Category: Blog

If you are starting off the new year in 2020 with a resolution to get and stay fit, accomplish some bucket list rides or events, you may have been considering whether you need to hire a cycling coach. Like so many things in life, the short answer is, it depends.

Some of the Reasons for Having a Cycling Coach

  • Improving performance on the bike
  • Learning ways to stimulate a stale training regimen with variety and challenge
  • Honing bike handling skills to increase confidence and safety
  • Navigating all of the conflicting training plans in the popular press
  • Building an efficient training plan that will help you juggle work and personal obligations
  • Developing a training plan that is appropriate for your cycling goals and ambitions
  • Having a plan that helps hold you accountable
  • Learning the “right” way to train, recover and taper for an event or competition

Many riders read magazines and books  and find plans to follow, but often they lose interest, or have questions about how to make a plan work for their individual, unique needs.  We are all different.  We have obligations on our time that limit how much time we can spend on the bike. We have physical differences that may need accommodations so that we can train effectively.  A training plan that is effective for a 20-something athlete isn’t appropriate for a 5o year old. Or someone new to the sport. Training frequency and recovery time is vastly different for an older cyclist.  And despite all the science dedicated to sports performance over the last few decades, due to differences in age, genes, personality, body type and gender, there is no one-size-fits-all training plan.  You may find one in a magazine cycling journal, but there may be a better approach that fits your individual and unique needs.

If you have spent time in a weight training gym, you have probably heard all kinds of advice about how to do this exercise or that movement.  The amount of mythology out there about resistance training (and bicycle training) is vast and confusing.  Lift heavy.  Lift slowly.  Lift explosively. Do low weight with many sets and reps.  Use machines. Use free weights. Do cardio before you lift.  Lift first, then do cardio.  Drink this. Eat that.

Next time you are in the gym, look around.  You will see people flailing around doing all manner of things in a all manner of ways  – and swearing by “Their Method.”  What would you do if you needed to know what sports science and training expertise says about resistance training? The smart money is on hiring a personal trainer who is certified by a national organization like the National Strength and Conditioning Association, National Academy of Sports Medicine, or the American College of Sports Medicine.

The myths about cycle training are just as rampant and the articles you read and the advice you get from bike shop staffers, seasoned cyclists or riding group buddies may be full of wisdom, or full of unmitigated BS.  Why waste your precious saddle time on a plan that doesn’t work?  Why risk injury trying to follow a plan that isn’t suited to your individual capabilities, body type or goals.  Why read and adopt a plan and wonder, “Am I doing this right?”

Why wonder.  Get answers.  Get a coach!

Find someone trained and certified by an organization like USA Cycling.  USAC has a service to help you find a coach in your area, called Find A Coach.

Or, click this link and contact me.  https://www.fullcyclecoaching.com/contact-james-hart/

 

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The Challenge of Training and Juggling Life, Work, Family

Most of us can’t spend hours in the gym and on the bike training to get fit. For those who work full time, trying to juggle a job, family obligations, and the mundane minutiae of life, getting and staying fit is a challenge.

I’m a high school English teacher and my days in the education trenches can be 10+ hours long. Planning and delivering lessons, tutoring “after” school, skipping lunch to help struggling students, grading papers and tests, is exhausting and time devouring.

If you have a rough work schedule, there are a few things that you should do before you start trying to squeeze in rides and workouts. Long before you start trying to ride to work, and figuring out how to

  • Get a post-commute shower
  • Carry clothes and toiletries
  • Figure out a way to safely store your bike at work
  • Complete those before, during and after work errands via bike

You need to consider YOUR personality type and how you can manage the logistics of living life and training for love – the love of the buzz we get from riding a bicycle.

Cyclist, Know Thyself

I’m a morning person. Going to the gym or getting in a ride after work is nigh unto impossible for me. Some days I can barely drag my overstuffed backpack to the car, much less drag my edu-exhausted body to the gym. And doing battle for equipment and space at a busy gym is not my idea of a good time. Especially after a day of high school student shenanigans.  I want to get in and get out.  If afternoons and evenings are your best/preferred time, just know that at most gyms, that is their peak time and getting in a quick,  QUALITY, efficient workout may prove frustrating.

