Today was our team’s day to sweep. The sweep cyclists ride behind the slowest rider and serve as a marker to the bike rally support vehicles that there are no riders behind us. The actual responsibility just falls on the team’s co-captains (they wear the funky helmet decorations) but we decided it would be nicer and more social to do it together.
Our team co-captain thought that we shouldn’t pressure the slower riders. It would be best if they didn’t even know we were there. People feel bad about being swept. Instead, we decided to wait for quite awhile before we left in the morning. We set our pace at 20 km/hr and set off.
Within the first half hour it started pouring rain. And it didn’t let up.
At the morning break we were soaking wet and shivering cold. Rally organizers stuck us in heated vans so we could warm up. Again, we waited for the last rider to leave.
Luckily the rain did the active part of the sweeping job for us. No one wants to ride slowly in the rain. We got to the lunch stop on the Thousand Islands in pretty good time.
It was an interesting exercise in patience for me. While I like to ride slow and fast, this was slow enough I found myself braking. My heart rate didn’t go over 100 for awhile. I think it was a solid zone 1 day.
While I can’t say I enjoyed the rain, the time to chat with people and get to know team members better was pretty nice. The scenery was also pretty spectacular and it was good to have time to appreciate it. Thanks Jen for the hand signal for scenic vista. I loved the ride along the Thousand Islands Parkway.
This week a post showed up that showed how the same data could show that running is good for you and that too much of it may shorten your life. Here. The author, Alex Hutchinson, points to a study making the rounds in the media. It says that even 5 minutes of running a day can reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease-related death.
Two years ago, the same data-set was presented with a very different message: “that running more than about 20 miles a week would actually negate any health benefits associated with running.”
Here’s my question: how many people would change their behavior based on the media reports of this study? And if anyone would, are there good grounds for doing so?
I’m all for science. I’m an academic, after all, so research matters to me. But today I need a lot more than one study before I’m going to change a single thing about what I do.
I wasn’t always this way. My saddest story is about the time, as a graduate student, I actually stopped swimming because I read in Shape magazine that it created a layer of fat. Readers of the blog will know that I love swimming. But I didn’t really have a smart sense then of how to respond to the latest findings about things.
The fact is, one study does not a solid finding make. So when I read anything these days about how this or that will lengthen your life or shorten your life, I’m just not all that moved. I need to know that there is a large body of solid evidence behind the claim. Multiple studies published in reputable journals.
For example, I’m totally sold on the negative health impact of smoking.
They said that fast food executives were turning fat profits by making us fat, so I stopped eating fast food.
They said that killing animals was wrong, so I became a vegetarian.
They said that fertilizer run-off from industrial farming is killing the Gulf of Mexico, the pesticides are killing honeybees, so I started only eating organic.
They said that shipped food is too carbon intensive and not as fresh, so I started eating only local, in-season food.
They said that it was wrong to punish a cow by milking it twice a day, or to steal a chicken’s eggs, so I became a vegan.
They said that the paleo diet would restore my body and make my teeth healthy, so I stopped eating anything cultivated.
They said that cooking food destroys its nutrients, so I starting eating only raw food.
They said that following a macrobiotic regimen would prevent cancer, so I followed it.
They said that I should follow a zero-waste diet, so I stopped buying anything with packaging.
And when I showed up at the farmers market in December with my reusable bag looking for local, certified-organic, vegan, unprocessed, uncooked, uncultivated, whole foods, without packaging, that would fit into my macrobiotic diet, I realized that the best thing for the planet, the animals, and my health would be to just stop eating altogether.
What I like about this is that it shows what can happen if we follow everything “they” say.
This week, the nutrition program I’m doing (that I’ve decided to stop naming because I feel as if they get enough publicity) is asking us to experiment for one day with the Paleo diet. I’m experiencing serious resistance to this experiment. Why? Because I think of Paleo as a fad diet, just another spin on high protein low carb. And also, almost all of my vegan protein sources other than nuts and seeds are off limits. And finally, from what I’ve read, the science just doesn’t measure up.
So why experiment with an approach to eating that I know I will never adopt? Just because “they” say it’s a great way to eat?
I’m not a scientist, so at some level I do have to rely on the expertise of others. Over the years I have learned to be cautious about embracing the latest reports and following the trends. I’m not a big fan of doing things because “they” say I should be doing them.
