It’s NOT about the Bike…

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Just returned from a skiathlon/pursuit training session. All decked out in my National Masters racing suit of days-gone-by. Photographed in 2016. © 2017 Bruce Kraus. All rights reserved.

I have a few friends and associates that love to road cycle. If you have read even a small percentage of the almost 500 posts (in one year) on EclecticChoices, you will know that I am a road cycling nut also.

But, heres the thing, when the first snow falls in Saskatchewan, I get really excited about the cross country ski season, especially racing again. In fact, after I finish this post, I am heading to my small workshop to begin the often long and laborious task of removing the storage wax off my ever decreasing fleet of classic and skating skis. There are few things in life that make me happier than prepping and waxing my cross country racing skis for the winter season.

I love the snow! The whisper quiet glide of a good pair of skating skis on corduroy tracks, and the click-clack of carbon poles digging into a well-packed ski trail.

Sadly, as some of you know, I have been struggling with bad asthma episodes over the last couple of years. What started out as exercise-induced asthma, something that has become almost a plague amongst elite skiers, has devolved into a rather chronic all-day-long situation for me.

When a person cannot breathe properly, even with the assistance of various short and long term meds, one’s personal fitness can go downhill really fast. I have managed to gain bodyweight, far more than I am comfortable with, and my personal fitness tests are rather dismal. I am not seeking sympathy here…but I do appreciate your prayers ūüôā

It is important to realize that the aforementioned troubles and setbacks should not discourage us or keep us down in a pit of frustration and despair.

Only the courageous keep trying in the midst of adversity.

I am no longer a spring chicken, burning up the ski trails like Warner Brother’s¬†cartoonish¬†Tasmanian Devil. I try to set realistic goals in recovering from illness and injury, training, and, hopefully, xc-racing amongst 20-year-olds and old-timers alike.

Be kind to yourself when suffering from illness and/or injury. Be patient…REALLY PATIENT. Your time will come. Cheers!

Ps. Winter is so much more fun when you are active outside!

The choices we make today become who we are tomorrow…

 

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The Nordic Ski Trip: Meadow Lake Provincial Park

 

 

 

I often think about my girls. Even though they are now adults, busy with their own families and lives, I am so happy to have had the privilege of being a dad to them. I have so many good memories of the wilderness adventures we went on as a family. Sometimes, due to the difficulty of the wilderness challenge, I had to make the hard decision of taking only my eldest daughter along. My eldest girl was (and is) an excellent nordic skier, even when she was 12 years-of-age. She had the strength and endurance to stay with me over terrain and distances that most adults would complain about. She would later go on to become a provincial team cross-country running champion in her final year of high school.

As you can readily see from these candid pictures (taken with an old film camera), she always seemed to be upbeat and happy – the joy of my life! Her smile tells all.

We planned our overnight nordic ski trip together in an area of the province that is as beautiful as it is remote from any civilization, especially in the winter. I knew from previous years of cross-country skiing, hiking, and running on the trails in the Meadow Lake Provincial Park, that there was a rustic cabin situated farther east along a ski trail in the forest. The cabin was used as a warm-up shelter for cross-country skiers in the winter. Within the forested area, near the cabin, were at least two smaller lakes that, at the time, were utilized as fish rearing ponds for the bigger lakes, like Greig Lake within the park, and elsewhere in the province.

The plan was to start early, to ski and explore the area, before settling down for the night near the aforementioned cabin. We were self-sufficient and had packed everything we needed, including a tent, sleeping bags, cook stove, food, extra clothing, and emergency supplies. This was not our first winter camping trip together, but it was the first time we ventured out into the rather remote backcountry.

It was a gorgeous day when we began our ski tour. Due to the constant freeze/thaw cycles of early spring, the trails were well-packed and fast enough to skate on with relative ease. We traversed about 15km in what seemed like only a moment, quite aware of small fur-bearing animals scurrying about and birds chattering in the trees. I was also cognizant of the potential of crossing the path of wolves or a hungry black bear that had ventured out of it’s den a bit too early. Nevertheless, the click-clack of our ski poles and the whoosh of our skis, along with clanging cooking pots on the back of my pack, provided sufficient warning to predators that may have been hidden from our sight.

