This is part one of an interview I did with peak.com. If you like it and think others may be stoked please share it with the tool on the upper right.
I’m trained as a Registered Dietitian, in other words a professional nutritionist. Currently I work under a Food-stamp grant doing nutrition education in low-income areas of Los Angeles. Am also an adjunct instructor with the LA district community colleges.
How long have you been doing ultras?
Since Fall of 2004. More or less.
What was your first one?
My first ultra was the Mt. Tam double century in 2004. I had no idea what I was getting into. I did it on 3 hours sleep, finished in 16 hours, then had to drive an hour back to a friend’s house. It was beautiful.
What got you into ultras?
Bike touring. I spent the majority of teenage years on a BMX bike riding the most difficult trails in the country. Many of my friends went on to be pro. I went to college. Not sure if I made the right decision. Filled the gap with mountain biking and then bought a $50 panasonic road bike my senior year. Rode it 150 miles through Pennsylvania to my mom’s house within a month. First lesson: cut-off shorts and no underwear is not the most comfortable choice for your crotch. The following Spring I rode cross-country from California to Pennsylvania alone (mostly). I was too cheap to pay for camping (hotels weren’t an option) so I found my own places behind trees or rocks or in public parks. Spent $5/day over two months. Would of been faster but I got hit by a car head-on outside of Flagstaff, Arizona in a surprise snow storm. Ten days off the bike mending a broken wrist and a broken bike. Insurance of the driver bought me my first ‘real’ bike: a Bianchi Axis. The next summer a friend and I rode from Los Angeles to Belize City, Belize. We went through Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guatemala, it was a phenomenal experience. With some shorter trips, including Alaska and the Great Divide, I’ve got about 10,000 bike touring miles logged.
Solo Furnace Creek 508! No doubt. The desert does something to you mentally. If you don’t love it and show it respect, it will chew you up. I struggled the second day quite a bit and would not of finished if it was not for my great crew. After 37 hours I was glad to be done and did enjoy it, even with the misery. That’s partly why I am out there. I love the highs and lows.
Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007 was definitely the longest. Does that count as an ultra? I wasn’t competing, I just thought it would be a fun way to experience France. It’s part Critical Mass, part bike tour, part cultural submersion. I went with the night start and rode with various groups over the next 26 hours. In Carhaix I found a cot in a gym to sleep on. ‘When do you want us to wake you up?’ In 8 hours, I replied to their confusion. I figured it would be more fun and easier if I slept a full night. Did the same the next night. Finished in 77 hours, if I remember correctly. Two weeks previous I had done my first iron-distance triathlon on a course in Norway they call the world’s hardest, the Norseman. I was nervous because it was especially cold. They had to move the swim away from the glacier run-off in the fjord. You actually had to get out of the water half-way through so they could check you for hypothermia. The bike was 126 miles and the marathon ends up a mountain. I finished near the back and the organizers were always tremendously supportive. They let us sleep in the gym (is there a theme here?) in the days leading up to the race and cook in the kitchen of a school to save money.
Recommendations for new athletes?
It is difficult for me to answer this because I struggle to call myself an athlete. I’d say keep it fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously. I like to do athletic events because they are an adventure and the process adds to my life experience. When I lose sight of this it becomes like a job and significantly less fun. To me swimming in a fjord in Norway, riding my bike through traffic in LA, mountain biking fantastic technical single track or running up a mountain near my house are all worthy experiences in their own right regardless of the end goal. Each give me that jolt of excitement that I don’t think enough of us get in our daily lives.
Food and hydration during events?
Even though my expertise is in nutrition, I still have to work very hard to get my food and hydration sorted out. The more I’ve trained and at times when I am most fit I am able to eat less while riding without compromising my performance. It has taken me years of paying close attention to my body to know how far I can push and when I need to eat and drink. I try to average about 200 calories an hour and focus, when possible, on eating fruits and whole foods. On doubles and really tough centuries I do use gels and the liquid foods with definite success.
What’s your training like?
Oh how my training varies. I am definitely on the low-end of hours and miles compared to others. Especially running. It is a struggle for me to run more than twice a week, which is something I need to change if I want to get my marathon time under four hours. I do a lot of core work, including pilates. I also live in Los Angeles without a car, so riding to the grocery store and carrying 20 pounds of groceries home on my fixed gear definitely helps.
So hard to say! My first mountain bike race ever was this year, the Shenandoah 100. It was freakin awesome. A party the whole time, with a 100 miles of amazing terrain and great single-track in the middle. I raced rigid single-speed and came in just under 11 hours. A great way to spend the day. I also did Vineman, the ‘people’s iron-man’, this year in Sonoma Country. Very well supported, lots of veg food and an emphasis on minimal impact: they washed and reused water bottles and even composted fruit scraps.
I like the commitment. I don’t want to spend more time traveling to an event than I do participating in it! That space in time after the initial adrenalin wears out is where you learn the most about yourself and the world. I’ve experienced clarity like no other on really long bike events. This is cliche, but it takes you away from mundane, normal life with the hassles of bills to be paid, reports to be filed, calls to answer, etc. In a way it is very primal and aligns us with what our ancestors were forced to do to make it through life. I think we all need to remember this. I do my best to promote ultra events so others can get out of the work-buy stuff-watch tv-sleep-repeat routine and experience what we are capable of experiencing, for good and for bad.
Long term goals in the sport?
Tough one. I take it year by year. I like this mountain biking thing so I want to do a 24-hour race next year. The courses seem so boring though. Maybe race the Great Divide? I am not sure. I hope no one who reads this holds me to that!