26 February 2015

I'm an Alpha Gal?

When I was in elementary school, I was lucky enough to have a bunch of friends who hosted sleepovers on a fairly regular basis. We would spend these nights watching scary movies, playing light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board, prank-calling boys in our class, and other classic sleepover activities (that almost never involved sleeping). Eventually, morning would dawn, and the host family would make some sort of breakfast while, most likely, silently grudging how late we kept them up last night with our incessant chatter.

I never liked cold cereal growing up (still don't, actually) so I would always stress about what would be offered for breakfast. Usually, the parents would make something special like waffles or pancakes. But in the rare occasions when cold cereal was the only item on the menu, I tried to avoid it without seeming rude. Sometimes I asked for toast. Other times I said I wasn't hungry. And in one particular instance, I flat-out lied. "I'm allergic to cereal," I remember telling the host mom. In the early 90s, before gluten-free became a thing, I'm fairly certain the host mom thought I was crazy. An allergy? To Cheerios? What a weird little girl.

I've since learned that it's okay to dislike a food item, and haven't experienced any other allergy, to food, medication, plant, animal, or otherwise. That is, until the past 6 months...dun-dun-dunnnnnnnn.
Finish line of Berryman 2014...Jeff, me, Doug, Garrison.
It all started with getting to know my WABAR teammate Mike "The" Garrison. In one of our first "here's what kind of competitor I am" conversations which are so essential to adventure racing success, he mentioned he is allergic to mammalian meat and that consuming it may result in anaphylactic shock (a potentially fatal condition if untreated). This struck me as weird, especially when he explained that he acquired this allergy later in life from tick bites. But as long as he didn't eat beef, pork, rabbit, venison, bison, goat, or any other mammal, he was the same top-notch racer he's always been.
This was 5 days post-race. Not my leg.
I raced with Mike (and Jeff and Doug) at the Berryman Adventure Race in September 2014, and all of us got attacked by seed ticks during one of the trekking sections. As we were paddling away from the TA, Jeff happened to look down to see hundreds of ticks crawling all over his legs. The same thing happened to our friends the WhackaDALI-ans, and in the weeks after the race we had a pretty hilarious "photos of my bug bites" email chain going. I remember eating pepperoni and bacon during that race with no ill affects. But a few weeks later I had pork for dinner and broke out in head-to-toe hives later that evening. Some frantic texts were sent to Garrison, who didn't respond... And also to Carrie Sona who advised me to take a few Benadryl and sleep it off if possible. I did, promptly passed out, and woke up in the morning to significantly reduced hives (or "urticaria" in medical-speak).
After having pork for dinner in October. My leg.
That got my mental wheels turning, and I decided to avoid mammalian meat until my next regularly scheduled doctor check-up a few months down the road. The check-up happened in January 2015, and I got referred to an allergy specialist for February. At the allergist's office, I described my history and self-diagnosis, and she decided to perform skin and blood tests. The skin test came back positive for every mammalian meat they applied: lamb, pork, and beef. She also tested cat which was positive, and chicken was negative as expected. These results were suspicious enough to order blood testing, and we just got those results back this week: I have developed an allergy to alpha-gal.

What is alpha-gal? First, it's a shorthand term used to describe galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose, which is a carbohydrate found in mammalian meat (but not primates or humans). What does that have to do with ticks? Ticks ingest alpha-gal when they bite mammalian hosts...deer, raccoons, possums, etc. Then, ticks transfer alpha-gal to humans when they make a subsequent bite.

Normally, human antibodies (immunoglobulin E in this case specifically) understand that the alpha-gal introduced to the body, either via tick saliva or via ingesting mammalian meat, is no big deal and do not react. The alpha-gal carbohydrate gets digested normally and people go on their merry hamburger-eating way. But in certain cases, especially in instances of historically high tick bite volume, the body misconstrues ingestion of alpha-gal from mammalian meat as a tick onslaught and produces a specific type of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody to fight against the invasion. The IgE antibodies bind to the alpha-gal CHOs, producing histamines, which manifest initially as hives and can progress to anaphylaxis.

Alpha-gal allergies are unusual among food allergies in these ways:

  • they are associated with a carbohydrate, and all other food allergies are associated with proteins
  • they manifest 2-4 hours after ingestion, not immediately like most other food allergies
  • they can develop later in life in a person who has previously ingested mammalian meat with no problems
  • the intensity of their reactions can change based on recent tick bite volume, hydration state, and a few other systemic factors.

My interpretation of the whole thing is one more of fascination than of sadness. Sure, I'm going to miss steaks and bratwursts. But I think it is weirdly cool that I had a medical hunch, my doctor believed me, there was a conclusive test available, the test was covered by insurance, and the results were definitive. I've taken steps to replace the lost iron in my diet, which I believe is incredibly important for female athletes, and otherwise have adjusted well to eating a ton of fish and chicken. I'm writing this post to bring some awareness to the issue. Most of the research on the alpha-gal allergy has only been ongoing for the last 10 years.  The connection between red meat and ticks wasn't even made until one of the researchers happened to develop the allergy himself (after a tick bite). Most doctors aren't aware of the condition, but I feel a lot of the people who read this blog spend a lot of time in the woods and may be susceptible. So if you experience head-to-toe hives a few hours after eating mammalian meat (beef, pork, venison, bison, lamb, etc), please consider visiting an allergist and getting tested.


