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.
Previously I mentioned all that was; the Top Gun Triathlon for me. Today I give you the run-down of my experience with the Twilight Triathlon I competed in that same evening. Are you ready? Are you in suspense? If you said “yes” then I know you just are humoring me, but I’ll ramble on for a bit anyway.
After a little breakfast I went home and hoped to catch a nap but had no such luck. I did chill out for a while and watched some of the Olympics, but before I knew it I had to head on over to Outspokin to pick up a ride to the tri. I headed out with Nicky Z, both of us continually wondering what the heck we were doing. I wasn’t really sore or anything, but I was a little exhausted. After what seemed like forever, an hour, we showed up to what looked like a cluster fuss. Cars lined up, making ‘U’ turns to find parking, a sheriff’s deputy telling drivers where to go and vendors still putting tents up less than hour before what was supposed to the start of the race. We ended up really lucky and did find a parking space pretty close to transition.
Walking up to transition the announcer’s voice was hailing over the loud speaker something I never heard at a race before. “Don’t buy anything from the food truck. He has been trying to keep this triathlon from taking place!” Excuse me what? Really? A guy in a food truck doesn’t want an extra night of better than average income? Seriously? That ended the negativity and the following were the instructions for packet pick up, body marking, and warnings about lights on our bikes. After picking up my packet and t-shirts, one for this race and one for the Sunrise/Sunset challenge. Nick and I looked at each other a little surprised they were both cotton, but we were given the explanation that DRC Sports, the sponsors for the Twilight Tri, bought both shirts since Top Gun really didn’t need the extra advertising. Oh well, no biggie.
After finishing up my setup in transition I went out to the beach to warm-up a bit and then I headed out to the water. All I can say about that water was….YUCK! It was very shallow, 86 degrees, murky brown and the gulf floor was mushy and full of oysters. I was actually wishing I was back at Ft. Desoto. Of course, I didn’t spend much time out there not that I had a lot of time anyway, since I was heat number 2. The pre-race meeting gave us our instructions, there was a very nice rendition of the national anthem, we took a quick photo of all the athletes that had completed the Top Gun Tri and we were finally ready to race.
Nick’s wave went out first with mine three minutes behind. It was completely psychological, but the buoys sure looked a lot farther than this morning, and they felt that way too. I did not feel nearly as good as I did that morning which was obvious as I was three minutes slower. I did end up making part of it up in T1 due to transition being staged much closer than Top Gun. I was quickly back on my bike and headed out on the road.
My goal was the same stay above 20 mph and keep a cadence of 90-95. Heading away from transition to the turnaround point there was a decent tail wind which helped me keep my speed up. Unfortunately, a tail wind on the way out means…yep…a head wind on the way back. I tucked in and kept my cadence up the best I could, but I found myself falling at times to 18-19 mph which was disconcerting. I did catch a couple of miles over 22 on the way back but it still kept my average to 19.8 mph which was ugly compared to my mornings ride. I could make excuses as it was the wind, or the fact I had to slow down almost to a stop at the turnaround or even the fact I ran over a squirrel. (I hear you…WHAT?) Yeah, a squirrel darts across the street and literally runs right in front of me to where I had no other option that to run over it. Luckily, I looked behind me and it got right up and ran just as fast to the nearest tree and climbed right up looking none the worse for wear. Still it was no excuse, I just didn’t get the job done.
With a mile-and-a-half to go I saw the leader making the turn to the finish of the run. All I thought was what a loser I was. The guy only had a a minimal 3 minute head start on me and I wasn’t even finished with the bike and here he was on his way back to the finish line. What a beast that Zach guy is. Anyway, I sped into transition changed my shoes and headed out.
It was the complete mirror image of my run earlier that day except in slow motion. I felt like I had nothing in my legs until the turnaround and then they finally stretched out and I was able to pick up my cadence on the way back in. I will say the sunset on the way back the finish was gorgeous as was the good amount of extra protein I ingested on the way back due to the overwhelming amount of mosquitoes. No wonder I wasn’t that hungry after the race. Anyway, I ended up averaging around an 8:30 which was a little over a minute slower than earlier. Oh well, in all fairness it was my second race of the day and even though I was planning on bringing my effort level down, my ego got a hold of me and that just didn’t happen. I said it before and I will say it again…more bricks, more bricks, more bricks.
It was pretty uneventful after that. Nick got a massage from these two women and finally understood why Scott Bragan and I have been singing Lisa Jamison’s (http://www.liftperformanceenhancement.com) praises for over a year. in my opinion, massage should be a part of anyone’s training plan that trains hard more than 3 days a week. We packed up, grabbed some food, Gatorade and took the long ride home.
Overall; I don’t think I would’ve wanted to spend the day any differently. Great workouts, good friends and the feeling of accomplishment. What could possibly be better?