Thursday, September 30, 2010

Milk: It does the body (and workout) good

You don't have to be a licensed nutritionist to know that milk does the body good.

Between milk mustache-filled advertisements and Joe Mauer Kemps commercials, the health benefits of milk are made pretty clear. The dairy staple is rich with protein, loaded with calcium and a good source of Vitamin D to boot. Aside from that, name one drink that goes better with a batch of fresh cookies.

According to an article I read recently by the Associated Press, milk can also be a valuable workout tool. The London-based personal trainer in the story prefers a bottle of milk after his workouts as opposed to protein bars, protein shakes and any other fitness concoction one can dream up. "Milk provides the building blocks for what you need to build new muscles," a medical researcher says in the story.

Scientists quoted in the story even go so far as to say that milk is better than sports drinks for replenishing fluids DURING exercise. They suspect this for two reasons: Milk have a lot of electrolytes, and it is digested more slowly than sports drinks, keeping the body hydrated for longer. According to the article, Michael Phelps regularly drank milk between races at the Beijing Olympics.

Generally speaking, this story shouldn't come as that big of a surprise to anyone. I never really thought of milk as an adequate drink during exercise (I prefer water; if it's good enough for Bobby Boche, it's good enough for me), but the rest of information is pretty basic. Doctors, advertising and parents have been preaching the dietary importance of milk all our lives. It would only make sense to use it after weightlifting.

However, the article does bring to light a possible paradigm shift in weightlifting. Like any other regular at the gym, I've heard plenty about post-workout products and the potential gains from using them. Heck, I'll admit to dabbling in protein bars and trying supplement powders from time to time (contrary to my beliefs beforehand, they do not make you look like Van Damme in "Blood Sport").

People spend boatloads at places like GNC for workout supplements when this article claims that the same benefits can be found in the dairy section at a grocery store. Definitely something to think about.

Just for fun, here's another funny milk commercial to digest. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Red Jacket Trail update

As today's article in the Free Press indicated, the effects of recent flooding in the area have now extended to everyone's favorite Mankato bikeway: The Red Jacket Trail.

The stone support of the scenic trestle bridge on the trail has been partially washed away by the Le Sueur River, making the bridge a danger to collapse (see photo on the right, courtesy of John Cross of the Free Press). The bridge has been closed indefinitely and there are no indications on when it will be accessible again, if ever. A representative from the Blue Earth County Public Works Department said the plan at this point is to repair the bridge rather than tear it down.

"We know how popular the trail is. We're just as anxious to get it fixed as everybody else," the representative said.

I took a quick bike ride out to the bridge this morning to see it for myself, and the area is definitely in rough shape. Aside from the stone support, there's dead trees and other debris floating through the river and Wegel Park is mostly flooded.

I wasn't the only curious cyclist. Several riders made their way down to the park to observe the extent of the damage. The biggest concern among them was whether or not the trail will continue to run all the way to Rapidan, as the Rapidan Dam and accompanying Dam Store are both popular attractions for bikers.

Count me among the concerned. As mentioned in earlier posts, Mankato has an outstanding bike trail system, but the Red Jacket has always been my favorite ride. It's quick, it's scenic, it's well-maintained and it somehow avoids all the major hills in the Mankato area.

The Red Jacket Trail isn't the only Mankato bikeway that has been affected by the flooding. Sections of the South Route Trail down by the Blue Earth River are still slightly underwater and the Minnesota River Trail is also flooded in numerous sections.

However, despite the flooding, there are some brights sides for Mankato busy bodies to look at.

  • Even if the parks department is unable to fix the trestle bridge, there is an alternate route on the Red Jacket Trail that allows riders to cross the Le Sueur River. Simply exit down in Wegel Park and follow the trail until it links up with Highway 66. However, this option is inaccessible at this time for two reasons: The trail is flooded through the park, and the trail passes under the trestle bridge, which at this point is a hazard to collapse. (see third photo)
  • The Mankato Marathon portion of the Red Jacket Trail is unaffected by the flood (though the area around Mount Kato and Highway 66 was flooded previously, so it may be a little soggy). The mile markers for the half and the full are also in place on the trail, so anyone looking to get some practice on the course is still able to do so. Fair warning: The Sibley Park portion of the race (roughly Miles 24-25 for the full, Miles 11-12 for the half) completely flooded (see last photo), so adjust your route accordingly.
  • There is still a wealth of bike trails to utilize in Mankato that have been unaffected by the flooding. My recent favorite has been to bike up Glenwood Ave and explore around the Bethany Lutheran/Main Street area. The Sakatah Singing Hills trail is also still open for riders.
  • In a relative sense, compared to what the good people of St. Clair are going through, this hardly begins to scratch the surface of what living a hard life is like.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ramping up the mileage

With any sort of athletics, at some point, you have to start bringing up the effort at practice if you want to see progress.

