Monday, November 7, 2011

Allerton Park Trail Run 2011

The Allerton Park Trail Run is held in, shockingly, Allerton Park just west of Monticello.  The annual race is organized by the Second Wind running club and has a pretty long and storied history in the area.

Last year I ran the race. In costume.  I remember breaking 50 minutes, but had to consult the offical results to confirm my 2010 race time of 49:37 (9:01 pace).  I was hoping to do a little better this year.

Is 41:46 (7:19 pace) better than 49:37?  Why yes, I think it is. And the course was even a bit longer than last year. 

The Allerton race course is fairly flat for a trail race, and not very technical.  It does, however, have a section in the first quarter mile that gets very congested if you are running with the main pack.  So I decided to go out with the fast folks this year, and ended up running the first two miles at sub-7 minute pace.  And I learned that I cannot run more than 2 miles at that pace.  It was painful, but I was able to finish the final 3.7ish miles even though my pace slowed with each mile (negative splits are for pansies who obviously aren't working hard enough early in the race).

Want to see what the race course looks like?  Yes?  This video will give you an idea, but I suggest you take a Dramamine before hitting play.

Allerton Trail Run - Course Preview from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stupid and Irrational

In my previous post I alluded to a few decisions I have made recently which some would call stupid. Or irrational. Or both. Or a number of other things.

On Monday September 12th, at precisely 12 pm, I registered for Ironman Wisconsin 2012.  IMWI, or IMMoo as some affectionately refer to it, is a full distance triathlon.  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run through dairy country (or, as my friend Eric likes to call it, god's country or the land of milk and honey where by honey he means beer).

A few days after this rash decision set in I realized that I had never run a marathon before, let alone following a 2.4 mile swim and a more-than-century bike ride.  So I thought it would be "smart" to register for one of those too.  Most would say that signing up to run a marathon should not be considered a smart decision. Smart here is conditional on the previous decision (which also was probably not smart).

So on January 15th I will be in Phoenix to run the Rock N' Roll marathon.  Phoenix in January should be wonderful for running.  Training through November, December, and the first two weeks of January in Illinois - not so much.  It will build character, and give me a reason to not gain weight through the holidays, and whatever other justification I need to come up with to rationalize this decision.

So, to recap: I am voluntarily running 26.2 miles in January, and swimming/biking/running 140.6 miles next September in Madison, WI.  Wait, that's not right.  It isn't just voluntary. I am actually paying to do these things.

Like I said, stupid and irrational.  But it is going to be awesome.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Hy-Vee Triathlon

Labor Day weekend (which was almost a month ago already now), I loaded up the front-wheel drive sleigh with my racing gear and headed to Des Moines to race participate in the Hy-Vee Triathlon (HVT). The HVT is an Olympic distance race (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run) and, this year, was the host of the 5150 U.S. Championships.  This means it was the Kona of the Olympic distance race.  This may mean nothing to you.  Ultimately, what it meant for me was I got to watch some pretty fast amateurs who had qualified for this event go off before the standard age groupers like me started.

The Swim

At the mandatory pre-race meeting on Saturday, the race directors told everyone that the water temperature had been measured at 84 degrees and wetsuits would not be allowed.  I show up at 5 am on race day, walk the 1 mile plus from my car to the transition area only to find out that the water temperature had dropped dramatically, defying physics, to below 76 degrees making this a wetsuit legal race.  So I ran back to my car to gey my sleeveless wetsuit, which I had purchased in the spring and not yet been able to use due to high water temps at the Evergreen tri in July and the Steelhead swim being cancelled.  By the time I got back to the race start with my suit I was beyond warmed up. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

The swim for the age group race was held in Grays Lake.  When I was a student at Iowa State I always drove by Grays Lake on my way to the Des Moines airport.  It always seemed like a great place to dump a body (which I am sure it has actually be used for).  Now I was going to swim 1500m in it, not only voluntarily but actually paying to do so.

After standing around for an hour or so waiting for the other age groups to go off (see Exhibit A below), I was finally in line and moving towards the water for the quasi-time trial start.  The swim went awesome for me.  I'm not sure if it was the wetsuit or the time I keep putting in swimming laps, but I shaved close to 7 minutes off my time from Evergreen.

Standing next to the support team before the start

Stumbling out of the water to T1

Swim time: 28:38 (1:43/100m)

The Bike

There were some hills on this course that went from Grays Lake throughout west Des Moines.  Of course, compared to central IL, everywhere has hills.  There was also wind.  Can you tell I am making excuses as to why my bike split was slower than previous races this year?  Well I am. 

