Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Trans Iowa 2016


So, Trans Iowa.

I went, I started, made the first checkpoint cutoff time by five minutes, dropped out at the first convenience store (in Victor, Iowa) and rode back to Brooklyn to get picked up. About 86 miles for the day.

So why did I drop out? Well, it's a bit of a story:

I rode quite a few miles in training over the last six months, tracking things like heart rate, distance and speed. Despite being systematic about it, giving myself days off, managing my stress and whatnot, the numbers were flat. More importantly, I really wasn’t feeling all that great. My motivation was low and I felt disproportionately stressed out. I felt more and more like a robot; and even though I was eating right, getting lots of  sleep, and drinking enough fluids, I was not really Going Like Hell. Finally, after turning in my first hundred-mile ride on April 10, I felt noticeably short of breath. So I made a doctor appointment.

Some of you reading this, especially the endurance athletes, may know that doing something like making a doctor appointment with vague symptoms can be its own challenge. There’s an angel on the one shoulder who’s calmly telling us to watch out for our own well-being, and then there’s a devil on the other screaming “don’t be such a pussy! It’s all in your head!” (I’m quoting—it’s the devil, and he uses naughty words.) While dogged determination has given me some excellent experiences, my intuition told me something wasn’t quite right.

I expected something related to allergy or asthma. Maybe a lung function test. The physician’s assistant put a stethoscope on my chest, listened for about 5 seconds and said:

“Do you have a heart murmur?”

Me: “Uhhhh….no?”

“You have a heart murmur.” He listened again. “Any family history of mitral valve problems?”

“My grandmother had a valve replacement.”

He seemed unimpressed.

“Well, first we’re going to do an EKG here, then blood work and a chest X-ray downstairs. Then we’ll get you in over at the UW for an echo.” The ultrasonographer told me that had I been 50 pounds heavier, nobody would have detected the lub-click-dub-whoosh.

Turns out I have a mitral valve prolapse, which is essentially a noisy and slightly leaky heart valve. It’s pretty common (2%–6% of the population) and benign for almost everybody who has it. Many people who have it don’t even know they have it, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not the kind of heart disease that will kill you, at least not by itself.

Of course, nobody in the medical profession would tell me that right away. I had the tests on Tuesday the 12th, and ended up calling that Friday to find out what was going on. I was told that the news was generally good, but to avoid strenuous activity. Whatever that meant. I was all registered and paid up for Dairy Roubaix, but instead of doing the ride decided to volunteer in the kitchen for the breakfast shift and take some pictures of the riders out on the course. It was a good time, but it wasn’t the same as riding.

The following Wednesday, I finally got a message back from my doctor with some more detail about what I could and could not do. I decided that starting TI and riding steady for a while fit within what I could do. So we went. I didn’t expect to make the time cutoff at the first checkpoint, but that happened. I felt good all day, got to know Slender Fungus rider Dr. Giggles as we rode together. I was quite tired afterward—maybe more so than usual, but hard to say for certain.

It’s still not clear exactly where I go from here, endurance racing-wise. For a normal person, my condition would be a non-issue, but I realize that I am not a normal person. I have a feeling it might take a while to figure out what’s next. Meanwhile? Chillin’, I guess.

Thanks once again to Mark Stevenson for putting this thing on. Though we may secretly curse your name on some of the steeper hills (or sometimes not all that secretly) words can’t express what great experiences I had at all four of the Trans Iowas I did (even last year.) The ride itself, and even more so the people who help organize it and participate, I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I’m feeling damn lucky today. Glad I found out what I did in a nice warm, well-lit clinic without having it become a crisis out in in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Glad to have a loving and supportive family, and a lot of good friends. Glad we have health insurance. Glad I took the line at 04:00 on Saturday.

Previous TI attempts: 2015, 2014, 2013.

Photos over on Flickr.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Triple D 2016

Indecision clouded my vision.
This was my eighth shot at the Triple D winter race, having started back in 2009 as a complete newb. We've had a strange winter this year with few snow events but lots of freeze-thaw action. Fearing a repeat of 2013, I took two bikes along. Went down to Dubuque a little early and scouted the Heritage trail a bit, then later met up with Utah Steve and Paul to pre-ride the creek bottoms at the start of the course. Scattered icy patches had me ultimately deciding on the studded 29er.

Race morning dawned very cold. At the 10 a.m. start, it was -7˚F, with a 15 mph northwest wind gusting to 24—but hey, at least it was sunny. Every bit of skin had to be covered.

The start was pretty orderly this year, which was good because the creek bottoms still had some open water. The snow was rock-hard but not very fast.

The creek bottoms were pretty protected, and the industrial park was okay, but the tops of hills and open fields were right in the jaws of the wind. I went to drink out of my Camelbak about 45 minutes into the race, but the insulated hose was very stiff between the bladder and the bite valve. I had stuck the bite valve down between the pack and my back, and it was still useable, but the hose was frozen solid. Fortunately, I had a bottle of sports drink in my frame bag with a chemical warmer, and it was still good. The cold had me thinking of quitting even before Junction 21 (mile 10), but I stuck it out. Checked in briefly in 26th place and got a refill on the water bottle. Felt chilled starting out again, and started considering turning east at Heritage to drop out and shortcut the course back to the hotel.

