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02/12/05 Full suspension

I've always ridden a hard tail mountain bike. For several years it was a hard front as well, but I didn't really have to be sold on the front suspension. I like hard tails because they are light and relatively easy to maintain.

Today I rode my new Specialized Epic for the first time (not counting the test ride a few weeks back). Of course I love it, but some more substantive observations can also be made.

A full suspension bike won't compensate for technique flaws. If you put your weight on the wrong wheel you can still chuck yourself into the bushes. If you don't sync your pedaling with logs/rocks/etc. you can still mash your toes.

What the full suspension does do is allow you to execute all those techniques more smoothly. There's a switchback at Castlewood that illustrates this. The difficulty is that there is a sizeable root right at the apex. After you hop the front wheel over, you then have to quickly get it turning again and then hop the rear, all while pedaling fairly hard as it's quite steep.

On the hard tail, I do this right about 4 out of 5 times. The fifth time, I lose my momentum hopping the rear wheel and can't get it started again because the front wheel is turned too sharp. I rode it today several times with the Epic. I didn't change my technique any, but with the backend soaking up the bump, I could simply move my weight forward while pedaling rather than actually hopping the back wheel. It was easy. I could probably go through there 100 times without messing it up.

It's no substitute for training, but given my limited time to work on technique, the full suspension will certainly be worth a few extra pounds.

2/19/05 Teaming up with David Frei

I ran a team orienteering event today with David Frei. The event was put on by the CAOC (Chicago). David and I have done a number of adventure races together, but this was the first time we had done an orienteering race as a team.

We worked together very well. This isn't really a surprise. We are roughly equal in speed and our navigation styles are very similar. The latter point is subtle. Many people aren't even aware that they have a navigation style, but you certainly notice it if you team up with someone who does it differently from you.

David and I both do a lot of training on ridge and valley terrain. We don't have much choice in St. Louis. As a result, both of us tend to rely very heavily on multi-line features. By this I mean that we don't pay much attention to individual contour lines. Instead we read what the parallel lines are doing. Spurs and reentrants are multi-line features. Knolls and depressions are single line.

In glaciated terrain, there aren't many multi-line features and you have to read each line. In ridge and valley terrain, reading each line just slows you down. Multi-line features can be read much faster than single-line features. It's also easier to keep them straight in your head since you're thinking bigger constructs.

Relying on single lines when using a USGS map is a real problem because the lines aren't very accurate. USGS does tend to get the big stuff right. Today's map was basically a prettied up version of USGS so it suited our style.

2/20/05 Navigating on rough maps

Many orienteers turn up their noses at USGS maps. Objectively, a USGS map is quite inferior to an orienteering map. However, when racing on USGS maps, the same people come out on top pretty consistently, so obviously there is a skill to it. The correlation between success on O-maps and USGS maps is positive, but well below 1. Running on rough maps is a specific skill that must be trained.

Yesterday I wrote about using multi-line features. There are some other things that can be done to improve performance on rough maps:

Stay high. From the tops of ridges, you can read the big reentrant systems easily. From the bottom, it's often hard to tell which reentrants are and aren't on the map.

Attack spurs and reentrants from the side. You may not have enough detail to distinguish parallel features. If you attack them from along the hillside, it's easier to keep track of which one you're in. (Our only boom yesterday was when we attacked a gully head on. There was only one gully on the map, and it was the biggest, but there were at least 10 good-sized gullies on the hillside. When we got to the gullies, we had to guess which way to turn and we guessed wrong. If we had taken a route that went along the hillside, we wouldn't of had to guess.)

Accept the fact that the map will be wrong in spots. This is what messes up many of the top orienteers. Orienteering trains you to rely fully on the map. If something doesn't look right, you should figure it out before moving on. That's a good practice even on rough maps, but one of your possible resolutions should be accepting that the map is just screwed up in that spot. Of course, you can't do this carelessly and just dismiss the map any time you hit something unexpected. If you think the detail is wrong, look for some large features to confirm you location.

Run loose. Stay in contact with the map by using rough bearing and pace counting. If you try to stay in contact by reading all the details, you'll get messed up by all the things that either aren't on the map or are represented poorly. Plan routes that pass by major features so you can confirm you location every few hundred meters.

In short, orienteering rewards people who can run aggressive (typically straight-line) routes quickly and stay in constant contact with the map. Rough map navigation rewards safe routes executed with much looser contact.

02/21/05 Long way around

map Normally I take fairly direct routes. On Saturday, David and I chose to take the road around on the leg from 4 to 3. (This was a score event, so we took controls out of order). We traveled over a kilometer to complete a 500m leg.

Even with the extra climb, I wouldn't have taken this leg if the footing on the hillsides wasn't so bad. We were having a hard time with the steep stuff because the ground was frozen solid and we weren't wearing spikes.

Unfortunately, the road around had a lot of ice on it, so it wasn't as fast as we would have hoped. We ran just this leg in just under 7 minutes. The straight line route has 40m of climb, so the effective distance of the straight route is 700m. (I've found that a 5:1 climb rule fits my results pretty well).

