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Chicks on bikes radio–Girl Parts/Bike Parts

This month I had the pleasure of co-hosting another great edition of Chicks On Bikes Radio.  We talked about fit issues related to women and interviewed five great guests:

It is a great show and well worth a listen:

Listen to internet radio with Chicks On Bikes Radio on Blog Talk Radio

The importance of the warm-up

-originally published in RaceCenterNW Magazine

It's likely that it has happened to you. You're late getting out the door and you're pressed for time. You start your interval workout straight away. About 30 seconds into the first interval, your legs are leaden, your breathing is labored, and the metallic taste in your mouth is telling you that you went too hard, too soon. You didn't warm-up.

These uncomfortable sensations are your body reminding you why it's important to warm-up properly – to prepare yourself before the real work begins. Several things happen when you ease into exercise – your muscle and body temperature increase, your blood vessels dilate, and there are slight hormonal changes. Warming up your muscles allows them to contract and release more quickly, giving you faster response and better recovery (no leaden legs!). The dilation of your blood vessels reduces your relative blood pressure, enhances flow to your capillaries, and increases your body's ability to cool itself, while hormonal adjustments optimize your body's ability to use carbohydrates for fuel.

A good warm-up is easy to do. For run workouts, walk briskly for 5 minutes, then run progressively harder over a 5 minute period, so that your last minute is at your Threshold (half-marathon) pace. For bike workouts, spin easily for 5 minutes, then do 5 fast-pedal efforts (100+rpm) for 1 minute each, with 1 minute between efforts. Alternatively, after your initial 5 minute spin, ramp up to your Lactate Threshold heart rate (or power) over a period of 5 minutes. Spin easily for another 5 minutes and then you're ready for your main set.

All of this adds up to better high-level workout performance as well as recovery between hard efforts. It also means that you recover better day-to-day as your body doesn't spend as much time getting rid of the excess waste products that saturate your muscles when you go too hard too soon. Thus, when you warm-up properly, you can train more effectively each day, and get stronger faster!

In a future article, we'll talk about race-specific and climate-specific warm-ups.

Chicks on bikes radio Lit edition–part 2

Today I again co-hosted Chicks on Bike Radio.  April and I spoke with Kelli Refer, the author of Pedal, Stretch, Breathe: The Yoga of Bicycling,  and Susan Meyers, who wrote The Hamster Ride & 25 Other Short Biking Stories.

We had a great conversation about cycling, balance, friendliness, and life.  Have a listen right here:

Listen to internet radio with Chicks On Bikes Radio on Blog Talk Radio

Preparing for CX Nationals over the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful and disruptive time for athletes. There are often loads of travel, relatives that are stressful to be around, and sick people sneezing on you. It's not ideal for training, but normally that's not a problem as it is the off-season. For those who plan to race CX Nationals, however, it's peak season!

If you're headed to Madison in mid-January, then right now you're in your final preparation phase as you gear up for the big event. In the next couple of weeks, you will want to hone your form to a sharp edge and peak for your big event. There are a few things you can do over the holidays and on your way to Wisconsin to minimize the disruption to your preparations and maximize your chances of a great result:

1. Get plenty of rest. When you're doing those tough intervals (more on those later) in cold and wet weather, you will be a bit more run down and more likely to inherit Uncle Elmer's cold. So, make sure you sleep well and often, taking naps if necessary, especially after workouts. Naps are also a great way to avoid hanging out with boring relatives.

2. Stay warm. Shivering can burn as many calories as a nice L2 ride, and you want to save that energy for training and for your race. It is cold in Wisconsin and it is cold on airplanes. Bring your warm layers, a cap and gloves, and wear them before and after training and while you travel.

3. Go easy on the sweets. The holidays are for feasting, but if you plan to be at your best in January, it will benefit you to stick to eating your fruits and veggies and some good protein. Save the sweets for while you're on the bike. Stay lean and mean.

4. Do your intervals. As you get closer to Nationals, your workouts will get a bit shorter, and a bit harder. By now, you have done the bulk of the LT work you need to do, and you should be honing the very top end of your form. This means a couple of days each week of Anaerobic Capacity (AC) intervals as well as some VO2 Max work. The key to getting the most from this hard work is solid rest (see #1!).

