Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Swim the Bridge 5k

A couple of weeks ago I swam my first 5k race. The race was Swim the Bridge at Saylorville lake near Granger. If you're familiar with that area you probably know the “mile long” bridge. We swam under that. It's very dirty and sort of smelly, but it's the biggest lake for 100 miles. It's what we've got.

People seem pretty impressed by a 5k swim, but it didn't seem like that big of a deal to me. In high school we used to swim 1200 yard warm-ups then do our workout then another 1200 yard cool-down. I'm pretty sure we did well over 5k every day. Sometimes more than once per day. I suppose all that experience swimming came in handy. I'm very comfortable in the water and know I can swim all day so there's no anxiety, even when I'm (sort of) far from land.

I haven't done much open water swimming though so that was new. In a pool you can stare at the black line at the bottom and not have to look up and see where you are. It's very easy. In open water, especially Iowa water, you can't even see your hand in front of your face. In order to see where you are and where you're going (and you have to, it's pretty much impossible to swim in a straight line without constant correction) you have to break stride (stroke?) and look up. It's even harder for me since, without my glasses, I can't see very well. Several times I couldn't see the next buoy and had to look for other swimmers in my vicinity to guess what direction to go. It gets doubly hard when you're told to turn at the first orange buoy and you're colorblind. Yeah, I couldn't tell the difference between the orange, red, and green buoys. For the most part it didn't matter, but once I did have to ask a saftey boater which way to go.

Several races (1.2 mile, 2.4 mile and 5k) all started at once so there was a bit of a scrum from the beginning. Lots of groping and getting groped going on. I didn't mind much as, again, I'm comfortable in the water, but I can see how it could be annoying. After the first 1.2 mile lap, when about half the racers finished their race, things got settled out and I was pretty much alone after that.

The first lap I did front crawl, but the second and third I did breaststroke. Breaststroke is much easier for me both because I can see where I'm going and it was what I raced from the ages of 8 to 16. I can swim breaststroke faster than a lot of people can swim front crawl and very efficiently too.

Afterwards I talked to a few people I knew and a few I didn't. A common sentiment was, “How could you get back in and go out for that last lap?” That was a little mystifying to me. Why wouldn't I? I signed up for 5k, I'm going to swim 5k. I never thought I wouldn't be able to do it.

Anyway, it was pretty fun and I think I'll do it again next year.   

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Midnight Madness 5k & 10k

A couple of weeks ago I did the Midnight Madness 5k and 10k races. For those of you who don't know about them these road runs are a big deal here in Ames. I had never done it for a number of reasons: I run that far several times a week so why pay $30 to do it? I prefer to run alone most of the time and this race has hundreds, if not thousands of people in it. The big deal seems to be the party afterwards. I am not much of a partier.

Well, this year a few things came together to convince me to do it. First off, a friend contacted me asking me to do it, offered me a new pair of racing flats, and guaranteed me a PR (I hadn't run a 5k race since high school and had never run a 10k race). Then just a few minutes later I ran into the race director (Captain Midnight) at a coffee shop (though his persuasive speech focused more on the party and less on the run).

So on the day of I laced up my new shoes for the first time, just minutes before the start. The race started and for the first half I wasn't sure whether it was the 5k or 10k race (I had signed up for both). I really hoped it was the 5k because I was going way too fast for a 10k. It was surprising just how many people I knew both running and among the spectators. It seemed like every 10 meters I was saying “hi” to someone. I guess when you've been in town for 17 years and a visible part of the athletic scene for 11 it shouldn't be a surprise. There were more than a few “what are you doing here” moments. Luckily it was the 5k and I finished with a time of 20:47. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it seemed okay. Faster than many, slower than some. It's all relative.

I had about half an hour to wait for the start of the 10k so I walked around a bit and ran into yet more folks I knew. One happened to tell me about the 5k Swim the Bridge which I'll be racing tomorrow and others asked about the Arrowhead (I was wearing the shirt). I knew I'd have to back off and run my own pace in the 10k. In a 5k it seems like I can pretty much go all out, but in a 10k you really have to let go of your ego and let people you know are slower get ahead of you if that's what they want to do. So I reined it in for the first 5k. In the second half I pushed to keep the pace steady. A lot of those people who had passed me in the first half started dropping back and walking. I was glad of my easy first half. I thought I might end up with a negative split, but that didn't happen, though it was close (I don't have my splits). My finishing time was 47:43 which I thought was pretty good. The shoes were great and didn't give me any problems though in such a short race they really shouldn't.

Afterwards I got together with one of my cousins who happened to spot me when I was running. We ended up getting cake and ice cream with his girlfriend's family and missing the after-party. That's more my speed anyway. Will I do it again next year? I don't know. I had a good time and it is interesting to try and run fast rather than try and run far. I can see how someone could get into that. Maybe I'll see how fast I can do a marathon next year. Still I'm more of an ultra-runner at heart.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Books Read: June

Railsea, China Mieville
More good stuff from Mieville. Again I can see some folks not liking his stuff because of the suspension of disbelief required and breaking of convention that he loves to use. To me that makes it all better. Much of the time when a book builds suspense and it looks like there's going to be a big reveal at the end it just doesn't pan out. I as myself quite often with television and book series, can they end this well? What sort of ending would be satisfactory? More often than not I can't see any ending being up to the task. Some authors embrace this, think of the ending to Sopranos (which I haven't seen, but I know how it ends) some just fail, think of any series by Orson Scott Card. Mieville actually pulls it off. The end is sufficient to satisfy the buildup. That's a rare book.

Teachings on Love, Thich Nhat Hanh
I saw this at the library and picked it up. Then I put it down. Then I picked it up again. I think you can guess why: the title. It is not a very masculine title. It would be easy to feel self-conscious about carrying this one around. Not only am I reading a book about religion, but it has love in the title. I can't speak for everyone, but I think that in the culture I was raised in it is usually frowned upon for men to talk about love. I remember after going to a funeral for a good friend's father my friend told me, “When you get home tell your father that you love him.” She was very serious and sincere, but I didn't do it. Why? Because I was self-conscious about it. Well, the fact is I do love my father and I shouldn't be afraid to say so. I love you dad! There, I finally said it (well if writing counts) more than ten years later.

So, on to the book. This book is about love and love is about communication and understanding. Communication is the difficult part, at least for me (see above paragraph). Actually the understanding part probably comes down to communication too. After all how can we understand anything or anyone if we aren't willing to talk about it. I've had a few problems with this. With being self-conscious and unsure of myself. Afraid that people won't like me if they don't know me. Of course this is self defeating. If people don't know me they won't like me. Or at least they won't like me for who I am. Hold on. Here I am talking about love and using the word like. Is that fair? Man there's a lot of social baggage on that word 'love'.

