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Training With Family: Bicycle Racing with a Young Family

April 8, 2014 in Cycling, Family

2013-08-22 17.55.30

Teaching the family to ride and race is a whole different article!

I know your story.  You used to race or just started… you have a $600,000 mortgage, you spend too much time at work, you just had a baby, and your spouse never signed on for all this cycling stuff when you got married three years ago.  Don’t worry, because I have all the answers right here.  I learned the hard way, which means all the heavy lifting is done. These methods will help you balance your home life and racing aspirations. It may even enable you to squeak out a top ten placing in your favorite racing series.

1. Get the Family On Board: Without the support of your spouse, children, and family pets you are not going to get far.  Start off by ensuring your spouse knows how important this sport is. This is tricky. It is just bike racing after all. You could try taking the significant other to a major European event, which is almost a sure fire way to get buy in, but that is costly and could back fire. Look to try and explain the intangibles, and relate it as closely to “faith” as possible. The best description I’ve heard about racing came from a friend, and had that air or religious conviction which speaks to the more spiritual types.  “It’s not a hobby, its not a job, it’s a vocation.”  Start there and work your way down to begging. There might be a break through in there someplace if you cry enough.

2. Consistency is King: The hardest part about juggling family, career and cycling is consistent training.  Give up on the dream of getting in those 12 hour training weeks.  I know there are super organized ‘A-type’ people out there who can manage everything, but that’s a select few and hard to maintain year over year. Don’t put pressure on yourself that big training loads is the only solution.  Realistically you likely only have 4 hours during the week and maybe 3 hours on the weekend to train.  Be consistent about getting out every day even if it means you take a haircut some days and only ride for and hour.  Over time a routine will develop, and the hours will add up.  Don’t feel bad about only riding a few hours a week – Stuart Smiley put it best  “As we say in program: progress, not perfection.”

3. Train with a Power: I bought a PowerTap purely out of peer pressure.  Everybody I knew was using one so I splurged and got me a wireless ‘yeller’ handlebar unit back around 2006.  I had a vague notion of how it could help me manage my time better, but it didn’t pan out quite like I expected.  One of the challenges of the family bound cyclist is that no matter what, you can’t go to as many races as you’d like. Travel time, expenses, and time away from home mean that racers with family have to be more discerning about the number of races they hit during a year.  Without the ability to gauge where you stand in the peloton every week its hard to assess fitness, speed, and other metrics that are so important to helping a rider get on the podium. I found the PowerTap helped me track my progress without racing every weekend. At this stage I can tell how well I’m riding based on a few sprints, and quick 20-minute ride up Old La Honda, a popular 3.1 mile California hill. It also provides a great way to measure progress year over year once it is combined it with the software like TrainingPeaks.

4. The Long Ride: I spent all this time telling you to do more with less.  Here is the flip side.  If you can get in one long endurance ride, consistently remember, during the week or weekend it will help maintain your base throughout the year.  I found more than anything else, one good endurance ride a week helped provide a foundation through out the year for intensity focused workouts, group rides, and training races that I used to get ready for racing season. Ironically I found that on weekends I had less time to train, and my rides were allotted to about two hours per day.  From my families point of view a free day was not time for me to go on a 4-hour ride. My families expectation was that we would be hitting museums, building forts, hiking and playing with lego.  My work schedule has been flexible enough where I can take 3-4 hours on a Tuesday or Wednesday to go on a long hilly group ride.  I had to stay at work later on those days, but it helped me maintain my sanity in my professional and personal life.  When I’d miss it, my behavioral reaction was noticeable.

5. Minimize Travel Time: Every couple has a different temperature gauge on what is acceptable so I can only speak from experience on this one.  If a race is more than an hour away I don’t go because it puts me too deep in the hole with my spouse.  I suggest that if you are racing with family stay as close to home as possible so you can fully enjoy the experience at the race and not feel too rushed.

6. Tight Race Day Time Management: Get your race day routine dialed in.  Equipment, nutrition, warm up, parking, and exit should all be set up and ready to execute the night before your race.  Hang out with the family before you leave. I suggest a nice breakfast, and make sure you don’t loiter and miss the ‘Return ETA’ set by you and your significant other.  Spouse management is half the battle and will help for the important build up weeks that you want to put in more training time.

