Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Steaming Nostril 65k Spring Classic Cycle Race - Sunday, March 24th, 2013

I'm bad at riding bikes.

Sunday began with a thick layer of frost covering the trees and a vague sense of foreboding. I'd gone out the day before and done entirely too much training, including some trail recon by bike and by foot.

Running the Mill Run Trail

Dusty contemplates the Grand Trunk Trail

In fact it's possible that I did a little too much trail recon - between an hour and a bit on the bike (to the market and back), 1h25m of trail running and a 35min swim, I ended up with just over 3 hours of training on Saturday. Oh well, at least I finally knew which bike I was going to ride for the race - with the lumpiness on the trails from the ice and snow plus the sketchy traction, my wrist demanded a squishy fork and my idiocy would need every bit of float & traction possible. 

We were up, packed (mostly) and ready to go in good time and made it to the race venue with well over an hour before the start. We took our time getting ready as it was still ridiculously cold out and we weren't in a hurry to stand around in spandex to catch a chill. I brushed my teeth (seriously - try this right before a race!) and pondered what the rail trail was going to be like, eventually making a judgement call and inflating my tires to 35psi in hopes of maintaining bite while still being able to roll well on the dirt roads. The final route had been posted, and the trail would be a major feature at both the beginning and end of the course:

That curvy bit from Elmira to Wallenstein is all trail - almost 7km.

We'd been told that the trail had been plowed out, as there had been up to 2' of snow in some places. Yeah, two freakin' feet! What was left was a mixture of spongy ice, some snow in both hard- and soft-packed varieties, and some bare trail that was completely saturated with water - basically the kind of conditions that result in the closure of mountain bike trails the world over. Not so the Kissing Bridge Trailway; no, not this day!

Mounted police provided pacing for the neutral start - see video here.

It's all smiles and sunshine before the start.
Rolling out.
Photo courtesy of Joe C. aka jerrycan
Tanker and I cheered the first wave off, then lined up squarely at the back of the second wave and pedaled easy on the way out through Elmira. This turned out to be a mistake, as we found ourselves stuck behind a large number of riders on the rail trail whom we could have passed had conditions not been rather abominable. Tanker managed to get past a few, then when I tried to follow him I caught a soft spot and nearly went down - my front wheel had an alarming tendency to try to flip out from under me when things got mushy. I did eventually manage to catch Tank (after having to clip out and pause to un-clench), then hit another soft spot about 3-4km out and fell the hell over. I left a near-perfect silhouette of my right hip, torso, arm & shoulder in the ~18" deep snowbank on the side of the trail as I didn't even bother letting go of the handlebars - no breakage! 

Artist's conception.

This qualifies as race worthy, apparently.
Photo courtesy of Dan Dakin
Back up on the rubber again, I actually managed to negotiate the rest of the trail without further horizontal track standage. The last couple of kilometers were the worst part, though, culminating in a muddy drainage ditch just before our exit onto line 86. You can check out Rob MacEwen's video of the opening kilometers, including what passed for "rail trail", here. Keep in mind that we were tackling it after about 250 sets of wheels had already rolled through it, as opposed to the relatively fresh condition in his footage from closer to the front. I could hear my brake pads being ground away by the mud stuck to my discs - a sure sign the rest of the day was not going to be a bundle of joy.

Tanker and I pedaling through soup.

We both picked up a fair bit of the landscape and took it for a ride.
Photos courtesy of Joe C. aka jerrycan

Hitting some honest-to-gawd pavement was bliss, and a downhill to boot! I took the opportunity to spin my legs out a little after thrashing along through the wheel-sucking mud and snow, while Tanker went for the burst of speed by shifting to the big ring and hammering. Poor decision #2 there: his front derailleur promptly froze, stranding him sur la plaque for the rest of the race. We stopped around the 15km point as Tank needed a "natural break", so I went to work to try to un-stick the derailleur - I broke the 3/4" thick coating of ice off the cable, kicked the derailleur body, and even tried to dig out the ice and frozen mud with a tire lever, but to no avail (other than snapping the end off the tire lever, down to the metal core). Hindsight is 20/20 - he should have just pissed on the damn thing. The muddy ice was so sticky it actually formed little chickpea-sized balls on the casting threads of my tires that lasted almost the whole race.

