Why I Won’t Dump Icewater on my Head

I watched as my newsfeed on Facebook filled with friends dumping buckets of water over their heads to make the public aware of the devastating illness ALS, or, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gherig’s Disease.  I actually already knew about ALS, but had never donated to that particular cause. As more people wrote about it, I knew I would eventually be asked, and I thought long and hard about the reasons for/against dumping water over my head. In the end, I’m not doing it, but my family donated. Here’s why:

The original challenge was to dump water OR donate. Somehow it became AND. This offends me as a math person. But all levity aside…. The original dumping exonerated the dumper from donating. Then it morphed to dumping allowing you to donate 10% of a non-dumper. In that context, I’d rather not see so much dumping.

I have a degree in Public Relations. Basically, I spent four years studying the hows and whys of awareness campaigns. I elected not to work in this area due to many factors, one being the fact that I don’t really like banging people on the head to raise money. But I do know how they work.

What the public needed at the start of this campaign was to become aware. Before this started, hardly anyone knew what Lou Gherig’s disease was called. In just a few weeks, the public had been made very aware. I don’t think there’s an idiot on the street who couldn’t tell you what ALS is. This social media campaign has been more successful than anything any foundation has dreamt up, and it happened pretty much for free.  Donations started pouring in. In fact, they made a third of last year’s take in just a month. Donations continue to roll in.

I know that a foundation like this one costs money to run. They have to pay their people, pay for administrative costs, they help out current patients, lobby politicians to acquire government grants and spend some money on research. They also have a huge chunk of the budget reserved for awareness campaigns. Last year’s budget is more than covered at this point, and I do feel that they got far more than planned in the awareness area. What that means, from a PR perspective, is that it’s time to move beyond awareness and start spending the excess windfall (because face it, this was a windfall) on research. Plain and simple.

There are much bigger threats to our public health. If you’re the 0.01% (one one hundredth of a percent) of people in the US who have ALS, it’s your biggest threat. I get it. But we as a society have bigger problems. For instance, there is a growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria out there and virtually no development of new drugs to combat them. That means if one of them gets really belligerent it could kill whole families and there’s nothing anyone could do. Yeah, I know, I’m being hyperbolic. Cancer, MS, diabetes and obesity, I could go on. There are so many causes and we can’t afford to donate to all of them. And most of them share the same issue; they are simply not profit-makers for pharmaceutical companies and research money is hard to come by. Except diabetes, which is being fueled by crappy eating habits and is a huge profit-maker because it lasts a long time and requires maintenance drugs.

There are lesser known ailments that affect people I know. I’d like to see some of these get a fraction of the attention of ALS. For instance, do you know what Trigeminal Neuralgia is? Can you even say it? I can. Please read up on it. And you can donate here if you like, but I’m not going to challenge you. It’s not that I begrudge ALS this awesome awareness. I deem this campaign so successful I think it’s time to donate some cash and move on to try and publicize other diseases in the same way.

I do nice things too. But I don’t post them all on Facebook. And I don’t judge people based on what things they do and film. I donate time and money to organizations when I gain nothing but satisfaction in return. I won’t enumerate the number of UNPAID extra hours I spent as a public school teacher so that kids who were not mine could be successful. I cloth diaper! But I don’t preach and judge, and I haven’t filmed myself and posted it on Facebook. I don’t really post much of what I actually do on Facebook. Remember, I’m not judging those who do, I just don’t. And I don’t like peer pressure at all, in fact it makes me run the other way. That’s my personal feeling, and that should be enough.

More people die from not having access to fresh water than just about any disease you can name. Over 3 million people per year die from water-related causes worldwide. That number is equal to roughly 1% of the population of the US. ALS claims about one one-hundredth of a percent of our population. Right about now I’m sure if you asked someone in Southern California they would gladly use that bucket of water to wash their clothes, because even though they have water, it’s going to keep getting more expensive.  Yes, I waste water. We all waste water. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the water we waste every day. Maybe we should issue an awareness campaign about water.

The proof is in the pudding. We donated and my husband’s company matched 1 to 1. Should I post the receipt? Is that gauche? How do I know that all the folks who dumped a bucket of water over their head actually donated? (Remember, it used to be “OR”). I don’t. You don’t. Instead, folks just assumed. If you “took the challenge” you’re good. If you didn’t, you’re bad. The judging. I just can’t even.

That is so August 10th. Ok, I kid, but the bulk of the awareness was raised in the first week or so of this campaign. Had I been issued the “challenge” a few weeks ago, I would have thought differently. But the point was already made. Isn’t a donation enough? I can almost guarantee that not one of my media-savvy friend-base has made it this far without being aware.  The campaign has been so successful, nobody needs to dump water over their head anymore. ALS still happily took our money, which we stipulated should go towards research (aka ACTION) since awareness has been achieved.

Remember, I don’t judge. I really don’t. So if your smiling face appeared in my newsfeed this week with a pail of water being dumped over your head, good for you! I’m going to assume you also made a donation. I love to believe the best about people. But remember that my non-participation in the video shouldn’t make a statement about whether or not I am a good person. I shouldn’t be judged as a bad sport any more than I’m going to judge someone who did it as being self-promoting after about August 10th. To each their own, and we each do charitable deeds in our own ways. Respect.

Wedding Beer

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Trying to maintain a constant temperature in the grain-steeping process.

Trying to maintain a constant temperature in the grain-steeping process.

We’ve been homebrewing for about three years now, with fairly few mistakes and many successes. Most of our beer is handed out to friends and family or consumed during parties. Either people have been nice, or it’s actually drinkable.

Awhile ago one of my oldest friends asked us a favor. He asked us to brew a beer for his upcoming wedding. This is a guy who would give you the shirt off his back, even if he didn’t have another. This was a must-do.

After discussing flavor options and timelines, and Ken’s request for a lighter beer than our normally huge stouts and porters, we decided on a California Common Ale.

If you’re not familiar with the beer, it’s actually a hybrid between an ale, fermented at room

Draining the steeped grains. After this you can let the toddler loose.

Draining the steeped grains. After this you can let the toddler loose.

temperature, and a lager, fermented at very cool temperatures. Ales are what we do; from IPA all the way to Stouts, the ale yeast ferments well at 55 to 75 degrees. Lagering requires a separate fridge rigged with an externally controlled thermostat,  and we sure didn’t feel confident trying that out for the first time. So California Common, or “steam beer” it would be.

Historically, the California Common was an

improvisation by the gold-seekers in California and Nevada during the 1860’s. Without refrigeration they were unable to make a true lager, but they were looking for a refreshing beer based on a lager yeast. You can read more about that here.

The most notable beer on the market of this type is Anchor Steam, brewed in San Francisco since the 1980’s. This was the beer we had to try and emulate.

Boiled, yeast-ed and ready to ferment.

Boiled, yeast-ed and ready to ferment.

Not only were we using a new yeast, we had the daunting task of brewing enough so that each guest could take home a big beer. It turned out that meant brewing three 5-gallon batches back to back. We intended to brew one for testing, then brew two more, but when we recalculated we figured out we’d have to use the test batch too. Nobody wants to be short on beer, especially when it’s a party favor!

With 18-month-old Baby M. milling around and gallons of boiling water being poured from here to there, timing was crucial. And the back-to-back brewing task really helped us refine our process. We would boil water in every available receptacle and wait…until morning naptime. Then it was a full-on race to steep the grain and make the necessary temperature adjustments in the brewing process before draining the wort. If we got

Yeasty-beasties doing their thing.

Yeasty-beasties doing their thing.

that far in the process with a sleeping baby we were good to go. Boiling and siphoning to a fermenter is safe enough with a toddler around and you don’t need four hands the whole time.

The first batch tasted right. We elected to go ahead and brew the second and third back to back in

a weekend. Aside from small temperature differences the beers came out reasonably similar; as well as can be expected for quality control in a home kitchen with a baby and a deadline.

