Sunday, January 27, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #7

Wow, what a day!!! I finally got in the day that I was hoping for and it was amazing. I woke up for a short, but intense swim session. It was a little cooler this morning, but the water was the perfect temperature. My arms were a bit fatigued from the swim day I had yesterday, but I managed to get in a pretty decent swim of 16x100...I held 1'12s for most of them, but I really have no idea how that converts to meters. My swimming is not where it was last summer, yet, but I have cut back on my hours in the pool this winter, and spent way more time developing my technique and top end speed (for the opening 100-400m of a race). So once I build my fitness in the next few months I can be even faster :)

After my swim I had a quick, but big breakfast to fuel up for my epic riding day. Then I was off! My ride started with the famous climb up Rockstore, which is a 5km climb of about 6-10% grade. The scenery going up this climb is gorgeous! All the mountains, trees, a village in the valley is breathtaking. Since I had done the climb before it meant that this time I could really look around and enjoy it. When I arrived at the summit I took Mulholland down to the Pacific Coast Highway and then started my second climb of the day.

Climb#2 was a 13.5km climb up Yerbe Buena and then Cotharin. These roads aren't as well paved, but that didn't bother me as much as it did on Day 1. Yerbe Buena is a fairly gradual ascent, but Cotharin is super steep, mostly around 10% for a few kms and at times as steep as 20%. I was trying to save a bit of energy, since I knew I had 5 major climbs and this was only climb #2, but if I didn't push myself then I was going to go backwards down the hill! It was quite a relief when I reached the top, but then I started my scariest descent ever down Deer Creek back to the Pacific Coast Highway. This descent was super scary just because you could see how high up you were. If you went off the road then you would end up tumbling straight down the mountain. I focused on everything I knew about descending: sit further back on your saddle, knees to the top tube, shift your weight to your peddles so you spread out your center of gravity, look where you want to go, try not to squeeze the breaks so hard! This helped a bit, but I was very happy when I reached the bottom.

Climb#3 was up Mulholland...this is one of my favourite climbs. It is very gradual (5-8%) and although it's 8km long, the road occasionally dips so that you are descending, which allows your legs a bit of a break. This allows time for thoughts of things other than how much your legs hurt :) I thought about how much I want to move to California. Rikki could start up a California Health Study, maybe?'s nice to dream :) Near the top of Mulholland I saw a cyclist...and you won't beleive it, but he asked me directions! And I am very happy to report I was able to steer him in the right direction. Then we rode together the rest of the way to the summit. He was pushing me a bit , which I kind of liked. He was training for a stage race in Europe so I knew he must be a strong cyclist...and I was staying with him 3 hours into my ride :) Once at the top we headed our separate ways. I had a descent down Decker Rd to do that would take me back down to the Pacific Coast Highway. Then it was back up almost right way.

Climb #4 was up Encinal Canyon Road, which I had descended a lot before, but never climbed. This was probably the easiest climb to do...only 9km long and not very steep. I focused on keeping my cadence nice and high. Once I was at the top I was super excited about the fact that I only had 1 more big climb left and only 50km to go! I had already completed 95km and ascended almost 2800m. I took Encinal Canyon Road back down to the Pacific Coast Highway, which I then stayed on for about 12km. This highway took me along Malibu beach where I saw tons of surfers! It was pretty windy so the waves were HUGE. Although this highway might be considered hilly by Ontario standards it was a very nice break from the long climbs I had been doing. Soon I was at the base of Climb#5 - Latigo Canyon Road. This is a 15km climb, about 4 - 8% grade, but sometimes it does get pretty steep for a few 100m. I had already done this climb (Day 3) so I knew what I was getting myself into...and it would not be easy. About half way up the climb I passed someone on a Mountain Bike. It was his second time going up and he said he was training for a bike trip in the Alps. There are definitely some serious riders out here in California! As I passed him he yelled, "don't go too fast you are only halfway there". I was pretty dead at the point already and that did not help. I was counting down the kms now until I got to the summit...5-4-3...(they are actually written on the road!) This road made me re-evaluate how badly I wanted to move to California. After an eternity I finally reached the top. I rewarded myself with a few cookies and some Mixed Berry eLoad and then I started my descent back to town! Only 20km to go...I descended Rockstore (pretty quickly I might add!) and someone even got a photo of me at some point. I will have to search for it online...

Once back at the hotel my biking muscles were screaming in pain, but I still had a run to do. Somehow I found the energy and laced up my running shoes and headed out for a short and sweet 3km run at Zone 2 pace. Next, FOOD and HOT TUB!

