180 BPM

Music is one of the most effective motivation tools I have. I will build full playlists for specific races or training blocks. For the last mile I often shuffle down to a key motivator song. We all do it. As my son says, “that song gives me energy”.

The hard thing has always been finding new music though. Something that keeps the beats at a steady pace where you just align your step or cadence to it. It also has to resonate. The lyrics or a video are just as important as the beat. Take the quintessential Rocky theme for example. Without the fight to prop it up that song would not be what it is.

Then comes the trick of bringing the music with you or playing it loud enough to overcome the treadmill or trainer. I use lots of different things depending on the situation. If I am doing a lazy run I will bring the phone and some wireless earbuds. From there I put on a playlist from Spotify and off I go.

For swims it depends on the venue. If it is open water I still use a waterproof iPod shuffle with waterproof wired earbuds. I don’t love this solution though because they always seem to fill up with water at some point distorting the acoustics. The benefit though is that if a bud pops out it is attached and you don’t lose it. For pools I have had mixed results with water proof Bluetooth buds paired to my phone. The underwater signal isn’t great, but if I am close enough it is functional. If you don’t want any interruption wired has still been the best for me.

On the bike, because I can carry more gear, most of the time I will use Bose or Yurbuds wired earphones. To me the wired always carries better sound and the weight and flopping wire isn’t a factor since you are in a pretty static position.

One trick I use on runs with a wired ear phone is to run the cord under the heart rate monitor. This keeps it pretty secure even in the bare shirted Summer when I have nothing to clip it to.

At home, I go Sonos on blast in the basement. It is more comfortable when I am drenched, and nobody seems to mind upstairs.

When it comes to finding new music, that is a tall order. For awhile I was snagging songs off of Peloton playlists when I did a spin ride. To be fair, I think the music playlists was the best part of the service for when it started. I haven’t been on a Peloton ride for some time now, but I have found a few of the instructors put their lists on Spotify so you can check them out. Of course Spotify has been great (Daily Mixes and Discover Weekly), but so has Pandora for finding new hidden gems. Lastly, Youtube on autoplay will get you songs you are not specifically looking for, and if you watch the video, sometimes something that you wouldn’t normally click works and can go into the playlist.

Everyone needs to find there own music and what works for them, but I try to build out the play lists based on time and intensity. For a long hard work out, I save the best for last, and maybe I put two or three choices so I can move past a song if it just isn’t cutting it. Although you can’t race with music, but you can train with it, and you can use that as your cue if you know the timing of the list. For example, once you hit X song, let it go, time to hurt.

My music is all over the place, but here are a few songs in no particular oder I am going deep with lately.

  • Summertime Sadness (Lana Del Rey and Cedric Gervais) 3:34
  • All Guys (Killrude) 3:00
  • So Strong (Fliwo) 4:51
  • Black Betty (Spiderbait) 3:25
  • Runnin’ Down A Dream (Petty) 4:21 – This is a final-kick-most-pain-you-can-take song for me. Weird right?
  • Rainbows & Waterfalls (Pretty Lights) 4:14
  • Daydreamin’ (Lupe Fiasco) 3:54
  • Fast Lane (Bad Meets Evil) 4:09
  • God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Johnny Cash) 2:38
  • Word Up (BossHoss) 4:10
  • Dance Monkey (Tones and I) 3:29
  • You’re Crazy (GnR) 4:08
  • Hot Like Sauce ( Pretty Lights) 7:01
  • Good Feeling (Flo Rida) 4:08 – “Giving up’s not an option get to get it in. I got the heart of 20 men.”
  • Rolling in the Deep (Adele) 3:48

That is an hour start to finish, enough for most workouts. Yes each of those is very different from the others. What can I say? It works for me, and hopefully you find something good in there.

