Wednesday, December 23, 2015

CUBA by Bike







HA - I don't have a single photo of myself on a bike in Cuba!  But I saw a lot of Cuba on my bike!

I've never been to Cuba, but was intrigued to go when Gerald and Linda asked me if I was interested. We planned out the trip together and covered a good deal of ground - Havana for 3 days, cycling for 15 days with CanbBiCuba on an eastern loop from Holguin and an all-inclusive beach resort for 5 days in Varadero to finish things off. All that combined with more lunches of rice-beans, pork and banana chips, that then evolved into ham and cheese sandwiches, than anyone could ask for!

When people talk about the food in Cuba it doesn't get stellar reviews, but one thing I will say - you are eating what's fresh, in season and there's minimal processing; mmm bananas. Having stayed in such a variety of places I also thought it would be a good idea to search for the best Mojito - it is a Cuban original.... The winner was the Hotel Sierra Maestra in Bayamo.  We stayed here on 2 different nights and the best mojito was made by the bartender we encountered on the first go around. So it was a very elusive Mojito...

In spite of the general consensus of mediocre food in Cuba, we did have some excellent meals - the Globe and Mail had a travel feature on new restaurants in Havana and we dined at Cafe Laurent, which was on the list. Linda and I ordered the same thing, we both enjoyed it, but I got food poisoning (Linda didn't)....  The restaurant at Peter's apt building was also very good - baguettes and pizzas.  The resort in Varadero had several al a cart restaurants and I think the last meal we had at the Hilltop Restaurant was the best on the trip.

The cycling was brilliant.  We had a variety of terrain/roads, very little traffic for the most part and many estimates of what distances we would be doing for the day!!  My favourite ride was our longest day along the southern coast.  It was a blue sky, 38'C, and gorgeous.  Sometimes right next to the ocean, or above it, over the occasional washed out bridge or section of road, spectacular scenery and very little traffic.  I saw the most enormous cake on the back of a horse drawn cart, held in place by 2 happy kids, on it's way to a wedding or birthday - it was at least 2 ft x 3 ft.  But you know the feeling you get when you get to 100km and expect to see your abode for the evening, but you're just in a little village and it turns out you have another 11 km to go....  the longest ride was not 100km, it was 111km!!  And worth every km.


Watch where you're going!!



Beautiful vistas along the way

The other highlight of the cycling was Peter's sponsorship/support of local cycling teams. The majority of these are high school teams of both males and females.  One of the things that CanBiCuba asks of it's riders is to bring spare bike parts for donation to the various teams. We met up with a female team of 13 - 17 olds.  They were lovely and fast!   They met us about 20 km outside of Las Tunas, rode into town with us and hosted us for a pig roast and salsa dancing that evening at the coaches home.  It was so much fun. I suffer from "white girls rhythm" when it comes to Salsa dancing, but gave it a go.

  

The cycling was a diverse group of 14 + Peter, the tour owner; Rueben, the bike mechanic; Harley, the "cultural guide"; and Philippe, the bus driver. The nice thing about cycling is that you congregate in the am for breakfast, along the way for lunch and in the evening for a meal, so you don't get tired of each other and you spend a little time with everyone at some point.  

The lunch time meal went something like this.  First - find a town with a restaurant with enough food to feed 18 of us; pay someone a peso or 2 to watch the bikes; one meal for everyone - rice/beans, pork/chicken or fish; banana chips; drinks - they always had enough beer and rum; didn't often have bottled water; or someone would run somewhere else to get pop.  This process took anywhere from 1-3 hours.  Then we started making ham and cheese sandwiches from the buffet breakfast in the mornings or eating whatever we brought with us in regard to protein bars, etc.  Lunch on the road was a double edged sword - you stopped to eat (1-3 hours) and arrived at your destination for the night at check-in time (3 or 4 pm).  You continued and ate your sandwich and arrived at your destination around 1 or 2 pm.  Then you get to hang out in the hotel lobby for a couple of hours b/c the rooms aren't ready.  Michelle and I started putting our bathing suits in the top of our luggage and then we would go for a swim in the pool while waiting for check-in, if there was a pool at the hotel.  Very refreshing after a day on the bike with road grit stuck to you and your sunscreen coated appendages.