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
This was the 'It' book a few years ago. All nerdly and literary. It got great reviews and I can see why, but I didn't like it. Much of the praise for the book revolved around it's use of nerd/geek references. Unfortunately, as I read it, those references serve only to highlight the main character's (Oscar's) immaturity and naiveté. Imagine that, geek references used to put someone down. Oscar is described as a fat nerd and is constantly trying to "get some" with awkward Star Trek inspired pick-up lines.  It's embarrassing and disappointing. If you want magical realism read Marquez. If you want a Carribean story read Gaiman's Anansi Boys. If you want geek culture read Ready Player One.  Maybe I didn't get this book.  I'd be happy to be wrong about it.  Feel free to tell me why this book is better than I thought.  

Knuckler, Tim Wakefield
I can't say why exactly I picked this one up. I had it written down as a book I was interested in, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. It's a pretty strange book, the first autobiography written in the third person that I've read. I suppose that's a nod to the fact that Wakefield didn't write it. A sportswriter did and it shows. It reads like a list of games scores and statistics. We never get to know Wakefield. He gets married has kids and devotes his free time to charities all with the vaguest of references. It's not at all like Andre Agassi's autobiography Open. That is a great book. Wakefield seems like a nice guy, a peacemaker, a team player, but unless you are a rabid Red Sox fan don't bother with this one.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Back to School

I announced a couple of months ago that I was going back to school. It was actually pretty hard to say. I've been thinking about it ever since I was kicked out 13 years ago. Honestly I don't blame them I was pretty worthless and not making much of my time there. Some semesters I hardly attended classes, much less did the assignments.

The incredible thing though. The thing that separates this time from every other time in the past 13 years is that I actually went ahead and did something about it. I talked to the Philosophy Department secretary and got the ball rolling. At first it looked like it was going to be an easy ride, now, after getting some bad news from the LAS College, it looks like I'm actually going to have to work for it. I suppose that's only fair. So ISU won't let me back yet. They don't trust me and who could blame them? I have to take some classes elsewhere first. Here again, I actually did something. I applied, and have been accepted at DMACC.

Now it may not seem like a big deal to be accepted to DMACC. You might say, “it's a community college, they accept anybody,” but that's not true. They only accept people who apply. I did that. The first time around I didn't. I don't know if I even filled out any forms to get into ISU in 1996. I know I had a chance to be in the honors program and I let it slip because I had to write a 300 word essay. Yeah, I had a pretty acute case of Entitlitis. Of course I also felt like I was going to college because I had to, because what else would I do?

Several times in the past few years I've said something like “College is harder than running a 100 mile race.” I believed that. It certainly looked like it on the surface. A race like that seemed like a sprint. Less than 48 hours. College will be maybe two years of work. But if I look more deeply I see that I run (or bike or ski) at least an hour every day to prepare for a race. If I put even that much work into school I expect it will be easier than I am worried it will be. I see that my old views on this are something like thinking that finals are all there is to college. Finals are certainly a big deal, but if you didn't prepare all semester how could you expect to do well? Or even finish?

Actually, I was a little surprised how few people commented on my goal of going back to school.  But if I think about it I think I've let enough people down in this arena that they didn't want to get their hopes up.  Thank you to those people who did encourage me though.  Who told me that I could do it. 

This time I'll be working for it. I don't know if I have a better idea of why I'm going to school, at least career wise, but I do have a better idea of what I want from it. I want to prove that I can do it. I want to put it behind me. 

 I'm actually quite anxious (and by that I mean eager) to begin.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A couple of non-race reports

Relay IA

In early June I did a relay event across the state, 339 miles. It's similar in format to relays you may have heard of: Hood to Coast, Ragnar, etc. Most teams had 12 members ours had 7 at our best, 5 at our worst, so we each did a lot of running. Those of you who know me know that I'm not much of a team person. I can work with a team, I did, but it's not my preference. To subsume my own opinions and submit to the team is not something I like doing. I put up with it and don't complain (much) though. Sometimes, because I'm not terribly outspoken, people assume I like to be in a supporting role. Not true. There's a reason I like events like Arrowhead and TransIowa, you're forced to rely only upon yourself for support. No one else there to bring you up...or down.

The running part of the event was good. I'm not used to road running, I race and train primarily on grass and singletrack, so my knees weren't quite ready for the pounding they got. Really it wasn't too bad. I developed a blister early on and my right knee gave me some trouble the second night, but all things considered I think I did pretty well for ~57 miles in three days.

Speaking of mileage I think I'm the only one on the team who didn't have a GPS watch to tell them pacing and distance. I don't wear a watch. It doesn't matter to me what my time is and carrying a watch won't make me faster. I get that if you train with it you have another way to pace yourself, but I prefer doing it by feel.

You might get the idea from this that I hated it and that's not true. I certainly had my struggles, but I made some new friends and came away with it feeling appreciated. I would consider doing it again, but right now it's not a high priority.

Relay IA photo by Chuck Fritz

Gravel Dude

You probably remember that I was going to do an “Ironman distance” triathlon for my birthday. Well I tried...sort of. I was pretty nervous going into it largely because I had invited other people to join me. I didn't know who was coming and the directions I had written up were untested at best. I was also concerned about some knee pain that I had developed during Relay IA and then exacerbated during a gravel/mountain bike ride two weeks earlier.

In the end only Matt Scotton (TransIowa vet. and Relay IA teammate) showed. We did the swim at Peterson's Pits with a last minute change to keep the course within the approved swimming area. I hadn't actually been swimming since doing a few laps at a health club in Finland more than a year ago so I wasn't sure how it would go, but it turned out pretty good. Apparently having been a competitive swimmer from ages 8 to 16 is an advantage.

After the swim we set out on the bike course. We had a nasty headwind out of the NW and got rained on as we approached the Des Moines River valley. Soft gravel, headwinds, and a stupid hilly course forced us (okay, me) to shorten the ride to 80 miles, but we still had fun.

I shortened the run to a 13.1 mile half marathon, partially to save my knee and partially because I just wanted to be done before midnight. It turned out to be a pretty good course and I was feeling pretty good for the first nine miles or so. The last few miles were rough on me though. I hadn't been eating well and it caught up with me. I finished with a pretty epic bonk.

By the time I was home (thanks for the ride Matt Scotton) I couldn't decide whether to shower, eat, or pass out. It was even tough to start eating as the first few bites were difficult. After that I started to gain some strength and recover. It's a good reminder not to get into that energy deficit area. I think maybe I worked harder than I thought.
The Bike of Theseus at Peterson's Pits

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Books Read: May

This probably wasn't the post you were looking for.  I'll get to my Relay Iowa and Gravel Dude reports soon enough.  For now you can see what I read in May.

Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene.
For my first semester in college I was a physics major. That didn't last. I was bored with circular motion and I didn't have patience for the math. This book is all the exciting stuff from physics without the math. Black holes, quantum entanglement, string theory. It's all here and explained pretty well (though I shouldn't really comment as I'm not all that well versed in it). On some level though I've lost (or maybe never had) the curiosity that drives physicists and other scientists to delve into the mysteries of the cosmos. I'm a little too focused on the pragmatic, on simple rules for getting along in a complex world. On a larger, philosophical, scale I also don't see where it's all headed. I think it's unlikely we'll ever discover the truth, that we'll ever be satisfied that this is the final answer. Maybe that's part of the appeal. You can't fool me. It's turtles all the way down.

