Saturday, August 18, 2007

Website plug: Yoga Art and Science

I just randomly stumbled upon this website: Yoga Art & Science. It looks fantastic. I wish I'd found it sooner. The focus of the site is on aiding people in developing a home practice, and the author, Witold Fitz-Simon, is a pretty serious Iyengar practitioner and teacher. The site's blog has excellent book recommendations, videos of master yogis demonstrating various poses, and, best of all, practice sequences. The ones I've glanced through so far have me excited to try them.

On top of that, Mr. Fitz-Simon has spent some serious time, it would seem, photographing himself demonstrating a large number of poses, hunting down illustrations for others, and writing up instructions for all of them. This is an invaluable resource, especially in conjunction with Yoga Journal's Pose Reference, also an incredible resource available for free.

He's also written up a whole multi-section portion of the site on props, describing every common prop and its use, demonstrating a bunch of prop-modified poses himself.

Maybe this'll finally motivate me to really start a more regular home practice. At any rate, if you have any interest in yoga at all, this is among the best online resources I've found for it, so far.



I've had this problem for a while now: When I exercise, be it cycling, swimming, or even yoga, I'll often find myself later in the day developing spontaneous muscle cramps.

Essentially, it's any prolonged endurance sport, but oddly it doesn't matter the pace. I went on a ride with Kristine to Buda and focused on keeping a gentle pace, spinning the pedals at a high cadence with relatively low load (it's really good for my knees) but even then, later in the day I was sitting and playing a board game and one of my hamstrings seized up. I spent the next ten or twenty seconds trying to act like everything was OK while straightening my leg very slowly under the table.

This has been going on for a while. I know cramps are usually caused by electrolyte imbalances, but I think I eat a reasonable amount of salt in my diet. Before exercising I usually have some carbohydrates that inevitably include some sodium, and if it's anything of any serious intensity or duration, I'll bring a bottle of energy drink, and I pick brands that have more sodium than most, because I know my sweat is saltier than average. After exercising, my skin is like a salt lick. But I just didn't think that could be the problem.

I started stretching after exercise, a little yoga sequence that thoroughly stretches the legs, shoulders, and hips. It didn't really seem to help a whole lot.

Finally, on a whim, after a challenging ride, I put 2 whole tablespoons of salt in my protein shake. It tasted absolutely revolting, but lo and behold, no cramps.

Ian suggested salt tablets, so I googled around, looking for information on athletes taking sodium supplements. I discovered that a state of sodium deficiency is called hyponatremia, and leads to headache, cramps, and malaise. Bingo. But the websites said that hyponatremia is not a condition normally experienced as a result of normal exercise, and that rarely do athletes need to explicitly supplement their diets with additional sodium.

Nonetheless, I've been drinking a glass of salt water (maybe a tablespoon of salt or slightly less) after all substantial exercise and the cramping is gone, as are the headaches I always just assumed were normal, a result of the heat, or neck strain, or something. I guess not! I know my mother has a thyroid disease that she takes medication for, and one of its symptoms is an increased craving for -- and legitimate physiological need for -- more sodium in her diet. And thyroid disease is congenital. Maybe I have a mild case of that.

Come to think of it, I've always suffered from cold extremities due to low blood pressure, and I've always heard an excess of sodium is correlated with increased blood pressure, so maybe that's related, too.

On the upside, I don't need to worry about moderating my sodium consumption.

Now, if only there were an analogous condition for a deficiency of ice cream. And if only I suffered from it.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Next up is Gangrene

I can't seem to not be injured these days. My knee rehab went well, and now I'm cycling just fine again, but then there was that fall with the road rash, which has finally fully scabbed over after 2 weeks. Yesterday was the first day I didn't have to tape gauze dressing over it just so I could wear, you know, pants.

Naturally, then, it's time for something new. Climbing on Wednesday, my right big toe was hurting, the toenail was getting ingrown, so I trimmed it, but by the end of the night my foot really hurt. It's been throbbing and painful ever since. I finally went in with my Leatherman to take care of the problem (the Leatherman was step 1; if it failed, Step 2 was ready to go in the shed.)

The Leatherman reconnaissance revealed that it's gotten infected. I'll spare you the details, but there's some pus. It's kind of gross. No wonder my toe's felt like it was going to explode for the past couple days. I'm hoping some careful trimming, sterilization, and Neosporin + Band-Aid will take care of the problem because I'll feel really silly if I end up having to take oral antibiotics to solve a toe-related injury from tight climbing shoes.


Sunday, July 1, 2007


I went riding with Kent and Kristine today. Our goal was a ride of 40 miles. I plotted one out on Bikely, and came up with something pretty decent, so we gave it a shot. The weather looked like it would hold up.