As the beer sat bubbling in the basement, the second task was to make sure that it was well dressed for the event. That meant bottles and labels.

The label.

The label.

We are lucky enough to have a great friend in the restaurant business who saves us 22-ounce bottles. The Saporro Beer bottles are our favorites because the labels soak off so easily in a bin of Oxy Clean. (Pro tip for all you homebrewers out there). If you’re in Salt Lake, be sure to visit Yellowfinn for sushi and drinks (they have full strength beer, wine and sake). For months they collected brown bottles for us for this project, and we are forever grateful.

Next up was the label. Until now I had been printing black and white labels on our ancient laser printer. I would cut them on a paper cutter, wet with a sponge and stick them on the bottles. The paper, which can be bought at a brewing supply, does an ok job for a label here and there, but this project called for something a bit more professional.

I did a google search and the first company that appeared was

Comparing color between Batch 1 and a very young Batch 2.

Comparing color between Batch 1 and a very young Batch 2.

Grog Tags. That seemed right to the point. I read a little, downloaded advanced vector templates and went to work. I stole a picture from Ken’s lovely bride Wendy’s Facebook page and got to work with my limited Adobe Illustrator skills. Of course I consulted our friend Jessica of Petite Lemon along the way.

The result in one week’s processing time was far beyond my

expectations. The labels were very reasonably priced, professionally printed and made from a vinyl-like material that allows them to be peeled and re-stuck. Once people drink the beer they can easily peel and save the label without having to do anything special. Bonus!

Bottled, labeled, out the door.

Bottled, labeled, out the door.

When all three batches had been bottled and given their time to rest we had a little tasting with the bride and groom. The end product was about 4.5% ABV, illegal for a Utah grocery store, but slightly lower than the Anchor Steam. We tasted all three batches in addition to a bottle of Anchor. In all, the three tasted alike, which was our hope. They were not as effervescent as the Anchor, probably due to natural bottle conditioning rather than the forced-carbonation that beer manufacturers use. The style of beer is not my favorite, but it seems to have been successful as far as tasting like our example.

All that was left was to hand over the labeled bottles and attend the ceremony. The bride and her

The finished party favor. As beautiful as the wedding.

The finished party favor. As beautiful as the wedding.

friends really dressed up our beer, pairing it with a root beer and a beautiful Celtic bottle opener. They even called us up in front of the party to credit us with the beer, which was very sweet.

 

It was really satisfying to make a product, package it and send it out the door to such great people for a beautiful wedding. I know they think they got the great end of the deal, but the list of things learned and processes perfected is as endless as it is diverse. It was a win-win.

 

 

 

Training While Pregnant

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We’ve all heard about the lady who ran the Boston and then went to the hospital and had a baby. I didn’t do that… So let me get all opportunities for hate mail squared away right off the top. I trained within a new set of limits while pregnant, but I did not compete. I am also neither a doctor, nor a certified personal trainer, nor do I have any official background on the subject.  My qualifications are: I was pregnant and I had over 20 years of experience as a self-coached elite endurance athlete and knowledge of my own heart rate zones and patterns.

Hiking "Suicide Chute" in June at 16 weeks.

Hiking “Suicide Chute” in June at 16 weeks.

I became “with child” immediately when the competitive season ended. I was at the highest level of fitness I had been since retiring from full-time bike racing, and perhaps even higher as my heart rates were showing. This was my starting point.

First off, no doctor will ever publicly give an opinion about this because I’m sure someone would do something stupid and sue. My doctor said some things to me, most of them encouraging, but as a very experienced and trained athlete many of the pieces of advice he gave me that he thought were in agreement were very contradictory.

Beautiful trail ride in Grand Junction AKA Fruita. A little puffy.

Beautiful trail ride in Grand Junction AKA Fruita. A little puffy, about four months along.

“Keep your heart rate under 140.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that in 1985 and has since dropped it for a more reasonable (and less concrete) undetermined maximum depending on the person.  Numerous sites and sources hang on to this number for dear life and it might have driven me insane if I hadn’t researched it more. A max of 140 for me would have meant I could not have done this:

“Make sure you get some aerobic exercise, but keep it aerobic.” As in, it has to be a little bit more than 140 bpm in someone with a max of 190 and an aerobic threshold of 160 to actually do any good. The recommendation for pregnant women who have never exercised a day in their life is to start an exercise program. For me, 140 beats would not have qualified as exercise.  I hit 140 getting off the couch to go get a drink. If that’s a problem, it’s not related to being pregnant.

Along with the advice to keep it under 140, I also heard, “heart rates and heart rate monitors don’t work when you’re pregnant because your heart is going to behave differently.”  Ok, now how am I supposed to keep it under 140 if 140 isn’t 140 and my monitor isn’t really going to work?

Downclimbing a rock section. It looks steeper than it is.

Downclimbing a rock section on Suicide. It looks steeper than it is.

Finally, “ride your bike for 3 or 4 hours if you want, just keep it aerobic.” I guess he gave me the benefit of the doubt on knowing about hydration, nutrition and heat since I was riding in the high desert in the middle of summer.

And so I googled. And googled. And did some more googling. But I didn’t Bing, for the record.  And what I found were individual accounts by elite athletes like Dara Torres, who trained at swimming throughout her pregnancy and breastfed her baby in the locker room at the Olympic Trials.  There were a few others.  I won’t claim to be an Olympic caliber athlete, but at one time I almost was, and at the time I became pregnant I was in some of the best shape of my life. I was competing and keeping plenty of data on my performance and heart rates.  I would put myself closer to the top end than the majority of pregnant women.

There is almost no good source of information for the high-level athlete who is pregnant. In all fairness, it is unethical to study this truly scientifically; it has to be voluntary and self-reporting. And if the internet has taught us anything, self-reporting isn’t always very accurate.  After all the searching and plenty of unsolicited crappy advice from acquaintances who are not doctors, I pretty much had to go by a few decent rules that are universally agreed upon:

1. Do activities you are conditioned for already. If you’re not a cliff jumper, don’t start now.

2. If you can still talk in sentences, you’re not going too hard. That’s the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) method for “keeping it aerobic”.  Due to the fact that I don’t want hate mail, I won’t share what my “talk test” heart rate is, but I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t 140.

3. If there are warning signs (there is a list) stop immediately. This is the pregnancy of equivalent of, “Hey doc, it hurts when I do this!” (“Then don’t do it.”)

4. Strength training is great too as long as it is high rep/low weight. Maxing out on your clean and jerk is probably off limits, but weight lifting is acceptable as long as it is moderate and proper form is used. Ceasing to breathe or hyperventilation is not recommended, so again, maximum weight lifting is off the table. Proper technique is really important because your joints soften up and you can get injured pretty easily. I used plenty of bodyweight exercises…and there is an automatic increase in weight as you go.

5. Eat, drink and be merry. You are not really “eating for two”. In fact, you get about 300 calories a day extra for a baby. That’s less than one PB&J. But if you’re exercising lots, you need more. And you need to stay hydrated.

6. Don’t overheat. Don’t cook junior. I spent most of my pregnant exercise time in the summer in Utah, so it was closing in on 100 degrees every day. I worked out at 6 am, inside, or swam.

And so it was with that set of guidelines that I set out to try and keep myself in the best shape possible to return to competition after baby.  I wrote a periodized training plan that included very low intensity and slightly higher, but still aerobic intensity.  I also included strength training.

Skiing "Suicide Chute", AKA "Country Lane".

Skiing “Suicide Chute”, AKA “Country Lane”.

For those not in the know, a proper training plan increases in volume and intensity over a set period of time and then contains a rest period before ratcheting up again. When I wrote the plan I had no idea if I would be able to follow it, but for me, it had to be written.  It’s what I have always done, and it was a good way to make sure I had appropriate challenges and proper recovery.

As far as activities, I did what I had been doing with one exception. I took up swimming. I hadn’t really been in a pool since I was a lifeguard in high school 20 years ago, but swimming is universally accepted as the only sport it’s ok to start doing pregnant. And it ended up being a saving grace because I could take my workout to the pool if it was hot or when the weather was crappy in the fall, or finally when the pounding of fast walking was too much around 37 weeks.