10:00/Km against adjusted red line doesn't justify going so far out of the way. Our pace for the entire event was 8:04/Km with 3.2% climb which comes to 6:57 against adjusted redline. We were getting pretty beat up by this point and I think you are more tempted to take easier routes late in a tough race. Your brain sees all those lines and latches onto alternatives, even if they aren't as good.

2/23/05 Staying healthy

There's a discussion on Attackpoint about staying healthy and when to take time off for sickness. I know many athletes that always seem to be nursing some sort of illness or injury and others that never seem to be out of sorts.

While there are differences in immune systems, I think much of the discrepancy comes from taking the proper preventative measures. I think getting enough sleep is probably the most important thing for me. Even if I do get sick (which is pretty rare), I get over it quickly if I've been sleeping enough. If I get sick when I'm already sleep deprived, it can get pretty bad.

I don't sleep nearly as much as I used to. Then again, I don't train 25 hours a week anymore, either. I try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. 8 is better. I also try to get in a rest during the day on days that I'm doing a long workout. Half an hour just lying down and relaxing can make a big difference.

Finding the time to sleep when you have a job, family, training (not to mention an off- hours software project) is not easy. The only way I can do it is to not watch TV. I'm not anti-TV. It's just not as important to me as getting enough sleep.

2/25/05 Atkins

Every year I gain some weight in the winter. Not a lot; usually about 4% of total mass. This is mostly a consequence of reduced training, but I also find that a little more body fat helps me stay healthy during flu season. I used to have no trouble losing the weight in the spring, but after I turned 30, those extra 5 pounds got a lot more stubborn.

The best way I've found to get the weight off quickly is to do the Atkins diet. This diet has been the recipient of much scorn in the athletic community. I used to think poorly of it, too, until I took the time to read Dr. Atkins' book.

Much of what people mock about the Atkins diet is not part of the diet at all. People ask "how can you loose weight by eating a bunch of fat?" Answer: you can't, Atkins specifically warns about eating too much fat. "How can you workout with no carbs?" Answer: you can't, Atkins simply sets your carb intake to match your needs.

The truth is that the only way to lose weight is to eat less than you burn. Everybody knows this. Atkins helps because you're not hungry all the time, so you eat less.

You don't need as many carbs as you might think. Your body can burn about 200-300 calories of fat an hour. If your workout intensity is in the 700-1000 calorie/hour range, you need 100-150 grams of carbs (1g carb = 4 calories) for every hour of working out to cover the difference. Matching that with a 10-hour training week means your carb intake should be around 200 grams a day. Most people eat much more than that, even if they don't work out at all.

In the early spring (right now, actually), I do 2 weeks of induction, which knocks your carbs down to around 20 grams a day. That effectively cleans out your carb stores. It feels a little like bonking, but you're not really hungry, just a bit fatigued. Non-athletes often describe it as feeling like the flu. But you can still work out, even hard. Yesterday, I did a stamina workout at 6:15/mile (roughly my 10K pace) and it felt fine. I actually placed in a 2-hour bike race once when I was on induction, but I try to schedule this period during a time when I have no races.

After the induction phase is over, I'm usually a little below my target weight. That's good because induction tends to leave your water level a little low, so you haven't lost as much as you think. I bump my carb intake up to 50 grams plus whatever I need to cover that day's workout. I stay at that level through mid-fall. The quick shift from induction to maintenance is not recommended unless you've already figured out what your target carb level is. First-timers should go through all four phases.

2/26/05 Psych job

I rode the Chubb Trail today with Jeff and Carrie. Ken Debeer also joined us. The Chubb is the most technical trail in the immediate vicinity of St. Louis. I can ride most of it, but have to put my foot down in few sections.

One section that I've never ridden is called the Step. It's a small drop into a pretty good sized drop and then a run out on some smooth, but off-camber rocks. It's not that hard technically, but it is very intimidating. You can't see the exit until you've committed and the penalty for error is fairly high. Everything that you would fall onto is rock in some unpleasant shape.

Every time I think I should give the section a try, the person I'm riding with loses it. Today, I wasn't really planning on riding it, because I hate to crash hard early in the season. The other three all rode it with varying degrees of success. Ken was fine, Carrie had to put a foot down, and Jeff wrecked big time.

He's fine, but his helmet is busted and the mount for his bike computer broke off. I'm glad I was far enough behind him that I didn't see it. Sooner or later, I'll ride it and I need to be thinking success, not failure.

2/27/05 Happy Birthday to Kate

Kate's birthday is today. Even though she's younger than me, she probably doesn't want me giving out her age.

Kate didn't see much of me today because I had a bunch of work to do for the upcoming A-meet. We celebrated her birthday last weekend in Chicago.

2/28/05 Gettin' old ain't so bad

With Kate's birthday yesterday and Carol's tomorrow, there are lots of "over the hill" jokes going around.

One of the nice things about racing is that birthdays have an upside. Sure, you're older, but you also get a new age group every few years. In adventure races, I compete in open because 40 is pretty much your prime. I don't think Adventure racing age groups shouldn't start until you're 50. Our "first string" for Carol's Team (David, Jeff, Carrie, and myself), could race masters as we're all over 40, but why would we want to? It's more fun to go for the overall win.

In shorter events, youth is a definite advantage. I race my age group in orienteering, running, cycling, and triathlons.

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