Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leadville Course Description - Part I

There are a number of good on-line resources describing the course, as well as video from last year’s battle between Dave Weins and Lance Armstrong, to give you an idea of what the Leadville course is like. Those are a great foundation, but when you are humping it up at 10,200 feet elevation, all the written descriptions and photo essays in the world are no damn help.

The race starts at 630 am. It is cold. I think the warmest starting temperature we have had was 40 degrees. There is a 2 block long slight downhill (you are rolling along at a leisurely pace, trying not to get knocked down by someone who doesn’t think the neutral start rules apply to him or her and freezing your fingers and toes off)
, followed by a one block steep uphill, a hard right turn (line up on the left side if you want to avoid crashing out in the first minute of the event), a quick left turn, then a big chain-ring downhill (about 4 miles) until you make the precarious right turn onto the first county road segment.

This is the beginning of the St Kevin’s segment of the race. It is double-track/jeep road with several erosion gulleys, a couple trickles of stream water to cross, jumbled boulders, and 3 short pitches with a grade in the 20 – 23% range.
The steep and rocky bit is only 1.5 miles long, but many racers will see their ride cut short in this section. You need to be able to get in a small gear and just spin, avoiding the racers who can’t ride this pitch and end up dismounting suddenly in front of you, either in a planned dismount or an Arte Johnson (if you don’t remember “Laugh-In,” you are too young to read this blog) slow motion tip-over dismount because they couldn’t unclip from their pedals in time to avoid falling over.
You climb about 1,000 feet in the 5 mile St. Kevin’s segment. There are a few more loose, rocky sections, and a very dangerous descent on a rutted double-track before crossing a forest service road and making a hard right to a section of really fun and really fast double-track that all too quickly spits you out on the Turquoise Lake paved road. Congratulations – you made it through the first 10 miles.
Only 92 more miles to ride!

I'll cover the next segment of the course (Turquoise Lake Road to Sugarloaf Pass/The Powerline) in a later post.

What should I wear?

Deciding what to wear on race day is more nerve-wracking than picking out a dress for your senior prom – bad choices may not be memorialized forever in high school yearbook photos, but I promise you’ll never make the same mistake twice – with or without photographic evidence of your “What was I thinking?” moment.

You need to accept the fact that you will be shivering and your fingers and toes will be completely frozen for the first 5 miles. If you have on enough clothes to be warm at the start, you’ll be miserable by the time you hit the base of St Kevin’s. If you stop there to strip off a jacket, you’ll get mixed up with the crowd of racers who can’t ride that section without dabbing (putting a foot down) or flat-out walking. You could easily lose 5 minutes, and in a worst case scenario, maybe as much as 15 minutes, if you get tangled up with that crowd.

What works for me is:
Long fingered MTB gloves, but not “warm” gloves; I like Fox Incline gloves for this segment.

A short sleeved jersey, with arm warmers. As you heat up, you can roll down the arm warmers.

A windproof vest. I just started wearing vests three seasons ago, and I can’t believe I was so slow to see the light. They are the best layering tool – ever!! They keep your core protected; combined with arm warmers they give you tons of temperature regulating options.

Knee warmers. For me, full leg warmers are often too much, but I wear knee warmers if it is less than 60 degrees.

Half shoe covers. If it is even a little bit damp, I wear my “Calientoes.” My feet still get cold, but it is bearable.

I also wear a light skullcap under my helmet.

Of course, if it is actually raining at the start, all bets are off. There are no warm rains in Leadville, and I honestly don’t know if I could bring myself to start the race in the rain. The chances of me being hypothermic by the time I hit the Turquoise Lake pavement are very high.

So I'm counting on you all to keep thinking "warm and dry" thoughts.

Friday, April 17, 2009

King Corn

Surprise! It is the weekend, and it is snowing! This weather pattern has becoming annoyingly familiar over the last 2 months. We may get up to a foot of heavy, wet spring snow. The moisture is needed – I know that and am trying not to be completely unreasonable. But is it too much to ask for a dry and sunny Saturday? Or Sunday? Or even 3 hours on one day or the other . . . sigh.