Stuck and f..

Yes, there were 4' tall snowbanks along the sides of some roads.

While there isn't anything really steep, the rest of the course did have its share of rolling hills and since most of it was on dirt roads rolling resistance was a definite factor. Tanker gamely did his best, but since I had a much wider range of gears available (having stayed in the middle ring from start to finish I had no issues with front shifting, and my 11-34 cassette gives me lots of options) I would end up riding away from him on the climbs and then stopping to wait for him at various points along the course, with lots of soft-pedaling in between. This made it tough for me to stay warm, and my fingers, thumbs and toes quickly turned into sensationless blocks of ice. We rode through the countryside of Mennonite farms, winding over creeks and the Conestoga River, watching innumerable horse-drawn carts prance down damn country lanes.

Not conducive to fast rolling.
I ate a Larabar after hour and a quarter, kept sipping at my bottles (the small one with water, the large one with eLoad), and kept grinding away. My legs hurt, but were responsive, and I was getting a fair bit of rest while waiting for Tanker to catch up. I could tell the day was wearing on him, as each time it seemed to take him a little longer to pull back up alongside. I ate another bar at 2h20 of rolling time, right around the 41km mark, and had plenty of time to finish it and wash it down with some fluids before Tank hove into view. I suggested that maybe he consider dropping when we got to the rest stop a couple of kilometers further on, and he said he'd see when we got there.

The long stretch of Chalmers Forrest Road leading to the aid station was right into a nasty headwind - it picked up all of the chill of the snow-laden fields and seemed to cut right through your clothing to your very core. The nostrils of the horses drawing Mennonite buggies were indeed steaming, and our own were certainly streaming! While the forecast had called for sunny, light winds and 4c, the reality turned out to be rather different:

Under "feels like" for every hour they should have said "bloody freezing".

Reaching the rest stop, I dumped my bike in a snowbank and hustled over to the portajohns to adjust my hydration levels. Because I was wearing a jacket, full-zip thermal jersey, winter tights and bib shorts, I had to strip damn near starkers in order to take a leak, leaving me in my soaking wet short-sleeved merino base layer. I started to shiver, which became almost uncontrollable as I re-donned my wet and now freezing cold kit. Despite getting out of the wind, I was now going hypothermic!

Pretty much sums it up.
I wandered into the tent at the aid station to try to warm up out of the breeze, but to no avail. The sun had disappeared behind gloomy clouds, and my core temperature continued to drop. I thought I had overdressed for the conditions, but I had clearly under-dressed for the circumstances in which I found myself. Fortunately the on-course support sprang into action:

I will be making a donation to SJA of Kitchener-Waterloo today. 
While I shivered and slapped self-adhesive toe warmers on my chest and back, Tanker came to grips with the fact that his day was done.

Tough go..

He'd soldiered on to this point like a boss, but single-speeding halfway down the cassette in the big ring just wasn't sustainable into the headwind we were fighting and there was still the rail trail left to go. The sag wagon was contacted and would be there in 15mins or so. While we waited - with me still in the St. John's Ambulance techs' truck with the heat going full-blast - a few more people came into the aid station and left again. I thought long and hard about abandoning, especially since I still couldn't seem to get my feet to warm up at all, but then thought about the fact I really had no excuse; my bike was still functional, I wasn't injured, and I was just being a wuss. If I didn't have to stop and wait for Tanker anymore I'd be able to work as hard as I wanted to keep myself warm, and I had the heat packs to supplement my own internal furnace. Yep, it was time for me to get going before the broom wagon showed up and I lost my nerve! I un-bundled myself from the blankets, pulled on my gloves and climbed out of the truck.

Tanker, of course, wanted to know what the hell I thought I was doing. The medics weren't exactly keen on my idea of continuing, either, but I explained that I felt like I had to give it a shot. After all, they'd be sweeping the course anyway so if I got into serious trouble I'd just flag someone down to give me a ride. I almost changed my mind as the wind bit into me once more and I was told I had another 5-6km left to go with it in my face, but I clambered onto my bike anyway and pedaled off after getting a kiss and "you're out of your feckin' mind" from my sweetheart. When I left, two other participants were just pulling in to the feed zone and another lady was waiting for her ride.

