Thursday, June 20, 2013

Making A Carbon Sandwich, or How To: Pack Your Triathlon Bike

(Un)packing my bike is one of my least favorite parts of traveling to train and race.  However, my bike is one of my most important pieces of equipment, and by far the most expensive, so (un)packing it properly is essential.

Every time I pack my bike I am going to war with ticket agents, baggage handlers, and the TSA.  Sun Tzu says there is an art to war.  I say there is an art to packing a bike.

Arming Yourself

*Towel - which does triple-duty for practice swims and transition towel
*Masking tape
*Electrical tape - which does double-duty for attaching gels to bike frames
*Two or three twist ties
*Latex, or similar, gloves
*Allen key (aka hex wrench) multi-tool
[NOTE: I ride Shimano pedals, which can be removed using a size 6 Allen key, the largest Allen key on the Park Tools Allen key multi-tool.  Your pedals may require a pedal wrench, or another type of tool to remove them.]

*Two "skewers"

Go to the hardware store and buy a length of threaded, 1/4" or 3/8" metal rod, with 8 each of the appropriate-sized washers and nuts.  Have the store pre-cut the threaded metal rod into a 6" piece (for the fork) and an 8" piece (for the rear triangle, which is the space between the seat stays and chain stays normally filled by the rear wheel).

Total cost of materials: $5-6.
Arriving at the race without a cracked fork or crushed rear triangle: PRICELESS.

On both ends of each pre-cut piece place the hardware in the order nut-washer-washer-nut.  The fork and rear triangle drop-outs will go between the washers; pictures of this are further down.

*Packing material

Go to a bike store and ask for a complete set of the packing material which arrives on new frames and wheels.  At the very least you want the hub protectors (I'm currently operating on three..., four is ideal) and the styrofoam frame tube protectors.

Total cost of materials: $0 (or a six-pack of beer).
Avoiding unnecessary scratches from loose items in the bike box: PRICELESS.

*Three plastic bags similar to those dispensed in the produce section of the grocery store.
*Two ziploc bags, at least one of which is gallon size.

For reassembly, you will need latex gloves, the same multi-tool (or the same tools) required for dis-assembly, and a small amount of carbon assembly paste (assuming you have a carbon frame and/or components; which here is pale red and in a small jewelry baggie).  A torque wrench is optional to re-tighten screws on carbon components.

Carbon assembly paste is anti-lubricant for normally slippery carbon-to-carbon contact.  The paste has the consistency of stiff toothpaste, and like some whitening toothpastes, feels gritty in texture due to the microscopic particles which minimize the slippage between the carbon.  The only places it should be used during bike re-assembly is bar/stem face plate, and seat post/seat post collar.

Battle Strategy

NOTE: Mark stem/bar position and saddle height before touching anything.  Electrical tape (as below), a sharpie, or a paint pen work well.

Shift into the biggest gear (biggest ring in the front, smallest ring in the back).

Remove anything from the frame and bars that isn't tied down: seat post (keeping saddle and rear bottle cages attached), aerodrink mount, pedals, Bento box, saddle bag, etc..  The only items I leave attached is the frame bottle cage and my SRM PowerControl mount.

Loosen the stem's face plate so the bars can drop.  DON'T totally remove the bars yet, unless you feel their weight won't stress the cables/housing as the bars just hang there, and that having them flop around won't bother you while wrapping the tubes.  Remove the front wheel.

The first time you pack your bike will take the longest; two hours for me.  Most of the time is spent matching the proper length of styrofoam frame tube protectors to each tube, and labeling them all.  Two hours three years ago and every subsequent time I pack it takes me less than two minutes to protect all the tubes.

Cover every piece of tube, except...

Protecting the right chain stay is optional.  The drive train components and chain gets packed next to and around it so I have found the styrofoam only gets in the way. 

I put a piece behind the seat post collar.

I protect each crank arm.

I also protect the frame's face plate and head tube.