Time Check

Have you ever been impatient? Yeah, me too. After missing last weeks track session due to horrendous weather (35 degrees and raining buckets) I thought a one mile time trial would be fun and a good check in on where I am currently. The coach agreed, and so we setup Sunday to go for it. As we were talking about the effort, I told him I wasn’t so much worried about anything but the night before when I would have some friends over for dinner. We tend to have a few tipples when we all get together, and this was no exception. I recall something about a shot and pickle juice, but that is another story. Add to that only four hours of sleep on Friday night, a big bike on Saturday, and Sunday morning was rough.

As much as we may not want to push ourselves when we are tired or sore, this is the time I try to push myself the most. In my head if I can get through the toughest times, then the everything else will be simple. I workout after dinner alot for the same reason. My reasoning is that if I can push hard with a belly full of cherry pepper pizza, race day will be a cake walk.

So Sunday rolled in, I wobbled around getting in fluids and some food, and laced up the flats for the mile. Instead of the track I wanted to do the time trial on the road. My reasoning being that my road has a slight decline on it, and I could use that slope to help keep the speed up. I used the run out as my warm up, and it took about 9-10 minutes. I did a few stretches, a few quick drills and took a deep breath.

I started off a bit slow I felt, but was pretty quickly moving well enough back down the road. My coach suggested I look for quarter mile indicators along the way which I did for some rough measures. The first one I ignored, but the halfway mark I glanced at the watch and it said 2:28 elapsed. This was great news and I was ahead of pace, although the watch also said 5:06 pace, so maybe the measurement was a little off. No matter, I cranked it up, and startled a couple out for a nice weekend walk. I can only imagine what I must look like going full gas down a quiet street. Sweaty, gasping for air, and red as a beet. Oh well.

The finish has a slight uphill but I dug deep, got on the toes and sprinted to the end. There was some nervousness to check the watch, but when I recovered enough I peeked: 5:12 1.0 miles.

That is the fastest I have run a mile in 23+ years. For comparison I did the exact same mile earlier this year and it was 5:42. Huge improvement. I also have been pushing on many fronts with work, working out, and projects in general, so the last few weeks has not been a great training block. But after seeing that time, I really think this sub-five may be in the works after all.

Today is an active recovery day on the bike and then back into the rhythm of things. I am thinking about foregoing beer, wine, and bourbon for the next month or so to really keep me focused and operating tip top. With it being the holidays normally that wouldn’t be much fun, but these aren’t the normal holidays. Sleep is another thing I need to focus on. There were multiple days last week where I took in only about 4-5 hours of rest. This isn’t enough when you are pushing yourself. For me it leads to getting sick, and from there training drops significantly. So for now the name of the game is stay healthy, only consume good nutrition (coffee excluded), and keep focused.

There are still a few weeks before Thanksgiving, which was my unofficial target for the goal time. If I want to hit that timeframe it will take everything I have and then some. It will hurt, and parts will suck for sure, but when it is done, I will have ticked something off the list I never thought I would see again. Achieving things you consider outside of your reach is very rewarding and probably the reason I get so much done in general. My goals are always big challenges and working on them makes other things easier. The key is to remember, don’t give up, put in the effort, and enjoy the journey.

(Pain) Endurance

Endurance athletes are a special breed of people. We do things that most people can’t fathom, and we come out with a smile. We torture ourselves day in and day out. So it is fair to say that for some endurance is not just being able to make your muscles move for a period of time. Instead, it is to make them move when they can’t. When they won’t. When everything hurts, but you refuse to quit. Enduring the pain is as important as any part of what we do, and what we are capable of.

I often tell people I walk around at a 7 out of 10 sore most days. You know like that frowny face chart at the doctors. Yeah, I am somewhere between red face and the worried orange looking guy.

Is it too much? Maybe a bit but I like it that way. When I am sore it feels like I did something tangible. Like I put some hay in the barn. I have read many books by cyclists and runners, and they all talk about their pain threshold. “Shut up legs” being a great example. How much they can endure. I tend to agree with the idea. I am not the best athlete especially when it comes to the bike, but I can go to dark places. I can twist myself up in a knot to push the pace. I will go to 100% and stay there until the body just fails, whereas I see more talented people tapping out well below there best. Thankfully it keeps me competitive haha.

