Friday, May 21, 2021

The Snake Run 2021: Lotsa Mud, No Snakes

 In a weird stressful uncertain year, it makes sense that I would return to running. Also in a weird twist of fate, after months of neurologic complications from occupationally-acquired Covid-19, running has caused the least amount of headaches and brain fog. Maybe it's the helmet or more constant vibration from gravel/mountain bike terrain, but cycling any distance continues to be...complicated.

There was a recent New York Times article about the public health professionals and frontline healthcare workers struggling to do objectively safe things post-vaccination (e.g. be outside.) The mental block/secondary post-traumatic stress syndrome is real. It took weeks of fretting to sign up for my first event in over a year. One with fewer than 100 people spread out outside over miles of trail, 5 miles from home, in a community with declining infection rates. As a fully vaccinated *and* post-Covid-antibodied individual. At a certain point you need a little exposure therapy, and a start on releasing a year's worth of built-up trauma. I may have also chosen the 6-hour race option over the 3-hour race option primarily because there would be fewer people on the start line. 

Turkey Mountain (there are no turkeys) is familiar territory, but I actually rarely run on the upper lot trails, where one can find the Snake Trail (from which this event gets its name.) I have a tendency to get lost up there, to the surprise of no one. My sole landmark is an old rusted washer/dryer. If someone ever hauls that blessed object out of the woods, I will likely never make it back to the parking lot. Anyhow, the kind people who came up with this race format gave us a 3.75 mile loop on the Snake Trail, and a shorter 0.5 mile loop somewhere over on the blue trail to run circles around when you ran out of time to do another 3.75 mile loop. Whoever runs the most miles in the allotted time gets a scary snake trophy. The course is well-marked, flat, and with mild to moderate trail sharks. You have to watch your footing, but it doesn't require 100% of your brainpower. Not a bad way to ease back into the running world...

RACE MORNING

1. Successfully remember to change clocks for daylight savings.

2. Put running clothing on.

3. Drink a lot of coffee.

4. Cue thunderstorms.

It was raining lightly at the start. I put every piece of gear I might want into my car, since for an extra 50 yards of running I could self-support whatever the heck I needed from the comfort of the parking lot. The first lap passed without incident in a nice light rain and a not-too-drenched trail. A handful of fast dudes went blasting out at a pace way faster than my technical skills will take me, but I comfortably ran 8-9 minute pace according to Garmin. About three-quarters of the way through my second lap the skies absolutely opened up, which was fine until my eyeballs flooded with water, and anyone with a contact lens prescription greater than -5 knows what I'm talking about. I almost always run with a visor or hat partially because of this. This was the one item I managed to leave at home, so I comically and blindly staggered out of the woods and stole my boyfriend's hat off his head. Having one's day ended by loss of contact lenses in thunderstorm would be embarrassing. 

The Snake trail turned into more and more of a mud slog as time went on, with full-on tiny muddy lakes most of the way. TL;DR version of the subsequent 5 hours: tiny hip stabilizing muscles got real tired and the 7th and 8th (final) laps I "ran" were more of a hobble. I probably did not hydrate enough - had this happened by osmosis I would've been just fine 😂 I did throw down two dark chocolate trail butter packets and about 5 V fuel gels. I made a feeble attempt at the short loop with my remaining time, as I was at 30 miles and the female race record was 31 miles...but my body was not having it. Also there were bigger rocks on the short loop.

My body decided it was cold shortly after I stopped moving, and I decided to sport my swanky swim parka. Credit to SOAS Racing for those tights (and they have pockets.) First place in style and mud-fording: 







Thursday, December 3, 2020

Real Ride Fuel: Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread (featuring Cassava flour and Spiced Chai Trail Butter) Recipe




 

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs (or flax eggs for vegan)
  • 1/2 cup of Trail Butter (I used the Chai Spice Almond Cashew Butter)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup 
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 6 Tablespoons Earth Balance spread (or butter, coconut oil, or ghee) - softened
  • 2 Tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1.5 teaspoons cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup cassava flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • Extras if desired (dried cranberries, chocolate chunks, nuts, etc)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a loaf pan (I use Trader Joe's avocado oil spray.)
  2. Combine all wet ingredients (eggs, nut butter, maple syrup, pumpkin, butter) - with a stand mixer if you have one, or just stir the crap out of it with a large spoon like I do.
  3. Combine all dry ingredients (cassava flour, baking powder, spices.)
  4. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
  5. Dump the whole thing into the loaf pan. Place in oven.
  6. Bake for 45-55 minutes. Lick the bowl (I won't tell anyone.)
  7. Cool.
  8. Eat.




Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Trail Butter Tasting Room: A Partially Tongue-In-Cheek Quest for the Perfect Nut Butter-Beverage Pairings

Pandemic life has done strange things to people. 

Me, I have been going to work as much as/more than ever [healthcare etc etc], but that doesn't mean that I haven't also bought several houseplants, named them, and had conversations with them. I forgot some of their names, and now I just call them all Harry. But I digress.

I thought about writing a detailed description about how a packet of trail butter, once opened, can be conveniently squeezed up under a mask directly into your mouth with just two thoroughly hand-sanitized fingers. Unfortunately this is where much of my race fuel consumption has taken place in the past 6 months. Minus some bike rides. The running trails have been mostly on hold since an unfortunate picture frame vs big toe incident. But that's another story.

Pandemic life coincided with full-time cohabitation with another endurance athlete, and after we both finally gave up on blaming the dogs for the rapid disappearance of food from the house, some, um, creative eating patterns emerged. 

Nut butter and avocados.

Nut butter and scrambled egg burritos (leave me alone.)

Nut butter for dessert when the ice cream disappeared (the dogs ate it, I'm sure.)

Post-ride/second dessert nut butter and...beverages.

Thus, Trail Butter/adult-beverage pairing tasting night was born.

Round 1: Dark Chocolate & Coffee

Winner: Trader Joe's Pinot Noir

Runner up: NEFF Brewing Imperial Stout

While dark chocolate-coffee can easily stand on its own, the one thing that might make it better is the elegant dark red and cherry-blackberry undertones of a quality Trader Joe's Organic Pinot Noir, affectionately known in this household as 4-buck chuck. The slight amount of caffeine in this dry-roasted almond butter also serves to counteract the somewhat sleep-inducing properties a glass of red has on this lightweight.

If you already get enough resveratrol in your diet, I'd recommend a good strong stout. I'm partial to our local NEFF Brewing's Imperial stout, which balances the notes of chocolate and espresso with just enough hoppy bitterness.

Round 2: Maple Syrup & Sea Salt 

Winner: Michter's Bourbon

Runner up: More maple syrup

Ok, so I lived in Vermont just long enough to become a maple syrup snob. The maple syrup and sea salt trail butter tastes like real maple syrup. Just a hint so as not to get sweetness-fatigue when you're actually running around outside with it and not doing some harebrained taste testing in your kitchen at 9pm on a Tuesday. Or is it Friday? Monday? Does anyone know at this point? Whatever, there's a nice amount of sea salt to balance it out, and the smoky vanilla-molasses undertones of some Michter's small batch bourbon really brings this culinary experience together.

I struggled to find anything truly better than "more maple syrup" to go with this, which is true of life in general.



Round 3: Original Trail Mix

Winner: NEFF Brewing Apollo Blonde Ale


Runner up: Prairie Artisan Ale Rainbow Sherbert

The OG pairs clover honey, cranberry, and a hint of chocolate with an almond-sunflower butter blend. I tried real hard to like a dry white wine with this, but it's really better suited to some sort of blonde ale. I went with NEFF brewing's Apollo Blonde because, well, it was in my house. It's only in my house because it's good though. 

My partner hates blonde ales because he's weird, and preferred Prairie Artisan Ale's Rainbow Sherbert sour with the Original Trail Mix. If you're two years old, this is what you should reach for. Side note, please don't give your 2 year old booze.

Round 4: Spiced Chai Almond Cashew Butter

Winner: Homemade mulled red wine 

Runner up: Health-Ade Holiday Cheers Kombucha

First of all, if you haven't tried the new limited edition Spiced Chai trail butter flavor, it's probably because I ate it all. Sorry. If you do manage to get your hands on some and want to go full-on warm and fuzzy inside, have a nice mulled red wine with it. To achieve this, I take a bottle of cabernet and dump it in the slow cooker with cinnamon sticks, cloves, oranges, and maple syrup. 

