Quick Fuels: Making Sense of Gels and Chews

As endurance athletes, we have all learned to deal with the variety of challenges intrinsic to our sport. There is specialized gear available for every type of road or trail, unbelievably lightweight packs and vests to carry whatever we need, and clothing for every weather condition that we can bring along without having to deal with excessive bulk. One of the most critical challenges, though, is how to feed ourselves while we are on the move. To find something that is easily transported, tastes good enough that you will actually eat it, has the proper balance of nutrition that works for you, and won’t make you sick to your stomach takes some major trial and error.

The range of products out there right now to fuel our daily excursions can be downright intimidating in its breadth, from drink mixes specifically designed for before, during, or after exercise, to gels and chews, to energy bars, to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana. While I am a proponent of each of these types of sustenance in their own place, for purposes of keeping this review somewhat simple, I’m going to focus specifically on gels and chews. That’s right, the form of nutrition that it seems every endurance athlete has an extreme love-hate relationship with. I know you can remember the last time you or one of your training partners complained about the taste, texture, or mere existence of gels, while in the same breath acknowledging their necessity in the process of finishing a certain race or workout.

Well, good news! I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. The variety of options has increased dramatically in just the last couple years, and continues to do so. If you haven’t found the right gels or energy chews for yourself yet, that’s an excellent reason to keep reading. Hopefully I can guide you in the right direction. I will divide this review into two categories (chews and gels) and discuss three of each.

First, the energy chews!


Clif Shot Bloks

These have been one of my go-to chews for years. They the softest of the chews that I have tried, which in my experience makes them relatively easy to chew and swallow (a feat that can be difficult during a long, particularly arduous outing) and I have found them to be a quick, reliable source of energy. They are available in 11 different flavors, with margarita (which everyone goes nuts for) and salted watermelon containing extra sodium1.

Gu Chews

Gu Chews (formerly known as Chomps) have been around for a while and are pretty similar to the Clif version, with a couple notable differences. Specifically, a sleeve of Chews contains eight smaller-sized chews, as opposed to the six larger Shot Bloks per sleeve. Gu Chews are particularly high in potassium (because cramping sucks) and contain amino acids that, according to Gu, may help “reduce mental fatigue and decrease muscle damage”. I personally haven’t noticed a huge difference in my level of mental fatigue when using these chews, but you know, maybe it helps?

Skratch Labs Fruit Drops

If you have issues with the stickiness of most gummy chews and find them difficult to consume, it might behoove you to try out the Skratch Labs Fruit Drops. They are much firmer than most and have a sugary coating, making them generally easy for most people to get down, even in the throes of an endurance activity induced breakdown. Also, in my opinion, they have a very pleasantly fruity taste. At 160mg per pouch, they contain the most sodium of the three chews mentioned here, but they contain no potassium. They are also the only chews mentioned in this review that do not contain maltodextrin2 .


Okay, so maybe you’ve figured out which chews will be best tailored to your needs, or maybe there is more research to do. Regardless, for this review, it’s on to the proverbial meat and potatoes of rapid endurance fuel. That’s right, it’s time to talk gels.


Gu

Gu gels are, in many ways, what comes to mind when I think of energy gels. They have that classic gel consistency that can be almost liquid when it’s warm out and downright difficult to get out of the package when it’s cold. Maybe that texture is your thing. It’s not mine. That said, Gu’s redeeming factor (over other brands of traditional gels like Hammer or Clif) is the breadth and creativity of the flavor options. From Caramel Macchiato to Cucumber Mint to Tastefully Nude (code for unflavored), there is something for everyone. As a bonus, if you want to support public lands access (don’t we all?) try out the Campfire S’mores flavor, as 10% of those sales are donated to Conservation Alliance’s Public Lands Defense Fund. Also it’s delicious, so there’s that too.

If caffeine3 is your thing, Jet Blackberry and Espresso Love have 40mg per packet, with many other flavors also containing smaller amounts.

Honey Stinger

Honey Stinger gels are pretty much what you would think they would be: honey, with added vitamins and electrolytes. The notable addition that you get from Honey Stinger and not from the others is the presence of B vitamins, which play various roles including conversion of foods into energy, aiding in digestion, and boosting immune response. They also have very high potassium levels. Also of note, for those who prefer a 100% plant-based diet like myself, Honey Stinger makes one of the few gels that does not fit the bill. For this reason, it doesn’t make it into my standard line-up.

