Thursday, April 07, 2011

Beat's WM100 report

Beat just finished up his White Mountains 100 race report, with a spot-on observation about the competitive dynamic of these crazy winter races:

"65 racers collect at the Wickersham Dome trailhead to participate in the White Mountains 100. About half are bikers, half skiers and then there are the crazy seven, the foot people, “walkers” as the local news article had called us. That term is a sad mix of insult (at least in a 100 miler) and omen, evoking visions of elderly with walking aids that reflect just how we would feel in a day or so, when we would be reduced to just that — walkers.

The dynamic among the groups is interesting. From what I can tell, Bikers are here to compete most and foremost with other bikers, and to make sure the skiers know their place. Skiers come here to race each other, upstage bikers and hope for soft trails that would give them the edge to do so. Both think walkers are crazy and stupid for choosing such a poor form of winter travel, but there is a spark of admiration, an acknowledgement that indeed, walking is the most pure, the hardest, the most painful, the most mentally challenging. We, on the other hand, simply enjoy the fact that we get the most fun per dollar of our entry fee. Twice as much, usually."

Read the rest of Beat's report here.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Facing the fuel

Since the White Mountains 100, I have been giving more thought to exercise nutrition. I realize this is a complex issue and I personally believe that everyone has different needs and inclinations that they largely must discover for themselves. The personal philosophy I have developed over years of trial and error is fairly simple: If I am out and about for the better part of a day, I need calories. Salt, too, but mostly calories. My method for getting those calories mainly involves listening to my body, and when that fails, cramming in whatever is available.

In my early days of cycling, I was constantly battling with low energy. I carried gels and energy bars because I believed those to be the "right" foods, but when it came time to stuff one of those smashed, waterlogged, half-frozen chunks of tar in my mouth, I decided I would rather pedal around in a daze than eat my food, so I didn't eat. Some suggested I try liquid nutrition, so I sampled all kinds of milky syrupy nutritional supplements: HEED, Gatorade, Perpetuem, Cytomax, the list goes on. These products all made me feel vaguely ill after a few sips, and since my water supply had been contaminated, I refrained from drinking as well. Yes, there was plenty of low-level bonking in my early days of cycling.

As the years went by, I found energy foods I vaguely enjoyed, but often they turned on me at inopportune times. These include Shot Blocks, Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Honey Stinger Bars, Odwalla Bars, etc. Tasty one mile, and foul the next. Because of increasing warnings about the importance of electrolytes, I continued to contaminate my water with products such as Nuun and CarboRocket. These were tolerable sources of electrolytes, but during long rides they revealed my weakness: I really don't like drinking flavored water when I am working out. It's not just the sugar, nutrients and calories; I don't like my water to taste like anything but water. To the point where I will avoid drinking it if I can.

While training for the Tour Divide, I made my first real breakthrough. I understood that three-plus weeks on the trail meant I would probably be running a calorie deficit no matter what I ate. I also understood that I would often have to carry two-plus days of food in my small pack, necessitating calorie-dense options. Finally, I understood that food availability would be limited to mainly convenience stores, and I'd have to learn to digest whatever I could get, whenever I could get it. In short, I would have to become an opportunivoure.

In all my years of cycling, I have found one thing that I have always been able to eat, enjoy, and process into energy, every time, without fail — Candy! Gummy snacks, peanut butter cups, Snickers bars, M&Ms, jelly beans, chocolate, various nuts and espresso beans covered in chocolate, and quite possibly my favorite, Sour Patch Kids (OK, these technically count as gummy snacks, but I felt they deserved a category of their own.) I'm willing to acknowledge that heavily processed sugar (or high fructose corn syrup) is a dubious source of energy, but it was energy all the same. I'm not exaggerating when I say that candy, brownies and other processed sweet foods probably supplied as many as 60 percent of the calories I consumed in 24 days of the Tour Divide. I didn't die. I lost 15 pounds, developed two cavities and became severely addicted to sugar, but I didn't die.

These days, I try to adhere to a happy medium. I continue to use natural energy bars, Shot Blocks, unsweetened dried fruit and occasionally gels, because these reportedly utilize a better combination of carbohydrates and nutrients for longer, cleaner-burning energy (high octane fuel). I also often bring candy bars on rides, just in case the natural energy bars morph into unappetizing bricks, as they often do in my mind. (Because any fuel is better than running on empty.) I do eat (mostly) healthy at home, with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy and grains (I prefer the old food pyramid diet. It seems to work well for me.) I supplement my lack of electrolyte-supplying liquids with Endurolytes, but in all honesty, I rarely take them. I acknowledge that I live in a warm climate now, and will probably need to start paying more attention to electrolytes. But they haven't been too much of an issue in the past, not in my typical exercise weather and moderate levels of intensity.

