Milkman Triathlon Race Report

*photo credits: Greg Larson Photography

There are certain moments that athletes carry around with them for days, months, even years after completing a race. I can still feel the chills that crawled up my body as I climbed up the last hill of my first marathon. And the tears that ran down my face as I was just a mile away from completing my first half Ironman last year.

The first moments that I recall a week after competing last week’s Milkman Triathlon has nothing to do with the usual overwhelming feeling of success. That’s probably because the race had everything to do with survival.

The combination of temperatures (in the 90s), monstrous hills on the bike course and very little shade meant snagging a finisher medal was by no means an easy feat.

Milkman Triathlon Pros

Plenty of bathrooms. Most races are notorious for never having enough bathrooms for its athletes. But this race had plenty of bathrooms to go around for both the athletes and spectators. Most importantly, the long row of bathrooms was in close proximity to the swim-start. I’d call any race a success if it’s set up so I don’t have to contemplate peeing in my wetsuit. In addition, there were bathrooms at most aide stations along the bike and run courses.

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Easy swim start. Some triathlons start on different ends of the water, making it difficult to get from the transition area in the morning to the start. But because this course was in the shape of a triangle, it turned out to not only be ideal for the athletes, but fantastic for spectators. Family and friends didn’t have to choose between watching the start or finish–they could watch both.

Location. From the ability to train on the challenging bike course to not worrying about extra travel expenses on top of a race registration fee, there are numerous benefits of competing in a local race. The race start was just a five-minute car ride away from my house. I ate a home-cooked meal and slept in my own bed the night before the race. And family and friends could spectate without having to dedicate their entire weekend to my race. And for folks who live outside of Madison, it’s a fairly quick drive from Milwaukee and/or the Chicago area.

Cycle repair. Fortunately, I didn’t need to take advantage of the numerous cycle repair cars that drove around the bike course. But if I did, it definitely wouldn’t have been long before a cycle repair car found me. Even though I know how to change a tire or make other small fixes on my bike, it was comforting to know that someone was always nearby if I needed an extra hand.

Top-notch volunteers and police officers. In the intersections where there were police and volunteers directing traffic (I’ll go into more detail on that subject in the “con” list), they did an excellent just clearing intersections for us. The cops never cut it close with allowing cars through and I felt like they always had my back.

The volunteers were also quite remarkable during this race. They not only withstood scorching temperatures so the athletes could have access to food and water, but they did so with a smile and enthusiasm.

During the run, my loopy self (from the heat) just grabbed a water cup at the first station thinking that would be enough. But then one volunteer went out of his way to intensely tell me that I needed to be taking down at least two energy gels. “Get them down now,” he sternly yelled at me. As it turned out, his demands were exactly what I needed in the moment. I hadn’t been thinking clearly and was teetering on the edge of dehydration and heat illness. I immediately took down the energy gels and did so throughout the rest of the run. I attribute my ability to finish the run without leg cramps or having to stop to walk to this volunteer.

Milkman Triathlon Cons

The bike course finish. The last four miles of the bike course varied between a deserted parking lot to being forced on a sidewalk for a brief moment only to make a tight left turn onto a bumpy, narrow bike path. This is the last thing any biker wants to deal with the last few miles of a challenging 56-mile ride. If this race does return to Madison, I hope the course map will at the very least make it clear to athletes that’s what they should expect. The bike course implied that this particular left turn was going to be made from the road, which would have given us a bit more room to make the tight left turn.

Traffic on the bike course. Not closing the traffic on the bike course and failing to assign police officers and volunteers to certain intersections was a major flaw and reflects poorly on the organization of this race.

There was one intersection in particular where I came around a tight corner followed by an immediate left, and there was no cop or volunteer directing traffic. If I hadn’t been fully attentive and waving my warm at the car headed for me (who thankfully did slow down) to let them know I was turning left, I’m not sure what would have happened.

During any race, I have the expectation that with a race registration fee, I shouldn’t have to have any anxiety about traffic. I understand that it’s difficult to shut down 56 miles of road, but the race could just shut down one side of the road with cones and leave the other side open just for cyclists. Isn’t it enough that as a cyclist, we have to fight our way for a place on the roads during training rides? I think so.

