New to Triathlon? Learn from 3 Athletic Mentors Team members!

February 1st, 2024 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  Natalie Rowe

A few weeks ago, Athletic Mentors hosted their Swim Stroke Video Analysis. There were 12 of us that participated, many of us fairly experienced swimmers…but after watching the videos, we all had technique issues, mostly hand entry and catch issues. Just to give you an idea, I grabbed an image from one of my videos to show you what we saw under the water.

When we met and reviewed our videos as a group, we started talking about the upcoming racing season, training and triathlon in general. It got me thinking…we were all beginners at some point and pretty clueless about all things triathlon. I thought it would be fun if a few experienced triathletes answered some of the top Googled questions about triathlon. I went to Google, looked over the questions and selected 5 questions that I thought would be helpful, and truthfully I’ve also been asked during training!

For those totally new to triathlon or multi-sport, I want to give you a foundation to start with. Typically, it’s three sports; swim, bike, and run performed consecutively in that order. There are other events in the family too; like duathlon, aquathon and aquabike (and other variations which we won’t get into). Now that we’ve clarified what a triathlon is, there are different triathlon distances, but the shortest standardized distance is a sprint triathlon and the longest is the iron distance. There are shorter and longer distances, but they’re not standardized. Here is a chart of what the distances look like:

Name of Event Swim Distance Bike Distance Run Distance
Sprint 750m* 20K / 12.4 miles 5K / 3.1 miles
Olympic 1500m* 40K / 24.8 miles 10K / 6.2 miles
Half Iron / 70.3 1.2 miles 56 miles 13.1 miles
Iron / 140.6 2.4 miles 112 miles 26.2 miles

Jay

Jay –  What makes it “standardized’?  If USAT (USA Triathlon) hosts a National Championship at that distance, does that make it “standard”?  For example, USAT hosts a National Championship at the Super Sprint distance each year at the Multisport Festival.  There is also a Super Sprint World Championship race.

Natalie – after Jay asked this question, I went back and did more research! Low and behold, there are different standards for different organizations. Since we’re US based, it seems appropriate to use what USAT deems standard. As it turns out USAT does include Super Sprint in their standard distances, they also include the World Triathlon Long Course. Here’s the fully updated chart:

Name of Event Swim Distance Bike Distance Run Distance Total Distance
Super Sprint 400m 10K / 6.2 miles 2.5K 12.9K
Sprint 750m 20K/ 12.4 miles 5K / 3.1 miles 25.75K
Olympic 1500m 40K / 24.8 miles 10K / 6.2 miles 51.5K
World Triathlon Long Course 2,000m 80K / 49.6 miles 20K / 12.4 miles 102K
Half Iron / 70.3 1.2 miles 56 miles 13.1 miles 70.3 miles
Full Iron / 140.6 2.4 miles 112 miles 26.6 miles 140.6 miles

Before we get to the questions, I asked everyone to share how long they’ve been participating in triathlon and if there is anything else about each of us that will give you insight into who we are or our background. 

Natalie: I’m the rookie of the group. I played water polo in high school and college. After many years of not being active, I started running mostly to lose weight and get in shape – it worked, but I became incredibly bored with just running, so I started migrating over to multisport and have been at it for about 5 years.

Dawn

Dawn: Swimmer for the fun of it before I could walk. Always a learner, I study triathlon and techniques to be the best athlete I can be. That education and desire to share it with others led me to become a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach.

Jay: My first triathlon was as a team member (running leg) in the 1993 Gull Lake Triathlon. I started running in college… mostly to deal with stress. My first race ever was a marathon in 1978. I drifted to triathlon because I needed a new challenge.

Kathy: As strictly a runner, I discovered Triathlon after suffering some sport related injury due to the constant pounding of running.  I loved the variety the training provided and the adventure of the races.  I decided to “Tri” my first triathlon in 2007 and started sharing my passion for the sport as a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach in 2020.

1)      Do you do all 3 disciplines every day?

Natalie: No one has time for that! When I train; most of my training days I’m doing 2 workouts, occasionally back to back but the only time I’m doing all 3 disciplines is if I’m doing a mock race or actually racing.

Dawn: No. Most individuals do not have time for that and then you wouldn’t be able to focus and improve on your weakness. I do have my athletes practice bricks, two workouts done consecutively with the purpose of improving race pacing. The most typical brick is a bike followed by a run. I also have them practice very short triathlons during race season to practice their transitions, that is, changing from one sport to the next.

Jay: I generally shoot for 10 workouts per week. My magic formula was always 4-3-2-1   ..meaning 4 bikes, 3 runs, 2 swims, 1 strength. I won’t disclose my current formula 😉

Kathy

Kathy: I tackle the disciplines in 2’s (as a minimum): 2 bikes, 2 runs, 2 swims, 2 strengths.  While this does mean doing more than 1 workout in a day, it is usually broken up into 1 before work and 1 during lunch or after work.  With working full-time and having a family, that schedule may not always be achievable.  If I have to pick and choose workouts during the off season, I focus on strength training and the weakest of my 3 disciplines.

2)      So, you swim, bike and run all in the same day…do you get any breaks?

Natalie: There is a transition between each discipline, depending on the distance it could be as quick as putting on shoes (or switching shoes) or as long as doing an almost complete wardrobe change – which for an Iron distance, I did actually change everything I was wearing except for my sports bra. Even with a full wardrobe change, that was only about 7 minutes. 

Dawn: I wouldn’t call transition a break. As you are just starting out in triathlon use the transition time to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the next sport. Speed will come in time.

Jay: Triathlon is an endurance sport.  There is no sense in sprinting or in taking-a-break. Pace pace pace.

Kathy: There are no “breaks” during a triathlon and only a “transition” from one discipline to the next.  This transition is included in your total race time, so it is often called the 4th discipline in triathlon.  As you become more experienced in triathlon and want to look at improving your race times, improving your transition is the easiest way to save valuable minutes.  We also refer to it as “free speed”.  Practice, practice, practice.

3)      Do you run in bike shorts (the ones with all of the padding)?

