Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cycling History in San Angelo

Cyclists have been riding the roads in and around San Angelo for the last 130 or so years.   The modern  bicycle was invented in 1861, and by 1885 bicycles were getting to be quite common on San Angelo streets.

  In May of 1888, the Standard-Times reported that bicycle fever was spreading throughout the city. Riding a bicycle during the early days resulted in numerous incidents or questions about bicycles. The newspaper reported that on February 20, 1886, a Mr. Frank Harris ran his bike into a horse drawn phaeton owned by a Dr. Early, causing quite a bit of confusion and uproar. The San Angelo city council voted to ban bicycles from sidewalks in 1892, and Mr. J. Harris suggested in August of 1892 that he felt cowboys would have a hard time rounding up cattle on bicycles.

Competition has always been a part of cycling, and that was certainly the case in the early 1900’s.   Activities during the Concho Valley Fair in 1891 included bicycle races, and San Angelo native Rhodes Baker won both the 5/8 mile and 1-mile cycling events at the Brownwood Fair in 1892.  These early cyclists also competed informally for bragging rights.  A report in May of 1888 stated that M.N.Burgess completed a ride from San Angelo to Ballinger in seven hours, and the Standard-Times noted that in April of 1892 Rhodes Baker did a round trip ride from San Angelo to Knickerbocker and back in less than three hours.

 Early cyclists, like those of today, were prone to do long rides that took several days and covered a lot of miles.  One of the most intriguing early cycling trips involved San Angelo residents Rhodes Baker and George Allen, who completed a twelve day, 425 mile trip on their bicycles that took them from San Angelo to Sonora, to Del Rio, across into Mexico, and back through Rock Springs to San Angelo.  This ride was done in hot July weather, on rough wagon roads, with all of their gear (including fly fishing rods) strapped to their bicycles.

 Bicycle clubs were popular back then, as clubs organized across the nation during the 1890’s.  The first San Angelo cycling club, the San Angelo Wheelmen, was formed in April of 1892, and a newspaper report in May of 1892 noted that a Miss Itena Patch had mastered the art of riding a bike so local ladies were considering forming their own bicycle club.  The legacy of the original San Angelo Wheelmen cycling club continues today with the San Angelo Bicycling Association (SABA).

 A lot has changed since the early days of San Angelo cycling, and yet — just like the early local pioneers of our sport — we still push on the pedals to make the bike go, curse the windy days, and enjoy the feeling of rolling down the road as we complete another two-wheeled adventure.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Train Like A Spartan

Do you think your daily fitness workouts are hard?  Most of you who bike, run or go to the gym on a regular basis would probably respond 'Yes'.

If so, try to keep up with Bridget Runion as she does workouts to prepare for an upcoming Spartan Race she'll be competing in on Oct 31.

Even though Runion is a petite 30 year old lady who probably weighs around 100 pounds soaking wet, her workouts would make most pro football players cringe.

She's a female version of the Energizer Bunny with extra high-voltage batteries installed.

Her workouts include hanging from overhead bars and doing what appears to be endless repetitions of ab-strengthening leg lifts (toes up to the overhead bar), chin-ups, and running up and down a flight of stairs while carrying a heavy medicine ball.

She adds strength-building workouts that include hard sets of tire flips using big heavy tires, does fast endurance runs on a treadmill, and 'cools down' by teaching various aerobics classes at Community Health Club.

This isn't her first experience related to sports and fitness.

"I started gymnastics at age three and continued for the next 12 years", explains Runion. " Once I entered high school I played volleyball, basketball and softball in addition to competing on the power lifting team. I was also a cheerleader in high school and my first year of college."

The event she's training for is the Spartan Race Beast schedule for Oct 31 at Rough Creek Lodge in Glen Rose, Texas.

She and other competitors will face a grueling 12 mile race against the clock that includes 25 or more obstacles such as rope net climbs, carrying heavy rocks, tire drags, spear throws, wall climbs/jumps, barbed wire crawls and other fitness tasks that the seemingly-sadistic race organizers dream up.

All of this will take place on rugged off-road trails that include steep hills.