Zen Baggage, Bill Porter.
I promise this is the last Zen book for a while (well, maybe not). Actually, there isn't that much Zen in this book. It's more of a travelogue than anything else. The upside (I don't usually like travelogues) is that it actually makes me want to visit China. It's easy for us in the West to see China as monolithic, but anyone who thinks about it for a moment will realize that this can't be true. As a document about the diversity and transformation taking place in China this is a worthwhile read.

Chi Walking, Danny Dreyer.
I read Dreyer's first book Chi Running last fall (too late to have any effect on my races) and found it to be a pretty insightful guide to running technique. The focus on balance and posture that I learned translated to skiing and walking quite effectively. I ski much more efficiently that I did before reading that book and I don't slip on ice while walking as much. Chi Walking is a bit of a follow up that focuses more on people just getting started on being fit. It's a little more philosophical and big picture oriented than the previous book.

Embassytown, China Mieville.
I've been a fan of Mieville for a few years now. He's a fantasy writer who likes to break genre and in his case that's a good thing. This particular novel is a little more Frank Herbert like. In order to make sense of it you just have to dive in and ignore the neologisms. They'll make sense eventually. Mieville's books always require a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief to get into. Because he doesn't hew closely to any genre you can't make the same assumptions. You just have to trust him to make sense. In the end he does and it's worth it, but I can see why he is a love/hate kind of author.

Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, McCormack, Lopez.
The riding portion of this book starts with “You suck at biking” and it's true. I may be able to pedal all day long and into tomorrow, but I can't corner. This books is an accessible and entertainingly written guide and the authors know what they're talking about. It turns out that I've been doing some things seriously wrong for a long time now. With some practice (which I haven't been getting) I think I might just improve at mountain biking. Unfortunately a lot of my motivation to learn went with the demise of the Seven Oaks 24 Hour race. I don't have a mountain bike race on the schedule any more.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Gravel Dude Updates

Sorry for the wait folks.  Really most of the info is already out there, but here's a little bit for those who want to know:

  • Yes, you can join me for just one section.  Swim begins (as previously noted) at 7:00am, bike at between 8:30 and 9.  Run between 5 and 7pm.  And finish between 10 and Midnight.  No, I can't be more specific and maybe we'll be slower.  Who knows?
  • What should I bring?  How about a hydration bladder (2L is good) and a headlamp for the run?  Be prepared for 60 miles of gravel biking between convenience stores and 13.1 miles of trail running between convenience stores.  There will be no convenience stores on the swim route.  
  •  Wetsuit?  I won't be using one and you probably won't need one.  I don't know the lake temp and I won't be taking a thermometer out to check.  Generally the lake is warm on top and then has a pretty severe thermoclime at about 4'.  If you're going to be doing any diving it will get cold.  
  • Course?  Still working on writing everything up, but the bike ride will be hilly.  Planning on stopping for food in Gilbert and Stratford.  Run will have a convenience store at Story City and has some potentially confusing turns.  
  • The lake isn't big enough to do the swim all in one go.  We'll be doing eight lengths of the lake.  It's a big lap swim, sorry.  
  • NO Lifeguards and my certificate lapsed 17 years ago.  Don't drown.  
Don't take this even too seriously.  It will be extremely low-key and low-stress.  It is meant to be fun and a test of your endurance.  There will be no tattoos and it won't change your life.  When you tell your friends that you did this they won't care.  If you're doing this for any other reason than that you just want to then don't do it.

You have been warned.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Books Read: April

It looks like I didn't get much reading done in April.  Oh well.  I did a lot of false start reading on the Kindle (too easy to do) and I was pretty busy with other stuff.  One thing that does get revealed here is the dirty secret that I like reading and thinking about religion.  I take it a little too seriously for someone who isn't very religious. Some of what follows probably falls into the realm of cliche and for that I have to apologize.  Sorry. 

Surviving Survival, Laurence Gonzales
After reading Gonzales Deep Survival I thought I'd see what else he had written.  This book is his exploration of the aftermath of survival, PTSD, and getting back to "normal".  The point really is that there is no getting back to normal, just a readjustment and moving on.   PTSD, as he describes it, is a reasonable response to a changed situation.  If you're in a situation where you have to behave differently in order to get by or survive then you can't expect that learning to just disappear when that situation ends.  It's like a more extreme version of culture shock.  I can't say that I've ever experienced anything like the traumas Gonzales describes, but the lessons are still relevant.  Be adaptable and stay mindful of your situation and changes in it. 

Varieties of Meditative Experience, Daniel Goleman
The title hooked me I'm sad to say.  I really liked William James' Varieties of Religious Experience when I read it a few years ago for it's detached view of subjective experience, but meditation is not well served by description.  The states of mind (or whatever) that occur during meditation are simply not the point.  Meditation, as I see it, is a process, a practice, not an otherworldly experience or ecstatic state.  The two may go together, but they are not the same.  This book seems to come out of the tradition that glorifies epiphany and sees drug experience as similar or identical to that of meditation.  That's kind of like seeing steroid use and cosmetic surgery as the same as (or as good as) exercise.  It confuses the process with the product.

Religion of the Samurai, Kaiten Nukariya
It's a little silly to call a book on Zen philosophy "Religion of the Samurai".  It's like calling a book on Protestantism "Religion of the English Longbowman", but like it or not the two (samurai and Zen) are strongly connected in most peoples minds.  Really this book has virtually nothing to do with samurai, but a lot to do with Zen, or at least Zen philosophy.  Of course as Zen is not a philosophy it gets pretty clunky at times.  I got pretty bored with the sutras and the five forms and 108 earthly temptations and so on.  The specifics don't really concern me much.  I do think the anecdotes are useful though it seems like there are only really 5 or 6 and they just get repeated through all Zen texts.  Writing about Zen is an oxymororn.  You can't really do it.  It isn't something you describe or understand, it's something you do. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jumping off the tubeless bridge.

I realize I'm late to the party, but I finally set up one of my bikes as tubeless.  It wasn't very difficult to do...well at least at first it wasn't.  They held for two days and then this morning, with a ride planned for the evening, I woke to find my rear tire flat.  I tried to fix it in the few minutes I had before work.  Ten minutes later, with a puddle of Stan's on the floor and a mild case of frostbite I gave up and rode a different bike in to work.  After work I did it properly and managed to get the tire re-inflated...four CO2 cartridges later.