Remove the rear wheel and place the now wheel-and-accessory-less frame into the bike box.  I orient the frame so that the bars point toward the handle I use to pull the box on its wheels.  The bars and fork should be turned right (toward the lid of the box), so that the bars (which are still loosely in the stem) flop onto the fork, facing the ceiling, and that both sides of the fork lay against the bottom of the case, rather than have the left side of the fork down (toward the floor) and the right side of the fork up (toward the ceiling).

NEVER PUT YOUR FRAME IN THE BIKE BOX WITH THE CHAIN RINGS DOWN.  I mean, unless you like riding on bent chain rings, misaligned chain ring teeth, a kinked chain, and a bent derailleur hanger.

Orient the crank arms so that the left one (toward the floor in this picture) runs along the left chain stay.

Put in the rear triangle "skewer."  Remember: nut-washer-rear-drop-out-washer-nut.  Tighten the nuts so the "skewer" won't fall out.

Use the twist-ties to secure the chain to the big chain ring.

Remove the rear derailleur using the appropriate size Allen key.  It's one bolt, with no washer or nut, and the bolt does not come out of the derailleur.  The hanger remains attached to the bike.

Put the rear derailleur, the corresponding cable and housing, and some chain, into one of the plastic produce bags.

Bundle the bag around its contents, keeping the derailleur tucked close to the right chain stay and inside (toward the floor in this picture) the rear triangle.

Wrap the excess bag about the right seat stay and secure the end with masking or electrical tape.

Put in the fork "skewer."

I like to wrap the entire fork, including up and over the front brake caliper.  I use a sleeve of bubble wrap, but anything soft (another towel? the leg off an old wetsuit?) will do.

Remove the stem's face plate, take out the bars (the shifter and brake cables and housing, and maybe a bike computer cable, should now be the only connection between the bars and the rest of the bike), and re-attach the face plate to the rest of the stem tightly so it won't rattle.

Getting the bars to lay flat across the fork may require some twisting of the cables, which is fine as long as you don't pull while you twist.

Lay the towel across the fork, front brake caliper, head tube, stem and face plate, and top tube.

Lay the bars across the towel, finding a spot where the bars will lay without sliding.  Push down gently to simulate what will happen when the box is closed and strapped tight.  If things don't nestle together, adjust the towel and bars.

Put the seat post/saddle/rear bottle cage assembly into one of the plastic produce bags.

Seat post first and with the rear bottle cages facing the rear drop outs, stick the bag into the rear triangle.

Wrap the third plastic produce bag around the seat post collar area so nothing loose gets into your frame....and never gets out again.

Put the real skewers into the gallon-sized ziploc bag, and nestle them along the top tube.

Put the pedals into the second ziploc bag and nestle them in a nook somewhere.  The pedals are heavy and if allowed to rattle around unchecked, will definitely damage something.

Put the wheel hub protectors in.

Fill the extra spaces with soft and light items as you prefer.  I leave the rear triangle area empty except for the seat post, as there are just so many delicate - and expensive - components nearby.

Start the carbon sandwich: foam on top of frame then wheels.  I put the cassette facing down and roughly aiming to the middle of the rear triangle below it on the other side of the foam.  It's a pressure distribution thing.

Finish the carbon sandwich: foam on top of wheels then lid.

I connect all straps, and only then tighten all straps evenly, so the lid pushes on all parts of the sandwich with similar pressure.

I know the process seems a bit over-protective, and some of the steps probably are, but the replacement value of my race set-up is pretty much the down-payment on a small house so I consider the effort to be thorough worth the investment of time.  And while the first time packing a bike can be slow - and feel like an over-sized arts and crafts project - repetition (many times I have (un)packed four times in a two week period, and too often to count, twice in less than 36-48 hours) brings efficiency: I can pack it in 20-25 min (even stopping to take pictures only took 36 min) and unpack in 10 min.

And now to war...come home with your shield or on it...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Christmas In July

I wonder what Santa puts under the Christmas Drying Shoe Tree this time of year.