The bike went as well as it could have.  I didn't hold back (more on this later) and, given the conditions, probably rode harder than at Evergreen or Steelhead.  Unfortunately this did not result in my best bike time to date (in terms of pace).

Bike time: 1:09:27 (21.5 mph avg)

The Run

The final leg of race crossed the Grays Lake bridge, did a short out-and-back along a running path, and then headed back towards downtown and the finish at the State Capitol.  There was also a short out-and-back section in the final mile of the race that was fairly soul crushing.  "Hey look, there is the Capitol, I am almost done," I weezed to myself, only to realize we had to head away from the Capitol for a bit before turning around again and heading back to it to the finish.

The run was awesome though.  I went all out and destroyed my personal best for a 10k (although I'm still not what would be considered fast).  I credit the fact that I have swallowed my pride and admitted to myself that taking on nutrition (via gels) for runs longer than 3 or 4 miles helps out. A lot.  I slammed a Gu gel pack at mile 4 and, whether it was mental or not, felt a serious boost through to the finish line.  I also am making a concerted effort to slow down and focus on taking on liquids at aid stations.  This will be important going into next season (more on that later as well).

Run time: 45:58 (7:25/mi pace!)

Actually looking like a runner

Crossing the finish line, thankful it was not an 11k run

Overall Time: 2:30:58 (almost 2:30!) 26/117 in my age group, 116/999 overall

The biggest disappointment of the day was not breaking 2:30, which is considered a benchmark at this distance separating more serious triathletes from weekend warriors (at least that is what I am told).  58 f'in seconds.  I need to work on my transitions, which were pathetic thanks to poor prepartion in having my gear ready for T1.  Ah well, lessons learned.

While I didn't share this with anyone (not that anyone was interested), my goal for this race, since it was my final one of the season, was to go all out.  To see if I could blow up, and at what point.  I worked my ass off this spring and summer and wanted to see how far it has really taken me.  You might be saying, wait Nick, these are races, don't you always go all out?  Well, no. Not in endurance races like this, especially for a beginner like me where crossing the finish line is the ultimate goal and the time in which you do it is secondary.  In my races earlier this year I was always saving some for the end, that last 400m running across the finish line.  Not at this race.  I went harder at this race than I did earlier in the season, just to see if my body could do it for 2 and a half hours (or slightly more).  If I blew up and had to quit or walk, fine.  I already had an Olympic distance finish I was happy with this year.

Well I didn't blow up, and I ran faster than I have ever run for that distance by more than 30 seconds/mi.  I credit this to the mountain bike race I did the weekend prior to HVT.  I wore my heart rate monitor for that race and afterwards realized I had kept my HR above 160 for an hour and 45 minutes (I usually try to keep myself around 150 for events longer than 1 hour).  Knowing that I could do that gave me confidence that I could really push at the HVT.

Next post will outline some of the stupid plans I have already set in motion for next "season."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ironman 70.3*

This blog post could have had lots of titles:
  • Steelhead Ironman 69.1
  • Steelhead Duathlon
  • Mother Nature F'd Us in the A
All would have worked.  The reason being that, thanks to high winds and riptides on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on Sunday, the swim portion of the Steelhead Ironman 70.3 race was cancelled. No big deal, I only trained for this for 18 weeks. 

Needless to say I was disappointed.  But I still had 56 miles to bike and then a half-marathon to run.

My next statement will be made in relative terms.*  I was fast on Sunday.  Like, really fast.

22 mph on the bike for a split of 2:32:58.

8:32/mi pace on the run for a split of 1:51:57.

Add in the transition (~3 minutes) and I had a total race time of 4:28:07.

You may remember my goal was to break 6 hours.  Given my swim time target was 45 minutes, I think it is safe to say I would have crushed  6 hours and maybe even gone sub 5:30.  Not too shabby.

The TT bike with the new wheelset was awesome.  It just looks fast, and I think that actually helps (the mental game matters). We were sent off on a time trial style start with 2 riders sent off every 3-5 seconds.  This meant the field was really bunched up for almost the entire bike leg, and that there was quite a bit of illegal drafting going on.  Most of it though was not necessarily intentional.
See, doesn't that beautiful bike just look fast?
The run was painful towards the end, as I expected.  But I was also stronger than I thought I would be, which was not so expected.  I really thought I would fall off after the first 8 miles, but was able to keep sub 9 minute pace for each of my mile splits.  I did slow down a bit for miles 9-11, but was able to ramp back up above my intial pace to finish the last few miles strong.  I was even able to pull off some smiles as I crossed the finish line.  I also demanded more cheering and more cowbell from the crowd of spectators, which they graciously provided.
I was definitely in pain at this point, around mile 9.
I will definitely have to do another race of this distance next year, hopefully earlier in the season.  Who knows, maybe Ironman Wisconsin or Ironman Arizona next fall?

