One of the scariest things for a beginning triathlete, besides getting in the open water, is cycling. The first image that wandered into my head upon deciding to start seriously bicycling was of a that scary peloton. Those tight formations of bikes moving at ridiculous speeds, during the Tour de France, so close together that one wrong move could cause serious damage to my body or someone else. Scary right? Luckily, triathlon doesn’t allow for huge groups like that, as a matter of fact it isn’t even allowed. Whew!
Buying my first Bike
I didn’t have a lot of money when I first started in triathlon, and I also didn’t really know if I was going to like it. I spent a lot of time in bike stores drooling over the expensive bikes, while studying cheaper entry level bikes. Every bike store had a different angle they played. One would say, purchase the more expensive bike, gain more speed so when I improved I didn’t have to buy another bike. Another would tell me to buy the entry level but load it up with expensive components so I could ride faster, and when I wanted another bike, the components alone would warrant a good price, and of course that store would buy it back from me and give me a discount an another bike. Decisions, decisions what to do, what to do?
I researched different road and tri bikes online and in magazines, and while I was pretty sure I would enjoy triathlon, I decided on an entry level Canondale CAAD 9 road bike. I also included in my purchase, a pair of pedals, cleats, shoes and a helmet. The helmet was very important especially since I hadn’t actually rode a bike in over 10 years. Would I really not forget how to ride a bike? The answer to that my friends is YES. It is not a skill that is forgotten. It maybe a little unsteady the first couple of times, but not forgotten. Luckily I will have my trusty helmet, just in case.
I also read something that resonated with me. The most important thing that is needed after the purchase of a bike, is the fitting. At first I thought, “what? Don’t I just have to find the most comfortable height of the seat and then get going?” I had no idea that there are so many different adjustments on a bike, to a point that bike “fitters” actually have to be certified in order to properly fit you. They have to take courses, pass tests and be mentored. “Really?”, you ask? Yes…really.
The fitting took about an hour where they put my bike on a trainer, and with my shoes and bike shorts I pedaled, then the fitter took measurements and made adjustments to my seat post raising it and lowering it to a perfect dimension. Then he took angle measurements from the ground to my hip, knee and shoulder and from the pedal and a bunch of other places. He moved my saddle not only up and down by forward and back. He then took my handle bars and put different size spacers on the tube underneath my handlebars to find the perfect height and then was able to move them back and forth to find the right angle, height and most comfortable spot for me. I had no clue there was this much to it.
As I left the store after my fitting, Jo-el, the general manager and friend from my track club, gave me some good advice. I had never rode in cleats and pedals before, where my feet were clipped into the pedals where they wouldn’t just simply lift up. I had to turn my heel so the cleat would unclip from the pedals so I could put my foot down. Jo-el said to take my bike in the house and put it between a doorway, and practice clipping and un-clipping from the pedals. Also, I needed to find the most comfortable side to unclip first and then stick to that side no matter what. I followed that advice in detail. I clipped, unclipped, clipped and unclipped till I was sure I had mastered it. Then I took a little ride around the block and practiced even more till I was confident I mastered at least that part.
I had a feeling of euphoria that first little trip in my neighborhood. I felt fast, free traveling under my own power on this brand new, tuned Cannondale bike. I was really excited for my first ride the next day in the hills of San Antonio.
The First Ride
I drove to San Antonio…Florida that is, with my brand new bike in the back, my new bike shorts on, bottles ready to put in their cages on the bike, coffee in my cup holder and classic rock playing on the radio. I remember having mixed feelings about this initial ride. I had never ridden in a group before, I had never ridden with these cleats and clips before, but I knew I was in good shape but was I fit enough? After that I just thought to myself, “if you cannot go as far then just turn around and head back. no big deal.”.
I met a friend at these ball fields and was mesmerized by the amount of bikers getting ready to take their morning ride. The sea of colors from the different bikes and jerseys was extremely overwhelming. That anxious feeling came back for a second until my friend mentioned we were riding with triathletes not pure cyclists. They would understand I was on my first ride and would help me out. After preparing for my first journey, we found our formation and began the trek.
I was surprised that I was staying in the middle of the pack and with minimal effort. The wind was in my face, I was pedaling under my own power and keeping up! It was an incredibly euphoric feeling. Unfortunately, when we hit the first long hill, euphoria turned to anxiety and then… embarrassment.
My pedaling slowed, and it became extremely hard to mash down on the pedals. With very minimal spinning of my legs I tried to switch to higher gear, but I actually ended up in a lower gear which made it even harder. When I did finally gear up, it was too late. I couldn’t move the pedals fast enough to switch gears, and my chain fell off , so I was at a dead stop. Of course I was so concerned about the gears I didn’t unclip out of my pedals, and I went down on my side. The only thing that really hurt was my ego as I stood my bike up and examined the chain. The group was passing me all asking if I was ok, and taking for granted that I was telling them I was fine and to keep going. By the time I had my chain back on the group was completely out of site. I pedaled like a bat out of hell hoping to catch up, but I missed a turn and ended up 10 miles out of my way, and lost.
