Watch the Tour, really. Here’s How.

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On Saturday the Tour de France will kick off and I’d like to try to suggest/convince you that it’s worth watching. I’ve been watching it on and off for several years now and watching it more and more closely the past two or three years. There are a huge number of reasons why it’s a difficult event to watch and understand but I’m going to explain here how if you’ve got just a couple of hours to kill you can learn about a truly fascinating event that requires a physical and mental toughness from its competitors that rivals any other sporting event past or present.

First though, let me say that i’m not a huge fan of road racing, especially team-supported road racing (like the Tour de France) where the competitors have a  crew that follows them along with spare parts/bikes, etc.  To me, self-supported overland racing like the Tour Divide is a much better measure of a cyclist’s moxie. But anyway, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the TdF is still awesome to watch. 

What makes the Tour de France (and other pro road cycling races) so difficult to comprehend is that it is an individual sport played by teams. You think you understand this. 

For years I thought I understood what that statement meant. Then I watched Slaying the Badger. If you do one thing before watching any of the Tour de France stages, watch this movie. It’s about Greg LeMond’s nasty rivalry with his teammate, Bernard Hinault (aka the Badger).

LeMond is the only American to have won the Tour. His victory predates (just barely) the point at which cycling became a sport of drug-enhanced bullshit artists like Lance Armstrong. The movie is awesome, it’s on Netflix and in under two hours you will come to understand the meaning of the phrase “an individual sport played by teams” in all of its complexity. I implore you to watch this movie. Even if you’re not that into cycling. I bet you will enjoy it. You can’t make up a character as complex and slippery as Bernard Hinault. He’s fascinating to watch.

Which brings us to the whole performance enhancing drug thing which really destroyed road cycling’s image.

Where Slaying the Badger is a vivid picture of total dysfunction at the team level, a new movie that follows around a bunch of younger, (purportedly) drug-free cyclists called Clean Spirit is really a great look at how members of a cycling team can support one another while still pursuing individual victory.

The movie follows around the Argos-Shimano team and its star, Marcel Kittle in last year’s Tour de France. If you watched last year’s tour at all you may recall the moment when British cyclist Mark Cavendish gave Argos-Shimano rider Tom Veelers a shoulder bump and knocked him off his bike. The filmmakers do a really excellent job of capturing how the team responds to Cavendish. Marcel Kittle makes for a great hero in this story that tries to recast cyclists as athletes instead of drug addicts.

Both of these movies are on Netflix. Watch them. Even if you’re not into cycling they give you an awesome background into team and individual dynamics and you also come away with an understanding of just how grueling of an event – physically and mentally – the Tour is for these athletes. 

It’s not just the cycling though. The scenery is awesome and NBC does a good job with zooming out to place you at each stage. Kelly and I really enjoyed the footage last year from Arles and Aix where we road bicycles several years ago.

We watch it with our kids and our oldest always has questions that lead to us looking up some town or city or region on Wikipedia. 

And then of course, there’s the food.  Each stage presents a new opportunity to try a regional wine/cheese/something delicious so that if you can’t ride like the cyclists in the tour, at least you can eat like them.

Oh. Also. To watch the tour, NBC has a mobile that has been getting better and better every year. In past years we’ve just used Airplay to send the live stream (or archived stage coverage) to our Apple TV. Hoping we will be able to do the same this year. 

indoor trainer boredom-beater workout

I’ve been doing some of the workouts in the Chris Carmichael’s Time-Crunched Cyclist book this winter. With another snow storm in the forecast and at least another week on the indoor trainer, I thought I’d share this particular routine. 

The most effective-seeming workout in the Carmichael book is the back to back Over-Under days, I’ll explain what Over Unders are below but what’s crucial is that you have a good rest day before day 1, make sure you do full effort on day 1 and 2 and then have at least a full rest day afterwards, maybe even two rest days.  Like the book title says though, the workouts don’t take very long, so that’s good. Especially since being on the indoor trainer is unbelievably boring. 

Over-Under intervals alternate between a really high-intensity steady state for two minutes and pretty close to all-out effort 1 minute. You alternate between these two states for up to 12 minutes at a time and rest in between sets before alternating again for some prescribed length of time.

Your legs don’t get much recovery during the 12 minute part because after the all-out sprint for a minute you’ve got to return to high-intensity spinning. It’s brutal but helps to burn time quickly on the indoor trainer and the effects are noticeable after just a couple of weeks.

