Sunday, January 27, 2013

"I hope you're wrecked for the day!"

This has been the fourth weekend in a row where I've gotten in big skis in at Waterville Valley followed by epic trail rides the next day. The weather and conditions have played nicely into big cardio weeks. I've been averaging 12+ hours per week of fairly rigorous work, including running, riding and skiing. The bitter cold has actually helped matters out. It preserves the skimpy snow base at Waterville and lets the folks at Weston build at deep man-made base. The frigid weather also keeps the local trails firm and frozen.

On Saturday, our five-man posse hit the north end trails at Waterville. Fortunately the wind was calm this time with the temp in single-digits. No snow in a week meant firm trails. The snow was not fast though. It rarely is when it is that cold out. It was a green wax day for sure.

With sluggish snow, we hit the Tripoli Rd climb first, an 800ft ascent, to get it out of the way. Pacelining to the base of the climb, Brett relinquished the lead for me to set pace up Tripoli. Nobody likes to set pace on skis. If people stay on your heels, you think you are going too slow. It messes with your head.

Even though my skate technique still needs a lot of work, I don't suck as badly going up, just like on the bike. It is a VOmax thing. Tripoli has several very steep pitches, including one at the bottom. I started moderately hard. The grade relaxes for a bit. I V2'd fairly hard until I had to V1 up the wall in the middle. By this point, the group was split into onesies spanning a couple minutes on the climb. I'm evil like that.

Brett was the first to summit behind me. In between gasps, he blurted "I hope you're wrecked for the rest of the day!"  Funny how athletic friends inflict pain on each other and then the recipients hope the instigators implode from unleashing pain. I thought uh-oh, we're skiing three hours, and these slow twitch guys will probably bury me in the last hour and show no mercy. I also took it as a challenge.

Brett approaching Thornton Gap, the summit of Tripoli Rd. Purdy, eh?

The Tripoli descent was awful, probably the coldest descent ever for me. I developed an excruciating icecream headache I could not stop. Wearing only an ear band on my head that saturated with sweat on the climb no doubt was a factor.

We hit the modest Osceola climb next, then a lap around Moose Run before crossing over to the Livermore Rd side.  The group came all together again at the summit of Upper Snow's, where all of our waters were frozen about 2hrs into the ski. We decided to split paths at this point, as I wanted to go all the way down before coming back up over Cascade. Two planned to hit Cascade on the way down, two were just going down and back to the Nordic center.

Bill, Dave, Brett and Keith at summit of Snow's Mtn trying to coerce slush out of bottles

I still felt pretty good heading up again. I expected to bonk on Cascade, but didn't. I was going on three hours skiing time and drank only 3/4 of a water bottle before it froze and ate two granola bars. I never used to be able to survive on so little. I see this as quantitative evidence that my skiing economy has improved significantly in the last year or two.  I think there are three factors behind this. One is I've been running two years now. I think this delays fatigue on the skis. My hips certainly hurt less after a long ski.  Another is I continue to increase the amount of core work and stretching I do year-round 2-3x per week. This includes push-ups, sit-ups and a number of stretches involving glutes, hamstrings, ITB and calves. And finally, even though I did very little rollerski work this fall, I target very specific weaknesses. These were committing to each leg and double-pole work to strengthen abs and triceps. Keith noted during our ski that I still avoid full commitment to my left ski and thus don't glide on a flat ski. A flat ski is a fast ski. I'm still giving up some economy there. There will always be room for improvement.

Thornton Gap across the valley from summit of Snow's Mtn

I plan to do the Rangeley Lakes Loppet in March. It is a fairly tame course. With so many top tier masters skiers in New England, a podium finish is still a long stretch, but some day maybe my technique will catch up to my fitness and good things will happen. I hope we get good conditions. I'd love to take a good chunk out of the three hour mark at Rangeley. I did Rangeley in 2:44 one year, but the course was around 48km, just shy of 50km.

Back to Waterville. I finished my longest ski so far this season with 51km on the Garmin in about 3.3 hours. I finished strong, but I was completely tapped out when I got back to the Nordic center. Sometimes I wonder what true skiing distance is. I know on a bike, the Garmin can trail a wired odometer by 10% or more on off-road terrain. Did I really ski 55km? Probably not. Ski trails are not as tight and twisty as singletrack, which causes errors, but I'm sure the Garmin missed at least a kilometer or two.

Sunday was almost a repeat day weather-wise. The snow just south of my house is nearly gone. Only ice remains in a few places where foot/bike traffic packed snow down into ice. I saw a group had ridden a variant of a loop on Saturday I call "C-towns" (for Chelmsford, Concord and Carlisle). That is less than 30 minutes away and looked like a good match for the day.

I mounted up studs on my Racer-X dualie. Normally I would not ride a nice bike in the winter for fear of salt trashing it, but it was supposed to stay below freezing and there was so little snow left along the roads anyway.

I parked at Russell Mill. At first I thought wow, I wasted 30 minutes mounting studs. Then once I got into the singletrack, it was almost all ice. I met a rider on his way out who did not have studs. He was pulling the plug on trying to ride there. As I headed south, there was less and less snow/ice. There were icy stretches here and there on the rail trails, something you could finesse without studs, but I was glad to have them and ride with reckless abandon.

Typical trail condition at Russell Mill

My goal was to ride a comfortable tempo pace for 3-4 hours. I cut through Estabrook, a conservation area I still haven't figured out and always seemed to get turned around in when I ride without a GPS track. Today was no exception. I reacquainted myself with how poorly carbide tipped tires grip baby head rocks on top of glacial eskers. I'd much rather ride on black ice with studs.

