Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carry-out pizza and biking don't mix

There are certain things in life that, for obvious reasons, you should not combine to do at the same time.

You shouldn't drive and text message at the same time, though I'll confess to being guilty of that a time or two in my life. You also shouldn't walk and read at the same time, even though any rushed college student cramming for an exam will admit to doing so at one point.

Sunday night, I discovered two more activities you should not be engaged in at the same time: picking up a carry-out pizza while biking.

Now, I know a lot of are probably saying "Duh, that's kind of obvious." Maybe it should have been obvious to me. But at the time, with the perfect weather outside and my legs anxious to get more exercise (strange, since I already ran 11 miles that day), it became a good idea.

Besides, as anyone who owns a bike can probably tell you, there's a fulfillment that comes from reaching a destination on two wheels that simply can't be matched by driving there. Rather than relying on your car's engine, you're relying on your legs to take you where you need to go. A mere trip across town requires more ambition on a bike than it does in a car, which make the goal of the trip (in this case, a large meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut) taste even better upon reaching it.

So with my ambitious/adventurous side trumping common sense, I grabbed my backpack, hopped on my bike and took off for Pizza Hut. I even stopped to pick up a movie up at Blockbuster along the way just to add to the indulgence.

As the photo would indicate, I was at least partially successful in my quest for meat lovers goodness. The pizza box did in fact fit snugly in my backpack and allowed enough clearance for the pack to close. However, the laws of gravity, combined with the curved back posture that comes from riding a road bike, caused the pizza to shift to one side of the box for the duration of the trip home. By the time I got back to my apartment, the pizza was scrunched up like an accordion and most-decidedly less appealing for consumption.

Not that it's disheveled appearance stopped me from eating it. I was starving at that point and needed something to consume while watching the movie I rented ('Synecdoche, New York,' in case you're wondering).

However, the next time I feel the ambition to go biking in the hopes of retrieving ordered food, I think I'll try Subway instead.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Time to break out the ol' bike

It might not be beach weather outside yet, but it's certainly nice enough to bring the bicycle out of hibernation.

With the snow and ice remnants of winter finally melting away, cycling advocates around Mankato are starting to make their presence felt on two wheels. It's a great area for biking, rife with trails, hills and inviting sidewalks for biking (while being mindful of traffic, of course).

Cycling is an activity with a lot of appeal. It's good exercise, it's a cheap form of transportation and it's a relatively inexpensive hobby if you want it to be. And as Eric and Christie Nelson can probably tell you, great adventures can be had on a bicycle as well.

I've taken my bike (an $85 Kuwahara road bike that I picked up off of a scrap heap in college) out for a couple of rides so far this spring. Neither ride was anything special; one ride was to go to work, the other to check out the Red Jacket Trail and bike to Good Thunder. Both rides also ended in rather forgettable fashion: With a flat tire and a healthy amount of walking.

While flat tires and other mishaps will occur on a bike ride (especially when the tubing on your tires has had multiple patchwork jobs done on them, like mine have), this helped remind me of an important step I neglected when breaking the bike out for the first time: the spring tune-up.

It's important to make sure everything on your bike is in good condition when taking it out of winter hibernation. Just because the gears were working properly last fall doesn't mean they will do the same this spring. It's better to get all the tune-up out of the way before heading out for a ride, because take it from me, it's a long walk home from the turn-around point.

You can get a tune-up done at any of the bike shops in Mankato for around $40 (I called Flying Penguin, Nicollet South and Scheels for rates, all about the same), and the tune-ups mostly consist of the following:
  • Adjusting your breaks
  • Truing (alligning) your wheels
  • Lubing the bike chain
  • Checing/setting the ball bearings on the wheels
  • Checking the derailleur (gear changing mechanism on the bike)

However, if you want a rundown of things you can look for yourself (according to the three bike shops I called):
  • Lift your wheels off the ground and spin them one at a time. Are the rubbing against the frame of the bike?
  • Lift your rear wheel and try pedaling your bike with your hands. How is the chain moving? Is it getting stuck on points or not running smoothly?
  • Check tire pressure and know what PSI you should inflate your tires to.
  • Check your breaks while riding slowly. Is your bike stopping promptly when you're applying them? Are they making a squeaking sound when you use them?
  • Try shifting between gears? Is it a smooth transition? Is there a delay in the shifting?
  • Check your cables running from your gears and breaks. Are they damaged? Are they strung too tight or too loose to the point where they're affecting your ride?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Free VO2 max testing at the Y for all you cardio junkies out there

An important part of getting a good workout is knowing how far you can push your body.

