Sunday, July 27, 2008

Deb's VOWSA Bay Challenge Race Report

Deb has graciously allowed me to host her race report on my blog - which makes me happy because I love having cool racing stories to share with everybody.... This race was a tough one but she gutted it out - I won't steal her thunder..... The following are her words and my photos.


Deb's VOWSA Bay Challenge Race Report

“Nemo, I've a feeling we're not in Batchelor Bay anymore.”

I’m a swimmer. As far as sport goes, this is what comes naturally to me and this is what I’m relatively good at. There is a certain feeling I get when I’m in the water. It is one of those feelings that is hard to describe; part Zen, part power, part humility. All of those mixed in with a lot of respect. Sometimes respect for the water has to take precedence, and today’s event was a prime example.

Because of ongoing problems with my foot, this year I decided to return to my roots with the goal of swimming English Bay. As the crow flies, the swim from Sandy Cove in West Vancouver across to Kits Beach is about 9 km. Unfortunately I’m not a crow. More on that later. Add currents, shipping channels and cold water and you’ve got yourself quite a goal to accomplish.

The mandatory pre-race meeting Saturday night was quick and to the point. Boat drivers and crew members were reminded that their job is to monitor swimmers for hypothermia, stay out of the way of other teams and to make sure their swimmers are eating and staying hydrated. And to watch out for freighters. We found out that an out-bound freighter was scheduled to be passing under Lion’s Gate at around 8:30 am which meant that things could get interesting. Meyrick and I quickly decided that this only added to the bad-assness of the event and we would deal with it (in other words get the hell out of its way) accordingly.

Like any good endurance athlete, I had a race plan all figured out. Hold between 1:40 - 1:50 per 100m, eat every 30 minutes and to negative split and I should be crossing the finish line around 2:45. That was the plan at least. It seems though, that Neptune had plans of his own.

On the way to Sandy Cove - Pre Race

Chris - skipper

Meyrick - Photographer, bottle thrower, cheerleader

Race day weather was almost perfect; high overcast skies (makes sighting a bit easier and it is easier on my pale crew!), no wind and calm seas. The water temperature felt a bit colder than usual, but after a few minutes it was fine. The first third felt great. I settled in to a nice pace, I had a good line all figured out and I was getting good air (breathing, that is). I stopped for my first feed (Carbo-Pro and Ultima) at around 30 minutes then again around an hour. Just after this point things started getting a bit challenging. As I got into the shipping channel the water temperature dropped a bit and the seas picked up. Nothing too bad, but enough to give me grief. According to Chris (my very skilled skipper), the chop wasn’t coming from any direction in particular, instead it was disorganized; coming from all angles and at different frequencies. To deal with this I had to “choose my breaths” carefully and it seems this is a skill I can improve upon. I think for about 30 minutes 2 out 3 breaths had more water than air. I also found a couple of times I’d go to catch (the first part of the stroke when your hand enters the water) and instead of grabbing water, I found air (not helpful to a swimmer). But, I just kept my head down and pushed on.

Carbo-Pro on a string... mmmm!

There was a period of relative calm, but for how long I don’t know. Somewhere around 2 hours (give or take 15 minutes) Meyrick suggested that I pick up my pace. We were just over 5 km across and he was getting worried that I wouldn’t make the 4 hour cut-off time. This was not part of the plan! I listened though, and felt I was making good headway. I found out afterwards that there was a very strong surface current today. This might explain the “drift” I was experiencing. I felt like I was moving forward, but I was actually moving somewhat sideways. This would also explain the wide arc that added a few hundred meters on to my swim.

At three hours, my arms were done. I really had to focus on rolling my body to take some of the pressure off my shoulders. It turned into a bit of a mantra: “roll ... roll … roll…” At 3:44 I glanced over at the boat and Meyrick yelled “10 minutes!” If I didn’t make it to the swim buoys at Kits Beach within 4 hours, I would run the risk of being plucked out of the water by the Lifeguards. I gunned it. I am not a sprinter. I absolutely suck at 50 m intervals in the pool and 100s aren’t my forte either. Today, however, I called upon every fast-twitch muscle fiber in my body to get me across that buoy line. Despite what felt like a lot of thrashing around in the water, I made it inside the buoy line and across the finish line in just over 4 hours. I was very shocked when one of the medical personnel told me that I was one of the few who made it. So it WASN”T just me having a tough time of it out there…

Finishing kick...  near the buoy line

Deb emerges victorious... 