Pulling away alone into a headwind was not exactly a fun time. I'd averaged 19.6kph per my cycle computer getting to the rest stop, but between fatigue, the dirt road and the resistance I was down to a spectacular 15.7kph and wondering if I'd made the wrong decision. My legs protested at turning cranks after being off the road for at least 30mins (judging by the timestamps on my tweets), and my adductors made it clear that they'd had more than enough of climbing. The heat packs on my chest were coming unstuck as I sweated, so every now and again I'd slap them back in place, serving only to confirm to any onlookers that I had in fact lost my bleeding mind. What kind of idiot thumps their chest while crawling along a country lane on a mountain bike?

I quickly reeled in a couple of ladies who had left the aid station a few minutes before me, giving a friendly word and then speeding (relatively) away after making the turn onto Buehler Line. The course is a net downhill from just past the rest stop, so with a crosswind I was able to spin things back up a bit and make some time. I pulled past another girl with whom we'd been trading places all day, feeling good about the fact I'd managed to catch someone who I know left the rest stop before I even got in the truck to warm up. Of course, I was now completely alone and heading for the rail trail - it had been bad enough after 200+ riders had chewed it up, but what would it be like after 400+ sets of wheels and the bit of afternoon sun? The intersections still had police offering traffic control and directions save for one, so despite not knowing the time I figured I couldn't be too terribly late.

I eventually found my way back to Line 86, this time having to climb the hill where Tanker's front derailleur froze. I had a fit of pique as I was hungry (having eaten nothing since before the aid station) and something in the area smelled hugely of fresh-baked pizza - I'm sure I was hallucinating at this point. The volunteers directed me to the trailhead, and warned me to stay to the side as the mud in the middle was nigh impassable. I thanked them, walked my bike over the drainage ditch and looked at the conditions, and promptly decided I was better off on foot. This end of the trail had been the worst part earlier in the day, and things had certainly not improved. I'm actually happy that the fast people had to ride the same bit of trail a second time just to see the mess they made of it!

I walked a fair bit of the first portion, then mounted up and found that the stone dust trail had gotten even wetter and muddier, with many more sections of soft snow. It was an endless cycle of mount, ride anywhere from 50 to 250m, then dismount and walk. Just to add insult, my cleats iced up horribly and I lost the ability to clip in my right foot; this meant I had to spin rather gingerly to avoid losing the pedal (which happened a few times anyway), costing me even more speed. I spent a disheartening amount of time slogging through the muck in the largest cog - I'd already seen that my granny ring was nothing but a doughnut of muddy ice and completely inaccessible. While I was sure I was walking at least as fast as I was riding, my cycle computer told a different tale; my walking speed topped out at 5.6kph, but I could ride consistently at close to 11kph. I might have been more aggressive about staying on the bike if there were other people around, but as it stood I had no idea if there was anyone who could come to my aid if I fell and injured myself - I figured I'd already used up my luck by finding a soft place to land in my early spill, so it was time to take things conservatively.

As I pushed onward, both by bike and on foot, I'd occasionally catch glimpses of two other riders ahead on the trail. I slowly but surely gained on them, finally exiting the gawdforsaken rail trail just a few dozen metres behind. As they dismounted to walk their bikes up the dirt hill to Snyder Ave, I managed to spin past them while my legs screamed in protest. Finding myself back on pavement - halleluja! - I clicked up through the cogs and rolled past a sign that told me I was just one measly kilometer from the finish.

Still alive!

A quick right-left jog and then one final turn to see the glory of the finish line in front of me. I pedaled through somewhere between 4:04 and 4:05pm - almost exactly five hours after the horn had sounded to start wave 2. My legs were not on speaking terms with me, my butt was sore, and my wrist was aching in spite of the squishy fork. Oh, I'd also managed to go hypothermic AND get sunburned at the same time!


Tanker almost had to pull me off the bike.
Tanker loaded my bike onto the rack and I was invited into the Lions Hall to warm up with a delicious bowl of butternut squash soup. Several people kindly congratulated me on finishing, and I did my best to politely thank them while using most of my energy just to keep from falling over. As I ate and changed into warm, dry clothes, feeling slowly returned to my extremities but I could tell that the ride had taken its toll. Awfully glad I slept in instead of going for the half-hour run I'd intended to in the morning before the race!