W/R/T the advantages of tubeless:
  • Fewer flats: I think you know where I stand here.  I've had two flats this year and half of those have been tubeless flats.  I've seen more folks get flats with tubes, it's true, but I've seen a few get flats with tubeless as well and given the ratio of tubes/no-tubes, well you get the picture.  I don't see much difference (yet)
  • Run lower tire pressure without pinching: Without a tube to pinch I suppose this is self evident, but tubeless are subject to "burping" which is basically the same thing in my mind ie., if you run your pressure too low you risk getting a flat.  Also, perhaps you won't pinch or burp, but if you are in a position where that was a possibility then you certainly risk damaging your rim.  It looks to me like a wash here.
  • Better ride quality: I haven't noticed poor ride quality with tubes, but I will have to wait for some singletrack time with the new setup to figure that out.  
So why am I even doing it?  Well:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Books Read: March

I'm a little behind on writing these.  Reading is a lot easier for me than writing (I expect that's true for most people).  Anyway, March shows how getting a Kindle has influenced my reading.  I did a lot more reading of old stuff that I can get for free and not so much new(er) stuff from the library.

Trails that Never End, Tim Kelley.
Endurance cross-country skiing in Alaska.  Everything I ever wanted and more.  I dropped $15 on this e-book as soon as I heard about it.  Usually I'd be reluctant to spend that much, but since I read Tim's blog frequently and I've learned a lot about skiing and camping from him I didn't hesitate.  Honestly I was a little worried that this would be a how-to manual and negate all the hard work and research I had put into learning how to ski like I do (maybe I'm beginning to understand Mike Curiak).  It's not.  There's a lot to glean from what he says, but mostly this is a record of Tim's early ('90s) ski trips across the Alaska backcountry.  He tells a great story and there are hundreds of great photos to go along with it.  I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in this type of skiing (which hardly anyone seems to). 

Farthest North Vol. I, Fridtjof Nansen.
Another book that the Kindle allowed me to read.  It's unavailable in print, but no charge on Project Gutenberg.  For anyone who doesn't know who Nansen is, well, you should and you should worship him as the mortal god that he is.  This book covers his arctic journey in the Fram from the planning stage until he and Johansen set out for the North Pole by dogsled and ski (that journey is covered in Vol. II).  While the book is a little repetitious at times (being on a ship for two years will do that) his thoughts about humanity and nature are well worth the read.  If I might be allowed to say so it is an inspiring story and makes one believe that anything is possible. 

Various stories, Jack Vance.
Along with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Matrix, and the band Rush, Jack Vance's science fiction is one of those things that I'm supposed to like (given my dispositions), but just can't.  I could give you a rundown of the reasons, from trite plots to rampant sexism that make me cringe about his stories, but I won't.   I don't think I'll be trying to read him again. 

Various stories, Fritz Leiber.
Lieber is perhaps the opposite of Vance in my opinion.  The stories I read are not his popular Lankhmar fantasy series, but a selection of sci-fi stories that were pretty obviously written quickly and for publication in pulp magazines.  But they're good.  In just a few pages he manages to create interesting characters in thought provoking situations.  The classic "twist" ending that characterizes most sci-fi short story writing is certainly there, but always alludes to a greater truth and isn't just a convenient hook on which to hang a story.  I may end up paying good money to finally read the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. 

The World Set Free, H. G. Wells. 
Published in 1914, this prescient novel introduced the concepts of aerial bombardment and the atomic bomb well ahead of their time (that sentence was not intended to sound like a "question" on Jeopardy).  While the first half of the novel focuses on a world war, the second is of more interest to me.  It's the opposite of the later 1984 by George Orwell.  Rather than describing a socialist dystopia, Wells describes a socialist utopia arising out of the ashes of a world changing war.  It's a sentiment (and perhaps a story) that inspired Orwell before he became disillusioned after the Spanish Civil War.  I have to admit that it is refreshing to read an optimistic novel that predicts a better world.  Whether or not it's realistic is debatable.  Also of interest is a chapter towards the end that discusses feminism.  I don't know enough to properly criticize it, but it's certainly fairer to women than Vance ever was.  

Not Always So, Shunryu Suzuki. 
Published posthumously, this book, along with his first, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, is a series of short lectures that Suzuki gave to his students.  The form suits the style of Zen much better than a lengthy and logically structured book.  It's tough to say much about it, but the message of single-tasking and constant surprise strikes a real chord with me.  It's too easy to get stuck in a rut and not realize that you're even in one.  Breaking those habits of mind are difficult, but I think that through reading (and practicing) this, along with some works by Thich Nhat Hanh, and David Foster Wallace, I am beginning to recognize my thoughts and stay more present. 

Pro Motocross and Off-Road Motorcycle Riding Techniques, Donnie Bales and Gary Semics.
I checked this out from the library in the hopes that I'd pick up some tips on riding bicycles off road.  I have never been able to find a good technique guide for mountain biking, but I had always heard that riding motorcycles helps biking skills and vise-versa.  That may be true, but this manual didn't have much to offer for me.  I did pick up some tips on braking, but cornering still eludes me and none of the advice in this book really seemed to apply.  It looks like I'll have to find a teacher somewhere else. 

Friday, May 03, 2013

A very pretentious TransIowa race report.

I get uncomfortable when I hear stuff about how "X race changed my life" and stuff like that.  I'm suspicious of epiphanies (my greatest epiphany during an ultra was the realization that quesadillas are Mexican grilled cheese).  So when people tell me I'm "a god", or I'm an inspiration, or I should be talking myself up, and ask me "what it means to me" I treat it with a large dose of skepticism and humility.  Nothing happens out there that doesn't happen at home.  The only thing that separates me from someone who didn't do TransIowa is that I signed up and showed up.

It isn't that there isn't anything special about the event.  I do appreciate all the hard work that Mark and the volunteers put into organizing this thing.  I enjoy meeting and hanging out with like minded individuals.  I hope to do more of it in the future, but it's not like we're saving lives out there.  We all make choices and this is where mine have led.

All philosophy aside TransIowa went really well for me this year.  In spite of  a winter that didn't allow a lot of bike training, a sprained ankle a month out, coming down with a cold a week out, and whatever other obstacles presented themselves I came into the race in good enough shape.  Not the best shape, but good enough.

My plan was to go out and ride my own race and I did that.  I rode by myself pretty much from the beginning and never really did ride with a group.  My single speed gearing helped prevent that.  I had to push hard on the uphills and spin on the flats preventing the usual "easy on the hard stuff, hard on the easy stuff."  For the last 140 miles (including the entire overnight) I didn't see another cyclist (okay I did see Grelk and one other in Brooklyn, but it turned out they were dropping from the race so I dropped them), but my favorite riding partner is myself so I was never uncomfortable with being alone. 

Around midnight I found that there were hills out there I could no longer climb on the bike.  My knees would no longer take it.  So I walked, no shame in it, but I kept moving.

A check of the cue sheets after crossing Highway 30 near Montour made me realize that we were going to have to put in 100 miles between convenience stores.  We had had the warning that we would should be prepared for that distance without resupply, but I didn't really expect Mark to call our bluff.  Going through the shuttered town of Brooklyn at 2am was the low point of my race, but I knew I could manage another 15 miles to where the cue sheets promised a refuel.