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12 February 2015

Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: All 31+ Hours

The idea for my 31st birthday party happened in the middle of my 30th birthday party. I was driving home on Saturday morning from Stage 2, the Aerie's 12hr Ultrarun, after running/hiking all night and covering 40 of the hilliest miles in the STL area. I had the entire day to sleep/recover and then was planning to slay a Double Berryman with Dwayne and HH on Sunday morning. I remember thinking I just want to go get my mountain bike and ride The Berryman right now. Screw this wait-and-recover strategy.
The plan.
So for 2015, my 31st birthday, that's what we did. 31 hours, straight through. I planned out a giant loop around St. Louis that incorporated running and biking and 2 ferry rides. Weather in the week leading up to the event melted the singletrack, so we stuck to gravel and pavement and did the whole thing on our cx bikes, which honestly made logistics a TON easier. We had several different combinations of Team Noah Foundation members and friends on each stage - 12 different people in total. And no one person did exactly the same thing, everyone tailored their participation to their interests, fitness, and availability. That was exactly how I wanted this to work. I wanted to plan something on a massive scale, and then have my friends pick and choose how they wanted to participate. Sort of like how DBMFH works, no one person does exactly the same thing but everyone ends up crushed.

Of course this whole event raises money for the Team Noah Foundation, which is my mountain bike team. Last year we raised just over $2,100 and this year we want to do better than that. So if you have a few extra dollars, please click over to our donation site and put them towards a good cause. Team Noah Foundation helps the families of children with a Congenital Heart Defect spend as much time as possible with their kiddos while they are receiving treatment. Dwayne and Bettina, Noah's parents, got to spend 10 beautiful weeks with their baby boy, and want to give other families the gift of that much time or possibly more. So after Noah's death, the Foundation was created and his memory is what we are riding for today.

Bike from Alpine Shop (Kirkwood, MO) to Aerie's Winery (Grafton, IL)
55 miles, mostly road
1600 Friday - 2030 Friday
Thanks Maria for the pic from the Alpine Shop parking lot!
I meet up with Dwayne, Peat, JZ, Chuck, Maria, and Jim in the parking lot of Alpine Shop on Friday afternoon. It's beautiful - sunny and high 50s, RealFeel. It takes a long time for us to get Chuck's tires swapped, admire Peat's new van (with Stow-and-Go and electric doors, holy cats!), get my car packed, etc etc etc but we finally roll out on this adventure around 4pm. There is no rush as we ride through Kirkwood, Webster Groves (hi The Hub!), Forest Park, DeBaliviere, super sweet bike path, then into THE CITY on Goodfellow which is actually not a bad road to ride. Some ladies even stop to chat with us and JZ invites them on our adventure. Smiling, they decline. We make it up to The Circle and then veer east on Riverview, eventually smacking straight into the Riverfront Trail. About then we start turning on our various lighting systems and continue up to the Chain of Rocks Bridge, crossing our fingers that the gates are still open. Even if they weren't, Peat assures us that he's lifted full kegs of beer, and bikes, and trailers, over the locked ones so we're in good hands. Turns out the gates are open, HOLLA!, and we cross the Mighty Mississippi and say goodbye to Maria and Jim (they're allergic to Illinois). Then it's onto the MCT system to bring us northbound to Grafton.
Dwayne and Chuck on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Once we pass Alton, it starts to get a bit cold, but thankfully our support car, driven by Matt, is nearby so we stop to get some heavier clothes and he feeds us heart-shaped doughnuts. Then it's flat flat flat roads and bike paths to Grafton which Peat and Dwayne and JZ use to sharpen their high-cadence skills (they are on SS, Chuck and I are on gears). We roll in to Grafton just before 8:30 PM and check in at Race HQ. I see a lot of my running friends but I don't have much time to get ready for the 9:00 PM start. I change shorts, socks, shoes, put on new gaiters, add lights, EAT, quick picture, and then we're off into the next adventure. 4 hours down, 27 to go!

Run Aerie's 12hr Ultramarathon (Grafton, IL)
40 miles, all trail
2100 Friday - 0748 Saturday
Peat, Dwayne, Chuck, me, JZ at the start.
Aerie's is a 12hr race. The course is an almost-5-mile loop that you do as many times as possible in the allotted 12 hours. The loop is pretty heinous - 1,000' of climb (ridic for IL) of mostly trail and some pseudo-bushwhacking. This is a race that rewards constant forward motion over pure speed. So, perfect for me. Robin, the race director, sends us off and Dwayne and I run/hike the first loop together. The course changed from last year and at the major point of deviation, isn't very well marked, so we spend 10 or 15 minutes floundering in the woods trying to figure things out. But we finally do (really it's our fault for not looking at the 2015 map) and settle into 12hr pace. I'm running with 3 other women and I have no idea who 2 of them are...are they fast? I know the third, Melissa, completed 6 laps last year which is no joke so I try to stay ahead of her. My legs actually feel great and it's fun to run! But as we get to Race HQ, she has a lightning-fast transition while I stop for several minutes. So atypical for me but in my rush to make the start, I forgot to take care of some things so I'm forced to do those now (retie shoes, plug in phone, find food, fill bottles, etc).

Laps 2, 3, and 4 are pretty hard, but mostly in my mind. Melissa is staying solidly in front of me by about 5 minutes and I'm starting to crack mentally. I keep telling myself that racing doesn't actually start until the sun rises (about hour 9), but I am trying to run/hike pretty fast and only making up a minute or so on Melissa. I start to project the effort I will need to make up the remaining 4 minutes and that makes my head hurt. I start to doubt that I can win. This is pretty crazy because we are SOOOOOOO not about winning on the Epic Birthday Adventure - it's an ADVENTURE for godssake. But if you've known my last 6 months of solo racing, it's been a mind-screw for me, and 2nd place here will not help that. Thankfully, I hear a familiar voice behind me and it's DWAYNE!! I almost hug him in relief and blabber on about all of my fears and insecurities. Like the good teammate/mentor that he is, he gets my head straightened back out and we move. Not 2 miles later, Melissa appears in front of us, we run with her for a bit, and then motor on up the signature climb on the course, the "Big Long Turd" as named by Jeff in 2014.

