Recently in Triathlon Category

Way back in February or so, a coworker of mine suggested that we register to ride "an early summer charity ride." I foolishly committed to the ride without asking for more details about the event. When I learned he was talking about the Horribly Hilly Hundreds, my knees grew weak.

The Horribly Hilly Hundreds is not to be taken lightly. There are three distances offered - 100K (67 miles), 150K (~100 miles), and 200K (~122 miles). The ride takes place in and around the Blue Mounds area, which for those not familiar, offers incredibly challenging terrain - primarily in the form of long, steep hills. The 100K ride nets 7,500-feet of elevation gain; some of the hills are wickedly steep and quite unforgiving.

The ride limits entry to 1,300 people and is so popular, that they hold a lottery for entry. We all registered, paid the entrance fee and waited to see if we made it. Well, we did. Joy. That meant it was time to train...

My coworker mapped out some training rides so that we could practice on the tougher parts of the course. I started riding those routes a few weeks ago, and that's when I really started to regret my decision to enter this ride. His routes had us start at the highest point of the ride, in a place called Brigham park. To give you an idea of how hilly the course is, we'd leave Brigham and ride downhill (at an average speed of 40-mph) for 5 miles. Yep - 5 miles of constant descending at a high rate of speed. That first 5 miles took less than 10 minutes to cover. We'd then spend the next three hours climbing our way up and around the roads back to Brigham park. And that training course represented just one segment of the Horribly Hilly Ride. Told you it was fun.

Smash-cut to Saturday, June 15, 4:30am.

The alarm clock goes off, and I slap myself (again) for registering for this ride. I throw in an extra slap when I realize it's raining cats-and-dogs outside. Oh, and the temperature showed a balmy 54F. Wonderful.

I drove the hour or so from Madison to Blue Mounds State Park; I drank a coffee and had an energy bar along the way. When I arrived to the park at around 5:45am, things were hustling and bustling - the lots were filling up quite quickly.

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Thankfully, it wasn't raining heavily in Blue Mounds, but it was misting, and it was a bit chilly. I made the decision to wear my Gore raincoat; it's lightweight and compact enough that if I decided to shed it, I could easily roll it up and fit it into my bike bib's pocket. After airing-up my tires, donning my gear, and double-checking the mechanicals on my bike, I met-up with my coworkers and the rest of our little group. A fellow rider was kind enough to snap a picture of us, pre-ride, smiles-and-all. I had a feeling we might not be smiling so much after a few hours.

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From left to right, that's: Jon (coworker), Scott (coworker), Me, Christina (Jon's friend and semi-pro triathlete), and Daniel (old coworker).

We hit the road at approximately 6:15am. 25 miles and 2 hours later, we were at our first rest stop. The race organizers did an excellent job with the rest stops - there was plenty of food, drink, and mechanical support. I grabbed a pickle and a corn-tortilla with some peanut butter, topped-off my water bottle, and hit the road again. I believe we were at the stop for around 10 minutes.

The second segment consisted of approximately 20 miles and took about 1.25 hours. It was relatively flat, save for one fairly impressive hill near the end of the segment. Despite the relatively easy terrain, we did suffer one minor casualty - Christina's bike got a flat tire in the middle of the big hill... Apparently there's a back story from previous training rides where Jon made Christina fix one of his flat tires, so he repaid the debt by fixing her tire. Here they are working on the flat:

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And here's Scott helping by holding Christina's pink bike.

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After fixing the flat, we hit the road for the remainder of the segment. Thanks to the flat tire, we spent about 20 minutes on the side of the road. So, while we had ridden 3.25 hours, we were nearing the 4-hour mark for our total road/out time. We pulled-in to the rest stop, and again, the food/water/support were all great. The volunteers were friendly, the food was tasty, and the support was welcomed.

This particular stop offered Honey Stinger energy bars, GU energy gels, trail mix, beef jerky, pickles, hard boiled eggs, various sandwiches, chips, pretzels, granola bars, and plenty of water and electrolyte drinks.

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Erik's bike shop had a nice little mobile shop set-up at the stop. We used their services to top-off the air pressure in Christina's bike tires. I believe the shops all volunteer their time and services for the event - many, many thanks go out to all of the shops, volunteers, coordinators, vendors, etc.

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With our bikes set and our bodies refueled, we hit the road for the final (and toughest) segment. 24-ish miles of super hilly road, culminating in a climb up into Blue Mounds State Park. I had been riding faster than the group, but for some reason, on the last segment I really managed to "drop" them.

At one point, I turned around to see how far back they were; I rode back toward the group for about 10 minutes or so before deciding to turn back around and finish the ride ahead of them. Apparently Daniel had dropped some items and had to stop for a bit, so that slowed them down.

70-ish miles on a bike is never all that easy. 70-ish miles with unforgiving and neverending hills is not fun. The final 5 miles or so are all uphill, and man, my legs made sure I knew how unhappy they were. I'm happy to report that I didn't walk any hills, but wow - it was tempting to do so. I saw tons of people walking, crying, vomiting and tipping-over on the final stretches... it truly is Horribly Hilly.

I arrived into the park just around noon. My Garmin GPS watch showed that I had ridden 70.43 miles in 4 hours and 31 minutes, for an average speed of 15.33 mph. It recorded 6,033 feet of elevation gain. My PowerTap meter showed that I averaged 265-watts of output, with a peak of 898 watts. My top speed was 44.8 mph. My peak heart rate was 191 bpm; average was 154 bpm. I burned 4,314 calories.

I packed-up the bike, changed my clothes, and made an improvised clothesline so that my bibs could dry out. I'm pretty sure no one would've wanted to steal them...

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Jon and the rest of the gang made their way into the park, packed-up and posed for a group photo with me. Shockingly, we're all smiling.

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We hung out at the park for a bit. They had a DJ, a bunch of vendors, a complimentary beer tent and free food. My post race feast consisted of a grilled chicken breast, some Viking goulash (a mix of pastas, bulgur, beans, and veggies), a pickle, and two cookies. I may or may not have also enjoyed a Capital Brewery beer or two. ;-) I also apparently agreed to do the 150K version of the ride next year, so yeah - I must have had a Capital IPA or two.

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After hanging out at the park for an hour or so, I ventured back to my car and headed home for the day. Liz had a roller derby bout that night, so I showered, took a very quick nap (about 15 minutes' worth), and then went to the bout. She was part of the demo group (they demonstrate the rules/strategies prior to each bout) - it was good to see her out on her skates. Her ankle has been healing really well.

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The bout was a ton of fun, as usual, and I got to also hang out with a bunch of my friends - Paul and Sallie were there, as was Tony, as well as Kelly and Ryan. It was great to see all of you - thanks for coming out and having a great time.

On Sunday, we rode bikes to the Memorial Union, enjoyed the weather, and then had dinner at Forequarter. If you've never been to Forequarter, it's amazing. Truly unreal food; the menu changes every few weeks or so - it never gets boring.

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Enjoy the nice weather and the rest of your week!

I have the power!

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Well friends, I finally have it - power. Watts, and watts of power! {evil laugh} mwuahahaha, mwuahahaha!!

No, you didn't misread that. And, no, I didn't pick-up Elmer Fudd's accent.

I did, however, pick-up a Saris Cycleops PowerTap SL+ 2.4 wireless power hub for my bike. I've been lusting after one of these for a number of years and finally fell into an unbelievable opportunity to purchase one.

The extremely fine folks from Cronometro made me a deal on a PowerTap that I just couldn't refuse. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but given that I've been after one of these for nearly three years, I guess I can justify the expenditure.

I can also justify it by using it as motivation to get my big 'ole behind off the couch. You're all familiar with my love/hate relationship with diet and fitness. Well, over the past three months, I have run exactly 0.00 miles. That's right - not a single mile has passed by way of running... And man, does it suck trying to restart a fitness program, so I'll say it again - if you're currently active, don't ever quit.

I managed to completely burn myself out on exercise. I could see it coming, starting sometime in the fall of last year. I went from averaging 32-34 miles of running per week down to 15-18 miles. I went from running 6 days per week to just two-or-three times per week.

My bike riding schedule slid as well - I went from riding 100-120 miles a weekend to at best, 40. I rarely rode during the winter months; the idea of hitting the trainer was unbearable. I found every excuse imaginable to avoid expending energy or burning some calories.

I tried mixing-up my routine, and that helped a bit, but the burn-out was still inevitable. According to my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch, I have logged 4,536 miles of running since February of 2008. That's more than the length of the United States.

So, I quit. I said, "who cares?!" I put all of my running gear into a storage container, threw it in the closet and figured I'd ride my bike every so often, and just enjoy myself.

Fast forward three months to September 14...

My Garmin watch shows that I've managed to ride my bike(s) a total of 644.7 miles since June 21. My Tanita scale shows that I've packed on a solid 28-pounds, and have increased my bodyfat by an alarming 8.1%. Wow. My pants are tight. My shirts are tight. My body hurts.

Maybe being lazy isn't so grand.

The thought of getting back out to run was just overwhelming. Try throwing a bag of cat litter on your back and going for a run. That's how I felt.

But, I had to do something. So, while out walking on Williamson Street with my friend Nat (he was in town from Dubuque), we wandered-in to Cronometro and saw they had a massive moving sale. I spied a demo wheel - a gorgeous Velocity-rimmed beaut, fitted to a PowerTap SL+.

I inquired, haggled, haggled some more, and left the store with the wheel in my hand. I also got them to include a cassette (the gears), tires, and tubes. I raced Nat back to my house and installed the wheel on my bike. I eagerly took it for a quick spin, and - wait, what's this? Where were the power readings?

A PowerTap works by measuring several data points as you ride. It measures your power output in watts, your speed, the revolutions per minute for your wheel, and with the correct sensor(s), it will also measure your cadence (pedaling rate) and heartrate. With that data, it can tell you a slew of things. And it does all of this wirelessly - ain't technology cool?!

Unfortunately for me, my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch, while super dependable and awesome, was just too long in the tooth to recognize all of this new-fangled gadgetry. While the hub was transmitting data, my watch couldn't do anything with it - it lacked the proper antenna and processing capabilities to display the data from the PowerTap hub. Sigh.

It was time to upgrade my watch. I did some more research, and $450 later, I had a new Garmin - the Forerunner 910XT.

What a drastic improvement! Aside from being ANT+ compatible (the technology for gathering and reporting data from the PowerTap), it was smaller, lighter, had a better display, better mapping, more accurate heartrate data, and triple the battery life.

Like my old watch, the 910XT is capable of tracking multiple sports activities, including: bicycling, running, swimming, and "other" (skiing, snowshoeing, walking, etc). So, I'll be able to use it for nearly everything.

Here's a shot of my old Garmin 305 (left) next to the new Garmin 910XT (right):

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And here's a shot of the two watches on my wrist, side-by-side:

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It took me a solid evening of working on the new watch to get it set-up and calibrated to my preferences, but after I was finished, I was ready to go. The screen quality and layout options are so much better than the 305. I guess that's what you get with 4 years of advancement...

With the new watch all set to go, I went out for my (nearly) maiden voyage. I was curious to see what type of power I could generate during a normal ride. I threw the Cervelo into my car, drove to my favorite riding area, and got ready to go for a ride. Here's the PowerTap hub - it's the silver/black thing in the center of the wheel, just behind the gears:

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Here's a little better picture/view of it, as seen from the "top" of the wheel:

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I hopped-in the saddle and rode for an enjoyable (and educational) 30-odd miles. It was crazy to see the differences in power when standing versus sitting and pedaling, climbing hills, fighting the wind, and descending. It was neat to watch the information in real-time; now I know why all of the pro athletes have these things - it's incredibly beneficial data.

After 32.33 miles, I called it a ride and headed back to the car to review my averages.

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The only bit of data that is clearly suspect is the heart-rate. I was getting interference from static due to my wool t-shirt. I'm told this is fairly common with the newer heartrate strap... I clearly couldn't have had a maximum heartrate of 250+.

Other than that number, everything else looks great - I was especially shocked by the average power rating. 270-watts is pretty solid. According to what I could find via research, the average pro cyclist generates 300-watts while racing. Granted, that's over a 6+ hour span, so my 2-hour ride only represents 1/3 the overall effort...

So, I'm motivated. Or, at least I'm better motivated. I went for a short jog last night; boy was that difficult. I think I'll be doing some mixed walking-and-jogging for the next few weeks, or at least until I shake off all of the cobwebs.

It is truly shocking how quickly one can lose aerobic capacity. Just three months of downtime caused me to lose every single bit of running endurance I had built-up over 4 years. It's depressing.

So, let me be a lesson to you all - don't ever quit! Stay with it.

I don't know if I blogged about it or not, but last year, I managed to miss the Crazylegs race because I overslept the race... ugh. I believe April of 2011 was the start of my downward spiral as it relates to diet and exercise... I was burned-out, injured, and just plain tired of running, riding, and eating like an angel all of the time.

After nearly a year of sluffing off, I figured I should try to get a little serious about maintaining my health (and girlish figure), so I registered for, and managed to wake-up in time for, the Crazylegs race.

The Crazylegs event is hosted by the UW-Madison Athletic department, with benefits and proceeds going to the school. It's named after Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, an infamous running back for the Badgers who eventually became the athletic director for the university. He advocated for general health and wellness; in 1981, the race was started, and it has been run each and every year since.

April in Wisconsin can be a dicey time to hold an outdoor event... and this year, the weather proved to be sketchy, at best. I awoke at around 7:00am on Saturday morning, and was greeted by a steady drizzle. The outside temperature showed just 36F... nice.

Undeterred, I suited-up, grabbed a container of water, and made the drive up to the capital square. The event draws nearly 30,000 participants, so parking was a bit of a challenge. In a brilliant move, if I do say so myself, I parked at a location that was about mid-way through the course... I had a mile-or-so warm-up walk/jog to the starting line, and a mile-or-so cool-down run from the finish line. Nicely played.

When I arrived to the square at 9:45am, I saw the crowds were already assembled...

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The challenge with organizing an event with 30,000 people becomes evident when you try to start the race... the race was scheduled to start at 10:00am, and it did, but I didn't hit the starting line until around 10:20am... I was in wave "X," so I got to spend a lot of time in the rain and wind waiting to start my race.

While waiting, I ran into my coworker, Brian. He was racing with his wife, who was racing with a group of her coworkers. They all had team t-shirts; Brian took the opportunity to modify his as shown here:

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From left to right, that's: Brenda (Brian's wife), Brian, and Katie (Brenda's coworker).

We all shuffled our way to the starting line, and before too long, we were able to see the actual starting point. There were tons of Badger players high-fiving and encouraging everyone as they approached the starting line. The UW band was playing, and I think I even spied 'ole Bucky himself running around in the crowd.

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Brian and I ran together for a bit. I don't normally run with people, so it was nice to chat and joke with him as we made our way around the square, down Langdon, and up Observatory Drive. I managed to snap a photo of us running - it turned out decent, considering we were cranking along at an 8:00/mile pace.

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Like the considerate husband he is, Brian decided to circle back and run with Brenda, so I bid him farewell, and told him I'd meet them once at Camp Randall (the finish line). I ran the rest of the race in good form - it was 5.02 miles from start to finish, not including my warm-up and cool-down.

Madison races tend to follow the same course... they run you through the campus area, out to picnic point, and back toward the arboretum area. This means part of the course is an "out-and-back" - something that I'm not really a fan of, but Crazylegs keeps it interesting, because in the out-and-back section they have some interesting characters, like this Uncle Sam that's on stilts.

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Before I knew it, the finish line was in sight - here's Camp Randall from the outside:

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And shortly thereafter, I was inside Camp Randall, approaching the finish line. According to my GPS watch, I ran the 5.02 miles in 40:08; according to Crazylegs official time, I was at 41:00. Not sure how or why there was a discrepancy, but oh well.

It was an interesting finish, to say the least... shortly after I snapped the following photo, a kid went sprinting by me, puking as he dashed past. Once across the finish line, he vomited the entire contents of his stomach... His dad (I assume) was behind him, and I overheard him say, "Good job! That's finishing strong!"

Seriously?

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When the weather is cooperating, the after-party for the Crazylegs event is usually a good time. There are bands, free beer, and people mill-about Camp Randall, enjoying the afternoon. As it was still only 45F with a brisk north easterly wind, I didn't really feel much like hanging out in the outdoors, but I did wait for Brian, Brenda, and Katie to finish.

With everyone across the finish line, we made our way up to the one section that was offering concessions, and were shocked by the massive line of people, all of whom were waiting for their free beer (and avoiding the cold). We stood in line for nearly 20 minutes...

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I "enjoyed" my 4 ounces of Capital Amber while shivering outside before hitting the bike trail back to my car. As mentioned, it was about a mile or so from Camp Randall, and it proved to be a perfect cooldown run.

Once inside the car, I immediately proceeded to fog all of the windows... from there, I headed home for a warm shower and some quality couch time with my pal.

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A little extra motivation

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Posting this for myself as well as others who may be interested. This isn't anything terribly new, but it has some good references and reminders...

What Really Causes Heart Disease.


...this post will seem especially ironic in a day or so, as I have another fish fry review pending...

Snakebite: New Wheels

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While this year's winter hasn't been particularly difficult, it is rather challenging to ride a carbon-fiber road-racing bike or an aluminum-framed road-racing bike (both with 20mm wide tires) on anything other than pristine road surfaces.

That's not to say I haven't taken my aluminum-framed bike out on a trail or two, but I'll be the first to admit that those rides were definitely "white-knuckle" all the way... when you're working with about 0.75" of tire tread width and riding on crushed pea-gravel, things can get interesting.

I had been contemplating purchasing an off-road bike; I researched mountain bikes, but ultimately decided against one as I didn't need (or want) a bike with suspension (shocks). Shocks sap a lot of your pedaling power; the super-fat tires on a mountain bike also add to the efficiency-suck.

As keen observers will recall, I test-rode a Ridley Cyclocross bike almost a year ago, and really liked it. A cyclocross bike offers the best of both on- and off-road worlds. You get a lightweight, stiff, efficient frame (great for road riding and putting down some serious power) along with the versatility of a wider (about 1.375") tire, off-road capable brakes, all wrapped-up in a riding position and style that mimics a traditional road bike.

So, I knew that I wanted a cyclocross bike. But, I didn't want just any cyclocross bike. No sir. While it's true that I'm a complete sucker for carbon fiber frames, quite honestly, they scare me. Carbon fiber offers tremendous stiffness, rigidity, ride compliance, and light weight. It is, unfortunately, very vulnerable to impact strike damage.

Your carbon fiber bike tipped over? Whoops - you'll probably need to replace the frame. My Cervelo's frame cost just about $3000...

Based on my carbon love/fear relationship, I figured I would sleep much better at night if I had an aluminum (or titanium or magnesium or chromeoly) framed cyclocross bike. You don't handle a "cross bike" with kid-gloves... they're meant to be punished.

I also wanted a good groupset. The groupset consists of the components that attach to the frame and fork - i.e., shifters, derailuers, cranks, brakes, and hoods. I knew that I wanted "middle-of-the-road" components... I didn't need a $2500 DuraAce set, but I also wanted to avoid a $300 disposable set.

So, my options were limited. I spent several weekends researching and checking out bikes from: Cannondale, Specialized, Trek, Salsa, Ridley, and Kona.

After scouring countless forums, articles, and stores, I narrowed my decision to the Ridley X-Bow or the Kona Jake The Snake. I ultimately decided on the Kona because it was quite a bit lighter and featured a better groupset and wheel set.

I drove to Milwaukee where a little shop called Cory The Bike Fixer had a nice selection of Kona bikes, Salsa bikes, and Surly bikes. The folks there were super helpful and accommodating, and after a few hours of test-riding, swapping pedals, clamping in-and-out of the trainer, and sharp negotiating, I was heading home with this in my car:

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Oh, whoops!

Truth be told, Fleefer did ride along with me yesterday - she made a great co-pilot and companion. But to get back to the story, at around 4:00pm, I had this beauty sitting in the back of the 'ole Prius:

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I can't say enough great things about Derick, Cory, and the fine folks at Cory The Bike Fixer - they were super cool, non-pressuring, and extremely helpful. The shop was busy, yet they took excellent care of everyone that ventured in to the store. It's so refreshing to find shops like Cory's and Cronometro - both are true gems.

Once back at the house, I spent the majority of the evening dialing-in my fit by adjusting the seat height, seat angle, seat-to-bar distance, bar height, and cleat positions, all in the name of getting a safe, efficient, and comfortable fit. While I really dislike my trainer, it does help when setting-up a new bike's geometry. You can hop on-and-off, ride, adjust, and repeat as necessary.

I snapped one quick picture of the bike at around 10:30pm, just before heading to bed:

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Sunday came along, and I spent the morning cleaning the house, doing laundry (all bedding, quilts, blankets, etc), and running errands. I then snapped a series of photos, which I'll post here with minimal description/info:

Left-side profile:
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Monster headtube assembly:
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Great paint scheme:
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Hidden cables (they run inside of the tubing):
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Compact crankset with BB30 and some new Crank Bros. "eggbeater" pedals:
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If you look behind the sprocket, you'll see the fluted (for strength) chainstay:
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Ultegra rear derailuer:
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Cantilever brakes allow for lots of clearance; these are nice Avid Shorty 6s:
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Shimano wheelset (I just liked the angle of this picture):
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4-season tires! Trail, snow, rain, mud, road - nothing to stop me...
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Despite it being rather windy today, I decided to layer-up and take the new steed out for a ride. I threw on a long-sleeve Smartwool NTS wool base shirt, some riding bibs, and my matched-set of Sporthill 3SP pants and top. That Sporthill stuff is stellar - windproof to 35mph and warm to 20F. I doubled-up on gloves, put on a pair of IceBreaker wool socks, and hit the road.

The road ride was fantastic. The bike was smooth, responsive, and "zippy" - it didn't feel like a big slug on the dry pavement. I made my way to a nearby trail and hopped-on. The new bike handled the combination of mud and snow without any problems - it was stable and sure-footed, predictable and comfortable, although a few spots of the trail were extremely rough, and I got a good "shaking" at times.

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And a quick picture of yours truly, all bundled-up:

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I rode a wonderful 22-miles in just under an hour-and-a-half. Even though it was only 30F and the winds were gusting in excess of 20mph, it felt g-o-o-d good to be outside riding, rather than stuck on the trainer. After the ride, I donned the running shoes and went out for a 4-mile run. Not a bad day, especially for a cold, mid-February day.

The only downside to winter riding? The mess. :-)

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I think I'll buy some fenders for the new ride... right after I give it a bath.


Oh, and for anyone that may be interested in a cyclocross bike, check out the Ridley X-Bow that's over at Cronometro. It is an absolutely superb bike, and I was honestly this close to going with it instead of the Kona. Call and ask for Scott, and he'll be more than happy to help you out. The guys at that shop are absolutely TOP NOTCH - you'll be in good hands. As I mentioned earlier, there are few shops that I trust and appreciate - Cronometro and Cory The Bike Fixer are definitely on my (very) short list of "good guys."

Changing-up the workouts

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I don't think it's any secret that I've been in a workout rut for the past few months - I've lost all (and I mean all) motivation to run and/or ride... I can barely crank out 2-3 hours on the bike per week, and I'm lucky to run 3 miles every other day. I'm just so bored, frustrated, and sick of riding/running...

So, I figured I would try some new things. My boss uses "TRX" straps at his gym and really seems to like them, so I ordered a set for myself from Amazon.com, along with a Bosu ball.

Both items are designed to leverage your bodyweight and instability to provide a challenging, portable workout with minimal equipment. I watched a ton of videos online about TRX and Bosu training routines and found 6-8 exercises that seemed intriguing. The items arrived last week and I set them up in the basement:

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And I'm pleased/shocked/surprised to say they're both pretty impressive items. The Jungle Gym straps are sweet - I do incline "push-ups" with them, rows, curls, pull-ups, and squats - all with my bodyweight providing resistance. I tried doing some "raised leg lunges" with the straps, but holy cow - talk about impossible. I'll have to improve my core strength before I try those again...

The Bosu ball is cool because it can be used upright (as shown in the photo above) to do exercises like crunches, stability work, push-ups, and other core work, all of which is extremely challenging when you introduce the Bosu ball. I laugh each time I try something new on it, simply because of how difficult it is to be smooth/fluid/balanced on that thing.

You can also flip the Bosu ball "upside down" as shown here, and stand on the platform while doing things like squats and lunges.

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Thank goodness the basement has those poles and that big I-beam; both work really well for these exercises - I hang the straps from the I-beam and use the pole to assist with stepping on/off the Bosu ball.

25 minutes of reps on the Bosu and straps burns nearly 300 calories; I keep my pace up, and don't rest between sets. Combine that with some running and some biking, and maybe I'll be able to keep myself from packing on the holiday pounds. Although, in the long run, I've really got to find my motivation to get on a regular run/ride schedule...


And, in other news, I did another transport last week, although my cargo was rather small. I hauled a few Chihuahuas for one of the volunteer rescue groups. I'm really digging those little guys - they're so small and sweet. Here they are conked out in the back of the car:

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LiveStrong Challenge - Austin 2011

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Our author approaches a dusty, soot-covered blog, takes a deep breath, blows away the superficial layer of debris, and with a broad, sweeping motion, clears the remaining dust from his beloved blog...

...cough, cough... ...sneeze... ...cough...

Ahh. There we go. Holy cats, people - I have been quite neglectful of my blog. Can you believe it's been nearly a month since the last entry? Wow. What's the excuse?

None, really - yeah, I've been a little busy, but I've mostly been lazy with respect to paying attention to the computer. I've barely been checking my home e-mail, let alone thinking of witty and interesting blog entries. :-)

So... you may recall from a previous entry that my boss and friend Steve had put together a team to participate in the LiveStrong Austin Challenge. He did an amazing job of building an excellent team, and together, our team raised more than $9,000 for the event. That number put us in the top 35 teams in terms of money raised for the event!

Each of us ponied-up the money to book our own hotel rooms, fly to Austin, and participate in the Challenge. With 20 people on our team, this was quite a commitment, and a testament to Steve's charismatic style - he was able to recruit 20 truly excellent people and get them to train, fundraise, and travel for the event. Kudos to everyone!

With the money raised, our flights and hotels booked, and our legs conditioned, there was only one thing remaining - participating in the actual event. The Livestrong organization sponsors 13 challenge events, from 5K races to bike rides to marathons to ski events; they're held at various cities around the country. Steve targeted the October 15th Austin event, as it was his wife's goal to participate in this challenge before she passed. We raced the event in her honor.

Steve, his mom (Judy), his daughter (Claire), his son (Will), and I drove to Milwaukee on Thursday night so that we could catch a semi-decent night's sleep prior to flying to Austin early on Friday morning. We booked rooms at the lovely Super 8 near the airport and hunkered-in for the evening.

I'm not much for hotels... They feel dirty to me, I worry about bedbugs, I can hear all of the activity taking place in adjacent rooms, and I don't generally sleep well because I'm afraid I'll oversleep and miss a flight/meeting/commitment. And Thursday night was no different... I was in my room by 8:30pm, wiped-down the entire room with Lysol wipes, scoured the bed for bugs, and proceeded to lie wide awake until 3:45am.

The alarm went off at 4:30am, so I scored a solid 45 minutes of "sleep." Ahhh.

We made our way to the airport, where we met Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) before heading to our departure gate. We flew to Kansas City, where we picked-up Steve's mother-in-law (Jeanette) and her two friends (Lea and Ariel). The nine of us boarded a flight in KC and flew to Austin, where we landed at around 11:30am.

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We picked-up rental cars (a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Chevrolet Traverse) and then set about finding a lunch spot. We were all starving, as none of us had eaten since well before sunrise. Unfortunately, there was a slight miscommunication, and one group went to the hotel, while Steve, Judy, Claire, Will and I went to Whole Foods for lunch.

The Austin Whole Foods is amazing - it's massive, and it has a ton of unique food offerings, all of which are made to order. I opted for my old-time favorite, grilled chicken tacos on corn tortillas:

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With our bellies full, we made our way back to the hotel. We checked-in, and then walked down to the LiveStrong village. The LiveStrong village served as "ground zero" for the Challenge weekend.

We picked-up our race packets, and here's where the story gets really interesting. :-)

The LiveStrong Challenge weekend consists of two primary events - a 5K run/walk on Saturday, and an optional bike ride on Sunday. The bike ride offered 4 distances: 20-mile, 45-mile, 65-mile, and 90-mile options. To participate in the bike ride, you had to pay an additional entry fee ($125) and raise at least $250 for the event. You also had to supply your own bike.

If you were able to meet those criteria, you were afforded the opportunity to ride with Lance Armstrong, provided you were up for the 45-, 65-, or 90-mile routes (the 20-mile ride took a different route from the longer rides).

I paid the entry fee and raised enough money (I think my total raised was about $1875, thanks to the MidTown Pub fundraiser event), but at the last minute, decided to not pack and fly any of my bikes down for fear of having them damaged in transit. It was a bit of a let-down, but I really didn't want to have anything get damaged by either the TSA or the airline.

I mentioned that Steve is charismatic and resourceful... It turns out that he was contacted just prior to our event by the CEO of LiveStrong.

The CEO (Doug) mentioned that he (Doug) was looking forward to meeting Steve and his family and asked if there was anything he could do to help us out. Steve casually mentioned that I wasn't going to ride as I didn't want to travel with my bike. Doug said he would try to find a bike for me to use.

A day before we were due to arrive in Austin, Doug told Steve that he found a bike for me to use; all I had to do was walk over to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop and tell them that there was a bike waiting for me to use for the Challenge. Please note that Mellow Johnny's is Lance Armstrong's bike shop, and nearly everyone that works at the shop is involved in one way or another with Team Radio Shack/Trek/Lance Armstrong.

So imagine my shock when I walked into Mellow Johnny's and said, "Hi, I'm here to pick up a bike for the Challenge," and their response was, "We don't have a bike listed for you here."

Again... no big deal. I figured it wasn't meant to be, and I would enjoy the weekend no matter what. As I browsed around the shop looking at t-shirts, jerseys, and cool gadgets, the head mechanic for the shop came up and asked if I was "Doug's friend, Steve." I said that I was. He said, "We have a bike for you - it's in our VIP vault and it will be up here in a minute."

I wasn't sure what that meant, but anytime someone uses the words "VIP" and "vault," you know it's going to be good. And sure enough, within 5-10 minutes, a bike was presented to me by one of the mechanics.

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That, my friends, is a 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 that belongs to Andreas Kloden. Andreas rode THIS ACTUAL BIKE in the 2011 Tour de France. No lie.

I became light-headed and faint; I was going to be riding a hand-built, custom-spec'd, uber-bike that was used in the Tour de France by a pro-rider for Team Trek. Holy cats - Steve, you are THE MAN. I pinched myself about 300 times as the mechanics did their best to set-up the bike to my needs. Here it is on the work stand as one of the mechanics swaps out the stem for a slightly shorter one:

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I chatted with the mechanic as he worked on the bike, and asked him, "Is this seriously Kloden's bike? I mean, it's a replica, right? Not the actual Tour bike - it can't be."

The mechanic said, "I was on the 2011 Tour team; I did support and set-up for the team this year, and I can tell you that I worked on this very bike for the entire Tour. It is the real deal - it's Klodie's bike - chips, scars, and all."

WOW.

"Any idea what this bike is worth?" I asked.

"In tour form, with aero wheels and carbon bars, probably around $20,000. As it sits now? Probably around $15,000, give or take. Did you need aero wheels?"

"No, I think I'll be OK with these," I said, my mouth dry. This bike cost more than my car, and it weighed half of what a bag of kitty litter does... in full race form, it tips the scales at 14-pounds. My Cervelo R3, for comparison, weighs-in at 16-pounds. A 2-lb difference is huge when it comes to biking - it's nearly impossible to shed 2-lbs from a race bike... I can't imagine what tricks and goodies Kloden's bike featured.

After about 20 minutes, the bike was "ready" for me. I wasn't picky - they offered to do a proper fitting, but I was so floored with the scenario that I said everything would be fine as was. Beaming from ear-to-ear, I met-up with Steve and we walked back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I took a few more photos of the ride - here you can see Kloden's name affixed to the frame:

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And here's one more side-view of it. What an amazing marvel of engineering and fabrication - pure carbon fiber with the best-of-the-best components. Wow.

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I took the bike up to my room, salivated over it for a few more minutes, and then laced-up my running shoes and went for a pre-dinner run. It was so great to be back in familiar territory - I ran just over 6-miles on some of the world's greatest running trails compliments of Barton Springs Trail. This is where I spent every single morning while I lived in Austin; 6 miles each morning alongside the gorgeous Lady Bird Lake. The miles flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner.

Our group assembled in the lobby, and we walked down to an awesome little Tex-Mex restaurant, where we enjoyed a wide variety of Austin specialities. From table-made guacamole to street tacos to enchiladas, we feasted like kings and queens. Steve generously picked-up the tab for our entire group - I can't imagine what it cost, but thank you again. The sun was fully set, and most of us went back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) and I went carousing around the town for a bit - we had a drink at a roof-top bar, and then wandered down 6th Street, watching people and listening to bands along the way. At around midnight we decided to call it an evening - the race would start at 8:00am, and neither of us had slept more than an hour the night before.

Race morning came, and our team quickly took control of the hotel lobby.

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Our plan was to meet in the lobby by 7:15, at which point we would make the short walk to the starting line as a group. The event organizers requested that we all be ready to go by 7:45am - the race would start at 8:00am from the 1st Street bridge.

Claire, Steve's daughter, was up-and-at-em - here she is in her team shirt with race number proudly affixed:

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And here are Lea and Ariel (with Wendy in the background) getting ready to make their way to the starting line. We all looked pretty good, considering it was 7:15 am and most of us were operating on little sleep.

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Someone had a great idea to ask the hotel staff to take a picture of our group; I'm glad they did, because this is the only picture I could find of our entire team. We're all in our team t-shirts and ready to run (or walk):

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Our team made its way to the starting line; the weather was phenomenal. Here you can see the sun just rising over Lady Bird Lake. Any questions as to why I so enjoyed running in this area?

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We arrived in perfect time; the organizers were sharing details about the race, thanking sponsors, and providing information about the event. There were more than 2500 runners and walkers, all of whom raised more than $2.3 million for the event.

Steve, Dan, and I posed for a pre-race photo - you can see the Four Seasons behind us, and you can see my "new look" - yep, that's a full-fledged beard on my mug.

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I started growing the beard on a whim, and then decided that I would stick with it until I had a full Brian Wilson beard (from the San Francisco Giants)... for those not familiar with Brian Wilson, he's a reliever for the Giants. He helped them win the 2010 World Series, but he's best known for his crazy beard and antics. Here he is at the 2011 ESPY awards:

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And here he is, on the mound during a game:

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Truth be told, I hate the beard. It's bothersome, it makes my face look fat (although that may have more to do with my steady diet of donuts, cookies, and other bad foods), and it's just plain ugly. But, I'm sticking with it until at least Halloween... we'll see what happens from there. Back to the race...

At 8:00am, they sung the national anthem, and after shedding a few tears (it was a moving moment - remembering why we were there, what we were doing, and all of those who have battled with, lost to, and/or continue to battle cancer), I snapped two last pre-race photos. You can see the number of folks that were in attendance:

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Seconds after snapping the photos, we were off.

The race wasn't "staged" by pace, so we had to navigate our way through the crowds of people in an effort to find some open running room. For the first 5-6 minutes, we struggled to average a 12-minute mile; there was a lot of stopping/starting/weaving as we weaved in-and-out of people. We also ran into Doug (the CEO of Livestrong) and talked to him for a minute or two. I thanked him profusely for his help with the bike...

And then we were truly off-and-running. I snapped a photo as we ran our way up Congress Avenue:

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And someone in our group took this awesome photo "down" Congress - I'm not sure who took the photo, but it turned out really great (it may have been Wendy?). You can see the runners and the capital of Texas in the background. With the morning light, it's a really cool photo:

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Steve, Dan, and I ran our way to the finish line with a finishing time of 27-minutes on the dot. Factor in the 5-6 minutes we lost during the beginning, and our pace was very respectable. It was Steve's first 5K, and any sub-30 minute time is truly impressive. After crossing the finish line, we turned around and ran the course backward in an attempt to find the rest of our team.

We found the crew and joined them for a return to the finish line. Here's Steve's mom (Judy), his niece (McKenzie), and his sister-in-law (Julie):

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Julie and McKenzie ran the race as well - they finished in 25-minutes, which is totally awesome. They also ran back to find the group, and I happened to snap this picture as they were returning to the finish with our group. Great race, you two!

With about half-a-mile to the finish, Claire decided she wanted Steve to put her on his shoulders and run to the finish. Steve hoisted her onto his shoulders and with some help from Martha (a friend of Steve's family), Steve, Claire, Will, and Martha all made a speedy b-line to the finish:

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Here's Steve and his kids after the race:

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What a great event. Everyone did a wonderful job of finishing the race; we were slightly hungry, so we decided to make our way back to the LiveStrong village with the hope of scoring some breakfast grub.

Here's our group as we made the trek back to the village:

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We arrived to the village, only to discover they didn't have any food. While there was a post-race meal, the meal was on Sunday (after the bike ride). D'OH!

We debated about where to go, and finally settled on another round of Whole Foods. I enjoyed some scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms, a small piece of pork sausage, a biscuit, and some cookies. I'm telling you, the Austin Whole Foods is simply awesome. I love that place!

Bellies full and legs well-run, we made our way back to the hotel, where thanks to another one of Steve's connections, we had plenty of ice cold beverages and snacks waiting for us. We settled-in at the hotel's pool, where we snacked and drank while watching the Badger football game and socializing with one another.

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After enjoying more than our fair share of beverages (and Cheetos), we decided to head over to the infamous Allens Boots. Allens is where I purchased my very own pair of cowboy boots a few years ago - it's the Mecca of boots and western wear, and is a must-see place when in Austin.

Here's a peek inside of Allens... this is a row of boots - men's size 12. Yep, every boot in that row is size 12.

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A few people bought boots; Steve bought some boots, some shirts, and cowboy hats for us. Here we are leaving Allens; I've got Will (Steve's son) with me. Yes, he got a hat but wasn't wearing it at the time of this picture:

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Man, that beard is hideous. :-D

We stopped at Sugar Mama's for some cupcakes, and then made our way back to the hotel, where we prepped for dinner. I hit the trail for a quick run, hopped in the shower, and then led our group to the infamous Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Que for some traditional Texas barbeque.

The line was huge - the place was absolutely packed (I think it took us 30-45 minutes to get through the line to place our orders):

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But the wait was well worth it. I had some brisket, some pork tenderloin, and a jalapeno sausage link. Yum - just look at the smoke ring on that pork!

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After eating at Rudy's, we returned to the hotel, and then hit Austin's 6th Street to celebrate the events of the day. For those not familiar, 6th Street is essentially one big party - it's 10-12 blocks worth of bars and bistros, all with tons of live music. Without exaggerating, nearly every single bar has a live band, and between every bar is a small food stand, with offerings that include pizza, bbq, brats, fish-n-chips, tacos, and more.

We wandered-in to Camino el Casino, where we enjoyed a few beverages - primarily PBR and scotch (Steve's favorites). Here's part of our group raising a toast to the great weekend:

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From left to right, it's: Steve, me, Dan, Tamara, and Wendy.

From Casino, we wandered down 6th Street, encountering Ferraris, Bentleys, Jaguars, Aston Martins, and a few Audi R8s along the way. Austin loves its exotic cars!

The crowds became heavier and heavier, and at 9:00pm, Austin closes 6th street to cars. Here's what the streets looked like as we made our way down to Molotov, another one of 6th Street's clubs:

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I'm not sure what was more crowded and difficult to navigate - the 5K or this bar-scene-turned-street-party?

We shimmied our way into Molotov, scored a booth, and did our fair share of people watching (and commentating). Wendy and Tamara bought us a round of drinks; a kind waitress took another group photo for us. Here we are, about to call it a night - we were all tired and ready to call it an evening:

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From left-to-right, it's: Dan, Julie, Steve, Tamara, Wendy, me.

