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Blog Archives

5/1/05 New route

Today, I was going to ride with the Big Shark team, but I didn't realize they've switched to their summer start location already. I rode about an hour to where they meet in the winter/spring and when nobody else showed, I went off on my own.

I rode across the Page Avenue bridge into St. Charles and then came back via the 370 bridge. The Page bridge is relatively new - the bike lane wasn't finished until last summer. Until it was finished, there wasn't any good way to make a loop that went across the Missouri river unless you were looking to do some big miles and go all the way to Alton or Washington.

Riding in St. Charles feels like riding in another country. Not that it's really any different - just that I so rarely go there due to the difficulty with the bridges. Today's ride was a lot of fun. I'll probably start riding there a lot more often. It's always nice to get on some unfamiliar roads.

5/2/05 Bike

You could write a book about what is and isn't important in a mountain bike (some have). Rather than add to an already mature body of literature, I'll just point out a few things specific to adventure racing.

The overriding factor in all equipment decisions is reliability. Remember that, since there are four people on the team, the failure rate for any piece of equipment is basically multiplied by four. If yours doesn't break, somebody else's will.

The biggest offenders are 10-speed clusters and disk brakes. Both of these items make sense in a 1-hour cross-country race. In a long adventure race, they are just more stuff to break. The tiny performance gains go unnoticed. We actually experimented with going back to 7-speed freewheels since the wider cog spacing doesn't get as gunked up and allows the use of a beefier chain. We went back to 9-speed partly because the better shifters and derailleurs are designed for 9-speed, and partly because we felt like Luddites.

I rode for several years on a hardtail and found it quite workable. I've switched to full suspension for races where there's a lot of singletrack involved. It's definitely less fatiguing and does compensate for the natural deterioration in technique as the race goes on. I still think that riding a hardtail on technical terrain every now and then is a good way to make sure your form isn't getting too sloppy.

5/3/05 Base layer

The base layer of clothing is probably the most important and least regulated equipment for adventure racing. The vague guidelines in the gear list are a good thing, since they allow you to pick a base layer that makes the most sense for the conditions.

Normally, we wear triathlon shorts on the bottom (the pad holds less water and is more comfortable for running than cycling shorts) and a short-sleeved technical shirt on top. If the gear list mandates full coverage for the base layer, we toss lycra tights and a lightweight long-sleeved top in the pack. Sometimes you can get away with calling the long pants for the trekking section your base layer. Make sure you clear this before the race - don't expect to argue your way through an on-course gear check.

If the conditions are cold, we take the base layer a bit more seriously. There isn't much worse than being stuck in a boat in the middle of a cold night with wet lycra against your skin. If there's a chance of being both cold and wet, you want some sort of fuzzy synthetic fabric.

In all cases you want your base layer to be fairly lightweight. If it gets wet, you need to be able to dry it out quickly. You can always add more layers on top - most races require a fleece layer in addition to a base layer anyway.

5/4/05 2 be or not 2 be

Back in another lifetime when I would take 4 months a year off work to race, I was an OK semi-pro bike racer. Certainly not in danger of being selected for the Tour de France, but able to make a little noise in domestic 1/2/Pro races. Mostly, I was a workhorse for some very good teammates who shared enough of their winnings to make it worth my while. Those days are long gone, but even though I'm a category 3 rider now (was automatically downgraded when I took a few years off), I still race mostly against cat-2's. The M35+ field is predominantly cat 2 and the open races I do mix the 2's and 3's. I haven't done a true cat 3 race since 1984.

I was discussing this casually with the district rep the other day and he surprised me by offering to bump me back to cat 2. I certainly don't have the race results to warrant that because I haven't been doing cat 3 events. Even if I was to race with 3's, I wouldn't exactly be the scourge of the field; just another strong rider. The district rep is given a fair bit of latitude in these things, and I suppose that my past history and current race selection could be used as justification (not that the national staff would even bother to question it - it's cat 1 that they keep a lid on).

I'm seriously considering the offer. There's no real downside as I have no intention of entering cat 3 races. It would be fun to mix it with the pros every now and then even though I'm no longer a match for them. Big Shark has a pretty good contingent of 2's, so there would always be people to work for.

