Monday, July 8, 2019

Bikepacking the Arkansas High Country Northwest Loop: Day 1, Bentonville to WMA

Route Notes: You can find full details on the Arkansas High Country Route here from the excellent Adventure Cycling Association. The full shebang is 1171.8 miles, but can be broken up into three smaller loops (Northwest, Central, South), with options for singletrack on the south loop. This short series covers my trip out on the Northwest loop, which took two days and some change. 

Additional important notes:

  • 50% gravel, 50% pavement
  • Climbs and descents with grades frequently in the 17-21% range
  • ~19,000 feet total climbing in 250 miles
  • "A minimum of 37mm tires with some tread is highly recommended." - Thoughts on this later.

Day 1: Bentonville to the edge of the Wildlife Management Area, plus some bonus riding - 76 miles

I rolled into Bentonville around noon on a Monday, unloaded my bike, and popped into Phat Tire to say hi to the cool people and confirm that I really could leave my car in one of the city public lots. Say what you will about Walmart, but Bentonville looks to have become a pristine little town with tons of restaurants, bars, outdoorsy things, and people on bikes. I had zero issues with cars rolling out of town on my loaded down Salsa Cutthroat, passing Crystal Bridges art museum en route to the gravel. The loop starts with lots of gently rolling hills, on and off the pavement, past farmhouses in the countryside until hitting a Dollar General and gas station just 28 miles in. I skipped this stop as I was still loaded up with water and snacks, but it would make a great first resupply if needed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Dirty Kanza 200 (2019): The Northern, Hot, & Singlespeed Year

So. Historically I don't write much about DK. JOM does pretty comprehensive coverage and everybody and their dog writes a DK race report. But this time, a whole buncha people went by me and yelled "write your story!" Either because they mistook me for a smaller Alison Tetrick, or because I probably looked like I was having a near death experience, and they thought "oh this is going to be some funny sh*t."
On a side note, a genuine thank you to everyone who came up to me and mentioned they liked something I wrote. This all started because I met JOM at the first gravel race I ever did, and he gave me a platform to rant about things, and then I just started writing about all the crazy stuff I went and did, because it's a therapeutic outlet (both the bicycling and the writing) and also because I entertain myself in the process. So I'mma keep on doing this, until JOM fires me, which he can't because no one including JOM gets paid for So really, thank him :)

Friday: The best thing about DK is catching up with people. When I started riding gravel, I wanted to get far away from the pressure and stress of my previous athletic endeavors. I remember being worried my first year at DK (2017) that all the hooplah (which has only increased since then) would detract from my experience...but I've found that no amount of hooplah, media, "pro"-y, whatever things can kill the positive community vibe in Emporia. The best part was that I got to be there with my better half this year, and we rode bikes down to the expo, talked to a whole bunch of friends from all over, and tried to accrue as many free stickers from vendors as possible. I only got into one molecular physiology argument, and vendors only assumed that the boy was the one riding a small handful of times, so I considered it a success. I also took the opportunity to tell anyone and everyone who would listen to me that I had decided sorta last minute to ride single speed this year, because I was still trying to convince myself that I had done that, and seemingly needed to repeat it over and over again to make it real. Because the logical thing to do after riding single speed for all of a month is to decide to do 201 miles on it, on the year when the course goes north, through all the gnar gnar, and up all the hills.

But as we've covered before, there's something wrong in my brain. If you're in the target audience for this piece, there's probably something wrong in your brain too.

Friday evening culminated in an attempt to pack my cooler for our SAG people. I chucked my usual assortment of bottles, celiac-friendly Honey Stinger waffles, emergency potato chips and emergency Snickers on my side. Takes 30 seconds. The boy first declared that he didn't even know what to do with this because he's never had SAG before. Current context: while I'm the single-shot ridiculous effort why-would-you-do-that person, he's the rode-across-the-state-1000-miles-living-off-burritos-found-along-the-way person. We had to have a long "this is a magical box that will greet you at miles 60 and 150" conversation, and then he promptly ordered two pizzas which went into ziplock bags ("breakfast pizza and lunch pizza and dinner pizza".)

