What a difference a few months makes. Back in January I was visiting Utqiagvik as a guest of Argonne’s Education and Outreach team. When we arrived it was -20F and lets just assume the dewpoint was -20F. Today I went for a run in Nanjing, China with a (5am) temperature of 70F and a dewpoint of 65F. In China each kg (roughly a cubic meter has 13.37 grams of water in the form of vapor. In Utqiagvik it was a mere 0.35g. From the dry to the dripping wet!
The Barry Roubaix is the worlds largest gravel bike race. It sells out at 3,500 riders. 2019 was my third time racing the Barry. I first rode it back in 2016 when my fitness was good and my weight was “ok-ish”. 2016 was when I was training for Ride Across Wisconsin, a 175 mile road ride. My time for the 36 mile Barry route was 2:35 on a dry, warm and dusty course. I had a blast! I signed up again in 2017 but bailed as it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. In 2018 my health went downhill in a big way.
Stress, over eating, drinking too much (self medicating) all leading to frankly disgusting weight gain. In 2018 I had a blast riding Barry but clocked in at 3:01 26 minutes slower than 2016. When entries opened for the 2019 edition I decided to target the ride. Having two times meant I had a great metric and a goal to aim for. Starting in November last year I started tracking my weight and I used the only weight loss technique that works for me: Religiously tracking calories. In addition Louise and I decided to do a month without consuming alcohol in the lead up to the April 13th event, something we dubbed “Mapril”. In addition I rode, a lot. Starting indoors on the trainer (Wahoo Kikr) on Zwift and, as the weather allowed, increasingly outside.
As the event drew closer I did multiple three lap rides of Waterfall Glen (9.3 mile crushed limestone loop) a similar distance to BRX. This allowed me to mentally prepare for a solid 2-3 hours in the saddle riding at race pace. And using a power meter allowed me to both manage my effort and ensure I kept the power up. As training progressed it got easier and easier to hold a power around 210W for extended periods. Periodically my Garmin head unit would prompt me to update my FTP (power sustainable for an hour, basically power at over which you start consuming energy reserves, your lactate threshold). I estimate I started training at 225W FTP and finished at 256W. I also lost an astonishing 39lb. This meant my power to weight ratio went from 1.8 to 2.3 W/kg.
The day of the event was cool, a little windy (15mph out of the west) providing a bit of a wardrobe challenge. The event is, as always, run spectacularly well. Its no easy feat organizing 3,500 gravel grinders keen to ride! The course conditions were great, a few areas of mud but the ground was generally very firm and fast. And I felt great! I went out to hard as usual smashing the three sisters. Eventually I dialed it back keeping it around 200W on the flat, rising to ~300W climbing with the occasional coast and recover on the downhills.
Pacing was great.. I passed 1/2 way at just over 65 minutes. Two great thing about Barry is the landscape and the people. The landscape is rolling and wooded, the people on the bikes are all characters and good natured and those off the bikes were cheering and creative! I rode the most technical part of the course, Sager Road, probably the best I have, only putting a foot down twice (and one of those was because some one fell in front of me). Sager is full of sand traps, rutted stony climbs… Awesome! The MAD WALL is the last (and hardest) climb but also signals that the 36 mile route is coming to the end.. I felt good so I upped my power to ~220W.. About 5 miles out the legs were really signing, at risk of cramp but I got tied up in a killer paceline (22+mph).
In the end I finished at 2:20:16, a remarkable improvement on my 2:35 in 2016 and another world compared to my 2018 result. Even more remarkable is I ended up 42/74 for my age group (40-42) compared to being 68/73 in 2018. Next year, sub 200lb, and 270W FTP and I will see amazing results.. What a blast.
YouTube highlight reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSUntacj0PA
Ouch! I am SORE! March was an epic month for training despite a cold that knocked five days out of the month. Plot to the right shows a performance management chart from Today’s Plan. Each day is given a Training Stress Score which is an integral of a function involving power and your functional threshold power. Basically the longer you spend at higher percentages of your FTP the greater the TSS. A TSS of ~60 is a good workout, 120+ generally needs some good recovery time, and 200+ is epic! Yesterday I did a 68km ride in wind and cold and hit 210 TSS.. I was toast.