Looking back at the splits, we made up 11 minutes on Melissa on Lap 5. 11 minutes is how hard my mind was screwing with my body. That is crazy. Thank you Dwayne.
Final meters of Aerie's 12hr. My number was 34. I got 7th place overall. 7 is special.
Laps 6-8 are all good. I don't feel as great as I did last year (in worse conditions), or as I did a few weeks ago at POCAR in Indiana, but I just try to ignore that and focus on constant forward motion and conversation with Dwayne. We talk about pretty much everything, including bikes that have a treadmill on them and the purpose of time. What is time? Who decided how long a day should be? Is time getting longer? The sunrise on Lap 7 is incredible, despite Dwayne not knowing which way is east. It totally makes up for the fog-fest last year. On Lap 8, the course swings close to the cabin that we've adopted as our HQ and we see JZ outside. We convince him to join us and he even runs a little! We finish the lap, securing the women's win for me and 7th place overall, cheer on the men's winner as he crushes out his TWELFTH LAP!!!

I spend the next hour or so piddling with my bin (adventure racers will appreciate this) and getting ready for Stage 3. Kate rolls in right on time (she rode STL-Grafton solo this morning due to work obligations yesterday) and Ian gets dropped off as well. Chuck, having pushed far past his perceived limits, decides to call it quits and gets a ride home with Matt. The rest of us saddle up and ride out. 16 hours down, 15 to go!

Bike from Aerie's Winery (Grafton, IL) to Bike Stop Cafe (St. Charles, MO)
26 miles, mostly road, 2 ferries
0930 Saturday - 1230 Saturday
Chuck, Dwayne, Adam, Matt, Jason, Kate, Peat, me, Ian. Ready to roll south!
Our first task is to ride 4-ish miles west to the Brussels Ferry. That is mostly on bike path, along with a super-sketch connector trail to the ferry entrance which is pretty fun. We board the ferry with minimal waiting and cruise across the Illinois River with high spirits and a group pic. We're on a ferry!
We are on a ferry!! The Brussels ferry.
Then we land in Calhoun County and have about 11 miles of road riding to do on the way to Golden Eagle Ferry. The nav isn't hard, we just follow the signs, but there is a significant headwind and the start of many rollers. Also the start of my inability to ride a bike in a speedy manner. I have ZERO power in my legs, I am pretty sure because of not eating enough after Aerie's. So I try to eat a bunch of food, but it's kind of difficult to operate the zippers on my pack without stopping. I have no idea why. I'm in a nutritional hole when we reach the Golden Eagle Ferry, but Peat gives me a birthday cookie, SS Kate shares a delicious rice krispie treat, and I eat another bar. The Golden Eagle Ferry ride across the Mississippi River goes well and pretty soon we're in St. Charles County, riding the flat floodplain roads another 11 miles towards lunch.

My favorite moment of this stage happens when we hop onto the Boschert Bike Trail and I see a giraffe. A real giraffe! I start excitedly yelling at everyone, "Hey look at that giraffe over there!!" and then I realize it's a fiberglass giraffe. Not alive. Whomp-whomp.
Adam, Dwayne, Peat, Kate, JZ, and my empty bowl of chili at Bike Stop Cafe.
We take surprisingly well-connected bike paths all the way into St. Charles historic downtown, and begin the search for the Bike Stop Cafe. I know it's just off the Katy Trail but not exactly sure where, so we have a few map checks while Dwayne's stomach growls loudly. Finally, we spot the Cafe and barge inside to do some serious ordering of food. I think everyone buys 2 or 3 meals. I order an egg/avocado burrito, a bowl of veggie chili, and a cup of coffee. We enjoy a relaxed lunch outside on their patio, wait while JZ puts down an extra order of waffles, and then get back on our bikes to take the Katy all the way to The Mound. 19 hours down, 12 to go!

Bike from Bike Stop Cafe (St. Charles, MO) to The Mound (Weldon Spring, MO)
20 miles, mostly road
1330 Saturday - 1600 Saturday
Except, the warm temps (60 RealFeel) have turned the Katy into a soggy, tire-sucking, slow pea-gravelly mess so we decide to re-route on pavement. JZ knows a way through the discombobulated subdivision hell of St. Charles, so we follow his lead through miles of cul-de-sacs and tan vinyl siding. My slight slowness in Calhoun County has devolved into absolute anchor-laden bike riding. I think I ate too much at lunch and now all of my body's blood is in my stomach, trying to digest and distribute those calories. I can't do anything to help the situation either, besides pedal slowly and try not to get too down on myself.

Luckily, my teammates realize what's up and come to my rescue. Dwayne does a ton of pushing, which is crazy because he's on his singlespeed franken-bike (mtb frame, cx tires, thud-buster post, trunk rack, aerobars). Peat even gets in on the fun too with a triple push. Everyone else keeps the pace moderate in front so I don't fall too far behind. Struggle Street can be many lengths, but today it is 20 miles long. Even 20 miles has to end sometime, and finally we cruise through the Research Park and onto the brand-new GRG trail that links up with the Hamburg that leads straight into The Mound. Jeff, Maria, and Melisa are there as a terrific welcoming committee, but my first priority is getting off the Warbird and laying on the pavement for a while. I'm seriously WORKED and I just need some time to digest. Jeff knows exactly what's going on, he's been through this before too, and luckily everyone else finds things to do during the break so it doesn't feel like I'm holding anyone up. 22 hours down, 9 to go!

