Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The Barry Roubaix did not end for me at the 3:12:18 marker on the course. As I previously noted I was loopy to say the least for most of the ride home, and for the remainder of the evening. It was hard to "shut it down" for the night, and we ended up staying away until about midnight. It was then, in the dark quiet of my bedroom, when I closed my eyes that I first really felt them. There were at least three sharp edged crystals of sand wedged beneath my eyelid; two in the left, one in the right. It was hard not to rub my eyes, and I was not completely unable to resist the temptation. But I got out of bed and tried everything I could to clean my eyes. I used wet cotton swaps, toilet paper, and a squirt bottle with clean water to try and remove the foreign particles. Two of them moved out rather quickly, but a third, one of the ones in my left eye was not moving. I couldn't sleep as when I closed my eye, the particle was pushed down painfully over my cornea/iris. When it was open I couldn't really feel it.

After 15 minutes of wrestling with my eye, my girlfriend suggested that we go to the emergency room to flush my eyes. I, being the kind of guy that I am, suggested I run to the CVS on the corner and buy some saline eyedrops so instead of pouring water into my eyes, I could get something less irritating. So at midnight I got dressed back up and went to the CVS. I found the eye care aisle right away, and was pleasantly surprised to find an eye wash kit with sterile eye cup included. I checked out, went back home, and flushed my eye. I did not get the particle out, but I got it moved out from under the eye to between the lids. It was still too small to see, but it no longer caused pain to have my eyes closed. When I woke up in the morning the crystal had relocated to the corner of my eye. The world's sharpest eye gunk. There were sharp bits of sand in all four corners of my eyes. The Barry Roubaix does not wash out easily. It lingers.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Barry ReDeux, Part 2

Oh Dark Thirty.

The alarm went off, and we jumped into action. We had agreed upon a timeline the night before, and moved quickly towards our targets. Neither of us are what one would call, "Morning people", so it was against our nature to be moving so early. However, we were warned by the desk clerk the night before that the hotel was booked to capacity with sparkly-eyed pre-teens. There was a dance competition in Kalamazoo that weekend, and all night in the hotel it was like we had been cast as extras in an episode of "Dance Moms".

We made it to breakfast at the start, and were rewarded with my favorite hotel treat, the do-it-yourself-waffle. I was the first person to use the machine that day, which felt like a small victory. It would be the only time I was first that day.

As we were finishing, the first glittery eyed stars of tomorrow were spinning and giggling into the room for breakfast. We cleared out of the breakfast nook and then the hotel.

We arrived to the Yankee Springs Recreational Area as planned just after 8AM. That was a full hour and 40 minutes earlier than I had arrived the year before, and yet the parking areas were still filling up with cars and cyclists were tooling up and down the access road. The ditches and even some of the grassy areas of the park were filled with standing water. I was again reminded of my fear that the course would be a soggy muddy mess. My only consolation was that it would be a soggy muddy mess for everyone. We followed the waving flags of the volunteers towards our parking spot. We were directed down one side of a ditch, across a culvert and up the other side.

As we pulled into our designated spot, I groaned. We were entirely surrounded by standing water. I paused for a moment, and then backed out and snuck around to the place we had parked last year, sandwiched in between a few RVs in the area set aside for boat and trailer parking. The pavement was high and dry, and it would be much easier to re-assemble the bike and get ready.

So I got ready. I reassembled the Falcon, finished getting dressed, deciding I would wear my race kit with a craft short sleeved baselayer, and merino wool arm warmers, I loaded up my jersey and bike with my nutrients (bottle of home-brew energy gel, 2 bottles of home-brew energy drink, and a bottle of water) and my emergency supplies (a tube, levers, and CO2), and I was ready to race. Morleigh only had to suggest that I "pick up the pace" one time to keep me from tinkering.

I spent about 10-15 minutes on the Falcon riding around the parking lot in various circles. I knew from last year that the roll out was going to be fairly quick, and I wanted to try and stay with the lead pack for as long as possible, and stay in front of any mid-pack shenanigans. So I warmed up for about 10 minutes just tooling around, then went to the access road to the park (i.e., the neutral roll-out) and revved up the tempo to pretty close to full speed. Two sprints along the access road and I felt like I was ready.

I turned around and went to get into the mass of riders who were queuing up for the start. I ended up pretty much where I wanted to be. I was not too close to the start, but I was not trapped in the back as I was last year. I was about here.

The downside of being in position at about the right time was the fact that I then had 15 extra minutes of standing around wondering what the hell was I doing there. I was close enough to the front that I could see Mike Hemme. Brad Keyes was up a few rows and to my right, and Mumford snuck in ahead of me to the left. Tamara Fraiser picked up her bike and carried it into a slot in the middle of the pack to my immediate right, and the some of my teammates were a few rows behind me. A year earlier in this same race I hit the wall at mile marker 44 climbing the Killer for the second time, and started cramping at mile 52. But that was 4,897.99 miles ago. I had some really great workouts in the weeks leading up to the race, but as I stood there I was left wondering: Was it enough?

I was distracted from my worry by my girlfriend who was pointing my own camera at me from the left side. She was taking pictures of me so I made eye contact with her and tried to "Vogue" like a pro. The minutes counted down, and as I looked around I could see that the crowd in front of me was suggesting I was over dressed. Less than 5% of racers in that part of the pack were wearing anything covering their arms so I pulled off my arm-warmers and chucked them out of the crowd towards Morleigh. She grabbed them, and before I knew it a man was shouting something into a bullhorn and it was time to roll.

The "neutral" roll-out was hardly neutral. I was at 22mph at 28 seconds and over 25mph for most of the "roll-out". I was in the main pack still. As we were heading down hill, I was looking down at the rider in front of me and noticed a single speed, looked up at his kit and saw "CarboRocket" and say "Hi" to Brad Keyes. He asked "Who was behind him and when I told him he said "Hi" back.

The riders in front of me held together until the inevitable separation on Sager Rd. I made the turn cleanly and surged up the dusty sandy two-track, holding my position for about halfway before starting to redline (hr approaching max) and realized it was time to back off. When we made it through Sager Rd, back to the line, the field had split into four distinct packs. I was in what I believe was the fourth large pack of 30 riders, which felt like a great place to be. I kept my head down, tucking into the back of the pack, and felt pretty good as we cruised downhill at 25-30mph, and I was able to recover and get my heart rate back down into my target zone.

I stuck with that pack, holding up my place near the back, for another five miles until we hit the hill which was labeled "The Killer". I recognized it instantly as the place where I stood for a few minutes last year contemplating whether or not I would be able to finish. It was here that I made a critical mistake. The reminder of last year's agony caused me to hold back a little bit surging up the hill, and I ended up falling off the group that I was riding with. I tried to recover momentarily, but they were 400m ahead and I was riding solo.

I rode solo for 6 miles trying to reattach myself to the pack. I was pushing to keep myself above 160bpm, to try and close the gap which was like an accordion. The would hit a hill and slow down while I was on the descent the gap would close to 200m or so, but then I would hit the hill and they would crest, and when I hit the top they would be 400m away again. It was frustrating, and I was worried that I was going to burn myself out and never catch them. I remember hitting a long straight away and thinking that it was now or never, and was getting ready for one big surge when I happened to turn around and look behind me. 100m behind was a group of about 30 riders bearing down on me. It was here that I made a smart decision. I sat up. Drank some water, and let that pack swallow me up. By the time they caught me I had a moment to recover, and I was ready to get going again.

I rode with that pack for a long time. There was a mix of mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes. There was a guy from xXx and another from team Tati. There wasn't much talking as it was a bicycle race. I surged to the front occasionally pulling, and fell to the back struggling to keep up. I am much better descending than I am climbing. There was one guy, in a blue kit, who kept lamenting that no one wanted to go and chase that next pack down, to move up in the race. He was disappointed to be with a bunch of guys who were content holding on and sprinting it out for 100th place. Note that for all his complaining he did not get out in front and pull the group faster. I had tried to catch the pack ahead for 6 miles and knew that I was not going to be able to do it, and was not going to complain that others weren't trying to pull me there.

I learned my lesson from the Killer and stuck with this group, burning matches when I had to because I knew how much easier it was to ride in a pack than it was to ride alone. I knew I was one of the worst climbers in the group so I would do my best to surge ahead leading up to the climb when gravity and momentum were helping so I could stay on the tail at the crest.

