Friday, November 30, 2012

5 Ways to Beat the Holiday Bulge

J shares 5 ways to stay healthy for the holidays.
My suggestions were more blunt ("Learn to cook," "Don't eat crap that's not really food," "Get off your butt an hour every day," "Cold weather isn't going to kill you," etc.) but her suggestions are friendlier.

1. Hold the extra holiday calories
  Use healthy recipe substitutions, eat a light snack before a holiday party 
2. Be Mindful of Holiday Drinks
  Treat drinks like the desserts they are; as an occasoinal indulgence, substitute ingredients and choose smaller size
3. Sweat Off the Sweets
  Turkey Trots, Snowshoeing, gym classes
4. Practice Healthy Habits at Work
  Walk during lunch break, walking meetings, bring healthier snacks to work so you're less tempted by candy, etc.
5. Manage stress
   Manage holiday stress by planning breaks in activity/travel; do some basic financial planning and budgetting.  


I do need to work on #5 more though, procrastinate less for less stress.  

Otherwise, I like the financial suggestion. I actually hate money and obsessing over money, but enjoy balancing it and understanding it, so I was happy to discover Mr. Money Moustache recently.  He focuses as much (or more) on spending less, yet also recognizes value on quality where it matters, meaning the answer isn't buying the cheapest crap and food from Walmart that you can.   I always manage the monthly budget, but just finished refinancing condo, car ($100 and lower rate), and moved money around to new accounts that paid cash bonuses. 

A few years ago, my salary was 4x what it is now, but if anything we're only happier now.  With more money, it's mostly easier to just be sloppier about details.  I would've bought a replacement expensive bike rather than riding the ones I had for a decade; I would've signed up for whatever race I felt like; I'd probably have a smart phone.  Ironically, instead we did things like upgrade our kitchen, fixed the furnace, fixed the clothes dryer -- and I spent a half-hour fixing a $20 hair dryer the other day!  -- that I never would have done since I could've paid someone to do it cheaper.  But the satisfaction is much greater.  No cable each year buys an international plane ticket.

And the cheapest and best hotel is always sleeping on Free Dirt outside.  Even a winning lottery ticket wouldn't change that.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jefferson County, Wisconsin: Prairies, Mounds and Hills

While visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Fort Atkinson, WI for Thanksgiving, I took some time to explore the surrounding environ of Jefferson County.  Despite growing up just east (Mukwonago) and matriculating just west (Madison), I hadn't actually spent much time in between.

In typical Wisconsin fashion, "Black Friday" greeted us with a sharp wind, flurries, and 30 degree temperature drop from the day before.  Still preferable to being inside a mall, we began by checking out Dorothy Carnes County Park.  For about an hour, we looped around a circuit of mixed prairie and hardwood hiking trails, approaching the shores of Rose Lake and surrounding wetlands, as well as a preserved barn and farming structures.

After this, I pointed out that the Jefferson County highpoint, at a whopping 1060 feet above sea level, was just up the road.  I pointed out the glories of checking out one's own county highpoint (said the guy who hasn't been up Hagues Peak yet...); and Erik, being a map geek himself, was game for a quick trip.  The topographical bump may be a mere rolling hill, but at least it's clearly taller than surrounding points (including one to the north with a tower on it) and does provide a pleasant surveyor's view of the surroundings.

After this, we hopped back in the car and made our way toward Lake Mills and Aztalan State Park.  
Aztalan is a preservation (and renovation) of ancient Indian mounds that date back nearly a millenium, credited to Mississippian peoples that populated the southeast part of the U.S.

