Monday, March 30, 2009

Sandy Earl: From Soccer Mom to Ultracycling Superstar

Move over, Dara Torres, there’s a new mom in town poised to inspire women over 40 to achieve their athletic dreams, no excuses allowed.

Unlike Ms. Torres, who’s athletic success as a swimmer spanned over two decades before she became the poster mom for 40-plus women’s fitness, Sandy Earl was a self-professed soccer mom right through her early 30s. Now 45 years old with 19 and 21-year old children, Sandy holds records at many of the most prestigious ultracycling races across the United States, proving women who weren’t born athletic prodigies can still achieve seemingly insurmountable fitness goals.
Sandy’s choice of sport, however, is probably why, despite her accomplishments, she’s not the current inspirational figure to housewives across the country with dreams of achieving personal fitness goals.

Ultracycling is a relatively unknown, underground sport. defines an ultracycling ride as one that is at least 150 miles long, making allowances for climbing.

In 1999, Sandy chose the Furnace Creek 508 as her first major ultracycling race when her entry to Ironman Canada was not received on time. As the name indicates, the Furnace Creek race is 508 miles long. Sandy was the second woman to cross the finish line, finishing in 41 hours, 6 minutes, and 34 seconds, and qualifying for Race Across America.

She was hooked.

The next year, she took on Race Across Oregon, another 500-plus mile race during which she encountered innumerable snowstorms. She was the only woman to finish that year.
Sandy also set course records at a 24-hour race in Iowa in 2000 and 2001, and still holds the female course record at Calvin’s Challenge, a 12-hour cycling race in Ohio, at 249 miles. She also holds the 12 and 24-hour records at the Davis 12 and 24-hour challenge, setting the new female 24-hour record in 2008, at the age of 44.

Sandy has found her calling. Not everyone has the mental fortitude to complete such events—or the luck Sandy has had. In fact, the worst thing that has ever happened to her was taking in too
much caffeine at the 2001 event in Iowa. “I finished that race so cranky!” she says.

Ultracycling is far from risk-free, a fact Sandy knows all too well. The events are not held on closed courses, and traffic is not always respectful of cyclists. Particularly on the freeway, like I-10, on which Sandy rode when she attempted the 3,000-plus mile holy grail of American ultracycling, Race Across America (RAAM), in 2002. (Sandy rode 1,000 miles in 4 days before making the gut-wrenching decision to pull out.)

However, maybe even greater than the physical risk is the polarizing effect becoming an ultracyclist can have on the cyclist’s family.

The training and racing “has definitely brought my daughter and I closer together,” Sandy says. Her daughter, now in college, crews many of her events. But, she adds, “I blew a marriage over it.”

Sandy’s foray into the world of ultracycling, she explains, was “a symptom more than anything else” of a struggling marriage. Her rides made her feel good about herself, and her strength, and gave her a sense of personal accomplishment in difficult times.

Despite tough setbacks at home and on the road (Sandy took several years off from racing after feeling depressed about not having finished RAAM), Sandy has found strength and inspiration in the ultracycling community.

As Sandy explains, “You’re not doing [an ultra event] by yourself. And you’re doing it totally by yourself, which is the coolest part of the thing.” A competitor cannot compete without a solid crew, who makes sure the athlete has what she needs to make it through the event—clothes, food, water, helpful words, music, light at night, etc. But in the end, its up to the athlete to be physically and mentally prepared to race.

Acting as a crew member for friends in countless races, Sandy felt blessed to be “a part of a community of awesome people who do this too.”

After 2006, she did the math and realized that she’d done Race Across Oregon three times, and crewed for friends four times, so, she says, “that means I get to race it again to even the score!” Sandy is currently gearing up for this year’s Race Across Oregon, starting in Hood River, Oregon, on July 11th.

Sandy’s can-do attitude is positively infectious, and certainly part of the reason she’s been so successful as an ultracyclist. She is quick to point out that “the 50-plus women’s record [for RAAM] is out there, and you talk about a 5 year goal, I’m 45 right now. I can see doing that.”

The tale of Sandy’s transformation from soccer mom to elite ultracyclist should inspire women of all ages to pursue their athletic goals—no Olympic medals needed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Big O-N-E!