From the above you can see the 491km I did in March was nit just big for March, it was big for the pathetic 2018 I had! In a nutshell March was a good training month. Now here comes the kicker: in order to be ready for Barry Roubaix, which contains lots of climbing (The Sisters and the Killer Wall!) I am also loosing weight. I have been calorie counting since the 22nd of November last year (starting at a disgusting 270lb) and in order to supercharge fitness, weight loss and wellness I am abstaining from alcohol for the month leading up to the ride. That’s right! Since bedtime on the 12th of March I have been 100% Alcohol free.
The plot above shows my weight as a function of time. You can clearly see the change in gradient when I started abstaining from Alcohol. Now the astute amongst you will exclaim: a gradient of -0.59 lb/day is dangerous and unhealthy! I concur completely and I am as shocked as you. But be assured I am consuming at least 1400 calories a day, aiming for 1700 a day. However, I am getting an obscene amount of exercise.
For example, according to Garmin, I burnt 2010 calories on yesterday’s ride (solo ride = no one to hide behind). I consumed 2641 calories (indulgence: two delicious brats for post ride refuel!) leaving a deficit of 1069 to my target of net 1700.. Now 1700 allows 600 calories a day for weight loss (1lb ~ 3000cals, note 1cal -> 1kcal) so I had quite the calorific deficit.. What is a sustainable calorific deficit? You will find as many opinions as web pages on that! In any case I am gaining in power and loosing weight. I updated my FTP from 223 to 246W (at the urging of Garmin) two weeks ago so now my FTP power to weight ratio has gone from 1.8 to 2.25 W/kg! A hell of a March indeed! I need a beer 🙂
Recently I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Meteorology Conference.
This is a conference run by the Northwest Indiana chapter of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. The theme was Breaking Boundaries and Building Leaders. I have always wanted to visit Valparaiso University. It is home to the well known Python teacher and Evangelist Kevin Goebbert. It also has a great reputation for producing graduates who end up going far in their chosen profession. One challenge for this trip: It is in the middle of a dry (alcohol free) month for me in the lead up to Barry Roubaix. Now, maintaining alcohol abstinence at home is one thing, doing so while on the road is another thing altogether. In the evenings at a hotel I love to unwind with some TV and a beer.
Also, I came down with a killer cold the week before. But with the power of antihistamines and lots of vapor drops I drove on down to Indiana. I grabbed some cheap Thai on the Friday night, and relaxed with a diet Pepsi and a bag of crisps.
I am also in the middle of training for Barry Roubaix which means early mornings, which also meant I was up at 5am on Saturday morning. Great chance to explore the university town and take some photos of the Valpo teaching C-Band Dual Pol Radar! It is very notable for a University to have its own weather radar. Let alone one that does not have a graduate program. This is one thing the fascinates me. Another benefit of the University is a University town brings good businesses, notably: Coffee! A Latte later and I headed to the conference. Attending the first few talks it quickly became apparent the tone of my talk, to be delivered later in the day, was off. I planned to talk mainly on open radar science and then pivot to leadership.
Most presentations (from very distinguished presenters) made leadership the prime focus. I had equations in my talk! My favorite part of the conference was the forecast exercise organized by the local student organization the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team (VUSIT). This took me back to my days at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology when I was undergoing forecaster training and we would run Real Time Displace Scenarios (RTDS) which used a program to parcel data out as it would be received by the forecast office. I even got to teach the students a little about the perils of radar doppler velocity alaising!
Eventually it was time for my talk. I ended up skipping some of the science and instead focusing on how open source communities build the best leaders. I reiterated to the students that “Leader” is not a job title but a state of mind and if folks wait until they have “Leader” in their position description to display leadership qualities they probably should not be the ones “in charge”. Open source community projects are a great poster child for this point of view. The best packages (think: MetPy) are not run by high executives some where. They are managed, led and promoted by high character front line coders and developers. These developers manage to lead and orchestrate very large groups of people. Leaders to aspire to and leaders I implored these young students to use as role models.
Those that have been following will know that the coincidence between my trip to Utqiagvik (which I have been mangling the pronunciation of) this blog and the cold conditions in Chicago led to some media attention. I did a very enjoyable interview on WBEZ’s Morning Edition on Tuesday. A producer at WTTW’s Chicago Tonight listened to that story and invited me on that show. Now, I have actually done a fair bit of radio over the past few years so I was well prepared and not nervous. I have also done pre-recorded TV thanks to growing up in a family well accustomed to the camera (my Dad was a Journalist, now retired) and I had the abject honor to participate in the Alan Alder Science Communications course (and me the legend himself).