*By relative I mean fast for me.  I finished 69th out of more than 200 in my age group, and 442nd out of more than 2,500 overall in the race. The top pro men and women were about an hour faster than me.

Friday, August 5, 2011


If you haven't noticed, my blogging has fallen off.  There are many reasons for this.  Busy with work (yes, professors do work in the summer, especially those without tenure).  Work travel. RAGBRAI.  And hitting peak training hours for the Steelhead race.  Speaking of that Steelhead thingy, it is next weekend.  Physically, I think I am ready.  Mentally, we'll see on race day. 

For the next week leading up to the race I am in what serious athletes call a taper period.  Less frequent and lower intensity workouts compared to what I have been doing.  Sounds great right?  Actually it is driving me crazy.  I have become accustomed to putting in 90-120 minutes (often more) of high intensity work in the pool, on the bike, or on the road each day.  Many days it includes more than one of those.  Now, I am taking multiple rest days during the week, and doing just 30-40 minute workouts.

I realize that I am not going to forget how to swim, ride a bike, or put on my running shoes between now and August 14th, but it still feels strange.  Everything I read says to respect the taper period to make sure your body is in peak condition on race day.  That doesn't make it any easier.

Anyway, quite a few things have happened since my last post in June.  I ran a half-marathon, did an Olympic distance triathlon, and rode 4 days of RAGBRAI.  I also worked a lot, submitted some papers, and spent 3 days in Pittsburgh presenting to, listening to, and socializing with a bunch of other agricultural economics nerds academics. But the work stuff is, admittedly, boring.  So here is a quick recap of the races and ride.

April Sorensen Memorial Half Marathon - July 10, 2011

I didn't really focus training for this race, meaning I didn't do a series of long weekend runs leading up to it.  Instead I thought it was more important to follow my half-ironman training program.  So I didn't have any real expectations for this race, other than to use it as a training run (and to finish).  But that is not entirely true.  I did want to run it in under 2 hours, and beat the 60 year old woman who passed me on the final straightaway in this race last year.

Mission accomplished.  I actually set a PR, finishing in 1:47:50 (8:14/mi pace, if you're counting).  Good for 30th overall and 3rd in my age group. That is if the race was big enough to have age group awards.  Of course it wasn't.  So most likely my only chance at a podium finish was stolen from me.  Meh.  I was happy with the day anyway.

Evergreen Lake International (Olympic) Triathlon - July 16, 2011

The following week I raced participated in an Olympic distance tri just north of Bloomington, IL.  An Olympic tri is a 1500m (0.93 miles for those of you who are metrically challenged), a 40k (~24 mile) bike, and a 10k (6.2 mile) run.  I really did not have any expectations for this other than, again, to finish it.  I figured it would be a good idea to do a slightly longer race just to get a feel for it prior to Steelhead.

So imagine my joy and surprise when I finished in 2:33:32.  My swim was rather pathetic, but my bike and run legs were very promising.  I averaged 22.6 mph on the bike (definitely my best race pace ever, showing that I have gotten stronger this season), and ripped off my run at 7:59/mi pace.  That was not a typo, my fat ass ran sub-8 minute miles. After swimming and biking.  I didn't even want to curl up and die at the finish line.  I also didn't want to run another 7 miles.  Regardless, it was a confidence booster, and good measuring stick for Steelhead.

RAGBRAI - July 27-30, 2011

Last week I flew from my meetings in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night and caught up with RAGBRAI for Wed-Sat.  I've looked forward to this week since I did this rolling party the first time in 2008, and this year - despite the heat - was no exception.  Lots of fun, lots of miles, and - most importantly - lots of morning bloody mary's and afternoon beers.  One must keep hydrated.

Along the Mighty Mississippi


So, next Sunday is the half-ironman.  I've been preparing and obsessing about this since I signed up in January (or maybe it was early February).  I am ready, nervous, and excited. 

