Wednesday, July 18, 2012

US National MTB Championships Camps by Power On!

I can't tell you how excited I am that MTB Nats are finally coming back to the Right Coast.   It has been a long time since the East hosted Nats and an even longer time since pro XC racing visited PA.  I remember watching Kris (my wife) race the NORBA Championship races at Seven Springs more than a decade ago and that was the last time PA played host to the top level national XC series.  Better yet, this time around it is the US National Championships and the race is coming to Pennsylvania to a course that exemplifies the technicality and challenge of Pennsylvania mountain biking.

Bear Creek Ski Resort in Macungie, PA is hosting the championships in 2013 and 2014 at their beautiful facility not far from Allentown and Philadelphia.  The resort is top notch and they've been running Mid-Atlantic Series Championship events as well as regional USAC series races for years so they are well practiced and will be pulling together a great show.

A few months ago I received a call from Bear Creek's Events Director Gary Kline asking Power On to put together some camps and training plans for the Championships.  We are very excited that Power On is the official coaching organization for the Bear Creek Nationals!

As such we are working on a series of camps and clinics along with some Nationals focused training plans we will roll out in the fall.

Mid-October will bring the camps to life and a series of spring, summer and fall camps at the Bear Creek resort and on the Nationals' courses will offer those racers focused on the best possible Nationals preparation a chance to learn the courses and the training methods to take them to their maximal potential on race day!

US National Mountain Bike Championship Camps at Bear Creek (exact dates will be posted soon!):


Mid to Late March
Late June

Mid to Late March
Late June

Each camp will have a slightly different focus depending upon the time of year though all will include a healthy dose of course preview riding!

Addtionally, professional riders with a wealth of experience on the Bear Creek course will be joining us for these camps as will specialists in other aspects of proper prepation - diet, mental training, massage therapy, cross training and more depending upon the camp.  Camp participants will learn from some of the best coaches and ride with some of Bear Creek's most successful racers over the course the weekends.

Lodging is available through Bear Creek and we strongly recommend staying on site as it will make your experience that much more enjoyable!  However, Bear Creek is a very popular place and we do recommend that you book your rooms early.

Camp registration will be on BikeReg - links coming soon.

Camps will be 2-3 days long depending upon the time of year.

Check out Power On's other camps including February's South Carolina Base Training camp and April's Mountain Bike Camp on the Trans-Sylvania Epic Trails!  Of course, the TSEpic is fantastic training for nationals too and there may be no better way to prepare for the technical rocky nature of Bear Creek's course than a week long dose of PA riding at the Trans-Sylvania Epic!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bike Handling Skills

Dirt. That’s what I eat as Pro Triathlete and Xterra racer Gered Dunne escorts me on my first mountain bike ride near White River Junction, VT. Sporting a top end Giant Mountain bike and a pair of bike gloves, I think to myself that ‘I’ll figure this out—whatever “it” is.’ Adjusting my shocks and seat height, Dunne promises to buy me lunch after we finish. Needless to say, lunch wasn’t necessary: the dirt filled me up.

Riding on fat tires though the woods is like screaming through a mogul field, switching back and down a double black diamond with increasing speed. Riding up over rocks, carving down packed trails, and angling the handlebars through trees to avoid “The Handlebar Straddle”—accompanied  by that unpleasant jolt where the bike stops and the rider continues head first into the dirt—requires concentration, agility, and technical perfection. Unlike road time-trialing where there may be room for a loose corner, a tree branch bludgers your face when you don’t hit the correct line on a mountain trail. It didn’t take long to get use to the woods: exhilaration replaced my fear of the trail as I maneuvered through a series of obstacles without losing momentum. After only one ride, mountain biking has became a sport I want to pursue in the future.

With that said, my brief trail experience translates directly to my road riding and time trialing. The technical nature of mountain biking highlighted the level of my bike handling skills. It isolated places where I might improve—speed control, maintaining momentum, and cornering—to become a faster road rider. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to ride a mountain bike to highlight areas of improvement, but we can all practice technique on our road bikes. The more comfortable you feel on your bike, the more you can concentrate on your race approach, and the faster you will ride. Could practicing these skills help you become a faster rider?     

