Sunday, August 25, 2013

What to drink on rides: BioSteel is the shit

Sports drinks are just a necessary evil of endurance sports.

The universal consensus is that on energetic rides of more than an hour, you need water, salt, electrolytes & carbs. And as the rides start to get longer & more intense, inevitably you start fooling around with your drinks.

Like most people, I started out with Gatorade. For a long time I went with one bottle of Gatorade from powder and one bottle of plain water. I was never a big fan of any of its flavours; I found only the orange was bearable. And too much of it started to feel nasty. I was happy to find some alternatives.

Beats Gatorade, good value.
I used Ironman Perform (from the PowerBar people) for a while. It was pretty good;  little more expensive than Gatorade powder ($22, 936 g, 52 servings) but with a much better, milder lemon-lime taste.

Clear winner on taste.
After a couple of tubs of the Ironman I got bored and I tried HoneyMaxx, based on a friend's recommendation. It has a really nice, natural honey flavour, and is easy on the stomach, so you have no problem getting it down for the whole ride. (The Lemon-Lime is better than the orange, IMHO.) It takes a little longer to mix, for what it's worth. Not a big deal. The major downside is it's about twice as expensive as the Ironman ($22; 500g, 20 servings). Apart from that it would be my go-to. And what the hell, you're still paying about a buck a bottle, which isn't bad, and none of it is going to some giant food conglomorate (Nestl├ęs, PepsiCo).

"Dude – you on the Pink?"
Last time I ran out I thought I'd try BioSteel, which a few of the Dark Horse Flyers use, including my cycling guru/DHF stalwart Michael. It's a big deal in the pro hockey community at the moment, and clearly it helps to have Steve Stamkos's salary because holy sticker shock! $64 for a 60-scoop tub! That was a bit too big a hit for stuff I hadn't tasted, so I opted for a $20 box of single-serve packets, just in case I hated it. And I did hate it. It has a sort of obnoxious pink berry-gum taste which was making me feel awful deep into the ride. I was ready to write it off, but gave it another shot, this time mixed weaker. I had made it way too strong the first time; this time the taste was much more manageable. Enough, anyway, to at least use up the rest of the pack I had bought. Then I started to notice a big performance jump. Faster & stronger on hills, more jump all the way through the ride; yesterday I took off from our group about halfway in on a hill and did a solo breakaway to our turn-around point and put a shocking amount of distance between us. And it didn't fry me for the rest of the (90 km) ride, either.

Now, it might be coincidence. Maybe given my training this year this is where I was going to get a performance uptick anyway. But even if the value is just psychological (like: equating that obnoxious flavour with being able to do stuff I couldn't do before), there's something there. Possibly it's the fact that it has no carbs helps; you get the hydration & electrolytes without clogging it up with sugar. Anyway, I use other food to get my on-board carb fuel, so there's no real reason to have it in the drink as well. I'll leave it to you to review the science that goes into the stuff.

One suggestion I haven't tried yet: mix the BioSteel with half water & half cocoanut water. I'll give that a go next. (Grace Brand cocoanut water is the best I've tried.)

Bottom line: the sticker shock is worth it. Until I get a better option, I'm going with the BioSteel.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Race #2: 3 Revelations & 1 Dumb Mistake

My second race was the Tour de Terra Cotta.

Much better… except for one little mistake…

Terra Cotta is a big citizen race near Toronto (It's OCA sanctioned but not part of the official race series.) I ended up being off the bike for two weeks while on vacation with my family, so I wasn't sure if I was up for it. But I had a pretty good week in training the week before it, so rather than bail out completely I signed up for the shorter, "Beginner" race, which was only 26km, rather than the intermediate 55k race.

Beginner is a bit of a misnomer. There were a lot of guys in that race who knew what they were doing (including a bunch of guys from one team with a bald European coach berating them at the line before the start). The average speed for the previous years ran around 38 kph, not much slower than the intermediate & elite. So though I felt a bit like I was wimping out, there was clearly gonna be a real race here.