This is the extent of our DK planning.
Saturday morning we rode down to the start line in the dark and situated ourselves somewhere vaguely appropriate. I insisted on a shameless selfie just in case I died on Little Egypt Road.

Towards checkpoint one was smooth sailing. It helped my self-confidence that the roads were in good shape and didn't have any super ridiculous hills for the first 30 miles. I knew I was pushing a taller gear than I wanted to be...I think I typed some numbers into a single speed gear calculator on the internet when I was initially figuring out how to set up this bike. It's my beloved Specialized Crux, aka my oldest child, which had been feeling abandoned since the assemblage of my compulsively color-coordinated Salsa Cutthroat last year. For all its flaws, this bike is an extension of myself and I refused to throw it in the river like my mechanic and dear friend suggested. So the Crux got a fancy single speed conversion.

People have been suggesting I ride single speed for a solid year. I like to think it's because they think I'm as cool as them, but it's much more likely that they've noticed I don't use my gears correctly anyway, since my default mode is to push the hardest gear that I possibly can regardless of the circumstances. This is all a very long explanation for how I came to be riding a 46x20 Specialized Crux, and very much loving it, at least on the four rides I had done so far. I had figured out after Elrod's Cirque that this was probably a taller gear ratio than necessary, but a smaller front ring wasn't in the cards in time for DK, and I had had the brilliant idea to use this bike for DK at the end of a string of night shifts which is when I make all my best  decisions, so here we were at mile 30ish of DK on a very over-geared but very very loved bicycle.

And I felt pretty damn good. I was super proud of myself for navigating the much-talked-about deep ruts and bumpy stuff with the 38 front/35 rear that I can fit on there. I was working hard but I went up all the hills. And Singlespeed Crux and I cruised into Checkpoint 1 pretty much like this:

 My wonderful SAG (p/b District Bicycles) grabbed my bike, flung it back at me 30 seconds later during which time they probably accomplished a full tune-up including the sprinkling of unicorn tears, and yelled "YOU CAN CHEW WHILE YOU PEDAL" while smearing sunscreen on my face as I tried to drink a V8. I then crushed that can of V8 with my bare hands, let out a guttural yell, and morphed into the Incredible Hulk*.

*Not really. But I did go back to riding my bike.

Shortly after Checkpoint 1 I recall the start of a hellacious stretch of rollers, and getting hot. And getting progressively hotter. I think this is where it started to go bad for a lot of people, present company included. I feel dumb even writing this because I know how to ride in hot and dry. I've learned that lesson the hard way more than once. But I had my low-80s-with-a-chance-of-thunderstorms algorithm going, not my hot-and-dry-AF algorithm. And I slowly didn't drink quite enough, wanted salty things but didn't have them, etc etc. It's frustrating to know exactly what you should be doing, but not be able to execute it.

But f*ck if this wasn't Dirty Kanza and I wasn't still having fun.

I rode with lots of people I knew and lots of people I didn't know but became good friends with for somewhere between 15 seconds and 20 minutes depending on our respective level of dying-ness. I went by a lot of ditch people. I went by a lot of flat tire people. I went by my favorite Minnesotan Mitch fixing his third flat, Mitch is a pretty awesome dude who the Emporia Gazette wrote a thing about which you should definitely read here because it's more important than the drivel I'm writing. I went up Little Egypt Road, down Little Egypt Road, walked another short stretch of Little Egypt Road, and rode up the last section of Little Egypt fueled by fear alone (and a lot of f-bombs, sorry anyone who was near me.) At the oasis, I found the boy wandering around also dying of heat, which has always puzzled me because you would think that Texans would be good at heat. I asked him if he still wanted to do DKXL sometime, and he said "$@%^ no #^$^ this $%#^*$*@ #$%@, not unless it's 55 degrees." Then he sat under a tree and I kept moving because my heart rate was somehow just as high stopped as it was pedaling, so I figured I might as well be pedaling. Didn't matter, because he and his damn gears went right by me again 5 miles later.

