Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rain Makes for Bike and Run Fun

I was lucky enough last week to get in a bike workout and then a transition run on a cool day with light rain falling.

That wet workout reminded me of some epic events from past years that took place in really wet conditions.

Although many people instinctively retreat indoors to the stationary bike or treadmill during inclement weather, bike and run events or workouts that take place in rain (or mud, or snow) are special and should be looked forward to.

One of my most memorable ride-in-the rain events took place on the second day of the 1999 Ride the Rockies cycling tour in Colorado.

That day’s ride was a 76-mile trip from Cortez to Telluride with the final part of the route going over the 10, 222 foot Lizard Head Pass and then down into Telluride.

As is typical in the mountains during the summer, storm clouds had started building over the higher terrain during the early afternoon and as the pack of 2,000 cyclists slowly pedaled their way up toward the top of Lizard Head, we rode straight into a heavy thunderstorm.

The final ascent to the summit and the twisting 1,500-foot switchback descent down into Telluride took place in blinding rain, hail and thunderous flashes of lightening — an experience that none of that year’s tour riders will ever forget.

On another occasion, I raced the annual Barking Dog Duathlon in the rural eastern Colorado community of Keensburg on a late spring day that was marked by steady, unrelenting rain with the temperature hovering around 45 degrees.

The Barking Dog was the largest duathlon in Colorado, so there were hundreds of athletes splashing through standing water during the running legs of the race and then doing jet ski imitations on their bikes.

All cyclists had the pleasure of riding 30 kilometers while enduring what’s know in cycling lingo as ‘a cold-water enema’ with the water being thrown upward off the back wheel constantly pelting each rider’s lycra-encased posterior.

Trail running races that take place during rainy conditions always end up being epic events, and race #3 of the 2012 San Angelo trail running series took ‘wet and epic’ to a completely new level.

The rain started falling on Friday and was still coming down at a steady rate on Saturday morning as runners lined up for the start of their 15-kilometer slog through the trails in San Angelo State Park.

Uphill and downhill sections of trail became small rivers with cold-water rapids and the flatter lowland sections morphed into muddy swamps with ankle-deep mud and water.

The park’s Nature Trail, normally a flat and fast stretch of red dirt winding through mesquite and cactus, was transformed into a red-mud lake with several inches of water covering a long and treacherous churned-up mud pit.

The options were run slow, walk fast, and try not fall with some runners laughing that swimming might have been a faster option.

It was wet, muddy, hard, cold, slippery, and miserable — all great ingredients for an epic race in the rain.

Here in the desert we don’t get to play in the rain a lot, so let’s hope the forecast El NiƱo weather pattern materializes this winter so we can do a lot of riding and running in the rain.

When the drops start falling, just lace up those running shoes or get on your bike and go outside to enjoy the wet conditions.

I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience - rain combined with cycling or running is a recipe for fun workouts and epic races.

Upcoming Events
Nov. 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov. 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,
Nov. 15: West Texas Masochist Run II,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

We're in A Bike Racing Drought

If you live in the San Angelo area and want to compete in cycling races, be prepared to travel out of town to find events.

Our city is experiencing a severe drought as relates to road and mountain bike racing.

With the exception of the upcoming 6-Hour Dinosaur mountain bike event and the small time trials put on by the local cycling club, there hasn't been an organized road or mountain bike race in San Angelo since the Red Bluff Mountain Bike Challenge took place in October of 2009.

It wasn't always this way.  During the 80s, 90s and as recently as the mid 2000s San Angelo was a hotspot for bicycle racing. 

Our community hosted the Texas road cycling state championship event twice (1997 and 1998) with bike racers from all across the state converging on San Angelo.

The Dog Days multi-day stage race in the late 80s and early 90s also attracted a large number of out-of town cyclists.

