Firecracker Kids’ Triathlon

This little gymnast did her second triathlon over the Independence Day holiday in Cambridge, MD, where Ironman Maryland is held, with her BFF from Norfolk, VA. She’s done more than her fair share of 5Ks, and even though triathlon is not her main sport, she can still hold her own in a race with swift kicking on the swim, an easy transition to the bike, and then nailing the run. She’s strong and determined to succeed.

The kid already has her eye on my road bike with the aero bars to replace her current hybrid so she can ride faster. Maybe when I upgrade my roadie, she’ll get my old one? She already hops on it while it’s on the trainer even though her feet barely reach the pedals with the road shoes attached. Her eyes are aglow when gazing at my time trial bike that she refers to as my “Ferrari”. She can’t have that one though.

She’ll have to wait on a new bike until she outgrows her old one. In the mean time, she’s still fast on her hybrid and is learning about the support from other athletes on the course, especially from her BFF.  In one of the photos, her friend took off her shoes since she finished earlier, but she wanted to run her friend in, which is exactly what she did–barefoot.

Triathlon is always more fun with friends who are willing to go on this crazy journey with you. I hope that these two will do many more races together and have a sport they can grow into.

Triathlon on the Cheap

 

I kind of see the sport of triathlon as mid-life crisis sport because it’s so freaking expensive. TT bikes, aero helmets, designer tri kits, fancy bike shoes–all of that costs lots of money brand spankin’ new. And it’s nothing short of intimidating to see athletes donned in full tri gear when you have a hybrid bike and a regular swim suit. So, how can you get into this sport if it’s so expensive? It’s possible with a little bit of cash saved up and some patience. In fact, lots of triathletes didn’t buy all of their gear new before they even did a triathlon, so why should you?

Your biggest expenses will be a bike and a gym membership with a pool. Many road bikes can be purchased used for around $500, and gym memberships vary. Oftentimes, if you teach at least one class at your local gym, you can get a discounted membership, so look into that. I pay $120 a month for a family membership to the local Y, but since I work there, it’s a lot less now. For the record, my road bike cost $500. However, a word of caution if you’re like me: your bike(s) will be a hole that you throw money at all the time on maintenance and gear. The thing to remember is that the cheapest way to buy speed without upgrading your bike, helmet, jersey, tri kit or whatever is to become a better cyclist. Anyway…

You’ll need some bike tools, spare tubes, and a helmet. But other than that, here’s what you really need:

  1. A swimsuit–buy on sale on Swim Outlet or your local shop. I got a Speedo Endurance swimsuit for $50 at Toad Hollow in Paoli, and it will last me for a few years. Yes, a Speedo Endurance suit will last for a very long time, so buy one you like! And, it’s cheaper than spending $20 on a suit that will only last a month (I did that and won’t do it again).
  2. Cap and goggles–$15 for both. Make sure the goggles fit your eye sockets without the strap before you buy. The most expensive pair may not be the best pair.
  3. Running shoes–look for sales! I got a new pair of Brooks Adrenaline for $80 instead of $120 at my local store. Replace them every 300-500 miles.
  4. Cheap running shorts or cycling shorts.
  5. A used road bike $500-$800.
  6. Helmet, spare tubes, saddle bag with tools, CO2 cartridges. $20-$60 for a helmet and $40 for everything else. Bonus if you buy cycling glasses to protect your eyes from rocks and whatnot. Tifosi is a less expensive option compared to Oakleys. $70 vs. $120.
  7. Beach towel–for your transition mat (find one at home).
  8. A bag to put it all in–check thrift stores, use a canvas grocery bag, anything works.
  9. Water bottles–free at many races or pick up two for $10 each or less.

I guarantee that you will not be the only one at a triathlon to swim in a regular swimsuit and throw on a pair of running shorts for the bike with your running shoes, especially for a local sprint tri. That’s another thing: do local sprint races that are way cheaper than branded races.