Shortly after that photo, we walked the 1.2 miles back to our hotel, where I found a little friend waiting for us. Apparently our hotel had a "house dog" that served as an ambassador to the place. He was a super nice, extremely mellow yellow lab. I never caught his name, but I liked him nonetheless.

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Sunday morning arrived, and I was up, dressed, and ready to roll by 6:00am. The bike ride was scheduled to start at 7:00am, but thanks to the large number of participants (4300), the event was moved (literally at the last minute) to a location about 30-miles west of Austin.

I hopped-in the van and made my way west. With about 5 miles to go until I reached the destination, traffic came to an abrupt halt. After not moving more than 200 yards in 15 minutes, I started to get nervous - it was 6:45am, and I was still at least 4.5 miles from the start of the ride. Judging from the traffic around me, I could tell that everyone was heading to the same place - the start of the ride...

I waited in traffic for another 5-10 minutes before making an executive decision. There was no way I would make it to the start, and the idea of riding an unknown course (without a map), on an expensive bike, with 4000 other people sounded worse and worse. So, I pulled a U-turn and headed back to Austin.

I figured I would park near my old Trigger Point office and ride my familiar roads. I wouldn't be "riding with Lance," but at least I'd get to ride this amazing bike in a familiar and comfortable environment.

I parked the van, unloaded my bike and hit the roads of what is known as "Austin Hill Country." The views are amazing:

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I rode the beast of a bike for a solid 40 miles, and it was awesome. The bike was so stiff, so fast, so silent, and yet so smooth. It was absolutely effortless to ride it - the shifting was seamless, and it accelerated like nothing else. I had a "loop" that I had ridden countless times on my Cervelo and knew that it would take approximately 48 minutes to complete. With the Trek, I finished it in 44 (and some change). I'm sure some of it was due to excitement, but I think a lot of it had to do with how efficient that bike was.

After the loop, I rode through some familiar neighborhoods and on some back roads. I stopped and took a picture along the way, just so that I would never forget this incredible experience:

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Tour. de. France. Actual. Team. Bike. Oh. My. God.

After nearly 3-hours in the saddle, I returned back to the van and drove back to Mellow Johnny's, where I reluctantly returned the bike to its rightful owners. They removed my pedals; I thanked them again, and then went back to the hotel.

We watched the Packers beat the Rams, and then went out for dinner at Z Tejas, another Austin mainstay for upscale tex-mex cuisine. Most of our group opted for enchiladas, tacos, or burritos. I went with the daily special - sea scallops with chimichurri sauce and asparagus:

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Sunday night was rather quiet; we were all quite tired from the previous night, and I was tired from my long ride. Monday morning came along, and it was time to pack and head to the airport.

Here's Judy (Steve's mom) and Claire - notice the pink cowboy boots:

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Our return flights were uneventful, although they did run behind... we got delayed in KC for over an hour, and then had to take an alternate route from KC to Milwaukee because of some weather concerns. But, we landed safely. Back in Wisconsin, we stopped at Rocky Rococo's for some pizza, and then parted ways.

Back home, I unpacked my things and remembered that I scored a few goodies from the event. Because I raised more than $1,800, my goodie bag included a few extra items like this Nike LiveStrong backpack and Team LiveStrong hat:

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Because Steve raised more than $4,000, he received a backpack, hat, and a LiveStrong team cycling jersey - talk about cool!

And there you have it. It was a great weekend spent for a great cause and honoring an even greater person. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone that was at the event, and I can't thank Steve, Doug, and the Mellow Johnny's people enough for the bike. I owe everyone a huge debt of gratitude!!

There's talk of making this an annual event, and that's an idea I would fully support. I can't imagine the good things we could do if we focused on this for an entire year - let's get after it!

Before I sign-off, here are a few miscellaneous photos and comments/quotes from the weekend:

Claire, in her cowboy hat (can you guess her favorite color?):

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Our small group running to the finish line for a second time:

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Steve and his family out on the course (shady):

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Our team t-shirt design (front):

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The pictures were created by Steve's nieces and nephews, all of whom ranged in age from 2 to 13. They were asked to draw pictures of a tree bending toward the sun (it represents the lyrics from Pearl Jam's song, "Present Tense"). What you see above are their drawings, and those made-up the front of our shirts.

On the back of our shirt were the lyrics to Pearl Jam's Present Tense (Jody's favorite song, and the inspiration for the team's name), along with some sponsor logos:

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I did the layout/design for the t-shirts, and Steve bought them for us. Thanks again for the wonderful weekend and inspiration, Steve. I was proud to be a part of the team and would love to do it again.


And finally, some memorable quotes:

"I now regret eating an IHOP omelette for breakfast."
- Steve C., at mile 2.5 of the 5K race

"Are those flip-flops?"
- Steve L., at mile 2.75 of the 5K race as we got passed by a woman running/sprinting in true flip-flops

"Hey buddy"
- Voice of Marty, who was there in spirit, but not in body.

"Hey Steve.... doin?"
- Will, Steve's 2-year old son, asking his favorite question (aka "whatchya' doing?")

"Why?"
- Will's follow-up question

And there you have it. Until the next entry...

Enough ranting... how about an update?

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As much as I enjoy a good rant, it's probably best to give the weekly update - especially since I missed last week's update. :-)

Dan, Tara, and I went out for fish on Friday night of last week - we hit Dexter's Pub, where we had some stellar fish. Dan and Tara did the fried cod, which featured a thick, flavorful, perfect batter; I went with a grilled chicken salad, as I was trying to remain good. I did sneak a taste of the fish, and it was exactly as it was on the last visit - superb.

While eating dinner, Dan mentioned that another friend of ours, Dan (ironically), was in town for the weekend (he lives in Iowa). They had plans to go trap shooting and wondered if I'd like to join. I've never been trap shooting before, so I figured it would be worth checking out.

We met on Sunday morning at a local hunt club, donned some ear protection, loaded-up, and hit the course. The club had 12 stations and each station had two target systems. The targets launch via radio control - when you're ready to shoot, you say, "Pull" and one of the people in your group hits the "launch" buttons. You do this twice per station, so you effectively get to shoot at 48 clay targets.

Here's Dan at one of the first stations:

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Dan hunts a lot, so he had an extra shotgun (12-gauge, I believe) that he let me use. I had never fired a shotgun before, so I didn't know what to expect. It wasn't that "shocking" - I figured it would really pack a wallop, and it probably would with a non-target load. Here I am in one of the stations that simulates a boat on the water - the boat moved as you shot, because it was suspended by chains.

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It was quite sunny and rather warm, but we all had a good time. Dan scored the most hits, with 30; I had 19 for comparison... :-)

Here's our group, at one of the last stations - Dan from Iowa is taking aim while his friend Brad watches, along with Dan. In the foreground you can see the clay launching mechanism.

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I have to say, it was pretty fun. Every station was different and challenging - some targets crossed in front of you, some came from behind/overhead, some came at you, and others bounced across the ground. The place was pretty busy as evidenced by the shells as seen at one of the stations:

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This past weekend, I spent most of my time "moving" - it started on Saturday with a rain-delayed 5K race... I had signed-up to run the Madison Mini Marathon, but thanks to my poor prep work and recent overeating, I wasn't in any condition to run 13.1 miles... So, I did the 5K instead, and in hindsight, I should've stayed home.

The race was delayed due to rain... so about 5,000 runners sat for almost two-hours in the Memorial Union before being sent out to run in a torrential downpour. I managed to lose my iPod Shuffle during the run, and I wrecked one of my car keys as it got soaked. UGH. And it was a stupid 5K... not even worth doing; a 5K is 3.2 miles, and my daily average is 5.0 miles... Sigh. Here's the obligatory race bib shot, along with medal and my visor (sans iPod):

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Immediately following the race, I went home and wrapped-up the morning with a few hours on the trainer (biking), followed by some plyometrics.

By 1pm, the weather was clear, so I went skydiving - still working on getting cleared for pilot chute pulls. My jump master on one of the jumps took pictures so that we could watch our arch and practice pilot chute pulls. These turned out much better than my first set, so I'll share them here. Here I am, hanging from the wing... believe it or not, I'm getting used to it, even if I am 4,000 feet above the ground, going 100+ mph.

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And here's my release with initial arch (the wind does funny things to the 'ole mug):

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And in my arch, yelling "ARCH THOUSAND":

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And then things got interesting; on opening shock, my chute twisted me around - I got jerked pretty good - you can see my legs flailing. I recovered nicely, though:

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I say "recovered" because I managed to deploy my practice pilot chute (a yellow streamer). If you look closely, you can see the yellow blob floating away from me:

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And here I am, fully deployed and beginning my canopy ride back down to the ground:

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And last but not least, here's my jump master celebrating the successful jump. I've also highlighted the landing area (drop zone) and me. :-)

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I woke-up early this morning and went for a 2 hour bike ride with one of my coworkers, and now I'm off for an early evening run... gotta' get back into race form and hopefully have pants that fit me better again. ;-)

Centurion bike race + skydiving updates

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Had a pretty decent weekend - I managed a decent run on Saturday morning; nearly 8-miles without any fatigue. It probably helped that I was on the road by 6:00am - before the heat and humidity had a chance to really dig-in and make things miserable. My run was finished by 7:00am, at which point I hopped in the shower, had some breakfast, packed my skydiving bag, and headed to the dropzone.

I arrived to the dropzone by 9:00am and was shocked to find the place completely full - there were cars everywhere, and the hangar was jam-packed with people. Looked like I was in for a long day of waiting for an opportunity to jump. I put my name on the board, and spent the next 3-4 hours watching and learning how to pack parachutes. By the time my name was up for a jump, I felt like I could recite the packing process in my sleep. :-)

Here I am, packing a pilot chute - nothing too exciting, but it was the first step in working toward being able to pack a parachute on my own (or with the oversight of a jump master).

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With the pilot chute properly rolled, it was time to stuff it into the BOC (Bottom Of Container). Here it is, in place and all set to fly.

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I finally had a chance to jump at around 1:30pm or so. It was hot and humid, with zero wind. Not ideal weather for skydiving. We hopped into the small Cessna, made our way to 4,000 feet, and just as I was climbing out, we hit a nice pocket of thermals... so, the plane became "bouncy." Not what you want when you're hanging from a wing.

I released from the wing, didn't arch real well, and went through with my PPCP (Practice Pilot Chute Pull) procedures. I successfully "deployed" my practice pilot chute, but I ultimately failed my first PPCP due to my weak arch. Drat!

The rest of the flight was uneventful; the heat made for a very slow descent... I was under canopy for probably 10 minutes or so, which meant I had plenty of time to play around in the air. My landing was also uneventful - landed in the pea gravel, exactly where I was supposed to.

I finished out the afternoon with a bike ride - a short 15-16 mile ride with my boss, and then called it an evening.

Sunday morning came far too quickly - I had registered to ride in the Centurion bike race, so I had to be at the Middleton airport and ready to ride by 6:45am. At about 6:30am, just as I was unloading my bike from the car, the thunderstorms rolled-in to town. And with that, they delayed the start of the race from 7:00am until 9:00am.

With an extra two hours available, I headed to a local cafe for a light breakfast. I had two egg whites and some toast:

bike_breakfast.jpg

I caught up with some other riders and we sat around talking about bikes, triathlons, and other fun stuff. By 8:30am or so, it looked as though the skies were clearing, so we made our way back out to the airport. We definitely had some rain... here I am making my way to the starting line:

bike_rainy.jpg

We wound around to the starting corral, where we waited for another 15-20 minutes; the race organizers were concerned about a potential storm cell, but it never surfaced, so we were cleared to go. Here's the last photo I snapped while on the course - we departed about a minute after this picture was taken:

bike_start.jpg

I started off slow; I wasn't sure where to slot in - there were some sprinters who took off immediately, some slow pokes who clogged-up the works, and some average folks who tried like me to navigate through the traffic.

After about 10 miles or so, the packs had sorted themselves, and I found myself riding in a nice group, rolling along at an average of 21-22mph. We hit some climbs and I found myself leading my pack. Everyone was drafting off of me - no one was offering to take the lead, so I kept motoring along.

We maintained this effort for another 15 miles or so, at which point we hit the first "feed station" (water, gatorade, bananas, and restrooms). Most of the pack that was latched to my back wheel stopped at the feed station, but I kept going. Little did I realize that another 5-6 miles ahead awaited the first of three seriously monstrous hills.

I hit the first hill, which was a 15% grade and I wanted to cry. Talk about a steep climb... it took me almost 5-minutes to reach the top of that hill, cranking and pedaling as hard as I could the entire time, at an average speed of less than 5mph. Ugh!

The descent from that climb was unreal - my speedometer hit 44mph on the way down. And then, after a short right turn, it was back up the hill again. Nice. I continued this "up-down-up-down" route until about the 45-mile mark, at which point I knew the end was near.

Just as I was approaching the final hill, some guy directly in front of me screamed loudly and promptly tipped over in the middle of the road. I looked behind me - there was no one around. Since we were on a busy highway, I figured I should stop to help the guy. I had no idea what was wrong - all he said was "I can't move." (he said this over and over)

I picked-up his bike, put it in the weeds, and then dragged him over to the side of the road. He couldn't move either of his legs - he was cramping something fierce. I went back to my bike, got some GU (an energy gel with electrolytes), and gave it to him. I told him I was going to take off, and he was screaming about his legs being locked. I'm no masseuse, and I'm certainly no doctor, so I wasn't sure what else to do. I think he wanted me to sit with him, but I had already lost several minutes and several riders flew by us...

I got onto my bike and raced up the last hill, down the road, and 4 miles later, was at the finish line. My time for the 50-mile race was 2 hours, 35 minutes. I lost at least 9 minutes helping that guy... argh.

I was pretty surprised by the time - I averaged 19.0mph for the entire ride, which was really good. The race organizer had a food tent, which I stopped to check-out, but ultimately didn't eat anything from. Here I am, at the finish line, just outside of the food tent:

bike_finished.jpg

Here's my bike, back at the car - even though it looks clean, it was filthy from the damp roads:

bike_done.jpg

I packed away my bike, and then went back to the finish line/expo area to wait for some folks that I knew from the Capital Brewery cycling club to finish. I browsed around the expo, had some water, and then almost had a heart attack when I heard my name being called to the podium - our Capital Brewery team had finished 3rd overall. I scored a hat and some mugs as part of the prize package:

c_winnings.jpg

According to the preliminary results, I (personally) had finished 87th overall (out of 797 riders). Thanks to that cramping dude, I lost 9 spots to people in my age group, so I placed 14th out of 25 people in my age group... if I hadn't stopped, I would've been 5th. Oh well.

My friends finished the race and we all headed over to Capital Brewery for a celebration - we had some pizza and a few beverages, which were incredibly tasty, especially with the mercury pointing well into the 90s. While at the brewery, I spied this awesome bumper sticker:

bumper.jpg

And that's how my weekend ended. I wasn't able to jump any more on Sunday - it was 4:00pm by the time I left the brewery, and I had a lawn that needed to be mowed, cats that needed to be fed, and food that needed to be grilled.

I did manage to jump again today - thanks to some better weather and a smoother exit from the airplane, I successfully completed my first PPCP. I also packed a parachute from start-to-finish, which was nerve-wracking, but fun and informative. I have to complete two more PPCP jumps and then I'll be cleared to pull my own pilot chute for subsequent jumps. I'll also move to higher altitudes, which allows for a longer freefall. I can't wait!

Taking care

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By now, you're all likely to be sick of my constant complaining about bad dieting, working out too much, and so on... but, man, July 2011 may have been the single worst month in my diet history - something has to change, and it has to change pronto.

I failed on my diet for 21 days in July. That's simply inexcusable. I gave-up during this month... I had friends in from out of town, a house warming party, several work functions at restaurants/bars, a skydiving celebration, and a solid week of "I don't care about anything" self-pity. The net result? I gained 27-lbs in July. I'm sitting at nearly 185-lbs, which is ridiculous given how hard I had to work to get to a healthy weight.

I consumed 99,655 calories over a 30-day period in July. For comparison, in July of 2010, I consumed a total of 39,012 calories. I burned a total of 10,300 calories through exercise in July of 2011, compared with 26,455 in July of 2010. It's no wonder I'm blimping-out.

So, I vow to get back on track. I feel miserable right now - my joints hurt, my face feels puffy, my stomach is flabby like it hasn't been in a long time... I've eaten so many donuts and cookies this past month that I honestly believe I'm burned-out on them, which is probably a good thing. It'll make me less likely to want to binge on them over the next few months.

I spent yesterday re-mapping a viable, long-term plan for nutrition and workouts. I created spreadsheets, daily meal plans, daily workout plans, and scheduled 2 specific cheat meals for August. If all goes to plan, I should be back into the groove and taking care of myself in no time.

It started today with a 58-mile bike ride, followed by a 4-mile run. As heavy as I currently am, and as painful as it was to run, I hammered out the 4-miles at an average pace of 8:12/mile... that shocked me because I'm usually an 8:30/mile runner, and, I hit that pace after an intense 58-mile ride.

I rode with a group of folks from the Capital Brewery; we left from Madison at 7:00am sharp and wound our way up to Prairie du Sac. At several points along the way, we crossed the Wisconsin river, which was absolutely beautiful:

river.jpg

A 58-mile ride sounds impressive, but we didn't ride "straight-through" - we stopped in Prarie du Sac for a breakfast break... I had a scrambled egg and 2 pieces of this awesome homemade cracked whole wheat toast. I gave 2 pieces away - my fellow riders thought it was "top 10 toast" (if there is such a thing).

egg.jpg

The breakfast was made all the better by the surroundings - we stopped at the Blue Spoon Cafe & Creamery in Prairie du Sac, and scored outdoor tables, which overlook the Wisconsin river. Even though it was approaching 80F by 9:00am, it was quite enjoyable out there. After our break, we hit the road for the return trip; the total ride took about 3.5 hours, with a 30-minute breakfast break. I averaged just about 19-mph, which was really pleasing.

After the ride, I ran (in Madison) on a nice trail - I forget how glorious it is to run on crushed pea gravel. I like the sound, I like the feel, and I like the softer impact. After my run was finished, I headed to the house, where I hung out for about 2 hours.

My boss and I then went for a 12-mile bike ride; he just got his first real road bike and wanted to take it for a spin, so I joined him for a quick spin. I returned back to the house and hopped in the shower, at which point I noticed that the sun had gotten the best of me, despite my lathering-up with sunblock. :-)

Here's my arm and leg (note the bike shorts/watch tan lines):

burn.jpg

Even my feet got tan/crispified... I ride my bike without socks, and here you can see where the sun worked its way through past the hooks/loops in my shoes:

foot.jpg

For dinner I had 2 grilled fish tacos (4" corn tortilla, broccoli slaw, grilled fish, cilantro, lime) and 1 smoked brisket taco (4" flour tortilla, smoked brisket, onion, cilantro) and an iced tea. So tasty. I really enjoy and feel better when I eat "clean" - I have no idea why I crave crappy foods when the good stuff tastes as good as it does.

After dinner, I went grocery shopping and prepared meals for the rest of the week. I then gave Mack a good brushing... how she isn't bald is beyond me:

hairball.jpg

Tomorrow will be more of the same - ride/run and focus on getting back into taking care of myself. If the weather permits, I may try to sneak in a late afternoon/evening skydive... we'll see how things go.

Tag, I'm it.

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Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. WIth as absolutely friggin' terrible as Madison drivers are, I knew I'd eventually have an incident while on the road. And my time came yesterday at lunch.

With my achilles tendon growing better by the day, I've been increasing my run distances slowly but surely. I've also given-up on waking up early to go run during the week - I'm just not a morning person, and I can't bring myself to consistently rise and run by 6:30am each day. So, I usually run during my lunch hour, which means I have to venture out in the downtown Middleton area.

Yesterday's weather was absolutely beautiful - mid 70s, light breeze, sunny and mild. A perfect day for running. I was about 3.5 miles into my route when I approached an area that has several restaurants, which means there are several driveways/entrances to parking lots. I've mapped my route so that I never run "with" traffic - I'm always running "against" it, so that I can better see people as they turn into and out of driveways and intersections.

So imagine my surprise when I suddenly felt like I had been tackled from behind and scooped up onto a hard surface. One second I was running, the next I was hitting something hard. My left hand went instinctively behind me to help catch my fall and I heard a "crunch" followed by a horn honk.

It scared the living daylights out of me, and I sprung straight up. I had been hit from behind by a car that was turning left into the entrance of a restaurant's parking lot - see the diagram of what happened:

hit.bmp

The car didn't knock me down - it scooped me onto the hood (partially). When I sprung up, I spun around and saw a lady in a white Kia sedan on her phone. I gave her a "what the heck just happened???" type of look as I got out of the way. Once clear of her car, I stopped and stared at her and said, "What the hell are you doing?!"

She was on her phone, and much to my surprise, she honked at me again and then took off, honking her horn the whole time. As she sped off, I took a swing at the side of her car with my fist, and managed to get a solid hit in the left rear corner.

I couldn't believe what happened. I also can't believe that I wasn't aware enough to get her license plate or anything - in fact, I'm not even 100% positive it was a Kia sedan. Everything happened so quickly; it was an unbelievable experience. Thankfully, the only bad things that happened were my left palm is nice and bruised from hitting the hood:

hand.jpg

And I've got a small, perfectly circular cut in my leg, near the back of my knee from what I assume was a license plate bolt. I'm guessing that's where the car first hit me from behind. How I was "scooped up" is beyond me - I probably should've been knocked down... I can only assume that she wasn't going more than 3-4 miles per hour because there's nothing else that hurts or shows any injury.

My co-workers laughed at me when I went back to work yesterday and sat at my desk like nothing was wrong. My boss even said, "So wait - you just got hit my a car, and here you are sitting at work?" Yeah, I guess so. :-)


I did also do the Capital bike ride last night, and was pleased to be surrounded by a bunch of friends from work and some really cool dogs. One of my project team members did the ride last night and then brought her dog, Piper to say hello. Here's Piper (he's a 3-year old Visla):

piper.jpg

And here's Piper with his owner, Carrie (my project team member) - she's an organizational readiness analyst who has helped us with communications and organizational change management for one of my really big projects:

carriepiper.jpg

And then there were these two random buddies - a cute greyhound named "Nola" and an awesome Neopolitan Mastiff named "Madison." They were super sweeties.

lola.jpg

madison.jpg

According to their owners, Nola got her name because she was rescued from New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina; and Madison is a 6-year old, 200-pounder. Crazy!

I believe it's the Boy Scouts who use the motto "Be Prepared." I say that I believe it's them because as a youth, I never actually graduated into the Boy Scouts. I did spend time as a Cub Scout, but never progressed beyond the Bobcat or (at best) Tiger Cub badge.

If memory serves, the last official event of my short-lived Cub Scout career was the infamous Pinewood Derby car race. And, from what I recall, my block-shaped-bares-a-striking-resemblance-to-a-school-bus entry didn't fare too well. I chalk it up to sculpting and building the thing with a limited set of tools and assistance (the family tool box doubled as our dinner flatware drawer).

So, for what it's worth, I can't feel too bad for often going "unprepared" into certain situations. But there's no excuse for what I managed to do on Saturday.

If you'll recall from my previous entry, I had planned to ride an easy 20-mile loop on Saturday, and to go for a 1.25 - 1.50-mile run. I say "planned," because when I awoke at 7:30am on Saturday morning, I was immediately disheartened by a light, but steady, misty-sort-of-rain. Argh. I don't mind running in the rain, but I really despise riding in the rain.

So, I checked a few weather websites, saw that it was going to continue to mist until around 10am, and made the decision to forge ahead, but that I would ride my Trek instead of the Cervelo. The Trek had spent the entire winter mounted to the trainer, so I felt it deserved a little road time. I prepped myself and my ride, and hit the road.

At right about the turnaround point (9.5 - 10 miles in), I felt as if I had lost a significant amount of control over the bike. Steering was sluggish and my speed was dropping. I looked down and sure enough... flat tire. My second flat ever (knock on wood, as that's an amazing record for 3+ years of riding). Sigh... looked as if I'd be patching my tire from the side of the road - in the rain. Nice.

But (and here's where we tie-back-in to the intro), in my haste to depart the apartment, I had forgotten to transfer my tool kit from the Cervelo to the Trek. And, for some inexplicable reason, I had chosen to leave my phone at home as well. There I was, 10-miles from home base, no tools, no phone, and a flat tire. Awesome.

I didn't want to hoof it 10-miles, given the situation with my Achilles, so I made the decision to ride on the flat for as long as I could. I honestly believed the tire would eventually completely dismount itself at some point, but any mileage in the saddle would beat the alternative. So, I rode at a gingerly 5-6 mph until I arrived at my first hill.

The hill proved to be another obstacle; the act of climbing caused the front wheel to "wash out," and by some stroke of pure luck, I managed to unclip from the pedals and prevent tipping over and disgracefully crashing at a very low speed. Thanks to the close call, I decided to take a new approach to my return trip - I'd ride the flat sections and walk the hills.

After the first hill, my Achilles was on fire, thanks to my cycling shoes and the cleats that sit under the front part of the foot. When walking, the cleats effectively "crank" your toes upward, which stretches your Achilles, which caused me great discomfort. Joy.

It took me over an hour to return home (it should've taken about 30 minutes). And once I returned home, I drove to the bike store and purchased a second tool kit, a new front tire, new tubes, new patches, and a second tool bag for the Trek. I'm confident that I'm now prepared, should I ever encounter a similar situation in the future. Live and learn... here's a picture of the dead tire and tube:

tire.JPG

While installing the new tire, I realized that the now-flattened tire was an original tire... circa 2001. Wow. I should've replaced that thing a looooong time ago. Truth be told, I actually replaced the rear tire earlier this winter, when it flatted while on the trainer. I figured (correctly so) that the trainer had worn it out (trainers generate a lot of heat in tires and cause them to prematurely wear); I should've replaced the front as well. But, some $140 later (tools, tire, tubes, bag, portable pump), I'm good to go (or so I hope).

I wasn't able to run yesterday; and my Achilles was still quite sore this morning, so I opted to rest it. I did manage a 25-mile ride (on the Cervelo), so all was not lost. :-)


And, for the second act, I present another bit of wisdom: Never Take Anything For Granted.

Again, I mentioned in an earlier entry that I've been working on the new house, and that I had been busy updating the electrical switches, outlets, and hardware. Well, like most houses, the new place is loaded to the gills with 3-way light switches.

What's a 3-way light switch? It's a "system" that allows you to control a single light (or outlet, or ceiling fan) from multiple switches. For example, you might have a light switch in your dining room that will turn-on or turn-off a set of lights in the kitchen; you might have another switch in the actual kitchen that controls the same set of lights, thus allowing you to control the kitchen lights from either location.

3-way switches aren't difficult to figure out; it's a simple parallel electrical circuit. What does make things tricky is when you're dealing with 30+ year old switches that don't follow the same configuration as today's switches. Add-in some "interesting" electrical wiring work, and things can get complicated, especially if you assume things.

And that's what I did when swapping out the old 3-way switches for new ones. Yes, I thought it was odd that on any given circuit, I would encounter wires of a variety of colors - the standard wiring code says that a black wire should be the "hot" wire (always has power, from the breaker, or supplying to the load (eg: a light/outlet/etc)), the white wire should be the common wire, and bare copper should be the ground.

When dealing with a 3-way switch, you have to introduce a fourth wire; a "traveler" that links the multiple switches, and conventional wiring methods usually define that traveler as being red in color.

Well... my new place had black wires connected to red wires, white wires connected to red wires, and some inexplicable others including tan wires and striped wires. Wow. Someone got creative at some point.

I had also assumed that the switch configurations were the same between the old and the new switches; the "brass" terminal should have been the "hot" terminal; the other two terminals should have been the "traveler" terminals.

And, as soon as I had finished swapping all of the 3-way switches and activated the breakers, I quickly discovered something was amiss. The switches didn't work in any manner or fashion that they should've. Everything was all jacked-up. Ugh.

So, I tried troubleshooting, but because I was flying solo and didn't have any extra wire for continuity testing, nor did I have a volt meter with me, nor did I have the energy to run up-and-down the stairs to the circuit panel 300+ times while testing, I called it quits. I put in a call for assistance, and thankfully, my friend Jed obliged my request for assistance.

He came over today, and together, we managed to sort out the wiring mess. After 2-hours of troubleshooting, tracing wires, tracking circuits, and continuity testing, we solved the mystery of the 3-way switches. Thank you, Jed - I owe you a huge debt of gratitude!!

Here I am, working in the garage, attempting to troubleshoot 2 different sets of 3-way circuits.

fluke.JPG

Based from what we learned today, I'm confident that I can troubleshoot any 3-way circuit, no matter how complex it is; however, let's hope that I don't have to use those skills ever again. :-)

After wrapping-up the fix-it work, we stopped at a small microbrewery called "Gray's Tied House" for some late lunch; I stayed true to my diet plans and had a grilled chicken salad, some iced tea, and a MGD 64. Jed had some amazing looking wings (honey garlic) and a beautiful porter. Alas, I stayed strong.


And finally, upon returning to the craptacular apartment tonight, I prepared my meals for the week (lunch/dinner: 6oz grilled chicken, 1/2-cup black beans, 1-cup broccoli), and then kicked back with my new Kindle. I'm digging the little thing - it's so light (about 8oz), and despite not having a backlight, is amazingly clear and easy to read, even in dim lighting.

Here's a photo of the Kindle from about 30 minutes ago. The only light sources in the room were: the television (about 10 feet in front of me), and a very slight hint of sunlight from a quickly-setting-sun. You can tell it was fairly dim in here from the grainy nature of the photo:

kindle.JPG

And so, there you have it. With any luck, I'll be able to jog tomorrow. Enjoy your week!

It's a muhrrihcal!

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Quick update on the 'ole Achilles. I took a full 7 days off from running and only did very minimal, light duty riding during those seven days. It was making me absolutely mental to not be able to do much of anything... as burned out as I thought I was on running and working out, I felt like such a slug by not running/riding that I wanted nothing more than to be able to walk, run, and ride like "normal."

But every time I tried to do anything the least bit stressful (fast walking, climbing stairs, etc), my Achilles would burn and hurt like crazy. The best approach was going to be to continue to take it easy. Sigh.

And then, three days ago, I read about some Achilles treatments that included compression socks and Rock Tape. Some fellow triathletes had posted information on one of my tri message boards, so I rounded-up some Rock Tape, donned my compression socks, and continued to take it easy.

After day one, the results were astounding - my Achilles didn't hurt while walking or climbing stairs. So, I went for an 18-mile bike ride on day two, and... no pain. None.

So today, I went for a run, and while I felt a bit "tentative," the pain and tenderness wasn't anywhere near as bad as it had been last week. I only ran 1.25 miles, but man, did it feel good. Never thought I'd hear myself say that again. :-)

My plan is to keep the running light until there's absolutely no pain or discomfort at all. I figure a 1.25 - 1.50 mile easy run 4-5 times per week should be good, but I'll adjust as necessary.

Here's a picture of the Rock Tape "in action":

rocktape.jpg

It's a stretchy, cotton-based tape with a super-sticky adhesive, and it's designed specifically to help treat joint and tendon injuries. The theory is that the tape lifts the skin away from the affected area, which promotes blood flow. Your blood carries oxygen and nutrients, and helps heal an injured area. Tendons and joints aren't serviced by many capillaries, so there's not a lot of blood available to repair the area. The Rock Tape provides stability, support, and promotes blood flow to the affected area. I thought it was a load of hooey, but it really does seem to work. It also comes in cool patterns (I went with the cow pattern). :-)

And here are the compression socks - I've been in love with these for a long time, but today I feel they're worth their weight in gold. Such a great recovery tool:

cep.jpg

Yeah, they look funny, but they work. So, here's to the continued recovery; I'm hoping to be able to go for a 30-ish mile ride tomorrow morning (weather permitting), followed by a 1.25 - 1.30 mile run. I've got to do something to try and get my running volume back on track...


And in other news from this week, I mentioned that I've been riding the Capital Brewery bike rides; I was only able to ride on Thursday of this week (because of the Achilles), but man, what a great day it was for a ride. Weather was stellar - low 70s, no wind, sunny, and completely comfortable. I was tasked with leading the "Short Pour" tour group because the normal ride leader was out of town. So, we rode a nice 18-mile ride and had a great time.

After the ride, the crews normally order pizza or burritos and then drink some glorious Capital Brewery offerings in the outdoor Bier Garten while socializing. I knew that if I hung around, I'd quickly fall off my diet wagon, so I opted to ride over to the local Willy Street Co-Op store and make myself a fresh little salad.

Here I am, after the ride, enjoying the great outdoors (Willy Street has an outdoor eating/sitting area as well):

willy.jpg

If you look closely, you can see my bike in the background and the top "flap" of my salad container. The Co-Op has a wonderful salad bar that includes a ton of fresh, hand-cut, locally grown, organic veggies and three types of protein - organic oven roasted chicken, organic locally grown ham, and organic oven roasted turkey. I opted for the chicken with a few pieces of ham for good measure. I topped it all with some Sriracha sauce (Thai chili sauce - nice and spicy and only 5 calories), and washed it down with an unsweetened green tea. Yum.

salad_detail.jpg

After 5 solid days of eating extremely clean, I feel good. It's amazing how great I feel when I'm sticking with the diet... why I cheat and eat crap when it makes me feel like crap remains a mystery... I need to remember how good my body feels when I'm feeding it with the proper goods.

So, if the weather holds tomorrow, I'll be riding, running, moving, and working on the new house. Should be a good day! Oh wait - isn't tomorrow supposed to be the rapture? Well, that would stink...

What a busy week; one that was filled with ups-and-downs. I'm not even sure where to begin, so I'll go in chronological order, starting with a diet/bike/exercise update.

I had been sticking true to the updated diet and workout plans - things were going really well in the kitchen, I wasn't having any urges or desires to eat poorly, even when my coworkers brought in a massive box of donuts and parked it in my cube:

temptation.jpg

I'm proud to say that the donuts didn't phase me - I skipped them and didn't even indulge a single crumb. It probably helped that I had been riding the bike quite a bit; for some reason, I don't feel like eating poorly when I'm really hitting the exercise plan hard. Perhaps it's related to that infamous "endorphin rush" that exercise nuts (present company included) often refer to?

Speaking of biking... I spent last weekend test riding a new bike called the "X-Bow" from Ridley. Ridley is a rather legendary bike company from Belgium and they make some outstanding road bikes, tri bikes, and cyclocross bikes. Cyclocross bikes are a bit of a "hybrid" - they combine a road bike with a mountain bike to provide a blend of ground clearance, off-road capability, and on-road performance.

I had been contemplating a potential cyclocross purchase for some time... all of my road bikes are a bit "delicate" to serve as daily riders/commuters, not to mention a bit pricey to leave sitting in a bike rack for hours on end. A nice cyclocross bike seemed like a good fit, and the good folks down at Cronometro lent me the use of a Ridley for a week or so.

bike.JPG

After putting on 100-ish miles, and using it in every possible manner imaginable, I returned it to Cronometro and decided to wait on adding another bike to the stable. Why? I wanted to love the bike. I really did, because on paper, it seemed like a perfect fit. But, after riding it repeatedly, I didn't find myself feeling as if it suited my needs. I never got comfortable on it, and I never felt "at home" on it.

When I ride the Cervelo, everything feels "natural" - as if the bike is an extension of my body. The Ridley didn't offer that same feeling... Maybe I'm not a cross-bike kind of guy? It was somewhat disappointing to pass on the bike, but I'm convinced that it wasn't meant to be.

This week also marked my joining the Capital Brewery bike club, and as a newly minted member, I participated in two group rides. The brewery hosts 3 rides per week: Tuesday evening, Thursday evening, and Saturday morning.

I rode on Tuesday and Thursday night; the weather was gorgeous and a nice group ride after work seemed like a great idea. So, I ponied-up my $50 membership fee, got a complimentary Capital Brewery bicycle jersey and mug, and partook in the rides. After each ride, people gather in the Bier Garten for drinks and conversation. I met some really cool people, had a good time socializing, and managed to get a few extra riding miles in, which never hurts. Here I am on Thursday after our ride - you can see my road bike in the background:

c_bike.jpg

On one of the nights, someone brought down their Newfoundland dog, and he was an absolute beast of a creature. They said he was "just over 200-lbs," and I don't doubt it - he was mammoth. I wasn't able to get much of a picture of him as he was a young dog and quite "active" - he didn't seem to enjoy posing for any pictures, despite the many pleas from patrons of the Garten. Here's a head-shot of him, next to someone's belly... not sure who that is in the picture (it may have been "Dan" - a guy from the ride that I met), but the dog's name was Lewis:

c_lewis.jpg

And for my last comment about diet and exercise, I managed to seriously injure my achilles tendon, and haven't been able to run since Wednesday night. Talk about bad luck.

The achilles started to feel "odd" during a run on Monday, but I chalked it up to carrying the extra weight, compliments of my "month of irresponsible eating" from April. I kept running on Monday and Tuesday, and it seemed to be bothersome but not debilitating. On Wednesday, I went out for a 5-mile run and with about 3 minutes remaining, I felt a massive burning sensation in my right ankle/achilles area. I couldn't put any weight on my foot, so I hobbled home, angry about what had just happened.

I wrapped my achilles, iced it, and limped into work. I tried to stay off my feet all day, and regularly iced the achilles. By Wednesday night, it was no better... On Thursday, it felt even worse; I was limping with every step, stairs were a nightmare, and ice wasn't doing much to help.

For some odd reason, I could ride a bike, and it didn't hurt at all... so, I rode the Capital ride, which in hindsight was a poor decision, because come Friday morning, my tendon was extremely tender - worse than it had been on Wednesday or Thursday. So, I did absolutely nothing on Friday, Saturday, or today.

After 3 days of rest, my tendon feels much better; I guess the rest is helping, but that same rest has resulted in my diet sliding completely off track. And by "sliding," I mean, "slipping, sliding, crashing, burning, and exploding" just like when a car would run-off the road in a cheesy 1980s made-for-television police drama movie...

How bad has the diet been? Well, let's see... there was a fritter, some fish fry, some soft pretzels, lots of cookies, some pizza, and even some Culver's. Oh man... no wonder my pants are fitting so snugly. I managed to consume nearly 15,000 total calories over the weekend; talk about disgusting. :-(

Although, I did have a stellar dinner on Saturday, compliments of some grilled bison from my boss's "Big Green Egg" smoker/grill. He invited me over to check out the infamous egg and to sample a few prized beverages with him and another friend. For those not familiar with The Big Green Egg, it's more or less the Mercedes of wood burning grills/smokers.

It's made from 2"-thick ceramic, which means it will heat-up and hold heat like nothing else. My boss uses it to smoke briskets, pork shoulders, turkeys, and so on, and he said that he can go 14-15 hours on a single load of wood (when smoking). That's unreal! Here it is, in all of its glory (and heft; the Egg weighs-in at more than 200-lbs):

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We fired-it up on Saturday, adjusted the vents, and within 20 minutes had a grill that was registering a rocket-hot 700F. We threw on the steaks, along with some asparagus, and before you could say "Doctor Seuss," the Big Green Egg had produced a perfect bounty. The steaks and food were so awesome that I forgot to take pictures... trust me when I say it was out of this world.

We finished the evening with a few of Steve's finest beverages - a 25 year old Scotch (I'd bet a bottle of this cost as much as my mortgage) and for comparison's sake, a 21 year old Scotch (think 2 car payments). I'm by no means an aficionado, but both were really good. Here's a photo of the 25 year old:

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And finally, I spent the better part of today prepping my new living quarters. Yep, I'm moving again, but this time, I'm truly excited because I absolutely will not have to deal with inconsiderate neighbors and intolerable noise-levels. How so? Well....