Why is that? I am sure Tony Robbins has a better answer, but to me it is just a personal mantra to never leave any doubts. Never give less than I can no matter what excuses I have or can make. And believe me, I have many many excuses. I’m tired. I’m sore. I want to eat cake and pie. Or bourbon is also nice.

How do I train this mentality? It is not easy for sure, but probably my most successful technique has been to hold myself publicly accountable. To friends, to family, to training partners, whoever. If I say I will do it, I do it because I don’t want to go back on my word. It breaks down peoples’ trust in you. Another thing I do often are the micro-deals I have talked about in the past. I compartmentalize and force myself to tolerate the pain in small digestible morsels. Does this make it hurt less, no, but it makes it go by quicker.

Another aspect of getting it done is discipline. Adhering to a routine. Knowing that when you get to a certain point in the day it will be uncomfortable, but you will come out on the other side better then how you went in. We don’t want to get up early or push to failure. We do it because we train to ignore what we know is coming and just get it done. As they say, sometimes the hardest part is just getting dressed to workout. I agree. The annoyance of getting out of a warm bed to squeeze in something that hurts is counter to how most of us feel (I especially love putting on a wet heart rate monitor from the day before). But by doing it, we build patterns, habits, and behaviors that are there for us when we most need them. Keep pushing, set hard goals, and make sure you are holding yourself accountable. If you can maintain this type of structure and discipline as an ASPECT of your training, when it comes to game day, you will be able to push yourself beyond where others can.

Find your motivation and find your discipline. The words in this video have always resonated with me. “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.” Push past what you think you can do. Ten more seconds. Be better then yesterday.

There Is Always An Excuse

The last few weeks have been tough. Work is tough, the kids are busy with full time school (remember that?), there are projects going on, and finding daylight to train in is tricky. To me this is all part of the game though. Triathlon or really any time consuming hobby is not just about putting in the time, but managing the rest of your day. Workout life balance is just as important as work life balance.

I don’t think I am breaking any ground here, everyone knows how challenging it is to train hard and consistently put in the time. But when we push through the obstacles, we can see they are not so overwhelming when we just take a breath. Baby steps get you through it. Relying on the excuses stinks. Nobody else really cares if I work out so the excuses are just for myself. Me lying to me just doesn’t seem worth it.

One thing is for sure though, no matter how hard you try, things will not always go your way. Case in point I had a very small window to do my track session a few weeks ago, and the track was taken when I showed up (again). Nothing I could do about that. The key was to roll with it and not get too focused on the disappointment or missed workout. When you think about it, missing a day is only 24 hours, so you are just sliding the effort down the line a bit. No biggy.

After the missed weekend, I did resume where I left off this past weekend, and was back at it with the newly arrived Alphafly’s. I like them. Some initial thoughts are that they might run a bit small. I had a heck of a time getting one of them on. They felt fine to run in, but the opening for your foot is snug. The front air pods are for sure a unique feel and sprinting on the toes felt unusual. I thought I looked like a baby deer stumbling down the backstretch. Awkward but fast. Were they worth the $300 ? Eh, maybe, but a key piece of being a professional amateur is making up for talent with gear. In the workout I ran 2 x 1000’s (on 3 minutes rest) and 5 x 200’s (jogging 200) in them and they felt pretty good. I could see doing a marathon with them no problem, although I did get a blister on my Achilles so that will need some moleskin if I take them to an Ironman. Total run with warmup and cool down was about 5 miles.