As both of my regular readers know (you know who you are and I appreciate you!!), I usually save up my movie reviews and give you a whole month at a time. Today we watched a movie while working out that I believe deserves its own blog entry.

We had a 90 minute light endurance ride on the schedule, so I picked up the movie “King Corn,” which had a perfect 90 minute run-time. Our neighbor had mentioned it a few weeks ago, and I thought it sounded at least sort of interesting. In reality, I found it incredibly thought provoking.

King Corn (2007) - the movie's premise is
For the first time in American history, our generation was at risk of having a shorter lifespan than our parents. And it was because of what we ate.” —Curt Ellis, KING CORN filmmaker

Behind America’s dollar hamburgers and 72-ounce sodas is a key ingredient that quietly fuels our fast-food nation: corn. In KING CORN, recent college graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis leave the east coast for rural Iowa, where they decide to grow an acre of the nation’s most powerful crop.

The filmmakers arrive in the Midwest enthusiastic about their new endeavor. For their farm-to-be, they choose a tiny town in Floyd County, Iowa—a place that, coincidentally, both Ian and Curt’s great-grandfathers called home three generations ago.

They lease an acre of land from a skeptical landlord, fill out a pile of paperwork to sign up for subsidies and discover the U.S. government will pay them 28 dollars for their acre.

Ian and Curt start the spring by injecting ammonia fertilizer, which promises to increase crop production four-fold.

Then it’s planting time. With a rented high-tech tractor, they set 31,000 seeds in the ground in just 18 minutes.

Their corn has also been genetically modified for another yield-increasing characteristic: herbicide resistance. When the seedlings sprout from Iowa’s black dirt, Ian and Curt apply a powerful herbicide to ensure that only their corn will thrive on their acre.

By summer, their modern farm is thriving, and the Corn Belt is moving toward a record harvest of 11 billion bushels of corn.

But where will all that corn go? With their crop growing head-high, Ian and Curt leave the farm to see where America’s abundance of corn ends up. As they enter America’s industrial kitchen, they are forced to confront the realities of their crop’s future.

In Brooklyn, it sweetens the sodas of a diabetes-plagued neighborhood. In Colorado, it fattens the feed trough of a 100,000-head cattle feedlot.

Ian and Curt are increasingly troubled by how the abundance of corn is helping to make fast food cheap and consumers sick, driving animals into confinement and farmers off the land.

Animal nutritionists confirm that corn feeding can make cows sick and beef fatty, but it also lets consumers have fast food at low prices. As feedlot operator Bob Bledsoe says in KING CORN, “America wants and demands cheap food.”

As Ian and Curt discover, almost everything Americans eat contains corn. High-fructose corn syrup, corn-fed meat, and corn-based processed foods are the staples of the modern diet.

America’s record harvests of corn are supported by a government subsidy system that promotes corn production beyond all market demand. As Ian and Curt return to Iowa to watch their 180 bushel harvest fill the combine’s hopper and make its way into America’s food, they realize their acre of land shouldn’t be planted in corn again—if they can help it.

I should also confess that I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire
earlier this week, so perhaps I was already a bit sensitive to food production issues. I found that book to be interesting, but I have to agree with this review – Mr Pollan tends to ramble.

The chapters on growing apples and potatoes, and how the current lack of biodiversity creates a host of unintended and possibly dangerous consequences, were fascinating. The chapters on tulips and marijuana were, for me, just boring filler.

Making better choices about the food I eat has been one of my goals this year. I believe I’ve made progress in breaking some bad habits, or at least being conscious of those habits, and taking responsibility for my choices.

The information in The Botany of Desire, King Corn, and this piece by Mr Pollan in the New York Times
(“Unhappy Meals”), as well as the plethora of other information I soak up from my subscriptions to Eating Well and Cooking Light, help me stay on track and remain mindful.

