Thursday, May 2, 2019

Iowa Wind & Rock v.1: How I Got Here, & Where I Went

The story of how I ended up in Winterset, Iowa on April 19th actually starts in April 2018. I felt restless and unsatisfied after Trans Iowa v.14, and shortly thereafter Mark Stevenson (aka Guitar Ted) announced that Trans Iowa was no more. When the combined minds of Sarah Cooper, Steve Fuller, and Dennis Grelk announced in the fall of last year that Iowa Wind & Rock would fill that void - well, there once again a chance to make an attempt at the 340 mile self-supported, cue sheet navigated, 34 hour time limit ride in the hills, wind, and unpredictable weather and road conditions that is Iowa in the springtime.

I didn't go in with any expectations of myself this year. It felt weird. I really just wanted to spend some time on my bike in the sun. I was very focused on getting to the finish last year. I wanted to know what would happen when I hit my normal stopping point and went beyond it. And then I missed the second checkpoint by 3 minutes, after 19 hours of riding in 30mph winds, and a 10 mile navigational error.

I've had a huge chip on my shoulder over those 3 minutes for the past year. In retrospect, I think I really just wanted to make all the checkpoints this year, and that was all my subconscious really felt the need to accomplish. And it really did feel like complete redemption when I rolled into checkpoint #2 just after 7pm, with an hour and 40 minutes to spare. A weight lifted.

I've thought in the past few weeks about this. Because what happened from there...I sat at Checkpoint 2 for half an hour trying to settle my stomach (hot, dry, dehydrated, and low on salt). This was necessary, but while I wanted to keep riding, I felt no real sense of urgency. Unusual thing #1. Maybe it was cumulative fatigue from the previous 170 miles, hills, deep gravel, and what turned into a very hot and dry, dusty day, but I think it was more that my brain decided it had reached its penultimate goal, and anything from here on out was just gravy. This was not a conscious thought. Just in retrospect.

So after three trips in and out of Casey's for 2 bags of Lay's, a V8, an assortment of things I thought I could stomach from here on out, and a Muscle Milk (do NOT recommend chasing V8 with Muscle Milk. This falls under "seemed like a good idea at the time.")

My mental game is pretty damn strong. A multitude of lurking demons, combined with a PhD's worth of studying mindfulness, stress, & neurophysiology, eventually leads to a well-trained mind out of necessity, if nothing else. This is not to say that mental highs and lows (especially lows) don't come; rather, that there's an arsenal of tools to deal with it. I've meditated and sensory-deprivation-floated my way to being able to separate myself from my emotions over the years. So when I stopped in the middle of a B road at 1am, I wasn't quite sure why I was stopping, and why I wasn't terribly upset about it. There were technical and physical factors: namely nausea, and the fact that my Dyno-powered headlight wasn't really working while going 7mph uphill on the constant 10-14% grades, leading to hitting deep patches that I didn't want to hit and a lot of fishtailing. I went through the mental checklist of "fixable things gone wrong," and it wasn't any of that. I felt strangely calm, and there really weren't any negative emotions. More just like a shoulder shrug. Guess this is where I'm meant to end it this year.

I called the boy and we talked for a minute while he made sure that I wanted him to come retrieve me. I called Cooper who made sure that I was ok and squared away (much appreciated.) I rode another 10 miles back to the town of Exira (into a headwind, of course) and sat in the parking lot.

My mind has toyed with all the reasons why I stopped when I stopped. Mostly, I think I've needed to convince myself that it wasn't mental weakness. There's a short list of very plausible reasons. Am I just creating justification? I don't really know. I don't think so though. I like to finish things on my own terms. When I finish this particular thing, I want it to be right. It didn't feel right this time. What did feel right: I'm no longer the person who didn't make the second checkpoint. That was important to me. I'm not sure the rest of it was. I wanted to go and spend time with someone I love who I don't get a lot of days per month with instead. I remember thinking that very clearly. I think that's different from giving in to "the thought of a hotel bed and shower," as some have said.

