Friday, April 26, 2013

Taper crazies setting in

With the Mississauga Half Marathon now just over a week away, I've actually started to taper. I've done poorly at that so far this year, but the other races weren't priority - this is one I've really been working toward.

Since the start of this year, I've averaged 200+km of running every month - will top 800k by Sunday of this week. It's my biggest running block ever (stop laughing), and I'm actually entertaining the notion I might be adequately prepared for a race...for once. I've managed to ratchet down my mileage a bit after putting in my highest volume last week, so now I'm caught trying to delicately balance rest and absorbing the work with minimizing loss of fitness. My OCD side says I should be getting more work done, but there's no use in wearing myself down before the big day, so I just sit and gently twitch instead.

This coming weekend will be a crucial time not to over-work myself, but it's going to be tough to keep myself from putting in some serious saddle time, as we're supposed to have lovely weather!

Just made for riding!

I do, however, have one really excellent reason to take things easy and give the training a rest; it's my incredibly wonderful and perpetually amazing husband, sherpa and best friend's birthday tomorrow!

Happy Tanker after finishing P2A 2013!

So, I'm going to dedicate this weekend to spending some time trying to show my sweetheart how much he really means to me - the whole world! We've got dinner with my Mum tonight, a bit of a get-together planned for tomorrow evening (campfire and great friends!), then brunch with some of our favourite people on Sunday. We'll probably do a bit of cycling as well, maybe get out on the motorcycles, and possibly even go smash a bucket of golfballs at the driving range. Doesn't really matter what we do, as long as I get to do it with him!

Rolling together in the sunshine.

So Happy Birthday, my darling! Thank you for keeping me sane while I blunder through this taper (or at least for not throttling me for my taper crazies), for everything else you do every single day that makes life with you an absolute joy, and most of all just for being you!


Friday, April 19, 2013

Get what you give

Because I am exhausted and short on time, please indulge me in a short ramble. I'll punctuate it with some Paris to Ancaster photos so it looks tri-related, but really it's life related.

Wave 4 riding off toward the start of the rail trail. Credit: Ivan Rupes

This week has been one shocking event after another. First the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, then the explosion and tragic loss of life in the town of West, TX, and to top it all off a (minor in comparison) calamity at home that needn't be explained in detail - suffice to say it's a good thing I'm expecting an income tax refund shortly.

Tanker being awesome. Credit: Race Day Rush

In the face of horrible events, we have a choice to make: to lash out with negativity, or to try to overcome and move forward with hope and love. It's so natural to turn to hatred and thoughts of vengeance on those who have done wrong, who have hurt us and those that we care about. Consider, though, that the energy you send out into the world is what will reflect back to you.

Troopers on the Powerline Slide. Credit: Ivan Rupes

You can choose to look toward the light instead of poisoning your soul with hate. It's not the easy route; you'll have to work at it, to let go of the anger and see the positive in a negative situation. It's like cycling up a mountain: you'll have to sweat to make it to the top, but once you get there - once you really free yourself from the dark thoughts - it's like gravity just falls away from you. There air sure is crisp up there, and the view above the clouds is always bright and sunny.

Sunshine on the final hill. Credit: Sportzone

Don't be tempted by the easy downward journey into the dark valley of hate - you'll just have to climb twice as far out the other side to taste that fresh, clean air of freedom.

Race you to the top!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

20th Anniversary Paris to Ancaster Spring Classic - April 14th, 2013

A muddy walk in the woods punctuated by occasional bike riding.

Awoke around 7:30am with stabbing pain under my left boob - couldn't take a breath without nearly crumpling in pain. Awesome. Off to the bathroom considering that I may be having a heart attack, I managed to stretch my left shoulder up and away from my left hip, loosening things up significantly. It seems I may have lapped a rib in my sleep, pinching the soft tissue between the bones. The more I stretched it out, the less painful it became. Now I just had some lower back pain (caused by - get this - doing a yoga pose on Thursday morning that is recommended to relieve back pain), somewhat dead legs from a snappy 9k trail run on Saturday, and almost no recent bike training to deal with. Oh, and the fact this was apparently the muddiest the course has been in its 20 year history: they'd already pulled out the first two 2 single-track sections off McLean School Road, and the Charlie's Farm slide was taken out a couple of days before the race with the possibility of more revisions to come.