The convenience store on I-80 midway between Brooklyn and Victor was salvation.  Warmth, coffee, breakfast sandwiches.  The attendant was the most enthusiastic sober guy I've ever met at 4am.  If anybody could give you a pep talk to keep you going it was this guy. 

I divided the remaining 40 miles of the race into 10 mile segments.  10 miles (let's push it to 11) then sit down in the road and eat a Snickers and drink as much water as possible.  Repeat.  I skipped the last break and rode the last 15 miles in one stretch. 

The finish to one of these things is always a shock.  After the simplicity of the road, nothing to do but pedal, I once again have to talk to people, make decisions, the rest of my life. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gravel Dude Challenge Announced

For updates click here.

For a couple of years now I've wanted to put on my own triathlon challenge.  Not a race, but just an event to see if I (or anyone else) can do it.  So here it is:

1st Annual Gravel Dude Challenge (aka IronMatt)
  • What: a 2.4 mile swim in a gravel pit, a 112 mile gravel road bike ride, and a 26.2 mile trail run (these distances are a total coincidence, I swear)
  • Date & Time: Saturday June 29th @ 7am (just happens to be my 35th birthday)
  • Location: West Peterson's Pits north of Ames, IA
  • Entry Fee: $0
  • Prizes: a warm feeling
  • Support: none (well okay, I'll have the bike ride go by a convenience store for you)
Let me know if you're interested and think you can do an unsupported  gravel/trail triathlon of this totally coincidental distance.  Remember this isn't a race and you can't win.  Maybe we'll ride/run together.  Maybe we won't.  I supply a route and you do your best to complete it, that's all. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The plan.

Reading Maximum Climbing made me think more about the goals that I have and what it will take to reach them.  The big difference here is between dreams and goals.  I have been too much of a dreamer and not enough of a goal reacher in the past.  Dreams are things that you think about but don't do.  Goals are things you strive for.  If I have anything to thank competing in ultras for it is that realization. 

It's tough to announce these goals for fear that I won't reach them, but I know that with your badgering I'll be more motivated to achieve them.  With that in mind here are two goals that have been dreams for too long:
  • Ski the Iditarod Trail Invitational in 2015.  This is something I've thought about for a while and now realize is within my grasp.  It won't be easy and I'll have to overcome some bad races in the past year to get there, but I am confident I have the ability to do so.  Of course it isn't all in my power.  The race is an "invitational" after all.  I'm not guaranteed a spot, but I think I can convince the race directors.  
  • Finish college.  I will be going back to school this fall, part time for now at DMACC and then back to a four year institution.  I had been waiting for a sign from God that I was supposed to go back to school, but realized that wasn't going to happen.  It is time to shift the onus off God and onto myself.  It's going to be a lot of hard work and a big time commitment. 
Thanks in advance for the badgering.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Books Read: February

February's books are pretty heavily influenced by my failure at Arrowhead and the upcoming TransIowa. I didn't get much fiction read. I made it halfway through another Malazan book, but got distracted by/focused on training books.

In order to read one of these books I had to buy it for the Kindle from Amazon. I wasn't too thrilled about this (I don't feel like all the consequences of digital media have shaken out quite yet), but I broke down and did it anyway. At first I just used a free download reader on my computer, but I found a cheap used Kindle and picked that up so now I have one of those. I'm finding it pretty handy for reading public domain stuff that I can't find elsewhere, but I'm still not entirely comfortable spending money on it. For instance the other day I did pay for a Kindle book. I clicked the button (virtually) and realized that I had just spent $15 without really thinking about it. I don't regret buying the book, but I'm going to have to be careful, even with $1.99 books.

The Obree Way, Graeme Obree.
This book falls into the "so crazy it just might work" category.  It reminds me a bit of Jardine's Beyond Backpacking when that first came out.  If Obree didn't have the results to back up his training program (which he does in spades) no one would give this book a second look.  What he proposes (and what is starting to come out in the more scientific literature) is a radically slimmed down training program.  Fewer rides at higher intensity with more and better rest in between.  What he isn't proposing is a slackening of dedication.  If anything he's asking for more dedication and faith in the program.  Honestly, I tried it for three weeks when the weather wasn't so good (his program involves an indoor trainer ride as the core of the training cycle) and I did learn a bit about how to push myself, and am still using some of his breathing and pedaling techniques, but I didn't feel like I was getting the time in the saddle that is necessary for endurance rides that I like to do.  He is a bit of a specialist in one hour and shorter races after all. 

The Cyclist's Training Bible, Joe Friel. 
This is the classic training book.  It's pretty much all about periodization and I get that.  He's also a stickler for numbers and believer in power meters, heart rate monitors, vo2 max, et cetera.  I get that too, but I don't feel like those numbers are of much use to me (Obree too is fanatical about numbers, but he is only interested in one: average speed on your weekly turbo session).  For me training is all about figuring out how it feels to ride a good pace; how it feels to ride 100 miles and intuiting if I can speed up or need to slow down to meet my goals.  Heart rate and wattage don't mean much when all they tell you is, hey, you're right, you're not feeling good today.  As a measure of progress, maybe, but I don't care about my wattage, I care about finishing races.  That's the progress I want.  I'm coming to the conclusion that most coaches don't know much about the type of race I like to do. 

Maximum Climbing, Eric Hörst
Where the previous two books were mostly about physical training Hörst's book is almost entirely about mental training.  I was lucky to stumble across this book at the public library.  I don't know why it caught my eye, after all it is a book about rock climbing, not running, skiing, or cycling, and I have never been a rock climber.  Still, this book is exactly the book I was looking for.  It discusses in detail the mental blocks that hold you back in any endeavor, not just climbing, and how to move past them and develop a positive attitude to not just improve, but enjoy your improvement.  If anything this might be a handbook for life (sorry if it sounds like I've joined a cult.  I don't think I have.).  Whole chapters are devoted to analyzing what is holding you back, goal setting, self-talk, how to approach your training, among other things.  While Hörst is cognizant of the science he is good at explaining concepts in an easy to understand and not too technical way where other authors get bogged down.  He also doesn't shy away from admitting that climbing is dangerous and we have to accept some risk.  He's not of the "always roped in" school of climbing.  I get the feeling that rock climbing is closer to the type of race that I like to do than cyclocross or marathon running.  The goal for me is experiencing the race and finishing, much as in climbing the goal is to climb well, enjoy it, and reach the top.  I am purchasing a copy of this book for myself to re-read. 

Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales.
This one was passed on to me by a friend who thought it might apply to the kind of wilderness racing that I do.  Gonzales' book is not about building fires or stocking up on canned food and ammo.  It's about the attitude necessary to survive a disaster situation (whatever that disaster might be).  While it's impossible to give a one size fits all solution, sometimes luck plays a bigger role than we like to admit, Gonzales gets as close as it's probably possible to come.  It really comes down to preparation (as applicable) and being resilient.  Recognizing that you are in a survival situation and things have changed is probably the biggest thing.  Acting as though nothing is wrong is the worst thing you can do (and apparently often the only thing people do).  The more I think about this book the more I like it.  Initially I found it to be a little bit pop-psych in it's talk about brain anatomy and such, but if you look a little deeper there are good lessons to be learned in the examples Gonzales gives and the conclusions drawn.  Case studies are better than MRIs in this case. 

