How I Dramatically Improved My Fondo Performance in Just a Year

In September 2016 I rode my first Whistler GranFondo. I’d only participated in one other fondo before this, the Fraser Valley, in July; in that event, I had struggled in the last 30km or so. The Valley is a long ride, over 160km, much further than I’d ridden before. While Whistler was 40km shorter, I had the Squamish to Whistler ascent to deal with, an unknown quantity since I had never cycled it before.

I finished in 4:33, which according to my coach was pretty good for the first time out. While I found the climbs after Squamish easier than I’d feared, I bonked with about 20km to go. There were three main reasons for this:

  1. Poor nutrition. I hadn’t learned how to pace my drinking, but especially my solids and gels. I simply didn’t eat enough, forgetting what I’d learned from the Fraser Valley ride [link to blog post], and figuring I felt pretty good through the first couple of hours. As they say, if you start feeling hungry, it’s too late.
  2. Not enough training. I had been doing just a ride or two a week, and I’d had a total of three weeks off in the summer, during which time I had not been on a bike much. It isn’t necessary to train as hard as I have this year—see below—but I just wasn’t in the condition required to do as well as I might have.
  3. Riding solo. Even if you’re not part of a team, you can find a group with an appropriate pace that will save you a lot of effort. In 2016 I just wasn’t confident or experienced enough to do it.

I was still pretty happy with my effort. But I started thinking about 2017, and what I could do to get faster. The first problem would be relatively easy to solve; #2 and #3 required some work.

A few weeks after Whistler, my coach Paul Moffat took his Velosophy group to Bowen Island for an end-of-season ride. I’d been with Paul since the spring, but something finally settled into place for me on the island climbs. Squamish to Whistler had gone fairly well, but this reinforced it: I’d finally started to overcome the psychological hurdle of hill climbs; and I was getting stronger.

Finally (almost) keeping up with Eric Purtzki. Photo: Paul Moffat

But where could I go from there? The season was over.

I’d purchased a Wahoo KICKR earlier in the year, mostly to do some FTP tests. So I set up the small room at the entrance to my place as a cycle room/pain cave. I bought an industrial-strength fan along with a tool chest and wheel storage hooks, and I was ready to go for the winter.

I’ve written previously about my indoor training experience: see A Winter of Indoor Cycle Training. I worked through a few of the TrainerRoad programs: Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I and II, and Sustained Power Build Mid-Volume. I was interrupted for a few weeks by a slight Achilles tendon issue, but overall put in about 100 hours from November to February. This was more work than I’d done outdoors during the summer season, and I was feeling some gains and also improvements in technique. Unlike some, I don’t mind the monotony of indoor training rides. I mostly focused on the TrainerRoad coaching text, and listened to podcasts during some of the longer sessions. As spring approached, I tried a couple of Zwift races and enjoyed them.

In February, the Velosophy group was invited by the Pender/Dopo Bici club to participate in their training rides and the subsequent GranFondo in Malibu. I was excited about this; I had started to consider doing a cycle trip like Haute Route or Trek Travel; but this was closer, cheaper … and right now; I was on a flight to California within a couple of weeks.

The indoor training paid off: although I’d only had one outdoor ride to that point in 2017 and felt a bit shaky being back outdoors—you have to steer when you ride?—there’s no way I could have kept up without the training I’d done over the winter. We did a few training rides during the week before the fondo; the area is amazing for cycling, with great climbs and twisting descents. The fondo itself went fairly well, though it was only my third such event; and after twice working in small groups to get back to the lead peloton, I was finally dropped for good about 85km in.

Malibu training ride. Photo: TLBVelo Photography

It was hard to come back from bright, summery California and start spring training in the cold and rain. But just a week after Malibu, during the first Velosophy ride of the season around Richmond, it was obvious that I’d made significant progress. It was the same ride we’d started with a year previously, which had been my first real outing with a group and a coach. (I had trained with Team OvCare for the Ride to Conquer Cancer the year before, but that was very casual, with no drafting allowed.) In areas where I’d struggled to keep up a year prior, I found the level of effort to be moderate or low; and noticed that a couple of the new members were struggling as I had in 2016. The flip side of Rule #10 is that it gets easier at the same speed.