Other cycling and related events that once took place here in San Angelo but are no longer on the calendar include the Tour de Burma race (now a non-competitive tour), the TMBRA and West Texas Championship Series mountain bike races that were held in the State Park, the Spillway Hill off-road duathlon, Striders duathlon, Wool Capitol triathlon (replaced this year with a new event) and the criterium races that were held in the downtown area and also around the Santa Fe golf course.

The four-week cyclocross series that took place on the ASU campus from 2010 through 2013 also disappeared from the calendar this year.

The current 'bike race drought' in San Angelo is a local phenomenon since cycling and bike racing are growing at a steady clip in other parts of Texas and across the nation.

As an example, a two-day cyclocross event last weekend in Manor (east of Austin) attracted over 800 participants from across the state and the recent Hotter 'N Hell event in Wichita Falls had almost 14,000 participants.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the current bike race drought in our region, but the most significant reasons are the cost, complexity and time commitment facing individuals or groups that want to promote a race.

Race promoters must select a non-conflicting date, try to line up sponsors, identify and mark a suitable course, obtain permits, purchase expensive liability insurance, find volunteers, arrange for police support for road races, develop a safety plan, market the event, buy items such as race numbers and awards, and then hope enough people sign up to avoid losing money on the event.

For anything larger than a small local club event to be financially successful, the race must attract a significant number of out-of-town participants. 

Given San Angelo's remote geographical location compared to the larger population centers in Texas and also today's high fuel and hotel prices, it's become much harder to attract out-of-town racers unless the event is something completely unique, offers good prize money or has some designation such as being a state or regional championship.

Other factors that have impacted local bicycle racing include more events of other types to choose from (especially running), the high cost of buying what is perceived to be a 'race-worthy' bike and the simple fact that many local cyclists today prefer moderate-pace, more social 'Facebook' rides (pedal easy, stop, and post ride pictures) instead of hard race-training workouts.

Hopefully the bike race drought will end soon, but in the interim - if you live in San Angelo and enjoy racing your bike, be prepared for some significant windshield time as you drive elsewhere to compete.

Ride On, San Angelo, and remember - the local community is suffering through a bicycle racing drought.

Upcoming Events
Oct 25: Armydillo 10K,
Nov 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,
Nov 15: West Texas Masochist Run II,

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bike Pedals

Most new cyclists and some experienced riders overlook the importance of the pedals on their bicycle.

They assume that pedals are pedals — just something that you push down on to make the bicycle

That’s not quite the case — in fact, there are multiple types of bike pedals and the type you use can significantly impact your cycling.

The earliest bicycles did not have pedals. Frenchman Baron von Drais built what is believed to be the first bicycle (called a Draisienne) around 1817. Riders propelled these early two-wheel machines by simply pushing with their feet while sitting on the bike’s seat.

In 1839, a Scottish blacksmith named Kirkpatrick MacMillan came up with the idea of mounting pedals directly to the front wheel of those early push bikes. His pedal bike had a 30 inch diameter wood-framed and iron-rimed wheel with pedals attached to arms that were connected to the wheel’s axle.

Over the years, many different types of pedals have been designed ranging from simple flat ‘push down’ platform pedals to the sophisticated ‘clip in’ pedals that are now common on higher-end bicycles.

Platform pedals are still used today — they’re what you’ll see on most entry-level bicycles and on some bikes used for downhill mountain bike racing.

The advantages of flat pedals is that any type of footwear can be used and new cyclists don’t have to worry about ‘clipping in or out’ of a retention system.

The disadvantages, however, are that the rider’s foot isn’t securely fastened to the pedal and the rider can only produce power when pushing down on the pedal.

If you want to test this yourself, sit on a spin bike or a bicycle mounted on a stationary trainer and try to pedal with only one leg. You’ll quickly see that having your foot simply resting on the flat pedal doesn’t work very well since your foot isn’t secured to the pedal. Flat pedals can be significantly improved by adding toe clips and straps (example:

Toe clips will mount to most flat pedals, can be used with any type of footwear, and will secure your shoe to make your pedaling more efficient.