The choices we make each time we go to the supermarket, to a restaurant, or to the vending machine have far-reaching economic, social and environmental consequences.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

4 Months to Go

The count-down is on in earnest now. We are 4 months away from Leadville. After training since November, we are seeing improvements in our fitness. But will it be enough? And what will the next 4 months bring?

Currently we are working out 5 days a week. In addition to our cycling workouts, 2 days each week (usually Monday and Friday) we also do 45 minutes of core (abdominal and back strengthening exercises) and flexibility/balance work.

Monday workouts are usually 60 minute active recovery
rides – the focus is on keeping our heart rates low while spinning at a comfortable watt output. Studies indicate that low-intensity active recovery appears to significantly reduce accumulated blood lactate and speed muscle recovery. It is a great way to get our legs refreshed after the long weekend rides.

Tuesday workouts tend to be anywhere from 60 to 90 minute interval
efforts. Generally, those involve brief bouts at near maximum exertion (Lactate Threshold ) interspersed with periods of lower-intensity activity. These can be “kind of” hard, “hard,” or “I really want to throw up” hard. Nat, our coach, has been keeping these workouts in the “kind of” hard range up to this point. We anticipate that beginning in May, we’ll start seeing the leg & lung-buster versions. Interval training is crucial for mountain bike events. Your efforts are not sustained and steady as they are on road bikes. Instead, you yo-yo between easy spinning and all out anaerobic effort – over and over during the course of an event. Intervals prepare your body for that stress.

Wednesday and Thursday are typically rest days – no workouts at all. Yee Ha! The goal is to really give our bodies adequate time to recover from the interval workouts. At first we were a little nervous about taking two days of back-to-back rest. Now we think Nat is a genius! At our age, we just don’t recover overnight. So, we wear our compression tights,
drink lots of water, and try to eat lighter than we do on days with workouts (I try to get lots of vegetables on the rest days – high quality carb calories with lots of fiber and water to keep me full, but low calorie-density so I don’t puff up).

Friday workouts can include intervals, or higher intensity tempo/endurance work. The workouts vary between 60 and 90 minutes.

Weekend workouts are longer and are expected to be done outside (our weekday workouts are typically done indoors on our CompuTrainers – it is much easier to do controlled intervals on the trainers, and we can workout before we go to the office), so they are weather dependent. Typically, one day is a 2 hour workout and the other day is between 3 to 4 hours. As the season progresses, we anticipate those workouts will get much longer – up to 6 or 8 hours per day. We also expect to start doing tons of climbing; up to now, we’ve been building our endurance base on mostly flat roads.

We fall into bed Sunday night and get up and do it all over again . . . 4 months and counting . . .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What We Learned About Traveling With Our Bikes

When we decided to take our Solvang, California vacation, we discussed whether we ought to rent bikes in Solvang, or take our own bikes with us. Really, it was a no-brainer. Because of my size, finding a bike to fit me is a challenge (I’m only 5’1”). My road bike (a Seven Alta) is a custom built bike, designed specifically for me.

And you know all about Phil’s new bike . . . the Wife Beater. He wasn’t going on a week-long riding vacation without that!

So I did a lot of research and determined that the best bike case for us would be a Trico Sports Iron Case.
This ultra-light case combines three layers of plush foam, heavy duty straps, and Triconium shells to make this the easiest to pack, most secure case for travel. The Iron Case is UPS ready. With its wheels, small strap, and light weight, it is very easy to maneuver through an airport. Hand grips are molded into the case for maneuverability in more constricted areas.

Iron Case® FEATURES:

• Highest possible strength/weight ratio and fully lockable
• A pull strap and wheels have been incorporated for increased mobility
• Minimal disassembly of bicycle required
• Three layers of foam cocoon your bicycle for maximum protection
• Accommodates all bikes up to 68 cm in size.

