Archive for the 'Off-The-Bike Thoughts' Category

A Triathlete in a Cyclist’s Body

tri on a bikeI have experienced many different challenges in cycling–from crossing the United States in 40 days to climbing the mountains of France, Italy, and Colorado. The roadmap to getting to this level was simple: get on your bike and ride. Sure, there were several lessons along the way on avoiding overtraining, dehydration, and choosing your gears wisely as your gain strength. For the most part, the advice was consistent and the miles led to more ability.

About a year ago, I thought I’d add some new flavor to this activity by adding two sports: swimming and running. For years I said I never would—I knew nothing about these sports and both seemed difficult. Basically, I couldn’t swim. Yes, I could get to shore if I fell off a boat, but barely. The last time I had ran, a half-mile seemed too far.

But through this journey into Triathlon, I’ve learned quite a bit—mainly what not to do. Triathletes starting out as cyclists have a special challenge, in my opinion. There are many more mistakes to be made in the other sports, and you can’t jump in nonchalantly. As many will tell you, in a Triathlon, you swim to the bike–you bike to the run–and then the race starts.

Although I am in no way an expert of transitioning from a pure cyclist to a hopeful triathlete, I thought I’d capture the thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain on the subject, and share them with others who might benefit from learning from my mistakes.


It seems way too easy to injury yourself as a runner. The wrong gait, the wrong shoe, the wrong mileage strategy all lead to injury. In my first Half Ironman, I had to walk/run half of the run portion and dropped from 35th in my age group to lower than 70th. And it hurt. A lot.

You will be told you shouldn’t increase your miles per week by more than 10%. You will be told it is better to keep your cadence high(ish) and not worry about your pace. You might be told to keep your strides short and don’t overextend (“hide your feet” I was wisely advised). But if you don’t ask questions about this, you won’t learn about all this until it is too late. It takes a long time to recover from running injuries, too. 

Somewhere along the way, you’ll also be introduced to rolling, better stretching (even when you’re NOT running), yoga, and core workouts (especially hips and glutes!!!).

So avoid jumping in carelessly.  Assume nothing is easy.  Once you master the basics, there are tons of form and drills you’ll have to learn, too.


I learned swimming is all about technique. Think aerodynamics–wind passing over a car. The less you fight the water, the more efficiently you swim. This doesn’t have to be about speed—it can encompass saving you effort. Recently, I changed three things about my approach in the water and gained 10% speed while reducing the amount of effort to cover the same distance.

Like many cyclists, the hardest part was getting started. Find a beginner’s class. Tell them you know nothing. And jump in. Don’t think about it too much. As a cyclist, I already had the fitness, so it wasn’t hard to progress. Even with poor form.

Swimming in open water intimates most everyone at first.  Swim with a local Triathlon club.  They will take you through the basics and give you some comfort.  Yes, the water is dark.  Yes, you have to learn to like cooler temps than bath water.  And yes, there are living creatures nearby, but they are more afraid of you than you of them.  It takes one to two swims to get used to the concept.  After that, you will love it.  Seriously.  And you get to dress up like a super hero when you buy your first wetsuit.

While training indoors, you might have to get used to showing a little more of your body than you’d like.  But you know what?  No one cares, and frankly, no one is looking at you.  Much.  Wear a swim cap and dark goggles–no one will recognize you.  Maybe.


A major shift for some cyclists is giving up on drafting. Stop doing it. You will not be able to draft in a race. If the wind bothers you—embrace it. Learn to love the challenge. You will also have to learn to love indoor training (which I never preferred). At times, it is easier to execute a training day on a trainer than stopping continuously for traffic lights and cars.

If you’ve enjoyed long endurance rides most of your cycling career, get ready for more interval work. And the opposite is also true. The harder part will actually be scaling back a little if you’ve been an avid cyclist.

As a long-time cyclist, it’s easy to think you’ll make up for weaknesses in the other sports by riding really hard and gaining time during the bike portion of the race. All you’ll do is make the run harder and run out gas sooner (and all the triathetes you passed on the road get to laugh at you as they run by you). The good news is your cycling fitness will allow you to optimize your ride. Get to the run in the best shape you can.

The Bigger Picture:

Complexity goes up quite a bit when you add even one more sport to a race. You might get away with not drinking or eating enough on a ride when you can replenish when you get off the saddle. Not the case in triathlon. Many a race has been crushed by poor decision-making in the area of nutrition. Decisions about equipment can be deal-breakers, too.

In the end, the best advice I can give you is: get a coach. It is much easier to have one source of advice. This includes not just technique, nutrition, recovery, and your weekly training plan, but also your race day plan (including how to deal with transitions between sports). And good advice is even more critical when you’re injured, overtraining, or something unexpected happens.

I did the Lone Ranger approach to training for a few shorter triathlons. I got fairly far, fairly fast. Leveraging my cycling fitness, I thought I could get away with it. I was just kidding myself and ended up with ITB Syndrome. Don’t make the same mistakes—don’t assume running and swimming are the same as cycling. Especially when you will do them all in the same event.

Do I Need to Love My Bike Shop?

In a word, yes. 

Bikes, parts, and gear are available everywhere from superstores to etailers.  Certainly there is some sense to saving cents, but you must be careful about the “big purchase” and how you plan to maintain your precious ride.  If you buy your bike from a local shop, you’re a part of their family.  They “own” a small part of your bike–mainly the part that makes it safe to operate.  They own the reliability.

This means, when its not right, they’ll fix it.  But first, you must develop a relationship with them.  For some, it means getting to know the owner and the mechanics.  For other shops, you can go with them on rides on Saturday mornings or week nights.  For others still, it might be bringing over a six pack or some brownies and sharing stories from great trips.