These last two books by Hörst and Gonzales used the phrase "Zen like acceptance" or something like it.  I've read a bit about Zen in the past and I like it.  It's an interesting attitude (and I think it's more of an attitude than a religion or philosophy) and one I am going to explore more of.  I expect you'll see a few Zen books in the March books read. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

BWCA Ski Camping

"Adventure is just bad planning." -Roald Amundsen

I could just as easily start this off with a hack of Tolstoy's opening quote from Anna Karenina: Happy trips are all alike.  So the Boundary Waters winter camping trip that I took at the end of February was pretty uneventful.  There isn't really any drama or adventure to relate.  It was a great time.  I wish I had more to say about it. 

I'm used to racing circumstances like Arrowhead where every moment is a bit of an adventure.  There is doubt about the outcome.  By contrast the BWCA trip was easy.  No bivy sacks; we slept in a heated tent.  No energy gels or electrolyte drinks; bacon for breakfast and homemade soups for supper.  No need to make 56 miles per day just to finish; our longest day was less than 10 miles.  In spite of all that I still had a great time. 

We snowshoed in from Sawbill Lake, across Alton, and pulled our sleds to Beth Lake where we set up camp.  Once there, with a warm tent to rest in, we found some firewood, and ate. 

The second day we skied across a longish portage to Grace Lake.  The skiing on the portages was somewhat challenging, but it was a good illustration of how much I've improved since Kaukopartio last year.  I'm much more comfortable on tight trails and steep climbs and descents than I was a year ago.  We skied to the west end of Grace and portaged about halfway to Phoebe then turned around and skied back to Beth by way of Ella Lake.  Then we ate and slept.  (The toughest part of the trip may have been sleeping close to 12 hours per night!)

The next day we skied all the way to Phoebe and then up a channel to Knight Lake where we took a break for lunch and then returned the same way we had come.  On the last portage I tried out my climbing skins as I had been slipping a bit on some of the climbs (not to mention not having used the skins ever).  They worked fine (no adventure here). 

The penultimate day we snowshoed to the top of a hill overlooking Beth lake.  It was a pretty strenuous climb, especially in my huge, three foot long, snowshoes, but overall it was pretty short.  We got a good view of the lake and I got a lesson in lichens.  We got back to camp pretty early so a couple of us did a short ski trip to Ella Lake which we explored a little more thoroughly than the previous day. 

The last day we packed up camp and snowshoed out.  So, to sum up, we ate a lot of good food, slept a lot, and did some casual skiing.  I guess that's what vacations are supposed to be like. 

It was a great chance to try out my new Åsnes skis with Karhu Meta style bindings.  The skis are very wide (75/65/70 sidecut) and have excellent float in the deep unbroken snow we encountered.  While it wasn't exactly easy to break trail, it was very doable, something I wouldn't have trouble doing for hours on end.  The bindings, combined with Kamik Green Bay boots, gave plenty of control, though I wasn't exactly demanding of them.  I never got any blisters or pain from them which is not something I can say of any other ski boot (Nokians excepted). 

Snowshoeing was something new to me and I was surprised how little experience it takes to use them.  I really expected to be tripping over my toes more than I was.  The huge shoes were great on the open lakes and deep snow, but not so great on steep and tight terrain where the folks wearing mountaineering snowshoes did much better.  That shouldn't come as a surprise. 

I do hope I get to do more trips like this one.  Mostly it's the land that I love about it.  I've never had a bad time in the Boundary Waters.  But I could do with a little bit more skiing. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Training plans and resurrected bikes

Just a quick update to let everyone know what I'm up to (and I know you're interested).

I started TransIowa training a little over two weeks ago now. Honestly it's been kind of a slow start. I haven't been doing much in the way of long gravel rides or really much of any outdoor riding at all. (Okay, I wrote this yesterday and I did a metric today, but really that isn't much to speak of.)

Mostly I've been doing my research. I've been reading the Friel book, Graeme Obree's training book, and a mental training for rock climbing book. I hope to say more on all of these later, but for now I'll say that Obree's plan is so crazy it just might work and appeals way more to my INFP personality (mostly the NF) than Friel.

In accordance with the Obree plan I did a half hour all out on an indoor trainer. That was brutal. I have never been so beat after such a short ride, but it does target one of my weaknesses: sustained power. I managed 30kph, but I doubt that translates to real speed very well. The trainer is a real beast, much harder than any other trainer I've used. Next week: 31kph.

The Bike of Theseus is ready to ride as of last night (yes, I have two bikes known as Bike of Theseus). This one is a singlespeed and I hope it will be my race bike for this year. I am giving aerobars another try after abandoning them two years ago. If the gravel is good and there are headwinds they may be a boon, if there are crosswinds and loose rock I will be ditching them (perhaps literally). 

The view post-workout   

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Books Read: January

As you probably know I'm a big reader.  I make time for it every day and don't feel quite right if I'm not reading.  It's funny when I run into people in my neighborhood who assume I'm studying, ie. why else would I read?   I read for entertainment, curiostiy, and self-improvement.  Hardly ever because it's assigned (that was a problem in college).  I didn't get through as much as I usually do in the month of January, but here's what I did read:

Enchiridion, Epictetus:
The classic of Stoic philosophy.  Reminds me why I got into philosophy in college.  Practical, short, and useful.  I can't believe I hadn't read it before. Badly in need of a better translation. 

The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood:
Continuing the trans-apocalyptic Oryx and Crake story.   A little more of a survivalist fantasy story than the previous novel.  Cool to think about, but it's doubtful that preppers will really be all that prepared for it.  Also an interesting meditation on the uses of religion and tradition in the continuation and transfer of knowledge. 

Return of the Crimson Guard, Ian C. Esslemont:
A continuation of my current favorite fantasy series (Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson and Ian Esslemont.  These books are a real contrast to the typical Tolkien influenced fantasy lit.  They remind me a bit of Frank Herbert's writing in that they require close reading and a tolerance of incomplete explanation. 

Edit: I forgot one.
Thrive, Dan Buettner:
A follow on to Blue Zones about the happiest places in the world.  The upshot?  Work less, try new things, have friends. Inspired me to take a week off and go to the BWCA later this month. 

Friday, February 01, 2013

Arrowhead 2013: Post Mortem

Yesterdays post was me getting my emotions out.  I needed to do that.  Todays is going to be more analytical.  What I did right.  What I did wrong.  Improvements for next year.  Look out, it's a long one.

All of my equipment worked adequately or better this year.  There's very little wrong with my setup.  I was surprised how well I was able to ski in the hills with a backpack on.  Granted, soft snow helped with the ski handling, but I only lost my balance a few times and only had to bail (intentional crash) on one hill.  So the backpack gets a big thumbs up.