What about you? How do you respond to news reports about eating, health, and fitness that might suggest you’re not doing something you should be or you are doing something that you should avoid?
Forget the “thigh gap,” one of this summer’s new hot, new body parts is found on men. Men with a very low percent body fat, that is. The rest of you have it but we can’t see it. It’s not a body part you train, a muscle you work to get bigger, instead it’s a ligament you reveal through thinness.
How weird is that? For men, that is. I blogged here about men and body comfort and my fear that men and women now both face considerable pressure to conform to a certain body type and size. The days when men could care or not care without paying a price are over.
Along with the “under bum” and “hipster” and the “upper crop top abdomen” for the women, there’s the “inguinal crease” to aspire to for the men.
“Popeye biceps and Chippendale pecs are so very over. The trophy body part for the 2014 male is the inguinal crease: the v-shaped dip between the waist and groin. This is nothing new – Michelangelo’s David had it going on – but after a slow buildup (think D’Angelo, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and David Gandy modelling Dolce & Gabbana), this year they are everywhere. (See: David Beckham’s underwear adverts.) What’s interesting is that this is not a muscle, but a ligament – in other words, to expose it requires not building muscle, but losing fat. Men’s Health magazine reports that for an optimal inguinal crease, you need to get down to between 5% and 8% body fat. The inguinal crease craze is, in other words, the size zero scandal reinvented for men.”
See Men’s Health, Building a Bigger Action Hero: “A mere six-pack doesn’t cut it in Hollywood anymore. Today’s male stars need 5 percent body fat, massive pecs, and the much-coveted inguinal crease – regardless of what it takes to get there. ”
“For much of Hollywood history, only women’s bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now objectification makes no gender distinctions: Male actors’ bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly’s worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule. A sharply defined inguinal crease – the twin ligaments hovering above the hips that point toward a man’s junk – is as coveted as double-D cleavage. Muscle matters more than ever, as comic-book franchises swallow up the box office, in the increasingly critical global market. (Hot bodies and explosions don’t need subtitles.) Thor-like biceps and Captain America pecs are simply a job requirement; even “serious” actors who never aspired to mega-stardom are being told they need a global franchise to prove their bankability and land Oscar-caliber parts.”
There’s long been pressure on men to get bigger, build muscle, and bulk up–see my post Do girls get a bulking season?. I know this firsthand from parenting a teenage athlete who lifts weights, worries about protein intake, and looks at the numbers going up on the scale with pride.
But now men are both supposed to build a ton muscle and lose a lot of body fat. How healthy is that? I think around here we know the answer, “not at all.” Magazines that seemed geared to male audiences, here’s looking at you Outside Online–are sounding the alarm bells. See Victory V’s Don’t always Mean Victory. The piece starts with a message familiar to many women, “There’s more to life than chasing definition in certain muscle groups. Maintaining a healthy weight, for instance.”
The article features John Haubenstricker, a Research Associate in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, also a dietitian, coach, and bodybuilding competitor.
The images you see in the media of men with six-pack abs and “victory-v’s,” Haubenstricker says, are often shot when those guys are at their absolute leanest. “Maintaining that level of leanness [around four to five percent bodyfat] isn’t typically recommended for very long,” Haubenstricker says. “You’re not getting enough energy to do all of the things you want to do and improve” your fitness. “You’re also increasing your risk of injury.”
As Scientific American explains, “fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones.”
In other words, that “ideal” you constantly see splashed across magazine covers is bullshit. It’s an ephemeral state of being even for the people in the photos.
One less well known fact is that fitness models and people who compete in the figure category in fitness competitions aren’t actually at the height of healthy when they compete. By the time “game day” comes, they’ve followed a regime that no one recommending a healthy approach to fitness and diet would recommend. They’ve eaten too few calories for the intensity of workouts they’ve been doing. And they’ve reached a weight that they have no intention of maintaining.
In short, their bodies, admired as models of fitness by so many, are unrealistic even for them!
My friend David, who I’m riding with, and I had a speedy ride to the halfway mark with a zippy paceline. There we met up with our rally team members for a team photo. Then we had a chatty social ride with our team to Kingston. I like both sorts of riding so it was a good day for me.
Here we are in our red dresses, or dressed in red depending, when we hit Kingston city limits.
Also, tonight we get to sleep in beds and there are hot showers for everyone in the dorms at Queen’s University where we’re staying.