There will be a short learning curve as you figure out how to flip the pedal over and insert your foot into the clip.

Although flat pedals with toe clips were the norm for everyone years ago, most serious cyclists today have switched to clip-in pedals (sometimes called ‘clipless’ because they don’t have the toe cages). A good discussion of this type of pedal along with pictures is posted at

Several different types of clip-in pedals are available, ranging from the double-sided mountain bike and touring pedals ( to single-sided road bike ‘race’ pedals (

Although many new cyclists are worried about not being able to clip out of clip-in pedals, this isn’t a significant problem. The pedals’ retention tension can be adjusted to be very loose and the ‘twist-the-foot-out’ technique used to unclip from the pedal is easy to learn.

All types of clip-in pedals require a dedicated cycling shoe since the ‘cleat’ which clips into the pedal must attach to mounting holes on the shoe’s sole.

You’ll also have to match up the shoe type with the type of pedal since most cleats for single-sided road pedals use a three-bolt mounting system while the majority of mountain bike pedals require a two-bolt mount.

Most recreational cyclists (on both mountain and road bikes) will probably be happiest using a clip-in mountain bike pedal such as the Shimano SPD. These pedals are double-sided so the rider can clip in on either side of the pedal and the compatible shoes have a recessed cleat pocket that makes the shoe much easier to walk in.

If you currently ride using simple platform pedals and want to improve your cycling, upgrading to a better type of pedal may just be the ticket.

Remember - pedals are pedals, but some work much better than others.

Upcoming Events
Oct. 18: Heart Walk 5K,
Oct. 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K,
Oct. 25: Armydillo 10K,
Nov. 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov. 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,
Nov. 15: West Texas Masochist Run II,


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bike Safety for Kids

With public schools back in session, it's time to remind kids, parents and teachers about some important safety practices for kids who ride their bicycles to school.

 Riding bikes to school is a healthy fitness activity that should be encouraged if kids ride safely and do not put themselves in harm's way due to the risk of collisions with a motor vehicle or falls on their bicycle.

 According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, approximately 400 children and adolescents die each year in the United States due to bicycle-related accidents with another 400,000 ending up in emergency rooms because of bike injuries.

 Almost all of those accidents are avoidable if children are taught to ride in a safe manner.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership ( has compiled a listing of basic bike safety concepts that should be taught to children by parents, teachers or community groups.

 Those safety concepts include how to cross the street safely, bike and helmet fitting, positioning yourself properly on a road, letting drivers know your intentions, how to safely negotiate turns and intersections (hand signals, signs, traffic awareness), the basics of traffic law to include right of way and rules of the road, and practicing those bike skills with an informed adult supervising.

 Bike safety skills for kids are included in training programs such as the Supercyclist curriculum from the Texas Bicycle Coalition ( and the Kids I or Kids II programs developed by the League of American Bicyclists (

 If an organized bike safety program isn't available, there are some key safety practices that parents, teachers and friends can make sure that kids understand and comply with.

 Visibility - make sure that motorists can easily see a kid on a bike.  This is especially critical during low light periods such as early morning or evening.  Light colored clothing, reflective jackets, reflectors on bikes and blinking safety lights will all help motorists see a cyclist.

Helmets - all children (and adults) riding a bicycle should wear an approved helmet at all times when riding.  Even a minor fall from a bike onto hard dirt or pavement can result in a serious head injury.

Ride with traffic - although many children are (improperly) taught to ride facing traffic, Texas traffic law require all cyclists riding on public streets to move with the flow of traffic. Numerous research studies show significantly fewer cyclist-motor vehicle accidents when riding in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic.

 As an example, a study of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions in the city of Palo Alto, Cali­fornia showed that cyclists traveling against the direction of traffic flow were at greatly increased risk for accidents - as high as 6.6 times greater risk for cyclists 17 and under.

