Tuesday in Pictures

I don’t usually go through my day taking pictures of everything, but yesterday was an exception by coincidence. I spent a large part of the day training in one way or another. First, it was some weights at the UFK “Body Focus” class. With the weather starting to get a little nicer, the roll-up door of the gym was open, and the sun made for some nice shadowy photos…

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After class and a hearty post-workout breakfast, I ran to whole foods then back home to ride. I needed 2.75 hours of saddle time, and I wasn’t sure about trail conditions, so I went out for a road ride. I decided I’d add some gravel to make it more interesting, but found a “road closed to thru traffic” sign on the road that links to the gravel. Undeterred, I decided I’d check it out since about 95% of the time, that just means that cars can’t get through and bikes are OK (ok being relative to your comfort level with hike-a-bike and/or bushwhacking). Unfortunately, at the far end of the gravel, there was a bridge under construction, and a full work crew was in the construction site giving me the “don’t even try” look when I approached.

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I’ll have to save that one for a Sunday…

Once I was finished riding, I cleaned up, ate, and did some dinner prep. Since MMA class is from 7-8, and we usually eat about that time, I’ve been making all or part of dinner beforehand so that Ryan and Matt can either eat while I’m at class or we can eat soon after I’m home. Last night was baked chicken, kale salad, and baked potatoes…

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Last night’s class was a little MMA-style grappling…

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Days like that are some of my favorites and make me appreciate today’s recovery a little more than usual, because I’ll do it all again tomorrow.

 

Spa City 6 Hour- Pit Crew Time

Because the Spa City 6 hour fell right into the end of my “take it easy in order to avoid secondary injury” time following my cortisone injection, I did not race over the weekend. However, as, as I mentioned in on of the previous posts, I owed Matt some crew work, so I went with him to do whatever I could to give him a hand.

It started Friday morning, after another round of anesthetic injections into my hamstring (the first round was cortisone in the ischial bursa and anesthetic in the hamstring). It sucked, but not nearly as badly as the first time.

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Once I was finished at the doctor’s office, I ran home, ate breakfast, and started in on weekend preparations. It’s been my goal so far this season to make short road trips without having to eat out at all, so I made some chicken/veggie rice for dinner and bacon/egg rice bars for breakfast. I also made a cookie cake… more on that in a minute. It’s a little bit of an arduous process to make/pack all the food, but it pays off hugely in predictable digestive processes and time saved trying to look for a restaurant with decent food.

Once I was done cooking, I packed most things into the car and waited for Matt to get home from a half day of work. We loaded up quickly and headed out to Hot Springs. Once we were there, we got my “monument to car camping” tent pitched and I finished uploading/setup while he went out for a little preride. All the timing worked out just right to warm up dinner just as the sun was setting…

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I’m pretty sure we were asleep by 9:00.

Saturday morning, the arrival of people setting up pits at 6am woke us up before the alarm clocks. Since we’d camped in our usual prime pit spot, it was a matter of rolling out of bed and lighting the camp stove to heat up water for coffee. Everything went smoothly, though I quickly figured out that I was a bigger bundle of nerves as a crew person than I’ve ever been for a bike race. I did my best to hide it and went to the LeMans start area to make sure that Matt’s garmin didn’t shut off while he was staging for the start, and, once it didn’t and they were on course, I trekked down to the staging area to get Matt’s jacket and leg warmers he’d tossed beforehand.

I spent the next hour or so pacing around and being a bundle of nervous energy (ok, possibly the next 6 hours). When Matt finally arrived at the end of lap 1, he told me he’d wrecked into a tree and that we should pack up and go home. I had some stern words and ibuprofen for him and he headed back out. Nervous energy x1000.

Somewhere in my pacing and fidgeting, I remembered the cookie cake. Last year at post-race Slobberknocker, local racer Scott Penrod was telling me about how he felt better climbing when he weighed less, and that he wanted to lose weight prior to Leadville because he really wanted the sub-9hr buckle. I then gave him a pretty hard time about the handful of cookies he’d grabbed off the finish line snack table, and he ended up looking really sad then putting them back in favor of a banana. I felt a little bad, so I promised him that if he brought back the buckle, I’d make him a cookie cake.

