Assortment

You know when you have a dream that’s been floating in your mind for some time? You know it’s a good one, and you also know that if you simply wait long enough, it’ll have a chance to unfold. It may not be the huge, life-changing kind of dream; it may just be the simplest of small ones. (I’m so thankful for the small ones.)

Like door hinges.

Door hinges?

Like replacing the old, half-painted door hinges with fresh, new ones that match the new door hardware . . .

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Like a container under the sink to hold the sponges . . .

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Like small wall boxes to keep the day’s mail out of sight until it can be tended to . . .

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Like a vet who is not shy about shaving your cat to treat a wound . . . Like a ladder on the side of the house so that same cat can come and go through his own door . . .

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26

02 2015

How pro athletes use their down time

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Watching some of the world’s most elite Nordic skiers cut loose in this video brought a huge smile to my face this afternoon. A good reminder that no matter how good we are at something, it’s nice to cut loose occasionally. (As you watch, keep an eye out for the Methow Valley’s very own funkstars Erik and Sade Bjornsen.) Enjoy!

18

02 2015

Garage Sale

I’m cleaning out the gear closet. Here’s what I’ve got for sale and to give away. Prices listed with each item are approximately 1/4 of full retail. (Click on the small arrow below and to the right of the slideshow to view bigger pictures.)

Contact me via email if you’re interested in any of the items. I will remove the items from the slideshow as they sell, so if you see it, I still have it.

Todd Walton, Gail Hilderbrand liked this post

12

02 2015

Nick & Carry’s Definitive Guide to Buying a Bike

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Road racers. Loaded tourers. Recumbents. Hardtails. Dualies. Hybrids. Cross bikes. Sport tourers. Commuters. Cruisers. Comfort bikes. Tandems. With such a dizzying array to choose from, it’s a small miracle anyone leaves a bike shop with the right bicycle for them.

Chances are you’re reading this because you started looking for a bike and wondering if Model X made by Brand Y is a “good bike.” The answer to that is more complicated than a simple yes or no. To help you knowledgeably pick a bike, Nick and I offer you following tips to help demystify the process of buying a bike.

Before You Leave Home

Grab a pencil, paper and some brutal honesty. Now make two lists. The first is an inventory of your current status as a cyclist or, for first-timers, your fitness level: how competitive you are, how much time you spend riding (or working out) each week, your highest achievements on a bike. The second is your ultimate vision of yourself as a cyclist. Do you plan to do triathlons? Clean up on the local racing circuit? Do bike tours? Commute by bike? Ride off road? All of these pursuits have a feature or two that you might want in a bike. If you’ll be commuting or touring, for example, you’ll want a bike with “braze-ons” to attach fenders and possibly a rack. A sales person at the bike shop can narrow your bike choices if they know more about your intended use.

Fit Is Everything

I can’t emphasize enough how important a properly fitted bicycle is. This will minimize discomfort and possibility for injury in the long run and maximize your enjoyment of the time spent in the saddle. In addition to what size bike you should be riding, figure out the proper seat height, reach to the handlebars, handlebar height relative to your saddle, etc. If you’re not sure what is ideal for you, consider getting a professional bike fit. Once you have these measurements, you will be able to look for used bikes knowledgeably and/or customize the fit of whatever bike you do get. A note regarding saddles: don’t get too hung up if the one on the bike you’re riding doesn’t feel right. You’ll likely end up replacing it (and every other saddle on every other bike you buy in the future) with “your” saddle…the one that’s just right for your butt.

Light. Strong. Cheap. Pick two.

How important is weight? How important is durability? What’s your budget? These three things are interrelated. Generally, the more you’re willing to spend the lighter your bike will be because it will be made with lighter material(s) and equipped with higher end components. Some might argue that these higher end components last longer too. Depending on your tolerance for replacing vs. fixing, you might consider Campagnolo parts over Shimano parts. Nick and I run Campy exclusively. It’s more expensive initially, but when something breaks, we spend $10 on an internal part and fix it, rather than spending $300+ to replace the entire part like you’d have to do with Shimano. All of these decisions come down to how much you’re willing to spend initially.

