Goat Obsessions & Yoga (Guest Post)

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of an obsession for goats. My family raised goats when I was a kid and we had several babies born on our farm. My team at work knows I’m obsessed and even decorated an office tree with paper goats for my birthday. So it was no surprise that when goat yoga became a thing many of my friends tagged me in videos on Facebook.

Last week Sam put out a yoga call but I had plans, so this week when she went back, I joined her. Turns out this place is 15 minutes from home. Finding a yoga place close to home is a big deal, because I live in the middle of nowhere, so I was pretty excited.

Normally I’d be a bit nervous about going into a new yoga place. I’m barely flexible and weight lifting doesn’t really help. I complain-bragged the other day to a co-worker that my biceps get in the way for some of the poses, so its hard.

When I told my husband I was going to goat yoga, he said he knew I was going for the goats. But, really, why can’t I do both?

The beautiful thing about goat yoga is that it’s real yoga, there are a lot of beginners, so the poses aren’t terribly difficult AND they don’t take themselves too seriously. There are no yoga snobs at goat yoga. If you need to pause because you can’t do a pose, don’t want to do a pose, or need to pet a goat, you do. No judgement. If you’re self-conscious about stopping you look at a goat, you smile, breathe, think about your life choices and jump back into the next pose.

This is seriously, the best way to do yoga.

Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.

 

Here’s the info on goat yoga in London, Ontario.

GOAT YOGA AT THE FULL CIRCLE RANCH:
Ocean Yoga & Pilates comes to the ranch for “GOAT YOGA AT DUSK” Every Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. all summer!

Find tranquility with by connecting with yourself, your breath and nature.

Come join us for a unique experience of yoga at the ranch. The goats and other animals will join the classes which are held in the indoor riding arena, rain or shine.

Things to remember:
• Join us for a peaceful experience to pause, play and pet the goats (and other ranch friends!)
• Class is run rain or shine, as it is held in the indoor arena (it is not heated, so please dress for the weather)
• It is a ranch, you may get dirty! Puddles may appear, sprinkled with chocolate chips… bring your old mats and yoga clothes
• You also may get snuggles and/or playful nudges
• Class starts at 7 p.m, registration starts at 6:30 p.m. There is no pre-registration.
• After class yogis are welcome to visit with the other ranch animals from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Cost:
•Adults $20 per class
•Children (6-12 years old) $10 per class
•Kids under 5 years old free
*Children must be accompanied by an adult

•Cash only please

Place: Full Circle Ranch located at 44632 Mapleton Line, Central Elgin (Just 10 minutes outside London, off Highbury Rd.)

 

Half marathon: Not quite a hot mess, but a humid fizzle

Tracy in dark pink running tank, blue cap, and sunglasses, wearing race bib uber 38046; Anita in short sleeved red v-neck t-shirt, sunglasses atop her head; inflatable MEC Race Series arch in the background.

Tracy and Anita in front of the start/finish arch pre-race, Pottersburg Park, London, Ontario.

Anita’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

This race was different. Unlike the Niagara Half Marathon, or the Florida Keys Half Marathon, or others, this time it was just Tracy and I doing a London-based race.  In the past a handful of us would make the fun trek to a different city to race.  We’ve avoided London simply because it’s a bit dull racing on the same path you train on week after week, but this race was different because the route took us along parts of the path that we’d never been on.  There were also some pre-race emotions thrown in as this was the last race that Tracy and I would run together for a couple of years owing to our forthcoming consecutive sabbatical leaves.

We went into the race with good spirits. For this one we’d tried a completely different training approach with a coach. Our weekday runs consisted mostly of speed work, which we found challenging at first but eventually we enjoyed conquering the quick, fast workouts that depended on keeping track of our pace. The weekend runs were not as long as we typically would map out for ourselves.  Nevertheless, we both felt that our bodies had responded well to the new training approach. We aimed to shave a couple of minutes off our personal best time.

The race itself was a low key affair, with smaller crowds than the other races we’d done but just as well organized.  Bagels, bananas, gum drops, Clif bars, hot chocolate, coffee and water were available before and after the race. Not too many spectators cheering us on but the route volunteers were terrific. We thought the heat and humidity wouldn’t be a problem once we realized that much of the race route was shady. And it was a lovely route with lots of greenery!  A bit of flooding too but the organizers had built a bridge over the worse part, plus they warned us about the water with an early morning email.