Bringing the trail home with me.

Back of my jacket. The mud crept in everywhere..

Tanker and I packed my sweaty, muddy kit into a garbage bag and bundled ourselves into the car with our stash of snacks (cheese curds and corn chips and a chocolate macaroon, oh my!) then set off to take care of the mess our bikes were in.

Check out the chunks of muddy ice under my bike - Tanker had to break them off by hand.
Because I was apparently 5mins too late getting to the finish, there is no official result for any member of ill advised racing for this day. I may have a technical DNF at the inaugural Steaming Nostril, but I think rather more importantly:

1) I stayed with my husband while he was having a rough go.
2) I wasn't even last, and I was passing people right up until the very end.
3) I didn't quit.

I also keep my word.

Final results per my cycle computer give my rolling time as 4:08:23 for 69.13km - an average of 16.7kph. Had I not spent the first two thirds soft-pedaling behind people on the trail and trying to keep Tanker on my wheel (resulting in the hypothermia) it would have been a very different day...but there's always next year.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Steaming Nostril is on Sunday. It's supposed to be 5% paved roads, 55% farm roads (which means an abundance of dirt, gravel and potholes) and 40% rail trail.

That last bit is a sticking point.

I have actually got out to ride my faithful cyclocross bike Snorky once since I broke my wrist last August. It was last Sunday, it was sunny, and it was cold.

Lies: the weather network said -3c at best.

The ride actually went ok, despite ProBikeKit not yet having delivered the new bar tape I ordered to facilitate the installation of some road chatter-absorbing gel pads on the bars. The old gel cork tape was just fine riding pavement, and seemed ok for the few feet of gravel shoulder I tried out. My wrist did not complain, and I was able to handle the bike without much issue - getting a bottle out of my cages is still a bit of a challenge with my left hand, and I don't feel comfortable riding left-handed while using my right to drink, but it's manageable. Better than Tour de King when I could only drink while off the bike!

Good boy, Snorky!

However, the rail trail poses an issue. While spring technically arrived on Wednesday morning, the weather has been complete shit. It's snowed (sometimes with the added bonus of freezing rain, sleet, ice chips or hail) every single day this week. Given that the trails around here were already covered in layers of spongy, footprinted ice and snow we're talking about the potential combination of near-zero traction and bone-juddering lumpiness out there. For 40% of the damn course, which my quick math tells me is 26km (of the 65km stated total)...so slightly more than the 25.3km I've actually put on my CX bike outdoors in the last 7 months.

Our driveway Wednesday night, right where Snorky was sitting in the pic above.

Easy solution - just ride my awesome mountain bike, right? The squishy front end will save my wrist from the jolting and my big knobbly tires will help with the all-important gription.

Not to mention he's stylish as hell.

However, there's a strong possibility that I'll just wuss out and end up having to walk a bunch of the trail sections anyway, because my bike handling skills still suck and I'm much more of a weenie than I was before discovering how fragile my limbs can be. My rationale for continuing to ride my 'cross bike at Paris-Ancaster has always been that I'd need to make up speed on the road sections to compensate for my hopelessness on the technical bits, and this situation is no different. There's a support cut-off time for the first two sections: 1h10m for the first 21km (18.0kph), then 2h20m to the 41km point (2k before the only aid station - 17.6kph). I'm not 100% sure I can make it if I end up having to walk and still have the rolling resistance of 26" x 2.0" knobbies holding me back on the faster sections.

Realistically, if I don't make the cut-off times I'll just keep riding. I've kind of been known to do that before. It would be better training for Paris to Ancaster if I rode the cyclocross bike, but even Tanker is considering riding his mountain bike and wants to drive up to Elmira to scope out conditions on the Kissing Bridge Trailway before making a final decision.

Regardless of equipment used, it's going to be a fun time...assuming we don't freeze to death!

Think warm thoughts, kids..

Maybe I'll just strap my cross-country skis to my back as Plan C.

One final note: this week has also seen the blog top 10,000 hits. You are all amazing people for taking the time to meander through my gibberish - thank you!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Giveth and taketh away.