Were they faster though that is the big question. So yes, my time was faster, BUT, I have been continuing to work hard and keep at the consistency so there is probably a bunch more left before my ceiling. Full disclosure for this effort I ran my first 1000 in 3:31 and the second in 3:33. Still about 20 seconds from where I need to be, but around 8 seconds faster than last time. I also ran my fastest 200 with the shoes on in around 33 seconds. So was it the shoes or just the growth? I think both. I have had the Zero’s for a few years now, and ran consistently faster in them. From 5k to marathon, I had a great year overall and the shoes had to play a role in that. I can’t discount the impact two design generations later these shoes make. Plus, I mean, Kipchoge #amiright?

After sharing the 3:31 1000 meter time, for some it might look like the sub-5 attempt will be impossible. On its face I would agree, but every single time I hit the track the numbers look better. Will it happen by Thanksgiving? Ah, that is a tough one. I can say for sure that I could have kept the 1k pace for 600m more. That puts me around 5:30’s. Thirty seconds in the mile is a long time, but the strength feels like it is there. So I need to keep working on my turnover and top end speed. More importantly I need to remind myself that my shortest race in the last two years was over an hour. One nice side effect is that I ran some intervals at 6:40 last night and it felt super easy. So if nothing else, I hope to see some benefits to my endurance speed. The bike numbers are also ticking up as are some of the strength measures I have. All good news.

I head back to Lake Placid this weekend, and will be playing in the snow for Halloween. Depending on the conditions a true speed workout might not be possible, but I heart running in the snow. In fact, it is probably my favorite time to run. YakTrax F.T.W. One way or another I will be running, it just depends on how fast.

Halfway There

The weeks continue to roll by and so do the track workouts. The tricky thing with track workouts at the moment though is schools are back in session. That means practices, games, fans etc. all milling around or watching from the bleachers. As confident as I may be, I am NOT going to be running wheezing laps around a track while a field hockey game is going on in the middle. So…sometimes we need to adapt and overcome.

This week, unable to find an open track when I had the window to run, I was forced to take it to the treadmill. The workout itself was pretty simple, descending count, ascending distance. (5×100, 4×200, 3×400, 1×800) All of these were to be at goal pace, or faster for the shorter ones. Sadly, my treadmill only goes to 12mph, so for anything shorter where I would be pushing for better than goal pace wasn’t possible. Is that an issue? Maybe long term, but for times when you need to just deal with the cards in front of you, it is ok. Besides, there are two benefits to a treadmill. One is that it really helps with turnover and getting the muscles used to a range of motion and speed. The second is one of the biggest advantages in my opinion.

Forced pace. When you set a speed on the treadmill, and let’s just assume it is accurate, you have to match it. If not, you will be spit out like a watermelon seed. Or in my case be flung into a wall and shredded by the belt (I do wear the safety clip over 11mph). As long as you can keep your grubby paws off the speed, you just have to go. No thinking, just keep up. I love that.

For this workout, the first few are always a bit of a shock to the system, but they are short and sweet. Even the 200’s are pretty easy. The 400’s started to hurt some, but there was good rest between them, and I have been doing 400’s the last few weeks so the pain wasn’t too bad. Now that 800 was a different story.

With my longest interval to date the 600m in Lake Placid, I was more curious about the 800 than I was looking forward to it. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do a 2:30 at all, but mentally I was prepared to give it everything to get there. After the 3rd 400 while I was letting the heart rate get back down to a reasonable level, I started to hedge. My mental toughness was wavering a bit. Something I had thought about all day, something I was going to crush, just didn’t seem in the cards, and I hadn’t even started yet. I was telling myself, just get to this far and if you need to quit, it is ok.

BS. I know it is BS, but the mind is a funny thing. Anyway, the interval started, and it was immediately hard. I knew from the 400’s that it would be hard to hit 400 at pace, but I was determined to get to at least that point. The halfway marked rolled by and I was still in the game! only 1:15 left in the lap and then done. 45. 30. 15 r-e-a-l-l-y long seconds and boom done. Somehow I made it 800m in 2:30. That is halfway to the 4:59 goal and with a lot of training time to go.