Ideas and Skills for Road Riders/Triathletes to Consider-

Riding in a Straight Line: Riding in a straight line is the first skill riders must master. Riders do this by pushing down on the crank to get up to speed—the faster one rides in a straight line, the more stable the bike is—while simultaneously keeping the front wheel straight through a firm, but comfortable grip on the handlebars. As the rider keeps his/her elbows in an athletic flex, his/her upper body remains relaxed and only a little weight is placed on the handle bars. The body naturally follows the head and eyes. The rider wishing to ride in a straight line looks straight ahead about 20-30 meters, and the bike follows suit.

Braking and Speed Control: Effective braking takes both brakes into account. The front brake has significantly more braking power than the back brake; however, the rider has significantly less control over the steering column—the bike naturally straightens out—when he/she engages the front brake. Technically skilled cyclists employ the back brake first, fluttering the front brake when they wish to slow more quickly. The fastest cyclists are not afraid to use their brakes but they use them to effectively control their speed rather than braking to stop. These cyclists primarily control their speed using the back brake. They avoid sudden stops whenever possible, especially while riding in a group.   

Emergency Stopping and Body Position while Braking: There are times when riders must stop quickly, using both brakes. Body position becomes imperative when these situations arise. While leveling the crank so that it parallels the ground, the rider shifts his/her weight towards the back of the saddle. The rider’s hands maintain a firm grip on the bars with his/her fingers placing pressure on the brakes. The rider’s elbows remain flexed but not locked, allowing them to absorb any shock from the road. A skidding rear wheel indicates that the rider’s weight is coming forward. To prevent this uncomfortable situation, the rider flutters the front brakek while pushing his/her weight back to stabilize the bike.  

Cornering: The next few skills are more advanced and almost every cyclist can benefit practicing them. Like carving on alpine skis, cornering depends on body position and timing. As an elite cyclist approaches a corner, his/her arms are relaxed, his/her fingers are touching the brake leavers, and he/she slows to a speed in which it is safe to corner. The cyclist begins the turn as wide as possible and focuses his/her eyes on the place he/she wishes to go. Just before the cyclist reaches the corner, he/she begins to lean the bike towards the corner’s apex while keeping his/her body straight up and down. The rider stops peddling while straightening his/her outside leg and inside arm. He/she may wish to place pressure on this leg and arm. This is called counter steering. The inside leg and outside arm relax. The rider does his/her best to reduce speed before the corner as not to hit the brakes through corner. Braking through a corner jeopardizes a rider’s steering ability and impedes his/her ability to carry momentum through the turn. After riding past the apex, the rider resumes peddling and accelerates out of the turn. Note: cornering uphill may require the rider to increase speed before cornering.

Descending: Fast descenders ride in the most aerodynamic position possible. They do this by laying down on the aero bars or putting their hands on the drop bars. They note the wind resistance hitting their body and attempt to limit this opposing force by crouching forward on their bike and limiting the surface area of the front of their body. When these riders approach a corner, they often use wind resistance to slow to the desired speed. They may switch their hand position, allowing for optimal steering/braking. They follow the cornering technique discussed above. When descenders feel less comfortable, they situate their hands on the hoods, stand with flexed knees on the peddles, shift their weight back, place their chest low and level to the top tube, and push the bike in front of them slightly. These modifications ensure optimal steering/braking control while increasing stability and shock absorption.        

Climbing: Great climbers get comfortable ASAP. On steep climbs, seated riders shift their body weight forward to keep the front wheel on the ground. Perched on their seat with little weight on their handlebars, they tighten their core and hover over their bars. The potential energy, created as the upper body hangs over the legs, turns kinetic as these athletes employ it to turn their legs. These riders look for a smooth peddle stroke and do their best to maintain a constant effort. They often concentrate on relaxing their throat and breathing deeply during a tough climb.  
Technique out of the saddle tends to be more personal. Many riders keep their upper body stable while shifting the bike from side to side. It’s natural to lift perceived effort while out of the saddle. For long climbs, it may be best to maintain the effort felt when seated depending on the distance left to the finish line.