Tomorrow is my last day here. I have a quick swim, bike and run on the calendar so we will see how that goes :) As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #6

Today was a no-bike or run my coach likes to call it an "OFF-legs day." So I took advantage of that fact and got in two swims in the outdoor pool! A nice, long set of 14x300 in the morning and an easy technique/drill focused swim in the afternoon. A total of 8,000yds swum :) Of course, it was warm and sunny all day long, so the perfect day for a long bike ride! Oh well. I hope it will stay like this for tomorrow.

I also decided to walk around Calabasas today. I went to the Farmer's market, the shopping mall (they have Lululemon in California!), the turtle pond... I decided that there really isn't THAT much to do here except train... So, with no more sightseeing to do I headed back to the pool to do some relaxing :) Next, I decided to Skype with the family. They set up my computer on a stool around the island in the kitchen and it was like I was back home hanging out for 3 hrs! Technology is amazing. I was even able to take them on a virtual tour of my hotel room and the hotel floor! Then we ate dinner "together" I made pasta with sweet potato, goat cheese and chicken! Yummy. And they had conch fritters, southern fried chicken and black eyed peas :)

Some photos from my day:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #5

It was another rainy day in the Santa Monica Mountains. The day started out as planned, with an early morning swim. It was raining, but I love swimming outdoors in the rain. I got in a long freestyle warm-up and then started on a mixed stroked main set. The goal of today's swim wasn't to push myself, but just to get in some meters (or, in this case, yards!), retain the feel for the water and add a bit of variety (hence the IM stuff)! I actually felt like I had good energy in the pool, but I have a double swim day tomorrow so I will use it then.

The rain stopped at around 7:30am and my 3 iPhone weather aps didn't show it raining again until early afternoon. Yay! So I met with the group and we started our ride under overcast skies at 8:30am. The 8 of us that went out were hopeful that the rain would stay to the south of us and we could get in our planned 85km ride. The rain held off for about 20km, but then the skies opened...and when they did we got soaked! The fact that there were rivers running down the roads and we could barely see through the downpour was a sign that we should all turn around. I felt like I was swimming, because I was soaked right through! I decided I would push myself on the ride home so I could stay with the lead group. That ended up being just me and Robert (who I rode with yesterday in the rain). In the past he has always been way ahead of me on the climbs and today I managed to stay with him and only let him get a few hundred meters in front of me at the most. Success. Also, it turns out that 4 out of the 8 riders had to get a ride back in the support vehicle! So maybe the fact I stuck it out on this ride makes me 75% tough?

As soon as I was back at the hotel I did my run (inside on the treadmill...I had had enough of the rain!). I actually felt really good and got in a decent 6.6km run in 30 minutes...with energy left at the end! So, today was another day where I had to miss half of the planned ride. This is disappointing, but, as Adam pointed out, I still managed to ride 425km in the week so that's an average of about 85km/day ... so almost 5 half-ironman distance rides in 5 days is not too shabby! AND I still have 3 days left. I am hopeful that on Sunday the weather is nice enough for me to get in the epic 150km ride...but we will see what happens.

Tomorrow is a double swim day and I am on the hunt to find a shot glass from LA and Westlake Village for Rikki's collection! I will be happy to get back to Toronto to see him :)

For those of you interested about the cycling camp that I am doing in the Santa Monica Mountains, here are some of the details. The organizers are from Cycling Escapes ( and they offer many different camps all over the US...and I hear they are thinking of offering a few in Europe! Richard Merrick and Mike were our group leaders and they were super drove the support car and the other rode. The routes they planned were diverse, so that even though you were riding the same mountains daily, the routes were different so you felt like it was a new location each day. They offered advice if you needed it, lots of encouragement and they even went out in the pouring rain to support us, even when only 2 of us were riding. The support vehicle stocks every nutrition product you can imagine and has everything you need for a full lunch. I couldn't believe how well prepared they were. And I will never forget that they introduced me to Pepperidge Farm cookies! Also, they are able to recommend restaurants to eat, places to see, etc. I definitely want to do this camp again next year! I really loved it :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #4

Well, Day 4 of Training Camp had so much promise! I was really looking forward to an epic 150km ride...but I guess it was not meant to be :( Mamma always says everything happens for a reason, so I am trying not to be too disappointed.