I made one more tactical mistake during the race which was burning a match, and sprinting off the front at a very inopportune time. I did it because I got one of those strange bursts of energy that happens to come at odd times, and wanted to stretch out my legs. It was inopportune because as soon as that match sputtered out, we ran into a hastily drawn sign that said "The first sister", and the road went up. It wasn't a terrible climb, but the fact that it was named "the first sister" implied that there was more than one sister. Sure enough, at the bottom of the hill was a second sign: "the second sister." Again, it wasn't a terrible climb, but it did not bode well. Sure enough at the crest we looked down into a valley and up the other side at "the third sister". I wondered a loud why there always had to be a fat ugly sister.

The last time I had made it up that hill I walked. This time I sprinted with a group, and maintained my spot in that group. As we continued on down the other side, things started to look familiar once again. We were riding on what was the second half of the loop from last year. We were more than halfway done. Someone saw that I had a Garmin and asked me how far we had ridden. We were just over 42 miles, and I smiled because I was still going strong.

The whole race course was more scenic than the previous year as the grass was lush and green, and buds were starting to form on all the trees. I tried to glance left and right occasionally as I tried to not get caught up in how close we were to the finished. We had lost sight of the group ahead, and there was no one in sight behind us, so we settled into a fairly comfortable pace as the final miles rolled away. I knew from the interwebs that a new twist, a long sandy stretch, awaited us, and I think we were all trying to conserve energy for that last challenge.

When we hit the sand chaos ensued. There were some people who lost control and wiped out, and our tight little pack was ripped apart. There was a 100yd stretch that was unridable and some were able to run, others could only muster a walk. I was one of the ones who walked and lost places and time to others in my pack. At this point in time we had started to come across the stragglers of the shorter two races which I took as a good sign for our finishing time. When we made it out of the sand onto the highway there was my pack spread out climbing the largest hill on the course. I had some hope of making up the gap until I saw that we were already at the hill. They were not my strength, and I did not have much hope of catching them. Instead I put my head down and ground away at my own pace, working on keeping the tires spinning. As I started up the hill I felt the first twang of a muscle cramp in my right hamstring. I pulled out my bottle with energy gel, and took a swig of that and washed it down with my energy drink. In a few seconds it was gone, and I was rolling again at "full speed". I was climbing a hill, so it wasn't very fast, but I was working hard.

I didn't realize it until the top of the hill but I had pulled another racer up the hill. As I sat up momentarily at the crest, he said "Thanks for the pull" as he took off down the other side. I caught my breath and then set off to chase him down. I caught up to him before too long, and made my third tactical mistake. I passed him again, and let him get on my wheel. I should have just grabbed his and rode him in, but instead I tried to pull away from him on an uphill. So he road my wheel until about half-way up the access road towards the finish and then sprinted around me. I had nothing left to contest and wished him the best of luck. He could have that place. I looked behind me and saw no one. I did not sit up and slow down, but neither did I sprint. As I came around the final curve into the finish I could see the clock ticking away.

My first thought was that my girlfriend is going to be pissed. There is no way she is going to see be here cross the finish line when I told her my goal was to finish in 3:40. In the back of my mind I had a wild hope that I could finish in 3:20. There was no way that she would be standing around the finish line at 3:12:18 to watch me finish.

I was elated. I sat up and rode no-hands into the finish line. I just crushed the Barry Roubaix, and it felt great. I put my hands back down on the bar as I hit the timing strips (no one wants to crash ON the finish line) and tooled down the chute and over towards the car. I found Morleigh bent over digging in the passenger seat. I said casually as I rolled past,

"Did you enjoy your nap?"

She stood bolt upright and whipped around with a look of surprise and horror. She came all this way, and missed the finish. She wasn't sure how to react as I wasn't supposed to be there for another half an hour at the earliest. I was all smiles which made her smile. I spun around we started to compare notes.

I had gone for a bike ride, and she sat in the car reading. There was a group of "gentlemen" who were parked next to us in a camper, and when they returned to drink and smoke cigars after "crushing" the 23 mile race on their mountain bikes, they asked her teasingly "So where is your boyfriend?" to which she politely replied:

"Oh, he's doing the real race, you know, the 62 mile one?"

They shut up.

So I tooled around the parking lot to cool down a bit, Morleigh took the camera back over to the starting line and I "re-created" my finish for a few shots. We found some of my teammates coming in across the line at various stages of personal victories. We went back to the car, and I hosed off with a water bottle, put on street clothes, and then wandered up to the finish area to see if we could find anyone I knew and/or the results. We didn't stay long. We had a long drive home, and another long drive to Wisconsin the next day. We did stop at the Culver's in Kalamazoo, and at the Lighthouse Outlet Mall. I was apparently a riot as the lack of oxygen and the extreme nutrient depletion left me without a filter that prevents random thoughts from turning into random statements. We went to the outlet malls so she could check out a couple of designer stores, and I ended up buying a new designer suit, three pairs of socks, and a pair of jeans. She was driving and I was navigating, and I managed to get us lost in Indiana under the Skyway trying to find South Shore Drive. But eventually we made it back to my apartment safe and sound.

The results were not posted until Sunday night. I finished 82 overall in the Men's 62 mile race in 3:12:18 (avg speed 19.3mph). That was 56 minutes faster than last year, and moved me up in the pack from the 68th percentile to the 39th percentile. In 2011 I finished 54 minutes behind the leader, and in 2012 I finished 21 minutes behind the leader.

For 12 months I looked forward to this race to see whether or not all of the training I had put in during the spring, summer, fall, and winter had made a difference. Cyclocross season was ended in disappointment, and this was the first repeat event that would allow me to see whether or not I had improved. Even when I got blocked out of registration and didn't know if I would be able to race in the event, I continued to train for it. It wasn't easy. In February I was filled with doubt as to whether I was even finish the race this year. I spent a lot of cold and lonely nights riding to Ft Sheridan and the South Shore Cultural Center. I owe a big thanks to my teammate Sean Kennedy who sold me his entry and gave me the opportunity to compete. It was the best time I have had yet racing.

The Barry-Redeux

I have to admit. I was rusty. I hadn't gotten ready for a bike race in a while, and I was kind of disjointed on Friday morning running around my apartment. I had a few things left on my to-do list, like change the tires on my race wheels to a Michelin Jet file-tread, mix up some of my secret formula energy gels andd hydration, and pack my clothes for the weekend.

I checked the weather for Barry Co, Michigan. Then I checked it again. And again. I could not believe that it was going to be in the high 50's to low 60's for this race. Sometimes personal experience can be so hard to overcome with logic and new information. I wanted to pack for last year's race, not this year's race. I couldn't stop myself from packing for cold weather, but I kept it limited to a craft windproof base layer, a pair of craft tights, and some arm warmers.

My girlfriend had accepted my invitation to accompany me to the race, and was going to bring her car into the city on Friday morning. She was aiming for 11AM, but she ran into the kind of delays that I faced getting ready for last year's race. She arrive until 1PM. She pulled into the alley behind my building with her large American-made Luxury car (her Dad didn't think it was a good idea to borrow his foreign made SUV to take into Michigan), so I figured I would have no problem fitting the Falcon into her trunk and the rest of my gear in the back seat. I was wrong. The seats did not fold down, instead a small portal opened up in the arm-rest to the back seat. I took the wheels off and tried to wedge the bike in the trunk. I could not get the stays far enough in the small portal for the handlebars to clear the trunk. Before I could solve the problem, a moving van pulled up to the mouth of the narrow alley and started honking at us. They wanted us to move so they could back in and do their job.

I asked Morleigh to drive around to the front of the building into the loading zone across the street. I told her I would run into the building to get my trunk carrier, and we could put the bike on the trunk. But as I moved through my building I remembered that my plan B was not the trunk carrier, but the back seat. I had a tarp to wrap around the bike and protect the car, so I continued through the building and met her out front. I was initially confused as she was parked in the middle of the street with her hazards lights on, and not next to the curb in the loading zone. I pointed for her to back up, and stopped when I got close enough to the street to see the puddle of water six inches deep as wide as the loading zone. It had been raining hard all monring and my neighborhood was flooded. As I was not wearing hip waders, she was gracious not to park in standing water. Instead I hopped in to the car and pulled it around the hotel into an alley. I swung into an open parking space in the apartment lot and started to wrestle with the Falcon. It would not fit into the back seat. So I had to rip apart the trunk trying to find an allen wrench (thankfully I had packed a multi-tool), so I could take the seat off. As I was digging in the trunk a car pulled up and an older Russian gentlemen watched us, then parked next to us, and said with disgust as he carried groceries into the building, "That's MY spot". I apologized and told him we were just trying to fit the bike into the car and would be goine in a few minutes. He shot eye darts like a skunk shoots stink. The bike wouldn't fit in the car as is, so I tore apart my well packed race bag to find a multi-tool and yanked the seat post. Without wheels and a seat post the frame slipped nicely into the back seat. And like that we were off.