Cycling.  My original, all-time go-to sport.  Some folks might be concerned about this one due to

Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 28 weeks. For once I was excited about the road work because of this photo-op.

Little Cottonwood Canyon, about 28 weeks. For once I was excited about the road work because of this photo-op.

the danger of falling off the bike. Certainly this falls under the “don’t take it up for the first time pregnant” category. But remember that I have spent twenty- five years on a bike and I happen to have a pretty good record as far as falling.  I felt perfectly safe riding on the roads and some trails. When I stopped it was because it had gotten too cold, and I was already at about 37 weeks. Many professional and former professional riders stay on their bike through their entire pregnancy.

I borrowed Jonathan’s old shorts and jerseys in order to accommodate the belly, and I had to get used to my knees bumping into it, but other than that I was able to get in many three-hour rides and a couple four-hour rides too.

Roller skiing: At the outset I eliminated this activity due to my single year of experience and how tedious I felt on those things. But I missed it (never thought I would say that).  So one day I tried it very carefully. It turned out that after another year on snow I was much better on these things. I alternated double-poling with no-pole skating. Not only was this safer, but it vastly improved my skating technique.

I vowed that the very first day I felt off-balance on them I would not do it again. I never experienced a moment when my balance felt impaired, but I just had a day when I didn’t feel 100% and I stopped around seven months.

The long hike up Timponogos for some August turns. I was about five months along and feeling pretty great.

The long hike up Timponogos for some August turns. I was about five months along and feeling pretty great.

Nordic Walking: When I gave up roller I walked and jogged with poles. Extra bonus: if your hands tend to swell when walking, walking with poles helps keep blood flowing in and retained water flowing out.

Swimming: First I had to reteach myself swimming. The first day I went I was about 5 months pregnant. Since the maternity suits were so lame (not athletic suits), I bought a size larger Speedo and jumped in. My swimming technique was so bad I barely made it across the pool without going anaerobic.

I googled swimming videos and watched a few, went back to the pool and tried to perfect my stroke. I got some fins, hand fins and a floatie. I did some flipper time to make me feel better, and then some arms only to perfect my stroke.  In a few weeks I had made it 1600 meters and finally 2000 meters.  I took some of my land-based interval training and translated it to the pool. I also learned how to swim easy in between, which was perhaps the most challenging part.

In the end I gained a new lifelong activity. I believe swimming helped me build muscle endurance in my arms for skiing that had lacked in my tyrannosaurus-rex cycling body.

Showing off my bump on Timp. This was obviously more fun than the skiing was, as it was raining.

Showing off my bump on Timp. This was obviously more fun than the skiing was, as it was raining.

Backcountry Skiing: Again, something I was already doing. In fact we had the single most prolific spring of ski mountaineering ever while I was between one and five months along. We bagged some of the most sought-after peaks and lines in the Wasatch by hiking with climbing skins at a very moderate pace and picking smooth lines down.  During the first few months the danger of injuring a baby due to a fall is minimal because it is still hiding behind the pelvic bone. My doc gave me a 100% green light on skiing.

Nordic Skiing: The Monday before M was born, at 38.5 weeks along, we got enough snow to ski. We went out to one of the local groomed tracks and Jonathan had to put on my skis because I couldn’t reach.  I was amazed at the technique improvement I had gained with my summer of careful roller skiing concentrating on technique, and all my strength training. Balance wasn’t a problem. I was just happier than anything to see snow.  We went the next day too. On the Wednesday of that week I was feeling tired, on Thursday the doc induced me due to rising BP which he did not blame on exercising. Friday I had a baby.

Four days before Baby M was born. The balance loss I was promised never really materialized. This was the best ski pic I had ever taken and it was the first day we were on snow.

Four days before Baby M was born. The balance loss I was “promised” never really materialized. This was the best ski pic I had ever taken and it was the first day we were on snow.

Weight lifting and core conditioning: We continued our core strength circuit and weightlifting that we do every year in the base training phase. Although the recommendation is for pregnant women not to do any exercises that involve being on their back after first trimester, my doctor gave me the ok for regular crunches for awhile after that because I was very small and my weight gain was not an impairment.  I did free weights and squats – again with low weight and lots of reps. Good form was always a priority since pregnant joints tend to loosen, but I didn’t feel any pain and made pretty significant gains in this arena.

Expectations: I had few. I wrote out a training plan and followed it because that’s what I do, and expected to have to modify it along the way. I expected to stay active throughout my pregnancy as long as I didn’t have complications. That was just about it – I really didn’t expect much

I also expected to be “morning sick”, but the myth of morning sickness is the morning part; it can happen any time. I felt the worst at night or if I wasn’t eating correctly and I strongly feel that the nausea, at least for me, was tied directly to blood sugar.

I expected to retain a reasonable amount of fitness, provided I wasn’t sent to bed rest. I tried to be realistic and I ended up lucky.

Surprises: I was surprised that I felt good almost every day of the 39 weeks. In the first three months I was tired a lot, but I knew that getting out to do something would actually make me feel better. It did.  After that I felt pretty amazing every day until about 38 ½ weeks.

I was surprised at how much activity I could easily handle. I worked out twice a day many times; sometimes because I lifted and did something aerobic, and sometimes because I really liked swimming outside to cool off.  I was able to do three-hour bike rides very easily and I didn’t bonk because I was on top of my nutrition the whole time.

Another surprise was that I actually gained aerobic capacity and strength. My arms got way

I ordered one set of larger clothing because nobody makes "maternity cycling clothes". And of course a tiny jersey for M.

I ordered one set of larger clothing because nobody makes “maternity cycling clothes”. And of course a tiny jersey for M.

stronger, and I saw myself able to go farther and faster within the same heart rates as the season went on. I expected to maintain and then decline. I maybe hoped to just maintain. I never would have gone into this expecting to improve, but I did.

I was pleased that all of my work made delivering a baby (with full epidural) totally easy. Sure, I had no feeling, but I still had to push out a baby after 24 hours of induced labor. It was far easier than any bike or ski race.

The last surprise was my return to competition.  Eight days after M was born I was back on my Nordic skis.  I could see my feet again, which was awesome, and the first few days were rough. After a total of 11 days off pre and post baby I was back training, and at five weeks I was in my first race. By week six I was back to my race weight and after that I was lower. Seven weeks after baby I found myself sprinting for second in a local series race.  The remaining races were each results I would have been proud of had I never been pregnant.

As I developed a plan for the following season I noted that the bulk of any endurance training, even for non-pregnant people, is still at a very low heart rate. In fact, being forced to slow down may have actually had more far-reaching benefits than I had thought.

Blood Doping: Notice I didn’t say illegal blood doping. You see, I finally found out for real what all the hype was about with Lance and his team, and well, almost every pro cyclist from the 90’s.  When you have a baby your blood volume increases a bunch. Afterwards it sticks around for three months or so.  If you haven’t had your head in the sand for the last year, then you know that extra blood means extra oxygen available to your muscles.  So even though I was completely sleep deprived and missed the most crucial high-end training going into the season, I was racing as if I had trained all the way through.  Seriously – my husband was able to train much harder than I was last summer and he missed the same crucial block around Thanksgiving. I felt great racing and he didn’t. He didn’t have the extra blood volume, just the sleepless nights.

My view 8 days after delivery; I could finally see these again!

My view 8 days after delivery; I could finally see these again!

So my last unexpected result was that I now know the benefit of the cheating that was going on when I was racing bikes. It makes me all the more angry at the cheaters, some of them my competition, who were obviously gaining significantly from extra blood. But that’s a rant for another time.

Partly due to timing, certainly due to motivation and definitely with the help of my family (husband, father-in-law, parents), I managed to have a very healthy baby without missing a single ski season. Certainly it isn’t for everyone, and had there been any indication this was harmful I would have stopped in my tracks. In the end my doctor kept green-lighting me to do what I had been doing because things always looked great (until the very last day).