Huma

So you don’t like gels, you say. The texture is weird. They don’t taste good. They leave a funny sticky feeling in your mouth. Whatever your complaint, throw it out the window, because Huma has taken gels to the next level by doing the obvious: using real fruit and real sugars, mixing in the necessary electrolytes, using ground chia as a binder, and making a magical concoction that tastes like a smoothie and works like an energy gel. This was by far my favorite gel of everything I tested, in both taste and function. It contains far more sodium than any of the other gels (although this varies widely by flavor) and the berry pomegranate flavor (my favorite) contains extra sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. It’s the most comprehensive electrolyte blend I have seen in any gel, and in my experience, it works.

 


In the wide, wide world of endurance nutrition products, it’s hard to sort out the differences sometimes. The products I’ve mentioned are a very small glimpse into some of the options out there, and a starting point for how to differentiate between them. I hope you have fun experimenting on your own and creating your personalized endurance fueling plan.

 

A note on extra sodium: for particularly long, particularly hot days that involve a lot of sweat, it is extremely important to make sure you are replenishing your electrolyte stores. Along with Potassium, Sodium is the most critical electrolyte to replenish because of its role in allowing the body to maintain fluid balance. Basically, you can drink all the water you want, but your body wants to maintain a certain level of salinity in its extracellular fluids. If you don’t have the sodium to maintain that balance with the water you are taking in, you won’t be able to make any use of that water. I have experienced this in races, and it is awful. It is worth figuring out what level of sodium balance in your nutrition works best for you, and fortunately, there are a whole lot of different products with different levels of the stuff.

Maltodextrin is contained in many nutrition products for athletes. It’s purpose is to simultaneously serve as a sweetener and a thickener. It is worth mentioning that for some athletes it can cause stomach irritation. Experiment with different products to see if you notice such a pattern for yourself.

3All three gels I have reviewed here, as well as nearly every other one in existence and many of the chews as well, have flavors available that contain caffeine. Determine for yourself if this is something that benefits you or not. Personally, I have experimented with it in shorter events from time to time and noticed little difference in performance, but if you are a caffeine fiend, by all means go for it.

Race Report: Great White North Half

Race Report: Great White North Half

This past weekend brought, barring some bout of spontaneity, my longest-distance and probably most competitive triathlon of the season. For a few years, I have heard tell of the Great White North Triathlon as a somewhat off-the-radar race to the north, impeccably organized with a generous prize purse, fast but accurate course, excellent post-race food, you know, all the things that make a race awesome. So this year, I decided to give it a whirl.

Since my travel buddy for the weekend ended up unable to race due to chronic injury issues, I made the trip alone. I left on Friday morning, and ten long hours later, I was pulling into the driveway of the house in Spruce Grove, Alberta where I would be spending the next couple nights. Spruce Grove is about 30 minutes west of downtown Edmonton, and about 10 minutes from the small town of Stony Plain, the site of the race. Since I was traveling solo and would definitely be in need of a good couple nights sleep after that much driving, I had decided to book a room through Airbnb, which worked out splendidly. My host, Monique, was very helpful, giving me advice on where to go eat, a good place to go for a run in the morning, and even cooking dinner. Her four cats were also very friendly. The housing situation made for a very relaxed couple days of race prep, which I was very thankful for.

I got some rest Friday night, opting out of the early race check-in and pasta feed, since I would have had to hurry over to Stony Plain in more of a rush than I preferred. Instead, I checked in on Saturday. Since packet pickup began at 11:00, I had plenty of time in the morning to get a run in and get all my assorted gear in order. By the time I had picked up my packet, dropped off my bike, checked out the swim course and transitions, I felt ready to go.

If you’ve been following my adventures this spring and summer, you know that I had a bit of a setback in May, forcing me to drop out of my first planned long course race of the season and lose several weeks of training, in addition to psychologically getting back into the mode of riding bikes fast. Sometimes, though, a setback like that is just what you need, and I am glad to be back to racing and training in full force. Going into the weekend, the only lingering injury from that accident was a bit of intermittent pain in my shoulder, which was pretty mild and would only show up occasionally. That said, I had gone for a total of one swim since the accident, and it was two weeks before this race, just to make sure that I could in fact swim without severe shoulder pain. I could feel it slightly that day, but by race day, it was barely noticeable.