This is a very challenging event. I expected it to hurt (my longest openwater swim up to today was 6 km in 2 hours) and I expected to be challenged by the water. I did NOT expect the mental game to be as hard as it was. Imagine running (or riding) across a landscape that affords no perspective; there are no trees, no other people and absolutely nothing changes under your feet (or wheels). Take away the connection you have with the earth (by way of your feet or wheels) and this is getting close to how it feels to swim in the open water for 9+ km. I had to start off by sighting on something that was almost 10 km away from me so I really had no idea where I was in relation to it. Even when I got closer to the beach, I was having a hard time figuring out distances. Was I 1000 m away or was I only 400 m away? I remember thinking a couple of times “Am I actually moving forward?”

In the end, I got through it (without having to deal with any freighters, by the way). It was definitely slower than anticipated, but considering the conditions, today was about finishing. The winner of today’s event is incredibly fast and strong and his swim time was well over an hour slower than his last year’s time. The only record that got broken this morning was for the longest crossing so I’m glad I didn’t break any records today.

I would like to give a HUGE “thank you” to my crew Chris and Meyrick. Without them, I would not have been allowed to enter this race. Thanks as well to Kevin for driving out to Kits and giving me a lift back to Sewell’s Marina … the though of getting in a little boat for the trip back did not go over to well with my stomach!

Photo Gallery

Pre Race Briefing

VOWSA Organizer

Deb - mid-bay....  Lion's Gate Bridge in the background

Sighting - Deb went straight all day....  (*Another guy kept unintentionally turning around and heading back to West Van...  must have been a long swim for him.)

About 2/3 through with downtown in the background

#3 - Eye of the Tiger!

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My Weekend Theorem

Summer consists of about 16 weekends.  June thru September...  (Rule #1 - I count June and September because I don't go to school and the weather is occasionally nice.)

16 = Not a lot.  If you stop to consider the reliability of the weather in Vancouver, you might as well call it 12 (Rule #2 - bad weather summer weekends don't count.)

Given only 12 weekends to work with, it is essential that they not be squandered.  This should not be news to anyone from Vancouver. 

It's not a complicated theorem (by the way what is the difference between a theorem and a theory?  anyone? Theorems sound cooler and more exotic, so I'll go with that.)  Titles aside, this is one worth remembering because in the blink of an eye it will be November...  and November ain't pretty.  With that in mind, onto the...

Weekend Wrap

Saturday:  5 Peaks Trail Race - Cypress Mountain

Another great 5 Peaks race.  This one MUCH tougher than the Golden Ears race in June so it was good that Mattias imparted his signature advice before the start - "Dig deep mama!"  Sacha and I ran it together in a remarkable display of matrimonial harmony.  We dug as deep as we felt necessary to deserve a good breakfast afterward.

This was Sacha's first race since Viggo was born 9 weeks ago.  She did superbly well given she hasn't exactly been training for about 9 months now.  I was glad I ran it with her because it was so technical....  had I been on my own I probably would have gotten carried away trying to go fast and would have certainly bailed many times.  The result would not have been pretty given my gluteal issues.  

The uphill section was long and steep (think Grouse Grind) and the downhill was loose and steep....  pretty easy to slip on loose dirt and big rocks.  You had to lean into the downhills and let'er rip or you'd slip onto your ass for sure.  Part of it was a mountain bike trail so the corners were banked in spots which was cool.



Mattias ran his Children's 1km race and enjoyed every moment.  He even got a stitch from running so hard...  It was awesome.  Aia took a race off and cheered instead.  Gary and Anne-Marie (Sacha's parents) were on kid patrol while Sacha and I climbed the mountain and slipped all the way back down - thanks guys!

Mattias going hard on the outside

And crossing the line...  He ran the last 100m with his hand on his chest (stitch and all)

Saturday night was a great dinner at our friends' Heather and Conal's house - firework viewing afterward from their deck.  

Sunday:  Deb's Bay Challenge

See upcoming post and Guest Race Report with photos!

My article about STP - was in the North Shore News today - all of page 3 and part of page 4.  Looked great I thought.  Check it out here.  The paper had a bunch of photos too.  Unfortunately, I guess my headline was too long so they shortened it - was better before in my humble opinion!