Peter definitely has the patience of a saint - running a cycling tour company in Cuba is a challenge. You're dealing with a communist government that dictates how the tour operates. You know which hotels you want to stay in along the tour route, submit your choices to the government - you may or may not get your requested destination; or you arrive at the destination and said hotel and is over booked so you go to plan B; you must have a "cultural guide" with you on all tours, but you won't ever get the same one and they may or may not be a cyclist.  You request the size of bus you want and the government assigns a driver. You run the tour in the same areas from year to year, but things are always changing.

Harley, our cultural guide, got to know the meaning of "herding cats" as he was continually counting us, but then we'd change positions mid-count, totally oblivious to what he was doing.  He used to work for Customs, but changed jobs when the government stopped allowing them to receive "tips" (his words, not mine).  We were his first tour.  He was tested on the first day when some of us decided not to walk up the stairs/viewpoint in Holguin.  He parked us in a cafe and when he returned with the other group and we had wandered away from the cafe, he was beside himself.  He became much more relaxed....

We had an interesting start to the tour and "Cuban" time.  40 seat bus to arrive and depart at 8 am, no make that 9 am.  Oh wait, they'll pick up the bus at 9 am; remove half the seats for the bikes, then pick a driver; bus departs at 1:30 pm - sort of.  We are going down what seem to be very residential streets - we are at Phillipe's (bus driver) house!!  He picks up his suitcase and we are on our way. Interestingly, Phillipe has an Economics degree, but decided to learn English and change jobs to drive tour buses b/c the tips are much better than what an Economist wouldn't make. 

My impressions of Cuba:

  • Seeing Cuba on a bike is so worth it!!
  • The scenery is beautiful and we saw many parts of Cuba that the average tourist wouldn't see
  • Best/most accurate Lonely Planet hotel description: "tropical reincarnation of a Gulag camp" - we stayed here
  • I felt very safe travelling around 
  • Small children can be very sombre
  • The food is mediocre, but fresh
  • I didn't see a single plane fly overhead in the 3.5 weeks we were there and not many boats along the coast
  • Many small town squares are wifi accessible, so you'd see people congregating around computers and phones in the squares
  • The only new structures I saw going up were 2 or 3 new hotels in Varadero.  Many restoration projects in Havana that are partnered with Unesco and private investors (they are signed to reflect this)
  • Are the people poor?  I think it depends on your definition - you have a house/apt to live in, food to eat, excellent medical care, schooling guaranteed to grade 9, university is free, if you qualify
  • Males complete 2 years of mandatory military duty; females voluntarily do military service, but this can improve their chances of getting into a university; Cuba's biggest export - medical doctors
  • Autopista Nacionale = 6 lanes of highway that are almost void of traffic 
  • Traffic =  Soviet era giant truck/buses, horse drawn carriages, bike taxis, motorbikes, cars (1950's American, Ladas, Chinese brands, Kia, Hyundai), people walking, horses, oxen drawn carts, donkey drawn carts, tour/city buses (Chinese made), bicycles
  • Roads - smooth new highway, hard top, potholed, dirt track, washed out, narrow but with courteous drivers - biggest vehicle has the right of way, like most of the world....
  • I enjoyed learning about the history of the Revolution
  • Tourists - Canadians, Europeans, although we had 3 Americans on our tour - they entered Cuba via Mexico and Toronto
  • It will be interesting to see how Cuba evolves once the American trade embargo is lifted. I didn't get the impression all Cubans were eager to welcome Americans with open arms.  Whether the infrastructure to support a big influx of visitors is in place will remain to be seen...


Would I go back to Cuba?  Probably not, because there are too many places in the world to see, but I would recommend it.  

Oh and I bought a new bike - Kona Sutra touring bike, I love it, I want to use it some more... 

From this Dec 3....




to this Dec 12.....


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Triathlon is a Triathlon....

....Or is it?