It took me a few years to get a tri kit, clip in shoes for my bike with the new pedals, an aero helmet, Roka goggles, a TT bike (I bought mine used for $1800 on Ebay), and all of the other stuff that goes with the sport. Heck, I’m still saving up for gear like new racing wheels for my awesome TT bike because my bike and gear is how I like to spend my money besides family trips. So what are you waiting for? Borrow a bike, get a used one, and sign up for one of your local triathlons!

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

So, which shoe is better for you: triathlon shoes or road shoes? As a triathlete, I’m all about the gear that goes along with the sport, but I am also frugal when it comes to dropping my paycheck on unnecessary accoutrements. Yes, I have a road bike and a TT bike, but I bought them used after a long search. The hybrid I have is my beater commuter bike, and that one was free! Sure, I have a wetsuit that I found on sale online. Of course I have more than one swimsuit; swimming is my first love with this sport. Three pairs of running shoes line my staircase, and I have a drawer full of running and cycling clothes. And, yes, I do have a pair of Roka open water goggles because I love them so much.

But when it comes to my bike shoes, I have two pairs: a mountain bike shoe with SPDs that I use for spin classes, and road shoes that go with my Shimano Ultegra Pedals for all of my trainer rides, outdoor rides and races. Many athletes will ask: aren’t they harder to put on after the swim than triathlon specific shoes? What about the flying mount and dismount? Doesn’t that save you time in transition? Will my feet be soaking wet after the swim in a pair of road shoes? To answer all of these questions, I ask questions: how far do you ride and how comfortable do you want to be?

You see, road shoes are way more comfortable than triathlon shoes, and if you’re an athlete who enjoys long course races or rides lasting a couple hours on a Sunday, then you need a pair of road shoes. I’m all about comfort over squeezing a few extra seconds out of transition time for most age group athletes. If you don’t believe me, time yourself in a mock transition. Do one time trial by putting your cycling shoes completely on, then reaching for your bike, and then mounting your bike. Next, do it with a flying mount with the same distance to the mount line. Which one is faster? And which one is safer in the mounting zone when other athletes are scrambling to get on their bikes as well? Unless you practice the flying mount and dismount so you can do it flawlessly, it won’t save you time, and it might even cause you to fall over or hit another cyclist before the bike portion.

But, if you want to spend the money on two pairs of shoes, keep the triathlon shoes for short races and rides–sprint or Olympic distances and draft legal races, and use the road shoes for long rides or long course races. If you are only buying one pair to save cash, I recommend the road shoes.

This video is really helpful when deciding which shoe to buy:

Tri Shoes or Road Shoes?

Pictured above are my current road shoes. To make it easier in transition, I loosen the velcro so I only have to worry about closing and tightening the top, and sometimes, I leave it open on a short ride, but still take the time to put on socks, always. Gasp! I know, socks? Like I said: for a long course race comfort is key. If you’re a draft legal athlete, elite, or pro, you probably have a pair of triathlon shoes for your draft legal races or short distance races. That’s OK. There’s a shoe for everyone.

Last of all, I made my road shoes even more comfortable by adding inserts so that they feel like a pair of Birkenstocks. The inserts keep my arches from collapsing on a long ride and prevent lower back pain as I pedal. So, when cycling shoes cost almost as much as running shoes and don’t need to be replaced as often, I’ll have one pair, please: road shoes.

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Last, last of all, these are my mountain bike shoes with SPDs. The clip is embedded so you can actually run through transition with these on; however, since the sole is softer, it doesn’t offer as much support for really long rides. I use these for spin classes now, but they were my first pair of bike shoes that I used in a triathlon. I went with these shoes for a few years when I first started the sport because they were less slick when starting and stopping at traffic lights (road shoes take some practice), I could walk or run in them through transition without a problem, and I still got the benefits of riding while clipped in by pushing and pulling the pedals. I switched to a standard road shoe since I’m riding longer outside, and I needed more support for my arches.

So, when you go to the shop to buy a pair of cycling shoes be honest about how you ride and what you do. Try on different shoes and pick the one that best suits your needs and wallet.

What’s in Your Saddle Bag?

For bike rides, there are a few essentials that you should have with you in your saddle bag, just in case of a flat or to fix something on your bike when things go wrong. If you’re prepared, you’ll be able to correct the problem and continue on your ride.