To make a long story short ( I know, too late) one of the faster members of the group realized I was gone, backtracked, and finally found me asking directions at a convenience store. He led me back to the group and I finished the ride without any other issues, but I learned a lot of lessons that day.
Hints to get started in cycling straight from the Goof:
On my first bike after a couple of modifications
1. Buy an entry level road bike. This is usually an aluminum alloy frame. You don’t want a Wal-mart special, but you don’t need to start with the top of the line bike either.
2. Purchase a set of entry level pedals, cleats and shoes. The pedals usually come with the cleats and the bike shop will install them for you.
3. Purchase safety equipment. Biking shorts, and a helmet to start. I would also have a set of sunglasses as well. Not just to keep the sun out of your eyes, but it helps with the wind too. Make sure you also have at least one water bottle with a cage installed on your bike.
4. Get the bike fit for you. Have a certified bike fitter make those adjustments specifically for you.
5. Practice getting in and out of your cleats . Put your bike in a doorway, hold onto the frame and get in and get out of your cleats. Find the most comfortable side of the bike and then practice getting out of the cleats and putting your foot on the ground.
6. Take a short ride around your neighborhood and continue to practice getting in and out of your cleats. When seeing a stop or even a potential stop ahead practice just moving your heel just to the point where you unclip before stopping so you have a quick option that you can pull out of your clip to stop or return your heel to clip back in to keep going. Remember to always clip out and stand with the same foot first every time.
7. Understand your gears. While in that first ride, switch the gears on your right hand and find what lever takes you to a higher or easier gear, and which one brings you to a lower or harder gear.
8. Take your first long ride with friends and have some fun.
One last thing, you are going to fall. That is just the reality of it. You will get stuck in your cleats at some point and you will fall over, but it will be minimal. The trick is to accept it, get up brush yourself off, laugh at yourself, get back on your bike and have fun. It’s worth it I promise.
This post was originally published for IR4C for their new media site, IR4C.TV on July 2, 2013.
I am a little behind on posts, and now need to add three more due to being sent and then utilizing three new products during the race; the Hoka One One Biondi S2 running shoes, the Jaybird Sport Strap bluetooth headset, and Wrightsock Stride running socks. I will do my best to get those reviews completed as soon as possible, but for now let me tell you about my experience with the US Road Races Sarasota Half Marathon.
I learned a lesson first thing because I ended up running a tad bit late in the morning. The drive time to Sarasota usually is 45 minutes and I thought I was going to be fine until two miles from the race start. The traffic came to a dead stop. I drive a Mini Cooper Clubman, so while maneuverability is not an issue going over things like medians become either not possible, or the consequences may turn out to be expensive. I was stuck behind a tractor-trailer semi trick with my right lane blocked and a huge median to my left. No way out. After a while, of being a little stressed of missing the start, I noticed the median curb height had changed to regular curb height so I took the chance and allowed my little car to climb over it. Luckily I found an alternate route, and parking pretty fast, but a ways from the start, so involuntarily I sprinted a quick warm-up mile prior to the gun.
I could hear the National Anthem being sung as I was running to the start, which told me it was going to be tight making it, and of course there were close to 5000 runners, so I ended up starting in the 13 minute/mile corral. At first I was a little disappointed, but it gave me a little time to stretch and calm myself down. I usually start up near the front of the pack, and end up getting passed throughout the race, however this time it was me who was doing the passing.
Miles one and two ran along Tamiami Trail and over a bridge which wasn’t very steep, although it felt long, but it did allow for some recovery on the other side. Some coaches worry about their runners as they run downhill, but the form I teach really allows the ease of just letting the legs do what they will allowing for a nice recovery. Of course I also coach a way on the uphill that makes the effort feel a lot less as well, but that is for another time.
The 5k split ended up in a circle downtown and according to my split time, it wasn’t bad. 23:24, less than an 8 minute mile for the first three miles, I’ll take that. Miles four and five were back over the bridge and past the start/finish line. Unfortunately, my sock started slipping in the circle, so after mile 5 I actually had to stop, and take off my shoes so I could re-position my sock. I couldn’t believe it. Because I was product testing my shoes I did not put lock laces on, so I even had to untie and re-tie the laces. I think it was 3 minutes wasted. It wasn’t a huge amount of time, but it still irked me. I will talk more in my review of the socks.
After that it was just a lot of fun. I caught up with some friends along the way, Holly Tripp, Teresa Gadient, a couple of others and chatted and then continued on my way. It was a beautiful course that ran inside a nice residential area and then back to the finish. The view was not anything spectacular, but a decently scenic throughout the course. The weather held to mid 60’s throughout the morning, which is perfect for me.
Nick Z, Ben Mena and the Goof
The last couple of miles were back down Tamiami Trail and then turned back into the community center and into the finish shoot. I picked up the pace on the last couple of miles and actually had enough for a little sprint kick at the end, which I haven’t had in a while. I wish I could figure out what I did, that made that difference. It could have been the steel-cut oats I had that morning, or even a new natural supplement I started a month ago, but I definitely had a little more than I thought. This would have been a nice PR race, but my strategy was negative splits, and very conservative. Next half I’ll do it.