I’d met a few of the Pender riders in California, of course, and joined the club for some extra training. I wanted to ride more than a couple of days a week; and although I enjoy going out solo, I was sometimes missing the social aspect and wanted to develop better group riding skills. Starting in early May, I attended the weekly Thursday night rides coached by Laura Brown. I rode rain or shine, and on June 15 it was pretty wet; I left my Cervélo R5 at home and put fenders on my Opus Allegro, and for the first time met Assaf Yogev, the Pender men’s team coach.

This led on to a few things. I decided to try racing, and the next week began Escape Velocity’s “Learn to Race” course; I got my UCI license. I started attending the Pender team skills clinics; unfortunately, I had a crash in mid-July and threw my shoulder out. This delayed my first attempt at racing, though I still rode the Valley Fondo the same week and it was my best fondo to date, 53 minutes faster than 2016. I switched over to Assaf for coaching, and going forward he scheduled six sessions a week for me in TrainingPeaks. These varied from intense hill repeats to skills sessions and recovery rides. I had no troubles handling the work, even though it was far beyond anything I’d done before. It was a big time commitment, but I really enjoyed all of it.

In August I participated in the Cypress Challenge, and took eleven minutes off my 2016 time. I also rode the last few World Tuesday Night Championship criteriums of the year. I started in Cat 4 at the suggestion of Bill Semrau, the very supportive Pender team captain, from whom I learned a lot in just a few races (his wife Tammy L. Brimner does excellent cycling and other photography, including a couple of the photos in this post). I generally did pretty well, not placing, but handling the pace and learning strategy and technique.

WTNC—that’s me in Pender red. Photo: TLBVelo Photography

And then it was September. I’d put in over 300 hours and about 8,500km of work by this point in the year, 6,000km more than I had leading up to the 2016 event. I did one last “hill smash” on Belmont out near Spanish Banks on the Tuesday before the event, then tapered.

I was given the choice to ride with the lead group, or support the mixed team. I agonized over this: I knew I could improve on last year’s time, perhaps dramatically; but the lead group was going to finish in about 3:30, an hour faster than I did in 2016. I take a while to warm up, and feared being dropped on Taylor Way and riding without any Pender crew. Just a few minutes before the start, I decided to go with the mixed team, which was aiming for four hours.

It turned out that Taylor Way was the biggest challenge of the ride for me; I registered my highest heart rate there. After we spread out some, the team came back together on the Upper Levels. It started raining earlier than I had expected, and it was a pretty wet ride, though we were working hard enough that the cold didn’t register until we stopped in Whistler.

We worked well together and maintained a good pace. We had one flat, and lost two riders to that. By the last 20km or so, it was just Bill, myself, and two of the Pender women. Unfortunately, we didn’t win in the mixed team category—but we were not far behind. Next year!

I finished in 3:50:29 (chip time), 43 minutes faster than 2016. I placed 14th of 330 in my age group, 96th percentile; and overall 191st of 2,937 riders, 93rd percentile. I sacrificed some time to work for the team, but I don’t regret it at all. The overall pacing was excellent, and riding in a group was key; I never felt I was working particularly hard. I ate several bars and one gel; and drank about two and a half bidons of Roctane Gu and Vega electrolyte hydrator, largely through the first two-thirds of the race. That worked well for me.

Nutrition; dedicated training; and group riding skills got me to the finish about 16% faster. It’s worth noting that I reduced my alcohol consumption to near zero, and I suspect this was a component of my success. See “Is Alcohol the Reason You’re Not Getting Faster?” on the TrainerRoad blog.

I am pretty confident that in 2018 I can take another ten to twenty minutes off my time, and place near the top in my age group; and hopefully play a part in a Pender team victory. I’m largely back indoors on my KICKR now, and will be meeting my coach soon to plan for the 2018 season.

Bring it on.

A Winter of Indoor Cycle Training

I’m heading off to the Malibu GranFondo soon, which will be my first significant outdoor ride of the year. 151km followed by a time trial—my first ever—may sound like starting off the year with a bang: but the ride is preceded by a training camp; and I’ve put in a lot of work indoors over the last few months. It’s my first season of training inside, or even riding consistently at all over the winter months. I bought a Wahoo KICKR a year ago, with all of this in mind, but as I started group rides shortly after the purchase, all I used it for at the time were a couple of FTP tests.