Bike OT Night Ride Route
30 miles, gravel/road combo
1700 Saturday - 1930 Saturday
Ready to leave The Mound. Thanks Melisa for the pic!
The Mound is a perfect staging point for any variety of mountain bike or gravel rides, so we have plenty of options to choose between. Too many options, almost. In the end we decide to embark on a 30-ish mile loop of gravel and pavement known to many as Rich Pierce's Tuesday Night Ride. We put our own spin on it by using the Lost Valley doubletrack to connect to the Katy. The Katy is pretty soft still, but Peat motivates everyone with "POWER SECTION!!!" yells and we all motor through. I seem to be handling the flats a bit better and can actually hang, sort of, with the group. We get to the base of Terry Rd, one of the larger climbs in the STL area, just as the sun is setting and share my 630-calorie QT PB/Chocolate rice krispie bar as a group. Despite lingering bronchitis, Jeff hangs back and helps push me up Terry. I would be no where without my teammates.

Do you know how long a sunset lasts? Longer than it takes me and Jeff to haul my tired ass up Terry Rd. I keep wanting to stop and enjoy the cloudless perfection, rich oranges and golds silhouetting my friends, their bikes and the bare Missouri woods, but getting going again would take too much effort. So I just steal quick glances here and there, trying to conjure up a sense of gratitude for the beautiful day, however painful it's been.

We bomb down the pavement to Defiance, have a quick group conference to discuss gin shots at the biker bar, decide against them, then get back on the Katy towards home. Again, I can hang with the group on the flats but once we hop onto the Hamburg and its slow uphill grunt, I'm off the back again. But Peat sticks back to chat so we have a great time grinding out the final-ish miles. 25 hours down, 6 to go!

Hike Clark Loop of Lewis & Clark
5 miles, insanely muddy trail
2030 Saturday - 2230 Saturday
Now, the real purpose of sticking in some running-slash-hiking-slash-oh-come-on-you-really-thought-we'd-be-running-at-this-point?-Hiking-FTW! was simply to give our butts a break from the bike saddle before the final ride home. Also I wanted to introduce my cycling friends to some hike-only trails, which happen to be my favorite in MO. So we say goodbye to Jeff (thank you so much for driving support), hello to Yvonne, and switch into our running shoes for some time on foot. Yvonne tells us the story of the Love Connection trail as we access the Lewis & Clark trail system and start the Clark Loop. And we find a lot of mud.
Maybe not as much mud as Adventure Racing World Championships 2014 in Ecuador, but almost! And it's dark!  We all spread out along the super-muddy trail, gingerly picking our way towards the bluff overlook. Maria turns back to save her newly-purchased running shoes before we get there. We spend a few minutes watching the moon rise at the overlook and I'm excited to start my second night of no sleep, which is uncharted territory for me during endurance sports. Sure, I've done a bunch of 24-hour races, even staying up a second night to cheer other teams on, but I've never actually pushed straight through the second night on foot or bike. After some nice group time at the overlook, Dwayne, Ian, Adam, JZ, Yvonne, and I press on, leaving Kate and Peat to retrace their steps back to The Mound (Peat's hip is still recovering from Aerie's).

My hip flexor isn't feeling awesome either, but my desire to do the "whole" Epic Birthday Adventure is stronger than the discomfort so I slog through the remaining 3 miles. It doesn't sound like long, especially to me since I've ran this loop so many times, but tonight it is long. So long, and full of mud that each step is like a slip-n-slide. Mud cakes onto my shoes, adding to the load my overworked hip flexor has to deal with. Yvonne chats with me for a while, and I grab a stick to function like a trekking pole, but eventually it's just me, alone in the woods following the faster progress of 5 bobbing headlamps in front of me. They wait for me every so often, but honestly in my emotional state it's better to just be alone, and somehow everyone understands that without saying anything and lets me bring up the rear.

The miles tick by so, so slowly. I get sadder and sadder. I cry a little. I know this is normal and a sign of being pushed to the limit, which is exactly what I asked for when planning a 31-hour birthday party. Whose idea was this anyway? Oh yeah, mine. I encourage myself by drawing on the strength of my friends - Peat refusing to let a broken hip ruin his bike racing. Adventure racers worldwide who battle through 12" of mud like it's a road 5k. Dwayne and Bettina absorbing more pain than I'll ever know after losing Noah. I can deal with a whiny hip flexor for 1 more mile. Finally, The Mound comes back into view and I tumble into the Interpretive Center, eager to sit down, eat something, and saddle up for the final part of tonight's journey. 27 hours down, 4 to go!

Bike from The Mound (Weldon Spring, MO) to Alpine Shop (Kirkwood, MO)
30 miles, gravel/road combo
2330 Saturday - 0300 Sunday
After returning to The Mound, we find out that Peat and Kate have already started their ride back to Alpine Shop, so it's me, JZ, Dwayne, Adam, and Ian left for the remaining 30 miles. Maria and Yvonne make sure we've got everything we need and then wish us good luck as we connect back into the Research Park and onto the Katy. Before we cross the Missouri River on the Page Bridge, we stop at the gas station across the street in hopes of pizza. No pizza, but they do have coffee, hot chocolate, turkey wraps, and potato chips, all excellent sources of fuel for a midnight ride.
Real cyclists eat on the curb. Eyeballs.
Engines re-stoked, we crush out the Page Extension bike path and decide to execute a rare climb up Marine. During normal daylight hours, the climb is a bit sketch given its frequent traffic, limited sight lines, and no shoulder, but tonight it's perfect. I haven't regained any climbing power but everyone waits at the top and we cobble together a route back to Kirkwood using Craig and New Ballas. The pace is easy and I'm reminded about the joys of urban night riding - no traffic!! Dwayne gives me some more pushes and finally we're rolling into the Alpine Shop parking lot and our waiting vehicles. DONE AT 3:00 AM!

There wasn't much to do once we finished. No finish line, no crowds, just a quiet parking lot. Ian and Adam still had to ride home to their houses, an extra 45-ish minutes, and they both refuse rides from me. Studs. I say goodbye to Dwayne and JZ and we just all drive away. So simple and so complicated.