5/6/05 Back to Ithaca

I'm going back to Ithaca this weekend to see Carol. I hope I'll have a chance to post some updates on how she's doing.

5/7/05 New slogan

Carol told me today that she has a new slogan: "Love me, love my drool." Since she's lost the ability to swallow, she has to constantly spit into a cup. That would be easier if she hadn't also lost pretty much all of her facial motor control. It's a bit messy. I don't know how she keeps a sense of humor about it.

What is difficult for her to take lightly is the fact that it took almost 10 minutes to communicate that message to me. She is paralyzed to the point where the only way she can communicate is looking at a board with the alphabet on it and you pick out which letter she's looking at. This results in a communication speed of 1 word every 1-2 minutes.

Obviously, Carol's Song would be a big help here. If the 80% reduction of characters was achieved, she would get 1 word every 10-20 seconds. Still slow, but 6 sentences in an hour (which is what we did) is not nearly the conversation that 30 sentences is.

Aside from being great to see her again, the trip has helped me see where some of the challenges will be with Carol's Song. I was basically performing the function of the software. When I would correctly guess ahead, it saved a lot of time. If I guessed wrong, it was really frustrating for her because she had no way of correcting me. I'll have to give a lot of attention to how alternatives are picked from the list of possibles.

5/8/05 Goodbye

I said goodbye to Carol this afternoon. I may never say it to her again. Nobody can accurately predict how much longer she will live, but it's very clear that she will have no ability to communicate after another few weeks. I don't know if I'll get back in that timeframe.

I am still having trouble picturing a world without her in it.

5/10/05 Shoes

Getting back to the series on equipment...

Lately, I've noticed "appropriate outdoor footwear" showing up in gear lists. I'm not sure why this is being added, but I guess a lot of people are showing up with regular running shoes and injuring themselves.

Trail shoes are different from running shoes in a number of important ways. The tread is designed to give some lateral grip rather than just forwards and back. The lateral support is significantly greater. The heel counter is a bit beefier. The tread and midsole are also a bit tougher.

For the ultimate in off-road performance, you can't beat a pair of true orienteering shoes. These cleated and studded shoes give phenomenal grip on just about any surface and are very lightweight. The problem is that these are designed a lot like racing flats and are pretty uncomfortable after a couple hours. There are no domestic manufacturers or retailers of orienteering shoes (it's a really small market), but there are a few mail order places that carry them.

Despite the very real advantages of O-shoes, we all use trail shoes for adventure racing. The performance advantage is only realized at fairly high speeds and the risk of blisters in a long race is quite high. We recently got a shoe deal with Montrail, which was great because that's what we were using anyway. I use the Vitesse unless conditions are quite wet; then I use the Hurricane Ridge.

5/11/05 Socks

It may seem like a small thing, but picking the right pair of socks can make or break a race. There are many different types of socks out there and everybody has their own reasons for liking their favorite. The only sure way to know what will work for you is to buy a pair and try them out. Here are some things to consider:

  • Wool has its place (winter events), but synthetic knits work best for most situations. Shame on you if you even considered cotton.
  • A thick sock gives more cushioning, but is also more likely to give you blisters.
  • Socks designed specifically for blister prevention (for example, double layer socks) work really well for some people, but actually make the situation worse for others.
  • Fuzzy materials around the ankle will collect burrs.
  • White socks will stain. So will black socks, but you can't see it. If appearance is important to you, wear black.

I use a very lightweight sock and carry two spare pairs in my pack. This allows me to change them often. I've found this is the best defense against blisters. Again, experiment and find out what works for you.

5/12/05 Pants

Many adventure racers wear shorts in the woods. It's true that this is cooler and lighter, but we've generally found that it pays to wear full-length pants for the trekking sections. Most gear lists require you to carry a full-length base layer anyway, so you might as well carry them on your body than in your pack.

The general consensus around here is that lightweight nylon works better than most of the polypro-based alternatives. That's largely due to the pervasiveness of thorny vegetation in the Midwest. Any time lost due to extra heat is easily made up in being able to get through carnivorous vegetation quickly.

