Monday, March 24, 2014

This One Goes Out To Dan On the Coaster Train: Group Rides in North San Diego County

Dear Dan,

Awesome to meet you the other night on the Coaster train, and thanks for your question about where to ride in North County! What a great idea for a blog post.

There are a number of great group workouts you can take advantage of in the area beyond the always-okay-with-me laps up and down the coast highway. My rides are easy to look up on the "Strava" link to the right, but here are some group-ride options as well:

Swami's Rides - open to all, but not for beginners.
Leaving from RIDE Cyclery, 449 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
B Ride: 7:45am
A Ride: 8:10am (Hammer. Time.)

Swami's: Leaving Sundays from RIDE Cyclery at 8am - a more casually-paced loop.

Swami's: NW corner of La Costa and El Camino Real at 6:30am

Swami's: Tuesday Night Ride leaves from RIDE Cyclery at 5:00pm

Team Ninja: Tuesday Night Workout in Balboa Park, 5:45pm (MTB)

Swami's: Leaving from Starbucks in Carlsbad, 2924 Carlsbad Blvd at 8:15am

San Diego Tri Club Fiesta Island workouts, 6:00pm beginning at Enchanted Cove (the dirt parking area across from the Boy Scout camp where the road splits for the long and short loop). While road or TT bikes are preferred for these workouts, any type of bicycle is welcome.

Swami's: NW corner of La Costa and El Camino Real at 6:30am

Italian Loafers: NW corner of La Costa and El Camino Real at 7:30am (includes Double Peak)

Hope to see you out on a ride soon!

PS for WOMEN who are looking for other females to ride with, check out the Team Fun Meet Up out of Carbon Connection in Carlsbad. There are rides of every level pretty much every weekend. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


I don't remember the last time I had to get up so early for a mountain bike race, but I have to say, it was a pretty nice set up (once I'd finally found a Starbucks).

There was a calm feeling over the venue and only a few people had arrived, most being directly involved with the 8:30am Cat 1 races. So I warmed up in relative peace, thinking to myself the course was probably in excellent shape, dampened ever-so-slightly by the nighttime dew -- and we'd be the first ones on it to boot. I reflected on the cool, comfortable temperatures, compared to the hellfire that usually awaits at 1:30pm starts. And I looked forward to being finished in time to catch the women's Pro XC race.

With only a few minutes left on the trainer, my spirits were lifted tenfold as a whole gang of teammates meandered across the parking lot. I'd heard a rumour they'd be there to support the two of us with the early starts but I couldn't believe anyone would go to such trouble -- showing up EARLY in the morning a full day ahead of of their event at a race out of town.

Silly me. Team Ninja is the best team ever, both in spirit and in standings (or will be soon on the latter, just you watch). Thank you to all you guys and gal who brought the laughs, the support and the cowbell.

Added bonus, Coach Richard appeared seemingly out of nowhere to calm the last of my pre-race jitters on the start line. As the men's Cat 1 races emptied out of the start gates, I could feel my metaphorical hooves pawing the dirt. Time to go.

On the whistle, I carefully worked to get clipped in and stay out of trouble on the very loose asphalt chunks that lined the Start/Finish area (subsequent races saw some gnarly crashes thanks to that unstable surface) and once clear of that, clicked down the cassette and started to make some moves. I knew I wanted to be on the front of the race for the first section because of a couple potential bottlenecks, and I aimed to settle into my pace on the first open climb, part of which featured some pavement.

I lost a couple of the girls on the first climb, but I rightly predicted I'd reel them in on the descent, which was pulling double duty as the Super D course. I forgot to account for the back of the men's races ahead of us though, and got a little tangled up in traffic. Rode the first lap nice and clean, and came through the feed zone for my favorite part: Team Ninja love!!

Coach Richard and Ninja-extraordinaire Michael Henry followed me as the course wound back on itself with encouraging words like "race smart" ... at which point I klutzily got my grip hung up at the crucial moment I wanted to shift for a loose climb and eventual-winner Allison Jones saw her chance. We'd been playing cat and mouse so I was confident I could make up for the error but then I ran into some more unexpected trouble. My back muscles declared tug-of-war with my IT bands and hip flexors that left me feeling less than racy. I worked through that complication and continued on my way.