From the pre-race email.

Against all P2A tradition, it was a beautiful sunny morning. The temperature left something to be desired, as did the dusting of snow on the roadside fields as we drove down to the start in Paris, but we'd been tantalized by promises of 7c by the afternoon. We had also both packed a ridiculously huge assortment of apparel for last-minute decision making - I finally settled on bibs, leg warmers, an awesome long-sleeve Craft base layer with short-sleeved jersey over top, my merino helmet liner cap and my favourite LG jacket over it all to keep out the chilly wind. I knew I was probably overdressed and toyed with the idea of just wearing my vest instead, but once hypothermic, twice shy. I really hate being cold. Tanker took the same tack, bundling himself up in a windproof base layer, bibs, a long-sleeve thermal jersey and thermal tights, plus a winter-weight jacket. I wondered about the wisdom of all that - he has a tendency to dress for the first mile, not the rest of the ride - but it didn't seem like that bad an idea as we puttered around in the morning chill.

Note to self: keep chamois creme somewhere warm prior to application.

Of course we managed to forget a pump - we're idiots, and hadn't managed to outsmart ourselves by putting it in the kitchen the night before. Fortunately, we parked right next to a fellow Cambridge chap in Hub kit who coincidentally rides exactly the same CX bike that I do, and he was kind enough to lend us his. With fresh rubber on the rear instead of the bald-ass excuse for a tire I used last year, I felt reasonably confident running about 55-60psi both front and rear. I'd been out running on the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail the day before (though a different section than we'd be riding), and conditions were much better than expected after a solid week of rain: there were lots of wheel ruts in the crushed gravel surface, but it was nicely hard-packed and had drained very well. There would be some puddles and slightly softer bits, but should roll fairly fast - a far cry from Steaming Nostril!

In the interest of seeing what my legs had to offer, Tanker and I mounted up for a bit of a warmup ride. The parking lot was a ridiculous pit of soft gravel and mud, so making it out the driveway onto Green Line upright was a decent accomplishment in itself. I pedaled up the hill, then turned around to see what the hell happened to Tanker. He appeared on Green Line just as I was nearing the parking lot entrance again, so a quick u-turn and back up the hill, right onto East River Road, then up to the top of the little rise. I turned around in someone's driveway and looked for Tank, but he was nowhere in sight. Rolling back downhill, I tried to shift to the big ring, but encountered hesitation - an extra nudge on the lever, engagement, then the chain gets spat off the outside onto the crank. This is really boding well, especially since my stupid wrist is already hurting and both of my braces are at home. Whee!

Sunny at the starting area - from the P2A Twitter feed.

Chain re-seated, back to the small ring (knowing that's likely where I'll stay all day), and roll on down to the starting area. We'd registered in Wave 4, and Wave 3 hadn't left yet, so I wasn't too concerned that there was still no sign of Tanker. My only goal for this "race" was to get him across the finish line with me - his first attempt in 2011 had been aborted by a broken rear derailleur hanger (one of dozens claimed annually by the P2A mud) and this was his grudge match. We had a spare hanger riding along with him today, but I'm the one that does the cycle repairs and maintenance in the house and it's an easier job with an extra pair of hands, so I was determined to stick by him on the course. That would be made significantly more difficult if I couldn't even find him at the start..
Wave 3 went off with much cheering and ringing of cowbells, and the Wave 4 riders started to shuffle into the starting corral. I made my way in, but stayed off to the far right to try to look for Tanker as he came in. I was starting to wonder if he'd gone off a wave ahead (he doesn't wear a watch and might not look at his cycle computer) as the stream of cyclists was waning to a trickle, then I finally spotted him halfway up the driveway chatting away. I waved at him to try to get his attention as I really did not want to be stuck at the very back again (part of our problem on the first rail trail section at Steaming Nostril), and he finally moseyed on into the start corral with me. Only about 500 people in front of us; no big deal.