Dodging cyclists on the run. Just like closing down car traffic, I understand that closing down a bike path in the middle of a Sunday afternoon is no easy task. That said, why should any athlete during an endurance event like a 70.3 have to work through a sea of people who aren’t competing in the race? I hardly had enough energy to get to the finish line, let alone fight my way through walkers, runners and cyclists on the bike path.

Not enough aid stations. Unlike the last 70.3 I did last year, this run course had aid stations only every 1.5 miles. In most official Ironman races, there are aid stations at every mile along the run course. In addition, this race only had food and energy gels at every-other stop. The combination of this type of distance and hot temperatures definitely called for more aid stations.

Doubling the Distance

In exactly three months, I’ll be doubling the distance of this last weekend’s 70.3 and taking on the Ironman Wisconsin (140.6). If this weekend was any indication of how September’s race will be, I’ve got quite the work ahead of me.

I’ll need to take advantage of training in the hot summer temperatures with the hopes of cooler weather on race day in September, but being prepared just in case. I need to continue trying to take in as much food as possible on long bike rides to ensure I’m taking in as much as my body’s taking out. And the hills on the Milkman course was just a taste of what I’m in for during Ironman Wisconsin.

One factor Ironman Wisconsin and the Milkman Triathlon will definitely have in common: snagging a finisher medal will be no easy feat.

Snip20160626_14photo credit: Greg Larson Photography
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Swimming With My Eyes Closed

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Early mornings. Late nights. Exhaustion. Massive appetite. Trade offs.

These are the first thoughts that come to mind when I take a step back and reflect on the emotional and physical journey during the past three months of Ironman training.

While there are certainly many aspects of training that I’m getting better at, there are still times where I feel like I’m swimming with my eyes closed–literally and metaphorically.

In the Water

The occasional fish sighting, or just the mere thought of a fish sighting, can send me in a panic all on its own. One of the ways I’ve learned to cope with this fear is to keep my eyes closed underwater while swimming.

Though not ideal (ask anyone who’s swum behind me how much time I lose swerving), the trick has allowed me to continue training for the swim portion without panicking every time.

Yet, despite making the effort of getting in the lake several times a week, and spending numerous hours in the pool months before official my Ironman training plan even began, my swim has not gotten any better.

At my last aquathon (a swim followed by a run), my overall time only improved by two seconds. While I’m grateful that I’m not getting slower,  the amount of time I’ve dedicated to training for the swim deserves better results than two seconds.

On the Bike

Training rides are never complete without a group of cyclists with $10,000+ bikes zipping past me. Or if they’re not passing me, they’re likely already ahead of me.

A few months ago I showed up to a Meetup group for triathletes. While it was still early on in the training, I felt confident about my capabilities and overall endurance. Yet I fell far behind the rest of the group and turned around early so I didn’t make a total fool of myself. And after the ride finished, the organizer sent a message around calling some of the cyclists in the group “slow” while bragging that the ride attracted cyclists at “all levels” (I can take a guess who he may have been referring to).

The Gear

I’ve owned the same pair of bike shorts for the last six years. And it’s only within the last year I’ve owned a proper bike shirt (note the use of singular nouns here). This has left me with just running clothes to wear during training, which are now full of bike grease and the smell of Lake Monona.

From now until September, I’ll be spending most of my days scouring the internet for outlet prices on workout gear that doesn’t break that bank. But those types of prices are the exception when it comes to triathlon gear.

The Only Leg That Comes Natural

The one portion of the triathlon I can say with 110% certainty that comes naturally is the run.

It took several months to get here after recovering from a stress fracture earlier this year, but my running times and endurance have consistently improved throughout the last three months.

This Sunday, I’ll be lining up on the shores of Lake Monona to compete in the Wisconsin Milkman Triathlon (70.3). For the time I may lose on swim and bike portions, the run will definitely make up for it.

After the race, I’ll have exactly three months left to learn how to open my eyes more–both in and out of the water–until Ironman Wisconsin.