We’re not talking about that day except to say it involved serious thunderstorms, not much sleep, a delayed start, rain, headwinds, for a brief period of time the horror of no coffee due to the generator going out, our longest distance, and a broken derailleur (not mine). It’s behind us now. We’re moving on. But I’m not blogging about it.
I’m new to the bike, as regular readers will know. Being less than a year into it, I haven’t really settled into any particular ‘culture’ yet. So I need to qualify my comments a bit. I’ve only done a little bit of riding with road cyclists and a little bit of bike training with triathletes.
And lately it’s been the demoralizing feeling that I’ll never get faster. And I’ve also got some toe numbness that sets in at about 20km.
And I should add that I’ve got persistent fears of my safety on the road. I don’t fully trust drivers. And though convinced riding in groups is safer than riding alone, I also know that one of the worst bike accidents in our community involved a very experienced cycling group getting taken out by a pick-up truck on a Sunday ride. See the CBC coverage of the death of London artist Greg Curnoe in 1992. Two of my colleagues in the philosophy department were also involved in this accident.
I never feel fully relaxed only bike except when I’m on a bike path (which is a rare occurrence on the road bike) or in a race with closed off or carefully controlled roads. And even on the bike path, there is a high level of unpredictability from pedestrians, skateboarders, other cyclists, dogs, and even geese. See this news report: “Goose attack leaves Ottawa cyclist shaken and scarred.”
And finally, my commuter bike makes me feel like a happy kid all over again. I take it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery. The road bike brings out a different kid in me.
On the road bike I often feel like a whiney, difficult child who cannot be reasoned with. I sulk, curse silently to myself, wish I were doing something else , and feel generally inadequate to the task. I have to remind myself that mummy and daddy are not making me do this. It’s not like those blasted tennis lessons when I was twelve. No. I chose this.
Okay. That having been said…
Sam is part of an informal group of road cyclists who go out regularly. She always invites me along. When I do accept, I’m never all that keen. But I know that the only way to get comfortable with something is to do it.
Road cycling culture is all about the group ride, as far as I can tell. Riding as a group is safer because mostly you’re more visible to drivers. You’re also safer because if anything does happen, you’re not out there all by yourself. It’s more fun because you can chat with the others as you ride along. I haven’t much gotten into the spirit of this because I’m usually too focused on keeping up, but I have had brief moments of seeing how it could be a thing.
Road cycling also makes it possible to go faster because of drafting. Drafting is that thing where the people in front block the wind for the people in back. See this Wiki How page. When you’re riding as a group, drafting makes it easier on the people at the back, harder on those at the front. Other things being equal, you rotate responsibilities–people take turns being in front or behind.
I’ve had mixed success being the draftee because in order to really benefit from it, you need to ride quite close to the rear wheel of the person ahead of you. And that scares me. You also need to be able to keep up or feel comfortable telling them when to ease up. I find both hard to do. I struggle to keep up, and that means I would almost constantly need to ask people to ease up. This frustrates me.
Road cyclists are more than happy to share their experience and tips. I’ve learned lots about gear-changing, safety, hill-climbing, even drafting, from riding with Sam and friends. And they LOVE going out on the bike. This is what they live for, it seems. It’s hard not to get a little bit caught up in their passion for riding, even if I’m not equally passionate about it.
They want you to love it too. And so generally I’ve found road cyclists to be understanding and encouraging. Sam is the best at this. She is quick to remind me that someone always has to be at the back of the pack. And it used to be her. And it won’t be me forever. She likes to ask me what would make me like it more. And she consistently offers to ride with me. She is a big believer that it’s not always necessary to go all out. See her post about fast and slow riding. And her other post It Takes All Kinds. Thank you, Sam.
But road cyclists are also an in-group, and they have a legendary list of rules that, if not followed, signal you as an outsider. Here are The Rules. They cover the gamut, from whether the arms of your glasses should go on the outside or inside of your helmet straps (on the outside) to the proper cultivation of tan lines (keep them sharp) to the proper color of bike shorts (black). There are 100 rules.
So that’s road cycling culture as far as I know it. My experience of it is kind of mixed, largely because I am riding with a much more experienced group and I am the only new rider. So I feel extremely aware of my newbie-ness. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it has pushed me well outside of my comfort zone. Again, that’s not always a bad thing, but there is a happy medium, I’m sure.