As the clock counted down to our start, I pulled out my zipper-bagged phone and started Endomondo so I'd have a bit of a record of the race. I totally forgot to take any photos at the start, as did Tank. It was a trend that would continue as the horn sounded and we rolled through the muddy grass, up the hill and down the pothole-strewn laneway that would lead us to the rail trail. Not even half a kilometer in, the bumping had ejected dozens of bottles from cages of those ahead of us - some people were going to have a tough day.

The trail was in just as good a condition as I'd expected, and we were able to pass a significant number of riders while still rolling quite easily. The sun shone, birds sang, pedals turned - it was still cool, but a lovely day nonetheless. Much better than the rain from 2012 or blinding snow from 2011! They'd even filled in the worst of the washout damage I'd seen a few weeks back, and the gravel had seated well. I could have rode this all day, and look forward to doing so as the spring and summer progress.

Coming to the turn-off at the fire road, it became immediately obvious that things had been churned up too badly by the waves ahead for my 'cross tires to keep sufficient traction up the hill. I quickly dismounted and started walking with Tanker right by my side. By the time we reached the top of the hill, he was panting and roaring about being too hot. A brief stop and a surprisingly accommodating jersey pocket served to ditch his jacket plus a wrestle to get back into his wet insulated gloves, then on we rode to try to overtake all the people who'd re-passed us while we were stopped. 10k down, another 52 to go (as far as we knew).

Onto McLean School Road and past the usual turn-off point into the woods, we were into some mild rolling hills and passing loads of people on mountain bikes. This is totally why a cyclocross bike is ideal for P2A - most of the really muddy stuff I couldn't ride on a mountain bike anyway, so might as well use the road sections to make up time. We turned onto Highway 24 and were funneled across the road to that weird section of giant cement blocks beside the drainage ditch - the mud here was at least as bad as any other year, and we elected to take the old route on the shoulder rather than brave the calf-deep mud crossing the course seemed to indicate. We were far from alone! I also realised here that I'd totally flaked on screwing in the mud studs that came with my new mountain bike shoes, but the soles were providing ample traction while traversing the steep and muddy roadside. We managed to re-mount afterward and roll for maybe 100 feet before coming to the first singletrack section of the day. I was in the granniest gear I had and it felt like my wheels were jamming with mud, but when I hopped off to inspect they were clear - the mud was just sucking all of my energy and my legs felt like crap.

Perhaps time to stop calling them "new" shoes.

With a hey and a ho, away we...walked. Tanker had adopted his usual training regimen for this year (read: none), so was well-tapered going in - he was able to ride a few more metres, but then even his legs succumbed to the wheel-sucking mud. Even the mountain bikers were dismounting to walk, but fortunately the mud was not building up and jamming wheels. Soon enough we were sloughing it off as we rode down Howell Road and enjoying a new addition to the course - a loop around Orchard Home Farm on a gravel lane. This was almost all rideable (except a short section of 3" deep mud at the top of the loop), so we once again made up a bit of time - even moreso once we got back out onto Howell.

Right turn and through the gate, onto muddy doubletrack. This section has been mostly rideable in prior years, but most years don't include enough rain to cause massive flooding throughout the region as a prelude. I'd say it was something like a 50/50 split between pedaling and walking for us this year, Tanker putting his handling skills to good use and me just trying to hang on and keep things light on the pedals. That weirdo even rode (at least some of) the final downhill swoop with the sharp left-hand turn that spits you out at Highway 5 - myself and a girl on a mountain bike prudently stepped our way down instead. I'm in a good place with my post-broken-wrist wussiness. Fortunately the grumbling it did during my warmup was the last I really noticed from it, even having neglected to re-wrap my bars with the squishy gel pads I'd bought specifically for this event.