Lap three Richard and Michael again had words of encouragement, calling out split times between me and another woman (though not in my age group). I was grateful for the carrot and figured I could use her as a stepping stone to Allison so I closed the gap, passed and kept hunting. Ran out of real estate, and Allison had put a nice gap into me anyway, even with my last-ditch efforts.

I was pretty happy with my race -- I rode clean, no crashes -- and as if Team Ninja wasn't awesome enough already, they treated me to some post-race tacos and made me feel like a million bucks (even if I was "first loser" ;)).

We hung around our spiffy team tent watching the pro women warm up and then begin their race under the watchful eyes of high-tech drones, thanks to the amazing Red Bull coverage. I predicted Pendrel, Batty, Nash and almost won my bet but Batty ended up in third. She was accompanied by her parents and fiance Adam Morka, and combined with other familiar faces like Amanda Sin, Mikaela "Fudge" Koffman and Peter Glassford, I was feeling pretty darn homesick for Ontario Cups.

All in all an awesome day at the races. Can't wait for the next one!

Thank you Team Ninja, PowerBar, Zumwalt's (for the most-excellent fix to my cables! shifting was perfection), Coach Richard and to my parents who patiently waited for me to do my thing before we concluded the weekend (the last of their three-week visit) hanging out at the beach.

Thanks to Team Ninja's Paula Evenson for the podium pics! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why You Should Go Premium With Strava

Photo by Dillon ClappRoad Magazine

Last week, I was invited to come ride with the fine folks of Strava over some stunning terrain in the Malibu area. I happily accepted to enjoy exploring (read: climbing) somewhere new, hear from Strava, and meet some other writers and editors in the cycling industry.

Strava is a much bigger part of my enjoyment of cycling here in Southern California than it was in Southern Ontario. If you ask on any group ride, "Is this a segment?" you'll probably get an eye roll. Everything here is a segment.

But I've noticed a few things -- and heard a few thing from friends -- that had me wondering. I took my curiosity to the Strava meeting and they helped clear things up.

1.) I've been a Strava freeloader for years. Why haven't I been pressured to upgrade? 

Strava has worked from the beginning to be a tool of the cycling community, not the cycling industry. There are some powerful features you can get with an upgrade, but you can still enjoy Strava's basic functions to the fullest without paying. It's a no-strings-attached app for cyclists and runners, by cyclists and runners. End of story.

2.) So why should I upgrade? 

Strava is not yet a profitable company, though they expect that will change in the next 18 months. Its primary revenue stream is its premium membership option. You may have noticed Strava does not host advertising, and that's how they intend to keep it.

For me, the number one reason to upgrade is to support a company/tool that supports cycling. Strava, as you can imagine, has a lot of data. Over 50,000 new users join every week and 65% of Strava users are outside the U.S. The best part? They want to use that massive amount of data to advocate for cycling. IMBA and Strava are already partnered on some projects and Strava is also interested in working with city planners to make cycling in urban centers better. For example, using its heat maps, Strava could share the most popular routes taken by its users to show where best to build a bike lane. Conversely, if a route has a bike lane, but riders aren't using it, planners could use that info to figure out why, and how to improve it.

Upgrade to support Strava's effots to support you. Added bonus? You get some pretty amazing analysis of your scores, power data, heart rate data, your own personal heat maps (so you can see what ground you've covered) and more. And it's only $59 for the year.

3.) What about brand-sponsored challenges or rewards? 

Strava is proud of its relationships with brands in the cycling industry. That said, it remains committed to keeping advertising out of its revenue stream, so it's conscious to work with brands in a way that does not cross the line to look like an ad. Keep an eye out for those challenges and rack up those miles and badges.

4.) My Strava feed looks totally different -- what happened? 

The day we rode, Strava had just launched Strava Mobile 4.0. It combines the running and cycling app into one, included five more languages, a more social feed that includes instagram snaps, better functionality (just one click to kudos!).