If I shake it just right, it sounds like faster run times.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tri Tyler Half: Lonely Is Hard To Survive

The Tri Tyler Half is an organized-by-locals, second-year race in Tyler, TX.  Between that and its billing as the "Hardest Half in Texas," the participants who self-select to register are...there for a pretty good reason.

My reason was that about 10 days beforehand, the thought of another week of "just" training filled me with boredom dread.  It was time to race.  Probably past time, in fact and in some people's minds, but I had needed to feel "ready," as I kept telling everyone.  But "ready" didn't have a definition attached.  I figured I would know it when I felt it, and suddenly I felt it.  It turns out "ready" was knowing that I had put myself on that start line, in order to really own the outcome.  Whatever that outcome would turn out to be.

Stick a fork in me.  I'm ready.

Well That Was Unexpected

I can honestly say I didn't expect the swim to go like it did.  I hoped it wouldn't go horribly - I mean, I always hope that the swim doesn't go horribly, which is like dancing about architecture - but the kind of calm, collected, efficient, evenly-paced swimming which ensued was pretty much nothing like any previous swim leg I've raced.  So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I PR'd the distance by about a minute, solidly breaking the somewhat-coveted 30 min barrier.  I even managed to do that in usually slow conditions - alone (vs. with/around people) and in a speedsuit (vs. a wetsuit).

Normally I measure my performance by comparison to those whom I'm chasing (and usually losing time to).  The pack of men I chased dangled just out of reach, finishing about 90 seconds up, which is kind of like finishing a marathon within sight of the Kenyans, and for probably the first time I ever, I actually put time into someone!  I beat the other woman in my wave out of the water by nearly 9 minutes.

Let the loneliness begin.

Planes, Trains, and Hunting Hills

I want to preface the rest of this report with the fact that from the first conversation I had about the Tri Tyler Half, I heard about the hills.  Hills on the bike, hills on the run, hills on the swim if they could arrange it.  Up, down, swooping, tiered, and diving.

Ok, so hills.  There were going to be some, they started after mile 25, and I had best keep some powder dry for them.  We had a plan, which started conservative from what I could probably do if it was a flat course, and then further conserved for hills.

Now I'm out there all alone, hunting them thar hills.  Long story short: I kept too much powder dry, because it turns out hills are relative.  I was expecting epic, I got pretty normal for a long ride west of Austin.  In my race notes, I said that I could have done another 56-mile lap, and faster, after the first.  So clearly, although I had written fine and steady etc etc, it was too reserved.

The two women chasing me got caught early on at a train crossing, amassing a group of about 10 racers as they waited.  The group worked together for the next 40-some miles and my 9 minute gap after the swim was probably a minute, maybe 90 seconds, off the bike.

Positive: followed the plan and felt solid off the bike.  Negative: other people went faster in a group.

During Which I Found All The Hills In East Texas

As much as the bike was oversold, the run was undersold.  I heard one description that actually (in retrospect) did it justice, and I was all "that can't be true, that would be horrible."  Believe it people: horrible.

It was like running on the edge of a saw:

 The bright spot was that off the bike, in the "flat" part, I was running well, at a pace that I would have been happy to hold for a whole 13.1 miles - and I thought I might be able to hold it for 13.1 miles.  Somewhere around the time I was facing a ramp into the sky - a straight climb, flanked by mature trees, split by a double-yellow line which led to blue (meaning that I couldn't see over the crest) - the bright spot faded.

I maintained my lead until just past the turn-around.  A friend of mine recently - and wisely - said that running in the lead is running in fear.  [How would I know?  I've never led anything before!]  Turns out that truism is doubly true when you are actively engaging in damage control.  I knew the pass was coming, I just didn't know when, and I knew that when it did there was going to be little I could do about it.

So that happened.  And with the trees and turns and ups and downs, then I was alone again, left to my own flailings and failings.

The Many-Sided Coin

I count at least three sides on this coin.  I got paid, and actually broke somewhat even for the trip overall.

My biggest regret is that when the race came to me - up until the turn-around of the run, it was really happening somewhere behind me - I wasn't in a condition to participate.  I needed to fight, but I could only limit losses.