Back onto roads of both paved and gravel persuasions, it was a quick jaunt down Harrisburg Road as we met up with a big bunch of riders doing the shorter St. George to Ancaster version of the race. A big clench as we slogged through the soft gravel of that bloody farm lane (which I rode all the way through for the first time!), out to German School Road and into the first aid station and cut-off point at Harrisburg. 28km done, and definitely time to eat something and refill bottles - I'd only had about 3/4 of a bottle of eLoad so far, and we'd been on the road almost 2 hours. After a peanut butter chocolate chip Larabar, a small banana and an eLoad re-load (plus a second pee break for Tanker), we mounted up and pedaled off...only to dismount again almost immediately. The water and mud were 4" deep in places in the ball field!

A bit of road, then some doubletrack trail - not the nice crushed limestone of the rail trail, but some reasonably hard-packed dirt that let us get past a lot of the S2A riders. We ate even more of them as we came out to Weir Road, followed its jog onto Governors then right on the continuation of Weir, and then found ourselves at Rosehedge Farm. This section - riding down a farm lane and then across a field - is brutal at the best of times. I was able to ride most of it last year, but not today; I don't think I saw a single person make it more than 20 yards in the saddle. Even walking was difficult, as there was ankle-deep mud everywhere that tried to suck the shoes right off your feet! We finally got out to Powerline Road, enjoying the pavement for all of about 3 minutes before hitting the Prenderlaan.

This section was new to Tanker (as it had only been added last year), and was another hopeless mud pit. We both tried to slug it out on the bikes but quickly gave up. I had rode it all - however sketchily - last year but the suckage was relentless! To make things even better, once I re-mounted on the gravel section toward the end some kid came right across in front of me as I was trying to pass on the left, forcing me off the lane and into a muddy cornfield. I thought for sure I was going to end up in a heap of twisted metal and bodies, but actually managed to ride it out (while screaming at the little puke) and tried to un-clench. We eventually emerged at Indian Trail, then it was just a 3km road-based hop down to the Hamilton to Brantford Rail Trail with around 20km left to go.

My Endomondo data - interactive available here.
Please don't disrespect the private landowners by trying to ride it outside the race.

The rail trail was a little more than 8km of pure bliss - the sun shone, the rolling was fast, and Tanker and I might as well have had a recording of "on your left" going on a constant loop. Of course, someone had to pee again, so we got to pass a whole load of people twice. At least it gave me a good chance to hydrate and remove the top half of my jacket - it had got up to 11c per my cycle computer and ventilating with the zip wasn't doing the trick, apart from acting like a bit of a parachute. I zipped it down to my waist, pulled my arms out, then tied the sleeves around the front and tucked the ends in; probably looked incredibly stupid, but let me dump a ton of excess heat and stayed put. It felt great to cool off, but my legs had been complaining a lot even on the fast, flat surfaces of the rail trail and they made it readily apparent on re-mounting that they heartily disliked stopping and then starting again. Some days you have it, some days you don't; this was clearly one of the latter. It being me, though, I kept chasing as long as there were people ahead of me to pass with Tanker hooked firmly to my wheel.

Just past the 50k mark we were spat back out onto Powerline Road, about 30mins before the new 2:30pm cut-off time (riders proceed along the rail trail after this point). Up Hwy 52 and onto Mineral Springs Road, I started looking for the first big slide, not remembering that Charlie's Farm had been dropped from the course - probably a good move, as it's the longest of the mudslides and has been the worst for wheel jams in my recollection. We found ourselves in the Mineral Springs Slide instead, in which I had my first wheel jam of the day. I got it clear, shouldered the bike, and slogged onward with Tanker just ahead of me - he'd tried riding some of the slide, but gave up after a tip-over that left a really sharp print of his butt and hip in the mud. Fortunately, no damage done!

