Planet Damian

May 23, 2016

Christof Damian

Gran Fondo La Mussara 2016 Report

Last year I attended the the Gran Fondo La Mussara, it is a great event, well organized and with a beautiful route.
Sadly I was not able to finish it. I had to give up after 110 of the 189 km. I was not properly prepared due to various injuries and illnesses in the beginning of the year. And I got another injury during the ride.
But I decided to give it another try this year, so I registered early as this event sells out pretty fast.

Registering early including an hotel turned out to be a problem. The hotel forgot all registrations and notified the organizers with one week to spare. Luckily I found another hotel, which turned out to be a bit more expensive, but much better. It is just one kilometre from the start, has really big rooms, you are allowed to take your bike to the room and they organized a special early breakfast for the riders. So if you are in the area I can highly recommend Brea's Hotel, maybe not for a romantic weekend, but for riding or doing anything at the Fira it works out brilliantly.

Another fun bit this year was the panic about disc brakes at sportives in Spain. Luckily this got sorted out beforehand and doesn't affect my events this year. But I won't be registering for any others until this is settled for good.

The Gran Fondo is a very well organized event. The start and finish line is at the Fira Reus. This is also where you pick up your race pack, jersey and the pasta party after the event is held.
The race pack contains your start number with timer chip, a booklet with all kind of information about the race, one very useful sticker for your top bar with the food stop locations, one sticker with the height profile and some energy food.

The jersey was the one let-down. I generally don't like to be forced to use the jerseys provided by the sportive, and this time it really showed why. It was much too small for everyone and the quality was really bad. The zip didn't work well and got stuck all the time. As this was probably the cheapest version of Santini jerseys it also only had three smallish pockets. I can't see anyone of the 5000 participants buying from Santini in the future.

The problems I identified last year were:
  • injuries before the race
  • injuries during the race
  • running out of energy early (bonking)
  • and then overeating at the food stops  
I avoided injuries before the race this time and whenever something did hurt I made sure I rested enough and left the bike at home.
My strategy for avoiding the bonk in this year was to start with enough energy. This meant mainly eating lots of pasta in the three days before the event. Maybe twice as much as would typically eat. 
For food during the race I packed 10 of my preferred energy gel and four packs of power for energy drinks to avoid the food station food. I only stopped to stock up on water. 
I also set the alarm on my Garmin to 20 minutes and 300 kcal to remind me to eat and drinks.
To avoid injuries during the race I stayed in the saddle most of the time, which is easier on the knees and tendons and I set a heart rate maximum alarm on the Garmin too. 
All of this worked out pretty well. I arrived at the finish line with energy left and without pain. Very tired though.

After the race I had my protein shakes prepared and in the evening I was fit enough to check out Reus and have dinner there.

We spend the night in Reus and went back late Sunday, after checking out a village food and wine fair that I noticed them setting up on the day before. Very typical Spanish with a monster Paella dish.

I am probably not doing this Gran Fondo again, as the route seems to be the same every year. But I can highly recommend it. Even the small one with 89 km is a very nice route and gives you most of the experience without killing yourself.

by Christof Damian ( at May 23, 2016 12:14 PM

April 13, 2016

Christof Damian

Gran Fondo Barcelona 2016 Review

race number
This year I took part in the second Gran Fondo Barcelona. A Gran Fondo or Sportive is basically a large group ride with a given route, which shouldn't be competitive. The advantage is that you are often travelling on closed roads and there is some support in form of food stops and mechanical support.

I already took part in the 2015 edition, so I knew a lot of the things that were expecting me.

Registration was a lot better this time. It was situated on the top of Montjuic, not far from the Olympic stadium. This time it was held outdoors in a big tent, so it would have been possible to come with your bike. The whole process took only ten minutes or so.
A minor problem was the availability of jerseys, my large version was too large and there were no more mediums available. But they are sorting this out now, so I will have my jersey to remember the ride with a good fit.
As you were required to wear the official jersey on the day I just used the too large version. I don't think requiring these is a good idea. Cyclists are picky about their equipment and I probably would have chosen something a bit warmer. It also makes it impossible to recognise any friends you are riding with. Or yourself on the photos.
Anyway - I got my race pack, which includes the jersey, arm warmers, some energy food and for some reason a pack of beef stock.

This time I tried to prepare a bit better than the last time. On the night before I had a massive portion of spaghetti, more than I can usually fit in my belly.

Early rise on the day, shower a large muesli and packing energy bars and wind-stopper. It was pretty cold in the morning.

Short ride up to the starting line on Montjuic. I guess there were maybe 600 riders all together. They had the usually horrible euro-techno sound-system and for some reason cheerleaders (!)