I pushed my bike up a couple hills, watched Leo Rodgers hop his bike up a hill and wondered what I was doing with my life, went back to riding up all the hills because it actually felt easier than pushing. A whole lot of dudes looked at my gear ratio in terror as I went by, which reinforced that I was doing an Insane Thing, which actually made me feel better because if there's one thing I've proven I'm good at, it's finishing Insane Things. Anyway, somehow I made my way to Checkpoint 2, and I flopped in a chair and said some things that may or may not have actually been words, and ate a bag and a half of potato chips before they were rudely taken away from me and placed in my back pocket and I was literally pulled by my so-called friends out of said chair and onto a bicycle and given a push. I do remember looking at my Garmin screen and being confused by the numbers and saying "It's not 12:30 o'clock." First of all, "12:30 o'clock" is not a thing. But they figured out what I meant and informed me that that was the length of time since I started my Garmin, not the time of day, which was in fact much farther down on the screen. So that should give you a rough idea of my brain function.

I went up that paved hill right out of Checkpoint 2 and almost hit a skunk that was just hanging out in the middle of the road. I said "skunk" halfheartedly. The guy a few feet behind me said "oh." So it seems he was functioning at about the same level. Neither of us hit the skunk and we went on our way.

I stopped to dry heave a bunch of times, noted that it was getting dark-ish around mile 175 and turned my lights on, and for some reason completely stopped eating or drinking. I also know way better than that, but it's very easy to say it was dumb in retrospect. In the moment, I was rapid shallow breathing and tachycardic and knew it, and just generally wanted to get myself to the end and deal with the consequences later, and I knew I could get myself 50 miles without taking anything in if I needed to. (Note that I in no way endorse this, and please someone just smack me the next time I try to pull a stunt like this.)

Right at 11pm I crossed the finish line, my latest DK finish by hours, but that's what it's all about. We've all chosen an inherently unpredictable sport where you kinda have to just go with whatever happens. I ended up on the women's single speed podium which I'm honestly still not quite sure how to frame. As was pointed out to me, you can really choose the narrative there - "I podiumed, my finish was strong despite the fact that it was after dark!" vs "I made some dumb decisions, doesn't really feel real." Either way, a lot of suffering went into that Kansas-shaped block of wood they gave me on Sunday. I found the boy after I finished, who'd been done for about an hour, and asked him what he'd been doing. He said, "I licked the outside of a protein bar." I didn't ask anymore questions. I sat on the sidewalk for a while, started to pass out when I tried to get up an hour later, and it took until the early morning for my heart and respiratory rate to go back down. Would I change any of it? No. I mean, I would like to not give myself heat stroke. But Dirty Kanza once again affirmed that I am surrounded by an incredible community of people, and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.

Except maybe tacos.

Peace out, Emporia.

The chaise happened somewhere in that last death march! I am very wide eyed because my bike started to slide out from under my legs while they were taking the picture 😂

This was somewhere during the first leg, courtesy of JOM's GoPro.

Women's Single Speed Podium

Thursday, June 13, 2019

But First, Elrod's Cirque (2019): We Came, It Hailed, We Prevailed.

I could probably just save myself several years of trouble and preemptively send JOM race reports from Elrod's Cirque 2020, 2021, and 2022. They will all just say "Bobby Smith planned a race in Winfield, Kansas, and then it [insert extreme weather condition here.]

Elrod's Cirque, however, was one of my favorite adventures last year (see ridiculous write up here), so despite meteorological gloom and doom again being forecast, I drove myself up to the nice little town of Winfield on Friday night. There's the option of staying at the local college dorms for a whopping 20 bucks, which I availed myself of. Weather-induced attrition was already apparent based on the number of dorm no-shows, although several very nice gentlemen recognized me from the previous year's antics. Apparently when almost nobody finishes, it's easy to remember these things?