I am not going to lie: I was nervous. I am struggling right now to find a comparison, perhaps at the beginning of the Sub 5 100 mile ride I did a few years ago (which ended up being a wonderful success). I also had some key messages I wanted to get out. I needed to let folks know I was traveling with the Argonne Education team but I had to tread a fine line as the research involves kids and I could not talk about to many details.. So lots of work building some pitch perfect sound bites and then committing them to memory! How? Well, Louise, my wife and wonderful sounding board, would ask me “Why were you in Utqiagvik?” allowing me to have 10+ goes at trying different intonations of the line. I chatted with a fellow atmospheric scientist on Facebook, Victor Gensini, who reassured me that you could not find a more friendly forum than Chicago Tonight for a first foray into live TV. He was right. The team there at WTTW studios were professional, friendly warm and welcoming. Isabelle and Louise came with me to the studio and we had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with state legislators, public advocates and leaders in the City we have adopted as our own: Chicago. I was to appear next to Northwestern Paleo Climate Scientist Yarrow Axford.
I felt bad I did not know of her work given my appointment at NAISE. And I should have, she has done brilliant work looking at the geological record for evidence of past climate. Yarrow an I went to makeup (yes.. Makeup!! Another first) and then a lighting and framing check.. Ok, now I was NERVOUS! After that we left the studio and waited to be called. About 5 minutes into the show we went into the waiting area just off camera while a spokesperson from the ALCU was talking about the Chicago PD consent decree. She finished her interview with Paris Schutz and the cut to Brandis Friedman and Amanda Vinicky. Yarrow and I headed out to the interview desk to be wired up for sound while Amanda and Brandis did their bits. I could see the countdown for the return to Paris sitting across from us (Paris could not have been more friendly or supportive!) and all I could think is “I hope I can speak once we start! Don’t choke!”. Fortunately, the format they use on Chicago Tonight is just perfect, you sit across from the host and make eye contact with them and answer clear questions. No looking into a camera and a real human to talk to. This allowed me to ease into a dialogue and, due to the ease Yarrow and I found on meeting, a conversation between the three of us. It all went really well. Only real flub was I found out I had been mispronouncing Utqiagvik the whole time and the locals had just been too friendly to tell me. I would like to thank Meridith Bruozas of Argonne Education who masterminded the trip, Chris Kramer of Argonne Communications who made sure everything was done right with DOE and helped me prep, Jay, Nicole and Paris at WTTW who were just plain nice and the folks of Utqiagvik who were just inspiring. The interview can be found here. Ok.. Back to normal right?? I’ve got some serious coding to catch up on!
It has been a while since my last update. Things got kinda crazy as I will detail below. After a nice day enjoying the warm weather in Anchorage (knowing this will be our warmest weather for a while) we boarded out 11:35pm redeye to Denver. I don’t like red-eyes and avoid them whenever possible. It was not possible in this case and I spent the flight watching Crazy Rich Asians and trying to get any sleep I can, which was about two. After the 5 1/2 hour flight we are back in Denver where we were greeted with a glorious sunrise. The flight back to Chicago was on one of my favorite planes, the 757-300. This is the largest narrow-body (single aisle) United flies. Its like the engineers turned it up to 11 :).
The flight from Denver was smooth and early, all you can ask for! We came in over the lake which had developed an impressive layer of ice since Left. Quick Uber ride home and the rest of the day was left to recovery. I managed to go for a walk and survived with only a 2 hour nap. We had a nice little snow system due in the area. It was one of the quick but impactful systems which produced snowfall rates up to 2 inches an hour. We got about 5 inches out of the system. I love it when kids walk to School so I am militant about clearing snow, I do about 20 houses worth of pavement, right up to where Isabelle crosses the road.
After clearing on Monday morning I settled in to get some work done and, since I had missed several weekend days, get in some home brewing! This is where things got… interesting. I received an email from WBEZ’s morning Shift’s senior producer. Seems they found my Blog… Yes… THIS blog! Given that, as I said in the previous entry, we were basically riding the jet-stream back to Chicago along with a dangerous cold system, WBEZ wanted to discuss this cold, the Meteorology behind it and how we dressed for the cold in Utqiagvik, Alaska. I had done quite a few media engagements, mainly stemming from an award I received from Popular Science Magazine back in 2013. But I was yet to head into the studio to do it in person. After clearing it with our public relations team at Argonne (who are amazing and very helpful) I started writing facts and figures down about the weather we faced in Utqiagvik, what was coming to Chicago and the historical context.