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The swim start. I am visible on the far right, in the blue-sleeved Orca Alpha wetsuit. Photo by Ken Anderson Photography.

The swim start took place on a wide beach and was an 800-person mass start. Mass starts with that many people can tend to be a bit crazy, so I tried to get out pretty quick so as not to get too caught up in the mass of wetsuit-clad humanity.

In the swim, I felt way better than I thought I would due to my complete lack of swim fitness. I got in a groove, starting out with a big group and gradually hopping from one pair of feet to the next, moving through the field and feeling confident. I still came out of the water several minutes back of the leaders, but considering the circumstances I was okay with it. Official swim time: 29:02.

In my first transition, I realized that it has been a little while since I did an open water triathlon. I got to the wetsuit strippers and still did not have my sleeves off, so I spent some time fumbling with that, then proceeded to drop my goggles and swim cap out of the sleeve when I ran off, which a volunteer kindly picked up for me. All in all, if T1 is the most disappointing part of the race, I think that is okay. Official T1 time: 1:15.

As soon as I got out of T1 and hopped aboard my Orbea Ordu TT bike (read my review of the bike here), I felt at home. I began moving my way through the field comfortably, and enjoyed the small rolling hills. The two-lap course took us north on the highway over what amounted to a net climb, then descent to the turnaround. We then repeated in reverse on the way back, totaling four climbs, none of which were too substantial.

On lap two, I got to a point where I stopped passing people, and was engaging in a little back-and-forth with a couple other racers. This kept me focused, but I did start to notice that late in the descents, the extra weight on my arms caused my shoulder to flare up a bit, right where it had been hurt from my accident. In the last five or six miles, it started to get much more painful, and I had to sit up and shake it out a few times. After each short shake-out session, I put my head down and did my best to focus and keep putting out as much power as I could, and I ended up holding it together pretty well, riding my second lap about a minute faster than my first. I believe I came off the bike in 14th place. Official bike time: 2:23:09.

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Out on the bike course, en route to a solid bike split while sporting scars on my knee and back from my crash back in May. Photo by Ken Anderson Photography.

T2 went much better than T1. I smoothly got off the bike and moved through transition relatively seamlessly, trying my best to keep my focus and psychological momentum going. I got edged out for the fastest transition time in the field by the eventual women’s champion, but I did put together a solid second place in that ever-important competition, 1.9 seconds back. Official T2 time: 57 seconds.

This only being my second triathlon of the year, and not having done any brick workouts, I felt a little rough around the edges in the first half mile or so of the run. Fortunately though, after that my legs started to sort themselves out. I have been doing much more running than anything this season, so I knew if I was going to do well that was my ace in the hole. I just made a point of holding a pace I knew would get me a time somewhere in the 1:26 range, which was manageable. I figured if I felt better, I could pick it up on the second lap, but I really wanted to avoid imploding at 5k and having to suffer through 10 miles.

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Early on in the run, getting my stride back. Photo by Ken Anderson Photography.

Well, when I got to the second lap and thought about trying to find that next gear, it wasn’t really there. I was able to hold the pace I had done for the first lap, and the encouraging part was that I was still moving up in the field. It was clear that I would not move up far enough to crack the top 5, but I made it a point to pick off as many people as I could, and to hold off a couple guys who appeared to be bearing down on me from behind.

With about 1k to go, I glanced back on a corner to see Devin Wittig, a pro who had had some trouble on the bike and was on a mission to gain as much back as he could on the run. I had no clue what place I was in, and I was hoping to be able to coast through the finish, but when it comes down to that close of a race, one has to do one’s best to hold off any attacks. I kicked it into gear, used the momentum from a slight downhill to propel me to the finish, and managed to hold my spot through the line. Official run time: 1:26:53

My overall finish was 4:21:17, good enough for 8th place and a long course PR.

Next up is the one race every year in which I participate without racing. I will be leading the 3:20 pace group at the Missoula Marathon on Sunday, which is always a fun and rewarding venture. From there, it’s on to my homecoming race, the Tiger Triathlon next weekend!

I hope everyone’s having a great summer. See you out there on the roads, trails, and maybe even assorted bodies of water if I get ambitious later this summer!

Bike Review: Orbea Ordu OMP

Bike Review: Orbea Ordu OMP

It’s been a minute or two (actually almost exactly 50 thousand; yeah, I calculated that) since I last posted anything on this here page, but I assure you there are good reasons.