"I'm not quitting triathlon until I get a podium finish, so I'll be 70 when I achieve this," has been my motto since I started triathlons/training in 2005.

.... AND 2nd place in my age group 50-59, sprint distance (500m swim, 14 km mountain bike, 5 km trail run) on Sunday August 16, 2015 at the Canmore Xterra Off-road Triathlon!!!  No need to wait until I'm 70, I can do this 20 years ahead of schedule!! ....and as Shannon says, "Internet results are forever!!"

I joined Spin Sisters a few years ago to improve my bike handling skills in anticipation of planning to complete one of the Tour d'Afrique rides (it's not off the table, just not yet, stupid exchange rate).  So this year I thought I'd put those (limited) skills to work....

I bought a new bike (n+1) - Specialized Stump Jumper - full suspension mountain bike; clip-less pedals/shoes (big mistake); flat pedals/shoes (the bruising on my body cut down significantly).  I joined the "learn to race program" with SS, didn't do that well, but I have a new bike kit!

The Race Report:
  • I love triathlons!!
  • Xterra was the hardest race I've ever done!!!  Ironman Arizona was a test of mind and body in relation to - can I maintain perpetual motion for potentially 17 hours? --> Yes
  • Canmore weather wasn't very cooperative - cold, rainy and slick!! 
  • My swim was slowwww (I'm so out of shape)
  • Worst fall off my bike (and I fall a lot)  - slid off a root, bike handlebars twisted and my thigh caught between handlebars and frame - I was stuck and afraid someone was going to run me over b/c they couldn't stop in time.

  • May have been calling out for help and saying "I'm stuck, I'm stuck" repeatedly.
  • Kind lady didn't run me over, stopped, helped and then said  - "Now, just go over there and collect yourself" in a proper English accent. Obviously, I was hysterical..... 
  • The run (well mostly a walk/shuffle) was such a relief after the bike; fell on my ass there too; no calls for help, just got up and went.
  • Passed one person - the only other participant I could keep up with. She turned 50 and wanted to do something significant too! We commiserated as we walked our bikes up yet another hill.
  • Competition for the best support crew ever - Pauline and Alan (Jenn and Heather - I'd have to say it's a tie). Linda and Gerald not to be missed either. Thank you for sticking out a miserable weather day with me.
  • No one was harmed during this race, as I was going to be pissed if there were 4 people in my age group!!!!
Race Season Re-cap:
  • Poor race prep is painful with or without a fall.... (swim bike run)
  • Had an accident with 3 bikes in June at Wasa Lake Triathlon (parkades and bike roof racks are NOT a good combination).  Generous triclub members allowed all 3 of us to race.
  • Wasa ended well and I was really happy with my bike considering my lack of training; shoulder held up for the swim; if you've read my past blogs - you know what I say about the run
  • 1st place in the Sprint Team Challenge at Wasa (Emma Bedard, Jason Dyck, Jordon Koch, Todd Forsyth, and ME!!) Not sure how that happened.
  • Not a single hill repeat at Edworthy!!
  • So many fall overs on my mtn bike - had to give up clip-less pedals and shoes for my health and safety - anyone wear a size 39 Shimano mtn bike shoe with SPD pedals???
  • Time off is a good thing
  • Planning to focus on biking this fall in anticipation of a 2 week cycling trip to Cuba in November
Alternate title for this blog "Winning by attrition is coming to fruition...."
I do believe there is a lot of room for improvement at Canmore Xterra 2016....

Ciao and happy training,
Cindy


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fatigue Lifted, I'm Ready for Action, I'm Injured....

...Or I'm getting old!.  Jan & Feb came and went and I was longing for coached workouts b/c all I seemed to be doing was working long hours and being hit and miss at the gym - not good.  Ready to commit in March - my race calendar set for the summer (Wasa Sprint, Calgary 70.3 (on a relay team as the swimmer) and my "A" race - Canmore Exterra Sprint!!).