The ride to Michigan was uneventful. Traffic was tight and slow through downtown, but light and moving quickly on the Skyway. Neither of us had eaten lunch, we planned to stop on the way. Unfortunately there are no restaurants off the Skyway. It winds over some of the most industrial and desolate parts of Chicago, then through Gary Indiana. It wasn't until we passed onto I-94 that we found a friendly blue sign advertising a pair of restaurants. I gave Morleigh the choice between Denny's and the Longhorn Steakhouse. She chose "Not Denny's", and we went towards the Longhorn.

I was a little surprised because of all the restaurants in Indiana, we had ended up at the one place I had eaten before. My Ex-wife and I had stopped at the same place on the a trip to the SE shore of Michigan for a relaxing weekend back in 2008. It was one of those strange moments when past and present collide. Regardless, we had a nice late lunch. As it was an odd time (4pm) for a meal, the place was virtually empty, service was fast, and the food was delicious. We loaded back into the car and continued on our way.

While we were at the restaurant, the driving rain had finally stopped. But it was only a few minutes along the highway when we caught back up to the tail end of the storm and continued to drive with the clouds for the rest of our journey. I explained to Morleigh my concern that the roads would be mushy if they were wet, and that it would be as hard to ride as it was last year when when the roads thawed in the afternoon.

We did not get a spot in the sponsoring hotel on Gun Lake, instead we were staying farther north in Grand Rapids. Thus we took scenic route along I-196 from Benton Harbor to Grand Rapids. We arrived at the hotel, and as we were pulling into the driveway Morleigh asked me if I wanted to go check out the race venue. It was still pouring rain. I had hoped to get on the Falcon a little bit on Friday and work out my legs, but I did not want to go to the starting area and tool around in the rain, the mud, and the dark. My biggest concern was simply not having the right equipment to clean my bike if I were to get her muddy. So instead we went and checked into the hotel, and then downstairs to the attached restaurant for a bite to eat.

Morleigh ordered light, a BLT-hold-the-T, and I ordered carbo-load, a bowl of macaroni and cheese. It was a huge bowl. I was not terribly hungry because of the late lunch, but still, I ate for 20 minutes straight and when I smoothed the pasta back down into the bowl, it looked like I had not eaten any of it. At the end I consumed maybe half of my pasta. Morleigh did better with her sandwich, but still did not finish all B from her B_T. (Yes, I did eat most of her left-over bacon because what good is it being a cyclist if you can't eat bacon?)

On the way back to the hotel room we swung by the pool area, and peaked into the workout room. They had a stationary recumbent bicycle so we went in. I sat down on the stationary bike in my street clothes and started pedaling. I had on jeans and dressy-shoes, so I did not want to pedal hard or fast, but it felt good after sitting in a car all day to spin my legs a little bit. Morleigh sat with me for a few minutes, watching me, and then asked me for the room key, she wanted to go back upstairs. I handed her the key, and kept spinning for a few more minutes. After getting my legs loose, but before I started to sweat I switched over to the elliptical trainer.

I do not, in general, like elliptical trainers. They are invariably designed for someone who is about 6 inches shorter than I am, and when I am on one I generally look like a cartoon character running in place as the rug slides out from underneath them. But it can be fun to see how well built they are by sprinting on them. So I hopped on and revved it up to 150 rpms. This did NOT make the machines computer happy as it could only measure up to 150 rpms and gave an error message as I pushed it faster, but it did not sound like it was about to tear itself apart like some other machines I have stress tested in a similar fashion.

Having worked out the stiffness from sitting, I made my way back to the elevator and back upstairs. I knocked on the door of our hotel room...and waited. I didn't just sit and wait, but instead played my turn on a few of the half dozen games of "Words with Friends" that I happen to have going at the moment. There was no answer so I knocked again. I played another turn and still there was no answer. I wondered if I missed her in the elevator when I brought the stairs up. So I went back downstairs, looked in the fitness room, the lobby, the pool, and in the car. She was not there, so I went back upstairs, in a state of near panic, and knocked on the hotel room door. It took a few more minutes, but finally she opened the door.

I was relieved. She was embarrassed. While we were in the fitness room she had heard "the voice". You have probably heard "the voice" sometime in your life although you may not have recognized it as such. Henry Rollins labeled "the voice" as such in a spoken word show I went to in Albany about six years ago. He told the audience about his first trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and hearing the voice in the wide expanse of white frozen trundra.

The voice whispers, "Psst...Hello there."
"It's me again."

To which you reply, "No...not again...not this time...I've been so good."

"Not good enough" the voice whispers.

"It's time. You should prepare."

"I don't want to. If you leave me be I promise I will be better next time."

The voice cackles with laughter.

"I will not be bartered with or trifled with. Time is running out."


"Don't argue with me, time is fleeting. You will find my alter, and bow to me in prayer."

And so Morleigh had been praying quietly in our hotel room, responding to the call, and setting a disagreeable B_T sandwich back free into the universe. She was so worried that I would take her back to Chicago because she was sick, and that she had ruined my bike race, it was impossible not to smile. It wasn't the way I had hoped to be spending the night, but a few trips downstairs to pick up and drop off towels, and we were back on track. We were in bed at a reasonable time with an alarm set for Oh Dark Thirty in the morning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Barry-Roubaix, 2011 Part 2

We decided on Friday night to get up at 7:30AM for breakfast on Saturday. I was up early, but we were not fast to get to breakfast. We moved slowly and did not get out of the room until 7:45AM. We went back to the hotel restaurant for a "continental" breakfast of oatmeal (packaged) donuts, and thankfully some cereal. I ate five or six bowls of three different kinds of cereal: crispx, frosted flakes, and cocoa krispies. We went back to the room and it was already 8:30AM and we jumped into a flurry of activity. Spandex was everywhere as we considered and reconsidered each and every layer we had planned out the night before. We were planning on being out of the room at 9:15AM and I did the worst job not making it out until 9:20AM. Chernoh and Jason were already at the car when I frantically burst out of the lobby door with my bike in one hand and four bags of clothes, food, race gear, and my post-race bag in the other hand. We knew where the start of the race was, but didn't actually test-drive the ride so we would know how long it would take us to get there.

When we got to the park it was chaos. There were more than 600 people registered to race, and pretty much all of them were there before us. They were dressed and ready to go, tooling around the parking lot and the main entrance to the park which made finding parking painfully slow. It was 9:35-9:40 AM when we finally stopped the car and got out. Chernoh and I started at 10AM promptly, and we panicked into our final preparations. I still had to apply toe-warmers to my socks, put on my shoes and shoe covers, load my jacket pockets with my gels, a few granola bars, a flat kit, gatorade, put on my cap and helmet, and perform pre-flight checks on the Falcon. It took way longer than it should have to do simple things, like attaching my number to my handlebars. The number contained a timing chip that was used to track the racers at the start and finish.

Jason was the first one to be ready, then me, and finally Chernoh. I hopped on the Falcon and started tooling around the parking lot while he finished his pre-flight checks. When he was ready we made our way east toward the large balloon arch that represented the START (on one side) and the FINISH (on the other side), and we found a place in line. There were four or five starting waves, each comprised of a few hundred people. We pulled up to the back of the "Elite" crowd, and said good morning to the people we recognized in the race (who were also toward the back of the pack). It was 9:56 AM. We had made it to the start by four minutes.

It was at that moment that I had, for the first time since I woke up on Friday a moment to pause, to think, to reflect, to say to myself:

"What the fuck am I doing here!?!?!"

This is a sixty five mile race on very challenging terrain (gravel roads with 4200ft of climbing) and it was 22 degrees. Sunny, but only 22 degrees. At that point in my life I have never ridden a bicycle more than 52 miles in a day on flat city terrain. That 52 miles was lots of stop and go traffic, on and off the seat, and I took a 10 minute break at a gas station to buy food and refill water. How did I end up here, and more importantly, how was I going to finish? Thankfully my moment of panic was cut short by the start of the race.

