Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Quick Links

Two links:
  1. Cycling to work can add 5 years to your life, but only if you pedal hard and avoid crashing (dailymail.co.uk) (It's reporting on an observational study, so take the "results" with a grain of salt...)
  2. Kick-ass DIY R2-D2 bike helmet. (phillyrawrblog)

Monday, August 29, 2011

South Dakota and Alley Cats

I should post more.

South Dakota.

My wife and I took a "just the two of us" trip to Spearfish Canyon, SD recently. The cycling portion of the trip involved rental Schwinns that had seen better days.

It was totally worth it, you miss out on a lot of stuff when you're caged up in a car. We coasted from the Spearfish Canyon Lodge down 14A to Bridal Veil Falls, and then made our slow steady climb back up the hill. My wife remarked that the hill seemed a lot steeper when we were going down, and that this climb isn't that bad.

We made a couple of stops on the way back up: We went climbing in a gulch that was obscured from the road by trees, then hiked along an abandoned rail corridor along Iron Creek.

We stopped for lunch, then climbed up a gravel road. Compared to the heavily traveled 50mph farm roads around here, that gravel was smooth and easy climbing. A steady 3-4% grade for 5 miles. (One spot was pretty steep, my wife got off and walked, I hit the bailout ring. Pretty easy after that.) It was smooth enough that I would be comfortable taking my road bike up it if it were dry. I was looking for an MTB friendly trail which exists near the top of the road that takes you to Baldy Mountain overlooking the Canyon, but we never found it. It was about this time my wife remarked "I'm so done riding right now". I don't blame her, she's not much of a cyclist and we had put in about 20 miles at this point, 13 of which were going uphill.

Alley Cat.

I did my third hustle race on Thursday. (I had done a Haunted Hustle and Snow Globe Hustle previously.) For those not in the know, a hustle race is an unsanctioned, checkpoint-based race on city streets. They're also called "Alley Cat" races.

This one was entitled C-Rad Hustle, as it was put on by a local guy whose nickname is C-Rad.

I was the first to arrive at Woods Park. Per instructions, I had a flashlight and can opener. About a dozen or so other cyclists arrived to participate in the festivity.

Once the sun was low enough on the horizon, we were released to our first checkpoint, a screenprinting factory on Cornhusker, about two and a half miles away. We had to drink a beer, then ride through the factory following some arrows laid out with blue painter's tape. We were given our next point upon completing the course.

The next checkpoint was Amen's Liquor store at 12th and Belmont. I got around the group I was riding with and threw the chain into the big ring and powered up the hill to 14th and Adams. Boo-ya.

That was a big mistake. I know the Belmont neighborhood about as well as I know the freeways around [major metropolitain area], meaning I have no flippin clue. I remember reading the instructions on the sticker saying "two blocks north of Cornhusker". Trouble is, I got off Cornhusker at Adams, then hit 12th street and went... North. (Adams is about 5-6 blocks north of Cornhusker at 12th street.) I made it all the way to Superior Street (a mile out of my way) before realizing my mistake.

Here's where things start to get surreal. I'm a sweaty mess. I lean my bike against the liquor store's entrance, I walk in, the guy stops ringing up a customer, points at me and says "one moment please, this gentleman is on a mission". He pulls a can of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy out of a cooler and asks for a dollar thirty four. I pay him, he holds up two coozies and asks "green or purple?"

I ask "will it matter later?"

"I guess you'll find out," he replies.

I am a bit confused and disheartened by my earlier mistake and just say "Oh well, green I guess."

He puts the sticker on my spoke card and explains "your next stop is the bar behind knickerbocker's". I know where Knickerbocker's is. They have quarter tacos on Thursday and tons of local and regional bands I never get out to see. Trouble is, the most direct route is a stupid-busy two lane blacktop over Salt Creek, through the North Bottoms and then by UNL. I grinned and beared it. Two other participants were unlocking bikes as I was walking in.