The park provides a great opportunity to freely explore some of these grassy mounds -- if not take a vomit-inducing dizzying log-roll down the side.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Milwaukee Turkey Trot - Inaugural Drumstick Dash 5k

Drumstick Dash 5k (Inaugural) 2012
17:14, 3rd

By visiting family for Thanksgiving in Wisconsin, we knew we'd miss the cherished Fort Collins Thanksgiving Day Run, but hoped for a Cheesehead alternative.  Despite an active running community, there hadn't really been a big Turkey Trot in Wisconsin.  Fortuitously, this was the first year of the Drumstick Dash 5k, an event that benefited the Food Bank and circled the famous Milwaukee Mile at the State Fair Park.  Jessica and I both have great memories of the State Fair Park -- albeit mostly in the contest of eating cream puffs and cheese curds and things-on-a-stick -- so this would be a great opportunity to enjoy a healthier alternative for Thanksgiving Day morning, and to meet some of our relatives for an enjoyable morning.

Although it was an inaugural event, the Drumstick Dash obviously met a pent-up desire for a solid Thanksgiving event, and attracted a field of over 2600 people.  As it was, the event was quite enjoyable and ran without a hitch.  The start line was nicely uncrowded, so it was easy to get up front and warm up.  Promptly at 8:30, we were off, wearing timing chip bibs.   A beautifully warm morning was offset by a blustery wind.  So, onto the personal details.

My main goals were to run a solid race, and finish well under 17 minutes.  The time goal did not happen, despite my solid pre-race plans which included a scraggly mustache as well as carbo-loading on greasy but timelessly delicious lasagna and garlic bread at Barbiere's the night before, but enjoyed a fun course and strategic race.  Off the front was a guy in neon and a guy with a triathlon shirt, forming mostly good pacing rabbits for the first half or 3/4 mile.  

I crossed the first mile, which was marked with a digital clock, exactly at 5:20, which was right on pace.  Things felt controlled as I trailed a pack of 4, having dropped the triathlon guy, but they had pulled ahead slightly.  Some of them were chatting with each other, so it was clear they were working together with purpose.  Fighting the wind, I worked to catch up to them, and then was surprised by a slightly easier effort and slower pace when I did catch up.  Having no idea on my pace, I decided to remain in the pack, as we wound our way around the slightly-banked lower apron of the racetrack.  Our 2nd mile was clearly slower and came in at 5:40.

After that, 1st and 2nd stetched out noticeably.  I kept on pace in 4th and focused on 3rd.  This was at the limit of what I was comfortable doing, so I decided to stay back and aim for a final kick in the last 0.1.

Without a 3M marker, but knowing that the finish line was near, I began kicking a little earlier than planned, gapping 3rd and hoping he wouldn't respond.  He did, so I pushed to keep the gap constant, and although I thought I heard the footsteps fading, I pushed with all I had just to finish.  My time was well over 17 minutes, with 1st place also being slower than 17, so on paper I wonder if I missed an opportunity, thinking a lower-elevation race would have been more advantageous.  At the same time, I know that my final push was all that I had left, and the wind and turns made a tough course that was at least 5k.  So as far as timing was concerned, I have to believe it was still a solid representation of where my training is at right now.  And actually racing for position in the final seconds was quite a rush, and there was instant camaraderie and respect at the finish line with handshakes and half-hugs.  At the end, I learned that the rest of 1-5 were Brookfield running teammates, with 1st having a PR in the mid-15's, and most of these guys racing for college teams, so I had fun being an old dude running in the mix.

I was surprised to be handed a trophy and a Brookfield Performance Running Club store gift certificate at the end (awesome sponsorship from them and Serdyk's grocery).  I happily re-gifted the gift certificate to cousin-in-law Dave, who is well-prepared to run his first half-marathon in Orlando in January.  He and his cousin J ran together most of the race, with both finishing easily under half an hour, with J's Dad Steve walking and pushing a final jog to finish under an hour.

Anyway, this was a great, fun event that was well-executed and brought out the community and some of our family for a great morning.  There's no reason to believe this won't continue to be another great Milwaukee tradition.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wyoming Border Patrol (on bikes)

Saturday was a good day to check on our neighbours.

I hadn't done a Winter Ralleye ride in 4 years...and missed it.  It's one of the great things about Fort Collins, with a great culture and tradition, bringing out a great group of folks that really like bikes.  

The first ride in the series takes us up to the Wyoming border.  Last time I did it, we took dirt roads to the non-descript line that separates us our electoral college votes.  I took my road bike, and had been riding a ton, so it was both leisurely and easy to ride at the conversational group pace.