Coming out to the 2nd aid station at Slote Road, we spent some time clearing our frames and wheels of the jamming mud before re-mountain to do that horrible grind up to Powerline. I think I broke a few people's hearts when I had to tell them they still had the Powerline Slide left to go! A lot of people were walking their bikes up the road, but the one thing I won't let myself do is walk on a paved or gravel road - farm lanes are a different story. It's not even really that big or steep a hill, but since you're starting off without momentum and it's covered in chunks of mud flung off the bikes ahead, it makes it rather a drudge. We had a couple of kilometers to roll before the final mudbath, and I was starting to get very tired - realistically, I'd only drank about another half a bottle of eLoad since Harrisburg and was probably starting to fade from caloric deficit. Hindsight is 20/20, right? I had a gel in my pocket I could easily have gobbled, but it seemed unnecessary with (as I thought) just under 10k to go.

Last bit of road; last checkpoint done, and into the Powerline Slide. It actually wasn't as squelchy as previous times I've done the race, though I did see one of the hidden hoses pumping out some muddy water (yes, the mud does have help). I carried my bike a lot, spent a great deal of concentration on not losing my shoes, and discovered that the worst-looking parts of the mud (ie: the wettest) were actually the easiest to walk. Got to the bottom, mounted up again and saw the sign for Martin Road - the very last section. Tanker spotted a sign that said we had 2k left to go, which didn't jive with the 56km my cycle computer was showing, but I was more than happy to believe it. We climbed a hill that I mistook for the end, teasing Tank with an end to the torment, but it was not to be. I dismounted and walked a bit of that sharp little bastard, just too tired to care - my legs ached and the lack of calories was really taking its toll on me. Tanker got out of the saddle and fought to the top of the hill like a champ!

The last section of double-track trail had been rideable in places last year, but again the rain had taken its toll - we walked our bikes up, un-jammed the wheels once more, then mounted up and tried to ride down the other side. Bad choice; too sketchy. With maybe 30% of my braking power left and fatigue robbing me of what little handling skill I have, I managed to tip myself over onto the side of the Old Martin Road Trail. I landed on my left side - the one with the damaged wrist - and even stupidly put my hand down...but came out ok. The side of the trail is raised there, so I didn't fall far, and didn't put my arm out until my hip had already touched down. I still had to un-clip my left foot, but I was back up and walking again quickly with no pain. I waited until we got right to the bottom, just before the two big rocks, before I re-mounted.

I managed to pick up a bit of speed as we came into the final hill, but walking was a foregone conclusion with my legs thoroughly roasted. I managed to make it almost 1/3 of the way up in 36/27, but stepped down and started the walk of shame probably a touch earlier than last year. As I pushed my bike along a mountain biker came up beside me at almost the same pace I was walking and asked if he was close to the end - I told him he was nearly there with about 300 metres left to go, but he quickly ran out of gear (or legs) and ended up walking just behind me. We pushed up through the steepest section, then I mentioned that around the start of the next right-hand curve it flattened out and we could re-mount to ride across the line.

As the grade diminished I looked back to see if I could spot Tanker, but I didn't see him - I knew he would make it up to the line somehow, though, so didn't concern myself too much about waiting for him. The mountain biker stuck with me and hopped back on where I did, coming in about 35 seconds behind me. I crossed the finish line and moved to the left to get out of the way, pulled out my phone to stop Endomondo and tried to get the camera set up, but completely failed to get a photo of Tanker coming through the finish just over a minute after I did. It turns out that, due to the final adjustments made to the course, the whole thing was 57km - I showed 58.8km per my cycle computer and 58.09km via Endomondo.

Team Ill Advised Racing Inc. - mission accomplished.

We chatted with a few people, dropped off our bikes, peeled off some muddy things and wandered into the arena to join in the post-race festivities. We really enjoyed the pulled pork they had brought in for the 20th anniversary (which I could actually eat, unlike the subs they'd had the last 2 years), I bought Tanker a celebratory Highlander Pale Ale, and we were both surprised and delighted by the finishers gift we were given in the food line:


Better yet, after we went through the logistical nightmare of: shuttle bus back to Paris; grab car; drive back to Ancaster to pick up bikes; drive to Cambridge; hit coin-op car wash to clean bikes; hit Viet/Thai restaurant for amazing bowl of soup, we finally got home and I checked the results:

14th out of 19 mixed teams!
Just don't look at how far back we were from the leaders.

