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2/1/06 BillyPig race report

... is posted here.

2/2/06 ER

I don't watch much TV, but I understand that ER is a pretty good show. Tonight they will be devoting an entire episode to the story of an ALS patient. James Woods will play the patient. If you have a chance, give it a look (NBC, 10 Eastern/9Central). I'll watch it and compare the story presented there with our experiences with Carol.

2/4/06 Wit

I liked the ER episode on ALS. James Woods did an excellent job of portraying the stages of the disease. His character's name was Nate Lennox.

I suppose more than anything it demonstrated why an ALS patient should never go to the emergency room in the advanced stages of the disease. You can come in with a living will, durable power of attorney, or signed note from God, but you will receive "reasonable stabilizing treatment." And your definition of reasonable might be a little different than theirs.

ALS moves at different rates in different people. Nate deteriorated slightly slower than typical. Carol's was a particularly rapid case, but the progression of the disease was similar. While that was a mercy of sorts, it made it much more difficult for Carol to adopt aides. By the time she had a regular wheelchair, she needed a motorized one. By the time she had a keyboard communication device, she had lost the ability to type. The result was that she was much less independent than the character on ER (who used an eye tracking device to recall stored phrases or type new sentences).

Perhaps the biggest liberty taken by the show would be unnoticed by anybody who hasn't seen what ALS does to someone they know. Near the end of the show, Nate is just trying to get out of the hospital. He's told that the van to pick him up may not have arrived yet and it's cold out. He responds, "Oh no, I might catch pneumonia."

That sort of banter comes so naturally to most of us that we take it for granted. ALS patients are just as capable as anybody with coming up with a witty rejoinder. Sadly, they are completely unable to deliver it. Developing a novel sentence, even of just a few words takes several minutes. By the time the line is delivered, the timing has gone stale.

That's what we're trying to address with Carol's Song. Of course, it will take more than just our efforts. I think I'm being reasonably optimistic in suggesting that Carol's Song will get an advanced ALS patient from two words a minute to ten (again, we're talking novel sentences, here, not pre-rehearsed stuff which can be delivered much faster). That's still not the level of witty banter, but at least it's a conversation.

2/5/06 CF Round 2

I finished the second scoring round of the Catching Features World Series tonight. I probably should have done it before Kate and I went out to celebrate our anniversary. Trying to play Catching Features when you've had a few drinks doesn't work very well. I was tempted to DNF, but decided to stick it out. At the time I finished, I was third from last. Maybe some more drunk people will try today and finish behind me.

2/6/06 It's gotta be the shoes

I'm probably showing my age by quoting ads from the late 80's. An ad campaign that I found particularly amusing was Nike's series with Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee's character from She's Gotta Have It). One of the ads had Jordan performing dunks while Mars yelled, "It's gotta be the shoes!" In a later ad, Mars would hold up the shoes and say, "These you buy." Then, pointing to another Jordan slam, "This you cannot do."

It's certainly true that good shoes do not make a mediocre athlete great (and refreshing when a shoe company admits it). However, I was struck this evening by how much difference shoes do make.

I haven't run on the track for a few weeks, so my racing flats have been just sitting in my closet while I wear my training flats or trail shoes. Even my orienteering spikes, which are considerably lighter than trainers, feel heavy by comparison. Jogging over to the track tonight, I felt light. Not just my feet; everything felt like it was floating.

When you're running, most of your body moves at a fairly steady pace. Your feet go from dead stop to twice your speed with every stride. Running on flat ground, an extra ounce on your feet adds as much resistance as several pounds on your back.

2/7/06 Winter racing

I've done plenty of events in the winter, but this weekend's Bonk Hard Chill will be my first winter adventure race. I guess the closest thing I've done is the Canadian Ski Marathon, which is a 2-day ski race in Quebec covering 100 miles. Of course, winter racing in Missouri is not exactly the Iditarod. Predictions are for daytime temps in the low 40's and nighttime in the 20's. It appears there will be little, if any, snow on the ground.

Still, it should be interesting. One thing we learned at Nationals in 2004 is that you really have to be careful to eat enough when you're cold. Keeping your body warm can go through a lot of calories. We all got wet early and found ourselves going through our food much faster than usual. David and I both ran into some trouble near the end and it cost us a place on the podium (we lost 3rd in the last few miles).

