A Wanna-Be Hill Slayer

Hills.  I have a love-hate relationship with hills.

Hills are pretty to look at.  They are fun to hike on.  I enjoy riding my bike down them.  I do have, on the other hand, issues with riding my bike up them.

See, I live in a part of our country that is essentially as flat as your bathtub.  The only hills in Northeast Florida are the man-made varieties that traverse interstate highways, rivers and such.  To be painfully obvious, the only hills that I see with any amount of regularity are bridges.

Throughout the tenure of my hobby in triathlon, hills have been a constant thorn in my side.  I’ve had some of my worst race performances on hilly tracts.  I’ve suffered the most on hilly courses.  The really sad reality?  The races that I call hilly don’t even register a blip on the register of hilly courses like Rev3’s Quassy.

Well, I’ve saddled up to take on a hilly race again.  And frankly, I’m SUPER excited about it!

My “A-race” for the year is the Half Rev at Rev3 South Carolina, which will be held on October 12th in beautiful Anderson, SC.

Anderson sits in what South Carolinians call the “Upstate” – a portion of the state that is probably technically considered the Piedmont – or maybe the fringe of the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  From my flat-landed perspective, however, I’d call Anderson the edge of the Himalayas.  The terrain is rolling, the landscape is beautiful, and in October, the temperatures will be divine.

I’m tremendously excited about returning to Anderson this year.  This race venue is where in 2012 I earned my personal best finish in a 70.3 distance event, and I’m eager to go out and improve upon that time.  I love the idea of pushing myself to my limit and beyond both training for and then racing upon the hills.  I’m super excited to visit an area of the country that I love.

>Rev3 Knoxville Race Report

Me recovering after climbing a hill on the Rev3 Knoxville course in 2012

But first, I must prepare.  I’ll ride countless numbers of bridge repeats this summer to try to approximate what it will be like to climb.  I’ll push harder gears on flats than I might otherwise so I can get a sense of the lingering burn I know I’ll encounter.  I’ll do the almost unthinkable and put my bike on a trainer and jack my front wheel up on a bunch of books some this summer so that I can feel what it’s like to have gravity pull on my backside some.

I will be ready for the hills.  I’ll turn my love-hate relationship into a love-love relationship this summer.  I vow to enjoy climbing as much as I enjoy descending.  The Half Rev at Rev3 South Carolina is calling me.  The hills are whispering my name, urging me to come and ride.

I’ll be there.  Will you?  Come join me and let’s go slay some hills.


What Makes a Good Runner?

Fall is typically running season.  Triathlon season is winding down for most folks, and there are lots of great local runs – everything from 10k’s to marathons.  Even if you don’t run road races (or cross country races, for that matter), running by its very nature is integral in triathlon.  Remember – swim, bike and RUN.

The thing is, though, that many of us a likely not good runners.  To be good by most folks’ definition today means that we can run a mile/kilometer at X pace.  Or perhaps that we’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon.  By those definitions, I’m not a good runner.  Well – maybe I used to be a pretty good runner…way back in high school.  I ran track and cross country – and while not the fastest kid around, I could run a sub 5-minute mile on the track, and went about 18 minutes for a 5k.  I can’t even approach those speeds today.

But I don’t necessarily define good running by pace alone.  I think that you can be a good runner who runs a 10 minute/mile pace.  Likewise, you could run a 7 minute mile and be a bad runner.

Exactly what do I mean by this?

It all boils down to form.  Essentially, it’s about HOW we run, not about HOW FAST we run.

There’s a plethora of information out on the internet and from coaches regarding proper form.  Should you be a mid-foot runner?  Is heel striking OK?  How should I hold my arms?  Do I need a special shoe?  Should I run barefoot?  You could almost achieve paralysis by analysis if you devoted hours and hours to reading material.  The crux of all the debates, in my mind, all boils down to high run cadence drives good form.

Here’s an example of really superior running form:  Miranda Carfrae.  Just last weekend, she won the Ironman Hawaii race by setting course records in the marathon and overall.  Her form is awesome – even at late stages of the run.  Don’t take my word for it:  check out this video


Rinny does a spectacular job keeping her cadence really fast – and that seems to be a common thread among really good runners.

Faster cadence (or leg turnover) is usually more preferred than slower, loping run styles.  What seems to matter less is how your foot lands when you’re running.  By that, I mean that it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you are a heel striker or a mid-foot striker so long as your cadence is high and your feet land generally underneath you – and not stretched out in front of you.