The day started at 6am when I woke up to do some core work and swim tubing exercises. I felt a little tired, but I wasn't surprised given yesterday's efforts. The real upsetting part of the morning came at around 6:45am when I went outside to walk to the lobby for breakfast and I realized it was pouring rain! This was not a good sign. The camp director had mentioned on Monday that "NO ONE RIDES IN THE RAIN HERE". Not only are the descents a lot more tricky in the rain, but debris from the mountains like sand and rocks tend to wash on the roads and make an unwelcome surprise as you take a sharp turn on a descent. I anxiously checked the THREE weather applications on my iPhone to see whether this rain would stop. I was hopeful, because 2 of 3 said that the rain would stop by 8am which was when the ride was supposed to start. I had no such luck.

At 8:15 the group was huddled around in the parking lot of our meeting spot...only 2 out of 10 of us (me and fellow rider, Robert, from Alaska) were in cycling gear. Robert and I decided that we were still up for a ride so we headed out in the rain, both hopeful that it would end soon...65km later, 800m of climbing and it was still raining. I was soaked through, freezing cold and had been unable to even hold a water bottle to my mouth to take in any fluid or nutrition. Happy I had survived two scary descents already, I called it a day and went back to the hotel for a nice, long, hot shower. Maybe that's not what the tough Pro triathletes do, but you can't go from me now (65% tough?) to 100% tough in a day...the fact that I rode at all maybe inched up my toughness to 70% :) So, all in all, definitely not the day I was hoping for...but that gives you a sense of how spoiled I have become. Had this been my first ride of the camp, I would have called it a success :)

Tomorrow is supposed to be another rainy one, so my coach and I have come up with a backup plan that may still let me get in my big riding day on Saturday or Sunday before I have to head back home. Thanks for reading and I hope to have a more exciting entry tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #3

It was another great day in California! I had a nice early morning swim at the Calabasas Swim and Tennis Center. It started out with a nice long warm up and then a main set of 12x200 pulling with paddles. The legs were happy to have a nice break. I even surprised myself with the amount of energy that I had...I was hopeful it would translate to the bike and run planned for later in the day.

After the swim I had less than an hour to shower, drive back to the hotel, eat breakfast, change into my bike gear and get to the group's meeting point. I arrived there with about 5' to spare..finally I got the timing right! Today was a scheduled "rest" day ... the route was only 80km and only involved about 1500m of climbing. However, 10km into the ride we were hit with a crazy climb! It was short, yes, but at times the grade was 18-20%. The hill flattened out at 14% and that felt like relief for the legs! Haha. Definitely had my highest 1' and 5' peak power output of the camp today! I was very happy when the climb was over and we reached the first rest stop. I rewarded myself with my first ever Pepperidge farm cookie...OMG...they are so good! I could have just hung out at the rest stop for the rest of the day eating those cookies. Haha. But today I was still with the lead group of 3 guys after the first climb so that motivated me to keep riding :) The group did get a bit ahead of me after the next descent...I can't believe how fast they go down! I tried to watch and copy what they did, and I am definitely getting more confident (I was even in the drops for part of today's descent!), but there's no way I can go that fast. Even if I was in a car I would be nervous at that speed. Once we reached the bottom of the mountain I rode with the guys along the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs parallel to the coast and the beach that stretches for miles and miles. It was a nice long, flat-ish stretch, and it was great to have some company. I guess the reason it was called a rest day was because of this 20km stretch that didn't involve any 10%+ grade climbs :) Too soon we arrived at the next climb, which was a 16km ascent up the wasn't too steep though (4-8%) so I found it quite enjoyable. I did get dropped by the guys, but my legs felt pretty good and was determined to not push myself too hard, since tomorrow is a HUGE riding day (150km and about 3500m of climbing). I came to another realization on my climb...and that is that I tend to figure out solutions to problems while riding, but then I get off my bike and I am either too tired to follow through with those solutions OR I forget them. So tomorrow I will have to think about how to solve that problem :) Once at the summit I helped myself to a few more cookies and then started the descent back to the hotel. Once I arrived back I couldn't believe the ride was over. It felt so short compared to Monday and Tuesday!

After some lunch and a few hours of relaxing it was time for a quality treadmill run...I was not quite sure how I would find the energy...but, somehow, it was there. 15' of warming up then 45' of intervals ended up being a 14km run! At the end I was pretty much dead..and HUNGRY! I had barely stepped inside the door of the hotel room, before I was eating everything in site! 2 muffins and a banana were gone within seconds :)

Now it's time to relax and mentally prepare myself for my longest ride ever tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Camp Day #2

So Day 2 has already come and gone and it was every bit as awesome as Day 1. It started at 6am with 20 minutes of core, easy strength work and swim tubing just to activate those muscles and get them ready for the day ahead. Then I headed down to the lobby for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal and a muffin, making sure I was well fueled for today's training. I headed out to meet the group extra early today to make sure that I wouldn't be late (like yesterday)... of course this meant that I ended up being about 30 minutes early! Maybe tomorrow I will get the timing right.