The course started in a park this year. While I missed the coffee shop start, I don't blame said coffee shop for perhaps not wanting 100 spandex-clad people in clompy shoes simultaneously clamoring for caffeine and bathrooms at an ungodly early weekend hour. Plus, the park provided ample opportunity to entertain yourself by chasing the geese around in circles instead of getting your bike ready like you should be doing. I did eventually manage to grab my number plate and t-shirt. While affixing my number and trying to decide what else I needed on my bike, I took a look around.

I saw a lot of bikes. A lot of bikes with not a lot on them. Like, a tool roll, and *maybe* a small top tube bag. I looked back at the pile of stuff I was still waffling on in the back of my car. Goretex. Spare brake pads. Mylar blanket. Emergency bivy. All The Tools. Whole pizza (ok, not that.) Was I doing it wrong? Or did these people not realize that the annual Elrod's Cirque Apocalypse was a'coming?

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??

Sunday, March 3, 2019

A Winter Cycling Survival Guide, from a self-proclaimed winter-phobe

Do you hate winter?
Are you always cold?
Do your fingers turn funny colors in the cold?
Have you been rescued mid-ride because you lost the ability to brake or steer or do other key things due to numbness and/or shaking?

This is me, unfortunately. I used to just hate the cold. Especially after I moved away from Vermont, where the prettiness outweighed the fact that it was -20. In Pittsburgh I got away with not riding outside in the cold, because there was slush or ice all the time, it was dangerous at baseline to ride in that city, and I only had a road bike. Flash forward and with gravel and much less precipitation in the mid-south, I found myself with no excuse. And subsequently entered mild hypothermia territory a few too many times.

Through trial & hypothermia, I finally feel good about my ability to not die whilst riding a bike when the temp dips below forty. And while I still wouldn't say I love winter riding, it has more to do with the fact that it takes so long to put on all this darn stuff than the actual temperature.

1. Bar Mitts

These giant, dorky, neoprene things are my best friends. They create tiny warm houses for your hands. No matter what gloves, mittens, or glittens I tried, nothing has ever kept my hands warm below forty while biking or running. I put these on my bike for the first time last winter and immediately did a 50 mile ride in the high 30s. I have used them down to 20s with a normal pair of gloves on. My hands may be Reynaud's-y to start, but once some heat accumulates (or with the addition of hand warmers at the start), they'll regain circulation and stay that way. The downside is obviously limited access to your bars. I can comfortably hold my hoods and brake, but can't really grab the drops, even over the bar mitts due to the shape of the neoprene (it doesn't exactly collapse under your hands). Additionally, if the temp warms up, it's not exactly easy to transport them home if you remove them. Way too big and bulky for jersey pockets or your average top tube/bar bag.

2. Pogie Lites

Enter Pogie Lites. The fine folks at Bike Iowa make them, so supporting Bike Iowa is the first plus. These solve the problem of access to all parts of your bars, and also being able to pull them off, roll them up, and stick them in your pocket.

They keep my hands much warmer than I expected. I used these at Spotted Horse, where it was 30s-40s and raining the whole day, with a pair of mechanic's gloves and surgical glove base layer under them. My hands got numb-ish a few times but remained functional and out of the painful-numb zone. For a cold-handed person, they thrive between 40 and 50 degrees, but are workable down to 30. I happened to only have these on a 22 degree icy ride in Stillwater in November, and they were insufficient. There was a bail-out followed by a painful rewarming. Overall I love them for the versatility and convenience as long as it's not ridiculously cold out.

3. Lake Cycling Boots

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Honey Stinger HIVE Elite

Hey folks! I'm happy to be able to say that I'll be representing Honey Stinger as a Hive Elite athlete this year. Their support & products will be put to good use at events like Iowa Wind & Rock, Dirty Kanza, Land Run, and Wilderman this year. In a moment of downtime working ICU nights right now, I calculated that I'll burn about 560,000 calories at the events I have on my schedule currently, and not all of those calories can be replaced by gummi bears and hot chocolate from Casey's (also diabetes is bad.)