After the epic ride to Port Stanley a few weeks ago, I was ready to pack in these group rides with road cyclists for awhile because they felt demoralizing to me. This is when Sam started to talk to me about safety. Try riding with the triathletes, she said, then report back. Her main complaint is that she doesn’t think they train safely.
I’ve trained with the triathletes three times now, and I tend to agree. The main reason is that they don’t ride together.
I showed up for my first swim-bike-run training session with the triathlon group a couple of weeks ago. We swam together with the coach telling us what to do. Since I’m training for the Olympic distance, I was with the group who had to do some extra swimming. By the time I got to my bike, almost everyone was gone. They weren’t gone together. They were gone separately.
Triathletes ride alone. I was new to the course, so a very kind Iron distance triathlete named Sarah offered to ride with me. And she did. For the first 25 or so km she rode alongside me or just a little ahead of me. But this isn’t the way they usually ride. We were on rural roads that had very little traffic. But not NO traffic. And the traffic there was traveled swiftly, at between 80-100km per hour.
For a lot of the last part of the 40 km route, including one harrowing stretch along a busier road where, in Sarah’s words, “drivers along here are stupid,” she rode well ahead of me, waiting for me at the marked route turns. There is no paved shoulder and very little asphalt to the right of the white line. So whenever a car or transport (!!) whizzed past I just held on.
For these training rides, a support car does drive around the route for the whole time we’re out there, making sure everyone is okay. But other than Sarah, the only other people I saw from the group were just blurs as they sped past me on their tri-bikes.
The same thing happened to me on the Thursday, when I went for bike-run repeats. I totally get that this is the type of training required for triathlon and the group ride is a different kind of thing. But again I didn’t feel especially safe on the bike course. The country roads are not heavily trafficked, but the cars on them travel fast.
If for some reason they lost sight of you because the sun was in their eyes, or they swerved over a bit because they were texting or fiddling with the radio, you’d have little chance of surviving the collision. Being alone just increases the probability of not being seen.
But the triathletes I’ve ridden “with” are in training mode. They’re training to get faster. Road cyclists aren’t always trying to be as fast as they can and are not always “training.”
In fact, I’ve heard not one but two different road cyclists tell me they don’t train, they “just ride.”
Not just that they’re in training mode, and not just that they don’t ride together. In fact they kind of can’t ride together. Drafting is not allowed in race day. And tri bikes are best when going straight and fast. They don’t handle well in tight corners or situations that call for a sudden turn. Most road cyclist groups won’t let people ride with them on tri bikes because of safety concerns. The aero position is kind of like being on cruise control with your hands off the wheel. Just not the best position from which to respond.
On my third outing with the triathletes, I started out with someone and then, again because she was always waiting for me and it seemed pointless since we weren’t riding together in any way that would make me feel safer and more visible, I released her from that obligation. There was less traffic than before and, being more familiar with the route, I relaxed into it (which I guess isn’t really the point — it’s not a leisure ride!).
Remember I started out the season with a fear of hills? Well, riding with the roadies has helped a lot with this. My first time on the bike course with the triathletes, a few people mentioned a “nasty hill near the end.” Because of my bike computer, I knew when I was approaching the last 5 km of the ride. Whenever I came to the top of a hill, I said to myself, “is this the nasty hill they were talking about?” None of the hills seemed particularly nasty to me.
And when I went to a different location for the bike-run repeats, I took a total wrong turn for two reasons. One, I was not riding with anyone, so no one familiar with the course was there to guide me. And two, the coach said that I was supposed to turn “at the top of the hill.” I saw no hill at all. Like I mean nothing I would call a hill.
This made me think back to that other horrible ride in November, when I looked at a hill and said to one of the guys, “I don’t think I can make it up that hill.” And he said, “sure you can. In fact, in time you’ll see that it’s not even a hill.” Well, that non-hill did defeat me that day. But it’s kind of exciting to be at a place where I can’t tell the nasty hill because none seem nasty, and I miss a turn because I missed the hill that preceded it.
I’ll do some training rides with the triathletes (I now own a reflective vest to wear if I feel unsafe with them). But I’ve decided that I do want to keep riding with the road cyclists. They have lots to offer, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever truly be “one of them.”
Here’s a primer for triathletes who want to venture out for group rides with road cyclists.