And now to the punchline: it wasn’t the best race for us…yes, we finished, with a respectable time, but…We felt good for the first third of the race. We held on during the second third. Sometime during the last third (around the 16K mark) the struggle started. Hoping it would pass, I didn’t let Tracy know I wasn’t feeling great until the last 3 km or so. And it wasn’t an injury or ache – it was just a ‘not feeling great’ feeling. Like maybe this feeling might progress to feeling like I need to puke.

It crept up silently because we felt like we were doing well with our pacing the whole time. We were also good to ourselves by taking a few longer breaks during that last bit. Was it the humidity? Maybe (but we’ve run in much worse). During our after race de-briefing I said to Tracy: “I never felt the runner’s high. I didn’t feel the happiness on that run.” After some thought, she agreed. Although we’re pleased that we finished in good time, the joy of running eluded us that day.

Tracy’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

Despite that we rarely do local races and have never done a local half, Anita and I were both pumped for our local half marathon last Saturday. It would be our last event together for two years. We’d been working with a coach leading up to it and were feeling good about our speed work. As Anita said, we like to travel, so the whole thing lacked the “glam factor” of some of our previous events. And because it was local, we didn’t even think to book off the night before to go out for Italian food (a pre-race tradition whenever we’re at an out of town event).

We were both in a bit of a tizzy that morning trying to decide what to wear. Shorts or capris? Short sleeves or long? I made a good last minute decision to go with shorts and a tank top.

There was a small and friendly crowd at the race site, with ample refreshments for pre- and post-race. The massage therapy students from Fanshawe College had their tables set up under a canopy for post-race massages. It was clear and sunny, but a good portion of the path was shady and we thought we’d be okay.

And at the beginning, we were keeping a fantastic pace, right on target for our simple strategy. Basically, we divided the race into three parts. The first 7K was for finding our rhythm and keeping a steady pace. The second 7K we focused on staying present with the task and maintaining a good even pace. And finally, in the last 7K we wanted to pick it up just a bit, particularly towards the end, laying it out in the last 800m or so.

Like Anita just said, we faltered in the last few kilometres. There’s a part of our long runs that we call Death Valley because it’s a hot stretch with no trees. The turnaround for the out and back for this race was just about half a kilometre or so past Death Valley. And by then it was pretty hot and humid. So no sooner had we passed through DV than we hit the turnaround and had to do it over again.

For me this was the turning point. I started to feel overheated. Subsequent water stations I knew I needed water and Nuun (though I had never trained with Nuun before, I had to drink it for the electrolytes).  We had kept up reasonably well with two other women who were running just ahead of us at a similar pace. They stayed steady steady with no walk breaks. We were taking 30 seconds every ten minutes, consistently for most of the race until the last 3 or 4 km when we started walking a bit longer.

I tried to maintain my energy with some energy balls we had made with Linda–oats and chocolate and coconut mixed with syrup and other goodies. But it was hard to chew and tough to swallow. I really needed my shot blocks, which I hadn’t had time to buy. I forgot I had a Vega gel in my belt, so that went uneaten (truthfully, I don’t know if I’d have been able to hold it down).

Most times when Anita and I run together we prop each other up. If one is struggling the other is able to encourage. But this time we both felt our energy get sucked away around the same time. After the race we both confessed that we felt like we were going to puke. I had a definite feeling of wooziness with more than 5K left to go.

I hauled out all the mantras I had, focusing on “fast feet” (which was a lie!) and “perpetual forward motion.” MEC has good signage, with lots of motivational sayings along the way (all of which elude me now).

When we crossed that finish line, later than we’d hoped to, my legs felt stiff and unsteady. I grabbed water and a half a banana. We both made our way over to the massage tables. Anita’s upper body was all seized up around her neck and shoulders.  My calves and hamstrings felt hard and tight, so much so that even a relatively gentle massage made me wince. My feet ached. This was not my usual post-race feeling. I was drained.

After our massages we walked slowly up the hill to the car. Having told ourselves earlier that we would treat this as a usual weekend run, we tried not to feel disappointed in our performance. Anita was disappointed that we didn’t get a medal for finishing. But we took a couple of post-race selfies anyway. It may not have been our best event, but we made the best of it.

And as a usual weekend goes, we treated ourselves to breakfast (or in Anita’s case, lunch) at Billy’s.

mec2

Tracy (left) and Anita (right) post-race in the parking lot, looking reasonably cheerful.