I've been using Honey Stinger waffles for a few years now - for athletes with Celiac, gluten-free stroopwafels are a lifesaver. They taste good, go down easy, and have a decent mix of simple and complex carbs. Organic, simple ingredients compared to most other nutrition products. Fair warning, they do freeze at temperatures below 25 F (thanks, Trans Iowa 2018!). If I'm out in those temps, waffles now go in my pockets or down the front of my bike jersey. Problem solved. And there's a large box of waffles and honey-based gel coming my way to help me get ready for the upcoming ultra season.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Oklahoma Gravel Growler 2019 (with Guest Commentary by Ben Taren)

From the promoters: "We set out to create the ultimate early season multi-strada event and we ended up with the Oklahoma Gravel Growler.  This is a two day festival celebrating getting outside, trying something fun with cool people and conquering old man winter! We have two courses laid out … short course which is 35’ish miles and the long course which comes in around 83. New this year, we have added an ultra-marathon so that the runners out there can join in on the adventure. "

Early February can indeed be a sketchy time for weather in Oklahoma, but the new Oklahoma Gravel Growler website looked super fun, and also I know [race director] Craig since he hangs out at City Cycles Oklahoma sometimes, which is the place I spend the second-most time after work, the third-most being my actual home. Work was kind to me on February 2nd of this year, so I had no excuses not to show up to this race. I also volun-told my little* brother (definition: telling someone they are volunteering), who was in town from NYC. What better way to spend time with family you haven't seen in a few years than to abandon them on the side of a dirt road in Central Oklahoma with a safety vest and a few bananas?**
*not so little anymore. Actually, much bigger than me.
**For the record he "wanted to see what this gravel thing you do is all about"

Oklahoma Gravel Growler has grown, but in a good way. There were some big name sponsors on board, yes, but they were mostly chilling around and raffling off free stuff for all participants at the Friday night pre-race gathering outside Spokelahoma in tiny Shawnee downtown. Alison Tetrick herself was on hand to pull names for the raffle, and I have a whole new level of respect for her after her multiple mid-raffle requests for whiskey and a hot dog. Some lucky dude won a Lauf fork, but I'm still pretty pleased with the Shimano scarf that one of the Shimano reps was very excited to gift me. Seriously, it's a very nice baby blue color that brings out my eyes. I have visions of riding my bike with it streaming behind me. I believe they told me it was aero. Also saves several grams over wearing a Sram scarf. 

Anyhow, there was much general goofing-off and raffling of things and admiring of the MSR giant tent that was set up and being dissuaded by The Boy and also The Brother of climbing in the demo tent on the side of the road in the dark. 

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

I could ramble on about how the roads were primo (they were, with a mix of all surfaces), the course directions and markings were spot-on (thanks Craig & co), there was just the right level of support (drop bag service at a volunteer fire station half way, with donuts and several bemused firemen twice the size of me), and how the headwind in the second half was terrible even for a die-hard fan of type 2 fun (it was), but...
This is my race face. YOLO.
Credit: Workingman Photo

But I stupidly asked said younger brother to write me a few paragraphs on his experience as a volunteer and new observer of our gravel culture. He inherited the funny gene too, and after 30 years of trying, may have (temporarily) out-funnied me while also providing a very insightful commentary from his vantage point of highway-crossing-usher. Below is guest commentary by Bennett Taren:

"I double-checked the time as the three race leaders crested the hill, an eighth of a mile away from where I was supposed to help them not get killed on the highway. They were surprisingly early. I'd entered the weekend curious about gravel racing's cultural balance between athleticism and whiskey, and it was at this moment, with great relief, that I realized the scale tipped somewhat definitively away from functional alcoholism. Silently removing one danger from the ever-growing list of gravel racing things that might kill my sister, I heroically unsheathed the loaner/bootleg caution flag I'd been provided to combat the next threat.  
An hour of furiously waving at speeding cars to slow down passed. I basked in the spiritual thanks pouring in from all the other rider's siblings for providing their loved ones safe passage across the sporadically busy road. The weather was nice and a peaceful calm settled over the long breaks in traffic. A horse who lived in the neighborhood came over and pooped. The animalistic part of me that was awakening in the Oklahoma countryside yearned to tinkle on an adjacent bush in solidarity, but ultimately my human responsibilities took precedent. Later I proudly peed in a urinal, like a person. 
Eventually Adrienne showed up, yelling "I'm doing terrible", despite the 70 miles of riding she'd already endured. Not looking to rub my tranquility in her face, I toned down the showy flag-waving I'd been working on and ushered her calmly across the highway. She disappeared back into the race, which went off without a hitch and was a fun family-inclusive event, thanks to head organizer Craig, many lovely volunteers, and new friend/highway crossing all-star Dane, who was the real reason riders stayed safe. Host town Shawnee was very accommodating and provided a variety of entertainment and post-race food to all involved, including the plain potato my sister gleefully chose as her recovery meal after finishing. While swapping race experiences with other participants, she soberly munched on the potato sans utensils, taking bites as if it were the reward apple my pooping horse friend had been gifted earlier.
The next day I returned home to New York City. Entering my small apartment, the cheap folding bike I'd once been gifted greeted me from its usual corner. We shared a look, ultimately a mixture of shame and relief at what we do not put each other through. Breaking the silence I poured us some whiskey, unearned.

Above, I am pictured with the now infamous potato. Many people found it entertaining that I wanted to just sit and eat a whole potato (direct quote: "I've never seen someone so happy while eating a potato.") When you've ridden the last 40 of 83 miles straight into the wind (and maybe are just slightly out of shape from a bout of flu and life in general), let me tell you, you get to do whatever you want. I may bring some sea salt with me next year.

If you want to ride something in Oklahoma that's the perfect mixture of low-key and high-quality, I can't recommend this ride enough. It was a fun, refreshing, early-season butt kicking (punctuated by miniature donkeys along the way.) There were many other fine points of the day that just gave it that extra beverage stop at mile 8 on the way out/back, the RD in a kilt at the finish line, tiny flat repair kits from Lezyne as finisher tokens, live music & food other than potatoes, free movie ticket for family & friends to see The Goonies at the local movie theater while you were out riding your bike, etc. Check them out here and here for more information and to stay posted for next year's event.

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Curto Dirto: Bikes, Community, & Brain Cancer

There has been much ado as of late as to the state of cycling in the US and the gravel racing boom - from expansion of events - particularly those including prize money and "swag"- to pros from road coming over to race on the dirt. Along with this has come concern about the "death" of grassroots gravel. Much has already been said on this topic (I'd direct you to Guitar Ted's excellent series "The State of Gravel"). I've griped on this topic recently as well, and it's forced me to think more carefully about what I want in the events I go to, and I will be making more mindful choices this year. In the end, it's about making connections with people and nature and hitting internal goals for this rider. I tend to agree with G.Ted - the grassroots spirit at these events and in this community is very much alive, you just have to take yourself to the right places.

One of these places was Curto Dirto in Stillwater, Oklahoma this past weekend. Curt "Curto" Dikes is a former employee of District Bicycles in Stillwater, now living in OKC, who was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer in December (full story here). The Stillwater gravel community immediately rallied around him to organize a 50 mile benefit ride that ended up attracting more than 200 riders and raising an amazing $68,000 dollars through registrations and an enormous raffle with items donated by Moots, Salsa, Cedaero, Chris King, and dozens more local businesses and individuals.
Photo credit Scott Drevicky

There may have been a few riders hammering out front as we rolled out of town and onto the gravel, but mostly there was a sense in the air that this was a time to spend with others. We chose to ride with friends, drifting forward and backward and in and out of conversations and reflections on the day, and to take the time to appreciate our bodies that let us pedal up and down the rolling red dirt roads that Stillwater is famous for.
Photo credit Scott Drevicky

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

Photo credit Scott Drevicky

There were several supported stops, and an oasis with a margarita machine and a fire pit, of course. This pup also found his own personal rolling support.

So yes, the community - any many would say family - that has kept many people in gravel and continues to draw many more in is alive and well. It may be buried a little more than it used to be under advertisements, hype, and dollar signs. And that's fine, that's how business and industry works. But if friends and strangers can come from across the country to raise $68k for a good dude dealt some bad cards, then the gravel you know and love is not going anywhere - you just have to look in the right places.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

My Top Ten of 2018 (plus one!)