Common thought is that a run cadence around 90 steps per minute is optimal.  How do you know what your cadence is?  Simple enough – set your watch for a 15 second countdown.  Hit start, and count every time your right foot hits the ground.  At the end, multiply that by 4 and you’ll get your cadence.

Mine is generally in the low 80’s.  Way too slow.  I am a heel striker – and I tend to take too long strides – which effectively act as brakes with each step I take.  Long strides could also drive the impact force in ways that might lead to injury – I suspect that this may be a factor in my year-long bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  Remember, 90 is the optimal foot turnover number.

Luckily, there are drills that can help you improve your leg turnover – and I’m hereby committing to start doing these again (I did them back in the day in high school…now I know why).  Some drills you can try are quick foot drills, high knees, butt kickers and skipping.

I found a really awesome video series today called “Ambushed – Extreme Running Makeovers” starring pro-triathlete & Olympian Joanna Zeiger and Brandon Del Campo.  Essentially they spent an afternoon in Boulder going up to random people and offering to help them with their running style.  There are two videos so far – and they are both really great.  Check out episode 1 below


To see other videos, check out Joanna’s website.  You could also just Google drills for high running cadence.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Joanna, check out a “Ten Questions With…” interview I did with her back in 2012.  You can read that here.

How to Build Your Own Transition Rack for About $10

You might think that a triathlon is three events.  Yeah, it’s swim, bike and run.  That’s three.  BUT, in reality there are four key disciplines that one must master in order to be really superior at this sport.  What’s the fourth discipline, you might ask?  Transitions.

And just like everything else, in order to be good at transitions, it is beneficial to practice your transitions.  Herein lies the problem for some of us.  How do we best approximate a triathlon transition area so that we can practice in a “real life” environment?  Certainly you can just lean your bike against a wall or tree, but to create a more authentic race experience, why not build your own transition rack?

Building a personal bike rack is really simple and requires very limited supplies and very little time.  In fact, you can invest less than $10 and spend about 30 minutes to create your very own transition rack.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One 2″ x 4″ piece of lumber, 10′ long.  This will generally cost you about $5.00 at Lowes or Home Depot.
  • A few nails.  I used 12 nails, but you can get by with 8.  I had a box of nails in my garage, but you can pick up nails for next to nothing at a hardware store.
  • A hammer, tape measure, and pencil for marking your wood for cuts
  • A saw of some sort – I used my circular saw, but a bow saw or carpentry saw will work just as well.

The process:

The design for this rack is really super simple, and is actually similar to the design used by Rev3 for their transition racks (just not as long, and not painted).  Of course, you could paint this rack and then affix a name plate to it so it looks like a transition rack at a Rev3 race…

First and foremost, you should have a method for stabilizing your wood so that you can cut it cleanly.  I used a handy-dandy workbench that has a vise to hold the wood:


First, you will need to cut two “longer” boards – these will serve as the main supports for the rack.  I initially measured them at 30″ each.  This is certainly long enough; you could probably make them a little shorter.  After I built my rack, I went back and cut off 5″ from the ends of each support, making them 25″.  Longer is probably better than shorter, but you’ll probably not want to make it too long so you can easily store this in your garage or apartment or wherever.


Once you’ve measured, go ahead and cut.  Remember the old adage – measure twice and cut once.  If you use a power saw, be sure to wear eyewear and not stick your finger into the moving blade (that might cause a slight flesh wound).


After you cut the “supports”, you’ll need to cut two boards that you’ll use to actually hold your bike up.  I cut mine at 24″ – this seems sufficient.  You might be able to go a little shorter, but this was a nice round number, so I went with it.


Once you have all of your cuts made (you’ll have two 30″ boards and two 24″ boards) you can put your saw away.  On each of your support boards, draw two lines that are approximately 1″ to 1.5″ (depending upon your tire width) apart.  These lines are important because you’ll line up your two shorter boards so that there’s a gap between them for your bike tire to fit into.


Note the two lines below.  The way I did this is that I put the first line six inches from the end of the board.


To make the assembly a little easier, I pre-nailed two nails into the support boards.  Notice that just below my support board, I have clamped in one of the shorter boards – that way I could tell exactly where to put my two nails so that they’d be in the middle of the boards I was nailing into.


I actually did this on both sides of the lines, and on both of the support boards.  At the end of that process, my two longer boards each looked like this:


Once you pre-nail the support boards, it’s time to begin the actual assembly.  I set all the boards down on the driveway, lined up the shorter boards so that the inside edge of the board was on the lines that I drew for my 1.5″ tire gap, and then drove the nails home.