This is just one perspective, but I know I would have loved to be able to read this when I was pregnant. Hopefully someone else will see that having a baby and maintaining a high level of fitness is a possibility when the right conditions exist.

Because It’s There

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Because it’s there.

When you ask most people what makes them climb Everest and the other giant peaks on this marble the answer is, inevitably, “because it’s there”. I raced the US Nordic National Championships (against most of the top collegiate and professional skiers in the country) for much the same reason; it was here.

Obviously with my 23 total race starts since starting this sport five years ago I was among the rookiest of the rooks. I also had the distinction of being the oldest racer by 7 years. Never mind the next oldest won by three minutes. I was one of two moms (that I know of and probably). The other mom also had her baby last year and had an awesome day, finishing 19th, and not from the front row either. Go Emma!

The race was on the 2002 Olympics course here in Utah, and the conditions at Soldier Hollow were a tad better than the big alpine resorts right now. It was way, way warmer than predicted, hence my waxing was a little off.

I knew going into the race that the lower you set goals, the easier they are to achieve. Ok, that’s negative. Let’s just say that you should set reasonable goals. I did. They were (in no particular order):

Finish better than last.

Finish without being lapped.

Ski well. In other words, ski without falling down.

Get a picture of my name on the cool Olympics status board.

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Jonathan’s only job during the race was to get this picture. Thanks honey!

Well, mission accomplished. I did all of those things. I ended up 60th out of 63 of the best in the country. There were probably hundreds better who didn’t show up, and for that I am probably thankful.

There were a few friends and industry folks out there yelling for me, even on the last lap. But one thing that really impressed and excited me was the number of complete strangers who cheered for me. By name. Ski fans who bothered to look at my number, check their start list and say my name. Of course I gave them plenty of time for research while I was crawling up some of those hills.

Behind every champion there is a team. And behind every old-ass lady in over her head at a huge event, there is also a team. So I’d like to thank the following:

Salomon – they have given me very generous pricing on boots, skis and poles. The boots I wanted because they fit my feet and are nice and stiff for great power transfer. I skied their awesome Soft Ground ski. They were perfect for the mashed potato-looking snow the women’s race skied on after the men and a sudden heatwave wreaked havoc on the snow and my wax job.

Skratch Labs – also gave me some generous pricing on their “secret drink mix” aka Skratch. Of particular importance to me today was the Hyper Hydration Mix, which in extreme conditions like 2500 ft. of climbing in a 20km ski race, kept me from having to take feeds and finish almost as strong as I started. Almost. But that’s not on them.

Bliz Eyewear – It was super foggy and humid today. Conditions that I don’t think would work with anything. The rose colored glasses I got from Bliz helped a lot with the flat light conditions on the downhills. Because remember, I didn’t fall down.

Bill Brooker – my wax tech in-absentia. This guy calls the wax from all the way in New York. Upstate. He is usually spot-on, and I believe he would have been today too, except that the temperature unexpectedly went up 10-15 degrees at the last minute. If I had taken my wax stuff to the venue I could have re-done it, but I didn’t.

My parents, AKA Grandma and Grandpa – they took care of M. while Jonathan and I were off at the races. And apparently they put up with quite a difficult toddler today.

Jonathan – my other half. He came to the race today for moral support, ski toting, water hauling and all around husband-ness. Usually we are both racing, but today he just came for me.

Not last, but skiing by myself. I just like to stay out of trouble!

Not last, but skiing by myself. I just like to stay out of trouble!

I probably won’t do another senior nationals unless it’s senior citizen.  I certainly won’t travel to one; maybe it’ll come back here and maybe I’ll be faster. Maybe not.  I am certainly thankful for the experience and for all those who indulged me in this, perhaps midlife crisis-type activity. It was cheaper than a sports car for sure (not much), and probably healthier.

 

And now that it’s pounding snow up high I’ll be taking the fat boards out for a spin on the chairlifts while I ponder my next aerobic adventure.

Core Shots – Strength Training for Ski Season

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Before I lived in a place where I could be on snow seven to twelve months per year I had to get my fix in a one-week ski trip that was less like a vacation and more like a skiing Tour De France (sans dope).

Year-round snow on Timpanogos, September 2011.

Year-round snow on Timpanogos, September 2011.

We would race to make an early flight to Salt Lake, ski bell-to-bell for six days or so, and try not to get snowed in up the canyon the last day so we could sprint back to the airport.  In reality we needed a vacation when we got back.

After a rude awakening our first year we started to think about getting in some kind of ski shape prior to landing on snow. Now that we live at the source and ski almost year-round on skinny, fat and PHAT skis we still think about staying in shape for that first day on snow. And truth be told, even Bode Miller and his team of downhill pros spend a good deal of their off-season doing dry-land training.

If you’re like most ski vacationers you probably do some other athletic activities during the year, and perhaps those things get you ready for the big ski trip.  Or maybe you live in ski country and ride your bike all summer and have no arms or core. But what if….you hate the gym, want to save your pennies for those $10 hamburgers slope-side and don’t need some skinny, perpetually motivated, annoying fitness professional cheering you on while you do pushups? Then this is for you.

Hiking for turns in the Alta backcountry on Halloween 2011

Hiking for turns in the Alta backcountry on Halloween 2011

Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer, I don’t have a degree or professional experience in this area. What I do have is: a lifetime of needing to strength train and also hating gyms, a huge background in cycling and a small background in Nordic skiing, twenty-seven years of alpine skiing, eight years of ski vacations plus four years living in ski country, and a system that works to strengthen the muscles used for alpine skiing. Every year I’ve been working on this I have seen improvement. And I still don’t go to a gym. And I don’t do Crossfit either.

Equipment: Weights (an Olympic bar and free weights are great, but varied barbells will work), medicine ball, fitness ball, inflatable balance discs, pull-up bar, a step (like that old Reebok aerobics thing in the back of the garage gathering dust). If you do belong to a gym you can probably find most of these things in the fitness area. If not, these items will set you back anywhere from one to three months in membership fees at a gym, but they are yours to keep. You can find it all at Dick’s, But don’t google that at work.

Philosophy: Alpine skiing hammers your quads. But it also relies on balance, which comes from core strength. Additionally, people commonly forget about the upper body in skiing. Once your hands get behind you it’s all..ahem..downhill from there.

Hoofing it through a Memorial Day blizzard, 2011.

Hoofing it through a Memorial Day blizzard, 2011.

Arms and shoulders get tired from pole plants and risk injury from strange falls. Protecting them with a layer of muscle gives them the strength for that little knuckle drag or tree grab. Because I know, you never fall. Neither do I. Never once.

The workout: Each exercise is done for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds rest.  Correct form is always preferable to speed; as you get stronger your speed will improve while your form stays consistent.  Start with one circuit and work your way up to as many as you can.

Math Moment: If there are 12 exercises, each taking 30 seconds with a 30 second rest, it takes…..12 minutes to do a circuit. We max out at three, and have seen excellent results. So 36 minutes of effort for an awesome ski trip.  If you have a training watch that can be programmed, set it up to beep at you every 30 seconds. Otherwise get a big clock or count or something. You get the point. The exercises are listed in an order that allows certain muscle groups to rest while working on the other, but they can be done in any order and even with a ski buddy.

The Exercises:

Twisting squats - place the weight, don't twist the body.

Twisting squats – place the weight, don’t swing out of control from side to side.

Twisting squat: Extend your arms, start in a squatting position and slowly rise and twist side to side. This works your obliques and quads in a dynamic motion related to skiing.  Alternate sides on each rep and don’t swing; place yourself in each position solidly.

 

Pushups: Alternate one hand on the medicine ball and the other on the ground. This varies the angles to hit every part of your shoulder and it also gets you in the gut.

Pushups on the ball with alternating sides.

Pushups on the ball with alternating sides.