I’m an idealist. But I strongly suspect the egalitarian world of which I’d dreamed is not the world we’re getting. I wanted a world in which young women got an equal share of the body comfort I’ve observed in the men of my generation. Instead I fear we are getting a world in which we’re levelling down. It’s more equal in some ways but that’s because young men are facing pressures to conform to standards of body normativity and are feeling the kind of shame I’d thought mostly belonged to young women.
My first taste of this came when my own sons were very young. I had started swimming with the UWO triathlon club and got to spend time with young men, in their speedos, on the pool deck. They weren’t a happy lot. They worked hard on their bodies and viewed them as works in progress. They all wanted well defined abs. They also all removed lots of body hair, better to display the muscle definition. Gone were the forgiving furry male bellies of my generation. And don’t get me started on hairless backs. My point here is that the young men’s attitudes to very fit athletic bodies was much closer to that of the women I know, all of ages, than it was to my generation of men.
But the thing is that almost everyone who shared the link did so with disapproving commentary, usually with some snarky comment about “who wants to see that?”
Then “maybe if they’re young and fit.” Then story after story about some old, fat guy who happily parades around the beach or pool in their Speedo. “You can’t unsee that.” Or, “it burns, it burns.”
I hear this from women who I know are sensitive to criticism of women’s bodies. They would speak up if someone said that about an older woman in a bikini. What is it about men’s bodies that makes some people so uncomfortable? Is it so wrong to like a diverse range of male bodies?
And what is it with those knee length baggy swim shorts that lots of men of all ages wear? I miss Australia where men wear “budgie smugglers” (as they say) and New Zealand where men wear short shorts.
And you know what? I love those old fat wrinkly guys in their speedos. Why? I feel completely free to wear my bikini. If they can do it, so can I.
My least favourite expression comes from men themselves. “Who wants to see some guy’s junk?” Stop calling it “junk.” Please.
Police escort through Toronto and then lots of kilometers on the Great Waterfront Trail.
Perfect weather, rolling hills, great company, and most importantly donations keep pouring in for Toronto People with Aids Foundation. Our team goal is $50,000 by the end of the rally. You can sponsor me here.
There are hundreds of amazing volunteers making this ride possible. Thank you!
The night before a race, I usually pin my bib number to my shirt and set out everything else I need so that I don’t have to think about anything in the morning. This is easy enough for a running race: shoes, socks, run shorts, sports bra, GPS watch, and maybe a running cap and a small bottle of water.
Adding two more sports on to that was a bit more stressful! I gathered my swimming things: wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, and put them with things I would need in the morning: BodyGlide (to lube up before jumping into the wetsuit) and plastic bags (they go over my hands/feet and make getting into the wetsuit easier).
Next up, the things I would need in transition: cycling shoes, running shoes, socks, GPS watch, water bottle, sport towel, plastic bags to protect from the rain. Oh yes, the rain – I’d been neurotically refreshing the weather page for days, hoping that prediction for “thunderstorms” on race morning would magically disappear – alas, they did not! Thinking about the rain, I grabbed my running cap as well. My partner, Kevin, suggested I put it on under my helmet for the cycling portion as well – professional cyclists do it all the time, he said. Good idea, I thought. More on that later.
We then went to remove the rear rack from my bike. It turns out that the rack was affixed by screws on the interior of the seat stays, and we had to remove the rear wheel to get at them. The V-brakes on my bike were unusually tight and difficult to release, turning a simple task into a frustrating endeavor. When I saw that it wasn’t going to be as simple as it should have, I wanted to say, “forget it,” and leave the rack on. I had wanted it off for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know how heavy it was, and it would be nice to have the bike as light as possible in case I needed to carry it up/down the hill to the mount line, and 2) I thought I’d look a little silly with a bike rack at a triathlon. But I also really didn’t want to mess with the bike the night before the race, especially because I just had it tuned up.
Anyways, Kevin said he could do it, so we persisted. We got the rack off but in the process messed up the brake alignment. Nothing too bad, but cue an increase in already-high levels of race anxiety.
I’ve learned by now that while I definitely need coffee to be considered a functional human being, drinking too much of it before a race is NOT kind on my nervous stomach, so I only had a tiny cup of coffee. Transition opened at 8am for the sprint distance, and I was going to meet my friend Megan there at 8:15. At 7:55 we got our bikes and headed off. As luck would have it, we actually ran into Megan on the ride to the race area – a good start to the day!