This year I was determined not to let my fitness drop off. I began with the TrainerRoad Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I plan in mid-October, a couple of weeks after my last ride with Velosophy. At the end of that plan, I developed an Achilles tendon issue and took four weeks to recover, with a few light recovery workouts during that time, about eight hours in total. Then I proceeded with Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume II, which went well until I fatigued a bit in week five. I skipped a couple of the aerobic rides that week, then finished off the plan and went straight into Sustained Power Build Mid-Volume. After two weeks, of that plan I’m going to do a taper week preceding Malibu.

I’ve spent almost ninety hours on the trainer from October to February, and I think I’ve learned a lot. The coaching text in TrainerRoad may sometimes seem repetitive, but it’s excellent reinforcement. (Without my glasses, which I have to shed during intervals, the text can be difficult to read; but in an effort to do so by leaning closer to my bars, I have developed and reinforced a slightly more aero default posture on the bike!)

Setup. Two things I figured out very quickly were clothing and air movement. For clothing, wear as little as possible: I only have my heart rate monitor, cycle shorts, open-finger gloves, and short socks. I found the gloves critical both for comfort, despite the lack of road bumps, and to protect my tape from sweat and resulting bad odour. For a fan, I initially bought a fancy Dyson. Don’t bother; something like that can’t move enough air and you’ll end up with pools of sweat on the mat or floor. Go for an industrial fan like an Air King.

Pedalling technique is critical. I went to physio for my tendon issues. Ultimately, what solved the problem was a combination of some specific exercises provided by the physiotherapist, along with adding better support in my walking shoes—apparently I have slightly fallen arches. But more than these, I believe, what corrected the problem for good was a revised pedalling technique. This is a benefit of indoor cycling: the focus that is possible without the distractions of roads, cars, other cyclists, and weather, and the ability to develop good habits. Even after having done six weeks of training at five to seven hours a week, it took an injury for me to realize that I was flexing my left foot slightly more than my right. I corrected that, and have since moved on to plans with a higher weekly TSS at a higher FTP and have had no issues.

Posture is also important, as is learning to let go of tension. It took a lot of hours to get there, but I think I’ve managed to relax my grip, shoulders, and face, and keep my sit bones grounded on the seat, while working at high watts. I’ve also increased my cadence, to where I’m comfortable in the 95-100 range; I got a 50-34 chainring for climbing this year.

Incidentally, as I’ve become increasingly lean, I’ve found that I’ve had to think about new saddles. The Specialized Toupé Expert Gel I used last season now seems too hard; I’ve switched to the Fizik Antares that came with my R5.

Proper breathing can make the difference between powering through an interval and dying. And I’ve found that focusing on efficiently expelling breath after a difficult interval can greatly reduce recovery time.

Focus. With the exception of a few of the longer aerobic workouts, especially those few without instructions, I do not listen to any music or podcasts on the trainer. I figure that I won’t have them out on the road; they can be distracting and a bit of a crutch, and I think affect heart rate and, especially with music, cadence.

Wahoo sensors can be problematic. I’ve been running TrainerRoad on my iPhone. Rather than buy an ANT+ adapter for my Garmin cadence and heart rate sensors, I have been using Wahoo’s Bluetooth sensors. Their cadence sensors work well attached to the shoe, but seem to have significant problems when on the crank; I’m not sure why, but when the sensor rotates around a different axis, it can produce erratic readings. I got a replacement from Wahoo, whose service is excellent, and the problem persists. Keeping it on your shoe doesn’t always make a lot of difference until you are doing single-leg drills, but still. The “TICKR” heart rate sensor seems similarly unreliable: I’m currently waiting for a replacement. Fortunately, the KICKR itself has been very reliable.

Be aware of the location of your screen. I have attached my iPhone to my bars with a Quad Lock, which is excellent. I’m probably looking down at the app, rather than ahead at the “road,” too much, but there’s not much I can, or at least for now want to, do about that. However, be conscious of the left-right orientation of your device. I spent the first few months with the iPhone to the right of my stem; at a certain point I realized that as a result I had started leaning right a little bit on the bike, so switched it to compensate. Changing things up periodically is probably a good idea, unless you can rig something to centre-mount your device.