Can be done on your knees “girl style” and eventually as full pushups. Keep your back flat. Starts out easy and begins to suck at the 20 second mark. Hang in there.

Superman: Arch your back, tighten glutes, raise arms and legs. Pass the weight around your back in circles. Every few, switch directions. This strengthens your lower back (core) and works your shoulders at a unique angle. If you’re pregnant do this one standing…your baby will appreciate not being squished. If that’s not a baby in there then you have work to do.

Superman - gently pass the weight behind, switch directions every few.

Superman – gently pass the weight behind, switch directions every few.

Oblique crunch: Can be done without weights to begin with. Alternate sides while keeping legs stationary (don’t use them for help). As it gets easier try holding a weight to your chest as you crunch.

Oblique crunch can be done holding a weight or with hands behind head.

Oblique crunch.

One leg hops: Helps with dynamic strength. Spring from your ankle from one foot onto a box and land on the ground with the other. Repeat. Don’t miss the box. Or alternatively, wear shin guards.

Hop - generate power from the ankle.

One Leg Hop – generate power from the ankle.

 

 

 

 

 

Ball crunch: Isolate the upper abs by resting your lower back on the ball. Can be done with or without weights, but if you are using weights keep your arms static. It is a core exercise rather than an arm exercise. Don’t use momentum because that’s just cheating.

Upper ab crunch - very small range of motion.

Upper ab crunch – very small range of motion.

Pullup/Chinup: Hands facing you is easier than hands out. If you’re like me, and the most of these you’ve done was for the President’s Physical Fitness test in the 80’s, start with hands facing you. If you can’t do one, use a stool to start at the top and slowly lower yourself. Eventually work up to about ten, then switch to hands out. This works your core and lats for those steep hill pole plants.

Chin-up with hands facing you, Pull-up with hands facing away (harder).

Chin-up with hands facing you, Pull-up with hands facing away (harder).

Side Plank: Fifteen seconds per side. This works your obliques and lower back. Can be done with or without weights.  Make sure your body forms a straight line.

Side plank with weight. Switch sides halfway through.

Side plank with weight. Switch sides halfway through.

Ball smash: On a hard surface, bounce the medicine ball hard against the ground, follow through backwards with your hands, catch it and repeat. This helps with dynamic strength for your shoulders and skiing-wise, helps you return your hands to the front where they need to be for proper form; hands front. It is also a fantastic way to work out frustration…the harder you

Smash the ball on a hard surface and it will bounce back.

Smash the ball on a hard surface and it will bounce back.

slam, the higher the ball returns. Please don’t do this if you live in an apartment (your downstairs neighbor might maim you).

Plank: Works the whole core. Be sure to keep your back flat – no cheating. Can be done with or without weight. I didn’t post a picture because you probably know what a plank looks like and posting pictures of planking is just so 2009.

Military Press: With bar or barbells. Works the shoulders and helps prevent rotator cuff issues.  Also helps your beach muscles, but not as much as curls.

Military press - can be done with small barbells.

Military press – can be done with small barbells.

Balancing squats: Hands down my favorite. This is far more effective than a regular squat for the precise balance of skiing. It takes much less weight to be effective and it reinforces the point that skiing is about strength while balancing. You’ll expect to feel it in your legs, but don’t be surprised when your core tries to crash this party.  Be sure to use very good form and start light – these are harder than they look. Also, don’t do them drunk because you’ll fall backwards on your arse.

Squats on balance disks - can be done with just body weight to work on balance.

Squats on balance disks – can be done with just body weight to work on balance.

There. That’s it. Go do this three times a week starting now and until your ski trip. Then you can come home, hopefully with both knees and shoulders intact, and sit on the couch until you book your next trip, panic, and look at this again in October. Better bookmark it.

 

 

Stuff I Like (And Paid For*) Dryland Training Edition

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*but not necessarily full retail

Fall is in full swing in the Wasatch and I can smell ski season. In fact I woke up to about an inch of soggy graupel this morning and realized that these are the few days of the year when it is really hard to do anything. Not enough snow to ski, too much slop to ride bikes or rollerski. It was exactly freezing and we had exactly four intervals to do that really couldn’t be moved. So we went for an uphill trail run in the snow with our ski poles. It probably looked RIDIC, but it gave me a chance to solidly review a few products that I have been meaning to mention for awhile.

Booking it up to the tram at Snowbird.

Booking it up to the tram at Snowbird.

Salomon Crossmax XR Trail Shoes

I’ve had this pair for two seasons now and although I am not a runner and use them intermittently, they are my go-to trail shoe. I have terrible feet and orthotics for everything, so I choose a neutral shoe that has some cush and I still complain. But I complain less in these.

Fit The lacing system is their proprietary “Quicklace” system. It’s easy for me to use when I am half-asleep, jumping out of the car with freezing hands and looking to get moving ASAP. Although it might seem like it is harder to micro-adjust than laces, I actually think it’s sixes; I can adjust them to feel good even on my terrible low-volume, crooked, gnarly feet. So that’s a plus.  I tend to have a small ankle and larger forefoot and this shoe fits me well even with my orthotics. I could probably find a shoe that is a little tighter on the ankle, but that’s not a Salomon problem, it’s a me problem.

Boing These are trail shoes and I have used them on the road before too. They have plenty of cush for the push on dirt, snow, grass, even asphalt if that’s what you’re into. Actually, if you’re into that, get a road shoe. But for mixed media, these will do the trick. Think of them as a cross bike for your feet. It is not a minimalist shoe by any means (and that’s just fine).

Tread I ran uphill in wet snow today and didn’t slip once. I would call that a pass.

Weight My best time scaling Snowbird Summer Road on feets was about 1 hour and 5 minutes. That’s 3000 vertical feet in 7k. And I was wearing these, which is why I mentioned all that. They are nice and light.

Durability I have had them two summers and a winter. I might use them for running once or twice a month, but I also wear them around all over, hike in them sometimes, etc. Let’s face it. There are runners who are serious and keep two (or more) identical pairs and rotate them every day and never EVER wear them to the grocery store or anything, and then there are the rest of us. Running is something I do to train for Nordic skiing, but it is also something I tend to avoid. They were dirty today from my last time on the trail, but the snow made them look like new. No stitches are amiss, the tread looks good, the lacing system is fine and the foam is still squishy.

After two years they still look this good.

After two years they still look this good.

Overall When they started making shoes the Salomons were not my first choice. They have consistently improved this shoe to the point that now they are my number one choice for trail running and cross training for everything. And I have a newer, cleaner pair that I wear around because they are nice looking and easy to get on and off with a baby in one hand and all her crap in the other. I give them a five beer rating (out of five).

Bliz Pace Cross Country Glasses

These glasses are intended for cross country skiing, but I have been using them this summer for trail running.

Fit This model is designed for “small faces”. The “Pursuit XT” model is the larger equivalent. I chose the smaller of the two because I am small. Pretty simple. There are regular earpieces and a strap that attaches instead, and I have mostly used the adjustable elastic strap. It fits very well with a hat or headband since these were intended for skiing. The lenses provide full enough coverage for my eyes, and since I wear contacts it is important that they not be blown out. They also feature

So happy to be done running. But our eyes are happy in Bliz glasses!

So happy to be done running. But our eyes are happy in Bliz glasses!

a removable piece on the forehead that is padded. Again, it works well for its intended purpose with hats and headbands. You can even flip the glasses up on your head if you need to.

Performance They are very light and work exceptionally for trail running because of the elastic strap. Road running too, but I try and stay away from that.  I used them once with a helmet to rollerski and they didn’t mesh as well with a helmet. They still performed well, shielded the wind and resisted fogging. There is actually another model of Bliz called the Velo that are more suited to fit with a helmet. I can say with certainty after today’s snowy run that they will be great for cross country skiing, which is their aim. The only time I had any fogging was if I stopped, and it is easy to prop them up on your head for a second. As soon as I got moving they cleared.

