until I reset my goal.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I almost forgot...

I got a bit side-tracked blogging about my "group" ride and what my own personal little pothole has been up to that I forgot to add my usual note on my progress towards my goal this week.

This week's 103k ride got me over the 500k mark (508 to be exact), leaving me with just 692k to go. Knock on wood, reaching 1200 should be pretty easy but I don't want to jinx myself by resetting the goal too soon. Let's just say for now that I'm starting to give some thought to a new target.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My first "Group" ride of 2009

Having missed my regular Saturday ride this past weekend due to the horrible weather around the Toronto area, I decided to join in on my first group ride of the year with the Toronto Bicycle Network on Sunday morning. I could have certainly done my usual solo ride on Sunday, but wanted to join the group for two main reasons..(1) to enjoy some of the comraderie of riding with a group for a change and (b) to use the group's energy to try and crack the 100k mark for a single ride.

A fairly large group of riders had assembled at the start point and things looked very promising for a good ride. The weather was OK, with a cool but bearable temperature of 10*C. The wind was up a bit though, but with the group, that looked like it wouldn't be a big problem. So off we went. The group took a little getting used to, making sure to keep safe spacing from the wheel of the rider(s) in front of me. One of the things I don't like all that much about group riding is that it's hard to see the road ahead. Little did I know what was ahead.

My Bike at Musselman lake.
My bike mugging for the camera at Musselman Lake.
No more than 15k into my 100km ride, while sitting on the wheel of another rider, I slammed a pothole as hard as I've ever hit one. My front tire immediately collapsed and after I peeled off and dismounted,I heard the telltale hiss of a puncture coming from my rear wheel as well. The group of course checked to see if I was OK, but ultimately and as I would have expected carried on without me. So here I was again, just like 4 weeks ago (see 999k to go) stuck with 2 flats from 1 pothole. To make matters even worse, believe it or not, I'm almost 100% certain it was the very same pothole I hit 4 weeks ago. I set up next to the same fence and started my repairs. I was better prepared this time with a couple of extra tubes, but by the time I was ready to hit the road again, the group was long gone. I joined in with some of the slower riders who were bringing up the rear and stayed with them for a bit, but ultimately, I wanted to ride a little faster pace. So I set off on my own thinking my hopes for 100k had been dashed, especially now that I was into the headwind on my own.

After 30k and my normal turnaround point, I was feeling pretty good though and decided to keep going north. The scenery further up was fantastic and made the extra effort worth it. By the time I headed for home after a loop around Musselman Lake, I was close to 45 k in and started to think 100 wasn't out of the question. My return trip, punctuated by a quick stop for a cup of coffee at Tim Horton's, was as nice a ride as I've been on and my legs felt great. When I pulled back into the starting point parking lot, my computer read 103km in a total riding time of 4h05. Mission accomplished.

Next stop was Spokes and Sports for a resupply of tubes and then home to re-true my back wheel. Unfortunately the rim has a nice dent in it now, but so it goes.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Cambridge Tour de Grand

With my charity ride in the Ride for Heart on June 7th fast approaching, I decided to think about what I might do after that one is done. Since it will still only be early June, there will still be a lot of time to get involved in some other organized rides. Believe it or not, it even crossed my mind to look into getting back into doing a little racing. Mind you, I wasn't thinking of doing that with the goal of winning any races. This thought came to me moreso with the idea that it might be fun to try a little informal racing after close to 25 years out of competition. After being able to stick with the Cervelo guys for a bit last week and reading so many tweets on twitter and blogs from fellow amateur cyclists who go out for races, it kind of inspired me to think I might still have enough in the legs to race a bit myself.

I did a little research to see if there was any such "casual" racing going on in my area, starting with the Toronto Bicycle Network ( It turns out that they are strictly a touring club, but I was pointed in the direction of the Midweek Cycling Club in Mississauga. I took a look at their website and sure enough, it does seem as if they offer the kind of racing I'm looking for. My only problem is the mid-week part. With work commitments, making it to Mississauga in time for an evening race would be tough if not impossible. I do have to read their site a little more closely to see if there are any weekend events that are up my alley, but for now that idea is on hold.

12th Annual Cambridge Tour de Grand.
In my search, however, I did find a site for the 12th Annual Cambridge Tour de Grand. For those of you not familiar with Ontario, Cambridge is a town about an hour west of Toronto down the 401. The Tour de Grand is not a race, but rather a fairly popular annual touring ride in and around Cambridge. So, after reading the info on the site, I thought it would be fun to join in and ride through some countryside that I normally wouldn't get to see living in the Big Smoke. I could have signed up for a 100k or 160k ride, but decided to go with a 72k route. That's pretty much my comfort zone for a ride right now and it means I don't have to get up quite so early to get there for the start.

I have to say I'm really looking forward to it. Should be fun and it gives me something else to focus on beyond my ride on the 7th. As for the racing, I'll keep looking for something my speed and keep you posted. I sure would like to win one of those nice red participation ribbons that the guys who come in last get.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

794 km to go..