We set our transition areas up. Run cap and helmet went on the handle of my bike and everything else inside a plastic bag on top of my towel, which was on top of another plastic bag. It had already been raining in the morning, though thankfully it had stopped in time for our set up (the Olympic distance competitors were not so lucky).
We waited a lot longer to put our wetsuits on than most of the people around us. I realized that was perhaps a bad idea when it was close to my wave’s starting time and I wasn’t zipped up yet! Eeek! Megan quickly shoehorned my shoulders in and zipped me up, then bade me farewell – she was in the wave behind me.
I’m not sure what the water temperature actually was – I think they said around 15-17 degrees? – but I knew from trying out part of the swim course the day before that it was going to be frigid. I was not wrong. It was COLD. And due to the nature of the course, we didn’t have any opportunity to warm up. Into the water, and a minute later our horn goes off. Oof.
I positioned myself to the side and back, letting the stronger swimmers go out first. I quickly realized that many around me had the same idea. Most of them seemed as uncomfortable in the water as I felt. I tried to do front crawl, but every time I stuck my face in the water, I wanted to take it right back out again. I also had trouble exhaling. It’s funny because the whole time, I *knew* what the problem was. “Breathe out,” I’d think to myself, but for some reason I couldn’t make myself do it.
I later discovered that there might be a physiological explanation for this. It’s called “Mammalian Diving Reflex.” In a nutshell, when you stick your face into cold water, your heart rate drops and blood flow gets diverted from your extremities. Your body enters a state where it tries to conserve oxygen. Don’t breathe out, my body said! You need that! It was hard to fight.
So I ended up doing a true medley of strokes: front crawl, back crawl, breast stroke, elementary back stroke, and side stroke. I used literally every stroke I knew to propel myself through the water. I kept trying front crawl, hoping I would settle into a rhythm. I found it very difficult whenever there was someone remotely near me (in front, behind, or to the side). I kept thinking, “I hope I’m not going too slow for the person behind me,” and “I hope I don’t crash into the person in front of me.” It’s a race, I know, but I’m just not used to swimming with so many people, especially with no lane ropes!
By the last buoy, I had finally discovered some semblance of a rhythm with my front crawl stroke. I honestly think that if I had 15 minutes to warm up in the water, my swim would have gone much more smoothly. Maybe if I do another tri, I’ll pick one where I can have a warm up.
Time for swim – 21:14
Well, this could have gone more smoothly! My time was the third slowest in my age group for the transition. I had difficulty getting my wetsuit off (I’ve never NOT had that difficulty, though, so…). I also took a couple of moments to ensure that I had everything in order, then un-racked my bike.
Cue race official. “Can you re-rack your bike please?”
Oh no oh no oh no what have I done wrong?!
“You have to take off your hat. It’s a safety issue.”
I honestly wasn’t aware that wearing a running cap under my helmet could be unsafe, but I certainly wasn’t about to argue with the race official. I took off my hat, then grabbed my bike again and set off to run up the ramp to the mounting line.
Time for T1 – 4:46
The bike course started on a pedestrian bridge that took us into Exhibition Grounds. I knew that the bridge was a “no passing” zone, but I wasn’t sure at which point the “no passing” ended. There was a man in front of me going awfully slowly, and I just wanted to pass him and get going!
Shortly after getting on the Gardiner (we got to bike on the Gardiner!!), Megan passed me. I wasn’t surprised – although her wave was four minutes after mine, she’s an extremely strong swimmer. I had actually expected her to pass me during the swim!
I settled into a pace that I felt I could keep for 20km. I don’t have very much experience with being able to bike for 20km without stopping for traffic lights or small children dashing in front of me on the trail, so I didn’t exactly have a benchmark for what my speed ‘ought’ to be, and decided to do it by effort.
My rear brakes started rubbing somewhere just before we got on the Gardiner, and for the first half of the bike course I was woefully regretting removing the rear rack. They sorted themselves out just before the first turnaround point, which was a fairly sharp U-turn.
It felt like I was hitting a brick wall when I turned. It was only then that I realized we had had a fairly substantial tailwind on the way out – and now we faced a fairly substantial headwind. Grr, argh.
I wished at that point that I had a real road bike. The hybrid commuter that I ride is a very nice bike (on loan to me indefinitely from my uncle, after mine got stolen last summer). It’s pretty light and I’ve been told the specs are comparable to an entry-level road bike. But a road bike it is not, and I was envious of all the people around me who could get down low and alleviate some of the wind resistance. Maybe next year!