It didn't. 30 miles in it started pouring very briefly as we got to Dacy Ln & Bebee road. There was a school right at the intersection, so we darted under the school's front awning to avoid getting soaked. It passed quickly, so we kept moving.

I related to them a story about my friend Steve riding his fixie on a wet parking lot, and his conclusion that even with wet roads and thin tires, you still have quite a bit of traction. Don't worry, I meant to say, we'll be fine.

About 3 minutes later, I took a turn on Dacy Ln a little too fast and felt my bike tires lose traction as I leaned into the turn. I don't remember exactly what I did then, but I managed to get my feet unclipped before hitting the ground and my bike slid to the side as I slid on my left thigh and elbow down the wet, slick road. I stood up, feeling the road rash, and expecting the worst. I only had a first-aid kit for bikes, not humans. I could patch a tire, but not skin!

Elbow Road RashI checked and saw blood on my elbow, but I rinsed it with my water bottle and it was nothing major. I rinsed some dirt off my leg and everything looked O.K.

My bike shorts were a bit roughed up and had a new hole in them. Hmm. I peeled them back and saw that my left thigh had taken the brunt of the abrasion:

Thigh Road RashThis happened through the shorts, and is about 3 inches in diameter. It's going to be really pretty in a few days, I'll bet. I'll try to take some more photos if it ends up especially lovely.

My bike, impressively, was totally fine. Not even a scratch on the frame, and no visible damage other than a little shredded handlebar grip tape.

I hopped back on, and when we got to Buda I left them and sprinted the last 15 miles home to try to get something antibacterial on the road rash before it was too late. I haven't ever fallen while road biking before, so all my biking rash came from mountain biking, and that stuff can be bad. You get back home, hop in the shower, and spend a half hour slowly and painstakingly scraping dirt and splinters out of your skin to prevent infection.

Luckily this road was free of sand and grit, and my shorts were between me and the road, so it wasn't anything like that, and was pretty painless.

But it still looks kind of like raw hamburger.


Saturday, June 16, 2007


I've never been a lap swimmer. I grew up with a pool, but we mostly played Marco Polo and other games, got those weighted rings that stand up on the bottom of the pool and swam through them, tried to see how many sticks we could pick up without surfacing for air, that kind of thing. But I never was any good at freestyle swimming, let alone anything harder like the butterfly.

I had to swim freestyle for high-school phys ed, and I dreaded it. Even now I can visualize the high school pool with its eerie green light and the echoes of feet slapping on the tile and the over-chlorinated smell, and it makes me anxious. I really didn't enjoy that at all.

The last time I swam a lap was at Dartmouth, for my swim test my freshman year. I passed. Then I didn't swim another lap for a decade.

I went on a few dates with this guy who is a lifeguard, diver, and swimmer, and he agreed to teach me how to swim in exchange for me teaching him a thing or two about rock climbing. Then the dating didn't work out, but my curiosity was piqued. My friend Ali told me she was headed to Stacy Pool just a mile or so from my house to do some swimming for her upcoming triathlon, and I figured, hey, I've gotta start somewhere. Ali's friend Erik picked up some goggles for us on his way over and I was off and swimming.

That was a rough day. I'd swim a single lap, sputtering and choking my way along, and then have to stop, my heart going like a jackhammer. Then I'd wait several minutes and do another. My breathing was uncoordinated, my stroke was haphazard. Still, I enjoyed it! I could feel things coming together just a little bit, more than they ever had before.

Since that day I've been to Stacy pool three more times. Today I biked over and the pool was marvelously empty thanks to the looming rain clouds, and I had a lane to myself for much of the time. Over the week I've been reading a bunch of websites about proper freestyle form, and really focusing on paying attention while I swim.

Today something clicked. I swam over a mile, stopping only a handful of times. In less than twenty minutes I swam a full third of a mile without stopping!

I still struggle with breathing on my left side, so most of the swimming today I did breathing entirely to my right. I think the breathing thing has two components: first, it feels "wrong," like interlocking your fingers or crossing your legs the "wrong" way, so it's not as smooth, and once I start gasping for breaths it's all over. Second, alternating breathing means only taking a breath every three strokes, and my body really wants me breathing every other stroke right now.

I think the latter will get better in time, and the former will just take work. I swam a couple laps breathing entirely to my left side, and periodically switched for a few breaths during my longer distances, and I'll keep doing that every time I go there until it feels natural.

I credit my yoga practice with this dramatic turnaround, from hating swimming to enjoying it so much I chose it over climbing today. My body awareness has had a massive impact on my ability to pick up the swimming. I can pay attention simultaneously to what my legs are doing, what my torso is doing, and what both arms are doing, pivoting smoothly to breathe while also using as little energy as possible on the arm recovery, then pivoting back down and attentively drawing my other elbow as high as possible for its recovery. It just all feels much more natural, much less overwhelming than I remember.