7. The Race Day Swap: It is entirely possible to coordinate with another parent and do a child-swap so that you each get a race in.  This creates some good will at home, and gets the little ones involved, but it also requires a lot of planning.  Bring snacks, bring toys, and electronic device with videos. The hardest part of the plan is pre-race routine. Being a servant really contradicts the needs of a prima donna cyclist. Frankly, throw out all your aspirations of doing well if you are doing a swap. Just getting through the day without everybody throwing tantrum will be a win.  Pro Tip: Make sure your races are not back-to-back so that you both can get in warm up time on the bike before you race.

8. Bring the Family Circus: Bringing the whole family is doable for one or two races so use it wisely.  I like to bring the family out for races which I can generally perform well in and that have a fun Atmosphere. I used to love the cyclocross race in Golden Gate Park, which has since been tragically abolished by some fascist park managers.  After the race we would go out see some of the sights in San Francisco.  I also try to take the family too any race that has the potential to be a blow out party replete with a tent, snacks, drinks and all the trimmings.  I took my son to the Downers Grove Criterium in Milwaukee one year.  He ate three brats, two chocolate milks, and two snow cones. He’s loved bike racing ever since. Whatever race you take the family too it should be a great location or a great party.  Taking your family to an empty field or corporate office park, with no people and a bunch of racers, will not earn you much respect when they try to picture what you do every weekend.  A little flash will go a long way to getting the family team on board with your training plan.

9. Race in a Block: Just like the pro’s train in season blocks, you should race in finite periods of time.  I like cyclocross season, September to early December, because it runs 10 weeks, and a lot of races tend to be part of a series that don’t run across consecutive weekends.  This works out great for the family racer since a five to six race series is enough racing to keep you motivated, and probably close to what a rider can handle on less than eight hours of training a week.  I find after six cross races, and the usual stress of juggling training, work and family, I am cooked and ready for a break. A shorter, more focused race season provides the intensity, community, and atmosphere I have grown to love, and makes my significant other feel like my life doesn’t revolve around cycling, even though it still does a little bit.

10. Don’t Judge A Race by Your Result: Getting discouraged by results is the family racer’s worst enemy. I have frequently had to beat the “why do I bother” thought out of my psyche after finishing 22nd instead of 10th.  If you are competitive, results oriented disappointment is a tough aspect of racing to overcome.  I’ve met only a few “nearly/former pro” riders who have been able to juggle family and racing, and truly perform to their potential.  Many folks that are successful have prioritized cycling before their careers, and only the most dedicated A-type personalities who can handle getting up at 4 AM to train, succeed at all three. I’m not on that end of the personal drive spectrum, I like ice cream and chocolate too much, and I’m starting to understand that’s okay.  If a life of sacrifice and toil is not what you singed up for, then try to eek out incremental gains at each event with an eye on the bigger picture.  Cycling, especially cyclocross, is about the war not the battle.  It can take years to dial in training, fitness, and technique so being consistent from race to race, and year over year, will help improve over time.  Patience is a key, but the results will come if you can reconcile that progress may be slow and steady.

11. Winter/Rain Options (2014 Bonus Track): Getting a winter solution dialed in will help.  In colder climates, like Wisconsin where I now reside, riding outside just isn’t and option. Ice roads and extended periods of time in sub 20-degree weather increases the potential for injury and sickness beyond what any family rider should take on.  The same goes for rainy winter climates like Northern California, where safety concerns should outweigh the benefits of extended time riding in wet conditions. A close friend who recently had a baby swears by splurging on a good trainer and media set up.  He says if you don’t dread it, then time on the trainer isn’t so bad.  I’ve been eyeing the LeMond Revolution trainer, and Sufferfest videos, which have both received strong reviews.  Carving out a little cyclist enclave with enough room to sit, change, watch a race, and rider your trainer will be an investment that pays off come June.  Personally I have not been able to make the jump, and have opted to spend time learning to skate ski in local parks.  A cold winter with frequent snowfall helped me improve dramatically through the year, but come March I hit a wall when snow disappeared and cold rain and temperatures kept me off the bike. Suddenly the trainer option looked appealing.