Conclusion: The real test of all this work will be how I do outdoors this year. I’ve been on one short ride recently, and as a result there’s little question in my mind that it’s all going to pay off. One thing I did notice out on the road is that, despite all the work on quadrants, my downstroke is slightly emphasized at certain power levels and cadences; this requires some further work.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Strava!



My Year in Cycling: 2016

In 2015 I joined a cycling group (OvCare) and did the Ride to Conquer Cancer, Vancouver to Seattle (see my post on that trip). It was a good year, and a decent introduction to more serious road cycling, after cycling a fair amount through my life. But at the end of last year, I didn’t have a Garmin or speed and cadence sensors; hadn’t been in a group with an experienced coach; and didn’t know what FTP was. I was cycling blind, just “bike riding” really.

That’s all changed; I worked pretty hard in 2016 and enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s my year in TrainingPeaks:

TrainingPeaks 2016


The Whistler GranFondo (Strava link) was the culmination of my group training with Paul Moffat‘s Velosophy group. It was slightly easier than I’d expected (or feared?), and I came in at about 4:33. Most of the ride went well; I sagged a bit in the last 10km or so, which I think was a combination of inadequate nutrition—I have to learn how to eat more on these long rides—and my seat (I’m trying different ones over the winter). I was well-prepared overall, and I suspect one of the things that really made a difference was that I didn’t drink any alcohol for ten days preceding the race. As a result of that experience and the TrainerRoad article “Is Alcohol the Reason You’re Not Getting Faster?” I cut down even further on drinking.

The Fraser Valley GranFondo (Strava link) was tough, but notable in that it was the first GranFondo I completed. I’ve written about my struggles on this ride here: see 2016 Fraser Valley GranFondo.

I bought a Wahoo KICKR early in the year and did a couple of FTP tests on it, but it wasn’t until October that I really started to utilize it. I’ve actually enjoyed the indoor rides, and I think it’s really making a difference in my form and endurance. Unfortunately, I had to take four weeks off as I strained my Achilles’ tendon a bit.


I’ve written about my crash in August and won’t add much here other than that I’ve pretty much fully recovered; I have a bit of a remnant, maybe scarring, and some slight discomfort if I lean too heavily on my right arm where I hit the pavement.

By the end of the TrainerRoad “Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I” training program, which I did through October and November, I had developed Achilles’ tendon issue. I went to physio and only did some light rides; over time it improved and actually prompted me to make some adjustments in my pedalling technique on the left side.

The other low point this year was the Triple Crown (Strava link). I was jet-lagged, trying to fight off a cold, and I got two flats. It is a tough enough ride as it is, and I expect it’ll go a lot better this year if I take it on.


What a difference a year makes: I’ve come a long way in just twelve months, I am very much looking forward to 2017. I’m considering which events to participate in; I may do the Fraser Valley again or perhaps the Okanagan one (my sister lives in Penticton). I am thinking that a fully-supported ride like Trek or Haute Route might be a great vacation. And I want to see how well I can do to Whistler: as close to four hours as I can.

I’d better stop writing and get on my trainer.

My First Crash

It was inevitable. I knew that, but I had put it out of my mind and only fully realized it later. On August 6 I was out with Paul Moffat‘s Velosophy crew and we had just had a nice run from Vancouver up to Lions Bay and back. We were headed towards Cypress to do some intervals. Everything was going smoothly along the Upper Levels Highway, just east of the Westmount/Westridge exit. I was right behind the lead rider, maybe 30cm. I had a quick drink from my bottle, reached down to put it back, couldn’t find the cage. I looked down, put it back, looked up, and … overlap.

Down I went.


Road rash.

Paul flew over me—”Fuck!”—and the next thing I remember, I was regretting smashing my new Oakleys and screwing up the team’s ride. A good sign, in retrospect. I was very lucky. My black box … er, Garmin … registered a final speed of 39.6km/h. On a busy freeway. The shoulder was pretty wide, and we generally fell away from traffic. I was pretty scraped up on both arms and on my right leg, and later discovered a big bruise on my hip; my front tire was shredded and flat; my garments were torn, and there was possibly a crack in the frame of my 2014 Opus Allegro 1.0. (I ended up buying a new bike, but that’s a story for another post.)