Momentum: Remember that time-trialing is about speed. If you find yourself pushing an enormous amount of power and only increasing your speed by .2 mph, it may be advantageous to back off and save your energy. Look to maintain and increase momentum wherever possible. Putting a little power at the right time—over the crest of a hill or on a false flat—may help save energy over the duration of a race. If you are riding with a group, however; it may be best to stick with them. Groups usually ride faster than individual riders.

I hope this overview helps you become a more comfortable, faster rider. Please make sure that your bike is well tuned (brakes!!!) and that your bike fits properly before you practice these techniques. Don’t forget to practice in a safe place!

If you’re a beginner/intermediate rider who wants to become a more comfortable, faster rider and needs some individual attention, give me a call.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach
Mt. Bike fall: Google "Utah Travel Photos"
Cornering: Google "Perfect Cornering" Photo

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

“A Clean Bike Is A Fast Bike” - Olympic Silver Medalist, Brian Walton  

A few years ago, I decided to get my bike tuned at Cadency Cycling and Multisport.  Pushing my stuttering, mud-caked Specialized through the door--and past all the new, pristine, and well oiled machines--I saw the mechanic’s eyes bulge. “Jon, have you been off roading with that thing?” asked the mechanic, “road bikes are made for the road.” Laughing in shame, I glance the other way only to see the larger than life, Brian Walton, descending the stairs. Walton’s impressive resume as a 3 time Olympian has always made him seem tall to me—although, standing on level ground, his head barely reaches my shoulder.  Smiling, he cracked a joke about my bike which didn't register in my star-struck mind. Then Walton states: “Jon, you want to race fast? You’ve got to have a fast bike. A clean bike is a fast bike.” This may be the most influential advice that the Olympian ever divulged to me. As athletes, we always want to perform to the best of our ability. We wish to achieve our absolute potential in that fleeting moment. With that said, we never want to be limited by our equipment. We never want to find ourselves distracted in a race because of a weird sound, malfunctioning gears, and the like. Any such distraction takes our focus off of racing, finishing, and achieving absolute potential.   

Now, the phrase “a clean bike is a fast bike” is slightly misleading because it suggests that a clean bike is a well maintained bike. Of course, this may not be the case. But in the act of cleaning, a rider explores the bike. It provides time to look for loose screws, a worn down break/cable/ chain, irregular sounds, ect. Cleaning one’s bike weekly—and in special detail the week before a race—allows time for the rider to replace components and/or make an appointment at the local bike shop if more extensive work is required. It also allows time to understand how the machine works. The goal is not only to prevent the chance of a break down or loss of power transfer, but to also gain a working knowledge of the machine so you are  prepared to fix it in a race-emergency situation.

So how might you go about cleaning your bike?

1.) Hose the bike down with water, washing off any loose dirt. Be careful on the water pressure, especially around any electronic containers like a bike computer or power meter.

2.) Wipe the bike down with a towel.

3.) Spray the bike with a watered down degreaser such as Simple Green. Wipe off the grease with a towel. I usually begin with the least dirty parts of the bike (the seat and frame) and move toward the components. Any dark grease spot should be cleaned off, even on the crank, derailleur, derailleur pulleys, break leavers, and chain. Allow that metal to shine.  

4.) Take off the wheels and be sure to get the grease off of the sides, spokes, hub, breaks and fork. Flip the bike over and clean the bottom of the bike, including the cables.

5.) To clean the rear cassette, spray degreaser on the edge of a towel. Next, place that edge between each of the cogs and wipe away the grease.

6.) For other hard to get areas, a toothbrush may help.

7.) Put back on the wheels and tighten the screws and bolts with a bike tool. It’s best not to mess with the derailleur screws, leave those up to the mechanic at your local bike shop.