One way of gauging your cardiovascular endurance is through the VO2 Max Test. The test involves physical activity -- usually on a treadmill or exercise bike -- sufficient in duration and intensity to fully tax the aerobic energy system. For the purpose of testing, 'fully taxed' means reaching your maximum heart rate, which varies based on age.

The VO2 Max Test can be a very useful fitness tool, both for gauging your general health and for figuring out how far you can push yourself on workouts. The higher your VO2 max number is, the higher your cardiovascular threshold theoretically is. The number is measured in milligrams of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute. Elite athletes -- particularly runners and Nordic skiiers -- are known for having high VO2 max numbers.

A guide to VO2 max numbers and a comparison for the number between athletes and non-athletes can be found here.

So what's got me so geeked about VO2 numbers and cardiovascular endurance? Well, from March 22-26 and April 12-16, the YMCA will be offering free VO2 max testing to anyone who would like to know their cardiovascular fitness level. According to YMCA staff, the test will involve running on a treadmill for an extended period of time with the speed and incline of the treadmill increasing as time passes. A heart rate monitor will be hooked up to gauge when testers reach their max heart rate.

Anyone interested can sign up for the testing at the Life Center desk. A brief health history form will need to be completed prior to testing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Adios, high-fiber diet. It's been real...aggravating

The bowl of Raisin Bran I had for breakfast today officially marked the end of my attempts at a high-fiber diet.

The family-sized box of bran goodness is finally empty. And not a moment too soon if you ask me.

Fiber may be healthy, but in the context of my copious running habits, it's really just been a bathroom-inducing annoyance. I've lost track of the number of times I've had to stop running on a treadmill at the Y because my "bodily needs" conspired to sabotage my workout ambition.

In an effort to aid my weight loss goals for marathon training, I adopted a high-fiber diet about four months ago. According to Runners World and the Mayo Clinic Web site, fiber requires more chewing time and generally helps make your meal feel larger, thus aiding in curbing your appetite. There are numerous other benefits, like improving blood sugar levels, lowering your cholesterol and normalizing your bowel movements. But in reality, all I really cared about was the weight loss aspect of it.

I resorted to a variety of measures to incorporate more fiber into my diet. I ate Fiber One bars every morning. I bought Raisin Bran for breakfast cereal and snack food. I mixed old-fashioned oatmeal into pancake batter. I even went so far as to buy the high-fiber banana bread mix at Cub Food (I know, yuck).

Well, after four months of working fiber into my diet, here are the results:
  • I've lost roughly 10 pounds in that time span. Though that could also be attributed to the 30 miles a week I've been running and the other healthy foods I've been eating. My appetite did not feel any more or less curbed as a result of the fiber. In reality, if a person wants to eat less or eat healthier, they really just have to make a conscientious effort to do so.
  • My overall health (i.e. cholesterol, blood pressure) is good, but it was already good before I started up on a fiber diet. Again, I really only cared about weight loss.
  • My bathroom habits are ... normal, I guess. But that wasn't really an issue beforehand. All the high fiber has really done in this regard is the aforementioned annoyance of having to go to the bathroom while running.
Realistically, the fiber has probably helped me somewhat in my overall health and energy level. But considering the rest of my diet (reasonably healthy, minus a few doughnut indulgences at work from time to time) and exercise habits (on the par with an average marathon runner), it hardly seems necessary to keep consuming fiber diligently. Weight loss will happen as long as I stick to regular workout routine and watch what I eat.

One last thought on fiber: The last bowl of Raisin Bran may have signaled the end of the fiber era in my diet, but my run outside today only hammered home the point even further.

I started running at about 4:00 in the afternoon, hoping to get about 10 miles in before it started getting dark. The weather was pleasant, so I decided a t-shirt and shorts would suffice so long as I kept running the whole time.

The first six miles breezed by. I was keeping a good pace, checked out the marathon course around Sibley Park and was pumping along to a solid classic rock mix on my iPod.