 This finding implies that vigorous enforcement of the laws against wrong-way bicycling on the roadway for both adults and children can substantially reduce the number of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions and should receive high priority in any bicycle program.

Safe routes - parents, schools and community groups should work together to identify safe routes for children cycling to and from school.  Safe routes could include those with marked bike lanes, sidewalks or paths, protected intersection crossings and low motor vehicle traffic

Alleys that open onto a street - these are among the most dangerous locations for cyclists. If these areas cannot be avoided (for example, along the Southland Blvd bike lanes near Bonham Elementary) then kids must be taught to proceed very carefully as they ride past an alley opening.

 Backpacks and other items - when items such as books or bags need to be carried while riding they should be placed in a backpack or basket to allow both hands to be on the bicycle's handlebars at all times. Avoid heavy backpacks that affect balance and do not drape bags or clothing such as coats over the bars.

 Although the bike safety suggestions listed above cover the most important issues, there are other dangers that school kids could face while riding (or walking) to school. The best way to mitigate these risks is for parents, schools, community organizations such as cycling clubs and law enforcement officers to collaborate in teaching safety and correcting unsafe practices.

Remember - riding to school is good for kids, but it needs to be done in a safe manner.

Upcoming Events

Oct 18: Heart Walk 5K,

Oct 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K,

Oct 25: Armydillo 10K,

Nov 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,

Nov 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,

Nov 15: West Texas Masochist Run II,

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Motivated to Excel

In chapter 10 of his book 'Behind the Stare' (2012, Deeds Publishing) author Geoff Procter talks about the broad range of training devices that are available to athletes today - things like power meters, heart rate monitors, and altitude tents that let cyclists and runners simulate the thin air of high elevations.

He also notes that the most underrated key to becoming the best athlete that you can be is simply motivation - something that can't be purchased.

"You have to execute," says Procter. "You have to get out the door and you have to hurt even when no one’s watching."

Executing the training plan as designed and pushing yourself through hard workouts without a daily audience is something that is internal and can't be bought.

This self-motivated drive to excel is what separates casual participants from serious contenders in almost every sport, and is what enables individuals with less-than-optimal genetic ability to accomplish athletic feats that more genetically-talented people sometimes don't achieve.

If you examined the heart rate data from many people's workouts, you would see that most of their workout time day after day is in HR zone 2 and possibly the lower part of zone 3 ( approximately 60-75% of maximum heart rate).

This effort range is fun, very moderate related to intensity and is easy enough that you can carry on a conversation while working out.

You might also notice that (based on their social media posts) these casual recreational athletes focus on distance covered or time spent exercising instead of the intensity level maintained during a workout.

In contrast, although the top competitive athletes may spend up to 80% of their workout time in the 'endurance zone', it's the other 20% spent doing much harder workouts that separates the serious contenders from casual participants.

These athletes have the interval motivation to go really hard when their training plan calls for intensity.

 In the book, Procter also gives two examples of athletes whose motivation to excel resulted in extraordinary accomplishments in their sport. 

Lance Armstrong, his issues with performance-enhancing drugs not withstanding, was a professional cyclist who set new standards related to the following 'periodized' training plans.

He followed carefully-structured training plans that progressively enabled him to achieve higher and higher levels of race-specific fitness, timed to peak perfectly for key races such as the Tour de France.

His workouts included both long easy miles and brutally painful sessions such as long uphill intervals at or above his maximum sustainable heart rate on steep high mountain roads.

Procter also cited professional cyclocross racer and World Champion Sven Nys as an example of someone who has the motivation to 'do the hard efforts.'

He described on one workout that Nys does on a 3-4 minute forest circuit that includes an almost-unridable very steep climb up a sandy ravine.

"The first time we came here years ago, Sven couldn’t make it up," said his coach Paul Van den Bosch. "Now, he’s doing these explosions every week."