For one, the Garden City Triathlon happened eleven days ago, and in case you weren’t aware, that is the one race a year that I direct.. I am glad to be able to be involved with the Garden City Tri, as it helps out Montana Campus Compact and our local triathlon community (via Team Stampede), but it turns out that putting on a triathlon can pretty much just suck the life out of you for a while.

Between my recovery from that and, leading up to it, my recovery from previous incidents, I’ve been doing a lot of physical and mental recovering. Fortunately, the mental recovering involves a fair amount of physical activity. That has taken many forms, but most notably, I have finally gotten a chance to get out and get some quality interval training in on my time trial bike the last couple weeks. As such, I figure now is as good a time as any to tell you all about the new time trial bike I am on this year.

Like anyone who fancies themselves a cyclist, I am picky about my bikes. I am especially picky about time trial bikes, and there are a lot of characteristics that are absolutely critical to making a good time trial bike. Enter the 2016 Orbea Ordu OMP (Orbea Monocoque Performance) frame.

Complete Bike
Here it is, in all its glory!

Before I ever got out and rode this bike, I got to know it really well in the shop. After ordering up the M30 model, which comes with a mechanical Ultegra drivetrain, I made the decision to upgrade it to Shimano’s Di2 group. Who doesn’t want buttons instead of shifters? Anyway, the Di2 shifting is a whole other review (spoiler alert: it’s awesome), but right now I will stick to the features of the frame.

In building the bike, I got to take a good look at the cable routing and the Di2 battery storage system. It’s all very clean (read: aerodynamic) and impressively thought out. Historically, your bike mechanic will probably curse your name every time they have to work on your TT bike, and I won’t go so far as to say this is an exception to that rule, but they certainly did make some improvements from the previous model (and virtually all other time trial bikes on the market).

Most notably, the rear brake is not longer a proprietary brake hidden under the bottom bracket. If you’ve ridden a TT bike made between about 2008 and 2015, there’s a good chance you are familiar with a wonderfully spongy rear brake that sometimes works great, and sometimes just decides it is more content to rub on your rim halfway through a race. Well, that’s gone. You still get an aero brake caliper, but it is mounted above the wheel, has no funky twists and turns in the cable, and works like a dream. It is delightful.

The Di2 battery mount is pretty slick. It removes from a compartment directly in front of the rear wheel, which sits above the bottom bracket. There is plenty of room in the frame in that area for routing wires, and the excess material around the bottom bracket shell has added aerodynamic benefit as well.

BB Area
Sleek internal battery storage, and aero frame design.

Speaking of aerodynamic benefits, let’s talk about that funny-looking fork. In the area surrounding the wheel of your bike, there is a lot of turbulence cause by the wheel’s rotation, especially around the spokes. The idea behind the “free-flow” fork is that it brings the fork legs further away from the wheel, and therefore out of that turbulence, allowing the air to slip by more smoothly. I haven’t personally had the bike in a wind tunnel, but I can tell you that it sure feels fast.

Front view
The view from the front. Note all the space around the wheel.

 

Perhaps the most important aerodynamic advantage you can get on a bike, of course, is your fit. Orbea didn’t overlook this in finding ways to improve their design either.Since the stem is not proprietary, there are as many options for different fit situations in the front end as there are stems on the market, and it is all easy to swap out as needed. On both the stem and the seatpost, Orbea went away from the monolink design that they had on the 2013-2015 Ordu OMR frame. Personally, I thought there was promise in the monolink system, but it required very specific torque specs, an adapter if you wanted to use a standard saddle, and a complete inability to use a standard stem. The current system is much less proprietary, and much easier to adjust with basic knowledge, tools, and the parts available at pretty much any bike shop. What this means is that, even if your mechanic still might curse a little bit when you bring your bike in, your fitter will be very happy. For many of you, dear readers, that is me, so I appreciate the steps that Orbea has taken to make my life easier.

Stem
Di2 routing and stem mounting is pretty simple. And hey, I can even fit my Garmin mount on my stem (barely).

And speaking of making lives easier, how about all those bottle cage mounts? There are four, count ’em, four sets of bolts for mounting all manner of stuff to your frame. This is not counting an aero-bar mounted bottle. You can easily run your top-tube mounted bento box and three water bottles if you want, or if you run tubulars, there’s a convenient spot for a can of Pit Stop behind the seat tube. Be creative! These details make this a great bike for racing Ironman races, because when you’re on the bike for anywhere between 4 and 8 hours, you need to be able to carry a lot of stuff.

