What does one do outside in a global pandemic, you may ask. Squirrel photography, that’s what! But squirrel photography gets unproductive after a while so for best results you’d need to include occasional breaks to assess strategy and photographic output. Personally I used those breaks to squeeze in some biking and camping.
The kind of biking I’m looking to do this year is more along the lines of bikepacking and exploring places within reasonable distance of Montreal. It’s not something I’ve really done much of before and this seems like a good time to do it. It’ll be pretty different from the kind of biking I’ve done in the past because I won’t be using clipless shoes, I’ll either have a backpack or an overstuffed rear rack and if my speed ever exceeds 23km/h it’s probably because Bigfoot moved to the east coast and is chasing me.
I chose this ride because I wanted to check out the beaches down by lake Champlain to see if there’s any exciting spots for camping and doing open water swimming! Just kidding, I chose this ride because it’s completely flat and I currently have the vo2 max of a sloth. I biked from Montreal to Venise-en-Quebec and back, so about 160 km in total, at a pace of about 18km/h. This was my longest single day ride to date and I decided to try using a backpack to test what it would feel like for long rides. Spoiler alert : it feels bad. I had all the things I’d normally take on an overnight trip, so tent, a bunch of electronics, clothes, my swim things, all in all about 15 pounds worth of stuff. Definitely not my most inspired idea.
The route was very flat with zero wind and without much forest so if you bike on a sunny summer day like I did the sun will be on your case the whole time. The first third is mostly along residential streets on the south shore and a bit of forest along the Route Verte, the second third is along the Richelieu river and the last third is mostly through farm lands along route 133. The shoulder is large enough to accommodate one bike, so that was nice. Some of the farms do have dogs and they might start barking at you as you pass by, but luckily I haven’t had the any of them chase after me.
All in all after you pass Chambly the ride becomes pretty monotone so I wouldn’t do it again, but as a first century it worked well because it was flat and windless. It might have been more painful than it had to be because of the backpack + sunburn situation, but ultimately that just means that there’s plenty room for improvement - and that’s exciting :)
Happy new decade 💖
To mark the occasion – and to hold myself accountable for getting my behind out the door at least once a week at 6am in what appears to be recurrent -10°C weather – I’m compiling a list of some of my favourite places in Montreal as seen during my morning runs, bike rides, swims and pigeon watching expeditions. By pure coincidence some of these places happen to have at least one bakery and another backup bakery nearby.
Little Burgundy Center
Parc des Rapides
Jacques Cartier Bridge
Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Independent pundits could argue that I ended up doing a lot more pigeon watching and way less training than official guidelines would recommend. Needless to say it’s been a very odd time with the COVID-19 situation. Swimming was mostly impossible in the spring months which was a bummer for me personally - though there’s way bigger issues to be worried about in these times so I feel silly for even mentioning it. In conclusion turns out that really most tall bridges and quiet places involving trees and water and bakeries are my favourite. So if that’s your thing and you find yourself in Montreal, these might be a few options to check out :)
Every summer for the past few years I’ve tried to give myself some sort of project to work on, along with a goal I can physically train for. It’s something I found to be quite enjoyable in the past, so I’ll keep it going. And this summer, that project will be climbing! I have my eye on a few routes I’d like to attempt and I’ll be posting about them once summer rolls around.
Well, part of it is because I love the feeling I get when I’m making tangible improvements. Short feedback loops are something I tend to seek in everything I do and seeing gradual improvement, be it tiny, is one of the things that makes me happiest. Usually it doesn’t matter all too much how glacial the starting point is, because as long as I see improvement I’m getting my fix.
I find climbing to be really awesome because you pretty much never run out of new things to dip your toes into, both in a physical and mental sense. It’s also one of the most immersive sports I’ve ever practiced, and tends to boost a welcoming community, which is always great.
Last but certainly not least, I climb because I want to be strong enough for hand-to-hand combat in the event of an apocalyptic alien invasion. And as far as I’m concerned, short of reading Ender’s Game in high school, onsighting a sport route was as close as I ever got to simulating such an environment.
The goal for this spring is twofold :
The plan for this summer had been to complete a full Ironman distance triathlon. I thought I was doing everything right. I registered eight months in advance. I got all the gear they say you should have. Bike shoes, GPS watch, hair clips, lucky bamboo charms, you name it. Through a confluence of unfortunate events I fractured my ankle a few months prior to the race, pretty much putting my chances of finishing in the dismal bracket. But since I’m already registered I’ll try and give it my best shot regardless. Running is not likely to be possible this year in due time so in principle I will resume training for the swim and bike portion as well as my body and three months of documented preparation will allow.
