Thursday, June 26, 2008
Q&A with Dr. John Morris--Jerry Phelps
John Morris with his wife Laura and daughters Claire and Ruthie (hiding in the trailer) on the C&O Canal Tow Path.
The NCBC brevets saw lots of newcomers this year—especially promising for the sport considering PBP is so far off. Perhaps one of the most successful was Dr. John Morris. John started the year off right by riding a cold and windy 200km brevet on New Year’s Day put on by Tony Goodnight and Richard and Joel Lawrence. He ventured to South Carolina and Florida for other brevets, rode a flèche, and became a Super Randonneur by successfully completing Alan Johnson’s entire NCBC series.
John is 48, about the average age for a randonneur, lives in Durham, about 3 miles from where I grew up, with his wife Laura and daughters Ruthie, Claire, and Eleanor ages 16, 7, and 4. Among other hobbies, John is a pilot and has flown his own plane to brevets in Florida and Spartanburg.
The Trailer Park sat down for a short Q&A with John recently to learn more about him and to get another perspective on why we do what we do.
RTP--Tell us a little about your cycling background. How did you learn about randonneuring and what attracted you to the sport?
I rode my Schwinn Super LeTour 12.2 in college for travel/touring. For a couple summers, I rode from NC to Ohio to New England, up and down the east coast in various permutations, solo and with friends and family. I didn't ride too much from then till this last year. Occasional week-end bike tours, but not organized club riding or mass events.
I grew up in Ohio, went to Duke for college, then Ohio State Med School and Phoenix AZ for (Family Practice) residency. My career has been mostly as an Emergency Room Physician in NC--at Duke Emergency Department during most of the 90s, and other NC ERs before and after this time. I'm now practicing at Duke Urgent Care, a walk-in clinic in Durham. I don't work at 4am anymore!
I saw randonneuring on the Web. As I haven't been involved in club riding, I had never heard of PBP. The attraction is the physical and mental challenge, within an organized format. Bragging rights at the office have been a perk this spring. ("You're gonna ride HOW far tomorrow??") I did used to be a boy scout, so the "be prepared"/self-sufficient mentality in randonneuring is also appealing.
RTP--How has your family been involved in your cycling accomplishments?
Last fall, I decided to (finally) get back into shape, and get back on a bike. Claire was on a 3 week break from year-round first grade--time for a family biking vacation. Our shake-down trip was the overnight charity event 'Tour to Tanglewood', 50 miles or so on Sat, repeat Sunday. The girls danced at the Sat pm party in front of the stage in Tanglewood for hours. Then we loaded up the van/bikes/trailer/tag-a-long/kids and drove to DC. 8 days on the C & O canal towpath, which becomes the Allegheny Passage, and connects D.C. to Pittsburg. 20-50 miles per day. Flat, no cars, with motels/B&Bs at night. Claire counted 432 turtles in the canal over several days, and Eleanor got to ride Thomas the Train in Cumberland, MD. There is a guy near DC who has a shuttle business supporting the C&O cyclists--he met us in Pittsburg with our van. Then we drove to western NC for the "Mountains to Sea" Cycle NC--the annual big group NC bike event. Another good week on the bikes. Eleanor played me songs on the harmonica in the trailer.
Editor’s Note: In the middle of June, John and family took off for Ohio for a week at the GOBA (Great Ohio Bike Adventure).
RTP--Congratulations on achieving the Super Randonneur award in your first year—a distinction that isn’t often accomplished. Did you set out at the start of your rookie year to earn the SR? Do you have designs to ride a 1200km brevet? If so, when and where?
Yes, I decided to ride at least a complete brevet series this year. I'd like to do a 1200km ride next year. I've been thinking about London Edinburg London next summer, but will also consider something a bit closer.
RTP--As a physician, you are well equipped to understand the physiological changes that occur during long distance cycling. How has your medical training affected your approach to the sport?
I spent a couple months early in my career staffing the small ER clinic at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. In the summer months, the temperature at the bottom of the canyon is usually 20 degrees hotter than at the top. Many evenings about 9-11 pm, the nurse on duty would call me and tell me about college students who had decided to hike down to the bottom of the Canyon and back in one day, taking one bottle of water for the day. About 1/2 way back up, they would become dehydrated and start puking, and would finally crawl out of the canyon by evening and make it to the clinic. The nurse would describe the patients' appearance in terms of how many liters of IV fluids that they looked like they required. ("A couple of two baggers and a 3 bagger.") On the 600K I was determined not to become a "3 bagger", and to use as much of my time cushion as possible sitting in air conditioned local stores during the heat of the day.
I've become much more interested in the physiology of endurance sports this year. Controlling intake of calories and fluid during brevets is a very personal matter, and those who thrive during these events have developed varied successful methods. I'm still mostly in the 'real food' camp, if you define pizza/cookies/frappacinos as real food. However, I have started to ask about some of the supplements/electrolytes/gu/bars etc.
RTP--Your Surly Long Haul Trucker has attracted a lot of attention this year. In one of your first rides, I heard you tell another cyclist, “Well, it’s kind of heavy, but so am I.” Have you or the bike slimmed down since your first brevet on January 1st? What selection criteria led to your choice of bikes?
I chose it because it's versatile. So far, it's my one bike. Family touring, Brevets, Commuter. I've been very happy with it. I've lost 30 pounds this year, and hope to go down another 10 or 20 by next year. If I get to my ideal body weight, then I might think about a lighter bike for brevets or non-loaded touring. However, I think accessories are much easier to lighten than the bike itself. I'm never gonna be a 130 pound hill climber/racer--so I don't think it really matters whether my bike and water and clothes and food and tools weigh 37 lbs. or 39 lbs.
I spent a lot of time on the web researching bikes/gear etc. I like Rivendell, Velo Orange, Harris Cycles, and the randonneur sites such and this blog, Daily Randonneur, and RUSA site for advice/ride reports. Overall, I'm happy with most of my choices in bike/accessories. I'd give a thumbs up to Surly's Long Haul Trucker, Brooks B-17 saddle, and Dinnotte battery lights. Also I like powergrips for my pedals, but am again considering clipless.
RTP--Which of the rides this year was the most challenging for you and why?
The NC 400K took the most out of me physically--I was pretty much beat for 24-48 hours afterward.
RTP--Will you be back next season? Will you have new goals?
Yes, I'll be back. Don't know about new goals--probably will pick a 1200K to work toward. I think I'm getting a little faster, but for me a good goal next season may be to finish with as much 'reserve' as possible. I'd like to be able to do a brevet and feel good the next day. That kind of goal is harder to measure than a 'personal best' time, but it might be worth pursuing anyway.
RTP--Any bits of advice for would be randonneurs?
If I were giving advice about nutrition etc, it would be this: don't pedal with nausea. Stop at the next cool/warm place, sip on whatever fluid that might stay down, and rest till your tummy feels better. I think if you keep pedaling, the cycle of dehydration leading to nausea leading to vomiting leading to more dehydration will continue, and you won't. This advice doesn't help much if you're trying to finish a brevet and pushing the control time limits, but if you have any cushion of time at all, stopping early might avoid a DNF. Of course, with the Surly LHT as a stable touring platform, one might rig an IV pole on the rack, and hydrate/medicate while pedaling. A less sedating IV antiemetic medicine would be best.