1. Phone App I reached for the most: Calm
I've tried several meditation/mindfulness-based apps, and this has become my go-to. I ponied up for a
yearly subscription this past year after using the more limited, free version for several previous years. Unclear whether it was (a) paying for something, (b) having full app functionality, or (c) all-time stress highs thanks to ER residency that led to my drastic uptick in app-based mindfulness consistency, but I used this app on about 3/4 of my days (most often 10 minutes before bed). The "Daily Calm" featured on the home screen was my go-to, but I also worked my way through 7 days of Managing Stress, 7 Days of Calming Anxiety, 7 Days of Sleep, and the Relationship With Self Series.

2. Favorite New Nutrition Product: Untapped Ginger MapleAid

I have been through more drink mixes than I can count. Something seems to work for me for about 6 months, and then no longer sits well. And what works during the winter does not work during the summer, and vice versa. This is the latest and most appetizing in my rotation. Simple ingredients, not too much sugar, and it actually tastes like ginger - it has a strong kick. Also good warm, which is what I've been doing for winter riding - brings out the ginger even more when hot! Plus it comes from Vermont and a fellow Middlebury Alum.

3. Best New Thing I Bought: Salsa Cutthroat

I love this bike. I spent about 6 months after I finished my initial build trying to get the fit right, and now it's there, and I love it. Everything's matchy and pretty, and it rides over pretty much anything, can be loaded down with bags for bikepacking, has a generator hub for ultra-distance needs, and has been on lots of adventures already (mostly in Iowa, see below). It's not the speediest over short distances ("short" being <150 miles) and quite a bit heavier than most "gravel race" bikes, but it's doing double-duty for that as well until another bicycle child is acquired.

4. Best New Experience: Solo Bikepacking

There's something to be said for doing something that scares you. And I'm willing to admit that this did. It's also the most empowering thing. I do have a Spot Tracker in case of emergency/so that someone knows I'm alive.

5. Best Race I Went To: 24 Hours of Cumming

See the recap here. In short, this topped the list because of the 36 hour party it turns into, all of the new gravel friends I made, the mind-bending 100k loops I rode through the day and night and part of the day again, and the hills, because I am a masochist who loves Iowa hills.

6. Best Race Photo of 2018: DK and Land Run Chase the Chaise pics

Prior to Land Run, I thought Salsa Cycle's "couch photo op" on course was going to feel gimmicky and that I would hate it. But then I kind of loved the picture. And then I accidentally took probably the best race pic of my life while feeling like death at DK, also on the chaise. Note they have added a tasteful lamp there. 

7. Best Thing I Drank: Shacksbury Cider

Bone dry, craft cider, from local orchard and foraged wild apples in Vermont. 'Nuff said. Wish it was easier to track down in the great state of Oklahoma.

8. Video I'm Using the Most (Still): Foundation Training

A PT friend of mine turned me on to Foundation Training four years ago, and I'm still using it. Highly recommend if you have any spine, hip, pelvis, stability issues, or if your mobility has just generally started to suck because you're an adult who maybe spends a large portion of the day in front of a computer. I started with the movement sequence in their book, and now just use this video routine:

9. Favorite Pit Stop: Casey's General Store

Casey's, where have you been all my life. I'm probably so in love with this convenience store because I'm typically in dire straits when I encounter it (Trans Iowa, Spotted Horse Ultra, that time I bikepacked 300-some miles in a thunderstorm), but you can get many life-saving things here. My proprietary 1:4 ratio of hot chocolate to coffee. Mechanic's gloves. Car engine lubricant for your drive train. Plastic bags for your feet. Pickles, potato chips, snickers, Clif nut butter bars.