Lenses Mine came with two pair; pink and smoke with mirror. The smoke are dark enough for our sunniest of days. I wore the pink on my run today because it

Mine came with two pairs of lenses, the solid earpiece and the elastic strap, which will be my go-to for cross country ski season.

Mine came with two pairs of lenses, the solid earpiece and the elastic strap, which will be my go-to for cross country ski season.

was overcast, and just as we left the car the sun came out. We were in snow in the woods, and the pink still reduced the glare, but I was happy to have them because it was still not full sun.

Overall I will race in these this season for sure. The elastic band is the selling point for me; it really works well for any hat-related activities. Good enough for some really fast Norwegians, good enough for me. Five beers.

Stuff I Like (and paid for*)

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*I did pay full retail for this product

Cloth Diapers – The Sane Way

I was taking out the trash about three months ago and I became overwhelmed by the hugeness of the bag of diapers our petite baby churns out in less than a week. I guess I had considered options other than disposables, but time and sleep had escaped me.  When I finally took a breath (and had a solid night’s slumber) I decided to look into the world of cloth diapers.

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Baby M sporting her gDiaper.

To my not-so-surprise, I found out that the Breastfeeding Mafia (militant breastfeeders) overlap with the Cloth Diaper Commies.  There are about a bazillion brands of diapers, most resembling the complexity of a Rubik’s Cube to snap on the baby. Everyone has an opinion. Some are made by WAHM’s (work-at-home-moms, not George and Andrew’s fabulous 80’s pop band, thanks auto-correct), some are “one size fits all” (you haven’t met my baby) and some are, well, seemingly impossible to wrap your head around (or wrap around a squirming baby). And the Cloth Diaper Commies seem to wear these things like a badge – the more difficult the system, the more time consuming the washing and the cheaper they can be obtained, the better. They write about having “six of the Bunnybutts, four Charlie Potatoes, a couple Poo Catchers,” etc. (all names fabricated).  Some of these folks are buying them used. USED!!! It was difficult to do real research. But that’s kind of a sign of the times I guess.

As I looked into costs and environmental impact, I found a bit of seemingly credible information regarding the hidden costs of cloth diapers. You see, these cloth diapers take water and energy to wash. If you have a regular style washer it fills up every time. Now if you go through, say, 18 diapers in two or three days, they won’t come close to being a full washer load. So you either need to own so many cloth diapers that it makes a full load (and store them dirty in between – think about that) or you are wasting a ton of water.  A HE (high efficiency) washer doles out water for small loads, but it still takes water and energy. And I don’t need to explain why you might want to wash diapers by themselves in hot water.

But still, the thought of that huge bag of disposables in the landfill haunted me.  And the “green” disposable diapers inside a plastic garbage bag really didn’t seem like a better solution. Also, they are wicked pricy.

No pants needed when you're g'd.

No pants needed when you’re g’d.

After lots of web surfing I found gDiapers. Now it’s important to understand that this brand kept coming up as the most hated brand by the Cloth Diaper Commies and Breastfeeding Mafia.  It drove my curiosity. And finally my wallet.

I purchased two of the gDiaper gPants, which are the outer layer. They come with a snap-in breathable but waterproof pocket (I call it the poo-catcher) and then your choice of a hemp/fleecy strip of absorbent material or a disposable fiber over stuffing pad. They do a great job describing how it works on their site here. It was the flushable option that really drew me in; these liners are compostable but also flushable. FLUSHABLE! You tear them open and shake out the fuzzy stuff and flush.  We were a little concerned about the fiber outer layer, so we put that in the trash. It is about the same amount of material as a paper towel. But you can flush them if you trust your toilet.

After the MDOD (messy diaper of the day) I put a disposable liner in a gPant and Velcro-ed it to M’s cute bum (ick, I know). When she needed a change I ripped and flushed.  Life was good.  I ordered six more here.

Certainly I was afraid of what every parent would be at this point: POOP!  But the first time poo happened, the poo-catcher caught it all. I bought extras of those and they snap right out and wash. That happens maybe once a day.

Next I tried out the fabric liners. Not to give TMI, but usually I can predict that one MDOD, after which we can switch to the cloth for the day.  When those get wet we rinse and throw in a pail to be washed at a later date. If I wanted to use them full-time, gDiaper makes a disposable sheet that sits on top. We had a successful MDOD on one of those too, no issues.

Easy to organize - snap-in liners, diapers and inserts.

Easy to organize – snap-in liners, diapers and inserts.

We’ve been using these for about three months and have phased out all disposables except at night, and that’s only because we are trying to use up the diapers we bought.  When those are gone we plan to use a disposable liner over a cloth liner at night.  Right now we double diaper at night for “overflow”.

The verdict?  These are awesome and here’s why:

Easy. They Velcro on.  A friend of mine was recently relating a babysitting tale to me about another friend who was using a one-size-fits-all snappy diaper. She didn’t feel that she knew how to close them and would give up and use a disposable when she was watching the kids.  Bottom line: we have been able to use them with all the grandparents with no hassle because they are easy to use. Grandparents even! What’s the point of using cloth if it’s so complicated that people will give up and use disposables?!

Hybrid option. The disposable inserts are the best of both worlds. The outer pants get reused for a day or two without washing because nothing gross touches them. The pocket inside gets reused a few times for wet diapers because you can give them a quick wipe. Or it snaps out and is washable. The disposable liner gets flushed.  A week’s worth of trash for us now looks like what a day’s worth used to. But we aren’t using much extra water and energy because the outer parts can be washed in the regular cold cycle with her clothes (remember, no poo touched them).

Portability. When we leave the house I bring a second assembled diaper. For changes on the go I just take one off and put the other on. I also bring extra disposable liners. If we’re out, they flush in a bathroom or can go in the trash. I know that many cloth diaper folks still rely on disposables out and for babysitting, but with these you don’t have to. We have changed M on the side of a mountain with these. No problem.

An entire week's worth of diaper garbage - with baby for scale. And technically we could have flushed this too.

An entire week’s worth of diaper garbage – with baby for scale. And technically we could have flushed this too.

Cost. No lie, the start-up is more. For about $200 you can have enough parts to diaper with these full time. That includes six pants that come with the snap-in liner, six extra snap-in liners, eighteen cloth liners and a pack of disposables.  The disposables, when bought in the bulk 84-pack, cost about a penny more per use than disposables at Costco. And they are very, very absorbent. In fact, our baby used to fuss the very second wetness touched the disposables. She fusses far less now. I believe the liners are free of chemicals and gels, but they still work great. No rash, no fuss.

Cuteness. You can’t put a price on this one. It’s hot out, and we can just put a t-shirt and one of these on her and go. They come in fun colors and patterns and look like little pants.

Velcro is to the back. I’m not going to dare her, but it would probably be hard(er) for her to, um, free herself with this design than if the closure was to the front.

Fit. I’m not buying the “one-size-fits all” claim. I’ve seen what some of those diapers look like and poor M would have had so much extra material around her she wouldn’t have been able to move.  Not to mention that I’m sure they wouldn’t have held tight on the legs, which of course means the dreaded MDOD might have leaked. gDiapers come in Newborn, S, M, L and XL, and the inner parts come in two sizes; Newborn/S and M/L/XL.

Great customer service.  I realize it isn’t a WAHM company; it’s slightly bigger than that, but still small. They have online chat with educated users who can help you answer questions from their experience.

Auto-ship. You can set up to have the liners auto-shipped at regular intervals. Because even though Babies-R-Us sells them, their display is very small and they don’t seem to stock a ton of product. Or maybe you don’t even live close to one.  The shipping is free and they just show up.

Drawbacks. They are more expensive to use than disposables. I’m thinking of it as an investment in a better world for her later. Also, because there are four sizes you have to buy new outer pants when they outgrow them. However, the Newborn and Small take the same snap-in liner and inner liner as do the M, L and XL. So once you get into M you are set with your liners.

They look great when M is flying her hippy flag!

They look great when M is flying her hippy flag!