{Photo credit: Flickr user malkovitchlicense}

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Cause I Run Kickstarter (+Q&A!)

20160327-IMG_9440(photo credit: Jon Cameron Photography)

I’ve always had a unique relationship with nature as an athlete. I have vivid memories of weaving in and out of the woods during cross country meets as early as kindergarden. My young, short body sensing the trees towering over me. My ears relishing the sound of leaves crunching with every step.

And even now, as I ramp up my Ironman training in my late 20s, I’m reminded nearly every day of the fond appreciation I have for a healthy planet. This sport relies on clean water to swim in, clear air to bike through and protected trails to run on.

But as I get older, I’m realizing that future athletes may not have the same opportunity as I’ve had running on protected trails in the woods and swimming in serene, clean lakes.

There’s lots we can do as athletes to protect the most pristine gym in the world (Mother Nature). Last year, I wrote about ways athletes can be greener on ActiveLifeDC.com. These recommendations included investing in a good reusable water bottle, recycling old running shoes and purchasing mindfully. Today I’m thrilled to be able to provide a recommendation for doing exactly that.

A friend of mine recently launched a new Kickstarter campaign, which combines two of my biggest passions: sustainability and fitness.

The campaign, called “Cause I Run,” is raising funds to launch a new activewear brand that’s not only made ethically and in the United States, but is also sustainable.

In addition to ensuring its products are made out of environmentally friendly material, Cause I Run also contributes 10 percent of every sale to various charities and non-profits, making a difference for people all around the globe.

Cause I Run founder Amanda Yanchury told me a bit about the new sustainable brand and campaign:

Q. Briefly tell us about the mission of the Kickstarter campaign and Cause I Run?
A. Cause I Run is sustainable activewear that gives back. We’ve got the business plan, the supply chain set up, and successful prototypes. Now, we just need help raising funds to pay for the first production round–that’s where the Kickstarter campaign comes in!

Q. What sparked the idea for the new enterprise?
A. We see products that give back all the time in other areas: shoes, eyeglasses, etc. To me, it seems as though my fellow runners–many of them raising thousands of dollars for charity year after year–would also like to purchase gear that does some good for the world. I started asking questions: Can we do activewear this way? Is it possible to make high-quality running apparel that uses recycled materials? Can I do all of this in the United States? I think the answer to these questions is ‘yes!’

Q. What’s the difference between the material used by Cause I Run and other activewear?
A. Our fabrics are easier on the environment without sacrificing high performance-level quality. Our tank-top is made from 100 percent recycled polyester. Our other two pieces are a blend of RPET and spandex. RPET is a polyester (with the same properties as any polyester garment you’d typically wear on a run), that’s produced from discarded plastic bottles. It reduces the waste that would otherwise pile up in landfills. One pair of our pants reuses between 18-27 plastic bottles! The fabrics are mid- to heavy-weight and suitable for three seasons. They’re a wicking material and are even treated with a natural odor-reducing property.

Q. Can you tell us more about the charities runners will be helping by purchasing activewear from Cause I Run?
A. The charities range from healthcare services to supporting women’s involvement in running and sports in unsafe regions, to economic assistance. Email subscribers should watch their inboxes for the announcement of our first charity partner very soon! We’re dedicated to choosing charities that make a sustainable impact for the community they serve. For future lines, we’ll be developing a system where organizations can apply to become a partner, and where repeat customers have a voice in choosing which ones will allow us to make the most impact.

FTR1(©Free to Run)

Q. After the Kickstarter campaign, does Cause I Run have any immediate and/or future plans to roll out other products?
A. Launching the web store with these first three pieces is our immediate priority, but after that we’ll go right into pre-production on our next line. In the works right now is a long-sleeve shirt with a detachable wrist opening for a GPS watch (many of them now have heart rate monitors built in, so they can’t be worn over clothing). We’ll also be producing our first men’s item(s) as well as introducing comfortable, organic cotton athleisure items. We value inclusivity, so we hope that we launch strongly enough to propel us into a place where can expand to maternity, plus size and more.