Not only did both of us finish, we weren't last, or even second last, or even the last team from Cambridge! Tanker's DNF from Steaming Nostril and the 2011 P2A were avenged, along with his DFL from Tour de King last year! Odd that he says he's not interested in ever doing Paris to Ancaster again..

For myself, despite the perenially wonderful organization and volunteers, plus the added touches for the 20th anniversary, I'm a bit ambivalent about the race overall. The mudslides have lost a lot of their novelty and I found them easier to navigate this go 'round than in others, but it was annoying that the extra moisture this year made sections I'd enjoyed the challenge of riding in the past beyond my capabilities. It didn't seem to be a matter of tires or even bike, though; almost everyone around us walked as much (or more) than we did, and we were only passed by a handful of people (except during stops). I wasn't even really that muddy at the end, though my bike certainly was - hopefully it doesn't destroy another bottom bracket or more cables, as replacing that stuff costs dearly. The timing of the event isn't great for me, either; I'm generally targeting a spring running race, so run training ramps up at the cost of cycling fitness. I'd only put less than 1,000km on the bike for the year up to the race start, and an embarrassing amount of that was easy spinning to try to work out legs sore from running, or triathlon-focused long intervals that are pretty useless when the land gets lumpy. I'm also pretty sure that my cleats are further back on my new shoes than my old ones, throwing my bike position out of whack a bit and changing the angle of application of force; I found it much more difficult to engage my glutes for extra power, feeling a lot of it coming from my outer quads (vastus lateralis) instead, and my neck and shoulders were getting tight while riding the second section of rail trail. That's something I'll need to work on prior to the 100k Tour de Grand, though it's about time I pulled out my time trial bike and started doing some work on it to get ready for tri season - less than 6 weeks away!

Yeah, yeah - tri dorks are full of excuses!

Friday, April 12, 2013

From freezing to drowning

Having eventually warmed up again after the hypothermic debacle that was Steaming Nostril, I've managed to put in some pretty solid training for the Mississauga Half Marathon on May 5th. I actually got my toughest workout for the half done last Saturday - a 22-odd kilometer riot of hills, finishing with a half-kilometer ascent of the big bugger upon which my neighbourhood perches. I ran it faster than I expected (by a lot) and felt really strong on the hills despite the extra weight of my hydration pack and some nasty headwinds on some of the biggest climbs. Given that the route I chose is much more challenging than the net downhill point-to-point course for the race, I'm feeling pretty confident and it's looking like I might actually be going into a road race with adequate preparation.

I guess there's a first time for everything.

If it seems a bit odd that I'd do this almost a full month out from race day, it's because of a minor scheduling issue; I'd rather not put in a long, hard run the day before Paris to Ancaster, which just happens to fall this Sunday. I only did 14km the day before Steaming Nostril, but ended up with over 3 hours of training for the day, and was marginally depleted for the "race" that ensued. This year's P2A is shaping up to be a bell ringer, as they've lengthened the route from 60k to 70k for the 20th anniversary after last year's addition of the Prenderlaan.

Then this happened.
What you see above is what I get for thinking "at least it's not hailing" as a thunderstorm descended upon me during Monday night's run. It was kind enough to start just as I turned off the main street (that has bus shelters) and end just as I returned to it, leaving me with no choice but to plod along as I got pelted with ice from above.

Since then, it has rained every single day. However, that wasn't the worst part.

Note that the icicles lean slightly away from the prevailing wind.

Southern Ontario got whacked upside the head with a stinkin' ice storm. Power outages, downed limbs, even hydro poles knocked over by nasty, gusty winds.

Downtown Hespeler - Queen & Guelph Ave - completely dark.