Competitors may not know what specific obstacles they'll face since course instructions are announced verbally during the pre-race briefing by the race director or at a specific obstacle.

If a competitor fails to complete an obstacle section they are must complete 30 'penalty burpees' before continuing on to the next part of the course, with one repetition of a burpee being a full chest-to-the-ground pushup followed immediately by a feet-off-the-ground vertical jump.

Runion says she wanted to do a Spartan race instead of a marathon, a triathlon or some other event because of the unique challenges involved.

"Spartan is a mixture of strength and endurance. The challenge of the obstacles is what appealed to me more than the running alone."

Her personal goal is to finish the event without having to 'pass' any obstacles with the alternative option of 30 burpees.

Runion says there are many reasons why people sign up for events such as Spartan races, mud runs and 'boot camp' activities that emulate military training.

"There are several different reasons why people would sign up for such events. Some do it for the social aspect while others choose to simply challenge their ability. For me, it is a test of not only my physical strength, but my inner strength."

If you want to test your inner strength and physical ability, go find Runion at Community Health Club and try to keep pace with her during her Spartan-prep workouts. Be sure to bring your 'A' game if you try to do her workouts - you'll need it.

You have to train like a Spartan to prepare for a Spartan race.

Upcoming Events
Oct 21: Longhorn Cyclocross Series race #3,
Oct 24: Come Run For The FUND 5K, 10K, and half marathon,
Oct 28: Longhorn Cyclocross Series race #4,
Oct 31: Dinosaur Run, San Angelo State Park,
Nov 14: Masochist Run,

Monday, October 5, 2015

Earning A Ph.D. in ‘How to Hurt Yourself by Being Stupid’.

Although many people think of ‘getting injured’ as being some type of physical trauma such as a torn muscle, sprained ankle or a broken bone, the most common cycling and running injuries are actually due to overuse.

I consider myself to be an expert on overuse injuries. During my 35-plus years of cycling, running and multi-sport competition, I’ve racked up enough overuse injuries to have earned a Ph.D. in ‘How to Hurt Yourself by Being Stupid’.

Overuse, defined as repetitive micro-trauma to tendons, bones and joints, is usually the result of doing too much exercise without appropriate recovery. If you have pre-existing conditions related to previous physical trauma such as an injured knee or poor bike/run biomechanics, overuse will often further exacerbate those conditions.

The most common causes of overuse injuries are increasing the intensity or duration of workouts too quickly, doing too many workouts without taking recovery days, not doing enough flexibility and strength exercises or changing equipment without allowing for a reasonable period of easy adaptation.

Most athletes (at all levels) tend to be highly motivated individuals with set goals they want to accomplish. To reach those goals of biking or running faster and further, we often fall into the trap of ‘no pain, no gain’ and try to do hard workouts day after day.

If the athletic improvements don’t come as fast as expected, we’ll usually chalk it up to not working out hard enough and increase the duration or intensity of our workouts even more.

The inevitable end result is some ‘weak link’ in our body breaks down and we develop overuse injuries such as rotator cuff tendinitis, Achilles tendinitis, shin splints, patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band friction syndrome, iliopsoas tendinitis or painfully tight lower back muscles.

Medical terminology aside, overuse injuries are a pain for cyclists and runners (pun intended) and they are almost always self-inflicted wounds.

The good news is that overuse injuries can usually be prevented if we follow common-sense guidelines related to both our workouts and to the selection/use of sports equipment.

The first line of defense against overuse injuries is to accept that our bodies gradually adapt to new training stresses (the key word is ‘gradually’). We get faster and stronger by applying a small overload stress to muscles and then allowing the body to adapt to that overload by resting or doing easier workouts until the muscles have recovered and become stronger.

We then continue the improvement process by applying a slightly larger stress, recovering again, and continuing this gradual improvement process over time.

The most common mistake (and what leads to most overuse injuries) is trying to increase the workout load too quickly without taking recovery days or continuing to push hard even though your body says it’s time to ease off for a while.

Using myself as an example (and also proving that years of experience doesn’t automatically make me smarter), I recently wrapped up an eight-week period during which I trained for and raced an off-road half-marathon, a 50-mile road cycling race, an epically long bike workout that included a hilly one-hour time trial race and wrapped things up by competing in a tough 100-kilometer dirt road cycling event.