The Humke B road was as fun as ever, even with a little bit of two-wheel drifting on the smooth ice near the bottom. It was enough of a thrill that I figured I might as well ride west on Heritage for a while and see how that went. Ran into Frank, who was pumping up his tires, and I stopped and did the same. He suggested working together, and I thought that sounded good, so we continued on.

I had gotten a comment from a fat biker earlier suggesting that my bike would just fly on the rail trail. Sadly, this was not the case. I'm not sure exactly why, but it didn't feel at all fast. I suspect that the Nokian Extremes on a wide rim are too squared-off, resulting in every stud and every tread block hitting the contact patch all the time. That, and they aren't light or lively tires to begin with.

Sumoi Extremes
The section between Holy Cross Road near Farley and Dyersville was bad—there's just no other word for it. Mostly open country with that stinging headwind. Frank could ride faster than me, but reasoned that doing that section together would be better than doing it individually, and he was right. We traded pulls but were still hurting by the time we rolled into the second checkpoint at Chad's pizza.

We took quite a long break at Chad's. I had concluded that doing things right in this weather was much preferable to doing them hastily. I swapped out my chemical foot warmers, drank and refilled fluids, added a hat and ate as much as I could. Also dealt with an exclusively male problem, countering a bit of redness and swelling with a strategically-placed spare wool sock and chemical warmer. Had a bit of a shiver attack that concerned me, but it went away as soon as we started out again.

The return segment was out of the wind and mostly downhill. The trail was in good shape, so I put on the cruise control and did some rolling recovery. Frank pulled easily away from me and became a dot in the distance. I finally felt good for the first time since starting, and kept a steady pace with only one food/drink/nature stop. I switched to my light gloves and then to no gloves at all for a while. I occupied my brain by eating chewy bits (honey stinger bites are especially good for this) a little at a time. As I approached Sundown Ski Area, a fox ran onto the trail and ran ahead of me for a couple hundred yards. I considered it a good omen.

Heritage Trail
Frank was leaving Durango just as I was parking my bike. I checked in and got a water refill, ate some pizza and chatted with the volunteers and a few people who had dropped out. I wasn't in a particular hurry, since I knew I'd be riding in the dark soon anyway.

Dusk was falling and I was chilled as I left Durango. Before I was warm again, about a half-mile down the trail, I saw a bike laid out and its rider standing over it. I asked what was wrong, and it turned out to be a broken chain. I asked whether he had the part or tool to fix it, and he replied that he did not. I said that I had the part and the tool, but he responded that he didn't have the required knowledge. So I got the stuff out and had a look. The chain was threaded wrong, so I instructed the rider to re-thread it correctly and got out my quick link and mini tool. Could not get the broken side plate off with the pliers, so we dug out the chain tool and I went at the rivet. All this time, my hands were getting progressively more painful and less dexterous. Of course, the rivet was seized and I had a hell of a time getting it out. I really had to crank on my poor little chain tool, and even then I had to use the pliers to rip the side plate off and to get the rivet and other side plate out. Finally got the quick link in though, and got the rider on his way. As soon as he was back up, I hopped on the bike and shot down the trail, looking to get the bio-furnace relit. Twilight was fading as I left Heritage and passed the driving range.

The last leg along the Northwest Arterial was a slog. It was hard to navigate in the dark, it went back up on a hill, and it turned a bit west, back into the wind. Plus, I was alone at this point. Had to stop at one point and check my map and GPS to make sure I was still on course. Finally got to the downhill and into the creek bottoms, walking a fair amount by this point because my feet had gotten cold again. My Transition lenses were also still dark because of the cold, so I couldn't see all that well either. Toughed it out to the finish, rolling in for 15th place at just after 19:00 all tired and cold, but with no injuries and feeling pretty good.

(photo by Davy G)

Pics over yonder.

My clothing was as follows:

  • North Face Skully beanie with ear covers, a homemade fleece face mask that seals at the nose and vents out the bottom, plenty of Dermatone and Vaseline on any still-exposed areas. Added a neck gaiter in the field before the first checkpoint and a thin wool cap at Dyersville.
  • North Face arm warmers, 32˚ synthetic base layer, UnderArmour Cold Base 2 (all skin-tight), covered with a Mountain Hardwear SuperPower Transition soft-shell jacket. PI lobsters at the start, followed by PI WXRs and then no gloves as I warmed up. The bike sported ATV bar mitts.
  • Legs got Pearl padded shorts, and some old Nike lycra tights, both covered with Swrve mid-weight WWR knicks and some garage sale gaiters.
  • Tall, thick Surly wool socks, a pair of thin wool socks, chem warmers and LaCrosse Quickshot 8", 600 gram boots for the feet.

I ate Curiak dough, Honey Stinger chews, Honey Stinger waffle cookies with Nutella and pork jerky on the trail. Drank Hammer Perpetuem and water.

The bike was a GT Peace 9er Multi 2x8 with Schlick Northpaw 47mm rims and Nokian Gazza Extreme 296 in the 29x1.9 size. Titec H-bars and Thudbuster LT; platform pedals.

(Photo by Amber Bettcher)