This is the complete read-out of my race from my bike computer. You can see the path that we took (Yes, a woman in the Bar Friday night noted aloud that we were literally circling "Podunk, Michigan").

There was no whistle. Just a surge at the front of the crowd, I waited for the wave of motion to make it to the back of the pack where I sat. When it got to me I jolted into action. I stood up on my pedal and sat down in my seat for the first time. We were being led down the road by a motorcycle, pacing us out of the park onto the roads, so things were pretty bunched up. As the race reached the main road, the motorcycle pulled off, and the leaders surged down the road. There was a group of us (Michael C, Mia, Chernoh, Brent, and Sean) who were together toward the back of the pack. Chris J was ahead and dropped back to yell, "If we don't jump and get up on that pack we will never stay with them." I assumed that we, the members of team Sprocket, would then be making a jump. I jumped up with Chris and attached myself to the trail end of the pack. No one else came with us. So my plan to stick with Chernoh and work as a team with the other members of team Sprocket lasted about a minute and a half into the race, and then I was on my own.

If you look at the heart rate graph you can see the level of exertion for the first six miles was the hardest as I struggled to stay attached to the pack of riders. After we made it over the first big climb and started to descend my heart rate dropped (amazing how fast and effortless it is to ride downhill vs uphill). It was then that I settled into the race and started to ride my race. I tried to stay with packs of riders to the best of my ability, and take advantage of drafting as much as I could. One of the reasons I was able to ride so fast for so long was that I was at the back of a pack and was slicing through turbulent air. But after the first big climb the leaders really pulled away, and the ride started to spread out. We also were free of the woods, which exposed us to the south eastern winds for most of the first half of the lap.

My mantra for the first lap was "don't burn any matches". I did not want to over exert myself climbing any particular hill or trying to catch any particular group of riders such that I wouldn't be able to keep going with them once I got there. The rest of the lap is a blur. Sometime down the road maybe 10 or 20 miles in the leaders of the "Blue" group (i.e., the 35 mile racers) started to catch us and pass "us" the Yellow tags (i.e., the 65 mile racers). We tried to attach onto their groups as much as possible but recognized that they were as fast as the leaders we were chasing, and only riding half of the distance we were riding. There were enough of them that it didn't matter, they kept coming and coming. Overall, I was pretty happy with the average speed that I was riding (high in the seventeen mph range), and felt like I was doing a good job managing my energy. Everything was kind of a blur though. I remembered some hills very well, and at the steepest climb at mile 21 there was even a family out in their yard blasting "Eye of the Tiger". That was a nice little boost before a really difficult climb, and there were photographers along the road at various places. I remember thinking at that point in time, when I crested that hill, that I was DEFINITELY going to be walking up that hill on the second lap. That downhill was also where I hit my fasted speed. It was for such a short duration that it didn't really plot well, but when I looked down at the Garmin I was at 38.6 mph. That's fast on a crossbike on gravel. The last 5-10 miles or so of the first lap were paved, which represented a nice break from beating ourselves on gravel roads. There was a big hill from mile 25-30 and it was at this point, as I was re-passing some of the mountain bikers in the 35 mile race, and also some of the riders in the 23 mile race, that it hit me.

I have to do it all again.

So I kept my feet turning but with the recognition that I had a long way left to go. As I crested the "last" hill of the first lap I could see riders stretching out in front of me and behind me. Not the thick crowds of the start and finish line, but the a steady stream of happy finishers. At mile 33.57, the path of the Yellows diverged from the greens and the blues. I took a left, and was shocked that I could see maybe a half a mile ahead of me down the road, and there were only two riders. When I got to that part of the course, I glanced over my shoulder. Only one additional rider had turned.

My stomach dropped. Morale dropped. I thought about turning around and throwing in the towel. I knew my teammates were behind me though, and I figured the worst thing that would happen would be I would ride slow enough for them to catch up and we would limp along together. So I kept riding. The second lap was much different than the first. Whereas I did not see a single person stopping in the first lap, there were Yellow riders who were pulling over to relieve themselves, get food and nutrients at aid stations, and the was less like a bicycle race and more like a thin trail of refugees fleeing a war zone, exhausted, dirty, and looking very despondent and pained.

You can see my change in mood in my Garmin graphs. The elevation chart makes it easy to compare lap 1 and lap 2. If you frame all the charts by "Distance" in the pull down menu at the top right, you can make cross-lap comparisons. Starting at mile 33.57 you can see how the elevation is a copy and paste as I climbed all the same hills twice. The speed chart is not. The minimum speeds from say mile 33 to mile 40 are not much different, but the maximum speeds are much slower. On the first lap I was able to crest the tops of hills and accelerate down, on the second, I was barely able to crest the hills much less expend energy on the down. At mile 40.65 I stopped for the first time in the race. I pulled over at an aid station looking for water because my bottles had frozen, and I had one of the women fill up a new bottle for me. It wasn't frozen solid, but the slushy water made it difficult to drink. The momentary rest felt good, and I continued to move on.

At mile 42 I hit my first wall. It was climbing a hill at the intersection of Head Rd and Head Lake Rd. There was a steep climb, and I actually had to get off my bike and walk it a few hundred yards to the top. I broke a cardinal rule of cycling, but at that point the choice wasn't between looking cool or not looking cool, but between making it to the top of the hill or not. My heart was thumping in my chest, my vision started to blur and and go dark, and I think the choice was between walking and passing out. I know this happened at mile 42 because it was the first of only two times that I flipped my garmin display from my "current state" display of Cadence, speed, heart rate, average speed to the "total time and distance". I had not looked at how long I had been riding or how far I had gone the entire first forty two miles of the race. I knew that it was a terrible psychological game to play trying to watch the minutes and miles go by.

Just ride as long and as far as it takes to get to the finish. Counting miles or minutes would be simply an additional form of torture. The rate of suffering will always exceed the rate of travel. (Jason confirmed my theory after the race when he told me that he let himself think that he was within a few miles of the finish when he was still 10-15 miles away). While I was walking up the hill, I thought of the article I had read about running a marathon and using a "run-walk-run" strategy and figured the same principles applied for biking.

I passed a course marshal who was sitting at that intersection and she asked a few riders who were still pedaling if they needed anything. When I got close enough that she asked me, I asked her if she had a fresh set of legs in her truck. She said no, but she could give me a ride back if I wanted. I said "No, I'll make it." She got into her truck and zoomed ahead, and I marched on to the top of the hill. A few riders passed me, asked me if I was okay. I nodded. There was a little bit of a flat spot for the intersection, and then the hill continued. My body felt like it was about to shut down, and for the first time my thoughts switched from, "this is really hard" to "I don't think I can do this" and "I think my race ends right here." But I was doing okay walking, so I walked. I pushed my bike to the top of the hill and paused. I sucked down the last of my second energy gel, drank some water, and opened a granola bar. I put the bar in my mouth and experienced a new sensation. I tried to bite down on the granola bar, but before I could even close my lips to chew I spit the bit out on the ground. Just the feeling of having solid food in my mouth made me feel nauseous. My stomach churned and I could feel the color draining out of my face. I stood there for what felt like a long time. Three or four riders passed me, and gave me the perfunctory "are you okay". I gave the perfunctory "yeah", and when I regained my composure I "wiped the gravel out of my vagina" and hopped back on the bike with a new mantra for the second lap.

"Just. finish."

Whatever it takes.

"Just. finish."

Walk, crawl, stop and vomit, no matter what.

"Just. finish."

I gave up with full certainty the idea of riding a "negative split" (second lap faster than the first lap) and I threw my leg over the saddle and thought of a trucker I saw interviewed on TV who said the secret to making money as a trucker was to keep that (the door) closed and those (the wheels) turning.

The south leg of the second lap was brutal. The ground had softened in the sunlight, the wind was stronger from the south east, and I rode most of the way alone, or with someone who was riding slower than I was, so I couldn't really partner up with them and ride my race. Everything about the second lap was harder than the first. There were no spectators, no photographers, and no music. Just the wind and the gravel to keep me company. I did not look left or right any more, as my neck and back were sore. Just holding my helmet up was challenging enough. After mile 42 my legs felt like they were full of lead. If I rode over the top of a hill, when I got to the top there was no power left to do anything more than coast on the downhill. If I walked, I could barely hop on and keep spinning. When I got to the big hill, the one that had music the first lap around I used what momentum I had, and climbed for as long as I could, but when it was time I hopped off. One of the Flatlandia guys who had passed me at mile 42, who I passed shortly there after, passed me again on the way up and gave a little encouraging comment about maybe I should be on the bike.