Off to the pool I go in early March, shoulder sore post swim, no big deal. Next week same thing only it doesn't go away and gets progressively worse!  2 weeks in I'm very concerned as now I have a numb arm, that I can't move away from my body in any direction & a sore neck - thinking it's my neck due to numb arm - I hit up physio for some neck traction and all will be well. Attempted that with no success - physio works 2 days a week - then off on vacation for 2 weeks.  By now I'm off work b/c not only can I not move my arm or sleep, I can't reach the keyboard on my computer; or hold onto the steering wheel of my car, use the blinker or drive safely.

Dave at Tower is obviously my next stop as my plan of traction did not pan out.  Dave sorts me out in a couple of sessions - obviously where I should have started! It turns out my neck is not the primary source of all this pain - it's my shoulder.  Back to Dr and a req for an ultrasound - not good news - calcification in my rotator cuff muscles (bone growth in muscle is a bad thing, hence the pain, inflammation and just general irritation to me and my shoulder!!)  So used to my knee giving me grief this is a new and unexpected outcome.  Options are available, but since the calcification is minimal surgery is not recommended (thank goodness), and with race season approaching other options (cortisone injection, barbitage, short wave therapy all have recovery time involved).  Not sure what to do with this, but will have the discussion with Dave....

In the meantime - running is my best option!! The irony is not lost on me. I'm having difficulty weight bearing through my arm on the bike b/c of my shoulder and I haven't been in the pool for 6'ish weeks b/c of my shoulder. Short stints on the bike and running are my best options at the moment!!

The other thing that has happened - Cathy asks me yesterday if I'm in the Monday brick session; I say yes - well apparently it started 2 weeks ago, which also means strength and conditioning has also started!!  Good God, I'm loosing my mind!

On a  more positive note... we had our first outside ride of the season on April 18 - to Bragg Creek; I was slow and tired by the end. I took hwy 8 back to avoid the rollers on Springbank Rd - not the best choice as the shoulders had a lot of gravel on them; Springbank Rd was much better.

Ciao and happy training,
Cindy

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Fatigue Fog

I just re-read my Race Report (for the hundredth time) and I realized I missed 5 HOURS on my time!!!) Real race time 16 hours, 18 minutes 20 seconds).... Now that's a testament to fatigue fog and wishful thinking. Oops - perhaps a Freudian slip?  I have corrected said entry, sorry to have mislead everyone!!

It's been a month since my race (Nov 16).  I haven't turned into a pumpkin or gained a hundred pounds b/c I've taken time off (thank GOD), but I was really surprised at the amount of fatigue I dealt with - a lot of it not recognized until after the fact.  There was certainly the post race high that lasted for well over a week, which I think is pretty normal and exciting.  I accepted congratulations from many which was great.

The revelations about my fatigued didn't come to me until about a week ago when I went to my Sat bike class and thought - oh, my legs are back.  I thought back to the previous weeks - multiple missed appointments, late for work b/c of sleeping in, not having much motivation to get to the gym, completing an hour or so of a coached work out and then can't get out of my recovery zone (E1).  Just wanting to sleep and not have to set my alarm.  I certainly had training days like that, but I seemed to recognize those and be able to talk with Elmar and adjust my workouts.

The mental fatigue was there too.  Didn't seem to be able to accomplish a great deal at work, but struggled through the days.  At least I was leaving work on time....

Coming home at 5-5:30 pm is weird.  I have all this time and can't seem to occupy myself with much beyond the TV and computer.  I think it's a true sign that I'm ready to go again.  Looking forward to having some time off between Christmas and New Years.  Was hoping for some snow to get in some cross country skiing or snow shoeing, but a brown Christmas is what it appears to be at the moment (YUCK!).

My goal for the new year is to continue to chase a podium finish in a triathlon (hee hee).... Changing tactics a bit and I'm going to complete an Exterra triathlon (swim, mountain bike, trail run); haven't decided if I'll do a sprint distance or olympic distance, but I'm going to focus on mountain biking a bit more this year.

You know what that means??? - a NEW BIKE!!!  (hang on - there's some debt to take care of in there too..... better not forget that - being a grown up is not always all it's cracked up to be).