10. Favorite sleep hack for shift work: Sunrise Alarm Clock

More accurately a "wake up lamp" than alarm clock. This magical egg-shaped machine gets gradually brighter starting 15 minutes before the alarm (chirping birds or chimes) goes off. I usually wake up with the light a few minutes before the alarm sounds, which is much nicer than the iPhone beeping. Shift work with constantly changing circadian rhythms is tough, might as well trick your body into thinking day is night and night is day and mid-day is...whatever. 

11. (because 10 wasn't enough...) Top career moment: Lateral Canthotomy

In a turn from all the bicycle and lifestyle stuff...if you're squeamish about eyes, don't google this. It's one of those procedures that an ER doc does only a handful of times in an average career. And eyeballs are fun! No, really, eyeball tendons are great until you have an evolving retro-orbital hematoma and...ok I'll stop :)

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mental Training Reboot Series: Brain Training for Endurance Athletes

A few years back I wrote a series on mental training & the brain science behind endurance sports for a now-departed multisport news website. Time for a reboot! Edited & updated for 2019. Enjoy.
Just like stressing your body in training leads to gains in strength and endurance (and thus performance), stressing your mind during your workout can benefit you. Granted, you can’t substitute mental training for physical training – your mind is often a performance limiter, assuming you haven’t already met your actual physical limits.
For example, when your calves are screaming at you to the point that you physically can’t toe-off the ground any faster, you’ve run into a physical limitation best solved by work in the gym. But when your muscles have even a little juice left in them and you’re falling off pace – or into the same-old pace where you seem to have plateaued for weeks, months, years – training against mental fatigue may help.
Consider this: cumulative stress, distraction, and cognitive demands can cause you to struggle through a subsequent workout, and it’s not because you’ve exhausted your body. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your key run feels noticeably harder after a long day at work – there’s a reason, and it’s in your brain.
This “long day at work” effect was reproduced in the lab as early as 2009, when exercise physiologist Samuele Marcora’s group showed that mental fatigue from a 90 minute, highly demanding cognitive task caused subjects to max out their perceived effort faster and disengage earlier during a “cycling to exhaustion” task. In short, if your brain gets tired early, your body quits early.
“Well %^#&,” you might be thinking. “I better quit my job and move to a cabin in the woods with nothing but my trainer, bike, and an endless pool, such that I can minimize the demands on my brain and thus maximize my physical performance.”
There are a couple of problems with this proposition. First, it’s probably not realistic. Even if we remove the cabin-in-the-woods scenario, reducing your stress level is great, but you’re never going to remove every single cognitively demanding or stressful task from your day. Nor should you want to.
The key here isn’t getting rid of everything that is mentally fatiguing, it’s making the mentally fatiguing things less…fatiguing. You can actually work on pushing out that time-point at which your brain quits. And even better, you can do it while you exercise.

1. The pre-workout brain training method:

This would seek to emulate Marcora’s study referenced above. Sit yourself down in front of your computer, phone, or tablet and pull up one of the classic cognitive neuroscience tasks – I recommend the StroopFlanker, or Attention Network Task. Play for 5 to 90 minutes – you’ll know when you’re tired. Your mind will start to wander and you’ll get frustrated, even if selecting the right answers would still be “easy”.
This is the same thing that happens mid-race when your brain wants to quit and move on to the next new, shiny thing. Now immediately go out and run/swim/bike. It’ll probably seem harder than if you had done the same session without the cognitive task first.

2. The intra-workout training method:

Great for the time-pressed, and possibly even more beneficial – although we don’t really know yet (no published studies to date), many have speculated that simultaneous physical + mental training could be even more effective, since it more specifically replicates reality. Of course, this requires that you be somewhere with easy access to your tech – the Attention Network Task on a tablet during a trainer ride is a personal favorite (watch me below), but you can also put your mental training in during rest intervals if you’re out on the track or in the pool (grab your phone from the deck/sidelines).
If you’re intrigued, just keep a few things in mind. Training in a mentally tired state is stressful, so treat it like you would any other stressor you throw at your body to produce an adaptation – e.g. fasted sessions, post-strength work –start as small as you need to and build up, and consider where you insert these sessions into your training schedule (obviously, not on a recovery day).