Goals?  Again, the main goal is to finish. Alive. Barring injury or other uncontrollable things (bike issues, etc.), that goal will be met.  Specific time goal? Of course.  I want to finish in under 6 hours.  I am budgeting 45 minutes for my swim and will be ecstatic if I can meet that (I should). I want to go sub-3 hours on the bike, which will require 19+ mph pace.  I think I can do that too.  The run? That is the real wildcard.  I have no idea how my body will respond to running a half marathon after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles.  I would really like to go sub-2 hours, but will be happy if I can run sub-10 minute miles.  So I am saying 2:10.  But I really want that sub 2:00.  Either way, with transitions, that should have me somewhere between 5:45 and 6:00. 

The weather report is looking good for Benton Harbor (mid-70s and sunshine), but that could always take a turn.  It could be windy, it could rain, it could get hot.  I can't control those things. 

It is going to be a great day.

And with the wheelset I got for my racing bike, at least I will look serious.  Which is the most important thing.

Bike Porn

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oh, Canada Part 1: Tunnel Mountain Loop

I spent 4th of July weekend celebrating with our neighbors to the north, and attending and presenting at an agricultural economics conference in Banff, Alberta. July 1 is Canada Day, which is pretty much their version of the 4th of July complete with eating, drinking, parades, and fireworks.
I rented a mountain bike and hit the trails for a few hours. Did the Tunnel Mountain loop twice. I don't think I did too bad, considering the guy at the shop said doing this loop in an hour is a "good pedal."
For your viewing pleasure, complete with some Neil Young (who is Canadian):

Tunnel Mt. Loop - Banff, Alberta from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.

A few observations about Canada, eh:
  1. The stereotype about Canadians being friendly is absolutely true.
  2. Banff is full of young Brits and Aussies who have come over to ski and work seasonal jobs in restaurants and bars while they "find themselves."
  3. Australian accents make women at least 10 times more attractive.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Warrior Dash

This Saturday was the Warrior Dash in Channahon, IL.  3.5 miles of running with obstacles and lots of mud, followed by turkey legs, beer, and watching everyone else run over obstacles and through mud.

Even with my lack of production/editing skills, the video tells a better story than I could with words.  Let's just say I've had multiple "hose off" sessions with the clothes and shoes I wore, and I think I am to the point of just giving up and throwing it all away.

Warrior Dash 2011 from Nick Paulson on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

TOMRV and Climbing

This weekend I headed over to the Quad Cities area for the Tour of the Mississippi River Valley (TOMRV) with 1,500 of my closest friends.  On Saturday we set out from Scott College in Bettendorf and rode 106 miles to Clark College in Dubuque.  Upon arrival, we found our bags, dropped them off in our dorm rooms, showered, drank some victory beers, binged on the dinner they provided us, and struggled to stay up until 8:30 pm while having a few more beers (needed those carbs for the ride the next day). Sunday we set out from Dubuque on a 90 mile route back to Bettendorf.

That is close to 200 miles over 2 days.

Oh yeah, there are a few hills in the Mississippi River Valley too. 

6,000 ft. of climbing on Saturday.

TOMRV Day 1 Elevation Profile
4,000 ft. of climbing on Sunday. 

TOMRV Day 2 Elevation Profile
This is a little more uphill pedaling than I am used to in east-central IL. For comparisons sake, here are the elevation profiles from the first 50 miles of Sunday's (Day 2) TOMRV route plotted alongside one of our typical 50ish mile weekend group breakfast rides.

No wonder my legs were sore on Monday.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend 2011

It was a long weekend, but a good one.  It kicked off with a swim workout after work on Friday, followed by me going to bed before 10 pm.  Exciting huh?  Why did I go to bed so early on a Friday night you might ask?  Well, because the alarm was set for 3:30 am as I was meeting a friend at 4 am to head up to Chicago to race the Soldier Field 10 miler.
Shockingly, I awoke with my alarm, met at the pre-arranged spot at 4, and made it up to Chicago to check-in and get to our starting corrals along the lake shore just to the east of Soldier Field.  The weather was decent.  Nice cool temps in the upper 50s, but one big problem (for me anyway): 100% humidity.  It wasn't raining, but if you moved fast enough (say, at 7.5 mph or so), you would pick up moisture.  Compound that with my natural sweatiness issues, and I was soaking wet as I crossed the finish line on the 50 yd line of Soldier Field.

My race time: 1:22:22 (8:14/mi pace)

So, a little faster than my half-marathon pace last month.  With just a few runs longer than 5 or 6 miles since then, I was pretty happy with that.