We didn’t use these as a newborn, and frankly, I’m not sure how that would go with any cloth system. MDOD is more like MDOH (messy diaper of the hour) with the tiny babies, so who knows. I will say that if I had it to do over I would at least try it. gDiaper recommends using the disposable (flushable compostable) liners for newborns rather than cloth; a much more achievable goal than cloth every ten minutes!

I’m not sure why there is so much gDiaper hate out there on the message boards, but then again, I’m also not sure why there is so much bad grammar. We’ll never know. What I do know is this: if you’re environmentally concerned and moderately intelligent, the gDiaper is a great option for those who truly want to reduce waste, but don’t want to spend every spare moment of the day dealing with diaper logistics. And did I mention they are cute?

Stuff I Like (And Paid For*)

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Like Oprah’s Favorite Things, I have a bunch of Stuff I Like.  Unlike Oprah, you won’t find one under your seat.   Here goes another addition of, Stuff I Like (And Paid For*)*not always retail.

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The podium at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials. Since I always seemed to get 4th it was nice they let five of us up there.

Long before I had a blog, hell, before the Interwebs had blogs, I was a bike racer. And I was pretty successful on a national scale.  And I was short. Am short. Not growing taller.  And back in the 1990’s, there was not one single stock bicycle frame in the world that was worthy of racing in my size.

“Oh c’mon Jen, that’s not true,” you’re moaning, “Trek made them, Specialized had one, TONS of people had WOMENS SPECIFIC FRAMES.”

Sure they did, you’re right. But for one, I predate those and two, when they did show up most of them were not all that great from a racing perspective.  Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Chicken and Egg. There were like ten of us who were any good and nine of us were tall enough to ride men’s bikes.

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Driving the breakaway on my custom bike. It looked like a bike. It rode great. I was happy.

And so I rode. On things cobbled together. Until one day I was sponsored by an independent frame builder (crafty, huh?) who made me beautiful hand-made custom steel bikes in exactly my spec.  It looked like everyone else’s bike because it had a horizontal top tube and was proportional.  And those bikes rode like a dream. I am forever grateful to them for meeting my needs and I turned down literally tens of offers to join other teams for fear I would have to give up my bikes that fit.

I retired from bike racing in 2001. I had my team bike re-painted all shiny so I could pretend I still got new bikes.  I put new parts on it.  Life was good.

The rest of the world began riding compact frames, but my steel steed still looked like the bikes everyone was riding when I started. And I was fiercely loyal to my sponsor even after I had stopped racing.

Discussing small wheels with the world's most famous shortie, Jeannie Longo.

Discussing small wheels with the world’s most famous shortie, Jeannie Longo.

One day I was approached by a good friend and former race mechanic who now works at Specialized. He asked if I would like to be a tester for a women’s bike.  Now if you know me then you probably know what I was thinking. (Purple with flowers on it doesn’t make it a good bike people!) To be fair, up until that moment I had the ultimate women’s bike – custom.  But somehow I was drawn.

Perhaps it was the carbony-goodness of this new bike. Or the fact that it was almost TEN POUNDS LIGHTER than my steel ride.  Maybe it was the fact that it wasn’t purple with flowers on it. Or maybe it was a maturity that brings open-mindedness.  Whatever it was, it resulted in a Specialized Amira being delivered to me one April day in 2009. The Amira is the women’s version of the men’s Tarmac – Specialized’s standard road racing machine.  I built it and took it for a ride.

Now if you’re a sporting company and you would like me to review something, there is a bit of detail you should know.  I HATE NEW EQUIPMENT.  I hate it so much. I hate it the minute I try it.  If I keep trying it, though, sometimes things turn around.  This bike was no exception to the rule; it is built around a much more modern design than my old bike, so the front end was five centimeters higher than what I was riding.

“I hate this and it rides like a semi.”  I think those were the first words out of my mouth.  But I couldn’t seem to resist the lightness, so I rode it again. And again.

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Awesome enough to ride anywhere, comfy enough to ride seven months along.

I don’t remember when my opinion started to change, but I remember when it completed its one-eighty.  Jonathan and I rode the Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive from end to end.  It is roughly one hundred miles and about 10,000 ft. of climbing.  We did it in just over six hours without going hard.  When the ride was over I realized I had never once felt that good after a ride that hard.  The anti-fatigue properties of carbon were evident as well as this one other little detail. This bike fit. It fit and it was STOCK.

We moved to Utah that year.  One day I came home from a ride and leaned the bike against the wall in the garage and went inside. With me right there, some horrible soul came into my garage and took it.  Upon discovering this I sobbed like I had lost my best friend.  I was utterly inconsolable.

When the tears finally dried up I concluded I would now be willing to purchase a replacement. And if need be, I would pay RETAIL.  I can stop the review right there, because if you know me, you know I never want to and hardly ever pay retail.  So you know I LOVE THIS BIKE.

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Loving my Amira five seasons and counting.

In the end I didn’t have to pay retail. Insurance helped out with parts and friends in nice places helped me find a new one. I had an identical bike back.  See this bike was STOCK and not completely irreplaceable. To me, after all those years of not being able to just buy a bike like a normal human, this was and is a big deal.

At this point you’re wondering, “what’s so great about this bike? Does it have a motor? Does it also make Belgian Liege Waffles while you ride?”

Here’s the techie stuff. Keep in mind I am not large and therefore I will review things from a different perspective than a 250 pound, over six-foot dude. I don’t break much, and when I do it must be crap.

Fit:  It specs out like my custom did. Sure, that’s my bias, but Specialized probably wouldn’t have made it in this size if there wasn’t some demand. I ride the 51cm Amira S-Works.

Ride Quality:  Haters stand back: steel may be real but “plastic” is fantastic!  See my info about riding the Shenandoah road above.  Fatigue disappears when the road shock is being sucked up by a carbon frame, seatpost and handlebars. Remember, I’m small, so I’m not as worried about breaking things.

Handling:   Bicycling Magazine voted Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT the second best road descent in the entire U.S. It sits about two miles from my door. Though in my opinion it takes second to Big Cottonwood, which is about one mile away and has more cool turns.  Anyhoo, I’ve had this bike on both of those roads, brakes open wide, 50mph plus.  With a slight lean of the hips the Amira sails through corners like it’s on rails.  To be fair I haven’t raced a crit on it, but then again I don’t want to race crits anymore anyway.  It is solid and predictable.  It is stiff in all the right places so you lose nothing cranking on it in a standing climb.  Its weight (about 15 pounds for mine) makes it go uphill like you aren’t even on a bike, but on descents it handles like it weighs much more (in a good way).  Trustworthy.

Availability: Perhaps from where I sit this is the most amazing part of the story.  I walked into a local shop one day and there were multiple models of this bike in stock. I had to pinch myself as a strolled along looking at multiple builds and sizes available when NOT ONE of these would have existed ten years ago.  There are two sizes smaller than my 51 cm and a couple sizes larger.  Any bigger than that and you are well into the men’s size range. Price points for this bike range from $1750 to $8500 in seven different parts packages and as a frame.  Seriously! Unheard of ten years ago. I still ride a 2010 model but the 2013 models have only gotten better.

Early season rides sure feel better on a bike that soaks up bumps!

Early season rides sure feel better on a bike that soaks up bumps!

But does it look good?  Sadly, if you are in the market for a purple bike with flowers, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Besides coming in a huge variety of sizes and builds, the Amira is also painted to look like, well, to look like a proper racing bike.  Red, black, navy, you know, regular bike colors.  I think somewhere in the line there’s a purple one if you must.  The curved top tube is a nice aesthetic that hides just how compact the frame is; in other words, this bike just looks NORMAL.  And for a long time that was not the case.