In reality I actually drink very little alcohol, despite the ridiculous nature of this post. Thus, our runner-up is an homage to my actual favorite post-outdoors beverage: kombucha. Give the Health Ade (also seasonal) Holiday Cheers kombucha a go if you're not so sure about kombucha. It tastes like Christmakah. And the probiotics will help you digest the trail butter (maybe. Actually I made that up. Sounds plausible though.) Brew Dr. also makes a seasonal vanilla oak kombucha that would pair nicely. 

Almost forgot - 10% of sales of their Spiced Chai Almond Cashew Butter go to the Conservation Alliance. So you are literally doing the world a favor by eating this. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Kuat NV 2.0 Hitch Rack: The Things We Carry

How do you write a review about what is arguably a luxury product when it feels like the world is burning?

If you're reading this in the year 2030 (which you probably won't be. The Kuat people will have innovated electric-rocket-powered-robot-bike-carriers by then. I look forward to taking a nap while being transported to my desired bicycling location by an AI machine powered by energy harnessed from my taco consumption.*), I hope you're living in a world without hate, without internet fights, without a novel viral pandemic, without sexism, without racism. It's a tall order, I know. But I hope that it's as hard to imagine the world of 2020 then, as it is to imagine that world now.

*real innovation suggestion. Thanks Kuat people!

Everyone around the world is carrying a lot of things. Much moreso now than a year ago. What are you carrying? Have you looked around and asked what your friends and neighbors are carrying?

Maybe this doesn't seem to be the right time to be talking about a physical item that carries bikes. In the literal sense. But for a lot of this probable audience, bikes and the things that carry them feel like more of a necessity. It's likely what lets you process and maybe let go of some of the weight you've been holding up.

So here's this bike rack. I ordered it right before Covid-19 hit, and then it sat in my garage for 5 months, because I kept thinking my significant other would be able to come and help me de-bumperize** my car and put the hitch on, which I was admittedly lacking in energy and motivation to do myself. Although you totally could. It turns out it's not that difficult. Just, you know. The world exploding.

**word I just made up

Maybe there was a more subconscious reason I set it aside. The concept of a two (expandable to four) bike rack carries social connotations, at least to me. Taking bikes, maybe of multiple people, to other communities to ride. To group rides. To group races. Things that are all on pause, for some more than others.

So I put the rack on my car. Not because things are magically getting better. But because now when I walk out to my car before a shift and see a 2-bike hitch rack, there's a couple seconds when I think about a future where I can load it up and go on an adventure with all my friends again.

----------------------------
Actual Information about the bike rack that you probably came to this page looking for:

- My life partner/emotional support mammal/fixer of all things/single speed MTB'er extraordinaire put both the hitch and rack on my Subaru Crosstrek (see above.) The whole thing took him about an hour. I helped by making sure he was alive from time to time and saying "that looks good" and "that's going back on my car eventually, right?"

- It's very easy to get bikes on and off. My upper body strength has, um, waned since I tabled distance swimming for bikes. I can get my 30lb mountain bike on it without making dying-animal noises or otherwise sounding like I'm going into labor.

- The little pushy thing to tilt the rack up and down is also very easy to use (technical name: "Pivot Lever".) Lifts or lowers your rack to access your trunk, or more easily take your bikes on and off (some of us are short.) You can push it with your foot if your hands are full (chances are you're holding a bike.)

- Also easy to tighten bikes down. Have I said the word easy enough times yet? For comparison, I'm still bad at ratcheting down my bike on the abovementioned partner-man's other brand hitch rack after two years of trying to use it. I swear I'm smart, my brain just doesn't work well after riding, and if you tell me to "pull here then push this then pull the opposite direction and spin around clap your hands" well I'm going to forget all that in about 10 seconds.

- Integrated cable bike locks. Keeps your bicycle children from walking away while you're at rest stops, post-ride festivities, etc. Magically disappears into the rack when not in use.

- It's durable as heck. Solid aluminum construction with pretty much no plastic except on part of the workstand attachment.

- Oh yeah, workstand attachment, aka "Trail Doc." Because I've definitely never gunked my bike up with so much mud it stopped rolling. Or suddenly discovered I needed to put new brake pads on like right now. Nope, don't know anything about that. I imagine a workstand attachment would be handy if one did those things, though 😉

- It comes standard to fit nearly any bike, including an accessory to fit fat bike tires. We haven't attempted to put our Craigslist penny farthing on it yet, but I'm sure you could make it work. Right?