Bonus post: a fun little story from last night's swim.

After finishing up in the pool having done a bunch of drill work, some fly and a bit of IM I go jump in the hot tub to stretch. Young girl on guard comes over to keep an eye on husband and I in the tub (not that we're doing anything untoward, but there's noone left in the pool), then says to me "I keep meaning to tell you, but thought it would be weird to shout from the guard tower - you have the nicest strokes! There's nothing else to do during lane swim but watch people, and I really like watching you." I thank her for her kind words, thinking to myself "all show; no go" but still quite flattered. Finished stretching, I hop out of the tub and walk into the changeroom.

I'm still smiling about the lovely compliment as I enter one of the shower stalls to rinse off. Just as I step in, my foot goes out from under me on the wet tile and I fall flat on my ass

Didn't get a hand down or anything - landed right on the meaty part of my left gluteus maximum with my entire bodyweight, exactly at the point where the floor starts to slope down toward the drain.

I think I'd trade the compliment for not having grout marks imprinted in my butt.

The horror..

Friday, March 15, 2013

Laying plans

Getting on things a bit earlier than last year, I've finally got 'round to building myself a racing season! Things get going next weekend (ack!) with Steaming Nostril on March 24th as a warm-up (irony: it's likely to be damn cold and the trail may be snow-covered) for Paris to Ancaster three weeks later on April 14th. This is mostly about the tri season, though, so breathe deeply and soldier forth.

I've known for some time now that I'd be doing the Half Iron distance triathlon at Welland as my A-race this year, as I'm sure I can improve on my 2011 result if I can just manage to avoid another crippling (and entirely self-inflicted) sacroiliac joint injury. 6:25:56 is the time to beat, and I think running the Mississauga Half-Marathon 7 weeks beforehand will set me up for success much better than the Waterloo (full) Marathon did in 2011 - I had an additional week in between, but recovery from a road marathon (into which I went undertrained; surprise, surprise) took for bloody ever and I was only just starting to feel myself again come race day for the half iron. I've been getting really consistent running mileage in for the last couple of months (broke 500km for the year last night), so hopefully this will translate into an improvement on my one-and-only half marathon time of 2:09:24 and a quicker half iron run leg.

All the sooner into the canal!

When I raced the Welland Half in 2011, it was my first tri of the year and I had an abysmal swim. I've been putting in some decent yardage at the pool and am swimming much faster overall than I was then, but I've also made the decision to go back to one of my favourite race venues for an early season warm-up: Woodstock doesn't have the 750m-30k-7.5k distance I did last year anymore, so I'll actually get to try the standard sprint distance (750m-20k-5k) for the first time! It's exactly half of an Olympic tri, and will basically be a speed workout and dress rehearsal 4 weeks ahead of the half.

Everything after Welland is more or less gravy, as we're going touring on the motorcycles come the July 1st weekend - I learned early in my racing career that you don't schedule anything for which performance is required after a week of road food, minimal (if any) training and casual boozing. That being said, we'll return to reality on July 8th with a whole 12 days to whip ourselves into shape for the Belwood sprint relay! Hopefully this year I won't let Tanker down with the worst swim pace I've ever recorded (like 2011 - I seriously swam slower than I did in my first 2 races back in 2009!), and will actually be able to get through the whole 7.5km run without collapsing into a wheezing heap of greasy ooze. Ok, there was no collapsing in 2011, but spending a week camping and drinking right before the race was certainly not the best idea we've ever had...or maybe it was!

No, probably not.

August is usually occupied with Mine Over Matter, which I had every intention of doing again this year (despite previous .500 record for completion and associated damages) until they announced it would be moved from the last weekend of August to July 7th, at which point I won't even be home from our moto camping expedition. I thought about racing the Toronto Island sprint, but Tanker balked at the idea of having to be at the ferry docks by 05:30 - the words "logistical nightmare" kept escaping his usually un-protesting lips, and I couldn't honestly argue with that. Given that the 750m-30k-7.5k distance has been eliminated in favour of the shorter, standard sprint for this race as well, I was having a hard time convincing myself that it was worth over 4 hours of travel for a scant 90mins on course. I gave brief thought to trying the other Element race (Muskoka Grind on Aug. 18th), but decided against another out-of-town race for this year. The plan instead is to pack the bikes up and go camp somewhere for a few days instead - I'm going to give my sweet husband and wonder sherpa a whole summer month race-free!