But after the six-mile mark, everything went downhill in a hurry. My iPod died at that point (in the middle of "Freebird," no less) and one mile later, Mr. Fiber decided to rear his ugly head in my digestive system.

I had to go the bathroom, badly. Unfortunately, I still had three miles to go to get back to my apartment and I couldn't run more than 300 yards at a time without having to stop and walk because my bowels were essentially at a boiling point. The bouncing and bounding aspects of running do little to calm a digestive system; any runner can attest to that.

I basically spent the last three miles rotating between running and walking in short spurts while wondering how many bathrooms (home-installed or grouping of trees) I was passing along the way. I resisted the urge to make my own bathroom in a tree line off the trail because: a.) I didn't want to have to explain myself to anyone who might pass by, and b.) There wasn't anything to wipe with, unless tree bark and snow count.

So picture, if you will, a man in running shorts and a sweaty t-shirt in 38-degree weather trying to get home before losing control of his digestive system all together. He's clenching his teeth, cursing his iPod, and probably walking/jogging as if he's doing so on egg shells. That was me around 5:30 in the evening today.

So congratulations, high-fiber diet. You managed to get one last laugh before disappearing from my eating habits.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Greetings from the soggy running trail

If you're anything like me, news of the upcoming weather forecast (highs in the upper 30s this week with sunshine all around) brought about the mindset to ditch the treadmill and get those running shoes on the pavement.

It hasn't been the most inviting winter for outdoor running. Snow storms have left trails covered in ice and snow, high winds have been demoralizing and temperatures have been cold throughout the season. Granted, this sort of weather is pretty common in Minnesota. Maybe it's just me, but it seemed like winter this year was even worse than normal weather-wise. I know I wasn't the only exercise enthusiast forced to do most of their running indoors this winter.

In any event, the tundra of winter is getting ready to make way for the green of spring. And after months of being stuck on a treadmill, I decided to take my cardio to an outdoor setting. I jumped on the Red Jacket trail at the YMCA today hoping to squeeze in an 8-10-mile run and scope out part of the marathon course. The weather was certainly inviting, as the sun was shining and temperatures were warm enough where I could get by with shorts and a long-sleeve t-shirt. Heck, my iPod even managed to stay charged for the duration of the run, meaning temperatures might even be drifting toward tropic levels.

The trail has been kept fairly clear in town. There are a few soggy areas here and some ice patches there, but overall I found it very easy to run on. I saw a fair amount of other runners and walkers enjoying the trail as well, providing further proof that people are coming out of winter hibernation. However, the trail becomes unmaintained (read: unplowed) right around Weagel Park, thus making running or walking difficult from that point onward.

Rather than turn back at that point, I took a left onto Indian Lake Road and followed it all the way to where it meets with County Road 90 (it wound up being about a 7-mile run). While it wasn't part of the marathon course, this change in direction actually offered a pretty good setting for running: no traffic, no hills, dirt roads and not much ice to be wary of.

So, in case any prospective marathon runners are curious, the roads and trails in town are just fine for getting some trails miles in. But practice on the marathon course will have to wait for awhile.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Upcoming 5K race this spring (with a bake sale to boot)

Anyone looking to sneak in a quick 5K run this spring will have a local option.

Seth Rasmussen is organizing a 5K Fun Run/Walk on Saturday, April 10 to benefit the Blue Earth-Nicollet County Humane Society. The race will begin at 9:15 a.m. at the St. Peter Community Center, 600 South 5th Street. Check-in and race-day registration will begin at 8:30 a.m.

Registration for the race is $20. Race-day registration will be accepted, but it is recommended to sign up before March 30 to guarantee a free t-shirt. Registration forms can either be found here (I found out about it via Facebook. Thank you, Mankato Multisport Club) or at the St. Peter Community Center. Forms can be dropped off or mailed to the community center (St. Peter Rec Department; 600 S. 5th St., Suite 200; St. Peter, MN 56082) as well. Checks can be made payable to Seth Rasmussen.

No official times will be kept, but the top three finishers for men and women will be announced at the race's conclusion. There will also be a bake sale going on before and after the race to benefit the Harry Meyering Center. It is being hosted by Mallori Pherson.

For more information, contact Seth Rasmussen at 507-382-1041.