Race Bucket List

Bucket lists seem to be all the rage these days, but I’ve always found the idea daunting – how could I list everything I ever wanted to do?  My list would be something like: 1.) Live Forever and do everything.  Yet, if I focus on the idea that there are endurance/athletic events I would like to participate in, then maybe I can come up with something.

These races will be in the ‘Bucket List’/Pipe Dream category for one or more of the following reasons (in increasing order of likelihood):

  1. Conditioning.  I’m too far out of the shape I’d need to be in to complete
  2. Skill/Equipment.  One or more of the disciplines involves a skill I don’t know how to do
  3. Geography/Logistics:  Getting there with equipment won’t work while taking care of my family at the same time

All of these are fixable or will change with time, and so will the list as I find out new possibilities and opportunities… so let’s get started!

    • Pentathlon Des Neiges.  I was going to put the Ottawa Winterlude Triathlon here but I just happened to stumble across this event in IMPACT magazine. Both events include skating, cross-country skiing, and running, but the Pentathlon des Neiges adds snow-shoeing and cycling.  The latter discipline can be done with mountain or cyclo-cross bikes and actually takes place first (followed by a run, then ski, then skate, then snow-shoe).  There are short (9+4+6+6+4=29km) and long (15+6+9+9+6=45) distance races and it all takes place on the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

    • Men’s Health Urbanathlon What I like about this obstacle course is it seems focused on the fitness aspects needed to complete while leaving out the fear factor/bravado and quite frankly, mud involved in mud runs, Warrior Dashes and Spartan Races and the like.  If they bring one to the Toronto area, I’m as good as signed up, but I wouldn’t mind travelling to one of the fine cities that are currently offered when my schedule would allow it.
      • Ski 2 Sea what if a race included even more of the Canadian Multi-sport experience, enough to span all seasons?  And what if it was a journey with an end destination that was far away from the start?  What if you started on top of a mountain, downhill skied 2km, switched to cross-county skis for another 8km, jumped on a mountain bike and rode 28km out of the mountains only to hit the road with your road bike for 36km.  Now jump off the bike and run for nearly 15km and get in your canoe/kayak so you don’t get wet because there’s another 8km before the finish line.  It’s a lot of distance to cover, and the logistics are quite intimidating so people often do this as a team relay, but it seems like such a dream journey (and it is a net downhill, after all) that I can’t help but be tempted by this one.

        • Ironman 70.3 Laguna Phuket Thailand  I’m a little wary of iron or half-iron distance racing and it’s not only the daunting training schedule and training volume.  Races with the Ironman brand don’t exist in everybody’s back yard, and most people who have done one turn it into a trip with overnight accomodation, meals and maybe a little vacation time… if you’re going to drop that kind of cash and time, why not make it a more once-in-a-lifetime experience?  I love Thailand (from having honeymooned there) and I can’t picture a better destination for a ‘destination race’ than the land of smiles.  So far, you don’t even have to qualify!  This race took place this past Sunday, in fact.

        • Berlin Marathon   My wife and I both have a lot of friends and family in Germany, and Berlin has become a bit of a home away from home for us.  The Berlin marathon is also considered the fastest course there is so there’s my motivation to beat my previous, pitiful marathon time.  What really put this marathon into my dream file was a conversation I had with a gentleman who had done more than 50 marathons all over the world, but when I asked him his favourite, he said it was the Berlin Marathon, during the year of German re-unification.  He had run through part of the city that were inaccessible to him growing up, and attempting to leave those parts in the East had gotten people shot and killed over the course of the Cold War.  By the time he ran through the Brandenburg Gate (below), he was blind with tears in his eyes and needed the guidance of a friend simply to find his way through the pillars.  So many Big City Marathons have a lot of historical draw, but none like this, at least not to me.
        Runners going through the Brandenburg Gate
        • XTERRA Canada (Canadian Open Championship) I already like taking my running “off-road”,  and it’s my honest intention to get a mountain-bike for cross-training purposes and to participate in some non-navigational adventure races (like Logs, Rocks and Steel) and off-road triathlons.  From the latter category, XTERRA is pretty much the biggest and baddest.  This race takes place in beautiful Whistler, BC which only adds to the draw.  Until that time, maybe I’ll get to do the Mine Over Matter as my introduction to off-road tris…

        This list is long enough for now, but I’m always up for recommendations… dream big!

          Gear Corner: Running Wirelessly

          Usual disclaimer: I don’t get any compensation or consideration for writing this; all products were purchased with my own money.

          I started running seriously (i.e. more than 2 miles at a time) sometime in 2004. As I got built up to Half-Marathon distance I accrued more and more technology to support my runs.