Hills and suburban drivers: One thing Sam loved and one thing she hated about the ride on Saturday

On Saturday morning Cate, Sarah, and I set out to on the Friends for Life Bike Rally Training Ride. You can sponsor me here.

Cate gets extra points because she did the ride still jet lagged and recovering from food poisoning, just back from her trip to Uganda, as part of the Nikibasika Development Program. She’s such a trooper. She also had a wedding to go to that night after riding. You can donate to the Nikibasika Development program here.

Ready to ride! #f4lbr

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We were doing the 82 km Finch-Kleinburg ride.

On the bright side, it was my first ride this spring without significant wind. On the downside, hills! Usually I’m a fan of wind over hills. See Wind or hills? Pick your poison. But this spring, I’m about done with the wind. I keep telling myself that big spring winds are excellent training for summer riding. But that story only works for so long.

And it turns out these hills are fun. So much I’d go back for more. But I’d pick a different route to get there, I think. Like, drive.

That brings me to the one thing I hated about this ride suburban traffic and suburban drivers. It’s a given that I don’t like suburbs. My very old Facebook profile “about me” text  (which needs rewriting and updating) says:

Philosopher, feminist, parent, a good friend, a lousy cocktail party companion (I’m small talk impaired), reasonably well disguised introvert, adrenaline junkie, bike geek, energetic, organized, argumentative, vegetarian/aspiring vegan, member of a busy family, weekend athlete (cyclist, soccer player, cross country skiier, weight lifter, swimmer, sometimes runner–when not injured), lousy with a keyboard (I can spell, I just can’t type). I love theatre and loathe personal drama. I love the country and the city, the great outdoors and urban neighbourhoods. Rather predictably I hate suburbs, factory farms, cars, big box stores and strip malls. I am downright tedious on the evils of television, ring roads, fast food, and the over protection of children so best not to even get started on those subjects. Likewise, I am over the top enthusiastic about biking, our velodrome, Aikido, academic life, and the joys of living as part of a large, extended family with porous boundaries and long tentacles.

Ontario passed a safe passing law two years ago. It requires drivers to give people riding bikes one metre of room when passing. We rarely got that on the main through streets in the suburbs of Toronto where the subway lines end.  The bike rally training rides all start and end at subway stations which makes sense for accessibility reasons. Lots of city dwellers, especially cyclist city dwellers, don’t own cars.

In the city I’m not so much bothered by close passing cars. Often in traffic I’m going faster than them and I’m the one passing. In the country I find most drivers respectful. They often move over and give you the whole lane when there’s no oncoming traffic.

But the suburbs? Not so much. Both this week and last I’ve had fast moving cars come scarily close. They deserve tickets. Sarah cycled up to one car at a light and told the driver they have to give us room. It’s the law.

There was also a lot of loud, scary honking for no good reason.

Wish the police were out there ticketing. They need to be doing this.

The one thing about the ride that I did love: rolling hills. OMG, these were fun. Not quite like this. But close.

I love zooming down big hills and seeing how far I get up the other side. As a larger ride for whom hills are often the main reason I want to weigh less (see Fat, fit, and why I want to be leaner anyway) it’s not often I meet hills to my taste. But good rolling hills? Zoom! Whee! I rarely need to switch to my small chain ring on the front. I can power up and over without tiring myself out. And these ones were particularly car-free and fun.

Here’s a more realistic picture of the Kleinburg hills. It’s from Dandy Horse Magazine.

What else is in Kleinburg? The McMichael Gallery. Here’s another rolling hill image from their Group of Seven collection.

So Sarah and Cate, it was a lot of fun chasing each other up and down those hills. Here’s my suggestion. Next time we drive out to Kleinburg and visit the McMichael Gallery. And then we ride our bikes up and down those hills and have lunch in Kleinburg.

48 km into 82 km ride #f4lbr17 #training

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As I say in my post of tips for beginning riders, there’s no shame driving to where you feel safe to ride.

Get a bike rack for your car: If you’re unsure about riding through town but love the idea of riding along country roads there’s no shame, when you first start out, in putting the bike on the back of your car and driving to the countryside. Park, get your bike off the rack, and set off. No one needs to know how you got there. There’s also a fitness issue in adding the ride out of town and back to your mileage. For beginners, there’s a big difference in adding the extra 10 miles on to your distance. Now, I think I’m practically home when I reach landmarks that I used to be proud to reach by bike but that’s after a considerable number of years. The bike rack also comes in handy later if you’re out on a ride and encounter problems and need to call home for a rescue ride. We’ve all been there and again, no shame.