He finished a handful of seconds under 9 hours- attributing at least a couple of those seconds to leaving the cookies on the table earlier in the year.

So, I left this on his crew table after the first lap:

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He waited ’til after the race to consume it, because, according to him, “I’ll puke if I eat it now!”

Back in my pit area, Matt was doing progressively better with each lap. the gap between him and the handful of racers I was marking to know that he’d be in soon was growing smaller with each pass. Somewhere on lap 5 of his eventual 6, he passed most of them… with a couple wondering where the hell he’d come from because he’d gone by them like a scalded cat. When he crossed the finish line, ahead of even more people than he’d been after his 5th, I was so giddy I almost hugged him off his bike. I’ve never been so relieved to see the end of a race.

His ultra-consistent laps (all of them were within a minute of each other and within 11 watts average power) were fast enough to land him in 17th place overall and 2nd in the 29 & under age group…
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After his podium, we packed up and got on the road just as the rain was starting.

It makes me very proud- I’ve been doing my best to teach him how to be a good bike racer, and Saturday, I got to watch it happen. It’s quite a rewarding feeling. Next up? Warrior Creek 6 hour. I’m back on track with training to be back in form just in time for it.

 

Progress

Recovery is going pretty OK with my injected leg. The cortisone-affected area feels prettymuch normal, and the part of my hamstring that received what looks like 4 or 5 sticks (it’s hard to crane my head around and count in a mirror) is just looking/feeling bruised now. I was able to get out for a good ride and met up with some friends along the way. About 3/4s of the way through, this happened:

Those guys had no clue how to get their car unstuck… guess they don’t teach the art of rockin’ it in the academy! Along those lines, you’ll notice at the very end of the video the lack of a “thank you” from captain grouch in the driver’s seat… he was telling us to get our bikes out of the way because he wanted to drive the car on the high spot where we were parked. Apparently, he was trying to show his partner a “short cut” under the nearby bridge over the trailhead.

I’m very thankful that recovery has been easy enough that I can stay pretty active. I’m incredibly determined this year to keep my race weight a solid 140 pounds and under. I’ve been hanging out in the 142-144 area. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re already eating a very clean, filling diet that’s maintaining your weight, it’s basically an act of sheer willpower and hunger to lose anything. I did, however, decide that I’d reward myself once I arrived at said weight… not with some stupid pile of junk food or something like that. I designed a pair of NikeID shoes instead…

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I ordered them already, but I’ve imposed a 140 pound weight limit on them.

My #1 advice for losing anyone looking to lose weight? Control your appetite.
First off, low fat diets are totally bogus. The archaic recommendation to not eat fat is based off of old school misinformation and not off of any real science or human research. Fat and fiber make you feel full. Go ahead and eat bacon (the nitrate-free type), red meat, whatever… just watch portion size. While the fat in your food isn’t actually clogging your arteries, it is high in calories, so when you see that a serving of steak is 4oz, you’re in for a nasty wake-up call when you put that juicy ribeye on a scale. So, go for the full-fat versions of everything. While you’re at it, QUIT TAKING THE #@$*ING YOLKS OUT OF YOUR EGGS.
You’re going to get a lot more success by eliminating any sources of refined sugar (other than what you eat just before/during/after training). Eating something that’s mostly carbohydrates and little fiber/fat/protein is going to make your blood sugar rise quickly then fall below normal (I’m not going to take the time here to give you all of the physiology, but that’s the bare basics of it). Turns out, low blood sugar is a stimulus for hunger. Bonus tip: consumption of the artifical sweeteners in diet drinks will also result in low blood sugar and thus, hunger.

I’ve basically lived by that advice to successfully manage/maintain my weight (except after a long ride or bike race- I cut loose a little more then). I’ve also reduced alcohol consumption to 1 or 2 nights a week (because, let’s face it- Just Riding Along wouldn’t be the same if we were stone cold sober).

So, now that I eat mostly “good” food, I’m basically stuck with reducing the amount of food I eat. There’s no way around it, trick, or secret… I’m just hungry. It’s will power. It makes me angry at chocolate bars when I see them. However, I think of things like riding up hills, my love of looking muscle-y, custom Nike shoes, and find something distracting to do. It’s been working slow and steady, but I’m looking forward to adding in some extra training to keep things rolling in the downward direction.