I knew that 31 hours was going to be hard. We ended up being outside a long longer than that, thanks to several leisurely stops for meals and changing clothes. For me, I woke up Friday 0600 and went to sleep Sunday 0400. 46 hours awake and 31 doing some form of exercise is great prep for a 72-hour race I have next month in Florida. We covered more than 160 miles on our bikes, and everyone had different foot miles, about 45 for me. But more than numbers, the support I felt from my friends and teammates was far beyond anything I'd expected. It's hard to explain, maybe I can only explain it to someone in the woods at 3:00 AM, but to everyone who joined in on this Epic Birthday Adventure, thank you for picking me up when I was hurting and telling me my crazy plans were not crazy at all. They just take a long time.

Also thank you Noah for the stunning weather.

Please consider a donation at http://www.plumfund.com/pf/teamnoah15 if you can :). Fundraiser closes Friday 13-Feb at midnight!

Aerie's Full Results

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08 January 2015

Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: It's Happening!

By their very nature, birthdays come around every year. And mine is coming up soon, January 29th, to be exact. Last year, to "celebrate", I hosted the first ever Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure fundraiser for Team Noah Foundation - a 3-day extravaganza of biking and running with friends. We raised over $2,100 for children with Congenital Heart Defects and their families. This year, we're at it again, but with a few new twists! Please join me and my Team Noah Foundation teammates Friday, February 6th and Saturday, February 7th for a whole lot more of biking and running with friends.
First of all, the easiest way you can help me celebrate my birthday is by making a donation to the Team Noah Foundation. The Foundation was created to memorialize Noah Goscinski, son of Bettina and Dwayne, after he passed away at the age of 10 weeks. Although Noah's time on Earth was brief, he was loved every second by his parents, his brother Lucas, and his team of medical professionals. Team Noah Foundation strives to provide this same experience to other children with Congenital Heard Defects and their families through several short- and long-term goals. Last year, with the money raised by my Epic Birthday Adventure, we purchased hundreds of heart pillows for children and families receiving care at the Cardinal Glennon Dallas Heart Center, where one of Noah's main surgeons now practices. This year, we are again working with the folks at the Dallas Heart Center to help fill their short-term needs. How do you donate? Visit http://www.plumfund.com/pf/teamnoah15 to donate via credit/debit card or PayPal. If you are more comfortable donating by check or cash, please email me for instructions. Please share the link with your friends, family, employers that match funds, and anyone you think might find it in their heart to contribute.

There are a few incentives for those making above-average donations. If you donate over $31.00, you will receive an embroidered winter hat from Dogfish Custom Apparel, one of the main sponsors for Team Noah Foundation. If you donate over $131.00, you will receive a coveted Team Noah hoodie. I have one of these hoodies and practically live in it during the winter, and it's especially nice to wear to chilly mountain bike races. Thank you, Dogfish!

What's that? You donated already? Now you want to participate in the fun stuff? I have plans for you! Last year, I organized three separate stages of birthday adventure on three different days. This year, I'm mashing it all up into 31 straight adventurous hours to test your endurance. The 31 hours are broken down into 5 stages, so you can join in on the whole darn thing if you want, or just select the stages that seem the most fun to you. We will by supported by Team Noah member Matt driving a Dwayne Custom House box truck with our gear and extra bikes, just in case things go wrong and the weather is bad. Here they are, the stages in all their glory:
Me, Jeff, Dwayne, Peat, and Maria on last year's road stage.
STAGE 1: ROAD BIKE, Friday 3.30pm-8pm
Meet at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood, MO at 3:00 PM on Friday, February 6th. Load up your gear/clothes/mountain bike into the Dwayne Custom Homes box truck which will be our support vehicle. You will be able to park overnight at Alpine Shop if necessary. We will ride roads from Kirkwood to Grafton, IL which is mainly flat. Bring front and rear lights, clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need for 50-55 miles of road riding at a relaxed pace.
Start of Aerie's Trail Run in 2014.
STAGE 2: TRAIL RUN, Friday 9pm-Saturday 9am
This is a 12-hour trail race called Aerie's February Freeze. If you are planning to participate in this part of the Epic Birthday Adventure, you need to enter the race at trail run here. The course is a 5ish mile loop with a TON of climbing - this is a great course for hikers because they move almost as fast as the runners up the steep hills. The best thing is you can do as few or as many loops as you want! Bring trail running/hiking shoes, clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, lights, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need to move on your feet for up to 12 hours. A CamelBak, trekking poles, and spare dry clothes are all good things to consider. 
Me, Dwayne, and Adam at Race HQ at Aerie's Trail Run 2014.
STAGE 3: ROAD BIKE/FERRY, Saturday 10am-3pm
After the trail run, we'll change back into biking clothes, climb back on our road bikes, and ride from Grafton to "The Mound" in Weldon Spring, MO.  If you're geographically inclined, you'll realize that there are not one but TWO river crossings involved with the shortest route between these two points. Never fear! That's where the ferries come in! We'll use the Brussels (free) and Golden Eagle ($4) ferries to connect these two great states. Hopefully there will be some bald eagles to watch, too. If either of these ferries are shut down due to ice, we will re-route with the DCH box truck in support. Bring clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need for 35 miles of road riding at a relaxed pace.