Ciao and happy training,
Cindy

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Race Report - Ironman Arizona

Alternte titles:
  1. The year that kept on giving (or was it taking??)....
  2. OMG - I DID IT!!
  3. Happy birth YEAR to me
  4. What was I thinking??  (this one actually lasted a long time - pretty much up until post Challenge 1/2 Ironman in August)
  5. Easy ways to accumulate debt ....and lots of it!
Nov 16, 2014, in my 50th year, when I heard the words "Cindy Pittman - You Are An Ironman!!" I did it, I really did it.  (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42.2 km run - my time 16:18:27). Best finish I've ever had in a race - actually ran across the finish line, smiling like crazy!!



I didn't have superstar times like my teammates, but we all crossed the same line successfully, which was my goal.  The day itself was great.  I was calm in the morning and thought as long as I keep moving it will be a good day..... and it was!!  Elmar assured me I could complete this race in the time allotted....

The swim started out well.  I started near the back of the other 2600 people in the water; as I looked at my watch at the half way point, I was on schedule.  Then the swells were coming at us head-on and I was ~10 minutes slower out of the water than I intended.  And, I swim crooked.....

The bike got very interesting very quickly.  The 3 lap course consisted of 30 km into a 40km/hr headwind out and 30 km with a tailwind back.  I thought I did well on the first lap, slacked off the 2nd lap and had to push it on the 3rd lap. There was a 5km climb coming up to the turnaround on each lap that was hard, but it was sure fun coming down that 5 km with a tailwind doing 50+ km/hr. I tried to keep the back half of each lap >30 km/hr. My nutrition plan of eat/drink every 20 min worked well.  Saw most of my teammates who shouted out hellos on the bike - so much fun.  Fast bike course with the 3 loops - you were never on your own, but you had to pay attention b/c you were never on your own.  I saw 3 ambulances picking up racers and heard about a 4th - not good....

I wasn't panicked about the run, which is kind of naive given my longest run going in was 16 km.  I felt I had enough time to walk it if I had to.  Enter the best race crew ever!! Jenn and Heather said they'd be my support crew and I thought that was extremely generous of them - expecting to see them a few times along the route as it was two, 21 km loops.  What I didn't expect was for them to complete the whole marathon with me!!  Jenn made friends with multiple other racers as she walked along beside me (I think she was walking really fast!)  Heather came and went - also walking really fast or slow jogging beside me.  I was RUNNING!!  In fact I may have repeatedly said to them - "I'm a runner" hahaha.... just like a 6 year old with a newly acquired skill.  I want to say they didn't have to prod me too much, I did keep an eye on my watch.  I started my intervals with 2 min walk / 4 min run, then thought that might not be enough.  Then I went to 7 min run / 3 min walk, again feeling good, but I kept coming to an aide station in the middle of a run interval.  I finally settled into a run between aide stations, walk the aide stations - drink/salt tab, eat a little and keep moving.  I was still peeing, so I was good with my hydration.  The other thing in my favour was that the temperature was ~21'C while the sun was out. They had mile markers on the course, but they just confused me. It was much better watching for the signs that Jenn and Heather had put up along the course.  Then suddenly I had 5 km left and decided I better see what I could do as it was approaching 11pm (race ends at midnight after a 7 am start).  

It was so amazing running down the chute to the finish - going side to side giving high fives to people.  Then I saw MY PEOPLE - Felix, Jane, Nikki, Faizel, Jenn & Heather.  I wanted to stop and hug them all I was so excited to see them!!  But then the announcer said "it" - Cindy Pittman, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!  I pumped my arms and ran across the line ecstatic and smiling.  