Today's ride started out like yesterday's. We all headed out together for the first 10km and then we broke off into groups as the climbs started. Unfortunately, I am not as strong as the lead group of 4 guys, but a bit stronger than the rest of the guys so that means that I end up riding alone most of the day. I do have the beautiful scenery to keep me company though :) And, let's face it, most people aren't chatting anyway when they are climbing and descending. The first big climb of the day was about 10km long and between 6-10% grade...I think I averaged about 13kph so it took me just under an hour...I have no idea if that's a good pace or not, but my power output was equivalent to my race power so I know it's good training, anyway. Next, a 6km descent...I think that I was a bit more confident today on the descent, so that was good. Maybe I was too excited about how happy I was that my bike handling skills were improving, because I completely missed the next turn :( I had gone off course by about 5km before I realized my mistake...grrr! Yesterday, I made 2 wrong turns, today 1...I'm hoping for none tomorrow. By the time I got back on course I was a little bit frustrated with chance to catch the lead group now :( ...and I still had 2 short climbs, a BIG climb and then 2 more climbs to go...I hoped I would make it. The next couple of climbs were fun. The first was called 7 minute hill, because it usually takes about 7' to climb. Our group leader said he had done it in as little as 6' and as long as 14' ... I think it took me around 8' ... if I get the chance to do it again I will try for faster. Then there was a nice, gradual descent, another quick climb, a descent and then a 12km climb back to the summit. This was a beautiful, but PAINFUL, climb. It was mostly tree covered, with houses and towns along the way. It involved lots and lots of switchbacks which gradually took me up the mountain. I tried to turn off my brain, I didn't really pay attention to my power or my cadence...I just kept turning the pedals in my easiest gear and let my thoughts wander as I made my way to the top. What's amazing is the clarity of your thoughts when you are exercising! I've had so many realizations while on my bike or running. I think world leaders could solve many problems if they met while pedaling on a stationary bike...Anyway, it turned out I was averaging about 75rpm and holding a pretty decent power which was just around race effort. Sweet. Once at the top I was pretty tired...I knew I could not afford any more wrong turns! I stopped at the rest stop to re-fuel (what would I do without eLoad?), look at a map and give my legs a quick break before the final descent and the home stretch back to the hotel. I was definitely ready to be done the ride after the last climb..and then, what happens...some cyclist comes up behind me and starts drafting off me! Of course, the competitive spirit in me came out as I pushed another gear harder in the hope of dropping him. Nope, he wasn't going anywhere so I ended up pushing myself much more than I thought I could in the last few kms. At the time I was annoyed, but now I'm glad that there was someone there pushing me. Isn't that what group training is all about? Having other people there to push you just a little bit harder than you could if you were alone? I didn't get that all day, until the end so I'm glad I embraced it.

Finally, back at the hotel I peeled off my cycling gear and put on my run clothes and headed out for a short and sweet 4km run. I cursed the hills as desperately tried to keep the effort light while running up a 10% grade :( grrr! Somehow, in 4km of running I climbed 80m, which is almost as much climbing as I do on my long 20km runs in Toronto! hmmm....

Once my workout was completed it was time for the most rewarding part of the day..lots and lots of food. Another tortilla with chicken, avocado, red peppers, goat cheese, some cornbread, cookies...all yummy. On the menu for dinner: salmon with rice and veggies. Definitely, regretting the fact that I did not buy the delicious looking chocolate cake fro Von's for dessert.

Tomorrow is a swim, bike and run day...hopefully I survive another assault by the Santa Monica Mountains!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Santa Monica Mountains Training Camp Day#1

Well, Day 1 has come and gone here in Westlake Village, California. It started bright and early at 5:30am (8:30am in Toronto though, love the time change!). I woke up, grabbed my swim stuff and headed to the Calabasas Swim and Tennis club for a short swim. The pool there is a 25 yards, 8 lanes and, the best part is that it's outdoors! Even though the outside temp was just 10 degrees C, the water temp was in the mid-20s, so it was perfect for swimming. I felt great in the water...I could have swam forever, but I stuck to my coach's plan which called for some speed work. My main set was 2x(8x50@1')...although I have nothing to compare today's times to since I never swim yards I figured holding 31 and 32 seconds per 50 was pretty good...I think it converts to about 34-35" for 50m? Not bad for an endurance swimmer. Best part of the swim, I left the pool with lots more I was happy.