So if I’m going to get in a quality workout, then I need to set that alarm, get on the bike or to the gym and start my day the best way I know how.  If you live in a colder climate “riding”  – especially with the short daylight of winter – means a stationary trainer.  I despise these noisy contraptions, but I hate showing up in springtime or the starting line, out of shape and overweight.  So, if, like me,  you don’t enjoy riding indoors, winter is a good time to review your goals and create a training mantra.  A carefully placed motivational sign on the bathroom mirror, or in your car, or on your workplace desk can help train your focus.  As a competitive mountain biker, my mantra has become – “Those guys are doing it.”  This is usually enough to goad me onto to the bike or into the gym.

Here is the good thing about a stationary trainer.  They take up little space. You can fall out of bed, pull on some shorts and shoes, fill a water bottle, and start pedaling in minutes.  (Don’t forget to press the start button on the coffee-maker.)  You can leave your gear by your bike  – shoes, shorts, t-shirt, filled water bottle, towel and tunes – and be ready to ride even more quickly.

Oh! The Noise!

If you have an old trainer, it might be time to look at some new ones. Old wind trainers, fluid drives and others where the rear tire roars on a spinning roller can wake the dead.  Look for one of the newer direct-drive types.  They are much quieter and will help keep the peace in the place you call home.

If you prefer the gym for logistical reasons, some of those stationary bikes will work in pinch.  They may not be adjustable to the same fit of your bike, but your heart won’t know and you can get in a good workout for that little pump that fuels the joys of cycling.  The saddles are often Barcalounger huge and the handlebar reach too close, but you can still do a planned workout that will benefit your aerobic capacity – and feed that hunger to achieve your year’s cycling goals.  Stationary trainers at most gyms are compromises, but the alternative – fat, slow, and unfit when outdoor weather arrives  – is worse!

Tips For Riding Indoors @ Your Gym*

  • Take some measurements of your bicycle with a tape measure and try to adjust the gym’s stationary trainer as close as possible
  • Some gyms have bikes with clipless pedals – if so, wear you cycling shoes
  • Get a good heart-rate monitor, with a chest strap (these are more accurate than watch types) Some of those grip-type HR monitors on gym bikes are inaccurate, inoperative or wildly inconsistent.  Often you have to have both hands on pickups and you lose you HR readout when you adjust the resistance or drink or wipe. This can be a pain when doing interval work
  • Wear bike shorts – but PLEASE don’t be one of those folks who need to advertise, “I ride bikes” by wearing a cycling jersey – a t-shirt is fine
  • Take two water bottles – you don’t want to run out in a stuffy, too hot gym
  • Spend a few minutes learning about the brand/type of trainers at the gym or see if you can find a personal trainer or staffer that knows about them (some are quite loaded with usable features, but like so many electronic products (Smart Phones should come with a semester-long course!) they are often complex to use
  • Take a towel to wipe off with – you won’t have the same wind-chill and drying factor that you do on a real bike
  • Use good gym etiquette and wipe down the equipment after (and maybe before) you ride

If You Have to Ride Indoors

A home trainer is the best solution to short days and busy schedules.  The bike fits.  It’s nearby.  Your clipless shoes and pedals interface.  And there’s no waiting to get on a gym bike – or time limits once on the saddle.  Or chance of contracting an cold or the flu from some sweaty Eddie or Betty who doesn’t have the sense to leave their germs at home!  (Even if the person at the gym wipes down the bike you are about to get on – wipe it down WELL before you get on.  Nothing is more motivation-crushing to your training than a cold.)

*More on stationary bikes and winter or inclement weather training in a later post.

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It has been awhile since I have written here. It is time to start blogging again.

Let me bring you up to date.

In 2018, I raced the Goldstate Mountain Bike Series, promoted by Team Big Bear.  I won every event that season and was the Cat 3, Age 60-64 series champion.  Unlike 2017,  I managed to keep from getting burned out on all the travel, training and dieting to stay fit and be competitive.

In 2019, I stayed closer to home and raced the MBAA series.  Again, I won every event I entered.  I skipped the Flagstaff Frenzy race since  my point lead was unassailable and I just don’t care for the Flagstaff course.

After 3 hard years of training and racing, I seriously felt like my mountain bike racing days were over.

Until this morning

I’ve been riding a little and working out in the gym lifting again – mostly in response to pants that have become increasingly tighter since the end of the MBAA series.  I often think about racing again and the response is usually, “Nah.” But something clicked this morning. And after my workout at the gym today, I came home, looked up the racing schedule for 2020 in California and Arizona.

And am now deep into planning to make another assault on those states’ mountain bike series.