Instead of responding to the signs of doing too much without rest and recovery (i.e., constant aches and pains) I continued to ‘train through the pain’ with the end result being a severely inflamed iliotibial band that makes even easy bike and run workouts painful.

Another trigger for overuse injuries is changing equipment without allowing the body to gradually adjust. New running shoes which may alter your foot strike, a new bicycle that may or may not fit your body properly, or adding items such as aero bars or different pedals to your bike can all lead to overuse injuries because of the new stresses placed on muscles, tendons and joints.

The bottom line is that most of us will develop some type of overuse injuries, so the key to getting past them is to identify the root cause, correct it and then follow the RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) until you’ve recovered.

A proper recovery plan for an overuse injury should also include strategies such as walking instead of running, icing sore muscles and joints, resting more, running on soft surfaces, spinning in an easy gear on your bike instead of mashing a big gear, stretching after every workout, warming up well before workouts, and focusing on strengthening the muscles that stabilize joints.

Those same recovery plan strategies will also help preventing overuse injuries, so work them into your routine and listen when your body tells you to back off for a few days.

Remember — doing too much without appropriate recovery will result in an overuse injury.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Your First CX Race

Cyclocross season is getting underway and the local Longhorn CX Series starts in three weeks, so some of you are getting ready for your first-ever cyclocross event.

Even if you've done other types of races such as mountain bike, road or triathlon events, you'll quickly find that CX is a different beast. The good news is that there are some things you can do to make your initial cyclocross experience better.

Let's start with training.  Although three weeks isn't long enough to significantly improve your fitness if you've spent the summer doing easy social rides, you can develop skills and start upping your fitness over the next few weeks. Three workouts that will make you faster (or at least reduce the pain level of a CX race) are big gear accelerations, threshold repeats and running (yep, I used the dreaded 'R' word).

Big gear accelerations (pseudo sprints) are simple and can be done during a ride on a practice course or as part of a road/trail ride.  After warming up for 20-30 minutes, do 6-10 30 second repeats in a somewhat hard gear where you dig hard to get the bike going as fast as possible during the 30 seconds. Recover for a minute or two, then repeat ... and repeat ... and repeat.  The objective is to train yourself to get the bike up to speed quickly after a corner or after a dismount/remount.

Threshold repeats are longer and also somewhat painful. After warming up, push yourself to ride at almost-maximum-sustainable effort for 5-10 minutes at a time (build to 2X 20-minute intervals over time).  The effort level is best described as 'throw-up minus about 5%'.  These efforts will train your body to maintain a hard pace during the course of a 40-50 minute race.

If you're really feeling masochistic, combine the two workouts described above and do a hard 15-20 second sprint at every one or two minute point during a threshold interval. This will simulate the effort required to maintain a hard pace during a CX race with repeated hard accelerations after each corner or barrier.

Running is the third piece of the 'prepare for CX' puzzle and the good news is that - just like strong whiskey - it doesn't take much to really have an effect. Here in The Desert, most of the running you'll do during a cyclocross race is either (a) to the restroom just before a race starts or (b) short dismount/run sections over barriers or through sandpits.

If you're a dedicated non-runner, start by walking fast and then adding 15-30 second intervals of easy jogging followed by a minute or so of brisk walking. Wear good shoes, stay on soft surfaces and try to do your running AFTER a bike workout when your muscles are warmed up.  You multisport athletes will recognize this as being a brick workout (bike, then run). A good starting point is to (after a 30-60 min ride) do 5 minutes of easy run/walk and then 5 minutes of fast 30 second strides followed by 1 minute of brisk walking.

After doing these short post-ride running workouts for a couple of weeks, start combining them with cyclocross practice by warming up on the bike and then doing 15-30 second barrier, sand pit or uphill 'runs' while carrying your bike. This will let you combine a little run training with dismount, barrier and remount practice. Remember to mash the pedals hard after each remount to get back up to speed before coasting and recovering.

Let's shift the focus to race day and doing workouts that simulate race day. Having a good first cyclocross race means that your body is ready, you have a routine that you have practiced, your equipment is ready and so you're relaxed and ready to have fun.