With about 6km to go, the skies just opened up. Now we had a headwind and a torrential downpour! Yikes! There was a second U-turn that we had to make before coming back onto Exhibition grounds, and I had the sense to brake well ahead of time to avoid hydroplaning or skidding in the turn. I was seriously wishing that hats were allowed, because with so much rain, I could barely see through my glasses. Definitely quite the weather for my first tri!
Time for bike – 43:38
We had to run down a ramp into transition with our bikes, and I remembered the advice that my friend Al gave me. He told me to take off my cleats before going down the ramp, especially if it was raining, to avoid falling. Good advice! My feet were so wet anyways that it didn’t matter that I was running in just my socks.
The second transition was much easier. I put on my running shoes and off I went. Forgot my running cap, though – and again regretted it, as I could still barely see through the rain. Megan was a minute or so ahead of me. “Come catch me,” she said as she took off.
Time for T2 – 1:58
I wanted to catch Megan. I really did. My legs felt so dead, though. Despite my brick workouts, I wasn’t quite used to the feeling of coming off of 20km straight cycling, at a speed faster that what I usually ride at. I was also just feeling generally exhausted by this point. I stopped to walk a couple of times throughout the run, seeing Megan get further and further away.
A woman ran up beside me when I was slowing to a walk and said, “I remember you from the bike course – we played leap frog a couple of times. Come on, it’s only 1.5km left, we can do this.” It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time. I asked her name. “Julie,” she said. Well – thank you, Julie. With her encouragement, I ran the rest of the way without stopping.
Time for run – 27:59
At the finish line, I felt so many things at once. Pride that I finished. Relief that it was over. I may have teared up a bit. Okay I definitely did.
Megan finished a few minutes ahead of me and was waiting to hug me at the finish line. She had a great race, smashing her time from last year. I’m so proud of her, and very grateful to have been able to train and race with such a fun, strong, and inspiring person.
My family asked me at the finish line if I would do it again. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to say. Now that I’ve had time to process, I think the answer is yes. I might like to do one where I have time to warm up before the swim, though! Although overall I’m proud of my finishing time, it’s very clear that there’s room for improvement in all of the events. And that’s okay by me – it just gives me something to work towards for next year.
Total time: 1:39:34
Stephanie is a PhD candidate in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. She is also a runner, photographer, drinker of craft beer, and a newly minted triathlete.
I was out on a bike with a friend recently. It was a gorgeous morning. There was beautiful scenery. We talked about philosophy, about friends, about cycling, and about family. Perfect. At least that’s what I remembered about our ride.
But when we next meet she asked, “Were you riding at that speed for me?” She was anxious that I’d slowed down to ride with her, that I’d been moderating my speed on her behalf.
I’ve encountered that worry a few times and I want to say a few things in response.
First, and most notably, it almost always come from women. Now part of the reason for that is that when I help out beginning cyclists they’re often women, but not always. And men might start out slower than me but in my experience that stage doesn’t last very long. (I’m going to blog about riding with men in another post. If you’re a fast woman cyclist, you’ll spend lots of time riding with the guys. It’s interesting and challenging.) But women also seem more apologetic right from the start.
Second, it almost always comes from beginners. When you start any activity, it’s hard to grasp “slow” and “fast.” There’s just one speed you run/ride at and it’s the speed you can run/ride at. It’s like when I started running and I thought idea of speed work and recovery runs was incomprehensible. All runs at that stage were all out.
Third, what does the question mean? Could I have ridden faster? Sure. And still talked? Yes.
It’s true it wasn’t my race pace but I don’t often ride at race pace. It wasn’t a race. How about was I happy riding at that speed? Yes!
Fourth, most cyclists like riding with others. Riding alone, unless I’m doing training drills, feels both dull and dangerous to me. Generally speaking, I don’t do it. I’m flexible because I want to ride with others.
Fifth, it’s great to ride with people of different speeds. You can have a hard, fast day with one group of friends and slow, social day with another set. I like that. It’s like heart rate training without the monitor! Sometimes I’m the fastest and sometimes I’m the slowest, here’s my advice about etiquette at each of the spectrum.
I recommend riding with other people. You learn a lot. You should always ride with the fastest people willing to have you along. And to pay it back, you should be willing to ride with beginning cyclists some of the time. People come in lots of different speeds and sizes. Get to know them all.