But also I’m angry at the conditions that make this necessary, that make cycling less attractive for people without cars. Drivers, please slow down and pass with lots of room. Police, please get out there and ticket drivers that don’t.

There’s a lot of this sort of messaging about passing safely.

And that’s nice and all. But it’s also the law.

And yes the cyclists in the video are riding two abreast. That’s perfectly fine under the Highway Traffic Act: “Riding two abreast allows the cyclists to legitimately ‘claim’ the lane they’re riding in, encouraging motorists to give them a wider berth, and it also makes for a shorter, quicker pass for the motorist.”

This is from England but the rules here are the same. And look, there’s a woman riding in the group!

Okay, bedtime here. Night night!

 

 

 

In praise of small changes

Small and steady changes in the growth of a potted plant-- four stages

I love my Saturday morning Artemis studio yoga class.  It’s not too early (9:30am– I’m not a morning person), and I love the atmosphere.  It’s a beginner-level class that I’ve been going to since I restarted yoga a year and a half ago.  My friend Norah and I often meet there, and we both continue to make new discoveries about our bodies while going through the now-familiar poses and flow sequences.

Our teacher, Joanne, is all about going small in yoga.  What she constantly emphasizes in class (in a good way) is how the movements we make to get into the poses are going to be small, not drastic.  What she likes to say is that we all want to stretch or bend a lot because we think it means we’re good at yoga.  However, it tends (at my level of practice) to mean that we’re not working the muscles the pose is meant to work.  Of course, it might be cool some day to do this:

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

However, in Joanne’s class I’m really enjoying getting comfortable in downward facing dog.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

After a year and a half of resuming yoga, I finally get it.  Downward Dog used to feel painful and unpleasant, with all my weight on my arms, wrists, hurting.  But shifting my hips up and back, I now find the energy in my legs and hips takes a lot of the pressure off my arms, and in fact the pose feels restorative and a little bit restful.  Whaddya know…

Now, this will sound silly, but one pose I’ve never felt completely comfortable with is mountain pose.  For those of you who don’t do yoga, mountain pose is this:

Tadasana, mountain pose-- standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Tadasana, mountain pose– standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Mountain pose is basically just standing up on the mat (I know, I know– it’s more than that; but still…) So what’s my problem?

I have bigger thighs, so putting my feet together doesn’t feel totally comfortable. So I’ve been doing a variation– standing with my feet hips’ width apart.  I thought that would make me more stable– wider platform, more stability, right?

One version of foot position in mountain pose-- feet on the floor hips' width apart.

One version of foot position in mountain pose– feet on the floor hips’ width apart.

Turns out, that’s not right for me.  Lately, in mountain pose, I have kept looking down to see where my feet were, and futzing with different positions.  Nothing felt really super stable.

Yesterday in class, we were doing some variations on chair pose.  It looks like this:

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

I tried doing this with feet apart, but just for fun, put them together for the pose.  Wow, that felt better!  I didn’t know I could do that.

Taking this idea and running with it (well, since it was yoga class, I had to be still with it), I switched up my feet for mountain pose to now look like this:

Foot position in mountain pose-- a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Foot position in mountain pose– a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Wow– what a difference!  I could finally relax into the stability of the pose, which serves as the foundation for all the other poses in yoga.  It really shifted something for me.  Feeling stable on the ground is a pretty basic requirement for balance.  I’m working on this in several areas of my life.  What a pleasant surprise to find that making a very small change made such a big difference.

Readers, have you experienced the effects of small changes or shifts in physical practices?  I’m really interested to hear your stories.

One in Twenty Thousand: Race Report of the Sporting Life 10K (Guest Post)

Running has never been my forte. That’s probably why I keep doing itbecause I refuse not to be good at things. Sometimes it feels like a fight with my body; other times, it feels like we’ve made an amicable alliance. The self-love of it comes from being able to get my shoes tied and my legs moving, and from luxuriating in the afterglow of sweat, sore muscles, and a redeeming record of my efforts on my fitness tracker, but by no means does it feel like love every step of the way.