Bonus Tip: Getting family involved in racing is the family racers dream but let them (kids and spouse) come to you.  I pushed my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and is a very strong cyclist to try a race.  My wife is very competitive and overcooked a corner her first lap, I figured she’d be happy finishing not competing, and broke her arm.  Since then getting her to try a race has been impossible.  The moral of the story is… let them come to you after they see how much fun it is.

Training with a family requires creativity and stronger desire to participate than perform.  If you have the desire and belief that showing up is half the battle, then you can race into your golden years with the support of the folks you love the most.  Unless you have some seriously good genes these tips are not going to win you any championships, but it should get you close enough to the front of the race to impress your family, and make you feel competitive.   

TB Evolution with The Pepperell Lab

September 12, 2013 in science, Techology

At first glance explaining my wife’s job is easy.  She is a doctor, with a hard earned MD that required sleepless nights, a few traumatic rotations in residency, and a grueling fellowship period which felt like indentured servitude. It was probably hard on her as well. Once she earned her stripes she went to work in a lab for several years at Stanford, which enabled her to pursue her scientific interests, and medical training at the same time. My wife, Dr. Caitlin Pepperell, who I refer to in the rest of the post by her professional title, Dr. Pepperell, now runs a research lab at UW-Madison and practices clinical medicine through the University Hospital. Sometimes, when I’m explaining what she works on, things can get complicated if my conversation partner is not satisfied with an oversimplified answer that goes something like, “She works on infectious diseases, mostly tuberculosis and other scary things. She’s the doctor you never, ever, [long pause for effect] ever, want to see.” 

Satisfying detailed inquiries into what my wife does, or more specifically, what kind of research she produces, is challenging. The problem mostly stems from the fact that she’s involved in a new style of science. He research world is less Frankenstein-style-test tubes and clean room labs, and more Google server farm big data computation. Her work requires her to be part sleuth as she seeks out scientists across the globe who possess valuable, unused data sets.  She also needs to be part start up CTO as she pulls together groups of scientists, doctors, mathematicians, evolutionary theorists, computational biologists, and other assorted engineering types, which you would never think are working on detailed analysis of diseases like tuberculosis.  A sobering moment for me was when she whizzed through a python course, and then hit me up to help get her lab squared away on Amazon S3.  She had more engineering acumen than most of the product managers I knew at Yahoo! and AOL. 

Pepperell’s science is quantitative and data modeling intensive, and as a result, tends to be cheaper than labs which need to invest in specialized equipment and staff.  It’s been enabled by the dropping price of sequencing technology driven by companies like Silicon Valley based Pacific Biosciences.  Researchers are now able to sequence a genome for under $1000, in less than a day.  The falling cost of sequencing has meant a large influx of data, and only a handful of scientists, like Pepperell, are taking advantage of the data glut.  Should Wall St. hit another bump in the road, the analytics professionals that have found themselves in finance may find a few use for their skills in the world of medical research. 

Like most scientists, or academics for that matter, it’s a cause of celebration when a paper comes out.  We send it around to friends and family, who politely pull it up on their screen, and then realize that the work will is all but impenetrable.  I confess that I spent a night trying to read her latest work, ”The Role of Selection in Shaping Diversity of Natural M. tuberculosis Populations” (PLOS Pathogens -, and quickly resorted to scanning the paper for sentences, and eventually words, which might make sense to me. Thus did go my introduction to the world of bioinformatics, genomics, and evolutionary biology. My inability to understand even the abstract of my wife’s work, an experience which was echoed by most of our friends and family, is what led me to tackle a layman’s explanation in this post and, a related podcast. 

The Basics

When I eavesdrop on conversations people are having with my wife at dinner parties or soccer games, I frequently hear our friends say, “I didn’t know tuberculosis was still a problem!” Dr. Pepperell then patiently walks through the basics, which usually has the effect of freezing our friends in the place while they wait for her to tell them that everything will be okay.  

Tuberculosis (TB) infects 1/3 of the world’s population, and is only second to HIV as an infectious killer. To cap it off Multi-Drug Resistant strains of TB have emerged, commonly referred to as MDR-TB, which are resistant to two of the most effective treatments, isoniazid and rifampin. The good news is that only 10, 528 cases of TB were reported in the US in 2011. According to the CDC, that is the lowest number of reported cases since they started tracking in 1953. The bad news is that world wide 1.4 million people, a population size equal to Phoenix or San Diego, still died of TB. The CDC, and WHO websites, where all the preceding data originates, read like a mix of cautious optimism (infection rates are decreasing), and dire warnings, (funding constraints on TB “care and control”, and the steady rise of MDR-TB.)       