Custom
Creative ways to mount a can of Pit Stop are always fun to come up with. I cut off the sides of an old bottle cage, then used a velcro strap to secure it.

My overall takeaway on the new Ordu OMP: it is a bike that has the ride characteristics of a triathlon superbike (reasonably light and stiff, and uncompromising in aerodynamics), but is substantially more user-friendly than most bikes at this level. I am impressed with how easy it is to make adjustments and to carry all the gear you need for training or racing. The frame also has the smooth ride that I felt was characteristic of the older OMR frame, so after hours in the saddle, it keeps you comfortable.

The Ordu OMP comes in four different builds, ranging from the 6800 series Ultegra at $4299, all the way up to the flagship Dura-Ace Di2 build, which sells for $8999. The three higher-priced builds all come with Vision carbon race wheels, which is a huge upgrade if you are not already riding something similar. For the triathlete who doesn’t demand every second of uncompromising aerodynamics, there is the option of the OME (Orbea Monocoque Evolution) frame. This frame is less expensive, but has many of the same features, and is offered in three builds, ranging from the Shimano 5800 series 105 Build at $2299 to a Di2 build for $3999.

Hopefully this has been informative for some of you out there, and next time you’re in the market for a new race bike, I highly recommend considering one of Orbea’s offerings. You can find out more about them, watch some videos, and check out all the models here.

For anyone who happens to live in Missoula, I will be leading a Time Trial interval workout this evening, and also next Wednesday evening (June 22nd). Meet at 6pm at Missoula Bicycle Works. Not only will you get to check out this sweet bike in person, but you will get a great workout too.

Happy riding everyone!

Forced Reset

Forced Reset

I, like many of you, love riding bikes. It is, in many ways, part of what defines me as a person. I ride mountain bikes, road bikes, triathlon bikes, cyclocross bikes. I like to race, testing my abilities against others and against myself. Sometimes I like to ride fast for no other reason than to feel the muscles in my legs getting perpetually closer to the breaking point. Sustaining effort becomes an ever more monumental task, and I reach for the superhuman feeling that comes from holding that effort as long as possible, before finally imploding to the point where putting any pressure at all on the pedals seems nearly impossible.

I also like to ride slow. I like to converse with my fellow riders, teach new riders the mechanics of riding in a pace line, look at the scenery and goof around. I like to zip through the woods at breakneck speed, I like to climb mountains on my bike, and I like to cover astounding amounts of ground on the open road, appreciating with every pedal stroke the brilliant engineering that allows me to do so under my own power.

As we are all reminded from time to time, though, this wonderful activity that we enjoy so much can turn against us pretty quickly, and always unexpectedly.

It was a gravel road, in a group of about 15 riders. There are a couple downhill corners where the group can really pick up speed, and we did just that. We flew around the first left-hand corner without incident, and banked into the second one, a right-hander with poor visibility. I was near the back, and on the left side (outside) of the group. Missing the smooth tire track on the far right, I got caught in the loose gravel nearer to the center of the road. Not wanting to slide out and take out other riders, I stayed wide, which is a great option if there are no cars coming the other direction. As it happened, though, this time there was an SUV with very poor timing headed up the road. My GPS track shows that I was going 32.9 miles per hour when I saw the car, at which point I quickly assessed my options. Swinging left would put me into a gully with a barbed wire fence, assuming I made it around the car to begin with, which would have been unlikely. Swinging right was out of the question, with the gravel and my current trajectory. I locked up the brakes and hoped for the best.

“The best” ended up being me having to tell the driver to back up after she got out of the car, so that I could un-wedge myself from under her bumper. Not entirely the outcome I had hoped for, but it could have been worse…

As it turned out, I suffered a substantial amount of road rash, some whiplash, a small pang in my right knee, a sore elbow and shoulder, and some dizziness upon standing. No broken bones, no lost memory. After laying low and not doing anything for three days, I was able to get out and get back to my life. All things considered, I am counting my lucky stars and trying to use the experience as a reminder in the future. I will, however, be off the bike for a couple weeks. I am also unable to run or swim, so the extent of my daily exercise at the moment is walking to and from work. I’m taking the opportunity to slow down, smell the lilacs, watch the birds flitting around on the riverbank on my way through town. Also I’ve been doing some reading, and sitting on the front porch a lot more than I usually do.