After years of celebrating monthiversaries, starting with date-a-versary months, a date-a-versary, then full-on monthiversaries, it has finally come.

Sunday will be coachubby's and my first anniversary!

My goodness, we've come so far. About 335 more days than most LA-based couples, according to our 2 biggest and most reliable news sources:, and the National Enquirer.

A mutual love of the outdoors and pain, combined with chronic verbal diahrreah (everything that's on our minds comes out sometime, and can't be held in for long), and mutual respect are to credit for this fantabulous achievement.

So is coachubby's rockin' bod, which will make its 2009 debut at Oceanside in a week. Race wear is highly classified, but I've received an anonymous tip from a highly reliable source to look for the ripped skinny dude with a mullet, speedo, and perhaps a hot orange top.

Just sayin'.

See you out there!

Interview with Race Across Oregon's Terri Gooch

Coming soon!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rest Week Anxiety in Triathletes


I need it.

In fact, I don't want to move. My body and brain are toast from 3 consecutive weeks of going longer, faster, harder. I've even skipped 2 rest-week scheduled workouts.

So why, oh why, do I spend my days anxious about not moving?

In the beginning, I looked forward to rest weeks. I'd have more time to devote to things that get pushed to the side, like dishes, and Sir Gallahad. But with my first superultracycling event on the horizon, not moving makes me anxious, even if all of my being truly wants to sleep and read all day. So anxious, in fact, that I can feel my heart beat irregularly.

It's a tougher brain battle than riding solo back to back hundos. Or getting myself to swim in the South Bay's preferred hook-up area: the 24 Hour Fitness pool.

Perhaps at the root of this anxiety is an identity crisis. Who am I when I'm not biking, swimming, running? Having devoted so much time to fitness, I'm unsure of who I am when I'm not carrying out the physical acts associated with being a triathlete / aspiring ultracyclist.

When I signed up for my first tri, a sprint in Tucson in 2005, I couldn't wait for it to be over. I wanted to be a triathlete. I was excited to affect my new identity. I could be on the couch, watching crap-o reality TV. I was happy; I was a triathlete.

Slowly, however, proclaiming my chosen identity to the world became unnecessary. I didn't want to be labeled. As anything. I am unlabelable. I have never filled out my Facebook "About Me" section, other than to say that I am a "writer/triathlete". Now it just says "writer". I figured that's un-boxed-in enough.

So maybe all of this anxiety comes from separating myself from a previously chosen identity that I secretly still latch onto, despite the desire to be undefined--always searching, always learning about myself, never settling.

Aspiring to a kind of fluid identity is anxiety-producing in itself.

Or maybe, I'm just anxious because my chocolate cake cravings are always the fiercest when I'm not doing enough to justify the indulgence. :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Also Only Cycling in LA...I Hope

Will you see an unchained chain gang cutting down road-side foliage with chain saws.

Honestly, who thought that was a good idea?

The sight of brightly-clad prison inmates with chain saws is enough to make any cyclist sprint a good quarter of a mile, even if it's mile 100-100.25 of her ride.

And rethink riding solo.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Only Cycling in LA...

Could you see the following--during a single ride.
  • relentless fog
  • people setting up to film an episode of "The Biggest Looser"
  • a Peacock farm
  • another farm called the Bony Pony
  • a ditzy blonde in a BMW wondering where the Rock Store is
  • A biker hang out in front of which said ditzy blonde is filming a commercial
  • a giant bull and a buffalo living peacefully together in a pen
  • a stream of Lamborghinis so long, you realize you've just seen the sports car equivalent of 30x more $ than you'll ever make in your lifetime
  • a peacock blocking the entire road
  • a peacock charging you as you take a bathroom break
  • a Middle Eastern cyclist with a flat who just blew a Mexican cyclist's last CO2 and is in desperate need of yet one more cyclist's aid. Good thing flatting is a universal language spoken by all cyclists
If you can get over the traffic (i.e. bring your heart rate, which is sky high from simply thinking of riding on PCH, back down before mounting your bike), riding in LA is a worthwhile, quad-busting adventure every time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Nude Hiking in the Alps!