Now before you go telling me it was on the treadmill with no incline blah blah blah, yeah, I get it. Is it the same as outside, no of course not. But would I have pushed to the absolute edge like I did on the treadmill, no I don’t think I could have. The tools are there to be used, and to push us. Each workout has its purpose and you hope to make gains on each of them. For me, seeing that I could at least do what I did makes me feel better about the possibility of going sub 5:00.

Oh, and I also did the run in my Asics Kayano’s which are basically the running equivalent of a workboot. So when I slip on my new Nike Alphafly Next%’s I will have an even bigger ace in the hole. You can call me Kipchoge. And no they aren’t cheating. First they are approved to run in the Olympics, and second this is not a ‘race’. Just something for me.

Back in Lake Placid

With the kids in remote learning or hybrid or whatever we are calling it these days, one benefit is being able to escape for long weekends more often. So we packed up the crew and headed up to Training Camp North for a few days.

The weather has been perfect for those that like it a bit cooler. High 20’s at night and in the morning but 50’s during the day. Definitely sweater weather. Frost on the cars and time to pull out the gloves for morning workouts.

With the focus still on the run I have been poking around some new trails while the family walked them at the same time. The dog has been doing great with the walks as well. We have been doing between 2 and 3 miles a day and that is just enough to tucker him out. He won’t be ready to run them just yet, but he is getting good on the leash.

One thing I always like to do when I travel is explore the area on a run. For business trips I can’t always bring my bike or find a pool, but I have always been able to run. Finding the new spots or something I wouldn’t not have normally seen is alot of fun. This trip, besides checking out John Brown’s farm, I located a track for some speed work. Being an Olympic town, and home to some of the best Winter athletes in the world, it was cool to be on the track while others were there working on their own sports like skeleton.

Like last week, I started off with an easy warm-up and drills before getting into anything intense. It wasn’t too windy, and the temps were perfect, so I was ready to get to work. My workout started off with 200’s again, and this week I was consistently 3-5 seconds faster per interval. This put me inside of my goal pace which was nice. They also felt pretty relaxed, another good sign. After the set of 200’s it was on to 400’s which were a bit harder of course (they hurt). I tried to gauge pace and effort and came in pretty slow on the first one. Although I was able to increase the pace on each one, I was still just behind where I want to be. My next interval was 600 and that was a dumpster fire. Well, it wasn’t the worst thing I have ever done, but it hurt and I was slow.

Although I am still behind my goal numbers, it is week #2 of track work, and I need to keep that in perspective. Am I impatient? Yes, but only when it takes time to accomplish something. After years of Ironman and Half-Ironman races, it is like I am building from the beginning. I know that is not exactly true, endurance is still there, but my muscles have definitely adjusted to their new roles of being able to function for half a day without stop. If I am successful in this experiment, and I think I may actually be, it should serve as proof to anyone that they can calibrate themselves even a little later in life.

Admittedly, it doesn’t get easier as you get older, but if we keep ourselves fit and functioning, the hurdles in front of us are much more manageable.

What The Heart Wants

I have talked about heart rate zones a bit in the past so I won’t go into a gory description of them right now, but I would like to touch upon what your heart rate might be telling you. Before I do that though, if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, please get one. Seriously. This is a pretty inexpensive piece of gear, and is one of the truest measures of your body that I know of outside of a lab or blood work.

If you need any suggestions, check out the gear page on the main site for the Garmin watch. That might be overkill for most beginners, but I really do love my watch. I actually have a number of Garmin watches. This is mostly through upgrading, but it certainly comes in handy like the other day when my main time teller was dead. Luckily number two in the line up was not. It is important to have options?

There are a lot of choices out there with newer devices having the monitor built into them to avoid the need for a strap. There are pro’s and con’s to that though. The obvious pro being that you won’t end up with a horizontal friction burn across your chest all year, the con being that I find them to be less accurate. They are getting better though, so maybe the gap is closer than I think these days. For now though I am a proud strap wearer. I actually have been wearing some Body Glide across my chest to reduce the rubbing, and it seems to do the trick more or less.