Things were different this time, with a route that now goes through the relatively new Red Mountain and Soapstone Prairie Open Spaces.  That means singletrack!  That made my personal bike selection easier, since it would give a good excuse to ride my new mt. bike for my longest knobby-tire ride ever, with the border being 90+ miles roundtrip from my garage.  It would also be a solid challenge.

I arrived at the Bean Cycle at 7:30, and chatted with some folks.

With a nod to Daylight Savings Time ending, we had ample time to grab coffee, and actually gathered up to start riding at 8:30.
It was neat to see the various steeds stabled outside.  Fat tires were the minority, as were derailleurs. Cross bikes were the perfect and popular tradeoff.

A bit of warming sun was appreciated as we headed out on the bike path.

We then formed a group heading North, clipping along at an effectively modest pace.  I was glad to catch up with an old friend, Joe, whom I haven't seen in a few years.

Still, the extra work of knobbies, left a little bit squishy for dirt riding, and my lack of riding put me squarely in the back of the ragtag peloton.  Messenger bags and fixed-gear riders were moving along more seemingly with ease, while my miles and miles of running up and down hills and around tracks weren't really helping.  I loved how that irony smacked me in the face.  We did stop for a break to keep the group together and check on everyone's safety, before pedaling on the rolling dirt hills to Red Mountain.

As we took our lunch break, people took stock of which route they wanted to take.  The shorter, more direct option would be trail straight over to Soapstone.  The other option, about twice as long, would wind along a redstone wash before climbing up and over the border, then descending back down on Mahogany and Pronghorn trails in Soapstone.  

Seven of us opted for Option B, which is why I rode my damn mountain bike that whole way.

Despite a non-trivial ascent and descent, and riding through sandy washes and twisty singletrack, most of the other riders had skinny tires; the only other fat tire bike besides Joe's and mine was a singlespeed (ridden by a former national collegiate omnium champ).  Most or all of these guys raced -- successfully -- but I only found that out in bits and pieces, and by witnessing their skillz.  This was all about playing around and having fun.  And in a sport filled with expensive equipment, it's refreshing to see some really good riders hiding in plain sight.

The trails were in great shape and rattlesnake free; the temperature was perfect; and the wind was complacent.  Even more fun, there are little off-shoot trails, and this place is still relatively unvisited, so it feels more like an exploration when riding next to redstone walls.  

The trails peaked at a switchbacking climb somewhere in Wyoming, and then we had a smooth blast back down onto the prairie. As usual in those situations, I don't have good pictures because we were too busy grinning and sailing down buffed singletrack.

After this fun was done, we ended up just minutes ahead of the rest of the group -- perfect timing.

The ride home, with an uncharacteristic southernly headwind, was a bit of a grind for me, but pedaling with the group helped.  I didn't have a chance to stop at the bar afterward, but otherwise enjoyed a great re-introduction to fun biking adventures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Back to Basics: Skiing

A big reason we moved here was the promise of skiing.

We've generally bought multiple 4-passes and used other deals to get about a dozen or so downhill days per year.  After being a student (again), I was able to buy an Eldora pass for $149, so I'd get somewhere around 20+ days/year, but I never got anywhere near the gaudy yearly downhill totals that ski bums accumulate.  

In addition, I bought some backcountry skis to bang around on, which really came in handy in the epic 2006-7 winter that we moved here, where I had a blast just skiing around town and local trails.
I found that I enjoyed that about as much as downhill anyway, especially on rolling trails where I could get some decent speed.

I upped that a bit then by taking the skis on bigger mountains, until I got in over my head (and beyond the capability of the skinny skis) and busted a binding on Mt. Sherman.
The binding still worked but didn't latch, so I could still shuffle ski on it but not take it down any real downhills.  I did by a more legitimate tele setup last year instead.

But to enjoy the flatter stuff, I decided to call up the folks at Voile in SLC and talk with them, and they're so awesome they fixed the binding for free!