I think what it comes down to is that it wasn't the most important thing to me that day. I could have kept riding. That's what still seems weird. I can't remember the last time I stopped a race when I was physically capable of keeping going. I don't think it's happened ever. I almost certainly would've ended up after the cutoff due to my lighting issues, but last year at TI I would've chopped off one of my less-important toes to ride in after the cutoff. What you value in a particular month, season, year can change quite a bit with life, and sometimes paying attention to that is called self-care - something I'm historically bad at - and not weakness.

Or maybe I'm full of it, and it's all one big rationalization :)

Here are the fun parts! I rode 231 miles, with 17,000 feet of climbing, according to Garmin. The low temp was a real-feel of 36 degrees, and the high 81 degrees. I don't have a number or technical term to quote on this, but the air was dry AF. Two random farms let me refill water. The roads were as bad as all the Iowans claimed they would be. There was one county where I think they just put a large boulder in the road, lit some dynamite and exploded baby boulders all over the road for people to ride through. I heard that farm equipment got stuck in it, so I'm not sure how we're all alive.

And, credit to @markmanoutdoorphotography for these pics with all the colors.

Thanks to City Cycles Oklahoma, SOAS Racing, and Honey Stinger for the continued support. Thanks but no thanks to medical residency for training me to be awake at all hours of the day, night, and wait what time is it?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Land Run 100 Images: 2018 and 2019

This is both my favorite event every year, and historically my worst. I don't know why it is that life seems to blow up in mid-March every year. But looking back through images from 2018 and 2019 is a good reminder that life happens. That the selective social media posting of smiling faces taking glamorous vacations, that isn't real life 99% of the time for 99% of the population.

Real life is messy and gritty, occasionally ugly crying, and awkwardly standing over your bike forcing a smile in front of a chaise.

And fortunately real life now also means having people at the end to lift you back up, whether you like it or not. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spotzle Stories: Translating the gravel world from English to French to English

Late last year, a very polite French gentleman messaged me on the social medias inquiring as to whether he could possibly reprint some of the race stories I've written for for his international online cycling magazine Spotzle - in French. I'd encourage you to use the translate button to read the variety of interesting stories from around the world on his website, the stories of rides, trips, and races from all over are fascinating. Recently I went back and read through my own, curious as to how the translations worked out. It was too good not to pull some snippets and post here. Enjoy. 

Dirty Kanza, 2018:
"even if I drive at 12 km / H, I have exceeded a lot of people, some lay in the ditch, close to abandonment or a nap, or both." 
"My bike was tuned to the onions and prepared in advance with carefully chosen equipment," 
"I spotted a jar of pickles and some fruits with personalized messages for the race." 
"I pulled a guy on a "Fat Bike" who insisted that I roll harder than him. It does not matter. Then, I accumulated an XY chromosome train behind me for about 8 Km before shaming them so that they roll a little too in the wind. Seriously, will you let a woman of 50 Kg shelter you all day?" 
"Thanks to my friends for the support and thank you for stopping me from eating a plastic wrapper." 
"And anyway, I had drunk enough coffee enough not to suffer an IMMINENT DESTRUCTION."

Elrod's Cirque, 2018:
"Towards the km 148, I found the initial course. My bike made 50 % noise as if death itself had taken over it and 50 % as if my transmission was maintained by paper clips.Another apocalyptic story from Adrienne Taren."

Spotted Horse, 2018:
"I had yellow Gore overshoes, and after the last few hours struggling in the mud, I was about to officially declare them dead at checkpoint 2. In any case, they were not even covering my feet, which was caught in a sort of sarcophagus of earth." 
"I thought "victory is near"! Because now, the ball bearings have given up!" 
"There was this strange moment, probably because we had been on our bike for many hours, where I asked Cory if he would be upset to be run over by a deer in the middle of the night." 
"I think I asked if I could lie on the road, right there, and drive the rest of the way to the cellar. I think the answer was no."

Monday, April 22, 2019

Brains & Exercise Research Update: Influence of Cognitive Load on Fatiguing Exercise

Original study can be found here.