From Montjuic we went along the coast to Sitges, where the first food stop was. I skipped that one to keep going a bit faster, but after a kilometre or so we all got stopped by the lead car and basically waited until everyone caught up. This would be a theme that would continue for most of the race. And when we were not stopping the car in front would drive so slow that everyone was riding in one big peloton. This made riding some narrow roads quite tricky.

another stop
I am not a fast rider, but for 120km I was able to see the "leader" in front of me and I even arrived just ten minutes behind him at the finish line. When they said "non-competitive" they really meant it. There was a mention of a minimum speed of 24km/h, but apparently they also enforced a maximum top speed of 30km/h.
At some point we also lost the police escort for further delays.

In the end I only used one food stop to refill my water, with the energy bars I had with me it was enough.

I got away without a puncture too.

But I managed to finish. The finish line is extra special with this Gran Fondo, because it is 10km away from the start, the medal and the pasta party. I heard from some people who didn't know this and so either were surprised by the additional climb or never picked up their medal.

My average over the 138km was 28.88km/h

I would really suggest to move start and finish to the same place. It doesn't have to be in the centre of Barcelona either, which probably would make it easier with space and permits.

Overall I enjoyed myself, but I am not sure I would do it again next year. Compared with Gran Fondo Mussara, which I am doing in May it is just not as well organized. And most of the roads I am riding all the time anyway. It will be more for people who come from other cities and want to also enjoy Barcelona.

In summary, the good parts:

  • the route
  • registration 
  • food stops
  • police escort (they where very nice, skilled and helpful)
  • the jersey (and replacing it with the correct size)
  • food stops
  • beef stock
the bad:
  • distance between finish line and pasta party + medal
  • the medal is a bit boring
  • "official" and "VIP" cars, they were in the way quite a bit
  • slowing down the whole ride, so that really fast riders were probably bored
  • random stops

As I said: next sportive is Gran Fondo Mussara mid May near Reus, which will be much harder. Last year I gave up after 120km of 189km. This time I will be hopefully better prepared.

by Christof Damian ( at April 13, 2016 07:00 PM

April 07, 2016

Christof Damian

Track Everything

I like to track stuff. I think it has always been like this. 

But later I realized that this can also be useful to achieve goals and discover problems. Because we are very bad at noticing patterns over longer periods of time. 

We might step on the weight scale every morning and see that it varies up and down a kilogram, at least if we can remember what it said yesterday. But this is not how your weight changes, it changes very slowly over a long period of time and unless you write it down you won't notice.
Writing it down is one thing, but you really only see what is going on if you visualize it with some kind of graph. 
As I am not only into tracking stuff, but also pretty lazy, keeping log of all kind of values would never work without the support of gadgets, mobile and web applications. So today I will list some that I am using at the moment.

Firstly HabitBull, this is the newest app I am using. It is basically a check-list of your goals or habits, that you can check off every day. It will give you some graphs and tells you if you break the chain

I use it to track my new year resolutions, but also some other habits I am trying to acquire like "use duolingo to learn Spanish every day". Duolingo has its own reminders, tracking and graphs, but it is nice to have it all in one app and to keep an overview this way. 

The nice feature of this app compared to others is that you can track events that should happen every day, or a number of times every month. This is what I use for blog posts and books: require one per month.
You can also track habits which require a certain number per day, for example to track your weight or a number of pull-ups.

I am paying for the premium version, because that one allows syncing to the cloud. It doesn't work well, but it is good enough for backups.

The biggest problem with Habitbull is that it is region restricted on the Google Play Store, and they don't allow users in Spain. Luckily I was able to use my work account to download and pay for it. But I wonder why companies take these kind of rubbish decisions.

resting heart rate

Next: fitbit, this is probably the most known and used tracking app. I bought a fitbit Charge HR specifically to track my resting heart rate. Currently I don't have enough data for comparison, but it the future it should give me an indication when I am sick or generally exhausted. 

I also use the device to track my sleep, which is not so important at the moment. But last year I had a phase where I was very tired for a long time and it turned out that I averaged only five hours sleep a night. 

And finally I also use it to track general steps and energy output when not doing sports. I try to do 12000 steps on the days when I don't use the bicycle. 

Nutrition: Macros

Nutrition: Calories
Myfitnesspal I just started using and it is probably just temporary.

It is probably the best app to do food logging. Which always will be annoying as you have more or less guess the amounts and sizes of the food you are eating,, unless you just eat ready-meals, which you shouldn't.

The main things I learned so far are:
- snacks make 30% of my calories intake (!)
- most of my calories come from carbohydrates

Myfitnesspal is also very good to integrate all kind of other applications like fitbit, Strava, Withings, Google Fit, ...
My current plan is to use it maybe two more months and hope to have reduced my snacking by then.

