Monday, January 30, 2006

Ethical?

Skibby over at http://skibbysez.blogspot.com/ put me onto this subject again; Are the use of altitude tents, pressurized rooms and cabins unethical? Should athletes have to seek actual altitude to get the benefits of thin air? Is the media completely haywire when they mention EPO, blood doping and altitude tents in the same breath?

It's discussion time, give me your 2 cents on this! Like we say in Norway, kjør debatt!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

UCI and hematocrit

As we all know, the UCI has set the hematocrit limit at 50%. This simply refers to the percentage of red-blood cells measured by blood plasma volume. Any riders with a higher number will be deemed "unfit" and cannot ride. This has been done to discourage riders, and people in the support structure, from speculating in ways to manipulate the blood's ability to transport oxygen in an artificial way. Limiting the hematocrit values at 50% should indirectly prevent the use of EPO and blood-doping, since these methods would easily produce higher hematocrit values.

So, does it mean that when a rider is deemed "unfit" for competition he has tested positive for a performance enhancing substance? No, of course not. Since the use of EPO and blood-doping can be tricky to detect directly through doping tests, the UCI decided to prevent possible cheaters from riding, by establishing a hematocrit limit.

But why measure hematocrit? And why has the limit been set at 50%? Both the choice of measuring hematocrit and the limit of 50% is, in my opinion, a poor testing procedure. I say this, not because I'm advocating the use of PEDs, but because 50% hematocrit damages honest, clean riders. After prolonged training at altitude, many athletes will naturally test above the 50% limit, without any PEDs in their system. The test itself is also a bit weak, since dehydration and activity before testing could affect the result. If you have been standing up for more than 30 minutes and then sit down to take the test, you could have much higher values, due to the increased heart rate and blood-pressure.

Why not measure, and establish limits for hemoglobin values instead? This would be more accurate and prevent some of the problems we are experiencing today. 50% hematocrit value for a male athlete is too low (it corresponds to about 16.5 g/dl of hemoglobin). If the UCI wanted to continue to measure hematocrit, at least increase the value to 55% (around 18.5 g/dl of hemoglobin).

Friday, January 27, 2006

Yes, I'm still here

Well, so much for "a New Year and a fresh start". Not only have I been sick as the proverbial dog, I've also had a complete writer's block. With the exception of the friends, family and acquaintances that stop by here to check out the personal tidbits of information that I post from time to time, most of you are looking for substance. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to write much material with substance lately. For that, I apologize.

The good news is that things are finally improving at my end. The results of the bloodwork were very positive and I've been able to train with high quality all week without any symptoms. I got the final green light after a doctor's visit today and should be on track now.

I'm not completely gone from the clinic though, but now my visits are more productive. We are currently evaluating flexibility and muscle imbalances. I've got some work to do on the flexibility side of things, like most other cyclists. But all in all, the season preparations are back on track and with some slight adjustments everything is back to where is should be.

For the sport enthusiast, there are so many exciting things happening these days. The Winter Olympics are very close and while we wait, we can watch the Australian Open. I've always been a big tennis fan and I'm completely mesmerized by the young player from Cyprus, Marcos Baghdatis. This 20 year old, unseeded player has came from nowhere and played himself into the final. And how he has played! He is strong, powerful, charismatic and very entertaining. Not to mention the very healthy, balanced attitude he has towards his recent success. All in all, a great story - where will it end? Well, we will all know on Sunday when he plays the world's number 1, Roger Federer.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Roller coaster

Monday. New day, new week. Fresh start, but illness free? Last week was a complete wash, from a training perspective at least. I put in an easy 2 hours on the trainer today, but I'm certainly not completely back in the game, yet. It's one day at a time now.

Other than that, I'm glued in front of the TV, watching the Australian Open. It's amusing to listen to the complete glorification of Federer by the TV commentators. Not that the guy isn't a great player, but still...

And since the Olympics are drawing ever nearer, I can't avoid mentioning the controversy that seems to occupy most Norwegians these days - Why was Petter Northug not selected for the Olympic cross country team?