The Invisible Component – the Bike Shop.

The shop you buy from will probably be the one you take your bike to when you want it fixed. Element Cycles, for example, offers free tuneups for a year with the sale of their bikes. Whoever you buy from, you want to like the people, be able to get to the shop easily, and feel confident that you can get your bike worked on without waiting too long. Some shops have a 3-week waiting list for maintenance. No good if you want to use it the next weekend for an event.

Time for the Test Ride

No amount of bike buying advice from anyone – not me, not the shop sales rep, not your friends – can replace personal experience on the bike. You’re about to spend $1200 or more (yes, that much) on a single purchase, so take some time to ride a few bikes – at least one bike made out of aluminum, one out of steel, one out of carbon, and one out of titanium. You’ll get a feel for how each bike material feels and which one suits you the best. (With the exception of my mountain bike, every bike in our house is made of steel. We love how it feels. Others love the squish of titanium or the zip of aluminum.) Get your hands on a Campy shifter, a Shimano shifter, and a SRAM shifter. The size and shape alone may have you convinced you like one over the other.

Don’t be shy about taking bikes for a long test ride either. Use the first 10 minutes to get acquainted with the bike.  If the handlebar feels too high or the suspension too springy, ask for a fix. And make sure you know how to use the components. If you’re used to Shimano, say, ask for a SRAM tutorial. Then take it out for 30 minutes or so and put it through all the paces. Brake hard, brake slow, corner at different angles and speeds, descend, and climb.

Call Your Friends
Once you’ve done all of this, then and only then, should you seek the advice of your friends. We’re all well-meaning, but we only know what is right for us. Once you have some knowledge under your belt, you can take our advice with a grain of salt. Until then, buyer beware!

Good luck and happy cycling!

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Photos by Richard Masoner and Dylan Pech, used with permission

 

11

02 2015

Three reasons why endurance athletes should avoid CrossFit

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I’ve been a bit discouraged lately about my state of fitness after tearing my ACL in 2013. After several months off, I worked hard and regained enough fitness to climb, do long bike rides, and cross country ski at a reasonable level.

I am definitely not as fast as I was before my injury, though. And my endurance is lower. I’ve tried to maintain a good attitude about this, but it’s still disappointing.

I refuse to believe the naysayers, who want to chalk up my fitness to old age. After all, studies have shown that athletic performance for endurance athletes doesn’t decline until people are in their 60s or 70s if the person continues to train. I figured something must be missing from my exercise program – which mostly consisted of hitting the trails for some fast hikes up the local foothills.

I started looking around at what my peers were doing and discovered that many of them were CrossFit devotees. At first glance, it seems like a fitness dream come true. My brother is enthusiastic about working out and has gotten into a good routine, even though he has multiple competing demands on his time. Several of my girlfriends have gotten really strong. (One of them can do full pushups with added weight over her shoulders.) And did I mention my PT’s six-pack abs? I’d like all of that!

Given the number of CrossFit Groupons available, I started looking into it. According to Crossfit.com:

“The aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness. We have sought to build a program that will best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable. After looking at all sport and physical tasks collectively, we asked what physical skills and adaptations would most universally lend themselves to performance advantage. Capacity culled from the intersection of all sports demands would quite logically lend itself well to all sport. In sum, our specialty is not specializing.”

Training for all movements, functional and specified, so your body is in all-around good shape. It’s constantly varied, high intensity functional movement. I dig it.  CrossFit didn’t invent cross-training, but their claim to fame is taking cross-training a step further by including “any physical contingency,” “the unknown,” and “the unknowable.” I like your style, CrossFit, I do.

It may surprise you to learn, though, that I am completely rejecting it as a method of training for climbing, distance biking and skiing. You should too, if your fitness goals involve excelling at endurance sports. Here’s why:

1. CrossFit is not effective at training endurance or strength

Before I rain on the CrossFit parade too much, I should say that it isn’t all bad. CrossFit features hard workouts that will in fact help someone get in shape, to a degree. It teaches a variety of real exercises that are challenging and much better than sitting on the couch eating potato chips. Can’t complain about that!