Natalie

Natalie: I have done it, but for me personally, I don’t recommend it. On race day, I typically wear a tri short that has a chamois, but is much smaller than a traditional bike short. It does take time to get comfortable with something smaller. The one additional thing I would say about apparel, I didn’t really know what to buy when I first started, I bought inexpensive shorts and gear, but I quickly learned that you get what you pay for. The more expensive gear is typically a higher quality and has been significantly more comfortable. 

Dawn: I’m one of the few people who doesn’t mind cycling shorts while running. Mostly because the run off the bike in a training session will be rather short. I wear a Triathlon Kit with thinner padding for races.

Jay: I come from the generation that wore Speedos on the bike. Wear what you feel comfortable in.  You will find that as you spend more time in the aero position on the bike, that you need less padding. To answer your question…never.

Kathy: I would compare running in bike shorts to running in a soggy diaper.  For a brick workout (bike followed by a run), if I wear cycling shorts on the bike, I will change into run shorts as I transition to the run.  During race day, changing isn’t an option, so I use triathlon shorts that have a much smaller chamois that dries quickly.

4)      How do you go to the bathroom?

Natalie: Personally, if I have to go – I’m going to stop and use a port-o-john. I’m never going to be so fast that I can’t stop to go to the bathroom. And if I have to go that bad, if I tried to push to finish, I would be miserable…not worth it!

Dawn: I agree with Natalie here. 

Jay: I’m not much help. My longest distances are marathons and half-ironman. In the hundreds of race I have done, I have never used the bathroom during the actual race….its a gift.  I must admit that lined up in my wetsuit prior to the start, I have watered the grass.

Kathy: I have learned over the years to use the bathroom whenever and wherever possible.  That may be the port-a-john, the lake, or even (full disclosure) sitting on the ground in transition.

5)      What advice would you give someone who is curious about trying a triathlon? (Ha, see what I did there.)

Natalie: Hire a coach. When I first started, I just followed a generic plan, which got me from start to finish, however I didn’t have anyone to lean on for questions or anything for that matter. For the Unique 10 stage adventure triathlon (in Michigan) I used a remote coach but realized pretty quickly how much I preferred having a local coach to help guide me. There are options for all budget levels, but this was a game changer for me. 

Dawn: Practice. Whether you read a book about triathlon, have a friend who can share their knowledge with you or hire a Coach, seek out knowledge to plan how you will get ready for your first triathlon. Before your race, lay out everything you will need for the race from start to finish. Then mentally and physically go through the steps, this includes getting wet and practicing how you will remove your cap, goggles etc before putting on your helmet and shoes to get on your bike. Remember, your first race should be enjoyable. If you are worried about being fast that will come later.

Jay: Don’t overthink it.  A lot of technology has made triathlon more complex than when we just put on our swimsuits and dragged out the Schwinn.  But there is nothing wrong with old-style. Don’t get intimidated by the gear of others. 

Kathy: Volunteer at a triathlon.  Volunteering gives you an inside view of the in’s and out’s of a triathlon.  It will help you to gain valuable experience while also helping to support the event.

This ended up being a really fun way for me to learn about the sport, find some really unique multi-sport events and how other athletes think about triathlon. Here are a couple of things I thought could be helpful, plus an event that might be added to my bucket list!

Learn more about USA Triathlon and all things Multisport

Grand Rapids Triathlon is one of my favorite independent races in Michigan. They offer Super Sprint, Sprint, Olympic and Half Distance at their 2-day event. It’s a great beginner event! 

Unique 10 stage adventure triathlon (in Michigan) is the Battle of Waterloo 


The Zwift Tron Bike: HACKS TO UNLOCK QUICKER!

January 18th, 2024 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  Jay Campbell

If you are a Zwifter, you may have experienced a bit of bike-envy when a glowing-neon-bike came in and out of your view. [A “Zwifter” is a user of Zwift, “… a massively multiplayer online cycling and running physical training program that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world.” -Wikipedia] That neon bike is commonly known as the “Tron” bike and formally referred to as the “Zwift Concept Z1 Bike.” It is colorful and it is fast. This article will divulge some hacks to unlock your Tron Bike quicker.

Author’s avatar on his Zwift Concept Z1 (Tron) bike on top of the Radio Tower climb with Alpe du Zwift in the background. He accumulated 65% of the 164,000 feet of elevation in the final 7 weeks. The hacks enabled increased weekly-elevations of 7113, 6115, 14547, 16710, 15925, 21512, and 24540 feet. Image used by permission of Zwift.com.

There are some basics to “unlocking” the Tron bike that I will not cover in detail. For example, you need to sign up for the Everest Challenge (I wish someone had told me that three years ago). Those basics have been covered by others [https://zwiftinsider.com/tron-bike/].

The main requirement to unlock the Tron is the accumulation of 50 kilometers of climbing…. that’s 164,042 feet. If you rode the Tempus Fugit route every day (52 feet of climb) it would take you 3,155 days. If you rode the Road to Sky route every day (3428 feet) it would take you 48 days.

Another way to look at this is … How much time would it take to accumulate 164,042 feet at a given speed on a given slope? For example, 10 mph up a 5% slope equals 0.5 miles-of-climb-per-hour or 2640 feet-per-hour.

Vup = V x slope — [Rate-of-Climb = bike velocity x slope]

That Rate-of-Climb would require 62 hours to unlock the Tron bike. From this you can see that getting the Tron bike is not an impossible task if you ride some hilly routes (not Tempus Fugit). But before we talk about routes, let’s talk about the physics.

Your pedal power (watts) that moves your Zwift avatar is expended (for simplification) in three ways: 1) changing elevation, 2) rolling and frictional losses and 3) aero drag losses.

The power required to maintain a specific Rate-of-Climb is easy to calculate.