me, Hunter, and Dwayne on last year's MTB stage.
When we get to The Mound, we'll swap to the mountain bikes that are so carefully stored in the DCH box truck and roll out for a bifecta of Lost Valley and Matson trails (35 miles/4 hours). We'll be back after dark so bring lights. Then a quick-ish change of shoes and we can hop onto the Lewis & Clark foot-only trails for some running (in the dark!)...if anyone can still move at this point. The only caveat is we need to leave the parking lot by 10pm when the area closes. 
Me, last year, dying going over a mere twig.
STAGE 5: ROAD BIKE, Saturday 10pm-Sunday 1am
All that's left between you and finishing Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: Don't Be A Ferry is 30 miles of pavement between The Mound and Alpine Shop-Kirkwood. It will be dark. It will be cold. But you will have at least one of the finest riding buddies you could ever imagine (ahem...ME!) that will help you push through the pain and make it back to your car. You will need front and rear lights and extra layers, and food, and maybe even some money for some gas station hot chocolate. 
Sunset on the last day of 2014 birthday adventure. #nofilter

OK. Yes. This is a massive undertaking if you intend to participate in all five stages. One of my esteemed Alpine Shop co-workers called it "the S&M version of an athlete's party". And I guess that is partially true, except look at the distances and times I've got on here. NOTHING is fast. I'm assuming a road speed of not more than 12mph. That is totally doable for hours on end. In Stage 2, the 12hr trail run, you can do however many loops you like - hiking a single loop is fine and then you can chill in the (heated) Race HQ until the rest of us are done. Or maybe you just want to ride your mountain bike, in that case just meet us at The Mound on Saturday. This is also a 100% no-drop event. If you are struggling, we will help you, maybe even put you in the DCH box truck for a bit so you can recover. We're not here to race, or sprint, or put the hammer down. Children with Congenital Heart Disease and their families are in it for the long haul, and so is Team Noah Foundation.