Wounds
A whole lot of road rash and my well-earned Montana Hell Ride tank top.

Sometimes that slowing down is necessary, and I usually don’t do it without being forced to. Occasionally, I can get carried away, just trying to keep up, and lose the clarity that comes with going a little slower. And maybe, just maybe, an SUV comes around the corner and puts me in my place.

With much reluctance, I’m skipping my next planned race, the Troika long course triathlon in Spokane on May 21st. By the time June rolls around, though, I should be ready to get back after it.

Until next time, stay safe out there.

Grizzly Tri 2016

Grizzly Tri 2016

Triathlons in Montana can be pretty inconsistent as far as level of competition is concerned. With a relatively small population to draw from, most races just don’t have the depth that you see often in more populated areas. There is, however, one annual exception, where the triathletes come out of the woodwork in search of a spring proving ground, to figure out how their winter training has worked out. The Grizzly Triathlon always seems to draw a pretty solid field of racers.

This year, though, some key perennial powerhouses were missing from the start list. Last year’s champion, Dylan Gillespie of Bozeman, was out through the winter due to injury. Runner-up Kory Burgess is a new dad and hasn’t had the time to get in triathlon training. Matt Seeley broke his hand in a mountain bike accident several days prior to the event. Andy Drobeck decided to sit out the Griz this year. Elliot Bassett would be out of town for the weekend. Out-of-state champs Ben Hoffman and Matt Lieto wouldn’t be there. On the women’s side, Amanda Hunter was on the start list, but planned to drop out after the bike due to injury. Erika Ackerlund was busy kicking everyone’s butts at Collegiate Nationals. No Linsey Corbin or Jen Leubke. The favorites were dropping like flies.

On the men’s side what we were left with were five racers who could conceivably contend for this year’s title.

Brendan Halpin, of The Cycling House, always strong, would be racing the Rocky Mountain Roubaix in the morning before the afternoon start at the Griz, and also had not been swimming for quite a few months. Those two factors put him essentially out of contention. He did win the “most miles ridden” division for the day.

Evan Eck, of Helena, has always been strong late-season and in open water races, but has yet to have a breakthrough race at the early-season Grizzly Tri. He has always been competitive, but usually not quite vying for the podium.

Nick Dorsett, from MSU’s triathlon team, is often a strong runner, and is capable of a good swim split. Historically, he has had a bit of work to do on his cycling to become a contender.

Daniel Mazza races for the UM triathlon team. Both Dan and Nick are young racers, and they have both gradually worked their way into the “top contenders” category over the last couple years. Dan I knew would be tough this year, as he has been riding very well all spring. He is also always a strong swimmer. If I had any chance against him, it would have to come down to the run.

In the swim, I did my best to start out conservatively and stay smooth. I succeeded in those goals, but the problem was, I wasn’t going fast enough. Last year, I went through the halfway point of the swim in 5:46, which seemed too fast, but was encouraging. This year…6:08. Dan was swimming my lane, and he started to pull away from me about 500 yards in. I tried to respond and just didn’t have the extra gear. Evan was just ahead of him in the next lane over. Meanwhile, on the other side of me, Nick was in a lane with a 16-year old high school swimmer named Darragh Mahns, and they were both wiping the floor with all of us.

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Early on in the swim.

I ended up coming out of the water in 12:33, 46 seconds slower than last year, with Evan and Dan not too far ahead. Nick took a little extra time in transition despite out-swimming all of us by at least 30 seconds, so we were able to catch him in the first couple miles of the bike.

I am on a new bike this year, and it is a big change from the old one. I will be posting a review shortly of my impressions of the new Orbea Ordu OMP frame, which boasts a whole lot of interesting changes from their past designs. Since this was only my third ride on the new bike (and my third ride on a time trial bike period in the last 7 months), I am still getting settled in on it. Regardless, you can check out some of the cool features of this bike here.

Some shuffling took place in the opening miles as we passed a couple faster swimmers, and after some passing and re-passing, it ended up shaking out with Dan and Evan out front with a bit of a gap, Nick riding in third, and me just trying to keep everyone within striking distance. Meanwhile, Brendan had come out of the water a little over two minutes behind me, and was working his way through the field.