I tried to go for a swim last night, but the power at the pool had been out for 15mins when I got there and stayed off for another 10mins, by which time they'd decided the evening was a writeoff. Out running in the gale, I saw branches down on the sidewalks during my second loop that hadn't been there during the first - a bit unnerving, that. We woke up this morning to a world imprisoned in a layer of ice.

Looks pretty, but makes for a lousy commute.

Especially when you have to chip all this off your windshield.

So with the ground thoroughly saturated and flood warnings in effect all over the countryside, we'll venture forth into the mudslides on Sunday to test our luck as Tanker makes his second attempt at finishing Paris to Ancaster - we've already got a spare rear derailleur hanger ready to go in his jersey pocket so he won't be foiled the same way as he was in 2011. The organizers have already removed the first two sections of singletrack due to the conditions, so he may have a better chance despite the longer course, and at least the temperature is supposed to be around 7c so I probably won't turn into a shivering wreck.

Posted on facebook this morning by a friend.

Perhaps instead of the cross-country skis I pondered for Steaming Nostril I should pack along a snorkel and fins - maybe I won't be missing my Sunday swim after all!

Friday, April 5, 2013

HEED my warning!

I've tried to get along with Hammer Nutrition's training fuels. I really have.

Biggest gel packaging in the business.

I came into a few bags of their sport drink, HEED and a whole hockey sock full of single-serving gels for free last summer. I decided that it was worth giving them another whack for training purposes, despite having used them in the past with mixed results.

Good on toast - not on the run.

First, the gels. I bought a couple of jugs of the apple cinnamon and raspberry flavours a few years ago because they were cheap and plentiful. The apple cinnamon actually tastes great if you're using it for a pre-workout boost - once you're moving it's a different story. I find it very acidic and far too sweet while running, to the point I couldn't manage to get a second one into me during an 18k run to the pool a few weeks ago; I literally could not stand the thought of trying to choke it down. The raspberry flavour is absolutely vile when not exerting yourself, almost tolerable when running, but very thick and with a very strange consistency that feels almost sandy in the mouth. I've never actually managed to finish the jug of raspberry gel, and have refused to touch the free single-serves I got recently. I think I'd rather bonk.

Good for anything? Maybe weak glue..
I was actually somewhat excited to try the Montana Huckleberry flavour when it came out, and found it ok for the first few times. It wasn't sandy, had a milder sweetness to it, and a sort of generic berry flavour. It was also a bit thinner than the others, but still turns into a semi-solid in sub-freezing temperatures. I can manage to eat two of these over the course of a 19km run, but by the end of the first you notice a chemical aftertaste that only gets stronger with additional exposure. This blogger likened it to trying to choke down children's cough syrup, and that's close enough a description for me.

Sticky salvation?

The only gel that I've really felt like I might actually pay for in the future is the Espresso flavour, which contains 50mg of caffeine per serving. They're not too sweet, have a decent coffee flavour, and one of these will get me through a tough 18-20k run. It is, however, the absolute thickest of the whole lot; particularly in sub-freezing temperatures, the gel emerges from the packet in a blob that feels more like a gummy candy than a viscous liquid. I should probably mention that I tend to eat gels from single-serve packs in little nibbles at a time - it often takes me 15mins to finish a whole packet, during which time I run with it in my hand and roll it up like a tube of toothpaste to get every last bit out. The best way I've found to deal with the espresso gel is to bring a chickpea-sized blob to the top of the packet, bite it off, then let it melt in the side of my mouth and wash it down with a ton of water. The main issue I have with this gel is that it tends to result in unpleasant GI tract-based side effects if I have more than one - something that has never happened with Gu Roctane. I understand that Roctane gels in my preferred flavours (Chocolate Raspberry or, in a pinch, Blueberry Pomegranate) have less caffeine per serving - 35mg instead of Hammer espresso's 50mg - but I've never experienced any GI discomfort from multiple packs of Roctane.

Oh, and if you're looking for the electrolyte content in their gels you can keep on looking; they'd rather you take about eleven thousand of their Endurolyte caplets instead...because everyone knows it's easy to swallow something the size of a bumblebee while running.