Looking for some fun reading? Check out the NY Times article that includes this little snippet of hilarity (and one simply awesome photo):

In recent years, it has become fashionable for a growing number of Swiss and some foreigners to wander in the Alps clad in little more than hiking shoes and sun screen. Last summer, the number of nude hikers increased to such an extent that the hills often seemed alive with the sound of everything but the swish of trousers.

It seems nude hikers in Switzerland have no fear of shrinkage.

Why don't I ever see anyone running the Backbone trail naked? It's a misdemeanor. CA is just not as open minded about the human form as Switzerland, despite being one of the most popular places in the US for cosmetic plastic surgery, according to One would think that the plastic people would be lobbying to show off their brand new boobs and butts.

" Switzerland there is no law against hiking in the nude," explains the NY Times.

I only hope Swiss chocolatiers put something on while working.

Chocoholics be warned.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Triathlete Diva Takes on Stanford

I am super thrilled to announce that 2 years of Ironman training, in addition to this year's Race Across Oregon training, have not zapped all of my brain cells. At least they hadn't by last October when I applied to graduate schools; I'll be studying at Stanford in the fall.

Let us pray that the actual event of Race Across Oregon does not fry whatever brain cells I have left before classes start in September.

Woo hoo!

P.S. As Stanford has a triathlon team, I have every intention of rocking the collegiate tri scene next year, an exciting opportunity I never had as an undergrad.

Woo hoo!

Tri "I'm not as blonde as I look" Diva

Beating Recession Depression Session #1: The Cat

If you're bummed about the economy, a nice 100 mile bike ride will release enough endorphins to get you jazzed about life again for a day. Either that, or make you too tired to be upset.

But when a century isn't in the cards, I've got the next best thing: a cat.

Not just any cat, but the one and only Sir Gallahad. Gally for short.

Men like to spend their quiet, contemplative time on the toilet. This is not possible if you have a Gally, but sometimes laughter is just as good for a frazzled body as zenning out on a porcelain throne.


Yes, he's under there:


Happy Tuesday!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Solvang Century...A Day Late

Coachubby's Timex beeped obnoxiously at 4am on Saturday.

Neither of us moved. For 4 more hours.

So much for bandit riding the famed Solvang Century!

A week of intense training left me in much need of sleep, and a late night watching Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott in Role Models just couldn't be followed up with a 4am wake-up call.

In an effort to be cost conscious about racing this year, coachubby and I were fully prepared to drive the 2.5 hours north to Solvang, home of the celebrated wino film Sideways, jump out of the car, and join hundreds of other people on the rolling route north to Santa Maria and back.

(Note: The key to respectful bandit riding is to have all the provisions you need with you. No stealing from the ride's aid stations, no matter how many extra bananas they seem to have. Using a ride-provided porta potty is fair game. However, on a country route like this, there are plenty of places to hide in the bushes.)

Riding with hundreds of other people makes me feel like I won't be the one to get hit by a car, given the hundreds of other options on the road, and our greater visibility in numbers. Kind of like swimming in the ocean during Hermosa Beach's pier-to-pier swim during the summer; there are lots of yummy shark meal options flapping on top of the water with me. My odds of becoming an Erinburger are therefore greatly reduced.

However, when coachubby's Timex beeped in my ear at 5am yesterday, we both actually got up. I needed 100 more miles to round out my week of self-inflicted pain and mental training for RAO. I wasn't going to miss out on the brain game that would be pedaling 100 more miles on top of an already brain-melting week of riding, swimming, and running.

We arrived at the pretty Danish tourist trap that is Solvang around 7:45 a.m., waltzed into the host hotel like we knew where we were going, changed in the bathroom by the pool, and were off.

It was 45 degrees outside. The insta-process of becoming an Erincicle took place.

On the bright side, at least coachubby didn't hit any hotel lobby overhangs with his bike this time. The carbon fiber beauty that is his triathlon bike (the "F Bomb") secured a place inside the car. His road bike (the Leader) only wishes he could have such preferred treatment.

On the even brighter side, the sun began to shine, illuminating rolling hillsides of bright green grass, vineyards, and the white butts of random deer.