2/8/06 Snow

We got the St. Louis version of a snowstorm today. About 1 inch of wet snow. Naturally, they closed most of the schools. We can't have school busses driving around on wet roads now, can we? Sometimes they'll close schools here on just the prediction of snow. I can understand a light snow shutting down a place like Atlanta that has absolutely no capacity for dealing with it. I have no idea what the difficulty is in St. Louis. We get snow every year. We have snowplows. What's the problem?

Anyway, the revised forecast for Lake of the Ozarks indicates that we may have some residual snow on the ground Saturday. Even if it's melted, it will probably be muddy. I suppose that means I should switch to knobby tires for the race. I haven't used knobbies in an adventure race in a long time. The semi slicks have almost as much grip and they are much faster on roads.

2/9/06 Dana

I just realized I've been delinquent in introducing the newest member of Carol's Team. Dana Mareshie will be racing with me in the Bonk Hard Chill this weekend. She's run the Berryman in the past as well as marathons, so she's not a complete newbie to this sort of thing. She is coming off knee surgery, so her fitness is a bit below where it's been in the past.

The first race with a new teammate is always a bit nerve racking. It can be great or it can be a disaster. Personality has as much to do with success as athletic ability. From our workouts together, I'm pretty confident that we'll be OK. The biggest challenge will be to ignore what other teams are doing and concentrate on working together. After a few races, your teamwork becomes more automatic and you can start thinking more about performance.

2/12/06 Cliff Cave

Yeah, I'll get to the Bonk Hard Chill, but I don't have too much time to write today, so I'm just going to post the map from the SLOC meet today.

You'll notice that the control numbering is a bit strange. The meet was supposed to start from the lower parking area, but the road was closed due to "snow". I put this in quotes because there wasn't actually any snow on the road. There were flurries falling from the sky, but the road was just wet. Just in case some of it actually froze, the County Park closed the road. I'm telling you, this town is insane about snow. Anyway, the start/finish was moved to the school at the last minute.

With David sitting it out, I might have expected an easy win on a map that I made. It didn't quite work out that way. Rob Wagnon, who hosts this site and is on the Carol's Team board of directors, gave me a bit of a scare with a really strong run. I got him, but not by much. It's nice to see him returning to form after a bit of an off year. Taking third was Anna Shafer-Skelton, who is really starting to impress in just her second year on advanced courses.

2/13/06 Chillin' at the Bonk Hard

Well, we didn't bonk and by long course standards it wasn't all that hard. But the Chill part, well, they sure got that right. I'll have a race report soon, but here are some initial thoughts about Saturday's race.

  • Paddling on an open lake in freezing weather is a whole different kind of cold. Absolutely miserable. I was rather pleased at how well we did in the paddle sections. We lost one place on the first paddle and none on the second. Not too shabby considering Dana's lack of experience and the fact that most of the other teams were all male.
  • The single track wasn't as tough as I had been led to believe. There were some very technical spots, but they were short enough that even if we couldn't get through them, we lost little time by walking. Most of the trail was quite pleasant.
  • We paced ourselves well. We were glad to be done, but both of us could have gone a bit longer.
  • Yet another race wrecked by a crap nav section. I just don't know when race directors will "get" this. If the map or placement is wrong, the good navigators get hosed. Actually, the map wasn't wrong at all - it was just way out of date. We navigated right to the old trail junctions (still visible as erosion ruts), but the controls were on the new trails which were in different spots. That's fine, but as course designer you have to do one of three things: update the map to show where the new trails go (the best option), give the coordinates of the actual control location (not the coordinates of the location on the old trail) or indicate that the control circles are just giving you the location relative to the new trail network and not the actual location. As it was, you'd have to be a very poor navigator to not realize that the new trail was not the one on the map.
  • That said, it was still a fun event and even though we got torched in the last nav section we finished OK. I'm not sure of our actual finish position, but I'm guessing we were somewhere near the middle of the field. We took around 14 hours to finish.

2/14/06 Heel pain

Two Fridays ago, I test ran the red course for US Team Trials. Not full-on, but hard. The next day, the back of my heel hurt. I took the day off, paddled on Sunday, and it went away. After running the short courses last Sunday it came back with a vengeance. Yesterday I was limping badly.