Getting the race-day routine down is important. As a general rule, you want to arrive at the race location at least one hour before the race starts (sooner than that if possible). Get registered, pin your number on, air up your tires and then do a gradual warm-up on the actual course, if possible. Make sure you have a pump, spare tubes and water/energy drink in the car.

As a general rule, try to warm up for at least 30 minutes before a race with the last few minutes being several 1-2 minute fast 'jumps' to elevate your heart rate and wake the body up. Try to simulate this routine before hard workouts to dial in how long and how hard your warm-up should be.

Course inspection is important, so pre-ride several laps to get a feel for the course, identify good vs. bad lines through corners and to determine where you'll have to dismount and run. The pre-ride is also where you want to adjust air pressure in tires.  If you're bouncing all over the place try lowering the pressure and conversely - if you're bottoming out the rims on every bump add a little air.

As you pre-ride the course, identify areas where you can grab a sip from your water bottle if you're a drinker, look for areas where you might be able to pass slower riders and hopefully find those sections where you can soft-pedal and recover for a few seconds.

You'll also want to find out where the restrooms are - trust me.

Last of all, you'll want to practice your 'cross the finish line' move. Will it be a one-arm jab at the sky, a two-arm victory salute or a stylish dismount-and-run across the line?  Remember that whatever you do will be on social media a few minutes after you finish.

That's it.  The keys are to prep your body, prep your mind and have a good repeatable pre-race routine.  See you on the race course !

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Killing Mesquite Trees With CX Bikes

The CX Nationals tree fiasco from last January is behind us and here in West Texas, we're taking the lessons learned from that weekend and putting them to good use for the upcoming cyclocross season.

We've partnered with a rouge group called 'Leave No Mesquite Living' to design the course for our local CX races and - based on the obviously superior research conducted by Austin's Heritage Tree Foundation - we fully expect every dammed mesquite on our course to be dead by the end of this year's racing season.

It's a win-win. Race CX and kill bad trees at the same time.

The course design included the obvious best practices - a long starting straight, off-camber corners, steps to run up, a sand pit and some up and down sections to test climbing and descending skills.

We also added 'tree kill zones' as an important course design goal.

Before the actual course was marked we identified all mesquites that would be targeted as part of the 'eradicate by bike' initiative. The course was then routed directly over the primary feeder roots for the condemned trees to ensure that the soil becomes compacted causing the mesquites to experience loss of growth, spread of decay in the root system and hopefully - a premature death.

Baby mesquites have also targeted by routing the course directly over them in hope that repeated abuse by CX tires will not only pluck small thorns from the sprouts but will also alleviate the problem of having to hand-chop the little bastards.

Although we don't doubt the tree damage claims made by the Austin experts, there are some who doubt that our cyclocross season tree eradication program will work.  Local experts point out that even in the midst of a multi-year drought the mesquites (and other trees) that line area mountain bike trails are flourishing.

Let's hope the 'kill mesquite trees with CX bikes' initiative works as planned - if so, it'll be a lot cheaper than using chemicals and bulldozers. Our goal is to have every rancher in the region clamoring for us to ride through their pastures and kill off mesquites.

Ride on, and remember - the only good mesquite is a dead one that's been repurposed as fuel for a BBQ grill.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Will Summer Ever End?

Will the hot weather ever end?

As I write this, the temperature is a balmy 102 degrees and headed up toward the 105 we saw a few days ago.

Although we were tricked into believing the ‘cooler and wetter’ El Niño forecast because of the great weather in May and June, we’ve had dry and oven-like conditions since mid July.

Cyclists and runners have been subjected to four consecutive weeks with most daily high temperatures soaring to 100 degrees or above and a few days exceeding heat advisory criteria.

People doing bike or run workouts have coped with rivers of sweat leaking through saturated sweatbands, salty sweat obscuring vision and stinging sunburned skin and routinely losing 3-5 pounds of fluid during long workouts even when hydrating constantly.

Some athletes have avoided the heat by getting out early in the morning when the air temperature is (comparatively speaking) cooler at 80 degrees or so, while others have suffered through workouts later in the day in 100 degree or higher temperatures when readings on road surfaces are 110-120 degrees.