The last time I rode through Solvang, I was having my butt handed to me by a professional cycling team. I did not enjoy the scenery. In fact, I never saw anything but road, the backsides of other cyclists, and the interior of the team car that drug me along half of the ride.

This ride was much better. I felt like I was on my way through the Austrian countryside to meet Maria von Trapp for a glass of wine. I had time to stop and take it all in.

In fact, I stopped a lot, making what should've been a sub-6 hour ride about a 7 hour ride. Coachubby's total ride time, as shown on his Garmin, was 45 minutes less than mine, though we finished at the same time. Oops.

On the brightest side, the ride never went anywhere near roads that were very busy, and it warmed up into the high 60s. The road that did have traffic (the 101 up by Lompoc) had a huge shoulder. I was thrilled that we had accidentally come a day late. It was the most peaceful, beautiful, leisurely, rolling, easy century I have ever ridden.

It was a blessing to have the country roads of Foxen Canyon and Santa Rosa practically all to ourselves. Quite calming. Super romantic. It would've been a shame to have hundreds of people around ruining the zen that is riding in Santa Barbara County.

It was also a blessing to ride a century without any sustained climbing. I didn't think I could reach my zen moment so early in training, but the next time I need to get in an extra 100 miles without fearing for my life for half of the ride (riding up PCH in Malibu, or down the 5 in Oceanside) I will drive to Solvang.

The total drive time, at 5-ish hours, is still less than the total ride time, at 6-7ish hours, it's a legal getaway in my book.

My final advice? Strap on a Camelbak and do the Solvang Century a day late. The route markers are still out there, so you won't get lost (the century was orange this year, 50-miler was yellow).

A Sunday ride through vineyards with hardly any traffic is like something straight out of a movie. A movie filmed in France.

CA is cheaper.

Vive la Californie!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Endurance Training Question #1: Diabetes

It might not logically flow that I'd be concerned about becoming diabetic as a result of training for RAO (Race Across Oregon). So I'll let you in on the brain connection game that led to diabetic paranoia:
  1. My dad, a runner, became a Type 1 diabetic within a year of running his first marathon.
  2. If it skips a generation, I'd still get slammed from my mom's side.
  3. If a list were made of the amount of food I shove through my face in a training week--or in a single, 200 mile ride day--the general population would be entirely grossed out.
  4. Let me rephrase that, the general active and healthy population would be entirely grossed out.
  5. My pancreas might have a genetic predisposition to becoming insulin resistant. Therefore, making it deal with 1000s more calories per day than a typical girl my size might catalyze the process of becoming insulin resistant.
In other words, I wanted to know if the massive workload of processing endless Powerbars, Gus, PB&Js, chocolate cake, etc... could possibly screw up my body's metabolic process.

Becci Twombley, Director of Sports Nutrition for UCLA, put my mind at ease when I spoke with her a few weeks ago.

Says Becci, "If you have a healthy pancreas, you have a healthy pancreas, and you can do a ton to it. The insulin resistance and stuff that we see is generally caused by weight gain."

Typically, excess fat alters the shape of the insulin receptors in the body, causing insulin resistance.

This was happy news to me, as the diminishing size of um...certain female parts that are the only female parts for which the motto, "Bigger is better!" usually rules, is proof I won't have issues with fat screwing over my body's ability to fuel monster workouts.

However, a article also cites a "strong genetic factor" as one of several causes of insulin resistance, along with stress.

I can't alter my genes, nor would I want to. I inherited some killer legs from padre, a fact that was confirmed today when I was hit on by a 70-year old German man while walking a friend's dog.

So I suppose the only thing left to do to ensure a safe continuation of monster workout fueling is to take up yoga. Or get one of those Pure Moods CDs.

Reaching a state of Zen will now be one of my RAO training goals, since doing "everything in moderation" (a practice that would keep my pancreas's abilities from ever being questioned) is obviously not.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Race Across Oregon. It's ON!

I feel sick to my stomach.

Unusually, this has nothing to do with chocolate overload.

I just signed up for the Race Across Oregon ultracycling extravaganza covering 527 miles and 40,000 feet of climbing in 48-hours or less.

Why the hell would a girl want to do this?