There is one thing to be said about starting in the back and passing people up versus getting passed. Positive/Negative reinforcement. It shouldn’t feel that way, but I believe I also had some energy build from passing everyone except for three whom passed me. Positive conditioning. Starting in the front and getting passed no matter what I tell myself, still has a negative effect on my semi-fragile ego. Do not get me wrong, I know my place. I have always preached strength before speed. I have stated over and over again I am not fast…yet, but I am a strong runner and at a comfortable pace I can run forever. Unfortunately, that pace is pretty slow right now.
I met up with Ben Mena, Nick Zivolich and some other athletes and, Beth(B.o.B) joined us a bit later after finishing herself. I will say the medal is huge and beautiful and athletes running in the other US Road Race Half Marathon series, receive an extra medal with the number of races they ran in the series. If the athlete competed in 2 of the series they received a 2 inch number 2, for 3 races a 3 inch and so on. I like the concept and those medals were gorgeous too. It may be something to ponder trying to complete next year.
That was the glorious morning of my St. Patrick’s Day. I cannot think of a better way I would’ve spent it.
How was your St. Patrick’s Day?
Last weekend I participated in the Paint Wars Mud Run in Oldsmar, Florida. Well, mud run is not necessarily an accurate term, most of it was just wet, but it was fun. The obstacles were more nature made with some added ropes for safety, some hay bales and of course paint.
When registering for the run I was taken in by the description of the race which was, of course, a little exaggerated. The paint was to be squirted by Paint Ninjas at a lot of different points in the course. I only came in contact with two, but the anticipation made it fun. Let me start at the beginning.
I drove into the Whispering Oaks Horse Ranch with my little Mini Cooper Clubman where a volunteer pointed me in the right direction of the parking lot. Thank goodness I was driving my little car, because I ended up having to make a spot down a dirt road, but it just added to the suspense of the run. Upon following the signs to the registration table, we, Sarah and myself, were told to sign a waiver for the property, ok no problem. As we made our way to the registration line however we were then told to sign a waiver, this time it was for the race. One waiver for the property and one for the race? Whatever. We then got into a line for the registration and goggle pick up. It didn’t seem all that long, maybe 10-12 people, but it took almost 45 minutes to get through it. When we finally had a names checked and were given a SWAG bag with two promotional flyers in it, we moved over to the t-shirt line where we gave the volunteer our sizes. The next words out of his mouth floored me. “That will be 38 dollars.” What? Really? For a cotton t-shirt? Yeah, thanks but no thanks buddy. We went back to the car to drop off our phones and bags and headed to the start. We did receive a decent introduction to the course, basically letting us know that there was a few river crossings where if we decided to take them, we should know how to swim, because the depth was not shallow. At that point, my progressive 4b friend Sarah and I, took off at a decent pace.
It started with a trail run for about 500 yards and then a dead stop to wait for an obstacle. A tree crossing where the tree was underwater. I guess a lot of people took there sweet time, but Sarah took it like it was not even there and I just a tad slower. (Sarah is about 18 years my junior, so give me a break.) The crossing ended with a steep climb both up and sideways, with the recent rain adding to dirt making it a little slippery. Sarah was nice to her old partner and waited up a bit. I didn’t fall but I realized my agility is a little less than I would like it to be. (I think I need to get back to boot camp. As a matter of fact all the way through this course I was thinking that.) The next couple of obstacles were through the trails over trees and up hills till we came to another stop. We actually couldn’t see why we were stopped until we reached the top of this hill that then returned back to sea level, but in the middle was a rope swing that dropped you off into the water where you then swam about 100m to the other side with a strong current that could definitely keep you from reaching the exit point if you didn’t have some sort of skill. I think I had just enough.
I will say I wore my New Balance Minimus’ during the race which didn’t hold much water, but I think I might have been happier with the five fingers. The minimus’ would be great for Tough Mudder where there isn’t a lot of hill climbs, but here I think I would have liked the extra traction my toes would have received, but I digress.
After the swim there was a nice trail run with only a couple of puddles and a few hay bale hurdles to include a run through the ‘WAR ZONE’. OOOOOHHHH….we thought we were going to get it bad, we actually wore white so we would get it bad, but…nothing. Not a single Paint Ninja anywhere. SOOOO disappointing. Oh well, we kept running and a real nice pace. Sarah is has ridiculous stamina and while I was right on her tail the whole time, I was starting to feel it, luckily we hit another line for another tree crossing. This one was elevated over the river. We crossed that with ease and headed through another long trail run, through the war zone again, and with the same result, no Paint Ninjas, right into the one and only mud obstacle where our shoes got muddy, and it sprayed a little on our legs, but that was it. We crossed the finish line and went to the beer line.
We got in line and saw that athletes were paying 3.50 and we both decided to forget it. We found the cooler with gatorade had a couple of dixie cups and headed back to the car.
Was it fun, yes, but I wonder was it because of the race or because I had a partner who was very enjoyable to run with. I am going to say the latter, or maybe a little of both. Sarah said this was her break from studying for the third test out of four for her CPA. Sarah if your reading this…thank you for inviting me, thank you for running I had a great time, and I really hope you were extremely successful on your test.