Equation (i): Pup = Vup x m x g — [power = Rate-of-Climb x mass x gravitational constant]

For example, take the 10 mph on a 5% slope discussed above with the cyclist+bike weighing 70 kg. This becomes:

0.5 mph x .447 (M/s)/mph x 70 kg x 9.8 M/s2 = 153 watts (NM/s)

This is the minimum wattage needed to maintain that Rate-of-Climb. More power is needed to overcome the frictional, rolling, and aero losses. Those losses are a function of velocity (the losses are smaller at lower velocities). We will talk about that in a minute, but let’s take one last look at Equation (i) written a different way:

Vup = Pup/(m x g)

To maximize Rate-of-Climb, Vup, we want to maximize power and minimize mass (g is a constant). Hey… that’s watts per kilo! Now you understand the cyclist’s obsession with watts per kilo. For a climber, it is all about watts per kilo. In fact, you can quickly calculate your theoretical vertical speed in feet per hour by multiplying your watts per kilo* by the conversion factor of about 1200. For example, 2.0 w/kg* converts to 2400 feet per hour of elevation gain.

[*Note that throughout this article, “m” or “mass” is the combined weight of cyclist and bike. The “w/kg” numbers all use that definition of “mass.” The “w/kg” reported by Zwift on their data displays does NOT include the weight of the bike. To compare your w/kg with the data in this blog, you must add a bike weight. Zwift does not disclose the weights of their frames and wheels. I have used a climbing-bike weight of 15.7 lbs (7.1 kg) which was the average bike weight at the 2021 Tour de France. (See Table 4.) Strangely, the Rates-of-Climb I measured on Zwift are faster than theoretically possible by a few percent. Perhaps my bike set up is lighter than 15.7 lbs or I was inputting more power than the erg setpoint? We know Zwift uses the weight of the bike in their algorithm. See link in next paragraph.]

Maximizing power and minimizing weight is so logical, that equations are superfluous, but now you have a feel for what the Zwift engine is doing. To minimize mass you could lose some weight, but I will leave that up to you. You should go to your “Zwift Garage” and select the lightest frame and wheelset available. This has been written about by others here: https://zwiftinsider.com/fastest-bike-alpe/

To further maximize your Rate-of-Climb, Vup, you would like the majority of your power expended on elevation gain and not expended on rolling and aero resistances. To keep rolling and aero resistances small, you want your velocity low, which means picking the steepest climbs possible. Others have discussed the optimal Zwift routes (see https://zwiftinsider.com/easiest-tron/ ), but my experience is that the climb to the Radio Tower is best for highest Rate-of-Climb. The Radio Tower climb is consistently over 10% slope so V is low, meaning that most of your power is going into elevation gain.

Rates-of-Climb (ft/hr) on Radio Tower for various w/kg* are shown below. In most instances, the Rate-of-Climb exceeded the theoretical maximum. I can’t explain why that is happening, but it does confirm that the Zwift algorithm calculates the losses due to friction, roll and drag to be very small.

Table 1. Riding up the 450 foot climb of Radio Tower from bottom of Bowl (more data in Figure 1):

watts/kg* Rate-of-Climb Theoretical % Diff
1.59 1970 ft/hr 1908 ft/hr -3.3%
2.38 3066 ft/hr 2856 ft/hr -7.4%
3.04 3778 ft/hr 3648 ft/hr -3.6%

Reverse Epic KOM climb, Bonus Climb (Radio Tower), and “Bowl”. Base Image used by permission of Zwift.com.

HACK #1

2D Elevation of Shorelines and Summits Route. Hack#1 starts at about the 26-mile marker and proceeds in reverse, up the Epic KOM to the Radio Tower. Used by permission of VeloViewer powered by Strava. See full details here.

The best way to get to the Radio Tower climb and still get in some climbing on the way is to select the Jungle Circuit Route. Do an immediate U-turn. Within the next minute you will get an intersection warning. Select to go right onto the Reverse Epic KOM climb. In about a minute you are into good climbing, with no power wasted on flats or downhill.

You will be using the U-turn function a lot in my hacks, so figure out how to use it effectively. I use the down arrow on my keyboard which is easily reachable. The key needs to be held for a second or two before the turn is executed.

HACK #2

Create a custom workout for your climbs and execute in erg mode. This will enable you to maintain a normal cadence and prevent you from overdoing it. A link to a custom workout that works for a wide variety of riders is given at the end of this article. It is mostly in Zone 2. Long aerobic workouts are best for accumulating elevation day after day.

HACK #3

When you get to the top of Epic KOM via the reverse route (~1100 feet of climbing) you will take a right turn onto what is called “Bonus Climb” or more commonly the Radio Tower. This is about 500 feet of very steep climbing. I usually do a U-turn as soon as the slope drops below 10% near the top of the climb, head back to the bottom, U-turn at the bottom and do it again, and again, and again.

Table 2. Riding up and down Radio Tower (the complete loop):

watts/kg* Rate-of-Climb
1.59 1997 ft/hr
2.38 2953 ft/hr
3.04 3617 ft/hr

A “custom Zwift workout” could consist of alternating blocks of “climbing” and “descending.” You want to expend energy on the climb and save it on the descent. Make the blocks longer than it will actually take you to climb or descend, then make use of the “Tab” key. The “Tab” key skips to the next block. For example: create two blocks of 15 minutes @ 80% ftp and 2 minutes @ 40% ftp. If you get to the top in 9:09 (at 80%ftp), U-Turn, and hit the Tab key to skip to the descend block. When you are done descending and are climbing again, hit the Tab key to skip to the next “climbing” block.

HACK #4

Do you remember your physics lessons on potential energy conversion to kinetic energy? Usually, the teacher released a ball at the top of a ramp. The ball accelerated as it descended. Maybe there was an up-ramp abutting the down-ramp. The ball ascended the up-ramp, stalled, descended again, then oscillated between the two ramps. Without frictional and rotational losses, the ball could oscillate forever as potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and back, much like skateboarders with their half-pipes. If you could find two opposing ‘ramps’ in the Zwift world, could you accumulate more feet of climbing by oscillating back and forth than by doing a long climb like Radio Tower?

Equation (ii) for a frictionless ramp shows that a doubling of the slope will double the Rate-of-Climb. Doubling the height of the incline (making the ramp longer) only increases the Rate-of-Climb by 21/2.

Equation (ii): Rate-Of-Climb = (g/8)1/2 x s x (H)1/2 — where H is the vertical height of the incline, s is slope and g is gravitational constant

For example, a ramp of 11% slope and a height of 21 feet gives a Rate-of-Climb of 3637 ft/hr. [Note this is approximately the conditions of the 1.59 w/kg* experiment in Table 4, which had a Rate-of Climb of 3792 ft/hr.]