TL;DR : The race
June 4th - Walking without a cast
June 25th - Running?
July 2nd - Thoughts on food
July 16th - A tiny story about swimming
July 30th - Ironames
August 6th - 🐵
August 13th - Pre-race appraisal
The idea is to keep track of the last 12 weeks of training. My training plan is fairly simple, I made it a point to simplify it as much as possible. Assuming no injuries performance and mileage have always been proportional for me. Neither sport has a huge technical component to it so the main focus will be to just push myself as much as possible in every practice. Instead of doing repetitive sets with breaks in between my aim is to do long cohesive sessions with little to no breaks and focus on progressive intensity increase, ideally always finishing a given swim or bike practice with maximum aerobic effort. As for the run, undoubtedly the most difficult part, the plan is to listen to my body. I’m not getting my hopes up but if my ankle does recover I will start training for the run alongside the swim and bike.
An important aspect of my training will involve tracking and measurement. I see this experience as a tool for self-discovery and I’m aiming to extract as much data as possible. At the end of every week I’ll be putting myself through a time trial and recording the results in the table below. To keep things simple I’ll keep track of three variables: the heart rate before the time trial (HRB), average heart rate during the trial (HRA) and the recovery heart rate taken 1min after the time trial (HRR). I have decided on the following distances:
All the heart rate, time and space data is collected with the aid of a bright and shiny Garmin vivoactive HR - a tiny little device that makes me really happy.
|Week of||Camillien Houde Uphill|
|Week of||800m Swim (HRB,HRA,HRR)||40 km Bike (HRB,HRA,HRR)||≈ 7 km Run|
|June 4||1:40/100m (100, 130, 111)||20 km/h (110, 160, 140)||-|
|June 11||1:41/100m (90, 130, 108)||22.6 km/h (85, 157, 131)||-|
|June 18||1:42/100m (82, 136, 105)||** 25.9 km/h (80, 150, 126)||-|
|June 25||1:40/100m (90, 127, 100)||** 27 km/h (106, 148, 120)||∞/km|
|July 2||1:39/100m (98, 130, 105)||** 28 km/h (110, 144, 123)||(∞ - 1) /km|
|July 9||1:38/100m (75, 122, 90)||** 27 km/h (115, 163, 110)||(∞ + 1) /km|
|July 16||1:34/100m (80, 134, 85)||-||(∞ - 5) /km|
|July 23||1:36/100m (110, 130, 100)||-||7:50/km|
|July 30||1:33/100m (115, 140, 110)||-||6:00/km|
Diary: Week of May 28
This week didn’t really go as planned. My ankle doesn’t have much range of motion yet, and isn’t stable enough for me to push on it. When swimming this means that I can only use one leg to push myself off the wall after a flip turn. It also means that I can’t kick, I use a pull buoy instead. On the biking front things went a little smoother. Baring a few steep hills, the experience was almost painless. But overall I felt so incredibly out of shape that I decided not to do the bike time trial this week. 40 km all out doesn’t seem like the best idea (or even a possibility) at this point. Baby steps, baby steps. Baby steps.
Diary: Week of June 4th
This was a good week. Ankle is complaining a lot less. Started walking consistently without a cast. I’m beginning to incorporate more kick while swimming and my stroke is starting to flow a little better. I hoped to get a lot more biking in but I fell short. I decided to stay close to home to keep things simple. I happen to live in a pretty hilly part of town and I wasn’t able to get much volume in, or even do a proper full time trial - I did a shorter TT just to get a rough estimate of heart rates and see where my starting point is.
Diary: Week of June 11th
Just thought of something. As far as biking goes I’m missing the hill component. The ironman race in Tremblant is super hilly and I need to start preparing for it. So I added a second table to keep track of uphill training. I’ll do my trials on a street called Camillien Houde in Montreal, pretty steep, pretty long, very popular with cyclists. Let’s fast forward to Friday. Went biking on Camillien Houde. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m not done picking up the pieces of my ego from the ground yet. I’ll get back when I’m done, okay? Okay.