On the app, you can now see which of your friends/followers are active in real time and as always, Strava is completely compatible with pretty much every third-party device/cyclo-computer you can think of. (We heard that there's a guy at Strava who's whole job is to learn about these "wearables" -- lately he's been trying out a t-shirt that stealthily monitors your heart rate and breathing rate. Wild.)

For Premium members, there are real-time notifications and audio updates delivered at the beginning, halfway point and end of segments so you know right away if you bagged that KOM/QOM (as long as you starred the segment beforehand). And you can compare your times by age group, weight class or a variety of other classifications.

Introducing The New Feed from Strava on Vimeo.

I also want to mention the Route Builder function on, free for all users. I hadn't realized it was there but it was an update to the site last year. Route Builder lets you input point A and B and using heat maps, Strava will give you the most popular route between them. It will also use your prior week's data to estimate how long it will take you to complete the ride (unlike Google Maps which uses your grandmother's personal best to estimate ...). You can also select the "minimum elevation" route to keep your climbing to a minimum if you want. (Sadly, there's no "maximum elevation" option yet).

5.) What about the rumors? Is Strava going to start removing "dangerous" downhill segments? 

No. Strava has never removed a downhill segment for fear of lawsuits and they say they won't either. Strava provides a tool, only. It is brought to life by its users. That means it's up to you not to be a jerk and mow down hikers and bird watchers because you're on track for a PR. If you hurl yourself down a technical descent that's over your head, that's on you, not Strava. There is no excuse for being a poor trail or road user.

All that said, there sure are a lot of segments out there! And a lot are duplicates. Since people are not likely to stop making duplicate segments, Strava is working on a strategy to consolidate. But with over two million activities uploaded per week, you can imagine that might take a bit of doing.

As for safety, Strava's number one message to its users is to be safe and have fun. If you feel a segment is unsafe, and you have ridden it before, you are qualified to "flag" it as hazardous and it will be removed. Strava is working on flags for those pesky redundant segments and also "temporary hazards" as well, such as construction.

Bottom line: Strava has no interest in being the segment police.

PS: New rumour for you! Strava is working on adding even more activities ... keep your eye out for those developments this year (XC skiing anyone?)

So on last Thursday's ultimate Strava ride, I learned a lot about this impressive company and super bonus, we were guided on a metric century over hill and dale in the backyards and driveways of some truly jaw-dropping estates. Thank you to Alex and Michael at Strava and Peter at True Communications for taking such excellent care of us. Here are a few photos from the day:

A gorgeous day for a ride - Santa Monica

One of many stunning properties we passed, with LA in the distance

Optum Pro Cycling's Jesse Anthony does a good deed in Malibu for this fellow with his first flat (!) since leaving San Francisco on a cyclo-tour

Cross-canyon capture of the Strava support van and riders in our group

Bike Mag's Nicole Formosa climbing out of Tuna Canyon

BRAIN's Megan Tompkin's descends from Saddle Peak

Monday, March 10, 2014

Powered Up

When you type, "Why train with power?" into Google, 416 million results pop up in under one second. People are talking and writing about it. A lot. And last week, I decided to jump on the bandwagon. 

I have trained with heart rate for all the years I've raced so far and I thought I was doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. But for a couple weeks recently, it felt like I was finishing every workout with a frustrating sense of failure. No matter what I tried -- more cadence, more connection with my pedals, deeper breathing, better eating -- tears -- it seemed like my top heart rate zones were inaccessible. My coach said it was a normal thing to experience a "plateau" at this stage of the game. But I was totally over the feeling. So naturally, I panicked and made some inquiries. If my small sample size is any indication, I think we can safely say that 100% of the 416 million Google hits I mentioned extol the virtues of training with power. Power is truth. It does not change with fatigue, it does not matter what time of day it is, it doesn't care if you're stressed out, it is not susceptible to illness and your age is not a factor. 

My coach, Richard La China, is happy I made the switch. "A power meter allows you to accurately measure the amount of work you are doing, it's that simple. Nothing is left up to interpretation and we can work with this data to maximize your training," said Richard. "My athletes send me their heart-rate data but there is a ton I can't see: Were they well hydrated? Were they having difficulty with the elevation? Were they having a fight with their spouse that morning, or a hard day at the office? All of that can impact your heart rate. But watts aren't affected by that stuff -- watts are watts. I train lots of people with heart rate but once they switch to power, I start to see real results because I have a way to measure them. There's no way to measure results with heart rate. I can see wattage increasing. I can see functional threshold increasing."