MMA Talk

I rode for about 50 minutes yesterday, and everything felt pretty normal. I also called and talked to the doctor about hamstring stuff and voiced my concerns about his diagnosis/prognosis for the area. He said that the current treatment (saturating the area with an anesthetic in 3 rounds of injections), won’t heal the old injury, but he’s reasonably confident that it will prevent the area from “activating” while I ride. I also told him that I couldn’t find much reassuring information about PRP Therapy, and he said that he does it somewhat regularly on area athletes (two of the Memphis Grizzlies and an assortment of University of Memphis athletes) with about a 70% success rate. I’m not writing it off altogether, but it’s not something I’m looking to do any time this season.

He did approve me going to about “2/3rds strength” on my riding, so I plan on enjoying another gentle hour or two this afternoon to work on my tan lines. I also plan on going up to UFK during MMA class time and punching the heavy bag a little while watching my classmates spar and whatnot. It’s still very therapeutic to my brain, and burns off a few extra calories while I’m not riding a ton.

I’ve had a couple of people give me funny looks when I talk about learning Mixed Martial Arts. It’s odd, because if my reply to someone asking “Where’d you get that bruise on your leg?” was any number of specific things… say kickboxing, jujitsu, karate, whatever… they’ll react somewhat normally. However, if I say, “MMA” or “Mixed Martial Arts,” people get weird. So, I feel that it’s time to really explain what the draw is for me to pick up MMA as a side hobby to cycling.

#1- No one is here just to “do their bests and finish.” Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying that you’re less of a person if your goal is to participate in some sort of competition without the intent to win said competition. I’m happy to see anyone pony up and pin a number. However, the fact that no one gets into a fight without at least having SOME belief that they could win that fight makes it a huge competitive draw for me.

#2- It’s challenging. Really challenging. It’s a sport that takes an immense amount of skill… and you need to be able to think and execute said skills all while being punched in the face or thrown on the ground.

#3- Women are much more equally billed than in the sport of cycling. While you may think of MMA as being uber-infused with testosterone, where women are not much more than pretty things who hold up signs to tell you what round we’re on (I’ll admit, that part is kinda lame), there is a LOT more respect for female fighters in the MMA world than there is for female athletes in the cycling world.
Perfect example: The most recent UFC fight night featured a co-main event- a women’s championship fight, and a men’s championship fight. During the pre-fight tv show, the women’s fight received about 75% of the air time… not necessarily because of anything gender-related, but because the fight was bound to be incredibly competitive. Both ladies were former Olympians, both had undefeated records… you know, stuff that isn’t gender specific that makes for great pre-competition discussion (unfortunately, the fight was over early in the first round because of a devastating knee to the liver).

So, there you go. That’s why I enjoy MMA so damn much…

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(weekly manicure)

We’re lucky here in Memphis to have fight nights on a somewhat regular basis. Ryan and I went on Saturday. There was a ladies championship fight…

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Will I ever fight?

Is that a rhetorical question?

Doctor Day

I know I said that I was all like, “Eff weather, I’ll train in the cold now!” However, the blast of more ice and single-digit windchills at the beginning of last week, coupled with a feeling of impending doom from my “we’re gonna shoot you up with giant needles” doctor’s visit on Monday put a little bit of a damper on my enthusiasm. I did, however, manage a short hike to get a big leaner off the trail. Unfortunately, my gloves’ ability to keep my fingers warm ended before I could make a couple more cuts into the big piece that wedged itself in between the ground and the two trees where it was resting. It’s not threatening the heads of those who ride under it any more, so I’m mostly satisfied…

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As I said in my previous post, my anxiety level going in to the injection procedure was really high. Tuesday, I managed to convince myself to ride the trainer for my prescribed interval workout, but the numbers were somewhat uninspiring. I did find some comfort in lifting and going to MMA class. It turns out, when I’m sparring, there’s not much else I can think about… unless I want to get punched in the face or leg-kicked more than I already do. Nevertheless, by the time I was driving home from class on Thursday night, I was in tears about going to the doctor the next morning.