September brings the end of tri season in Ontario, and I had a tough time deciding which of two great Olympic-distance races I'd be using to close out the year. I've done Lakeside the last two years (including while broken last year - whee!), and I do love the venue and its convenience - take off before dawn, but home by 2pm! Wasaga involves a little more planning - when I did it 2010, we stayed Friday and Saturday night in Collingwood, and that was a really comfortable way to go as it gave us a lovely weekend away after the Saturday morning race. As terrible as the pavement on the bike course is, I've chosen to return to the frigid waters of Georgian Bay again this year for a few reasons: the run course has got to be one of the most beautiful in Ontario, it will give Tanker and I a lovely excuse for a weekend together, and it's also the one triathlon at which my Dad came to see me race. That alone is enough to make the venue special to me, and one I'd like to re-visit.

By the end I thought I could fly.

One other advantage to Wasaga is that it's a week earlier in September (the 7th as opposed to the 15th), as I'm having some very stupid thoughts about trying to run my first 50k trail race at Vulture Bait on October 19th. If I do, I'll need the extra time in between for some recovery and last couple of long runs/doubles before setting out for 6+ hours of pain...and then possibly running another 6 hours a week later at Horror Hill?

So, the plans are more or less laid, and I've actually managed to say "no" to a race for once. All that's left now is to stay healthy and keep the training consistent! If the end of the season shapes up as described above, I may also need to start making sacrifices to a few deities..

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tested: Louis Garneau Power Block Jacket

Back to the product reviews, this week I'm going to tell you about my most-used piece of gear in the last 4 years: the women's Power Block jacket from Louis Garneau.

The red colorway distinctly shows the blocks of fabric.
What it is: A wind- and waterproof yet highly breathable jacket for cold weather cycling that works equally well for running and nordic skiing.

Why you want one: Because you're not going to let a little bit of lousy weather keep you from heading out for a workout, but you want to stay warm and comfortable while you're out there.

Front in black with zipper undone showing logo draft flap.

Back in black - AC/DC not required.

Duration used: Almost 4.5 years now - purchased somewhere around October 2008.

Price paid/purchased from: I paid about $115.00CAN plus tax from Grand River Cycle

You can see the side pocket placement pretty well here.
Glove-friendly pulls on double front full-length zipper.
What rawks: Just about everything. I bought this jacket a size larger than most things I own (LG women's size large - I'm usually a medium, and squeeze into a small sleeveless jersey) so I could wear layers underneath it, but I can generally get away with just a base layer unless it's colder than -12c/10f out. The larger size makes it roomy without being baggy or shapeless, and the shaping to the arms and body keep it moving with me through my full range of motion; it seldom rides up or bunches. The material is apparently 3 ply, but quite lightweight and with lots of stretch; this isn't a piece you'll notice weighing you down, or even notice at all. Unlike some other wind/water resistant materials, this garment is almost silent in motion - there's a slight rustle, but it doesn't sound like you're wearing a grocery bag. The jacket is breathable and well vented, but beautifully windproof and highly water resistant. I'm not going to say it's fully waterproof, but by the time moisture actually starts to soak through it you've probably sweated enough you're not really going to notice anyway, and there is no direct creep of rain in through the seams or zippers. The vents are on the back only, but keep the whole body of the jacket circulating air without permitting direct wind entry; they are furthermore designed in such a way that keeps the brushed interior fabric against your body while employing mesh to allow excellent airflow (and keep bugs out, 'cause noone wants stuff crawling around in their jacket) - I've included some detail photos below that show the construction. If you need to dump more heat, the tabs on the two-way, full-length front zip are easily operated with gloves on, as are the side zips which open to full mesh pocket bags to allow air to your midsection if desired. The pockets are another great feature of this jacket, both in quantity and design: the two side pockets are very high capacity, and can be used either as zippered exterior or drop-in interior pockets (see detail photo below). In either case, each pocket will accommodate a pair of winter-weight gloves. There is a smaller zip pocket on the left upper arm with a hole to internally route a headphone cord, designed to work with the elastic loop on the left hand side of the collar, allowing you to leave your mp3 player in the jacket if you wish. The real boon is the two large drop-in pockets on the back of the jacket; similar to a cycling jersey's pockets, each one is large enough to hold a standard bike water bottle and they're deep enough to keep small items from bouncing out while running while still keeping the contents easily accessible. I usually dump my phone in one of them with zero concerns, and it's a great place to keep a gel flask, extra gloves or multi-function fabric tube - anything you might need to grab while on the move, and you can get to it without removing your gloves. If the rest of these aren't enough, there's even a smaller zippered pocket on the back as well - 6 pockets in total. You have the capacity to carry far more than you'd ever actually want to while running, and could self-support a longer ride than you'd probably want to take if conditions required the warmth this jacket provides. The collar is tall enough to provide excellent insulation for your neck but not so tight as to feel claustrophobic, and its smooth interior (same as the outer material) and zipper garage are comfortable against bare skin. The cuffs are finished very simply with a soft, stretchy binding which keeps them low-volume; they work well with shirts that have thumbholes and it's easy to get a pair of gauntlet cuffs over them to seal out air, but the stretch is enough to keep them snug if you prefer your glove cuffs on the inside. The bottom hem has the same binding, and it doesn't ride up or cause issues, and the longer length (mine hits below the hip, but I have a very short torso) provides additional warmth and coverage compared to some other jackets without being restrictive. It has good-sized reflective accents that still flare as brightly after 4 years as they did when they were new, and from completely soaked and dripping it will dry overnight and be ready for more abuse. It even takes a few wearings before it starts to stink, and washes up perfectly on the gentle cycle in the machine - hang to dry, and you're golden.