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Yep, I found a house to rent. It's an 1800-square foot ranch, with a huge garage, and a full basement (unfinished, but the basement is entirely epoxied and is absolutely spotless). It's got a new roof, all new windows and doors, brand new appliances (the refrigerator and dishwasher have never been used), and the furnace is about 2-years old.

I scored it from the aunt of a co-worker. The co-worker's aunt is stationed in Spain as a government contracts employee, and she'll be working there until around 2015. My co-worker lived in the house until October of last year, but then got married and moved to her new husband's house. As luck would have it, I was able to secure the house early so that when the lease on my craptacular apartment expires, I can move-in to the house.

I've been getting it ready by cleaning, mowing, and updating the inside of the house; the owner has agreed to allow me to replace all of the electrical components (switches, outlets, fixtures, fans, lights, etc) - she's paying for the parts, and I'm installing them. Why? Here's a before-and-after shot of the light switches from one of the bathrooms:

Before (switches from the 70s; I attempted to clean them several times prior to this photo):

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After:

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Not a bad improvement for less than $20 in parts, eh? It's amazing what an enhancement the "little things" can make - the house feels like "brand new," all through a simple update of some switches and outlets. It's been great working at the house for the past few weekends - I can get away from the apartment for a few hours, and I've been able to move small items ahead of time, which should make the official act of moving less painful.

And while I did try to stay completely off my feet this weekend, I did walk for a bit; I had to use my new mower:

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That's a Toro 3-in-1 Recycler that my good friends from Topel's helped source and supply to me. It's an absolute dream mower - starts on the first pull, makes short work of the large yard, and somehow manages to make mowing fun. I'm sure the novelty will eventually wear off, but I'm really enjoying it for now.

And that's all for now. I'll chat more in a bit - my goal is to start running by Tuesday or Wednesday and to get back on the diet wagon. Here's to hoping for a good week.

Argh.

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After 13 solid days of serious workouts and hardcore dieting (sticking to my plan without any deviation), I fell apart. The weaker side of me wants to blame it on work - we had a stressful week for one of my projects and it all came to a massive boil-over on Wednesday night, which led to an over-eating session on Thursday.

The harsher side of me says I fell apart because I'm trying to self-destruct my diet for some reason... there should've been no reason to ditch the plan, and times of extreme stress and challenge shouldn't provide an excuse to stuff my face with reckless abandon.

But, I did. I ate a boatload of bad food on Thursday. And just when I was really starting to get back on track. I was feeling great, making progress, and getting into a solid routine. And then it crumbled. I tried to reconcile the bad night by assuring myself that my upcoming Crazy Legs run (an 8K/5-mile fun run) would serve as a "spring board" to get me back on track...

But Saturday morning came, and...

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Why are there slippers instead of running shoes on that race tag?

Because I freaking overslept the race. What the heck is wrong with me? CRIKEY.

I know what's wrong... I'm not sleeping well - I haven't had a good night's sleep in what seems like a year or more. The primary reason lies with my crappy apartment(s).

This most recent apartment is so stressful and "toxic" to live in. I can't relax, I can't unwind, I can't escape, I can't do anything other than search for reasons to leave (whether it's going out to run or ride, or going for unnecessary drives, or spending a ton of time at friends' houses, or sitting at a bar or restaurant). I want nothing more than to not be at the apartment. I really dislike my neighbors, whom are noisy and inconsiderate, and I especially dislike the management - they don't care about the noise problems, and don't respond to any inquiries or pleas for help.

So it's impossible to sleep, because as soon as I do get back to the apartment and I try to unwind and fall asleep, my stress levels rise; I can hear every single sound/noise/conversation/bump/thump/etc., and as such, I don't sleep more than a few hours a night. I'm constantly being woken-up, and I'm usually wide awake every morning by 5:00am. The sleep systems I blogged about a few weeks ago help me to fall asleep, but they don't keep me asleep... so, I hit the bed at around 11:00pm or so and am usually awake at 1:30, 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00.... not good.

Well, I somehow managed to have an unbelievably good nights' worth of sleep on Friday night... I went to bed around 11:30 or so, and I don't think I moved a single inch until about 10:15am on Saturday... a full 15 minutes after the race started.

When I realized what time it was, I sprung out of bed and started racing around trying to find my shoes, shorts, etc... but it was for naught. Even if I could've made it downtown, found a parking spot, and hit the starting line in record time, I would've been at least an hour late. Instead, I channeled my efforts into preparing for a nice 5-mile run on my own race circuit.

I threw on the shoes, opened the door, took a wonderful breath of the spring air, and started my run. And that's when strike two hit... every single muscle in my upper core (from the base of my neck to the top of my pelvis) felt like someone was jamming knives into them. With each stride, I winced and lost my breath. What in the heck is wrong with me????

I walked for a bit and gave myself a bit of a self massage on my ribs, chest, arms, neck, and abs; my whole core was so incredibly tender that the self massage hurt like crazy. I tried some more jogging, but no way was that going to work. I alternated trying to walk and jog for about 10 minutes, but gave up. It was simply too painful. It hurt as bad as, if not worse than, my ribs did after my ice-dive from earlier this winter.

I was so angry; I'm not sure if I slept wrong, or "slept too hard," or if springing out of bed pulled something, but I had never felt such an unbelievable amount of pain over such a large area. I figured I could ride my bike on the trainer for a bit, and was correct. I "finished" the morning with a 3-hour session on the trainer, cursing my bad luck the entire time. I spent Saturday night with my friends Dan and Tara - had a great dinner in Fort Atkinson, and then hung out with them for a bit back at their house.

I woke-up this morning, took a quick inventory of the core-pain, and discovered it was slightly better but still very tender and sore, so... I took today off - I figured I would give myself a full weekend worth of rest, and with any luck will be ready for a 4-5 mile run tomorrow morning.

And finally, just to make sure that my path of self destruction continues to steam full speed ahead, I drove up to Fox Lake and had dinner at the infamous "Boat House" with my cousin and her husband. I've heard a lot about the place and had been wanting to try it for quite some time, so I took a drive up north to enjoy some of their infamous pizza.

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The pizza was phenomenal, as were the cheese curds, breaded mushrooms, and fresh-popped pop corn. Everything was superb. The Boat House sits right on Fox Lake and has an awesome view of the lake. There's a ton of outdoor seating, complete with a Tiki Bar; I'm confident this would be a great summer hang out spot. With any luck, I'll still fit into a swimming suit come summer time... :-)

Back at it on Monday, and I'll do my best to not let external stress sway me from eating well and sticking to my plans... one single event avalanched into 4 days of bad eating, bad workouts, and more stress.

Jed e-mailed me earlier this week to say that we had been PR'd again - even after we left Puerto Rico. It turns out the local paper ran a story/travel report about Luquillo, Puerto Rico, a few days after we had returned from Puerto Rico.

Here's a link to the story: Wisconsin State Journal Article about Luquillo, PR

The story focuses primarily on the El Yunque rainforest, but if you read it carefully, you'll probably see that the author has similar experiences and thoughts about the area as we did, although the author is a bit more "diplomatic" with his descriptions and accounts.


In other news, I spent the better part of this week catching-up on work activities, cleaning-up my diet (argh - I'm so sick of training, eating healthy, and busting my butt... I may quit, seriously), and getting things back in-order here at the apartment.

I did another dog transport yesterday - drove a greyhound and a cat from Madison to Eau Claire - it took about 8 hours when it was all said and done, so that more or less ate-up my entire Saturday (I left Madison around 1pm and returned around 9pm). I did some late night grocery shopping (I find that Woodmans, Whole Foods, and Willy Street Co-Op are best visited after 9pm), finally got home around 10:30, and called it a night.

Today's agenda includes the usual: I'll hit the road for a run in about an hour, then will ride (hopefully outside, as the weather should be decent), will do some lifting, and then make meals for the rest of the week. Exciting, eh?

Out of control.

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I am on a downward spiral and it needs to stop. Seriously.

For the past month or so, I have loathed the thought of any type of exercise - I've skipped a lot of runs, cheated on rides, and half-heartedly lifted weights. My diet has been a big roller coaster of ups-and-downs; I'm either a complete nazi or a complete lush. There's no consistency or moderation - it's feast or famine.

I think that's why I had the fainting episode in March... my mouth and stomach are happily writing checks that my poor legs can't keep up with cashing. I'd eat really clean for 5 days, exercise like a madman, and then lose it on the weekend: overeat, overtrain to compensate, and then do 5 days of strict diet and exercise... rinse/lather/repeat.

On April 1, I said, "to heck with it. I'm taking a break. I'm almost 40, what's the point of this?" And so I rolled-back on exercise a bit (my longest run in the past two weeks was a 7-mile run; most days it's been around 5-miles), and I ate whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. To make a long story short - I'm ready to quit. I told myself I was burned out and that I needed to take a break for a bit.

So I used my recent birthday as an excuse to eat like a complete maniac for the past 2+ weeks; and by maniac, I mean it - last night, for example, at about 11:30pm I felt the urge to go get something sweet... so, I hopped into the car, drove to the bakery and bought an apple fritter (which weighed 2.7 lbs - I weighed it on my digital scale - and measured 13" in diameter by 2.5" thick), and three sour cream old fashioned glazed donuts. And I ate them all. At midnight.

Yesterday's calorie totals? 6436 calories in. 0 calories out.

Thursday's calorie totals? 6255 calories in. 0 calories out.

You get the idea. As such, I'm up on the scale - the heaviest I've been in 2+ years. What in the heck is wrong with me?

And so, I'm sitting here, at 2:30pm, staring at my bike, dreading the idea of hopping on to it. It would be so much easier to stay seated on the couch; it would be so much more "fun" to call the local pizza place and place a ridiculous order, wolf it down, and then walk to the local store for ice cream and cookies.

But, within a month, I'd be 200-pounds. And within a year, I'd be at 300-pounds again. And I'd be really miserable. So, I have to get back onto the wagon. I have to be responsible; stay focused, stay determined. The past few weeks are what they were - a bump in the road. It's time to get serious, and to toughen up. Suck it up, buttercup - get back on the horse and don't quit.

So... what's the purpose of this post? It's a reminder to myself that aside from giving up, nothing's easy. Quitting is the easy way out - making excuses are easier than lacing up the shoes or putting down the spoon. It's also a way to say that I know how hard it is to lose weight, get into shape, and stick with it. If it were easy, we'd all be fit and healthy. There'd be no excuses.

But it's not easy. It's not fair. I'd rather go have a beverage with coworkers; eat mounds of popcorn; eat piles of burgers and fries. Unfortunately, I can't. And so, I'm committing to getting back onto my programs with complete tenacity and focus. No deviations, no cheating.

By the end of May I will be back to proper racing weight and capacity/volume.

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In other news, I'm working on a much more upbeat post/report, but it's proving to be quite lengthy. I wanted to get this out there before I share the next entry, so stay tuned. I guess I'll hit the bike for an hour, then I'll go out for a run - probably a 4-miler. At least it's snowing outside. :-(

Well, that was groovy.

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In all honesty and complete transparency, I have never once tried any type of "controlled substance" (other than beer, wine, and a few very select alcohols like Tequila and Scotch), nor have I ever tried a single cigarette. The idea of trying any of those items has never interested or appealed to me - I suspect my core group of childhood friends (Matt, Andy, and Dan) played a large role in that, since to the best of my knowledge, none of them have tried smoking or anything illegal.

I realize that's hard for many people to understand, but it's 100% true - smoking grosses me out (I can't stand the smell of it in any amount), and any type of drug use just seems completely dumb to me... heck, when I was in the hospital for a terrible infection back in 1998 and the doctors prescribed a morphine drip, I refused to use it other than one time - I'm partially too afraid of, and mostly not interested in any "mind altering" substances like that.

So, I was shocked by the weird feeling that I experienced today - one that came at a most unexpected time and place. I had left work a little early to run an errand, and then headed out for my "usual" run (6.7-mile loop).

As I neared the end of the loop, I noticed that my hearing was starting to act really funky. I thought my headphones were acting up, so I wiggled the connections and restarted my iPod Shuffle - no luck. Things were still funky. I couldn't really hear from one ear, and in the other ear, I heard the sound of the ocean.

I'd experienced similar sensations a few weeks ago while running; became light-headed and passed out. I suspected this might be the case again. I slowed, and noticed that it felt like my legs were still going at full steam ahead - that was new - and then I felt super-extremely light-headed. Ok, looked like I was going to take a dive again.

I stopped running and sat down, and the next thing I heard was a whooshing/rushing noise, followed by what I believe was the jingle for Old Spice commercials - that short and catchy whistled tune. I felt really light - like my arms, stomach, legs - body - could float, followed by a total euphoric, painless, feeling. I think I said, "Wow" out loud. I suspect the feelings were similar to those of a "high" - for a split second, it felt cool, but upon reflection, it was weird and scary - not something I'd want to experience again.

And then, next thing I knew, I was on my side, and I felt really heavy. It was a struggle to move my arms or legs, and rolling onto my back was difficult - it was if I didn't have any type of orientation or awareness of my position on the ground. It was a very unpleasant, and non-euphoric feeling... I've had maybe 2-3 hangovers in my life, and this felt like a doozy of one, sans the imbibing.

A lady approached me (she was walking a small dog - a dacschound, I think) and asked if I was ok. I told her I think I overdid my running, and needed a break, but all was ok.

She said she would call an ambulance, but I declined. I sat up and immediately felt a throbbing headache. I assured her I was fine, and she said, "Well, ok, you know best I suppose," and she kept walking.

I laid back down for a minute, reached into my Spi Belt, grabbed my phone and snapped a picture of myself on my back. Why, I'm not sure - I felt so weird; I'm surprised I was able to operate my phone...

Here I am, about 5 minutes after the experience:

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I'm glad that I got a set of Road ID bands; they're reflective, velcro ID tags that have my name, location, and emergency contact phone details. Had I been "out" for much longer, I suppose they would've come in handy. Here's a shot of my leg, with the Road ID on it:

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Thankfully, I was about a mile from the apartment, so once back on my feet, I walked back to the apartment, drank a boatload of water, downed an electrolyte tablet, and ate a Clif Bar. I suspect I was dehydrated and underfed... I've been trying super hard to cut some of the last bits of fat on the 'ole gut, and may have under-calculated my caloric needs.

After my massage yesterday, I wasn't hungry at all; I did make an excellent turkey burger, stuffed with garlic and minced onions, and topped with roasted bacon, salsa, and onion in a cabernet reduction:

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It was tasty, but apparently didn't have enough calories for the bod. After the massage and dinner, I hit the hay - I was exhausted, and fell asleep by 7:30pm. A good massage will do that, I guess! This morning, I had my usual breakfast of 3 egg whites, 1 piece of bacon, 1 cup of spinach, and 1/2-cup of black beans. For lunch, it was 1-cup of Fiber One and 30g of Tera's Whey Goat-based protein. And then I went out for the run. I'll have to bump up the calories a bit, I suppose.

The good news is that I didn't fall unexpectedly like I did a few weeks ago on the ice and with the first fainting... and, the headache is going away - I took some ibuprofen with my Clif bar, and am feeling pretty good.

I had to share the experience; partially for benefit of "lessons learned," and partially because I thought it was odd... plus it beats my usual "I did this" or "I had this fish fry" entries that seem to be dominating the blog as of late. :-)

I'll be cleaning the apartment tonight, lifting weights, and then hitting the hay early.

Is there anyone out there who feels like this winter season has dragged on relentlessly? Wow. I'm so ready for the cold, damp, dreary weather to go away once and for all. I realize this is Wisconsin, and that it gets (and remains) cold for quite a while... but, enough - ok? Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!

It doesn't help that we've recently had a few quick "breaks" of warm weather - I believe we hit the high 50s last week, with some low 50s on Saturday of last week. I took full advantage of that warm weather by firing-up the primary road bike and hitting the roads for a nice 30-mile ride:

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Nothing beats getting outside for a good ride in nice weather - it's liberating and invigorating. I love how quiet my bike is, and I enjoy the fresh air, the sunshine, and of course the speed and responsiveness of riding on a real road surface. As I mentioned earlier, the trainer hasn't been too terribly bad this year, but there's nothing quite like riding in the great outdoors, especially when the weather is so perfect.

But, being the tease that she is, Mother Nature didn't gift us with nice weather for too long... nope, because while last Saturday was stellar, Sunday was dreadful - rainy, cold, and windy. No riding outside... and my run was anything but fun. Ick.

Thankfully, I was able to take some refuge from Sunday's dreary weather - a group of us went to the Milwaukee Bucks game and saw the Bucks take on the New York Knicks.

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As you can see, the weather wasn't too appealing... but, we avoided most of the bad stuff by stopping at Saz's restaurant, snagging a free parking spot, grabbing a pre-game beverage and snack, and then riding their complimentary shuttle bus to the Bradley Center. You can't beat that service! The bus drops-off and picks-up directly in front of the Bradley Center. No parking fees, no traffic fights, just a quick 10-15 minute ride from Saz's to the center. Nice!

Once inside, we were pleased to discover our seats were pretty stellar:

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We were about 15 rows from the court, and I was amazed by how incredibly strong and conditioned NBA players are. Holy cats - those guys are tall, lean, and ripped - they looked like huge blocks of muscle flying up and down the court... You can't really appreciate their conditioning until you see them in person; the television doesn't do their speed and strength any justice.

The Bucks ended-up beating Carmello Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire (of the Knicks) by a score of 100 to 95. Turned out to be a decent game!

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After the game, we took the shuttle back to Saz's, then headed back to Madison, where we grabbed a late dinner at a local Irish pub. All-in-all, a good day/weekend.

This weekend is shaping up to be rather dull - nothing really going on. I transported a dog from Coloma, Wisconsin to Edgerton. He was a super nice little guy named Paxton. He rode like a true gentleman - calm, quiet, and perfect.

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It was an early morning transport; I had to leave the apartment by 7:00am to meet the other transport driver in Coloma, so I waited to ride/run/lift until I returned to the apartment. Spent 2 hours riding the trainer, an hour running in the freezing cold (it was 27F with 15mph winds), and an hour lifting weights at the gym. Exciting, eh?

I've got a massage scheduled for tomorrow afternoon - my calves have been killing me (cramping heavily lately, especially while sleeping), so I'm hoping a little massage therapy will help some of the adhesions and knots. Other than that, it'll be more of the same - ride and run in the morning, massage, and then a semi-cheat meal. I'm going to make a garlic- and onion-stuffed turkey burger with mushrooms and sprouted wheat bread. I'm really looking forward to it!

I used a slice of the sprouted wheat bread (it's 100% whole grain with less than 1g of sugar per slice - loaded with complex carbs and protein) for my afternoon lunch today, which consisted of 2 slices of Applegate Farms nitrate-free turkey breast wrapped in 3 egg whites mixed with chopped spinach and topped with cilantro-and-garlic salsa. Yum, and it came in at exactly 250 calories. A perfect post-workout lunch, for sure.

More nutrition babble.

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Just what you all wanted to read/hear about, right? I realize you're probably growing tired of my regular postings about diet plans, nutrition calculations, workouts, and training routines, but hey - this is my blog, so I'll ramble and babble at will. :-)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the book and plan from Matt Fitzgerald titled "Racing Weight" and I raved about how cool it was, and how I'd been sticking to the plan without fail. And, while that's all true, I also stumbled across another book titled, "The 4-Hour Body" by Tim Ferriss, and it piqued my interest.

Ferriss is a controversial figure; he's not really an accomplished athlete, and from what I can tell, he's not done much of anything other than write two really popular "4-hour" series books: The 4-Hour Work Week and his newly released The 4-Hour Body. A lot of folks refer to him as a smooth-talking snake oil salesman... not really as credible as someone like Matt Fitzgerald, especially when it comes to promoting approaches toward endurance training and related nutrition.

But, I stumbled across a segment on a recent Doctor Oz show that featured Ferriss talking about some of his theories. He talked about how cold temperatures (ice baths, training outdoors with minimal clothing, ice packs on the neck) can accelerate fat loss by activating "brown fat." He talked about how to minimize damage while binge eating by using cinnamon, grapefruit juice, and some basic large-muscle exercises prior to eating something sweet. And he talked about a few other things, all of which drove me to download his book (via Amazon's Kindle Application for the Mac and iPhone) - it was only $5.00, so I figured it was worth a skim.

And, I've got to say, he's got some interesting ideas. But more importantly, he appears to have a bunch of data to back-up his theories. He has apparently measured, monitored, recorded, and analyzed every single bit of diet-related data for himself for at least 10 years. He had a blood glucose meter permanently implanted in his abdomen because he found there was too much inconsistency with the traditional finger-stick systems. He's spent over $250,000 on lab tests, blood analysis, body composition, DNA tests, and so on (granted, all supposedly). If he is as silver-tongued as some claim, he's surely earned the title.

Anyway, I took away a few ideas from the book and have implemented them in addition to my Racing Weight plans, namely:

- Slow Carbs are key. Avoid eating anything that is, was, or ever could've been white: sugars, wheats, potatoes, dairy, and so on. Instead, focus on eating as many "slow carbs" as you wish - lentils, black beans, spinach, kale, broccoli, and so on. Avoid sugar-laden fruits or veggies like bananas, carrots, berries, and so on.

- Protein is your friend. He suggests eating 30g of protein with each meal. For me, that's equivalent to a 6-ounce chicken breast, or 5 egg whites, or 4-6 ounces of pork or fish, or a protein shake. Pretty easy to accomplish. He suggests 4-servings of protein + slow carbs each day.

- Timing of protein is critical, especially in the morning. He advocates that people do two things immediately upon waking: drink 500mL of ice cold water, followed by a "meal" of at least 30g of protein. Ideally, you'd eat your breakfast meal within 30-minutes of waking up.

- Fat isn't the enemy. Healthy fats are good for you, but avoid "trigger fats" - foods that are easy to trigger an eating spree, like nuts or peanut butter, for example (most commercially available peanut butters include a boatload of added sugar, by the way, so they're not a great idea regardless). Avocado, Brazil nuts, and (who knew) Macadamia Nut Oil are preferred.

Why Macadamia Nut Oil instead of Olive Oil? Olive Oil, it turns out, is rather "unstable" - it goes rancid when exposed to air or light for any length of time. It's not heat stable. It's a great oil, no doubt, but in our market it's anything but ideal because of its volatility. Macadamia Nut Oil is much more stable and actually has more of the "good" fats. I scored some last weekend and have been using it with a pump aerosol sprayer from MISTO with great success. It's incredibly delicious - I lightly mist my broccoli, add some pepper, throw it in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes and WOW. Much better than using olive oil. So far, after using it for a week and a few days, I've used just slightly more than 1-tablespoon in total... that MISTO pump rocks (available at Bed Bath & Beyond for $9).

- Schedule one cheat day per week. He wants you to trick your metabolism back into overdrive by eating whatever you want for one day each week. He suggests using the "anti-damage" binge controls (grapefruit juice, cinnamon, and squats) to help stabilize your blood sugar, but other than that - go crazy. Have at it. Just get right back on the plan the next morning.

- Don't rely on supplements, vitamins, or other stuff. I agree. I do take a multivitamin, some calcium, and some Omega-3s each day, but that's it. Nothing exotic or too crazy.

What don't I agree with from Ferriss?

- Less is more for exercise. He claims that you can add tons of lean mass by working out for just 10 minutes a week with Kettle Bells. That may be true, but I've got to keep-up with my running, riding, and swimming. Sorry, Tim.

- Protein timing. I fully realize the benefit of eating breakfast - I notice that as soon as I stop doing so, I gain weight, even if I'm restricting calories. But, I also recognize the benefit of a "fasted workout" from time-to-time, so I'm torn on this one... I've tentatively planned to eat breakfast immediately after my morning bike rides (30-45 minutes most days, save for the weekends, which last 2+ hours); that gets me a fasted workout in the morning, and I still eat within 1hr of waking, which I hope is ok.

- Ice Baths. I appreciate that they work wonders for sore legs, and they may help speed-up your metabolism, but yikes - they're painful and difficult. I tried taking a fresh ice bath this weekend (after a 9-mile run) and couldn't do it. The water temp was 48F and it was freakin' painful. I sat in it for about 3 minutes and jumped out. Sorry, Tim.

- Some of his other theories around "the body" as it pertains to exercise/mass, testosterone, and so on. I'm just not interested in adding 30-lbs of muscle or increasing my testosterone levels, so I didn't bother with those chapters.


So there you have it. What's the net change from my original plan?

- I've cut sugar from my diet from 35-40 grams per day down to less than 10 grams.

- I've added a little fat to my diet by way of Macadamia nut oil and "regular" (nitrate-free) bacon (with breakfast). By the way, one of my new favorite breakfast meals goes like this: slowly pan fry 2 slices of nitrate-free bacon (60 calories), remove, drain on paper towels, and pour off the excess grease. Add 2 cups of frozen chopped spinach to the pan, using the residual bacon grease to prevent sticking (75 calories). Cook until spinach is tender, add pepper to taste. Mix in 5 egg whites, stir regularly until eggs are cooked (80 calories). Remove from heat, and serve with 1-cup of cooked black beans (140 calories) and the bacon. All told, you've got a monster breakfast that totals 355 calories. It literally keeps me full for a solid 6 hours, and it's super tasty. You could get away with 3-4 egg whites and 1/2 cup of beans if you wished, and that would drop the calories to about 275...

- Slow carbs only. My carb sources now come solely from black beans, lentils, broccoli/cauliflower, tomatoes (1 per day), and Lawash wraps (1-2 per week as a treat at lunch).

- Water, water, water. No Splenda. I still drink a Diet Dew or Pepsi Maxx every day, but I limit myself to one.

And that's about it. The rest of my plans stay true to the Racing Weight guide. I've seen a 1.1% drop in body fat since January 16, and my overall weight is holding fairly steady. I didn't include a cheat day this weekend, but with the Superbowl coming next week, I figure I'll probably indulge a bit, so that'll be good. Immediately following the game, I start the heavy-duty marathon training schedule, so I'll be interested to see how Ferriss' ideas work with the endurance training efforts.

I've noticed even fewer cravings since last week, and my energy levels have been really good, so that's a good sign. I did eat like a maniac for a few days about 2 weeks ago, but have "recovered" and am back on-track, thank goodness.

If you'd like to watch the video clips from the Doctor Oz show, you can see them here:

Part I

Part II

Part III

w00t for Zoot!

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For those not familiar with the slang term, "w00t" here's wikipedia's definition. It's basically a typo'd version of the word "woohoo" if you don't feel like reading the entire definition.

Woot also happens to be the name of a website that offers incredible one-day-only deals on everything from blenders to composters to water bottles and what have you. I've seen 60" plasma televisions on woot for $999 with $5 shipping, and brand new digital cameras for $29.95.. and the deal changes every day at midnight (today's deal is a 48-pack of Colgate disposable toothbrushes for $4.99 with $5 shipping). When it's gone, it's gone.

Anyway... I'm "w00ting" because I just scored a spectacular deal on a new pair of shoes from a company called "Zoot." Zoot is a triathlon-focused clothing and shoe company that got its start at one of the early Ironman races in Kona, Hawaii way back in 1983. They innovated the idea of the dedicated "triathlon race suit" - something that would allow an athlete to swim, ride, and run without having to change their clothing during the transitions.

Prior to the invention of the triathlon suit, an athlete would start the race in a swim suit, change into their biking shorts, and then change into their running shorts. All of those wardrobe changes made for slow transitions and slower finishing times, so the triathlon suit was a novel and impressive idea - no more changing meant faster race times.

As legend has it, the company name came by way of some german athletes who were mispronouncing the word "suit" - they were looking for those cool new "triathlon zoots" and I guess the name stuck.

I've bought some Zoot stuff in the past, and while it's really nice, it's usually really expensive... so when I stumbled across a running store from Minnesota that was going out of business and clearing its inventory, I took advantage of the opportunity and jumped on a pair of Zoot Ultra Tempo 2.0 running shoes.

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Not bad for $35 shipped to my door! They would normally cost $120-$130.

They're super light - about 6.5oz per shoe, are fast to put-on (big loops for grabbing with thumbs, speed laces), and don't require socks - the insides are completely seamless and lined with a foot-friendly material. I wore them around today and like 'em, even if they are a bit "loud."

I'll probably use them primarily for walking-around shoes as they don't have a ton of "guidance" - my foot pronates when I run, so I need a stability shoe for most of my running/training efforts. I may use them in a few races, just to see how they work out.

And speaking of racing, I have tentatively identified my racing schedule for 2011. It's looking like there will be three marathons, two half-marathons, two half-ironmans, and with any luck, the Madison-to-Chicago 200 relay race. The marathons will be a challenge, but I'd like to knock a few of them out, and I'm not getting any younger, so I suppose there's no time like 2011.

I'm focusing the last few weeks of January as my "cutting" weeks - lower mileage running/biking/swimming with emphasis on an extremely clean diet (save for an upcoming cheat day that I have planned). Then, on February 7, I start the marathon-focused training (with plenty of biking/swimming/lifting added).

Cleaning up

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I managed to pick-up a cold earlier this week and I chalked it up to everyone and his brother from my workplace being sick. If I didn't know better, I'd posture that my office is actually an infirmary filled with salaried patients who are carrying and sharing things like walking pneumonia, whooping cough, and countless other infectious diseases - everyone is coughing, hacking, sneezing, wheezing, and looking just miserable. I tried to fight it as best I could - I washed my hands a dozen times a day, wiped down every shared surface with Lysol wipes, used hand sanitizer, doubled-up on the vitamin C, but I still caught something... ugh.

To make matters worse, Mack (one of the cats) also came down with a really nasty cold as well. She'd been sleeping nearly 24/7, coming out only to eat a little, drink a little, and every so often to stare at me with her "I'm so miserable," look. We actually sat staring at each other for a number of minutes - me on the couch, sore throat just scorching; her on the floor, eyes running and green goo coming from her nose.

And then the humidifier kicked-on, and I wondered, "What if the humidifier made us both sick?"

It didn't really dawn on me that the humidifier could've been the culprit until that very moment. I pulled my Lasko humidifier from storage just a few days earlier, filled it with water, and set it to "high." About 2 days later, Mack was sick. About 2 days after that, I was sick.

So, I busted out the internet and did some research. Turns out you're supposed to clean a humidifier pretty regularly - like at least once every 2 weeks. Whoops! I'd never cleaned it (although I got it in January of last year, used it for 2 months, drained it, and then stored it in a box until last week). Hmm.

I learned that you're supposed to use a bleach/water solution to disinfect the tank, the reservoir, and any areas that hold water. A white-vinegar/water solution used after the disinfecting will help break down any scale or crusty mineral build-ups. And, you're not supposed to "run" the humidifier with either solutions in place - you disassemble the humidifier, clean it, rinse it super well, replace any filters, reassemble it, and enjoy the clean humidity.

So, I set about cleaning the dickens out of the humidifier and was shocked to discover how gross the inside of it was. I took time to wash everything with soapy water prior to using the bleach solution, and I used a toothbrush and some srubber pads to make certain I removed any crud from every visible area. I soaked the reservoir and tank in the bleach solution for an hour or so, rinsed everything, and then repeated the process with my vinegar solution.

A quick trip to Menards yielded a new filter (and for just $4.99). I reassembled everything, filled it with fresh cold water, and fired it up. It certainly smelled more clean, and now, 2 days later, both Mack and I appear to be doing much better. You might want to take a moment to clean your own humidifier - it's pretty easy and if it helps keep you healthy, it's worth the effort. Oh - I also learned that a lot of the commercial treatment products/additives may be harmful to your health, so if possible, take the time to use the soap, bleach, vinegar approach.

Here's my nice clean humuggity machine:

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I also cleaned the rest of the apartment from top to bottom - windows, cupboards, floors, light switches, the refrigerator/freezer, the stove/oven, dishwasher, and so on... Everything was moved, vacuumed behind, and thoroughly cleaned. It's so nice to have a clean place!

And finally, speaking of cleaning, you're all aware of my efforts to manage my diet/exercise/performance/composition ratios. I've talked about a bunch of plans and so on, and for the most part things have gone really well. But I'm trying to perfect and extract the last few bits of performance from myself - I know my ideal racing weight, but it's really difficult to maintain it. I usually undereat for a period of time, then overeat for a day or two - rinse/lather/repeat. It's really frustrating.

So, a while back, I bought a book called Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. I read it, loosely mapped a plan, but never really followed it - I just didn't quite "get it" at that time. Matt is an elite coach and athlete, but I couldn't buy into his theories - I was convinced that eating less calories was the key to maintaining my racing weight (based on his theories, I would've needed to double my calorie intake to maintain my ideal racing weight). His theories seemed counter-intuitive, and my body is pretty calorie adverse - I can perform really well on a small number of calories; adding calories causes my weight to rise and my bodyfat percentage to increase as well.

It's terribly frustrating, because most nutritionists, coaches, etc. all preach that "carbs are king" for endurance athletes, and that endurance athletes of my size would need to eat around 2800 calories per day, just to maintain their current weight. I can all but guarantee that if I ate anywhere near 2800 calories per day, I'd balloon up by 20-30lbs in no time flat. Apparently my metabolism hates me.

Well, he recently came out with a follow-up book called Racing Weight: Quick Start Guide - A 4-week weight loss plan for endurance athletes, and I was intrigued. I read some reviews about it and decided to give it a visit.

While many of the underlying principles are identical to his original book, he has modified the approach, so I decided to give it a go. I sat down a few weeks ago to read the book cover-to-cover and to map out an appropriate plan. Some of the theories are still complex, but this most recent book offers more of a "step-by-step" plan which I found really interesting and (potentially) helpful. Here are some of my calculations in progress:

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I've been following the plan "to-the-T" for just over a week, and so far, so good. I have absolutely no cravings for any of my normal vices (donuts, cookies, cake, popcorn), and my composition figures appear to be starting to head in the right direction. We'll see how it goes as time progresses.

...er, or how about, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" Nope, still not quite right... let's try, "A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." (quote by Carl Reiner)

So what's with all of the cheesy sayings and quotes? Well, if you haven't yet heard, good 'ole Wisconsin got a semi-decent helping of the white stuff today. While the weather-guessers were calling for 8-12" in our area, I think we'll only end up with around 4-5" when it's all said and done. Areas north of here have reportedly gotten closer to the 10-12" amount.

Rather than fear and dread the snow, I decided to embrace it in a number of ways. I started by running in a 10K race called the Jingle Bell Run/Walk. The race was held this morning at the Vilas Park Zoo, and basically consisted of a lap around the Arboretum. The race went fairly well; I finished it in 49:26, which was good for 60th place out of 318 finishers. I was 11th in my age group (I think there were 57 people in my age group).

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The weather was actually quite nice for the race; if not a bit warm. There wasn't any wind to really speak of, and the temperatures were hovering in the mid-30s. It was so warm, in fact, that I had to partially disrobe at about the 4-mile mark... I took off my "outer" gloves (some wind/waterproof/insulated Pearl Izumis) and my fleece sweatshirt (a super lightweight but ridiculously warm "One More Mile" shirt). I also rolled-up my hat to let some heat escape from the 'ole bean.

After the race was done, I headed back to the apartment and cranked out a few hours on the trainer. I discovered a really cool training program called Turbo Crank, and it's actually helped take away some of the dread that I associate with the trainer. The developer of the program posted a link to it on a triathlon site, along with a discount code that dropped the price to around $10; I figured it was worth a shot. It actually makes the indoor sessions tolerable!

With my running and riding done for the day, I was looking forward (sort of) to helping a rescue group transport a German Shepherd by driving the dog from Madison to Black River Falls this afternoon. But apparently the dog was scared to death of men, so the rescue group called me at the last minute to say they didn't think it would be a good "fit" for me to transport her. Combine the man-fear with the bad weather, and it was unlikely that the transport would've been a fun experience.

So, with nothing on the radar for the rest of the day, I decided to go check out the new Johnny Depp movie, The Tourist. I was partially disappointed with it; it wasn't nearly as action-packed as I thought it would be, and it was incredibly predictable. If you're contemplating it, I'd probably save it for a rental.

The movie ended at around 6:00pm, and when I left the theater, I was greeted with a few inches worth of really dense, wet, and heavy snow covering the car (along with everything else). I had my doubts about how well the Prius would handle the snowy conditions, but it did shockingly well and was very stable; almost "confidence-inspiring."

After leaving the movie, I swung over to Fontana Sports where I scored some snow shoes. A few people from work had been talking quite regularly about snow shoeing and how fun it was, so when I heard we were due for a massive snow storm (earlier in the week), I did a some research about snowshoeing online and decided to give it a shot. Thanks to a very helpful (and patient) employee at Fontana, I wound-up with a set of Atlas 925 snow shoes:

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Pretty cool, eh? So much for the old "tennis-racket-style" snow shoes that I pictured whenever I heard people talk about them. I guess technology reaches even the most primitive of activities. :-)

I also bought a pair of "gaiters" and a pair of trekking poles. The gaiters are guards that go over your shoes/boots and run up to your knee to help prevent snow from filling your shoes/boots as you walk. The trekking poles are basically like ski poles, but not as robust (or lightweight) and aid with stability when you're covering uneven terrain. Here's a shot of the whole enchilada:

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I didn't dare put the actual snowshoes on while indoors because they have these pretty wicked "crampons" to aid with traction. The crampons are basically steel "teeth" that bite into the snow/surface as you walk so that you don't slip and slide. Here's a closer look at the bitey little things:

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With the snow falling at a steady pace, my new gear was just itching to go on a maiden voyage, so I headed out into the "blizzard" (the news stations were referring to the storm as a blizzard), eager to see how the new kicks would perform.

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And the survey says: "Fun. Cool. Interesting. Different. Effective." I walked in them for about an hour and a half and really enjoyed the experience. I can vouch for their effectiveness - they easily got me through some deep snow with minimal "sinking" and they provided an awesome amount of stability and sure-footedness. They're sort of like 4-wheel drive for your feet. They also provided a pretty stellar workout; despite it being just 20F outside and with a super strong wind, I worked-up a bit of a sweat during my hike. It didn't help that I was wearing two layers of wool shirts, an alpaca/fleece 1/4-zip pullover, an Arcteryx jacket, and a Northface shell... (I like to layer, if you didn't yet notice)

I enjoyed being out in the falling snow - it was both peaceful and beautiful, thanks to the extra wet nature of this particular snow fall. Trees were "frosted" with snow, and with a very heavy cloud cover, nearly everything appeared to be glowing. I walked through a neighborhood and saw this neat looking house, along with some holiday decorations:

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After the walk, I returned to the apartment, where I discovered my door lock had frozen solid. I couldn't insert the key more than 1/8-inch before it hit solid ice. UGH!!! So, I took off the snow shoes and walked over to a local bar to see if they had a book of matches. My plan was to heat the key with the matches and hope that it would melt the ice in the lock. I took off the snowshoes and walked the block to the bar; walking in the snow without the snowshoes was definitely a much slower prospect.

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I returned with a book of matches only to discover that my idea was virtually worthless. It was so windy that the matches burned-out instantly; all that resulted was a smokey/charred looking key and 20+ expired matches littering the area in front of my door. UGH #2.

I knew there was a small gas station not too far from the apartment, so I put on the snowshoes once again and trekked my way (another mile) to the PDQ. Thankfully it was open (it was around 12:00am), and just as thankfully they had lock de-icer. I bought a container of it along with a Bic wind-proof lighter (for back-up) and trekked back to the apartment.

I'm happy to report the de-icer worked perfectly, and after 3-shots of the stuff, I was able to get into the apartment. Win!

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Unfortunately, I'm wide awake, and it's about 1:45am... so, I decided to fire-up this blog entry. I'm also enjoying a glass of hot tea (decaf) and a water. I can hear the snow plows tearing around outside - my guess is those folks will be up all night and well into the morning... At least I've got company, eh?

A much needed "vacation"

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I had a chance to take a few days off from work, so I took advantage of the free time by loading up the car, dropping off Shiloh with his original foster mom, and driving down to Arkansas. 700 miles and 11 hours later, I found myself back at the house on the Thursday before Thanksgiving - a whole week of relaxation awaited. ...or did it?