  1. Spare tubes. You’ll need these to replace the tube inside the tire in case of a flat (unless you ride without tubes, and then you’ll need a patch repair kit). The guys at my local shop recommend taking the tube out of the packaging, coating it with baby powder to keep it from sticking, and then wrapping the tube with plastic wrap. Your new tubes will be ready to go when needed. I carry two tubes with me at all times.
  2. A set of allen wrenches for all of the nuts and bolts that can get loose on your bike.
  3. Tire levers for removing the tire from the rim so you can take the tube out. You’ll need at least two levers.
  4. CO2 cartridges. Have the right size for your tire. My TT bike has smaller tires than my road bike, so 16g is what I need to not overfill my tire, but my road bike needs 20g. Use the bad tube or a glove to hold the CO2 cartridge because it will get really cold.
  5. A saddle bag for everything.

Make sure you have lights for your bike and check them before you leave just as you would fill up your tires. Use the lights during the day too so that you’re more visible to vehicles. I always assume that cars don’t see me: I’ve had too many friends injured while riding because of cars, trucks, and even a school bus. On the trail, look out for dogs on retractable leashes, runners with headphones, and unsteady kids on bikes. Let’s not forget squirrels or groundhogs too. I keep my jersey zipped tight because bees often hit me and fly down my jersey… fortunately, I didn’t fall off of my bike.

Other cycling essentials:

  1. Bike helmet
  2. Padded shorts and cycling jersey (for the pockets)
  3. Cycling glasses to protect your eyes
  4. Padded gloves to keep your hands from going numb
  5. Bike lock

Carry keys, water, food, cash, a credit or debit card, ID, and phone too. Your cycling jersey can keep some of these items, but have water bottle cages for drinks and possibly a bento to hold food for those long rides. Happy riding!

How to Change a Flat Tire

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Yes, that’s my road bike, Bia, off the trainer and appearing to be dead on the basement floor. I had an hour and a half ride planned, my podcast was ready to go, I logged into Zwift, and set my watch to view my heart rate. About ten minutes into the ride when my heart rate should have been up in zone 2, it kept dropping to zone 1. Frustrated, I switched gears to make it harder to pedal and increased my cadence. Nothing happened until I got off of my bike and realized that the tire was completely and totally flat even though I filled the tube moments ago.

I had a few choices: go to the Y and pedal away on the spin bikes, leaving the flat for later, or taking the rear flat tire challenge head on and learning once and for all how to fix a flat. I took the challenge. I repaired the flat all by myself, and then, I finished my ride before heading up to my local shop to purchase some spare tubes for Bia and Ikaika, just in case.

If you’re like me and nervous about changing a flat, go to your local bike shop when they do bike maintenance clinics or watch a helpful video like the one below. And, above all else, practice often.

On the Main Line at Trek Ardmore, check out this event:

Ladies’ Night Out

Here’s an excellent video (I’m not affiliated with Trek, but they do have great information; I really wish I could get paid for advertising for them, but I don’t).

How to change a flat video

Training with Heart Rate Zones

 

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Training with heart rate zones may seem overwhelming at first, but once you understand your zones, you can properly train for any endurance sport. Get out your calculators or put on your thinking caps for the rest of this blog post. Let’s do some math!

 

First of all, find your resting heart rate. Without a heart rate monitor, you’ll need to take your HR (heart rate) before you get out of bed every morning for seven days. Take your heart rate for a full minute in the carotid artery. At the end of the week, find the average out of seven days. Mine is 59 bpm (beats per minute).
Secondly, to find your max heart rate without a VO2 max test, which you can do if you choose: run a hard workout such as 6×800 repeats on the track with 2 minutes rest in between while you wear a HR monitor. Look for the max HR after uploading your workout. Mine is 185 bpm and may spike higher, which is different than the standard 220-your age.
Third, calculate your HR reserve. Here’s the formula:
Max HR – Resting HR = HR Reserve
For example, mine is 185-59= 126 bpm for Heart Rate Reserve.
You can base your training on heart rate reserve or a percentage of your max HR.
                                                      Max HR %                         HR Reserve %
VO2 Max (Zone 5)                          93-95                                91-94
Lactate Threshold (Zone 4)         82-91                                77-88
Marathon Pace (Zone 3)               79-88                                73-84
Long Run (High Zone 2)               74-84                                65-78
General Aerobic (Zone 2)             70-81                                62-75