Friday morning, this is what I walked into at the doctor’s office…

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I’m pretty sure that, based off of heart rate, I did a couple more intervals while I was waiting for the doctor.

He came in and pretty quickly got to work. While I laid in the fetal position, he first found my inflamed left ischial bursa via ultrasound and shot it with what felt like a large quantity of cortisone.  After that, I rolled over, and he used the ultrasound to look at my hamstring  in the area where I’d been experiencing pain. To his surprise, he found a mass of irregularly shaped muscle fibers surrounding the sciatic nerve in the area.

I say “to his surprise,” because the first time I visited him, he’d only looked at my seatbone-area before with the ultrasound machine, found the inflammation, then sent me to get 3 different MRIs to look for any other issues. He didn’t see anything abnormal in the hamstring in the previous week’s MRI. Nothing like going through the time and money of getting 3 separate MRIs when the other half of my problem could have been diagnosed the first time I came to his office.

According to him, it looked as if I’d sustained some sort of an injury to the area in the past, and that it didn’t heal correctly. I have no idea when that could have happened. I don’t ever remember having a hamstring injury, though I’m guessing it could be something minor I did that was masked by other general soreness from hard training. He marked the area and injected it with a solution of dextrose and two different anesthetics.

It all hurt really badly, but at least it was over quickly.

Now, I’m waiting. Because the cortisone temporarily weakens the area into which it’s injected, I can’t do anything strenuous until a week from today. I had to keep activity minimal until today, and now I’m basically limited to walking and easy rides until next Monday.

I hate doctors, and, to be honest, I don’t even really trust this guy now. If he’d listened to me and looked at my hamstring on the first visit, I could have been looking for solutions for my hamstring back in January rather than spending a ton of money and valuable training time with the MRIs. I have to go back for two more sets of injections into just my hamstring (no extensive time off for those like this time), but I don’t even know how effective those are supposed to be at treating that sort of problem, because the doc also mentioned something called PRP Therapy to treat the old injury. Upon further research, it looks waaaaay too experimental to even consider. My general distrust leads me to feeling that he just wants to use me as his own personal guinea pig for PRP therapy.

Ryan asked me if I’m hopeful, but, at this point, after trying so many things, I’m just indifferent. I am confident that getting the injections isn’t making anything worse, pain/injury-wise. The only harm is really taking up more time and forcing me out of training during a period in which I need to be training pretty damn hard. It’s just been an arduous process of elimination. I get the feeling it’s not over yet, but at least it’s narrowed down to “things that are view-able via ultrasound.”

 

As a more positive post script… here’s Marley. He loves blankets more than he loves the couch.

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It’s not all Rainbows and Unicorns

Well, several bike fits, shoes, three doctors, one EMG/nerve study, three MRIs, an arterial doppler, and 5 ultrasound/e-stim sessions later, the cause of  my left hamstring ache and toe exploding-off-the-end-of-my-foot feeling on longer rides has been narrowed down to “something in the area between your ischial tuberosity and the middle of your hamstring gets inflamed and puts pressure on your sciatic nerve.”

Along the way, I’ve tried (and still use) a lot of alternative therapies (chiropractor, massage, yoga, acupuncture, and structural integration). While all of them have proved beneficial to me physically, none of them have affected the sciatic pain. So, now that I’m under the care of one of the only doctors I’ve ever really trusted, we’re about to get more aggressive with it.  Friday morning, I’m going in to get multiple injections in the area. One will be cortisone in the area of the sciatic/ischial tuberosity/bursa area. Others, going into the hamstring in the area of pain, are non-cortisone, and are given in a series once a week for three weeks.

I know it sounds weird coming from someone with multiple tattoos and piercings, but I’m incredibly shot-phobic. One of my earliest memories from when I was a kid was being forcibly pinned down on a pediatrician’s table like an animal at the vet and being given booster shots in my backside… all while fighting as hard as I could to try and not get booster shots, which only made the entire process that much more painful. Ever since then, my heart races even when I get a mostly painless B12 shot. I went without a tetanus vaccination for waaaaay longer than I should have, too.

To say this procedure is gonna be rough would be a gross understatement.