Though I feel like I have accomplished a long-held goal of winning a state racing series, I have some unfinished business.  Part of that biz is to document my training and racing in a blog.  I hope it will be enlightening to readers and riders out there.  And I hope that the results of my training, dieting and racing offers others the chance to see that with the right program, right attitude and a little bit of courage and risk-taking, you too can find fun racing your bicycle.

 The Challenge for 2020

After winning two state series, I will have to move up a class in each.  In California, I will be in the Cat 2 class.  In Arizona, I have my choice between racing Masters or Intermediate.  I lean towards the Masters class, mostly because of the age grouping in AZ.  If I race Intermediate, I will be lumped into the 50+ age group and that means competing against guys as many as 11 years my junior.  It might not sound like much, but 11 years in any athletic competition is a huge leap and while it might be a “nice” challenge, I’m just not sure that it would be all that fun.

 

 

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Something has inspired you to join the great sport of cycling.  Whatever triggered the desire to start riding bicycles, you are not alone.  The sport of cycling is growing and there are new cyclists joining the ranks of cycling everywhere.  Cycling’s growth is due to the technology and variety of options available to the new cyclist.  There are road bikes, comfort bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes, recumbents, fat bikes, e-bikes and more.

Before we talk about bikes, let’s think about you and your needs, goals and motivations for becoming a new cyclist.

(The links provided in this article are just meant as examples – I’m not necessarily promoting – they are just informational)

New Cyclist – Know Thyself!

Your motivation for getting into bicycling is something to ponder.  Why did you choose to become a bike rider?

  • Perhaps you have friends that ride all the time and they enjoy the social aspects of cycling.
  • Perhaps you have been taking Spinning classes and think you might prefer a workout with an ever-changing view.
  • Perhaps you just want to get into better shape or lose weight.
  • Perhaps your doctor has suggested that you exercise more.
  • Perhaps you want to recapture the childlike joys of freedom and fun that you had as a kid with a bicycle.

Ask yourself, “why cycling,” and the answer will help guide your journey.

Outdoor Cycling – Things to Consider

The new cyclist has a few things to think about.  Ask yourself what kind of rider you think you might want to be.

Do you see yourself:

  • Riding “out there,” with others enjoying the beauty and the relative peace and quiet of nature?
  • Riding with a social group on the roads of your community?
  • Riding when your schedule allows to maintain life balance and fitness?
  • Challenging yourself to complete a cycling event like El Tour de Tucson or an MS 150 event?
  • Feeding that competitive fire by someday competing in a mountain bike or road race?

There may be other reasons to ride, but each of these has some elements to consider.

Mountain Biking

As the name implies, mountain biking is often done in challenging terrain.  Of course there are rides that are on flat, dirt roads too.  Mountain bikers often love riding a narrow trail called “singletrack.” Part of the joys of mountain biking is that you are out there, away from busy streets, and traffic and noise.  You often see natural wonders of flora and fauna and geology that enrich the riding experience.  The terrain is usually bumpy, often rough, and will often challenge your sense of balance and sharpen your riding skills and focus.  Mountain bikes are built tough and can take a lot of abuse without breaking down.

The downside of mountain biking for most, is that you often have to transport your bicycle to a suitable area for riding.  This takes additional time and sometimes, additional equipment.  You will get dirty.  You may need maps or a good GPS.  And unless you ride in an area frequented by other riders and hikers, you may find it best to ride with others. Because mountain bikers sometimes ride in dusty, wet and harsh conditions, they can require more maintenance.

Road Biking

Riding a bike on the streets has its own kinds of unique joys and pleasures.  There are many groups that ride on the road together and this can be a great social outlet.  Most roads are smooth and clean and make for a less “jarring” experience than mountain biking.  You can usually find routes that have bike lanes or bike paths and this increases safety.  If “the wind in your face” and a sense of speed is something you like, road biking can offer just that.  Road biking is pretty convenient too – you can suit up and usually start riding from your own driveway.  Road bikers ride in relatively less harsh environments and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

The downside to road biking is that depending on where you live, it can be a relatively noisy activity if you have to ride in city traffic.  There is a little less freedom than is found on a mountain bike – on the road you have to follow many of the same laws that cars have to adhere to, as well as a few that are unique to riding a bike on the streets.  The biggest downside to riding on the road – especially in city environments is the dangers posed by careless and inattentive drivers of cars and trucks.