It was great to see the "kids" back home - here's Squid (real name: Monica) sitting in front of her couch. She's getting to be an old lady - her back legs shake a lot, and she's looking a bit thinner than she used to be. Come to think of it, she's probably about 9 years old by now...

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And here's Regis - crazy as ever, but with a distinguished grey beard. Poor guy - he means well, and he is such a sweet and caring boy, but he really does have a screw loose somewhere in that head of his...

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And last but not least, Riley - the "spark plug" of the group. She's always at an "eleven" - ready to rock, rowdy, and rambunctious. Yet pull out a blanket and she'll be more than happy to settle down, burrow underneath it, curl up against you, and snore for hours.

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With the animals fully greeted and reacquainted with their "out of state Dad," Amy and I hit our old "stand-by" for my first meal back in Arkansas: Maria's Mexican Restaurant. Nothing beats Maria's - it's cheap, it's good, it's fast, and there's nothing like it in Wisconsin. Yummo. We both ate burritos de asada, shared a queso, and had two large diet sodas. Total cost: $15, and we were in and out within 30 minutes. Absolutely stellar (no pictures, sorry).

Friday came, and the weather was fantastic, so I headed east to Pea Ridge for a riding and running session at the Pea Ridge Military Park. I've talked briefly about this place before, but I really can't say enough great things about the place.

The 4,300 acre site played a pivotal role in the Civil War; had things gone just slightly different there, odds are that the confederate forces would've won the war. The park features a small museum with some really cool memorabilia and a superb documentary film about the history of the location. There's also a 6.65-mile paved "trail" that circles most of the park and features some nice hills, tons of scenery, and a whole slew of wildlife. I must have seen 20+ deer, including some massive bucks, a dozen fox, countless hawks, a handful of turkey vultures, and an eagle. It's breathtaking to say the least.

I took a few pictures of the trail - these don't do the place any justice; I was on my bike, riding along at about 20mph and trying to snap a photo with my phone... so, take them for what they're worth - just trust me that it's a great, great place.

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And here's a self portrait of yours truly, while riding on the bike at the trail. The weather was for the most part absolutely perfect - most days the temps were in the mid-to-high 60s, with a few days reaching into the 70s. The weather only turned "bad" around Thanksgiving, when it struggled to hit 30 (more on that in a bit). When I took this photo, it was about 8:30am and right around 55-58F. Not bad for late November, eh?

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Truth be told, I had ventured down to Arkansas with the intention of running in the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon, which was scheduled for Sunday, November 21. I wasn't sure if my legs would be feeling up to a full marathon, so I went for a light run at Pea Ridge on Friday as a final "shake down" run. My legs absolutely didn't feel up to running a full marathon - I suspected they wouldn't be - so, I decided to skip the race. I hadn't registered for it (they allowed registration on-site during packet pick-up), so I wasn't out any real money. And I figured it would be better to avoid a longer-term injury than to force things just for the sake of it. Mentally, I was ready for the race, but my legs (mostly the thigh bones) wanted nothing to do with it - they've been really achy and sore for the past 6+ weeks. I suspect it's related to over-training, but attempts to recover/relax haven't proven to be of much help, so I'm "stuck."

So, I decided to make the most of the nice weather and rode an easy 36 miles around the trail (6 laps) and jogged a single lap. Not much rest, eh? :-) I then went home and cleaned the house - some of my old pals from the bank - Karl, Mandy, and Nat were due to come over for some pizza and a movie.

They all arrived by 7:30pm or so, and we promptly ordered a Gusano's pizza, enjoyed some New Glarus brews, sampled some Monroe cheeses, and then watched Zombieland in the theater. It was excellent to see them all and I forgot how fun the home theater is. Man, I miss that thing! Karl and Mandy stayed over night as they had a trip scheduled for Springfield, MO, and our house happens to be about "mid-way" between Springfield and Fort Smith. So, they crashed at the house while I went out and ran a 10K race in Bentonville on Saturday morning.

I figured that since I wasn't going to be doing the marathon, I could sneak in a smaller race or two. :-) A local organization was hosting a "girls on the run" 10K race, with the proceeds benefiting a local women's organization. I was able to register on Friday and secured a spot at the starting line for Saturday morning. Here we are, about to take off on our 10K jaunt:

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...and some 48 minutes later, I crossed the finish line in 22nd place (out of an even 100 racers) and snapped this picture, back at the Bentonville town square. I was pretty shocked with my time - my legs had been aching all along, but for some reason they felt really strong for this event. Go figure. Maybe the aching is mental??

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The event was well organized - there was a nice finish chute area, complete with Sam Walton's original "red truck":

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And there was even a band, along with a small farmer's market and food court. I didn't really stick around for any of the festivities; I wanted to get back to the house to say farewell to Karl and Mandy before they headed north.

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After seeing them off, I loaded the bike into the car and headed back to Pea Ridge for a nice 60-mile ride (10 laps). The weather was so incredibly great that the time and miles just flew by. I could've kept riding, but Amy had a birthday party for some coworkers, and I was lucky enough to score an invite to the event, so we car-pooled to the local Irish Pub and had some dinner, drinks, birthday cake, and good times. Here's the crew from the animal shelter, all assembled for the party:

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Not much took place on Sunday - a light run around the walking trail followed by some grocery shopping and washing of the dogs (they'd been pretty stinky, so Amy and I took them down to the shelter and gave 'em a good sudsing). We wrapped-up the evening by watching the Simpsons, Cleveland Show, and Family Guy.

Monday included more riding and running, doing some "remote" work, and running some errands. Nothing too exciting. I did get to catch-up with some friends from my previous job at the bank, which was really great, but only made me miss "the good old days" even more than I already do.

Tuesday was a repeat of Monday - lunch with friends from the bank, riding, and running at Pea Ridge.

Wednesday saw some amazing weather, so, naturally I rode and ran a bunch at the military park. Why is it that my legs felt so stellar after I decided to forego the marathon??? I suppose it didn't hurt that the temperature was well into the 70s for most of Wednesday:

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We also prepped some things for Thanksgiving - I made the stuffing on Wednesday night, along with the beer bread. I also brined the turkey so that come Thursday, all we'd have to do was roast the turkey, reheat the stuffing, and make the potatoes and gravy.

I also caught wind of a 5K race on Thanksgiving morning, so I decided to brave the elements and drove down to Springdale's Arvest Ballpark for the 3rd annual Springdale Turkey Trot.

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The weather wasn't nearly as nice as it had been... in fact, it was downright nasty - 32F, raining and sleeting, with 25-35mph winds from the north. Here's a shot from inside of the car, just before the race started:

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And surprise, surprise, I had an absolutely great race. I finished the 5K in just under 23 minutes, which was good for 4th place in my age group... I missed a medal by 14 seconds. Had I known the guy in front of me was in my group, I would've kicked-it in earlier and tried to pass him rather than just trying to "survive" the elements. Oh well.

Thoroughly frozen and soaked well to the bone, I drove home (windows fogging the entire way), and promptly fired-up the thanksgiving feast. We decided to be a bit conservative with the turkey this year... :-) If you'll recall, I usually like to buy a turkey that's quite "oversized" - I believe we've had 18-20lb turkeys for previous meals... this year, we went with a modest 11-pound bird, and it turns out it was just about perfect.

It cooked in just over 2 hours and we still had enough left-overs for a few extra sandwiches. :-)

Here's the bird, after spending a few hours in the 'ole roastification machine:

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And accompanying the fowl was my infamous sage sausage apple walnut stuffing:

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And last but not least, the garlic gorgonzola mashed potatoes:

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We assembled it all together with some corn, beer bread, and a really decent merlot to make a rather tasty plate:

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Here's a close-up of my plate - I can't describe how great it was. The smaller turkey seemed to really take the brine a lot better than the larger turkeys did - it was so tender and packed with flavor. It's quite honestly one of the best turkeys I've ever had, if I do say so myself... and those potatoes - wow. Roasted garlic + gorgonzola + russet potatoes = WIN.

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For dessert, we debated about doing a pie (apple), but then figured it would just get "scarfed" down and lead to an over-full belly situation. So, we opted for something a bit unusual: gourmet cupcakes from a new local cupcakery in Bentonville. We went with a pumpkin with cream cheese cupcake and an Oreo cupcake:

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Turns out the cupcakes didn't really satisfy my insatiable sweet-tooth, so we ventured over to WalMart and grabbed a few cookies to help finish things off. I later complained about being too full and swearing that I'd never eat another sweet ever again. We'll see how long that promise lasts... :-D (I'm guessing it won't last too long)

We also went to a movie and went for a walk to help work off some of the turkey. The weather was still cold for most of Thursday - I think it barely hit 35F, as evidenced by the ice on the trees in our backyard:

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Friday came much too early, and I was back at the park, running and riding while Amy went to work. I ran a few errands that afternoon, did some more work, and called it an early evening. Saturday was more of the same (riding/running), and then we headed over to Nat's house to watch the Razorback/LSU game - which was a phenomenal game. We also got to see Nat's dog Tanner, who promptly made herself comfortable on Nat's "big red chair":

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We not only got to see Nat and Tanner, but we also got to hang out with Tonia (aka "T-bone"), another friend from the bank. I hadn't seen her in over 2-years, so it was cool to catch-up and to hear about everything that's gone on since 2008. After the game, Amy and I headed to dinner and then called it an early night. My plans for Sunday included getting up by 3:00am and hitting the road back to Wisconsin... boo.

And, so, there you have it. Here I am in the trusty Prius, watching the sunrise somewhere in northern Missouri:

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Not a bad vacation, even if I didn't really vacation much. I did a bunch of work remotely, but for some reason, I enjoy working remotely. I'm now back in Wisconsin, where it's 31F outside, windy, and apparently about ready to snow (lightly). Nice.

So, despite my best intentions to give my legs a rest, I somehow managed to run for 9-consecutive days with total mileage of 56.08, and riding totals that included 7-days of riding for a total of 216.7 miles. Not bad for a guy whose legs have otherwise failed him. I guess it was the nice weather and the awesome environment? I also noticed that I had little-to-no achiness the entire time, so now I'm really stumped.

Oh, and here's the customary t-shirt and race bib(s) photo. Enjoy - I'm off to bed - been up since 3:15am today, drove 700+ miles, picked-up Shiloh, unloaded the car, cleaned the apartment, and did some light grocery shopping. I'm beat!

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Went on a "beer run" and a "tunnel ride"

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Howdy, folks! Sorry for the delay in providing an update on the weekend's events - the daylight savings change appears to have wrecked havoc with my internal clock; I found myself falling asleep on Sunday night at around 8:00pm, and I was extremely busy with work yesterday, so I'm just getting a chance to update the 'ole blog now (during my lunch hour).

Not much to report other than I ran another half-marathon on Saturday and then went on an awesome bike ride with a co-worker on Sunday. No fish fry updates - I've been working with a nutritionist to help level-out my diet a bit, and as such am on a rather strict and structured plan through Thanksgiving. So far, so good - not many cravings, added a few calories, and am seeing some subtle improvements with recovery and body composition.

So, about that half-marathon. I was really nervous heading into it because my legs have been so sore, especially for the last five-to-six weeks. I had cut-down on my long runs in an effort to help recover, and while it probably helped my legs, it made me a little uneasy about the race... I'd normally like to be averaging 45-50 miles per week going into a half-marathon; I think I was closer to around 35 miles per week. But, they say it's better to be slightly "undertrained" than "overtrained," so I took my chances.

The half-marathon was held in Lake Mills, and was managed by the Tyranena Brewery. For those who are paying attention to my online diary, you'll no doubt recognize that name - they hosted an awesome bike ride a few weeks ago and have also become one of my favorite local breweries.

Truth be told, I wasn't much of a fan of Tyranena's beverages until just a few years ago. And quite honestly, I never really enjoyed beer at all until around 2007 - for some reason I hated the taste, the smell, and everything else about it. I'm not sure what changed, but I slowly grew to "tolerate" a lite beer every so often... and then I got into appreciating the more complex beers: bocks, dopplebocks, cask-conditioned ales, Scottish ales, and eventually (gasp!) imperial pale ales. Somewhere along the line, I rediscovered Tyranena's offerings and really took a shine to their Rocky's Revenge and some of their speciality/seasonal offerings (Oktoberfest, Shaggin' in the Woods, and "Spank Me Baby" (odd name, fantastic beverage)).

So it turns out that Tyranena not only crafts some fine beverages, they also know a thing or two about sponsoring and hosting athletic events. The bike race, as mentioned earlier, was absolutely stellar, and this weekend's foot race was no different - it was superbly managed in every respect. Rob, Stacey, and the rest of the Tyranena crew definitely deserve a massive round of applause for their hard work on these events!

I loaded-up the car on Saturday morning and made my way to Lake Mills, where I was shocked to find cars lined-up on the Interstate's exit ramp - all of them were waiting to exit the Interstate and make their way to the brewery. Apparently the 1700 participants (900 in the half-marathon, 800 in the one-sixth-marathon) all planned on arriving to the race about an hour early, just like me. :-)

Rather than take the prescribed route to the brewery, I snuck my way down some side streets and scored a good parking spot while dodging most of that long line of cars. I grabbed my registration packet, adorned my race bib and timing chip, and did some light stretching. The weather was cool - about 40F, but sunny, and there was just a slight breeze.

The brewery had an excellent DJ on-site; he was playing great pre-race music, and folks really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The pre-race atmosphere was calm and relaxed - there wasn't any confusion or uncertainty; another testament to Tyranena's organizational skills.

The starting horn sounded at 11:30am and I, along with about 900 other half-marathoners, took off for our 13.1-mile trek around Lake Mills. We headed down Mulberry street to the town square, then headed west toward the north side of Rock Lake. I started about mid-pack and chuckled to myself for the first 4 miles or so... I was getting passed by a bunch of folks, whom I could only assume had no idea about the hills that awaited them...

We exited North Shore park and made our way into Shorewood Hills, which is an upscale neighborhood on the northwest side of Rock Lake and features some respectable hills - 4 large rollers, to be exact. I passed about 150 people in those hills - the very same folks who raced past me just a few miles earlier. :-)

I was averaging about an 8:30 mile and was feeling good. My legs were doing well, which was a pleasant surprise.

We left Shorewood Hills by way of Korth park, then made our way to the Glacial Drumlin trail. The trail took us past the south end of Rock Lake and dumped us out on the southeast side of town, near the industrial park. We weaved around the industrial park for a bit before heading east on Highway B. From Highway B, we turned onto Tyranena Road (Highway V) for about 1.5 miles, which brought us back to the brewery.

I finished in 1 hours and 54 minutes - good for #309 out of 859 finishers. I averaged 8:43 per mile - not great, but not awful. I had really hoped to stick closer to my 8:30 target, but considering how I had been feeling for the previous few weeks, I was content with the result.

Post-race conditions are usually what define the success or failure of an event for me, and here's where Tyranena excels - they know how to take care of the participants after an event. As we crossed the finish line we were guided into a "recovery tent," which featured tons of post-race-friendly food options, mylar heat blankets, Gatorade, water, and our finisher medals. It was such a smooth operation!

Here's the inside of the tent, just as I entered it:

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Here's one of the food/snack tables:

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And the ever popular peanut butter sandwich and cookies table (of which I didn't partake!):

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I regret to report that I didn't induldge in any of the post-race offerings, other than a bottle of water and the finisher's medal. I had planned to consume a recovery drink following the race (Hammer Nutrition's Recoverite), and then I was going to meet-up with the Topels for some dinner, so I passed on the goodies. Here I am with my medal and my Recoverite:

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As I made my way out of the tent, I was tempted by the thought of walking over to the general public tent, which featured a lasagna dinner and complimentary Tyranena beers, but alas, I was determined to stick with my nutrition plan. It was especially difficult to pass up the post-race meal because the DJ was playing tunes and people were obviously having a good time. Here's a quick shot of the crowd as I made my way to the exit:

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When I got to my car, I snapped a quick customary "post race" photo of my race bib and gear. You'll note the bags of pet food beneath my stuff - the Tyranena race also served to benefit both the Jefferson County Humane Society and the Lake Mills Food Pantry. The brewery requested that in addition to paying the entry fee that participants donate a few food items for the Food Pantry - which I did - but I also decided to donate a few bags of pet food to the Humane Society, too. You've got to take care of the homeless dogs and cats!

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After leaving the brewery, I went to Dan's shop where I worked on my car (oil change, transmission fluid flush, tire rotation, and so on), and then joined Dan for dinner at the local Mexican restaurant. Dan was on wrecker duty that evening, so we called it an early night and I headed back to Madison.


For Sunday, I had vowed to follow a "proper" recovery plan after the half-marathon and do nothing but rest and maybe "enjoy" an ice bath, but with the weather being as nice as it was (65F, sunny, mild breeze), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sneak-in a final bike ride with my co-worker Dan (not the same Dan from Lake Mills). We had planned to do a ride the previous weekend, but things didn't work out... thankfully we were able to get together this weekend!

Dan had heard about a bike trail that ran from Madison to Monroe and included a journey through a train tunnel. It sounded odd but intriguing, so we met-up at Dan's house at around 1pm and hit the trail, headed south.

After riding about 18 miles south of Madison, we arrived at the tunnel's entrance:

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It was pretty interesting - the temperature outside of the tunnel was a solid 10-degrees lower than it had been on the previous portion of the trail. Granted, it was shady in the area, but it was odd that the temperature was so drastically different.

We turned on our lights (and phones for extra light) and proceeded through the 1200-foot long tunnel, which was absolutely pitch black inside. It was cool and a little eery.

Here we are making our way to the other side of the tunnel:

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I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect on the ride - I wasn't sure why Dan was so excited to go see the tunnel, but after visiting it I'll be the first to admit that the tunnel was extremely neat. Dan read that the tunnel was built in the mid-1800s, which made things even more cool. I'd love to go back through there with better lighting so that we could see what the inside looked like. With our minimalist lighting, we didn't get to see much other than a small patch of gravel directly in front of our tires. The sound of pigeons cooing around us was a bit unnerving because we didn't realize they were pigeons until after the fact. They sounded a bit like ghosts... :-)

Here we are on the other side of the tunnel - you may recognize Dan from previous photos/entries - he also did the Tyranena Bike Ride with us (back in October):

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With daylight fading quickly, we decided to turn around and head back to Madison; when all was said and done, we had covered just over 35 miles - not bad for a final ride of the season, and definitely not bad for an early November! Not what I had planned for a "restful kickoff to recovery," but it was definitely worth it.

When I got home, I donned my compression recovery gear, had dinner, and went to bed extremely early. Not a bad weekend, and even though I didn't do a fish fry, I didn't really miss it too much (nor did I crave it). ;-) I'll do my best to catch-up on some fish frys over the winter, but I really want to focus on good nutrition during the off season, so the reviews might not be as frequent as they were last year.

Enjoy your week - I'll check-in again soon. I'm looking forward to a quiet week (light exercise only (swimming, lifting) - no running until Friday).

Weekend update

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Greetings, folks. Hope everyone had a good weekend. I had a rather busy weekend; it started on Friday evening with swimming sinking for 45 minutes at the gym, followed by a trip to the grocery store to stock-up for the weekend/week. I've discovered that my favorite time to go grocery shopping is at around 9:00pm on Friday nights because there's no one in the store, and the stores are fully-stocked in preparation for the weekend rush. I can get in and out of the stores pretty quickly, and parking is plentiful, so it's a win-win.

I woke-up early on Saturday with the intention of going for a bike ride and a run, but the weather didn't seem to get my memo... it was cool with a moderate wind and a light rain, so that meant no riding outdoors. The alternative was the trainer, which I absolutely dread using, so I sat and stared at it for a solid hour before forcing myself to crank out a boring 1.5 hours on the thing. I'm not looking forward to winter...

After the ride, I hit the road for a run - I've been running shorter distances for the past week in an effort to rest my legs a bit, so yesterday I decided to resume some normal mileage - managed to get just over 10 miles in, and I missed most of the rain.

Made an awesome egg sandwich (english muffin, 4 egg whites, 1 slice apple smoked turkey bacon, 1 slice of 1% sharp cheddar, 1 Tbsp garlic roasted salsa) and then headed to the library for a few hours. I returned home only to find my neighbors in the midst of UW badger game parties, which meant my apartment was incredibly "noisy" - I could hear both neighbors hootin' and hollerin' clear as day. Joy.

So, I decided to go to the movies, where I saw The Social Network - a movie about Facebook. I'm not a fan of Facebook, but I really enjoyed the movie - it was well made, interesting, and it kept my attention for the full 2 hours. Win.

Today, I woke-up early and once again cursed the weather. It was raining pretty steadily and I had a race planned for this morning - a 15K run that's put on by the UW Running Club. I don't really mind running in the rain too much, and upon quick glance of the thermometer, I saw it was 55F, so I figured all would be ok.

I loaded-up the rain gear, filled a water bottle with my pre-race fuel (EFS with .25 scoops of whey protein), and hopped in the car for the short drive over to Werner Park, where the race was being hosted. I grabbed my registration packet and then went back to my car, where I waited for the race to start.

And that's when the light sprinkle turned into a downpour. Buckets of water seemingly fell from the skies. And it wasn't a comfy summer rain - no sir, this was your typical "bone chilling fall rain," and to make matters even better, a 15mph wind kicked in. This was looking a lot like my triathlon conditions from a few weeks ago... joy again.

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I waited until the last possible moment before getting out of the car and making my way to the starting line, where I was greeted with a 10-minute wait for the start of the race. The race was a bit disorganized to say the least... which was a shock because I figured the UW would know how to run an event.

The whole experience was weird - picking up my packet was complicated and time consuming, complete with a super long line (for no apparent reason). The race started late for reasons unknown. The actual start was unusual - some random guy walked up to where everyone was milling around, and without a bullhorn or anything like that simply yelled "GO." I think everyone was surprised to see the first few runners taking off, because there was quite a "hiccup" to the start - people were turned the wrong way and didn't see other runners leaving, so they got bumped into/run over a bit.

And so I ran 15K (9.6 miles) around the Werner Park/Mendota Hills area, and I must say that whomever designed the course was both unimaginative and sadistic. Hills galore - and not just small/medium hills, mixed with a lot of "repeating loops" - we ran many of the same roads several times, which is super annoying to me. I hate running "laps" in a race - I'd rather see as much new scenery as possible while out and about.

The race ended - my time was 1:16 (oh, they also didn't have any timing system, so my watch kept my "official" time). Not great, but not bad. Here I am in the car, soaked to the bone and feeling rather chilly:

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After the race, I drove over to the local farmers market to buy some bison, then headed back to the apartment. I debated between taking a shower or loading-up the bike and joining my favorite local bike shop for their final group ride of the year. The skies were clearing, so I opted to go for the bike ride, which was supposed to be an "easy 30-mile route at a comfortable pace."

Turns out it was slightly longer and slightly faster than I initiall thought it would be. Our small group did a 45-mile route that we rode at an average pace of 20.7 mph. And, to make my legs feel even better, there were plenty of hills. :-)

And, despite the mercury showing 62F, it felt like about 45F for some reason (probably the damp air + wind). We finished the ride with a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop, and then I headed back to the apartment. I was starving - all I'd eaten so far was my pre-race drink, a post-race recovery drink, and a Hammer Gel (compliments of Collin, the owner of Cronometro - thanks, Collin, I owe you one!!) while on the ride... total calories: about 375.

I can't say enough great things about the Cronometro guys - Collin, Scott, Andrew and the rest of the crew are just fantastic folks to deal with. They've done a great job of helping me out with warranty items as well as with general maintenance and purchases. If you're ever in need of some bicycling equipment or some excellent service work, go see Collin and the guys. I'm definitely going to do some more of their group rides next year as well.

Once at the apartment, I fired-up the shower and soaked myself in the warmest water that I could stand. I made some dinner (bison steak, roasted broccoli, black beans, and a scoop of corn) and am now sitting on the couch trying to warm up. I'm still freezing!

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The blaze orange hat was in my race goodie bag - it says "UW Running Club Fall 15K." It may be the best thing I've ever received in a goodie bag! And last but not least, I'm also watching the shoot-out between the Packers and Vikings - holy cats have there been some big throws so far!

Enjoy your week - I'll check-in with you later on.

Oh - I almost forgot to ask about this... while in the Dells last weekend, I spied a totally awesome motorcycle, but I have no idea what model or year it is. It's obviously a Harley, but I cannot determine the model or model year. If anyone has any ideas or info, please let me know!

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Yesterday was the 8th annual Tyranena Oktoberfest Bike Ride event, as hosted by the Tyranena Brewery in Lake Mills. The event draws 1750 bicyclists from the midwest and has become an incredibly popular event - it sells out every year - so I made sure to get my registration in early.

I also managed to convince a few friends to join me on the ride, which offers several course routes, with distances of 18, 30, 45, and 65 miles. We decided to do the 45 mile ride - it would be a challenging ride and would help justify the post-ride feast. :-)

The weather here in Wisconsin is "unique," to say the least. All last week, the weather was phenomenal - low 70s, sunny, calm winds - just gorgeous. It rained on one evening, but was otherwise unbelievable. The weekend forecast started out great, but quickly went downhill. When Saturday morning finally arrived, the temperature (at ride start) was just barely over 40, with a relentless northerly wind that clocked an average of 15-20 mph. NICE.

My morning began at 5:30am with a nice 8.15-mile run. I say the run was "nice" because I actually felt great during the run - something that hasn't happened for quite some time. I effortlessly cranked out the miles and even managed a respectable pace of 8:31/mile. I'm not sure why my legs decided to "play nice" but they did and I wasn't about to complain. After the run, I took a quick shower, packed my things, loaded my bike into the car and drove over to my friend's (and co-worker) house in Fitchburg.

We decided to drive to the event together - he has a truck, so we could easily fit our bikes in his vehicle, and with 1750 people at the small brewery, we figured carpooling would help the parking situation. We left his house promptly at 8:30am and made our way to Lake Mills, where our plan was to drive to Dan's shop, unload and set-up, and then ride our bikes down to the Brewery.

We arrived to the Brewery at about 10:00am and were shocked by the number and volume of people. It really is a huge event. The Brewery does an excellent job of managing the event - there were plenty of large tents set-up, registration was quick and painless, the "goodie bag" was really nicely done, the staff and volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable, and best of all, the route map was clear and easy to read. I had a good feeling about this event and we hadn't even hit the road!

After donning our number tags and wristbands, we made a final "pitstop" and then set about on our 45-mile voyage. The first stop on the ride was at the Trek factory in Waterloo, WI, and our route took us through downtown Lake Mills, around Rock Lake, and down some quiet country roads. We bucked the wind for the entire first leg - 11-ish miles of an unforgiving headwind.

The Trek facility had set-up a few tents with food and water; people were eating the food as fast as the volunteers could get it out there. I believe they had peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and some sweet treats (I didn't eat anything at the stops). Just like at the brewery, the volunteers here were superb. They happily dished out large amounts of food, all with a smile and with nary a complaint or grimmace.

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Trek also invited everyone to take a "tour" of the factory, but it turns out the tour wasn't much more than an invitation to stroll around in a "hall of Lance." It was sort of disappointing, although there were some interesting items. I've highlighted a few of them here:

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They had all of Lance Armstrong's bikes from the various Tour de France efforts; each bike featured a brief story/background, along with some minor technical details.

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They had a mock set-up of the current Trek/Radio Shack team, complete with Lance's current ride. I'm not sure if the mannequins were true to scale, but it looked as if they might have been.

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There was also a section that included some Trek history; I thought this passage about how Trek was created in a Lake Mills tavern was rather interesting...

And after the "tour," Dan, Dan, and I posed for a self-portrait in front of the Trek factory sign. It's not the greatest photo, but it's sort of cool:

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After snapping that photo, we made our way back to our bikes and prepared to head out for the next section of the ride. Despite the temperatures being quite frigid and the wind still plenty blustery, I found myself a bit warm. I had layered "heavily" - a wool t-shirt, a wool long-sleeve shirt, a wind-proof Under Armor shirt, two fleece half-zip shirt/jackets, and a wind-proof/water-proof bicycling jacket. I needed to lose the fleece jackets...

My jacket has several pockets for storing water bottles, and try as I might to roll them as tightly and compact as possible, I wasn't real comfortable. Thankfully, my friend Chris offered to store them in his knapsack - he had thoughtfully brought along an empty knapsack, and I took him up on the offer. Thank you, Chris - you're a lifesaver!

In the interest of keeping as much stuff "out of the wind," he tucked the knapsack under his sweatshirt, which resulted in a Quassimoto look - we all got a chuckle from it:

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Trust me - Chris does NOT have a hunchback.

And with that, we were back on the road - we left Waterloo and headed east, using back roads and so on. Our route would take us to Jefferson, where there was another rest stop. We decided to skip the stop - we had warmed-up, our legs felt good, and we kept riding.

Unfortunately, when we left Jefferson on highway J, Dan quickly discovered that J would intersect with highway G... in a very hilly section. I personally don't mind the hills (I sort of enjoy them, actually), but Dan and Dan were starting to feel the effects of 40-ish miles of riding. To their credit, they took on the hills without hesitation, and even with that nasty headwind blasting them straight-on, they conquered the hills. Kudos, my friends!

We deviated slightly from the course to take advantage of our proximity to Dan's shop; the course map would've had us go around the east side of Lake Mills and then loop around to the Brewery on highway B. We kept heading north on highway G and eventually landed at the shop. My odometer showed 48.89 miles of total riding. Not a bad effort, especially given the brutal winds.

Dan's folks were at the shop where they treated us to a 3 Musketeers bar. We also took a "finisher" photo:

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We loaded the bikes into Dan's truck, changed our clothes, and then drove down to the Brewery where a celebration lunch was waiting for us, complete with Tyranena beer, soda, and several live bands. Tyranena certainly knows how to throw a post-ride bash!

The meal included a pulled-pork sandwich, chips, fresh cut fruit, potato salad, pickles, and cookies. I skipped the potato salad but tried everything else - it was superb! The food came from Glen's Catering in Watertown, and I can't say enough good things about the food and service. It was so fantastic.

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We were able to find a table with some open seats, so we settled-in, wolfed down our grub, enjoyed a few beverages, and listened to the bands. The tents did a great job of blocking the wind and helping to contain the heat that was being generated by the 1000 or so people that were on-hand for the celebration.

Here's our group, sitting at the table after our ride:

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We stayed at the lunch for about an hour or so and then Dan and I headed back into Madison. I was freezing, Dan was tired, and the thought of getting home to shower was a much stronger argument than staying at the post-ride event. So, we hopped into the truck and made our way home:

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Interesting side note: Dan's wife Becky was one of my teammates for the Madison-to-Chicago 200 race. She's quite a runner!

Once home, I enjoyed a wonderful shower (I think I emptied the hot water heater), straightened-up the apartment, and washed all of my riding gear. I also had the pleasure of learning that Dan, Tara, and their kids (Mallory and Christian) would be coming in to Madison to join me for some dinner. Mallory and Christian were going to stay at the apartment and watch TV (Mallory is old enough to babysit and does a wonderful job of it) while Dan, Tara and I went out for some chow.

I made a quick stop at the local Sonic to grab dinner for Mallory and Christian, and then Dan, Tara, and I made our way over to Roman Candle for some pizza!!

We ordered two pizzas: a "Professional" (chicken, pesto, bacon, jalapenos)

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and a "Supreme" (sausage, mushroom, onion, pepperoni):

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After enjoying that pizza, we hit the Hubbard Avenue Diner for some pie, and I was a complete glutton as I had two slices: a banana cake and a peanut butter cream pie. Both were so amazingly stellar - especially with a hot pot of coffee as a chaser. Yummo.

Dan & the family left for home and I hit the hay. I woke-up this morning and did a 50-mile ride, followed by another stellar 8-mile run. As I mentioned before, I'm not sure why the 'ole legs are feeling so good, but I'm not going to question it too much!

I'll definitely be registering for next year's Tyranena ride - it was a great time, and I really had a blast, especially since I got to ride it with my friends. Yes, the weather was challenging, but it was worth it in every way. Thanks to all for joining me on the ride, and thanks to Tyranena for putting on an outstanding event - the event went off with out a hitch, the staff was incredible, the volunteers were life-savers, and everything was so superb. I can't say enough great things about the event! If you haven't done this event, please consider attending next year - you'll love it!

Worst. Triathlon. Ever.

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...and I'm friggin' freezin', Mr. Bigglesworth. (That's a quote from Austin Powers)

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Devil's Lake State Park, Sunday, September 19, 2010: Steve has his worst triathlon effort ever. End of story.

Still there? Sorry if you are... you're about to hear a tale of disgust and failure, complete with yarns about the world's worst swimmer, a pitiful biking effort, and a geriatric running event, all with a bout of mild hypothermia mixed-in for good measure.

The morning started off innocently enough - the skies were overcast, there was a mild (sub 10mph) breeze, a rain had just rolled through town, the temperatures were climbing to the mid-to-high-40s, and a light foggy mist hovered over an otherwise serene Devil's Lake. The forecast called for the mercury to rise into the high 50s by 10am, with only a "slight" chance for rain.

Having registered and paid for the non-refundable event way back in June, I figured that even if it was chillier than I'd prefer, it wasn't a good enough excuse to stay in bed this morning, so I woke-up promptly at 5:00am, loaded the car, grabbed some water, fed the cat, and hit the road for Devil's Lake Park.

I arrived at about 6:30am and promptly set-up my transition area. I had gotten there early enough that I was able to find a comfy/roomy spot - things were looking good:

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With my space set-up, I made my way to the registration center so that I could claim my number, grab a t-shirt, and receive my body marking (they use black markers on your arms and legs to identify your race number and starting wave/group). It was about 7:00am - I still had an hour or so before the race would start, so I snapped a quick picture with my number and went back to my transition area:

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The place started to fill-up quickly; I believe they predicted 1200 entrants. The weather probably scared a few folks away, but as you can see here, the transition area was becoming a bit more crowded. I believe this picture was taken at about 7:15.

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The weather still felt chilly; people were donning their wetsuits and taking warm-up swims, to which I paid close attention - the Devil's Lake website showed water temperatures were in the high 60s; last year they were in the mid 60s and the water felt really warm. I'm not a fan of the wetsuit - it's so hard for me to get in and out of (I'm afraid of tearing it) that it slows my transitions beyond any benefit the suit would provide.

So, I asked folks how the water felt, and the responses ran the gamut... "Cold," "Great," "Comfortable," "Not bad," "Freezing," "Warm," "About average." Great - that's a lot of help... I dipped my foot in near the shore and it felt really cold, but I reasoned the shallow water would likely be colder than the deeper body of water. I'd made up my mind: no wetsuit today.

Besides, I had been swimming a lot - I'm up to 1500m in the pool, and I've been going 6 days a week, without fail, since late June. I still lack speed with my swimming, but I've been able to crank out the yards without a ton of effort (in practice).

The race started promptly at 8:00am. I was in group 6, which meant my start time was around 8:30. While I was waiting for my group to start, I snapped a picture of one of the waves as they hit the water:

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After taking the photo, I went back to my transition area, took off my warm-up gear, double-checked my things, and made my way to the beach. The temperature was still freezing - I was shivering uncontrollably as I waited another 15 minutes for our group to be called to the water. I overheard more than one person give thanks for their wetsuit simply because it was keeping them warm while waiting. Good call.

The siren went off, and we hit the water, and that's when I promptly lost my breath. The water was freezing - try as I might, I couldn't get any air - the cold sapped all of my air and my muscles instantly started to "scream." Great, only 500 yards to go, I thought.

My swimming is AWFUL. I'm the absolute worst, and it's so frustrating. I practiced every day, focused on technique, hired a coach to help (I had eight lessons), and I still stink. I promptly fell to the back of the pack and struggled for the entire 500 yards. Rather than swim with an easy, measured crawl like I'd practiced, I found myself doing a side-stroke and breast-stroke in an attempt to keep my head above water so I could breathe. I even got passed by the next wave of swimmers... talk about embarrassing.

I came out of the water and was greeted by - rain. Yep, it had started raining, and the rain wasn't any light rain. No sir, it was a real downpour, and it was freezing cold. I didn't pack any rain gear (nice planning, Steve), so I rifled through my transition bag to find an extra longsleeve shirt before hitting the road for my 15-odd miles of super hilly riding.

The climbs went really well - the course has a few nice long hills that the majority of folks walk their bikes up. And just like last year, I encountered several people on the hills that were panting, crying and vomiting. Hee, hee. I motored on by.

But, that's where the fun ended... as I made my way through the course, the rain, wind, and temperature were relentless. I quickly found myself shivering uncontrollably once again - almost convulsing. My bike wobbled from the shivering; my legs were trembling; my hands were cramping. Any time I hit 20+mph, the wind and rain would cut through me like a knife. I thought seriously about quitting - I was afraid I was going to crash because I could barely move my hands to hit the brakes or to shift gears.

The only time I felt somewhat comfortable was when climbing hills - my speed would dip to about 12-15mph and I felt a little "warm," but it still was anything but enjoyable. I checked my heart rate and was shocked to see that it was struggling to hit 120 bpm. Normally it would be around 145-150 bpm. My average speed was low as well, primarily because I was purposely trying to keep my speed low when descending hills.

I arrived back to the park after an hour, for an average speed of an embarrassingly slow 14.8mph. Last year I averaged just under 20mph. I was ready to drop-out; I was shivering so hard that my teeth hurt and I couldn't undo my helmet or shoes. I figured I'd grab my jacket for warmth but was punched in the gut by mother nature - the rain had soaked everything in my bag. It soaked my shoes, my socks, my pants, everything. Nice.

Two guys next to me dropped out - they were in the same boat as I was. Too cold, shivering, and bordering on having hypothermia. I decided to wring-out my socks, pour the water from my shoes and trudge through the 5k of running.

The run went a little better; at about the 2-mile mark, I started to generate a little heat and I felt better, although I was still running in a semi-fetal position, trying to keep warm. I saw the ambulance haul somebody away at one point on the course.

I managed to pass about 40-45 people on the run, and finished the race with an overall time of 2:15:00 (that's from the start of the first wave)... my time was probably around 1:45 or so, which is so incredibly bad that I should be banned from ever racing ever again. I didn't stick around to see the official results - I'd rather forget this race ever took place.

After crossing the finish line, I turned-in my timing chip, grabbed a water and packed my things back into the car. I normally do a race bib/gear shot, but since this was such an upside down race, I figured this picture would be most appropriate for summing-up this disgraceful day:

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I drove up to the Dells, had some really awful pizza for lunch, and then drove home with the heater set to 85F while drinking the hottest coffee I've ever had (and enjoyed). As I sit here now, I feel like I might get sick... in hindsight, I should've stayed home today, rode the trainer, swam at the pool, and ran with some proper rain gear. UGH.

No Great Taste / ...and in other news

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Folks, I'm somewhat upset to report that I did not attend this year's annual Great Taste of Madison.

I thought about attending, almost to the point of fantasizing myself silly over it, but ultimately decided against it for a couple of reasons: there would likely be a ton of people that would eventually get on my nerves; the food is always sub-par (mix "tent" cooking + cranking out a ton of food and what would you expect?); the cost to attend would be a bit outrageous when weighed against the net experience; and, the weather was a bit chilly.

The news stations and newspapers covered the event in great detail and really made it sound like "the place to be," but at $5 for parking (minimum), plus $5/drink, plus an average of around $4/food item (most of which is deep-fried), it just didn't make sense. So, I stayed home for all of my meals this weekend, which is actually a good thing - I've been sticking to the diet really well and I've had zero cravings for anything bad. I credit the focus on low-glycemic load foods for my stability. :-)

I had to make a new batch of black beans today, and man, I can't get over how much I love these things. They don't look real good while cooking, though:

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But they taste absolutely amazing. Plus, they're easy to make and are really, really good for you. Here's the recipe:

16oz bag of Goya Black Beans
1 green pepper, cut into quarters
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp black pepper
4 Tbsp minced garlic
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
A few pinches of kosher salt

1. Wash the beans carefully - I like to use a salad spinner; I put the beans in the basket, rinse them with a ton of water, and then spin them to shake out any particles.