It’s difficult to swallow what I’m willing to put myself through to deal with this.I love what I’m doing, but between the mental and physical pain of being hit by a car a year ago, an irritable degenerative lumbar disc, and now the choice to get a painful series of treatments to deal with an ongoing overuse-related problem, the health impacts of repeatedly pushing my body past its normal limits are becoming more obvious.

But, I still love what I’m doing. I still love to ask myself, “How far?” and “How fast?”
For now, I’m willing to keep suffering to keep answering.

The prognosis? Still somewhat unknown. Because of the effects of the cortisone injection, I’ll have to take a week and a half off of strenuous training. Luckily, I’m still allowed to ride during that time, but the intensity will have to stay low to reduce the risk of injury to the soft tissue in the area of the injection. It means I’m going to miss out on the Spa City 6 Hour race, which will also effectively take me out of the running for the Arkansas Marathon Series, since they use your top 3 race finishes to calculate points, and my three were going to be Iron Mountain, Spa City, and Syllamo’s Revenge (Slobberknocker, usually in April, was pushed back to the weekend prior to Dirty Kanza, and a 70 mile race is a little much for my taper).

I’m likely to show up at the six hour race, anyway. Not to participate, but to act as pit crew for Matt. He all but wiped my backside during the Breck Epic race last year, so I owe him a solid. Six hours of refilling bottles and unwrapping rice bars is pretty simple compared that.

Hopefully this is going to knock out the pain and let me find a new level of awesome, because the whole “can’t do long rides without stopping multiple times to rest my left leg” thing is really cramping my style.

Tuff Guy, Oxford

I only thought that it was time for the weather to start being not-as-ishtty. I know, it’s only February, but I was hoping that at least the overnight lows in the teens were in the past and daytime temps would be drifting up into the 40s and 50s instead of being stuck at 20 something. Alas… it’s 14, and there’s ice on the road right now. The whole city is shut down, so it’s likely that I’ll have photos of making my own fun today. We already talked about trying to start the scooter…

Anyway- I’ve been dealing with it. The motivation of having a good race two weeks ago fed in to the training I’ve done since then. I managed a 4 hour ride in the 30s, and some intervals in in the 40s. As an aside, before you comment about how cold it is where you live, just know that A)Ryan’s mom, who is from the U.P. of Michigan, and spends most of her days outdoors in all of her region’s weather, commented about how she couldn’t stay warm in the 40s here because of the humidity, and B) I’m cold here, so how cold you are in Minnesota doesn’t matter to me.

I digress. It was actually really nice on Saturday for a group ride (contrary to what some people put on social media, it was not a race) in Oxford, MS. Ryan went to Arkansas with his team for the Crosswinds Classic road race (I had a disappointing experience at that one last year). I had a long ride on my schedule for the day (a great follow-up to the 4 hours on Wednesday and 20 minute intervals on Friday), so Matt and I packed up early and drove down to the Clear Creek trails for the “Tuff Guy” ride- a 60 miler that left from the Clear Creek system, took roads/bike paths out to the Taylor Trail system, back on roads, then a lap of Clear Creek to finish.

Like I said, the weather was really nice- in the low 60s and sunny most of the day. When the ride started, it pretty quickly turned in to hammer time up the rollers between Clear Creek and the city of Oxford. Matt and I didn’t go totally apeshit like some people, and ended up somewhere behind two specific groups- the people going out hard and knowing that was ok for their abilities, and the people going out hard who were either going to make extended stops ahead/who were due to fall apart on the road back to Clear Creek. The latter of those two contained a few sketchballs (see footnote), so we didn’t mind backing off a bit as we were navigating the bike paths/streets of Oxford.

About an hour later, we reached the Taylor Trails. A lot of the group ahead of us had stopped at the trailhead, and were eating, changing, resting, etc. Matt and I rolled straight through since we had eaten/changed clothes on the way there. The next hour and a half were an exercise in not losing our minds looking for the end of what had to be the twistiest and most convoluted trail I’ve ever ridden for that length of time. I did my best to stay positive with happy thoughts about the view of the lake we passed a couple of times and how nice it was that we could play in the woods at almost any time because we don’t have any kids.