Petter is a 20 year old, extremely promising cross country skier, who has consistently beaten the established elite. Why was he dropped? Apparently he is too young, will not be able to handle the pressure and might now have enough training days at altitude. Regardless of what happens, remember his name. He has the potential to become one of the few great.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Race of My Life

I'm currently reading Hermann Maier's new autobiography "The Race of My Life". I can cannot recommend this book enough!

The story is amazing, intriguing and grippingly told. Maier's story is very similar to Lance Armstrong's fall and return to the top. If you need perspective, read Maier's book. If you think there is any reason you cannot make it to the top - read this book. If anything, these stories show us the incredible determination of "winners" and the impressive human will. If you work hard enough, your goals will be met. Period.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good News / Bad News

I managed to pick up what remains of my sick, debilitated body and add a sponsor to the list. I'm excited about this relationship and I'm glad that people are willing to put their faith in me, still. My end of the deal equates to public speaking, attending seminars and talking about the life of an athlete. I enjoy doing that anyways, at least most of the time.

The bad news is that I'm still sick, getting better, but still sick. I hope, pray, that this isn't a viral infection (mono or TWAR). That would be terribly, terribly bad. The extreme tiredness and lack of energy concerns me. Well, I guess I'll know soon enough, the blood tests should give us an indication. I apologize for the complete lack of interesting posts this week, but I'm too wrapped up in this whole thing. I promise to pour out an endless stream of creativity, as soon as I can muster enough energy to type. Typing has become a sort of base training, with elevated heart rate and the whole package.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Frustrating

I am, again, bound to the bed. Apparently, it's time to pay the doctor a visit. After a week of quality training, I'm sick again. It's time to eat some antibiotics and stop this shit.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The bull from Grimstad

Thor Hushovd is in Australia with the rest of the Crédit Agricole boys, getting ready for the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. According to an interview with www.cyclingnews.com, he enjoys both the countryside and the people.

And really, Thor, what's not to like? After spending most of his winter between Norway and France, the Australian summer must be a welcomed sight. But don't get too used to it, remember that cold, wet weather builds character. Character that you will need in order to win the Spring Classics. So watch out, the bull from Grimstad will be strong this year. Very strong.

Variation - The spice of life

Who says strength training is boring? If you are someone who dreads the bore of the weight room, visit a public gym. Where else can you see such spitting images of every stereotype under the sun?

You have the classic iron pumping, vein popping, man. You find him in front of the biggest mirror there is and he makes an art out of looking at his big muscles. Even when he is resting between sets, he cannot help himself. He has to sneak just one more peek.

Then, you have the teenager wearing those half-long shorts that extend below the kneecap, a sleeveless shirt and to top it all off, the mandatory black hat. He is very focused and determined. He is so focused, as a matter of fact, that the only exercise he can possible commit to, is the bench-press. Anything else is a waste of time.

One of the most interesting types you find, are the ones that subscribe to the "harder, faster and heavier" philosophy. Again, their behavior makes them easy to spot - heavy, heavy weights, fast jerky movements and a dangerously wrong body-position. You can almost hear the muscles, joints and tendons snap, crack and break. Keep your distance. Of course, no self-respecting public gym would be without the "New Year's Resolution" individual. You can easily pick this person out, since he or she usually are the ones closest to the brink of exhaustion. You see, for them, there only exists 2 levels of intensity - full stop of full steam ahead. Anything in between would seem pointless. Unfortunately, the further we get away from New Year's, the rarer any sightings within this category will be. In most cases, by February 1st, you will not be able to spot this elusive, and very seasonal, species. At least not until next year.

But the most admirable, and sweet, creature in the public gym, is of course the first-timer. They are a shy group of individuals and should be approached with care. Say the wrong thing and you'll drive them away, possible forever. They are very self conscious and feel a bit out of place among all the other fanatics. They might not know exactly how to use each machine, but gladly welcome a helping hand from a friendly person. Take care of them, for they are the future of the public gym.

So, next time you are slaving over a leg press session - take a look around. It's pretty entertaining.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Because it's there

When George Mallory was asked "Why climb Mt. Everest", he uttered the now famous words "Because it's there".