One local cyclist training for an upcoming event has sacrificed sleep to get up at 4 a.m. and do his workouts before daylight, while other people have strategically planned running routes so they can stop at friendly houses along the way for a cool ‘water hose shower’ and drink of water.

Post-workout time has revolved around rehydrating with a cold fermented beverage (or two) while dreaming about relocation to a cooler mountain climate.

Micheal Decker, a staff meteorologist with the local National Weather Service office, said that although temperatures may “moderate” slightly over the next week or so, the hot weather isn’t going away soon.

“The area of high pressure that’s parked over our area is typical for this time of year,” said Decker. “The heat could stay with us on into September until the hours of daylight get shorter and cold fronts start moving through.”

There may be hope on the horizon, noted Decker, but not for the near future.

“Although the eagerly-awaited El Niño weather pattern hasn’t had much of an impact on summer temperatures and rainfall, the long range forecast suggests that we’ll possibly see cooler and wetter than normal weather during November, December and January,” Decker said.

Cooler and wetter than normal? Bring it on, please.

Athletes training and competing in the hot weather of the past month may have also noticed that in addition to copious amounts of sweat and the associated dehydration, you have to work harder to maintain a given pace while biking or running compared with doing a similar workout in cooler conditions.

Several heat-related issues contribute to that feeling, but the most significant are increased skin blood flow to aid with cooling (moving body heat to the surface), reduced blood volume because of sweating and less oxygen due to lower air density during hot weather.

As the body works to reject heat and stay cool, there is increased blood flow to the surface of the skin to carry internal body heat to the surface where it can dissipate via sweat.

This shift of blood to the surface combined with loss of total blood volume due to increased sweating means that less blood is available to working muscles and vital organs such as the heart, making exercise more difficult. Decreased blood volume to the heart decreases cardiac filling and stroke volume, so the heart rate increases to sustain the workload. The net result is that a moderate level of exercise in cool weather may feel significantly harder at higher temperatures.

In addition to reduced blood volume and a corresponding higher heart rate, the high temperature air we breathe during exercise also has less oxygen (for a given intake volume) than cooler air due to the density altitude.

Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature, so as temperature increases the air density will decrease. Decreased air density (or a higher density altitude) during hot weather has the same effect on an athlete as being at a higher altitude

As an example, the elevation in San Angelo is about 1,850 feet above sea level. If we calculate density altitude for this location based on hot mid summer conditions of 102 degrees, a barometer reading of 30.05 and a dew point of 54 degrees, the effective altitude that our body feels is almost 5,000 feet or close to the same elevation as Denver.

The effect of the higher density altitude due to high temperature is that less oxygen is taken in with each breath, so our muscles produce less power.

So, getting back to the initial question — will summer ever end? It always does (eventually) and so we can all look forward to that perfect bike or run day when the temperature is around 50, there’s no hot wind and a light mist is falling.

Until then, we’ll all suffer in the heat, drink copious amounts of fluids, struggle with the higher density altitude and look forward to the promised El Niño.

Upcoming Events

 Sept. 19-20: Fort Davis Cyclefest,
 Sept. 26: Armydillo Run,
 Sept. 26-27: Texas State Championship road race,

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bike Paths (or the lack of)

Although Greeley, Colorado and San Angelo, Texas are about the same size and have about the same demographics, there's a world of difference between the bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the two communities.

I'm very familiar with both Greeley and San Angelo, having lived here until 1982, then in Greeley through 2000 and back here for the past 15 years.

Through 1982, both Greeley and San Angelo had exactly the same bike-pedestrian infrastructure - almost nothing. Since that time, Greeley has developed an impressive and expanding network of bike-pedestrian lanes and paths while San Angelo lags far behind with very little non-motorized transportation infrastructure.

The two cities have very similar demographics. San Angelo's population is approximately 97,000 with 56% between the ages of 18 and 65, 14% over the age of 65 and a median household income of $42,385.

