Friday, February 14, 2014

Putting the fun back into cycling

Not that what I've been doing up to now hasn't been fun. I mean, I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't fun... would I? But my approach to cycling as become increasingly clinical over the years. This is reflected in my blogs which tend more and more to have a technical bent to them. Don't get me wrong, I like the technical aspects of my training and enjoy explaining it in a way that makes it easier to understand for my readers. But I'm beginning to wonder whether I've strayed too far up the river. For example, I have 3 different posts from last year which are still in draft state because... well, they've just become too technical. So this year, rather than focusing on the technical aspects of my training, I've decided to try and put more fun back into my cycling... beginning with my blogs about it.

So what is it that makes cycling fun? Back in 2005, fun was doing the FMCT Sunday group ride. Actually, it started a bit earlier than that with the Sunday run. Prior to joining the fledgling triathlon club, I did all my swims, bikes, and runs by myself. Which was fine. I've always been somewhat of a loner and the solitude that came with training alone suits me. But that first Sunday group run injected a whole new social dimension to my training that quickly turned it into the highlight of my week. Weekly swims were added during the Winter but it wasn't until early April with my first group ride that I found my true love.

I bought my first decent road bike in time for my first ever group ride.

On a cool, damp Sunday morning in April, we met in the Fortinos parking lot. It was still early and the lot was empty. I drove there with my bike in the back of the van but there were several who lived close enough to ride. One by one, cyclists trickled in until within the space of about 10 minutes, we had a group of 8-10 cyclists ready to roll.

The parking lot at Fortinos was the designated meeting place for what was then the Sunday group ride.
As a group, we left the parking lot, hung a right onto Worthington, a quick left onto Grovewood and were soon turning right on Creditview which back then was still a country road. For me, the excitement of riding in a group hit before we'd even left the parking lot. Though we weren't connected through any physical means, we moved as one. An ethereal collection of spoked wheels spinning purposely towards some goal. I'm not sure what that goal was. I don't know that anyone knew. But the group seemed to know.

The roads that April morning were damp and sandy from having not yet been swept. With little to no traffic, we fell into smaller groups of two and three, chatting amongst ourselves over the quiet crunch of rubber on grit. A couple of punchy hills followed by a series of rollers served to briefly interrupt the conversation. But we all came together again in Terra Cotta to ride the river valley once again as a group before making the left to start the King of the Mountain hill. At just over 4 km long with an average gradient of 4%, our KOM hill couldn't exactly be categorized as a climb but it's what we had and was where the more nimble riders among us demonstrated their climbing prowess by racing to the top... only to turn around again to ride part way back down in order to graciously (sarcasm) accompany the rest of us slower riders the rest of the way up the hill. Having re-grouped at the top of the hill, we descended into Cheltenham where once again got organized into pairs for the easy ride back to the parking lot. Not, however, before the contesting the final sprint where I redeemed my lack of climbing prowess by taking the first sprint of the season on my first group ride.

Those early years with FMCT were a blast. I did more triathlons/duathlons that Summer of 2005 than in all the previous years 7 years combined. It wasn't just that I had discovered a new found enthusiasm for the sport which I had. There was more to it than that. Training, racing, road trips with my new friends was... just fun.

FMCT members pose for a group shot after finishing the 2005 Orillia Triathlon.

Things began to change for me during the Summer of 2007. I had been doing Ironman training with my friends who were training for Ironman but by no means felt ready to do an Ironman myself. I had done my first marathon the previous Fall and for me that was daunting enough. The prospect of doing an Ironman was terrifying. And yet somehow I got talked into signing up for Ironman France. Not that the prospect of two weeks in Nice, France was a tough sell but the training was a big nut to crack. I spent countless hours reading forums, blogs, books, articles on training for an Ironman, mostly out of fear. One area of my research that intrigued me was training with a power meter. The more I read, the more convinced I became of its benefit. And so I became the proud new owner of a wired Powertap purchased second hand off eBay for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000. That was probably the best investment in training equipment I have made. And it changed my approach to bike training.

This yellow hub became the focal point of my training.

Post Powertap, I became the "numbers guy". Instead of hammering up rollers and cruising down the other side, I would keep the watts steady, losing speed on the uphill but flying by everyone on the downhill as I continued pedaling with the same power. My friends all wondered what the heck had gotten into me and I suspect my new riding habits quickly became annoying. In fact, I "know" my new riding habits became annoying. But it worked! I started placing top five (often 1st) in my age group on the bike leg (of triathlons). I even starting placing top five in my age group overall which, given I was a mid-pack swimmer at best, came primarily from my strength on the bike. The Powertap paid dividends and the more successful I became, the more emphasis I put on training by the numbers. FTP. CTL, ATL, CSS, TSB, Watts/Kg, HIT, VO2 Max, 20, 30, and 40 minute Sweet Spot intervals all became an integral part of my bike riding volcabulary. I became a slave to the numbers.

So where was I? Oh yeah, I want to put the fun back into cycling. What's fun, you ask?

This is fun...

Rideau Lakes Tour
This is fun...

Start corral at Centurion Collingwood

This is fun...

Trail riding at Terra Cotta Provincial Park

Believe it or not, this is fun...

Stage 1 hill climb at Coupe Des Amerique (Sutton Stage race)

Doesn't get much better than having your own team bus...

Team Kurzawinski at Tour de Terra Cotta

And, sometimes you've just gotta stop and smell the coffee...

Enjoying breakfast at "The Scruffy Duck".

Now, I'm not about to throw away my Powertap... Ok, so I have four of them and I'm keeping them all. But for this year at least, it will be fun first, numbers second.

Have a great year, everyone!