5. Minimize your stress level. This goes hand-in-hand with getting lots of rest. The holidays can be stressful for lots of reasons. Stress lowers your immunity to illness, wears you out, and makes your training less effective. Try to go into these weeks with a relaxed attitude. Channel your inner Dalai Lama and let stresses roll off your back. Focus on your objectives, and don't worry about your in-laws or whether or not you'll miss your connection.

Following these few simple bits of advice can help get the most out of your Nationals bid. Good luck!

Cyclocross Basics, Part 2

Cyclocross is great training for cycling and in endurance coaching circles, widely respected as not only a winter training sport, but a specialty in and of itself. It is technique-heavy, as cycling disciplines go, so it's a good place for roadies and the like to keep their skills sharp. A few weeks ago, we covered the basics of cyclocross training and technique. Now, we'll delve into one of the more difficult aspects of technique - dismounting, carrying and getting back onto your bike. Of course, the best way to learn this is with the hands-on instruction of a coaching ride.

The key to developing good bike handling skills is to practice being smooth and relaxed. Your dismount, transition to carry, return of the bike to the ground, and remount should feel like one fluid motion. At first, it will likely feel like the opposite, but this smoothness is something to strive for. Let's go over the specifics:


The key to dismounts, like comedy (which sometimes results), is timing. The speed of approach, type of obstacle, and traction conditions all play a role in deciding when to dismount. It's generally best to ride as close to the obstacle as practical, or in the case of a run-up as far up it as practical. Some riders like to set their brakes up "Italian-style," with the rear brake on the left, so that they can eliminate the chance of locking the front wheel in loose terrain while they are halfway off the bike. Let's outline the steps, one at a time:

  1. Gauge your speed appropriately and slow down smoothly as you approach the obstacle
  2. Swing your right leg over the saddle and bring it behind your left leg
  3. Square your hips with the handlebars - perpendicular to the frame of the bike
  4. As you continue to slow down, release your right hand from the handlebar and grab your top tube, pushing your weight into it to offload weight from your feet
  5. Twist your left foot free of the pedal as you land on your right foot first (behind your left foot). Alternatively, you can "step-through"- instead of planting your right foot behind the pedal, step between your left leg and the bike and land in a run with your right foot in front.
  6. Pick up your bike!
The dismount.  Notice the weighted hand on the top tube


There are two main ways to carry your bike: the "suitcase" carry and the shoulder carry. For short sets of barriers or stairs, the suitcase usually will suffice. For longer run-ups and triple barriers, it's better to shoulder your bike.

Suitcase-style Carry:

This one is easy. Once you have stepped off your bike, with your left hand on the brake hood and your right hand on the top tube, simply pick the bike up, like a suitcase. It's best to avoid the temptation to tuck it close to your body.  You can love your bike, but this is a good time to keep it at arm's length.  Also, you only need to lift it high enough to clear the obstacle. Riders often lift their bikes higher than necessary, thereby wasting valuable energy. As long as the wheels clear the obstacle, that's enough.

The rider in front is lifting his bike higher than necessary, while the second rider just clears the barrier – saving a bit of energy along the way

Shoulder Carry:

This one is slightly more complicated, but still not hard. The dismount is very similar to the above, unless it's really smooth, in which case you may be able to skip grabbing the top tube and simply pick the bike up by the down tube as you dismount.

    1. Gauge your speed appropriately and slow down smoothly as you approach the obstacle
    2. Swing your right leg over the saddle and bring it behind your left leg
    3. Square your hips with the handlebars - perpendicular to the frame of the bike
    4. As you continue to slow down, release your right hand from the handlebar and grab your top tube, pushing your weight into it to offload weight from your feet
    5. Twist your left foot free of the pedal as you land on your right foot
    6. As you begin to run, release the top tube, reach down on your side of the bike, and pick up your bike by the down tube. Slide the top tube up your arm to rest on your shoulder with your arm under the down tube.  Do this in one smooth motion, ending with your right hand holding the bottom of the handlebar
    7. Tuck your right hand into your chest - this will keep your saddle from hitting your helmet
    8. Run, using your left hand for balance if necessary.
Barton 2012h
Running with the bike on the shoulder.  Notice how the right arm is wrapped under the down tube and the hand holds the end of the handlebar