I had to buy/chug a beer at that bar before getting my next sticker. I bought a guinness. Dude poured nothing but foam, it went down easy.

My next stop was a "small park at 50th and O, look for the stone bench". That's close to my 'hood. It's also 3 miles from downtown, the most direct route is also the "main drag". I hit the side streets and the sidewalk along said drag.

By the time I got to the park, there were three people. One was handing out stickers, the other two were relaxing with a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy in branded coozies from Amen's Liquor store and remarked about my hill attacking ability. "How did we get ahead of you? We thought we'd never see you again!"

Before I was to drink my beer, I had to run up the hill, then bike down it, as if I were in a cyclocross race. This idiot brought his road bike...

By now the beer was shaken up, and upon opening it, I found myself wearing part of it. Oh well. I got my sticker for the next checkpoint.

It read: "Visit any grocery store and buy a can of tuna. Then report to the alley behind TJ Maxx and Best Buy."

There's a Hy-Vee right across the street from the park, and it's down the road/round the corner from Best Buy. I ran into the store with my bike and got strange looks. I told one employee that it was okay, I was on a mission. After fumbling with my wallet and chasing down two other participants, I met up with C-Rad in the alley behind Best Buy and presented my can of tuna.

Now I used my flashlight and my can opener to open the tuna. My next task was to empty the contents into one of the bowls "over there".

So here we are at about 10:15, walking along a narrow foot path in the grass that used to be a creekbed, holding freshly cracked open cans of tuna and a spoon, dumping it into bowls placed near old doghouses.

I think you can tell what's going on here: the task at this checkpoint was feeding alley cats. Seems appropriate, yes?

The final checkpoint was a downtown bar. I don't know my downtown bars. I have a fuzzy recollection of where they are, but I couldn't tell you what block has what bar. I overshot my destination by a block. I wasn't done hustling until I chugged another beer, this one being Old Style.

I took the DFL prize for getting lost twice.

I hung around for a while to drink beer and converse about bikes, beer, star wars and zombies, then seriously did not remember the ride home. When I got home, I remember I had packed a tall boy of Schlitz just in case I needed a beer for the Hustle, so I pulled that from my bag and hit facebook. Mmm. What's wrong with the beer I got now? Warm Schlitz drank pretty good, don't it?

I don't remember crawling into bed.

The next day my head reminded me that I'm 30-freaking-5 and had to work, idiot. I should have headed home at 11:30. I then checked to make sure 1) my bike was in the garage and 2) the garage was closed. Check and check.

I feel like a kid again when I do these events. I mean, except for the beer chugging. 

We had Mountain Dew instead.

I did think up a cool hustle "theme" while typing this. Whether or not I make it reality is another story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A couple quick links

A couple quick links, full of good news. Fuel up with bacon and/or coconut for your ride through Brooklyn...
  1. Big 'Fat' Blog Post 3, concerns the role of dietary fat in an endurance athlete's diet (Robbwolf.com)
  2. Judge Rejects Groups' Effort to Remove Bike Lane (NyTimes.com)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dude, where's your bike?

The weather is perfect for cycling and I'm commuting in my rolling steel and glass cage this week. I have a number of rule 11 violations keeping me off the bike. I even missed Crit Practice tonight.

Not all is lost: The end of the week involves a trip to Spearfish Canyon Lodge with my wife, where there will be half a day of mountain biking on unfamiliar singletrack with a rental. Success means coming home with:

  1. ...awesome pictures of waterfalls, granite spires and blue spruce forest
  2. ...all teeth and bones intact

Don't worry, I will be commuting again next week.

I took a slight detour to scope out the construction progress of the new at-grade intersection of Randolph near Capital Parkway. It connects the "trail to nowhere" from the J-street underpass with the Capitol Parkway trail south of Randolph about four car-lengths back from the intersection. This eliminates stopping for cars at J street and reduces the chances of an inconsiderate motorist blocking the bikeway across Randolph. Winning all the way around!

