Friday, October 30, 2009

15,000-mile bike trip update

Back in August, the Free Press ran a story about Eric and Christie Nelson, a couple of Mankato residents who were about to embark on a tandem bike trip that can only be described as epic: they planned to bike from Mankato to the southernmost tip of South America, roughly 15,000 miles total.

If you're anything like me, a trip like this goes beyond just about anything you can imagine. We've all gone on bike rides from time to time, but very few of us had ever had rides that lasted many months and spanned across countries and continenets. People with this kind of ambition and sense of adventure are a rare breed in this world, and when you come across them, you can only admire their drive to explore the great unknown.

What makes their trip even more incredible are the lengths with which they went to embark on such a journey. The couple both quit their jobs, sold their house and sold one of their vehicles in preparation for what they predicted to be an 18-month venture. It's one thing to take time off work and make a grocery store run for the sake of a trip, but it's an entirely different thing to completely rearrange your life for a trip. Incredible story, incredible people.

Thanks to GPS and Skype, Eric and Christie's trip can be monitored here. Two and a half months later, here is how they're fairing:

*As of 5:57 p.m. today, they are roughly 20 miles north of Morelia, Mexico, which is about 130 miles west of Mexico City. On a crow's fly, they are a little more than 1,700 miles away from Mankato. They crossed into Mexico in late September and have passed through everything from the Rocky Mountains to Las Vegas along the way.

*Their latest blog post talks about their SPOT (a GPS tracking device) being stolen and recovered in Guadalajara. The story includes Eric and Christie chasing the cuprits on their tandem bike and eventually locating the SPOT using Google Earth at a host family's home. They found the device the next day with a woman who was selling tacos with her daughters. When told that they needed the device back, the woman responded with "What do you want that for? It doesn't play music, make phone calls or do anything."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An exercise in eclectic audio assistance

For many exercise enthusiasts, music is a driving force that helps them get through a workout. Whether it's the steady beat of the music or just being able to mouth the words to your favorite song, some people just seem to find a different level of concentration with the right tunes booming on their headphones.

I see it all the time at the YMCA, and I must confess to being among the headphone-clad clan at the gym. I rarely leave home without my iPod and spend more time than I'd care to admit updating my playlist. Music is as much a part of my workouts as tennis shoes and basketball shorts.

So you can imagine the dilemma I faced yesterday when I wanted to sneak in a quick run despite my iPod being low on batteries and me not having enough time to charge it. It's not that running without music is unfathomable to me, but in my experience, when running by yourself, the miles seem to get even longer when you don't have music playing to help take your mind off of it.

My goal was to get through the run without my iPod dying on me. So to avoid the inevitable habit of thumbing through playlists and draining the batteries quicker, I came up with a solution: I put my iPod on shuffle, put the track wheel on hold so I couldn't switch songs and simply let it ride. I thought this might wind up being a problematic proposition, as my music tastes range from Franz Ferdinand to Frank Sinatra on my iPod, but at the very least, I figured the run would be memorable.

Anyway, here is the order of songs that came on during my quick jaunt up the Minnesota River trail yesterday:

*The Beatles - Yellow Submarine (No complaints here, Ringo could sing when he wanted to)
*Cypress Hill - Insane in the Brain (Hey, they were good enough to guest star on 'The Simpsons' with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra)
*The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows (There's no bad time for John Lennon to belt out paraphrased passages from the Tibetan Book of Death)
*Blur - Song 2 (A throwback to high school sports practices, perhaps my shuffle is telling me to run faster)
*The Offspring - Keep em Separated (Nostalgia from my 5th-6th grade punk rock phase strikes again)
*Bob Marley - Red Red Wine ("I shot the Sheriff" would've been a better song to run to)
*Janice Joplin - Son of a Preacher Man (Go "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack!)
*White Zombie - More Human than Human (Once again, I think my shuffle is trying to tell me to run faster)
*Frank Sinatra - Let it Snow (Definitely had to stop running when this came on. Old Blue Eyes was a heck of a singer, but running music isn't his thing)
*The Hush Sound - Carry Me Home (I don't really know who this band is or how their song got on my iPod. This might be the first time I've ever heard this song)
*Marlena Shaw - California Soul (One of those slow-paced soul songs that strangely makes you feel light on your feet)
*Paperboy - Ditty (Rap music before it became mainstream)
*Metallica - The Unforgiven (Still one of my favorite Metallica songs)
*Original Speed Racer theme song (Like I said, my music taste is pretty diverse)
*Red Hot Chili Peppers - Snow (One of my favorite songs to run to. However, as cruelty would have it, my iPod died about 2 minutes into the song and a 1/2 mile from my apartment)

Other Notes:
*Dr. Stephen Penkhus is giving an "Exercise is Medicine" presentation from 6:30-7:15 tonight at the Blue Earth County Library auditorium as part of the library's October health month theme. The event is free to the public, but preregistration is encouraged by calling 507-304-4023.