Of course, now my problem is that I'm trying to simultaneously juggle cycling, bouldering, yoga, and swimming. It was hard enough with 3 sports. We'll see how it goes.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Loose jeans

Several years ago I weighed quite a bit more than I do now, somewhere around 235lbs. I lost 35 of those pounds and then for years, hovered at 200, a body fat of about 12-14%, a homeostasis my body was too happy to cling to. It almost doesn't matter what I do when I'm in that zone: I can overeat substantially without really gaining much (and if I do it's not hard to drop back down to that range) but conversely I can exercise and eat less and never really drop below 12%.

I finally decided, about a month ago, to get under 10%, ideally to around 8%. (The medically healthy lower limit for guys is about 6%, but I'm afraid that would just be untenable.) I started using BalanceLog again, a program essentially like Fit Day, tracking my exercise and food consumption, and being diligent about not overeating. I eat half my meals from restaurants, asking for to-go boxes as soon as I sit down and putting half the meal away right off the bat. I rarely snack on candy. I eat smaller portions.

The trick in dropping from an already relatively-low body fat percentage to something lower seems to be that I can never let myself feel hungry for long periods of time. If I do, well, first, I get frustrated and lose my will power, but second, my body stops burning fat, believing that I'm stuck on a desert island, starving. I've kept lots of carrots, celery, pickles, sugar-free popsicles & fudgsicles, and other low-calorie snacks around so I can graze whenever I feel like it, avoid that poverty mentality with food, but not add 400 calories a day to my diet just by snacking on candy and whatnot.

Finally, the exercise is crucial. If I do a 2-hour medium-intensity bike ride every weekend, that's about 1500 calories burned, which is another 200 calories I can eat every single day. Add in an intensive yoga class or two every week and a few hours of rock climbing and it lets me eat pretty generous amounts of food and still be running a calorie deficit.

OK, so it's been a month; how's it going? I'm pleased to report that last Tuesday after rock climbing, I went to change back into my favorite pair of jeans, the 33-waist Diesels that have historically been slightly snug on me, with the Kenneth Cole belt that has also been on the tight side, and with jeans buttoned and belt buckled, I was able to slide completely out of them.

On the one hand, it'd be nice if they didn't get too loose, because I'd really rather not have to buy another pair of those jeans, but on the other hand, what better reason to need new clothing?

I weighed in this evening at 193lbs and 10% body fat, my lowest body fat ever.

It's worth noting that this has hardly been a grueling process of self-denial. Sure, I've been eating less, and sure, I don't get to indulge quite like I used to, but I've still been to the Salt Lick and gorged on BBQ and pie, I've had ice cream on many occasions, I go to the Alamo and even get the occasional milkshake with my chicken strip basket. It's not like I'm starving to death over here. I think the key is, when you're tracking the food you eat in something like Fit Day that tells you calorie values for various foods, you build an intuition for the calorie content of things, and you can indulge more intelligently. The BBQ, for example, isn't outrageous. A few big slices of beef brisket is only a couple hundred calories. Take it easy on the sauce and plan on a little more exercise the next day, and everything works out just fine.

Plus, just like with personal finance, having good intuition leads to good habits, which then allow you to indulge without feeling guilty, because you know it'll add up. Before this, I'd overeat and just try not to think about it, just like I used to make impulse purchases and then feel palpable anxiety when I logged into my bank account online to see my balance. No longer!

I'm curious to see, when I get down to 8%, whether it's sustainable, whether my body recalibrates to the new percentage and lets me stay there, or whether it'll be like walking a tightrope, whether my body will eagerly bounce back to 12% the first chance I give it. I'm naturally hoping for the former, but this little undertaking was motivated half by curiosity, so if it turns out it's unsustainable, I won't be too crestfallen. I'll be happy just to have had the self-discipline to get there even for a week!


Monday, April 23, 2007


Okay, I did it. I rode the second day with Ali. We got to La Grange around 7:30pm and built a nest in the back of her Explorer. We slept in that for the night (it was surprisingly comfortable, the first time I've really appreciated an SUV) and woke up a bit later than we should have, at 6:45am. I naively assumed we could just suit up and start riding, but naturally with over ten thousand riders, things were a bit more complicated. "They've been lining up since 6am," a woman informed me, "And they're letting them go in waves of 500. So if you aren't already up there, you might as well hang out and have some coffee."

We had a couple cups of coffee and I ate two small pancakes, and then we suited up and rode out of there just after 8am. Unfortunately, this meant we were near the back with the slower riders, since the fast riders that know better and don't want to spend all day passing groups of people had shown up at 6am and left promptly at 7.

I've never been in a ride anywhere near this large. It was all on 2-lane roads, and our lane was just packed with riders. By the end, 4 hours later, it was a bit thinner, but for the entire ride, pretty much all we did was pass people. When it was particularly dense, we had to wait for any oncoming cars to pass so we could move into the oncoming traffic lane and sprint past groups of riders. Challenging, but still really fun.