The crew walked down to the exit, and I cleaned up a bit at the gas station there (several customers very kindly offered me bandages and antiseptic). I was high on adrenaline, feeling great: part of this was clearly relief at having escaped without any broken bones or worse. But also shock, probably.

Paul stayed with me until my girlfriend came to pick me up. I cleaned up at home, but had a fairly normal night, and I went out for dinner, while making sure to wear long sleeves to avoid shocking people too much! It wasn’t until the next day that the aching set in. Advil and rest did the trick. But I still feel fortunate, and three weeks later the scabs are almost gone.

So, what did I learn?

Focus. Every second is critical when you’re rolling along so quickly. This is my first serious year of cycling, and I’d obviously started to take some things for granted. By summer, we were cycling more quickly, and closer together, than we had been in early spring. The decreased margin for error had sneaked up. In future I’ll leave some room if I really need to drink or eat, or just wait until hills or more social parts of a ride.

Can I get back on my bike yet?

Be at 100%. Preceding the ride I’d had a week of making up training sessions at the gym from a vacation. I was nursing a slightly sore knee. This kind of deficit may not even be entirely obvious, but it’s important to be aware of your condition and how it may affect your ride, and your team’s.

Recover. Take care of yourself following a crash, but make sure you get out on your bike again, re-acclimatize, and rebuild confidence; apply the lessons you’ve learned; and talk to your coach, if you have one, about the incident and how you can improve. You may crash again—arguably, you almost certainly will—but you can work to reduce the likelihood. You’ll re-learn to trust yourself, and your fellow riders; and you may have to do some work to regain their trust as well.


Thanks to Paul Moffat for reviewing a draft of this post.

2016 Fraser Valley GranFondo

I cycled my first Gran Fondo, the Prospera Fraser Valley, on July 24. I rode the Ride to Conquer Cancer last year, but the first day of that ride was cut short by weather, and the second, while 133km, was slow as I was with a friend, and I hadn’t yet become serious about cycling: I was riding blind, without sensors.

This year I’ve been training with Paul Moffat‘s Velosophy group. In the Fraser Valley I was aiming for as close to five hours as I could get. The first 90km or so went well: I maintained an average speed of 33km/h, felt pretty strong, and joined a couple of good pelotons. My bike performed well: I’d had two flats on the Triple Crown the week before. But after about 100km, while I don’t think I bonked exactly, I found the going pretty tough.


What happened? I thought I’d compile a list of mistakes I made and things that went wrong, both for my own benefit and for others embarking on their first long ride.

I didn’t eat enough. I was well-stocked with enough carbs for five or six hours, but after my first couple of bars (Pro Bars, which are great) I found it difficult to get them down. A greater variety of food, including some bananas, for example, would have helped. I think I had enough water with me: a bottle with Vega electrolyte hydrator; and two with Gu‘s Roctane Energy drink mix.

I didn’t stop enough. I cycled non-stop for 137km, at which point I re-filled my bottles. As a result, I missed out on some fresh food (such as bananas), dropped out of a couple of good pelotons when they pulled over at the earlier rest stops, and perhaps simply missed out on having a couple of needed breathers.

I rode alone. In a group, you can save up to 30% of effort. As a long ride progresses, it’s probably natural for cyclists to space out to some extent. But in my next GranFondo I’ll be watching for and sticking with an appropriate peloton.

I let the hills get to me. The big hill after turning away from the Trans-Canada, around McKee Peak in the Straiton area, was a bit rough; between about 132 and 150km there was a series of smaller climbs. Not long after the ride, I came across the article “The Science and Physiology Behind Becoming a Better Climber” on the TrainingPeaks blog, which has some helpful information—including this bit on mental strength:

One of the things that makes great climbers successful is their ability to tackle the mental obstacles that come with climbing. Many riders are defeated before the climb begins due to negative self-talk and a poor attitude. Develop the mental strength and psychological tools needed to tackle any ascent. Work on steady and calm breathing, remembering that often times once your breathing deteriorates so does your performance. Also, try to remain positive going into the climb. Don’t let your nerves get to you!