2. In a large sealable plastic container (I have a 4-qt Lexan container), add all of the ingredients, and then fill with water until the water is about 1" above the height of the beans.

3. Place the beans in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Check them periodically and add water to keep the level at least 1" above the height of the beans. I usually have to top-off the water 2 times.

4. Transfer the entire contents of the plastic container to a large stainless steel pot or dutch oven.

5. Bring the beans to a boil and allow to boil for five (5) minutes, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer. Allow beans to simmer for about 2-hours. Keep water level just at "bean level" - I usually have to top-off with warm water once.

6. At the 2-hour mark, check on the beans - you don't want them to get mushy... they should be just ever-so-slightly firm. Remove them from the heat and strain them when they have an "al-dente" consistency. Pick out the bay leaves and any really large pieces of peppers and/or onions.

7. Enjoy. I usually eat .5c of cooked beans at dinner - I hit them with a little pepper for just a bit more "kick," but it's up to you as to whether or not you add any additional seasoning.


Aside from making beans and eating at home, I managed to take advantage of the weather by riding 200-miles this weekend and running a bunch.

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Not bad for a 3-day weekend's worth of riding, eh? :-) True, it was chilly - especially in the early morning hours, but I know that fall/winter are coming so I'm trying to sneak in as much outdoor riding as possible.

I rode about 75 miles on Saturday - left at 7:00am (temperature = 49F, with a strong westerly wind) and got back in at about 10:45am. I rode 75 miles on Sunday - same deal (7:00am - 10:30am) but the temperature was nicer and there was less wind. And I finished things off with a gentle "cool-down" 50-mile ride today - left at about 9:30am and got back in at 12:45 or so.

Why a "cool-down" 50-miler? I ran a 10K race in Randolph today - the same race I ran last year on Labor Day - although my race absolutely stunk. I did too much riding and running on Sunday, so my legs weren't as rested or fresh as I would've liked for them to be. I think my finishing time was 52:13 - about an 8:30 mile pace... not great by any means.

As evidence of my tired legs, consider that my time for this race last year was just over 45-minutes... so, I was 7 minutes slower this year - ugh!!! I think I got 4th or 5th place, but there weren't as many participants this year, probably because it was raining cats-and-dogs (complete with countless lightning bolt strikes). I didn't get any photos from the event because of the rain (and I forgot my phone... that'll happen when you leave the house at 5:15am), but here's the customary race bib follow-up photo:

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They changed the race course this year - it was run nearly entirely in-town - Randolph is so small that we had to run two laps to hit the 6.2 mile mark... That's ok, though, as the race benefits the local humane society, and I'm always happy to help a group that supports animal welfare.

Let's see... what else took place this weekend? I saw the movie, The American with George Clooney. A lot of folks complained about the movie being "slow" and "boring" but I found it rather enjoyable. It had a definite "foreign" feel to it, and there were a lot of subtleties to it. If you're looking for an action-packed "shoot-em up" film, look elsewhere.

I saw the movie at the phenomenal Sundance 608 theater in Madison; man, I love that theater. All of the theaters are big, comfortable, feature excellent sound and picture, have reserved seating, and allow you to bring in food/drink (including beer if you so desire).

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And lastly, the cats (Mack and Shiloh) have been especially rambunctious lately - they chase each other around all of the time, ambush one another, and have taken to biting each others' necks (nothing major - one of them will get a little too wild and the other will let out a yowl before they retreat to their respective corners for a breather). Here they are just a few minutes ago in one of their infamous neck-fights... and they're sitting about 10" from my head.

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It's back to work tomorrow - hope everyone out there had an enjoyable (and more exciting than mine) Labor Day Weekend.

Monday, August 16 marked the final game of the Madison Mallards' baseball season, and I was lucky enough to attend it with a few of my best friends. While I only made it to four or five games this year, this one may have been the best of them all - the weather was perfect, the game was good, I had good company, and we sat in the Duck Blind (a seating section that's all inclusive of food and drink).

Here I am with Dan and Tara - we took this picture at around 6:00pm (the game started at 7:00pm). The sun was setting, the temperature was in the low-70s, and there wasn't a hint of humidity to be found - it was so perfect.

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Mark (my friend from work) was due to arrive closer to 7:00pm; he was stuck at work and was slightly delayed (traffic didn't help - seemed as though everyone was trying to get out and about on this nice evening). So, with time to spare, we did a little "shopping" - with the final game of the season, the Mallards sell some of the items from the stadium (namely signage and trinkets). I was able to score two small signs for $15 - I figure I'll find a place to put them in the apartment.

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They had a bunch of really great other things available - Dan had his eye on a couple of larger signs but we figured it would be difficult to lug the signs around all night, so he passed. We made our way back to the Duck Blind and waited for the game to start. Mark arrived in the meantime, so the gang was all there. Here's what the field looked like from our seats:

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And one last picture - the gang's all here, and obviously enjoying themselves:

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In other news, I ran another half-marathon today (Saturday, August 21). It was the second annual Madison Mini Marathon; I saw it last year but didn't register in time to race in it (it has sold out both years), so this year I made sure to register early. They limited registration to 4400 runners - apparently my early registration worked as I received bib #132.

I was nervous about this race as my legs have been absolutely trashed lately - no energy, no stamina, and just sore all of the time. I'd tried everything to help with recovery - extra protein, extra carbs, extra stretching, massage, recovery supplements, but none were doing me any good. I did a long run last weekend and hated every second of it, so the thought of pounding out 13.1 miles had me worried - I figured I'd run the race, hope to finish, and not care about how I placed.

As luck/fate would have it, I saw a few of my "fellow teammates" from the Madison-Chicago 200 race - I ran into them about 5 minutes prior to the start and it was great to catch-up with them, even if it was only for 2-3 minutes.

On a side note, I'm always amazed by how inconsiderate so many people are... prior to running into Heidi, Kim, and Anja, I saw a guy trying to start the race... with his DOG. I mean seriously?! You're going to try to run a half-marathon with your dog in tow? Nevermind that the rules clearly state: "no pets allowed on the course" - let's use some common sense, ok?

A race official tried to kindly remind the gentleman that dogs weren't allowed on the course, and the guy threw a fit. He huffed and puffed about it, and then ran off (probably to his car, and I hope he didn't leave the dog in it) while screaming obscenities at the race official... crikey - the more I encounter people, the more I like animals... I wish the race official would've let the dog run the race without the owner. Holy cats (or dogs).

Well, the race started promptly at 7:00am (on Langdon Street, near the Memorial Union) and I took off, along with 4000 other people.

We ran "up" Langdon, around the capitol, down State Street, past the Kohl Center, through the Arboretum, around the UW-Hospital area, and back to the Memorial Union. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good - at about the 12-mile mark my left knee started to feel a little funky, but it wasn't anything unusual, so I picked-up the pace a bit and tried to finish strong.

My time was a semi-disappointing 1:52:38, for an average pace of 8:32/mile. My last half-marathon time was 1:53:something, so while I improved a bit, it wasn't what I had hoped for. Although, given the condition of my legs prior to the race I guess I can't complain too much.

In the end, my time was good for 773 overall - which put me in the top 20% for finishers. I picked-up my finishers medal, grabbed a bottle of water and then made my way home. The place was a zoo - there was a huge party afterward, complete with the customary "post-race beer" that seems to be so standard here in Wisconsin... beer? after a race? at 9:00am? No thanks.

Upon arriving home, I decided to head over to the pool to soak for a bit, with the hope that the cool water would help my legs recover a bit. So, I went to the pool, gently swam for about 20 minutes, and then went home. The pool water wasn't all that cool, so I fired-up an ice bath at home - ran the tub as cold as it would get and then poured a 20-lb bag of ice into the tub.

icebath.jpg

(for the squeamish, I was still wearing my swimming suit while in the tub - I figured the suit would help insulate me a bit... it didn't, by the way - it was still incredibly cold)

So, all-in-all, not a bad race... here's my customary "race gear" picture - note the hole that I wore in my favorite Smartwool running socks. :-(

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I spent the rest of the afternoon resting on the couch, wearing my compression gear and elevating my feet. I think I'm going to head over to the Sun Prairie Corn Fest for a bit - I was supposed to go with Jed but I just found out that he can't make it, so I'll be flying solo. :-(

Don't really have any good, concise stories to share so I'll just do a brain-dump of sorts... we'll start with training, eating, and recovering.

It's no secret that I probably have some type of eating disorder... I love food - looooove food. And I really seem to love the foods that are just awful for me - donuts, cookies, cupcakes, fish fry, fritters, popcorn, and peanut M&Ms all come to mind as some of my favorite "binge" foods. Without exaggerating in the slightest, I could easily eat a dozen donuts in a sitting, or 5-6 huge cookies, or pounds of deep fried fish.

So I force myself to stay away from these foods, but about once a week, the cravings get the most of me, and I go on a massive food bender. I track every single thing that I eat on Livestrong, and after a day of pigging out, it'll be nothing for me to have consumed 7,500 calories. Not real smart, and not real good for me...

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I then get angry with myself and vow to stop eating badly, and along with the internal lashing that I dole to myself, I crank-up my training efforts while becoming extremely strict with my diet for the rest of the week. Immediately following my binge day, I'll usually do a massive "brick" workout (60+ miles on the bike, followed by 10+ miles running) with the hope that by spending 5 hours working out I'll undo some of the damage that my pig-out caused.

And that leads to over-training, which leads to me being ridiculously sore, which when combined with the low calorie intake for the rest of the week leads to me wanting to eat more to help with recovery, and thus the cycle repeats itself. I can't give myself time to recover because I know that a binge is just around the corner, and so I'm always in a state of hurt... In an effort to treat the hurt and to aid recovery, I use all sorts of "crutches" - recovery drinks (glutamine/protein/carb blends), compression gear, glucosamine supplements, and so on. Rather than treat the symptoms, I need to address the issue and get back into a more realistic regimen.

I've gone back and looked at my old training and diet logs and discovered that as soon as I started to ramp-up my running (to 8+ miles per day), my binges became more frequent and severe. My theory is that running 50+ miles a week while eating around 800 calories per day for 6-days out of the week must deplete something and cause an imbalance of some sorts (highly technical terms, I know), which leads to my monstrous cravings for really bad food.

Prior to the 50+ mile/weeks, I was able to manage my diet really well. I didn't have such crazy cravings and I was able to be responsible. So, after this season's racing is over (I have a few big-distance races remaining), I'm going to rollback my running to around 4 miles per day.

With any luck, that'll help with the cravings, will cause me to eat more responsibly, will ease my overtraining pains (my back is a wreck, and my knees/hip flexors are always killing me), and should result in an all-around better situation. I'll still try to maintain a 800-1000 calorie/day diet, but by reducing my mileage it should be easier to manage over the long-term.

Granted, I won't be in "half-marathon" form all year round, but I'll definitely be in "easy 10K" form, which will allow me to get back up to a half-marathon with 5-6 weeks of training should the need arise. I'm also going to pack on more biking miles, because biking seems to be a lot easier on the body than the 50+ mile running schedule.

We'll see how it goes.

Changing gears to topic #2...

As I didn't have to work this weekend, I took a trip to some of the local farmers markets, as well as a trip out toward Black Earth for some sweet corn. I stumbled across this family farm that has the absolute best sweet corn I've ever had in my life - it's literally like candy - you can eat it 100% raw and it's still unreal.

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I bought 4 ears of this heavenly sweet corn for an unbelievable $1.50. The folks that run the stand are super nice and very knowledgeable - I asked a bunch of dumb questions about the differences between sweet corn and "field corn" and they happily shared their knowledge with me. I also asked how many acres they tend to and how much of it is sweet corn vs. field corn; they pointed to the field 5 yards from where I was standing and said that they usually plant their sweet corn "within" the field corn.

They go "about 9 rows in" and plant "3-4 rows" of sweet corn, which they then harvest completely by hand. They can pick about 100 ears per hour per person, and they pick it each day, early in the morning. The corn that I bought came from this very field just earlier in the morning:

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From Black Earth I made my way back to Madison where I hit a few farmer's markets. I scored some Bison tenderloins, some locally grown chicken, dirt-grown tomatoes, organic mushrooms, and some freshly made pretzel rolls. I scoured the markets for some asparagus, but alas there was none to be found. Oh well, I still had the makings for a really nice dinner... but what to have for dessert? How about grilled peaches? I stopped by Brennan's and grabbed a peach and a pint of blueberries (for morning cereal use).

I roasted the mushrooms, along with some Penzey's Spices California Pepper for a flavor boost.

While the mushrooms were roasting, I brought a pot of water to a boil for the sweet corn and also preheated the grill. While those were coming up to temperature, I made a glaze for my peach - I took 1.5 ounces of Appleton Estates 12-year spiced rum, stirred in a tablespoon of brown sugar, and reduced it over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. I finished it with a touch of local honey and left it to simmer, until I had about 2 tablespoons of liquid left.

I salted and peppered the Bison and threw it on the grill for a total of 6 minutes, which brought it to an otherworldly medium rare (123F). I let the bison rest as I boiled the sweet corn and sliced a tomato. I cut the pretzel roll in half, warmed it in the oven for a few seconds, and was ready to dig-in:

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6 ounces of grilled Bison tenderloin = 200 calories
6 ounces of roasted cremini mushrooms = 60 calories
1 large ear of boiled sweet corn w/ butter spray = 180 calories
1 pretzel roll = 190 calories
1 medium tomato with Mrs. Dash salt-free seasoning = 33 calories
Total calories = 663 calories

A little more than I would've liked to have eaten, but I (you guessed it) rode and ran a lot today, so I'll be OK. I washed it all down with a Diet Root Beer from Point Brewery (man, that's some awesome root beer), and then dug into my dessert - a glazed and grilled peach with 1 tablespoon of my brown sugar/rum/honey glaze (total 179 calories):

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So, even with my monumental dinner feast, I'm still sitting at 1,278 total calories consumed for the day (Recoverite formula following my workout; cereal + protein drink for lunch; and then this dinner), with 3,812 calories burned.

Changing gears again: I saw the movie Inception with Leonardo DiCaprio, and while it was decent, it was incredibly long. I found myself wishing it was over after about 2 hours. Yes, it's intelligent and really well produced, but it got old after a bit; or at least it did for me. I did get to watch it at one of the best movie theaters ever, the Sundance 608 theater at Hilldale. That place is awesome - reserved seating, always nice, perfect sound, and a more mature crowd.

Shifting again: I bought Apple TV for the apartment. I figured that since I don't have cable, I could justify spending a few bucks on the Apple TV unit and renting a season of Man V. Food in HD - the unit and season rental cost about what 2 months of cable would cost...

The Apple TV unit is pretty neat - it allows you to upload all of your iTunes and MP3 files to it, so it not only plays movies and TV shows, it'll play your music as well. It also has a photo album system for your pictures and a bunch of other things. It's pretty nifty and despite only being 720p resolution, the image it produces is fantastic.

And finally, to bring it all home, I finally finished mounting my TV and soundbar, and I believe the apartment is about 99% set-up. I'm not totally crazy about this arrangement, but it seems to work:

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That's it for now. I'm sitting on the couch with the windows open, enjoying the nicer weather (71F, low humuggity), watching a really dumb show on ABC, reading Men's Journal, and crafting this blog entry. I'll catch you later this week.

Weekend trip to Chicago

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Greetings and apologies for not having updated the blog in some time - things have been quite busy, between work, training, and weekend activities (which have not included fish frys - sorry again).

I just got back from a quick run down to Chicago, and boy are my feet tired. (insert rim-shot and cymbal crash)

But seriously, I really did run (by foot) to Chicago this weekend! I was invited to participate in the Madison-to-Chicago-200 or "MC200" race by one of my coworkers, Karl. Karl is the Director of our Enterprise Architecture and Security group and an avid runner. He's also a details-oriented-and-loves-an-extreme-challenge type of guy, so he decided to form a relay team to participate in the MC200. AND he's also one of the best people I've ever met - super helpful, very thoughtful, intelligent, funny, and just plain "nice." (He's also leaving our company to start his own venture - I wish him the very best, and I know he'll do great with his new opportunity!)

The MC200 race is a team-based relay event that covers 200+ miles of continuous running over a single 30-hour block of time. Teams are categorized by a variety of methods - there are "ultra groups" that consist of teams with six (6) or fewer total runners, there are "masters groups" that consist of teams that have an minimum age of 50 or older, there are "corporate teams" that consist of teams where all members work for the same company, and finally, there are "mixed groups," which is where our group landed - we had nine (9) men and women of all ages, and we didn't all work for the same company. The maximum number of runners that any team can have is limited to twelve (12).

Our race venture began about 3 months ago when Karl reached out to us on an individual basis to determine if we would be interested in running with him in the MC200. I jumped at the chance and within a week or two, Karl had assembled a small group of runners. We had our first conference call as a group, introduced ourselves, talked about the event, and contemplated some initial strategy and support options.

On paper, the event seems daunting - begin the race at the Sheraton Hotel on John Nolen Drive in Madison, WI and finish the race some 205-miles and 30-hours later at the Monterey Beach Park in Chicago, IL. Things get even more complex and challenging from there... with 36-hand-off points (relay or transition areas), we had to make sure that the appropriate runner was at the correct transition area by a certain time so that the incoming runner could hand-off the "baton" to the outgoing runner; we had to make sure that runners had time to recover, eat, rest, use the bathroom, shower, and so on.

Our vans had to know where to go, when to be there, how long to wait, who to pick-up, who to drop-off, and a whole lot more. We had a crew of nine (9) runners and zero (0) dedicated drivers/crew members/support staff, so that introduced another challenge - as runners, we not only had to worry about the actual running, racing, recovery, eating, resting, and other stuff; we also had to take turns driving and navigating our way to the various transition areas.

Thankfully, Karl is quite literally a genius and master organizer, so he made quick work of the logistics. Within no time, we had spreadsheets with our race segment assignments, van transition schedules, and so on. Karl was able to calculate how long it would take each runner to complete each of their race segments (segments varied in length from 3.10 miles to 8.77 miles); he then assembled a van rotation plan so that runners were in the right place at the right time, and then figured out how long each van could remain "inactive" so that we could grab some rest. It was an impressive effort to say the least, and our race went off without (well nearly) a hitch!!

We were thrown a curve at the last minute when two of our original team members dropped out of the race with less than a week before the start. Talk about a frustrating and scary situation - we were faced with the threat of having to race with only 8 people (our team originally had 10 runners); our miles were going to increase dramatically, as we "lost" about 40-miles worth of "segments" by losing those two runners.

We were fortunate enough to secure a new team member for our team, which took our total to 9 runners; each of us would average approximately 23 miles of running. Our "new" team met via a final conference call on Wednesday night (1.5 days before the race was due to start).

So now that you have some background information, let's dig-in and find out how the race went!

Thursday, June 10, 2010 - 10:00pm - Middleton, WI

Preparation for the event is critical. Training was just one thing to worry about; there were logistical things to consider: changes of clothing, managing dirty clothing, nutrition, sleeping gear, safety equipment, recovery gear, and so on.

I was assigned to run four segments of the race for a total of 24.35 miles. This meant I'd need to plan for changing clothes, re-fueling, and resting at four different opportunities. Here's what I packed for nutritional goodies:

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I've got 4 packets of Recoverite (for use after each run), some Clif bars for meals, some Justin's Nut Butter (all natural, no extra ingredients peanut butter), some vitamin supplements, Nuun electrolyte mix, Ibuprofen, and a little "pick-me-up" of GU Chomps, just in case I need a little extra energy. This is what would fuel me for the event - I didn't want to risk eating at a restaurant and being tempted to overeat or eat the wrong things or get sick from eating too much "prepared" food while running.

It turns out that I "over-packed" with food - I brought home 2 packets of Recoverite, 2 packets of peanut butter, all of the Ibuprofin (didn't need it), the GU Chomps, and 3 of the Clif bars. I probably could've ate more while on the trip, but I really didn't feel hungry and I didn't want to overeat.

I also packed 3 sets of running clothes (shorts, wool t-shirt, wool socks), an extra pair of shoes, rain gear, visor, hat, number belt, SPI belt (for holding the team cell phone while running), two water bottles, a gallon of filtered water, a 64-ounce Gatorade G2, sleeping stuff, 2 towels (one for sitting on, one for showering), sunscreen, bug spray, lip balm, sunglasses, iPod, GPS, my watch, my LED headlamp and taillamp, reflective vest, flashlight, and a mesh bag for dirty clothes.

Everything was organized and packed into separate zip-bags; each set of running clothes (shorts, socks, shirt) went into their own bag. Night-time running equipment (headlamp, taillamp, reflective vest, flashlight, extra batteries) went into its own bag. Accessories (number belt, iPod, watch, SPI belt) went into its own bag, and so on. This made it very easy to manage everything - I could dig through my small transition bag and find exactly what I needed without messing up everything else.

I did pack a separate suitcase for my sleeping gear - the pillow, foam bedroll, and blanket were bulky, so I used a carry-on bag to hold those. I also threw-in a set of "post race celebration" clothes, just for safe measure.

After a triple-check of everything, I went to bed at around midnight - I had to be awake and on the road by 8:00am the next morning at the very latest. Oh, did I mention that I carb-loaded on Thursday as well? And not the good carbs - pizza, beer, etc... we had a going away party for the manager of our department, so I joined the festivities and ate waaaay too much pizza. (insert uneasy stomach gurgling reference here)


Friday, June 11, 2010 - 8:30am - Sheraton Hotel, Madison, WI. Total Race Miles: 0.00

Our team, Sole2Soul, assembled at the Sheraton Hotel, signed-in for the event, filed our waivers, showed our safety equipment (for night running purposes), and posed for a quick team photo. Here we are in the lobby of the hotel:

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We look so happy and excited - from left to right we are: Karl, Anja, Cindy, Kimberly, Teresa, Becky (in blue), Steve, Heidi, and Katie. Immediately after we took this photo, we made our way to the starting line of the event, where they held a 10-minute informative safety meeting.

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The organizers of the event reviewed with us the importance of wearing your reflective vest, headlamp, and LED taillamp when running at night, talked about the transition areas and safety rules, and a few other important details. Common sense stuff, for sure, but it was worth mentioning and making people aware.

There were 200+ teams that entered the event this year, and the start of the race is staggered by your projected finish time - the goal is to get all of the teams to Chicago at around 6:00pm on Saturday night so that the event doesn't drag-on indefinitely, so that transition areas can open/close with some predictability, and most importantly - everyone can celebrate the completion of the event at around the same time.

We projected that we would complete the event in 31 hours and 38 minutes, so that meant our start time was going to be 10:30am. Our team would have to depart Madison in the 10:30am "wave"; the faster your team ran, the later you would start... the Ultra groups (smallest teams with the fastest runners) started as late as 5:30pm on Friday.

With the safety meeting complete, our gear packed-in to the vans, and anxious energy abound, we moseyed our way to the starting line where we posed for one last group photo:

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Teresa was our first runner - she was responsible for completing the first 5.24 miles of the race, which would take her from The Sheraton to Olbrich Park, where she would hand-off the baton to Anja. Here's Teresa (in the pink top, closer to camera) getting ready to take off:

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With the race officially underway, we got into the van and promptly... drove to Lake Mills - the first of six van transition areas. There are 36 transitions in the race, but at six points along the way, both vans end-up in the same spot at the same time. So, our van ("van #2") of runners (Cindy, Karl, Katie, and me) started the race by "resting" for a good 5 hours.

To get from Madison to Milwaukee, runners followed the Glacial Drumlin bike trail. This trail is closed to motorized traffic, runs nearly parallel with I-94 East, is semi-flat, and stops in numerous little towns along the way, including Lake Mills. Here's the Lake Mills bike depot building, which would serve as the host for the transition area:

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The transition areas are pretty interesting - people just hang out, which includes everything from laying around to sleeping to playing card games to eating to stretching to - well, whatever! Here's the group of folks that we spent most of our race hanging around with, since we all started at about the same time:

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As you can see, it was fairly sunny, and that meant shade was a valuable commodity. The temperatures hovered into the high 80s, humidity followed suit. As such, a bunch of people had to be treated for heat exhaustion... not a good thing to have happen so early in the race. Thankfully, our team stayed healthy and safe - a tribute to the preparation that we all put into proper training, hydration, and support.

Since I had time to kill, I walked over to my friend's business (Topel's) and hung out with Dan and Tara. Dan and Tara are superheroes - they lent us the use of their conversion van so that we wouldn't have to rent two vans (Karl rented a van for us, but more on that in a bit). THANK YOU, Dan & Tara - you rock the block!

Here I am, leaving Topel's - my segment was due to start in about 30 minutes, so I had to stretch and warm-up.

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Just after taking that photo, we received a panicked call from our team - they couldn't find us, and they were already at the transition area, ready and waiting for us! We looked everywhere, but couldn't find them, and that's when we discovered our one and only "glitch" in the plan - we were at the wrong transition area!

We had somehow misinterpreted the transition plan and had jumped too far ahead - our van should've been at the 5th transition area in London, WI - not at the 6th area in Lake Mills. So we hopped in the van and raced over to London, where I met Becky and picked-up the baton. We lost about 20 minutes due to this mistake; I figured I'd have to really "hoof it" to try and make-up some time!

Here I am, leaving London - I'd be in Lake Mills some 5.44 miles and 40-ish minutes later!

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My first segment went well - despite the heat, full sun, no-shade, and humidity, I managed an 8:00-mile pace and arrived in Lake Mills, where I handed-off the baton to Cindy. Here I am meeting Cindy and exchanging the baton:

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Cindy rocked-it 3.10 miles to Highway Q, where she handed-off the baton to our other vanmate, Katie. Katie ran back-to-back segments; she flew through the Jefferson transition area (3.84 miles from Highway Q), and met Karl at the Helenville Bike Depot. Katie ran her 12.24 miles at a blistering pace; equally blistering was the sun and heat, but she managed a great average speed.

Karl took the baton and set-off at a sprint; we would pass him as we drove the van to the next transition area - he was looking really strong, so we gave him a cheer and then sped over to Sullivan's transition area (5.76 miles away).

Karl was also running back-to-back segments under brutal conditions - high heat and killer humidity; here he is coming in to the Sullivan transition area.

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We freshened-up his water supply, wished him well, and jumped back into the van so that we could make it to Dousman, some 5.74 miles away.

Dousman served as the second major transition area - Van #1 with its runners would be waiting for us there and would assume running duties at that point. I realize all of this sounds confusing, but there isn't a better way to explain it - this is a complex and challenging event!

Here's Karl handing off the baton to Teresa, who would start her second segment and run 6.35 miles from Dousman to Wales. As you can see, it was getting dark, and rules dictated that we would have to wear reflective vests, headlamps and taillamps during the period between dusk and dawn. Teresa was all decked-out in her gear and ready to rock:

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With our van's segments complete, we took a few minutes to cool down before heading to Carroll College (transition area #14). Our van had just run a total of 32.8 miles; our team had completed 59.28 miles. And, we were quickly recovering our lost time, so things were looking good.

Unfortunately, things weren't smelling good - we'd all run during the heat of the day and a such were sweaty and stinky... Carroll College was the first transition area that offered showers, so we decided to make a quick stop to freshen-up before heading to the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, which is where we would meet van #1 and begin our second segment of the race. Here we are, about to head off for Carroll College.

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While on the way to Carroll College, we decided to stop for a quick bite of food from Perkins. Katie and Cindy had a bowl of chicken noodle soup, Karl ate some breakfast, and I sipped on a Diet Pepsi. Here we are at the table, enjoying a bit of a break and eavesdropping on an unusual conversation between a drunken plumber and his motorcycle-gang-member wife (I love Cindy's cheesy "I'm about to gobble down some soup" pose):

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All I can say about the Perkins stop is "interesting." Not because of any of my team members, but because of the folks around us... I could probably write a book with all of the stories we overheard.

As entertaining as Perkins was, we continued on to Carroll College where I chose not to shower, much to the chagrin of my vanmates, I'm sure. The time was nearing 9:30pm, and my next segment of running started at 11:51pm, so I didn't see much value in showering, racing to my starting point, and then getting sweaty all over again. So, I stuck (or is that "stunk") it out while Katie, Cindy, and Karl enjoyed a refreshing shower and change of clothes.

The runners from our team in Van #1 (Teresa, Anja, Kimberly, Heidi, and Becky) FLEW through their segments and actually arrived into transition area #17 ahead of our original schedule. Rather than having lost 20+ minutes, we were now ahead of our projected finish time - another indicator of how dedicated our team was and how great everyone did.

At about 11:40pm, I met Becky, got the baton, and began my second segment - a short 3.43 mile sprint through the streets of Milwaukee, from State Fair Park to Nathan Hill High School. I ran it in about 25 minutes; handed off the baton to Cindy, who would run two segments back-to-back for a total of 13.75 miles (or about two hours).

While Cindy was out running, we back-tracked to Martin Luther High School, where they had hot and cold food, showers, and a rest area. I hadn't showered yet, so Karl happily drove us back to MLHS where I was greeted by some of the best race signage I ever saw:

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I'm not one who enjoys a public restroom or a public shower facility, but wow - was this a great stop. I cleaned-up, changed clothes, put my stinky gear into the mesh bag, and then went about finding a place to lay down for a bit. Unfortunately the sleeping area was full, so I had to grab a few minutes worth of rest in the first available spot:

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I wasn't the only one who tried to sleep outside - Katie grabbed 15 minutes worth of sleep outside, as did about 200 other folks - the school grounds were literally covered with people plopped about, trying to catch a few winks of sleep between their running segments.

After our brief rest, we headed to Franklin High School, where Katie would take over running duties. She ran her 7.55 mile segment, then handed-off to Karl who would complete our van's second segment with a 6.46 mile stint. If all went according to plan, we would meet Van #1 at transition area #22 in Oak Creek, WI at around 4:15am.

Day One summary:
Hours run - 18:53
Miles covered - 116.46
Segments / Transitions - 21


Saturday, June 12, 2010 - 4:15am - Oak Creek Community Center, Milwaukee, WI

As mentioned, our teams met at transition area #22 at the Oak Creek Community Center in Milwaukee, and things were quite different now. We were tired - none of us had managed to get much (if any) sleep. We were cold - the temperature dropped from 84F at midnight to 61F by 4:00am. The wind had picked-up, a fog was setting in, and it was misting rain. Not a great environment to be dealing with to say the least.

Adding insult to injury, the bathroom situation for an event like this is never good, as it's mostly porta-potties and public restrooms. Factor in a lack of sleep, bare-bones nutrition, lots of hydration, 100+ miles of running, and being awake at 4:30 in the morning, and this is what you get when it's time to use the restroom:

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That's Cindy as she prepares to venture out to one of the porta-potties at the Oakbrook stop. Both Katie and Cindy were hilarious - they kept Karl and me in stitches for most of the race. That's probably what made the event extra special - our team was really fun to hang around with, and we all seemed to get along great.

Oh - I should also mention that I spied this little gem while at the Oak Creek Community Center... guess we'll have to add this location to the fish finder list:

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With Karl back in the van, we headed to the St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Racine; Van #1's runners would be on the road for a while, and the church offered food and another rest area. We arrived to the church at about 5:00am, cleaned-up a bit, and tried to grab a little bit of sleep.

Sleep wasn't on the menu; I couldn't find any spots to lie down - all of the rooms were packed, and I definitely couldn't sleep outside as it was cold, windy, and misting. So, after searching high and low for a sleeping spot, I worked my way into the corner of a little hallway and did my best to relax for a bit.

I was startled by a phone call at 7:00am - Becky was about 20 minutes from being ready to hand off the baton to me; our runners in Van #1 absolutely cooked through their third segment - they managed to make-up nearly an hour's worth of time! So, now we were almost a full-hour ahead of schedule - holy cats!!

We raced over to transition area #26, the Dr. Beatrice O. Jones School in Kenosha, where I managed to throw on my running shoes, grab my iPod, and stretch for about 2 minutes before Becky came racing in to hand me the baton. At around 7:25am, I hit the road for segment #3, which consisted of 6.71 miles of running on trails and sidewalks. I averaged a flat pace of 8:15 per mile, and handed the baton to Cindy at the Pennoyer Park.

After handing the baton to Cindy, we drove to Southport Beach Park, where we had a little time to relax. Here we are in the van, driving over to the park - you can see I'm a little sweaty...

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The girls commented that the van had begun to smell like "a lumberjack and rotten cheese," which I presume isn't a pleasant odor... but it stands to reason that the van would stink; we sat in it for hours on end after having ran for lengthy periods of time, and we also stored all of our stinky clothes in the van - not a good combination. The girls weren't complaining by any means; in fact, I think they were proud to having contributed to the quickly growing state of "van funk."

Without the assistance of Febreze, I did my best to "clear the air," so here I am, stretched-out in the van, using everything imaginable to help air out my stinky gear:

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Cindy made quick work of her 4.01-mile segment, so there wasn't much time to relax (or air out the stinky stuff); here's Cindy coming in to the park and handing off the baton to Katie:

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Katie ran a brief 3.04-mile segment over to Anderson Park - true to her previous segments, she flew right through it, and in no time was racing down the street to hand-off her baton to Karl. Here she is coming in to the park:

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Karl took the baton from Katie and set-off on the final leg of our third running segment. He was scheduled to complete a 7.76-mile run, and according to our projections would arrive into the next major transition area (#31) by around 11:15am. Here's Karl heading out on his run - by this point, he had run a total of 18 miles on zero sleep.

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We took the van to the Christ Community Church in Zion, IL, and waited for Karl to arrive. I also took some time to air out the van - here's our rental vehicle doubling as a clothesline:

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While we were waiting, challenge #2 presented itself to us: bad weather. There had been threats of rain for most of the morning, but when reports of 45+ mph winds and golf-ball-sized hail came in, the race officials stopped the race.

So, we waited. And waited some more. And kept waiting - waiting for the rain, the wind, the hail, or whatever was supposed to come through and wreck our race. Karl arrived into the transition area where he would've normally handed the baton to Teresa, but we had to "hold" our runners (as did everyone else) until the race was re-opened.

After waiting for nearly an hour, the rain came - here we are in the van, watching it rain...

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With the race delayed due to weather, Karl and I went to the Northern Lake YMCA for another round of showers. This shower was even better than the first - I literally felt like a million bucks after leaving the YMCA.

We received word that the race had re-started, and Teresa was underway after having been held-up by the race delay for more than 1.5 hours. This meant that Karl and I had to make our way down to the Northwestern University football stadium (transition area #35), where I would eventually take the baton from Becky and finish the race for our team.

And that's where we hit challenge #3 - our rental van experienced a flat tire on Highway 41. Thankfully, we found a safe area to pull-off the road from. Here we are changing the tire:

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And within no time, we were back on the road, heading down to transition area #35. We had to spend about 4 hours waiting at this final transition area - the runners from our team in van #1 needed to cover more than 32 miles. While at transition #35, we met a lot of interesting folks, including "Kate" who handed out some amazing chocolate chip cookies (for free). At around 4:45pm, we received a call that Becky had just left transition area #34 and was on her way to meet me. This meant I had about an hour to get ready for her arrival; here I am grabbing the last few items from my transition bag:

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As more teams began to filter-in to the transition area, the mood became a bit more festive. There was music, laughing, some delirious conversation, and some interesting costumes - we spotted these three folks just before I was about to grab the baton from Becky; we snapped a quick photo of me and the group (and yes, they ran like that):

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Becky arrived a little earlier than expected - again, the girls in van #1 were crazy fast runners (great job to all of them!!) - here I am grabbing the baton from Becky:

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And here I am, heading out on the final segment of our race. The last segment (#36) was 8.77 miles in distance and basically ran down Sheridan Avenue (along Lake Michigan) from Northwestern University to Monterey Beach Park.

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I tried to really push it on that last segment, but with all of the traffic lights, I was only able to manage an 8:00-mile pace. I crossed the finish line at about 6:15pm with the team surrounding me - it was such a great feeling. Here we are at the finish line (Katie and Cindy aren't in the photo; they had to head home early due to family obligations):

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Despite the 20-minute mix-up on day one, and despite the 1.5-hour weather delay, we arrived at the finish line just a few minutes behind our originally scheduled time of 6:08pm (our finish time was actually 6:14pm, I believe) - an amazing accomplishment to say the least!!!

Together, our team of nine runners covered 205.24 miles in 31 hours 44 minutes. Wow! We literally ran from Madison to Chicago, by way of Milwaukee. It still boggles my mind.

For our accomplishments, we were given finisher medals - here I am with my medal and our well-traveled "baton" (it's actually a wrist strap):

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They had free pizza, beverages, music, and entertainment at the post-race party, but with the rain, hunger, and fatigue, we decided to get out of town sooner rather than later. So with that, we cleaned-up the vans, organized our gear, wished each other well, and hit the road. Karl, Katie, and Cindy all lived in Chicago, so that meant that Anja, Becky, Heidi, Kimberly, Teresa, and me took the Topel's van back to Madison at around 7:00pm on Saturday night.

We did stop for some super yummy Gino's East deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza; oh my gosh, did that hit the spot! We arrived back into Madison at about 11:30pm on Saturday - exactly 37 hours after we began our race.

Day two summary:
Hours run - 14
Miles covered - 85.74
Segments / Transitions - 14

Race summary:
Time running: 31 hours, 44 minutes
Miles covered: 205.24
Segments / Transitions: 36
Time spent sleeping: 45 minutes
Number of runners: 9
Number of teams: 203
Our team's overall finish: 94/203

Runner totals:

Anja: 25.08
Becky: 22.15
Cindy: 19.48
Heidi: 25.77
Karl: 25.66
Katie: 22.83
Kimberly: 20.30
Steve: 24.35
Teresa: 19.56


I can't thank Karl enough for organizing this effort, and I can't thank my team members enough for running so hard and for being so fun to race with. I would do this event again in a heartbeat - it was a blast, even if I didn't sleep for more than 45 minutes during the whole weekend. Note to Karl - count me in for next year, and put me down for 30 miles.

Here's Karl and me at the finish line - thanks again, Karl!

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Post-race information
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So, once I got home, I unpacked my stuff, and wow - what a mess. Here are the various laundry piles:

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And to give you a better idea of the amount of logistical work that had to take place, here's some of what we used to complete the race (I also included my race t-shirt, number, and finishers medal in the photo):

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There are maps, spreadsheets, laminated directions organized by segment, van schedules, and so on...

And finally, I didn't do anything today - no riding, no running, no swimming. I slept from about 1:00am until 9:00am, took a shower, threw on my compression recovery knickers and socks, and went to Bluephies for breakfast (figured I could eat bad today, even though I did eat pizza last night), and it was stellar. Egg white scrambler with mushrooms, tomatoes, and broccoli, with pancakes and toast - yum.

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Madison Marathon: 13.1 miles - done!

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I completed another race this morning - the Madison Half Marathon. I had originally planned to do the full marathon, but my legs have been absolutely "throttled" for the past week or so... There's no power in them, there's no energy - they're just completely trashed and sore all of the time (mostly in the quad area). I have no idea why, although I suspect I've been overtraining with distances and frequency.

Anyway, I decided to "rollback" to the Half rather than the Full in the interest of not injuring myself. So, at 7:20am this morning, I, along with about 5,000 other people, ran in the Madison Half-Marathon. The race was extremely well organized - it was easy to get in and out of, the registration and packet pick-up was excellent, and the water stations, support and staff were all fantastic. Definitely a great race to participate in.

Although, I say that... but it looks like my timing chip may have had an issue? I'm looking for the results online, and my number isn't coming up anywhere... According to my Garmin GPS watch, I did the race in 1:53:34, for an average pace of just around 8:25/mile. If that time is accurate, I would've finished around #90 - #95... not bad, but I really wish I could've run the full marathon. The timing website is getting hammered right now, so I'll go check the results later and update this post accordingly.