Threading the needle in Thanksgiving Forest in Chelmsford

I completed the loop by swinging through the western portion of Great Brook. The whole Acorn Loop is open now, the first time in what, two years? Lack of snow/rain I think has brought the beaver dam backstop levels down. I finished with 37.2mi in 3.6hrs on the Garmin. I forgot to put a sensor magnet on the wheel. I likely rode 40 miles. I hate not getting full credit for my rides. At least the timing is accurate. Another back-to-back ski-bike weekend, seven hours of rigorous aerobic effort, 6000ft of climbing, with brilliant skies.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running Update

I haven't discussed running here in quite a while, maybe not since the CIGNA 5k race in August. No news is good news I suppose. I've been maintaining a very low level of running, only once or twice a week, at modest pace. No surprise this keeps me clear of injury. I do find though, that if I go 5-7 days without a run and then do just an easy 5k, I hurt afterwards. So I'm trying to be more diligent and run twice a week.

Today was savagely brutal on the senses. I'm about ready for this cold spell to be over. At least I didn't have to hop on a road bike like the day before. I planned to run my usual mundane 10k loop.

The wind was something fierce out of the north. Of course, the first two miles of my run heads directly into the wind on a wide open road. Dressed only in spandex tights and a base layer with wind shell up top, I nearly recoiled from the sub-zero windchill temps the second day in a row. The first 15 minutes are the hardest. Once you get past that, the rest is easy.

I ended up going out march harder than the lame pace I normally run, hoping to bring warmth to my face. Even though I ski raced Tuesday night and did bike hill repeats on Wednesday, I felt pretty decent. After I turned off DWH and out of the wind, I kept the pace going for the remainder of the run. I finished the 10k in about 42 minutes, the fastest I've run in months. Back in my office after showering, I was still sweating. No trouble producing enough heat running that pace even with marginal layers on.

I've never raced or bench-marked 10km. My VDOT from last August's CIGNA race suggests I can run 10k in about 37:30 minutes, a sporty time for an occasional 50 year old runner. I need to test this sometime.

Good chance I'll do the Weston winter triathlon on February 16. It is a bit pricy, but close, so logistically very cheap. Plus I can scope out the conditions the Tuesday night before to see exactly what kind of equipment to bring.  I did a low-key winter tri at Craftsbury last January and had a blast. There will no doubt be more higher caliber athletes at the Weston event. It is quite an intensity assault to the body to link running, biking and skiing together in a one hour event. I need to get a few more spirited runs in between now and then.

I put off filling my car the last couple nights until the tank was on dreadful  As luck would have it, tonight was the nastiest to fill your car with temp around +10F and 30mph wind. The gas station is wide open with nowhere to take cover. Why is it that darn near killed me, yet I can go out and bike, run or ski in identical conditions and not even notice after I warm up? This is balmy compared to summit of Mt Washington, where it is -20F with 100mph winds right now. A recent windchill was -87F.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday Night Worlds @ Weston

With some hesitation, I headed over to Weston on a frigid Tuesday night. Two reports from day before said the 1.6km course of man-made snow was icy. The weathermen totally whiffed on the forecast giving coastal areas 6-12". We got a mere dusting the evening before. The hope was around-the-clock snow-making would improve conditions on the course.

I didn't look at the forecast closely enough Monday night to see that the temp would plummet Tuesday evening. Rob got his Toko wax recommendation out late to the CSU group, so I waxed with Toko HF Red based on a temp in the 20's. It turned out a colder wax would have been better...

The course was in decent shape. The straight-away's were pretty hard packed, but the corners were good. I tend to flail on hard packed snow and have trouble transferring power to the surface.

I warmed up two laps on my unwaxed rock skis, which felt pretty fast. I then pulled out my new Salomon race skis with the HF Red wax. They were blazingly fast at first. I selected these skis for cold, softer conditions I typically ski in at up in the White Mountains. They handled very differently than my Atomic's on the Weston hard-pack, not in a good way. I stuck with them for the race though.

We were doing four laps for 6.4km total. The race is now broken up into two waves, A and B, to reduce carnage that upwards of 100 racers can inflict on each other heading down a golf course fairway. The fastest half go with the A field. Since I usually finish about 20% back from the leaders, I seeded with the A group. Still feeling the effects of a solid five day training block coupled with slightly sketchy conditions, I lined up very near the back.

Weston racing also does a "NASCAR Start," where we do a neutral half lap to space everybody out. The pacer picks up speed as we cross the start-finish area and the race goes "live." I started to freak before we even started racing when I found myself already going pretty hard, looked back, and there was nobody behind me!

The field bombed past the clubhouse and down a steep little hill with a sweeping left-hand turn. As I crested the drop, I saw skiers cartwheeling all over the place. The wide trail was edge-to-edge entangled poles, skis and bodies. It looked like a good third of the field went down. I was sooo glad I started at the back. I had time to stop rather than be caught right in the middle of that mess. I scooted around people and was off.

The first lap, a lot of fast folks passed me that got caught up in the melee. I was trying to mark people I know and can hang with for a little drafting/pace lining opportunity. The crash messed everything up. Those that went down were full of piss and vinegar and flew past me. No chance to latch on.

