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.