A few "highlights" during the race included:
  1. A number of unprepared people for a 10 mile race.  I overheard multiple conversations between miles 3 and 5 where folks were worried about not making it.  That is a bad sign when you are not even to the halfway turnaround.
  2. Two racers passed out receiving medical attention between miles 7 and 9 (I didn't say these were necessarily good highlights).
  3. The jackass in front of my jumping up to touch the finish line sign as we crossed it.  He tripped and fell.  And rolled his ankle.  It made me smile.
After the race I got in another swim workout. That pesky half-ironman is not going to train for itself after all.  On Saturday night I met some friends out for Italian food, and then we saw Bridesmaids.  Good movie by the way.

Sunday morning I woke up naturally at 6:30 and was out on my bike by 7:30.  Temps were supposed to reach 90 with humidity, so I wanted to get my miles in early.  I ended up riding south into the wind to Tuscola and back.  Turned out to be just under 50 miles with a short detour caused by some "curious" (read: evil) dogs whose owners felt it unnecessary to chain up.

Sunday afternoon we grilled at my house.  It was a pork-stravaganza with brats and hots dogs from Nick's Meats in southern MN and pork burgers from a local butcher. There was also some fruit.  And beer.  And sipping tequila from Cabo. And some German tortes, brought by a friend who just happened to be in Germany last week.

Monday was kicked off with some yard work, followed by my first swim workout of the year in the 50m outdoor pool.  It feels good to swim with the sun shining on you, and I really like how different sections of the pool have different temps based on where the sun is at in the sky.  Also, 50m is longer than 25 yards (more than twice as long for those of you who struggle with metric conversions).  Having less than half the "breaks" when you turn around at the pool wall is noticeable.  Take my word for it.

Around 12:30 I headed out on my bike to Vermillion County.  It was about 30 miles to one of my friend's parents home where we did a shrimp boil and got a farm tour.  And played bags. And wiffle ball. And drank lots of wine and beer.  Binge drinking is, after all, the most American way to honor our troops.

It was a good weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Racing Against Myself

My race season was kicked off the past two Sundays with the May Madness sprint in Effingham, IL on the 15th and the Land Between the Lakes sprint+ in Albert Lea, MN on the 22nd.  Both races went well, unfortunately age group podiums don't extend to 5th place. 

I am somewhat happy to report that 1) I handily beat the 2010 version of myself in the Land Between the Lakes race by about 13 minutes in spite of the run leg of the event being lengthened by about 0.7 miles, and 2) I would have won my age group in both races if I was a chick.

Some of the less embarrassing photos from Land Between the Lakes. No pictures from May Madness as I was there by myself and find stopping to snap pictures (of myself no less) during the race increases my time considerably.

Water was surprisingly warm

Transition area was a mudhole

'Cross racers would not be impressed with my mounting ability
The dude on the right with the Zipp-equipped Orbea would catch me around mile 8

Setting a blistering pace out of the transition area

The final few hundred feet

My strong finish, 13 minutes ahead of the 2010 version of myself
I received multiple compliments on my Leinie's jersey from the volunteers in both races.  Unfortunately, neither event offered Leinenkugel's products at their aid stations.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Successful I Challenge

This was the weekend of the Illinois marathon.  Being registered for the "I Challenge", I ran in the 5K on Friday night and the half marathon on Saturday morning.  Personal records were set in both, although I am not sure it is fair to talk about PR's quite yet having done only a few 5K races in the past 4 years, and 1 pathetic half marathon last year. 

5K result: 25:36 (8:15/mi pace)
Half-marathon result: 1:49:11 (8:20/mi pace)

Considering I was just hoping to break 2 hours (or run ~9 minute miles) when I started getting ready for this in January, I am pretty happy. 

Now I just have to figure out how to run this far after a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike by August 14th.

Half-marathoners bookending the better looking relay team
I suppose now I have to start thinking about training for a full marathon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April Showers

We got a reprieve from the rain today, along with some actual sunshine and humidity.  This morning was the last "long" run before the half-marathon next week.  We did an easy 6-miler (referring to a 6-miler as easy is something I would have wanted to punch someone in the face for saying just a few months ago) and will be putting in minimal miles this week to rest the legs before the big race.

This afternoon I got out on the Surly and rode to Monticello and back.  Took the camera with me to capture some images of the standing water in the fields.  A few of the highlights are posted below.  The full album is posted on flickr here.