There is an interesting “Bowl” (two-sided-ramp) at the start of the Radio Tower climb. Both sides have maximum slopes greater than 12%. I tested this “Bowl” at several w/kg*.

Table 3. Rate-of-Climb in Bowl vs. Radio Tower Loop:

watts/kg* Rate-of-Climb in Bowl Advantage vs Up/Dwn Radio Tower at same w/kg Theoretical w/kg for this Rate-of-Climb
1.59 3792 ft/hr 90% 3.2 w/kg
2.38 4704 ft/hr 59% 3.9 w/kg
3.04 5548 ft/hr 53% 4.6 w/kg

To my shock, I accumulated almost 60% more feet in elevation per hour by cycling back and forth across this bowl than going straight up and down the Radio Tower! To get that rate-of-climb using equation (i) would require 3.9 w/kg (for me that equates to 265 watts or 126% of my ftp!) At 1.59 w/kg the results were even more astounding: a 90% increase in Rate-of-Climb! The lower speeds at lower w/kg correspond to less aero and rolling losses. Conversely, if you do this Bowl at higher w/kg, you will experience less advantage, but it will still be worth implementing the Hack.

HACK #5

There is something very interesting about Equation (ii) … “mass” does not appear in this equation! This would indicate that riding the bowl should not be adversely affected by a heavier bike? In fact, high speeds are attained at the bottom of the bowl where aerodynamics come into play. You can take advantage of this by switching to a heavier aero frame and wheels when you get to the Bowl. Switching bikes in-game is easy to do. [See www.zwiftinsider.com/change-bikes-quickly/]

I confirmed this in a test with two different bikes in the Bowl. [Note…My choice of equipment was limited by what was in my garage (many frames and wheels are level-locked).] The Time Trial bike’s Rate-of-Climb was over 7% more than the Climbing bike … over 300 extra feet per hour! To achieve either of those Rates-of-Climb on a normal uphill would require around 4 watts/kg!

Table 4. Aero vs Lightweight in the Bowl

Set-Up Lightweight Climbing Time Trial Aero
Frame Cannondale EVO Canyon Speedmax
Frame Zwift Aero Stars 2 4
Frame Zwift Weight Stars 4 1
Wheels Zipp 353 NSW Zipp 454
Wheels Zwift Aero Stars 3 4
Wheels Zwift Weight Stars 3 3
Assumed weight for w/kg 7.1 kg 9.1 kg
Power Input 70% ftp 70% ftp
Watts/kilogram* 2.22 2.16
Rate-of-Climb in Bowl 4493 ft/hr 4824 ft/hr

CONCLUSION

Unlocking the Tron Bike is one of the coolest achievements on Zwift. These hacks can get you there quicker. Using Figure 1 you can predict how many hours it will take you to get there. If you can maintain 3 w/kg, your RoC on the Radio Tower climb is about 4000 ft/hr. You can accumulate the 164,000 feet in 41 hours. Interestingly, if you can only maintain 1.5 w/kg, but you spend your time in the ‘Bowl,’ you have about the same RoC.

Figure 1. Rate-of-Climb for different scenarios

 

 

In the process of learning about these HACKS and why they work, I hope I have refreshed your understanding of some of the physics of cycling. Knowing the science can help you bike smarter.

 

 

 

==============================================================

*All references to “w/kg” include the weight of the bike and are not directly comparable to “w/kg” reported on the Zwift data screens which only includes the weight of the rider. To convert, multiply the Zwift number by (cyclist kg)/(cyclist+bike kg).

CUSTOM ZWIFT WORKOUT

I have created a workout that leads you through the HACKS. You can download it from here:

https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/tefhztfep6vvivw2xus45/Jungle_Circuit-Tron_Hacks-V01-02.zwo?rlkey=x0wyynfi8mrm2qpydg2bl8fi3&dl=0

After you have downloaded it, save it to Documents/ZwiftWorkouts/[YourZwiftID] and then start Zwift. [If you are having trouble, video instructions are here: Importing Custom Workouts – Instructions | Zwift] This workout is called Jungle Circuit-Tron Hacks-V01-02 and will now appear under the “Custom Workouts” category in the workouts list. It is designed to be ridden in “erg” mode on the JUNGLE CIRCUIT route in Watopia.

Do not be alarmed at the “length” of the workout. It is made to suit a wide variety of riders. You will be “tabbing” through some of the long blocks. If you are a less powerful rider you will be instructed to “tab” (skip) many of the blocks. Most riders will get the full experience in 60 minutes.

You will need access to a keyboard to use the workout effectively. Here are the keyboard shortcuts to know:

Action Keyboard Shortcut
U-Turn Down Arrow (Press and Hold)
Select turn at upcoming intersection Right Arrow
Skip out of current workout block Tab
Stop Game to change bikes A
Open Garage to select frame and wheels T

Adjusting Expectations: Katja’s First Season with TAMJD

December 27th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By:Katja Opfer

My first season on TAMJD got off to a bit of a rough start when I broke my thumb at my high school ski team’s training camp in early January. While my ski racing season ended before it even began, this meant that I had a lot of time to train and build up base miles in Zwift. Breaking my thumb reinforced my belief that everything happens for a reason, because having all that time to train set me up well going into the cycling season and it paid off. My fitness was better than ever before and I had a great time at the team’s spring training camp in North Carolina, where I got to do some amazing rides. I also had the opportunity to participate in V02 testing at Athletic Mentors headquarters with some of my teammates, which was a great learning experience.

Barry-Roubaix Race

Going into the first race of the season, Barry Roubaix (18-mile), I had fairly low expectations for myself since it was my first gravel race. To my surprise, I won first overall female and set a new female course record on the way to helping TAMJD win the team competition for the third year in a row!  My success in this race opened up the world of gravel racing to me and I went on to place second overall female in the Cowpie Classic Short Haul (36-mile) and also won overall female at De Ronde Van Grampian (25-mile). I had never done any gravel riding before this year, but it became an essential part of my training every week and provided something different to change it up.

