Friday, January 09, 2009

Powder dump

Date: Jan. 8
Mileage: 52.4
January mileage: 228.3
Temperature upon departure: 6

It's amazing how warm single digits feel after a short swing into the subzero range. Even when the sun is gone, and icy flakes are falling from the sky, there's a certain warmth to the air that can only be felt after dips into something much colder - like climbing out of a glacial lake on a cool spring day. I think that may be the only reason people can tolerate living in Interior Alaska. I check the current weather for McGrath almost every day. During this past cold snap, which lasted more than a week, every time I clicked on I saw current temperatures of -43, -47, even -55. always includes a "feels like" reading with the actual temperature to account for windchill, but during the cold snap, the "feels like" temperature just read "N/A." I thought about writing and telling them they should change "N/A" to "outer space" or "standing on the moon." But maybe, just maybe, after a week or so of that, -45 just feels normal. Or not. Either way, if McGrath has a cold snap like that forecasted for the week of March 1, I am going to think hard and twice about starting the race. Cold weather training can only go so far for those of us who do not live in outer space.

Thursday, long slow distance and more weather exposure, 52 miles, 6 hours. Thursday was not really a great day on the bike. A snowstorm moved in, and with it a gray pall over the general cold. I pulled on my goggles and rode into the whiteout, plowing through the powder and trying to imagine what I could think about to get myself excited for many hours of that. It really was just one of those put-your-head-down-and-ride kind of days. It's good pshycological training to have days like this from time to time. One of the skills most endurance cyclists must hone is pushing through boredom. (And thanks again to Brian for the photo. I see him out often while I am riding, and it's a little like having my own personal photographer.)

After about four hours, I started to feel sharp streaks of pain in my right knee - old injury flareup. It happens from time to time. I am never quite sure how seriously to take these flareups. Whether I should turn around right there and soft pedal home, raise my seat up a little more and carefully push through it, or ignore it entirely. I decided on option two. But I couldn't get my seat to raise in the cold with the seatpost somewhat rusted and frozen in place. I finally decided to turn toward home and finish out six hours - on the low side of what I was hoping to ride Thursday, but still in range of my goal. The knee pain continued to bother me throughout the evening, so I decided Friday would be a bike-free active recovery day, even though I was trying to push through this 10-day period without any recovery. It was just as well, anyway, because the forecast was calling for 18 to 36 inches of snow Friday.

Friday, active recovery on snowshoes, about five miles, 2.5 hours. Geoff and I went on an afternoon snowshoe hike that turned out to be a little more strenuous than an actual recovery day. An hour of snowshoeing is generally more difficult than an hour of cycling, and two and a half hours leaves me good and tired. But I really like hiking when I am having knee pain, because it heavily works my lower quad muscles and actually helps me feel like I am pushing out the inflammation that is causing the pain (obviously, there's probably no real physiological proof of this, but that is the image I see in my mind while I am walking.) Anyway, like most placebo effects, it works wonders, and I actually feel much better tonight. I think I'll try to get back on the bike tomorrow and take it generally easy, and hope the pain doesn't come back. If it does, I may be in for a longer rest period.

I don't think the 36 inches of snow are going to pan out, but it's a foot at least and still falling. Even though I don't live in the "feels like outer space" region of this state, 2008-09 is definitely shaping up to be a harsh winter.


  1. Do you take an omega-3 supplement? I've recently started taking fish oil and have noticed that my knees hurt less frequently and my muscles recover after exercise better, too. At your latitude you definitely need a vitamin D supplement too, if you're not already taking one... both work to reduce inflammation and promote healthy recovery. Super-important.

    Then again, IANAD, and you're riding in way harsher conditions than I can imagine! Keep it up - you are such a source of inspiration for me.

  2. Mike in WI said,

    You have worked far to hard to even consider not racing the AUS just because of a little weather system LOL.

    That re occurring Knee pain concerns me" 'please take care.

  3. I laughed today at how warm 2 degrees felt. I can't wait to get out again this weekend.

    Of course warmer temps mean clouds and snow!

    Hope your knee pain subsides soon. When is Hawaii?

  4. That photo of you with the goggles - so great!! Thanks to Brian for catching you from time to time in action!

    If I don't get a chance to say it another time - enjoy Hawai'i and best of luck to Geoff. I'll certainly be checking in.

  5. Hi Jill,
    Looking at your photo, your seat height seems pretty low. With the extreme temp changes you ride in, I'm betting you should be adjusting your saddle height depending on the shoes/boots your wearing. When we fit riders we shoot for a 150 to 155 angle at the knee when the crank arm is lined up with the seat tube. You seem to be quite a bit below that. Too low of a saddle will add stress to the front of your knee. (I'm sure this is all old news to you, but still you look pretty low in the photo.)

    I love your photos!!

  6. I bet there's no chart for what the temperature 'feels like' when it's -45 and there's wind.

    As for the fish oil suggestion, there've recently been two really good studies on dogs showing that high doses of fish oil do wonders for joint degeneration. Don't laugh that the studies were on dogs. In recent years, a lot of medical therapies have been started in dogs before being tested or accepted in humans. Cartilage and other joint elements are the same in dogs as in humans so there's every reason to believe that the same effects will be seen in humans.

  7. My seat is too low for a couple reasons - first, I've been doing more "technical" riding lately in deeper snow, and I lower the seat because it seems to give me more control. Like a BMX bike.

    Second, I really greased it up the last time I lowered it and maybe didn't tighten the bolt enough and I'm pretty sure it slid down a little more. I didn't notice until Thursday, when it was frozen in place.

    Jenn, Thanks. We leave Tuesday! Can't wait.

    I use glucosamine but haven't tried fish oil. But as far as studies on dogs, I've been really interested in a study that an Oklahoma professer is conducting on sled dogs. He's looking for the secret of their endurance in extreme temperatures. Interesting stuff.

  8. I was thiking about you and how you were going to train in all this snow we've been having. The roads are so much narrower with all the plowing and nowhere for the snow to go. It feels dangerous just walking the dogs around the block with the roads basically wide enough for one car plus they're slipping and slidding.
    Ahhh, Hawaii sounds so nice. make sure to post lots of pictures!

  9. This is so out of my realm of my imagination and lifestyle! But I love seeing the photos and reading about it - I'm just amazed and can't for the life of me imagine why you do it!

  10. I'm glad you'll reconsider the Iditarod if it's really cold! Imagine it with a stiff wind....killer! Have fun in the sand and surf!

  11. So cool it is possible you can push it of to the limits. I question myself if this sort of cycling would be possible on touring for longer distances. Think it would be a really cool experiënce...

  12. That's just craziness that you bike up there!
    I thought I was nuts biking in -40oC. You folks get some crazy cold weather I take it.

    We should get a link to all our crazy sites on


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