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Archive for the ‘fitness’ Category

It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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It’s an upward spiral that seemingly will not end any time soon.

I’m talking about the cost of health insurance and specifically the cost that you and I – Joe and Jane consumer – get to bear to have adequate health plans that take care of our families.

In this Wall Street Journal story, reporter Avery Johnson notes that the costs employees are expected to kick in to get health insurance through their employers continues to increase – at an alarming rate.

Knock on wood, I’ve generally been a healthy individual throughout my entire life. No broken bones. No chronic conditions. No major hospitalizations, save for a three-day stint of pneumonia that put me in a hospital bed in 2005. I didn’t like it. I’ve not gone back.

My two teenage kids and beautiful wife are also healthy people. So when we open-enroll for health insurance each October/November, it’s usually a fairly quick discussion and selection of the health care plan that includes a higher than average deductible and lower monthly premiums.

Pretty easy until now, that is.

Seems crossing the 45-year-old threshold has me thinking more about health costs as well as retirement planning (which needs to include saving for health care expenses needed after I end my career as a wage earner).

For the past several years I’ve worked in the health care industry. First for the world’s largest medical device manufacturer and now for the world’s largest health plan insurer. My eyes are open to the ways of health plan coverage and the costs associated with them. I’ve developed strong opinions on the use of medical technology to prolong life.

And as health care reform goes into the implementation stage during the next several years, I hope the very industry I work in gets smart at finding ways to help individuals manage their own care intelligently.

  • A focus on health and wellness early in life.
  • Assistance with the obesity epidemic in a way that makes sense (personal health coaches are already being offered through many work plans, but at a cost to everyone not just those who are affected).
  • Common sense approaches (and cost savings) for families and individuals who are above average on the health front and take the necessary measures to stay healthy.

By putting the onus on individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles, stay healthy and make smart health care decisions, Americans should be able to get the care they need when they need it at a cost that is affordable. Sounds so simple, but my gut tells me we remain a long, long, long way away from making that a reality in our country.

As with any major change, it happens in small steps. We first must get everyone pointed in the same direction before the big flywheel will start to turn (aka Jim Collins, “Good to Great).  This happens through various agents including our own federal government launching new laws and programs. But people, we can’t rely on the government to make the change for us.

In the end, our health and well being is up to each of us. Truly. We own it. And if we expect to have access to the best health care in the world, then we better start taking care of ourselves.

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Minneapolis – This year’s edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will go “old school,” with a return to Eddy Merckx-style racing for the individual time trial that opens this year’s USA Cycling National Racing Calendar event.

Kristen Armstrong competing in the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage 1 Time Trial.

Executive Director David LaPorte said the Nature Valley Grand Prix has opted to invoke a new USA Cycling rule that allows race organizers to specify that “massed-start legal” bicycles are required for time trials. The rule will be enforced for the six-mile (9.6 km) St. Paul Riverfront time trial on June 16.

“The decision was made partly to simplify logistics for the teams and partly out of fairness,” LaPorte said. “We have a time cut in the time trial to ensure that no one loafs to stay fresh for the criterium that night. But in the past, we have had some strong riders cut primarily because they did not have time trial bikes. We have also had some riders in the past who haven’t competed because of the expense of bringing two bikes, particularly with the outrageous charges the airlines are imposing.”

LaPorte said he doesn’t expect the change to significantly affect the overall results of the five-day, six-stage race.

“The time trial is only six miles and the last mile is an eight-percent climb,” he said. “Also, with the new road race in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the seconds gained or lost in the time trial are likely to be insignificant. Unlike the old Mankato road race, this course will be very hilly, with lots of opportunities for aggressive teams to shatter the pack. If big time gaps don’t form, it will likely be because the teams haven’t taken advantage of the terrain.”

The Nature Valley Grand Prix will work with USA Cycling officials to spell out the specific restrictions regarding aero equipment (wheels, helmets, etc.), which will ultimately appear in the race bible.

The decision to prohibit time trial bikes is certainly not unique, as several international races (Tour of Qatar, Tour of Langkawi, etc.) have banned time trial bikes and aero equipment for years. In the U.S., the team time trial stage of the 2008 Tour de Georgia featured the same restrictions.

Danny Van Haute, director of the Jelly Belly Cycling presented by Kenda professional men’s team, said the decision to prohibit time trial bikes will level the playing field. “Not everyone can buy time trial equipment and if the pro teams have this equipment, it’s not fair to the riders who don’t,” he said. “I’ll bet the results will be the same with time trial bikes as they would be without.”

Team Vera Bradley Foundation Director Lisa Hunt said it is disappointing for her team’s bicycle sponsor not to be able to showcase its time trial bikes. “However, in the interest of being fair and equitable for all parties involved, I support the decision,” she said. “Clearly, our strongest time trial riders will be strong on a road bike or a time trial bike. So it’s not like we are at a disadvantage.”

LaPorte said he will poll all women’s and men’s teams after the race – as he has done in previous years – to get an idea of whether the new rule should be retained for 2011.