A lot of my training and preparation this season was focused on the Mountain Bike National Championships in Bear Creek, Pennsylvania. This was my chance to see how I stacked up against girls my age from all over the country. The course was super intimidating with more rocks than I had ever seen on a mountain bike trail in my life, and some pretty nerve-wracking features to tackle. With my limited experience on techy terrain, plus being one of only a few racers on a  hardtail, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end. I spent many hours practicing on the course and built up my confidence a ton by the day of the XC race. My result of 28th out of 74 proved to myself that I could compete against these incredibly fast girls and gave me some ideas of what my goals should be for next year.

My last race before MiSCA season was the Ore 2 Shore Soft Rock, which was one of the most fun and challenging races I did all year. The 28-mile course located in the U.P. was beautiful and had a fair amount of long climbs and fun descents on many types of terrain. This race was very competitive, and I really left everything I had out on the course with a sprint finish to win first place overall female. This win was a big achievement for me given that it was such a close race.

MiSCA season felt a lot different this year because I went from only racing the 6 MiSCA races last year to doing over 20 races this year. Winning all 6 races as a sophomore in my first Varsity season, after sweeping JV last year as a freshman, was pretty unreal. This year MiSCA was really about the atmosphere and the friendships. It’s not very common that you are friends with all your competitors. Even though we are on different scholastic teams, many of us are on TAMJD together and we invited the other Varsity girls to hang out with us after the races too. This dynamic made the races a lot more enjoyable because I was cheering on my friends and teammates.

 

Iceman Race

My last race of the season was the Iceman Cometh Challenge in Traverse City. Being the indecisive person that I am, I waited until practically the last minute to switch to the Pro category. After careful consideration of my season so far, and placing 2nd overall in Pro women at Peak 2 Peak two weeks before, I decided to switch to Pro at Iceman. Even though it was my first time racing Iceman, I felt confident that I could race in the Pro category after pre-riding the course. I had a great start but unfortunately I was involved in a crash around mile 4, which most likely took me out of the running for top ten. I gave everything I had to bridge up to the lead group, but couldn’t stay with them and got dropped halfway through the race. I was still able to finish 12th in a stacked field of 26 Pro women. I saw this race as a chance to prove myself and was really frustrated that it didn’t work out the way I wanted, but what can you do? I’ll be back next year, that’s for sure.

In summary, I view my first year beyond the horizons of MiSCA to have been very successful. Having a structured training plan provided by my Athletic Mentors coach Terry Ritter definitely helped me train productively to accomplish my goals. Next year I am setting my sights on more national-level races, possibly including gravel and marathon Nationals, and hopefully I can break into the top 20 at MTB Nationals. I also plan on doing some longer gravel and MTB endurance races after doing so well in the shorter versions, including Barry Roubaix, Cowpie, and Ore 2 Shore. I am excited for my second year with TAMJD and am looking forward to all the racing in 2024!


Where Oh Where Has My Sleep Gone?

November 24th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  JoAnn Cranson

Are you like me and getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge? “Why can’t I sleep like I did as a teenager?”

As we age we produce less of a growth hormone which allows us to not get into as long, deep sleep like when we were young. With this in mind, there are a number of things we can do to set us up for better sleep:

  • Limit caffeine. Everyone is different, but I find I can’t have caffeine after 2 pm. (The half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours.”  Meaning if you took in 200mg of caffeine, after roughly 5hrs, half of that (100g) will have been excreted.  But some people metabolize caffeinefaster or slower than others!)
  • Keep a bedtime schedule as consistent as possible. This helps our bodies to know when to start slowing down and when to start waking up.
  • Your bedroom should be dark and cool for better sleeping.  Consider using a sound machine.
  • Really do your best to reduce your stress and try to slow your brain down when it gets close to bedtime.
  • Stop screen time at minimum an hour before you want to go to sleep. Even if you use blue-light glasses, it doesn’t matter.
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bed. You may feel like this helps you fall asleep but it hinders good sleep throughout the night.
  • Stop eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Make sure you are hydrated before going to bed.
  • Some medications are prone to interrupt your sleep.
  • Exercise during the day has shown to help you sleep, but not right before going to bed.
  • Lower light levels about an hour before bedtime.  Make sure to get natural light in the mornings.  This helps regulate your body.
  • Magnesium – I take 30 minutes before bed.   I take Magnesium as di-magnesium malate, magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate blend to get all the different benefits.  7 out of 10 adults are deficient in Magnesium!

In training, it seems like we are so focused on our workouts, racing and nutrition we forget how essential sleep is for our recovery and overall health. We need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Not getting enough quality sleep raises the risk of many diseases and disorders.  These range from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.  Sleep prepares your brain to learn, remember and create.  As you sleep you can reduce inflammation, pain and increase metabolism.  According to the National Institute of Health “The brain has a drainage system that removes toxins during sleep”.  

There has been MUCH emerging work in the form of pre-eminent sleep and the impact on our lives. Researcher and author Matthew Walker has a lot of good information.  Click on this link to listen to one of his talks.

It is important to understand the 4 stages of Sleep to help us realize we need all these stages each night.  Here is a link to a great article from VeryWellHealth by Kendra Cherry.

Are we choosing to get less sleep because we go to bed later and get up at 4:30 am to workout with only 5-6 hours sleep?  If this is the norm for you, you may want to reconsider.

With all these things in mind, we need to prioritize our sleep.  It is a choice to be intentional about setting ourselves up for a good night’s sleep.  For me, some nights I win and some nights I lose.

 

 


Why Running

November 10th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  Kellen Siems

My name is Kellen Siems. I am 14 years old and a freshman at Hackett Catholic Prep. This is my second year racing for Athletic Mentors. I competed in many triathlons and 5K races this past spring and summer.

I started off the triathlon season with the sprint distance at the Grand Rapids Triathlon, moving up from the supersprint distance last year.  I then did the Cereal City Triathlon for the first time. I was back doing the Shermanator.

My favorite triathlon was the Michigan Titanium Olympic relay. My sister and brother were on my team. Brie swam, Sean biked, and I ran. I made sure to train hard because I had not run a 10K in a while. We were able to cross the finish line together and ended up winning third place.