8.) Reapply grease on the chain. Then wipe all excess grease off.

9.) Pick up your bike and run it through the gears to make sure the cables are working well.

10.) Pick up your bike about an inch from the ground and drop it on the wheels—hold on, of course! Address any rattling you hear.

11.) Examine all other gear including your helmet, cleats, shoes, race wheels, and tires for deterioration. Replace anything needed. Be sure to sure to try anything new before racing—especially if you adjust your bike cleats.

Now, take your bike for a test ride. Your clean, screw tightened, well oiled machine should feel like adding another smooth, frictionless joint to the body. This connection provides a sense of assurance; the confidence that you are getting the best power transfer, and that your bike won’t break down and cause a crash. DO NOT question whether your bike will hold up throughout training or racing. Clean it, maintain it, and know that you have done everything possible to ensure that it does not limit you from achieving your potential.   

Let me know of any questions

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cycling and Triathlon Specific Workouts:

In light of yesterday’s discussion on brick workouts (below), I received some e-mails asking for an brick workout example and how one might go about executing it.  Thus, I will provide two workouts. First, you will find a brick workout for triathletes/duathletes. Second, I will provide a bike specific workout for those who focus on cycling races.    

Triathlon Workout

Brick Workout: 2 hours in duration @ the track

Warm up for 30 minutes biking: Ride slowly and do some fast cadence drills; work to increase your heart rate.

Warm up for 15 minutes running: start running at a slow to moderate pace; do some drills like skipping and side stepping, shift into some 75-100 meter pickups.

Main set: 3x(10 minute bike + 5 minute run) (10 min) @ race pace. That is, 3 sets of 10 minutes biking at race pace effort (cadence 90-100) transitioning—as if in a race—to a 5 minute run at race pace on the track. Take 10 minutes of easy rest (jogging or biking) before doing the next set.

This workout is designed to help athletes maintain fitness built over the winter. Workouts can be executed in an infinite number of ways. Although one way to approach this brick is to go all out, another way to complete it is to work on race pace precision. The athlete who takes the latter approach looks for the opportunity to feel race pace. When transitioning to the run, he/she puts in just the right amount of effort to run on pace. As every 400 passes by, he/she is right on pace or only a second off. During this time, the athlete is changing his/her form to make the effort as easy as possible. The athlete carries this form through to the end of each effort and recovers as quickly as possible.

Cool Down:  Take the rest of the time to cool down and flush out the lactic acid built up during the workout. Recover as quickly as possible and take in some calories/ protein within 30 minutes post-workout. Hydrate!

Cycling Workout:

Micro Intervals: 2 hours in duration

Warm up: for 10 minutes

Drills: 3x3(2) fast cadence; That is, 3 sets of 3 minutes of fast cadence (110 rpm+) with 2 minutes of rest.

Rest: 5 minutes of easy biking

Main set: 3x10 (10) micro intervals; That is, 3 x 10 minutes of alternating between 15 seconds of bursting power (cadence 100+) to 15 seconds of easy peddling (Cadence 80-100) with little to no resistance.

This workout is designed to help with the surges encountered during a draft legal race.  The goal is to go as hard as possible during the surges. Recover hard and SURGE again… and again… and again. This workout will help maintain the strength you have built over the winter time.

Cool down: Take the rest of the time to cool down. Recover as quickly as possible and take in some calories/protein within 30 minutes after your workout. Hydrate!


For those of you who don’t know about the Transylvania Epic, check it out here: This is a weeklong mountain bike stage race (May 27th-June 2nd) in State College, PA. The race is put on by Power On Coach Mike Kuhn! Pro’s, amateurs, and weekend warriors are welcome to race. This is the kind of race where you invest in a mountain bike because the race is JUST THAT EPIC (as you can see from Jeremiah Bishop's face as he  grimaces through the pain... he goes on to win the prologue by an astounding  four minutes last year). For those of you who just want to watch from the sideline, or your computer, I’ll keep you updated with video and other forms of race coverage.  Triathletes and road cyclists can learn a lot, just by watching how the pros handle their bikes! More soon!    