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31 December 2014

Guest Race Report: 2014 Bonk Hard Berryman 16hr AR, Part 1

Greetings! I have a race report for you, except not written by me. This one's penned typed by Mike aka "The Garrison" of WABAR fame, and I'm just double-posting it here for you, my lovely readers. We asked Mike to navigate for us (Team Alpine Shop) because David had a family reunion to attend that weekend and, despite the common misconception that we train 24hrs, we actually encouraged him to leave us because family is important!! So Mike wrote most of this, but I added some color commentary.  Be warned, Mike got really wordy, so this is actually going to be a multi-parter.  Yeah.  For a 16 hour race.
Trek 1 – Don’t Try To Be Funny When You’re Clumsy
(CPs 1-7, 3.5k, 0:41) As with most AR’s the start was a mass start under the banner.  This first leg was point to point, so everyone was heading the same direction, to the same control. That control was located about 300 meters downhill from the start. I was racing with people I knew, but as a (fil in) member of Alpine Shop for the first time.
Put all this together and what do you get?  Mike running.  Mike running fast(ish).  Mike actually running at the front of a large pack of racers.  Yeah, that was pretty fun.
HA! I get to take over the comments in red italics now! Hopefully I will be as witty as The Garrison was for the Cowboy Tough race report.
Calm before the storm
Calm before the storm
Fortunately despite my frenzied dash down hill the team managed to stay together and as we popped out on the gravel road on our way to CP2 we were jogging along with WEDALI/Bushwhacker (heretofore to be known as the WhackaDALIans).
These first few controls would surely not make or break the race but everyone is, as usual, pretty amped up while we roll along at our “EZ” pace.  Mike and I have developed a joke about running. I think it happened in the woods at POCAR 2014, I was pretending to run slowly and he had a hard time keeping up with my “EZ” pace. So now whenever we are running fast we just say that is is EZ. NBD. Why are you breathing so hard?  OK, Mike commenting on the commentary.  I have two speeds basically.  Crawl and sprint.  Emily was getting snarky (I know, shocking) about her EZ pace at POCAR so I sprinted by her saying something along the lines of “how’s this for EZ?!?”.  And then I kept it up just long enough to get her a little worried about how long we’d have to go at that pace.  Now, dead sprint is “EZ”. We dive into the woods and snag CP2 with no issues.  On our way down hill towards the ridge with CP3 I catch/stub my toe and almost face myself into a tree.  Unfortunately this is pretty common for me, especially when running the maps.
On the way up the aforementioned ridge I slip on a rock and go down for real this time.  Luckily, falling uphill is not all that painful so I shrug it off.  Again, pretty normal for me.  Plus, having your face buried in a piece of paper rather than watching where you are going is likely to cause some issues.  (So, now that I’ve established myself as clumsy…)
We crest on the ridge at CP3 and head another 40m or so up to the punch.  At this point we’re running close to the WhackaDALIans and Fusion/Kuat and one other team I think.
Opening trek section
I choose to take us along the ridge to the SE that will drop us almost due north from CP4.  In hindsight I’m not sure I like this choice.  There was no real distinct attack point there, so I should have probably just taken the beeline route.  Wish I could think a map through while racing as well as I can 3 months later while sitting on the couch.
As we jog downhill, the terrain starts to get a little rocky and I’m pretty sure I yelled out to everyone to watch their step because, you know, one of THEM might fall and hurt themselves.  I’m a very considerate teammate that way.  We near the bottom and I check the map one more time to make sure I haven’t missed something before leading everyone uphill.
That’s when I spot it.  A chair just sitting in the woods.  Although not as humorous as a toilet, (You’d be surprised how often you come across a toilet just sitting there in the woods while racing in the Midwest.  And the weird part is that it’s not always near any kind of civilization.  I would love to hear the discussion that led up to one or more people lugging a porcelain potty out into the woods…) this is for sure a comedic opportunity that I can’t pass up.
It was super easy to find a toilet in the woods pic.
I’m ahead of everyone else, but I still don’t want to cost us any time, so I speed up (EZ-ilyto get to the chair for a good “photo” op (we have no camera, so there will be no actual photo).  Buuut, instead I just catch my foot on a vine and do a full face plant on the rocky terrain that I had just warned everyone about.
Ouch.  Like, big big ouch.  Like, I’m pretty sure I just ended my race by doing something REALLY stupid and breaking my wrist ouch.   Jeff asks if I’m OK.  I unconvincingly say “yes?”.
Ahhh a dream come true.  First race with a new team and I DNF the team by trying to be funny and falling on my face instead.
Fortunately as I stand and shake myself off I realize that I probably didn’t break my wrist, but just gave myself one heck of a bruise that I’ll no doubt be feeling tomorrow, (I actually wouldn’t, but that’s another story).
As Jeff catches up to check on him I hear him say “Hey, check it out.  A chair.”
Yup.  A chair.
Now that I’m bleeding, the racing can begin in earnest.  (And this is why I love it when The Garrison writes race reports. They’re so stinkin funny!!) We grind our way up the hill to punch CP4 then turn to the SE to head for the road.  Another team (Kuat I think) was there with us and headed due east downhill.  I was worried about missing the road to the north and fighting unnecessarily through the weeds at the bottom of the hill, so I stuck to the SE route.
One of many cool running pics, only one with all of us.
Turns out there was a really nice N/S road at the bottom of the hill that the other team grabbed and took off on while we fought our way l to the corner of the main road.  We lose sight of them here, but it’s early, so nothing to be too concerned about.  (Still frustrating though.  Stuff like that really erodes any feeling you have of being super clean on the nav.)
We run a little too far on the main road before I turn us across the big field to CP5 located in a silo.  Literally IN the silo.  Poor Jeff does a lap with the punch card before we think to look inside and spot the CP. But on the plus side, this allowed the race photographer to get plenty of shots of us looking confused. At least he made up for it by getting some really awesome pictures of us (and everyone else in the race) running across the big field in the misty morning.
Watcha doin' Jeff?  Control's right here!
Watcha doin’ Jeff? Control’s right here!
From the silo it’s a quick run down to the river and along the river for CP7. (This was originally a paddle CP, which had everyone a little perplexed as it involved us going for 2-300 meters the “wrong” way on the river to get the CP before continuing downstream to CP8.  However, as we arrived at the actual put-in Gary advised us that it was now a trek CP.  I never did ask why this was adamantly a paddle CP before the race but then got changed to a trek anyways. I can help you out here. The boat rental folks showed up quite late to the race, so Gary (the race director) made an on-the-spot change to allow the rental folks a bit more time to unload boats before racers started attacking them.
We make a respectable transition to the boats and are off.
Paddle 1 – A Brief Study In ROI (can you tell Mike is a CEO?)
(CP8, 6k, 1:13) I know at least three (possibly four?) teams are neck and neck at the front at this point.  Pretty common result for the first hour of the race.  So far so good.
Nav for this section? Stay wet.
Nav for this section? Stay wet.
Time for some insightful wisdom (that is neither all that insightful nor wise for anyone that actually knows anything about paddling).  When a team is right in front of you in the boats, or right behind you for that matter, it’s really hard to resist paddling harder to catch (or stay away from) that other team.  Thing is, the return on the investment of paddling harder, especially in a short race, is garbage.  Sometimes it feels like you can put in 200% as much effort for about 1.68% improvement on your speed.
Then again, I’ve not always raced on the strongest paddling teams?  I mean, we’re not bad, but compared to Canadians (who all seem to be frighteningly good at paddling), we’re average at best.
Anyways, we paddled to CP7.  Sometimes a little harder, sometimes not so hard.  In the end, we got there.  Not much else to say. Jeff and I were in a different boat than Mike and David, and we thought we had an excellent paddle. Fusion/Kuat was in the lead and we felt that we gained a little bit of time on them, which is awesome because Fusion/Kuat are great paddlers. Of course, just as one of us mentioned that, we ran aground on a small sand bar and Jeff had to get out to push. Just another day racing with Alpine Shop!
Trek 2 – Time to SHINE*!
*Yes that’s an acronym, read on for the definition.
(CPs 9-24, 15k, 4:28) Now it was time for the first true nav/trek part of the race.  When we inspected the maps the night before, the sequence of controls had seemed pretty obvious, it was just a matter of which direction we would attack them (clockwise vs. counter).  Since we were the second team in behind Kuat, we quickly agreed that whichever direction they went, we would go the other.  We felt reasonably confident that we would be strong on this section and didn’t want to get tangled up with another team.
map trek 1
For real trek #1
They chose counterclockwise so we took off to the north for CP18 to complete the loop clockwise.  All in all things were going pretty well for us in here.  The temps and humidity were rising, but we seemed to be keeping up a pretty good pace.  Although not perfect, my nav and route choice were reasonably solid.  I would say in the first 12 controls I didn’t have more then 15 minutes of total time loss due to little slips or overshots. In particular I remember Garrison successfully relocating on some pretty subtle terrain towards the northern end of this trek. He got a bit nervous, slowed up, then hopped over 1 small reentrant and BAM! There was the flag! This stuff is definitely not as easy as it looks and he was crushing it.
Not enough for us to be confident of coming out of this section with a lead by any means, but I hadn’t cost us the race.
Then came CP23 and with it my time to SHINE (Suck Hard IN Excess).  At one point I would have sworn that this control was attached to the back of a wild hare that was just running all over that spur. It was that bad.  I was sloppy with the first attack and the sight lines were not great.  Not an uncommon mistake, even for an experienced navigator, but one that should be recovered from quickly and efficiently.
I did neither.
The safest bet would have been to head back north to the trail we attacked from originally and start over, but more carefully.  Instead, we reset and re-attacked from the fence line to the south.  THREE TIMES.
(I know that woods all start to look the same after a while but I swear that all the of those attacks felt like Groundhog Day moments.)
What I'm pretty sure we did at 23
What I’m pretty sure we did at 23
We also tried attacking from (what I thought was) a small re-entrant to the west.  All with no luck.  (I should have been freaking out at this point.  New guy on the team taking over for a trusted and highly accomplished friend/teammate/navigator in David Frei, and now I’m bumbling like mad through the woods.  But, everyone kept their cool and helped me talk through the options.  In the end I think it was Jeff or Emily that said “let’s try doing it this way”, and that ended up being the trick.  The best (good teammates) and worst (SUCKING at nav) of AR all wrapped up in a nice little package.) Even when Mike started to get a little desperate, we all stuck together and kept trying different things. Jeff is probably one of the best “navigational consultants” around because he can always suggest a logical sequence of solutions, and doesn’t make you feel stupid in the process.
So it’s down to the wire and we do one last reset. (one last before having to move on the next control then decide whether or not to use THAT as our next reset point.  A grim proposition at best.)  All the way south back to the fence, then west and north up the huge re-entrant.  Even though things don’t look right at the start we stick with it and sure enough, at the top of the small re-entrant (that we thought we had used 25 minutes prior, turns out we didn’t) we walk right to it.
At this point I’m struggling with overwhelming feelings of relief and anxiety.  At least we found it, but the big question is how much time did it cost us?
The last two controls are easy and we make our way to the TA to get back in the boats.  Which is where we discover that we’ve lost over an hour to the WhackaDALIans, and about 45 minutes to Kuat.
Ugh. I felt the same way too. Not upset with any of my teammates AT ALL...just fearful of the amount of pain we were about to put ourselves in chasing these two speedy teams, with no guarantee that we could ever catch them.