Q. Are there any other actions Cause I Run is taking toward sustainability?
A. We do sustainability two ways: in what we wear, and how we give. It’s important that we’re considering every step of our production process–our packaging, for example, will all be recycled (and recyclable). And like I alluded to above, we’re also committed to sustainability in our giving. So often, social enterprises mean well, but they end up dropping off a bunch of stuff that communities may not need. I want to work with charities that involve the people they’re serving into their mission, who listen and incorporate the assistance needed to make a lasting–sustainable–impact.

Q.Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. I’m really looking forward to bringing people into this process and creating a better option for runners everywhere who care about people and the planet. Pre-orders are open through May 21. Please share far and wide!


Click here to learn more about the Kickstarter campaign that will help launch the first production of Cause I Run activewear. I’m eager to try on the three-piece set (running tank + calf-length leggings + low-impact sports bra) I pre-ordered, so I’m crossing my fingers for a successful Kickstarter campaign!  

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Choosing an Ironman Training Plan

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38 years ago on today’s date, 15 athletes competed against each other on the coast of Hawaii. The goal was simple: find the toughest endurance athlete.

Unlike today, these 15 athletes didn’t have a stacks of books at the library or 567,000+ results on Google to help guide them to the perfect training plan or race strategy. Buoyant wetsuits weren’t used during the unprecedented event and aero bars hadn’t even been created.

Yet, all but three athletes finished the race.

Today, I have unlimited resources at my fingertips. I have seasoned athletes who’ve conquered the Ironman numerous times feeding me advice. I’m just a Google search away from any training question that comes up. And with so many Ironman plans to choose from, the options can actually be overwhelming.

Despite all these factors, part of me can’t help but feel a connection to these 15 athletes who took on the race in 1978. The race will mark the hardest endurance challenge I’ve ever conquered. The entire distance, 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle and 26.2-mile run, is something I don’t actually know for certain if I can finish. And I’ll be relying on a fairly basic bicycle without all the bells and whistles (though, more advanced than Dave Orlowski’s Sears Free Spirit 10) due to budget restraints.

Choosing a Plan

After several months of reading online articles, published books and in-person talks with other triathletes, I’ve chosen a 24-week plan based on Matt Fitzgerald’s Essential Week-By-Week Training Guide. The plan incorporates three phases: base phase, build phase and a peak phase. As with the running plans I’ve developed, every fourth week is a recovery week.

Fitzgerald’s book encompasses eight different levels for the full Ironman distance. While I’ve chosen one level based on my fitness today, I’ll be re-evaluating that decision every day based on how my body is reacting. Fitzgerald explains this best in the beginning of his book:

“You should never treat a training plan as a gospel. It’s impossible to always predict how your body will respond to training. When it doesn’t respond quite as expected, adjust your training appropriately or your fitness will stagnate or worse. Training well is about doing the right workouts at the right times and the only way to do the right workout every time to is to be responsive.”

Beyond the Swim, Bike and Run

Since finishing a book written by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn titled Going Long, the way I view Ironman training has changed dramatically.

From the first chapter of the book:

“The spirit of Ironman is much more than a race, more than a simple time goal. It is about the process of preparing yourself for one of the greatest endurance challenges you will ever face. Race day is but one aspect of your overall journey.”

Preparing the body for one of the greatest endurance challenges I’ll ever face requires training beyond the swim, bike and run. From my perspective, Going Long is one of the best resources out there for mapping out what the “beyond” means. From nutrition, which they describe as the “fourth discipline,” to emphasizing the importance of sleep, this book encompasses it all.

In my experience, the biggest challenge I’ve encountered on race-day can usually be attributed to the mind. Yet, I rarely, if ever, put any emphasis toward mental toughness during training. One of my favorite aspects of the book is in chapter 11, which provides techniques to approach the mental aspect of training.

Cautiously Optimistic

I’ve suffered two stress fractures in less than a year. I struggled with a disappointing marathon time in the fall. And even after spending hours and hours in the pool and lake, I’m still a slow swimmer. But despite all this, I have so many reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

I have training partners to hold me accountable. I have a training plan that can easily be adjusted, if needed. I have the gear already purchased.  And I have a successful half Ironman already under my belt.