For me, my “Under” heart rate is between 145-155 and my “Over” heart rate is 150-165 (it gets higher towards the end of the workout). Since working this workout into my indoor trainer routine back in November, I’ve noticed increased endurance and longer sustained effort in my legs, seen my resting heart rate come down from 59 bpm to a low of 49 bpm and it makes doing time on the indoor trainer less boring. Anyway, thought i’d share:

From Carmichael book:

“cadence should be high (85-90 rpm). To complete the first interval, bring your intensity up to [92% of your max heart rate]  … maintain this for the prescribed Under time and then increase your intensity to [97% of your max heart rate] for the prescribed time. At the end of the Over time return to your under intensity range and continue riding at the level of effort until it’s once again time to return to your over intensity. Continue alternating this way until the end of the interval… Recovery periods between intervals are typically about half the length of the work interval.” [e.g. a 12 minute interval would have 6 minutes of recovery before the next 12 minute interval.]

Over-Unders require that you know your max heart rate or max power on a power meter because you are going to do 92% of your max heart rate for the “Under” and 97% for the Over but i’ve found that after a few intervals you really need a power meter to be accurate because by the second or third set your HR isn’t recovering the same during the Under portion.

I’m not shelling out for a power meter any time soon but here’s my poor man’s way to do this on the indoor trainer.

Find a gear that you can spin at 88-92 rpm and get your heart rate just at the top of your aerobic range. Something that really beats you up but doesn’t have you gasping for breath, this is your Under gear. Then find a gear that you can barely maintain 90 rpm for 60-90 seconds. That’s your Over gear.

I’ve found that if I force myself to maintain cadence of 88rpm in these two gears no matter what interval or set i’m in, i know that i am working the right amount effort for each interval regardless of where my heart rate is – otherwise it’s very easy to start trying to find an easier gear for the Under portion of the interval and you don’t want to do that, the point is to sustain the effort until the end of the complete interval.

So at least once a week work these two back to back days in to the workout

Day 1
5 min warmup
12 minute Over Under (2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over)
6 min recovery
12 minute Over Under
6 min recovery
12 minute Over Under
6 min recovery

Day 2
5 min warmup
9 min Over Under (2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over)
5 min recovery
9 min Over Under (2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over)
5 min recovery
9 min Over Under (2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over, 2 under, 1 over)
5 min recovery

Junip/Jose Gonzalez

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FOTO BY MALIN JOHANSSON.

I’ve been having my mind blown for the past few days by musician Jose Gonzalez. Something about the songwriting on his new album Vestiges & Claws – the way the songs are written around the strengths and limitations of the nylon string acoustic guitar – really drew me in and I ended up going down the rabbit hole and discovering Junip, a band he plays in.

The more I listen to both his solo work and the Junip material, the more I appreciate his guitar playing. From Sweden (born in an Argentinian family), there’s a bit of Nick Drake in his songs.

Start with Line of Fire by Junip on KEXP video: 

Here’s a cut off his solo album that will give you a flavor of his picking technique:

You can find his new album on Beats and Spotify or buy it on iTunes. This one, I’m paying for on iTunes even though I can stream it with my Beats subscription. 

Leisure

I’ve seen a few articles (WSJ , Business Insider this week attributing Radio Shack’s demise to our loss of leisure time.

No doubt, this quote from RS founder Charles Tandy could lead you to take that position:

“The shorter workweek, human curiosity, idle hands — all offer opportunities in this business. Everyone’s spare time is our challenge,” he said.

I don’t think these articles are correct though. We have plenty of time for leisure but we have forgotten how to be leisurely. Losing the time for leisure is very different from losing the capacity for leisure and – at least for those Americans who have met the most basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, etc – many folks have simplity lost the capacity for leisure. Like gratitude and awe, the capacity for leisure is a skil and a powerful attribute of self-sufficiency that hectic, modern life will just errode away over time if we don’t give it the mindful attention it deserves.

Radio Shack is just the tip of the iceberg of things that have or will dissappear as we continue to lose our capacity for leisure. I wrote a few months back about how John Thorne makes note of our decreased capacity to cook our own food. Many of the things that make life rich and rewarding are the fruit of attention and leisure.

As our attention diminishes so does our capacity for leisure.

Bonus: TED talk on gratefulness from leisure advocate and Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast. Watch Here

nubbsgalore:

“the suburb of agbogbloshie in ghana’s capital, accra, has in recent years become a dumping ground for computers and electronic waste from europe and the united states. hundreds of tons of e-waste end up here every month as countries in the west attempt to unload their ever increasing stockpiles of toxic junk. of the 20 to 50 million tons of electronics discarded each year, 70% will end up in poor nations.

"increasingly, this e-waste is finding it’s way to west africa and countries like ghana. traders bypass international laws by labeling the equipment as second hand goods or charity donations, but in reality as much as 80% of the computers sent to ghana are broken or obsolete. their final resting place is the agbogbloshie dump where they are broken apart, mostly by children, to salvage the cooper, hard drives and other components that can be sold on.