When I first heard about the relay we decided I was going to do the running portion. When I got the news that I was running I had to start training. Training consisted of me going out over the summer and running three to six miles. Some days I would head to a track to do short hard interval runs to improve my speed. When I finished every workout I made sure to stretch to help prevent pain and discomfort later. I also made sure to drink lots of water before and after every workout.


Catching up with Team Athletic Mentors Cycling Junior Development

November 2nd, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

An interview with program director: Terry Ritter

What were some highlights of year four for the program?

We were able to win a number of local road races in the Elite class, on both the west and the east side of the state (Waterford and Grattan), with multiple juniors. 3 of them did the 2022 Iceman in the PRO class, with Jonathan Meyer getting 13th overall. Jon also raced in his first PRO criterium field at Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD). Charlotte raced up a junior class at ToAD and took 2nd in the 17-18 field for the 5 day omnium. Jack Kozlowski took 3rd in his Cat. 4 omnium as well. We also took a few wins in the Elite field for a couple of gravel events in Michigan, and had a few of our juniors score top 10 overalls. Katja Opfer (10th grade) won the MiSCA Varsity girls series, netting all 6 wins, while Charlotte Rosinski (10th) was 2nd and Lauren Schultz (12th) was 3rd in the series. James Meyer (11th grade) won a race and finished 2nd in the MiSCA Varsity boys series. And we had a split squad for Barry Roubaix, with 8 of our kids doing the Fayetteville USAC MTB National. The remaining 2 boys and 5 girls were able to win the team competition at Barry for a 3rd straight year and win the boys and girls overall. We also won the 15-18 Junior State Cyclocross Championships with Eli and Charlotte.  Finally,  Jonathan  got  17th  overall  in  the  Hard  Rock,  48  miler  at  Ore  to  Shore  while  Katja  won  the  overall  at  the  Short  Rock  event

How was this year’s team ambitions different from last seasons?

This was the first year we graduated a significant group from the program as September came, as we had 5 seniors in our 15 riders. Watching them progress from just a few years ago (and one of them from 4 years ago) was rewarding to see. This older group helped set the tone and we attended 2 National MTB USAC events as well as USAC MTB National Championships in PA. We also took 9 kids to ToAD, which was awesome. The seniors took a lot more responsibility in some areas which is part of what they experience on TAMJD. They left a good expectation for the younger riders.

Any news on the success of TAMJD alumni?

Three of our seniors, Jonathan, Hunter Post and Spencer Blaz, got cycling scholarships and are attending Fort Lewis College in CO, Kings College in TN and Lees McRae in NC, respectively. Elizabeth DeFauw, a past rider of ours, went to Bissell and is attending Marion College in IN this season. The fact they are competing in MTB and road while at school makes us all proud in the program. But the big news was Kellen Caldwell, who graduated from TAMJD 3 years ago, winning the College National Road Championships! I coached him the whole year until his performance there and a 5th at Green Mountain Stage Race caught the attention of a national level development team. Kellen is chasing his dream of being a General Classification rider for a professional team someday.

What are some changes you plan to implement for the coming season?

This off season we plan to have a monthly ZOOM meeting with the parents/kids to share some important information about various topics, like nutrition and sports psychology. We feel this will help the riders prepare for more success in 2024 and also keep them engaged throughout the downtime. We are also going to do some VO2 testing on most of the same subjects from last year this winter to see what growth they have made and get a better grasp regarding changes seen with the junior physiology. We are always tweaking the coaching offering and will also get a more detailed schedule for the season out that will help parent’s plan and also allow more group rides, which the kids enjoy. We’ll also be looking at maybe doing MTB Marathon Nationals and Gravel Nationals.

If you could dispel one myth about the program, what would it be?

Many coaches that I talk to from MiSCA teams feel our success at TAMJD is due to all our kids training together. That’s an important part when it happens, but is also pretty rare. The fact they are offered personal coaching through Athletic Mentors, which most take advantage of, is really where the secret sauce is, I’d say. The other thing is that we set a bar and do our best to keep the kids on task so that they can learn about meeting expectations they agree to. All of this is wrapped in an environment where we get them to feel comfortable trying new things in cycling (road, gravel, CX), and that keeps it fun and gives us more options as a team. Many people within MiSCA are surprised at how well our kids do on things other than MTB racing.

What are you most proud of looking back on the past four years?

We’ve had juniors here and there that we’ve worked with in TAM for a long time, but putting together a dedicated junior development program has been a challenge. MiSCA changed that by offering a lot of young MTBers, but we still had to work to do what we felt would make them most successful and also keep it fun. That was selling the values of personal coaching and trying different cycling disciplines. Both of those things have shown to be very beneficial for the kids goals and their enjoyment. To see that you’ve provided them with an opportunity no one else has makes management feel all the work we dedicate to the program is worth it.


Growing in Triathlon by Volunteering and Relay Racing

October 14th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By: Brie Siems

My name is Brie Siems and I am 14 years old. I am a freshman at Hackett Prep. I enjoy being  outdoors and have a passion for being active. I  participate in many sports such as soccer, swimming, running, basketball, and skiing.  I like triathlons because they include swimming and running. This past summer, I competed in many triathlons in addition to running in multiple 5k races in the area.

My brothers and I volunteered at the Kid’s MiTi triathlon in Grand Rapids this past August. I really enjoy volunteering at races. I watched so many kids arrive in the transition area to set up.  They were so happy and excited. For some of them, this was their first kid’s triathlon ever. I was able to help set up the food table and mark the kids’ arms and legs. It was fun to see all of the kids gathered at the water start. I helped some kids get their socks on in transition and take their heavy bikes off of the rack for them. I was even able to hand out all of the medals to the kids when they finished. It wasn’t that long ago that I was one of those kids who was new to triathlons and learning the basics. Now, I am helping kids in the race. It’s a good thing to give back and encourage others who are new to triathlons.