After a rather exhilarating day of cross-country skiing and exploring, we decided to camp at a scenic and sheltered spot near the cabin. Previously, I had asked for permission from the park warden to overnight in the cabin Рjust in case the weather took a turn for the worse. Anyone who has lived in the northwestern part of the province knows that a late winter storm can occur without notice. Better safe than sorry РI had learned that hard lesson from a previous winter where I almost succumbed to hypothermia and probable death because of a late blizzard. My story of that misadventure is long, convoluted, and riddled with compounding human error. It is sufficient to say that I was caught in a nasty snow storm, some 15km from the trail head, in only my one-piece spandex cross-country racing suit along with a little fanny pack with some water, a granola bar, and extra wax. I was nearly depleted of muscle glycogen (the dreaded bonk) and freezing in a blizzard. The obscured sun was getting low on the near invisible horizon and darkness was setting in quickly. The drifting snow was completely obliterating any sign of a ski trail.  Stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a rather grim and dire situation, is not my idea of a good time. Alas, that story is for another time.

My daughter decided that I should fire up the wood stove in the cabin. We needed to warm up and dry out our perspiration-soaked clothing. Thankfully, there was enough chopped, split, and stacked firewood there to keep us warm until the following winter.  A simple supper of roasted hot-dogs, brown beans, and granola bars was the pièces de résistance. It was so cozy in the cabin that we decided we would sleep there, instead of the rather cold tent pitched outside in the now drifting snow. I am thankful that we chose luxury over roughing it, as the outside temperature really dropped that night. Unfortunately, one of the windows in the cabin had been broken and the cold northwesterly wind was proving to be more than just an annoyance. I managed to block most of the window off with my outer winter jacket, and kept the wood stove going all night. My daughter and I snuggled in our sleeping bags, stretched out on the wooden benches near the wood stove. My daughter read a novel in the flicker of candlelight, as I struggled to fix the stuck zipper on my sleeping bag. We shared stories of adventure and mishap late into the night.

The next morning, we were awakened by the sunlight beaming through the frosted windows. I whipped up an uncomplicated breakfast of scrambled eggs, burnt toast, and bad coffee. After breakfast, we quickly packed up our gear, put on our skis, and ventured back at a good clip to the trailhead.  A warm bath and hot chocolate was waiting for us at home.

Another exquisite adventure, another tale to tell…

Exercise Addiction: Chasing the Dopamine High

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Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham crawl to the finish line at the 1997 Ironman

In a day and age where extremes seem to be the norm, rarely do I find someone that I know personally that exercises moderately for their mental, physical, and spiritual well being. Just about everyone I have met in the climbing and mountaineering, road cycling, running, swimming, and XC ski communities tend to exercise or “train” at the extreme or sharp end of their chosen sport or recreational activity.

Keep in mind that the majority of the aforementioned are at least in their forties now and would be considered master-aged athletes. Some are incredibly gifted physically and appear to excel at their chosen sporting endeavor. The majority are just ordinary middle-of-the-road “pack filler”, yet they train and race in their age-group or skill level categories like they are world class athletes. They are addicted to exercise and the dopamine highs that come with it. Their stated reasons for participating in extreme endurance sport are varied, but if work and/or family responsibilities, injury, or illness prevent them from exercising daily, they are often miserable, anxious, and a bear to be around socially or otherwise. That dopamine high – the heightened sense of well-being and feeling alive rapidly diminishes. For many, depression is not far behind.

How did I come to recognize this in others? Because I am just as guilty as they are for chasing the proverbial dopamine-on-a-stick so prevalent in endurance sports today. Our sporting clubs are almost like destructive religious cults where we literally celebrate the extreme and those individuals that accomplish the extraordinary. Every ride, every run has to be of “epic” proportions to be worthy of our praise. The bar is set higher and higher and we move from marathon challenges into the realm of ultra marathon distances. If one has not gone on a four to five hour 100+ kilometre ride over the weekend, one’s efforts are not deemed worthy of attention, let alone celebration. This is borderline insanity and we have social media sites like Strava to prove it.

Over a period of many years, I have repeatedly asked medical doctors and other specialists how much exercise is necessary to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Invariably, their response is typically “about thirty minutes of moderate activity per day“. Keep in mind that several of these physicians are endurance athletes themselves and are just as addicted to the dopamine highs as the rest of us. Perhaps we need to heed the warnings of the medical community, and the studies of psychologists and psychiatrists about exercise addiction and the long-term consequences of abusing our bodies in our pursuit of exercise nirvana.