Another one of the people I talked to was Norco Factory Team rider Andrew Watson who recently hosted a seminar on training with power back home in Ontario. He echoed Richard, saying, "Power is a quantifiable, unbiased data point to base your training off of." But it's just one of a few points we athletes can keep track of to paint a clearer picture of the work we're doing on the bike. "Speed, heart rate and perceived exertion all have many variables," he said. "Don't toss out the heart rate monitor, but complement it with power."  

In my internet search, I stumbled on a video PowerTap produced featuring Dr. Allen Lim, who went on to found Skratch Labs. I was struck by his analogies: "You wouldn't bake a pie if you didn't how hot the oven was. At the same time, you wouldn't go to the gym to lift weights if you didn't know how much you were lifting. In the same way a thermometer can tell you how hot the oven is, and a scale can tell you how much load you're lifting, power output tells you what you're really doing when you're cycling, whereas heart rate only tells you how you are responding. If you really want to optimize your performance, you need to know both." 

If you're interested in adding watts to the data fields on your cycling computer, I'd highly recommend the G3 Hub from PowerTap. It easily connects to my Garmin, it's light and though this is a relatively pricey piece of equipment, I think it's one I'm going to have for a very long time, and I'm looking forward to the improved training it's enabling. Now to save up for the mtb version ... 

I'll just leave you with a couple basics: 

PowerTap G3 Hub MSRP: $789.99
Weight: 325 grams
Compatible with: Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo / Garmin, Joule (ANT+)
Where can you get one?: Contact Crank Cycling, or find a dealer near you. 
How it works: The hub has a strain gauge that measures the amount of torque/force -- work -- you put into the rear wheel. Power is energy (joules) consumed over time and is measured in watts. For example, the same amount of work is done if you ride 10 miles in 30 minutes or 10 miles in one hour. But riding 10 miles in 30 minutes uses more power because it was done faster. Average Power is equal to the amount of work you do over time and that's what your PowerTap is measuring. 

Me, Powering Up Vulcan / Chris Holmes (@greenlaker) photo

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Race Report: Vail Lake Kenda Cup #1

My first "real" US Race is now under my belt, and it could not have been a more enjoyable day! First of all, my parents arrived just in time to be in attendance, and with Gerhard already agreeing to come along that meant it was a chance for "team training" leading up to BC Bike Race. Everyone was very attentive to pre-race procedures so I'm confident the support crew will be in tip top shape come June 28.

Pre-race procedures this time meant the song and dance I usually reserve for early-season Ontario races: will it rain, or won't it? Mud tires, or no? Where's the Pam cooking spray? What's the latest forecast? The rains we had in Southern California recently are rare, but much-needed (though I read they still didn't make a dent in the drought situation we find ourselves in). The course I pre-rode last week was completely different from the one I found on race day. Thank goodness. Gone were the hot, dry, choke-on-dust conditions I expected and in their place was cool, tacky, cloudy (but not raining!) perfection. 

We joined up with the awesome people of Team Ninja under our team tent and tried to get as many racer stories as possible. Our team was looking sharp in our new kits and everyone was buzzing with that post-race glow. Love this team! I did my warm up on the trainer (a first for me, but not the last), then jumped on the mountain bike to make sure it was working as perfectly as I left it and then it was off to the start. There were five women in my new "Cat 1" category, but since we were divided by age group, I was really only racing one of them. Another light class for the ladies. Sigh. I'm told that later races will fill up a little more. Fingers crossed for that day, and big thank you to the Cat 1 ladies who came out for this one: Ema, Michelle, Shelly and Rhonda!

Our category started last in the 1:30 group so we had no one behind us chasing us down. So lovely. We agreed that since almost no one in our start gate was actually in a race, we'd all work like a pride of lionesses to chase down as many men as we could. Look out, boys! Fun game. 