I started reeling people in over the next couple laps. I caught back up to Marv, who crashed and passed me shortly after the big pile-up. If I can stay with him, I usually have a pretty good race. Staying with Marv the last lap and a half was not easy. He'd gain on me around corners and the straight-away's, I'd catch him back on the climbs. It didn't help matters that my skis slowed quite dramatically from when I first put them on. Toko Blue would have held up much better.  Thought I was going to pass Marv with about 500m to go, but he would have nothing to do with that. I finished in just under 20 minutes, almost exactly 20% back from the fastest skier.

As always, you nearly pass out after crossing the finish line at Weston. Once you regain your breath, you begin hacking up lung from gorging on such cold, dry air. Good stuff. I skied many more mind numbing laps after the race for about 24km total. Got exactly the workout I was looking for. You can't get this much endorphin, adrenaline and red-zone heart rate on a trainer in your basement.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I need a recovery month

Conditions remain quite favorable for winter endurance junkies in northern New England. A three-day weekend for me, I got in a liberal dose of hard breathing activity. In fact, I gone at it pretty hard five days in a row, with a snow-bike, run, skate-ski, snow-bike and another skate-ski. The skate on this fifth day definitely exposed cracks in the foundation.

Waterville Valley held up remarkably well over the big thaw a week ago. A little snow spruced things up nicely. It was -7F when I waxed my skis up with green hydrocarbon wax. I was in no hurry to head up, hoping it would warm a little. It was windy too. No idea what the windchill was. At least the temp was above zero (>-17C) when I got there.

I feared slow, abrasive snow, but the crispy corduroy was reasonably fast. Grinding up Beanbender first thing seared my lungs with the cold air. I used to have serious asthma problems in these conditions, but ever since I discovered that a high dosage of Omega-3's can cure that in some athletes, I've not had a single incidence of EIB.

Cascade Brook descent with alpine ski area visible through trees.
The descent was roped, but freshly groomed and actually the best condition yet this season.

I hit almost everything on the north end, except the Tripoli Rd climb. I don't think I would've survived the eight minute descent without something freezing up on my body. I was going to do just one lap around the mostly flat Moose Run/Wicked Easy loop, but I was totally in the zone. The skiing was perfect, and my form felt spot on. I did not want to stop V2'ing around this loop. I had such a rhythm going.

Pristine day from Bob's Lookout. Not visible: bitter cold.

I skied 41km on a granola bar and single partial water bottle. It froze up before I could drink much of it. I used to guzzle about 70 ounces from a Camelbak on a ski of this duration, so I'm pretty psyched to have learned this winter if I dress down a bit, I need much less water. I no doubt am a bit dehydrated when I finish, but it beats lugging 6 pounds of water around on your back.

I really needed a rest day on Saturday. There were hopes of a road LSD ride materializing. Didn't happen. On a whim, I loaded the Mukluk fat bike up and headed over to Silver Lake State Park nearby in Hollis. I new there was a vast snowmobile trail network there. After talking briefly with Kevin Buckley while skiing Friday, he mentioned the recent snow ruined the trails for studded riding. Thus I thought I'd give the fat bike a try.

At lower elevations, there wasn't much snow cover. The temp was rising rapidly too, making things greasy. Right from the parking lot there was a heinous climb that about killed me with my lead legs. The view up top from the orchard almost made it worth it. I had no map and no sense of the trail network. I was totally winging it. I did have my mapping GPS with me, so I could at least backtrack to my car if I had too. Plus I know the roads well in the area.

View from the orchard hill. Thin cover here.

The snow machine trails were very well marked. I thought about following signs to Wilton, where I new there were really big hills. One promising route petered out in somebody's backyard. I got on Trail 501, a main route, that supposedly went to Wilton. I climbed up to a vista on the back side of Birch Hill. That stung.  The view was definitely worth it. I've ridden to the tower on Birch Hill many times, but not recently, and had no idea just below the top there was this fantastic view from snowmobile trails.

Deep cover on loop trail.

View from Birch Hill Vista. Uncanoonuc's in distance through trees.

The descent from Birch Hill into Brookline was a blast. Still firm, and the 4" wide tires were impervious to the snow machine ski ruts. I ended up on the Brookline Rail Trail, which was extremely rough and rooty. It popped out on Potanipo Lake, which was a maze of snow machine tracks on all directions. I had no idea where to pick up more trail, so I hopped on Rt 13 and headed north back towards Birch Hill. Third time up did damage. I worked my way back on different trails from what I headed out on. Rt 122 was closed by Silver Lake due to wind taking a big tree down with power lines. I was lucky to be able to get out. The fire department locked the gate I went in at and they moved cones for me at the other end to let me out. This was my best ride yet on the Mukluk.

In the two days on snow, it is interesting to note I skied and rode almost identical distance and vertical in similar conditions, yet my average speed on skis was 16% faster. The workouts are here and here.  My Mukluk is not only a fat tire bike, it is a fatty weight-wise. It weighs 37 pounds. This entails more than 20% weight penalty over skis (total weight of body and gear). I believe this accounts for most of the difference in between the two activities. Plus, nothing quite glides on snow like well waxed skis.

On Sunday, Weston had a race going on, so it was back up to Waterville Valley. They had gotten snow since Friday, and conditions were even better, to start...

My fifth day in a row without a break, my expectations were very low for any kind of athletic performance. The glide was nice though, and I went right for Tripoli Rd. A couple guys I thought I recognized from Weston pulled in behind me. Great. I'd much prefer chasing rather than feel like I was being chased. Funny how something stupid like that makes you go harder than you wanted too. I didn't feel half bad though and ended up drilling the last steep wall hard enough that I had to hang on my poles to prevent from falling over. Good stuff.