Building off Samuel Marcora's work on , this new study published in the February 2019 issue of Psychophysiology looks at the effect of cognitively fatiguing memory tasks (1-back and 2-back) on performance during an isometric quadriceps exercise.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Health Upgrade Series #1: Why I've Started a Broccoli Sprout Farm in my Kitchen

*Prologue: AKA the reason for this new series in Nerdery*

This winter I found myself going down a nutrition rabbit hole. Maybe it's confronting my own mortality after running codes multiple times per week, or realizing how much residency has made me feel like sh*t. Despite the fact that I probably do a better job of taking care of myself than most of my colleagues, I'd fallen a long way from the nutrition and sleep and stress-reduction habits I had pre-residency. Someone should benefit from my borderline-existential crisis, so here's the first in a series of new practices and habits I've adopted.

Why Broccoli Sprouts?

The short answer is: sulforaphane. This is a isothiocyanate (fancy molecule) found in cruciferous vegetables - but the highest concentration by far is in broccoli sprouts. I thought maybe this little molecule was over-hyped, but a Google Scholar search will keep you occupied for a looong time (trust me). The largest amount of evidence exists for chemoprevention (aka anti-cancer - see this review) - most likely through a combination of its effects as an anti-inflammatory, pro-apoptotic (programmed cell death that naturally occurs), and histone modulation agent. You'll also find studies about the potential role of sulforaphane in combating obesity, H. pylori, diabetes, after a heart attack, and increasing endurance exercise capacity.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Book Review: A Still Quiet Place for Athletes

A Still Quiet Place for Athletes: Mindfulness Skills for Achieving Peak Performance & Finding Flow in Sports & Life, by Amy Saltzman, MD.

Amy Saltzman knows a thing or two about psychology and athletes. She's an internal medicine-trained MD who has oodles of experience working with kids, teens, and adults on mindfulness skills, runs a holistic medicine & mindfulness coaching practice, and former competitive cyclist, now recreational cyclist-runner-yogi-snowboarder. I've followed her doings online for years, and was stoked to read her book when it came out last year (excuse the somewhat belated review, because, you know, life...)

Who This Book Is For: arguably, any athlete. That's probably not helpful though. So here is who I would recommend this book *most* for:

(1) Those who are bad at mindfulness at baseline. My own research shows that individuals who score on the low end of dispositional mindfulness scales ("trait" mindfulness) show the largest functional and structural brain changes after mindfulness training. Need to test yourself? You can score yourself on the Mindful Attention & Awareness Scale here. It makes sense that a book that targets mindfulness skills for peak athletic performance is going to be the most helpful for athletes who are starting out with low mindfulness skills.

(2) Younger athletes.

The Mental Training Reboot Series: 8 Reasons to Turn off the Tunes While Training

#Throwback: this was my most-read AND most controversial article for TRS almost four years ago. I still stand by everything in here - in particular, we've seen a boom in mental training programs for athletes, including professional NFL and NBA teams meditating, and the development of the m-PEAK program. I'll admit to turning on music during tough interval workouts on the trainer more often than I used to - most often when workouts are happening after cognitively fatiguing 12 hour shifts. The pool and everything outside remain moving meditation sessions :)
Walk into any gym and you’ll probably see a slew of people mindlessly churning away on ellipticals, treadmills, and stationary bikes. 99% of these people will be plugged into some sort of device. Walk into your average triathlete’s pain cave, and you’ll see the same thing: Netflix on in front of the trainer. Headphones on the run. Underwater headphones in the pool.
Somewhere along the line, we lost the ability to entertain ourselves without an external stimulus, and it’s hurting our race performances.
What? Hurting my race performance? Maybe. Here’s why you might want to ditch the headphones:

1. “Mental training” is the next frontier for endurance athletes.

Everyone knows how to physically prepare for competition. Some maybe better than others, but particularly at the top, everyone’s in great shape come race day. More and more, what separates 1st from 5th isn’t that extra tempo run you did, it’s how you held up psychologically when the race pain hit, particularly in endurance events. Mental skills will give you the edge.

2. Most likely, when you get to race day, you’re not going to have that distraction.

I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t have Netflix on the course, and while a road race might allow headphones, I’ve yet to see a triathlon that does. Now what? Oh hello, thoughts…I have to do this for 12 hours??