As a female on the larger side, I feel an unending urge to push past what people would expect of me. It’s easier to train to run 15 kilometres (as I attempted last Fall) or to ride your bike 600 km over six days than it is to lose 4.5 honey badgers. Goals of distance and increased fitness are not only more measurable and achievable for me; they’re more enjoyable. They signify self-care more than any other method I’ve tested to date.

This year I completed my third official 10K run with the Sporting Life 10K in Toronto. It is worth emphasizing that this is advertised as a “run” and not a “race” (you can even walk it if you’d like to sign up for the last corral). This is a run that’s predominantly downhill where you can expect personal bests, surrounded by people in your speed-category, in a low-pressure, no-competition environment (as most charity-organized events are). For a number of participants, this run/walk isn’t about physical endurance—it holds its significance specifically for its link to support a camp for children with cancer.

preview three years shirts and medals

This run happens every year on Mother’s Day. Despite this regularity, the last three years have been met with drastically different temperatures—an unseasonable heat wave, blisteringly cold winds, and a chilly sun-mist-rain-repeat, respectively. Training early in the season in Canada is a challenge if you’re fragile when it comes to cold temperatures like myself (I recently slept in eight layers of shirts and three pairs of socks for a camping night that reached a low of 7 degrees Celsius). For me, running in the cold and rain in the eight weeks leading up to mid-May is always a nightmare. As such, I’ve been under-trained for this 10K for the last three years.

The first time I ran with a friend who was equally unprepared. There was comfort in our solidarity, particularly embarking on this scary long-distance challenge that neither of us had previously attempted. By some twist of fate, we managed to finish in less than an hour and a half (experienced runners might smirk at that speed, but for us, it was a feat!).

The last two years, I ran solo within a crowd of 20,000+ people. As an introvert, it felt oddly electric. I don’t like to run with music, so being surrounded by the march of feet and chatter of those who chose to run with friends was an ambient comfort. It was a quiet, mass solidarity.

Crossing the finish line, runners are met with a sociable welcome of volunteers of all ages holding finisher’s medals, electrolytes, bagels and bananas, and thousands of sunny faces of satisfaction of those who broke personal records, supported friends or family members, or were just happy to have completed the distance.

While I know that I don’t need an organized run to go outside and run 10 kilometres, it’s that push that I’m completing something for a reason bigger than myself that makes it possible. It also gives me a solid goal that I can pen on my calendar that I know I can’t erase.

Apart from being a benchmark that I can set for myself each year, it’s an atmosphere that’s difficult to replicate anywhere else. I don’t know where else I can find 20,000 people to run with that I can smile and nod to without requisite conversation.

Each year I’ve managed to chop about five minutes off my overall time (this year thanks to a run/walk training strategy), my legs a little more prepared and my feet less blistered, and I feel like I belong. I am one of those 20,000 sunny faces at the finish line, medal in one hand and bagel in the other. Next year, I hope to be five minutes faster.

10k finisher selfie

Vanessa is an editor and communicator in the field of health and wellness. She enjoys travelling, cycling, and photography.

New bike, new attitude

At the end of my last post I left all y’all with a teaser – photos of my smashing new grey and orange bike, Freddie. I’ve been waiting for a new bike for a long time, and this was the year the stars aligned: I’d saved up, I knew I was at a point with my strength and fitness that my old bike was working against me more than anything else, and my club friend L had been surreptitiously sleuthing around one of our top local bike shops with my list in hand: racier than my beloved Roubaix, mostly orange.

(Two photos of the bar tape and top bar of my new bike, Freddie. The orange tape and highlights will feature prominently in the following post!)

So one day in April, after term ended, L and I headed for TO Wheels and had a nose around together.

It took a good while for me to settle on the right bike with the right group set and the other bits and pieces you don’t think about until you’re actively shopping for a new bike. But once I had done all my fussing and reading and testing and more fussing, I ended up with the best bike I’ve ever had, and I’m not just thrilled – I’m faster.

No, really.

So, this is my “top five things I learned in my first month with Freddie” post; it’s mostly about how to buy the best bike you’ve ever had, too.

Spoiler alert: it ends really well, with me loving every minute on this great new machine.

1. Buying an expensive road bike is a big deal! Take your time, do your research, insist on helpful and supportive service.

I know lots of folks who turn up at club rides, or at the office, or in the bedroom (!! *eyeroll*), to say, “hey! I just bought a new bike! It’s got $$$$$$$$ on it and cost a million dollars!”