Recovery (Zone 1)                          <76                                    <70

To calculate HR Reserve:
(HR Reserve x percent from table) + Resting HR = HR Reserve for zone
Example from my numbers:
(126 x .77) + 59 = 156     156 bpm (for the lower range of zone 4)
You would do the calculations for the whole range, so here it is for the higher end of zone 4:
(126 x .88) + 59 = 179
So, my range for zone 4 HR Reserve training would be 156-179 bpm. I usually train by percent of max HR, so that is just taking a percent of your max for the ranges. Therefore, for my lactate threshold of zone 4, I would be in this range: 157-168 bpm. Please note that these calculations are for running.
For cycling, everything is about 8 bpm lower in all of the ranges. To set it up manually on Garmin from Garmin Connect–first login and then click on your device:
1. Go to your device
2. Device settings
3. User Settings
From here, you can add HR zones that are customized for you. You’ll have three choices: Percent of max HR, HR Reserve, or Percent of Lactate Threshold. Garmin calculates it automatically, or you can manually change it around based on your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). I originally had Garmin calculate the percent of HR Reserve, and then adjusted it manually a little higher because zone 2 felt too easy.
Here are a few things you should know when using heart rate to train: heart rate is useless if you are doing short sprints on the track or on the bike. It takes too long for your heart to recognize that it needs to work harder, which is why you see a spike in the recovery phase of really hard and short efforts. Go by rate of perceived exertion or by time for really, really short distances.
I also want to mention that for swimming, your heart rate zones will also be different, which is why I use rate of perceived exertion for swimming as well as timed intervals and train all of my athletes as long distance swimmers, but that’s another blog post. Not to mention that looking at your watch on the swim, if you can actually see it, messes up your swimming form, which doesn’t make this coach happy. If you wear a HR strap during the swim, analyze your heart rate later on and write down notes about how you felt on the swim for comparison.
Remember, your numbers will be unique to you and your training. With HR training, you will eventually become more efficient at each zone so that you’ll see your pace increase while your HR stays the same. It takes about six weeks to see progress, following the 80/20 rule where 80% of your workouts are in zone 2 and 20% are in zone 4. Train slower to race faster. It’s also true for ALL endurance sports. Happy training! And be sure to comment below with questions.
References and further reading: 
80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas (where all of the heart rate charts are from)
Be IronFit by Don and Melanie Fink
Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels (if you only get one book on running, this is it)
Joe Friel also has excellent books and online resources, so check him out too!

Cold Weather Cycling

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OK. So there was this one day that the temperature reached 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeah, it felt like spring. I even needed sunscreen, but forgot to put it on and ended up with early season cycle chick tan lines. When it’s that warm outside, all you need is a cycling jersey and a pair of bike shorts, and you’re good to go. However, when the temperatures drop, like they have since the dreaded Nor’easter hit the Philadelphia area and the whole East Coast, you’re going to need some layers beyond the basic bike gear of a helmet, glasses (not just regular sunglasses, but special cycling ones to project your eyes from debris), chamois butter, and padded gloves. It’s important to note that whatever the temperature is outside, it feels about 10 degrees colder on the bike.

70 degrees F and up: All you need is a lightweight jersey and bike shorts. If it’s closer to 80-90 degrees F, test out your tri kit and remember to wear sunscreen, even when it’s freezing outside.

50-70 degrees F: Start layering. Consider a long-sleeved jersey, long pants, thicker socks, and possibly gloves.

40-50 degrees F: Thermal layer underneath bike jersey, long pants, gloves, a buff for your face, and foot covers.

40 degrees and below: Prepare for Arctic conditions. Two layers under your jersey, long pants with possible thermal underwear, shoe covers, buff, hat, gloves. And ride fast in order to reach your destination sooner.

That’s all for now! I’m planning on doing a post on what you carry in your saddle bag, so comment below!