In Summary

If you are a contemplating joining the fun, freedom and fitness-enhancing world of bicycling, seek out as much information as you can.  Ask your friends who ride about their chosen type of riding.  Of course, the Internet is a great tool for research.  I wish I could recommend spending some time discussing your needs at a local bike shop or two to get more information. But after working in nearly a dozen bike shops over the course of my cycling career, the quality of information you may get there might not be the best to guide you towards your unique goals.  Bike shops aren’t populated with the likes of the notorious used car salesman, but they aren’t exempt from a healthy dose of “let the buyer beware” either.

Save the trip to the bike shop for after you have determined what kind of new cyclist you want to be

After you have decided:

  • with whom and where you see yourself riding
  • and how it all fits into your life, whims and fancies.

The best advice I think anyone can suggest is to collect information and then –  be honest with yourself and to think long and hard about your unique personality type, your unique goal(s) and where and how you find fulfillment, satisfaction and, most important – fun!

 

 

 

 

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Mountain Bike Racing 1st Place Trophy for Cat 3, 55-59 Kenda Cup #2 in Fontana, CA on April 2nd, 2017

2 April 2017 – Kenda Cup West #2 – Fontana City National

It happened again.  I arrived at the race course in Fontana and had another of those nightmarish reconnaissance rides that made me question why I had signed up for this event.  The course was mostly singletrack and featured a lot of fairly steep but none-too-technical climbing, followed by very several technical descents.  Most of the climbs were reasonable, but still I struggled – I became the poster boy for “don’t look where you don’t want to go” and I slammed into every momentum-killing rock and rut.  I put my foot down and came to a halt on so many ascents I lost count.  The descents were equally, if not more frustrating – I can’t imagine anyone being able to ride this course in reverse. So I was off my bike or at a standstill and wondering aloud frequently, “What kind of cross country course is this?”  That’s the PG version of my thoughts. I walked two or three of the steeper downhill sections and mused over how many racers behind me I would hold up on race day.  The singletrack sections were not pieced together by many sections of wider trail that would make passing possible for faster riders – should there be any behind me.  And I’m in California where start line chutes are often filled to capacity with the furiously fast.  Just like at Havasu a few races back, if I would have been closer to home, I might have just packed up and left.

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I was thankful that the start time for the second stage of the Tucson Bicycle Classic would be 7am; racing for 42 miles in the current heat wave would not have been a good time.  In an effort to cut the expense of racing this year, I had booked a stay at a cheap hotel near the University of Arizona.  The place was convenient to the freeways and therefore, the various stages of the event, but it came at a cost; the traffic noise was pretty high and the internet was non-existent.  So in order to download the data from the day’s previous time trial stage, I decided to get up a little earlier, find a Starbucks, coffee up and down load.  The only Starbucks I could find on the way to the race site was in a Safeway that opened at 5:30am.  That would be cutting it close.

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March has the best weather in Arizona. But not this year.  If two weeks of 90+ degree weather is any portent of this coming summer, this could be a brutal 7 months till things cool off again in October.  Preheating the Arizona oven this early in the year seemed a cruel greeting to my first-ever stage race.

The prologue time trial of the Tucson Bicycle Classic was held on a Friday, right in the middle of this way too early wave of heat.  My start time was 2:30pm and it was over 95.  My Garmin, which always seems to register temps a little on the high side, reported that it was 104.  One thing about hot weather races – it’s pretty easy to “warm up.”  I had skimmed the tech guide and my eyes focused hard – too hard – on the course profile.  The 5 and 6% grades were front and center in my imagination and little else occupied my thoughts.  I “read” the whole of the tech guide and all its course information – start times, location, distance and map, but the course profile’s lumps preoccupied me complete.

That’s unfortunate.  What I didn’t pay enough attention to was the length of this swelter-fest.  It was a mere 3.57 miles long.  Moreover, it started with long, gradual descent where one could gather tremendous speed.  I, in my course-length ignorance, my head full of finish lines at the top of a 6% gradient, settled into what I thought would be a sustainable pace. 

But I was going too slow.  I was saving too much.  And in a few minutes – much to my surprise – the finish line appeared and I realized that I had not nearly gone hard enough.  Three-point-five-seven had escaped my attention and my time represented my failure to think.  My “race of truth,” the moniker of the road racing time trial, left me with but a single revelation. 

Read and attend to the Tech Guide.