This is basically an exaggerated "step" onto the bike. Ideally, it is less of a jump and more of a smooth slide over the bike and back into the pedals. The key to this, as with the above, is to be as smooth and fluid as possible. Here is the breakdown:

  1. After placing your bike back on the ground as smoothly as possible while you run, step off your left foot as you begin to bring your right leg over the saddle
  2. Envision simply placing your right foot back into the right-side pedal.  Aim for it
  3. Slide your right thigh over the saddle, still aiming for the pedal with your foot
  4. Find your pedals, clip in, and keep pedaling!
Stepping onto the bike.  It doesn't look like I am running in this photo, but I am!
Barton 2012i_sm
Sliding into the saddle

All of these techniques require practice to master. You will know you have it right when you're racing and not even thinking about the next obstacle or what you are going to do to get over it. Focus on staying relaxed and strive for smoothness and fluidity. The smoother you are, the faster you will be.

Cyclocross Basics, Part 1

A few weeks ago, an athlete contacted me asking for a few private coaching sessions on the basics of cyclocross.  Those sessions seem to have worked as today he won his category at the Cross Crusade Rainier and now he has to upgrade!

Although there is no substitute for some hands-on practical cyclocross coaching, I thought I would outline in writing what we worked on.  It's a good start for anyone who is getting into the sport and a nice reminder for those who have been in it a while and may have developed some bad habits or lost a bit of the flow.  I'll write more on the latter in a later installment.

Here is what we covered in the first session:

  • Bike fit
  • Low-speed, high-traction corners
  • Low-speed, low-traction corners
  • High speed corners
  • Bunny hops
  • Intervals for CX preparation

Let's review one topic at a time.

Bike Fit

A properly fitted CX bike should feel a bit different than your (properly fitted) road bike.  Individual fit is very specific and the following will not apply to everyone.  It's best to find a qualified fitter in your area and have that person do a specific fit for your CX bike. 

That said, your CX bike's saddle will likely be a bit forward compared to your road bike.  The height, however, should be the same from the pedal to the saddle top, accounting for the difference in shoe and pedal systems. 

Next, check your handlebars.  Some riders prefer to have about the same reach as on their road bikes, but with a saddle/handlebar drop that is less than on a road bike.  Others prefer to have a shorter reach with the same drop, or a bit less.  It depends a bit on your flexibility as well as on the bike itself.  If you're not positioned on the bike the way it is designed for you to be, it won't handle optimally.  Finally, since a lot of time is spent on the brake levers in 'cross, many riders run their bars and/or brake levers a tilted slightly more upward than on their road bikes.  I prefer to do this as well, but I also run compact bars so the drops are not simply along for the ride. 

road_bars cx_bars
Typical road handlebar tilt and brake lever position. CX handlebar tilt.  Notice the levers are a bit higher relative to the bar tops.
Low-speed, high-traction corners

Remember always to stay relaxed!  This is the golden rule for all good bike handling.  For these corners, brake and pedal at the same time.  This sounds a bit silly, but the idea is to keep drive to the rear wheel so that it "pushes" you around the corner.  The brakes counter the drive and together they help you balance.

Low-speed, low-traction corners

Brake early in slippery conditions so that you don't lock up your wheels on the approach to the corner.  Make sure to keep the power on from about 1/4 of the way through the turn.  Lean the bike instead of steering it.  When the front end slides, keeping the power on will bring the bike back into line.  RELAX and have confidence in your bike.  It's designed to get you out of trouble, so let it. It is good to practice this in deep, loose gravel (remember, SLOW speed).  Once you get used to the front wheel sliding a bit, it won't seem so scary.

High speed corners

Very similar to the road - relax your arms, stay low, lean and counter steer a bit.  Keep your weight low and push downward on your outside leg, which should be at the bottom of the pedal stroke.  Trust your tires and don't be afraid of a little sliding around.  Relax.

Bunny Hops

Compress by crouching with your arms and legs, then spring upwards and lift the bike with you.  First, focus on lifting both wheels at the same time, then focus on first the front wheel and then the rear in a rocking-horse motion. The former is useful for low obstacles, while many prefer the latter for higher ones.  You can even land your wheels briefly on the top of the obstacle as you roll over it.  Set out some 2x4s on grass and practice.  This is a great video example:


Intervals for CX Preparation

You have worked hard with your cycling coach and have been targeting CX all summer.  You have done your endurance homework and built a nice foundation for day-to-day recovery.  On this foundation you can build the House of Cross.  It's not a church, but with weekly attendance, each Sunday your competition will kneel before the altar of your awesomeness. 