This week we will be on Hornby Island...  Should be a lot of fun.  I am riding up island from Nanaimo to Fanny Bay to get there (80km), so that will be a good test for my left ass cheek.  Posts my be impossible while we are on the island, but I promise a good one upon our return.

Aia awaiting her parents at the finish line...

Viggo likes races too

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Nakamura Stinger - Makeover

Aia has been rocking the Nakamura Stinger this summer.... with it's performance drivetrain, all-terrain rubber and distinctive 'Stinger' graphics you would be forgiven for wondering why it needed a makeover.

I can definitely relate to a rider wanting to personalize his/her ride and that is what Aia wanted to do with the Stinger. We opted for a custom basket (so she could carry her babies with her while riding.)

My first suggestion was to match the basket to the Stinger's graphics. Yellow and black stripes and angry bee motifs not being her bag, this was a non-starter. Surprising nobody, Aia declared that the basket would be "Pink, like a princess basket."

We went to Michaels and purchased the necessary supplies:

- Basket
- Pink Spray Paint
- Elmers Glue (with glitter)
- More Glitter
- Pink felt flowers
- "Diamonds"
- Ribbon
- Beads

The Result:

This may have many of you casting your mind back a couple of months to Aia's last project - the Princess Castle. It is almost finished, here is a shot from last week.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Weekend Preview - 5 Peaks Trail Race and VOWSA Bay Challenge

This weekend serves up a couple of pretty cool events:

Saturday is the 5 Peaks Trail Race. Originally scheduled to take place on Seymour Mountain, it has been re-located to Cypress due to excess snow still on the trail. This puts the start line about 15 minutes from my house. I am definitely going to be there with the kids as they will be 'competing' in the Children's 1km... I still think I will sign up for the adult race but I will leave the decision till the last moment. The road rash is healing well but I am not sure I want to launch back in with a race.... but then again I loved the last 5 Peaks race at Golden Ears. Decisions.

On Sunday I will be supporting my good friend Debbie Collingwood as she takes on the VOWSA Bay Challenge. VOWSA = Vancouver Open Water Swim Association. The Bay Challenge is an open water race from Sandy Cove in West Vancouver to Kits Beach in Vancouver. An impressively long distance by any standard. 10km as the crow flies - but crows fly differently than humans swim... she will be fighting currents and crossing shipping lanes. It's certifiably bad-ass and I am pumped to be on the support boat looking after her fueling, hydrating and photo documenting. I would like to try this event one day.... but then I always think that when I spectate or support someone else and don't compete. Debbie and I (and a few others) have been swimming together for a long time now, and I paddled the kayak with her the other day when she did a training swim of about 6km. I think she is ready to rock it.... should be cool.

Other than that I will be hanging out with the wife and kids, trying to sneak a peak at the Tour and just chilling. On Monday we leave for Hornby Island and my butt had better be back together because I was really looking forward to riding my bike a lot there and on Vancouver Island.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

McMahon is the man

Imagine if your dream was to make it to the Olympics - you worked relentlessly for years, poured everything you had into being the best athlete you could be - ate right, slept right, trained hard, raced hard, made all the sacrifices to make it to the Big Show.

Brent McMahon did just that (and many other things I'm sure), he worked hard enough to be the third ranked triathlete in Canada when the team selections were made. There were three spots on the team but he wasn't selected. Nevermind the controversy, and what is right and wrong about the decision - just consider the level of disappointment and frustration he must have felt.

Many athletes would have taken the rest of the year off, retired, slacked off, whatever.... Not Brent. Last weekend he raced in New York in the Nautica NYC Triathlon - a big event with significant prize money and a star-studded elite field. He raced hard and was the only one to stay with Greg Bennett (AUS) on the bike. He held on in second place throughout the run until 10 metres from the finish line he collapsed from the heat and the effort. He managed to get up and crawl across the line for 5th place.

The amazing part for me is not the crawling across the line.... I think anyone would try to do that in the same position. The part I think is awesome is that he pushed so hard and raced with such fury only weeks after such a huge disappointment. Made me proud to be a Canadian triathlete.

I'm sure he isn't reading but way to go Brent!

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Needs Attention

I tend to get a little reflective when I am injured. No, not like the stripes on your adidas running jacket are reflective.... I mean I get a bit introspective. For me a lack of exercise seems to deprive the brain of some sort of chemical, resulting in various odd/unpleasant emotions and magnified personal idiosyncrasies. Occasionally it results in self-help style productivity, sometimes self-loathing (it's a fine line). Budding Dr. Phil's out there feel free to explain this... I googled it but wasted too much time trying to find the explanation.