*For anyone in the Mankato area looking to get a cheap 5k race in before the winter hits, you can register for MSU's Army ROTC 5k by November 7 for $10. The race itself is November 14.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tour de Leadville

The documentary "Race Across the Sky" had a one-time showing Thursday night at the Movies 8 theater in Mankato. For the cool price of $12.50 (still not a fan of the raised price for special events), you could get an inside look at the Leadville 100, a premier mountain bike race in Colorado that travels 100 miles on rugged, mountainous terrain that seem more suitable for hiking than they are for biking. The event draws more than 1,000 competitors annually and typically attracts such cycling luminaries as Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Dave Weins, who was the 6-time defending champion of the race heading into 2009.

The most appealing thing about the documentary is depth with which it looks at the race. "Race Across the Sky" tries to paint a holistic picture of the Leadville 100, rather than making it strictly about Armstrong and Weins on race day. While it often touches base with the two of them, particularly Armstrong (more on him later), it mostly focused on the struggles other riders faced on the course and the adversity some of the riders had to overcome just to participate. Commentary from race founder Ken Chlouber and various race spectators also gets peppered in to help give viewers a better idea of the atmosphere surrounding the event.

Other observations from the documentary:

*The Leadville 100 course has a level of difficulty most can only imagine. The race begins and ends in Leadville, Col. at an elevation of 10,200 feet and reaches mountain peaks as high 12,570 over the course of the day. Collectively, the total elevation change on the race course is about 14,000 feet, with the Columbine and Powerline climbs being the toughest stretches of the course (trail map and elevation graph of the course). Combine that with the usually-adverse weather conditions of the Rocky Mountains, and what you have is a test of will for anyone on two wheels. Weins even had to hop off his bike and walk at some points, just to give you an idea of how difficult the course is.

*Despite drawing more than 1,200 riders in 2009, only 971 people actually completed the Leadville 100 by the 13-hour cutoff point. Many riders had their day end early for failing to reach check points within their alotted time limits. The majority of the riders whose days ended early had looks of relief rather than contempt for their shortened ride. This also illustrates how tough the course is. Most people being pulled from a race have the look of a pitcher being pulled from a baseball game, not of a person who just survived a horrific ordeal.

*In the documentary, Armstrong described the Leadville 100 as "the race that fueled (his) comeback" into cycling. Considering his accolades in the Tour de France, that's a bold statement.

*The most inspirational story in a documentary chock full of them has to be that of Roxanne Hall, a rider who was hit by a car while training for last year's Leadville 100. Among the injuries Hall sustained in the accident: broken back, severed ACL, torn MCL, bruised lungs, conussion and lacerated liver and pancreas. Despite all that, there was Hall, riding in the race with her husband. Hall more than held her own in the race as well, finishing 474th.

*The diversity of riders in the race is something to behold. While the race features big names like Armstrong and Weins, it also has riders with 20-year old mountain bikes and competitors who stop to eat a sandwich and drink a beer at the rest areas. Like any other race, it isn't just for the elite athletes of the world.

*Most memorable spectator in the race: Steve Pugsley, a man who offers riders everything from moral support to a glass of beer along the trail. In the documentary, Pugsley can be seen giving struggling cyclists a helpful push up the trail and offering them Mike and Ikes for quick energy. He's the kind of guy you'd love to see on the side of a race course when you start to fade and need a boost.

*And now, to Lance. What more can be written about Armstrong's cycling prowess that hasn't already been talked about to the point of exhaustion? Well, here's something:

With seven miles to go in the race and Armstrong holding a presumably comfortable lead, tragedy strikes in the form of a flat tire. Armstrong attempts to change the tire unsuccessfully for a few minutes, basically says "screw it" and hops back on his bike to ride the final seven miles on a flat tire. Amazingly enough, Armstrong not only bested Weins by nearly 30 minutes to win the race, he also shattered the course record by almost 20 minutes (set the previous year by Weins). Everyone knows Armstrong is in a class on his own when it comes to cycling, but this adds a whole new layer of grit to his legacy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Costume-clad running

Halloween has always been one of my favorite days of the year.