Most importantly, I’ve developed a strong passion for this unique sport that puts my body up to the ultimate endurance challenge–without all the pounding.

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Silver Linings

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Almost exactly one year ago today, I confronted my feelings about an injury the only way I knew how–to write about it. In the midst of pouring out all of my emotions into a blog post, I was going to physical therapy two to three times a week where I suffered through dry needling and aggressive deep-tissue massages. I was limited to low-impact activities like swimming and biking. And worst of all, I had to forgo not one, but two marathon entries.

But as I confronted these feelings, I came to an unexpected conclusion: I actually really enjoyed the swimming and biking, which I could still do even when I was injured. Enjoying exercise even during an injury? This was a whole new concept to me. And that’s when I decided to set out a new goal. A goal that all my readers, friends and family would read and hold me accountable to: Finish a full Ironman in 2016. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post a year ago–

Set New Goals: All the biking and swimming I’ve done during these past few weeks reminded me how much I enjoyed training for a triathlon four years ago. And with all the excitement from last week’s Nation’s Tri, I couldn’t help but set my sight on a new goal. One that I’ve had my eyes on since college but put it off because I caught the marathon bug.

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That’s right, the biking and swimming Instagram updates aren’t going away even when my IT Band gets better. In 2016, I’m going to complete an Ironman: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run in less than 17 hours (the official time limit for an Ironman to actually count).

Why not 2015?  I’ve got lots of money to save to afford a new bike that’s capable of riding 112 miles (My road bike was stolen back in June) and I still want to qualify for Boston this year or next. But in the meantime, I’m happy to have finally found the silver lining in this ordeal.

Almost exactly one year later, I made the first of many steps to stick with this goal. I forked over the (expensive) race entry fee for Wisconsin Ironman 2016. With the advantage of being able to train on the actual course, which is just minutes from my house, I couldn’t feel better about this decision.

I have lots to work on until then, like my swim form and getting a few more miles on the bike. But I’ve already come so far since last year. I’m finally comfortable in the lake. My legs know exactly how brutal hills on the bike course actually are. And my running will continue to get better as long as I keep training smart. But all that said, I’m also glad I have an entire year to prepare.

I know the training throughout the next 12 months will have its ups and downs. But I have the advantage of that amazing feeling of coming across that finish line of Ironman 70.3. And as long as I carry that feeling with me during the next 12 months, I know I’ll have no problem getting out of bed in the morning to zip up my wetsuit, conquer the hills on the bike course and lace up my running shoes. Here’s to silver linings!

 

Photo credit

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10 Great Decisions During Triathlon Training

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After reflecting on six months of triathlon training, it’s easy to see where I went wrong and right. In fact, I could write a novel about what went wrong. But I’ll leave that list for another day. Today, I’m going to reflect on the good–actually, the BEST. I’m all about learning from our mistakes but every now and then we really need to give ourselves credit for crossing that finish line. Because if we did, that means we got lots of things right!

Some of these decisions were based on hours spent reading or talking with other triathletes, but the majority of these decisions were made simply because I went with my gut on most decisions.

#1 Listened to My Body
As a seasoned athlete, I know firsthand the benefits of listening to your body. But in this day and age, it’s easy to get lost in the mountains of information out there on the web instead of just going with what your body needs. During these last six months, I backed off when my legs were telling me to or slept an extra hour if my energy lagged. Some days, my mind screamed no but my legs screamed yes, so I went a little further.

#2 Gave Myself Time
Dealing with a stress fracture forced my hand in a very close relationship with the bike trainer and pool–a relationship at the time I didn’t welcome. Even before training really ramped up, I had two long months of no running and needed to keep myself occupied. As it turns out, those two months gave me extra time to build up to a base that I never had before. And by the time my training plan actually started, I was ready for anything.