The data are similar for Greeley with a population of just under 97,000, 66% of the population between the ages of 18 and 65, 11 % over the age of 65 and a median household income of $46,272. Both cities also have very similar ethnic distributions.
There are more similarities - both cities have bike-pedestrian plans, they are both located in an area surrounded by flat-to rolling agricultural land, neither city is located on an interstate highway, rivers run through both communities, and both Greeley and San Angelo are home to a junior college and a university.

In two important areas, however, these communities are vastly different. While San Angelo has an estimated obesity rate of about 30%, Greeley comes in almost 10 points lower at 20.5%. That obesity rate difference can arguably be attributed at least partially to Greeley's philosophy regarding bike-pedestrian infrastructure vs. what exists in San Angelo.

San Angelo's Bike-Pedestrian Plan as initially developed back in the mid 2000s, but there has been very little significant implementation of the plan. Other than a few sidewalks near schools or around parks and an update of the area along the downtown River Trail, the amount of (and quality of) non-motorized transportation and recreation infrastructure our community hasn't changed much since 1982.

Our city officials would argue that the 3.9 million dollar Red Arroyo Trail currently being constructed will provide four miles of wide concrete multi-use paths, but even when that project is completed our oasis in the desert will have very little 'real' bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure such as off-street bike paths throughout the city, sidewalks and marked bike lanes on streets.

In contrast, Greeley has an extensive network of paved off-street bike and pedestrian trails include 21 miles of paved trails that parallel the Poudre River and connect to similar trails in neighboring cities, 6 miles of paved trails through the Sheep Draw area and 85 miles of marked on-street bike lanes.

These trail and bike lanes meander through subdivisions and connect many key locations such as schools and businesses, and bike routes throughout the community are marked with both signs and on-street marking making it possible to easily find a route for commuting or exercising.

Wesley Hood, a traffic engineer with the City of Greeley, says many major streets in that city have been developed to conform with 'Complete Street' design criteria that allows for safe travel by those walking, bicycling, driving automobiles, riding public transportation, or delivering goods. 

 "The trend in our area is for more non-motorized forms of transportation", says Hood. "In Greeley, this includes both wide sidewalks and marked on-street bike lanes along many major arterials enabling residents to safely make their way across the city on a bike or by foot."

Hood also notes that the city has seen a significant reduction in accidents involving cyclists or pedestrians on the streets that have been redesigned to serve cyclists and pedestrians in addition to serving motor vehicles.

So, why the difference? What prompted Greeley to develop a great network of bike-pedestrian infrastructure while San Angelo continues to simply update a plan that's been on the shelf for years?

The best answer to that question may lie with the respective goals of each city's Bike-Pedestrian plans and more importantly, Greeley's philosophy of serving local residents' needs instead of focusing more on infrastructure to attract out-of-town visitors.

Although San Angelo's Bike-Pedestrian plan ( uses terms such as "improving bicycle access, mobility and safety, improving pedestrian access, mobility and safety and enhancing San Angelo for tourism, economic development, and as a healthy place to live", the real focus on infrastructure upgrades in San Angelo appears to be focused on the 'tourism and economic development' aspects of the plan.

In contrast, Greeley's plan ( is based on a philosophy that focuses on their residents. Their plan states "Build a safe and efficient bicycling network and support facilities that serves the needs of all types of bicyclists, connecting residential Greeley to the University, recreational trails, downtown, retail centers, and local services, promote bicycling as a healthy and inexpensive transportation alternative, and establish a city division under public works to maintain and expand the city bicycle program."  It should also be noted that almost all of their 'bicycling network and support facilities' also serve runners and walkers. 
Greeley has followed through on the goals in their plan recognizing that bicycle and pedestrian-friendly communities attract new businesses, residents, and visitors alike and help to combat many trends such as obesity and heart disease.

A recent report titled 'Building Bike-Friendly Communities Is Good for Economies' notes the important of having infrastructure that supports healthy lifestyles: "Cities whose residents ride, run, walk, and participate in other activities have increased economic growth and productivity compared to areas with more sedentary citizens. These bike-friendly communities also have higher levels of mental health and wellbeing."

I hope San Angelo's city leaders will read that report and I also encourage then to take a summer vacation to Greeley to examine what that community has accomplished.