I have spent much of today "taking stock". In the old days it would have been words scrawled on a pad of paper under headings like: PERSONAL, PROFESSIONAL, FAMILY, etc. These days who can find a pad of paper.... I sit in front of the computer sorting out the good, the bad and the ugly in my life. Make sure you don't hit "send" if you use your e-mail program for this...

It goes well beyond the scope of this blog (and my comfort) to get into the details. I feel lucky that "the good" outnumbers "the bad", and that there are almost no "ugly". Like most, I am working hard and doing well in some areas, and I need to pull up my socks in others. When I look at the pixels on the screen and sum it all up things are pretty good.

But just as the road rash on my ass is not a 'real' injury, is this a real indication of how I am doing? Somehow, I don't think so. I am disappointed that some of the same things sit on the "bad" list year after year for as long as I can remember. Giving myself a B+ overall really just provides a convenient excuse to do nothing.

I reorganize the document. Waste 5 minutes remembering how to make two columns in Word... NEEDS ATTENTION and GOOD JOB. Nice... this looks good. The GOOD JOB column is nice and long... It crosses my mind that the items on the GOOD JOB side are really just self-congratulatory crap that makes the list because I want to feel good while going through this unpleasant exercise.

Let's get tough and delete the GOOD JOB column.... I pat myself on the back first. Nice job - MJ. Now I can focus on the NEEDS ATTENTION column, oh wait, there's my e-mail, let's check that...

Where was I? The NA column. Still needing attention. I need a bit of inspiration to pump me up to tackle these things.... Fire up - that'll be just the thing to get me going. God, I hate this stuff...

When it comes to getting things done, we need fewer architects and more bricklayers. - Colleen C. Barrett

Hallelujah, Colleen! Couldn't agree more. I need to channel my inner bricklayer for this NA column. Kill the architect within! I have been all lights and camera - now I need action! (Saw that one on the page too.... wish I could say I made it up...)

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. - Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma, you are correct sir! Let's face it, with this list of stuff I am bad at, whatever I do will likely be pretty insignificant (usually I do next to nothing about these things) but, I better do it this time. (That's the "wisdom" part of the quote for those of you scoring at home...)

One more....

I'm here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of bubble gum. - Rowdy Roddie Piper from a very forgettable movie.

No offense to Gandhi or the other lady, but Piper hits the nail on the head here. If I want to see a shorter list the next time I find myself laid up and "taking stock" I better kick a little ass!

The first step is admitting you have a problem. That's where this post comes in.... As it turns out I won't admit exactly what my problems are to you, but I am admitting I have some. That will have to do. Don't worry I am not an alcoholic, or a drug addict or grow-op technician. Just a guy with a list of things that NEED ATTENTION.

Why is it that everyone knows the first step but nobody knows the second step? That's a question I'd like to pose to the "Step" people... What gives with focusing all the publicity on step 1? In the state I'm in researching that could be reason for me to waste another fifteen minutes on Google.

No. Time to focus. Goals. Goals have been the backbone of every success I have had in life with the exception of my children being attractive which was luck - and my wife's genes. I'll make goals, just like I do with my running, cycling, swimming, skiing etc. Make a goal, train, execute. Simple.

Are goals likely to get it done? Do people lose weight when they make New Year's Resolutions? I fear that making a goal really isn't the answer - only part of it. I shiver when I realize that the answer has been in front of me the whole time. My own digital script no less.... NEEDS ATTENTION - right there in all caps, Arial, size 12. Attention = time, effort, diligence, perseverance. Damn. I was hoping Google or wisdomquotes might sort these issues out for me.

Stock taken.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quiet Weekend

Well, I consider myself pretty lucky to have timed this injury/inconvenient skinless ass problem as well as I have.

I had no events planned for this weekend, STP is over, my next race isn't until next weekend and I can register day-of for that one....

That's the good news. The bad news is that this road rash is really irritating and painful. I am sleeping badly due to sticking to the sheets/towel I have laid out. Also, clothing has a knack for sticking to it as well. I am trying not to dress it (on the doctor's orders) but it is tempting to throw some bandages on there.