Jeff modified a pair of nylon pants by replacing the back of the legs with an open mesh. He reports that they feel almost like running in shorts. I've never had a problem with my legs overheating, so I don't mind the lack of ventilation.

Orienteering pants are a viable option and used by several good teams. Coming from an O background, we used them for a while as well but have since switched to the more adventure-racerish design with pockets and leg zippers, both of which are occasionally useful. I don't even wear O-pants in orienteering races anymore, preferring either my AR gear or nylon/lycra tights.

5/13/05 Climbing

Required climbing gear varies from nothing to full setup including your own ropes and protection. Most races that feature climbing sections require a harness, 2 locking carabineers, and an ATC (or comparable belay device). Typically you can use your bike helmet, but some races insist on having you wear a bona-fide climbing helmet. Some races require gloves (bike gloves suffice) which I suppose is for rappelling although if you need a glove to rappel, you're doing it wrong.

For the carabineers and ATC, the lightest/cheapest will do just fine (as long as they meet true climbing specs). The harness decision is a bit more personal. Keep in mind that most ropes sections take only a few minutes, so the comfort afforded by a nicer (and heavier, costlier) harness is not much of a consideration. I made my decision by seeing how quickly I could put it on. I found a fair variance on that measure - from when I pull it out of my pack, I can get mine on in about 30 seconds; others took over two minutes. We have been in races where that mattered.

For the Ozark Challenge this year, we tried just wearing our harnesses for the entire 5- hour trekking section. Since we all had cheap, lightweight harnesses, that worked out just fine. In fact, Carrie made the comment when we got to the first set of ropes that she had forgotten she even had it on.

5/14/05 Jim Schoemehe

Today, I ran a 5K in memory of Jim Shoemehe, a teacher at Webster Groves High School who died of ALS a few years back. The run was put on by students at the school and raised about $9,000 for the ALS Foundation.

I was happy to be a part of it. I jogged over there and ran it as a tempo run (I didn't want to kill my legs for tomorrows O-meet). Something like 300 people participated, but very few of them were serious runners. My modest 20:04 actually took third place (which meant I had to run five miles home carrying a trophy which felt sort of stupid).

Hopefully these little efforts like ours will end up making a cumulative difference in the lives of ALS patients. Because the disease kills so quickly, it's hard to get large quantities of funds directed towards a cure. There's just no money in it for the medical industry. You can't really fault them for looking at the bottom line - they have to stay in business to do anybody any good. It does mean that the efforts of non-profits become much more important.

5/15/05 Laumeier

SLOC held a meet at Laumeier Sculpture Park today. It's a very cool park, with lots of big sculptures all over the place. Part of the park is wooded. A dense trail network connects the sculptures in the woods.

As usual at SLOC meets, it was a 2-way battle between David and I. This time, I won by around 90 seconds. We had 22 controls and my time was 22:19. I really like this style of orienteering (very short legs, fast route choice decisions). It felt a lot like running a sprint event, although it was a little long to be classified as such.

I'll post the map tomorrow.

5/16/05 Laumeier Map

Here is the map from yesterday's race. The S-in-circle symbol denotes a sculpture. Most of the sculptures are fairly large (3-5m high). Some are huge.

5/17/05 Twice as nice

We bought our new house today, so now we own two houses. A thousand years ago owning two properties would probably have made me some sort of feudal baron but now it just means I've got a huge amount of secured debt.

The plan is to fix up the old one a bit as we get our stuff moved out. As this coincides with the end of the spring season, I should have the time. Unfortunately, it means I won't make as much progress on Carol's Song as I'd like.

5/19/05 Cross Training

This has been a light week for real training because I've been spending a lot of time moving to the new house. Maybe it counts as cross training - some of the boxes are pretty heavy.

5/20/05 - Unprepared

Tomorrow is Missouri Road Cycling Championships. I'm completely unprepared, although my general fitness is OK. Originally, this race was scheduled for late June which works out much better for me. I don't know why they moved it.

Although cycling is now a secondary sport for me, I still like to put out a good effort in the State Road Race. My cycling training doesn't really get going until mid to late April. It takes about 10 weeks to convert a good base into real competitive form.

Hopefully, I'll be able to find a couple good road races when my form comes around this summer. For some reason, road racing isn't all that popular in Missouri. Almost all the races are criteriums. I've always preferred being out on the open road to doing a bunch of laps around a city block.