          Shortly before the September race I was doing, a friend spotted me with sunglasses, a Garmin Forerunner 205 strapped to my wrist, and a Palm Treo (one of the first smartphones) on my arm – he referred to me as ‘Robocop’; I found it both cool and funny.  The phone was playing MP3s to a wired headset; it was nice to listen to music but people would get a little scared when I answered the phone huffing and puffing.

          Nowadays, smartphones are more commonplace and since both my Garmin (I now use the Forerunner 305) and iPod Touch seem to be lost or missing, it’s as good a time as any to write about running with a Smartphone.

          With an iPhone, Android, or even Blackberry you can track and share your workout activity – including distance for many sports using an app.  I use Endomondo (I’ve tracked running, cycling, inline skating, walking, cross-country and downhill skiing and kayaking so far), but there’s Adidas miCoach and many others including Daily Mile and RunKeeper.  It’s a lot simpler when you can combine device functionality like this.

          To me, one of the big pains of running to music is dealing with the headphone wires; I either snag it with my hands and yank the headphones out or I have to deal with stringing it under my clothes and through the neck, sleeve or whatever.

          I experimented with Bluetooth solutions.  I used to have the Oakley ROKR sunglasses.  These were nice for killing two birds with one stone, as I would have both my headphone and sunglasses needs taken care of.

          The problem was that music would skip, almost as if I was running with one of those old portable CD players (remember those?).  It got very aggravating.  I also got reliant on them to be my actual sunglasses, so I had hands-free when driving, and was better able to take phone calls on bike rides (I wouldn’t listen to music, but if a call came in, I could stop, stick an ear-bud in and push a button more easily than fumbling through a pocket), but when racing, they became unusable since earphones are not allowed.  Ultimately, I dropped them on the ground once, and that was the end of them.

          Nowadays I use a Bluetooth headset (without shades): the Motorola S9.  I’ve used it with an iPod and my Blackberry and no skipping – now let me tell you why I love using a Bluetooth headset for music.  It actually feels more natural (oddly enough considering it’s a more high-tech option than regular headphones), and I can store the player (iPod/cellphone) in whatever pocket I like once the devices are paired and the connection is made.  It feels like the music is simply present in myears (the S9 seems to grip to my head quite nicely) as I move, and it stays with me even when I’m jumping around or dropping into push-ups.

          Bluetooth headsets have a few drawbacks:

          1. They need to be charged.  If you’re forgetful about this sort of thing, you’re going to be left in the lurch when you want to have music to listen to, and the headset battery is dead.  Don’t lose the charger, or find one that can be charged by USB
          2. Pairing challenges.  Getting Bluetooth devices to talk to one another should be straightforward, and usually when you’ve done it once, the devices remember each other like old friends (my car and Blackberry seem to have little spats from time to time, though).  In my experience, if you can’t get them to connect, there seems to be very little troubleshooting you can do with most devices.
          3. Standards confusion.  There’s several different versions of the standard from 1.0 to 4.0.  According to Wikipedia: “Users who need a stereo-music playing Bluetooth headset should look for a headset with the A2DP profile.”  This is less of a problem nowadays, as music playing is pretty standard in a lot of devices, but still it’s worth double-checking before putting your money down.
          4. Breakability.  You already know what happened to the Oakley’s… now look at my S9 headset:

          And yet I still prefer it to these Adidas/Sennheiser OMX 680 headphones which were recommended as being one of the best running headphones – in spite of being able to ‘mold’ and adjust the ear-clips to fit, they still pop out when my run gets too bouncy, or I sweat too much.

          And if you’re wondering, my #1 favourite running song is Wild Hearted Son  by The Cult.

          Multi-sport mind: Cyclo-Cross

          “Cyclo-cross (‘cross) mixes the best of road, mountain, cross-country running, steeplechase and endurance cycling.” from the Midweek Cycling Club’s Cyclo-Cross 101 Handbook.

           As soon as autumn rolls around, triathlon training in most of Canada gets more difficult.  I think this is most felt in cycling, since it is the most time consuming of the three disciplines, and you feel the cold more when your zooming along that fast.  Somebody came up with the sport of cyclo-cross as a kind of end of season training for road and mountain bike cyclists.

          At first glance, you might have trouble telling the difference between Cyclo-cross and mountain biking (at least, I did).  Indeed they both involve getting muddy – in fact, Cyclo-cross can be performed with a mountain bike.  While I’m no expert, I don’t think mountain bikers dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles in most circumstances, whereas this is fundamentally part of Cyclo-cross.  Overall, it struck me as a little less ‘extreme’ and more friendly to novices since even an old road bike would have been acceptable (though a little tricky).  I’m getting ahead of myself by giving my impressions, first I want to tell you the story of how I ended up trying this out.

