Monday, July 28, 2014

Cycling With Mia & Pam

A few months ago, Mia and her friend, Pamela, registered for a half Ironman distance triathlon race to be held in Desaru around mid-August. For those of you who're not familiar with the sport, a "half Ironman distance triathlon" means an open-water swim of about 1.9km, followed by 90km bike, and then finally a 21km (half marathon) run. I was given to understand that the cut off time for the Desaru event is 8:30.

I think an average person who can swim, bike and run, and has been regularly active in sports for at least half a year, would find the half Ironman distance quite doable within the 8 hours 30 minutes, provided that he invests a bit of time training for the event. "Doable" here means able to finish within the cut off time—not "doable" as in to win the race. There is actually no need to be a fast swimmer, nor a fast cyclist, nor a fast runner—just average (or even slightly below average) speed in all those sports would do just fine.

But the trouble with Mia is that although she can swim and run, she's not a very good cyclist. She bought a road bike a little over a year ago; and then recently she surprised me when she bought a tribike too. That's when she told me that she's gonna attempt the half Ironman distance in August. If it were any other cyclist, I wouldn't have been surprised in the least. In fact, it is almost expected that after riding a road bike for a while, it's just a matter of time before one upgrades to a tribike. However, Mia has never really figured out her road bike yet up to now. Yes, she did finish an Olympic Distance triathlon, but she still can't ride steadily up to now.

To give you a better idea of Mia as a cyclist, she can pedal of course, but she's not very good in balancing on her bike. She must have both her hands on the handlebar at all times, except for the fraction of a second when she needs to shift her gear, or try to reach for her water bottle. Whenever she wants to drink or consume food (such as energy gels) she has to stop her bike. Otherwise she risks losing her balance. It's even more challenging for her to get into the so-called aero-position, that is to say to rest her elbows on the handlebar while gripping the aerobars. She also bought a pair of cycling shoes—the type that can be engaged to matching pedals on the bike. I told her that she's not ready for cycling shoes, but, y'know, she's an ex-St. Franciscan girl, so of course she went ahead with the shoes anyway. But after several falls, resulting in nasty bruises that took several weeks to disappear, scratches on her new bike, as well as damaging her shifters, she eventually abandoned the cycling shoes for now. But only for now, mind you!

Things were not looking well for Desaru, and she's fast running out of time to deal with the bike leg of the race. She went for short rides with her friend, Pam, on several occasions, but as you probably already know, riding 30km to 40km isn't really good enough in anticipation of a 90km ride in the race. So 2 weeks ago, I decided that I should accompany her for a longer ride with the view of addressing some of the issues about her cycling skills. I told her that she didn't really need to ride 70km, and she probably couldn't ride that far anyway. So I got the desired response—she said she wanted to go for that 70km ride because she needed the training. Sometimes, you need to know how to deal with ex-St. Franciscans, you see.

So off we went for that 70km ride. Soon, it was obvious that she wasn't comfortable on her bike. She had it set up at the shop where she bought it from, but it's only when one rides beyond 40km-50km before one is able to know if the setup is really good. We exchanged bikes. Once she got on my bike, she could immediately feel the difference; the setup was almost perfect, except that the seat was a little too high for her. It was then that she decided she'd use my bike for Desaru. I spent no less than an hour repeating myself like a million times before she got so sick of my instructions; in the end, she realised that I wouldn't stop unless she force herself to try the aero position. At first she did it for a few seconds, and I expressed a soothing "Goooood!". Eventually, she spent longer and longer in the aero position, and each time she was rewarded with "Goooood!" from me.

So both the coach and the ex-St. Franciscan were very pleased at the end of that workout, but I felt like the latter walked around with her eyes on her forehead that day. I seized the opportunity to set another bike workout, this time much closer to the 90km distance of the race. Well, that workout happened this morning, and her friend, Pam came along too.

About 20 minutes into the ride, however, I had a puncture. I suspect it must have been God's idea to include that as a learning process for the ladies. Changing the tube isn't very difficult once you get the hang of it, but it can be quite tricky if you haven't tried it on your own. It reminded me of the time when I first started cycling some years ago, and I was trying so damn hard to impress a young woman with impossibly sexy legs who went cycling with me. It was an epic failure of course, as reported here, but I swear I've learned quite a lot about bikes since then. 

Now, at this juncture, I just wanna share a strange mystery about many women—but I'd rather not mention names here, or I may end up getting shot!—they would spend time and efforts to train for cycling. Perhaps spend a big chunk of their savings to buy a dream bike; apart from spending a bit on air travels and hotel expenses when joining races out of town. But the one thing that they simply refuse to do is to learn how to fix a puncture. They'd rather DNF upon getting a puncture! Makes no sense to me, but then again women are not meant to be understood!

Anyway, Mia and Pam had a so-called intensive tube-change clinic at the roadside this morning, although Pam had apparently decided to be one of those girls within the same category as those in the preceding paragraph above, at least for the Desaru mission. Who knows, with any luck, she may decide to want to learn how to change a tube in the future.

Well, Pam went on to finish (albeit barely) 82km; and Mia and I did about 88km today. Mia spent a good deal of the workout in aero position; and she also made the breakthrough of drinking and eating energy gels without stopping her bike. Now I'd be much happier if she would only ride in a straight line, as opposed to a zig-zag fashion, while she's drinking or eating, but I guess I should be happy with whatever improvement she's making on each ride.

Well, in 3 weeks from now, I'm going to Kuching to run a marathon, while Mia and Pam will be heading to Desaru for the half Ironman distance race. Before this I was excited for the Kuching marathon, but over the last few weeks, I'm becoming increasingly excited for Mia and Pam too. It does seem like an uphill task for both of them, but after all you never know if you're able to do it until you try it!

I shall be keeping my fingers crossed.

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