Having a shop to rely on means they’ll be there for advice on all things cycling: when to upgrade, what events to look into, how to train, eat, and dress.  They’ll have events they’ll invite you to.  They’ll welcome you in and ask you about your training.  Some of the best shops have coffee, WiFi, and a Facebook page.  Meaning you’re connected.

I’m not advocating spending all your “bicycle allowance” in one place.  If you can get a deal on tires you’ve used many times at a volume discount online, go for it.  But I’m not a big fan of buying your own cassette or bottom bracket and expecting the shop to be excited to install it.  They might have concerns over fit and operation with the other parts.  Play it smart and discuss the big buys with the shop.

Many shops will be more than happy to show you how to fix your own bike, too.  Flats, Truing, Emergency Road Repairs.  All good stuff you might want to know.  Some shops have fitness and training programs.  Others have extremely high tech equipment for fitting you to your bike (or next bike) so you’re getting the most from your effort.  And more importantly, avoiding long-term injury from a poorly adjusted bike.  For those who don’t know, a millimeter in seat height, 1-degree of seat or handle bar angle can make all the difference.  I’ve had numb fingers or neck pain and know this from experience.

Bottom line.  A shop is a lot like your barber/hairdresser.  You can go Cut-for-Less and get an express cut.  Or you can go to the same gal for years and know what to expect every time.

If you have your own reason for loving your bike shop, be sure to leave a comment on this blog post.

Is That Tobacco Juice on My Leg?

So today was a tough training ride.  I had to ride painstakingly slow to maintain a low HR for endurance training.  The reward for 40 miles of this (other than frozen fingertips):  A Tobacco Juice Shower.

Now I’m exaggerating a little bit. It was only on my leg.  Although, it did surprise me when it happened.  And of course, as a cyclist, this is all my fault.

Yes, I was riding on a single-lane road at a slow speed and taking up a few inches to the left of the white line (although as far to the right as possible on this narrower stretch).

Yes, I must have forced the SUV of fellow citizens to slow down as they passed me (only to turn right seconds later into a school parking lot).

And yes, I know that I have a legal right to share the road, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

And I am sure the driver was unaware of a nationwide push to enact a “Three Feet” Law that already exists in Tennessee.  The driver may have forgotten that those few inches between his side-view mirror and my head may be inches I decide to use in the last second to avoid a piece of glass on the road.

With all this in mind, I’m sure the passenger felt it necessary to teach me a lesson in bicycle safety and throw a cup full of tobacco-laden water at me.  I’m sure he was aiming for my legs as just a subtle reminder as to who “owns the road.”  Certainly he knows that if it had hit my face I may have lost concentration and swerved into the lane in front of the next car.  Not sure, I would have learned a lesson that way–maybe my fatherless children would have.

Since it was all my fault, I did not follow the SUV into the school parking lot to apologize for my transgression (after all, I might have been misunderstood and gotten pummeled in the process).

Since it was all my fault, I didn’t go into the parking lot and wait until they left the car unattended and let all the air out of the tires (after all this would ignite their simmering dislike for cyclists and maybe they’d do something worse next time).

No.  Instead I thought, there must be something positive I can do. Since it was all my fault after all.  So I decided to give a friendly wave to every driver who had to wait even a second (due to oncoming traffic) to pass me using a three-foot clearance.  I gave a friendly wave to all of them hoping positive reinforcement would help build a more positive relationship between drivers and cyclists.

I won’t mention the kind of wave I provided my tobacco-chewing friend.

The Secret is Setting Goals

Whether learning to ride for the first time or elevating performance on a road bike, the secret to getting there is setting goals.

Fortunately, goals come in many forms.  You can set a goal to ride three days a week for a season or you can set a goal to achieve a certain average speed on a certain route.  You can even set a goal to pull your buddies for an entire ride.  No matter what the goal, there is a path to achieving it.

Unfortunately, like many good intentioned New Year’s Resolutions, goals can easily fall away.  If you want to achieve a goal in biking, you need to consider the following:date

  • Build an action plan to achieving the goal.  This might include taking out a calendar  and mapping out the mini-goals or objectives along the way.
  • Tell everyone about the goal.  Several will ask you how you’re progressing.  Who likes telling their friends/family they gave up?
  • Tie your goal to an event:
    • For some, riding is about weight loss.  Try setting a goal to be achieved around the time of a high school reunion or bathing suite season.
    • For others, riding is about speed or distance.  Try setting a goal to work up to an average speed/distance in time for one of your favorite annual, organized rides.  And beat that speed/distance during the ride!
    • Some cyclists are all about climbing hills.  Schedule a trip to Colorado (or the Alps) with your buddies.  You’ll train hard for that, or will suffer the consequences.
  • Make sure your goal is realistic.  Talk to those who have achieved similar goals.  Burning yourself out (or over-training) in the process can easily lead to putting the bike in the corner of the garage for a long, long time.
  • Prioritize and be flexible.  You might have to get up earlier or adjust your schedule to make time for training.  If the goal is truly important to you, maybe a little less TV time is a small sacrifice.
  • Think about a reward for achieving the goal.  Is there something you’d like to do or receive if you hit the mark?  For some, achieving the goal is reward enough.

Many have good intentions about developing good habits around biking.  Start off on the right foot, and the likelihood of achieving the goal improves dramatically.  And keep in mind,  the goal should be exciting so you have fun getting closer and closer and then ACHIEVING your goal!  Which leads to one final point. 

Maintain a good attitude about the process.  There will be set-backs, but in most cases, this leads to a leap forward.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

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