          A Cyclo-Crosser jumps a barricade, carrying his bike.  I have a bunch of photos like this.  I have a lot to learn about settings on my camera – especially those dealing with low-light and action photography.

          In spite of (or perhaps because of) a local climate (both physical and cultural) that isn’t the most bike friendly in the world, there is a strong local community of Cyclo-cross enthusiasts.  It wasn’t too hard to track down some riders from the Midweek Cycling Club at Centennial Park one Tuesday to check it out.

          What I saw was a course sketched out with police tape and little flags that went up, down and alongside the less steep parts of the ski-hill and some 40cm barriers to be hopped over.  I apologize for the poor quality of pictures; photography is not my strong suit, and never will be. 

          I spoke briefly with Craig, who was directing the cross riders on how many laps they still had before quitting time, and got a feel for whether I would even be able to attempt this thing.  It sounded like my old mountain bike would be alright, if less than perfect for gripping and steering under some circumstances.  At any rate, I resolved to show up a week later ready to go.

          One week later, I pulled into the parking lot wearing my cycling gear, with a helmet, and an old Cateye light that drew a few laughs from more hard-core cyclists I had to purchase a one-day licence from The Ontario Cycling Association and once my admission for the night was paid, they suggested I hook up with one of the more experienced riders for tips on how to navigate the course.  The usual format for the evening is to spend time at each station in a kind of ‘lesson-circuit’ before participating in a race to finish a certain number of laps of the mile-long course, but they opted to forgo that since it was near the end of season, I suppose.

          I approached a man named Pierre and asked him to show me the ropes.  After a few jokes about how this would turn into a new obsession which would threaten my marriage, he gave my bike (an old hybrid that I use for commutes and more recreational riding with my son) the once over.

          The ‘Before’ shot… even if it is technically an ‘after cleaning’ shot.

          Then we were off on the course.  As we rode, Pierre gave me general tips on bike handling that allowed me to get traction going uphill and around the sharper turns, of which there were plenty.  Every few hundred meters he’d have us stop so he could point out specifics that I was maybe doing wrong, or specifics of the course to watch out for.  In particular, he identified a way of looking where you’re going (not where you are) that helps you balance and set up your turns.  There was one hairpin turn I didn’t make all night – it was set up in such a way as to purposely slow riders down so that they wouldn’t accidentally hit a pipe from the ski hill’s snow making equipment.

          One of the most unique features of Cyclo-cross is barricades, where you dismount, pick up the bike, and hurdle over a 40cm (a little over a foot) barrier (or two).  Apparently I’m not the first beginner to find this aspect the most exciting; good technique however, requires calm grace and not holding your breath as you hop over.

          After a couple of laps, Pierre left me to give it a try on my own, which not only amped up the adrenaline factor, but also took a bigger toll on my cardio-vascular endurance; without the pointer sessions to catch my breath, I could really feel each and every lap.

          The ‘After’ shot.  Notice the mud and grass caked everywhere.

          I found Cyclo-cross to be very different than most of my training rides that I do for triathlon.  The twists and turns demand a lot more mental attention; no more ‘zoning out’.  In fact, bike handing is much more of a priority overall as it becomes a struggle just to stay on the bike.  The slippery grass and mud keep you in the lower gears and higher cadences, while the up-and-down of hills (and the bursts of strength you use to pick your bike up and jump the barriers) make it more of an interval workout than I’ve had in a long time.

          Here’s a video from my last lap (I had my camera helmet-mounted); it’s a little dark and shaky – rest assured I could see fine.

          Describing a cyclo-cross ride in short is easy: it’s the way you used to ride your bike when you were a kid:  Without consideration for destination, appropriate terrain, keeping clean or anything but having fun.  Despite how much fun I had, and my desire to do it again soon, cyclo-cross isn’t threatening to become an obsession to me.  After all, in the multi-sport mind, everything is just cross training for something else!

          Yoga For Triathletes

          This post is going to be a bit of a rave again. I’m going to talk about the Flexible Warrior Yoga for Triathletes DVD series.  I don’t get any compensation for this review, and I purchased these products myself.

          You’re already having to fit in time to swim, bike and run. Then there are bricks to consider, and if you’re really good you have some strength cross-training in there. Maybe you even work in transition skills, or emergency bike repair practice (I haven’t done that last one). And now you’re supposed to fit in Yoga?!?!