That's been my goal for the past week: ramp up the effort.

Despite signing up for the Mankato Half Marathon in October, running has been consistently inconsistent in my schedule. I'd get a decent 8-mile day in, then I'd take 3 days off. This is partly due to schedule, but primarily due to desire. I want to do well in the race, but I don't want the training to consume my free time.

However, in the past week, I've made a more concentrated effort to work running into my regular schedule. I figured October 23 will be here before I know it and nobody wants to be the guy gasping for air and coping with leg pains at Mile 9.

Including the Norseman 5k run tomorrow, I will log 31 miles of running this week. A pedestrian amount compared to the number of miles I was putting in during training for Grandma's, but it's definitely progress.

The training runs this week included this fun little route on Thursday. Kind of just made it up as I went along. The route offers a killer hill (Main Street) and it takes you through a couple parks and MSU campus. It also offers a lot of side roads you can take to lengthen the run if you choose.

I will have to do longer runs than that in the next few weeks (it only wound up being about a 10K distance-wise), but the run helped convince me that I'm making progress toward race day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exercise for the mind: A trip to the library

Admittedly, I'm kind of a bookworm.

I bring a book with on most biking day trips, enjoy a good read while on one of the exercise machines at the Y, and even have a favorite reading spot in Mankato that I like to bike to (Weagel Park off the Red Jacket Trail).

So with time to kill on my day off earlier this week, I swung by the Blue Earth County Library and searched for books about biking in Minnesota. Considering my interest in the topic, I figured it would at least be material I'd enjoy reading and possibly give me ideas for bike rides to try in the future. Who knows? Maybe there's a cool ride in the Mankato area that I haven't experienced yet.

After a healthy amount of searching, I settled on two books to take home with me: Road Biking in Minnesota; and Bicycle Trails of Minnesota. The two books have similar titles, but each takes a different approach at describing cycling goodness in Minnesota.

The road biking book is probably my favorite of the two. It maps out 40 bike rides that the writer (M. Russ Lowthian, an avid midwestern cyclist) feels best encapsulates Minnesota as a state, ranging from 25-mile jaunts to 110-mile mega-challenges. Granted, there's an obvious skepticism that comes with any book that tries to label things as being the "best" (really, a matter of opinion), but Lowthian's approach in choosing and formulating the rides is both logical and fun to read.

He specifically avoids using bike trails whenever possible, instead opting for low-traffic back roads or roads with a deep shoulder for cyclists. This gives the rides room for creativity rather than relying on trails to guide them. Another appeal of the book is that the routes aren't just described by maps and elevation guides; Lowthian also lists points of interest, camping, food stops and bike shopes you can find along the way. Instead of focusing on distance and exercise, he focuses on the appeal of the journey (definitely a view point that's right up my alley).

There are three rides in the book that are relatively close to Mankato. There's the Blue Earth Challenge (an 82-mile loop that starts in Mankato and travels to Lake Crystal, Good Thunder and St. Clair); the Sakatah Cruise (60-mile loop between Elysian and Faribault in which half of it takes place on the Sakatah Singing Hills trail); and the Quad Park Cruise (a 52-mile loop that begins and ends in New Ulm). Those three rides, in addition to few other ones in the book, can be found here.

By comparison, the bicycle trails book is a lot more basic. It's part of the American Bike Trails series and thus focuses entirely on trails. Each of the 120+ trails in Minnesota is described with maps, parking lot listings, facility locations, and the occasional area attractions.

The biggest flaws in the book are its age (published in 2007, numerous trails have been completed or revised since then and merit updating) and its failure to list practical points of interest for riders. Maps and parking lots are essential information to find a trail, but that isn't the information needed to explore a trail.

For example, the listing for the Sakatah Trail has the campsite in Madison Lake and the bathroom facility in Elysian listed, but it doesn't include the Trail Blazer Bar & Grill or Tucker's Tavern, both of which are great places to eat along the trail. It also doesn't have nearby bike shops listed for any of the trails; information that could definitely come in handy for any down-on-their-luck cyclist (Lord knows it would have for me a time or two).