The problem is, there’s no evidence that the high intensity work promoted in CrossFit will yield performance gains for endurance athletes. Sure, CrossFit claims that the system is “empirically driven and clinically tested” which insinuates that the methods are scientifically supported. According to WebMD, however, “a review of the current scientific literature . . . shows no published studies about CrossFit in top-rated peer-reviewed strength and conditioning or exercise physiology research journals.”

In fact, looking at the research on high-intensity, circuit workouts, we see that CrossFit is not ideal for building aerobic endurance. These workouts are often called “Tabita sprints” or “HIIT” (standing for High Intensity Interval Training). When these programs are researched, researchers note that VO2max increases by a large amount and that certain aerobic enzymes also increase.

The trouble is, VO2max does not equal aerobic performance. Just because VO2max is increased or decreased, does not mean that performance will change to the same degree or even at all. This is borne out by research done by Vollard, et al in 2009:

“Moreover, we demonstrate that VO2max and aerobic performance associate with distinct and separate physiological and biochemical endpoints, suggesting that proposed models for the determinants of endurance performance may need to be revisited.”

This is a key concept to understand, because the studies cited by CrossFit track effects on VO2max but not performance.

Crossfit isn’t ideal for building strength either. In a CrossFit you do a bunch of exercises until your muscles burn and you feel exhausted. Anybody can go into the gym and kill themselves for 30 minutes, pat themselves on the back, and feel like they just worked as hard as they could.

An effective strength training program focuses on a systematic approach to weightlifting and incorporates progressive overload. The trouble is, CrossFit is the exact opposite of this. It is a random approach to exercise that doesn’t utilize progressive overload or account for the law of diminishing returns. This type of training ultimately sets people up to plateau below their full potential.

All of this is easy to ignore when you hear anecdotes about how CrossFit “worked for me” and “worked for so-and-so.” Humans are inexplicably driven by anecdotal evidence instead of empirical evidence. We should remember though not to confuse “what can work” with “what works best.”

For the unfit or formerly fit, CrossFit works great initially. People see results because it’s a very high stress workout. It’s also why you see results when you do insanity or any of those workout videos.  It isn’t that the exercises are super awesome targeted muscle sculpting patented exercises. Instead, it’s that the people who generally do them weren’t doing anything before.

What happens after the initial gains? We get stale, we stop improving, or our body breaks down, which brings me to my next reason for deciding not to do CrossFit.

2. The risk of injury is too high

CrossFit incorporates a lot of Olympic lifts for extremely high reps and/or for time. We never see this in Olympic lifting gyms, because somewhere along the way they figured out it was a bad idea.

When power athletes are training in the gym, they do not load up the bar with a light weight and do snatches or cleans for 50 reps. These movements are the most advanced training one can do. The Olympic lifts tax your central nervous system a tremendous amount. Worldwide, the protocols of an Olympic lifting program agree on a main principle: higher weight, less reps.

CrossFit, unfortunately, does the exact opposite. Any time you are performing lifts against the clock, you are asking for your form to break down. When people are tired, they have trouble simply walking. Forcing someone who is fatigued to engage in power exercises like Olympic lifts or box jumps seems like a bad idea. Common sense says that putting a weighted bar in their hand and asking them to rip it from the floor to overhead as quickly as possible is a recipe for injury.

Sure, I hear people say that “the workouts are scaleable,” meaning I can and should do an easier version of the prescribed workout. The scalability argument is irrelevant, though. If poor workouts are scalable, they’re still poor workouts (just a little less poor, perhaps).

3. Other training methods are empirically better

There is a reason that ultramarathoners, Tour de France competitors, and other elite endurance athletes are not doing CrossFit. I’ve even heard that CrossFit Games competitors do not rely on CrossFit to help them win. If CrossFit was the best way to train for endurance sports, you better believe these athletes would be doing it. Instead, they train in other ways. Why? Because it works better.

Just what is this better way? Stay tuned. I’m reading, scheming, planning, and starting a new training program. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by Runar Ellertsen, used with permission.

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01 2015