If you are racing on Saturdays (and I encourage you to, since they are often low-key and casual), go hard on Tuesday and Wednesday and take Thursday completely off.  This may change depending on your individual qualities of recovery and training load capability, but this is a good place to start. Here are a couple of sample workouts for you on these days:


WU (warm up): 20 mins easy/medium spin. Keep cadence high at 90_+ rpm.

MS (main set): Do three sets of 5 x 30 seconds at 100% effort with 30-second spin recoveries. Rolling starts, standing, big gear. Get to top end quickly. Cool down easily and stretch.

CD (cool down): 15 to 20 mins easy spin.


WU: 15 mins easy spin, L1.

MS: 3 sets of 5 x 20 seconds On FULL GAS, 10 seconds OFF with 4 minutes between sets.

CD: 15 mins easy spin, L1.

Start by only doing one interval day mid-week and another aerobic day.  Ideally, make this a Tempo/SST.  SST is "Sweet Spot Training" - high tempo/low threshold, or 87%-90% of your threshold capacity (the power or HR you can hold for 1 hour).  Here is a good one:

WU: 15 mins easy spinning.

MS: First 30 mins - SST. Final 30 mins SST. Everything in between at L3 - Tempo.

CD: 15 mins easy spin. Easy!

Data Analysis - Marathon MTB Nationals 2012

I have had a day or two to digest what happened last Saturday and I've finally had a chance to sit down and look at my data file as well. 

It was a day where everything came together just right:  The start was fast, but not too fast.  The climbs suited my new lighter physique.  The bike felt perfect and I was confident on the descents and singletrack.  I had no mechanical issues.  I had rested properly in the previous week.  The distance and hot weather both suited me.  I was able to stay focused for the entire 4+ hour effort.

All of those things are the ingredients of the perfect race.  Together, they allowed me to do my best possible ride on the day.  In terms of numbers, here is what that ride looked like:

Click on the image to magnify.  Red is Heart Rate, blue is speed, and orange is elevation data.

My LTHR (Lactate Threshold Heart Rate) is 178bpm, represented above with the red dashed line.  This places my Threshold Level (also referred to as Level 4) at 169-188bpm.  Theoretically I can ride at 178bpm for about 1 hour.  On Saturday, the data shows ideal pacing over the duration of the race.  I managed to average 167bpm for the entire distance, keeping my effort sustainable over that period.

The nature of MTB racing is such that there are often times when you must exceed your LTHR in order to clear an obstacle, or stay with a rider you need to stay with, etc.  Several times I bumped up against my maximum HR of 194bpm, but my training has been such that I was able to recover and maintain a high pace.  During the race, my HR never dropped below high Level 2 (Endurance), even on the descents.  It was a consistent effort, and by the finish I was completely spent. 

The last week has seen two great lessons in pacing in two very different types of events (see the post on last week's cyclocross race here).   One event was short and intense, while the other required more endurance and the ability to focus for a very long time.  Happily, both yielded great results!

The Power of Positivity

We've all heard the start-line murmurs:

"My legs are tired."

"I didn't have much time to ride this week." 

"I'm just here for the training."

"Whatever happens is meant to happen."

It's likely we've all said those things or something similar at one time or another.  All of these statements have one thing in common – they put the speaker in a position of not having to take responsibility for the outcome of the race.  They are built-in excuses that allow us to explain not getting the result we had really wanted.

Once some years ago, I was racing a stage race which featured a road race on Saturday followed by a Sunday Criterium.  In the road race, some riders ahead went down on the wet roads, and the fallout from the crash took me off my bike as well.  I chased with 3 others, and although we came within seconds of the field, we never regained it.  Frustrated, I told my teammate that I was not going to race the criterium the next day.  My teammate is an optimist, and told me that I was better than the rest and that I should race.  He urged me to put that day behind me and look forward to a fresh opportunity.  I thought about it all night and in the morning, I was ready to go.  His positivity was infectious and deep down I knew he was right.  On the start line that morning, I knew I would win.  Even though criteriums are not my specialty and everyone who knows me knows that in a sprint I often go backwards, I won.  The previous day, I didn't even want to race.  Now, I had won, and the reason really boils down to one thing:  I found the positive side of a difficult situation. 