When they finish re-grading the underpass at 27th and Capitol Parkway, my 7 mile one-way commute should once again be a leisurely 28 minutes, as opposed to a 28 minute hammerfest. The underpass is slated to be completed in November, just in time for Nokians.

In the absence of riding my bike, I searched the google news machine for some good bike-friendly news to keep my spirits up:

  1. End of the road for motormania (New Scientist)
  2. Bicycles can mean a cheap commute (Kansas City Star)
  3. Commuter Bike Traffic Sets Record in NYC (Bicycle Retailer and Industry News) 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Street Pizza

I first heard the term "Street Pizza" when I was 11 or 12 while watching TV. I want to say it was in a movie on HBO, but there's a voice in the back of my head shouting "it's from an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". Ah, to be a pre-teen in the mid to late eighties...

Either way, the term refers to what happens when flesh makes contact with terra-firma at speed.

This post from Bike Hugger illustrates why cyclists should obey traffic laws while wearing a helmet. The post contains a pic of the grease left behind after the street pizza has been boxed up and delivered.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trust Your Tires.

I haven't posted much lately because of the intense pain in my legs. Unlike other Lincoln area blogger-cyclists who claim they aren't blogging because they aren't biking, I have the opposite problem: I haven't blogged because I've increased my mileage and intensity and my brain is fried from the endorphin rush.

My legs feel like concrete right now, two days after another session of Tuesday Night Critz at The Bridges. It didn't help that I lifted weights tonight. I normally put in 3 sets on the hip sled. I didn't get my 12th rep in on my second set. My legs said "don't even think about that third set" when I got up to get some water.

Participating in the mother of all interval workouts came about a few weeks ago, when I decided to enter the Flatwater Cycling Twilight Crit Series Race #2. I had a horrible race. I got dropped in the second corner on the first lap because I didn't want to cause a wreck by following a bad line in the turn. I hit the brakes to get a clear shot at the turn and lost tons of momentum. The wind after that turn was relentless. Watching the pack leave me in the dust while half of them were coasting in each other's slipstream was painful, both physically and mentally. I burned all of my matches trying to catch back up. 

I bought a one-day license and paid my entry fee, so I had to make the most of it. I pushed into the wind and rested a bit on the backstretch, where I had a tailwind. I tried hard to latch on to the pack or groups of other dropped riders, but my legs wouldn't have it. My average speed was just south of 18mph.

I got some advice on cornering from more experienced cyclists in the area. The advice given boils down to breathing and paying attention to your line through the turns. Weight the outside pedal and inside handlebar. Trust your tires.

I was also told that Lincoln Southwest High School's faculty parking lot is a good place to get some cornering experience: one won't go fast enough to skid since it's so short.

I spent the sunday after that race in the parking lot. I was taking three of the four turns at LSW at up to 20mph, braking only for the sharp 4th turn. There simply isn't a good line for that turn because the median wants you to turn to leave the parking lot. I wouldn't take it faster than 13mph. I think I did 35 counter-clockwise laps without stopping. I turned around and did about 20 clockwise before getting bored with the exercise.

I went back to Tuesday Night Critz for more practice, and got dropped like a bad habit after two turns and then lapped within 5 laps. This time it wasn't because I was slamming on my brakes and losing momentum, it's because I wasn't strong enough to keep up. And frankly, that shouldn't suprise anyone. I gave chase during each of the subsequent work intervals, it felt great to put in that kind of work.

I suffered greatly for it. My legs cramped several times during the night, I didn't sleep much, and most frighteningly: I wasn't hungry the next morning. Breakfast felt truly optional. All that meant I was dehydrated.

Truly stupid: I rode to work and then to my daughter's final softball game and then home the next day. 11mph was a grueling effort, those 19 miles took more than two hours. I drove to work Thursday then skipped my usual Thursday night gym session to finish recovering.