I also had the opportunity to race in the MiTi Olympic Relay triathlon the next day with my two brothers, Kellen (14) and Sean (16). This triathlon is a 1500m swim, 40k bike and 10k run. I was encouraged to do the swim leg.  The swim course looked very long and it was my first time swimming this distance with no break. It was also my first time racing in a wetsuit, which really does improve speed and comfort in the water.  Luckily, I have been training on a swim team so I was ready!  We all have strengths and weaknesses,  but it was perfect because I was better at swimming. The race ended well with each of us getting a finisher medal and a 3rd place overall Olympic Relay medal. My brothers and I worked hard but also worked well together as a team.  

Athletic Mentors provides great support and opportunities.  In addition to helping with gear, it provides a network of people that help you out.


Realizing Your Potential: Getting Faster in Your 30’s with Expert Coaching and Consistent Training

October 3rd, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By Jeremy Sikkema

Triathlons are a test of physical and mental endurance, requiring participants to excel in swimming, biking, and running. While many may believe that aging marks the decline of athletic prowess, this could not be further from the truth. With the right guidance and a commitment to consistent training, athletes can not only maintain but also enhance their performance in triathlons.

In your 30’s, you might have more responsibilities and a busier schedule because of items such as kids and work. This makes the quality of your training sessions just as important as the quantity. By having a good coach and consistently following a training plan I have been able to go from a middle-of-the-pack athlete to one that is competing at the front of the race in both short and middle-distance triathlons.

In 2015, at the age of 30, I completed the Shermanator sprint triathlon, finishing in 27th place with a time of 1:07:48. While this was already a respectable feat, fast forward eight years to 2023, and I emerged as the overall winner of the Shermanator triathlon, completing the race in 53:32. The result is an example of the potential for improvement, even as one progresses through their 30s.

The Consistency Factor

While talent is undoubtedly important, consistency is the true cornerstone of success in any athletic endeavor. Maintaining a consistent training routine becomes even more critical. Here’s how consistent training impacts your triathlon journey:

  • Building Endurance – Consistent training gradually builds endurance, which is crucial for completing the varying distances of a triathlon. Regular sessions condition your body to handle the demands of the race, preventing burnout on the big day.
  • Muscle Memory – As you repeat the three disciplines of swimming, cycling, and running, your body develops muscle memory. This means your movements become more efficient, leading to improved performance and reduced energy expenditure.
  • Moderating Plateaus – Progress isn’t always linear, and training plateaus are common. However, with consistent training, you can push through these plateaus and continue to see improvements over time.
  • Injury Prevention – Consistency also plays a role in injury prevention. Gradually increasing your training load with regularity allows your body to adapt and grow stronger without succumbing to overuse injuries.

The Power of Coaching

A key factor in accelerating your progress in triathlons is the presence of a skilled and knowledgeable coach. Coaches bring a wealth of experience, technical expertise, and personalized guidance to the table, tailoring their approach to your individual needs and goals. Here’s how a good coach can make a significant difference:

  • Customized Training Plans – A coach will design training plans that align with your current fitness level, taking into account any pre-existing conditions or limitations. This tailored approach minimizes the risk of injuries while maximizing progress.
  • Goal Setting – A coach helps you set realistic yet challenging goals, breaking down your long-term objectives into smaller, achievable milestones. This approach keeps you motivated and focused on continuous improvement.
  • Technical Expertise – Triathlons require mastering three distinct disciplines. A coach can refine your swimming technique, enhance your cycling efficiency, and optimize your running form. These technical adjustments lead to improved overall performance.
  • Monitoring and Feedback – With regular assessments and feedback, coaches ensure that you’re on the right track. They can analyze your performance metrics, suggest adjustments, and provide insights for ongoing enhancement.

Training Smarter, Not Just Harder

First Triathlon

In 2018, I undertook my first half-distance triathlon at the Grand Rapids Triathlon, completing the race in 5:30:33. Five years later, in 2023, a dramatic change in results unfolded when I crossed the finish line in 4:44:32. The highlight of this journey was the biking segment that allowed me to bridge to the front of the race and enter T2 in second place.

Embarking on a journey to complete and/or get faster at triathlons as you age is a testament to your determination and commitment to self-improvement. Through the guidance of a good coach and consistent training, you can shatter the misconception that age hinders athletic achievements. Remember that progress might be gradual, but each step forward brings you closer to realizing your full potential as a triathlete.

So, lace up your running shoes, hop on your bike, and dive into the pool with renewed vigor. With the right mindset and consistently following a well-structured approach, you can thrive as a triathlete well into your 30’s and beyond. The finish line awaits – and it’s never been closer.


Can Mere Mortals Learn Anything From The 2023 Tour de France Stage 16 Time Trial?

September 21st, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By: Jay Campbell

On July 18, 2023 the top cyclists in the world raced a 22.4 km time trial on a hilly course that ended with a 2.5 km climb at 9.4%.

You can watch the highlights here: https://www.nbcsports.com/watch/highlights-2023-tour-de-france-stage-16

These are my takeaways for us mere mortals trying to get faster at the cycling leg of a triathlon.