The next issue was: do we take our bikes on the airplane with us, or do we ship the bikes to our destination ahead of time? Again, it ended up being a fairly easy decision.
Airline baggage regulations for bicycles are a moving target and the airlines can be very inconsistent (i.e. different charges in different directions, and applying amounts that don't seem to be reflected anywhere in their public, written policies.) Plus, we didn’t want to be wrestling our bike cases through the airport at the same time we were wrangling our very large, very heavy and completely overpacked Eagle Creek wheeled bags.
Having decided to ship the bikes in advance (we ended up using UPS) the next issue was – do we break the bikes down and pack them for shipment ourselves, or do we ask our friendly bike shop to do that for us (for a fee, of course)?
Phil and I are merely competent bike mechanics – meaning, we can change flat tires and grease chains and usually make the brake pads stop rubbing, but anything else is over our heads.

So, again, easy decision – we worked with the Golden Bike Shop. They broke down, packed and shipped the bikes to a shop out in Solvang. Dr J’s, the shop in Solvang, rebuilt and lightly tuned the bikes, so they were ready and waiting when we arrived. At the end of trip, we simply reversed the procedure.

Upside – the bikes were professionally handled at both ends of the trip and we had no mechanical problems related to boxing and shipping.

Downside – expense. We spent a couple hundred bucks that we really didn’t need to spend.

What we learned for next time: We’ll get our friendly mechanic, Matt Helton at The Neighborhood Wrench, to teach us how to break down the bikes. That saves us the expense of a bike shop both coming and going. We’ll still ship to a shop and have the shop re-build the bikes, at least for our next trip.
We’ll work on learning the rebuild process after we get comfortable with the break down part of the equation.

A few tips for packing the bikes in the Trico cases:
When packing up the bike, you do have to squish everything down to close it up. Don’t be afraid – you will not squash anything important on the bike.
1) Road bikes fit well if you turn the fork sideways (90 degrees to the right) and then loosen/flip the bars so the drop slide underneath the top tube. Once flipped under, tighten the bars down again. This prevents them from wiggling in the stem, causing gouge marks.
2) To protect the derailleur, do 2 things: (a) put the bike into the highest gear, which pushes the derailleur in as far as possible, and (2) use a bungee cord to hook the bottom of the derailleur cage to somewhere on the crankset (this will stretch the derailleur cage all the way against the chainstay, where it is best protected)
3) Put the rear wheel on the second layer of foam first, cassette side down. Make sure that the cassette is lined up with a "hole" somewhere in your first layer (frame/fork). This allows the wheel to sink as far into the foam as possible without risk of crushing something.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Peanut and Squash Soup

We had a gray, drizzly, dreary Saturday. In my opinion, it called for either chili, or soup. Since the thought of eating chili without beer depressed me more than the gray day already had, I opted for soup. If you don’t like spicy, adjust the red pepper accordingly. This had a nice little kick.

Peanut and Squash Soup

1-1/2 teaspoons peanut oil
1 large cubed peeled butternut squash [about 4 cups]
1 medium chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
4 cups fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
1/2 to 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter – if you like peanuty, add 3/4 cup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Heat peanut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add squash and next 5 ingredients (through coriander) to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add chicken broth, peanut butter, tomato paste and crushed red pepper, stirring well to combine; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Place 1/3 to 1/2 of squash mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture; process until smooth. Re-heat, if necessary. Serve.

Yield: about 6 cups.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bad Weather, Good Movie

Our coach's training plan called for a 2 hour mountain bike ride today.

Nat may be a super-stud mountain bike guy, but Mother Nature isn't impressed by his credentials - she called for icky, windy, snowy weather.