Edit: I was able to find my results: the official time was: 1:53:23.0. When I look at the Half Marathon Men's results overall, that would put me at about #90. But, they have me listed as 654 overall, 468 in the Men's group, and #76 in my age group. I'm sort of confused by the results, but I guess they know what they're doing... 654/4600 - not too shabby - puts me in the top 15%. If only my legs hadn't been so trashed!

No real plans for the rest of the afternoon or weekend - as much as it pains me to do so, I'm not going to ride or run tomorrow - I'm going to give my legs a rest with the hope that I can recover a bit.

Third time's a charm? (I hope)

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I was giving my bike a thorough cleaning a few weeks ago, when I discovered what appeared to be another crack in the bottom bracket area of my new bike. As you'll recall, I discovered a crack in my Cervelo frame a few months ago, and thankfully, the fine folks from Cervelo and Cronometro replaced the frame, no questions asked.

I loved the new frame - it featured a few small improvements over my original frame, and I really liked that Cervelo kept the R3's paint scheme the same from 2008 to 2009. I put about 1500 miles on that new frame - the R3 is a super fine bike, for sure.

Anyway, back to the story... I was cleaning the new bike a few weeks ago, and just about died when I saw another crack, in the exact same location as the last time. I called Cronometro, made an appointment for them to look at it, and kept my fingers crossed. Official word came back from Cervelo: "let's replace the frame, just to be safe."

They didn't suspect the crack was structural; it was most likely a crack in the paint, but Cervelo stepped-up and wanted to replace the frame for good measure. I continued to ride the bike while awaiting delivery of the new frame.

Well, it arrived this week, and Cronometro built-up a new bike for me. I love the folks at Cronometro - they're simply awesome. Their service, attention to detail, assistance and patience are second to none. They didn't even charge me for setting-up the new bike, which was a complete shocker - I had no problem paying to have the new bike built, but they waived all fees.

So... here's the new ride - let's hope that I don't ever have to warranty another single part on this bike!

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I took it out for a maiden voyage yesterday, and am pleased to report that it rode as expected: completely excellent. Thanks to minimal winds and extremely pleasant weather, I knocked out 60 miles without any trouble - averaged just over 19mph the entire time, hills and all.

I'm not entirely crazy about the new paint scheme, but I'll probably get used to it over time. For some reason, I really liked the all white look of the 2008/9 R3. At least there's enough white left on the 2010 R3 that my seat and bars still match. :-)

I'm sad to report that I don't have a review to share with you this week - I've been on an irresponsible eating binge lately, and so I forced myself to be extra good this week. The problems with attending a fish fry (for me) are many: there's usually a wait, which means we order drinks and cheese curds. Then we eat dinner, which usually includes bread, soup, and far too much food. Then we usually go out somewhere afterward, and that means popcorn, a drink or two, and then I wrap-up the evening with donuts and/or cookies... not a very healthy way to finish a week.

So, I'm going to lay-off the fish frys for a bit and re-focus on my diet. I like Wisconsin, but I also hate it - everything seems to be geared around food/drinking/socializing - it's so easy to lose track of a diet and go overboard... terribly frustrating.

With that in mind, I entered a bike race this weekend and did pretty well - I think I finished second out of about 100 folks or so. It wasn't a "true race" so much as it was a timed "fun ride" for Habitat for Humanity. It was a 50-mile course that was chock full of hills - the race was held down by New Glarus; my time was 2:43:14 - not too bad.

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I didn't get any good pictures at the event, save for this rather "interesting" photo of some type of cow that I saw while on the course... After I finished the race, I rode back over to it and took this picture - I'm still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with this little dude:

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And here I am, in the truck after the race (you can see my bike in the background) - thankfully the weather was nice (actually, it was too nice - I started the race with my leg warmers on, but had to ditch them after about 30 miles because I was starting to overheat). If I look a little tired, I was - as mentioned, there were a ton of hills... plus I wasn't looking forward to my 14-mile run after the race. :-)

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Post-race and post-run I returned home, hopped in the shower, and enjoyed a nice big bowl of Fiber One with blueberries, then cleaned the apartment. Then I got a call from one of my friends from Madison, John, who said he was going to be going out with some other acquaintances and wondered if I'd like to join them. I figured that since I burned about 4,500 calories between riding and running that I could grab a salad or something with the crew... they decided to stop by the Come Back Inn, which actually has a decent grilled chicken salad, so I had that and a soft pretzel and a New Glarus Naked. Here we are at the CBI:

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From left-to-right it's: Scott, me, John, and Evan. Evan always takes the craziest pictures - he can get the goofiest look and it's hilarious. We all had a good chuckle when we reviewed the photo. What a goofball.

I went for a 45-mile ride this morning, followed by an 11-mile run... my legs were feeling a bit heavy thanks to yesterday's workout and a somewhat brisk wind (not as bad as in weeks' past, but not enjoyable). Thought about a swim, but I'll save that for the weekdays. Ran some errands, including dropping off my bike at Cronometro - the bottom bracket cracked, again... And now I'm hanging out at the apartment, watching TV and enjoying my compression/recovery tights and socks. These things are so glorious - they really help your muscles recover more quickly. They look unusual to say the least, but man - they work!

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Contemplating dinner... thinking about a chicken breast with acorn squash or something like that.

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Sorry folks - no fish fry review this week as I had a 20K race first thing on Saturday morning, and I didn't want to be loaded down with a gut full of fish. I did enjoy a nice "carb load" on Friday night, by way of a bison steak, a sweet potato, some grilled asparagus, tomatoes, and a nice huge bowl or two of popcorn.

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The race came about with short notice - I discovered it purely by accident on Tuesday of this week and was fortunate enough to secure a spot in the race. The race began at 9:00am on Saturday, with the start and finish lines located at a beautiful park in Monona.

The race course consisted of one lap around Lake Mendota for a total of 20K (or 12.45 miles). About 950 people entered the race; I thought about carrying my camera to snap some pictures along the way, but decided against it as I didn't really feel like lugging a camera around for nearly 13 miles of running.

The weather was nice - mid-60s at the start, sunny, but incredibly windy. And by "incredibly" I mean sustained winds of around 20mph, with gusts in excess of 30mph. There were a couple of times where gusts of wind literally stopped me in my tracks - I nearly fell over and/or came to a complete stop while running. It was brutal at points, for sure.

Wind aside, the race went well, although I need to remind myself to stop lining up near the back of the pack during the start of a race. I spent the first 3-4 miles weaving in and out of people, which was tiring and aggravating. By around mile 5, the herd had thinned and I was able to settle-in to my normal 8-minute mile pace.

Only surprise of the race was a rather unique "aid station" that was set-up around mile 9 or 10... two guys set-up their own table with cups, but rather than filling the cups with Gatorade or water, they had them filled with beer. I started laughing as I approached and saw their sign. I thanked them as I ran by, but declined a "cold one" - there was something about drinking a beer while running that didn't seem too wise.

I finished the race with a time of 1:44:15, which was good for #278. Not too bad, I suppose, especially given my bad choice for a starting position and the strong winds.

Here I am at the finish line, just after completing my race:

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The park was really quite cool - it was huge and gorgeous, and it even had a small pond/lake in the middle of it. The race directors arranged for a band to play after the race, and they also had after-race goodies, including pretzels, trail mix, fresh cut fruit, animal crackers, and of course: beer. I just don't understand the fascination of drinking a beer after a race, but as the saying goes, "When in Rome..."

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I had about 1/4 of a cup and wished I hadn't. Normally I would enjoy a frosty beverage, especially on a gorgeous sunny day, but like I said - after expending about 2,000 calories worth of energy a beer just doesn't "hit the spot."

I stuck around to watch the band for a bit:

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Then I headed back to the apartment and rather stupidly went for a bike ride. Holy cats - that wind was ridiculous on my ride... I almost got blown off the road (literally) so many times that I lost count. Riding with the wind at my back, I averaged 32mph. Riding into the wind, the best I could muster was 8mph! It was absolutely insane!! I called it quits after 20 miles, admitted defeat, and fought my way back to the apartment.

When I got home, I refueled with one of my favorite post-workout meals:

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1 cup of Fiber One cereal, .5 cups of Silk, some blueberries, and a strawberry protein shake. 250 delicious, refueling calories.

I joined my friends the Topels for dinner in Delafield - it was great to see them, and we had a tasty dinner at the Delafield Brew Haus.

Today, I lounged around for far too long, and then went for an 80-mile ride - I love riding out here because it's so gorgeous:

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After my ride, I went for a 8 mile run, and then cleaned the apartment... nothing too terribly exciting, I'm afraid. Dinner tonight was a bison burger with a sweet potato. I'm counting down the days until Friday - I'll definitely hit a fish fry!

Crazy Saturday!

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I ran the semi-infamous Crazy Legs Classic race today. It's an 8K (5-mile) race that starts on the Capitol Square and finishes on the 50-yard line of Camp Randall Stadium (home of the Badgers football team). The event attracts about 20,000 people and is more of a party than a race... take for example the pre-race "gathering" - I met some friends (Jed and his wife Jamie) at Genna's Lounge (a bar):

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The place was packed at 9:00am with people that were running the race. And everyone was drinking bloody Marys, beers, and even mixed drinks! I was a bit surprised, to say the least. It was great to hang out with Jed and Jamie (I'm spelling her name wrong - apologies!) and some of their friends from Jed's workplace. We socialized for about an hour or so before making our way out to the Capitol Square to line-up for the race.

The race started at 10:00am with the fastest runners leaving in group "A." I was in group "W" - quite a way from the front pack. Next year, I'll request a faster group, because I spent the majority of the race trying to weave my way in and out of people as I passed them. Here we are, "in line" and waiting like cattle to hit the starting gate.

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After about 20-25 minutes of standing in line, we were near the starting line. The starting line was really cool - it was filled with Badger players who were high-fiving everyone and wishing them luck. The marching band was there playing music, the cheerleaders were rooting for everyone, and Bucky was wishing everyone well. I didn't get a great picture because we were already starting to move, but you'll get the idea:

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The bigger guy (#68) was obviously a lineman for the Badgers frontline... :-)

Once on the road, I tried to get a few photos, but none really turned out too well. We went from the square to Langdon Street, past the Memorial Union, up Observatory Hill, down through the dormitory area, around the hospital, under University Avenue, and then into Camp Randall. Here are a few shots from the race:

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That's Langdon Street, near the Memorial Union.

And here's the "back side" of Observatory Hill:

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And here's the finish line area. I tried to take a photo at the actual 50-yard line, but my iPhone camera goofed-up and the photo didn't turn out at all. :-(

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I finished the race at about the 40-minute mark (update: results were posted - my official time was 40:45 and I finished #3141 out of 20,450). Not a great time by any means (about an 8-minute mile pace), but with 20,000 people to deal with it wasn't a bad race. My hat is definitely off to the Crazy Legs organizers - they know how to run a race. Everything was well organized and easy to follow, and they managed the huge group of people with absolute perfection.

Following the race, there's a big party at Camp Randall, complete with bands, brats, beer, and all sorts of goodies. I stuck around just long enough to take a few photos, including this shot of the spectators:

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After snapping a few photos, I ran the course in reverse back up to the Square (people were still running the race, and after hearing "you're going the wrong way!" about 300 times I removed my race number), where I took a stroll through the Farmer's Market.

It was quite nice - not too many people as the weather wasn't great - and I scored some bison steaks from a local farmer, along with some organic tomatoes, all for less than $15. I also got a picture of the capitol with these about-to-bloom tulips:

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So, all things considered, not a bad Saturday morning. I ran just under 11 miles, had a decent race, picked-up some bison, and am now relaxing at the apartment. The weather is supposed to be crummy tomorrow as well, so I'll probably be stuck riding the trainer. Argh.

I've had several people contact to ask for more information about my "trainer" and how it works. I guess that I take the idea of it for granted - I just assume that folks know what I'm talking about and how it works. Since trainer season is nearly over (it was 70F this weekend, although incredibly windy - steady wind speeds of 25mph and gusts up to 35mph), it may be time for a little "Trainer 101."

There are two basic "styles" of trainers - stationary and rollers. A roller is quite an animal - there's nothing to stabilize the bike as it essentially sits on "canisters" that roll as you pedal. Here's an example of a typical roller:

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Rollers typically don't offer any type of resistance, although you do have to pedal like a madman to stay upright. Lose your concentration for a moment or two and you could tip over. Rollers are also quite large and heavy.

So, rollers are a nice training tool, but for most folks, they aren't incredibly practical. As mentioned earlier, the other type of trainer is a "stationary" trainer - and that's what I have.

A stationary trainer attaches to the rear skewer (or "axle" if you will) of the bike; the tire then rolls against a metal cylinder that's attached to some type of resistance "motor." The motor can offer resistance via a magnet, fluid, or a fan assembly.

Here's what my stationary trainer looks like:

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As you can see, the trainer has stabilizing legs that jut out on either side. This provides stability so that the bike won't tip while riding. You can also see that the rear wheel is held in place by two spindles. Here's a close-up of how the spindles attach to the rear skewers:

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The spindles are adjustable so as to accommodate bikes of various widths. You adjust the spindles so that the bike doesn't rock or have any lateral movement - you really crank them down.

With the bike secured in the trainer via the skewer/axle/spindles, the next step is to bring the resistance cylinder into contact with the rear wheel. The motor is on a spring-loaded hinge-like device, and by turning a large screw assembly, you can bring the cylinder and motor into contact with the rear tire as shown here:

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The goal is to set the tension so that the tire doesn't slip or slide on the cylinder, but at the same time, you don't want so much tension that the tire overheats. There are special trainer tires that resist the higher temperatures that come with trainer use, but they're pricey, and you can't use them on the road.

As I mentioned earlier, there are typically three types of motors: magnetic, fan, and fluid. My trainer uses a fluid/magnetic motor, which consists of a series of magnets that are attached to an impeller that spins inside of a fluid. The fluid helps cool and quiet the motor and also adds resistance.

As I pedal faster, the resistance increases; as I shift up into a higher gear, the resistance increases. So, if I attempt to maintain a 20mph pace in say a high gear, the motor will offer a significant amount of resistance. Believe me when I say that 20mph on the trainer requires some effort.

The beauty of the fluid/magnetic trainer is that it's quiet, offers realistic resistance, spools up nicely (accelerates), and allows for some coasting. Part of the reason for these benefits is thanks to the flywheel, as shown here:

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Put it all together, and you get a "treadmill" for the bike. While it's not a perfect solution, it does offer the opportunity for me to ride when the weather might otherwise prevent an outdoors ride (i.e. during the winter or when it's raining too hard). At the very least, it keeps the legs moving.

Here's the whole set-up, complete with a "climbing block" which you can see under the front wheel - it levels the bike when it's in the trainer.

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So there you have it. I probably didn't do a super great job of describing how it all works, but you should get a general idea of how it all works. I can't wait for the weather to come around a bit - I'd love to get out on the road and ride "for real" - it's been far too long.

Eating Healthy - Doing it Right

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I've been on a terror lately with my eating. For the past two months or so, I've completely trashed my diet - from fish fry to popcorn to fritters, you name it and I've been more or less eating it - in massive quantities. I did try to eat well during my surgery and recovery, but once I was able to start running again I went right back to eating like a glutton.

To prevent significant weight gain from my binge eating, I ramped up my mileages significantly; I'm averaging around 10-miles per day, six days per week with running, and I've been riding the bike a lot more as well.

So, I vowed to completely reset my diet. I spent the better part of this past weekend planning out my meals for the week; I calculated nutritional values, paired meals with supplements, and so on. I'm getting back on track with how I used to eat - a quality breakfast, a reasonable lunch, and a good dinner with a snack thrown into the mix. No more late night runs to the Greenbush Bakery.

What's on the menu? Most breakfasts will be around 210 calories and consist of: .75c Fiber One, .5c Silk Light, .25c blueberries, and a half-scoop of Whey Protein.

Lunches will come-in at around 200 calories: FlatOut wrap, 3oz turkey breast, .25c broccoli slaw, and a teaspoon of salsa.

Afternoon snack will usually include a 6oz container of Siggi's Skyr yogurt and an apple, which will be good for 180 calories.

Dinner will include grilled chicken or pork tenderloin, acorn squash or sweet potato, and a roasted veggie (mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli) - calories will be right around 350 - 400. If the mood strikes, I'll make a breakfast burrito (egg whites, pico de gallo, and a wrap).

Here's what tonight's dinner looked like:

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That's half of an acorn squash which I roasted face down for a nice char, 6oz of grilled pork tenderloin, 8 asparagus spears (roasted), and a small tomato that's been sliced. Nutritional values: 371 calories, 5g fat, 42g carbs (2g sugars), 11g fiber, 37g protein.


And speaking of eating healthy... I bought a monster of a blender this weekend - a VitaMix 5200. I first learned of this beast about a year ago, when I ran into Michael Lovato, a world class professional triathlete who has won 2 Ironman races and finished in the top 10 numerous times. Michael trains in Austin during the winter months (he normally lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado), and we happened to run into him while at Trigger Point.

Michael was raving about this new blender - a VitaMix 5200, and we were intrigued. I did some research on it, and it is indeed an impressive machine. It features a 2HP motor (your lawnmower probably has a 2.5, 4, or 5HP motor for comparison), an indestructible blender carafe, and can spin at speeds of up to 27,000 rpm.

It has a seven year warranty and is nearly indestructible. It'll boil water if you let it run for 7-8 minutes. It'll blend and cook soups and scrambled eggs, and it doesn't have any type of "heating element" at all - it's all thanks to those incredibly sharp blades turning at a breakneck pace. To quote Michael, "this friggin' thing will blend a brick!"

Alas, as much as I wanted one, I couldn't justify buying it, so I waited. I revisited it several times - researched it online, searched for deals, but never pulled the trigger. So imagine my surprise when I found a VitaMix demo taking place at the local Costco this past weekend.

I watched the demos, saw the price (about 50% off) and bought one. Here's the beast, sitting on my counter:

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I actually waited to use it until today; I decided to make a "green monster" smoothie, which consists of: half an apple, half an orange, a slice of pineapple, a few carrots, a lime, a handful of spinach, and a pinch of lemon juice. Top it off with water and ice, and you're good to go. I also added 5g of Glutamine to help aid muscle recovery as I sleep tonight.

The crazy thing about the VitaMix is that you use whole fruits - and by whole, I mean you leave the seeds and skin on the apple (the seeds have fiber and other goodies). You don't core the pineapple - you peel off the rhine and throw the whole slab of pineapple into the blender. For the orange and lime, you peel some of the skin off, but leave a good portion of it on so that you can get the benefit of the oils and nutrients that reside in the pith and skin.

Now... I know what you're thinking: gross! Seeds? Skin? Pith? Ick!!! Well, that's what I thought as well. But the VitaMix is such a beast that it completely liquifies everything, and it does it in a matter of about 20 seconds. Seriously. I simply cut my apple in half and dropped it in the blender - seeds and all.

Here's what my smoothie looked like, pre-blending:

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And here it is, mid-blend:

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20 seconds later, I was enjoying a delicious smoothie that consisted of 190 calories. I didn't add any sweeteners or anything other than the ingredients listed above; it was delicious. Next time, I'll use a little less spinach and I'll add ice to help cool it down a bit. But for a first effort, it was a win.

Finally, here's a little sample of what it sounds and looks like in action (with some water in the machine). Click on this link to see a quick video of the blender (requires QuickTime to view). Edit: sound isn't working for some reason... I'm not sure why.

If you need a new blender for any reason, or you simply want to have a 2HP beast of a machine that can pulverize any typical household item (including your shoes, I'm sure), give the VitaMix 5200 a shot. It's an animal, for sure!

My advice: Don't ever quit

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I finally was able to resume running today! I managed to run 4.25 miles - took about 34 minutes, and holy cow - I'm shocked by how much "capacity" I lost after not being able to run or do much for nine days.

So, my advice to anyone that's working on their own diet/exercise/training programs: never quit. Never stop. Don't take any significant time off. No matter how much you want to talk yourself into "taking a few days off" - don't do it. Unless of course you're nursing an injury or something like that... otherwise, stay at it. Be relentless.

I looked back at my training logs (via my GPS watch), and tried my best to recall all of my running/riding/training activities, and quickly realized that since January of 2008, I've probably only "skipped" two consecutive days of training once or twice. Taking nine days off really put a dent on my capacity; if there were anything I could've done to get back into things earlier, I would've. But based on how I had been feeling just 3-4 days ago, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to run today.

I woke up (via the cat - argh) at 7:00, put on my running gear, took a long stretch (about 25-30 minutes worth), and hit the road. My legs felt sluggish and heavy. I didn't have any feeling of "flow" - every stride felt labored. My breathing was decent, but after about the three mile mark, I started to get a bit of a side/diaphragm ache. I wanted to start walking, but I forced myself to keep going. After the run was finished, I stretched for another 15 minutes or so, and then took a shower.

I'm hoping things will restore themselves in short order, because based on how I felt today, it seems as if I "lost" a solid 6-8 months worth of training effort over a period of 9 days. It's absolutely crazy how fast your body can give-up aerobic capacity... what takes years to gain can literally dissolve over a period of days.

So, I'll say it again: no matter how cold the weather is, or how tired you feel, or how busy you may be, keep at it. A day off can easily turn into two days, and three, then four, and before you know it, you'll have lost much of what you worked so hard to gain. And then it's depressing because it feels like you're "starting over," and so it's even more tempting to quit. Train smart and keep at it.

I'm going to get up early every morning of this week and do 4.5 - 4.75 miles per day; I'll keep the mileage low for a bit, or at least until my legs feel a little more limber. I'd hate to suffer a stress fracture or some kind of dumb injury... At least the weather is supposed to be decent this week - it was actually "hot" today; nearly 40-degrees! I took off my hat and gloves about 3/4 of the way through - I was getting too warm. :-) For comparison, it was 67F in Austin today.

Well, this sure does stink.

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Had some surgery on Friday morning - nothing major - but recovery is the absolute pits. No running, no riding bike, no exercising, no moving around for about 7 - 10 days, per Doctor's orders.

Great. There goes my good cardio and conditioning base that I've built-up. I tried to think back to how long it's been since I've gone more than 2 days without doing any type of workout, and my best recollection says it's been at least 18 - 20 months. I'm hoping I'll be able to do some light jogging by next weekend - even if it's just a mile or two - just so I don't lose everything.

In anticipation of the time off, I worked up to some serious mileage - I'd ran just over 50 miles by Friday morning (since Monday) and rode just over 130 miles (all on the trainer). I probably deserve a little break, but I'm scared to death about losing progress...

So this is where I spent my weekend and most of today:

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Sitting on the couch, working on the laptop, getting sick of television, and getting a sore back from not being able to move around much. :-( ARGH - I hate it!!!!

My only form of real entertainment is watching the cats do battle - they've taken to wrestling quite a bit and the results are usually quite hilarious. Shiloh loves to jump nearly straight up from all fours; he'll jump over Mack, on Mack, around Mack, and so on. My iPhone doesn't really catch the action too well, but here they are - stalking each other...

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And after they chase each other around for a while, they usually "retire" to the couch with me...

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I can't wait until I can start moving around again. The only good thing to come out of this whole deal is that I've effectively "reset" my diet - with the realization that I can't do much activity, I've cleaned-up my eating accordingly. Most days start with a 1/2 cup of Fiber One with 1/2 cup of skim milk and 1/3 cup of blueberries... Lunch is usually a light yogurt with a plum or small apple... Dinner is usually 4 egg whites with 2oz of turkey and some pico de gallo. I'm trying to really keep it light.

So... here's to recovery and the hope that I'll be able to get back on the road by the weekend. And if I have to watch another minute of the Olympics, I'm going to go insane. I've watched 7 movies so far (I love iTunes rentals), but those are getting old as well. At least I was able to work from home today - that helped quite a bit; the day actually went by rather quickly.

Thank goodness my upstairs neighbor is around and making as much (if not more) noise than ever... I swear she's got an elephant breeding farm up there... when I move out, I'm leaving a case of SlimFast and a pair of soft-step slippers for her.

Screw the shoes!

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Moving north has had its advantages (fish frys, cheese curds, donuts, etc), but it's also had its fair share of disadvantages (snow, cold, bad drivers, etc). And with last week's blizzard event, I came face-to-face with one of the biggest disadvantages: running in the snow.

I don't mind running when it's cold out, but when mother nature serves a healthy dish of icy and snowy goodness, running becomes not only difficult, but dangerous. As soon as we knew for certain that snow was imminent, I made sure to sneak in a long "final" outdoors run.

The day of the blizzard, I ran indoors on a treadmill (our office has a nice gym available for free), and I was immediately reminded of how much I loathe treadmills. Grinding out six or seven miles on a treadmill is pure torture - it's so boring and dull, even with headphones and a television. After the third mile, I would've given anything to be running outside... but, with 16-18" of snow covering every passable surface, my wishes were unlikely to be realized.

So, I trudged out 3 more days on the dreadful treadmill... in the meantime, I looked for solutions to help me get outdoors to run again - I looked at snow shoes, trail running shoes, slip-on spike systems - you name it, I looked at it. None of the solutions got rave reviews from online sources; fewer fit my shoes (size 13). I was growing desperate...

I had stumbled across an article about using sheet metal screws as replaceable spikes, but was afraid to try it for a number of reasons. After careful consideration, I ventured to the local hardware store and bought a handful of 3/8" long sheet metal screws. I placed 10 screws into each shoe (6 on the front, 4 on the heel) and gingerly stepped into them. I didn't feel anything sharp or pointy, so I donned the rest of the running gear and hit the outdoors.

Success!! The screws worked like magic. They gave me ample traction when the going got rough; they worked best on icy or hard-packed snowy surfaces. On dry sections of sidewalk, they're a bit noisy and you can feel that the shoe isn't completely "normal," but it's not uncomfortable by any means. Winner, winner chicken dinner!!

I've done 5 runs on the current set of screws, and it's looking like I'll have to replace the screws with some fresh ones. Although, to be honest, the sidewalks were about 98% clear today, so I may run without the spikes until the next snow storm hits. Here's what the screws look like after about 45 miles of use:

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It's amazing how well that $0.70 solution works, especially when it's compared to other solutions that cost upwards of $40. It's also refreshing to know that when the next snow storm hits that I won't have to spend too much time on the 'ole dreadmill. :-)

We're off to a fish fry tonight, so stay tuned for an update later on!

Gobble, gobble - Oh my goodness!

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Has it really been more than two weeks since my last blog entry? Wow, I guess it has been! Time flies when you're busy with things; I apologize for not posting an entry for so long.

So let's get caught up. First things first: I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and that the turkey was tasty, the stuffing scrumptious, and the pie perfect. Mine was, well, interesting... but more on that at a later date. I need to relax a bit and look at things objectively, but let's just say that I won't be heading north of Madison or over toward Fitchburg for any events of any type in the foreseeable future.

But enough about that. What's been happening? Well, I'll tell you what hasn't been: fish fry. Yep, you heard that right. We've taken a break from gorging ourselves on fish each Friday because it's been setting us up for an entire weekend of bad eating. So, an executive decision was made: we're taking a small hiatus from fish frys.

In other news, many of you may recall that I have a favorite radio show that's hosted right here in Madison and is called "Whatdya' Know with Michael Feldman." I've been to a few live showings and have always wanted to participate in the show, either as a contestant or as a "contributor" by way of a funny story or odd-ball question.

I had my chance to participate two weekends ago, when Michael chose me to play in the Whatdya' Know Quiz. The quiz usually occupies the last 15 minutes of each hour of the show (it's a 2-hour show), and it works by pairing an audience member with someone who calls in via telephone and correctly answers a qualifying question.

Once the "team" is identified, Michael asks up to 5 questions from categories that include: current events, people, places, science, odds-n-ends, and "things you should've learned in school had you been paying attention." The questions are usually quite random and odd, but most folks seem to win (thanks to Michael's guidance toward the correct answers).

Winners take home a "treasure trove" of prizes that are usually as off-the-wall as the questions from the quiz. It's the highlight of the show, so if I was ever to be selected, there was certain to be pressure to perform.

Well, I was selected and I bombed. Michael usually walks around the audience looking for volunteers to play the quiz, and tons of people raise their hands. I raised mine and he immediately walked over to ask my name and where I was from. Ok, no problem. Then he asked for "one good reason why you should play the quiz."

Now... this is where you can shine or bomb. I had dozens of witty replies prepared - everything from, "because it'll make a great blog entry" (thus setting up a segue to a discussion about my blog) to "because I'm not wearing underwear" (thus setting the tone for a wacky dialogue)... I'd practiced my response for years.

But, when the time came, I choked. I mumbled something about the Badgers football score and that by winning the quiz it might motivate the team. Michael looked at me as if I was from another planet, and from there it went downhill.

I tried making a few jokes; poking fun at myself, suggesting a cheesy name for my team, and so on, but it all failed. ARGH - nothing like bombing on a nationally broadcast radio show.

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That's me up on stage, playing the quiz. I was paired with a gentleman by the name of "Mac" from Ohio, who was on a crummy cellphone connection in his garage - he was hard to hear. I was also incredibly distracted by Michael's computer screen - it was constantly being updated with information about the telephone lines (via an Excel spreadsheet). And, I could see the answers to each of the quiz questions - Michael held the cards in a way that I could easily read the correct answer...

But, I didn't answer a single question. I felt guilty for being able to see the answers, so I let Mac, Michael, and the audience sort of "fill-in" the blanks. I was a miserable contestant - boring, uninteresting, and a complete downer.

Alas, with the show running out of time, we won the quiz, and my treasure trove included this little bounty of goodies:

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The haul included some concentrated cherry juices (tart cherry, cranberry mix, blueberry mix, and one other), the Whatdya Know home game, and an eclectic mix of greeting cards from a fabric museum in Missouri.


Other than that, there's not much exciting news to share... I ran a 10K race on Thanksgiving morning, called "The Berbee Derby." I did pretty well - there were about 5000 runners; I finished 460th, with an average pace of 7:56/mile. Not my best time, but it was only 32F and incredibly windy - I think the steady wind speed was about 18-19mph.

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And finally, I ventured out to a "Black Friday" event early this morning... a local sporting goods store had advertised Smartwool socks at 50% off, and since they're some of my favorite socks, I figured I'd grab a few pair.

Came to discover that the "sale" only included "select" styles and sizes from a specific rack... so, after standing in line for more than 30 minutes with six-pair of socks, I was told that none of my selections were on sale. And so continues my luck... :-)

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The 15K that was... but wasn't...

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Greetings!

This is the first of three new entries that will be published today; I figured it would be best to create three smaller, more targeted entries than to create one massive entry.

I registered to run a 15K race this weekend, but thanks to a hamstring injury that snuck up on me late last week, I decided to not run the race. I was really looking forward to it - 15K is a nice distance, and the weather was looking like it would be good, but alas, my legs had other ideas.

I've been increasing my run distances over the past few months and now regularly run 7-10 miles each day; the running is going well - no issues to report, no drama, and no trauma. I like to run first thing in the morning because I can get it over with, and it helps the 'ole metabolism stay efficient.

Well, on Thursday of last week, I missed my morning run because the weather was dreadful - pouring rain and barely 30-degrees. So I went at lunch, but thanks to some meetings that went longer than expected, I was short on time. So, I skipped my stretching and went for a run.

About 10 minutes into the run, I felt a "pop" in my hamstring (left leg), followed by an immediate sense of tightness and pain. I limped along for a bit, but had to stop running. I stretched the leg (in hindsight, not a good idea) for a bit, and tried to run again, but nope - no go. So, I walked back to the apartment, took a shower, and went back to work. The funny thing is the leg felt fine while walking, but as soon as I tried to run, it became obvious that something was amiss.

I went online and did some quick reading about hamstring injuries, and the general treatment includes RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). So, I threw some ice on it, wrapped it in a compression bandage, and took it easy. Anxious, I went for a brief run on Friday - it was still quite painful, but I managed to get 6 miles in.

Didn't run on Saturday, but did ride the bike on the trainer for a good 1.5 hours, then did some introductory Yoga, which helped loosen things up a bit. Sunday morning came around, and I didn't feel totally comfortable with doing a 15K on the leg, so I skipped out.

Upsetting, to say the least. But, the good news is that the RICE technique seems to be working - my leg feels better, and I was actually able to run a good distance today, with just a hint of pain.

So, let this be a lesson to me and to anyone else - always stretch first! I'm not 100% certain that my injury came as a result of not stretching, but it probably didn't help... :-(

First things first - I realize that most of you are getting tired of reading about fish frys and biking and running, so it's time for a brief announcement: the fish fry crew has decided to venture out and start our own website, dedicated strictly to reviewing fish frys and supper clubs. We purchased a new domain name and I'm in the process of putting together the site. It'll be a month or so before things are up and running, but keep your eyes open for the new site - it's called www.wisconsinsupperclubs.com. It's got "place holder" text there now, but as soon as we can figure out how to organize the site, lay it out, and get some Google AdWords running, we'll have it live.

So, with that said, it's time for another fish fry review. :-)

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The crew hit The Stamm House in Middleton, and despite looking good on paper, it failed to deliver. In fact, it may have been one of the worst fish frys ever. Why?

Simple - the fish was icky. There's no better way to state it than "icky." It had the most ridiculously strong fishy (and not in a good fishy way) taste; I'm pretty sure that even the worst cafeteria fish would blow away the Stamm House fish. It took a lot of ketchup and a lot of lemon to choke down their fish. Ugh. So disappointing...

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It wasn't terribly greasy, and it was breaded quite nicely. But aside from that, it was downright awful. The restaurant itself was pretty cool - lots of history, lots of charm, good service; but that was about all they had to offer.

Didn't do too much on Saturday - went to Johnson Creek and bought a winter jacket (!!!), then went to the Come Back Inn to watch some football, and prepare for my triathlon. ;-)

I did the Devil's Challenge Triathlon today, which is held at Devil's Lake State Park, just outside of Baraboo. The park is beautiful - here's a shot of the lake about an hour before the race started:

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The weather was cool at 7:00am - about 50-ish. By race time (8:00am), the temps were in the low 60s, so it wasn't too bad. Here we are, getting ready to hit the water - I think the race started about 30 seconds after this photo was snapped:

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For some reason, that photo is just hilarious to me - I look like a 1930's bomber pilot with those goggles on. :-) So, the race went about as I expected - the swim was terrible (go figure), and it was complicated by tons of seaweed and extremely shallow water. Here I am coming out of the water, with my wetsuit already about half-off:

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That wetsuit was more trouble than it was worth - the water wasn't too terribly cold (72F) - it really slowed me down in the first transition... it took me over 4.5 minutes to get out of that wetsuit and onto the bike. I don't know how the other guys change so quickly - most folks were done with their swim transition in 2 minutes! Anyway, with the wetsuit off, it was time to head out on the bike:

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The bike course was super hilly - just what I like. The first 2 miles of the ride are essentially up a steep hill. I passed dozens and dozens of people on that hill - some people were throwing up, others were crying (men and women alike); it was pretty odd. I'm so glad that I torture myself each weekend with a super hilly 60+ mile practice route. :-)

Finished the bike section pretty easily - here I am coming in from the ride, running my bike back to the transition area:

tri_bikein.jpg

The bike transition went fairly well, but I'm still quite slow in transition... my T2 time was nearly 3 minutes; for comparison, other guys did it in under a minute. UGH!!!!

I ran well, despite the hilly run course, and finished the run portion (3.1 miles) in just over 23 minutes. I felt really good during the entire run - I could've kept going without any trouble, but time was up and here I am coming across the finish line:

tri_finish.jpg

I managed to finish in 1:30:07, which was good enough for 161st place out of 620 people. In my age group, I finished about middle of the pack - 24th out of 46. The transition times literally cost me 5 spots in my age group alone... if I would've had an "average" transition time, I would've finished 19th out of 46. I really need to fix those!

So, that's it for now... oh, almost forgot - celebrated the finish with some breakfast at Mr. Pancake in Wisconsin Dells:

tri_breakfast.jpg

Yum! Time to be good again - cold weather is coming, and that means I'll have to curb the binge eating on the weekends. :-(

Early review - surprise!

Started the weekend by attending special party at my favorite bike store, Cronometro; they had a bit of a customer appreciation/new product line introduction gala, and it sounded interesting, so it was over to Willy Street to check out the party and to check out the Ridley line of bicycles.

crono_store.jpg

Ridley reps were there, which was cool, because Ridley has a great line of "Cyclocross" bikes that have caught my eye. I'd love to get another bike to use for commuting to and from work, riding on trails, and using on the trainer during the winter. I really liked this model, the X-Fire:

crono_xfire.jpg

Unfortunately, that bike is quite a bit out of my price range. As shown above, that bike runs right about $6,000. Yikes!! Thankfully, there are some that are a bit more affordable, like this interesting Crossbow model, shown here with a fender kit and the latest Ultegra components.

crono_crossbow.jpg

After spending about 30 minutes oggling the new bikes, chatting with folks, and sampling some Belgian beverages (Ridley is based in Belgium), it was time to head out for the fish fry.

The crew decided to hit Toby's Supper Club, which is located just outside of Madison, on Stoughton Road. The place received stellar reviews from several web sites, although some of the folks from work warned us that it might be a bit "local" or "townie."

toby_door.jpg

The place is tiny - hardly bigger than an average living room - and as such, was absolutely PACKED full of people. We arrived at around 7:30pm, and the place was jumping - we could barely find a place to stand while waiting for a table. And while there were obviously a bunch of "locals" there, the crowd was friendly and enjoyable, and thank goodness for that - check out how packed the bar was:

toby_bar.jpg

The entire time that we sat at the bar, the bartenders literally flew around, multitasking like crazy. It was nothing for them to be filling two drink orders (mixing several drinks at the same time), while making change for someone at the bar, and taking a new drink order from someone in line. And they never once missed a beat - it was pretty fun to watch them work their magic.

Toby's has a unique ordering system - while seated or standing at the bar, one of the bartenders somehow notifies a waitress that you'd like to order food. Out of nowhere will appear a waitress, who takes your order, and tells you that she'll get you once the table and food are ready. With so many people stacked in the place, we found it hard to believe that this would actually work, but it did.

Our wait was long - about 2.5 hours - but well worth it! While sitting at the bar, we started off with the customary cheese curds, which were solid. Top 3 rank for curds, for sure:

toby_curds.jpg

We generally prefer a battered curd to a breaded curd, but the cheese in these curds was so good that it made up for the non-battered-nature. The ranch was also spectacular. Curds = WIN.

And before we knew it (the clock had struck 10:00pm), our table and fish were ready. The table was outfitted with the customary Supper Club fare: a veggie bowl and a bread bowl.

toby_bread.jpg

toby_veggies.jpg

And then came the fish. Toby's offers: Baby Pike, Cod, and Lake Perch. And the prices are more than reasonable - no more than $13 for a plate. Here's the cod:

toby_cod.jpg

It was superb. Unbelievably good - easily Top 2 fish. Why so good? Once again, the fish is breaded, which is normally not a point-scorer for us. But, the breading is light, the fish is fried perfectly (not a hint of grease anywhere), and it's served piping hot. The flavor is unreal - the fish is the actual star of the plate; it's not overwhelmed by breading or spices, or anything unusual. Simple = good, and Toby's cod is GREAT.

Here's the combo plate (Lake Perch on the left, Baby Pike on the right):

toby_mixed.jpg

Just like the Cod, these two offerings were stellar and beyond compare, and for the same reasons as the Cod. Lightly and perfectly breaded, expertly fried, and packed with wonderful, yet delicate fish flavor. Well worth any wait, plain and simple.

And the service was equally fantastic - our server, Rhonda, was great - super fun, helpful, and tolerant of our boisterous crew. Here's me and Rhonda:

toby_rhonda.jpg

We called it a night and left Toby's content, happy, and raving about how incredible the fish was. We'll definitely be back!