I am still hoping to do the 5 Peaks Trail Run next weekend... I think it is reasonable to assume that I will be able to do it (and unreasonable to waste a whole week due to road rash). I won't register until the day of the race just in case. If I can't run I will put all of my efforts into cheering for Mattias (and maybe Aia if she comes out of retirement).

The bike might take a bit longer... butts have a way of wanting to rest on bicycle seats. This is a thought that makes me wince at the moment. We'll see.

Swimming - what is the etiquette on swimming in the pool with open wounds? The wetsuit doesn't seem too appealing right now so open water is out.

This weekend was pretty mellow. We had some friends over for brunch on Saturday then went out for dinner on Saturday night. Saltaire (restaurant in West Vancouver) gets a 5 out of 10 from me - it would be too boring to say why but nobody was impressed. Today we spent 6 hours at my good friends Jim and Trish's pool party - gets an 11 out of 10 from me (though I abstained from the water due to the etiquette question above.) Mattias and Aia were in the pool for five of the six hours.

Apart from the everyday life I am forecasting for this week, I am looking forward to a monumental week in Le Tour - the biggest stage of all should go down on Wednesday morning - Col du Galibier, Col du Jecantremember, and L'Alpe D'Huez. Three huge mountains and a mountaintop finish. And with the top 5 or 6 within one minute of each other it should spell DRAMA. You'll find me on the couch for that one... I am cheering for Cadel Evans (in case any one cares.)

Anyone care to log their favourite in the comments?

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Crash Re-enactment

Actually, I suppose it is a Pre-Enactment.

This guy does exactly what I did... though his hill is miniature in comparison to Cypress and I was going WAY faster and skidded way further on gravel. He got up quicker though....

Nevertheless, this was essentially me last night.

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I thought STP was going to be tough on my a$$. In the end (no pun intended) it was fine.

Last night however my number came up. I was rollerskiing on Cypress with Tony. The session was going relatively badly (I was tired) but we were getting it done. Tony was riding his bike beside me and critiquing my form. Eventually it was time for him to ride back down to get the car (to pick me up.)

I told Tony I would practice my downhills in the parking lot until he got back. Well, I went up and down 3 or 4 times and felt confident (over-confident.)

I decided to go down Cypress.

The method for controlling speed is to push out on the wheels like a wide snowplow. This was working very well for a while.... Then the pitch increased. My speed increased as well. By and by my legs began to get tired of the perma-squat. Minutes passed and I couldn't stop and was slowly picking up speed. By this time I knew I was in some trouble.... A "mayday" call would have gone out if I had the technology.

I had all sorts of time to think about my options....

1. Somehow get a car to come in front or alongside and explain that I needed them to slow gradually with my hands on the trunk. Ha ha.... right....

2. Try to make a turn and get moving uphill - this could easily have put me down the embankment or result in a heavy wipeout on the pavement - or it could end the episode without injury. The tired legs had me thinking I would eat it if I tried.

3. Plan a crash landing and take my lumps.

The wobbles increased, I held on.... they increased again, I kept holding on..... eventually I knew it was going to end badly so I opted for plan #3.

The most "inviting" spot to lay it down was the gravel beside the road.... So I swerved to the right and tried to hang on in an upright position.... that lasted for about 1.4 seconds before my ass hit the gravel and skidded/bounced 4 or 5 times.

The result is I have little to no skin remaining on my left ass-cheek. It hurts like hell.

I tried to take a photo but it was too difficult to maintain my blog's PG rating. I may try again to get a shot but for now you'll have to imagine my poor skinless butt.

I would like to recognize the nursing efforts of my beautiful wife Sacha... As if she doesn't have enough on her plate with two kids and a baby she now has my ass (on her plate?) Well, you know what I mean.... she is awesome!

I am laying low today watching le Tour and trying to allow my hind quarters to heal. I am fortunate enough to have some drugs to help with the pain (seems quite appropriate that I would be drugged while watching the tour...) Also, red shorts... normally kind of loud, coming in very handy today...

On the topic of recent doping infractions in the Tour.... there is not much I can say that hasn't been said before. I liked the take of another blogger I read from time to time: "It's like finding out that your favourite porn star has breast implants." Ha ha... I still like it. (The tour.)

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Cypress Rollerski

Here are some videos from last night's dryland training session. It was just Tony and I skiing up Cypress. Tony rode his bike and critiqued my form.

It was not my most stellar workout as I felt very tired and my legs are still a little tired after STP... wish I was 23.