There's always something in retrospect:
  • Best pre-race meeting ever - Ed's race prep talk!!  I can report that the pothole around the manhole cover by the gas station has been fixed.
  • I don't often stay up 16 hours in a day, never mind being in perpetual motion.  I wondered if I could do it.
  • Best meals - La Bocca Restaurant; Poncho's Mexican Restaurant - we ate with el Presidenti, Bill Clinton, circa 1999
  • You want a disgusting swim, this could be it, minimal visibility - you'd take a stroke and your arm would land on someone's back, then it would kind of stick, wetsuit to wetsuit, and you'd have to pick it up, sight and go again.
  • Practiced in/out of the water at the swim exit 7 times (yes, I counted) 
  • Great to see everyone after the practice swim to have a group photo of Talisman Tri Club members and wish each other well.
  • Weird to have spectators calling you by name on the run course - finally turned my race bib around b/c it was weirding me out.
  • Bacon on the run course!!
  • Best sign on course - "Dig deep, like a kid picking boogers" (gross, but funny)
  • Jenn got the life story of a guy behind me she was chatting with; someone else kept admiring her coat, out loud; I think she was texting Elmar frequently too - how did she know I was supposed to be doing 7/3 intervals???
  • Heather kept it light and is an inspiration to me as she's completed a gazillion Ironman races and was such a positive influence all year!!
  • Can't say enough about handicap height toilets post race - my quads are forever grateful...
  • Umm, perhaps 9 pair of shoes was a bit of overkill - especially when 2 are the exact same runners - 1 new pair, 1 old pair => wear 1 new (left) and 1 old (right) on race day!!
  • Over the course of the year I decreased 1 clothing size; moved up 2 notches on my watch; lost 15 lbs;  had 3 pair of runners on the go at one point.
  • I never did make it to the top of Edworthy standing (I was thinking about that on my 3rd bike lap though)
  • Best race finish: 4 medals and 4 finishers!!




Felix Rooke, Jen Begg, me, Jane Wong

Huge thank you to all the people who had faith in me and wished me well throughout the year - you all made a difference and I thought of you all on race day at various points.

Ciao & happy training,
Cindy

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's Getting Close to Go Time

Officially 2 weeks out from Ironman Arizona......

I'm feeling ready and excited!!

It's been a great year of training with lots of ups and downs.  Started out with a few glitches that a change in coach took care of.  This lead to some running issues that set me back a couple of months - cue up the water running and elliptical, but then a new Sports Med Clinic at COP with no waiting list was a gift.  I proceeded to get an injection of Durolane in my arthritic knee which was very successful in managing the pain and a gradual return to running without pain.  My bike went through a pretty good overhaul with no residual issues and continues to be my faithful partner.  Swimming has been hit and miss due to some neck issues.

Wow, that paragraph doesn't make this sound fun at all!!  But it really has been a work in progress. And it's actually one of the reasons I like triathlon - if something is broken you can still train something else.  That and the fact it's all in a straight line and less stressful on my knee?

I was so looking forward to a 3 month cycling trip to India at the beginning of my 50th year, but when the stars didn't align for that one, I still felt I needed a significant physical challenge.  I may have taken on more than I bargained for, but I have been consistent in my training and I've got a great team behind me: Coach - Elmar Heger, Physio - Dave Holmes, Massage Therapist - Christine Leslie and all  my training partners - we have shared many long rides together, compared notes in the locker room and supported each other along our journey to the start line.  I may be the weakest link in this group, but I've put in my time and will do my best to complete my race and here "Cindy Pittman - you are an Ironman" before midnight on Nov 16.

I know I have lots of family and friends rooting for me and I'm looking forward to racing with my training partners and having Alan and Pauline, Jen and Heather their for support.  There will be a crew from the Talisman Tri Club on hand too, and it will be so exciting to see them on the race course - perhaps someone will have packed a cattle prod to keep me moving?!

My race number if you're interested in following on race day is 1607.

.......SWIM BIKE RUN - and CROSS THE LINE!!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

You know you're training a lot when....


  1. Your laundry pile of everyday clothes is smaller than the pile of workout clothes.
  2. You arrange your chores around work outs. 
  3. ...Or it takes you over a month to change the light bulb, even when you already have said light bulb.
  4. You ask your dad to cook for you in an effort to reduce meals in restaurants and potentially lose some more weight before race day.
  5. You realize you have the best dad ever, because he does make dinner for you, to help you reach your goals!!