The interview was scheduled to be in the 9am hour so I made sure I took one Metra earlier than I needed. The temperature was already crashing and trains in Chicago do not cope so well with the cold. After an Uber from Union station this NPR Geek arrived in Public Radio Nirvana, WBEZ studios on Navy Pier. After chatting to Daniel, another producer, Meha shepherded me into the studio. Jenn White, host of the Morning Shift, was seated at a table and I could only hear her speaking.. Fortunately Meha pointed out I needed to put on the headphones to hear the radio show itself.
The radio show was a lot of fun. Due to working with minors I could not talk about our work with the students at The Middle School and give the team due credit but we had a lot of fun talking jet streams, weather, Utqiagvik and the cold spell about to grip my adopted city of Chicago. You can find a write up of the story here. One correction though, I did not teach, The Teacher (I can not use his name) was the teacher and Meridith and John were the curriculum team (I think I have made that clear in my blog). But, everyone wants to talk about the weather and, well, I can talk. I hope the education team gets a chance to talk all about their amazing research once the work is done and published. This is my final post on my trip north! Now back to reality, the wonderful reality of an amazing job working for ARM, Argonne and the United States Department of Energy and doing amazing open science.
We are homeward bound. We decided to have a one day buffer in Anchorage on our way back from Utqiagvik as we may have had some need to meet with Alaskan State officials and travel from the Great White can be plagued by weather delays. In the end neither materialized so we were free to spend our Saturday as our own! And boy did we get lucky. It topped out at 33F while Chicago barely topped 12F. I managed to sleep in to 6am, an accomplishment since I had been averaging between 4 and 5. Kinda stuck on Midwest time and the lack of diurnal cycle (sun cycles) means the time you get out of bed is somewhat academic.
The thing I was, without a doubt, was seeing the sun. And the forecast was for above freezing temperatures and partly sunny. So after working on the previous blog post I grabbed an Uber and headed downtown (at 8…). I pulled up at the eclectic Side Street Espresso and had a coffee and Muffin. From there I struck out aiming to hit the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This trail is a gem in the crown of Anchorage!
The trail was very icy but the scenery was stunning. I first noticed the sun as it was hitting the banks on the opposite side of the ice laden bay. The trail took a path inland to the Westchester Lagoon which was completely iced over.. There I was greeted with the amazing glow of the Sun. It was here I realized I was not made to live in the north. A visit is amazing but the sun warms and rejuvenates!
The light, the wind and the temperature were just perfect for a photographic expedition. During my postgraduate and postdoctoral years I was passionate about my photography but I kind of let it go once I started at Argonne.
The trip to a truly unique place (Utquigvik) motivated me to get out my old D200 body, clean it up, by a new waking around lens (18-200 DX VR, very happy!). Good news is I was not as rust as I thought! And better (and self affirming) news is my expensive camera and gear still takes a better photo than my iPhone X :). Even better, as well as providing a much needed leg stretching exercise (to keep my weight loss on track for the Barry Roubaix) the trail provided amazing view back on the city perfect for using a telephoto lens to provide perspective to the background Chugach Mountain Range.
But that is not the thing that kept me walking.. The trail also hugs the end of the main runway of the Ted Stevens Anchorage airport. The airport is strangely busy with heavy 747 freight planes. And the trail provides a unique vantage point to watch departing flights over the bay. I have a first class honors degree in Advanced Physics, a PhD in physical sciences and a graduate diploma in meteorology and I still marvel at these metal machines lumbering into the skies.
5 1/2 miles of walking done, time for some beer, some food and a fair degree of waiting until our 11:30 flight to Denver and then to Chicago. I have found my time in the 49th state of the union, Alaska, to be profoundly formative. I will reflect on this in full in future posts but, in short, I think no other place sees such influence by and on the atmosphere I study. Be it the snow in Anchorage or the sea ice the Iñupiat hunt on in Utqiagvik, water and ice shapes the land of Alaska and the peoples, native and transplanted, work with the water and ice. I’ll be back to this land.