Saturday morning came much too early, especially given there was a 54-mile bike race in Fort Atkinson that I had entered. It's called "Ride the Rock" and it benefits the local literacy council (I think). The race started at 8:30am from Jones Park in Fort Atkinson. Here we are leaving as a group to start the race:

rock_steve.jpg

The race went horribly. I've discovered that I absolutely hate bike racers - they're some of the most self-centered, inconsiderate, unnecessarily aggressive riders on the planet. I was basically run off the road within the first few miles of the race by the "teams," all of which were trying to jockey for position by literally elbowing and bumping people out of the way... all within the first 3-4 miles of a 54-mile race. Really?

Factor in that the race wasn't a sanctioned event and that it was basically a charity ride, and it's just all the more silly to risk crashing and wrecking your bike, breaking bones, or causing harm to other people. Yet these guys don't apparently care... you'd think they were trying to qualify for the Olympics or something. To heck with that. After I hit the gravel, I let the group get ahead of me, and I rode out the "race" without worry of getting in a wreck.

Unfortunately, the group will always ride faster than a solo rider, by a pace of around 4-5mph. So, within the first lap (18 miles), I had completely lost site of the pack. That was fine by me. Here I am passing through a little town on my second lap:

rock_solo.jpg

And here I am at the finish line, giving a solid "thumbs down" to the group. The race was generally well organized, the course was well marked, and the support crews were good, I just wish my "fellow riders" shared some of those qualities.

rock_finish.jpg

So, yeah - no more bike races (or more specifically, bike racers) for me. I'll just enjoy my triathlons, where the emphasis is on the individual's effort, and not impacted/driven by mob mentality.

500 miles later.

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I purchased some new shoes earlier this year (January) from Endurance House in Middleton, and I really enjoyed them. The shoes were Saucony Hurricane X shoes and were my first "real" running shoe. I'm a bit of a "over-pronater," which means my foot wants to roll side-to-side as I run, and it means that I should use a shoe that's designed to provide additional stability to help keep my foot from rolling side-to-side.

I logged 500 miles on the shoes, according to my Garmin GPS watch. I believe that number is low, as I can think of at least 6-7 runs where I didn't use my watch, so I'm guessing it's probably closer to 600 miles. Shoes have a lifespan of about 350-450 miles.

Here are my well-worn Saucony shoes:

shoe_sauc.jpg

So I stopped by Endurance House today to replace my Sauconys. I walked in fully expecting to buy another pair of the Saucony Hurricanes, but in talking with one of the folks there, we decided to take another look at my stride. Turns out my pronation is improving - my mileage is up considerably from January, and I've been focusing on trying to run more "smooth."

They suggested I try a shoe from Finland, from a company called Karhu. I laced them up, hit the treadmill and gave them a shot. Pretty comfy. More padding than the Sauconys, and they felt lighter and a bit more "reactive." Doing a side-by-side comparison with a Saucony on one foot and a Karhu on the other, the difference was obvious - the Karhu "rolls" through the footstrike; the Saucony sort of "flops."

I took them for a quick 1/2-mile run around the block, and liked them. I had a bit of an odd feeling on the top of my foot, but a change of the laces fixed it. So, I bought the Karhus. I'm excited to try them tomorrow - I'm averaging around 7.8-miles on my morning runs, so I'll have a good opportunity to test them out tomorrow.

Here they are - not the prettiest things, but when it comes to shoes, I'll take function over form any day. :-)

shoe_karhu.jpg

Here's to another fun-filled 500+ miles! (For comparison, I've logged just over 1900 miles on my bike this year)

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I can't believe it's Sunday night already - almost time to return back to work... the weekends definitely go by too fast. This weekend was a pretty good one - lots of things happened, so let's get started.

I've decided to enter another triathlon, which means I have to start swimming again. Argh. Biking and running - no problem. I'm regularly biking 70-ish miles at a time, averaging just around 23 mph, and my runs are doing great as well - I just finished a 13-mile run today, at an average of 7.5mph. So, those are fine. But swimming? I hate it!

So, I started taking swimming lessons. I found a great swim instructor who lives in Portage, so I snuck out of work early on Thursday and drove up to see if she could help my horrific swim stroke. We hopped in the lake and she took a look. The initial verdict? She claims I'm not that bad, but I'd disagree. We worked together for about an hour and I learned some great drills, tips, tricks, and exercises from her. It was well worth the drive - she was super knowledgeable and helpful, and I think I'll be making a few more trips before the race.

Friday brought about another fish fry, this time compliments of The Mid-Town Pub. It's located just a few blocks from the apartment, and it got decent reviews from people, so it was worth a try.

mtp_building.jpg

They have an odd menu/system - there's all you can eat fish offered from 3:00pm - 7:00pm; otherwise it's a "one plate" dinner. Got there at about 6:00pm and ordered some cheese curds; they weren't anything special - typical "drop n fry" frozen curds that probably come from Sysco. Sad, but I'm becoming a curd snob...

mtp_curds.jpg

Look familiar? Yeah. They're pretty much the same exact curds as one can find at: The Avenue Bar, The Oakcrest, and Paul's Neighborhood Bar. Decent curds, for sure, but once you've had great curds it's hard to get excited by run-of-the-mill curds.

The fish came out after a lengthy wait, and it was decent. Beer-battered cod with fries. No other side options. Very mild flavor, decent batter. Better than some, but not as good as The Avenue Bar or Jordan's.

mtp_fish.jpg

Unfortunately the service was so slow that there wasn't much chance to take advantage of the "all you can eat" offer, as it took nearly an hour for the first batch of fish to arrive and another 25+ minutes for the second batch. By then the window for all you could eat fish was closed, and I was bored and aggravated, so it was time to leave.

Saturday morning saw a welcomed change: I got rid of Charter and got AT&T U-Verse. U-Verse is "TV by IP" - everything comes to your home via a fiber optic internet connection. So, my television comes via fiber optic to my phone line, and then into a mini computer/gateway. The gateway then transmits the TV signal to the television. It also broadcasts a wireless internet signal for my laptop (so I get my internet connection via fiber optic - fast!!!), and if I had telephone, it would go through the same device.

The signal quality so far is fantastic, and the services appear to be much better than Charter's. Charter was a disaster from the start, so I was glad to make the switch. It's slightly less expensive as well, so that's a bonus.

With U-Verse installed, I went for a quick bike ride and run, and then hit the road for the Packers vs. Browns pre-season football game. Mark, my friend from work, has season tickets and wasn't able to use these tickets, so it was the perfect opportunity to see a game.

Did some tailgating before the game with Dan and Tara:

pack_tailgate.jpg

Scored a decent parking spot near the stadium for just $20, and traffic was light, so we had time to enjoy some snacks and beverages prior to the game. Our modest tailgate was nothing when compared to some of the other set-ups at Lambeau field... this one was particularly "interesting" -

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Once inside the stadium, Dan's alter ego came out:

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They had handed out pom-poms but Dan, not having spent time as a cheerleader, obviously didn't know how to properly use the pom-pom. That's ok - I think his interpretation was just fine!

The seats were awesome. We were in the south end zone, in row 60, but, our seats were on the aisle and, they were the very last row in our section, so we had a built-in seatback, thanks to a concrete wall. We also enjoyed a wonderful breeze; the weather was in the low 80's, sunny, and humid, so the breeze was definitely welcomed!

The Packers more or less dominated the Browns (go figure); we saw a touchdown early in the first quarter - it happened in "our" end zone, so that was cool - here's the touchdown (not that you can see much, but it gives you an idea of where the seats were).

pack_td.jpg

We were also seated next to some younger folks; I think they said they were from Utah, but I could be wrong - maybe only one of them was from Utah... They were cool guys, and it was fun to hang out with them during the game. Here's a shot of the rowdy bunch:

pack_kids.jpg

With the game well in control of the Packers, we were desperate for some additional entertainment, so when the opportunity to Polka struck, Dan and Tara jumped at the chance:

pack_polka.jpg

And after the game ended, they fired-up some "YMCA" by The Village People, so here's Tara and I doing our interpretation of that timeless classic:

pack_ymca.jpg

The Packers won, 17-0, and rather than sit and fight traffic, we decided to hang out and tailgate for a few hours to allow for the roads to clear. Since it was a night game, that meant we didn't get back to Madison until well near 3:00am... a late night indeed, and as a result, today was quite lazy, aside from going for a 30-minute swim and the 13-mile run (as mentioned earlier).

That's it for now. If you're able to take advantage of it, check out AT&T UVerse - so far, so good. Great picture, great internet signal, a small DVR, flexibility, and decent pricing.

Well food fans, it's been another full week, so let's just jump right in and update you on the weekend's eating results.

Friday night: Hit Jordan's Big Ten Pub to check out their fish fry. There had been numerous write-ups about this place; some great, some good, some mediocre, so there was a bit of hesitation about trying it. Happy to report that the experience was fantastic! A very solid fish fry, complimented by two surprises: the cheese curds and the old fashioneds.

Background info first; they don't accept reservations, and there isn't a host or hostess to be found anywhere. It's strictly first come, first served, and normally that wouldn't be an issue. However, this past weekend Madison played host to The Great Taste of the Midwest, and as part of the festivities, Jordan's was one of the sites that was hosting a few of the microbreweries that were invited to attend the Great Taste event. So, that made for a rather packed establishment - finding a table proved challenging, but we were seated in a booth after about an hour or so.

We ordered the cheese curds, and I'm happy to report that these curds were excellent. Definitely top notch curds - obviously handmade; squeaky yet chewy, and perfectly battered. All of today's photos are from the iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality!

ptb_curds.jpg

Jordan's has an impressive selection of Friday night fish entrees - there were three kinds of baked fish available, fried cod, fried perch, shrimp, and about a half-dozen sandwich options. I decided to be "good" and ordered the Cajun-grilled Walleye. It came with a salad, which was delish; I chose onion rings for my side. Check out this monster slab of Walleye:

ptb_baked.jpg

The fish was great. Once again, it wasn't all you could eat, but it was tasty! The onion rings were excellent as well. Thankfully, my dining partners weren't afraid to order the good stuff - the fried cod was every bit as tasty and excellent as the walleye:

btp_cod.jpg

And, as mentioned - there were a few Old Fashioneds consumed, including this Old Fashioned Sour:

btp_oldfashioned.jpg

We learned something new on Friday night - the key to a good Old Fashioned Sour is two-fold... a good sour has seven shakes of bitters, and the fabricator must "muddle" the cherries and sugar prior to adding any liquids. Oh, and you use Squirt as the sour. So, I guess that's a "three-fold" key. Regardless, I'm not a fan of the Old Fashioned, but Jordan's Big Ten Old Fashioned were pretty amazing. I wouldn't hesitate to order one in the future.

Saturday featured bad weather in the morning - heavy rains - that ruined my iPod Shuffle... I tried to sneak out for a run during a brief sunny spot, only to get caught in a massive downpour 15-20 minutes later. Try as I might to protect my iPod, it fell victim to Mother Nature and died. ARGH.

And, as luck would have it, just after my iPod was wrecked by the weather, the sun came out and the weather was gorgeous. 90F and not a cloud in the sky. Go figure. Someone really hates me.

So it was over to the new Thai place to try some of their grub. Egg rolls, steamed dumplings, and chicken Pad Thai. All were excellent! No grease, good flavor, great service, and good value - win, win, win.

Here are the photos (egg rolls, dumplings, Pad Thai):

thai_rolls.jpg

thai_dumplings.jpg

thai_padthai.jpg


After downing some Thai food, it was time to hit the highway - picked-up some cheese and some coffee from Beres Brothers (their Highlander Grogg is unreal). Ran a few more errands and then headed over to Paul's Neighborhood Bar to watch the Brewers game. Paul's is near the apartment and is a pretty friendly place with good food, good service, and great prices. They also serve breakfast, which seemed odd - a bar that opens at 6:00am to serve breakfast? Wow. But, who am I to argue or question things...

Started the evening with some cheese curds and deep-fried mushrooms:

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paul_shrooms.jpg

And wrapped it up with a cheese burger (add lettuce, tomato and onion) and cajun fries:

paul_burger.jpg

paul_fries.jpg

So good. There's nothing like good, greasy bar food. Unfortunately, that little event counted for an ungodly amount of calories, so on Sunday morning I hit the road on my new bike frame - yes, the local shop came through and warrantied my beloved Cervelo (although there was a fee for assembly).

I did just over 70 miles (burning 4500 calories), and then finished with a 5-mile run (burning 580 calories). So, by 11:00am on Sunday, I was back to "calorie neutral."

The new bike frame is wonderful - I was quick to love on the Seven, but the Cervelo is really an awesome bike. It's so fast - it accelerates and climbs like a friggin' race car - it really does. And, I believe Cervelo tweaked the ride quality a bit with the '09 version (my replacement frame is a 2009 model, rather than a 2008) - the ride was a bit more smooth than I remembered it, and that was a welcomed surprise. It wasn't nearly as velvety as the Seven, but it wasn't as bone-jarring as the '08 ride.

Upon closer examination of the new frame, it appears as though Cervelo changed the seatpost geometry and diameter, which may explain the smoother ride. Here's the newly reconditioned steed, in all of its glory:

bike_newframe.jpg

And a close-up of the revised seat post structure - it tapers to a narrower diameter at the top (27.2mm vs 31.7mm) to improve ride quality and (I'm guessing here) improve aerodynamics slightly. The seat stays are still pencil thin - it's ridiculous that they can hold-up while being so thin.

bike_seatpost.jpg

While out on the bike, I stumbled across a farm that was selling fresh sweet corn - they had a picnic table set-up in the front yard, along with a bucket that you put your money into. A dozen ears of corn were $3.50... so, I picked-up a few ears, dropped a few bucks in the bucket and enjoyed some delicious sweet corn. To say that "in season" sweet corn is addictive is an understatement - this stuff is so sweet, so tender, and oh so good. I could very easily eat it every single night - add a very light sweep of butter, a pinch of Kosher salt, and a shake of pepper, and you've got an unbeatable treat.

corn.jpg

So there you have it. Jordan's = Win. Ha Long Bay = Win. Paul's = Win. New bike frame = Win. Corn on the cob = Win. The only downside was losing the iPod to the rain... but, I guess you can't win them all. Catch you next week!

Oh life... you're so cruel.

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So as I mentioned in an earlier entry, my beloved bike has suffered a fatal injury - the bottom bracket cracked, and the bottom bracket is an integral part of the frame. Any problems with the bottom bracket, and it's a "no ride" situation. And, since my bike is carbon fiber, it cannot be repaired - it has to be replaced. There's a chance my frame will be covered under warranty, and I hope it is, because I simply cannot afford to replace the frame - there's no possible way I could beg, borrow, or steal enough money to cover the replacement cost. :-(

Here's what a cracked bottom bracket looks like:

bb_right.jpg

Carbon fiber - so light, but so fragile. It's got me absolutely sick.

The shop that's looking at the frame and working with the manufacturer to get it covered under warranty was kind enough (or should I say evil enough) to lend me a bike to use while mine is out of commission. Normally, I'd be grateful and ecstatic to receive such a generous offer, but the shop lent me a bike that is so awesome, and so much farther out of my league that I'm now genuinely even more upset that I ever had the opportunity to ride such an incredible machine.

The bike is a custom-made Seven Cycles bicycle. These beauties are handmade by true craftsmen; the attention to detail is unbelievable, the ride is indescribable, and the look is absolutely drop-dead sexy. As the bike sits here in the living room, I can't stop looking at it - it's so gorgeous, but the beauty is more than skin deep - there are some serious brains behind this fabulous figure.

seven_rocks.jpg

Look at that beauty. So elegant - a combination of titanium and carbon fiber - it's truly marvelous. The roads around here, as you're well aware, are barely passable. They literally beat you into submission - the expansion joints feel like canyons, and potholes abound. Stop paying attention for a second and you'll likely be slammed back into reality when your bike pounds into a crater-sized road imperfection. Whenever I'm on my "regular bike," I dread the roads - I can't wait to get out and into the country, where the roads are smooth(er) so that I can focus on riding without worrying that I'll be bounced off my bike or jarred into a crash.

Well, believe it or not, but the loaner bike handles every single road imperfection with absolute aplomb. I put 80-some miles on the bike this weekend, and it made every road feel like a brand new stretch of perfect pavement. I was shocked - I couldn't believe that our crummy roads could feel so nice.

I was able to maintain speed without worrying that I'd hear a "snap" or a "pop" or some other unsettling sound. Seven's engineers are pure geniuses, and I don't pretend to know the first thing about road bike geometry or tuning, but I'm confident that if Bentley built bicycles, they wouldn't be able to hold a candle to Seven's stuff.

It's crazy to think that I'm so excited over a loaner bike that doesn't fit me properly and that is completely out of my price range, but it really has been a "ride changing" experience. If I had a Seven ID8, I wouldn't have to spend hours trying to map "smooth rides" - I could just go out and pile on the miles. It would be glorious.

seven_details.jpg

Look at the attention to detail - not only is their logo perfectly machined into the rear stay, those welds (on titanium no less) are impeccable. I took 100+ photos of the bike - a bike that's not even mine! I won't bore you with them, but wow - this thing is amazing in every respect.

Part of the secret to the ID8's awesome ride is its ingenious integration of carbon fiber in some key areas - namely the seat tube and seat stays. From what I understand, these aren't high stress areas, but they carry a tremendous benefit when it comes to damping and cushioning. Combine the carbon fiber in those areas with a slightly longer chainstay, and it makes for a truly magical ride. I did 70-miles on Sunday alone and for the first time ever, I didn't feel "beat up" after the ride. Yes, my legs were a little tired, as I averaged 20.7 mph on the ride, but the rest of my body was feeling fresh.

Here's a shot of the carbon seat stays:

seven_carbon_stays.jpg

That's some seriously cool-looking carbon. Here's a shot of it on the seat tube:

seven_seattube.jpg

It's so slick! The sum of the little details all add-up to one seriously awesome bike. Awesome to the power of incredible. I'm not normally at a loss for words, but this bike has really impressed me - I wish I'd never ridden it, because now I know what a "real" performance bike should feel like.

The ID8 does have one minor kink in its otherwise perfect body - this particular frame doesn't seem to climb or accelerate as well as my current bike does. What does that mean? Well, on my bike, when I really crank on it to accelerate or climb a serious hill, it goes. There's no "softness" or "cush" - it just goes. With the ID8, I found myself struggling a bit with acceleration and climbing steep hills. Part of it could be the gearing (this ID8 demo bike had a terrible gearing configuration), but part of it I suspect is a result of the emphasis on the super smooth ride. It's a minor, minor complaint - barely worth noting - but I couldn't continue to gush. :-)

I'm guessing that if I were to ever be able to obtain a Seven, and it were indeed custom made for me, I'd be able to have them build-in a little better acceleration and climbing responsiveness. Sigh, and that's why life is so cruel. I'll only be able to dream and wonder what it might be like.

Here are some final pictures of this wonderful machine - I'm dreading the minute when the shop calls to either give me bad news (that I have to return the bike) or really bad news (that my frame can't be warrantied). Sigh...

Look at that beefy bottom bracket - no shot it'll ever crack!

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And the frontend - so strong, yet so forgiving. The fork absorbs road imperfections without sacrificing handling and agility. The head tube? Forget about it - bulletproof.

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Look at those welds - pure magic.

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I've never wished more in my life that Santa really did exist! So amazing, and I'm truly envious of anyone that's lucky enough to own one of these magnificent machines. Until you've had a chance to ride one, it's understandable as to why you might not be able to fathom why I'm so giddy about the Seven ID8. It's truly a masterpiece, and my hat is off to everyone at Seven. Keep on doing what you're doing!

Another one down.

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Happy Mothers Day!

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Oh, and I did another triathlon today. This one was part of the Texas Tri Series - The Pure Sport Rookie Triathlon - in New Braunfels. We sponsor the series (along with several other companies), so I was able to get free entrance to the race, and I was able to sneak in at the last minute, which was nice. As you can see, I was entrant number 944... they allowed approximately 1000 people into the race, so it was a decent-sized event.

New Braunfels is about 30 minutes south from Austin, approximately half-way between Austin and San Antonio. The race started at 8:00am; the transition area closed at 7:40am, and you had to be there by no later than 7:00am; they recommended a full hour before close of transition, so it was up at 4:30am... nice.

Not many pictures to share, sorry... here I am coming out of the water (not dead last in my group, but pretty close!):

swim_transition.jpg

My swimming is still so awful. I thought I had done pretty well on the swim, but nope - I pretty much got my butt kicked by everyone else... my swim time was just under 10 minutes (9:35) - 300M... ick. I didn't use my wetsuit because the water temperature was warm (75F), and the water smelled like sewer, so I didn't want to stink up my new suit.

I am proud to say that my transitions have improved tremendously since my last triathlon. I spent a total of 2:35 in the transition area (out of water, run 100 yards to bike area, put on bike shoes, helmet, glasses, run to bike mount area, and start riding), so that was great. Once on the road, I got after it pretty good - it was only an 11-mile ride, so I was able to crank on it. I finished the ride portion in just under 35 minutes, for an average of about 19mph. Back in transition, I spent just under 3 minutes dismounting the bike, running with it to the rack area, changing shoes, taking off my helmet, putting on socks & shoes, and leaving the transition area.

The run segment was a short 2-miles; I finished it in 16 minutes. Here I am coming toward the finish line (behind the open shirt dude - I slowed for the photo):

tri_running.jpg

Total time: 1 hour 6 minutes. Not great by any real means, but I did finish 182 overall (out of about 1000), so that's not too horrible. Especially considering I didn't start swimming again until Monday of this week. :-)

We had a small booth at the event - here are Amy and Richard in our "booth lite":

tp_booth_tri.jpg

With the race finished, it was down to San Antonio to grab a bite to eat on the Riverwalk and to see the Alamo. I had been there a few years ago, but figured that since I was so close, it might be nice to stop by.

Had breakfast tacos for lunch - yummy:

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And then stopped and saw the Alamo:

Ran into this cute little kitty along the Riverwalk:

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And then drove back to Austin. Did some laundry, sat by the pool, and am now contemplating dinner...

Speaking of dinner, we had a farewell dinner for Lina, our graphics artist intern, on Friday. We stopped at Maria's Taco Express for some happy hour fun and delicious tacos. Here's a picture of part of the Trigger Point crew:

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From left-to-right: Jessica (marketing/events), Lina (graphic arts), Me, Thomas (east coast sales).

That's about it! Looking forward to a busy week at work, so the blog will probably be a bit slow. Oh, before I go, here's a picture of my neighbor's dog, Zeus - he's the cutest Chihuahua I've ever seen:

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I am a big loser.

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I've managed to shed 118 pounds.

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The scale shows 167.0 lbs, as of late last week. The highest weight I recall having seen over the past 10 years for myself was 285-ish. I think I may have been as high as 295, but I'm not sure, so I'll just stick with 285 as my official high weight. I was 275-ish when I went on a cruise back in April of 2006. I wore a size 44 - 46 pants, a 3XL t-shirt, and my dress shirts were 18" in the neck. My belts were a 48. I constantly tried to hide in my clothes - I'd buy stuff that was a bit too large, pull on it constantly, stretch it before putting it on, all of those fun gimmicks to try and disguise my body shape.

Here's me in April of 2006:

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And here I am today (actually last night), in my new wetsuit. Granted, it sucks in the body a bit, but you can tell a difference (and what an awful picture - ugh!).

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Today, I weigh in at between 167 - 171, depending on the time of day. I wear a size 32 pants, a size M or L t-shirt, and my dress shirts are 15 - 15.5" neck size. My chest went from a 48-49 to a 40. My belt is a 34-36.

Everyone asks, "How did you do it? What's your secret?"

There's no real secret, although I have learned a few tricks along the way, and I'll share them here. I'll start with some background on how I got started.

Sometime around October of 2007, I started trying to jog a little. I bought a treadmill, and would walk on it every so often, maybe do a light jog, but it was frustrating - I couldn't really jog for more than a minute or two before becoming completely winded. I gave up after a few weeks.

Then I saw an Ironman triathlon on the TV and figured I'd give jogging another try. I still couldn't jog much, but I was determined to do it. I went online, found a program called "couch to 5k" and tried to follow it as best I could. A few months later, I bought a used bicycle and started riding it. I felt better, but the weight wasn't really dropping off.

I continued to jog and ride my bike. On weeknights, I'd jog my 25-minutes (per the 5k program) on my treadmill. On weekends, I'd take the bike over to the Military Park and ride. I started with 6 miles, and within a few months was up to 50-60 miles. I vowed to do a triathlon before the end of 2008, and set my sights on a few.

In the meantime, I adjusted my diet - I never ate breakfast, I'd have a dry, grilled chicken salad for lunch, and I'd eat a handful of pretzels with peanut butter for dinner. I kept running at night - 3 - 4 times per week. I kept riding on the weekends. Just before my triathlon was scheduled, I went for a few swims. And on August 10, 2008, I did a triathlon. I thought I was in unbelievable shape. My pants fit loose, my shirts were too big - I was a lean, mean, fighting machine. Or was I? Here I am immediately after my race:

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UGH! At this point, I was wearing a size 40 pants, and weighed around 225 pounds. I'd lost at least 60 pounds, but crikey - I was still chubby. About a month later, I took a roadtrip to California, and it was there that I discovered a few secrets to weight loss.

I wasn't eating enough. I wasn't eating in the morning. And, I wasn't exercising in the morning. I firmly believe that those three things are the key to successful weight loss. Here's what changed when I was in California...

I went to CA weighing around 212 pounds. While there, I rode my bike every morning (for about 45 minutes), and went for a 15-20 minute jog. I did this immediately upon waking up - I'd roll out of bed, stretch, put on some clothes, and hit the road. An hour later, I'd come back and take a shower.

I'd then grab a light breakfast (cereal with skim milk, an english muffin with an egg and some turkey bacon, or something like that), and I made sure to wait at least 30 minutes after exercising before eating. I'd eat a light lunch (a turkey sub, no cheese; a salad, no dressing; etc), treat myself to a snack in the afternoon (a cookie or a churro), and then eat a normal dinner.

I felt like a pig the entire time that I was in California - I thought for sure I'd gained 10 pounds. But, when I returned home some 10 days later, the scale showed I was 200 pounds. I'd lost 12 pounds while on vacation - how does that happen??

From that point on, I vowed to always exercise in the morning, eat breakfast, and eat reasonably throughout the day. I've continued to follow that routine and it's helped me shed another 30 pounds in just over 4 months. I've plateaued at times - it's not like I've continued to lose weight every day, but I stayed persistent and consistent.

So, in summary - my tips/secrets go like this:

  • Exercise in the morning. I was exercising like crazy every night and not realizing any kind of significant benefit/change. As soon as I started jogging in the morning, I dropped weight in big chunks. It stands to reason - you crank up your metabolism for the entire day by doing some activity early on.

  • Eat breakfast. You always hear this advice, but it's true. These days, I'll eat a Special K Protein Bar (180 calories), or a bowl of mixed fruit (190 calories), or a bacon egg and cheese muffin (245 calories), or a breakfast taco (egg, pico de gallo, turkey bacon - 190 calories). It's critical - eat in the morning!!

  • Eat more food. I thought that by just eating some pretzels at night that I'd drop weight, but it didn't work. I've added more calories to my diet - I now try to average around 1000 calories per day (versus 500-600 back in August of 2008).

  • Be persistent. I track my food intake online, over at the Livestrong.com website. I enter in everything that I eat and drink, no matter what. If I eat 4 donuts from Round Rock Donut, I enter in 4 donuts. If I drink a few beers at the taco place, I enter them in. It keeps me honest, and it lets me see where I'm at each day. I enter in my exercise as well, which is rewarding - I can look back and see that I've run almost 150 miles since moving to Austin on March 20 - that's pretty cool.

  • Know what you're eating. This is critical. Eating at restaurants every so often is fine, but know what you're eating. Case in point: I can make a chicken fajita taco at my home, and if I make two of them (two tortillas, one chicken breast, bell pepper, onion, tomato, a small scoop of salsa), I consume 300 calories. If I eat two chicken tacos from Taco Bell, it's 420 calories. From Taco Cabana it's 530 calories. And that's without any dressings or sauces... Again - by tracking food via a service like Livestrong.com (which has 550,000+ foods listed), you can really get a handle on things.

  • Don't give up, be realistic, and try to enjoy yourself. This one sounds odd, but I'll do my best to describe it... It's hard to lose weight. It's frustrating, especially at the beginning. Be realistic - you're going to eat pizza. You're going to go to Buffalo Wild Wings and eat waaaaay too many wings. Get back on the plan as soon as possible! But at the same time, try to avoid the pitfall of gorging yourself... I'm definitely guilty of binge eating from time to time - I'll be super good all week, and then one night, I'll order a huge hamburger, fries, cheese curds, and have 3 cookies for dessert. That's no good; consistency is the key - just don't be too much of a nazi, or you'll get discouraged.

So there you have it. Not sure if this info is helpful - it's not really revolutionary, but I can tell you that it works. I never took any pills or supplements (other than the occasional protein shake as a replacement meal). I didn't get hypnotized or follow any fad diets. The age old rules of "eat less and do more" stand firm. I just modified them a bit to "eat more in the morning and do more in the morning."

Ultimately, everyone is different, and our bodies all respond to weight loss in different ways. This is just what has worked for me, and your results may vary. I figured I'd share the info since everyone asks me "how I do it" - and now you know... :-) No secrets, no magic, no mirrors, just the old fashioned "do more" approach.

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Typical day:

7:15 am = Run for around 35 - 45 minutes
8:00 am = Shower
8:15 am = Drive to work; drink a coffee, eat a Special K bar
12:00 pm = Eat lunch (grilled chicken salad; turkey sub; in a pinch: a protein bar)
5:00pm = Ride bike for an hour (I know; I'd rather ride in the AM, but I like sleeping)
6:15pm = Shower
7:00pm = Eat dinner (grilled pork tenderloin, chicken or fish + roasted vegetables)
9:00pm = Eat a snack (apple, cereal, sugar free Jello pudding, etc)

Quite often, I'm busy at work late into the evening, so it's been more difficult to keep this schedule, but I try. Just take it one day at a time! Oh, and thanks for letting me brag a bit... :-)

Howdy, y'all! Hook 'em Horns (or something like that).

So, you've all e-mailed me, and you've all left me voice mails, and you're all wondering what the heck is going on with me. Thanks for the concern, and apologies for not responding to your inquiries - I'm not ignoring you (well, I'm not ignoring most of you), I've just been super busy. I (drum roll) relocated to Austin, Texas last week, and have been immersed in my new job, the city, and all of that fun stuff.

"W-w-w-w-what?!" Yep, I heard you, and I saw you do that double-take-head-twist-thing that you do when you're confused. That's right, I'm in Austin.

"Where's Austin?"

Easy - it's in central Texas, about 2.5 hours south of Dallas, about an hour north east of San Antonio, and about 2 hours north west of Houston. Refer to this wonderful map that I made:

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Cool, eh?

"Why Austin?" Lots of reasons, but most notably I found a great job here and was lucky enough to get offered a position. I've long wanted to live in Austin - there's just something about it - and things "worked out" in just the right order so that I could have that opportunity.

"What's so special about Austin?" Tons of things. But I won't bore you with history and details; you can check out the Wikipedia entry about Austin. Suffice it to say that Austin is a booming area - there are about 1.6 million people in/around the immediate area, the city has a ton of personality, it's very athletic-friendly, and it's not Arkansas. :-) I can actually shop at a store that isn't a Wal-Mart, and I can actually eat at restaurants that aren't chain restaurants. It's so refreshing. But more on that in a bit.

This is going to be another lengthy entry, so please click on the link to read the rest of this entry. Sorry, but we've got a lot of catching up to do!!!

Hell's Kitchen

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On a whim, and without much (read: none) planning, I decided to do a 20-mile bike race yesterday.

While at work last Friday, I was e-mailing with a friend of mine from Competitive Cyclist, and he asked if I was going to do the "Hell's Kitchen" race. I told him that I wasn't aware of the race, so he sent me some information about it.

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I decided to check it out... went back to the house on Friday night, hit the trainer for a bit, and then hoped for the best come Sunday. (Mistake #1)

Sunday morning came far too quickly, and the weather was just slightly better than miserable. It was cold (in the mid 40's), cloudy, foggy, and there was a light mist falling. The race location was about 10 miles south west of Fayetteville, and parking was hard to come by. There were cars lined alongside the road, in fields, and generally scattered everywhere. There were guys riding their bikes on trainers, next to their cars, effectively making the highway a one-lane road.

Found the registration "center" (an old, rundown church), paid my entry fee and bought a license so that I could enter future events. Total cost: $100. Got my number, and headed back to the car to get ready.

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I was shocked to learn that the start and finish lines were about 4 miles from each other... why can't any of the race organizers around here coordinate the start/finish line in the same spot??

I went to the bike race in Lincoln last year, and it suffered the same problem - the finish line was a good 2 miles from the start. My 5k race at the Pea Ridge Military Park had the same problem as well - the finish line was a good mile from the starting line. Is it *that* hard/impossible to mate the starting and finish lines? I guess so.

Moved the car to the finish line, threw on my gear, and rode the 4 miles back to the starting line. It actually worked out for the best to do this; the 4 mile ride was a nice way to warm-up and to make sure that all was well with the bike. I found my staging area and waited for the race to start.

The race was scheduled to start at 10:00am, and I'm assuming that it did - I didn't have my watch turned on at the time, but I saw the Category 1 racers take off in a pack, complete with a police escort. After about a 15 minute wait, Category 2 and 3 riders left. After another 15 minute wait, the Category 4 and Masters (40+ age group) took off. And finally, after another 15 minutes, our group was let loose.

And therein was the first problem... our group, Category 5 (novices/beginners) were released at precisely the same time that the Category 1 (pros) were completing their first lap. Category 1 riders had to do four (4) 20-mile laps; Category 5 had to do one (1) 20-mile lap. So, as we hit the first corner of the race course, the Cat 1 riders were merging in and amongst our group.

Well, everyone freaked out, and wouldn't you know it, but there was a bit of a snarl/mess, and some folks went down directly in front of me. I was able to stop without incident, but by the time I got going, the first half of the Cat 5 group was gone. I cranked along, trying to catch up to them, but it was more or less pointless. Mistake #2: starting the race in the mid pack... next time, I'm starting at the front, no matter what.

Here I am on the course:

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As you can see, I was all alone... well, not for long.... at about the 5 mile point, I was racing along at a nice clip - about 25mph, when out of no where comes this crazy dog, and he decides he's going to try to t-bone my bike. I swerve, slow down, then speed-up, yell at him, bark - but all for nought. He was intent on chasing me... so, I cranked as fast as I could, trying to lose him. I went around a slight bend, and there were 2 cars coming at me from the opposite direction, and thankfully, the dog decided to chase the cars instead, so he stopped (in the middle of the road), let the cars pass within inches of him, and then chased them. I LOVE - LOVE animals, but that dog isn't long for this planet... and his owner(s) need to be strung up for not taking better care of him... argh.

Ok, so now my legs are completely spanked, I'm rattled, I'm still riding alone, with no one to draft, and, I've got about 15 miles to go. Nice. Good thing there's a monster hill in about 10 miles that I have to contend with. The race is called "Hell's Kitchen" because of the monster hill that in previous years has caused portions of the field to quit when they reach it.

Well, I made it to the hill at about the 42-minute mark, and began the climb. They weren't kidding when they said the hill is pure hell - it really is. I swear it goes straight up, and it's about 1.2 miles long. My watch was yelling at me during most of the climb because my heart rate was too high... I checked the readings later, and it showed my heart rate was 237 bpm (beats per minute) during the climb. Sheesh!!!

With the hill behind me, it was time to motor to the finish line. I could see a few people in front of me, so I worked on catching them. One was a Category 1 rider, and 2 were Category 5 riders. I raced down hills - while they were coasting, I was pedaling as hard as I could (watch showed my top speed as 44.7 mph). My legs were on fire, my nose was stuffy, and my glasses were foggy, but I was going to catch them. And I did...

Here's me at the finish line:

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The finish line was also on an uphill stretch, just for good measure, I guess. I finished in about 1 hour flat; not bad for a 20-mile race with a monster hill. I was just happy to finish without incident - I had escaped a wreck, a crazy dog, and the hill from hell. So, all-in-all, it wasn't a bad race. I didn't wait around for the results to be posted, just took off and called it a day. I'm guessing I finished mid-pack at best. Oh well. We'll get 'em next time.

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There's a Yellow Rose of Texas

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...that I am going to see (well, actually I went and saw it this weekend).

That's right - spent the weekend in Austin, TX and really enjoyed it. To sum up Austin in one sentence, "It's like Madison with a southern accent."

Took off from NW Arkansas at around 4pm on Friday, and the first order of business was to stop at the McKinney, Texas Culver's. Nothing like a good burger, some curds, and some fries at 9:00pm.

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That's not really on the diet, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to cheat a bit this weekend. I've been increasing my run distances in preparation for doing a 70.3 (or "half-IronMan" as some refer to it), so consuming a few additional calories wasn't going to hurt too much. ...or so I try to tell myself.

Rolled in to Austin at around midnight, and stayed at a favorite hotel, the Hyatt Place. For those not familiar, the Hyatt Place is a "younger" Hyatt - the rooms feature a 42" LCD television with a media center, free wireless internet, and a big sectional couch with a big leather ottoman. The rates are reasonable to boot, and they've got 24 hour food service - you can stroll down to the lobby at 3:00am and order anything from a Caesar Salad to a Chocolate Chunk cookie with milk. Since they're relatively new, the rooms are fresh, and that's always a bonus.

I went for a run on Saturday morning - it was brisk to say the least - about 45F and extremely windy. The weather channel showed wind gusts of around 35mph; that'll slow you down a bit... after working up a great appetite, it was over to the infamous Magnolia Cafe for some breakfast.

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Their slogan is, "Sorry - We're Open" because they're open 24/7, and it seems like they're busy 24/7.... there was about a 30 minute wait at 9:00 in the morning. People were lined-up everywhere, but the Magnolia makes it easy to wait because they've got an agreement with a boutique store next door - when they call your name for a table, the store has a speaker in it so you can shop at the store and still hear them call you for your table. It's a great idea if you ask me. While at the store, I stumbled across a book called "The Fearless Critic" - it reviews the majority of Austin's restaurants, and it's brutally honest. Not terribly accurate in my humble opinion, but brutal.

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After spending time at the store, the table was ready and it was time to chow down. With my tummy rumblin', I ordered the breakfast tacos - a toasty flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs, a little cheese, some Canadian bacon, and some red potatoes. Thanks to some confusion on my part, I only received one taco, but it was just enough to fill me up. To say it was delicious would be doing it a disservice - it was far better than delicious.

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While at the cafe, there was this little guy who posed for a picture - one of the great things about Austin is how informal and "down to earth" it is. No one dresses up for anything, and it seems to be perfectly acceptable to bring your dog into most places. Talk about cool.

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Breakfast was great, but I was still a tad hungry, so from the Magnolia, it was over to Ken's Dougnuts. Ken's was identified as "the best" doughnut shop by the Fearless Critic book, so it was worth a try.

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Looks good, right? Well, don't always judge a book by it's cover. The place had promise - it was small, located in a horrible location, had terrible customer service, yet earned rave reviews... unfortunately, Ken failed to deliver the goods. The doughnuts were greasy and had an "old grease" taste to them. The dough wasn't light and fluffy - it was damp and icky. What a disappointment. :-(

But, recovery was just around the corner - from Ken's, it was off to tour the various triathlon and bike shops in Austin. Austin is extremely tri-friendly thanks to the Barton Springs pool, Town Lake Park, and harboring an "outdoors-friendly" attitude. It doesn't hurt that Lance Armstrong makes his home in Austin, either...

First stop was at the infamous Jack and Adam's Bike Shop on Barton Springs Road. I've read about this place quite a bit online, and have heard a lot about it on the message boards, so it warranted an in person visit. It's a small place for sure, but they seem to carry a lot of great stuff.