After some research and discussion with others, I believe that it's bursitis at the Achilles attachment point. The culprit appears to be the stiff heal counter in my VJ Falcon Orienteering shoes (apparently they have a reputation for this). I started using them last fall.

That's too bad, because I really like the shoes. They fit my foot pretty well and appear to be quite durable. They are a tiny bit heavier than my old Jalas, but not much. Before I give up on them, I think I'll look into ways of cushioning the heel counter a bit. While I'm healing, I'll run in my Montrails which have never given me any trouble. I don't have any A-meets coming up (had to cancel the February trip for other reasons) so the extra weight and relative lack of grip won't bother me.

2/15/06 Weight

Well, it's that time of year again - time to get serious about competition weight. It's always amusing to watch people stress about how to get an extra pound off their bike or pack when they're carrying ten times that around their waist. Not so amusing when you're the one with the spare tire.

I always let my weight go up a bit in the winter. My optimal racing weight right now is probably around 178 (about 7% body fat), but I find that too hard to maintain. I'm usually in the 180-183 range during the summer. My target winter range is 188-192. The extra weight seems to help my immune system and it gives me a break from being so rigorous about what I eat.

This morning, I weighed in at 193. Not good, although at least some of that is inflammation from last weekend's race. Still, I'd better get that down before it gets out of control. My targets for the end of the next few months are: February - 190, March - 185, April - 183. The February target is conservative because I don't know how much I'll be able to run on my heel injury. If I'm able to run, I could be at 187 pretty easily.

2/16/06 Innovation

Like most athletes (and most in the general population as well, I gather), I daydream about winning big events. Sometimes I think of a dominating performance, other times it's something heroic where I have to battle back from adversity. The thought that is most intriguing to me is to win in a way that changes the sport.

Probably the most extreme case of this in my lifetime was when Dick Fosbury won the 1968 Olympic High jump going over the bar inverted. It took a few years to fully catch on, but anybody using the old straddle technique now would be laughed out of a High School meet.

Fosbury's technique, now referred to as the Fosbury Flop, would have been lethal prior to the 1950's when the sawdust landing pits were replaced by softer, raised cushions. The innovation came from recognizing that this seemingly inconsequential change permitted a completely different approach to the problem.

Two days ago, Bjoern Lind out sprinted two other skiers to win the Olympic XC Sprint Relay. He did it with a unique double-pole maneuver where he jumped completely in the air while poling. I've never seen this done before (at least not to that extent) and it didn't appear that the TV commentators had, either. It was clearly a lot faster than the double-kick technique which has long been held as the fastest "Traditional" method.

Traditional techniques are basically just variants on double-poling - the diagonal stride is hardly used anymore except on uphills. As such, the skiers now use much longer poles than 30 years ago. The longer poles have made this new technique possible for quite some time. Lind figured it out and now he has a gold medal to show for it.

2/20/06 Outrageous!

One of the amusing aspects of having a foot in both the Orienteering and Adventure Racing camps is observing their reactions to various antics by meet directors. The AR crowd is used to showing up at National Championships not even knowing all the disciplines involved whereas orienteers get bent about a relatively minor rules change six weeks before the event.

My personal bias is closer to orienteering. I think that too many goof-ups by AR meet directors get passed of as "part of the adventure." No, you messed up and that's not fun and exciting, it's just bad. However, the reaction to Orienteering Cincinnati's change to the US Relay Champs point system is wildly over the top. You can go to Attack Point and check some of the discussion if you really have nothing better to do.

It's always hard to know where to draw the line between something that you don't like but just shrug off and something that really needs to be addressed. I think I've become a lot more relaxed about these things since I've started Adventure Racing. That's not to say that I'm happy about organizational mistakes; I just have learned that they're going to happen and if you want to participate, you have to deal with it.

The disappointing thing in this case is that the club that is putting on US Relay Champs has a truly outstanding track record for quality meets. Furthermore, nobody is suggesting that the quality of this meet will be poor. The uproar is entirely procedural - whether the host club had the right to make a change to the scoring rules without going through national sanctioning.

While I think they may have overstepped, it's not a clear case. There's no question that from a PR standpoint, it was handled very badly. However, I think it's a bit tragic that a club that has been a model of A-meet organization is getting ripped for mishandling a single rule. This is not the path to more and better meets in the future.