To track my general weight I use a fitbit wifi scale, so I don't have to enter the values manually. As I mentioned above: tracking weight can be very difficult if you don't have good visualization.
The graphs from fitbit are pretty bad as they don't have a average or trend line.
Much better is trendweight, which is a free website supporting the fitbit and withings wifi scales. It has very nice graphs and tries to make predictions like "You will reach your goal weight in June 2018".

The graph is only part of my history, but you can see that something happened in January 2015 (I broke my collarbone) and that 2015 generally was not very successful.

These are the apps I use for general daily tracking, but there are some more specific to sports, app usage and to-do lists.
But this should be enough for today.

by Christof Damian ( at April 07, 2016 10:14 PM

February 03, 2016

Christof Damian


As I have mentioned in my New Year Resolutions 2016 post I have started doing yoga.

The main reasons for this are:

The meditation part
Some of the sessions are so relaxed that you fall asleep and even if your mind is racing at the beginning of a practice, after a few minutes you get distracted by doing stuff. In that aspect it is like cycling for me, getting out of your head and into your body. Breathing exercises are a big part of this.

The stretching bit
Yoga is mostly about getting into positions your body doesn't want to be in. At least my body doesn't want to be twisted like that.
Sitting on my desk most of the day and then sitting on the bicycle a bit more has resulted in myself being very inflexible. The result of this is a bad back and problems with all kind of joints.
I did some physiotherapy for my back a long time ago and when I broke my collarbone. The exercises are very similar to some yoga poses. So I am just going to pretend that they work.

The workout stuff
This I just discovered after a few practices. Apparently I should have some muscles I didn't know about. I am mostly talking about the mystical core one hears about so much.

Disclaimer: I am the first to admit that I was not a big fan of yoga. I saw it as something people do that don't want to do a proper sport and can be done lying down. And it isn't about yoga, you can have the same result with other sports. But the Kata style helps, it gives you a pattern to adhere to.

So how did I start? On YouTube obviously. Because I am not quite up to embarrassing myself in front of a group of pros.

One of the cycling channels I am subscribed to had some Yoga For Cyclists videos and it is a good starting point.
It also helps that it shows a few inflexible guys in sweatpants trying to keep up with a yoga teacher.

This got me going and after a few other videos I got myself a mat and practised once in a while.

For the New Year Resolutions I picked a video series which is very easy and very chilled (at times too chilled), that provided a video for every day of January. I haven't managed to keep up, I am on 22 of 30 now. There are bits with mantras and affirmation I choose to ignore.


I am already noticing a slight improvement in flexibility and the position of my shoulders when on the road bike.

But it is early days and lets see if I can keep it up.

by Christof Damian ( at February 03, 2016 10:09 PM

January 04, 2016

Christof Damian

New Year Resolutions 2016

It's that time of the year, when everyone makes empty promises to themselves. And I don't want to skip this important tradition. The last one I did was in 2012, which seems like a long time ago.

Usually these are along the lines of sporty stuff or loosing weight. I have already stopped drinking alcohol and coffee end of last year and I am doing two hours of activity (as tracked by google fit) already. And nobody will stop me cycling too much anyway.

There are also some things I promise I won't do this year: going vegan, stop gluten intake or low-carb.

Still, some of these might be unexpected.

Yoga Everyday

I have started this end of last year, mostly for the relaxing aspect. I might seem quite chilled, but there seems to be some manic person inside that needs to be dealt with. Additionally I want to have some more flexibility to counteract all the time spend sitting in front of computers or on the bicycle.

Cycling Mini Adventures 

I cycle a lot, but usually I am doing the roads around Barcelona and repeat the same ones quite often. In 2016 I want to put more effort on discovering new roads and doing road trips to other places. Some of these will be sportives, others just short trips. I would love to see more of the Pyrenees and maybe Majorca. I also never been to the Alps. 

So far I have in the calendar:
  • GFNY Barcelona
  • Velothon Stuttgart
  • Gran Fondo Mussarra
  • Visiting Tour de France in Andorra

Draw something every day

For relaxing and to learn a new skill. I used to scribble a lot when I was young, but my first computer put a stop to this. Now I am putting a use to all my Moleskins and draw something every day. The goal is to be able to draw a recognisable person and face by the end of the year. This will be comic style and not overly realistic. 
No, I am not publishing what I have done already. 

Blog once a month

This seems to be a low target, but judging by three posts last year it might not be. 
But this is the first one, so I can relax for the rest of the month! 

12 Books

I have no idea how I am going to find the time. There is just not enough time left in the day where I can sit down and not be interrupted. But I have set my goal on goodreads, and will see how it goes. 
I am happy about any suggestions, especially sci-fi or crime novels. Non fiction books have to be extremely good to convince me.
Audio-books don't count, it is just not the same. 

Some of these commitments mean that I will have to reduce time in other areas, unsubscribing from podcasts is the first step.

Have a happy new year everyone!

by Christof Damian ( at January 04, 2016 01:19 PM