But that’s not me. I’d thought long and hard about a new bike since returning to Canada from the UK in 2014, and I set my budget at $3000 all in, or as close as I could get (given Ontario’s somewhat onerous 13% HST). I planned the spend and knew I could afford it this spring. I chose TO Wheels, our (I think) top local indie shop, because I knew the folks there (it’s owned by a woman, yo!) and knew they’d be helpful, supportive, and would match me to the best bike I could afford without up-selling.

When L and I got there one busy Saturday afternoon, the lovely and talented Andrew was awash in stuff to do, but still he took almost an hour to talk me through options, look at my bike fit data, put me on the Retül jig (see below!), set it up to my bike fit spec, and then we tweaked it together. We worked out that I’d fit the Cervélo R2, or the Liv Envie, almost exactly. (A pro bike fit – see below – is fantastic, and works especially well if you are having a bike custom built exactly to your spec. That’s really pricey, though, and beyond me at this point. Maybe next time.) I took that info, plus the new jig data Andrew had generated for me, away to do research on my own. I told him I’d be back, but he was not fussed; for him, an hour helping a customer discover important information about her bike needs, sale or no sale, was an hour well spent.

At home I read around the net to learn more about the bikes on offer. The R2 – the bottom of the line item from one of the best manufacturers in the world, sort of the cycling equivalent of the least impressive house on the best street – got superb reviews and sounded like a really ideal buy for me. The Liv, as a woman-specific frame, interests me, but truthfully I’m tall, stocky, and weigh as much as a fit guy my height, so that detail mattered less to me physiologically. While researching I also read a bit about Felt, a fantastic race bike series from the US; I got in touch with local dealers in nearby Dundas, Ontario and they chatted with me about custom group set options over Facebook.

In other words: I took my time. About a week, to be precise. Then I headed back to Andrew, and asked to take the R2 for a test drive.

2. Buying an expensive road bike is a big deal! Take it for a test ride. Take it for two test rides, in fact: one that mimics your commute, and one that mimics a training ride.

My first spin on the R2 was along the cycle paths that line the river between my house and my office. They are often busy with pedestrians, and they have some short, sharp hills that are great fun to punch. It was another sunny Saturday when I took the floor model R2 out onto the path and spent maybe 20 minutes in a commute-like doddle. I ended up having to portage around a small flood, to fight off some angry Canada geese, and then I punched the hill at the private school that leads back up to downtown and to the bike shop.

HPIM4806

(A shot of a sunlit bike path in London, Ontario, with a yellow line dividing traffic and trees on either side. Think this, but more geese.)

I loved the feel of the bike on the hill; the compact cassette gave me all kinds of power, even in the big ring, and I knew this bike was a fab climber. But I found the reach awkward; I wasn’t sure the fit was as it was meant to be, based on the jig work we did in the shop. I queried Andrew; he dropped the handlebars further and I went out again. Again, it felt great. Again, the reach worried me.

I told him I needed to think a bit more and that I’d be back.

Our next club ride saw me spend some time in the peloton with the always lovely and helpful Paul and Allan, who reminded me that to know a bike is YOUR bike you need to really test it – take it out for 40, 50, 60km at least. Don’t rely on a commute test run, they said; take it for a proper spin. So, shortly after, L and I did just that. I grabbed the R2 from Andrew and we headed North-West out of town. The ride was hard into the wind, but fantastic on the way back. I was still having reach issues, but L assured me I was both looking much more comfortable on this bike than on my Ruby, and that I was obviously accelerating faster and more smoothly. This came to pay dirt on our local “heartbreak” hill, where I accelerated up past L and held him on my wheel until the summit. Normally, he’d be off like a flash past me; he’s four inches taller than me, and rides with a substantial drop, making him a very quick puncheur.

The next business day at the shop I told Andrew about the reach issue; he didn’t need to hear it, in fact, because he’d already talked to L and had a plan. We set the jig again, and he showed me what a difference a shorter stem would make; it felt great. We then ordered the bike: the colours I wanted (groovy grey and orange highlights!), the group set I preferred (the Shimano 105 – basic but solid, and it will allow me to upgrade as I wish, to whatever brand I wish, in a couple of years), a 90mm stem, ORANGE BAR TAPE (OMG!), and a gorgeous black Shimano crank. I paid, hugged Andrew wildly, and prepared for my new road adventures to begin.

fullsizeoutput_14dc

(Time from first shop to arrival of bike: 3 weeks, all well spent. I left secure in my decision, and delighted with my new friend. Shown here: Freddie, complete, at the shop on the day I took her home.)