I'll use the same skis next year too.  Skating on the classic race skis worked great.  I don't think I was much slower than I would have been on skate skis.  Shorter poles were mixed.  I probably would have been faster on long skate poles, but my arms would have been more tired.  I'll stick with the 155s.

I carried too many clothes and not the right clothes.  The Craft jersey and tights I wore have been great in a lot of conditions, but they weren't right for the temperatures and precipitation we had.  I should have left out the fleece vest and down pants.  I would still have been fine down to -20f without those.  I was geared up for -40 temps again, which is smart I guess, but I didn't have anything waterproof or cool enough.  I think a lightweight wicking base layer and a w/b shell jacket and pants would have been best.  I have this gear, but I use it for spring cycling, not usually for winter skiing.  Bringing that gear up with me next year might be a good call.  I can always leave it out if the forecast is for cold.

I carried too much food.  Not a whole lot too much, but a pound of Mike & Ikes for each half is too much.  Half that would be fine.  I carried trail mix and the candy in cycling waterbottles in the bottle pockets of my pack which worked fine, but I might go with ziplocs next year as they're lighter and no less accessible.  Either way is fine.

For a wax kit I carried a tin each of red, blue, and green grip wax, a tin of paste glidewax, and a combination cork/scraper.  For the conditions the wax choices were correct.  I just used the blue, but I could easily have needed the other two.  Next year I think I'll cut down the tins and just carry a smaller chunk of each wax.  I won't be using an entire tin in 135 miles.  I will also experiment with using my palm instead of a waxing cork.  If it works just as well I can just bring along a scraper and not deal with the bulk of the cork (it weighs practically nothing).

My bindings froze up several times.  Warm fresh snow and the occasional hike-a-ski saw to that.  I was able to use my fingers and occasionally my pole tips to dig out the packed snow and ice, but having a dedicated clearing tool would have been great.  I have a combo screwdriver/scraper/bottle opener that would have worked well.  I'll have it handy next year.

So much for equipment.  How did I do physically?  Pretty well I'd say.  I have a few nagging blisters on my feet, but nothing I didn't expect.  I will always quest for a blister free foot, but I just don't think it's going to happen.  I was evenly sore all around.  Both my upper and lower body got a workout, but not too much for either.  It would have been nice to do a few longer ski workouts before going on a long ski like this, but the weather didn't really permit it.  I will be switching over the bindings on my roller-skis so that I can use my race boots in training.  That may help with both endurance and blisters.

Technique wise I was really happy.  I was able to keep a good pace without getting out of breath.  A big improvement since Tuscobia.  I used a couple of "form focuses" to keep my technique in check.  Two of those that worked particularly well were focusing on lifting my skis and placing them under me (rather than pushing them out) and sighting along the gliding ski for longer glide.  The second was particularly useful a few places on the trail where there was brush threatening to trip me up.  I was better able to avoid a fall. 

Eating and drinking were so so.  I only drank a liter of water in the first 35 miles and ran out with five miles to go in the second 35.  So I really didn't drink enough throughout.  I foolishly thought that two liters would get me by from Gateway to Melgeorge's.  I should have filled up all the way to three liters.  I probably didn't eat as much as I should have either.  I didn't have as easy access to my food in the backpack as I did when I dragged the sled.  I'll either have to take more food breaks or find a better way to carry my food.

Here's the big one: mental.  I was feeling good going in to Melgeorge's, but by the time I left I was ready to quit.  What happened?  A few things: First, I tried to get some sleep, a good idea, but couldn't sleep for a couple of reasons.  I was too wound-up and not really tired enough to sleep.  Also the cabin was too loud and warm for me.  Every time I laid down I would just listen to everything going on, people coming and going, and couldn't get comfortable.  I should either have moved on or brought earplugs.

Second, I listened to a lot of negativity while I was there.  The cyclists coming in were all complaining (with good reason) about the trail conditions and how bad, how impossible it was.  I listened to that and took it too much to heart.  Before now I've never given much credence to the "keep away from negative talkers" line before.  Now I'm a believer.  I should have seen it for what it was and gotten out before it got to me. 

Third, there were a lot of people who I like and like to be around at the checkpoint.  I wanted to be a part of that, being alone for another 20+ hours wasn't as attractive.

Fourth: I had agreed with Mike (another skier) that I'd wake him at 5 AM so we could leave together.  I thought about leaving much earlier when I realized that I couldn't sleep, but elected not to because I didn't want to let him down.  I should have just woken him and told him I was leaving.  He probably wouldn't have minded too much.

So yeah, it was the siren call of Melgeorge's that brought me down.  I will know better next time.  I'll stay away from the negativity and keep moving if that's what I feel like I need to do.  Race your own race, as they say. 

A note about socks:  I started the race with nordic ski socks over compression socks.  This was too much sock for the temperatures.  At Gateway I removed the wool ski socks and just used the compression socks.  That worked pretty well.  I think the compression socks helped with calf and shin soreness that I had experienced in previous skate ski races.  I think I'll use those again next year.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Arrowhead 2013: A Year of Regrets

This is going to be a tough one to write.  Races like this peel back the layers and let you know what you're really made of.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes it's not something you want to see, but if you don't see it how can you fix it?

 This is the first year that I have dropped out of the Arrowhead 135 due entirely to my own weakness of will.  Actually I might be the only person who didn't have a good reason to drop this year.

 Upwards of eight inches of snow (20 cm) during the race made everyone's race difficult.  The bikers had to push rather than ride, the runners had to slog through it, but us skiers, it was our year.  Actually I was in perhaps the best position of anyone there.  I had skated the first half on classic race skis and when the snow started getting heavy I applied some grip wax and switched to classic technique.  It was working great.

 I had a really great first 75 miles.  I arrived at Melgeorge's two hours ahead of where I had expected and feeling great.  75 miles (120 km) in less than 17 hours, but I squandered all of that.   I started thinking.  More specifically I got it in my head that I wasn't going to be able to finish.  I thought to myself that there was no way I could do it.  The challenges were too great.  It was going to take me too long. 

 The thing is I have done it.  I walked for 56 hours through -40 degree cold to finish in 2010.  This would have been easy compared to that.  Of course it wouldn't have been easy, but as has been noted before we "don't do it because it's easy."

 Somehow I managed to fool myself into thinking I couldn't make progress through the snow.  The funny thing is that I was making good progress through the snow when I convinced myself of that.  I was probably moving 3+ mph (5 kph) when I thought that.   That's a lot better than a finishing pace.

 As you can probably tell I'm pretty bummed out about it.  I really regret having dropped, but there's nothing I can do about that anymore.   That's in the past.  I have to move on and prepare for the next thing.  As I said to another skier who dropped, sometimes you need a setback to remind you why you do these things. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Post-Triple D and Pre-Arrowhead

I suppose I'd better get a blog post done before I head up to I-Falls for the big dance. 

Triple D was last week in Dubuque and it didn't disappoint.  Well, actually it did.  There was no snow and so I couldn't ski.  I had hoped for a tune-up ski going in to the Arrowhead.  A proof that I could do it.  That wasn't to be, but I had sent the check in and so I biked it. 