It was a quick transition from the pool to the less than an hour I had to shower, drive home, eat breakfast, change into cycling gear, ride 6km to meet the group I would be biking with. Of course, with my keen sense of direction, I biked a whole 3km past the group's meeting point! So, after realizing this, I turned around and barely met up with them before we departed on our first ride. What a great first impression! :(

Well, we started the ride and the first thing I noticed was that my bike was handling beautifully...I had taken it to Enduro Sport to have a tune-up before I left and I must say that I have never gotten better service! Not only was the bike shifting perfectly, but they cleaned the chain, the rear cassette, the front was nice that I didn't have to worry about whether my bike could handle the hills...all I had to worry about was whether I could handle the hills! There were 10 cyclists in the camp. We all rode as a group to the first climb, then a group of 6 took off ahead on the first climb. Having spent the past 3 months on the computrainer I had no idea where my legs would be and decided to pace myself. I didn't want to kill myself on the first climb so I hung back a bit. I was happy holding my steady power at around 200W and maintaining my 90rpm. Pete Oyler would be proud :) Of course, me riding on my own is never a good thing when you factor in my navigation skills, and at the very first turn I went in the wrong direction! Luckily I only went about 1km off the route before I looked at the map and realized my mistake. Unfortunately, this meant that the lead group of 5 riders were leaving the first stop (called a SAG station) as I was arriving. I contemplated just going with them without a break, but decided I should get some fuel and pee! I left the SAG station with two fellow riders to start the descent. I am a VERY timid descender and the hairpin turns made me extra very soon I was on my own again as I watched them head down the hill in front of me. I tried to enjoy the scenery on the descent...the beaches and the water in the far distance, the beautiful mountains surrounding me on all sides, the clear blue sky, and CAMELS on a camel was such a magical experience...well, apart from the fact that I was fearing for my life as I descended! Soon I was climbing again...a 12 mile climb back up the mountains, with grades of about 6 - 8% I think I would have enjoyed this climb a little bit more if the road was a less rough. It was riddled with potholes and the last thing my legs wanted was that unexpected bump when they were already burning from effort. I caught up with the 2 riders again...this point was when I earned the nickname "Mountain Goat". I like it! But it felt like ages before I would reach the summit...and it seemed that just as the hill got really steep, more potholes were present and a strong wind gust would come along adding insult to injury. There were even some flat sections on the way to the top, that were teasing me, making me think I was finally there! Finally, I made it and then...more descending! I was on my way back down to the Pacific Coast Highway and then back up the mountains for the final big climb of the day. This climb was shorter than the last, but the grade was between 6-14%, so much steeper. I didn't know how my legs would handle it...but this was my favourite climb of the day. Yes, it was steep and my legs burned and I was thirsty...but the roads were super smooth and it was over pretty quick. All I had was a few more small climbs and a VERY SCARY descent back down to Westlake Village. I know that I eventually need to learn how to descend hills quickly, but not when I am riding alone and not while I'm in another country and it is only Day 1 of training...the consequences of a fall would far outweigh the benefits of me improving my skills.

110km after the start of my ride I was back at the hotel to...RUN! Yes, 30' run in Zone 2 to finish off the day. I wanted to keep it nice and flat, but I don't think that's possible in this part of I ran up hills and down, up and down for 6.5km at an easy pace of 4:40/km. It was very nice not to have to run in -12 degree temperatures :)

I was very happy with my first day of cycling. I have definitely brushed aside any disbeleifs I have ever had in the effectiveness of training indoors...3 months of computrainer and rollers at WattsUp and I was able to climb more than 2300 meters with no problem at all. In fact, I just realized that as I type this, there are about 20 riders at WattsUp racing it out in Race #2 of the Indoor Race series! Now that's effective training! Perhaps, the only issue with indoor riding might be that I don't get to work on my sense of direction.

Anyway, the rest of the day I spent EATING :) I made a yummy fajita with chicken, avocado, goat cheese and sauteed red peppers for lunch. Then had another snack. Then made dinner...pasta with meatsauce (my mom's recipe!). Now I will go sit in the hot tub, stretch and roll and watch my new favourite TV show before heading to bed and repeating today all over again! Wish me luck :)