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All of the road races – the omniums, the time trial, and the stage race – that I have entered this first year of road racing have produced Tech Guides that give details about the race(s). In the case of the Tucson Bicycle Classic, the “Tech Guide/Race Bible,” as they termed it, was 22 pages long. It listed the location of each of the 3 days of races, where to sign in, where to park, start times for each category, as well as a course map and course profile. The maps had important details like sketchy railroad crossings, and roads that were not fully closed to automotive traffic. The course profile graphically shows the elevation changes – the ups and downs along the race route.  Just about everything one needs to know is on these pages – including mysterious bits of jargon unique to bicycle road racing – like the term “wheels in/wheels out.”  As a neophyte road racer without a team or even a racer-bro to ask, I Googled the term and discovered that “wheels in/wheels out” means that if you put a spare set of wheels in the support vehicle and you have a flat tire during the race, you can take your wheel out of the support vehicle that follows your race group, so that you can continue racing.

On Friday, there was a prologue time trial. I’ve watched a fair number of Tours de France on TV, but I’ve never understood why they call it a “prologue.”  The way a stage race works is that each day’s race is timed and the times one finishes  with each day are combined and the rider with the lowest time wins.  Google – my only source and – “teammate” – tells me that a prologue “in professional cycling is a short preliminary time trial held before a race to establish a leader.”  Fabulous redundancy here, which is confirmed by the other definition of prologue, noun, – “an event or action that leads to another event.”  Wonderful indexing in cycling jargon – Prologue, Stage 2, Stage 3 – like the old George Carlin joke, “Examples 1, 2 and C.”

Another unique term found in the Tech Guide is information about the “feed zone.”  This is pretty self-explanatory, especially if one has ever watched a professional road race on TV.  Even some longer charity bike rides like “El Tour de Tucson” have feed zones, only they are called “Aid Stations.”  These aid stations are usually staffed by volunteers and anyone can ride up, grab a beverage, some fruit or a handfu of M&Ms and get back on the route.  Usually these aid stations don’t “hand up” drinks, one has to stop and grab and go.  In a road race, at feed zones, a someone working with your team (or a wife or friend or kid) hands you a water bottle or a bag of food while you slow slightly, grab, and continue apace.

I need to remember to bring a team next time – or a wife.  Or a kid I could bribe.  Only my kids – adults all –  have no interest in cycling and are a bit beyond the bribery stage, lest I offer a vacation package or Rolex.

There’s also something called a “rollout,” but it only applies to “junior,” riders between the age of 9 and 18.  Still, I Googled “rollout” – this bit of bike jargon – and none of the definitions made sense, so since I’m a few years away from being a junior, I blew this one off, and relaxed a bit. The third search result listed by Google was a song by Ludacris, and even though young bike racers might like his music, I doubt rollout is a USA Cycling attempt to grow the sport by offering youngsters a chance to show off their dance moves.    So, I still don’t know what a “rollout” is, but  I am a little concerned by Mr. Ludacris’ spelling skills.

Why tell you all this stuff about Tech Guides?  See my Tucson Bicycle Classic’s daily entries.

 

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Southern Arizona Omnium March 10-12, 2017

Another omnium in and around Tucson this weekend.  Friday was the criterium and today we had a time trial.  Biggest difference between my previous unfortunate road racing experience – besides no broken chain – is that it’s March and despite the fact that March usually has some of the desert Southwest’s loveliest weather, the past two days have seen the mercury rise to 90+ degrees.  The soaring temperatures made packing my gear a little easier and made for a hot and somewhat windy criterium on a somewhat fun course on Friday. 

We spun laps around the Musselman Honda road racing track – a smooth asphalt circuit that looks to be used mostly for karting.  At least that’s what one might surmise, based on the piles of kart slicks used about the track for catch-fencing and safety barriers.  We rode clockwise around the outside of the road course so the route only contained one quick left turn and a series of flat and slightly off-camber rights.  I love to ride in the twisty bits, so I was hoping for more esses and variety, but still, it was fun to ride on a super smooth and very clean bit of tarmac. 

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6 March 2017

As part of getting Level 2 Coach certification from USA Cycling, I read a fair amount on sport psychology. Self-talk – those messages that circulate round our heads before, during and after we ride has been on my mind a lot lately.  Those negative, “neutral” and positive memos we send ourselves that work to motivate, and perhaps de-motivate us too.  Three days ago, I went for a hard training ride in east Mesa, a popular route that takes in part of the Bush Highway and Usery Pass Road.  On this day, the wind was strong out of the north-northeast and this meant facing a wind on some pretty bumpy tarmac.  Headwinds are demoralizing. They are the hill that you never reach the top of.  Combine a rough surface and a chilly, indomitable wind and you have the recipe to start thinking, “I don’t think I can do another lap of this.”  Self-defeating, self-talk. 

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