I tried to respond, and realized for the first time that my face was so cold it was deforming my speech. I couldn't "talk normal" and sounded like I had a shot of novocaine...everywhere. I wanted to throw out a snappy comeback, but instead I repeated my mantra aloud ("Just. Finish") and continued to plod up the hill. My legs were very unhappy with me. About 3/4 of the way to the top I caught up with him again. He had pulled over to the side of the road and was cramping up. I gave him a courtesy "are you okay" and he said "Yes" and I kept on going. I walked to the top, and pedaled on down the other side.

Miles and miles of gravel and bare trees blurred by mindlessly until mile 54. Mile 54 was memorable because it was only the second time that I flipped back to the total screen on my Garmin. Mile 54 was when my question to Chernoh and Jason from the previous night came flashing back onto my mental screen.

"So what do you guys mean when you say "cramp"? Because I've never gotten a cramp cycling."

Oh. This is what they mean. Fuck.

Cramping happens when your body is low on the elements that are required for proper neural functioning, primarily potassium and sodium. Without sufficient micronutrients the muscles start to fire on their own without voluntary control in an uncomfortable and counterproductive manner. This is what is commonly known as a "cramp". I knew I was in trouble. Despite being nauseated and feeling not at all hungry I downed my entire last energy gel, the last quarter bottle of Gatorade, and as much water as I could fit into my stomach. It wasn't going to do me any good to finish the race with a full gel and full water. Mile marker 52 was also memorable because I was fortunately going down hill when I cramped which gave me some coasting time to get nutrients, but I was coming up on a relatively steep ascent. The memorable part of it was that it was the first big hill I approached on the second lap that I did not remember climbing at all during the first lap. It's there on the garmin output at mile 21, but I had absolutely no memory of struggling up it the first time. I must have been on someone's wheel and just grinding up it with my head down because I was really surprised by it on the second lap. I remembered the dairy farm on the downhill on the other side, but not the climb itself. After mile 52 and taking in my final nutrients the next major landmark I was looking for was the pavement. Pavement would mean two things. First, I was on the final stretch. Second, Big. Ass. Climb. But I knew that the climbs were tall but not as step as some of the gravel roads and the pavement made it easier to get into a low gear and crawl on the bike. Once I hit blacktop I did not stop. Not only did I not stop I started to accelerate a little bit again. I even passed a few people. The last guy I caught sight of as were were on the "tail of the Q" heading back into the starting zone. So I pushed it hard for the last four miles (speeds back up in the 20s, pulling my average speed back up a bit. It wasn't a negative second lap by any stretch of the imagination, but I was still moving faster than I had on average, and was finishing with a bit of a flourish.

When I got to the finish line, there was no party for me, no one really noticed that I had even finished. As I cross the line I could see that my goal of finishing in four hours had not been met. I was 8 minutes too late, and felt like that was a final kick in the stomach from Barry County Michigan. I pedaled around for just a few minutes before I got off and started to look for Jason. He had the car-keys and the key to me getting out of my wet, slimy, and cold spandex. He had the key to being warm and maybe start feeling like a human again. I was going to go to the car with him, and got hit by the need to go to the bathroom. I asked him to do me a huge favor and ride down to the car and grab my backpack. I had been careful to pack the main compartment with my post race clothes. I went into the portajohn and found it relatively warm, and was back outside waited a few minutes for Jason to return.

He was back a few minutes after I got out of the car, at which time I started the longest, most complicated, most painful wardrobe change of my life. Basically, I couldn't flex any muscle in my lower body for more than 2 seconds without cramping. I put the lid down and sat down to try to bend over and get my shoes off. Before I could get my right cover unzipped my abs started to cramp. Stand up. Turn around. Put shoe on lid. Quad starts cramping. Bend over. Abs cramp. Lift heel off seat. Calves cramping. etc. etc. I was so glad that there were plenty of spaces and few people because there was no pressure at all to hurry. And hurry I did not. It probably took me 20 minutes to change out of my wet spandex with was stuffed into my water proof backpack, and into my warm thermal underwear and post-race street clothes. As I emerged feeling much more human Jason and I were getting ready to head down to the car when Chernoh crossed the finish line at about 4h40min. His timing was perfect. We exchanged the perfunctory "how did you do" stories and headed to the car.

Again, we were in no hurry. Jason was gracious as it took Chernoh and me a long time to get our shit together. Even though he had been ready to head back to the city since he finished his (35 mile) race. It took Chernoh a long time to change too (for similar reasons), so I organized my stuff, got ready to drive, and loaded my bike into the trunk again. I was finally able to pick up my phone and send a reply text message to the "Thinking of you" message I received from my girlfriend earlier in the day.

Me: Done. Alibe. Barekly. Phew.

Time was so short that morning I hadn't even had a moment to text "going to the start line wish me luck" to her. She sent her congratulations and I told her to look up the results to see if she could find out how I finished in the field. As we were driving away she continued to text the results of all the members of Team Sprocket in the sixty-five and thirty-five mile races. It felt very nice that she was sharing information with me that I could then share with my friends. It was like she was there in the car being our "race-support". When we finally got on the road I was not hungry, Chernoh was not hungry, and Jason was starving, but he was again patient and we all decided we would stop at the first Culvers we found about an hour down the road.

I was hoping that my appetite would return before we got to Culvers. It did not. I ordered a burger and fries anyway, and made my way through them. Once again Jason was done eating when I was just half-way through my burger. I was nibbling in an uncharacteristic way. We all opted for a little custard afterwards and were on our way. I did not feel hungry when I started eating, but I did feel full and satisfied after eating. Thankfully the nausea had passed. My pre-Culvers reminder to Chernoh and Jason that we needed gas did not prevent us from getting back on the highway without it. So we stopped at the next exit and found a Shell station. We topped off the tank and headed back south around the big Lake without incident. After the race stories were finished we were a much subdued group relative to our trip over. Jason was happy with his performance and finish, but Chernoh and I were disappointed. Chernoh had hoped to do better. At one point he stopped at an aid station with his legs immobile because of severe cramping. He tought he spent at least five minutes laying on the ground trying to stop the cramping. I was disappointed because of being 8 minutes later than I had hoped to cross the finish line which was kind of the theme for the weekend. A co-worker's call on Friday morning made me late to pick up the rental car which kind of shifted my entire schedule backwards by what felt like 8 minutes. I was never quite where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there. I did not even get a moment to take my camera out of the bag and snap a picture of the start or finish line. The only picture I have from the weekend with my brand new lens is of some landscaping at the hotel the morning before the race.

We dropped Jason off at his place in the West Loop, and Chernoh and I went to my house. I asked him if he would be so kind as to help me unload the car so I could get all of my stuff in, drop him off, and then find a place to park over by the Enterprise and not have to worry about unloading, and getting the bike and the bike rack into the house. In return, I helped him do the same when we got to his house.

As we were saying our final goodbyes and congratulations Chernoh said something that struck a chord. He said, "I was more than a little disappointed with how I did, I thought I was stronger, but I am glad that I did it." Which made me realize that I was not glad that I did it.

The ride back to enterprise, alone, was really the first moment I had had to reflect on anything and everything since I woke up on Friday morning. Everything had been go-go-go for 48 hrs that in the silence of my own mind, things started to collapse in upon themselves.

Not that I regretted doing it, but that I was void of positive affect. Neither gladness, joy, nor pride washed over me at the finish line. None of those came to me in the hours afterwards. There was just the feeling of emptiness that I had spent everything I had and been able to push myself along the edge of physical collapse. It's not like what I did had the cultural swag of "running a marathon" as a major life accomplishment. It doesn't have the sub-cultural swag of even "riding a century" (which is riding 100 miles on a bike in a single day) or a Century-five which is riding 100 miles in 5 hrs (average speed of 20 mph). Who on earth has heard of the more famous inspiration for this race, "The Paris-Roubaix" much less the "Barry-Roubaix" around Podunk, Michigan. I spent just over four hours in the saddle on a cold March morning over gravel and sandy terrain. One lap felt like a race, the second a death march. What did I accomplish? I left a spot at 10 AM and arrived back at the same spot 4 hrs and 8 minutes later. There was no feeling like "I was improving" or "I raced well" or "I learned something new about my sport or my body." There were 147 men who pre-registed for the Barry-Roubaix and 12 women. Only 108 of the men and six of the women finished. Chris J (the teammate who spurred me onto chasing the pack), Mia, and Michael C all bailed after the first lap. When I got home that night and started to settle back into my apartment, I was so lonely. There was no one to reach for, no one to rub my sore and tired body, no one to celebrate with. It's not hard to explain physically why I was so drained and empty, but I struggled with trying to explain how to my girlfriend and family why that translated into an emotional emptiness.