3 reasons:
  1. Cost consciousness. For approximately half the price of an Ironman, I can officially beat the crap out of myself for almost three times as long as Ironman would let me.
  2. Time. I will never have as much time to train as I do now, considering I will start grad school next fall.
  3. Fear. I have never ever signed up for a race I wasn't sure I could finish. When I first heard about Ironman, I thought, hell yea, I can do that! I have absolutely no idea if I can ride 527 miles in 48 hours. I love sleeping, suck at climbing, and am fully aware that most female endurance athletes hit their stride in their mid-30s to 40s, after pumping hundreds of thousands of miles into their legs.

Having owned a road bike for all of three years, I can safely say my legs have not been primed for a ride of this magnitude.

Neither has my brain.

Gordo Byrn, ultra athlete extraordinaire, once told me he thinks everyone who competes in ultra anything (triathlon, cycling, running) is searching for something. Having married my dream guy and found happiness, I can safely say the drive to spend endless hours pounding out this search for something has dwindled. The mental game will be tougher than it would've been three years ago.

And then there's the pain.

One ultracyclist rated the Furnace Creek 508 as infinitely more difficult than a 100 mile running race, which he had done. I ran 29 miles in two days last week, and couldn't move on Monday.

Therefore, I'm doing this thing. It's on. I'm officially going off the deep end into personally uncharted territory. Because really, if I don't try something that scares me once in a while, how will I grow?

I'll be tracking down the advice of the women who have gone before me, and sharing the mental and physical battles that come with training for this event, including a 24-hour race, and the requisite triathlons.

I am a triathlete, after all.

And hopefully after this event, Ironman will seem like a breeze. Kona, here I come! 2011?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How to Cross the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains

I've got a backboner just thinking about it!

These are the kinds of jokes a girl must put up with when she's the only one in a sea of backbone-crossing men. Amazingly, despite the high testosterone levels, we didn't get lost or have to ask mountain hobbits for directions.

Crossing the Santa Monica Mountains' Backbone Trail without a hitch is no easy feat. Most people who've tried have inevitably wound up confused, as the trail isn't well marked, and maps have different official names for various Backbone trail sections.

You can count on a few flat tires, and a grand adventure.

And if you have my coachubby, you can count on a flawless Backbone Trail crossing--connections completed, crew properly placed, and camping reserved. Put coachubby in the wilderness with a map, and he's a genius.

The weekend was not only a triumphant connection of the Backbone trail from Point Mugu to Will Rodgers State Park, but it was also a huge validation of coachubby's race coordination skills. It was like planning an Ironman for 7-8 people, accommodations and everything.

All in all, coachubby and I were the only participants to connect the entire trail. Several others came for the different legs, the camping, the beer, and the camaraderie.

It broke down like this:

It was a freezing 7am start on Saturday. Meredith (yes! another female!), coachubby, Folks (coachubby's friend from collegiate triathlon), and I were dropped off by Meredith's husband, Jim. Upon exiting the warmth and luxury of Jim's LR3, my fear of becoming an Erincicle began to materialize.

Luckily, the first 3ish miles of 16 mile run from Pt. Mugu were uphill, and we all warmed up. And if that wasn't enough, the 4ish miles straight up Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains at 3111 feet, did the trick.

So did laughing at this butt crack rock formation. It's official name has since been forgotten.

Then it was on down to Yerba Buena, where Jim, and our other crewman, Eric, were waiting, along with mountain biker extraordinaire, Aaron (pronounced A-ron, so as not to confuse us with each other). I stuffed my face with PB&J&potato chip sandwiches and we were off. Jim, A-ron, coachubby, Folks and I.

The 30 mile mountain bike from Yerba Buena to Malibu Creek State Park was going along smoothly. The first 15 miles were mostly downhill and not too technical.

Then Folks did this to his tire somehow:

He was out of the game for the rest of the day. Luckily, there was a bike shop not too far from the half-way point that put him back into commission for the final descent on Sunday.

Despite what I would call near freezing temps in the low 50s, Jim overheated, and bailed from the ride a good 2/3rds into it. Besides cracking endless backboner jokes, boys sweat buckets out of their heads when they exercise. Jim and coachubby could've easily refilled their water bottles by squeezing on their helmets. Gross.