These videos ended up being a preamble for the most exciting episode of my summer so far. (See the next post.)

Anyway, enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More STP Photos

Here are some photos of Brian and I on the road..... Courtesy of MarathonFoto. I have a suggestion for the good people at MarathonFoto:

Your options for prints between $13.95 and a stratospheric $72.95 are a little ridiculous. And, PLEASE don't get me started on the digital single image download for $39.95! Or worse, the CD for $64.95!!!!

How about a digital, downloadable option for $4.99 or less?

Does the word "PROOF" in orange on my images mean "proof that I am not stupid enough to pay through the nose for these images"?

Have I gotten out of touch with reality here? Normally I am not cheap.... Thoughts anyone?

Without further ado, onto the $160 worth of images (if I actually ordered them).... By the way, STP was $80.... Making buying photos of STP twice as expensive as actually doing STP...

Rant over.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The director's cut... STP

OK, here's the other stuff I couldn't mention in the 'real' article (previous post).... 

We loaded up the van and headed down on Friday....  Brian, myself, Krista and Kasia.  We were laughing the whole way AND the border line up wasn't too bad after we pulled the old duty free trick at the truck crossing...  ;)

Krista had picked up about 50 bagels (she is the bagel queen of Vancouver - owner of Mount Royal Bagel Factory).  As if that wasn't enough, we picked up some doughnuts at Krispy Kreme as well....  we were taking our pre-ride fueling seriously!

The STP ride itself was awesome!  Described well in the previous post, but I didn't mention some of the carnage we were lucky to avoid - crashes!  Many of them!  Including Mike Gillis (Canucks GM) totalling his Time (Time is a super-wicked bike brand)...  The ride took it's toll on many folks and we felt pretty lucky to come through completely unscathed (OK - 90% unscathed - if you know what I mean...)

Our hotel in Portland was funky and provided a good spot to celebrate with the full I.F. crew.  On Sunday morning we loaded up all the bikes and rolled a rental Ford Expedition and a moving truck back to Seattle convoy style.  HUGE thanks to Sam and Jim who organized that....

We hit a few outlets on the ride home and took down a great burrito at the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op before using the Aldergrove border crossing to avoid the 2 hour line-up at Peace Arch and the truck crossing.  Again nothing but laughing non-stop on the way back...

A great time.  These I.F. trips are hands down the most fun part of being involved with Innovative Fitness.  Somehow I meet great people and end up laughing my ass off the whole time.  Speaking of my ass....  it survived - not unscathed, but not too bad.

Next event - Seymour Trail Run - July 26th.

Hope you all had an awesome weekend!

Enjoy the photos:

Kasia (left) and Krista


Brian and I in the Eurovan cockpit

Richard, Sam, Jonathan

Kasia and Krista - post-ride dinner

Brian and I (and Jim's arm)

Jim (in the truck), Brian and Krista

Krista and Sam

James (my coach) and I... nice haircuts

Mike Gillis' Time after ploughing into a post (ouch!)  Post 1, Bicycle 0.

Two full moons...  

Bottoms up...

Krista and Kasia paying for gas with iced lattes.  Interestingly, with gas prices on the rise it may soon cost about the same per litre as lattes... (Krista wearing swim goggles.... she's weird)

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Three Strong Legs, Two Good Eyes, One Long Ride - STP 2008


Here is an article I have written for various outlets about our STP experience....

333km is a long way to ride a bike. Factor in 97 degree heat, 9,500 other riders, a blind man and an amputee, and you've got yourself a long day. "Riding a tandem 300 km is like riding a single bike 400 km" Brian informed me AFTER we crossed the STP finish line on Saturday evening. My neck, back, legs, hands and 'undercarriage' all confirmed that he spoke the truth.

STP - The Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic - is marketed as a "group bike ride", which is akin to describing Antarctica as a "cold island". The event is enormous, both in terms of riders and distance for recreational cyclists to cover in two days (let alone one day as was our plan.) The epic nature of the ride was the initial attraction for me - the plan was that training for, and accomplishing, this type of goal would bring about a noticeable improvement in my cycling. It was an evening in June, about one month before the ride, that the idea to tackle STP with Brian popped into my head.