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29 December 2014

Project Deliverance: How I Got Here

I've alluded to it many times in my 2014 race reports: I had a secret weapon this year. Not a pill or superfood or piece of carbon gear. Well, I suppose you could call it a piece of gear, but this secret weapon was designed to be as heavy as possible instead of lightweight.
Visiting GoSonja in 2011!
Like many things in my athletic life, it all goes back to my former triathlon coach, GoSonja. I was coached by her in 2011 and 2012 as I got more serious about doing well in long-ass races, specifically Ironman triathlon. Before becoming a speedy triathlete herself, Sonja had a background in trail ultras and mountaineering, and I felt she would be able to understand training me for on-road triathlons while also accommodating my need to throw in an off-road adventure race every so often. Early on in our coach-athlete relationship, she sent me an article written by a climber that she felt described training me: TNSTAAFL by Mark Twight.

It's hard to find a copy of the entire TNSTAAFL article on-line, but I'll give you the acronym: There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Mr. Twight specifically references pursuing aerobic fitness through anaerobic interval training, and how it doesn't work. Then Mr. Twight further writes about the need to develop aerobic base through actual aerobic training, which is time consuming and deceptively easy, instead of more intense anaerobic efforts, like interval workouts, that can be squeezed in to a much shorter time frame.
I read the article. I read it again. And again. It educated me and fired me up at the same time. Who was this Mark Twight guy, anyway? Google to the rescue, natch. To sum things up rather primitively, Mr. Twight is the founder of Gym Jones, a gym based on Salt Lake City that prepares people to do all sorts of mind-bendingly amazing things, from lift large amounts of weight off of the floor to go to the top of tall mountains to some things that are probably classified to the American public. Oh yes, and they also train a bunch of movie stars.

Fast-forward to December 2013, this Gym Jones place had been floating around in my consciousness for about two years, but I never quite knew where to start along their path to badassery. I certainly couldn't show up to Salt Lake and ask to join in a few sessions, plus that's not really how the place works, anyway. And then I heard about a gym in St. Louis, Project Deliverance, which was expanding into a new location and hosting an open house for new athletes. I didn't know anyone associated with the gym, but when I found out that its owners were in tight with the Gym Jones folks, I had to check it out. So I stopped by their open house on my way home from one of my most satisfying solo race victories of all time, just to see what was up.

I liked it right away. A bare-bones gym set-up, no fancy machines or mirrors, just a space with racks, rings, and a mis-matched fleet of AirDyne bikes, C2 rowers, and a SKIerg or two. Yes, this will do. I liked what I heard even more. After chatting with Matt Owen, owner and chief motivator/trainer/coach/interior decorator, I knew this would be a great fit. He was interested in adventure racing and how he could use his knowledge of strength to help my capacity for endurance. The thing that sealed it was Matt asked me to send him a copy of my training plan, so he could concoct some strength workouts that would compliment the rhythm of my season.
from one of my first sessions at PD. I think that's 165# on DL which was my 1RM at the time.
I agreed to send him my schedule, and after a few more emails, I found myself in the gym the next week. Matt paired me up with a few other veteran girls and coached us through a workout, stopping often to demonstrate proper form and make technique suggestions. Here it is, my first ever Project Deliverance session:
WU: 10min EZ AirDyne, foam roll, 2x10 air squat, 3x5 wall squat, 2x10 shoulder dislocate, 2x20m forward/backward walking lunge  
THEN: back squat: 10x45#, 5x70#, 3x105# 
AND: 5 rounds of: 5x70# back squat, 40m sled push +15#, rest
CD: some core stuff and 50cal AirDyne relay.
Even after that short session, I was hooked. What got me most was the atmosphere at Project Deliverance seemed to balance all sorts of life goals. Some people in the gym were obviously athletes, focusing on Olympic lifting or bike racing. Some people were there for weight loss. Some people were there to reclaim their youth, or postpone getting old, whichever way you want to look at it. But despite the wide range of fitness and goals, everyone had a mission and was executing it. That sort of community is really hard to develop, but here it was, just 3 miles from my apartment. I had struck gold, thanks to a long-lost Gym Jones article landing in my lap and refusing to be ignored.

Next up: what it's like to train at Project Deliverance.

While you wait, check out Project Deliverance's instagram feed full of awesome people doing awesome things, and website with examples of daily training. Oh yeah, they're on bookface too.

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