Eventually, the insanity was over, and we were back to the road to Clear Creek. We had to do some reverse-navigation, because the only signs out were the ones we’d used to get to where we’d already been. We did miss one turn and ended in a spot we knew from the drive in, so it wasn’t too hard to navigate back on to the correct route. The road back to Clear Creek is a long, straight drag. I kind of wanted to get it over with, so I pushed Matt to keep the pace strong and steady, and we traded pulls most of the way in. The result was passing by a lot of people who were not as motivated.

After a quick stop at the car, we went out for our Clear Creek lap to finish the course. It’s got a few nice, flowy sections, so it was a nice change of pace from the previous trail. About an hour in, someplace within a mile or two of the end of the course, we reached a “T” intersection where all the markings were torn down. In the woods to our left was a “Wrong Way” sign. My gut feeling was that we should go that way, but the sign on the ground in that general direction made me doubt myself. The trail to the right looked more broken in, and both directions were covered in tire tracks, so we were stumped. What I WAS pretty sure of was if we chose the wrong direction, that we’d end up riding backwards towards an intersection we’d passed miles before, and would add an unwanted chunk of miles to the ride. So, we bushwhacked a short distance up the nearby ridge to the road and went back to the car (later I found that my hunches were both correct).

It’s ok, I got my 5 hours worth of riding, and was ready to eat and get back to the house and lay on the recliner the rest of the day. As an added bonus, I picked up a few extra freckles and a decent start to my tan lines.
Five hours closer to being a little faster.

 

Footnote- sketchballs are a very general term to cover the handful of riders who scare, vex, or otherwise annoy anyone who is well-versed in riding with a group. Symptoms include excessive swerving (like, the act of breathing makes you swerve  several inches left and right, while something more involved, like grabbing a water bottle, results in several feet of lateral displacement), inability to maintain a steady effort (including, but not limited to, hammering halfway into a hill, realizing he/she is over his head, then suddenly dumping into an easy gear), passing in a dangerous manner (either over the yellow line or off the pavement on the right side of the road (saw both of those at this ride), overlapping wheels, etc.

Another Love

Since I’m still a little sick, there’s not a lot of excitement going on for blogging purposes. I feel the need to take this time to profess my love of something else besides bikes, punching stuff, and my dogs… Cooking. Alongside various cartoons and the “drama” of  WWF shows, I used to watch all of the PBS cooking programs when I was a kid, and when a Blockbuster opened near me, I probably rented the same Julia Child cooking video at least 20 times. So, without really knowing it, I learned the basics at an early age.

I’ll start by letting you in on a really great recipe I’ve cooked at least 3 times in the last month. It’s braised beef short ribs, and it is one of the greatest combinations of flavor and texture in all of my culinary experiences. I found this recipe on a page called the Pioneer Woman Cooks a few weeks ago when I somewhat spontaneously decided that I wanted to expand my cooking expertise to slightly less obvious cuts of meat: Braised Beef Short Ribs.  Out of all the ones I looked at, this one seemed incredibly simple (from ingredients out to putting it in the oven is ~30 minutes), and used just a few ingredients, all readily available at most grocery stores (I stick to grass fed beef and nitrate-free bacon or pancetta, so I end up buying those things at Whole Foods). Oh yeah, I also leave out the “roll the ribs in flour” step, and I don’t think they’re any worse for it…

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(No, smartass, the ant trap in the background isn’t grass-fed)

Last night I cooked up a mess of those and tried rainbow chard for the first time

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In sticking with my “simple” motto, I just chopped it up and sauteed it with butter, garlic, salt, and pepper. It was OK, but I’m gonna try something else next time… according to Matt, the stems taste too much like beets.

Here’s a typical breakfast frittata that is excellent following a hard morning workout:

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It’s simple, too… just saute whatever you want in your frittata, then pour it in to three scrambled up eggs with salt & pepper. Let it cook on the stove for a minute, then pop it in the over under the broiler for a minute to cook the top.

If you’re looking for the Ronda Rousey of fiber-containing dishes, try this: kale salad

Here’s something else I want to try to make, if only for the name…

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I’m always looking for something new to cook… especially in the “slightly less popular cuts of meat” and “greens & vegetables” categories. So, if anyone out there has suggestions (or if you want to come over for dinner sometime), drop a comment below.