That night I wrote to my girlfriend:
I do not have the words to explain why or how I fell apart. All I know that I am in pieces and I have only hurt and offended the ones that I love as I have tried to get help and support to put myself back together. I am sorry that I failed you all, and would do almost anything to find a way to make up those 8 lost minutes. They seem to have made all the difference.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Barry Roubaix, 2011 Part 1

Busy busy beaver
Friday was a busy busy day for me. I dodged a bullet because I woke up just after 8AM thinking I had a conference call at 9AM, but when I checked my blackberry at 8:19AM the call was scheduled to begin at 9AM EST which meant I was 19 minutes late for my call. I dialed in automatically and was preparing my apologies and got the "you are the first to join your conference" notification.


I checked my emails and saw that the call had been mercifully pushed back to 8:30AM because the organizer was having painters come to her house.

So I was listening to the call, and getting ready for my race. I spent the whole call wiping down the falcon, changing tires, and getting my bike ready for the race. When the call ended I continued packing and organizing. Unfortunately I was interrupted by an email and a call from a panicked co-worker whom I had helped the day before (and worked until 9PM to do so) which is one of the main reasons I was not more ready. Her simply question turned into a 45 minute call, which then left me leaving the house to get the car at 12:10PM, getting back to my house at 12:30PM finishing loading the car at 1PM (after making two aborted final trips from my apartment remembering I did not do a final "walk around").

I was going to head across the street to the rental office to see if the UPS guy had arrived. Instead his truck was on the street, so I went to the back of his truck and found him there. I asked for my box and he handed it to me (after showing him my driver's license). So I had my new lens. I did a horrible job loading the car, and did not mount the bike rack, so when I got to Chernoh's house it took us a while to load the car. We didn't make it out of Chernoh's alley until almost 1:30PM and did not pick Jason up until 2PM.

It was funny that when we were picking Jason up a guy walking across the street stopped and asked us if we were going to the Barry-Roubaix. He was going tomorrow. It's a small world I guess. We were back on the way to the Northwest at about 2:15-2:30pm. The ride was uneventful. Jason and Chernoh and I were chatty Cathys talking about cross, racing, our relative strategies for the race tomorrow, and a few other things. We stopped once for a late dinner at a multi-franchise fast food place, I ended up with a supreme pizza from pizza hut. I figured it had more carbs and micronutrients than a burrito from Taco Bell, chicken from Popyeyes or a burger from The (Burger) King. We were back on the road and made it to the hotel by about 5PM. Except Michigan is in the Eastern Time zone, so it was 6PM. The thought never crossed our minds. We had already decided that we were all interested in going for a ride before dark, so there was not really a moment's rest. We checked into the hotel, changed into our riding gear, and went out for 30 minutes (Jason) and 45 minutes (Chernoh and I). We all pushed it and worked out the kinks. Jason was already showered and in the bar by the time Chernoh and I got back. I didn't really get that sweaty so I just changed and went down and met Jason. We were both hungry at that point in time so we waited for Chernoh to find out what he wanted to do. It was about 2 beers (for Jason) later by the time that Chernoh joined us. His plan was to sit in the hotel room and chill doing some work and eating some cliff bars. When I texted him saying the bar had food and was serving until 9PM (10 minutes) he said he would be right down. He was glad he did because he had a beer, and also a amazing beef sandwich that had been carefully crafted and toasted to a perfect crisp.

Jason had coc a vin and I got a homemade tagliatelle pasta with snow peas, asparagus, and crab meat. It was different because pasta and snow peas were as long as the pasta was wide, and there was no real sauce to speak of. It wasn't completely dry, so it was either a very thin coating of a Extra Virgin Olive oil, or some sort of reduction of the crab meat. It was different than what I was expecting, different than anything I had every had before, but still very good. It did not however surpass the look of Chernoh's beef sandwich. Nor did it fill me up. I was still hungry and had room for desert. The desert menu had four fruity options that were not appealing and something called "pot de cream". It was described as spiced chocolate with cinnamon churros. I asked the bartender what it was and he had no idea. It sounded like it might be good so I ordered one anyway.

I was really surprised by what came out of the kitchen. It was a small coffee-cup sized ramikin of which I could see a layer of homemade whip cream and three .5" diameter churros leaning and hanging over the whipcream (because the were J shaped). I started with a churros which was sugary-cinnamon-fried batter goodness. Then I dipped my fork into the whip cream was cool and refreshing. Continuing down I hit something which gave some firm resistance to the spoon, but was easily pushed through. I pulled this out first, and it was a chocolate mousse. The flavor of which was, as advertised, spicy. A hot cayenne-infused Mexican chocolate mousse that was more savory than sweet. It was mind blowing. It was so good I made Chernoh try a taste. (Jason had his own). After a second spoonful of mousse I discovered the mousse was simply the lid for a second, deeper layer of...well...creme. It was a thick liquid that was infused with similar, but not exactly the same salty-chocolate-spicy mix. It was an amazing dinner. I love that in this day and age even small Podunk towns can have amazing well trained gourmet chefs at their small summer resort hotels. The hotel was new and fairly nice as well.

So after dinner we made our way back to the room and Jason and I had already decided we were going to the hot-tub, so we quick-changed and headed down before it closed. We sat and made small talk about growing up, but things were a lot more quiet than they were when we were in the car on the way up. We came back up to the room, made plans for the night and tomorrow morning. I had to run out to the car to get my lens and used the opportunity to wake up Morleigh (my girlfriend) and wish her a good night. We had texted very little that day because I was frantically trying to pack, load Chernoh, load Jason, drive safely to Michigan, unpack, ride, eat, call down a bit, and didn't really have a moment alone until 11PM when I called her. She was of course tired, and I didn't keep her long, but it was enough of a touch.

I made it back up the room later and Chernoh and Jason had found a YouTube video of someone who had pre ridden the course a few weeks earlier. We watched. It was compressed so you could watch the full 2 hour ride in about 10 minutes. It was nice to have a vision of what it was going to be like. Up. Gravel. A lot more up. I was really excited when I went to bed, wired to say the least. I did not toss and turn though as I willed myself to calm down and counted backwards from 1,000 to 0 to help me fall asleep. I didn't even make it into the six hundreds.

I woke up at three AM and 5AM for bio-breaks. The room was not too hot although we teased Jason about it. He told a story on the way up that last year he was registered for the Dairyland Dare, went to Dodgeville, WI, but did not end up racing because a guy who was sleeping on the floor in his room was "cold" so he turned up the heat which made it too hot for Jason to sleep. At all. So the next morning, instead of racing, Jason turned around and drove back to Chicago because he had a wedding that night, and couldn't have made trough the evening had raced without sleep. He said F the race and went home.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Thoughts related to nutrition

For those of you who don't know, I veritable font of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to food and nutrition. Although I am not formally schooled in the topic, it is something that I have spent a lot of time learning about in the last decade.

I have looked at nutrition from the perspective of weight loss, athletic performance, and also from a culinary perspective (as someone who likes to cook). I coached DI track and field for 6 years while I was in Albany NY which required coaching not just training and technique, but also lifestyle, including nutrition. I worked closely with a registered dietician for three years while I was in New York I was also married to a biological anthropologist who studied childhood obesity and exercise physiology among other things. She was also my assistant coach for three years.

Recently I was involved in a discussion in an obscure corner of Facebook (i.e., comments that were attached to a photo) with a former HS classmate (MM) of mine about the merits of a "detox" juicing diet. A few days prior to this discussion a registered nutritionist came to work to give a presentation. She confirmed many of my suspicions about this kind of "detoxing" diet, and motivated me to contribute. I'm putting the discussion here (with some minor revisions and additions) because these were my racing thoughts for the last week.