The course was great and would have been greater if there had been a good 8" of snow on the ground.  The off road snowmachine and ATV trails were a lot of fun.  It's good to see landowners willing to work with a race and allow us to bike across private property.  I wish there were more of that in this country.   Parts of the course, particularly the Heritage Trail, were rather icy and I did go down a few times. 

I took the race fairly easy.  I never pushed myself so much that I hurt which is the right thing a week before a big race.  I did injure my wrist somewhat in an icy crash.  It's not sprained or broken, no swelling, full range of motion, but it does hurt when I roll it (pitch and yaw are fine).  Some have suggested that I "bruised the bone" but I'm not sure that's even a thing. 

Anyway, Arrowhead.  I'm nervous.  That's good.  I should be.  I failed at Tuscobia because I wasn't ready to commit myself.  I am commited this time.  It will be difficult, but so long as there aren't any freak accidents I should be able to do it.  Two things I need to remember that I forgot at Tuscobia are: This is your race, it doesn't matter how others are doing.  And, there are 60 hours in the race, use them all if you have to. 

The skis are waxed.  The list has been checked once (two more times should do it).  All that is left is to get some dinner and a good night's sleep. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

In Polite Company

Social media has been awfully caustic lately. More caustic than during the election which might be saying something. I hear from some folks that what I'm seeing is the extreme minority. That nobody really believes that stuff. A quick survey of my “friends” reveals that that simply isn't the case. People really do believe that stuff. Regardless, a lot of what I am seeing is very disturbing to me. It makes me angry and while being angry may work for some people it does not work for me. It becomes self-destructive.

I have seen smart people say dumb things, reasonable people say unreasonable things, and good people say evil things. Some folks that I have a lot of respect for have said some really hurtful things. I have been told in no uncertain terms that “my brain damage is terminal.” I could simply “unfriend” or block these people, but I know from personal experience that these are good people whose opinions I often want to hear. 

Some of them really are my friends.

This blog post could turn into a haranguing, telling everyone to tone it down or knock it off, but I know that that won't work. What I am searching for here is a way for me to disagree with people I like. A way to appreciate people who sometimes insult me and my opinions.

What this amounts to, for me, is remembering the good times. Remembering what we have in common and realizing that those times will come again or if they don't that they really were good times. There were no tricks.

I am probably as baffling to these people as they are to me.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Desperation or determination?

I haven't written lately because I haven't had time to put my thoughts together and write.  I've been far too busy skiing.  Now, however, that has come to an end.  Last night I went out and skied from slush pile to slush pile in 48f (9C).  It was bad, but I got a good hour and a half of slogging in.  Today though the temperature has dropped and those slush piles are patches of ridged ice.  I might be desperate and/or determined, but I'm not going to waste my time with that. 

I have solved a few of the problems that presented themselves at Tuscobia.  I remembered how I solved my blister problem three years ago the last time I skied Arrowhead.  Dress socks.  Thin nylon dress socks worn underneath my wool ski socks really did the trick that year and in the weeks since Tuscobia they have done it again.  Breaking in the boots hasn't hurt either. 

One of the frustrating/rewarding things about skiing is that every time I go out I find myself learning something new.  One friend calls it "opening up locks".  Learning to keep my hips forward, learning to keep my weight over the ski.  As usual it is one thing to say "complete weight transfer" and another to actually do it.  Even choice of ski makes a huge difference.  Some skis are forgiving of sloppy skiing, some aren't.  I am finding that my chosen race skis are not forgiving, they are fast. 

A little more testing needs to be done with my cold weather clothing and camping gear.  It is surprising how many little things need to be changed when you go from pulling a pulk to carrying a backpack.  With a pulk carrying a few extra pounds or cubic inches isn't an issue.  It is a big deal in the backpack. 

I have started to have anxiety dreams about Arrowhead.  That is a good sign.  It means that I am working on my problems, even in my sleep.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

There goes my shot at the Hrimthurs.

I now have the dubious distinction of DNFing twice in one race. I entered the 150 mile Tuscobia ski race and dropped out after 30 miles. Then, since I had plenty of time on my hands, I entered the 35 mile ski race. I made it 5 miles in that one.

So what went wrong? Lots of things. The proximate reasons for dropping from the race (both times) were blisters and a sense that I was working way too hard. The deeper reasons are that I wasn't adequately trained for skiing and my mind simply wasn't in the race.

The blisters, or mostly just the blister on the instep of my left foot, were largely the result of having only worn these boots once in the past year. Yep, once. You simply can't expect to put on a pair of boots, especially stiff skate boots, and ski a long distance without getting blisters. I could have suffered through it. I've done it before, but I really didn't want to beat myself up so much that I couldn't walk for a week afterwards. Again, I've done that before. Maybe that's just what it takes to do a 150 mile race. I guess I wasn't up to it.

As for working too hard I am not sure what is up with that. For the first fifteen miles or so I was good, but then I started stopping every mile or two. I didn't feel tired or anything I just had to stop. Whenever I stopped I noticed that my heart rate was way too high. I don't wear a heart rate monitor so I can't tell you what it was exactly, but I know it wasn't something I could have sustained for 40 hours. It felt more like a cyclocross race than an endurance race. I think my cardio-fitness level is okay so the only conclusion I can come to is that my ski technique isn't up to snuff.

Speaking of technique, there were a couple of things that even I noticed could use some work. One, I wasn't always managing to glide fully on the ski. It was more like stumbling than skating at times. I was only using the inside edge of the ski and not getting all my weight over the ski. Two, and this is related, my knee wasn't tracking straight over the ski. That makes it hard to get good glide and is a lot harder on the legs and knees.

Equipment still needs some tweaking before Arrowhead too. I used classic skis but skated on them in the manner of Tim Kelly.  There is something to it. I didn't have any (extra) problems with it though as I was using shorter poles (155 cm rather than 165 cm) I couldn't double pole with the same power/speed as I normally would. On the other hand I found I could Wassberg/V2 pretty well with the short poles.

I did find my arms starting to cramp towards the end of my 30 mile ski which tells me a few things. 1)I wasn't drinking enough. 2) I was using my arms too much. 3) I wasn't using my abs/core/bodyweight as well as I should.

One reason for using the classic skis was so that I could classic ski if occasion warranted. About 20 miles in I did apply some kickwax to try and stride, but I couldn't seem to get much kick. The wax I had taken with me is supposed to be a wide temperature range “racing” wax, but I haven't had much luck with it. I have a lot more luck with the good old basic kickwaxes. I will stick to those in the future.

My hydration system needs some work. With the pack fully loaded my gear squeezes the bladder and forces water into the hose even if I have cleared it. That leads to a frozen hose in cold weather and needs to be fixed if I'm going to continue to use this pack. I have a few ideas of how to deal with the problem, but it will require some testing.

By the way, mentioning that you have blisters to a runner is like mentioning you have a bit of a sniffle to your mother.