Perhaps I'm alone in this thought process, but I envision to ideal cycling book to be a mix of a park map and a tour guide. It should give a detailed map and description of a bike ride, then discuss the nooks and crannies that make said bike ride appealing.

It pretty much boils down to what you're looking for in the book. If you want logistical information on trails, the bike trails book is the way to go. If you're looking for ideas for adventurous rides you can go on, than Lowithian's book is what you want.

Both books are useful in their own way, but I found Lowithian's to be the more useful (and interesting) read of the two.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Random bike ride brings random discovery

Similar to life in general, sometimes the most memorable workouts are ones that come about spontaneously without warning.

I wound up going for a fairly lengthy bike ride yesterday. I didn't plan for it. My initial intent was to bike over to the YMCA, get a solid hour of weightlifting in and run 5 miles on the treadmill. I figured I needed to start ramping up my mileage and getting back into running shape if I'm going to run the Mankato Half Marathon in October. Exercise is still a regular occurrence for me, but running has been sporadic since Grandma's Marathon in June.

As I was biking over to the Y, I randomly decided to hop on the Red Jacket Trail for a bit. Maybe I was tired of being cooped up in my apartment, but I figured a warm up bike ride couldn't hurt. Plus it was a beautiful day outside with little humidity and (more importantly) no wind. "Days like this weren't meant to be wasted in a gym," I told myself.

Once I biked past Mount Kato and reached the Red Jacket/South Route trail crossroads (where Highways 66 and 90 intersect), I opted to take a right and hop on the South Route Trail. I figured I haven't biked that way in awhile and it'd be cool to sneak a quick peak at Minneopa Falls. "You always bike on the Red Jacket Trail," I told myself. "You might as well do something different."

After arriving at Minneopa, I took my time to walk around the park, check out a few hiking trails and take a good, long look at the falls (sorry, no pictures, didn't plan on it so I forgot my camera). I hopped on my bike with every intention of taking the South Bend Trail back to the Y, but on my way out of the park, I saw signs for the Minneopa bike trail.

Like other Mankato cyclists, I vaguely remember hearing about the Minneopa trail through an article in the Free Press last fall. The trail was due to be completed this summer, but aside from a grand opening event planned for it on the Mankato Multisport Club's website, I hadn't really heard anything about it. Truth be told, I actually forgot about it. As my bike trip destination blog entries would indicate, it's not like there was a shortage of places for me to bike to this summer.

But since I was already at the falls, curiosity took over and I decided to hop on the trail and see how far it went. To my surprise and enjoyment, the trail is indeed complete, taking bikers all the way from Minneopa Park across the Blue Earth River into Sibley Park. It must have just recently been finished, as there's no information available about it on the web, nor does it even show up on Google Maps or

The trail passes under a railroad and the access road into Land of Memories Park, making it a non-stop ride with no traffic to worry about. It also offers quite a few charming views of the Minnesota River valley as riders make their way into Mankato.

This was a pretty sizable undertaking for the parks department. The September Free Press article said the trail was a project 10 years in the making and its cost wound up being upwards of $1.4 million.

However, I'm sure I speak for all biking enthusiasts when I say that the hardships endured to build it are greatly appreciated. It's another beautiful trail to enjoy year-round and it creates an easier transportation pipeline to one of Mankato's greatest natural attractions.

I was critical of using bike trails to get to the falls area when I wrote about it in June because the South Route Trail took a meandering route to get there. Well, there's no more meandering to worry about anymore.

In a grander scheme, the Minneopa trail also creates a much more convenient transportation loop for any cyclist who wants to explore the Mankato area. It links directly to the South Route Trail, which in turn connects with the Red Jacket Trail. On the other end of it, after biking through Sibley Park, it also hooks up with the Minnesota River Trail, which eventually links to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. Here is a visual of all the trails in Mankato, sans Minneopa.

If you're keeping track, that's nearly 80 miles of linked trail that provides bike access to the following attractions: MSU campus, Rapidam Dam, Minneopa Falls, Seppman Mill, Mount Kato, Riverfront Park's concert area, the disc golf course at Land of Memories Park, a petting zoo in Sibley Park, the Old Town area in Mankato, and a historic high trestle railroad bridge. That's in addition to everything the 39-mile stretch of trail between Mankato and Faribault has to offer.

That's a lot of sights to see and a lot of pedaling to do.