The holiday just has a sense of agelessness to it. Everyone can get into it, from the 5-year-old dressed up as Sponge Bob going trick-or-treating for the first time to the sweet old lady who's nice enough to give that costumed youngster Butterfingers instead of apples. The crowd in between can also enjoy the holiday via scary movies, jack-o-lanterns, costume parties and the downtown bar scene.

This year, I will be celebrating Halloween in a slightly different fashion: by running in the Monster Dash in Minneapolis, an event of more than 1,000 competitors where quality of costume is almost as important as mile times. The event offers half marathon, 10-mile race and 5k options competition and typically gives out prizes for best costumes. Due to the ankle injury mentioned in my previous post and the fact that I haven't gone on any sizable distance runs since the end of the summer, I've opted to participate in the 5k portion of this event. Call me crazy, but I'd rather not spend the rest of Halloween icing my knees and dealing with run-induced hip and ankle pains.

Besides, the distance you run is irrelevant in an event like this. The real fun comes from just participating in such a large event and getting a glimpse at some of the interesting costumes people are bold enough to wear. I've never competed in a Halloween-themed race before, so I don't know what to expect. But given the way the weather has been this fall, I doubt I'll see too many Michael Phelps or Lil Kim costumes running the course.

Not to give away too much about the costume I'll be wearing for the race, but think comic book hero.

Note: For Mankato residents looking for a more local venue to sport a costume and get a run in, the St. Peter Halloween 5k is also going on that Saturday morning and the Halloween Hustle 5k and 8k races in Lake Crystal will be taking place the night before. Both are still open for registration.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A forced refresher course on ankle sprains

In my attempts to be ambitious the other day, I got a painful reminder of a rule that should be fairly obvious: don’t go running when it’s dark outside.

I was on dinner break from work and decided to get a quick run in to help clear my head for the rest of the evening. Although it was twilight, and I could’ve just as easily gotten a run in on the safety of a YMCA treadmill, that evening I needed to feel the pavement beneath my feet. Besides, the weather looked promising and I’ll take running outside over running on a treadmill any day of the week.

The plan was to run about 3-4 miles on the Red Jacket Trail, which is located about three blocks from my apartment. It’s a nicely paved, relatively flat trail that I’ve ran on many times in the past. So I figured it was as safe of a place as any to sneak in a quick run.

However, I forgot one little detail: the three blocks I needed to run in order to get to the trail. Probably a half of a block into the run, my foot caught the wrong way on a jutted part of the sidewalk and twisted my ankle badly. My 3-4 mile run came to an abrupt end after about 500 ft.

Like most people, I was disheartened by this sudden change in events. My planned exercise instead became a refresher course on treating a sprained ankle. But at the same time, handling an ankle sprain is a pretty important skill for anyone who’s physically active, and brushing up on it never hurts … well, at least mentally it doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, while most of this stuff is pretty basic, here’s the gist of what I got from looking at the WebMD website on ankle sprains:

  • Elevate the ankle above your heart whenever possible to reduce the blood flow and help keep the swelling down for the first day or so.
  • Use ice and compression -- i.e. braces, bandages -- on the ankle for the first couple of days to also help keep the swelling and bruising down. Icing should generally be done for 10-20 minutes at a time and is most ideal while your ankle is elevated.
  • Wear high top shoes or hiking boots to help protect your ankle from unnecessary movement.
  • Start doing range of motion exercises right away to help build back ankle strength. WebMD recommends trying to draw an imaginary alphabet by rotating your foot in the air.
  • Most important, REST. Take it easy on the ankle to let it heal. WebMD recommends crutches, but you can get away with just avoiding high-impact activities on your ankle. The time it takes to heal depends on the severity of the sprain, but it usually takes around 2-3 weeks to heal completely.

If you’re anything like me and can’t sit still for the time it takes for your ankle to heal, activities like biking and running on an elliptical treadmill are pretty low impact. Swimming is also a pretty safe choice. But you should avoid normal running or playing sports at full speed until you feel confident that your ankle has healed. My sprain happened about 5 days ago, and I still haven’t gotten back to running outside yet.

Patience needs to be at a premium when it comes to injuries. In the meantime, I look forward to YMCA members and staff getting used to the site of me running on an elliptical treadmill.

Note: Here is the website I used to get a visual on how to properly tape an ankle. I’ve taped ankles before, but it’s been a long time since sports medicine class in high school.