The sky turned dark. The wind kicked up. It looked like a summer thunderstorm was blowing in. The temp was rising above freezing too. On my way up Upper Osceola, it snowed hard for about 10 minutes. This new snow sucked. Literally.  It was super saturated with moisture. That combined with the facts that my rocks skis have no structure left, I waxed with green the prior time and red hydrocarbon this time, my glide went from good to about as bad as it gets.

For those few that might have worked with wood before... you know how wood glue starts to set up and then it gets hard to adjust pieces by sliding them around? Well, this new snow was like tacky woodworking glue. I could not point my skis straight down the fall line. They would just suction up to almost a stop, then I'd stumble in a near face plant. It was actually better to snowplow a little all the time, as the scrubbing prevented suction. What I would've given for a structure tool right then... This was only 45 minutes into my ski, so I was bumming.

I bailed on the Moose Run loop and suffered through a Cascade Brook climb and Snow's descent. I came so close to crashing multiple times, either face planting from suction or butt planting when my skis hit a fast patch under pines where the wet snow didn't reach the ground.

I wrapped up with 34km, a little less than I planned, but a lot more effort than I planned after the wet snow drop. It was a good weekend, 114km on snow, about 8.5hrs worth and 8000ft of climbing. I have noticed that the wide Q-factor of the snow bike can aggravate my knees a bit, which I don't really notice until I climb on skis the next day. I seem to be adapting to it, but this does concern me. I don't want to ride the fat bike all summer just be be conditioned for it when snow comes. There's still some uncertainty if it will remain in my quiver after this season.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Seeking deep, dark places

Waterville Valley
We came pretty close to the best of both worlds this weekend: skate skiing in the mountains, trail riding on the Cape. Some years the line of demarcation is crisp, such that you can get in good cross country skiing in the greater Boston area, but as soon as you cross over the channel to the Cape, the snow magically disappears.

Things were a bit murkier this weekend. Warm temps made skiing less than ideal in the mountains, and the snow line is rapidly receding from the Cape. I still have a yard full of snow, but three miles away there is no snow.

My double header weekend began with four of us heading up to Waterville Valley early for a 3hr skate. We knew it would be soggy with overnight rain and mild temps. I waxed with some high-fluoro wax. I don't have a structure tool. Brett used a low-fluoro but rilled. Between the two of us, we had the fastest skis in the group. Conditions varied considerably. Sometimes Brett's were faster than mine, other times mine were faster. I found this rather fascinating  Wish I could have stopped a few times to analyze the snow so I could better correlate snow structure, speed and ski prep.

Fog with mild temps in the valley.

We stuck together for the first hour or so. Differences in ski prep (Dave had blue hydrocarbon wax, slow), fitness and skiing economy (technique) made it challenging to stay together as a group. There's not much drafting when climbing 800ft gaps in the mountains.

The second time up Livermore Road, I decided to drill Cascade Brook Trail. I seemed to recall somebody defined a Strava Segment for it. Cascade had not been groomed that morning, so it had an icy crust on it and was much faster than the slushy, groomed snow.

Brett cresting Cascade. Water dripping from ice melting on trees.

Brett and I hit Tripoli Rd next. It was groomed and slow. I hit the latter portion quite hard but knew there was zero chance of coming close to a new best. Last check, I still own the KOM. I would like to raise the bar a notch this year. I'm skiing better than ever, and on a good day I have no doubt I can take a minute off my 17 minute KOM.

I'm noticing something new on skis this season. My balance feels more confident. I'm able to put much more upper body into it, no doubt a result of push-ups and sit-ups I've been doing. I've been forcing myself to get more ankle bend, something that has always been a challenge for me. Whatever it is, I sense my skiing economy has improved quite a bit from last year.

I've also been experimenting with taking much less fluid with me on long skis. I used to always ski with a Camelbak. I overheat easily and lose a lot of fluid during exercise. So I something that should have dawned on my a long time ago is this. It is very easy for me to produce enough heat to stay warm even when it is 15F outside. This winter I've gained the confidence that I can dress down a layer while skiing and not get cold. I sweat much less. This has allowed me to take one large water bottle with me on 2-3hr skis and ditch the 70 ounce Camelbak.

There's something mystical about skate skiing that I don't get from cycling or running. It has to do with the rhythm of it. Even when pushing really hard up a long, steep climb, there's something soothing about the left-right pendulum motion of skating. It puts you in a hypnotic trance. When the ski season ends in spring, I go through withdrawal.  My body wants that trance inducing pendulum motion back. I'm finding as I refine the technique, it is easier to get in the trance. And vice-versa. The trance helps me find economy in the technique.

Brett and I skied just over 3hrs, covering over 46km with 2700ft of climbing. Strava didn't give me credit for Cascade. On inspection, whoever defined this segment included a piece of Upper Snow's from the opposite direction leading into Cascade. I think most people would not do Cascade that way, and besides, why include part of another trail before the climb starts? I made an accurate segment, only to find I missed the KOM by 10 seconds. Oh well, something to try for another time.  Arvid skied a little longer, skiing his longest distance ever of about 50km. It was a great day for all of us on snow, and it may be a while after this big thaw before conditions bounce back.

Trail of Tears

At one point, I thought maybe we had a posse to ride the Cape on Sunday. Between illnesses and pulled butt cheeks, nobody was game. I really wasn't interested in a messy local road ride, and most trails in areas that just lost snow would still be quite messy too. Reports were quite good from the Cape.