2/21/06 Fat Tuesday

With New Orleans still recovering, St. Louis has the dubious distinction of hosting the largest Mardi Gras festival in North America. I don't generally pay much attention to the festivities. As noted last week, I am just a tad fat right now, so in the spirit of the season, I've decided to give up sugar for Lent

It's quite remarkable what a difference sugar makes. Aside from the obvious downside of adding a bunch of empty calories, the impact on body functions runs anywhere from bad to disabling. In most healthy people, it triggers an insulin reaction that results in some short-term lethargy. On the extreme end, it can cause diabetes.

During the racing season, I don't eat very much sugar. Removing it from one's diet completely is pretty tough since so many prepared foods use it as an ingredient. I'm not super strict about it, but I try to keep my intake on the low side. Cutting it out altogether will be a good exercise in paying attention to what I'm eating.

Lest I give the impression of trivializing things, I should mention that Lent is no small thing with me. I think that fasting, whether it be outright abstention or simply removing an item that is enjoyable is a very good way to get in touch with your spiritual side. It's tough to see beyond the physical world without consciously turning away from it.

2/22/06 Just a number

I was lifting this morning and noticed a couple other people scurrying from one machine to the next with their clipboards, diligently recording the weights and reps for each exercise. It got me to thinking why I never do that. It's certainly not an aversion to quantifying and recording a workout - I do that all the time. Training logs are valuable.

After some reflection, I realized that I don't have to write down weights and reps because I have no trouble remembering them. That's also why I don't have to write down my times while at the track. I don't need to look at my training log to remember that the last time I ran repeat miles (just before Thanksgiving), I ran 6:02, 5:58, 5:57.

I have a decent memory, but I have to assume that the other folks at the gym also possess functioning grey matter. I believe the difference is relevance. To me, a 6:02 mile has real meaning. I know exactly what that should feel like. I also know that on that occasion I was shooting for 6:00 and fell behind in the first quarter. The entire experience of running that mile was defined by getting back on pace without overcooking it.

This morning while warming up I debated whether I should leg press 490 or stop at 470. This wasn't a comparison of two integers; it was a comparison of two experiences. I decided that I could do 490 if I favored the right leg just a bit so my heel wouldn't hurt.

Numbers are hard to remember unless there is some meaning attached to them. Once a number means something, it's easy to remember it. You'd be hard pressed to find an American adult that doesn't know what 9/11/01 means. Ask them to recall the date of the 2000 presidential election (arguably a more important event) and they'd be stumped. That's because nobody saw the need to associate the date of the election with the event, so we've all forgotten it (although it would be easy to look up).

Most people have vague notions of sports performance. They'd say a 4-minute mile is fast and a marathon is far. Some stats nuts might be able to quote times and distances with remarkable precision. But to truly understand what the number means requires investing oneself in the experience. And that's a lot more than moving a lever back and forth and recording the result. You have to care.

2/24/06 Riding to work

I think the ideal distance to live from work is six miles. Some days you could run to work, other days you could ride. It's short enough that you could ride without working up a sweat, but long enough that you could get a decent cardio workout if you spun it in a really low gear.

As a consultant, I never know where I'm going to be working, but right now I have a 30- mile commute. I decided to give it a try on the bike today. I couldn't take my normal car route, because that uses the interstate. The most logical route would be US-67, but that's a really busy road so it didn't sound like fun. Obviously, when you have to cross two of the largest rivers in the country, your options are constrained by the presence of bike- friendly bridges. After some searching for alternatives, I decided my best bet was to cross the Missouri River right away and do most of the distance in St. Charles County before crossing the Mississippi into Alton.

That put the distance at closer to 40 miles which seemed like an awful long way to ride just to get to work. I don't know St. Charles County all that well, so I went to Google Maps and checked out the satellite photos to see if I could spot some shortcuts. Turns out there are quite a few abandoned railroad beds and rideable levies. I was able to get the distance down to around 35 miles, but it would mean taking my mountain bike.

Undaunted, I set out at 7AM this morning figuring that I could push a bit and get to work by 9. Then I'd have a full charge on the headlamp for coming home. It was fun, using my makeshift map with the trails drawn in to navigate. The only problem was that some of the levies were slow going and it became obvious that I wasn't going to make it in two hours.