Finding the positivity in one's athletic pursuit takes practice.  It's easy to get down when things don't go your way, and it becomes self-fulfilling.  If you tell yourself that your legs are tired, then they are going to feel that way when you race. 

Here are a few ways to stay balanced and keep perspective on your training, racing, and outlook:

  1. Keep a journal.  This is not a training journal (more on that later), but an actual diary.  Write down each day what you're feeling and how you feel you're processing it.  Later, go back and read it.  Notice your language and the tone of your thoughts.  This will give you some perspective on yourself and help you see that, even though sometimes things are not exactly as you want them, they will change.
  2. Set your expectations.  If you're a new cat 3, it's not likely you'll ride the Giro any time soon.  However, you may well upgrade to cat 2 in the same season.  Set your expectations accordingly.
  3. Learn from your failures.  Don't focus on them, but make them part of your success. Success builds on success and your expectations of yourself will follow.
  4. Log your training.  Keeping your data and looking for trends in what you do and don't respond to is a good idea, and so is actually writing down exactly how you feel about how each workout went.  This helps put you in touch with your body and your mind.
  5. Hope for the best when you set your goals.  This is really another way of saying "focus on what you want."  Visualize success and achievement and remember to visualize being happy with your achievements. You need to believe in yourself.

Achieving a positive outlook will help you to not only get the most out of your athletic pursuits, but it will help you go about your days with confidence and the knowledge that you are doing your very best to succeed.

Food for Athletes on just published a nice piece about diets for athletes.  It's more of an exploration of the eating habits of endurance athletes than a guide.  I have a few things to say on the subject, too.  Check it all out right here.

How to pack for stage races - Part 2 in a series

A few months ago, we learned how to pack your race bag for a one-day race.  Stage racing season is here, and I thought it might be useful to cover how to pack for stage racing as well.  Many of you will be heading to places like Baker City, OR for some great racing, and having an organized kit will make your life easier and help you to concentrate on what is most important – the race!

Just as with any race, putting together a checklist is essential.  For a  race of four stages or so, taking place in the summer time and where you will be staying at a hotel or host housing, it should look something like this:

road bike
time trial bike

spare wheels for road bike
time trial wheels (assuming you have normal wheels on the bike for warmup/training)
racing shoes (and spare pair if you have them)
4 pairs cycling socks
4 sets of cycling shorts
4 short sleeve jerseys
long sleeve jersey
4 base layers (light and heavy)
wind vest
wind jacket
clear rain jacket
2 pairs cycling gloves- long and short finger
2 pairs of knee warmers
2 pairs of arm warmers
1 set of legwarmers (for TT warmup)
time trial shoe covers
cycling cap
synthetic warm cap
lightweight booties
sunglasses and lenses – clear and dark
racing helmet
time trial helmet
4 water bottles (at least – usually more depending on race and post-race requirements)
plenty of your preferred race food, pre-sorted into packets for each day
chamois creme
warming oil for the legs (I prefer woodlock oil and maybe some almond oil if it is raining)
heart monitor/power meter chest strap
heart monitor/power meter head unit
compression socks (pressure pants!)
post-race recovery food and drink (also sorted into packets for each day)
4 liters of flat mineral water (drink one after each stage)
2 race towels
rollers or trainer for TT warmup
bike tools and chain lube
spare shoe cleats
floor pump
folding chair
a nice book to read while resting between stages

What you bring with you for before and after each stage is just as important as your equipment for the stage.  If the evenings are cool, for example, be sure to have a warm cap and jacket.  Having all your recovery food sorted out and waiting for you will speed your recovery and increase your ability to perform well the next day.

It’s also important to keep your stuff organized when you pack it, so you aren’t rummaging around in your recovery food for a fresh pair of socks.  If your bag is big enough and has compartments, separate your race clothes from your casual clothes and separate your food items from the rest.  Keep your soiled race clothes separate from everything by putting them in a plastic bag, or simply bring a separate bag with you for those.  A few small bags may work better for you than one big bag.