I was beat from skiing the day before. Motivation was low for any intensity on the bike, but I needed it. I had been on the bike only three times so far this year.  When I need a flogging on the bike in January, I go to the Trail of Tears.  I have a loop that is designed to make minced meat of my legs and mind. It is hard to believe, but this 30 mile loop entails well over 4000 feet of climbing, on Cape Cod!

Moss and lichen were everywhere on the Trail of Tears

Zoom of lichen hanging from trees

The climbs are the menacing type. Straight up a fall line for 30 seconds or a minute, bomb down five seconds, repeat. Constantly. The moto-loop on the Sandwich side is merciless. I think I pick up about 2000ft of climbing there in less than 10 miles. Many of the climbs are well over 20% grade on loose surface. You grind at 3mph up, then ride brakes down not a whole lot faster in a rut. Not the usual reward for hard work. Like I said, I go here when I need a good flogging. These are forced intervals. Either you put out the Watts, or you're walking.

Sandwich side trail

I brought my Gary Fisher Superfly hardtail. The ride had its share of issues. Both brakes were nuisance rubbing and squeaking. It wasn't slowing me down, but it surely drove me bat shit crazy. I must have spent 15 minutes adjusting calipers on the trail before giving up. Seems the rotors are a little out of true.

The sandy soil was dry, but heavy fog left roots wet. I ran crazy low pressure for better traction. My bike was handling a little weird. Around a corner, it completely went out from under me. I manage to unclip and eject running, staying upright. The front tire was flat and I rolled it. I must have burped it at some point, which has never happened to me. Now the bead was packed with leaves and sand. I was amazed I could still hand pump it back up. This time, super-hard. I was going to hold off putting a tube in for now.

The other issue was due to 100% humidity, my glasses would not stay clear. Not even for a minute. 90% of the time I was riding with 95% obscured vision. It sucked. A couple hours into the ride, some drier air moved in and I could see again.

Not having ridden the 29er in a month, I was reminded again how differently wagon wheels and the long geometry handle. Some of it is good, some bad. Big wheels do not like to be in ruts, They are harder to get out and a rut is more apt to wash a 29" front wheel out than with a 26" wheel. It seems any feature on the ground is more apt to take control of your front wheel away from you. I think this is because the contact patch is so much longer and puts greater force back through the bars to the rider. But 29ers sure do roll better through rock gardens. The most notable thing was how well my 29er climbs steep grades. The longer wheel base makes it ultra stable. I cleaned one hill I never cleaned before on the moto loop and several others I rarely clean.  I plan to build up a new dualie this winter and I'm torn right now between a 5" travel 29er or 6" travel 27.5" (650B) bike.

I was an empty shell of a human being finishing the ride. Over 7500ft of climbing on snow and dirt this weekend put me in the deep, dark place I was seeking. Might take a couple days to get out of it. Interestingly, I finished the 30.5mi loop in 3:50, within a minute of the last time I rode this exact same loop, and I didn't do hard 3hr ski the day before last time either.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bone Density Status

Here's a brief review for those who haven't been following along here more than two years ago. In May 2010, I broke my ankle in a seemingly benign mountain biking mishap. I dabbed while going slowly and rolled my ankle. The resultant triple fracture was anything but benign. Several hours later, a plate, six screws and two pins put my tibia and fibula back together again.

Later that fall, after a complete recovery, my doctor and I agreed it was worthwhile to get a bone density scan due to the freakiness of my fracture coupled with the fact I seemed to have lost some stature recently, around a half-inch in height. Sure enough, I had very low bone density for my age. My doc gave me options of going on prescription meds or bringing weight bearing, impact exercise into my routine. I chose the latter.

So here I am, two years after the initial diagnosis of osteopenia (not a disease, just term for low bone density), with another DEXA bone scan result. I had high hopes of making some improvements the natural way without taking huge risks with the bisphophonate drugs that come with serious side effects. My bone density has changed very little in two years.

This first plot gives my raw bone density in grams/square centimeter over the last three measurements. Ideally, my spine should be around 1.2g/cm^2 and my hips should be around 1.1g/cm^2. I'm well be low these levels. This doesn't say anything about how I compare to the rest of the population or how this increases my relative risk of fracture. We'll get to that in a moment. The point here is I didn't get worse, and my left hip improved from two years ago, probably because it atrophied more than my right while I was in a cast for nine weeks of 2010.

This next chart gives my young adult T-score for the three measurements spanning two years.  Because my BMD hasn't changed much and we lose bone density slowly at age 50, these lines look similar to the absolute bone density. But the T-score tells us a little more. The units are in standard deviations, so it takes my population distribution (Caucasian male) into account. Average is zero.  Negative numbers are below average.  A T-score of -2.0 says about 97% of my population group has higher bone density than me. In other words, I'm at the very bottom end of the distribution. This already sounds scary, but it still doesn't say what my risk is.

One more chart. The age-matched Z-score goes one step further than the T-score, in that it ranks me with other 50 year old white males. Finally, we start to see a positive trend here. There is a slight upward improvement in Z-score, which says on an age adjusted basis, I'm improving my bone density. These improvements are very small, pretty much within the error measurement bounds.  A Z-score of -1.5 says I'm in the bottom 7% of 50 year olds. Still wicked scary when you consider the risk I take every time I hop on a bicycle.