- It doesn't block my license plate when folded up.

- It just looks nice.

- Save the trees: Kuat partners with the National Forest Foundation by supporting their Future Forest Initiative. Bike rack = trees planted.

Optional Thingamajigs that I will probably eventually add:

- 2 Bike add-on: more bikes! This does not require explanation. More bikes = more happiness.
- Pivot v.2: swings your rack away from your car for even easier trunk access.
- RackDock: wall mounty thing that easily holds your rack for storage

You can find more details on the Kuat website here.

De-bumperized car.
Re-bumperized car.
Party parts.

Awaiting bikes.

Folded up. Sad face, cuz no bikes.

Bikes!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

2020 Trail Butter Partnership


Preface: when I eased back into competitive-ish sports a few years back, I had zero desire to associate myself with anything that would limit what I could do, wear, eat, use, or otherwise. The wonderful thing about new adventures and slowly finding your community is taking the time to figure out what you actually like to use, what you identify with, and what aligns with your values. And there are a handful of companies that are out there trying to do good things for the world that it turns out I'm happy to align myself with. 

What does this mean?? I've formalized my relationship with this fantastic maker of nut butters (well, as formal as people who spend their time running around in the dirt get) because there are some good people behind the scenes and my personal consumption is, um, high. You can read all about the mission behind Trail Butter here. I've been using Trail Butter packets on bikepacking trips, hiking and camping, and stress-eating at home fueling daily life since the great Steve Cannon (Iditarod bike finisher, up there on my list of favorite Iowans, all around good human being) introduced me to it a little over a year ago. In addition to only good ingredients and tastiness, I was impressed that they frequently have "limited edition" nut butters with part of the proceeds donated to charity or the American Trail Running Association.


The Dark Chocolate & Coffee and Maple Sea Salt packets accompanied me on my ITT of the Northwest loop of the Arkansas High Country Route, at Dirty Kanza (before my GI tract tried to implode), through 24 Hours of Cumming when I was living for a TB&B sandwich at the end of each loop, and up a couple mountains in Colorodo. Apparently, I liked this stuff enough that I refused to share ANY of the 48 packets I bought in my last shipment with the Boy, because his only response to the above was "are you going to share now?"

Check this space for future pictures of nut butter jars stowed in feed bags on bikes. You know it's gonna happen 😁

Friday, January 10, 2020

My Top 10 Random Things of 2019

I did this last year so...buckle up, here we go. Categories year-to-year subject to change at random, for both entertainment and utility purposes.

1. Most Reached-For Item of Cycling Clothing: Space Cats cap, by Rothera

I own a lot of attractive, functional, comfortable and high-quality cycling apparel, mostly of the
SOAS Racing and Velocio flavors. However, I wore this damn Rothera space cats cap over and over and over again, because it made me inexplicably happy. I don't even like cats.

2. Favorite Addition to a Bicycle: Supacaz Prizmatic Tape

So many cyclists spend hundreds of dollars on the latest components, tech, and quests to shave grams. But $40 of shininess brings pure joy.
Also my reputation within the cycling community at least partially hinges upon being a rolling color explosion.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Oh my god A LADY GRAVEL REVIEW! Adrienne Groad-Tests the Shimano RX8s.

From Shimano: "The RX8 features a super-stiff and efficient full-length carbon outsole with a Shimano stiffness rating of 10 (out of 11). A precise fit is gained from a heel stabilizer, while minimal TPU lugs, micro toe armor, and an anti-slip pad create walkability and protection that is race-tuned for gravel. The cleat-pedal interface features a wider contact point that is optimized to fit with new XTR PD-M9100 pedals while stiff TPU lugs increase pedaling efficiency compared to rubber lugs. All of this comes in a lightweight package at 265g (size 42)...The RX8 is available in Silver or Black and the RX8W women-specific version is available in Navy Blue. Wide options are available in the black colorway exclusively. It is best matched with the Shimano SPD M9100 or M8100 pedals. The RX8 will be available for $250 MSRP in August 2019."