My pal and cycling guru/DHF stalwart Michael also signed up, which was great because he's way more experienced in this sort of thing. It was great to have somebody to talk strategy with. (Of course it would have helped to actually pay attention.)

"Damn! If only we had a bald coach, too."
1. Starting at the front makes a big difference (that's us right on the line for the start of this one);
2. I could ride in a fast group;
3. Staying with the fast group is a lot easier than trying to catch it.

Dumb Mistake:
1. One mis-timed attack on a hill can ruin your whole race.

On lap one coming up to the first hill I was comfortably with the lead group and had a bit of a jump in my legs so I hit it fairly hard and actually found myself in front – of everybody – at the top. (Note the look of surprise on the face of tattoo-sleeve dude.) And for the first lap I stayed in among the front of the pack.
"Dude. Seriously dude. No way you beat me up that hill."

Coming up to the same hill in lap 2 I got a little over-excited and figured I could pull the same trick again. (Note to self: there are no KOM points in a 26 km race.) But I had to burn a match swinging wide to get clear of a couple of people and didn't have the same kick as the first time, and also screwed up my gearing in the approach. Basically died half-way up. By the time I managed to grind my way to the top I had lost the lead group and was on my own. If I had just stayed cool and hung with the pack on that ascent I could have worked with Michael (he came in 19th, 21 seconds back) and we probably both could have been with the lead group  at the end. Rookie mistake.

29th place! Whoo-hoo!
So I ended up in the race for the 3rd group in. Which in the end was pretty fun because it was the same six guys for half the race, trading off spots and trying to claw back on to the lead group. In the end I got some satisfaction because in the last 500m I got nicely positioned for a lead-out behind three of them, and then sprinted at 200m, taking the lead guy at the line by a bike length. That felt very cool. And was totally a result of practising sprints with the Flyers.

All in all, a big improvement from Race #1. And sure, the field was not exactly world-class, but at least I actually felt I was in the race this time.

Result overall: 29th (of 108 starters).
Age group result: 6th.

I'll take that.

Hill Photo ©Sportszone photography
Race finish photo ©John Bachmann

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The perfect clip-in ... every time !

Recently I had a cycling epiphany: I figured out the secret of the perfect clip-in.

It's possible this is the most obvious thing in the world and everybody knows it but me. (That happens a lot.) But it felt like a huge revelation. So I must share. The other thing is, this may only be true of Shimano 105 pedals (or Shimano pedals generally). But here's the deal:

a) The pedals are weighted to hang in a particular way as the crank-arm moves around.
b) There is an optimum position for the pedal such that when you drop your foot, the cleat and pedal mate perfectly.
c) That position is with the uncleated pedal's crank arm at the 12 o'clock position. At every other position the pedal flips around in a way that makes it practically impossible to position your foot so that it docks properly.

So let's say your left shoe is in the pedal and your right is unclipped on the pavement.

1. Cock your left shoe up to 9 or 10 o'clock to give yourself a good push-off.
2. Glide, and as your left foot goes down to 6 o'clock, leave it there.
3. With the right pedal at 12 o'clock, drop your right foot onto the pedal and it will click just like magic. (Don't look down. For some reason it works better if you don't watch.) And if you should happen to miss it, just re-position your clipped-in foot at 6 o'clock, and step on again.

Once you know this trick there's almost no delay at the glide stage and you can practically clip in and simultaneously stomp on the right foot for a fast take-off if you want. Which is really helpful for race starts. And looks and feels very pro.

And it elimates the embarrassment of riding in a big group, unclipping at a red light, and missing the clip-in as the group rolls forward, then fumbling and clattering your foot around trying to mate cleat and pedal while simultaneously swearing and apologizing to the suddenly accordioning pack behind you.

This has been driving me nuts because about half the time I would clip in seamlessly, without even looking. Usually when I was riding alone. It's mostly in groups that I'd screw this up. Now I just don't worry anymore.

One more tip: try to alternate between right and left feet when clipping out at stops. That way your cleats wear evenly. And you also end up equally confident clipping in on either side.