That should cover the basics.  I’m sure I will be reminded of some things I may have forgotten, and I will add those as I get them.  Thanks to H. Givens and Erik V. for assistance with this article.

How to pack for one day road racing - Part 1 in a series (hopefully)

One day many years ago, I was in a rush to get out the door to drive to a friend's house for a long training ride.  Thinking I had everything I needed I headed out only to find when I arrived that I had forgotten my shoes.  My friend was about 5 inches shorter than me, but had big feet for his size.  He also happened to use the same pedals that I did.  As luck would have it, my feet fit perfectly into a set of his spare shoes.  That day I got away with being disorganized, but I knew that I had been lucky and that had I showed up for a race with no shoes, I likely would have spent the day doing something other than racing my bike.

There is one key to packing for just about any trip: organization.  The same thing applies to packing for bike racing.  In the next few months we will learn how to best pack for all types of bike racing - road single day, time trial, cross, and stage racing.  Each requires a different set of kit and some have higher chance of variable conditions for which you will need to be prepared.  You don't have to bring everything you own, but if you bring the things you think you might need, then make a few choices about what and what not to cut out based on those, then you should end up with exactly what you do need.  Sounds easy, eh?

Step one is putting together a checklist.  For a single day race which you can drive to and from, it should look something like this:

  • bike (obviously)
  • spare wheels
  • racing shoes
  • 2 pairs cycling socks
  • 2 sets of cycling shorts
  • 2 short sleeve jerseys
  • long sleeve jersey
  • 2 base layers (light and heavy)
  • wind vest
  • wind jacket
  • clear rain jacket
  • 2 pairs cycling gloves- long and short finger
  • knee warmers
  • arm warmers
  • cycling cap
  • synthetic warm cap
  • booties
  • sunglasses and lenses - clear and dark
  • helmet
  • 4 water bottles (or more depending on race and post-race requirements)
  • 2 flasks HammerGel (maybe more, depending on the race)
  • chamois creme
  • warming oil for the legs (I prefer woodlock oil)
  • heart monitor/power meter chest strap
  • heart monitor/power meter head unit
  • compression socks (pressure pants!)
  • post-race food and drink
  • towel

Step two is packing it all up.  It all goes in a nice bag, preferably with separate compartments for small stuff, wet clothes post-race, and dirty shoes post-race.  If you don't have separate compartments, just bring a small extra bag or two along.  The bags that often come with racing shoes these days work well.  Queue required photo of all my stuff laid out and ready to be packed up:

Race day kit ready to pack. Note pressure pants on right for post-race wear.

Next time I will go over how and what to pack for time trials.  Until then, check back for daily (or near-daily) updates from Solvang Camp.

Fold your rain jacket like a pro!

Lately here in the Pacific Northwest we have been having what could be diplomatically described as a "reluctant spring." Not only has it been damp and showery, but it has been colder than normal as well. Hopefully, this all leads to a nice, sunny, hot summer. In the meantime, however, we are all packing our rain capes when we head out to ride.

We have all got them - clear plastic rain capes with a velcro "zipper" and some cloth ventilation down the sides. They are cheap, waterproof and keep you warm in a pinch. Of course, they don't breathe, leading one friend to refer to his as his "personal terrarium."

These capes can take up a load of space in your jersey pocket if you don't take the time to fold them properly. People have always asked my brother Roo (who has recently been pursuing a hip hop lifestyle) and I how we get our rain capes to fit so snugly into our jersey pockets. Now you can find out.

Here is what one often sees these days:

Notice how the jacket it falling out of a seemingly overstuffed pocket. That’s a definite sign of not having read this post. Here is what it should look like:

Now, here is how to do it! First, make sure it is cleaned and dried after its last use. Then, lay it out on the floor with the velcro closed and the front-side up, as such:


Then, fold each arm across the front:

Next, fold the sides over each other inwards towards the center. It should take two folds on each side to make it look like this:

Now, fold one side over the other…

Then fold this in half…

and half again…

And you are done! See:

Now you have a nice, organized and compact package that fits easily into your jersey pocket. All your friends will appreciate your style and when you got to get it out of your pocket mid-ride, it will easily unfold, ready for use!

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