The photo was a screen shot of an iPhone app that tracked weighloss and BMI relative to some goal. The caption by MM read:

MM: Watched the "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" documentary and decided to try the juice "reboot" for 10 days. 5 days in, I've lost 8 lbs., I have way more energy, and just generally feel pretty great. No real cravings, but I miss cooking.

(Note: I'm not capturing all the responses in this post, just the ones that are relevant to subsequent discussions).

JN: ten pounds in a week? Starving yourself to lose weight'll cause you to gain it right back when you start eating again. Careful!

MM: @JN - I'm still getting plenty of calories - probably about 1,600/day. It's mostly water weight at this point. Haven't really been hungry at all. I hear you, though. It's not a long-term weight loss solution, just a kick-start to my plan to eat clean and get back in fighting shape.

KH: I did the same thing for 12 days and lost 16 pounds. I was also working out at the same time. In the 5 days since adding other vegan foods into my diet I gained back 4 pounds. Overall I was pretty pleased with the whole process. I still have more fat to lose to be really healthy.

NS (This is me) Juicing is a gimmick. Masticating is not a sin. Cooking applies heat to break down the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, where as a juicer tears them apart mechanically. The net result is similar, food which is better tasting and easier to digest.

The people who benefit most from juice diets, as a concept, are the people who make juicers.

Dramatically cutting calories is a sure fire strategy to lose weight in the short term, but cutting too many calories from your diet can also do damage to your metabolism (i.e., your basal metabolic rate). Eat low-caloric density, high-nutritional density foods, and do it in such a way that your inputs are slightly less than your output.

If you are unhappy with your lifestyle, make a sustainable and enduring change, and do it today. Avoid the fads, avoid the hype, and avoid the gimmicks. This is about you being happy with yourself for the next 50 years, not just for the next 50 days.

MM: @NS- See my comment above to Jeff. I know it's not a long-term solution. In three days I'll be eating a mostly vegetarian diet, low in simple carbs and red meat, high in veggies and legumes. Just cleaning out and starting from scratch right now.

KN: @NS - what is your opinion about the angles that (a) juicing removes the fibrous material from the nutrients allowing the juicer to consume more nutrients through juice than they could through cooking and (b) cooking destroys the enzymes promoted by raw-dieters?

NS: @KH: Those are really great questions. First, I would direct you to this article about the many known benefits of dietary fiber. Juicing (as opposed to blending or pureeing) removes dietary fiber which in turns reduces the overall nutritional value.

Second, cooking does change fruits and vegetables at a molecular level. Harold McGee dedicates about 7 pages to the topic in "On Food and Cooking" (p278-85). He closes the section by noting that some nutritional value is lost by cooking (especially water-soluable nutrients such as minerals and B and C vitamins when "boiling" is the chosen vehicle for transferring heat). But there are also benefits to cooking such as the elimination of harmful microbes, and improving the availability of some nutrients (e.g., starches and fat-soluable beta-carotines).

He recommends including both raw and cooked fruits and vegetables in our daily diet. The reason that I called juicing a "gimmick" is because you don't have to juice Kale to make it healthy, but if juicing is the only way you will eat certain things then go for it. You just don't need a $$$ machine to reap the benefits.

Third, the issue of nutritional density (i.e., "consume more nutrients through juice than they could through cooking") is more complex. On the one hand, there is a potential benefit in that juicing allows you to blend together a bunch of fruits and vegetables that you wouldn't normally eat in a day. On the other hand, many nutrients (especially fat soluble nutrients) remain in the pulp. For this reason eating an apple or an orange is healthier than drinking an equivalent quantity of juice. What does get squeezed out of fruit especially is the simple carbohydrates (i.e., the sugar fructose) which is why many forms of vegetable juice are tastier than vegetables.

However, this is somewhat of a red herring because the body can only process a certain amount of nutrients in a given day. Exceeding this amount doesn't make you healthier. Water-soluable nutrients (like the red betains found in beets) are processed out through the kidneys and liver (which puts unneeded stress on those organs), and fat-soluable nutrients build up in the liver (which in high doses can become toxic).

It wasn't the juicing per say that caused the people in the documentary to lose weight, it was the net calorie deficit that was facilitated by juicing. If they would have eaten the same amount of calories instead of drinking it, they would have seen similar weight loss.

The question should always be whether or not the change is sustainable as a new habit. To MM's point above, Juicing is not a sustainable habit, but a juicer is a sustainable piece of single-purpose hardware that is now cluttering your kitchen.

MM: @NS - Let me address a couple of these concerns. While juicing isn't an ideal diet, I'd argue that it's a great improvement from SAD (the standard American diet).

Re: Insufficient calories to maintain metabolism. I added up the fruit and vegetable juice and soy milk that I'm consuming every day, and it totals approximately 1,450 calories, about a 1,000 calorie deficit from what I normally eat (and a 1,400 deficit from SAD), but not so low as to affect my metabolism. On the contrary, many of the vegetables I eat, as well as a healthy dose of ginger, horseradish, and chili peppers, have been shown to increase metabolic rate.

Re: Fiber. The juice yielded from raw fruits/vegetables is pretty fibrous/pulpy. It's a bit more fibrous than, say V8, which has 8% of the USRDA of fiber per 8 oz. I'm drinking about 88 oz. of juice per day, so I'm likely getting at least 88% of the USRDA of fiber, much much more than the typical 30ish% in SAD.

Re: Nutrient overload. This is unlikely if you get a good mix of fruits and vegetables. A few need to be watched - seriously overdoing beets can dump too many toxins in the liver, and lots of grapefruit juice can interfere with prescription drugs - but in moderation this isn't a concern.

Re: Juicing for weight loss long-term. I agree that juicing definitely isn't an ideal long-term solution for weight loss or maintenance. It's just so damn BORING. I also love masticating and would never give it up for a diet. :) I agree that a low calorie-dense, high fiber diet with moderate intake of meat and dairy and lots of fruit and veggies is the way to go, and that's normally what I strive for.

Nevertheless, compared to SAD, juice cleansing/fasting/detoxing/rebooting/whatever is much lower in fat and calories, and higher in nutrients, water, and fiber. Throw in a few scoops of soy protein and make sure to take a multivitamin, and it's not too far from what I'd call a good diet. Just really, really boring and unrealistic for the long term.

NS: @MM: Re: Fiber. Duly noted. I wasn't certain how much was being passed through or processed out. Likely depends on the juicer.

Re: Nutrient overload, agreed. The point I was trying to make was that most vegetables retain much nutrition than they lose during cooking.

Re: Calorie deficit. Going from one extreme (SAD) to another (excessive calorie restriction) is simply a different flavor of the American tendency toward excess that gets us to SAD in the first place. It places an additional and mostly unnecessary stress on one's body and mind. You can do it, but the question is why?

To quote one registered dietician and nutritionist I spoke to in the last week "It took X years to put the weight on, why would you expect to take it off in a month?"

"As a guide to minimum calorie intake, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that calorie levels never drop below 1200 calories per day for women or 1800 calories per day for men. Even these calorie levels are quite low. If you want to lose fat, a useful guideline for lowering your calorie intake is to reduce your calories by at least 500, but not more than 1000 below your maintenance level. For people with only a small amount of weight to lose, 1000 calories will be too much of a deficit. "

One of the points I was trying to make by provocatively labeling juicing as a "gimmick" was the recognition that it is possible to skip the fast and jump straight to establishing healthier habits and better relationships with food.

Here are some articles that talk about the relationship between extreme calorie deficits and decreasing basal metabolic rate.

KH: @NS, while I've got your attention here... do you have an opinion on Paleo vs Vegan for a sustainable diet? The China Study suggests that vegan may have dramatic impacts on cancer and heart disease rates. I am also susceptible to the theoretical underpinnings of the paleo diet.

MM: @NS - Interesting article. I also hadn't heard the guideline about consuming at least 1,800 calories for males. Nevertheless, the studies found drops in metabolic rates on the order of 10% after 10+ weeks of 800-1200 calorie diets. This is a 10-day, 1,400+ calorie diet. It's unlikely that it will effect my BMR at all, and certainly won't long-term.

@KH - I just read an interesting rating by US News and World Report. They have a panel of experts review popular diets and rate them on several factors. In their study, vegan beats paleo for both general nutrition and weight loss, but both are beat by more balanced diets like Weight Watchers in both regards (no argument from me there). The paleo diet also made intuitive sense to me until I read a journal article by some anthropologists responding to the paleo craze who said that humans have, in fact, evolved in thousands of measurable ways since the advent of agriculture.