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Image Cycling:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Brick Runs

Triathletes engage in three specific movement patterns while racing: swimming, biking, and running. Physiologically speaking, the most interesting moments during the race are the transitions between movement patterns. During these moments, our body shifts from a former repetitive movement to the latter. Perhaps the more uncomfortable of the two shifts is the transition from the bike to the run.  We often call this transition the “brick” because of the heavy feeling we feel in our legs as we move from a hard ride into the first few miles of the run.

What physiological changes occur during the brick and what can athletes do with this information to optimize performance? During the biking length of the race, triathletes engage in a movement pattern and posture requiring sustained hip flexion1. In other words, our hip flexors tighten and shorten to maintain the decreased hip angle demanded by the position assumed on the bike. At the same time, the muscles which do the opposite work of the hip flexors, the hip extenders, relax. The scientific community defines the simultaneous contraction and relaxation of antagonistic muscles as reciprocal inhibition1. For those interested in the specific phenomenon of the relaxation, read up on the inhibitory postsynaptic potential caused by neurotransmitters which hyperpolarize the alpha-motor neurons1. For the purposes of most readers, it’s only important to understand that we contract our hip flexors while relaxing our hip extenders during a bike ride.  

Reciprocal inhibition is vital to the complex movements required to bike and run. If our body allowed both muscles to contract simultaneously, the stronger muscle wins out and results in a tear of the other. The staple example of this is the sprinting football player. While putting in a hard effort, sometimes the player’s body misfires and both his hamstrings and quads contract. The quads are naturally stronger than the hamstrings and the situation results in a pulled hamstring. So, reciprocal inhibition is crucial to optimal performance.

In triathlon reciprocal inhibition becomes problematic at the moment of transition. While we are bent over our bike for 1-6+ hours, our bodies become accustomed to the sustained hip flexion. Consequently our hip extenders seem to shut down. In the shift from bike to run, athletes often find tightness in their lower back and/or hamstrings. Why? As coach Al Lyman of Coach Al Training Services notes, the primary hip extenders are the glutes. The glute chain is vital to efficient running. Not only must the glutes be strong, writes Lyman, “they must also be able to act as the primary extender of the hip.2” In other words, we need the glutes—which relaxed on the bike—to begin working at the start of our run. If the glutes do not work as the primary hip extenders, athletes tend to compensate. They use their hamstrings and lower back, resulting in the tightness found in these areas. The goal, then, is to get the glutes firing ASAP after the ride.

How can athletes apply knowledge of reciprocal inhibition to enhance performance? As both Lyman and Endurance Nation coach Rich Strauss observe, we can practice brick workouts in training. Executing bricks in training has many benefits. First, athletes may lean to decrease the period it takes to engage in normal running form—by “normal,” I mean the running form that an athlete assumes without biking prior. To do this, take time to build body awareness during the first minutes of your brick run. Lyman alludes to the advantages of this awareness, writing: “Make thoughtful yet subtle adjustments in run posture, especially early on in the run, and periodically throughout the run. Lead with the hips, not the torso; shoulders down/elbows back; stand tall and lengthen your spine…” Don’t be afraid to make adjustments like these if you feel tightness. More specifically, consider how your glutes and hip flexors work together to allow for a fluid movement (See my post about strengthening your core to increase running efficiency below). Also, refrain from pushing into any tension/resistance in the lower back and hamstrings. Instead of pushing through, observe the area of tension. Push into your hips slightly and back off to a place where you feel less tension. The goal is to find a form which allows you to feel as comfortable as possible while still maintaining speed. With that said, be prepared for some discomfort as you transition. Running off the bike may never feel like running without biking prior.

In addition, brick training helps athletes prepare for the mental challenge of the brick during the race. Acknowledging the mental benefit of executing brick workouts, Strauss writes: “Feel it, taste it, experience it so that your first experience with running off the bike isn’t on race day.” In other words, brick training gives an athlete a chance for an experience similar to the one experienced while racing.  Knowing how your body reacts in uncomfortable situations such as the brick limits the “surprise” factor that jeopardizes motivation during an event.   