And there is more rain in the forecast for the next few days. Flowers are great and all, but I am thinking the farmers are hoping that April showers also bring May days suitable for field work.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I now have a twitter account. Actually, I have had one for a while but only recently began actively using it.  I will mostly be tweeting nerdy ag economist stuff, but there will be some attempts at humor as well.  I've posted a feed in the right sidebar.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Headed out with the 9 am Sunday ride group this morning.  There was a wind advisory.  30 mph sustained winds, 45 mph gusts straight out of the south.  We rode into it for two hours and stopped for breakfast (and many in the group also got pie, I did not).  Then we rode back in about 45 minutes.  If you sat up and let the wind push you without pedaling you could go 10 mph. 

Once we got back to Urbana, I had to head 6 miles west and a few more miles north.  Riding west with the crosswind required leaning at what felt like a 45 degree angle into the wind lest ye be pushed off the road.  It sucked, and looked something like this:

The most painful 30 miles I think I have ever ridden combined with the easiest and most fun 30 miles I have ever ridden. 

So, this afternoon I am relaxing and may even take a nap.  My legs are sore from running and biking this weekend.

My receptionist will be taking all of my calls.

I really can't afford to keep her on my staff, given the poor economy.  But I tried taking my phone back and letting her go last week and the conversation did not go well. 

I'm pretty sure I ended up caving, giving her access to the business phone, and maybe even giving her a raise.  I've always been a conflict avoider.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Best Dam Run in Illinois

Today was the Lake Sara Dam Run in Effingham, Illinois.  I finished the 8 mile race in just over 1:07, and was pretty happy with that result.  It was even more impressive when you consider the fact that I was sweating gin and Chardonnay for the first few miles of the race due to last night's activities.

Lake Sara - I get to swim in this in just a few weeks, I hope it warms up.
There were about 800 participants in the race this morning, and the organizers did a great job of putting it together and having a fun party with good food following the run.  We also got some decent swag - a nice long sleeve tech tee, and a koozie.  You can't go wrong with koozies.

Race swag, medal, and bib.
But do you know what the best part of this race was? Dilly bars.

Do you have any idea how good a Dilly bar tastes after running 8 miles? If not, I suggest you find out. 

After I got back from the race I loaded up the mountain bike and went over to Kickapoo.  It was 60 and sunny this afternoon, and the trails are in near perfect condition right now.

The Cobia was happy to get out for a few hours.
My ride left me with one of the most severe cases of helmet hair I have ever seen.
 This picture does not do the helmet hair justice, poor lighting.  Believe me when I tell you it was "epic"

Friday, April 1, 2011


This might be one of the coolest mtb videos I have seen yet.  Nothing crazy, just what looks to be trails of pure joy. It is a perfect song, it makes you want to get out and ride (tomorrow afternoon Nick, you can make it), and also has me second guessing my decision to not buy a helmet cam.

Joy from Grizzly Adam on Vimeo.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cycling Season

From today's Voice of the People in the Chicago Tribune:
Cycling season
Warm weather has returned, and so have the arrogant bicycle riders who disregard the highway, street and sidewalk bicycle laws. It was the taxes on the automobile that helped these ignorant, riders who think they own the roads ride.
It is time for the police to enforce the bicycle rules of the road and issue tickets to bike riders who disregard the laws. Bicycles should have licenses for people who want to ride on the streets and .
Nancy Walker, Homer Glen
Cyclists who make the rest of us look bad by weaving through traffic and blowing stop signs aside, methinks Nancy needs to take a chill pill.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Active Shooter

On campus we have an alert system that sends out emails and, if you sign up, text messages in the event of emergencies.  These can include updates on things like crime and weather.

This morning I, along with everyone else on campus, received the following message via the alert system:

Subject: Active Shooter/Threat

Body of Message:
Active shooter at BUILDING NAME/INTERSECTION. Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location.
Kind of scary right?  Especially since the message did not specify where this threat might be located.

Then, 8 minutes later we all received the following message:

Subject: All Clear

Body of Message:
"The previous message was sent in error. For details, please read forthcoming MassMail."
Kind of a big error don't you think?  During that 8 minute span, facebook and twitter blew up with people panicking.

This whole alert system doesn't really seem to be working very well. Today's example is probably the most extreme failure, but since it has been implemented we get regular updates on crimes that happen on or around campus. These can range from petty theft to more serious offences like assaults and attempted rape.

I think this is a case where more information may not necessarily be a good thing.  People seem to think we have had an increase in crime on campus. However, crime is actually down according to some people "in the know" that I have talked to, it's just that now anything that happens is more directly publicized.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I am spending St. Patrick's Day 2011 working from a hotel room in Atlanta.  Conference meetings over the next two days before heading back to IL for my spring break (which will be anything but).  I think my days of drinking beer - green or otherwise - in excess may be over.
Halloween 2007. And yes, that is a corn cob pipe in my mouth.
Thankfully getting old and becoming more mature are not necessarily the same thing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Riding in the Desert

This weekend I spent 3 days doing some mtb riding with a buddy in the Phoenix area.  Each day we got out for 3 to 4 hours of riding, the best of which was day 3 when we hit up a local trail system.