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From Jack and Adam's, it was over to the Austin Tri Cyclist or "ATC" as folks refer to it. ATC is nothing to look at from the outside - in fact, I drove clear past it without even noticing it. How I missed this place is beyond me:

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I really liked the ATC. They had a ton of gear there - more carbon wheels than you could shake a stick at, tons of high end frames, a great selection of clothing and accessories, and a bunch of stuff you wouldn't normally find at any 'ole bike shop. I bought a few shirts and they even threw in a freebie t-shirt just for stopping by. That was pretty cool. While in the store, I watched as a guy spec'd out a new bike - a Cervelo P3C (which is about $4500 for the frame alone) and judging from the components he was looking at, I'm going to say his total bill was going to easily approach $10k.

From ATC, it was back to the downtown area for some bumming around and then I spent some time on the SW side of Austin. With dinner fast approaching, the locals suggested a place called Z Tejas. It's grown from a small house on 6th Street in Austin to a nationwide chain of restaurants.

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Once again, "Z" didn't disappoint - the little house looked, well, "little" from the outside, but it was quite expansive on the inside. They even have a "breezeway" that connects the original house to a larger, newer addition that's located next door. After a quick wait, the hostess called with a table. The margaritas were awesome - I'd highly recommend them:

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I'd also recommend the queso trio appetizer - wow. It was absolutely fantastic:

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And finally, the main course, a seared tuna steak with fresh veggies, was capital I-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e. Oh so good.

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The tuna was supposed to come with a mustard/bbq glaze, but I asked for it on the side - I loved how they wrote "Z Tejas" with the mustard in the glaze. :-) The whole dinner experience was fantastic - there wasn't a single thing that could've been any better. The only regret was that dinner was over too fast.

The meal was so good in fact, that the cornbread, which looked amazing, went largely untouched - it wasn't until the end of the meal that I tried a piece of it. And, surprise - it was yummy!

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From Z Tejas, it was over to one of the most spectacular grocery stores on the planet - Whole Foods. For those not familiar with this grocery chain, there's no possible way that I can do it any justice by describing it. It's such an experience - they have everything imaginable at the store, from top quality meats and fair trade organic locally grown vegetables to Earth shoes, wine, and gourmet pastries.

The Austin store is the "anchor" store - you can go to cooking classes, eat a 5-star lunch/dinner, and shop for tons of kitchen gadgets at this culinary Mecca. I could only get a blurry shot of it, so apologies for the poor photo:

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After a busy day, it was time to hit the rack. Got up fairly early on Sunday morning with the intention of visiting the walking trails, but the weather was still chilly and breakfast sounded a lot more inviting than a walking trail. Back downtown, this time to Jo's Coffee for some grub:

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Got there just in time - a crowd assembled and people were waiting for a table immediately after breakfast was ordered. What was ordered?

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Migas! Migas are scrambled eggs, with tomatoes, corn tortillas, peppers, and onions. They're served with flour tortillas, black beans (these had cheese as well), and a side of potatoes. Yummy!

As filling as Jo's was, I still had a craving for a good doughnut, so it was time to consult the Fearless Critic. This time, the Critic suggested Mrs. Johnson's Bakery, and I must say, Mrs. Johnson, whoever she is, knows how to make a good doughnut. Ken - pay attention - Mrs. Johnson has got it goin' on.

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The place is open from like 9pm through about noon, and I got there at about 11:30, so they threw in 2 free doughnuts. I didn't complain, nor did my fat cells - they said, "Hey, thanks!!"

On the way out of Austin, the Jetta made a quick stop at IKEA - just to browse. IKEA is another one of those awesome stores that "does it right" - their store is well organized, the prices are fantastic, the quality isn't bad, and they've got tons of cool gear.

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It wasn't fun to leave Austin - the city was great, and the prospect of an 8 hour drive wasn't real attractive. Especially when you're cruising the open road... with nothing to see or do...

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So, to break the monotony of the highway, there was one more stop at:

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:-)

That made things a little better. Here I am, cruisin' down the road. Hope you all had a good weekend.

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It's never too early

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To start thinking about birthday gifts... and since mine is coming up in the not-too-distant-future, I figured I'd throw out a few hints/ideas/suggestions for folks to consider. Don't worry if you duplicate each others' purchases - I'll appreciate your gift(s) no matter what.

I'd like, in no particular order, any one of these gifts:

1. Cycleops Power Tap SL+ Hub (Shimano hub)

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This hub is pretty awesome - it measures the amount of power expended during a ride, which is an invaluable training tool. It measures ad saves data about each ride so you can go back and review progress, weak spots, improvements, and so on. During races, it helps you determine when to take it easy and when to get after it. It's the most accurate calorie burning tool available for a bike. Unfortunately it's outrageously expensive...


2. Zipp 808 Cyldesdale Carbon Clincher Wheelset

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I've rode next to people who have these wheels and can say this: they sound awesome (they make that "woosh/woosh/wooosh" noise like you'd hear when a Samurai sword is swung through the air), they look cool, and they're definitely fast. Combine these with that Power Tap hub, and look out.


3. Samsung 52" LCD 1080p 120Hz Television

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I'm thinking this TV would make a nice edition to the bedroom.


4. Nike Pro Dri-Fit Long Sleeve Top and Shorts (compression)

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I snagged some of these while in Joplin this weekend, and I really like them. I think they're even better than the UnderArmour versions - they fit better, and are more comfortable (so far). I like the tops and bottoms - but they have to be the compression version (really tight). Size Large (for top and bottom), in black.


5. DeSoto 400-mile Bib Shorts

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I've got 2 pair of bib shorts and they're the best riding shorts I've ever worn. The DeSotos are supposed to be the very best out there - comfortable, long lasting, invaluable. Shorts do make all of the difference when it comes to longer rides. I'll take these in Large, black/black.


6. Osprey Atmos 50 Backpack

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I'm a bit "on the fence" about this one... I've been researching backpacks for a while, and I'm torn between the Osprey, The Smart Alec from Tom Bihn, the Rocket Science Rocket bag, or a Zoot Z-Pack bag. I'm sure all are extremely nice and extremely similar - it's just hard to decide which one would be best... I'd like to start riding my bike to and from work, and a good backpack could make all the difference. It'll also double as a triathlon bag, so I'm asking a lot from one bag. Decisions, decisions... surprise me, and I'll be happy! :-)


7. Apple Aperture 2.1

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Apple's first attempt with this program was awful, but they turned things around with version 2. It's absolutely amazing; it quickly indexes, organizes, and displays digital images, allows for adjustments (without "damaging" the original file), and generates all sorts of cool things like online galleries, print-ready books, and so on. It's not a true Photoshop replacement, but it's pretty darned close. I've used the trial version for quite a while, but it has since expired. :-(

So there you have it. Five Six Seven great gift ideas for Steveo. I'll probably think of some other ideas; when I do, I'll update this entry. :-)

Edit: Here are some great LOL Cats:

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On the road again

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Man, what a relief! The weather has finally taken a turn for the better; after many, many weeks of cold temperatures, snow, ice, and all sorts of other nasty stuff, we seem to have hit a patch of good weather.

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So that meant I got to roll the bike off from the trainer and on to some real pavement! I checked my tire pressures, filled up some water bottles, lubed the chain, checked skewer tensions, threw on some biking clothes and hit the trail. The ride was absolutely wonderful. It was so nice to be out and about rather than cranking out miles on the 'ole trainer.

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Even though it was gusting heavily (25-30mph gusts) the Pea Ridge trail does a great job of blocking most wind. The trail is nestled in valleys and forges, and you're surrounded by trees for the majority of the loop, so it makes for a great ride and run. I cranked out 36 effortless miles - maybe that trainer isn't so evil! I suppose it also helps that I'm hauling around 30-40 less pounds than I was last year.

I passed several families that were riding their bikes, enjoying the wonderful weather. I came up on a family of 5-6 people: mom, dad, and a bunch of kids. They were all on their bikes, weaving around on the trail, not paying attention to anything behind them, and just more or less meandering... So, I slowed down (it was on a flat section, and I had been cranking at about 24-25 mph) and said, "Hi - sorry - coming up on your left."

The mom, who was in the back of the pack, ordered her kids to move to the right, and they all did. The dad, who was leading the pack, looked over his shoulder and waved me past, so I pedaled on by. As I was passing one of the kids, he goes, "WOW - that is a cool bike! Dad, I want that one!" And the dad goes, "I want it, too!"

I laughed. I like my bike, and it is pretty sexy, but I didn't think anyone "normal" would think anything of it. I gave a quick shout of "Thanks!" back to them, and went on my way. I passed them three more times during my ride - I was averaging just over 18 minutes per lap - and each time, the kid would say something like, "Cool" or "Awesome." I'd always say, "Thank you - your bike isn't too bad either." Or something like that.

I guess my bike is pretty cool, even when it's dirty:

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People often ask what the Vroomen.White.Design means - it stands for Gerard Vroomen and Phil White Design - they're the two gentlemen who started Cervelo. They're geniuses, if you ask me - their bikes are so phenomenal.

Anyway... I finished my ride, then hit the trail for a run - I did 4 miles, and even that was enjoyable. The net result of today's workout efforts? Looks like I can pig out tonight!

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No, not really. I downloaded an application for my iPhone from Livestrong, and it's an awesome program. It's also totally free - and if you don't have an iPhone, you can simply visit their website, register, and track everything (food, exercise, weight) online.

The awesome thing about the Livestrong application is that it syncs with TheDailyPlate.com, which has more than 500,000 foods and restaurants worth of nutritional information in it, so you can easily track your calories. I've been using it for about a month now, and absolutely love it. It's incredibly easy to use, and it appears to be fairly accurate; I compared my workout calories between the Livestrong application and my Garmin watch, and both were within 5% of each other, so that's decent validation in my book.

To use the Livestrong application/site, you simply enter your age, weight, and "normal" activity level. It then recommends a base calorie rate (mine is 1,482) to achieve a weight loss goal of 1-lb per week. From there, I simply enter in my foods each day (as you can see, I had an egg with egg whites for breakfast (it's actually cut-off - I also had Canadian bacon, an English muffin, and some fruit)), and from there, the application tells me how many calories I have left for each day.

Exercising allows you to eat more - and in my case, I burned quite a few calories on my ride and run, so I have plenty of spare calories that I could eat today. I won't go crazy, though - I did that last night... pizza, donuts, nachos...

Anyway - check out the Livestrong site. It's a great fitness tool.

Race Report: Chilly but fun

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I woke up nice and early today (around 5:30am) so that I could participate in the Pea Ridge Runner 5k Race. It was a brisk 32F when I woke up, so that didn't help motivate me too much. The bed was much warmer and far more comfortable than my running shoes...

After hemming and hawing about the absurd nature of this early morning racing, I put on several layers of clothing and made my way to the car. I arrived at the park at just about 7:00am, which gave me 30 minutes to register, stretch, and find a place on the starting line.

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As you can see, it was still quite chilly at just 13 minutes before the race. Thankfully it was sunny, but it was also quite windy - take a look at the flag in this picture... according to my WeatherBug program, it was 21F with the windchill. Nice.

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As soon as I saw a group forming near the starting line, I hopped out of the car and made my way over to them. There were approximately 300 - 325 racers at the park, most of them appeared to be fairly serious runners - spandex was everywhere.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the race, as the park didn't set-up the course until Friday (yesterday), and no one at the park knew anything about the course when I had inquired last weekend. I assumed it would be some type of simple loop - 1.5 miles out and 1.5 back.

Well, the race wasn't organized too well... the marshals didn't have any type of bullhorn or PA system for communicating with us about the course, so instead they walked around the starting group shouting instructions about the race. Unfortunately, most people were talking, so the marshals had to repeat the instructions at least 10 times. This delayed the start (and kept us in the cold) for a good 15-20 minutes. A loud cannon blast started the race, and next thing I knew, I was off and running.

I had started in the last third of the group. I wasn't sure how fast everyone would run, and I didn't want to be in anyone's way. This was my second biggest mistake... my first mistake being not wearing gloves - my hands froze during the entire race.

I found myself quickly passing people like they were standing still. A check of my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch showed that I was pacing at an 8-minute mile, which is my comfortable running speed. Yet everyone else seemed to be crawling. So, I darted and weaved, and at the first turn I was in the top-third of the group.

The course was designed quite inefficiently... we ran from the main parking lot (pictured above), and headed west for 1.10 miles. Then we turned around and headed west, back toward the parking lot. This meant that there was a lot of traffic to negotiate - as I was making my way back toward the lot, I was having to dodge people who were running both with me and toward me... annoying to say the least.

At the 2.15 mile mark, we headed west/northwest toward one of the more popular landmarks at the military park - unfortunately, it's located quite a ways from the main parking lot... I wasn't quite sure how they'd get us all back to the main lot when the race was over, but I kept chugging away. The packs had thinned quite a bit, and I was now running mostly by myself. I had one guy who was tailing me, but other than that, it was mostly a solo affair.

We made our way past the finish line (yep, you read that correctly), and then turned around in the parking lot of the Elkhorn Tavern (that's the popular landmark), and ran another 500-600 yards back to the finish line. I finished the race (3.54 miles) in 27 minutes and 6 seconds. They haven't posted the results as of yet, but I'm guessing I finished in about 45-60th place overall.

After the race was over, it was still quite chilly, and we were now stuck about a mile from the main parking lot. Everyone was sort of standing around; people were still trying to finish the race, and there were supposed to be shuttle busses to take us back to the main lot, but they wouldn't allow the shuttles onto the course until everyone was done racing.

So, to appease everyone, the race marshals had ice water and ice cold Lipton Tea for us to "enjoy" while we waited for the buses. There was supposed to be breakfast food, but the catering truck was stuck in the main parking lot as well, waiting for the racers to finish. I had heard rumors of a bonfire somewhere, but never could find it.

So, I walked back to my car and left. There was supposed to have been an iPod Touch that was to be raffled off, and you had to be present to win it, but I wasn't going to stand around in 32F weather, drinking ice water, and hoping to win a $500 iPod.

All in all, the race was fun - the course was a bit dopey, but it was a good race. Logistically, it was a nightmare, but this was only their second year for the event, so some flaws are to be expected. I guess I'm now officially done with races for 2008... I'll have to wait until next year to do some triathlons and some more 5Ks.

Final bit of bragging

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I really feel like a heel for sharing this stuff, but since the vast majority of my friends have left work, I don't have many people to talk to any more, so I'll just post it on here:

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Sorry for the blurry photo - my iPhone doesn't take close-up shots real well. I bought some new jeans last week, and I had to order size 34 (they just came today via UPS - had to order them because the local stores didn't have any 34s with a longer inseam).

I couldn't believe it. Last year about this time, I was excited to be down to a size 40 pants (I was a 44 at my heaviest). So to be able to squeeze into a 34 is amazing - I'm in shock, actually. I don't think I've been a 34 since around 1998. I'm still a good 30-pounds heavier than I was in 1998, so I'm not quite sure how I can fit into these, but they fit pretty well. A few more dropped pounds and they'll be perfect.

In other news, the race is coming up on Saturday, and the weather should be a bit brisk... low of 35, high of 54, and the race is at 7:30am. I've been focusing on running - speed drills, increasing distances, form, and so on. I "test ran" the course last Saturday and finished in just over 24 minutes, which is what I figured I would do.

The odd thing is that I ran again on Sunday and could barely huff out 3.5 miles; I was dying. And then last night was a speed night, so I ran 2 miles at a 7:00/mile pace and was totally fine. It's crazy - I only hope that next Saturday is a "good" day; if I crash, I'll be angry.


Other news: I'm addicted to sushi. I never thought I'd like it, but wow - is it fantastic. My favorites:

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Yellow-fin Tuna roll: yummmmmmy!


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Sashimi Tuna: so good


When I first tried sushi a few months ago, I hated it. The reason I hated it was because people had suggested that I try the "California Roll" because it wasn't really "sushi." For those not familiar, a California Roll typically has: avocado, crab meat, and cream cheese. Three things that I absolutely detest... So it's no wonder I didn't care for "sushi" at that time...

Then I went back to the sushi place with some people who really knew the ins and outs of sushi, and discovered that I absolutely love "real" sushi. We ordered 8 or 9 different types of rolls, and I liked all of them, save for the "Philly roll" (spicy tuna with cream cheese). Good sushi isn't fishy, it's not slimy, and it's not gross - it's delicious. I love it.


Final odds-n-ends tidbit: I got hooked on John Grisham books. In the past week I've read three of them. Wow! I had no idea they were so good. One of my all time favorite movies is "Runaway Jury," which is a movie that's based on the Grisham book. A few of my friends were talking about "The Partner" so I bought the book and was hooked. I finished it in just over a day - it was that good.

Now I'm reading "The Appeal" and can already tell that I'll blow through it in a day or less. Why didn't I know about these books?? :-) They really help make the workday pass quickly.


Guess that's about it for now...

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Oh, and thank goodness today is election day. I hope that America 'gets it right' and elects someone that won't continue to run our country into the ground.

1.20.09: T-minus 77 days and counting. It can't come soon enough.


One last race for 2008!

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I woke up this morning and decided to stop at WalMart before trudging into work. I felt like getting a newspaper and a Diet Mt. Dew (I've drastically cut my consumption over the past month or so).

As I was reading the paper, I stumbled across a story about a 5k race (run) that's being hosted at the Pea Ridge Military Park. For those not aware, the Pea Ridge Military Park is where I do the majority of my bike riding and running. I love the place - it's gorgeous, fairly challenging, and relatively quiet. I bought an annual pass this year ($15) and have gone to the park nearly every single weekend to ride and run.

I called the race organizer and discovered that there was still time to register for the event, so I signed-up, and with any luck will get to do one last race before the end of 2008. Granted, it's not a triathlon, but a quick 5k run should be a pretty fun time. Looking at 2007 results, I'll probably finish just outside of the top-10 for my age group... I'm not a fast runner by any means, and the park is pretty hilly, so I'm guessing I'll average an 8:00 mile, which would put me somewhere around the 10-12 spot; and at about the 50% overall spot.

I'll train a little harder this week and we'll see what happens.


And, what recent post would be complete without two pictures from LOLcats?

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and, while not technically related to anything about cats, it's funny...

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I hate to brag... but...

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I feel guilty for sharing this with everyone, but I was sort of shocked by it myself. I went to the doctor on Monday for a check-up, and they weighed me as part of the normal routine. I haven't weighed myself since around Christmas time, so I honestly had no idea how much I weighed.

The nurse threw me on the scale, ran the weights, tilted her head, and asked me to step off. She reset everything to zero, then had me step on again. She said, "That's odd - it shows that you're 71 pounds lighter than last time."

71 pounds. Holy crikey. I went from 279lbs in June of 2007 to 208lbs as of yesterday. I was shocked. Shocked that I weighed so much a year ago (I had been running, but not for very long), and shocked that I weighed 208. I feel heavier than that - I would've guessed somewhere around 220. I never really started the triathlon training with the intention of losing a lot of weight - I just wanted to be able to run for more than a few minutes without getting completely winded.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that biking has been the best thing for weight loss. I really noticed the pounds starting to drop in April/May of this year, which is about when I hit the 35-40 mile mark on my bike rides. I also notice that I burn the most calories when biking - a typical 50 mile ride will burn about 5,000 calories, and takes about 2.5 hours. A typical 5 mile run burns about 800-900 calories and takes just under an hour. A typical swim session burns about 500 calories and takes about 20 minutes.

Oh, and for those that have asked - here's my "secret" to losing the weight (there's no real secret - it's not much fun):

3x - 4x week = swim (1,000 - 1,200 meters each time; about 20 minutes)
4x - 5x week = run (3 - 5 miles each time; about 25 - 50 minutes)
2x week = bike (40-60 miles each time; about 2 - 3 hours)

Eating: I generally have:

- oatmeal in the morning (1 packet)
- light lunch (Subway turkey sub with lettuce/cucumbers; or a salad, no dressing)
- light dinner (similar to lunch)

I recently gave up soda and have been drinking water, unsweet tea, POM tea (pomegranate flavored tea) and/or Naked juice, but I usually try to limit myself to 3-4 of the juices per week, as they have a fair amount of calories in them. And, for the past 3 weeks or so, I've been trying to eat extra "clean" - a lot of fruit (kiwi, cantaloupe, pineapple, grapes, mango, blueberries) and a lot of water. I think that's helped a ton as well. I've slipped a little this week (enjoyed stuffed peppers and beef stroganoff), but I figure I can cheat a little. :-)

So, enough bragging. Sorry to do it here - just had to share, and "digest" the news by writing about it. I fully expect that within a year or so, I'll be back to being fat... my body seems to love putting on weight... :-D


Edit: Oh, funny little story about the doctor's office... my doctor is a bit of a "Mountain Man" - he looks sort of like Grizzly Adams and is a really straight shooter. Not a big believer in using pills to fix problems and so on.

So, he looks at my chart and goes, "See you've dropped some weight - that's great. What's your secret?" So I told him about the training and he said, "Are you trying to kill yourself?" He chuckled and then said, "No, that's great - I'd like to prescribe your program to some of my larger customers."

We both laughed about it, and then he started asking me computer questions, because they just got a new imaging system and he's not much of a computer guy... picture Grizzly Adams mashing his hands on a keyboard, and it's pretty much a spot-on impression of my doctor.

Cancelled.

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Just got an e-mail this morning from the CATS race organizer - they've cancelled the event. I'll most likely get credit for next year's race, so that's cool.

I went for a short ride this morning (20 miles) and a short run (3 miles); it was sprinkling a little, and it's never real fun to ride when the roads are wet - water sprays everywhere (but mostly on my butt).


Ike vs. Triathlon

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I've got a bit of a dilemma. I have my second triathlon coming up this Sunday, in Conway, AR. But apparently, Conway has an appointment with Ike on Sunday.

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So, do I drive down to Conway on Saturday night, prepare for the race, and get drenched from 7:00am - 10:00am, like I did a few weeks ago? Or, do I cancel it? The rain could be extremely heavy; I'm not sure if they'd call/cancel the race, but I have to assume they would if the weather was bad enough.

I don't mind racing in the rain, but it is a pain... everything gets drenched in the transition area (shoes, gloves, towels, bag, etc), and it does slow you down quite a bit, especially on the bike and in the transitions. The only upside is that it's considerably cooler... And I suppose there's a certain "toughness" factor to it. "I raced in a monsoon!"

Guess I'll play it by ear; plan on going, unless preliminary land rainfall reports are horrendous. Thankfully my non-refundable hotel in Conway was only $45 (HoJo!) and the race entry fee wasn't too bad at $75.

If I do miss it, it's basically the last triathlon I could enter for 2008... which means I'll have to plan more races for 2009...

UPDATE: Just got a notification from the race director that Conway is expected to receive "tropical storm force winds in excess of 60mph" starting late Saturday and early Sunday. They aren't calling the race off quite yet, but it's not looking good...


In other news, I made a slight modification to my work desk today... added another monitor, so that now I can monitor e-mail/messenger while watching a movie (or playing a game) on the PlayStation3, and browse the internet (and listen to Sirius) from my dual-screen laptop. Not too shabby.

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I watched Glengarry GlenRoss yesterday - it was a pretty decent movie. Lots of great dialogue, and Alec Baldwin's 5 minutes in the movie is amazing.

How can my swimming be SO bad??

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Spy photo of my most recent swim:

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I don't understand why my swimming stinks so badly. I took lifeguard classes, SCUBA dove, and considered myself to be a pretty decent swimmer (back in the day). But, holy cats - I can't swim worth a darn these days...

I joined the Fayetteville Boys & Girls Club yesterday so that I could swim laps on my lunch hour. They have an indoor pool that's open to lap swimmers twice a day (7:30am - 8:30am and 12:00pm - 1:00pm). I just got back from "swimming" 1000 meters - crikey, it was awful.

Guess I'll have to find a swim coach as I can't get my breathing sorted out. I can side-stroke or breaststroke all day long with no problems. But, they're such slow strokes... I need to get better at the front crawl; I can do two lengths of the crawl, but then I'm completely toast. I envy the folks who can do the crawl for 1500 meters without any problems.

I suppose it doesn't help much that I officially hate swimming, and all I can think about while swimming is getting out of the pool. :-)

First Triathlon = DONE!

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Surprise!

I did a triathlon this morning. I had registered for it a few weeks ago, but wanted to keep it under my hat; I didn't want anyone to come watch, because I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Fortunately, it went pretty well, all things considered. I didn't win my age group, but I finished 9th out of 17 (only 15 in my group actually finished - two were DNF), with a time of 1:40:xx (I don't remember how many seconds it was). I got edged out by a guy right at the end, otherwise I would've finished 8th... I didn't even know he was behind me - I had tunnel vision and couldn't really hear anything, probably because of adrenaline.

My friend BJ went along to help out (thanks again, Beege - you were a life saver) and to take some pictures. He used a combination of a crummy disposable waterproof camera and my normal camera. The disposable photos are horrible; my plan was to carry it with me throughout the race and snap pictures along the way, but I gave it to BJ at the last minute.

Highlights?

+ Getting kicked about 25 times during the swim - once in the forehead, which caused my head to plunge into the water while I was trying to take a breath... I started choking, and thought I was going to die. I rolled onto my back, coughed water for about a minute, then got back to swimming.

+ Getting passed during the swim by 5 girls... who started five minutes behind my group. My swimming sucks - I need to focus exclusively on improving my swim times.

+ Cutting a 1.5" long gash on the ball of my right foot while exiting the swim portion of the race; there were so many rocks, and it was slippery - I stepped on a rock, slipped, and s-l-i-c-e! That made the bike/run really fun.

+ Being horribly slow in the transition areas. I need to get some tri-specific bike shoes, so I can skip the socks. Putting socks on while you're soaking wet isn't really easy or fun.

+ Passing about 60 people during the bike portion. I flew on that section - my average speed was around 19mph, which I was super happy with. According to the results, I was one of 57 people with a bike time of under 50 minutes. The fastest bike time was 38.xx minutes, and was set by the race winner.

+ Laughing with a 52-year old lady while on the run. She passed by me and said, "tell me again why we do this?" I started laughing - it was pretty funny at the time...

+ The weather; it rained 2.75" between midnight and 7:00am. Our race started at 7:20, and I had to be there by 6:30. So, for a good 45 minutes or so, we got soaked, and so did everything else. My bike got absolutely filthy during the ride... But thankfully it didn't rain much during the race, and just as fortunately the temperature was fantastic - about 75F the entire time.

+ Not dying.

So, without any further ado, here are some photos:

Here's me in the water, getting ready for our start. I was in the 2nd group to leave. There were about 80 people in my group.

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Me, swimming (or as some might say, sinking):

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I think I had cut my foot about 1 second before this picture was taken...

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In the transition area, between the swim and the bike. I was so sloooooow!

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Out on the bike - just leaving the transition area:

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Finishing the race (man, I need to lose another 25 lbs... hideous!!)

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To give you an idea of how much it rained the past few days:

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And here we are, leaving the race - I'm all smiles:

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And the bike - it got a little dirty:

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Race summary:

Swim = 500 meters
Bike = 15.44 miles
Run = 3.25 miles

Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes; 183 out of 274 competitors, 9th in my category

Finished: 9/17 (15 actually finished)


My next race is in Conway, AR on September 14. I plan to swim a TON before that race, and hopefully improve my transition times/speeds. I can't wait to try it again!

Areas to improve:

- Swim time. I did the 500m in 15.xx minutes, which is terrible. I need to get into the 11-12 minute range.

- Transition time. My T1 (swim-to-bike) transition was almost 4 minutes; for comparison, the winner did it in 32 seconds. Socks = the devil.

- Run time. I do a pretty consistent 10-minute mile (6.0 mph) pace. I'd like to bump that up a bit, to like a 9-minute mile or better. Distance doesn't appear to be an issue; I need to speed up a bit.

- Gear. Get some tri-bike shoes (no socks needed) and some zip laces for my running shoes. Everything else appears to be in good shape.


The Storm Trooper

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I bit the bullet and bought a new bike. It's a Cervelo R3 - the same model that I demo'd last week and fell in love with. Words can't explain how much better the R3 rides than my Trek; you simply don't feel any road irregularities - bumps, grooves, heaves, expansion cracks, "washboard sections," chip seal, etc - it's all invisible. The bike just glides right over it all without any issue.

That may not seem like a big deal, but when you're riding 60+ miles at a time, you really appreciate that nice smooth ride. :-) It's also appreciated when doing 38-40mph; on the Trek, a good-sized bump at speed would rattle my teeth and scare the life out of me as the bars shook violently. The Cervelo just cruises right over them all.

And, while it provides a very comfortable ride, it's extremely stiff where it counts - in the bottom bracket area. That means that less energy is wasted by the frame and more power is transmitted to the rear wheel.

I took the bike on its maiden voyage last Saturday morning and did 63 effortless miles out at the Pea Ridge park. I could've gone farther, but it was getting hot and I was getting bored. I powered up the hill without any problems, even after 60 miles. It was amazing.

The bike features Shimano Ultegra components (I basically stole these from a bike shop in Chicago who was closing them out; the price was unbelievable), Mavic Kysrium Premium SL wheels (super stiff, relatively light, areo-spoked, and carbon hubs), Deda bars, a FSA stem & seatpost, and a Selle Italia Gel seat. The seat is insanely comfy - it has a pressure relief slot cut in the middle of it, and wow - what a difference that slot makes.

The bike also came with a Funda 3T fork; it's hit or miss as to whether or not a new Cervelo R3 will come with the 3T fork. The 3T is highly desired because it's lighter in weight and more stiff than the Easton that normally comes with it. It's also quite a bit more pricey; I was lucky - mine came with the 3T at no additional charge.

Anyway, I took some pictures of it this evening, just after a rain storm, and just before sundown - so, the lighting is pretty neat. While it's fun to take pictures of it, I can't wait to go out and ride it some more. It's so spectacular.

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I need to come up with a name for it; I've been calling it the Storm Trooper because of the contrasting white/black... I chose the white seat, white bar tape, and black wheels - figured they'd compliment the frame nicely (the frame is only available in white). I really like the look of it - at first I wasn't to sure about the white frame, but the more I look at it, the more I love it.

It also doesn't hurt that Cervelo bikes won this year's Tour de France... :-)

And, finally - as if this week couldn't get any better, my iPhone finally came in!

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Interestingly enough, it doesn't come with an instruction manual - it's supposed to be intuitive enough to use "as is." I've spent the past few days configuring it and learning the ins-and-outs of it; so far so good.

My only complaint about it is that the "keyboard" is a bit tricky to get used to. My other phone had a wonderful keyboard, but it stunk at everything else, including being a phone. The iPhone has been superb in every respect so far. The internet service on it is phenomenal - I could easily blog from my phone, it's that good.


196. Not good.

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I've been sick since around April 19; stuffed-up nose, can't breathe, coughing up all sorts of good stuff, and just feeling miserable. At first I thought it was a cold, then I thought it was allergies, then a cold, and now I think it's allergies again - there's no way a cold can hang on for over a month and be resistant to loads and loads of vitamins and cold medicines...

As a result, my running/riding has really taken a beating. Further complicating things is the massive amount of rain we've been having - it rained nearly 5" two nights ago again, so everything floods, and that means no riding/running on my usual trails.

I finally had a chance to get out and ride/run on Saturday and Sunday of this week, but it darn near killed me. It had been two full weeks since my last ride/run, and man, did it show. My heart rate averaged 196 bpm (beats per minute) for more than 40 minutes. That's unreal, and actually sort of dangerous. At my age, my max heart rate should be about 186.

So, what do I do? I need to keep training for my June 22 race... but I went and ran 3.6 miles tonight, and again, my heart rate hit 196 for 14 minutes. It used to sit at around 165, which is perfect for me; I'm comfortable and able to exercise without any trouble. But at 196, it's painful.

In all fairness, I think I'm still fairly sick - I constantly cough up green stuff, and my nose runs like a Derby race horse - all day! You might want to buy stock in Kleenex... I'm going through them like crazy at work.

So, I guess I need to figure out what to do and how to lower my heart rate. There's no way I can do the triathlon with things like they are... I'll die - and I still need to get swimming... ugh!

I found a deal on a new tri bike - it's the end of the year, and there are all sorts of incentives for the 2008 models. This one is available in Kansas City; not sure if I want to spend the cash on it or not, but it would be a sweet ride:

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It's a Felt B12 triathlon bike; all carbon fiber, about 16-lbs total weight, and a killer bike. There's one in stock in Kansas City... oh, so tempting. But, I probably should save the money and keep riding my current bike.

I guess I'm in decent shape?

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My first 5k race is just two short weeks away, and I'm getting nervous about it. Why? Oh, I don't know... perhaps because I've never entered a real race before, and perhaps because I don't run outside very often (and when I do, it's usually only after a really long bike ride).

So tonight I decided to go for a run at the local walking trail. It's a 1.8-mile loop, and my goal was to run two laps in under 35 minutes. I strapped on the Garmin GPS watch along with my iPod, made sure my shoes were tied tight, and hit the trail. After my second lap, I wasn't real winded - I looked at my watch, and I had completed the two laps in just a tad over 32 minutes. 16 minutes per lap? I was impressed!

I decided that since I wasn't winded, nor were my legs sore, that I'd do one more lap. I wasn't fully expecting to finish the complete third lap; I had run quite a bit on Sunday, and figured I would eventually run out of gas, but I was wrong. I finished the third lap, and my time showed a total of 49 minutes. Not bad, old man - not bad at all!

I couldn't believe how easy it actually was. I guess that when you don't ride 40 miles before you start jogging, the jogging goes a little easier. :-) I told Amy that I'm so happy with the bike - I credit it for my quick progress with running. I never would've guessed that I could run 5.4 miles in such quick time and with such easy effort. A year ago, I would've laughed at the idea. Truth be told, I'm actually laughing a bit right now - giddy, almost.

It looks like I'll be in good shape for my 5k. Worries be gone! Now if only the rest of my gut would go away... I really need to stop eating so horribly and focus on losing this last 15-lbs or so...

New Shoes, glasses, and progress

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I *finally* got a chance to try out my new riding shoes today, as the skies cleared up and the flood waters rescinded enough to clear the trails. The good news is that the rain will return on Monday, and will hang around for about 5-6 more days. That's stellar. I can't wait.

I woke up at around 10:00am this morning, ate a bowl of cereal and did a little stretching. I pumped-up the bike tires, filled my water bottles, put on the riding shorts, popped my pre-ride vitamin mix (400IU of D, 50mcg Zinc, 1000mg C, 2 tabs of L-Carnitine, and 4 tabs of an Amino-Acid mix), loaded the bike and headed for the Military Park trail.

It was about 70F when I started my ride at 11:30am, with lots of sun, and a light breeze. Perfect weather. I put on the shoes, cued-up the iPod, and hit the trail. The first thing I noticed was how awesome my new Rudy Project glasses are.

I can't describe what they do or how they do it, but they somehow manage to shade your vision without darkening anything or causing any distortion at all. The view is phenomenal, as is the fit, which I spent some time tweaking late last week. The glasses are weightless and even after wearing them for four hours straight, they left no pressure points and caused zero discomfort. They are truly unbelievable - if you're looking for some incredible sunglasses, look no further than Rudy Project. I'm a believer - they make my Ray Ban Aviators seem like $2 grocery store glasses.


I completed my first lap (6.65 miles) and realized that my feet didn't hurt at all. They felt perfect and fresh. I think I was so wrapped-up in the new glasses that I forgot to pay attention to my feet. So, for the next lap, I tried to determine if my feet were hurting, and the answer was, "Nope!" Miraculous!

I rode 2 more laps, for a total of 26.6 miles, when my stomach started to bother me again. It had been bugging me all day yesterday, and I felt nauseous all night. Next thing I knew, I was throwing up... nice. I stopped, hopped off the bike and threw up. Luckily I still had two full water bottles, so it wasn't too bad. I finished my 5th lap and stopped at the car for a piece of gum.

I rode one more lap for a total of 40.0 miles, hopped off the bike, took off my helmet and shoes, and put on my running shoes. Despite getting sick earlier, I felt really good, so I ran a lap (well, mostly - I walked about .75 miles of it).

4 hours later, I was done, and I felt fantastic. 40 miles on the bike, 5.5 by foot. I fully credit the new riding shoes - they're so much better than my old freebies. Now I really need to get swimming. I'm not terribly worried about the swim, but I can't put it off any longer.

New Wheels

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Well, new to me, at least. I found a great deal on a bike - I was at our local Lewis & Clark store (outdoors/sporting goods), and one of the sales people suggested that I check out their (the Lewis & Clark) message board for a used bike - she said they often had some great deals on it.

Well, lowe and behold, I stumbled across two great finds: a bike, and a bike rack for my car!

Here's the bike (and Squid, checking it out):

IMG_2779.JPG


It's a 60cm Trek 2000 with a carbon fork, Mavic wheels, and Shimano 105 components. An extremely nice guy by the name of Robert was the original owner, and I'm so glad to have met him - he was super friendly and extremely helpful - he even threw in a pair of Nike riding shoes for free! I couldn't believe it.

Amy and I drove down and met Robert and his wife (and their dog), talked bikes for a bit, and then left with the Trek. I'm so happy with it.

My friend BJ (from work) rides bikes, so we went for a quick ride this afternoon - about 8 miles or so. It rides like a dream - very smooth, and very fast. The miles just zipped by. I think I'll enjoy riding it.

Here's a picture of it, without the squid in the picture:

IMG_2780.JPG


It was 75F today, so it was perfect for riding. :-)

202 days and counting...

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I was a bit of a slug this weekend - didn't really do much of anything, didn't eat very well, and certainly didn't exercise enough. I ran a total of about 45 minutes and I ate McDonalds (ick), Pizza, more Pizza, and Mexican food. Oh, and I also had about 10 sugar cookies. Not exactly stellar diet and nutrition practices.

And to make matters worse, I think I had some of those cookies and some of that pizza while watching the Iron Man Triathlon on TV. There I was, sitting curled up on the couch, stuffing my fat face with pizza while my fat gut protruded obscenely from my shorts and t-shirt, a Diet Rite (oh the irony) in my right hand, 4 dogs begging for pizza, while I watched hundreds of people work their butts off at the Iron Man.

Guilt got the best of me, and I slid my fat body onto the floor to stretch for a bit, but I never did go out and run. I swore I'd wake up early, hit the treadmill, and run for a good hour. But, Sunday morning came along, and I think I mustered the willpower to peel myself out of the rack at around 10:00am. And then I had some more cookies.

After about 4-5 cookies and a few doughnuts (forgot about those until just now), I forced myself to go for a run, but it only lasted about 15 minutes. For some reason, I was sapped. No energy at all. So, after my shower, I went online and started reading about Triathlons.

Iron Man Triathlons are insane. They're a 2.4-mile swim, a 105-mile bike ride, and a 26-mile run. I'm not going to kid myself and say I could do that. I did swim across Rock Lake when I was in High School, and that was about 2-miles, but wow. Combine that with 130+ miles of biking and running? I think not.

Instead, I'm going to do a "Sprint" Triathlon. There's one in Fayetteville, in June of 2008. It consists of a 1000-yard swim (.58 miles), a 26-mile bike ride, and a 4-mile run. I've got the running part just about down. I can go at least 45-minutes on most days. Now I need to add-in the biking and the swimming.

IMG_2673.JPG


And I've got exactly 202 days to do so. I've found some good websites that have training schedules - most suggest a 20-week preparation for a first "sprint," and I've got about 28 weeks. With Christmas, that extra time will work out well. I'll focus on the running until about the first of the year, and then I'll start biking and running. The swimming will be the last part that I add-in, and I'll probably do that some time in early March. That'll give me 3 full months to work on all three parts before the actual event.

I'm excited. I talked to some friends at work, and I think I've got at least one person that'll do it with me. I came home tonight and ran for a solid 40-minutes, without any problems. I seem to run so much better when I have something to think about. I hate just plodding along listening to audio books or music - I get bored. But when I can think about something, or plan for an event, the time flies by.

I'll update the blog from time-to-time with Triathlon info. Hopefully it'll be news of progression and accomplishment. :-)

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This page is a archive of recent entries in the Triathlon category.

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