I'm glad my newer bindings are Voile as well -- no problems being loyal to quality gear and service.

After a few years, I've come to some realizations...while I'll still enjoy the social aspect of skiing with friends, I otherwise don't love the traffic and hassle of downhill skiing.  I hate the cost and the crowds and the danger of other people.  And I actually don't like riding a lift for 10 minutes and then riding down in 3 (Eldora) -- yeah, I know you can tilt that ratio at other (farther and more expensive) resorts, but I still don't like spending half of my day not skiing.

And now that I have skins, I actually enjoy uphill skiing, just like I enjoy uphill mountain biking.   wouldn't think to take a gondola up and run down a hill; I never had any desire to put my bike on a ski lift; and my mindset is now taking a similar approach to skiing.  It doesn't hurt that it's free and is a great workout!

Lift service is almost a necessary evil to learn how to ski, to jump quickly on the learning curve, as I went from zero experience in my mid-twenties to passable advanced intermediate. (Your best bet is still to learn as a flexible, fearless kid, especially taking advantage of the free programs for 5th-graders, etc.)  I still do have much to learn in downhill, but I'm OK doing that over time.  Instead, I'm looking forward this winter to poaching some legal laps on the edges of ski areas, and some intermediate backcountry stuff when conditions are safer (matching my comfort with practicing with my beacon and some basic avy knowledge).  I want to do Commando Run this Spring, and somewhere on the horizon, I think about things like the Grand Elk Traverse.

CO Ski Area Uphill Access:
Even better to have all that fun for free. 

Breckenridge (Designated route off-hours; all-mountain during hours; possible free parking pass)
Loveland (Designated route, all hours, free uphill pass required)
Powderhorn (No known restrictions; I had fun last year with an inverted lap starting with the West Bench trail at the top of the Mesa and then returning to my car)

Sunlight (No known restrictions; Full moon report)

Eldora (private land at base, and Not allowed)

Back to Basics: Traveling

J and I had a good streak going of traveling internationally once/year...until the last two years.
And, much of the travel budget went towards races: WS100 in particular wasn't cheap.

Next year, I'll stick with driveable races: Hardrock or Black Hills 100 being top of the list.

The other races (Steamboat, Leadville) weren't as bad with travel but still add up.
And, I made a conscious decision not to run Pikes this year, and not to run the NYC marathon, despite initial interest and the excitement of qualifying.

I don't want our only travel to be race-related.

Mock's blog (and GZ's -- ho-hum) remind me of the pleasures of getting far out of Dodge.

So I'm very excited we found some cheap tickets to Panama in January.  Time to dust off the passports.

Back to Basics: Mountain Biking

Nine years ago in San Diego, I bought my first mountain bike: a $500 Specialized Rockhopper hardtail -- and I remember hesitating at the price! -- which eventually got down to pennies per mile and was one of the best investments I ever made.

That gateway led to road biking, then road running, then trail running and associated madness, etc., but I'm getting ahead of myself.  That bike deserves it's own post, eventually, but we had our share of adventures.  I rode great, classic trails in Southern California (Noble Canyon; Big Bear Lake, where Neil fractured his clavicle far into our ride), and while contemplating a move to Colorado, I took a final trip up to Idyllwild for one last ride at Hurkey Creek.

I found a(n inelegant) way to carry a surfboard on that bike...and then moved to Colorado, where I carried x-country skis instead.  And experimented with studded tires.

Along the way, I rode classics in Sedona, Moab, Fruita, Winter Park, Monarch Crest, Snowmass, Crested Butte, Kenosha Pass, Vernal, Rollins Pass, and up-and-down the Front Range (looking back just a couple years ago, it was a relief during the stressful transition back to school and moving to East Denver).  I brought it to my parents' house in OKC once, so I could drive another hour to ride some great trails near Tulsa.  I even rented some bikes when traveling, so I could ride the John Muir trails in Wisconsin, and the Tsali Trail in North Carolina.

I got as much mileage as I could on the original, before upgrading components, eventually buying a new wheelset and putting on disc brakes.  I hammered out a dent in that wheelset and kept going, and when my rear derailleur busted, I converted it to a single-speed.