My perfectly-working mountain bike declared it was less-than-perfect right off the bat with a near-to-"Schlecked" chain that just never really sorted itself out. Team Ninja cheered me through the opening stretch as I wrestled to get into the big ring. Oh well. I was trying to climb and spin the adjusters at the same time for the first half of the lap and eventually did find a place where I could make use of my big ring (!!). 

With the rain, I wasn't sure what to expect from the course, but bikes from the previous race were coming out fairly clean and Ninjas had mostly good things to say, so I was confident we were in for a treat. I was right. The climbs felt like we were riding elevators, my tires were like velcro in every corner (regular tires ... not mud ones ... thank goodness I didn't succumb to that temptation) and with the dust pasted down, I could actually breathe. I hammered off the start line despite my beleaguered drive train, opened a gap and didn't look back until the course wound back on itself after the first super fun drop. 

Ema was leading the rest of the ladies and looked determined to close the gap. With three nine-mile laps on the menu, I picked a pace and stuck with it, trying to focus on men up ahead rather than Ema on my heels. 

Halfway through the lap, she closed the gap. Ema was racing in the 15-19 category and I was super thrilled to have her back there. She was riding smooth and strong and if that's the quality of racing coming up the ranks, then that's great news for the women's scene. I asked her if she wanted to come around, but she declined, so I said, "Okay, let's go" and we rode together for a little while. I hope I helped her, because she helped me. I lost her amongst some passing/trail traffic and then I was back on my own until lap three. 

The second lap I ate up some more men, and started to really settle into my pace and enjoy the course. Vail Lake isn't everyone's favourite race, or so I gathered. But without any others to compare it to, I was fully enjoying it. It winds back on itself a number of times, skirting ridges and going in and out of canyons with one climb in particular, "the switchbacks" standing out as "breathtaking." And then the descents were just a blast. No brakes, lovely berms, some rocks and drops to play with and I was loving it. On one of the drops, I misjudged my line, carried in way too much speed and I don't think my tires even touched the ground except to skitter over the tops of the rocks. Regained control just as I hit another well-formed berm and laughed out loud it was such a rush. There were so many "yee-haw" sections and I found the course had plenty of flow to offset the long steady climbs and punchy steeps. 

Brought it around for the last lap, collected a fresh bottle (I fudged my feed on lap two carrying too much speed into the feed zone ... regrettable ... but there were plenty of shook-free bottles to choose from on the course!) and enjoyed seeing my team, my parents and my husband cheering me on for the final push. My shifting was once again slipping back out and I'd narrowly avoided tearing a side wall on one of my more daring descents so I was mainly focused on finishing up clean and safe. 

And then of course, I look over my shoulder and there's Ema again. I kicked it up, and brought it home to cheering friends and family. So awesome for the Cat 2/3 Ninjas to stick around for the few of us Cat 1 racers, I really appreciated it!! 

Collected some neat hardware and then the best part, Team Dinner swapping war stories and filling our faces. All in all an awesome first US Cup/Kenda Cup experience. Looking forward to Bonelli! 

I want to thank Team Ninja and all of our fabulous sponsors. In particular, PowerBar, thanks for those "real fruit" pouches. Delicious. Rudy Project, thanks for making a bright pink helmet that my mom can easily spot on the course! Thanks Champion Systems for our enviable kits -- I have never had more people ask to have the shirt off my back. Thanks to Aaron Hauck and Inner Strength Fitt Labs for getting me so comfortable on the bike. Huge thanks to my coach, Richard La China for ALL THE THINGS. And a big thanks to all the Team Ninja racers for making all this suffering feel like FUN! Feeling pretty lucky to be part of our awesome team. Going to be a great season. 

And I also want to thank my mom and dad for coming all the way from Canada for this race!! (okay okay, they just happened to be here anyway). Thanks dad for snapping all the pics in this blog, and Mom for trying to feed me (sorry I messed it up!). And my husband Gerhard who always makes me feel like I can go 20% faster just with his presence. I love having you guys at the race, and can't wait for our "Team Kris" reunion at BC Bike Race. 

The Start of Cat 1 Women
Coming through at the end of Lap 1 with Gerhard cheering me on

Crossing the Finish