But aside from the swim, the biggest positive is having raced.  I finished wanting to do it again, soon, and knowing that I would be fine to do it again, soon.  And so, I am doing it again, at the end of June. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Unreported Side Effects

Every job has some aspect that no one ever thought to tell you about.  When secretaries first started training on typewriters, someone forgot to mention repetitive stress syndrome.  No one warned the microwave popcorn factory workers about "popcorn lung".

I knew I'd get bike tan lines.  I didn't expect them to be on my hands.

My fore-fingers are a different shade than my pinkie fingers.  A tan line runs the line of my knuckles.  And it's only May.  

Consider yourself warned about what happens when you ride around with your hands like this.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Haute Cuisine

I frequently get asked about my training and race (meaning when actually in motion) nutrition.  Here it is.

A Moveable Feast

Since this is a picture of a 50lb. bag of granulated, unflavored maltodextrin (the highly processed sugar of corn) milled at a plant in Iowa, you can understand why my answer is often met with a combination of bewilderment and disbelief.

I take a certain mass of odor-less, taste-less, pure-carbohydrate white power, mix it in a certain volume of water to a certain dilution, and drink a certain volume of the diluted mix every 20 minutes while moving.  It doesn't even taste sweet.

My tolerance to Iocane powder is inconceivable!  [Sorry, had to.]

When sold as Carbo-Pro in triathlon stores, two pounds costs $30-40.  I bought this 50 lbs. bag for $100 and it lasted me 3 years.  Because it doesn't really have most of the normal properties of sugar until mixed with water, bugs don't even notice it.  [With these facts in hand, it shouldn't really surprise you that maltodextrin is the #1 sugar additive to cereals.  Cheap, caloric, easy to store, tastes like whatever you add to it.]

For those who think that I can eat whatever I want because I am "always working out,"  3-5 meals per week consist of 24-72 oz of this - a tasteless, clear liquid only slightly more viscous than water - and water.  Not quite 3-Michelin-Star dining.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Swim Practice Might Be Early If...

it both starts and ends before the parking meters require payment.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

These Colors Don't Run

Last Tuesday was the last training session for the Couch-to-5K program I was coaching.  We finished the eight weeks off with a bang and celebrated with a hearty cheer of victory.  The picture was too good not to share, despite the blacked out faces my contract requires.

Go us!

The 5K race to which the group has been building was on Saturday, The Color Run: Austin.  The race's premise is based on the Hindu religious festival of Holi, although all that remains in the Americanized, non-religious version is people throwing colored powders onto participants and into their faces as they complete a 5K course.

Everyone to whom I described the race that would run 5K for time had the same response: "the last thing I want while running a race is to have someone throw colored dust at me."  Everyone to whom I described the race that has never run a 5k had the same response: "cool."  My group was very excited.

It was actually cold in the morning before the start, 48 degrees when I left the house, so I led them in a short warm-up before they joined the tremendous number of racers.

Everyone wears a white shirt and passes through four powder color stations - yellow, blue, pink, and orange - in addition to crossing paths with roaming race officials carrying insecticide sprayers full of liquid paint in turquoise, green, and other vivid colors.

I rode around the course on my bike, taking pictures and trying to stay up-wind from the paint powder.  You can see how far the pink plume spread.

Some people go on their merry way, albeit while wearing a tutu, and are decorated with whatever colors come their way.

Others embrace a basting. 

Still others may have emerald hair for a few days.

There is color and color-lovers everywhere.  I told my group that it was by far the most colorful pre-race area I had ever seen.  Most triathlons are just a sea of black, white, red, and blue, with the occasional pink highlight.  Not many tutus in triathlon either, which is a shame.

Again, these are all pictures of people I did not train.  Those I cannot share, but I finally can share my employer.  Disney.  I was contracted by (familiar to triathletes as the IM race registration website, but they have a whole different section for training athletes) to train local Disney employees.  So I guess all of the color at their goal race makes sense, right?

I thought I successfully avoided any major coloring incidents.  Then I blew my nose when I got home and it was blue and orange.
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