Brian Cowie is a visually impaired paralympic cyclist preparing for Beijing this summer. I met him through my ski coach. He has also completed 10 Ironman races including Hawaii (twice). Most recently we raced together, representing Canada at the Triathlon World Championships in the AWAD (Athletes with a Disability) category. Visually impaired triathletes compete with a guide who swims, 'pilots' the bike, and runs with the athlete. As a Paralympian, Brian normally has his pick of high calibre 'pilots' when he races, pro cyclists, ex-national champions etc. The thought of an amputee (me) and a blind cyclist teaming up to conquer the STP challenge was way too cool for me to ignore. To his credit Brian agreed instantly - a decision which I now realize meant putting his life in my hands!

Our first (and only) training ride on Brian's custom red and white, maple leaf covered, rocket ship confirmed that we would be road worthy, but wasn't enough to give either of us 100% confidence. The bike performs a lot like a souped-up, fully loaded dump truck might - it goes really fast (especially downhill) and is hard to manoeuvre or stop. At the conclusion of the training ride Brian's assessment was, "At least I know you're not going to kill us" which I took as a compliment. Busy schedules dictated that the rest of our training had to take place independently. By the time I saw the tandem again in Seattle I had butterflies about riding it.... not where you want to be at the beginning of the odyssey that is STP.

As its name would suggest, STP begins in Seattle. The most beautiful part of the ride (in my opinion) is first couple of hours as you wind along Lake Washington and make your way out of Seattle on fresh legs and with an unchafed derriere. This is also the most crowded part of the ride and thus it is wise to be on the lookout for erratic riders unused to pelotons. Before too long the roads straighten out and the speed picks up, the riders spread out and the drafting begins. With the speed generated by two riders our tandem provides an extremely attractive and accommodating draft - Brian and I became the pied pipers of Seattle as we lead hundreds of cyclists out of the city in a long pace line. My confidence handling the machine was back and better than ever.... We were both feeling good.

You can't ride 333km with out some hair-raising moments - ours came when we double flatted on rough pavement with 150 riders right behind us. With considerable difficulty I managed to keep the rig upright as I struggled to stop... nearly disastrous. Our fate was met with cries of "Bummer!", "Thanks Guys!", and "That sucks!" from our disappointed (but not stopping to help) draftees. That wasn't the only adversity we faced though... the heat was remarkable and whoever was in charge of making sure there was no shade in the rest areas had done a spectacular job. The miles ticked by and we got closer to Portland.

The winding road brought with it all sorts of ups and downs, both in energy and elevation. We enjoyed chatting at times and rode silently at times. Brian didn't get mad when I asked him 138 times "Did you see that?" or "Look at that" he just politely reminded me that's why I got to ride up front....

Oregonian drivers are an interesting bunch. Many have a fondness for their horns and a seething hate on for cyclists. It seemed at odds with the state's reputation as an outdoorsman's mecca. To the drivers that leaned on their horns when passing cyclists at 100 mph I offer this ancient Chinese proverb: Man who drive like hell, bound to get there. It is a few words longer, and a wee bit more socially acceptable than the phrase we used several times on Saturday. But I digress...

The ride, predictably, ended in Portland around 6pm. We had been on the road for 9 hours of riding and about 4-and-a-half of eating, resting and changing tires. The feeling was one of accomplishment - the character-building kind that comes from completing something difficult - the kind of feeling triathletes and endurance junkies love. We celebrated by ravenously putting back two pieces of pizza and two cans of coke each within seconds of crossing the line (like all elite athletes do...) Team Momentum (as we had dubbed ourselves) was completely spent. The Momentum Foundation was started earlier this year, Brian and I are directors. The Foundation's purpose is to provide opportunities and funding to allow disabled individuals to reach their active living and sporting goals. We hope that the Momentum Foundation will be paving the way for physically disabled men and women of all ages to follow in our footsteps - not just at STP but wherever their sporting dreams can take them.

The logistics surrounding a point-to-point ride like this are a bit complicated, Brian and I were extremely fortunate to link up with a group from Innovative Fitness. Not only did I.F. sponsor us to help with the costs, but the experienced coaches provided us with a great deal of knowledge gleaned from guiding dozens of customers through the STP experience year-after-year. If you want to tackle this ride in style, I recommend Innovative's STP and coaching packages - our experience was excellent. From the hotels and transportation to the company of like-minded people - we had a blast! Also, a big "Thank you!" to Atac Sportswear for providing Brian and I with custom Momentum Foundation powered by Innovative Fitness jerseys.

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