3. A new bike should fit like a glove. Take the time to get yourself a bike fit.

Remember above when I mentioned this thing called the “Retül jig”?

This is a Retül jig:

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(Image of a black bike fit machine, with tall central saddle, handlebar jig, rear tire and chain set. Sort of like what they might ride in The Matrix…)

It’s a tool bike shops use to help you figure out the very best position for you on a bike – and thus the ideal specifications for any bike you buy. A custom bike fit can be expensive, but it’s worth it. Good bike shops like TO Wheels will put you on their jig and help you find an ideal, comfortable position with good power, but a custom fit is more involved: it’s usually up to 2 hours with a pro or two, and it’s designed to assess your current power output, position, and comfort level on your existing bike, and then it compares that against ideals.

I did my custom fit in March 2014 at Le Beau Velo in Shoreditch, London with Mal Pires and Jo McRae; they took loads of photos of me on my bike, on the jig, and in different positions, and afterward set my existing bike up as close to the ideal measurements they’d taken as possible. Then they sent me five pages of photos and data to use when purchasing a new bike.

This is the data Andrew used to set me up on the jig and tweak things for Freddie, and it’s the reason why my new bike is perfectly fitted to my body and to the ways I produce power. I’ve got a much, much more significant drop on this bike (drop = vertical distance from top of saddle to top of handlebars), my quads are positioned more vertically in relation to the pedal stroke, and the top tube of this bike is flatter, meaning my reach when I hold the hoods (the very top part of the handlebars, where you access the brakes) is shorter and easier on my mid-back and shoulder blades. When I stand to climb I can get up in one smooth movement, without having to heave up onto my quads, and I sit equally smoothly in one swift movement. I feel powerful and yet also easy and free on Freddie, and I move visibly more quickly compared to what I could do on Ruby. All thanks to custom data and a careful fit at purchase time.

4. A new bike should make you feel good in your heart. Pick the accessories you want so you can admire it!

ORANGE BAR TAPE. I asked, Andrew delivered. I love orange; it makes me happy on the greyest day. I knew I wanted orange, but it’s not the easiest colour in the world to get hold of for a frame; when I was cruising the options at TO Wheels it wasn’t lost on me, even before we talked data and options, that the R2 was available in a grey-orange combo.

Would I have turned the R2 down, after all that research, if I couldn’t have had the orange? Probably not. But the nice part is I didn’t have to worry; I realized I could accessorize the bike the way I wanted, adding colour at will. Andrew found me the gorgeous bar tape (EVERYONE compliments Freddie on her bar tape!), the mat black crank and water bottle cages for complementary styling, and now I am in the market for shiny orange bike shoes. When I climb onto Freddie with my Foxy Moxy gear on, lime green helmet, and orange vest, I feel terrific: stylish and fast and strong. That feeling carries over onto the hills and the flats, and I love it.

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(Orange Giro cycling shoes with black accents. WANT.)

5. A new bike may give you the mental boost you need to say: yes, I CAN go faster. Embrace that!

My first club ride on Freddie was a windy, grey May Saturday, but wow did she attract attention! My pal Sue, the only other woman in the club who is a regular on Saturday tours, grabbed me and said, let’s go with the fast guys. Come on.

I said: ummm……

Freddie said: let’s do it!

So we did. Hard work into the wind on the way out but I did my turns at the front and hung on when at the back. At St Mary’s, we grabbed a quick bite and took right off again. Then it was tail winds the whole way home, and that’s when the fast guys opened it right up. Time for anxiety.

Brad, my Tuesday night ride friend, took care to make sure Sue and I were riding efficiently, drafting a lot and surging only when needed; Sue and I found it was not nearly as hard as we thought to stay with the guys. We made it the whole 95km, our average speed well above 30kph – a new record for me. And one I repeated two weeks later, when we barnstormed with the speedy dudes home from Ingersoll, riding an average of 40kph on the back 35km.

I KNOW. Like, insane fast.

What can I say? Freddie made me do it! Or, rather, Freddie showed me I had it in me all the time.

All I needed was a bike that was properly fitted to my frame and power profile, a heady new attitude, and the all important orange bar tape.