I've gone back to Crit Practice every week since. I've been able to keep up for at least one full lap before the Cat 1/2 racers decide to beat up on each other and drop everyone else. I still burn all of my matches during that first lap.

I also entered the third installment of the Flatwater Twilight Series. I kept up with the pack for a lap and a half and was one of four dropped by that point. I got passed by one of the other dropped riders who remarked "now that was fast!"

I latched on to other dropped riders' wheels at different points during the race, and when the pack passed me by I would hook on to them for a quarter to half a lap to get more experience at speed. They were only going 22mph during the last lap. I thought they were all dead or dying. No: they were getting ready to sprint. I got dropped right after the turn and watched a few people make moves to win the race.

I broke 32mph at some point, presumably during the first lap and a half. Pretty sure that happened right after the first turn on the first lap, I moved up the outside of the pack to chase down the leaders, then decided to back off about halfway up the pack, because I knew full well that I couldn't keep up that kind of pace for more than 15 seconds, especially when there's ~39 more minutes of racing.

This experience has me looking forward to the UNL cycling weekend in September. While I most likely won't win, I will be able to keep up for a lap.

Maybe two.

A couple quick links

A couple quick links:

  1. Riding your bike on the sidewalk in downtown Lincoln is not only dangerous, it is illegal. (Lincoln Journal-Star)
  2. Don't be tricked by processed food labels claiming heath benefits. (FitnessLincoln.com)
  3. Boston's efforts to dissuade cyclists from running stop signs and red lights has no legal teeth. (Boston Globe)

Monday, August 1, 2011

What am I supposed to eat?

I'll be flat out honest with you: I've been struggling with my weight since I was 12 years old. I was a skinny kid up until 6th grade. My dad was worried I wasn't going to grow muscle. And then I just exploded. I easily put on 20lbs of blubber for no discernible reason within a few short months. None of my old clothes fit around me.

I'm 35 today. My weight has been a roller coaster. I constantly think about the weight coming back. I get on the scale every morning.

During my teens and 20s, I found cycling to be a fun way to keep the weight off and "not worry" about what I ate. But I've always had a layer of fat on me. Still do, in fact.

All that changed when Sony dropped the Playstation. That thing was addictive. Night and day, the playstation was on. I was either fighting or racing. And my clothes got tighter.

Unlike my super-awkward 6th grade self, my somewhat awkward grown-up self can identify what went wrong this time: my steady diet of Mt. Dew, onion rings and Runzas. (There was a Runza across the street from my old apartment.) Every so often I would pay my body a little respect with a salad. Or potato chips. Heck, I might go to Subway for lunch. Seemed to work for that Jared guy.

Oh yeah, and LaBamba Burritos. "Burritos as Big as Your Head!". Oh SNAP those were good.

Needless to say, I abused my body's ability to properly burn fuel. I topped out at 262.8lbs. That's what I weighed at my first Weight Watcher's meeting back in 2002. 4 years later I was down to just a hair under 182lbs. It's been five and a half years since my last WW meeting, and I've been fluctuating between 181 and 205lbs since. (I have had a couple mornings below 180, but those were due to dehydration.)

I stopped going to the meetings because I wasn't making weight progress and I was chronically hungry. I was tired. I was crabby. I started smoking cigarettes again. I would wake up in the middle of the night and think about eating food. I craved apple fritters.

The only way to shut off the late night cravings was to eat something, and the only thing in the cupboards that seemed like it might be tasty was peanut butter. I would eat it straight out of the jar. I would fall asleep fast after that. And then the next day I would have to make an adjustment because, "OMG I ATE 8 POINTS WORTH OF PEANUT BUTTER LAST NIGHT!!!"

Some days I just didn't care. I'd go to Runza and kick it old school with a gigantic Mt. Dew, Large Onion Rings and double cheeseburger, because fuck it: I'm not getting anywhere anyways.