Riding in the desert was fun, but I prefer sheltered trails in the woods with roots and ruts to open desert with rocks and, well, rocks.  I got to know a few cacti more intimately than I would have preferred, and tried to do as much climbing as I could possibly find.  And I got to ride a pretty sweet full suspension rental.

While I have no real intention or desire to move to a place like Phoenix - I would likely get skin cancer (or melt) within a matter of months - I have to say it was pretty sweet to enjoy 85 degrees and sunny clear skies in the middle of March.

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Social Contracts: Public Bathroom Etiquette

Social contracts refer to those agreements we have between one another and our environment which dictate our behavior and the nature of our interactions. These unwritten rules are the cornerstone of our society.

For example, technically marriage and manogamy represent a kind of social contract.  It is not illegal to cheat on your spouse or significant other, but it is generally agreed upon that it is a bad thing to do.

Other examples include holding the door open for a person behind you (although I am not sure if I am supposed to hold the door open for women now, or slam it in their faces to show them how much I support feminism), saying excuse me or god bless you, or - a topic near and dear to my heart - public locker room etiquette.

Today, I would like to broach a related subject, namely that of public bathroom etiquette.  Using the restroom is something we all do on a daily basis, most likely multiple times.  However, we seem to at least try to deny this.  For example, characters in movies or television rarely even use the restroom, let alone take a dump. And, as much as I think we'd like to assume otherwise, even girls have to poop sometimes.

Why do we ignore this basic human function, or at least downplay its signficant role in our lives?  Probably because it is kind of gross, and awkward.  And I am cool with that. 

However, most of us have to leave our homes for extended periods at some point and thus cannot avoid using a public restroom. Whether it be at work or while you are out doing something else, we are all faced with having to use a public bathroom on an almost daily basis. These situations can be quite awkward and, in some cases, even very stressful when you encounter other people - be they friends, colleagues, or complete strangers - who are in the same proverbial boat.

Thus the need for a social contract governing public restroom use.

In my opinion, there are some basic universal rules that should constitute this important agreement.

Rule #1: No talking, especially if either party is in the act of "doing their business." In fact, eye contact should even be avoided. A simple nod of the head is more than sufficient to not seem rude.

Rule #2: The every other seat/station rule.  Basically, if there is an option, you leave a space between you and the next user. Furthermore, upon entering an empty bathroom you should make your station choice so as to make it possible for incoming users to abide by Rule #2.

Rule #3: Any natural sound effects should be disregarded.  All involved parties should continue on as if nothing just happened.

So why I am posting this today?  Well, here is a picture of the "stations" in a public restroom I tend to frequent.

Today I had an encounter in the bathroom that involved the breaking of Rules 1 and 2.  You get the idea. Personally, I think the middle station should just be removed altogether.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It's been "warm" this week.  My car has not left the garage since Saturday, yet I have been to work everyday and made a small grocery run on Monday. With gas at $3.50/gallon, my most recent bike purchase is already paying for itself.

I have also been wearing the same pair of socks all week. And the same baselayer.  After roughly 60 bike commuting miles and 16 running miles neither one of them stink. In fact, they do not have any discernible odor.  Not surprisingly, both are Smartwool products made from merino wool.

I wonder how long I could keep this going?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back in the Saddle

It was 51 degrees this afternoon, and I took advantage by taking the Surly out for a brisk road ride.  Riding inside on the trainer all winter makes you forget what a headwind is like.  I felt pretty good, but I've got some work to do.  Riding yourself back into shape each spring is part of the fun.
Don't I look handsome in my new Leinie's jersey?
It's good to be back.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winter Cold

I returned from my work trip in sunny Corpus Christi to below zero temps in central Illinois.  Then, a few days later, the mercury began to rise and we enjoyed a week-long stretch of weather in the upper 50s and lower 60s during the day.  The snow melted and all rejoiced.  It would have been a great opportunity to get some rare, outdoor February miles on the road bike.  Instead, I spent Valentine's Day and the majority of the two following days in bed going back and forth between shivering and sweating.  It was awful.