Diary: Week of June 18th
I’m back. This week I focused a lot on - wait for it - biking. I still can’t go all the way up on Camillien Houde so I started doing repetitive sets on smaller hills. It’s not terribly exciting but to be honest it’s pretty amazing how much you can improve in one week just by doing this. Another thing I’ve noticed is that it takes me a very long time to warm up. The first hour of biking is almost always a pain, and after that things seem to get easier instead of the other way around. I’m not sure why this is happening, if I find out I’ll let you know. Swimming fell by the wayside lately so next week it will be the main focus. Sadly running is not a possibility yet.
Diary: Week of June 25th
This week was off the rails. First things first - HOLY SHRIMP I CAN RUN AGAIN. I’m using run loosely here. It’s more like limping and jumping while simultaneously moving forward. But if you close one eye and squint with the other it does look like I’m running so I’m counting it. It’s not great and it hurts and I have to pay attention to every step to make sure I land properly - but still! It’s motivating to know that there might be a glimmer of hope for me to attempt the run. Besides that, time flies and I feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day. My koala bear time management skills might have something to do with it, but I digress. I experimented with doing practices either very early in the morning or late in the evening. As much as I would love to be a morning person, the latter seems to work so much better with my biological rhythm so I guess I’ll have to stick with it. If you’re wondering who that lady biking hills at 9pm on a Wednesday is, it’s probably me.
Diary: Week of July 2nd
Instead of ranting about all the ways in which I’m having a hard time, this week I will rant about food. First off I should say that I am not someone who is in the habit of thinking about nutrition. I see food mainly as (1) a means to an end (i.e. to stay alive) and (2) a challenge to see how spicy something has to be before my head starts fuming. Maybe the training is partly to blame for this, but in recent weeks all I want to do is stuff my face with as much sodium as my taste buds can handle before becoming completely desensitized. Which is probably not the best meal plan to follow. Or so I’m told. Anyway all this to say that from now on I’ll start to think about what I eat a bit more. Specifically, I’ll focus on a few categories:
The plan - anything I eat has to fit in one of these categories, involve minimal processing and hopefully be consumed in some semblance of daily moderation. Let’s see if this makes a difference.
Diary: Week of July 9th
Here we are, one less to go. If I had to sum up this week in the words of a great contemporary I’d probably go with something like : Very lightweight. Sad!!!
Diary: Week of July 16th
This week I did a lot of swimming. I’m getting an overwhelming sense that swimming will be the only part of the race I can realistically finish before the cut off, so I might as well try to do it well.
I don’t think I’ve talked about this before, so I’ll go off on a bit of a tangent here :
I’ve been swimming for most of my life. I started when I was 6 years old because I had early onset scoliosis and strengthening my back muscles was the least invasive course of action possible. I didn’t like it at first. At all. My dad had to force me to do it. And that was no small feat, bless his heart. Then I slowly started falling in love with the sport and finding a sense of purpose in pushing my physical limits. I started training regularly and going to competitions. Soon enough my pores were oozing chlorine year-round. My whole life started revolving around swimming for the next ten or so years. After that my relationship to swimming changed primarily because I stopped seeing it as a competitive endeavour. Instead, it became the best (or only?) way for me to clear my head. There’s also something therapeutic about being immersed in water. I can’t really explain it but I think it’s no coincidence that so many spiritual and religious practices involve water. Wikipedia agrees.
Anyway, from then on I became really interested in finding ways to tweak my stroke, not to achieve speed, but rather to catch and feel the water better, and to improve efficiency. I’ll hone in on freestyle here because that’s all you need for triathlons. But I think butterfly drills can be helpful as well, particularly in improving coordination and timing. That being said, I’ve discovered along the way that being mindful of your body’s position in the water is the easiest way to make swimming a more pleasant experience. The most straightforward way to correct your body’s position is to keep your hips as close to the surface as possible. But how? Well the most obvious way to do this is by kicking continuously. But there’s a catch: leg muscles consume more oxygen than your upper body due to their size. If you are a super-runner/cyclist and in amazing shape then you’ll be able to muscle through it. But if you aren’t, or if you want to get more out of each stroke, using your legs sparingly is a great way to save energy. One drill I found very useful was to try to swim with no kick and without a pull buoy simultaneously. In my case, this evolved into a drill made up of freestyle strokes and butterfly legs. With practice (and a bit of core strength) you’ll improve the timing of your fly kick - one per arm pull - and you may find that you can maintain a good body position just by using gentle leg flicks. When going back to regular alternating kick, I found it a lot easier to maintain a steady two-beat kick freestyle for long distance swimming.