"When we’re training hard I have him do five laps at around 3:50 per lap, then four laps at 3:40, then three laps at 3:35, then two laps at 3:30 and then one lap flat out."

The coach also noted that when he instructed Nys to do one more lap at a very hard pace, Nys did the final hard lap at maximum effort - and then did one more 'final' lap at the same brutal pace.

The next time that you compete in a cycling or running event, think about where you may have seen the people who are on the podium that day receiving awards after the race.

Chances are they're the same people you saw doing a hard solo run, hammering fast through the State Park trails on a mountain bike, or doing painful interval repeats up a hill on a road bike.

Remember - winning athletes are those who get out the door and hurt when no one’s watching.

Upcoming Events
Oct 4: Shannon Pink Ribbon Run,
Oct 11: Goodyear Race for Celebration,
Oct 11: Christoval Vineyards Half Marathon,
Oct 18: Heart Walk 5K,
Oct 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K,
Oct 25: Armydillo 10K,
Nov 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hidden Gems

Last week's article about the fitness venues around Lake Nasworthy ( generated several questions about the Nature Preserve Trail on Spillway Road and the adjacent Spillway Park open space at the end of Spillway Road.

Compared to the other parks and open space around Lake Nasworthy, these two areas get very little usage.  That may be because many people don't know where they are located or what the areas offer for casual cyclists, hikers, runners or walkers.

Even though these areas are off the beaten path compared to locations like the swim beach and the KOA loop, they are hidden gems and offer some natural amenities that heavier-used areas just don't provide.

The Nature Preserve Trail is a scenic one-mile loop that begins at a small parking area on Spillway road. To get there, go south on Knickerbocker Blvd past the airport and then turn right onto Spillway Road just before the Twin Buttes dam.  Follow Spillway for two miles to the Nature Trail parking lot which will be on your right.

Prior to heading out onto the Nature Trail, you may want to stop at the San Angelo Nature Center at Lake Nasworthy ( and pick up a trail map.

These maps include notations related to the numbered markers on the trail that identify different plants, trees and points of interest and representations of the different animal tracks that you might commonly see along the route such as those for deer, raccoon, nutria, roadrunners and opossum.

At about the 1/2 mile point on the trail, you have the option of turning left onto a short side path that goes across a small wooden bridge to the edge of the lake. From the water's edge, you can look across to Middle Concho Park and also see the old bridge pilings that once carried the Santa Fe Railroad across the river prior to Twin Buttes Reservoir being built.

The Nature Trail is a nice short hike for the family, an interesting side loop if you're doing a run along Spillway Road and is also a great place to take younger kids for a 'mountain bike' outing.

A second area to bike/hike/run or walk your dog that can also be accessed from the Nature Trail parking area is the open space commonly referred to as Spillway Park.

This triangular open meadow area is located on the north side of the Middle Concho River channel at the end of Spillway Road. There's a double pipe fence gate across the road about 70 yards past the Nature Trail with bike/pedestrian openings on the left edge of the gates.

Start your tour of Spillway Park by following the old paved road as it heads north toward the Twin Buttes spillway.

At the end of the pavement, you can look out over the water of the spillway channel or veer to the right onto a dirt track that continues along the edge of the water and eventually back to the double pipe gates on Spillway Road.

One complete loop around the open space is about a mile with all of the terrain being flat to gently rolling.

Combine the Nature Trail and Spillway Park loops and you'll enjoy just over two miles of peaceful and scenic outdoor exercise with no cars and very few people to disturb the quiet and peace.

No cars, very few people and scenic vistas might make for a better workout than the hot pavement and traffic around the swim beach or on the KOA loop.

Remember - the Nature Trail and Spillway Park are scenic off-the-beaten-path areas to bike, hike or run.