A number of months ago a friend suggested to me that I should consider participating in sport in a “manner that is suitable for my age“. At first I felt insulted and wondered if this was just another criticism from someone that may be living a rather sedentary lifestyle. It is that group that I am most concerned about, as the medical clinics and hospitals of our nation are filled with people who suffer from diseases that predominantly originate from inactive lifestyles and poor food choices and eating habits – the opposite extreme of exercise addiction.

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Walking Рa healthy alternative to extreme endurance sport. © 2017. Bruce Kraus. All rights reserved.

The answer, of course, to the aforementioned dilemma is moderation in all things. If we want to be truly healthy in mind, body, and spirit, we need to make positive choices that will benefit us in the long term. It was the off-the-cuff remark of a friend that has caused me to re-evalute what it truly means to be healthy and to take positive steps to wean myself off of the pursuit of dopamine highs through extreme exercise. Addiction is addiction, no matter which way the ball curves. There is no such thing as a healthy addiction in the true sense of the word.

The extremes that we see in just about every aspect of life today reminds me of how broken humanity really is and how far removed we are from our Creator and His loving intentions for our lives. We really are living in an upside-down world.

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The Numbers Don’t Lie

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WKO4 Phenotype Report 2013-2017

After accumulating road cycling power training data over a five year period, the numbers don’t lie. I am now clearly a time trial specialist based on my phenotype. Outside of one anomaly, the 2014 calendar year, where I fit into the phenotype of an all-rounder, the data is pretty consistent.

Perhaps, I need to take this information more seriously and continue to emphasize training more specific to time trialling this year. In some ways this does not surprise me, as I have always been more able to pace myself in the 15km and 40km road cycling time trial distances. Of equal interest (at least to me) has been my natural ability to train and race well in the 15km and 30km cross country skiing distances in both classic and skating disciplines.

My recent experience last Tuesday at our regular group ride with members of the Regina Cycling Club confirmed this. I am at my best over a set middle distance when I can control my own pace rather than the pace being dictated by other riders. How this fits in to the variable group dynamics of road racing is a question yet to be answered.

It’s funny how our bodies change over time, as do our abilities to excel at different aspects of road cycling. In my twenties and early thirties I was clearly a climber (70kg), based on a slight, but muscular body build. As I got older, I continued to gain muscular body weight (85kg) and ended up being more talented as an all-rounder cyclist. Today, in my late 50’s, I am even heavier (103kg) and struggle to keep the body fat to muscle ratio down, yet tend to be at my best in time trials now.

Go with the flow is my motto today. There is no point in trying to do battle in the realm of road racing in the area(s) of our weaknesses. Granted, one should continue to train their weaknesses (i.e. climbing) but focus their time and attention at what they are better at (i.e. time trialling).

The good news is that our cycling club has four time trials planned for the season and a few shorter criteriums and sprints that might better suit my morphology and phenotype.

The lesson one can learn from my own experience is that the process of aging and bodily changes do not necessarily have to hold us back from the sports we love. As human beings we are highly adaptable to change.

Where there is a will, there is a way ūüôā

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Men in Tights

Sometimes we just need to learn to relax and laugh a little. As an almost neurotically obsessive Cross Country Skier and Cyclist, I often have to laugh at the funny way one dresses for these two demanding aerobic sports. The norm is snug fitting jerseys and tights. Why, you may ask? Comfort, aerodynamics, freedom of movement, style, and other general freakiness.

When I first crawled into a very snug, form fitting pair of tights for sport, so many years ago, I was quite self-conscious of all my form being displayed for the world to see.

Now, some thirty years later, I just don’t care about what other people think. If you don’t like it – don’t look ūüėČ

If one slows down for a minute, and thinks about how ridiculous pro football, hockey, and baseball players look in their not-so-modern costumes of yesteryear, you understand where I am going with this. What about those funky oversized shorts and tanks that pro basketball players wear? Are they that short of decent tailors in the US that they cannot find something to fit these guys?

Seriously, these dudes need to take a trip overseas to London’s Saville Row and let the experts tailor their goofy b-ball outfits.

The costumes we put on to fit in with our sporting cults is laughable. So why get hung up about it?

#NordicSport

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