          Yes! And here’s why:

          1. Stretching. You have to do this anyway, you might as well do it through proven, Eastern, thousand year old techniques.
          2. Strength. Done right, a Yoga workout can be a strength workout only more functional than lifting weights or using machines. Holding a pose is more about muscular endurance than raw power and that’s very important to the endurance athlete.
          3. Balance and core. These can be a little weak in endurance athletes so it’s good to shore them up, especially for…
          4. Injury Prevention. When you get injured, you can’t train, so given that Yoga is a low impact form of cross-training, time spent doing it is like an insurance policy. When I get those little aches and pains, I find it really helps to do a little Yoga.
          5. Days off. It can be inclement weather, the aforementioned aches and pains (or even injury) or even just the chaos of everyday life that keeps you from getting outside and working out. When that happens, having a Yoga DVD handy and knowing it will do you some good can take the edge off the disappointment you feel at having to scrap the original workout.

          This DVD series is created and hosted by Karen Dubs. Karen has a lot of familiarity with endurance athletes (stemming from, I believe, an affiliation with Spinnervals’ Troy Jacobsen) and it shows in the videos. The people demonstrating are triathletes of a variety of levels, the sequences are designed to address the issues that triathletes have, and she even forgives athlete’s for the tight calves, hamstrings and hips that might keep them from perfect technique. Karen’s instructions are clear in illustrating what’s important to the technique, while her laid-back attitude keeps you from getting frustrated by any mistakes you might make (e.g. “As long as you’re breathing, I’m happy”).

          Volume 1 has 3 different workouts or sequences, each lasting 20-25 minutes. They are titled: Energy, Power, and Flexibility. They can be performed in that order if you have about an hour to devote to your Yoga workout, or you can do them separately.

          Energy is a sequence that can be used as a full body warm up before the other sequences or even other workouts. It also includes some core work. The beauty of this one is that it can be performed when your muscles and joints are cold, i.e. first thing in the morning. You don’t need a warm up – it is the warm up! I can tell you that it does indeed energize you and makes it easier to start your day.

          The Power sequence may be the most challenging; it certainly is for me, especially since I seem to get the least opportunities to practice it – which is a shame, as some of the poses involve technique and balance that need to improve through practice.  You need to be warmed up to perform it, but when you get through, you’ve broken a real sweat and know you’ve had a workout.

          I like to use the Flexibility sequence as a post-workout stretch session when I have the time.  This is the reason Power is the least used: I can do Energy first thing in the morning, and Flexibility post-workout, but Power needs its own timeslot to be a workout unto itself.  The Flexibility sequences poses stretch all the important ones for triathletes, notably opening up the hips, elongating the hamstrings and calves.

          I also own Volume 2 of the Flexible Warrior series.  I’ve spent less time with it, so I have less to say about it.  This one has shorter sequences, but more of them, with slightly tweaked goals.  Energy is similar to Volume 1’s version (warm-up).  I’ll make you guess which muscles the Core sequences is designed to address.  The Cross-train sequence is for “total body strength, stability, and endurance for upper and lower body”, while the  Balance and Recovery replaces the Volume 1 Flexibility routine, albeit with more technical poses that work on your balance.

          If you’re looking for a small sample of how Yoga can help your triathlon training here’s a link to the article that orignally got my attention.  I have that sequence pretty much memorized, and use it as my bare minimum post run/ride stretch routine. There is even a Flexible Warrior YouTube channel. 

          An honourable mention goes to Sage Rountree who also does Yoga for Endurance Athletes.

          100 Pushups

          Family demands continue to outweigh both training and blogging, but I did find enough time to discover the 100 pushup program.  I’m sure consistency is key, but it looks like several sets of pushups (with 1 minute breaks) 3 times a week.

          I did the initial test today and I can do 32 push-ups; that sounds about right.  I’m sure I used to be able to do more than 40, but I’ve been away from exercise for a few weeks, and away from strength and push-up based exercise for longer.  It may not seem triathlon-centric, but Steve Speirs, the program’s creator is a triathlete and ultra-runner (and dad!) so I’m game too.

          I’ll log and tweet my progress, and if I get to 100, I’ll be sporting the ‘I did 100’ badge here at Iron Rogue.

          UPDATE: Things haven’t been going well, and I’m not keeping up with the workouts.  I’m not going to quit, but I ‘ll have to restart from Week 3 Day 1.

          So Simon Whitfield, Melanie McQuaid and I are talking about robots…

          One of the things I love about Twitter is interjecting in conversations between people I don’t know personally.  That sounds rude (it probably is), but I believe it’s part of that particular medium.  I saw this exchange between multiple Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield, and multiple Xterra World Champion Melanie McQuaid:

          Which is where I stepped in.  Triathlon robots?  Sign me up!

          Now I can live with the fact that Simon Whitfield finishes an International Distance Triathlon in half the time it takes me, but when he tries to be a bigger geek than me, I take exception. 🙂