 

 

 

Last Half Marathon with Anita for TWO Years!

Tracy (left, short blond hair and sunglasses on head, smiling) and Anita (right, short brown hair, sunglasses on head, smiling and holding a water bottle) doing their medal-biting ritual after the Key West Half Marathon in January. Palm trees and people in background; scattered clouds in sky.

Tracy (left, short blond hair and sunglasses on head, smiling) and Anita (right, short brown hair, sunglasses on head, smiling and holding a water bottle) doing their medal-biting ritual after the Key West Half Marathon in January. Palm trees and people in background; scattered clouds in sky.

On Saturday morning Anita and I are doing something we pretty much never do: a local half marathon. It’s the MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-Op) race series race #3 out of Pottersburg Park in London’s east end.

Why don’t we do local half marathons? One of the main reasons is that if you live and train in London, Ontario, you are more than likely going to be running your half on the same path (or at least part of it) that you run all the time. One of our greatest assets is a long network of multi-use pathways along the river. They’re excellent for training. They’re also excellent for races. So it can get boring. Out of town races are more of an event. Careful packing. Road trip. Pre-race dinner at an Italian restaurant for the (apparently not recommended for women) traditional carb load. Unpredictable sleep in an unfamiliar bed. It’s all part of it.

You don’t get any of that in a local race. Well, it’s possible to do the carb load dinner out, but since we’re in town and the night before is a Friday, we didn’t even think of that until we both already had other plans with other people.

So why are we doing this race? It’s all about scheduling and wanting to squeeze in one more event together before Anita leaves for her sabbatical in the UK on July 31st. She’s going to be gone for a whole year. And then when she gets back, my leave begins and I’ll be gone for a whole year. That’s TWO YEARS without Anita. It’s almost unfathomable. We have been training partners for a few years now. We pace about the same as each other for all types of runs, from tempos to intervals to slow, long runs.

Because of our respective travel schedules, an out of town trip was not going to happen. So we decided to look locally and landed on race #3 in the local MEC series. We jumped on it right away after our Around the Bay relay, as a way of giving us a training goal and a swan song event together.

Yes, about half the course is in the familiar territory of the multi-use path from The Forks of the Thames into Springbank Park. But it starts and ends further east than we usually go, so there will be some new scenery even if no pasta dinner.

The MEC series is great and deserves support for a few reasons. First off, lest you think you can’t take advantage because you don’t live in London, there are MEC series all over Canada.  Check out the website here.  For our London events, you can find them by clicking here.

If you check out the website, you’re likely to notice how incredibly cheap it is to sign on to the races in this series.  Whereas we’re used to paying $75 or more for a race–where you get an official time, a t-shirt, and a medal–MEC is more like $15-20, depending on your distance. You can do a Boston qualifier in the MEC series for a mere $25!  They have trail runs, road races, and ultra-marathons.

You don’t get a t-shirt or a medal. But your registration does include:

  • A fun family friendly time
  • Certified route, timed and posted
  • Post race massage (first come first serve)
  • Post race freshly brewed coffee, bagels and spreads, bananas, NUUN and CLIF bars
  • Special in store discount (invitation is included in race kit)
  • Aid Stations along the course
  • Medals for the top 3 Men and Women finishers in each distance.

And really, what more do you need from a local race? For all these reasons, I’ve always admired the MEC series and believed it should be supported. Despite that, I’ve not taken part in many of their events in the past. But I’m keen to try their trail running clinic and experiment with trail races at some point.

Meanwhile, I’m excited about this half with Anita on Saturday. We have trained well for the race, both of us working with our coach, Linda (from Master the Moments). The training plans have been amazing and, at least in my case, have helped me achieve advances in my running that I had not thought I was capable of. These have all been over shorter distances, so we’ll really put our training to the test on Saturday.

Here’s the route in case you’re interested:

Map of MEC marathon and half marathon routes for the May 27, 2017 race (#3 in the series). Indicates race course along the Thames, with the half marathon in light green, full marathon in red, water stations indicated as blue dots, bathrooms as yellow dots.

Map of MEC marathon and half marathon routes for the May 27, 2017 race (#3 in the series). Indicates race course along the Thames, with the half marathon in light green, full marathon in red, water stations indicated as blue dots, bathrooms as yellow dots.

Are you a supporter of local race series’ in your area?