Needless to say, the cycle got vicious.

Note: I'm not disparaging Weight Watchers. Frankly, the plan saved my life. It got me away from the ledge. But something wasn't clicking for me as I was reducing the number of "points" I consumed.

Points are a proprietary system developed by Weight Watchers. It's ever-changing, but the gist of it is that all foods have a point value, the low-fat and/or high-fiber foods have a lower point value, so you're encouraged to eat more of them in a given day. It's a simplified method of "conventional dieting". It works for a lot of people.

One can also earn points through exercise based on time, body weight and exercise intensity. A half hour to an hour on the bike would yield me 2-6 points, depending on the intensity and duration. Heck, Mowing the lawn was 3 points. A bottle of beer was 3 points. Coincidence? I say not!

So, to maximize my food volume while keeping a small points footprint, a typical meal could include burritos made with fat free refried beans on a fat free whole wheat tortilla made with 93% lean ground turkey and reduced fat cheddar cheese. Another evening would include boneless/skinless chicken with a side of brown rice, steamed veggies and some reduced fat cheddar cheese melted over the top of the rice for some flavor.

(Sure, I would spend fewer "Points" by eating fat free cheddar, but that lasted a day: fat free cheddar doesn't melt. It scorches. On the other hand, I willingly indulged in fat-free mozzarella, because it melted. Looking back, I must have rocks for brains: fat free mozzarella should not melt, but it contains a collection of chemicals to ensure it does. And I ate it.)

There were some nights when I muttered "J.F.C., not this shit again" to myself when I sat down to eat.

Activity became a means to an end. A ride from the South Walmart (still under construction during those days) to Palmyra and back was about an hour and 15 minutes and meant ice cream or pizza while staying "on plan".

Not that it mattered. I wasn't getting anywhere during those last two months. I still had a layer of fat on me. I was 14lbs away from goal. And I was hungry all the time.


Last year I picked up Joe Friel's Cyclist's Training Bible. Chapter 16 is entitled "Fuel". There's a subheader called "Carbohydrates". Page 251 includes these two paragraphs:

When you eat a high-carbohydrate meal or snack, the pancreas releases insulin to regulate the level of blood sugar. That insulin stays in the blood for up to two hours, during which time it has other effects, such as preventing the body from utilizing stored fat, converting carbohydrates and protein to body fat, and moving fat in the blood to storage sites. This may explain why, despite serious training and eating a "healthy" diet, some athletes are unable to lose body fat.


Notice in Table 16.2 that many of the foods that have a moderate to high glycemic index are the ones we have typically thought of as "healthy" and therefore eaten liberally. These include starchy foods such as cereal, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, crackers, bagels, pancakes, and bananas. No wonder so many endurance athletes are always hungry and have a hard time losing excess body fat.

If there's too many words quoted, then perhaps this humorous video clip from Tom Naughton's 2009 Documentary "Fat Head" can hold your attention, it says roughly the same thing:

This resonates with my "dieting" experience like a gong: my weight problem isn't how much, it's what and why.

While I still have trouble avoiding carbohydrate temptation (downfalls include pancakes or Mt. Dew Throwback, this list is woefully incomplete I might add), I try to avoid consuming them on "light activity" days.  And some days it is really trying...

And just between you, me, and the rest of the blogosphere: when I eat a low carb meal before a ride (bacon cheese burger or a three-egg omelette with a side of bacon, or just bacon), I feel like I've been using some performance enhancing drug. It takes longer to "bonk", despite riding at higher intensities than I could after fueling with pancakes or pop-tarts.

Perhaps it's just a placebo effect, but I can't help but think the reduction in insulin lets the fat out of the bags and the glycogen out of the liver, availing it for Super High Intensity Training.

If you've never had a weight issue, chances are you probably think I'm off my rocker. That's okay.  I think what I'm experiencing is what reasonably fit folks refer to as "normal".