Season Opener

While I’m still somewhat early in my spring training, I decided that the Iron Mountain MTB Marathon would make a nice season opener. At 42 miles, it wasn’t crazy long, and, from what I’d heard, the course was a lot of fun (as opposed to something like Ouachita or Syllamo, where the course is billed as “challenging” and/or “soul crushing”). It also helps that it was “only” a 3.5 hour drive from Memphis.

Matt and I left Saturday morning (Ryan was at a Homebrewer’s competition and ended up winning the “oak aged” category with his Turbo Porter). During the drive over, I noticed that my throat was pretty sore, but I totally ignored it, hoping that I’d just been breathing funny or something. As is customary for driving through Arkansas to a bike race, there was rapping.

The nice people at Holiday Inn Express let us check in early, and we unloaded some stuff out of the car, had a snack, then made the short drive to the race course. The course wasn’t too hard to follow based on the website map/instructions, so we were able to ride the “start loop” and part of the first lap. The course was exciting- lots of flowy/bermy stuff, and some rocks mixed in for fun. It really keeps you on your toes, because some of the berms end a little earlier than you expect, and some of the blind corners lead you into loose over hard rocky turns. Definitely a good one to pre-ride before going race-pace.

As the day/night progressed, my throat got more sore, and my nose started getting stuffy. Luckily, Sunday morning, my cold seemed to still be isolated to my nose/throat, and, unlike my previous illness, I wasn’t getting a fever. We checked out of the hotel and went to the race course.

After about half an hour of warming up, I lined up and tried to eyeball the ladies in the group of around 170 people. I didn’t really know anyone except for Laureen Coffelt, who I’ve raced many times in the past. She’s a 24 hour racer, and, historically, a little slower than me, but incredibly steady- always someone to look out for.

Being somewhat early in the year, I knew I couldn’t go balls-out from the start (the course began with a 2 mile, double-roller climb on pavement before turning on to singletrack). So, I paced myself a little more than usual. Once I arrived at singletrack, I wasn’t sure how far behind the next woman was. From there, the course turned downhill for a while. It was a fast, flowy/rocky decent where you could definitely carry enough speed to end yourself if you weren’t on your toes. At the bottom, I backed off of my pace a little at a time in order to find a comfortable yet not-too-slow race speed as I passed through the start/finish area at the end of the start loop and started up a long-ish climb to begin the first of two laps.

I may have been a little too comfortable, because a few miles later, Laureen caught up to me (we were about 16 miles in to 42). She asked in her cheery Canadian-nice voice if she could get by, and I was happy to oblige. She’s so smooth everywhere, I knew that, even if she was riding a little faster than the pace I wanted, that I’d likely be able to stick with it. So, that’s exactly what I did.

For the remainder of the first lap, and up the first climb of the second lap, everything was pretty chill. There was a dude behind us the whole time who seemed to be happy to sit back and spectate (we asked a couple of times if he wanted to get by, and he said no, he liked the pace). It was very comfortable- Laureen would sit up and spin a bit up the hills then let it fly going downhill. I started to formulate a plan… initially, I thought, “I’ll just stay here and sprint the final 2-300 meters.” I paid very close attention to our trip though the start/finish at the transition from lap 1 to lap 2 in order to scope out where to start and what line looked smoothest.

Then, we got to the top of the first climb of the second lap, where there were a bunch of embedded rocks without a clear line through them. She, on her full suspension, started to pick up the pace a bit. I had to fight a little and mmuscle my way through to stay on her wheel. There was a brief respite as we crossed a road and started on the next section of trail. However, soon enough, she began turning the screws again. It was very subtle, because, without looking like she was working any harder, would pedal about one gear harder on all of the flats/false flats, and stay off the brakes a tiny bit more going downhill. The guy who’d been cruising with us was gone within minutes. I held on hard and concentrated on staying off the brakes and getting calories every time I could- I typically keep a very concentrated bottle of Roctane drink on my bike when I race just in case the terrain or competition doesn’t allow for me to get to my gel flask. It definitely came in handy on the 2nd lap.