As I went out for my run last night, I was somewhat excited because it was based on heart rate, and the numbers were not that aggressive. To be more specific, it was under 140 for an hour. This is a pretty easy run for me, but my ranges are specific to me. So while 140 running is on the easy side for me, it may be the top end for someone else. Where tracking heart rate becomes important though is during recovery and in measuring effort. What exactly does that mean and why do you care?

Say you head out for the same run on two separate days. On each run you keep your heart rate between 140-150. The first day you run 10 miles. The second day you run 8 miles. If everything but distance is the same, what does that tell you? There are alot of possible explanations between the two of course. Hard workout the day before. Not enough sleep. Poor nutrition etc. But without comparing and measuring the results, it is very difficult to isolate changes that impact your performance. I tend to find most of my fatigue is not the result of a single effort or poor night’s sleep, but rather a cumulative effect of several days. If I notice that I am running significantly slower based on heart rate, it is time to adjust.

Heart rate is also important to know how hard you are working. Keeping a specific pace is obviously a goal, but many times we need to know how our body is reacting to that pace to know what training to focus on. If you are able to hit your goal marathon pace, but within 30 minutes are at your top heart rate, it is not likely that you will be able to carry that pace for several more hours. I have been in Ironman races that as the day went on the heat went up. I knew I could physically run at a specific speed, but I also knew where my heart rate should be. If I didn’t pay attention to HR, and only focused on pace, there was a high chance of blowing up. It is just as key to know your HR targets as it is to know your time and pace.

Of all the benefits that come from training with hear rate, perhaps the biggest is rest. When the workouts call for an easy day, it means go easy. So many of us have the mentality that if it doesn’t hurt it is not working. Nothing is farther from the truth though. For most people, one or two days of high quality coupled with easy recovery and some bigger volume efforts are all they can handle. But instead of taking recovery as recovery, they go out and hammer those too. I am far from a pro or elite athlete, as I think most of us are, and I need the rest. I want to be ready when the big efforts are there, and put in the junk miles when I can. To keep me honest, I use the heart rate. Super easy is under 130 and this is normally a warmup, pretty easy is 140. From there 140-150 is a good hour plus rate and I can run that for a long time. At 150-160 I am going to hold that for about 1:30 to maybe 2 hours and above that is 10k and 5k pace. So those are my training lanes and guides for what watch for during training.

Are they perfect, no maybe not, but they do tell a pretty good story. That is why it is important to listen to the body, and not fight it. It knows when you are tired and trying to push through that can set you back even more through injury, prolonged fatigue or illness. Remember, every workout doesn’t need to be a PR, and taking it easy can actually be more beneficial than crushing it every time out.

Back On Track

Yesterday was my first official track session in years. I knew it was coming, and have been looking forward to blowing the cobwebs off the track shoes. This is just one piece of the progressive build towards my sub five mile attempt in a few months, and I have to say I came away with mixed results.

Taking it with a grain of salt that I have not done ANY speed specific work for years, I heading in with at least an excuse in the back pocket if things didn’t go exactly as I hoped. The workout core was 3 x 5 for 200m at race pace or slightly better (37ish seconds). Equal recovery between intervals and a lap jog between sets. This seems like a lot of volume in the overall number being fairly high, but 200’s are quick and it actually wasn’t too bad.

When I rolled up to the track I headed out on an easy warmup mile. Super slow just trying to get the blood moving and wake up the muscles. One thing I have learned over the years is to really open up my hips and legs after I do an easy jog. My goto routine involves alternating lunges with my hands on my hips followed by forward and sideways leg swings. I’ll do this maybe 2 or 3 times before a hard effort, and the motion I am able to produce expands with each one. After those, and a few more standard calf, ham, quad, and shoulder stretches I felt good to go.