Despite medical advances, and encouraging stats in the U.S., TB is still an effective and prolific killer world wide. Determining why it has been so successful for the last several hundred years is where Pepperell and her colleagues come in as they map out the disease’s evolutionary path. Unlike the deadly diseases we hear about in the mainstream entertainment media like “Contagion” or “The Andromeda Strain”, TB does not appear to evolve quickly. The DNA sequences of different TB strains are similar to each other.  ”The evolutionary constraints on TB are strong,” Dr. Pepperell explained as I tried to sort out how her work fits into the bigger scientific picture of TB care and control.  Mutations in TB are not tolerated well, and yet the biggest problem facing the bodies charged with controlling TB, are strains of the disease like MDR-TB, which are seemingly immune to common treatment protocols.  Pepperell, and her collaborators, hope to refocus the problem by mapping out an accurate evolution model which can be used by other researchers. “Once you understand how TB evolves,” said Pepperell, “You can model it and experiment with different strategies on how to eradicate it.” 

Studying the Evolution of the Second Deadliest Disease

To create their model the Pepperell lab, and their collaborators, analyzed 63 genomes of TB from across the globe. Their key finding from the analysis is that TB has evolved at its own rate, ignoring its human host’s evolutionary specialization. With the aid of computational detective work, the team of doctors, Ph.D’s, computer scientists, and mathematicians, created algorithms which rolled back how quickly TB has evolved. Their mathematical take on the history of TB’s evolution also offered up another important finding: there is a clear and direct relationship between world wide human population growth and the growth of TB. Like a lot of good science the end hypothesis seems simple and logical, but previous theories have contended that TB evolved at the same rate as humans, and the models placed the origination of TB as far back in time as the original migrations of humans out of Africa. 


The Pepperell Lab looked at 63 strains of TB. This graph from the paper demonstrates where they are from and how they compare to human DNA.

The detailed look at how multiples strains of TB evolved across the globe has provided a better picture on how the pathogen continues to be so successful. The similarity between the different threads of TB around the world has perplexed researchers until now. “Strains could appear similar to each other because they are evolving slowly, or it could be that strains are evolving quickly and most changes are “kicked out” of the population,” said Pepperell about the final comparison. “We showed that the latter was true, which resolves the paradox of most strains looking identical, yet seeming able to mutate rapidly and acquire drug resistance.” 

The data produced by Pepperell and her collaborators, many of whom are a “who’s who” in the world of computational biology, puts these old theories to rest and starts a new vein of research to find a patient X, who can offer up an ancient TB sample to help trace the disease back to its origination point, both in historically, and geographically. With an eye on mapping how TB evolves, Dr. Pepperell aims at laying out the most basic understanding of one of the world’s deadliest diseases. 

Below is an interview I conducted with the good doctor before putting this article together.  It covers most of the above topics as well as a broader look at TB and the details of her research. 

For additional info about Dr. Pepperell, The Pepperell Lab, and their collaborators, check the following resources

Additional Links and Data Sources



Nobody Likes the Truth

May 26, 2013 in Cycling

photoI always thought calling a TT the race of truth was a cliche.  Today I got to cover the National Championships race for and I changed my mind.

There are not many “stand-alone” time trials in cycling.  National Championships, World Championships, the Olympics and a handful of events around the world.  Usually they are part of bigger stage races like the Tour of California or Tour de France.  Generally there is not much strategy other than “Ride as hard enough to make yourself puke and back off 2%!”  There are a lot of details, but not much strategy.  Asking a rider how they prepared, how the race went, etc is a little tedious.

Plus it’s not like a criterium or even a road race where you can pick a spot to see race action.  Riders generally go out, and come back, end of race.  I wasn’t sure what to do with myself so I’m sure I wasted a lot of time.  I did get a draft of the women’s race  article done when I watched the men but then trying to get quotes from riders seemed even harder because all the folks who didn’t get on the podium wanted out of there ASAP.