You’ll do this on both of the support boards.  You can note below that I set up my support boards so that I had two longer ends facing opposite directions.  You could also make this so that the slot for your tire is in the middle of your support boards.  What you’re trying to do is create a structure that is strong enough to not wobble and drop your bike.  If your support boards are 30″ long, you won’t run into any problem no matter how you align your support boards.


And, voila!  Your very own personal bike rack.  Now you can lay out your transition stuff just like you would in a race and practice your transitions.  The cooler thing?  This is a very light rack, so it’s portable.  You can take it to the track, to your pool or lake, or wherever. 


Now that you have your own bike rack, you’ll be the envy of your triathlete friends – and because you’ll be able to easily practice your transitions, you’ll be faster than them, too (which is always a good thing).

A Bike Blow-by

You know, one thing that I really love is blowing by someone when I’m cycling.  I don’t care if it’s the old guy on his beach cruiser and walking his dog or another triathlete – passing someone is very cool and I get a ton of satisfaction from it.

Maybe the root of this lies in the fact that I am not an uber-cyclist.  I don’t normally hammer out rides averaging 23+ MPH.  I’m typically a little slower, generally riding in the 18-20 MPH range depending upon a number of factors (such as wind direction, my motivation, etc).

So last night I had a scheduled 20-mile ride.  Instead of a steady-pace ride, I decided to do what I’ll call a “bike fartlek.”  I’m sure that the phrase “bike fartlek” is not a technically-correct phrase, but I suspect you get the idea….alternating hard efforts with easier efforts. 

My normal route is an out & back loop.  On the way out, I completed three hard effort segments offset by three easier efforts.  When I reached my turn-around, another cyclist was heading my way.  After I turned around, he was only a couple hundred yards in front of me. 

Immediately, my “hunter” instincts kicked in.  I wanted to chase him down and destroy him.

I sort of hoped I looked like Lance did when I passed the random cyclist last night

I decided to do an extended, 5-mile hard effort segment.  I passed him pretty quickly – and in addition to my normal “On your left” comment, I dropped a “have a great ride” with a shit-eating grin on him.  Then I commenced to hammering.  I kicked my speed right up to 22-23mph, and literally left him in the dust.  I held that speed for all 5-miles (shocking, but true).  At the end of my hard effort, I sat up, took a drink of water, and looked back to see where he was.  I really expected him to be close – if it were me and some dude passed me, I would have tried to suck on his wheel and go with him.  This guy?  Nowhere to be found! 

Of course, he could have pulled off the road into a neighborhood – or flatted – or really anything.  But I like to think that I totally left the guy.  That I out-cycled him for those 5 miles. 

I felt shockingly good about it.  Greedy almost – like I wanted to find another poor cyclist on the road so I could do the same thing.  Alas, the only other person I saw on a bike after that was a woman riding a mountain bike (and no helmet) going about 2 mph.  Not much of a confidence booster to pass her.

Still, at the end of my ride last night I was really satisfied.  I had a good, hard ride and really felt – at least for those 5-miles – like I was a “real” cyclist.

>New Addition to the Family


Last week, some new additions joined the Tri Madness family.  A new set of wheels!
For a long, long time I’ve wanted a set of aero wheels.  Like many folks, I’ve gazed longingly at Zipps, Hed’s and other brands of wheels.  Last year, I interviewed Chris Thornham from Flow Wheels, a start-up company making aero wheels.
But the wheels have always been out of reach.  I could never justify dropping close to $2500 bucks for a new set of Zipp wheels.  So, I went down the path of renting them a couple of times.  I enjoyed the “free speed”, even though it wasn’t exactly free. 
I had my eye on buying a set of used Zipps earlier this year for about $1500.  Certainly a good deal, but still…a lot of money.  Instead, I bought a 60″ LCD TV and new furniture to turn a play room into a media room.  Those purchases made for a happy family, if not a faster dad.
And then, last Friday night at a tri club social, I met a guy who was selling his Spinergy wheels.  For $400.  We talked about the wheels.  They are literally brand new.  He bought them the second week of December and put only 350 miles on them.  He’s upgrading to a set of Zipp 808’s that he found for $1000.  So…I met him Monday night to inspect them, and liked what I saw.  Now they are mine.
I’ve yet to ride them – but I’m looking forward to it. 
I know that Spinergy aren’t likely in the same class as a set of higher dollar wheels, but the fact of the matter is that they are aero, and should offer some wind cheating over and above the stock wheels that I had.  Nevertheless, they are an upgrade for me!
So, Spinergys, welcome to the family.  Get ready to get used!