MM: Sorry - Here's the link to the diet ratings. Can't remember where I read the anthro article, though.

NS: I think the paleo diet takes some sound basic principles and wraps them into an unnecessary and fallacious historical narrative to sell books.

The good.

1. Focus on Output > Input. Paleo diet notes that paleo man was not a desk jockey. He put on lots of miles solving the Omnivore's Dilemma.

2. Focus on Relatively low-energy density food. Many of the ways we process food in our industrialized system packs large amounts of calories in small packages. A half-cup of ice cream can have upwards of 200 calories. A half-cup of broccoli has 25 calories.

3. Focus on High nutritional density: Emphasizes foods that give you lots of micronutrients per calorie.

4. Encourages more sustainable farming (i.e., wild or grass fed proteins, farming whole foods (i.e., nuts, berries, fruits) instead of commodities (i.e., corn, soybeans, wheat).

But this is like the Barnum effect for dieting. These things are generally true for all healthy diets.

The less good.

One of the claims of the paleo diet evangelicals is that paleo man was much healthier than modern man, and did not suffer from diseases of excess such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc.

That is in part because paleolithic peoples had a life expectancy of about 33 years. It is a hard argument to swallow that modern man is doing so many things wrong relative to paleo man, but has double the life-expectancy. The paleo responds to this criticism with a bait-and-switch, talking about the lifestyles of modern hunter-gatherer societies. To which I say it's not the food, it's the exercise stupid.

The paleo diet commits the same sin that many diets commit by being prescriptive about the appropriate ratio of macro (protein, carbs, and fat) nutrients. The truth is that there is individual variability in the required portions, and a good nutritionist will talk about ways to find your optimal combination of protein, fat, and carbs.

So I wouldn't think about paleo as a lifestyle choice, but instead a meal choice. A few times a week, it would probably do all of us all some good to build a meal around lean protein, lightly cooked or raw vegetables, and fruits and nuts.

MM: Yesterday was day 10, and this morning I broke my fast (appropriately, at breakfast) with some steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, yogurt, and coffee. In the end I lost 10.5 lbs and felt like a million bucks. It got really boring days 7-10, so I think in the future I'll keep it to a week.

WM: Interesting thread MM. @NS- you clearly are very well informed. As a proponent and adopter of the Paleo lifestyle for about 6 months now, I agree with much of what you say about the Paleo Diet. My primary push back is that I haven't run into a prescription for macronutrients. That's more of what I see in the Zone Diet. It's about eating the right stuff more than in the right amounts Paleo is about eating natural, unprocessed foods, with an emphasis on lean, grass fed/wild caught meats, lots of nutrient rich foods to provide glucose (veggies) without spiking Insulin levels, nuts/seeds/oils to get good fats, and small amounts of fruits (mostly berries). The goal is to (a) manage insulin levels to ensure that the primary source of energy for the body is derived by metabolizing fat, instead of loading up on glucose, which, in excess, is stored as trigylcerides in fat cells and (b) reducing the inflammatory impacts of grains, wheat, sugar, flour, et al. Further, there is lots of anthropological evidence that the Paleolithic era people that didn't die of viruses/bacterias, injury, or other trauma, were much healthier than people today by many metrics (bone density, tooth enamel density, brain size, etc.) And lastly, I would challenge the conventional wisdom about losing weight being a "thermodynamics problem" (i.e., calories in have to be less than calories out). 2,000 of calories heavy in carbs has a much different impact on a body's metabolism than 2,000 calories of lean meats, good fats, low(ish) carbs, especially non-wheat, sugar, etc. All that aside, hard-core Paleo people can be really annoying and holier than thou, like anyone who is deeply committed to a lifestyle/point of view.

WM: One other thing. I'd strongly recommend a few books: (a) Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes; (b) Wheat Belly by William Davis (c) Primal Blueprint by Mark Sissson and for really scientifically inclined (d) Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora G..

CD: I promise I'm not a holier than thou Paleoid!!! It's right for some, not all. Plus there's SO. MUCH. BACON.

‎NS: @WM: "Further, there is lots of anthropological evidence that the Paleolithic era people that didn't die of viruses/bacterias, injury, or other trauma, were much healthier than people today by many metrics (bone density, tooth enamel density, brain size, etc.)" --- I take issue with this statement (fyi: I was married to a biological anthropologist for a while) because simply put there isn't a lot of evidence about Paleolithic era people period. We have a few bones, some stone tools, and almost no soft tissue has survived. It makes sense, when you think about the environmental forces that work against things surviving for 10,000+ years that the fragments that did survive were the heaviest and densest. But what people ate in the Paleolithic era is greatly debated by anthropologists. It's interesting to note that the Paleo diet was not even created by an anthropologist, but a gastroenterologist based on his interaction with unhealthy people with unhealthy diets. From his perspective (seeing the worst of the worst) people who have a lot of gastrointestinal problems will benefit from eating healthier in general. But that in and of itself does not demonstrate the veracity of the many statements about paleo diets.

The diverse and distributed nature of hominids who lived during the "paleo" period means that we will probably never really know what they ate, how long they lived, and whether or not they were actually healthy. That's fine, because it will give anthropologists things to argue about long into the future.

You are right that not all calories are created equally. For example, the body has a very hard time storing protein and/or converting it into fat. Consuming more protein than they body needs generally results in expensive urine. But it is a hard sell to say that a person who takes in 2,000 calories of mixed macro-nutrients, but only burns 1,990 calories is going to lose weight. Even if they are eating "paleo" to improve metabolism, they will be gaining weight until their calorie burn exceeds their caloric intake. All the research I have read demonstrates the importance of a calorie deficit for weight loss. Recent research is adding two more important factors, hydration and sleep. People who drink adequate amounts of water and get enough rest do better at losing weight than those who don't. Who knew?

Lastly, amen to the last point and thanks for contributing to the discussion as an insider.

WM@NS- concur with everything you say about things we don't know and aren't ever going to likely know re: the Paleolithic hominids/era...and defer to anyone on this issue married to a biological anthropologist. :-) In regards to caloric deficit being essential, Gary Taubes' book has a good run down on some strong, though certainly not anywhere close to conclusive, evidence (both from a biochemistry and anthropological perspective) that the composition of the macronutrients is a driver of obesity. The basic thesis is that once a society radically increases their wheat/sugar based carb intake as the US has done since the 70s and 80s, you see a concomitant increase in obesity. Really encourage all that have interest in the topic to read it. WRT to sleep, totally consistent with what I have read as well, largely, from what I understand, as a means to reduce inflammation derived from stress of not sleeping. Most of the Paleo/Primal gurus (Wolf, Cordain, Sisson) are big proponents of getting more sleep because it's consistent with our evolutionary background. The other thing that is interesting is the extent to which the vast changes that wheat and other crops have undergone vast genetic modifications and whether or not that has impacted our ability to process them. The wheat we eat today is barely even recognizable when compared to the wheat of the early 20th century. Same with the corn. This could be contributing to all sorts of "civilized diseases" that have low levels of persistent systemic inflammation as their base potentially.

And this is where the discussion sits.

And to all of those who think I have to have the last word?

I guess I just did.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Touch the ceiling

For as much as we talk in our society about the importance of hard work and striving to achieve one's dreams, there is an unspoken truth, a hard and fast rule that we rarely acknowledge in athletics.

There is a ceiling.

No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you train, no matter how much of your life you dedicate to your sport, there is a genetic limit to how fast, strong, and agile you can be. There is a limit to how well you can perform.

If you look at the personal histories of anyone who achieved greatness and renown in their sport you will find athletes who dedicated their lives to their chosen craft. They ate, slept, and lived their sports. Without that dedication they would not have been great.

But the truth is their competitors were just as dedicated. The athletes we remember like Michael Jordan, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Lance Armstrong were surrounded at all times by athletes we do not remember. They were competing against athletes who worked just as hard for just as long to be able to even compete against the greatest.

We evaluate and remember the people who became the best, but before they could become better than others, they first had to become the best that they could be. They had to kiss their own ceilings before they could become untouchable.

Many people are so far away from their ceilings they do not even know they exist. They have never striven for something, pushed themselves to the edge day after day in the hope of being a little bit better tomorrow. They have never pushed the law of diminishing returns to it's breaking point. They have never approached the the asymptotic limit.

A question for the masses: Have you ever touched your ceiling?