I did have one insight after talking to all the women, and a few of the men, after the TT.  There is only one happy person at the end of a time trial.  The winner.  My interviews were a series of talks with dissatisfied or unhappy athletes.  Their bodies let them down, their equipment let them down, their brains let them down, their team let them down, pick one they were beating themselves up about it.

The monicker “race of truth” seemed more appropriate after these conversations.  Who wants to look in the mirror and really be told what they look like, or how annoying they sound, or how they aren’t half as clever as they thought.  These riders all had to face up to the fact they were not nearly as good as they had though, or hoped, they were.  Nobody likes that kind of truth. It’s like hearing your grandparents don’t love you, your dog likes your friend better, or your parents are getting divorced.

As I was talked to the riders, and worried that my arms were looking fatter as they burned red under the Tennessee sun, I had another thought. Several riders walked me through their mental checklists of why things didn’t go their way and what they would change. The unhappy riders, the folks that didn’t like the truth they found, they had big ideas on what to start fixing.  They might be unhappy, but they were motivated.




Destination Chattanooga

May 25, 2013 in Cycling, Travel by tedcburns

I drove to Chattanooga on behalf of Cyclingnews to cover the US Pro championships. You can see my preview of the race here:

USA Cycling Professional Road Championships 2013

I’m hoping i can get some cool footage of some of the riders I know for a short test documentary on the fancy camera I bought from my sister-in-law.  I’m also hoping i don’t break it since it was expensive.  I have to carry around instructions with me everywhere to help me figure it out.  I won’t look totally pro but I’ll have some good shots.

Harvest Moon

The drive from Madison to Chattanooga is pretty long.  11 hours in total, and if felt like it kept getting longer.  Still, it was through interesting parts of the country i haven’t seem much of.  Indiana (fields), Kentucky, small odd snapped domes that made little hills, Louisville, Nashville (this place looks too hip for me) and the rest of Tennessee which seemed to get a little wilder as i approached Chattanooga.  As i pulled Chattanooga into view I saw the biggest moon of my life over the hills.

I had a friend in California who was making a hobby out of capturing images of the moon.  I never really got it until i saw this huge ping disc rising in the sky.  It looked like a scene from a movie.  I understood what he was going for.  Partially it’s trying to pin down the beauty of a large harvest moon but it’s also the magnitude, can you capture it in a way in which it will feel so powerful.  Which makes me wonder, are we trying to capture some of the power for oursleves?

I tried with my iPhone but the windy drive made me constantly loose my shot and taking pictures while i’m driving is just not good karma so I decided maybe i could get it with my real camera tomorrow.

Essentailly i starved myself on the way down, i subsisted on a coffee/croissant in the AM.  Two cokes and a Yoohoo, and a small bag of chips.  I might have eaten some stuff from the kids snack box.  All in all i estimate it was about 800 calories.  Then i had chicken strips and fries which I assume reached into the 1000′s.

I set up a new twitter account @veloeur for posting news on the US Pro championships.  I’m basically using this as my journal today.  My last thought… Satellite Radio is totally worth it for long drives.  Howard Stern, PRX, NPR, BBC… it went by pretty fast.


First Post On The New Veloeur: Chicago Trip Rememberances

May 4, 2013 in Family, Travel by tedcburns

2013-03-28 17.16.34

  • I went to Chicago with my family and we spent way too much time discussing how we should get to point A and B and not enough time doing cool stuff.  A couple of observations….

C-Monster, my wife, does not like crowds.  This makes cities a challenge.  We started off with Navy Pier which was a little cool, but on the way back we walked through the building which had this great exhibit on stained glass.  Lots of Tiffany, artists, church pieces and more modern stuff.  It was cool.

The kids started to melt down on day two.  A three day city trip is too much.  Two days would be just about right.  And they could use more pool time.  I took Myrn (8 year old daughter) to the Art Institute.  She though it was okay and liked taking photos but when we hit the Miniature Room on the lower level it was game on.  We had fun there.

We ate at Blackbird on Randolph. Might be best meal i ever had.  It was insane.  And we sat next to a bunch of actors. That always makes C-Monster feel good.

Deadly had full on meltdown when we left.  Since then he’s been coming up with killer story concepts…. he’s gonna be a showrunner some day… some of his work is below

  • Danger Daddy and his cool kids
  • Goldilocks and the three strawberries
  • Aliens and the earthling baby
  • The glass people
  • There might be frogs