I had a very interesting discussion with my wife the other day, about why people climb mountains, go on polar expeditions or on any other "pointless" endeavors, as she put it. I have to admit, she had a good set of arguments. She pointed out the obvious dangers associated with it and how egocentric it is to embark on these missions. "What about the ones you leave at home, hoping for your safe return?" she asked.

I did my best to explain the pure simplicity of climbing Mt. Everest or trekking to the North Pole. How it is about exploring oneself and pushing the limits as far as humanly possible. How it's the stuff of legends, lore and religion. All I got was a blank stare and a "huh?" in return.

And quite frankly, I think that if you have to ask "Why climb Mt. Everest", chances are you will never really, truly understand why.

If you stop and think about it, there are many philosophical parallels that can be drawn between these endeavors and cycling. Have you ever asked yourself "why do I bother?" or "what's the point?". Why the heck do we willingly dedicate ourselves so utterly to cycling?

There is an expression called "The 24 hour athlete", which simply means that to achieve as much as possible, the rider needs to dedicate himself fully to the task at hand. Not only for the 1-6 hours of training per day, but for the whole 24 hours that day. It's more than a hobby or a job, it's a lifestyle.

You may say "that's only for the pros, I don't do that". But stop and think about it - I bet you sacrifice more than you realize. From diet, recovery and time management - we are willing to put the sport ahead of almost anything else. For what? Why do it?

Why do seemingly normal people spend their vacation racing a bike across the American Continent? Or race a MTB for 24 hours with minimal sleep. Why do these crazy Iron Men act like 13 year old girls when they realize they have qualified for Kona? For most of them, it's not their job, it's not something they have to do. As Abraham Maslow would have put it "it's not a physiological need or even a safety need".

From a pure physical point of view, these activities really only give you pain and suffering in return for your effort. And mentally you are reduced to a babbling maniac at the end. Not to mention the countless hours you have spent preparing for this suffering. Hours filled with pain as well. So why do it? Why not sit on the sofa, eat popcorn and watch a poorly produced Hollywood B-movie instead?

I can't answer these questions for you, of course. But, if you are anything like me - it about what Maslow called "self actualization".

It's about the utter simplicity. How you yourself can shape and control the outcome. It's about discovering how far you can push your body, exploring the limits. In effect, I'm my own little lab-experiment. I don't know the outcome yet, maybe I never will. But it's just as much about the journey to the top as it is about reaching the top, if in fact I ever will. So why push for the top? Because it's there.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Circles

Technique. Going faster without expending any more energy. This has been an area of special focus this pre-season, and will continue to be so. I'm very happy with the progress so far, since my pedal stroke is smooth and even all the way around. As the Great-One always tells me -"technique should be with you, and on your mind, during every training session".

Despite these very wise words, I have had several sessions solely dedicated to working on my circles and it has paid off. The numbers don't lie and they have been kind to me so far this year.

Tomorrow is a rest day, before a fairly hard Saturday and Sunday. Lots of eating and sleeping, in other words.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Complete insanity

Iron Man. Now that is some crazy shit. Pardon my French. But really - it is. I'm sitting here, tired as all heck, reading about the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. This Iron Man is the longest and hardest in the world and goes right through some of my old training haunts. Just looking at that race profile fills my legs with lead.

A part of me is itching to race it, but I'm afraid my swimming skills are far too weak. Would be a good training day, but drowning would ruin my season... If you are a bit crazy and looking for a good way to suffer like all hell for over a dozen hours - look no further: http://www.nxtri.com/index.html When you pass out from exhaustion climbing over Hardangervidda, I'll be the spectator with the big smile eating an ice-cream.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On the way to recovery

Not much to write about today. A bit of a "writer's block", I guess. A big positive for me, in my little egocentric world, is that I think the virus is finally letting go. I'm looking forward to being able to attack my sessions with a bit more energy and intensity.

Also, the Norwegian newspapers at home are writing about the disadvantages of being married to a full-time athlete. A few high profile break-ups spurred the journalists to run some feature stories on how much stress living with such an athlete can put on a spouse. That makes me appreciate my lovely wife even more, if that's possible.

Also, if you are looking for a good book to read during these winter months - consider picking up Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air". Krakauer was a member of the Rob Hall expedition in 1996 and writes brilliantly about the terror on Mt. Everest. Very fascinating and a bit disturbing. When I read it the first time, I simply couldn't put the book down. Highly recommended!