The attacks left me dangling a few times- enough to make me re-evaluate my race-finish strategy since she could potentially open a gap in the last mile that would make me work so hard, I wouldn’t have a good sprint for the finish. The only place I felt like I was really stronger was on the climbs. So, my new plan was to keep on being a bulldog until the final 1/4 mile-ish section of road before the final 1.5-ish mile section of trail… which included a climb that started as a false flat, crossed a creek, then got steep and turned up a piece of wide doubletrack with one good line. Being in front going in to that climb was ideal, because there was one good line, and anyone wanting to pass would need to take the chunky/loose line on either side of it.

Implementing this strategy wasn’t without risk- it was very close to the finish, and there was a straightforward, yet significant downhill immediately following the climb where I wanted to get away. She’d been killing it on the descents (making me uncomfortable more than a couple of times), so if I didn’t create a large enough gap, it was possible she’d close it back if I didn’t also go all-out down the hill.
When we reached the road, I sat on her wheel a second before going full-roadie-apeshit and sprinting off towards the last section of singletrack. Once I was in, I backed off and caught my breath. She caught up to me during that time, but I wasn’t worried since I was in control of the trail/pace. We made it though the false flat to the creek crossing where the climb really started. The crossing was super sketch, and, if I hadn’t kept cool, I definitely could have screwed up and put a foot down, leaving the door open to get passed back.

I made it, though, and let loose again with the ground & pound- hammering up and over the final climb and down the hill after it. As I exited the trail, I looked back and saw that my strategy had worked. I was alone with only a hammer to the finish ahead of me.

It was a nice change of pace (literally & figuratively) to race head-to-head with Laureen. I don’t think that I’ve ever had to use strategy during a mountain bike race- either I’m ahead and alone or my competition is ahead of me, and I’m alone. It took all of my patience and self control to not pass any of the times she offered to let me by on a climb earlier in the race. With my springtime fitness still in “build mode,” I knew that if I was setting the pace that I may not be able to shake her, or that I’d possibly go too hard in my attacks without the legs to back them up, leaving her with time to catch back. Waiting ’til the end really was my best chance…

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Spring Fever

I have to say… since I arrived home from Florida, it feels like Spring training has been turned up to 11. That week ended up being a 17 hour training week, punctuated by a power test on Sunday. That went well, and, after a single recovery day, was followed up with some 10 minute intervals that were way better than anything I’d done this year and a 4 hour mountain bike ride the following day, during which my best hour was the last.

I know I said not long ago that I felt out of shape… I think I was just cold.

The one lingering issue I’ve got is the ongoing hamstring pain/foot numbness on my left side. If you remember from my last post about it, the doctor ordered an MRI of my back to check for a disc issue that could be putting pressure on the sciatic nerve. That wasn’t the case, so he wanted to try physical therapy to the hamstring at the origin of the pain. Therapy included electrical stimulation, ultrasound, nerve glides, and, at first, seemed as though it may have worked.

Unfortunately, in Florida, the pain came back. So, the doctor ordered another round of diagnostics, including an arterial Doppler and another MRI- this time of the pelvis. (He actually requested pelvis and hamstring, but my insurance will only approve one area at a time… you know, because they obviously know more about this problem than my doctor does. Maybe I need to be seeing the “expert” at my insurance company instead.)

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It’s a little discouraging, especially since I feel pretty strong right now. However, I trust the expertise of Dr. Martinez and Kevin the PT, and I think they’re both highly motivated to help me succeed.

Health issues aside, I’m super excited for the first race of the season this weekend- Iron Mountain. It’s “only” 42 miles, so I don’t foresee having too much of a problem with my leg/foot. Matt and I plan on driving down to Arkadelphia tomorrow morning in order to leave plenty of time for a little pre-riding and settling in (Ryan is staying in town to attend a Homebrew Competition).

Today is bike checkover and recovery day. Technically, yesterday was a recovery day as well, though I ended up starting and ending the day at UFK with their weight training class followed by MMA class in the evening, and staying really busy in between. My schedule today is much more laid back. I’ll basically tinker with my bike a little, run to the grocery store, go for an easy ride, do some laundry, and generally relax and build excitement to get the season kicked off on Sunday.