Cord management loop at the left side of the collar;
works nicely with interior routing hole from left sleeve pocket.

Interior mesh of the side pocket forms a giant inner drop-in pocket.

Spacious double rear pockets with additional smaller, zippered security pocket.
My fingers are stuck in the back vents, which work brilliantly.

What sucks: The jacket is too bulky to be stuffed into a jersey pocket if you need to shed a layer. While water will bead off the exterior initially, sustained rain or sleet will eventually soak through. The arms could use some additional venting, as moisture can build up to the point of dripping out the ends of the sleeves at times. The cuffs and bottom hem rely their stretchy binding with no way to cinch them up to prevent air entry and there is nothing to prevent it riding up at the waist - I added some vertical stripes of silicone above the bottom hem at the back to keep it in place, though it has never really been an issue unless I did something weird like wear an elastic race number belt overtop. While I find the length very good, it does not have the same long rear flap or dropped back that many running and cycling jackets have - you'll have to look elsewhere for something to keep your butt clean in muddy conditions. The reflective is very bright, but there isn't nearly as much of it (particularly on the back; the part that most cars see while cycling) as there is on some others of its type.

Inner view of the back of the jacket showing the back vents.

Vent construction keeps brushed fabric against your body but the mesh provides great airflow.

What I'd like to see: It could use a little more ventilation on the back of the arms, as moisture does have a bit of a tendency to build up there. Apart from that, I'd just like to see LG bring it back! The replacement seems to be the Enerblock Jacket, but at a higher price and with what appear to be some non-weatherproof panels, plus no drop-in back pockets.

My first race ever! The Slainte St. Patrick's Day 5k in March 2009.

Skiing at -15c with a heavy full-zip sweater and base layer underneath.

What I'm saying: If you need a cold/wet weather jacket and you can find one of these, buy it. It's been my faithful companion for my entire running career and I still reach for it on a daily basis during the three quarters of the year when the weather gets ugly. As you can see in these photos I've used it for just about every outdoor aerobic activity you can imagine, and I've even golfed in it on a cool day before. It has kept me comfortable and dry cycling in rain at 1c/34f and kept me warm while running at -34c/-29f. I seriously love this thing and was losing my mind when a dog tore a hole in it - fortunately I was able to repair it almost as good as new (that's the funny spot at the bottom right side of the first photo up top), and it just keeps taking every bit of abuse I can throw at it! UPDATE Mar 2014: I've actually just bought myself a second one (in the red colourway shown above, partially due to lack of choice but mostly wanting increased visibility) because the original is finally starting to show its age after 5.5 years. The main zipper tab broke, the zipper itself is a bit finicky these days, and some of the stitching is starting to come apart while some of the fabric is showing some abrasion damage. Realistically though, having scavenged a zipper tab from elsewhere it's still completely functional. Tanker - awesome fellow that he is - wanted me to have the red one so it would be slightly less likely I'd be mowed down by a car while out running or cycling in poor weather, so took the minor deterioration of the original jacket as prompting to get me a spanky new one. It's almost as though he likes me or something!