"the disposal of electronic goods in the west is a costly affair and must be done in an environmentally responsible manner. however, in places like ghana there are no such regulations, and toxic metals like lead, beryllium, cadmium and mercury are continuously being released, causing untold damage to human health and the environment.”

photos and text by andrew mcconnell

Mindblowing that the odds are very good that some of my thrown-away electronics are so far away.

Starting a fresh notebook (plus, checking out IFTTT Instagram to Tumblr script). #levenger #moleskine #noadds via Instagram

We have an ever-evolving “morning” playlist that we listen to most school days as we get the kids out the door. Bucimis performed by the extraordinary mandolin player Avi Avital has been on our morning playlist for almost a year now and I think it really sets the right kind of tone for frying bacon, making coffee and screaming at kids to find their jackets and bags.

I just came across this video for a performance of it. The percussion intro is a bit drawn out but worth it (though skip to about 1:30 if you want to get to the song). Plus, smoking accordian!

Enjoy!

This band, Real Estate, and their album Atlas, boy I’ll tell you what. It’s back in heavy rotation after I sort of forgot about it and it is STELLAR. Start with “Had to Hear.” Great sound, production, song writing.

MO’ BETTER LOVE BOWL

My experience of eating a vegetarian entree generally goes through three stages:

1.) The presentation stage where I see the dish I’ve just ordered and think There’s no way this is going to fill me up.

2.) The realization stage where three or four forkfuls into the meal I realize that this dish is way more filling than I originally thought.

3.) The boredom stage where I struggle to reconcile the fact that I’m still hungry with the fact that the food is so boring I could not possibly muscle my way through to keep eating.

And so I either end the meal hungry or trying to choke down something that stopped being appetizing several bites ago.

Because this is usually my experience with vegetarian food, the Love Bowl at Red Bank’s Good Karma Cafe was a bit of a revelation for me. The combination of rice, beans, greens and tempeh with flavors of coconut milk was new to me. It was filling and almost kept my taste buds in the game right through to the bottom of the bowl.

That being said, I knew after my first bite that it could be massively improved with some thin slices of marinated beef. The combination of sautéed greens, thin slices of pan seared beef and sriracha is something I stumbled on this past summer and whenever I have fresh greens from the garden, the dish is in heavy rotation.

And so I set about trying to improve upon the Love Bowl and this week we had it for dinner and it was spectacular. Credit is due to Good Karma for being the inspiration here. This is how I constructed the Mo’ Better Love Bowl from bottom to top.

  • Coconut jasmine rice
  • Cuban-style black beans with red onions, garlic and worchestershire sauce
  • Swiss chard sautéed in bacon and garlic
  • Thin slices of sirloin marinated in soy sauce
  • Drizzled with sriracha and topped with some crushed peanuts i toasted up in a pan.

Most of the above is probably self-explanatory. If it’s not, drop me a message for detailed recipes. NB a few tips about the coconut milk:

  • Substitute some of the water you use to make the rice with about ¾ of a can of coconut milk and add an extra pinch of salt to the rice. This gives the rice a really satisfying sweetness and creaminess.
  • Take the remaining ¼ can of coconut milk and stir it into the sautéed greens just before you take them off the heat.
  • Put about 1/3 cup of finished rice at the bottom of a deep bowl, add 1/3 cup of the black beans. Cover with a thin layer of sautéed greens, drizzle some of the green coconut milk over this.
  • Pan sear your thin slices of beef and put them over the greens.
  • Drizzle with sriracha and garnish with roasted, crushed peanuts.

Kat Edmonson

Ella Fitzgerald

Many years ago (just before Kelly and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon if I remember correctly), my friend Rich Morris turned me on to a version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most by Ella Fitzgerald.

My wife and I ended up listening to it repeatedly while driving the road to Hana and it’s always been a great favorite of ours, partially because it’s a great melody and lyric but also because listening to Ella execute the vocal acrobatics required to perform the piece is just a joy.

Anyway, I went searching for it on Beats the other day and couldn’t find Ella doing it but came across this version by Kat Edmonson. I’d never heard of her. At times her voice is just a bit too cutesy for my taste but she tackles this one without accompaniment and it’s a real show of vocal dexterity and control.

Check it out for yourself on the Youtube

She also does The Cure’s Just Like Heaven which I didn’t care for too much though some of her other cuts like Lucky are good matches with her voice.

So, anyway, Kat Edmonson. Might be nice to put that on while you’re making dinner this week.

Note that when digging up the link above for Ella Fitzgerald’s version, I listened to both Ella’s version and Kat’s and boy, no one can compare with Ella.