Ok, so 93% of men my age have stronger bones than I do. What is my relative risk of fracture? This gets into some really messy population studies and number crunching. It can be summarized pretty easily though. For hips, every standard deviation (Z-score number) below zero increases relative risk of fracture 2.6x. My left hip is -1.4 SD. 2.6^1.4 = 3.8x relative increase in hip fracture risk. Another way to put this, if I crash with a bunch of guys in a master's 50+ road race, I'm about four times more likely to break my hip than the other guys (assuming they're normal). As you well know, even young guys with strong bones break hips in bike crashes. My risk is four times greater than other old guys that have lost a little bone density since their youth. My risk is more than six times greater than young guys when using the T-score.

My right hip fares a little better. With a Z-score of -1.0, I'm at a 2.6x greater chance of fracturing my right hip than other 50 year old guys. Hardly a consolation.

So what about my spine? The gradient of spine fracture risk is different, only 1.6. So with a Z-score of -1.4 for my spine, we have 1.6^1.4 = 1.9x relative increase in spine fracture. Although this seems much better than 4x for my left hip, it still scares the willies out of me.

For these reasons, I become quite pragmatic in managing riding risk over the past year. It is sad I didn't compete in a single road race, but I deem some of the events I used to compete in too risky, even though I have never crashed in a road race. Likewise, riding off-road, there's stuff I just won't try or charge into anymore. I can still derive full satisfaction from cycling with what amounts to rather minor changes in riding.

So where do I go from here?  I've run only about 130 hours over the span of these three BMD measurements. From what I've read, ideal running distance for bone density is 15-20 miles per week. I run half this amount. Running more than 20hrs/wk can actually have an adverse impact on BMD, in fact. It is also interesting to note that those who only cycle are seven times more likely to have osteopenia than runners. That used to be me. No weight bearing impact.

I wish I knew how I got here. Some people, due to lifestyle and poor diet, never reach normal peak bone density. Then in early adulthood, you start the long, downward slope from an already low density. I was pretty active as a kid (weight bearing), got lots of sunlight (vitamin D) and was always a big dairy eater (calcium). I'd like to think I reached normal bone density. I didn't become sedentary until my mid-20's.

It could be that my sedentary period from roughly 25-35 years old saw me lose BMD more rapidly than average. Even when I began cycling, lost weight and became quite fit into my 40's, I was still essentially sedentary from my bone's perspective. All-day desk job and no impact when I exercised. Couple this with the fact that athletes can consume acidifying carbohydrates and lose calcium in their sweat, you have perfect conditions to mount an attack on your bones.

I will probably continue running for now. I derive satisfaction from it and running can get you a "fix" in a pinch. I may even try more running events in 2013.  BMD changes very slowly, up or down, maybe only a percent or two per year. I do not plan to get another scan for two years. If running can at least maintain my bone density, my Z-score will eventually catch back up to the normal range, but it may take 20 years.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Embrace the Snow!

Waterville Valley Skate
I've been capitalizing on the winter wonderland conditions we've not had in two years. After taking a badly needed rest day on Thursday, I headed up to Waterville Valley for a solo skate ski on my off-Friday. It got into single digits overnight, plus an inch of light powder fell after the trails were groomed. I feared sandpaper snow conditions. I brought my rock skis this time, as I put a few minor dings in my brand new top-of-the-line Salomon skis last weekend. Other than the dusting, no snow has fallen all week.

The temperature rose as I drove up into the valley. Usually it goes the other way. It looked like the skate lanes had been touched up with the snowmobile groomer before the dusting. Heading out, the glide was much better than I expected. Not speedy fast, but faster than last weekend. Swan's Way was very thinly covered. I felt my skis catch on gravel several times. Very glad I didn't bring the Salomon's. Once on the north end, the trails were in excellent condition. No thin spots and only minor tree debris from last weekend's windstorm.

Nobody was out. I put down first skate tracks most places I went. I got right down to business, climbed Livermore, descended Lower Snow's, then attacked Beanbender. I have selective recall when it comes to this grade. It is a downhill lift-served ski slope. The grade exceeds 30% in several stretches. Beanbender to the ski world is as Kingsley Hill Rd or Lincoln Gap is to the cycling world. There's no way to "soft pedal" up Beanbender. It leaves you hanging on your poles gasping for air once you reach the top. It damages your whole body for the rest of the ski session.

Thornton Gap in distance from top of Beanbender

A brief descent on Upper Snow's connects with Cascade, a one-way trail with another serious 400ft climb. Normally, Cascade is hard, but after Beanbender, everything else seems pretty easy. The Cascade descent was uber sketchy for a skitterish descender like myself. It was unevenly groomed with some pretty abrupt waterbar crossing. I maintained a death wedge with my skis much of the way down so as to not be surprised by something, fail to stop in time and break a leg. At least in my head that would be the likely outcome of a mishap.

Bombing back down Livermore was pure bliss. Good glide, little work, fast the whole way. Upon reaching Tripoli Rd, the grand daddy of climbs at WV, I saw nobody had skated up it yet. I was not going to time-trial up this thing after doing Beanbender. My PR on Tripoli is 17 minutes and change in hero conditions. Surprisingly, I still own the Strava KOM on Tripoli. I reached the top in about 20 minutes. Not bad, and punching the last hundred feet or so of vertical left me gasping for air hanging on my poles again.

The Tripoli descent was one of the smoothest ever. Not fastest, but super smooth and quiet with little need to scrub any speed on the fast parts. I might have hit 30mph. Scary with no brakes, free heels and no metal edges.