Alas, my rear derailleur hanger mount on my frame busted; my front shock is unpredictable; and my bottom bracket is suspect.  And, I simply ran more as I biked less.

But I missed it too much, especially when being on trails that just beg to be ridden instead of trodden (Fruita), or just those sloppy winter days where just riding around town on snowy roads, dirt roads, and trails is enough fun.
And I missed the culture as well: from group rides or trail commiserations with fellow riders, riding with my brother-in-law who finally got a decent bike, and even to the simple act of reading "Dirt Rag" when my wife and I hang out at Barnes and Noble, I wasn't ready to relegate myself as a guy that "used to" mountain bike.

So, with an awesome closeout deal at Lee's on a 2012 Cobia, I finally bought a new bike!
I've just gotta sell some old gear in the garage to help pay for it.

As the fads go, this is my first 29er -- still a hardtail -- with the idea being that the momentum and comfort from bigger tires will go well with the type of riding I usually do (cross-country, often from my house with some road riding to the trailhead), along with the impractical type of riding I dream about doing but haven't told my wife (Colorado Trail, Kokopelli Trail, Great Divide), as well as the more practical riding I'm more likely to do in the future (hauling kids around town in a trailer).  I do all my own mechanical work and I'm suspect of new technology and was wary of hydraulic brakes, being more comforted by the ability to swap around cables in a mid-ride emergency, but I'm willing to try it.  (As a tradeoff, the sales gal pointed out that the Recon air shock can be easily maintained at home if needed).

From a running perspective, I've already re-learned how much more motivating it is to keep momentum on steep uphills, so that it's easy to jack up heart rate by ironic laziness than it is when running (for me anyway).  Downhills aren't cake, either, for when you get a long, rocky downhill and sit back behind the saddle, your quads are burning by the end and the shoulders, forearms, and wrists get a workout as well.

So, here's to rediscovering an old love.  See you on the trails!

"Off" season navel-gazing: Back to Basics

The Blog's been quiet for a bit, but I've really been enjoying the changing season as much as ever, and thinking (from a training/racing perspective) what's next.  Others have been writing the same thing, so it's that time of year, I guess.

The first rule is not to take anything too seriously.  Mostly, that means, don't spend time doing this stuff if it's not fun, if it makes you injured, and especially if it interferes with more important things.  Again, I had an incredible time seeing and experiencing new things with friends and family, and I can't believe how much beauty is out there both in the wild and in the human spirit.

I still haven't run a trail 100 to the ability that I think I'm capable of.  The upside is, still having memorable lifetime experiences out on the trail, and I surprised myself even with the amount of fun and unabashed joy I still had running down Mt. Werner in September despite being hours behind my anticipated goal.

This stuff is still fun.

From a more analytical perspective, I spent more time running (and hiking) this year than any other. The raw time I spend doing this has been a consistent budget over the last 5 years or so of ~10-20 hours/week.   Contrast that with the 4+ hours per day (my God) of television the average American watches, and I still don't "get" when people say they don't have time for exercise.  (Not to mention the hundreds of dollars you can save by ditching all those channels and the DVR, and how much more efficient it is to read the news or political debate transcripts than to wade through video).

But, I would say this year's running came more at the expense of other leisure activities I used to do.  When I had any extra time, I'd mileage-whore just by grinding out extra, slow miles.  I'm not convinced this helped me run any faster or further, so it's time to mix it up and get back to basics.

Lastly, from a training perspective, I do enjoy the cerebral exercise physiology side of things; however, simply running a pile of miles is a bit brutish.  So I'm going to focus more on the tried-and-true, simple 3 quality runs/week (speedwork, tempo, long run) and make sure I'm rested enough to nail those -- which seems to be the direction others are going as well.   That's basically what I did in previous year's marathon training, so it's time to get back to that.  Yeah, hiking and stuff on the weekends will still be there, just less junk during the week.

In addition, I'd like to return to the old ways of biking, skiing, and traveling.