I will admit that I haven’t ridden any other bikes of this era.  And I don’t feel the need; Specialized nailed this one first try.  For years all I wanted was the option to walk into a local bicycle dealer and purchase a bike that was every bit as nice as the big men’s bikes, but in my size. And now short folks everywhere have the same option.  Lots of my female friends have purchased Amiras and Ruby’s (the women’s version of the men’s Roubaix).  It’s a good time for shorties to ride a bike. Now if it would only stop raining!

http://www.specialized.com/us/en/bikes/road/amira

Bottling Day

 

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It seems backwards to feature bottling beer before actually making it, but that’s how it worked out. There was a batch of beer that predated Baby M. that needed to be bottled and it’s a great opportunity to talk about beer and all the greatness involved with homebrewing.

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Secondary fermentation chamber – ready to bottle.

The beer to be bottled was a strong IPA.  We dubbed it “Hoppy Go Lucky”. Brewed on October 29th, we transferred to secondary on November 13th because I knew Baby M. was coming. I also knew beer keeps much longer in secondary because it is off the yeast and out of danger for suffering autolysis.

Two days later we were off to the hospital, the beer safely transferred and stowed in the dark corner of the crawlspace in the basement where we let the magic happen.  We managed to remember to dry-hop on November 29th as per our schedule, but then things got away from us with nordic ski season and a new baby.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

The beer goes in here with a little sugar water on its way to the bottles.

We finally hauled it out the other day to bottle it, hoping for the best but knowing we were pushing it.  IPA‘s are among the shorter timelines, usually taking 6 – 8 weeks from start to finish.  This one was six months in the making, so it is either going to be awesome and we discovered something, or likely it will be ok, but a little off due to age. At least it is full of hops, which were a huge reason why IPA survived on boats back in the day.

Bottling, in a nutshell, consists of adding some corn sugar that has been dissolved in water to the beer, and then siphoning it carefully into sanitized bottles, slapping a fresh

cap on the top, and letting it sit in a warm place for about two weeks.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

Super technical fix for the leaky spigot.

A little bit of live yeast remains in the beer after it is transferred, and the addition of the new sugar gives the yeast a little something to eat, creating carbonation in the bottle.  At this point you hope you added the right amount; too much and your bottles blow up. Not enough and you end up with flat beer.  So far we’ve been lucky.

After filling all the bottles and rinsing off the sticky overflow (which isn’t much once you get good with the bottling wand), one must exercise great self-control to keep from “peeking”. We’re always tempted to open the beer a week early, and we’re always disappointed and left feeling either guilty for wanting to pour it out or obligated to drink it flat.  Most of the time one more week in the warm room does the trick and we enjoy an effervescent brew..

Fill 'er up!

Fill ‘er up!

So why does one get into homebrewing? In our case, we were interested in the chemistry and academic nature of the job, and we live in Utah. I know, you’re thinking, “Utah? It’s dry there. No wonder you would want to make beer.”  Well, you’d be sort of wrong.  There are so many local brewers here making really interesting stuff, and yes, there are some seriously jacked up liquor laws here. But these local brewers like to brew big, high-alcohol beers in large bottles.  They inspired us to do the same. They also don’t recycle glass in this state, so we decided to do our part to directly recycle bottles by refilling them.

And then there’s the matter of the Beehive Brew-Off competition for home brewers.  We entered five of our beers last year and came away with a 2nd place in the Imperial Stout category. Probably more exciting for us was the feedback we received from professional brewers about how we could improve our beer.  For five bucks an entry it was well worth it just for the feedback.

So how does an average beer-lover with a little curiosity and some spare time get into this?  We were lucky; a friend gave us a bunch of brewing equipment with the request that we put the letter Z in our beer names for his dearly departed doggie.  We bought a few more items and a simple extract beer kit for a Brown Ale from Northern Brewer.

21 22's and 13 12's ready in 2 weeks!

21 22’s and 13 12’s ready in 2 weeks!

Their kits and accompanying instructions were an awesome way to start out and they have videos and even live chat for your beer questions (and for when you panic because your yeast didn’t seem to activate).

I love to shop locally too, and we have two amazing beer brewing shops here in Salt Lake.  The Beer Nut and Salt City Brew Supply are both well-stocked and full of people who know beer and will share their knowledge with you freely. I have recently taken to buying all my yeast at the last minute from one of the two because then I can assure it has been in the fridge until I use it. They are also among the only places open on Sunday, which is a likely brew day. So when you run out of something, they “got your back”.

Finally, we like to do our part to recycle glass since the state of Utah doesn’t.  We have a great partner in Yellowfinn Sushi in Sugarhouse. Their manager saves 22 oz Sapporo bottles for us and those labels come off easier than any other. Greg and the rest of the crew are our favorite taste-testers too.

Taste tester-in-training.

Taste tester-in-training.

This weekend we’re brewing an Imperial Stout with thoughts to the 2013 Beehive Brew-Off. It’s a 3-4 month beer, so we might nail this timeline a little better.

We started with extract brews, which essentially are malt syrups that you boil and add hops and yeast to, ferment and bottle.  After fourteen successful batches we decided to move to an all-grain process; basically you move back a step and steep grains in hot water to extract your own malt syrup.  It greatly extends the brew day (from roughly two hours to more like five). It also requires more equipment and a lot more attention to detail. The return is that for many beers, like IPA’s, there is a certain sweetness that you don’t want in the beer and you can’t seem to shake when using the extracts.  It has something to do with the fact that not all of the sugar is eaten by the yeast and is left to foul the taste.  I’ll say that you don’t notice it as much until you do, and when you do you’ll never go back to extract.  That said, darker beers do well with extract and it is the only place to start to learn the process.

 

 

Working Out with Baby

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Jonathan and M ascending.

After we had Baby M we were committed to keeping in shape. So committed, in fact, that we did our first race five weeks later, followed by a full cross country ski season with pretty decent results. After the race season we took a couple weeks off and started to think about next year. Unfortunately, even with the generous babysitting by our friend Jessica, we can’t count on the same schedule we have in past years, so we’ve been making do.

This week we’ve been working out with baby. While doing our hour-long weights and plyo sessions can happen during naps, babies don’t always nap as planned. Because the very nature of weightlifting in pairs involves one person waiting for the bench, we devised a perfectly acceptable alternative; one lifts, the other entertains. It’s much more exciting to rest between sets with a smiling baby. Less so with a fussy baby, but you get what you get.

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The resort is closed, so we (meaning Jonathan) had to break trail.

Since not all workouts can be weight workouts we were looking for a bit of cardio. Baby is too little at this point to hook to our bikes (and I’m not sure how I feel about that one right now anyway), so we took her for a ski. Alta is now closed during the week, so touring within the ski boundaries provides us with low-angle cat track to ascend and descend.  We needed to be able to manage avalanche danger, as in we wanted to eliminate it. The route we chose and all terrain that overhangs it is safe and we know it well, so it’s easy to pick a route to the top and back without having to worry. That said, once the resort is closed it isn’t maintained, so route finding is very important.

Proud papa at the turn around.

Proud papa at the turn around.

Jonathan took Chariot duties on the way up. I pushed a little on the steeper stuff, but he lugged M and the trailer most of the way to the summit. For the first time in the history of our ski touring I was the one to blister first, so we called it good about 500 or so feet from the top. There was a nice flat spot where we could switch gear, and it so happened that it was time for M to eat. After all, it’s good to keep a baby on her schedule! I engaged in a little extreme breastfeeding at 9500 ft. She was oblivious to the majesty of her surroundings; all she cared about was that she was warm and getting her afternoon tea.

The feed. Milli gets hers while I eat a Feedzone Portable snack.

The feed. Milli gets hers while I eat a Feedzone Portable snack.

After she pasted my ski pants with spit-up (par for the course) we packed her up and tightened her three-point harness for the rough ride down.

Even though we chose all greens for our up and down tracks, that sled can get going fast. Last time we skied I had her up on one ski, so I decided to be a little more ginger with her since she just ate.

Jonathan grabbed the back and we descended ski-patrol style. The sun-warmed snow was sticky; we had to pole out of a few places, but it was a beautiful day. Mom and Dad got in nearly two hours of outside time and Baby M got a wild ride.

A day for dark glasses.

A day for dark glasses.