View from Bob's Lookout

I hit the Upper Osceola/John Deer and Wicked Easy/Moose Run loops next. I was going to call it good and head back, but passing Tripoli Rd again, I sensed some fumes still in the tank. Why not totally bury myself and hit Tripoli again? The second time up got pretty ugly towards the top.

I limped in with 47km on the Garmin and way past 100% depletion state. Could have used a few more calories out there, maybe then done a couple loops around the pond for an even 50km.

Massabesic Fat Bike Ride
As expected, I felt like death getting out of bed Saturday morning. I had planned to do hard 3+ hour MTB ride, place to be determined. It didn't look like any bare dirt riding was available within 90 minutes drive. The local roads were very unattractive with large banks and risk of icy patches. Time to bring the fat bike out again. This would be my fourth ride on the bike, riding it all of two times last season.

I went back up to nearby Massabesic Lake where the snowmobilers park. I was disappointed to see the parking lot jam-packed with trucks and trailers and the air blue with two-cycle fumes. Maybe riding the snow machine trails wasn't such a good idea.

Last weekend, two knuckleheads buzzed me twice out here, at ridiculous speed, barely an inch to spare, while throwing a rooster tail of ice and rocks into my face. Nice crowd, eh? These are year-round multi-user trails on Manchester Water Works land. To be fair, all the other snow machine operators were courteous  many even waving or doing doubletakes at my 4" wide tires.

With a week of traffic on the trails, I was hoping to ride around the lake this time. The initial part of the FOMBA Turkey Burner course was a non-starter. Fortunately, a lot of people snow shoe or ski out to Battery Point, so cutting in at that parking area proved successful. The riding was very bumpy, even with 4" of super squishy tires as suspension.

Heading into FOMBA trails behind Auburn fire station

The ice on the lake had a mirror finish. It was crystal clear, and walking out on it you could see the bottom of the lake in deep water like there was no ice under your feet. Super creepy. There were people both ice sailing and wind skating out on the lake. The ice sails were hitting incredible speeds, I bet over 60mph. Funny thing is, they'd turn around and go just as fast in the opposite direction. I don't understand sailing dynamics at all, so even as an engineer, this was hard to get my head around. The wind obviously was not reversing direction for them.

Ice sailing on Massabesic Lake

Wind skating

I got over into the FOMBA singletrack area. Woodpecker had negligible traffic on it. Didn't even attempt it. Went over to Lady Slipper, which is closest to trailhead. It looked well packed. It rode nicely. I did have a dab or two though. If tire dropped off packed track, you'd drop to your rotor in snow.

Deer Run is the next trail after Lady Slipper. It had a little less traffic and was considerably more challenging to ride. It made me frustrated. There was no evidence of bike traffic on the trails since the storm more than a week ago. After many dismounts, I didn't even try the Red Pine trail.

So now what? Back to the snow machine trails? While on Lady Slipper, I saw a couple sleds go by below on the rail trail at something like 90mph. I think riding snowmachine trails on a Saturday would be more dangerous than riding on the road. The temp was rising to 40F and the heavy machine traffic was turning the trails into mashed potatoes. A regular MTB would not have been rideable in these conditions, but I could still plod along on my fat bike. I decided to give the Tower Hill Pond loop a go, as the traffic did seem to be thinning out a little after lunch.

The climb up "Cardiac Hill," part of the old Watershed Wahoo race course, nearly killed me. I'd take two or three pedal strokes to gain one stroke's worth of forward progress. At least I was riding. Only a few snow machines passed me on this six mile loop around the lake. No issues. There were families and dog walkers out too. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon.

On the way back to the car I decided to try the FOMBA Fox Tail trail which is right off the rail trail. Like Deer Run, it was rideable as long as you didn't have to turn or go up. That leaves only a small percentage that was actually rideable. Frustration mounted again and I bailed out of last portion of trail.

Fox Tail trail. Only light snow shoe traffic left surface pretty soft and punchy.

I finished with about 26mi, 2000ft of climbing in 3.1hrs. Completely emptied two days in a row. Had planned to ski again Sunday, but I don't know.

So having ridden the Salsa Mukluk in a variety of conditions now, I'm beginning to form some opinions of the value of having a fat bike in the quiver. A fat bike does open up many more opportunities to ride in the winter, but you must bring a different mindset to fat bike riding in snow. It may well be the case you could snow shoe or walk some trails faster than ride them with a fat bike. It takes finesse and patience to keep the bike moving on loose or soft trails. It is very easy to under steer and slide out or spin the rear tire and sink. It doesn't make these problems with with regular MTB go away, it just lessens the severity of them.

I think the conditions where a fat bike really shines is a fairly narrow range of conditions. Most times, snow machine trails go through a thaw freeze cycle, then a regular MTB, especially with studded tires, works very well.  Also, given where I live, heading out to the Cape 1.5-2hrs away, I can ride on bare dirt singletrack. I could have done that today if I wanted to drive out to Brewster. I would not have been able to do the late morning ride I did today on a regular MTB. But I suspect heading out early tomorrow morning while things are frozen and before snow machines tear it up, a regular MTB will work fine. I'll give the Mukluk the rest of this winter before deciding whether it remains a permanent member of my quiver.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Closing Out 2012

Most years I establish a plan of attack, how I'm going to train, which events I will focus on. That didn't really happen in 2012. I aimlessly muddled my way through the season. It felt great. My fitness was abysmal last January. I bought a power meter to bring focus back to my intensity workouts. By summer, I was pushing PR power numbers and times on a few local climbs.