I'm happy with how we did. We averaged 18.5mph plus a 15-minute stop at one of the rest stops to refill water bottles, use the port-o-lets, and get one of the medics to slather a little Biofreeze (aka Icy Hot aka Ben Gay aka any of that stuff) on my right knee, the one that has been cranky.

Speaking of the knee, I managed to figure out while riding that the swelling and tenderness were all due to my heel being turned very slightly in towards the bike. It's nice that the pain responds really quickly to adjustments, because I was able to experiment with different positions and find ones that felt better. By the end I was still feeling some tendinitis right above the kneecap, so I'm going to bump my seat up a tiny bit for next time and see if that helps. I'm really excited, though, that my knee is in much better shape after the MS150 ride than it was most of last week after the final couple training rides.

The MS150 ride was also the first ride where I used my shiny new Garmin Edge 305 cycling computer. It records freaking everything. It's a GPS receiver and a barometric altimeter, and comes with the heart-rate monitor chest strap and a speed & cadence sensor you mount on the bike. The end result? More data than you can shake a stick at. I've put it up online for the curious:
Overall, I'm really happy with how the ride went. Plus, I made some big strides in figuring out my knee pain, and am confident I can eliminate it entirely with some more adjustments and conditioning work, and that makes me even happier.

I already sent an email directly to my sponsors, but I'll thank them publicly here, too. I couldn't have done the ride without them (literally; they wouldn't have let me) but they also provided me with motivation, knowing that I was training for something more important than just getting in good shape.

Addendum: Lulu sent me this comic, randomly, and it reminded me of a phenomenon I notice every single time I ride, and promptly forget about. On all long rides, if I do not bring my mp3 player, I will notice at some point that I have a song stuck in my head. Not a good song. A random song from the darkest recesses of my subconscious, the kind of song that I'm shocked I even remember or know the words to. Worse yet, I usually know only the refrain or some short snippet, and so it loops, and loops, and loops in my head in time with the cadence of my pedals, but I cannot get it out and I cannot make it stop.

During the MS150 it was the refrain from the theme song to the Disney movie "Pocahontas." Seriously, I was shocked I even knew it, and dismayed to be spending brain cells remembering it. Stranger yet, I cannot recall the tune or lyrics consciously, on demand. It just kind of showed up, and then I couldn't forget it. No joke, that refrain looped in my head for a good hour and a half, all the way through the Bastrop State Park and down a good stretch of 71. Ridiculous.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

MS150 Update

I went to Austin Sports Med the other day to see my friend Dr. Elenz, who once palpated my knee for a similar injury, years ago. It was weird reading the sheet I filled out last time I was there in 2004: I had only quit smoking 4 months earlier and I weighed 20 pounds more than I do now. So at least some things are improving (my knees excluded.)

He palpated my knees again, twisted them this way and that, and finally pronounced them healthy. Well, probably not damaged, anyway. I'm having an MRI (expensive, yeowch, it'll eat my entire deductible for the year, which would be a good thing if I thought I'd have any other major medical work done this year) just to make sure there's no serious cartilage damage. Fundamentally, though, he said my injuries were just inflammation from overuse.

"The knee swells," he said, "That's just something it does."

"What about the MS150?" I asked, "If my knee is this sore from 25 miles and 60 miles, and the MS150 is 80 miles and 70 miles..."

He smiled. "Oh, you're going to be hurting, no question. But you won't do any permanent damage. Take anti-inflammatories and ice it a lot."

My doctor has officially given me permission to ride the MS150. And this is a guy who has a US Postal cycling jersey hanging in his office, signed by Kevin Livingston, with the message, "Dear Dr. Elenz - Thanks for getting me back in the saddle!" I kind of have to trust a guy whose devoted, grateful patients include professional cyclists for US Postal. The MS150 is hardly the Tour de France.

That said, my knee was still sore today, and I've been taking Aleve all week. I'm really kind of concerned about how bad it's going to be if I do the whole MS150. Ali (with whom I'm riding the second day) called today and offered an intriguing alternative, which is that I could drive out with her on Saturday and just ride the second day of the tour. I need to check with the officials and see if that's okay, but if it is, it may be the happy medium that will satisfy both voices in my head, the one telling me I'd be a chicken to quit, and the one that just keeps listening calmly and then saying, "Boy, my knee sure does still hurt."



I've been training pretty hard for cycling lately, which leads me to post about riding, complain about my crummy joints, rave about new bike gear I get, stuff like that. Furthermore, while my interests wax and wane, I'm always working fairly hard at one physical pursuit at a time, at the very least. Yoga, cycling, rock climbing, or maybe something new, I'll be writing about it here.