So, down to the basement we trudged. 2 hours - ugh.
However, we were saved, not for the first time, by NetFlix. I had rented The Fugitive, which happens to have a 2 hour and 11 minute long run time - perfecto!
So, it seems like time for a another set of movie reviews. I'm really hoping to put NetFlix on mothballs for the summer - soon - but our 10 day forecast is calling for rainy crappy stuff almost every day. Sigh.
The Fugitive (1993): Wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) escapes custody after a ferocious train accident. While Kimble tries to find the true murderer, gung-ho U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in an Oscar-winning performance) is hot on Kimble's trail, pulling out all stops to put him back behind bars.
We really enjoyed this today; it made the 2 hour workout fly by (it only felt like, oh, I don't know, maybe only 90 minutes!)
Six Feet Under: Season 1 (2001) This darkly comical HBO television series follows the members of a dynamic but dysfunctional Los Angeles-based family that operates a funeral home. It has an ironically grim but intriguing premise: Each episode is based on the death and extenuating circumstances of the family's current client.

We just watched the pilot episode about 6 weeks ago. It looks pretty good – we’ll watch a few more episodes and decide whether to slip it into our Sopranos/24 rotation. [We’ve since watched the first 4 episodes – it is quirky, and I don’t know where the story is going – how fun to watch a TV show that isn’t absolutely formulaic and predictable!]

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

It really holds up well. Eddie Murphy was fantastic in this movie. I don’t think he’s been as good in anything since. Another perfect movie to kill 2 hours when the weather is too nasty to ride outside.

Bottle Shock (2008) In 1976, a small American winery bested the exalted French wines of the time and sent the wine industry into a tizzy - putting California wines on the map for good. Based on a true story, Bottle Shock chronicles the events leading up to the famous 'Judgment of Paris' tastings, told through the lives of father and son, Jim and Bo Barrett.

I rented this right before our trip out to Solvang. While the wineries in this film are based in the Napa Valley, and we were going to be a couple hundred miles south in the Santa Ynez Valley (where Sideways was filmed), it still seemed like a good way to get primed for a vineyard country vacation. The movie is fairly predictable, but Alan Rickman is fabulous, as always, and the scenery is great. When the film premiered, the LA Times food section ran a brief review – it includes some interesting background tidbits that fill in blanks in the “real” story.

Sopranos - we finished watching Season 1. Tony's mom is a piece of work!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Except When I Don’t

Remember when I said “I like to ride my bike?”

As in all things, there are exceptions.

Too Much Stuff. I often wish I was a runner, so I could just tie my shoes and step outside and poof! I’d be ready for my workout. Getting ready for a bike ride can occasionally feel like gearing up for the invasion of Normandy. Helmet? Shoes? Hydration pack? Snacks? Sunglasses? Padded Shorts? Gloves? Snacks? (I know I already said that – but I check for snacks several times before each ride) Phone? Identification? Bike computer? Camera? Snacks? You get the idea.

Riding in cold weather. I hate it. My fingers go numb. My feet freeze. My nose runs constantly. Double or triple the gear list above. My asthma kicks in and I cough like an 86-year-old chain smoker with emphysema. My glasses fog up. I get brain freeze, even with a wool cap under my helmet. Ugh.

Wind. Headwinds. Crosswinds. Demonic gusts that come upon you unexpectedly. Dirt in your eyes and your nose and your mouth. Tailwinds are a myth. You can ride east into a headwind for 4 hours, turn around to ride west, and – are you ready for this – still have a headwind. How is this possible? I do not know. But it is true. Always.

Walking in road bike shoes. Waddle waddle slip and fall. Try navigating in a tippy Port-A-Potty with those suckers on. Wearing high heels in an ice skating rink is safer.

Bonking. If you have ever had a vicious hangover – the kind where you are shaky and nauseous and you have a splitting headache and mostly you’d just like to lie down in a quiet place and die, you understand what it feels like to bonk. Now, imagine feeling that way when you still have 40 miles to ride, into a headwind, uphill on a rainy day. Double ugh.

Crashing. I end up with great stories, but it hurts. Sometimes, it hurts a lot. I don’t cry (there is no crying in cycling), but sometimes I really want to!

Tan lines. Need I say more?