I was worried about heading out too fast on my first interval. I had no real measure of what 37 might feel like, so I did my best to guess at the pace. As the opposite corner of the track came I clicked the lap button and looked down. 40 seconds! Way off pace. That’s only a 5:20 mile and it actually felt pretty fast. No worry, only 14 more to try and dial in the proper speed…

The limited rest was not as big a factor as I thought it might be, and by the end of the first set, I was hanging in there. The 400 recovery was nice, and I felt good for set two. Determined to run this a bit faster, I started to turn to the toes for the back stretches of each interval. What does that mean? Well, most people when they are sprinting at high speed will get on their toes. I liken it to how a boat will plane in the water. Once I am on the toes there are not many more gears in the transmission. I also started to really pump the arms towards the end of the runs. This helped carry me over the line, and the times saw a small bump to under 40 for most of them.

On the last set I turned the hat around, bit down and was just about on pace for the first 4 with the last one being just under goal pace at 36. I was happy to be done, but did quite enjoy the workout. Short, sweet and to the point.

Here a day later, my calves are slightly tender haha. I think a Normatec session is called for later. It is a rest day, but I am almost considering an easier spin on the bike just to stay active. Maybe a swim would be better though.

In terms of my output, and hitting my goal pace for 1/8th of the full distance, I won’t read too into it yet. Was I overall behind, yes, but I think that will come, and it is a slow build. I know I can’t run my goal today which I why I need to keep pushing and keep working until I can. It is good to be challenged, and frankly if this was easy, I probably wouldn’t want to do it.

For now it is back to the grind. Stronger each week, better each day.

The Most Important Piece of Bike Gear

Helmets. A good friend of mine, and someone I have always looked up to was recently in a motorcycle accident. This is someone who coached me in my first triathlon. Someone who I have logged thousands of weekend bike miles with. Someone that I have traveled with and who taught me a lot about racing and friendship. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

When I heard the news I was shocked and I was sad. It was with disbelief I heard he had no helmet on. We always cycled together with helmets. Always. Why a motorcycle would be be different I don’t know.

Sadly accidents on the bike are not an isolated incident. All of my friends that ride outside have had a significant crash or been hit by a car. Some more than once. I myself have had a number of very close calls when out solo. Luckily, I have always kept the bike upright and avoided testing my helmet capabilities first hand. But for those less fortunate the results of the crashes have varied from some cuts and scrapes, to hospitalization, and in one case death.

Frankly, biking on the road is a dangerous prospect. Many cars are in a hurry and will take big risks passing cyclists. Last year a head-on collision along the Lake Placid bike course (not during the race) resulted in a motorist death. Drivers may not appreciate that a shoulder isn’t always rideable. Sand, debris, storm grates and many other obstacles prevent people from staying in the shoulder. Sometimes these conditions go into the middle of a lane or beyond forcing riders to swing wide with little notice.

The safe thing to do as a good rider is to spot the issue, look back to see if it is safe to swing out, and either slow or make a move. This is defensive riding. Sometimes that just isn’t how it goes. You are focused on power, speed, and positioning and don’t see something until the last moment. Riding in packs can also cause this if the people in front are not using proper hand signals.

Then there are just bad drivers. People who pull out to slow down. Drivers that block your path on a downhill. The ones that don’t see you taking a left and smack into your back. These are the ones that worry me the most. Distracted, unfocused, and dangerous.

If we know the chances of a crash exist, is there any argument that helmets are important? The risks are there for an accident so why not get the best brain bucket possible?

Helmets have come quite a ways over the years. Aero, road, mountain, there are alot of choices. For racing my favorite helmet is a low key Specialized aero job. Much more subtle that the previous trend of aero helmets with a long tail covering your neck and part of your back. Like a helmet with a mullet. My race helmet has a nice feature in a magnetic clasp that is easy to open and close on the run. The drawback to this helmet though is that despite the claims of air flow, it does get hot. Hot = sweat = the need for more nutrition management. But for most days even when not racing I have no issues wearing it out, and find myself using it more often than not.