Gap in training. I took a two-week vacation in June-July, during which I did essentially no cycling. The Triple Crown was my first ride back, and at 127km with more than a 2,300m elevation gain after three weeks off my bike it had been a challenge. I did a short ride to warm up for Fraser Valley, but as you can see from my TrainingPeaks data from the start of my season through to the day before the Fondo, my fatigue (Acute Training Load) and form (Training Stress Balance) were perhaps too high (or low, as the case may be); and my fitness (Chronic Training Load) had slipped:


A couple of physical issues. My left knee, hurting a bit after the Triple Crown, started bothering me again; and my right quad cramped up a bit. I’ll be seeing a physiotherapist.

I finished in about 5:55—well off my initial target, but perhaps almost respectable for a first-timer. Looking forward to Whistler in September, I’ll be sure to address the points above.


Ride to Conquer Cancer 2015

Last weekend, I cycled from Vancouver to Seattle—well, actually Surrey to Redmond, with a bit of a gap in the middle—in support of the BC Cancer Foundation.

It was my first year doing the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and I was well-prepared: I’ve been cycling for years but I trained hard for this event, participating in a number of 70-90km team rides. A couple of weeks before the event I got an amazing new bike, which seemed to make cycling effortless. But the real story was the weather. Apparently the Ride was moved from June as it had been raining that month consistently for several years. But as the last weekend in August approached, it became clear that we would see the first real rain in months. So I was ready for a slog through the wet.

And at the start, at the Cloverdale Rodeo & Exhibition Fairgrounds, it certainly was raining. With over 2000 cyclists participating, the first few kilometres were slow, and I started to get a bit cold. But once we arrived at the border, the rain stopped, and it was almost completely dry for the remainder of the two-day trip.

The first day, there was an optional “Challenge” route, and partly on the prompting of friends, I chose to give it a shot. Just south of the Peace Arch, I swung East.


I heard that only something like 60-100 people tackled the Challenge route this year. The whole ride was very well supported, but there was one stretch on this route, about 60km, between pit stops. At times I cycled with others; other times I cycled alone. I took off my rain jacket and enjoyed the day. As this was a ride for cancer research, I thought about my mother, who died of cancer in 2007.

Somewhere south of Sumas, heading up some long, brutal hills and into the trees, there was a fair amount of debris on the road. I pressed on alone and somewhere past Everson, cycling into the gusting wind started to be an ordeal. I met up with about ten other riders and we headed south along Noon Road. Battered by the wind and at risk of being blown into the ditch or into a car, we stopped. It was so gusty that at times it was hard to stand and hold onto our bikes. We huddled in the ditch for about an hour, and a county sheriff stopped by to check in on us. Support crew started picking up some of us to take us on to where the Challenge and “Classic” routes met up for lunch. But we’d set out to ride to Seattle, and we didn’t want to miss more of the ride than we had to, so a few of us decided to press on to Bellingham. From there, we were shuttled down to the Mount Vernon camp. I was disappointed not to have cycled the whole way, but I got in 113km.

It rained overnight, and after a bit of a restless sleep—my tent neighbours were partying pretty hard—the sky cleared and we set off again. I awoke to see on my iPhone the news of Oliver Sacks‘ death from liver cancer, and resolved to cycle in his memory.

Everyone cycled the same route on the second day. It was a bit longer than planned, due to detours because of the storm the previous day. We passed some flattened corn fields south of Mount Vernon. It was a more social day, which was enjoyable. There was one segment along a beautiful paved path through the woods. Sadly, during the ride I received an email informing me that a relative was in the final stages of terminal cancer. So the second day was a reminder of why we were all riding.


I did almost 137km on the second day. We reached Redmond in the late afternoon and my daughter picked me up; I’m glad I didn’t have to pile into a shuttle and head back to Surrey.


The only downside was some scratches on my beloved new bike from the Bellingham to Mount Vernon transport. Overall it was a great experience, including the adventure-by-weather. I’m really grateful to everyone who helped get me to the minimum $2500 fundraising goal. I now have a bit of a bug for long-distance cycling, and I may even consider doing this one again. It’s a good cause, and there is a lot of enjoyable camaraderie.

But probably my favourite part of the journey was the Saturday morning, riding alone through Washington State farmland in the unexpected dry, before the wind picked up. Far away under my own power in the quiet, alive.