#3 Ran Less
The majority of plans I read through stressed the importance of running less due to the pounding the body endures. “Make every run count,” several publications stated. And it worked. With running as little as once or twice a week, I was still ready by race day. But don’t worry, that little running was supplemented with more time on the bike and in the pool, which was much less pounding.

#4 Found Training Partners
Biking 60 miles a time gets boring. Very, very boring. And swimming in the lake alone is dangerous. After taking the plunge to join a triathletes group, I found training partners for both of these sports. From accountability, idea swapping to safety buffers, I’m so grateful for training partners.

#5 Experimented with Sport Drinks, Gels and Bars
Both the olympic triathlon and half-ironman takes several hours. That means lots of food, water and sport drinks are necessary to get the body through the day. But with such a sensitive stomach, it was important that I experimented with various types of food and drink before race day. After several months of trying different products out, I eventually got my nutrition down to an exact science. And by race day, I was prepared to fuel my body with what it was used to.

#6 Treated Myself
I’ve always had a runner’s appetite, which typically has me famished every few hours. But the hunger I had during peak training months turned me into a MONSTER. My body craved food all the time. Even with a protein-packed shake most mornings, I was still gobbling down food just a few hours later as if I hadn’t eaten in days. To help curb my cravings, I made a deal with myself. On weekends, when I’d pull myself away from my pillow at 5 a.m. and put the distance in, I’d treat myself to a score of goodies. As a result, I had something to look forward every week, instead of dreading waking up before the sun on a Saturday and Sunday.

#7 Ditched the Pool

Snip20150815_2 Several months ago, I showed up to what was the first of many open water swims in Lake Monona. At first, these swims were extremely uncomfortable and difficult. I’d panic on occasion while my mind would take over and scream at me about all the unknowns. After I finally let my guard down, I had new-found appreciation of the lake: I had the rare opportunity to intertwine my two passions in my life (nature and fitness) all in one adventure.

#8 Switched to Clip-Ins
The timing wasn’t a great decision, but the standard pedals had to go. Just two weeks before my race I switched out the standard pedals on my bike for “egg beaters.” Like I said, the timing was not great but by race day, it made a significant impact on my performance.

#9 Increased My Sleep Time
For many of us, exercise is not our only commitment in life. And sometimes, these other commitments can result in less sleep. But sleep is something most athletes should take seriously. Every now and then, a good night’s sleep does mean skipping a workout or leaving a party early but it’s ultimately a really good decision for your body.

#10 Had Fun
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I took the training seriously. The gear seriously. The time commitment seriously. But I didn’t take myself too seriously when it came to race day. I reminded myself to smile and have a good time. For my first 70.3, it didn’t matter to me what time I came through that finish line. All that mattered was that I finished and enjoyed the journey!

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How I Became a Confident {Woman} Cyclist

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The wind hitting my face. The tires rotating on the pavement. The force of my legs trudging up a hill. Those first few moments riding outside, after being stuck on a bike-trainer all winter, were unforgettable. The snow had finally melted in Wisconsin and temperatures were finally in double-digits again. My stress fracture had healed and I had gotten over a vitamin D deficiency, which partly contributed to the stress fracture.

But as my mileage gradually increased, rides lasting several hours at a time became the new normal. And that’s when the honey-moon phase of riding outside abruptly ended. Anxiety about getting a flat tire or the brakes going out dominated my every thought prior, during and after a long workout.

I craved the same confidence I had with running for cycling but had no idea where to start. I had more than two decades of experience with running under my belt and a coaching certificate hanging up on my wall. With cycling, I hardly knew the difference between a hybrid and road bike.

Then one day I stumbled across an article about a non-profit based out of Madison called “We Are All Mechanics,” an all women’s four-week program about basic bicycle maintenance. The program was founded in 2003 by two women in Madison, India Viola and Ali Dwyer, who saw a need for bicycle education in the community.

Because classes are a month long and are only taught by two teachers, getting a spot can be difficult. But you can sign-up for newsletters to be notified about upcoming classes. I started looking into this in March and successfully got in by April. Actually, my partner successfully got me in the the class by April as a birthday gift. And it’s definitely the gift that keeps on giving!