I have spent the past week at work trying to minimize my coughing and sniffling spells.  As usual, colleagues and students drop by my office regularly throughout the day. Yesterday, a friend brought to my attention the fact that I have a few things in my office which might be considered strange to some people.

Here is the table that you see as you enter my office.  Does something strange stick out to you?

No? You don't see it?  Let me give you a hint.

I ran out of Kleenex. I swear.

In other news, I am a fan of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association.  Most conferences I go to disappoint on the swag.  I end up coming home with a cheap tote bag, a note pad or two, and some crappy pens.  Here is what I brought home from Texas.

Apparently keeping beverage cold is a high priority in Texas.  I think this is something we can all get behind.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday

Having to go to an agricultural economics conference over Super Bowl weekend is not all bad.
View from my hotel room balcony
73 degrees, palm trees, the Gulf coast, and a 5 mile run.  Not a bad way to spend a morning in February.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day: Being Neighborly and Kids These Days

We had a storm go through the Midwest the past two days. Some might say we were "pummeled" by said storm.  Maybe you heard something about it.

Don't get me wrong, this was a major storm.  Major news sources have provided an excess supply of images from this catastrophic event.

Satellite image of the storm from the NYT

Flights were cancelled as Midwestern airports shut down
It was so bad, it almost stopped this Chicago hipster from getting some pictures
University administration deemed it necessary to cancel classes today, so I am working from home.  Which is to say I have my laptop open while watching Sportscenter in front of my fireplace.  I am sure the students are celebrating the snow day in much the same way as they celebrate anything - binge drinking and sex before marriage.

The effects of this major winter storm were even more alarming in my neighborhood.

See all of that accumulation! The snow is almost all the way up to the base of my fire pit,
which is AT LEAST 6 inches off the ground!
By noon I decided it was time to assess the damage in my driveway.  There was some drifting, and there was some ice.  It was definitely the most unpleasant shoveling experience I have had since moving to Illinois.  The whole 30 minutes of it.

It was a popular time to be out shoveling. Both of my neighbors across the street were also out going to town with their shovels.  One of these neighbors happens to be a single mother.  I have no idea why she is single, and have never asked.  She was struggling.  The other guy, also named Nick, took care of business and went back in the house.  When I finished my driveway, the single mom was still working on hers.  Nobody had offered her any help.  There were kids out in the neighborhood playing in the snow that were of shoveling age, but they offered no support.  So I walked over and asked if she wanted some help.  15 minutes later we were done, no big whoop.

The entire time I had assumed her kids were not home. I know school was cancelled, but maybe they were spending the day with their dad.  During the course of our conversation (in between sniffing snot and wiping it from our noses), it became clear that her kids were in the house because they did not want to be out shoveling.  They were watching TV or playing video games!

I am in no way claiming that I was forced to do a lot of manual labor as a child, nor were my parents hardasses by any means.  But I do think that if it came down to sitting in the house and watching TV while my mom shoveled outside by herself, I would "want" to go outside and help. If for nothing else than I would feel guilty. Luckily for all of us my dad took care of 99% of the shoveling and snow removal (and still does).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Difference Between Biking and Running: A Pictorial

Last summer I bought a Garmin Forerunner 305 to use when biking and running. Being a researcher, I am kind of a data nerd.  The Garmin collects a plethora of data about pace/speed, heartrate, time, and distance.  You can have it give you averages, current values, max values, etc.  Serious athletes would use this type of data to chart progress and design and follow training programs. 

I use it to make pictures.

And I've noticed these pictures provide an excellent illustration of the difference between the effort you exert while biking versus running.  Allow me to explain.

Exhibit A: Output from a cyclocross race on 1-30-11.
Note: I finished 4th in this race. The total number of participants is unimportant, but I can assure you it was more than 4.

Exhibit B: Output from a mountain bike ride at Kickapoo on 1-22-11

Exhibit C: Output from a 70 mile road ride on 9-26-10

Exhibit D: Output from a 6 mile training run on 1-29-11
Can you tell the difference?  Here's a hint - look at the red line in the charts which is showing my heartrate. The values for this series can be seen on the left axis and the scale is basically the same in all four figures, so they can be directly compared.  Bike rides, especially cyclocross and mountain bike rides, generate a much more volatile heart rate pattern than running.  Also, the peak heart rates that I hit on bike rides tends to be 10-15 bpm higher than when running (at least until my heart rate gets up to 160 during my runs).  So biking results in more anaerobic effort, while running is more aerobic.  I already knew this to be true, but it is cool to see the data support it.

The point? I think doing both cycling and running workouts is very good for me.