5/21/05 MO Champs

The Missouri Road Cycling Champs went better than I expected. I got seventh and my Big Shark teammate Joe Walsh was third. The full report is here.

5/23/05 Redline

One thing you don't do very often in adventure racing that is quite common in other sports is pushing yourself absolutely as hard as you can go. You may be exhausted by the end of the race, but rarely do you just floor it. This sort of effort is simply out of place in a long race. Last Saturday, I hit redline on the bike and it had been long enough since I did so that I was actually surprised by it.

I put out big efforts in training and races all the time. But I usually leave just a little in reserve. I know that I could go slightly harder if I needed to. When the big split occurred in Saturday's race, I had just been riding tempo on the front. I stood up to match the acceleration and found myself a few meters off the back of the split. I increased my effort but, with the hilltop approaching, the group was still accelerating. I pushed again expecting to quickly hop on the back but was surprised to find that I simply couldn't go any faster.

Fortunately, I was not far off and I rejoined the lead group just a few hundred meters after the summit. It was a panicky moment as I knew that I had nothing in reserve. In most bike races, there comes a point where you have to just go with all you have and worry about the consequences later. When I was entering 80 bike races a year, I was used to that and it didn't bother me to be so exposed.

Now it does a bit. Maximal efforts make you feel naked. You are betting everything on it because if the effort doesn't work (for example, if I hadn't been able to latch onto the lead group) you are done. Of course, by not putting out the effort you are resigning yourself to a long chase which may or may not succeed, but it still feels safer because it's a measured response. If I'm going to go back to racing with the 1/2/pro crowd, I'll need to get my head back to where I don't fear redline efforts.

5/24/05 Support

Yesterday, I moved all my furniture to the new house. Teammates David and Jeff helped as did three other friends: Joey Browning, Rob Wagnon, and Andy Mathis-Pierce. Ken DeBeer would have helped, too, but he messed himself up in a race last weekend. It was hard work, but it was also fun to do it with people I like.

I have lot's of pals who I enjoy spending time with. The set of real friends who will help out in a situation like this is considerably smaller. I think of Carol's support group, with over a hundred people willing to pitch in to help her and realize what a good life she has lived. Granted, her situation is a lot worse than simply needing some help moving (after all, I could have just hired movers), but it's also clear that she has touched a lot of people in ways that make them want to be in that group of people who can be counted upon.

5/25/05 Don't look where you're going

As is my custom on Tuesday nights, I rode the training races yesterday. In the first race we had one of those wrecks that would be funny if it didn't involve somebody getting pretty messed up.

The course at Carondelet Park has a fairly fast sweeping turn at the bottom of the hill. It's an easy corner, but can be a little scary when the pack is moving at full speed. Two riders bumped in the middle of the turn and the one on the outside straightened his line to make room. So far, so good. The problem is that the outside rider then realized that he was going to run out of road. Rather than looking inward to tighten his line, he target locked on the curb and rode straight into it. Fortunately he wasn't hurt too bad, but the new front wheel will set him back a few hundred dollars.

It's very natural to focus on the hazard. Unfortunately, it's the wrong thing to do. As soon as you've identified something you'd rather miss, stop looking at it. Instead figure out where you do want to go and look there. In short, don't look where you're going, look where you should be going.

5/27/05 On a Mission

We'll be entering two teams in the Mission on the Muscatatuck adventure race this weekend. David, Jeff, and Carrie will be looking to defend their overall win from last year. I'll be entering an all-male team with Doug Nishimura and Brad Baum. It will be interesting to see how the two teams do. We've got more horsepower, but Doug and Brad are still pretty green (Berryman 2004 was their only other adventure race).

I'll be away from internet access so won't post anything until Monday.

5/30/05 Happy ending

The Mission on the Muscatatuck had more than its share of rough edges. We ended up having a pretty good time, anyway. The race report is here.

5/31/05 Too much to do

I was a little bummed that I missed the Highland Biathlon yesterday. We simply have too much work to do getting our old house ready for sale. Those who went report that conditions were ideal (although I would have still been slow from Saturday).

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