Keeping me warm on the Frosty Trail.

I've even been known to use it for its intended purpose.

For further edification: Other reviews are hard to come by, but there's this one posted on Louis Garneau's website (it's a .pdf - sorry) and this one from a BeginnerTriathlete user - Art's Cyclery also did a pretty extensive product description for it.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Make it up or let it go?

I have a weekly training schedule that works for me, and I bet you have something of the sort as well. It's the best way for me to fit in the 6 runs, 4 swims, 3-4 cycling workouts and 4 strength sessions I try to get done every week - partly dictated by my working hours, partly dictated by available lane swim times, it all just flows.

Like this creek through a local golf course, shot on a sunny run last Saturday.

This week we had a nasty storm that started Tuesday on our way home from work. It began with ice pellets and freezing rain, stripping away all traction on the roads around my home. I usually do a middle-distance run (8-10k) and hit the pool for a shorter, drill-oriented swim on Tuesday nights, but that wasn't happening this week. There are very few conditions in which I won't run outside, but freezing rain and ice pellets are two of them: besides obvious injury risk from slipping and falling I find it nearly impossible to keep that crap out of my eyes, and the combination of compromised vision and lack of grip (for both me and vehicles) is just beyond my safety tolerances. The only treadmill to which I have access is 13km away at the recreation centre where I swim, and frankly the idea of driving anywhere on icy roads sounded almost as stupid as going for a run, so I had to bag both workouts.

Yet I'd been able to run in a single layer on dry roads Monday night!

Rather than taking the night off completely, I hopped on the trainer. With Steaming Nostril less than 4 weeks away and cycling's low impact nature, I was better off getting in an extra workout than just opting for complete rest despite having done a tough bike workout (2 x 20mins all-out) the day before. It was a different kind of session (7 minute pyramids: start in a relatively easy gear and increase gearing every 60 seconds for 4mins, then decrease gear every 60 seconds for 3mins, spinning easy for 3mins between each pyramid), so the training adaptation would be different than the previous day's workout. 

Not nearly as much fun as riding to the market in sleet on Saturday, though.

We didn't end up going in to work on Wednesday, as the roads were covered in better than half a foot of heavy, wet, slushy snow. Our street wasn't plowed out until 2:30pm, and what fell was useless for nordic skiing or snowshoeing, so I decided to do a double run day instead. With the Mississauga Half Marathon approaching, I'm trying to keep my mileage higher than previous winters so I might actually be ready for a race. I put in a little over 9km around 4pm, splashing around in the slush and reveling in the clear sections of road and sidewalk I could find. I cracked this one out at a snappy pace regardless - the day off running had my legs feeling great.

I had a little pile of sleet on my hat when I finished (this was partway through).
I considered going to the pool, which would make up the workout that I'd missed Tuesday evening, but instead I hopped on the trainer for an easy 30min spin to warm my legs back up before heading out for a second run at around 9:30pm. The sleet had turned to snow again, but the roads were still a slushy mess so I took it slow and easy.

Still just barely above freezing, though, so knickers it was!

Since Wednesdays are now my short, easy run & short, easy ride day, I'd done my regular Wednesday workouts and made up for Tuesday's missed run. Since it's still a long way until the first tri of the year, I am able to simply let the missed swim go. As a bonus, I got an extra bike workout in that should pay off before the end of this month! Even my extreme training OCD can't argue with that.

When deciding whether to make up a workout or simply pass it by, consider how the session fits in the context of your whole season. Once missed training session will not make or break your race, and sometimes you'll benefit from shaking up your good old routine. While being in a groove can be a good thing, you don't want to get stuck in a rut!

Bonus shot from our way in to work on Thursday - back to the winter wonderland!