The Madison Charm
The classes took place within the repair area of Revolution Cycles, a unique and charming bike store located on the east side of Madison. As we sat in old movie theater chairs (all part of the charm!), two cats roamed the place and greeted each student. The shop is casual and has a hip vibe, which makes for a fun environment to learn in.

The two instructors also bring their own Madison charm to the mix. India, a scientist who also works part-time as a bicycle mechanic in Madison, is an avid year-round cyclist and can share an array of stories from her trans-America ride to leading the local “Mondays Around Monona.” Ali also brings a unique perspective to the class. A yoga instructor and accomplished cyclist, she can advise beyond the mechanics, including proper cycling form.

The duo make an excellent team coming from different backgrounds and are both engaging and patient with students.

Class One: An Overview of the Bicycle and Removal of Wheels
Right away, I was impressed with the small class size, which has a four-to-one student-teacher ratio. The small class size gives students the opportunity to ask the instructors as many questions as they want without feeling like a disruption.

India and Ali started out the first few minutes going through the basic anatomy of the bicycle. Then, we spent some time getting to know the various tools we’d be using throughout the course.

Each class came with a hands-on learning experience. This teaching method ensured that we’d actually apply the skills. During this particular class, the hands-on portion of the class involved taking the front and back bike tire on and off our bikes. While something like taking on and off a tire may seem so basic, it’s a critical step in knowing how to maintain and fix other parts of the bike. And this is where India and Ali really get this course right. Ensuring that students are confident with every step, no matter how big or small, is the key to ensuring confidence for the more technical aspects of taking care of your bike.

Class Two: How to Fix a Flat
Every cyclist should know how to fix a flat tire. You can take the precautions, like ensuring your tires are at the correct tire pressure or inspecting your tires every so often. But with tires, there’s just no guarantee you can avoid a flat. And it’s actually better if you just accept that and prepare for something that’s inevitable.

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Viola and Dwyer went over all this verbally for a few moments, then we were each given tools to take out the tube of the tire ourselves. I was stunned how quickly this can be done. All this time I was terrified of having to come across a flat but turns out, it’s not that scary!

This class was perfectly timed, too. Because without knowing how to take off the front and back tires as we learned in class one, it’s that much more difficult to fix/change a flat tire.

Class Three: Brakes
Class three was my favorite of all the classes. We were given an overview of the brakes, how they work and how the wheels and brakes work together, and then we spent time on brake adjustment and maintenance.

The lessons we learned were simple, just unscrewing/screwing the barrel adjusters to add or remove tension on the brake cable, but extremely useful. We also spent time on brake pads, which gave me the confidence a week later to change my own brake pads.

The brakes have always fascinated me the most because it’s one of the key elements of the of the bike that keeps me the safest. And now that I’m more familiar brakes, I can properly take care of them and feel safer on the road.

Class Four: The Chains and Gears
Prior to class four, Ali invited students to the class 30 minutes early to talk about bike fit. As I mentioned earlier, Ali is a yoga teacher in Madison. She had several tips on how to properly position yourself to ensure the best possible fit. She also showed us a few stretches we could do in an effort to have better posture.

When class started, we dove right into our last lesson: chains and gears. We spent a few moments going over the different aspects of the chain and gears and how to keep them properly lubricated. Then we each got to clean/lubricate our own bikes ourselves.

Confidence by Default
While Ali and India acquire the same knowledge most bike mechanics would, it’s the way these two pass down their knowledge that sets them apart from everyone else–in a judgment-free zone.

The $160 registration fee is well worth the money. In just one month of applying the skills I’ve learned, I’ve adjusted my brakes, replaced the brake pads, and cleaned the bike and lubricated the chains and gears. I even purchased a fixie at a garage sale to give me an incentive to take my knowledge to the next level. And in general, I now ride with more confidence. I’m not only prepared for something that may go wrong on a ride, but most importantly, I proactively prevent things from going wrong on a ride. The $160 is a long-term investment. Just like a car, by performing routine maintenance, you’ll ensure that bike has a longer and healthier life!

For more information about We Are All Mechanics, check out their website.

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