As always I welcome feedback and input regarding the content of this blog. If you have any questions or ideas about topics, let me know.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Lessons learned

It's Sunday. For the last 3 days or so, I've completed 3 easy sessions. My body feels better, but not great. I still have some slight symptoms (sore throat and a vague headache) of this RI. I am hoping that by tomorrow, I can resume my normal program. I've basically lost 1 week of training and need to get back in the saddle. If I can complete a moderate intensity session tomorrow without any worsening symptoms, I should be ok. If not, I'm afraid I'll have to visit the doctor.

I always try and learn from mistakes and find something positive in any situation. I believe in the strength of positive attitudes and directing my energy towards good things. So, I was looking through my training log today and I discovered something - a couple of weeks ago I had to take a forced rest day. Not only do I log what I have done during a training session, but more importantly, I write down a subjective summary of how the session went and how I felt. Well, as I said, two weeks ago, I basically wrote "felt tired. No energy. Sore throat". The following day, I trained, but made another entry along the same lines "No energy. Heavy legs". The rest of that week was ok, but what happened later? Well, I got sick and lost a whole week of training.

Alright, so what's the lesson here? Well, the lesson is to listen to your body! I talk about that a lot, but apparently I'm not very good at it myself. I should have taken it easy a couple of weeks ago, when my body was trying to tell me I was getting sick. If I had, chances are I wouldn't have lost 7 days... So, the positive in all this is that I learned to pay even better attention to these signals.

As a side-note, I'm excited about the possibility of securing another, good sponsorship. The deal is not yet "in the box", but it's looking good. I should know more early next week.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Jacques Anquetil

Let me just start by saying that I'm no expert on cycling history. As a matter of fact, I bet 9 out of 10 people would know more about it than I do. I do, however, find the "golden era" to be very interesting and fascinating, for better and for worse.

Anquetil's merits on the road are unquestionable and very impressive. I know what you are thinking - wasn't he riding around in a constant drug induced haze? Yes, probably. But like it or not, he did shape the history of cycling for a very long time.

Today, I wanted to address his merits off the road. His family and love life was very unusual, even for a French Tour star. He had an affair, and eventually married, his doctor's wife. Now, nothing really unusual about that, right? I mean, that happens all the time. What does not happen quite as often is what follows next; Anquetil wanted to have children and although his wife didn't share his enthusiasm, it didn't deter Jacques the least bit. Oh, no.

He managed to convince his wife that he should have a child with his 18-year old step-daughter. The plan was dutifully executed and Anquetil got his daughter (or would that be grand-daughter? I'm a bit confused myself...).

As if that wasn't enough, Anquetil went on to have an affair with his step-son's wife as well. Another child resulted from that.

So, next time you read in a cycling magazine that Anquetil was boring, cold and calculated as a rider - you know better. He might have been boring on the bike, but he sure was "colorful" off the bike...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Probiotics

Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Have you heard of these before? If not, it might be something to check into.

Probiotics are small, single-cell microorganisms (bacteria) that, when taken in adequate amounts, create positive effects in our digestive system. Problems such as traveler's stomach, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and even cancer can be prevented by taking probiotics. It also boosts the immune system, lowers blood cholesterol and not to mention, creates a healthy digestive system.

As an athlete that travels quite a bit, from time to time takes antibiotics and generally lives a life that can irritate my digestive system, I've started to put my faith in these great, little creatures. They can prevent many problems that would otherwise negatively effect one's performance and general well-being.

So, where do we find these bacteria? Well, certain dairy products can be a good place to start. Good quality yogurt and kefir / buttermilk and other fermented products could contain live bacteria cultures. I recommend doing some research before running out to purchase yogurt, milk or cheese, because some production methods would effectively kill any active bacteria culture and therefore be of no good use to you.

You can also, very effectively, take probiotics through a dietary supplement. If you choose this route, make sure you take a product containing Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus acidophilus, as these two have been proven to survive the trip through your stomach. Some probiotics, if taken as dietary supplements, will not survive the acidic environment in the stomach and therefore not reach their goal, your intestines.