At this time, there’s a big debate surrounding the benefits of brick training for the Ironman distance event. No matter what, you will be doing a brick during the race. Why not train for it?  

Let me know if you have any questions.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach

Special thanks to Coach Jeremy Cornman for leading me to this inquiry by juxtaposing Lyman’s and Strauss’s essay on the Cornman Multisport Coaching facebook page.  

Works Cited:
1 Powers, Scott, Edward T. Howley. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. New Yourk: McGraw-Hill, 2009. (131-132). Print.
2Lyman, Al. “Brick Runs In Triathlon Training: Critical To Success or a Wase of Time?”
3Strauss, Rich. “Reathinking the Value of the Brick Run for Long Course Triathlon.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Core Work!

Successful athletes continually build their core strength. In sport and life, a strong core properly supports the spine. A supported spine allows for a powerful posture, the protection of your spinal cord, and the flexibility required in complex movements such as running or biking ("Your Body..."). As legendary triathlete Dave Scott observes in his podcast with, a strong core becomes vital towards the end of the race.  When fatigued, athletes fall into a compensation pattern. For running in particular, the athlete's leg cadence slows as his/her upper body rotation increases. This change in form results in a less efficient,  slower run.  A strong core slows the breakdown in form. 

Scott points out that there are 26 different core muscles. A strong core, then, is more than just the abdominal muscles that athletes focus on while doing crunches. To build strength in all 26 muscles, athletes execute drills that exceed the complexity of traditional core exercises such as the crunch or sit-up. Scott suggests drills such as the pickup and reach, planks with kicks, kettlebell squat to overhead swing, and the four way x-chop. You can find the description and pictures to these drills in the link under "Shaw" below.    

Be careful while executing these drills. Start slow without any weight and build from week to week. With a strong core, you will find an increase in your performance.

Let me know of any questions.

Jon Fecik
USAT Coach 

"Your Body: the Role of the Spine." Peak Performance Chiropractic Center.

Shaw, Jene. "Ditch Your Crunches." 27 April 2012. Triathlete Competitor. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On frigged water swimming... 

While the triathlon race season warms up, the water we swim in remains cold. Swimming in frigged water can be challenging, even debilitating. I remember a spring training session in Lake Placid, NY. My brother and I decided to go for a swim in Clear Lake. We both put on our wetsuits and doubled our swim caps. Where Mike swam along without a problem, the cold water shocked me into a panic. I couldn't see or breath. I quickly turned to my back and kicked my way to shore. In light of this event, I'd like to share a few techniques to help you prepare for cold water swimming/racing:   

1.) Warm up with your wetsuit on. Prior to the swim, take a jog down the beach. This should increase heart rate while building up the heat in your suit. 

2.) Take a gallon jug of warm water with you on your practice swim/race. Pour it into your suit right before you get in the water. This prevents cold water from getting into your suit when you first enter the water. The warm water will exit the suit quickly, but it prevents the initial shock that leads to panic.

3.) Practice swimming in cold water 4-5 times before the race. Take some warm dry cloths and a buddy down to the water and get in for 5-10 minutes. Just warm up and see how your body reacts. Practice using any gear you will wear during your race. 

4.) Get into the water the day before race day. Know what your up against and how your body will react. 

5.) On race day, expect that your initial plunge in the water will shock your body. In other words, expect discomfort and know that you have the power to control it. Force yourself to breath slowly: we have a tendency to hyperventilate in could water situations. Keep your head down for 5-10 strokes before sighting. Keeping your head down and allowing other people to sight for you will help you get into a rhythm. Find a rhythm as soon as possible. 

6.) If you panic, there's no need to push through. Pushing through may actually slow you down later on in the race. Instead, lye on your back and breath. It only takes a few seconds to get your mind back on track. Then, return to racing. You have the entire bike and run to catch back up!   

Let me know of any questions you have.

Jon Fecik--USAT Coach