I bailed out to the roads, but that was even worse because there was a huge east wind and it's pretty hard to hold a good tuck on a mountain bike. I ended up getting to work around 9:30. I don't regret doing it, but I obviously can't spend 4-5 hours each day riding to work. Hopefully, my next assignment will be closer to home.

2/25/06 It gets better

Well, I wrote yesterday's blog entry during lunch break because I figured the ride home wouldn't be too eventful. Just go back pretty much the way I came. Ha!

Of course, the east wind didn't last all day. By the time I left work it was blowing pretty firm from the southwest. OK, learned that lesson in the morning: stay off the roads. That's going fine and as I'm riding I realize that this would be really good terrain for an adventure race. Lots of decisions (roads vs. levies), modest navigation, and a real feeling of being alone out in the middle of nowhere. I also note that there's a nice takeout point along one of the levies. That clinches it � I've been sketching out a 24-hour course (a real 24-hour course as in the winners will take that long, not one of these bogus 24-hour events where the winning team is in before sunset) in St. Charles County and now I'm convinced that Carol's Team simply must put this race on.

With those happy thoughts in my head, I realize that my rear tire is going low. It's a really slow leak, but the sun has just set, so I figure I might as well change it while I have some daylight. Figuring that this is shaping up to be good AR practice, I time the change and empty my CO2 cartridge into the new tube six minutes after stopping. Not the world's fastest change, but it will do.

Then I notice the tire is still flat. Turns out my spare tube has a defective valve. It's getting pretty dark now and I'm starting to think that this adventure race fantasy is getting a tad too realistic. I have a patch kit, but I reach for the cell phone instead.

Kate's already out driving around, so she changes directions and starts heading towards me. She asks where I am and I realize that my only map is my map with no street names and the levies drawn in by hand. I recognize route 94 and tell her I'll get that far. I stuff the old tube back in the tire, pump it up (have to use the hand pump now because I only had one cartridge) and get back on. I ride pretty hard because I don't want to have to keep stopping to re-inflate the tire and also because it's not going to take Kate long to get there and I don't want here blowing past the rendezvous point and going all the way to Alton.

I make it to 94 about two minutes before Kate shows up.

"We rescued Daddy!" she calls to Ya-Ya who's in the back seat.
"Well, rescued is a bit over the top, I certainly could have got home on my own."
"No, we rescued you."
"Ok, whatever."
"I'm going to put on my blog that I rescued Daddy."
"You don't have a blog."
"Well, maybe I'll start one so I can tell everyone I rescued Daddy."

OK, I'll save her the trouble. KATE RESCUED DADDY. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to pull the ride to work stunt again until I get a new assignment.

2/27/06 Winter sports

Going to High School and College in upstate New York gave me lots of opportunities to dabble in Winter Olympic sports. I did a fair bit of cross-country ski racing and also entered biathlons (where I found my best strategy was to just crack off the shots as quick as possible and then ski the penalty loops). I tried ski jumping, alpine skiing, and bobsledding, but found the injury/reward ratio to be unacceptable for someone of my coordination. I played hockey in high school and even tried ice dancing (one does what one must to meet girls at an engineering school). I went curling once and was really bad at it. Apparently, you're supposed to drink after the game.

The winter sport I really like is short track speed skating. I never got that good at it, but I always enjoyed it. I last raced in 1993 (also my last year of serious bike racing). It's the only sport I go out of my way to catch on the Olympic coverage. Watching the races this year made me quite nostalgic.

I also found myself getting pretty caught up in them. That's unusual for me as I tend to be a rather passive observer. After Ohno won the gold in the 500m I realized that I was literally out of breath. I probably forgot to breathe for the entire 40-second race. I quickly took my pulse and it was around 140. Maybe I should watch more short track and log it as training. Too bad it's only on TV once every four years.

2/28/06 One for the aged

While we're on the subject of inspiring performances, I'd like to call attention to Peter Gagarin's run at the latest World Ranking Event in Florida. Peter is 61 years old. He entered the elite division and smoked most of the field.

Peter is no stranger to success, especially here in the US. In his age group, he's one of the best (perhaps the best) in the world. But to place in the top third of a major meet against competitors half your age - that's something special.

He hasn't posted them yet, but he'll put his maps and routes from the meet on his website soon. Checking that site you'll notice that, counting the three races last weekend, he's already up to 15 events for the year - practice makes perfect.

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