Okay. That was long. I can’t help it. I hope I didn’t bore anyone to tears.
Diary: Week of July 30th
This week was boring so I’ll refrain from writing about it. But for no particular reason here’s a quick script I ran on the 2017 Mont-Tremblant participant list. Fun fact - the most popular name in there is Michael, appearing a whopping 41 times. Followed by - John, David, Scott, Patrick. On the female side it’s Kelly, Laura and Julie. So there’s that.
Diary: Week of August 6th
for the most part.
Diary: Week of August 13th
Here is my pre-race appraisal:
All this, coupled with being the owner of a bike whose gears slip on every other hill, coupled with the fact that I was unsuccessful at trying to fix said bike, made me decide to do the swim part of the race only.
Being on the site of an Ironman race without a bike to check in the transition area was a lot harder than I thought it would be. You can’t help feeling like an impostor among all the gear and diligently trained glutes popping out of everywhere.
On race morning I woke up at around 4:30, and by 6am I was making my way to the beach where the swim start took place. The atmosphere in the Ironman village is hard to put into words. A mix of people and nerves and excitement and hopefulness, perhaps.
The age group folks had a self-seeded rolling swim start and as far as I could tell I was among the first third to jump in. Overall the swim felt long and after the first kilometre - forget technique - the main focus became getting my arms out of the water and somehow splashing them in front of my head. For the last 1.5k stretch, I swam side by side with another person. That really helped me pace myself and keep swimming straight towards the buoys without really having to get my head out to look ahead.
Swim done, I walk out of the water unsure what to do with myself. This was my first time racing in a wetsuit and I couldn’t find the strap to unzip and take it off. Thankfully a few volunteers were there to help people like me.
After the swim you are supposed to run along a carpeted path from the beach to the transition area. In the case of the Tremblant race it’s a pretty considerable distance. Both sides of this path are packed with people cheering you on. I couldn’t really run and ended up walking it. Everyone else was running past me and I had spectators and volunteers asking me if I’m okay every couple of meters the whole way through. This was the worst part.
I was expecting to go a lot slower based on practice times but that’s probably because I didn’t take into account the adrenaline and the wetsuit. I decided to rent one for the weekend given how ill-prepared I felt, and it definitely helped.
The highlight of my weekend were the volunteers who helped make it all happen. These people were really amazing and I wish I could thank each and every one of them.
And in conclusion, a few more things :
A thought - This is the kind of experience that feels exponentially more rewarding if you train, race and experience it with someone close to you.
A miscellaneous fact - Apparently, sweat + neoprene + my skin + lake water make for an unfortunate olfactory combination, as pointed out to me after the race on the car ride home. So not only did I not finish the Ironman, but now I smell too. Great.
All else aside, at the end of the day I don’t regret signing up for this, even if the outcome was nothing like I had hoped. It’s an experience I wanted to have ever since I started doing triathlons, and one I’m not sure I’ll have again, so I’ll take it.
Timeline of a broken ankle
It was my seventh attempt at a boulder problem. My hand slipped as I was trying to switch feet and attempt the last move. I inevitably took a four meter fall and ended up landing with all my body weight on the outside of my right foot, breaking the fibula. I didn’t need a hardcast or surgery, instead I was put in an aircast after a week when the swelling levelled off. To make a long story short, lots of inflammation, three weeks of bed rest, 2.35 mental breakdowns and lots of questions of the Are we there yet? how about now? can I walk now? variety ensued. For posterity I wrote a brief timeline of my recovery.
April 8th : Emergency room (feat. wheelchair)
April 13th : Aircast (feat. crutches)
April 27th : Weight-bearing (feat. aircast)
May 15th : No union yet (feat. worn-out aircast)
May 29th : Still no union, very mild pain while walking (feat. worn-out aircast)
June 6th : Started venturing out without the aircast
June 9th : Walking! Almost painlessly!
June 20th : Walking is great again. Running, not so much.
July 9th : Started climbing again ⛰️
Sept 7th : Started bouldering again.
A wise man once said fool me once shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again! Well I’m happy to report that my tire pressure this time around was 115 psi. Cheers!
What I learned from my first ever triathlon :