Then we camped, roughing it a few hundred yards from a major LA canyon road:

And made turkey burgers:

While the boys drank and talked and farted late into the night.

The next morning, daylight savings time robbed us of an hour, making it just as freezing at 8:30am as it was at 7:30 the day before.

But again, the 13.1 mile run from Malibu Creek to Topanga State Park started by bringing us up the second-highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. The burn in my quads and rear quickly made me forget about freezing. It did, however, make me think that I would be a good morning kill for a mountain lion, trailing behind the boys all alone.

Lucky for me, when we hit the downhill, Folks's knee went bezurk, making him more appetizing and me less vulnerable.
(Stunt road goes off to the left in this photo.)

We hobbled 2 more miles uphill to the final transition.

After a few more PBJ&potato chip sandwiches, Jim, Meredith, Folks, A-ron, coachubby and I rode the final 11.5 miles from Topanga State Park up to the Hub, then down to Will Rogers, ending on an epic 6-mile single track, complete with people, loose rock, and more people.
(Jim, Folks, coachubby, Meredith, A-ron, me)

No carnage.
Totally rad.
We finished around 3pm, with plenty of time for an evening celebration.

With the economy massively sucking, there's no better time to plan your own adventure than right now, especially if you live in SoCal. It's gorgeous outside, there are limitless trails, and all you need is some gas money, motivated friends, and food. (Some training wouldn't hurt, either.)

Next up: a one-day backboner!
But not too soon.
We still can't walk.

P.S. Want help planning your very own Backbone Crossing from backbone expert, coachubby? Email and I'll hook you up.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Backbone Trail Crossing Completed!


The race report is coming as soon as I stop feeling like I got a sucker punch to the brain. And every inch of my body, including multiple sucker punches to the legs.

Fears #1 and #3 (see below) were entirely valid.

No mountain lion sightings.

However, there were mountain lion poo sightings along the trail, but I'm no Bear Grylls, so the trail poo might've been incorrectly identified. At least that's what I told myself when I was running all alone in the early morning.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Epic Crossing of Santa Monica's Backbone Trail

Coachubby has been planning an epic adventure. Recon rides and runs have occupied his weekends for months, and it's all about to come together this weekend.

We're going to cross the entire Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, starting at Point Mugu, and ending at Will Rogers State Park. About 70 miles total.

Here's the breakdown:
Start at Pt. Mugu, run about 17 miles.
Pick up mountain bikes at Yerba Buena crossing, bike about 30 miles.
Camp at Malibu Creek State Park.

Run about 13 miles to Topanga State Park.
Pick up mountain bikes, bike about 10 miles to Will Rogers State Park.

Sunday Afternoon:

Current concerns:
  1. Becoming a frozen Erincicle Saturday night.
  2. Mountain lions.
  3. Becoming a frozen Erincicle Saturday and Sunday mornings.
No, I am not from Puerto Rico, but I share American Idol finalist, Jorge Nuñez's, feelings about LA's current weather: It's freezing.

...I mean...who's on American Idol?

Check back next week for a full Backbone Trail report so you can successfully stage your own crossing. The trail is not well marked in a lot of areas, so we'll all benefit from coachubby's recon...if he remembers where he's been.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thought of the Day: Newspapers and Pro Cyclists

If newspapers cease to exist, then what will pro cyclists stuff down their shirts to descend?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Home is a Funny Place

Exhibit A: The Leprechaun decoration by my parents' front door

He looks all normal and leprechauney and jovial...

But the second you turn your back, he turns his--to pee on the pillar!

Dad was the first to notice this phenomenon and clued me in so I could capture the mischevious decoration commiting the crime.

Exhibit B: My Dad

We go running together whenever I go home.

When I was leaving to make the trek from Phoenix to LA, my dad said, "Thanks for the runs!"

It's an excellent thing to say to someone with whom you've run numerous times.

I also, however, think that it's totally appropriate to place reflectors on your chest for better visibility on long bike rides, and that people who cross the Santa Monica Mountains' entire backbone trail should wear tshirts that say, "I'm a backboner."

It is no great mystery where my sense of humor originated.