Lessons on the road to becoming an Iron Girl: Cycling tips and cliff notes for beginner triathletes.

A few years ago, when I decided that I wanted to be a triathlete, I had not considered the costs, both financial and time, of doing so. I had not really thought through the level of commitment that would be required for me to be successful in this endurance sport. Needless to say, I have learned a lot about this sport over the course of this year's triathlon season. And while I am by no means an expert, I do believe that I have learned a few things that a beginner triathlete or one considering joining this sport would benefit from knowing. I will start with cycling. If you are like me, you probably feel like cycling should be the easiest of the three sports. I mean, you probably road a bike as a child...how hard could it be? Well, it was harder than I expected...and there was a lot that I didn't know when I started.

Here are a couple of things that I learned about cycling that may make your training a bit easier:

1. Choose your bike carefully. If you are buying a new bike, you really need to do your homework. By this I mean, you need to not just research online to learn about the types of bikes available and the prices, but you also need to physically go into a good bike shop and actually try out a few bikes. Each bike fits differently, so it is important that you test ride a few bikes before purchasing one. Road bikes are not one size fit all. They come in various sizes and shapes. The manufacturers of road bikes use several types of materials (e.g., aluminum, carbon, alloy blends, etc.) to construct components of the bike (e.g., frame, stems, gears, etc.). All of these factors affect the price and weight of the bikes. In short, lighter bikes with carbon frames are much faster on the road, but they are also much more expensive. Additionally, the type of gear system that comes with each bike (e.g., Shimano 105, Shimano Tiagra, Shimano Ultegra, etc.) affects both the speed and price of the bike. Having said that, you should have a price point in mind when you start shopping..but be prepared to spend at least $800 on your new road bike.

2. Getting the right fit for your bike. If you are going to take a stab a endurance racing/cycling, then the fit of your bike is very important. There is nothing worse than riding 30-50 miles on a bike that is too big or too small or your seat/saddle or handle bars are not properly set for your body. If your bike doesn't fit, your body will hurt during and after the long bike ride. When your bike doesn't fit properly, you probably won't ride as much as you should to train properly for a race. 

Whether you are purchasing a bike or using one that you already have, consider going to your local bike shop to get professionally "fit" for your bike. In the fitting process, a bike mechanic or expert with watch you ride, take a few measurements, and make adjustments to your bike (saddle/seat, handlebars/hood, cleats and pedals, etc) to make you more comfortable and prevent injuries. They may also recommend a saddle for you that better fits your body. I went through three saddles before settling in on one. Depending on the bike shop, a professional bike fitting generally costs $80-$200. Be prepared to pay a little extra if your fitting requires the replacement of certain bike components (e.g., shorter/longer stem for your handle bars, new seat/saddle, etc.).

3. Invest in safe and comfortable gear. There are a few essential items that you need to purchase before hopping on your new bike. First things first, get yourself a bicycle helmet. I suggest going into a bike shop and trying on a few helmets to find one that fits your head...and hair type especially if you wear natural hair styles (e.g., braids, locs, etc.). Your helmet should fit snug on your head after you adjust the chin straps. Secondly, you should invest in a pair of cycling sunglasses to protect your eyes from debris or bugs that you may encounter while riding. You don't have to spend a ton of money on these, but a good pair of cycling glasses is essential.

Third, be sure to find yourself a good cycling jersey. Cycling jerseys have pockets in the back for you to carry important items like cell phones and nutrition (e.g., energy bars, gels/electrolytes, etc.). These can be purchased online for very reasonable prices, $30-$70 or so. Fourth, buy cycling shorts that fit your body. What do I mean? Well my first pair of cycling shorts did not fit well...they were too big. I didn't realize that there was a problem until I went on my first long training ride. Because my shorts were too big, I had a bad case of chafing in my inner thighs, etc. It was a painful and valuable lesson learned. Note: You may want to also invest in a good anti-chafe creme like Chamois Butt'r to help reduce the possibility and severity of chafing during long rides. You may also want purchase a pair of cycling gloves to protect your hands from blisters and scrapes that may occur during falls or stumbles.

And finally, it is worth it to invest in a pair of road cycling shoes and cleats if you intend on staying in the sport. Using cycling shoes and cleats increases your pedaling efficiency and power during long rides. Note: The best time to buy your shoes and cleats is when you purchase your bike and bike pedals as you would need to make sure that the pedals and cleats match.

4. Training: There are a few different ways to start your cycling training. You can train indoors by taking cycling classes at local cycling studios and gyms. There are some programs that are more focused on endurance training for cyclist than general exercise. I recommend that you seek these out. You could also purchase a stationary cycling trainer to connect to your road bike for use during the off season or when the weather doesn't permit outdoor riding. There are DVD and other online training resources, like the Spinervals program, which provide training regimens and plans to use with stationary bike trainers.

These options are helpful if you you are highly self motivated. If not, I recommend that you train and ride with a team or a group. As a new cyclist, there are so many things to learn about cycling that you could learn from more experienced riders. For example, it is very difficult to learn how to ride in a pack if you are training alone. I enjoy team sports and training, so this was ideal for me. I loved the idea of preparing for an event or race with the team. We supported and encouraged each other along the way.Even though we raced as individuals, we made each other better because we trained together.

Hope some of this information helps those of you considering this great sport. I'm still a newbie, but I will definitely be back in the game next season. Good luck and God Bless!

Love you much, 

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