Upcoming Events
Sept 20: Color Up 5K,
Sept 27: High Sky Foster Run,
Sept 27: Mason Lions Club 5/10K Run,
Oct 4: Shannon Pink Ribbon Run,
Oct 11: Goodyear Race for Celebration,
Oct 11: Christoval Vineyards Half Marathon,
Oct 18: Heart Walk 5K,
Oct 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K,
Oct 25: Armydillo 10K,
Nov 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lake Areas Need Improvements

Read through the city's Lake Nasworthy Master Plan and you'll notice that biking, hiking, running and walking are described as the most popular non-motorized recreational activities that take place in the areas surrounding the lake.

The park areas, open space and roads around Nasworthy provide an almost-perfect venue for outdoor fitness activities (we'll get to the "almost" part later).

 Lakeside areas such as the swim beach (Mary E Lee Park), the KOA loop, Spring Creek Park and Middle Concho Park are all used extensively by cyclists, hikers, runners and walkers. The lake parks also serve as starting points for cyclists and runners heading out onto area roads and into the Twin Buttes open space.

The problem is — to move past the "almost-perfect' status mentioned earlier — these lake areas need a few potable water stations, one or two additional restroom facilities and a couple of small bridges.

Water is a problem because there are no locations to drink or refill a water bottle in the areas described above. Given the typical hot and dry conditions during the "active" season here in San Angelo, having access to drinking water during exercise is important for health reasons. The city might want to take a cue from the State Park, which has a few water stations strategically located on key trail areas.

Restrooms are another problematic issue in some of the areas. Although Spring Creek and Middle Concho parks have usable facilities, a visit to the antiquated and overused powder room at the swim beach will leave you saying, "I hope I can wait." The KOA loop, which is heavily used by runners and walkers, has an even larger restroom problem with no facilities at all except for the sparse brush on the hillside.

The last items needed to improve the non-motorized recreation infrastructure around Lake Nasworthy are two small bike/pedestrian bridges. Currently, there are no safe bike/pedestrian routes that connect the swim beach to Middle Concho Park and Middle Concho to Spring Creek Park.

To do a complete loop of the west side of Lake Nasworthy, a cyclist, runner or walker starting at the swim beach must travel on Knickerbocker Road to Red Bluff Road, follow Red Bluff to Middle Concho Park, go past the Twin Buttes Spillway on a dirt road, do an illegal crossing over the Twin Buttes dam, bushwhack past the south edge of the spillway to Spillway Road, go through Spring Creek Park to Fisherman's Road and then back to the swim beach.

That current loop is a fun and challenging mountain bike ride or run, but its not a route that's appropriate or safe for most people. Two small bridges similar to those over the downtown North Concho River would solve the problem and create a scenic loop that connects multiple lake parks and circles around all of the west side of the lake.

The first bridge would be over the canal from the KOA loop to Hot Slough Park, allowing cyclists or pedestrians to bypass Knickerbocker Road and access Red Bluff Road from the KOA. Bridge number two would be over the old railroad pilings in Middle Concho Park left behind when the Santa Fe Railroad line was relocated during construction of Twin Buttes Reservoir. This bridge would connect from Middle Concho to the nature trail on Spillway Road.

Most of these needs described above and the related benefits to both San Angelo residents and out-of-town visitors are noted in the Lake Nasworthy Master Plan, the 2012 Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan and the city of San Angelo's Bike and Pedestrian Plan.

Remember — the plans are in place, so now it's time to start implementation.

Upcoming Events

Sept 20: Color Up 5K,
Sept 27: High Sky Foster Run,
Sept 27: Mason Lions Club 5/10K Run,
Oct 4: Shannon Pink Ribbon Run,
Oct 11: Goodyear Race for Celebration,
Oct 11: Christoval Vineyards Half Marathon,
Oct 18: Heart Walk 5K,
Oct 19: West Texas Half Marathon and 5K,
Oct 25: Armydillo 10K,
Nov 1: 30K of the Dinosaur trail race,
Nov 1: Six Hours of the Dinosaur mountain bike race,