Speaking of size, what I mentioned above about the biggest packaging in the whole wide world is absolute truth - there's a reason I used Hammer gels to rate the capacity of various items I've reviewed on this blog.

What I do recommend: EFS Liquid Shot from First Endurance. Thinner consistency even in the cold, not too sweet, plenty of electrolytes and no GI issues.

GI distress in a bag!

While it's not a product I've used lately, I can't talk about Hammer products and GI distress without mentioning the Perpetuem caffe latte. I trained with this a bit - mostly on the bike - a few years ago. I raced with it once and only once; my ill-fated 2010 attempt at the Muskoka Long Course tri. That entire race was an absolute riot of GI distress, clenched cheeks, horrible odours and an eventual dodge into the woods only to finally find a portajohn about a kilometer later. Thanks to the jerktasticness of Bravenet, the race report is now lost in the electronic ether...which is probably for the best. Suffice to say things started badly and got worse, helped along by the Perpetuem. Would never touch this stuff again.

What I do recommend: Frankly, I don't think there's really a need for a "long course-specific" beverage of this type. I've happily used EFS Liquid Shot for 6+ hour events with no dip in energy unless I get dumb and forget to take in calories.

At least the packaging is environmentally friendly..

Now for the product that really spurred me to write this little rant. HEED is supposed to be a "high energy electrolyte drink", similar to other products that end in -ade. Its job is to provide hydration, carbohydrates and electrolytes while not tasting awful and being easy on the stomach - it fails on nearly every count. I've tried several flavours and have yet to find one that's actually good; the lemon lime is the least awful, but they all have a kind of creamsicle-like milkiness to them that is severely off-putting. Yes, that's coming from someone whose preferred race fuel flavours are chocolate, vanilla and coffee! I received 4 bags of the mandarin orange flavour seen above for free, tried a few times to make it work for me, and promptly gave away the 3 unopened ones. I'm still trying to finish off that first one, just because I'm too cheap to throw it out. I suppose it does provide hydration and some CHO, but the electrolyte profile is frankly piss - they once again intend that you use it with Endurolyte caplets, making them much more money. If you don't like trying to swallow something bullet-sized while under exertion, you can open the Endurolytes and pour them into the bottle with the HEED, where the powder will completely fail to dissolve. Oddly enough, this is also a feature of the HEED itself!

Is it supposed to be chunky?

That photo above? That's 1.5 scoops of mandarin orange HEED in 24oz of water from the cold water faucet at my home, shaken for a solid 30 seconds. Far from exceeding the recommended ratio of powder to liquid, and it's not like I'm using some ultra-chilled water from a glacial mountain stream.

They never replied.

I could live with the clumpiness and the bag's tendency to vomit a massive cloud of powder every time I try to close it. I could live with the lackluster-at-best flavour. However, when the damn stuff doesn't agree with my system, it gets relegated to trainer duty. I can handle exactly 1 bottle with 1.5 scoops in it, equivalent to 150cal - any more than that and I turn into a burpy mess. I have a few servings left in this bag and then I can return to the sport drinks I actually like; I will bloody well dance on this stuff's grave!

What I do recommend: Either EFS drink from First Endurance or, for the cheapskate, eLoad. Both have better flavours, infinitely better electrolyte profiles, no GI issues and they actually dissolve in water! Bonus: eLoad is a Canadian product!

Just say no.

I have also tried Recoverite on a couple of occasions. It tastes terrible (both strawberry and chocolate) and I don't feel I got any recovery benefit from it over a bowl of cereal or a banana with some nut butter. 

What I do recommend: Ultragen from First Endurance. Really expensive, doesn't taste a whole lot better, but actually works.

Bottom line: I applaud Hammer Nutrition for their endeavours to promote education about endurance nutrition and their readiness to sponsor races, but I just can't endorse their products - at best I'll try to tolerate them when they provide on-course nutrition at races and I have no other alternative. 

Sorry Hammer. It's not me - it's you.