At almost 62km, yesterday's ride turned out to be a bit of a milestone of sorts. Having passed the 400k mark for 2009, I'm now a little over 1/3 of the way towards my goal of 1200 on the year. Considering I'm only 1 month into the season, and with at least 5 good months of riding left to go before the fall cold sets in around Toronto again, I'm starting to think reaching my goal of 1200 should be pretty easy. Now I don't want to jinx myself, but at my current mileage, I'm on pace to actually do between 2000 and 2400 km. For now though, I'll leave my goal at 1200k and re-calibrate when the time comes.

Anyway, yesterday was a great little ride in and of itself. It was a little cooler around the GTA again, so I went back to wearing my Under Armour long sleeve under my jersey, but I stuck with the shorts rather than full leggings. I was thinking that might have been a mistake after only a couple of kilometers, but I soon warmed up and the temperature became quite tolerable. The wind however was up again, but at least it was at my back for the first 30k.

I actually started out with the intention of doing only a 30-40k leg stretch, as I was planning on joining a group ride this morning, but once I got going I just decided to carry on. Strangely enough, I had some minor calf muscle cramps after only 15-16 kilometers, but I backed off a bit and worked those out pretty quickly. I did 20k on my trainer the night before and, being indoors, dropped a lot of sweat, so I may have been a bit low on hydration and sodium level.

Team Cervelo passes me on Leslie St.
The Cervelo boys just after they passed me. Great guys!
The coolest part of yesterday's ride happened just after I made the turn for home. At about the 35k mark, I was caught and passed at a red light by a guy riding a Cervelo and wearing a full Cervelo kit. I stood up on my pedals to try and latch on to his wheel, but just as I did that, I was passed on my left by another rider decked out in Cervelo gear. Before I knew it, 6 more went around me and I was on the back of a full pack of Cervelo team riders. Most if not all of them acknowledged me as they passed which I thought was neat. Even neater, or so I thought was that I managed to latch on to their wheel and stay with them for at least 5-6 km. Not bad for an old guy with only 400k on his legs for the year. I may have been able to stay with them even longer, but I was busy snapping pictures (here and here) and even trying to take a video. Anyway, once I got unhitched, they were off and out of sight in no time and once again it was just me and the headwind.

When all was said and done, I finished out at 61.8k and felt great. Much better than I did at the end of my 76k ride last weekend. Being much cooler, I didn't drop nearly as much water this week, which probably made a big difference. I also followed some online advice and tried some post-ride recovery drinks this week to rebuild my glycogen stores. Seemed to work.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why do I ride?

I just read a great little article on the Accu-Chek Cyclebetes blog entitled "Why DO YOU ride?" and it got me to thinking. Why DO I ride? I already answered that question to some extent in my little 'About Me' blurb on the right there, but the question made me want to go a little deeper. Although the statement "because I love every minute of it" kind of sums it all up nicely in the end, there's much more to it than that.

I ride for the solitude. I would have to guess that of the 10,000 plus kilometers I've rode in my lifetime, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 90-95% of that has been solo. That's not because I'm against group riding or anti-social or anything. I just enjoy the solitude that being out on the road by myself brings. I enjoy the time it allows me to think. I'm not a spiritual person, but I enjoy the inner peace that cycling alone brings me.

I ride because I'm good at it. This sounds like bragging perhaps, but I was once good enough at it to be considered for the provincial cycling team for the Canada Summer Games. I remember my first race, a 30 lap criterium that I led for the first 29 1/2 laps after a solo break from the start line, only to be caught and passed with half a lap to go. I also remember having enough left in the tank to take 2nd in a sprint after dropping to 3rd on the final straight. While those racing days are long gone, I'm still good enough at cycling to be able to ride 76.5 km by myself in a little over 3 hours, and there's a certain level of personal satisfaction that goes with that.

My daughter on her first solo ride in 2003
My daughter on her first solo ride in 2003.
I couldn't have been more proud.
I ride because I remember the day I learned to ride a bike almost 40 years ago like it was yesterday. I was the youngest and smallest of my group of friends, and I was the only one of the bunch that couldn't ride a two-wheeler. On my best friends' borrowed bike and with their encouragement, I kept trying until I got it and I still remember the pure joy of that accomplishment and of showing off to my parents.

I ride because I remember the pride I felt on the day not so long ago that I first let go of my daughter's seat and she rode her two-wheeler without my help for the first time.

I ride because my father, at the young age of 52, had a mild heart attack and his road to better health included riding a bike. I can't recall having ever seen my father on a bike before that, and I'm happy to say that he's still going strong at 81. I ride because I still want to be riding when I'm 81.

I ride because I've been struck by cars twice but remain undeterred to be on my bike regardless of the risk involved. I remember after my first and more serious run-in with a car losing most of the skin on my forearm (now you know where the name of my blog comes from), getting a nasty ding on the forehead, and the attending doctor shaking his head in disbelief that I was still alive.

I ride because it allows me to challenge myself, to push my personal limits of endurance, to race against myself. But most of all, I ride because I love every minute of it. There is nowhere else I'd rather be than on my bike.