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