  1. Workout in the aerobars as much as you can!!! There is a very old study that measured peak power in upright and aero positions for elite cyclists vs. triathletes. Triathletes had higher peak
    power in the aero vs. upright position while it was the opposite for cyclists. [Peveler, W. et.al. Effects of Training in an Aero Position on Anaerobic Power Output, J. Exerc. Phys., 2004 7(5), p.
    52.] Not surprising. Athletes are strongest in the position they train in. I am continually amazed at how many of the Tour de France cyclists “sit up”; during the time trials, but then that is how they race and train. It shouldn’t be surprising however that the winner of the time trial stayed in the aero bars all the way through his final sprint. It is the most efficient position IF YOU HAVE TRAINED FOR IT. I know training in “aero” is not possible when riding with groups. But, with all the time most of us spend on a trainer, there is no excuse for not doing the bulk of that in aero.
  2. If you have the cash, buy a rear disc wheel, aero socks, and aero helmet. Every rider in the time trial was outfitted with this gear (actually I think I saw one rider in a road helmet). The aero advantage of these items has been shown in the wind tunnel on a wide variety of riders. In triathlon we still do not have the limitations on sock height that the Tour has. I am convinced that just about any sock is “aero” and the more sock the better. So pull on those full length compression socks if you don’t mind having a long transition (or are doing a duathlon.) If you are in the market for an aero helmet, check out Smith’s helmet –“Jetstream TT” helmet.  The innovative helmet (“Redeemer”) worn by the Uno-X Pro Team at the Tour is on a whole new level – very unusual design and is not available to the public yet.
  3. Wear long-sleeves? About 90% of the riders had long-sleeve speed suits despite temperatures close to 90F. All of the top 5 finishers had long-sleeves. OK…maybe you are not ready for that, but at least go short sleeve vs. sleeveless. The aerodynamics on this are well established. I have seen some “arm-coolers” at Nationals. They are worn like arm-warmers but are well-ventilated and aero.
  4. Workout in the aerobars as much as you can!!! DIDN’T I ALREADY SAY THIS? I tried to count the number of riders who switched from a time trial bike to a road bike for the final climb. [A bike change in the middle of a stage of the Tour is not that unusual.] I estimate it was about half including the #2 finisher, but not the other four in the top five. Switching to a lighter bike when gravitational forces predominate over aerodynamic forces often makes sense. I also tried to determine under what conditions riders “sat up” or “stood”.  Generally, they “stood” when
    speeds dropped below 10 mph (only on one very steep section) and when sprinting at the end.  The best time trialists were only coming out of the aero bars when their speed dropped below
    16 mph. Many riders “sat up” when their speeds dropped to 20 mph. However, even at 16 mph there is significant drag making the aero position beneficial (IF YOU HAVE TRAINED FOR IT). I have heard arguments that it makes no sense to “stand” for the final 100 meters of a time trial as the increased drag wipes out the additional watts generated by standing. Maybe the winner of the time trial believes those arguments, as he remained in the aero bars during the final sprint. He was the only finisher I observed who chose to do that.

HERE IS A DRILL: Do a hilly workout while staying in the aero bars the entire time. It is true that when you are going very slow up a hill there is little advantage to be in the aerobars, but it will make you stronger in the aero position. You will be like the triathletes discussed above who actually have a higher peak power in the aerobars vs. upright. Now you can reserve “sitting up” for the occasions where you need to stretch or slightly change muscle groups.

To answer my own title-question, there are a few things triathletes can learn from the Tour de France Pros. But your time is better spent watching the triathlon pros. Only triathletes would think of stuffing a water bottle down the front of their jerseys to get more aero. (See Gustav Iden.)  https://www.triathlete.com/gear/bike/expert-tested-the-water-bottle-jersey-trend-produces-shocking-
results (607) Fast or Fiction: Does a bottle down the front of your kit make you more aero? – YouTube.

Now get on the bike and in your aerobars!

 


Weightlifting: A Guide for Seniors

July 25th, 2023 by JoAnn Cranson

By:  JoAnn Cranson

What is happening to me? I’m still very active, walking, running, cycling, swimming, playing with the grandkids, yet…. I’m not as strong as I was a few years ago!! The inconvenient truth is that we lose muscle mass as we age into our late 50’s, 60’s and beyond. By the time we are in our 80’s statistics show some have lost over 30% of our muscle mass!! What?? No wonder it is harder to get up that big step or balance oftentimes feels off.

If you feel this way, you’re not alone.  I’m fighting this muscle loss, too. To combat Osteoporosis, balance issues, muscle loss, slower metabolism and to increase calorie burn, I’ve found that the best thing to do is WeightLifting. I realize many women are not keen on this.  But you also want to stay active, burn fat, strengthen bones and have good balance as you age, right?

I’ve weightlifted off and on in the past to get faster at cycling. This year I knew I needed to do it for more than cycling, I needed to do it for my overall health. The weightlifting, whether at home or in the gym, is not simply for toning. To increase muscle mass, you must lift somewhat heavier weights. Now this doesn’t mean you are lifting like a body builder, but small weights doing it fast with lots of reps will not work either.

I’m here to remind you that it’s never too late to start!!  I was listening to a podcast about lifting and learned about a study that was done on 90-year-olds that had not lifted weights before they entered this study.  After 12 weeks of lifting two times per week, they all showed significant improvement.  Click here to review the study.

Before you start weightlifting you should:

  1. Check with your physician before anything else to make sure you are healthy enough to be lifting weights.
  2. Ideally find an experienced trainer to get you started. (Athletic Mentors can work with you in their gym or remotely).
  3. Develop a training routine.  Do strength training 2 to 3 times per week (make sure to have a day of rest in between – even once per week is better than nothing). Normally you will do the same exercise for one or two sets starting with 6 to 10 repetitions, then as you build strength you can do 3 or 4 sets. I normally do between 6 to 9 different exercises per workout. Between sets I rest about 1-1 ½ mins depending on how strenuous the exercise was.
  4. Get a weightlifting buddy.  You can encourage each other.  Alternate taking turns and you will get your rest break while your buddy is lifting.  Watch each other and help your partner keep good form when lifting.

Tips:

  • Lift the weight slowly; lift to a count of 4 and lower to a count of four. Start with 3 to 5 lbs., then hopefully over an extended period of time you can build up to 10, 15 or 20+ lb. weights depending on the exercise. You should be able to feel your muscles having to “work” when lifting.
  • Don’t use other muscles to compensate when you are lifting. If you can’t help compensating, then do less repetitions or use lighter weight until you gain more strength to only use the muscle you are using in the movement.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles to help protect your back from strain. The great thing about strength training with dumbbells or other free weights is that it is also working your “core” muscles – abdominal area – which is a great help with balance.

If your doctor has advised you that you have osteoporosis or are in the beginning stages, it is super important to begin strength training right away and stick with it. Strength training can help prevent bone loss and can even help build new bone. You will need to focus on hip and back exercises as that is the most damaged by bone loss. Here is a good website to give you professional advice on lifting – https://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/features/weight-training

For the cherry on top, weight lifting increases your metabolism, burns fat/calories not only when you are exercising but afterwards. Check out this article about it, https://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/strength/calories-burned-lifting-weights

When I’m lifting consistently I see significant improvement in my strength, balance and calorie burning too! Give it a try and don’t let your age get in the way of your overall health and feeling strong!

 

 



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