I had not anticipated Nick and Evan riding as fast as they were, which was nerve-wracking because I knew they could both be strong runners on the right day.

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Headed off the bike in 4th place.

Dan came off the bike first, but struggled in transition. He and Evan headed onto the run course together. About a minute later, I was able to pass Nick in transition and we also headed onto the run together.

Nick took off fast on the run, on a mission to hunt down either or both of the two guys ahead. He blew by me and I did what I could to stay within striking distance. When we got to the long straightaway maybe half a mile into the run, we could see Evan pulling away, and Dan losing ground. I started to feel comfortable with the pace. My running mileage has been great this year. I passed Nick right before the big hill about a mile in, and tried to stay in my comfort zone up the hill. I could tell Nick was struggling, and just before the top of the hill, he dropped off the pace. Then I was alone to try and chase down Dan. Evan was clearly running away with the victory.

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Early on in the run, chasing down MSU’s Nick Dorsett.

At the turnaround, Dan was around 25 seconds ahead of me, and it seemed I was gaining fast. I dug deep. He dug deep, too. It got harder to close the gap. I scraped back a second or two here and there, but there wasn’t enough time. With half a mile to go, it became a reality that he would hold on to second through the finish. I cruised my way in. By the time I got to the finish, the gap was 19 seconds. Nick held on for fourth, and Brendan did end up working through the field to secure 5th place. On the women’s side, Sue Huse cruised to an easy victory with no serious challengers.

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Hashing out battle stories post-race. rockin my super comfy and stylish Orca Core briefs. Always show as much skin as possible at the Griz, even if it’s cold.

And with that, another year in the books. Final finish: 3rd place, 1:02:42. Certainly not my fastest time, but I’ll take what I can get. I suspect my longer-distance fitness is a bit better, so I look forward to testing it out at the Troika Half on May 21st. In between, looking forward to the Montana Hell Ride and Bloomsday this weekend. Stackin’ em up!

Speedwagon Classic 2016 Race Report

Speedwagon Classic 2016 Race Report

This past weekend served as my season opener as far as cycling races are concerned. The Speedwagon Classic is a Montana road race if there ever was one. Unsanctioned, largely unadvertised, more than half the course is on loose gravel roads. It checks off all the boxes. News of the race is spread largely by word of mouth.

Speedwagon is a training race, a testing ground for everybody to see how their spring fitness stacks up. It is held in the beautiful Mission Valley and put on by the quintessential mainstay of Montana endurance racing, Matt Seeley.

Missions
If you take a camera and wave it around somewhere in the Mission Valley, chances are you’ll end up with a photo that looks something like this. Don’t look up too much or you’ll slide out on the gravel and it will be unpleasant.

This year, we had the good fortune of having freshly graded roads for a good portion of the course. This meant, essentially, inch-deep gravel for about 20 of the 50 miles. Looking back, I would have been substantially better off on my cyclocross tubulars, but I had only brought one set of wheels, and my tire choice was the Challenge Strada Bianca, 700x30c, on my Rolf Prima Aspin SL wheels. I rode my trusty 2012 Orbea Terra cyclocross bike. Unfortunately, it is not made anymore, but certainly the fastest cross bike I’ve ridden.

The Strada Bianca is named for the white gravel roads of Tuscany, and they did surprisingly well on the soul-sucking gravel roads of Polson, Montana. After a paved roll-out, the Speedwagon course this year routed us onto a rutted two-track along a canal about five miles in, and that’s where the first mini-break took place. I only had two MBW racing teammates in the race, Luke and Peter, and after we made it through the canal section, I found out Peter had flatted in the first mile on the pavement. Luke and I both found ourselves in the front pack after the canal, which was still a pretty good-sized group (probably 15 or so riders).

At the next gravel section, though, things started to thin out. I found myself in a group of about nine, struggling to hang on through the rougher gravel sections, and relaxing a bit on the paved sections. Most of the field had opted for low-profile cross tires.

We made it past “Elliot’s corner” where Elliot Bassett slid out three years ago and I went down with him. Fortunately, we both finished the race, but not without leaving a fair amount of blood on the course. It’s at about mile 13, and is followed by a steep, rocky climb. That’s where the pace really picked up, and riders dropped off one by one. Through a gravel descent that was the fastest part of the course, past a couple 90-degree corners, and up the next climb, which was the location of the Apple Hill Prime, where two 20 dollar bills are held out by Matt’s daughters, and the men’s and women’s leaders have to grab them as they ride by. Toby got the prime, and several miles later, our pack had dwindled to five.