So obviously August 2019 has come and gone, the Shimano RX8 has been on the market for a handful of months, giving a decent number of people the opportunity to wear-test it. JOM and I have, however, over the years, had more than one conversation about the relative dearth of reviews about gravel things, and cycling products in general, by women. Now, Shimano happens to have made a "women's specific" version of the RX8, but HOLD UP WAIT DUDES DON'T CLOSE THIS BROWSER WINDOW YET. Just because I happen to be writing about the women's model on my woman feet does not mean that this won't be applicable to your masculine feet. Just that it will be funnier and more good-looking.

Some context: I have a strange pair of feet that are pretty darn narrow at the heel but require a wide toebox. I pretty reliably wear a size 40 EU in cycling shoes. Previously I have torn to shreds a pair of Giro entry-level MTB shoes, followed by the Northwave Extreme XC's. The Northwaves fit my feet well and were solid all-around, but I had a lot of problems with getting them to snug down, especially after a year of abuse. I have previously worn Shimano road and triathlon shoes, so I may have been a little pre-biased, at least when it came to confidence-that-they-would-fit. I set them up with Crank Brothers cleats on Candy pedals. They were taken on an initial paved trail cruise, but the real test came on 70 miles of Stillwater Oklahoma red dirt.


Here are some nice pretty pictures of the shoes out-of-the-box taken by a certain somebody with more photography skills than me. They are pictured resting gently atop the rug that I frequently collapse upon after long grueling rides until someone brings me a pickle or a cup of coffee.




As you can see, I have gone with the navy blue camo-like colorway. It is sleek like leopard.  If you're a man this option does not exist for you. However, dudes can opt for silver if you like to stand out. Or, if you have a narrower heel (typically the major diff in "women's-specific last"), just wear the women's version. After you go through our secret initiation process. We ride at dawn.

The size 40 fit was spot-on for me (comparison: I'm size 40 in Giro, 40.5 Northwave, 41 Lake winter boots, 8.5 American-size most women's running shoes.)

Impressions:

[This is the important part that you actually want to read.]

1. They're the stiffest non-paved-road shoes I've ever worn.
Shimano gives them a stiffness rating of 10 out of 11. What's an 11? A block of concrete?

Anyway, I appreciated that 10. There is a notable power transfer difference compared to my previous shoes. The heel stabilizer also probably helps with this, as my foot stays nice a secure throughout my entire pedal shoe. I've become accustomed to various degrees of foot-sliding-around within my shoe over the past few years, to the point of needing to curl my toes up to keep my feet in place. No more.

2. Walking in them was fine. I wouldn't want to do it forever, but particularly with how stiff the full-length carbon outsole is, they were surprisingly easy to walk short distances in. They did gunk up with mud during my Stillwater hike-a-bike test, but no worse than any other pair of off-road shoes I've worn. When you walk through the peanut butter stuff, they end up with more mud than shoe. But it does shed easily from the lugs after a few solid whacks on your nearest hard surface.

Also the red dirt matches the blue nicely.


3. The Boa tightening system - there's a single Boa lacing system, which successfully snugs the whole middle and upper down, aided by a separate forefoot strap. It tightens all the way down on the first try, and it's still easy to release.

No more stopping ten minutes into a ride to re-adjust the Boa.

No more being stuck in your shoes permanently because you've informed your significant other that he has to take them off your feet because your brain has stopped talking to the rest of your body and you're stuck on the floor, and this is the only way you're ever getting up to take a shower, and what do you mean you can't figure out how to get them off my feet you have to pull up on the one doohickey and then push down on the Boa and turn it in the opposite direction oh fine I'm getting up.*

*Wait, this doesn't happen to you?
BOA release system and lugs.

4. They fit like a glove. Like you could forget they are there. They fit like my track spikes from college, except cycling in those probably wouldn't go so well.

5. The insole is fine. It's a standard insole. I have weird arches and use Superfeet insoles, which also fit well in these shoes, but I put some miles on the included ones for completeness' sake. No hot spots or anything to complain about. They dry out in a normal amount of time.

Cons: The only issue I've had is with the tongue of the shoe. You just have to be careful that the tongue inside is totally flat before you tighten them. The outside corner likes to roll up, I don't notice it when I initially put them on, and then I realize 10 minutes in that something's digging into my foot. It's an easy fix called paying-attention-when-you-put-on-your-shoes which I'm now incorporating into my life.

Some red dirt retained for dramatic effect.