Another Specialized helmet I have is a pretty standard road helmet. Adjustable tightness and a buckle clip, but very open on top. Not meant for aerodynamics but more comfortable on hot days.

Growing up, we never wore helmets, but then again I don’t think we wore seat belts either. My kids know they need a helmet when they are on their bikes or someones else’s. They know to wear one on a skateboard, quad, or scooter. It is just something we have drilled home, and it is natural to them. We also all wear helmets skiing and snowboarding, and as I have told many of my non-helmeted Winter sport friends, it is so much better. The helmet keeps you warmer. Bonus!

Putting on the the right gear and staying safe is a great lesson we can teach others and lead with. Nobody wants to be forced into doing something, and having a choice is good, but choosing to skip wearing a helmet is not on the table. With today’s many options out there, go to your LBS and figure out what is best for your needs. Just make sure it fits well and you wear it.

Late and Early Season Swimming (yeah it’s cold)

One of the challenges of living in the Northeast is that we have seasons. With these seasons comes shorter days colder nights, and inevitably freezing fricken pools. Yeah yeah, you can go to the Y or some other club to swim indoors, but that takes time and isn’t as cool when you have your own pool or lake.

For some points of reference, I have raced in pretty cold water. Both Rotterdam and Greece were close to 60 degrees. I have also raced in really warm water, I think Miamiman last year was around 80 degrees. I might say I prefer the colder water overall, but warming up in 60 degree fluid can be rough. It can also be hard to train in, so here are a few things I have found to help at various times.

First up, my limit for swimming is water around 55 degrees. I know there doesn’t seem like alot of difference between 55 and 60, but let me tell you there is. In the Spring we normally open the pool towards the end of April and once the water shows 55 I dive in. Granted most of my swims at this point are still shorter there are times when I am putting in an hour at a clip. The first level of defense for me is a wetsuit. I will use this from about 55-68 degrees in my pool in the Spring. Later in the year I am more acclimated and can tolerate lower temps, but up front I get soft. It happens. If I am swimming open water I will were a wetsuit until mid 70’s, except for if the air temp is also high. Cooler water with a high air temp is very pleasant.

The next layer of warmth comes from a swim cap. For some reason cold water and my ears just don’t get along. I will have splitting headaches almost like brain freeze until I am used to the temps. For colder swims I use a neoprene cap which works a bit better than a standard cap. I have also tried ear plugs in the past, but have found them to be annoying and if anything I would rather put waterproof earbuds in.

My final piece of gear is thermal swim socks. Man do I love these. I came across the Blueseventy model on Amazon last Fall while preparing for a November race. While my core and head were fine, I found my feet were completely numb. The swim socks made a huge difference, I was able to comfortably use them with fins on as well.

Another thing I try to be cognizant of is hypothermia. There is no sense in training to be fit but risking your health or life in the process. There are a number of signs of hypothermia such as confusion, slurred speach, shivering, clumsiness etc. I like to test my dexterity by touching my thumb to each finger on the same hand. If I am not able to do that, it is time to warm up. Most of the things I have seen say an hour in 50-60 degree water is ok, and with the proper gear you should be ok, but it is very important not to swim outside of your ability or without supervision if you are unsure. Luckily my wife can look out the window from the couch and see me flopping around. If I was in open water, I would not go it alone.

There are a few more levels such as jelly for your face and other products to keep you warm that can be applied to the skin. For a really cold Lake Placid 70.3 race I put on embrocation cream under my wetsuit to keep warm. More so for the bike but I figured it wouldn’t hurt on the swim. There is also the old pee-in-the-wetsuit move. Can’t say I know anyone who does that, none at all.

As for recovery afterwards, there are two paths you can take. After an annual January polar plunge a friend of mine will take out a propane heater and some bourbon which does a great job of warming you up. The other more athletic method is to jump in a hot shower, sauna, or spa. You shouldn’t be too cold or you were in too long, but either way, get some heat back in the system and get ready for the next one.