That was how it stayed until the final climb. Matt, Toby, Orion, David, and me. I did my best to hold on, and did get dropped in a couple of the looser gravel sections, only to bridge back up to the group when it got smoother. Matt joked about having a yo-yo as a prize for the rider who gets dropped and comes back the most, which I would surely have won.

In the end, we did hit the final climb, the one-mile slog up R.E.O. Hill to the finish, as a group, and Matt made the first move. Toby went with him, with Orion not far behind. David didn’t seem to have much left. I had even less. I watched helplessly as Toby made his move and didn’t look back, opening up a widening gap on Matt, who was being hotly pursued by Orion. In the end, Toby made it to the line with a comfortable gap, earning the win a year after a flat relegated him to third place.

Matt managed to hold off Orion by a bike length for second, and David and I grunted through in fourth and fifth.

Since most of the riders behind us had been riding solo the vast majority of the race, we had built up a huge gap on the rest of the field. Here are final results:

SpeedwagonClassic16results

And just like that, another season of racing has begun. Looking forward to it. Still working on getting my time trial bike built up, and then I can’t wait to hit the road on that thing.

Of mountains and politics. And more mountains.

Of mountains and politics. And more mountains.

Once again, perhaps predictably, several months have passed since any words have been published to this here site. I’m going to blame my record-breaking streak of blog neglect on a combination of factors. Every time I sit down I feel that I get sucked into another article about a certain presidential candidate inciting violence and racism, then of course I have to veer left for a bit and read some articles about who is going to get the distinguished honor of walloping said candidate in November. After I convince myself that Bernie still has a chance, I spend some time scrolling my Facebook feed, which confirms this conclusion, because Facebook is just one big soup of confirmation bias. I’ll take what I can get. While I’m on my political streak, I check in to see how the Supreme Court nomination process is going. Congress still not doing their job. Cool. I’ll check back in a few days and see if anything’s changed. Oh hey, and might as well check on the governor’s re-election bid. Not too much on that though, still pretty early. It’s tough to get anything done in an election year, right?

Switching gears, I scroll through some other blogs that I like to read from time to time, take a look at some bicycle eye candy, and when I finally splash over to my WordPress site, I decide it needs some updating. I put up my 2016 race schedule, add a few photos to the site, and move things around a little to freshen it up. There are many paths to effective procrastination, many of which can be viewed as productive in their own way.

My favorite kind of procrastination, though, is going outside and climbing a damn mountain. This technique is unique in its ability to kill an entire day, produce excellent memories and sometimes photographs, promote fitness, and expand one’s geographical horizons, literally and figuratively.

Stark Mountain
Descending Stark Mountain a couple weeks ago with Forrest, Sequoia, Kava, and Quasar. There were several face plants by everyone, including the dogs. Photo by Kailee Carnes.
20160102_154514
Starting the year right. On top of Mount Sentinel on January 2nd. Photo by Kailee Carnes.

It was a great winter of adventuring, and even some racing. I participated for the first time in the Runners Edge Treadmill Challenge, which was about as brutal of a 10-minute race as I can ever imagine. I also raced my second OSCR 50k nordic ski race, cracking the top 10 this year in my second skate race. Add that to the inaugural Snowbowl Rando Radness Randonee series, the Missoula Telemark Challenge race series, and a few good trips into the backcountry, and it was a busy winter sliding on snow. Kava also ran her second half marathon at the Snow Joke at the end of February, setting an 8-minute PR and winning the canine division in 1:30!

That said, I am excited for spring! My run mileage is higher and more productive than ever, and with a new bike on the way (see previous link), I am excited to get out on the road and see what the season has in store. This will be my third season racing on the Orbea Ordu, and I couldn’t be more excited to try out the re-designed OMP frame.

Wednesday night “Wednesday Worlds” group rides have started up already, and Monday night casual rides will start up next week (April 4th). For those of you who are in Missoula and want to join in on these rides, both meet at Missoula Bicycle Works at 6pm.

There, I did it. I successfully wrote a whole blog post (albeit a short one) without checking in on the election news. Until next time, keep adventuring, and don’t forget to vote!