But now I'm back to questioning my nutrition strategies. The big bonk in the White Mountains 100, the fact I now live in a warmer climate, and my ambitions in trail running have left me wondering if I need to sample new sports nutrition strategies. I still buy into the "Calories in, calories out ... it really can be that simple" philosophy (note that my views are largely influenced by the fact I was able to continue turning pedals for 24 days of subsisting on absolute crap during the Tour Divide, therefore I believe many of our bodies aren't as choosey as we'd like to believe.) However, I acknowledge that there are levels of efficiency and effectiveness within the simple act of stuffing food in my face. I'm not necessarily looking to get X-percent faster. I'm just looking for new ideas. I'm going to spend some more time thinking about it. And yes, I am asking for advice. But if anyone tells me to try Hammer's new Perpetuem Solids, I am going to go out and buy a case of peanut butter cups.
Saturday, April 02, 2011

And the next day, it was summer

Bike shorts, short-sleeve shirt, sunglasses, 70 ounces of water, SPF 45 — all things I needed for my first "recovery" ride following the White Mountains 100. It was 86 degrees in Los Altos, California. Sweat beaded on my arms and streamed down my face as I pedaled up Steven's Creek Canyon. Even the thick green tree canopy seemed to provide only weak shade beneath a blazing sun. I squinted at the electric blue sky with the same kind of excitement and trepidation that many Alaskans feel during the first snows of October: "Six more months of this? Really?"

Yes, I already miss Alaska. Flying over Denali on Wednesday morning, I felt a tinge of homesickness when I realized that for the first time since I left, I have no solid plans to return to the state. Perhaps Juneau in June? For now, it's time to gear up for the long summer. There are places I want to mountain bike, local trips I want to plan, and of course I need start training for the Tahoe Rim 100. That's my next planned race, in mid-July, although I suspect there will be several 50K training races and possibly even a 24-hour-solo mountain bike race thrown in as well. I'm excited to start running again. I actually miss doing it on a regular basis, and I still have so much to learn now that snow-running is over and heat and hills are replacing it.

Recovery from the White Mountains 100 is going well. I struggled a bit on Thursday when it was 86 degrees and I had a few symptoms from a post-race cold, but today I went back out at 63 degrees and felt really strong for the duration of a 10-mile, 2,700-foot climb, and even better on the descent. I'm very pleased that I have no post-race knee pain, which I expected given my light bike training and the fact I had knee issues for nearly a month following last year's race. I think a lot of the credit for my lack of post-race soreness goes to the Fatback. Despite that fact it's Beat's bike (it still is), the Fatback fits me quite well. It rides more comfortable and feels more natural than my Pugsley. The Pugsley was a fantastically innovative bike when I purchased it in 2007, but the Fatback designers really improved on the fat bike geometry with a symmetrical design and sloping top tube. I'm also a big fan of the carbon fork. I compare the Pugsley to driving a diesel truck while the Fatback is more like a regular car — that is, more agile and maneuverable. This isn't to say I'm selling my Pugsley. As long as snow biking remains only a distant recreation possibility, I don't see any need to upgrade. (Plus, well, Pugsley and I have just been through so much together.) But as long as Beat stays interested in snow-running, I'll probably continue racing with his Fatback.

As I've said before about my gear, I carried too much. No need to dwell on it. As for what I used, I started the race with a massive foot system that included liner socks, vapor barrier socks, winter boots and overboots (in my opinion, feet can't be too warm.) I wore wind-tights and soft-shell pants (neither can legs), and vented through my upper body by wearing only a base layer and a Gortex shell that I unzipped in varying degrees to vent heat. I also had a balaclava/hat that I removed frequently. When it got colder at night, I added a fleece balaclava and gloves. That was the only extra clothing or gear I used. Yeah, I could have carried everything I actually needed in a Camelback. But, like I said, no need to dwell on it. There is of course good reason to be prepared, but I don't think being over-prepared is the smartest course of action. If I get into the White Mountains 100 next year, I hope to develop a "smart" kit based more on reality than the absolute worst-case-scenario.

People have asked me how riding a bike in the White Mountains 100 compared to running the Susitna 100. My reply has been that they really don't compare. They were night-and-day experiences — quite literally, since the Susitna 100 took an often-gruelling 41 hours and the White Mountains 100 was a fairly comfortable 18 (with the exception of the 2.5-hour grumpy bonk thrown in to keep me honest.) Cold weather was a big factor in the Susitna 100 and a non-issue in the White Mountains 100 (I had a thermometer on my bike that I occasionally checked, and would guess the temperatures ranged from 10 degrees to 34 degrees with light winds during the WM100.)

I feel satisfied with the effort I put into the White Mountains 100 — I gave it everything I had on those climbs and without serious intensity training wouldn't have the strength to go harder. With more snow biking practice I could improve my descents. But all in all I had a great race, and think it would have been perfect with a little tweaking in the nutrition department. I appreciate that my winter was capped with dynamic challenges. I think it's good to have a well-rounded mixture of goals — intense and soul-crushing like the Susitna 100, and fast and fun like the White Mountains 100. I suspect the Tahoe Rim Trail will be more like the former, so I hope to find a light-hearted mountain bike race to round it out (24 Hours of Light, anyone?)

For now, I have a long summer in front of me. It's going to be tough, but I plan to do what I can to enjoy it.