Did I squander this fitness as I bumped up into the 50+ age group this summer? Me thinks not. I've reached the point where I don't need race results to affirm anything. Sure, it is fun to win a race once in a while, but fitness is a valuable asset that can be spent many ways. I went on three cycling trips in 2012 that demanded good form. I dearly love epic rides in areas I haven't visited before.

My fitness is becoming a much more complex thing to gauge. Several years ago, I cycled. Fitness was measured by how quickly I could bike up Mt Washington. Today, I bike, run, ski and do some basic core exercises. It is in these other areas that I continue to improve. In fact, my most satisfying accomplishment from 2012 was running a sub-18 minute 5km with very modest level of training. I continue to improve technique on skate skis too, where improved efficiency will make me faster when age dictates I should be getting slower.

I'll share a couple quantitative charts from my training log. The first breaks down my total aerobic activity volume. I generally strive to train about 600 hours per year. This used to be all cycling, over 700hrs one year in fact. I got in a lot of junk miles that year! In 2012, over 75% of my hours were on the bike. I would have liked this number to be lower, but we had an abysmal ski season last year, so ski hours were replaced with bike hours. I've been running two years now, and 2012 saw many more hours than 2011. The most notable change from recent years is how many cycling hours were spent trail riding, about 50%.  There are many reasons behind this. I've had some very close calls the last couple years riding on the road with cars and semi's. I still have low bone density, and hitting pavement is not an option for me. This is the primary reason I didn't do a single road race this year. I get better stress relief from mountain biking off-road. Will this trend continue in 2013?

This next chart gives my total volume and cycling miles for the years I've kept a training log. Note the total volume hasn't changed much in 11 years, while cycling mileage continues to drop. This is due to other activities displacing time on the bike and increasing time mountain biking, where miles accrue much more slowly than on a road bike. It is interesting to note that I can still hit five minute power numbers on 6000 miles per year as I could at 9000 miles per year. Skiing and running can be even more effective in maintaining the cardio engine than cycling.

Enough quantitative analysis. I'll close out with a set of photos from 2012, one per month. The photos were chosen for diversity of activity rather than artistic value. Hopefully this set conveys how 2012 felt to me. Some of these photos have appeared already in various places, but a few are new.

January: Limited snow season. One of only two times I was able to ride my new fat bike on snow.
I nearly sold it. 2013 is looking like a more traditional winter, so the Mukluk will remain in my
quiver for now.

February: Despite a skimpy snow winter, Waterville Valley held on to a base for most of the season. I'd
ski here on the weekend and then hit the machine made snow at Weston near Boston on Tuesday
nights for crazy 10k races.

March: Mountain biking trip to Arizona. Dave on the Arizona Trail between Picket Post Mtn and village
of Kelvin. Probably one of my top three trail rides of all time, although Dave and I thought we were going
to die of dehydration at one point. Extremely remote and very warm for March this day.

April: Dave, Isaac and myself on a FOMBA/Bear Brook 50 miler MTB ride. This is a loop that I have
become fond of and ridden many times this past summer. When I was still in my 30's, I thought 50
mile trail rides were over the top epic. In 2012, I probably did more 40 and 50 mile trail rides than
all other years combined.

May: Running repeats up Pack Monadnock, training for the Mt Washington foot race in June. Mt.
Washington didn't happen for me, as I developed a calf injury the week before the race. I had high
expectations of suffering mightily and doing well. I may have to try again in 2013, if I can make the lottery
to get in.

June: Another FOMBA/Bear Brook ride that didn't go so well. Dave and Isaac, with Isaac's
bike sans rear derailleur. 20 miles from cars, but luckily his parents house was just a few miles away.

July: Newton's Revenge, a Mt Washington bicycle hill climb race, approaching the summit. Didn't do
quite as well as I expected, but still faster than many attempts over the last 12 years. I was not disappointed.

August: The D2R2 (Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee) ride. Easily the hardest thing I do on a bike at
180km distance and 13,000ft of climbing, mostly on dirt roads like the one pictured. Alex and Bill
keeping a close eye on a loose cow.

September: White Park cyclocross race. I do a traditional cross race every now and then.
There were many injuries at cross races this year. I suck at the unique bike handling skills
cross requires and wouldn't be competitive enough to make risk of injury worthwhile. White Park
had very small masters fields that spread out quickly, so I controlled my level of risk, not some guy
way ahead of me in the pack. Photo by Beth Penney.

September (again): Ok, I said one photo per month, but I didn't want to leave the CX race photo above
out. Dave, Isaac and I hit Salida and Durango, Colorado for some long days of trail riding. Some day
I'll retire to Colorado. This photo was at Kenosha Pass on our drive back to Denver airport when we
took a break for a short hike. Next visit to Colorado will have me putting tires to this trail. Reports are
it is a fabulous ride.

October: I've long financially supported organizations like NEMBA and IMBA, but in 2012 I ratcheted my
support up a notch by helping build new trails in two parks. This was a build day in Bear Brook State Park,
my favorite local place to ride. It is quickly become a destination riding area, and NEMBA has permission
to build more trails in coming years.

November: Mt Watatic hike with Cathy. I go on a few hikes per year with my wife and/or son.
On this crisp, clear day with nothing else planned, Cathy and I drove to nearby Watatic, which
pays big rewards with a modest hike. This summit was nearly developed but spared after people who cared
launched a campaign to save Mt Watatic.

December: Solo trip to the heartland of the USA. This is Landahl Trails near Kansas City, MO.
I biked in three new states on this trip. I try to get away for a solo extended weekend trip most
years for solitude on the mountain bike.