In a perfect world, I would recommend taking probiotics both as a supplement as through good, high quality dairy products. Taken over regulary and over time, it should yield great results. For a good, English language website - visit http://www.usprobiotics.org/

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Couch Potato

Well, today was another day spent safely secured to the sofa. I'm turning into a regular couch potato now. My hopes of getting in an easy session today were shattered this morning, when the symptoms of this pesky illness persisted.

So what am I doing? Eating and sleeping mostly. Oh, and worrying about how fat I'm getting, I can feel the weight packing onto me. I'll be deadly on the descents this spring, like a projectile. Of course, it will take me a while to get up, but you can't have it all now, can you?

I'm also turning into a pro-blog commentator. My quest is to track down any worth-while blog and comment as much as possible. Maybe if I can't ride by bike full-time, I can surely write about it. Here are some highly recommended stops in the blogosphere:

Tim Jackson, aka The MasiGuy - http://masiguy.blogspot.com/

Team MWC, FTJ, NGT - http://ashwinearl.blogspot.com/

Keith over at The Chainline - http://chainline.blogspot.com/

Digital Peloton - http://worldcycling.blogspot.com/

Ben Saunders - http://www.bensaunders.com/

Iain over Herneweb - http://www.herneweb.com/

Philip Gomes, in the land down under - http://www.spinopsys.com/

I'm crossing my fingers and toes and anything else that is crossable that I feel ok enough to at least put in an easy session tomorrow. I am driving the wife absolutely nuts, more than usual. She told me the only thing worse than living with a cyclist is living with a sick cyclist...

Once I get back on the bike, I intend to bring my digital camera with me and start taking more pictures. If they turn out, I plan to post them on the blog. That should spice things up a bit...

We've only got 37 days to go before the winter Olympics. Get ready, folks!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Yurnings

That's it. I am now convinced my body and my brain are playing games with me. After half a day of eating, reading, napping and surfing the web - I suddenly feel great. Well, maybe not great, but at least a lot better than I did earlier today.

Of course, I've fallen into this trap before, oh yes. This is an old trick my body likes to play with me. Probably to get back at me for all those insane races I for some reason feel obligated to partake in. See, my body is trying to trick me into getting back on the bike today, so that I can wake up tomorrow feeling even worse than I did this morning. But I'm older and wiser now. That old trick will not work, not today.

I called home the other day, to talk with mom. As always she is wondering when her precious little boy will get a real job. I can't go on riding my bike forever, I must know that (?). Wouldn't it be easier and more secure to have a nice office job? I mean, if you read Les Woodland's "The crooked Path to Victory" it would seem as if only madmen race bikes. The tricky thing is, I really don't have a clear answer to that question. The only thing I know, is that I love training and I love competing. It's really as simple as that. I think.

I leave you with pictures of, what I think, is the greatest training area available. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading this blog.

Respiratory Infection

Well, I'm permanently glued to the bed. I woke up this morning and felt more or less like a 90 year old man... I've got all the symptoms of a classic infection, which means complete rest today and another evaluation tomorrow.

If the fever and general feeling of complete exhaustion is gone tomorrow, I'll do an easy 45 minutes or so on the trainer. Hopefully I'll feel ok after that, so that I can follow up with another 60 minutes of easy riding on Thursday and 90 minutes at moderate intensity on Friday. But, the most important thing now will be to take one day at a time and listen to my body.

It's always frustrating to get sick, since it disrupts training. This is not, however, the worst time to get an RI. The important races of the season are still 6-7 months away and although this will set me back 3-6 days, it's still no crisis. Yet... :)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

First Day of the Year

I hope everyone had a great New Year's Eve. Like earlier years, my New Year's Eve was pretty calm and quiet. As a matter of fact, I barely managed to stay awake until midnight. Considering midnight is about 2 hours past my bed-time, who can really blame me for getting a bit tired around 12 a.m?

I really live my life very much like a 10 year old. No disrespect to all the 10 year olds out there, by the way. The new year started with an easy, slow 4 hour ride for me. Which, in my humble opinion, is not such a bad way to start things off.

So, get out there and ride, run or ski, my friends. Take one day at a time, be constructive, set some goals and reach for them! You never know, this may be your year.