About the Nature Valley Grand Prix
The Nature Valley Grand Prix, which takes place in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, is the premier stage race on the 2010 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar. The 2010 race will include stops in Saint Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Menomonie, and Stillwater. The Nature Valley Grand Prix is a part of the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival, a volunteer-run event, with all proceeds donated to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, the festival’s benefiting charity. More information can be found at: www.NatureValleyBicycleFestival.com

About Nature Valley
Nature Valley, the brand that created the granola bar category in 1975, brings variety to healthy, active consumers looking for wholesome and great-tasting snacks. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Nature Valley is part of General Mills, a leading global manufacturer and marketer of consumer foods products. For more information, visit www.NatureValley.com.

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Seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, doesn’t have to ride a bike. He chooses to because he knows what people facing cancer go through each day. He understands the struggle and the fear. He wants to make a difference.

So no matter what you may think of Armstrong’s comeback this year, this ad from Nike and the 31 words spoken by Lance undeniably proves he’s in it for the cause, not the attention.

LIVESTRONG.

Narrative:

The critics say I’m arrogant. A doper. Washed up. A fraud. That I couldn’t let it go. They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike…for them.

Music: “Auto Rock,” by Mogwai

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Age Defying

I’m showing my age.

At least parts of me are starting to reveal my 40-something-ness. And while my spirit and mental age might be 36.8-years-old (according to results from this test on realage.com), other external signs sing a different tune. I urge you all to take the test, by the way. It’s simple, yet revealing.

Many of you know I’m adopted. I’ve not done a search for either of my birth parents, so my biological history is an unknown. It might be interesting to know what’s in store for me – especially considering the various serious health conditions that I could face, like heart disease and diabetes. But there’s a bit of excitement watching each day unfold not knowing what to expect as well. And as long as I’m taking care of myself, living a healthy lifestyle and getting my share of physical activity on a regular basis, I’m okay letting the chips fall where they may.

Part of the excitement (attention getting change) noted in the paragraph above started to reveal itself a couple years ago. That’s when I first noticed a very, very white eyebrow hair growing from my right brow. Something just didn’t belong. It has reappeared ever since and, more recently, I found a similarly white-ish hair coming from my head. Then, just last month, a white chest hair. Tell tale signs? No one knows, including me. Perhaps in my retirement years I’ll be playing Santa Claus with truly natural all white hair, mustache and beard.

There are other signs as well (I seem a little more jowly and my muscles and joints require more time to recover after strenuous physical activity). I’ll stave off the external and physical changes as long as possible by taking care of the body I’ve been given.

In the meantime, I’ll go with the 36.8 year-old-mantra and act my “real age.” At least until the white hair thing becomes visible to one and all.

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I’m not an avid cyclist. I enjoy it. It’s a hobby to me. In the course of a summer, which is short here in Minnesota, I may log 1,500 miles on my bikes. I know that’s a small number compared to the die hards – heck it’s small even compared to some casual riders I know. But I’m making no excuses. I like cycling. I like it most when the weather is good, the wind is minimal, there is no rain, it’s not to hot.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a fair-weather cyclist. There. I said it.

So this weekend the tri club has one of its monthly century rides planned and I’m all in. It’s a supported ride and no one gets left behind (sounds awfully familiar). What’s more, the weather is suppose to be fair and mild on Saturday. My thinking is, without a lot of prep, I can join up and spend several hours logging the century without my legs seizing up and without killing myself trying to keep up with those younger guys (cough) setting the pace out front.

My main form of preparation for the ride? Seeing the BoDeans in concert on Friday evening at Stillwater’s Lumberjack Days event. Beer tent anyone? I think I’ll refer to this as carbo-loading.  And if Saturday morning comes to early following the activities of Friday night, that century ride can wait.

See, I told you – fair weather.

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True or false: A recent National Institutes of Health study estimated the annual medical spending due to obesity (BMI >25) in the United States to be as much as $92.6 billion in 2002 dollars – or roughly 9.1 percent of total U.S. health care expenditures.

Scary isn’t it?

So what are we doing about obesity? Not everyone can afford to hire a full-time diet coach like the Los Angeles Police Department is providing to its officers who are on the rotund side of the obesity equation. You can read that story, as reported by the Associated Press, by clicking this link.

The solution is really quite simple. Increased activity and eating smaller amounts of processed foods will result in a fitter America. The problem facing kids and adults alike is finding time to eat in a healthy way and the ability to turn off the computer and the TV long enough for 30 minutes of some form of physical activity each day. That’s the start of it…the foundation.

We all make excuses. When our kids are chubby, we tell them they’ll grow out of it. When a diet fails we tell ourselves stress at work or at home is too much to handle right now. Blah blah blah.

The thing is, no one can make us be healthy or active. That’s up to each of us as individuals. I have first-hand experience in this department. Twenty years ago I was nearing 225 pounds and my waist was 38 inches around. Now, at 43 I’m 35 pounds lighter and enjoy regular physical activity. I’m not a freak with it, but I’ve made it part of my life.

If I can do it, any one can do it. Are you an American or an American’t? C’mon! Find a way to stuff your face with the RIGHT kind of foods and use the body to get from point A to point B a few times a week.

By the way, the answer to the true/false question above is TRUE! Wouldn’t it be nice to pocket a little of that $92 billion every year instead of giving it to doctors and nutritionists who are going to tell you to eat less and exercise more?

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