A Christmas Inspired Swim!

Christmas Swim: Choose the best tree for your home and Decorate it! 

Did you ever have the opportunity as a child (or adult) to choose your own tree from a farm, cut it down and haul it back home…only  to discover it was too tall or too short?  I recall setting up a beautiful spruce in our living room when I was 9, 10, 11, 12…(it was a yearly ritual), only to have my father curse, take the tree out of the (&@#%) tree stand, Lay it down one the coffee table and slice off a 1/2″ segment with a orange handled hand saw.   Some years this ritual repeated itself half a dozen times before the cursing stopped.  Only when the tree was just the right height and standing up straight, did we string the lights–starting at the top– and then finally begin to decorate the tree.

This practice is inspired by that yearly ritual in three parts

  • A) Choose the right tree for the house
  • B) String the lights evenly form top to bottom
  • C) Decorate and hang the ornaments.

Warmup: 500 – Choose the right tree
The tree you bring into your home needs to be just the right height. Not too tall and not too short.  When you swim too tall, you risk stressing your shoulder, neck or lower back.  Strive to have your posture “just right” so you’re tall from crown of head through heels, and your arm extends forward, but only enough to keep the line of posture and not force you to arch too tall when you extend

4 x 25 sequential focal points. Repeat three times total for 300 y/m total

  • Point the crown of your head in the direction you’re swimming (Tall like a christmas tree)
  • lengthen your spine by imagining a rope pulling you forward from the crown of your head.
  • Gently squeeze your glutes as you extend the arm, feeling how good posture crosses the waist into the lower limbs as well
  • Point your toes as you feel a long line form crown of head through your feet.

200 continues freestyle, rotating through any focal points above that felt most helpful

Set 1:  String the Lights 1000
We String the lights starting at the top and try to space them evenly.   In this set you’ll do a body scan from head to toe as you did in the posture focused warmup.   Look for symmetry between right and left sides as you do so.

5 x 50 sequential focal points. Repeat for a total of 500 yds

  • Head Stable – head doesn’t wobble side to side as you rotate the body with each stroke
  • Arms extend on tracks – send arm forward as the body rotates, not across the body. Slide the arm out a little bit away from the center if you sense any crossing in front. Make each side even
  • Shoulder Blade (not full shoulder) clears the water with each rotation.  How far do you rotate? See if you can rotate “just enough”, so that the shoulder blade and back of shoulder clear the water, but the entire shoulder doesn’t come to air.
  • Hips align with shoulders. The hips should rotate as a unit with the shoulders. Pay attention that when the right shoulder blade clears the water and comes to the surface, the right hip should come to the surface as well.
  • Legs quietly respond – Try to quiet the legs instead of kicking the legs. Allow them to respond to the symmetrical rotation and stability created with the focal points above.

500 Freestyle Swim – Rotate or pick and choose from any of the preceding “top down” focal points as you string the lights on your tree.  Occasionally check in to make sure that the height of your tree is still the right size for your room. In other words check in on your posture once every hundred or so.


Set 2:  “Decorate the tree”

In swimming we can think of decorations as all the fine points that happen in the periphery of your stroke.  Fingertips, toes, elbows, knees, nose, chin etc.   These small body parts are of course attached to the bigger parts and usually follow where the core, shoulders and hips go. But directing awareness and attention to them can heighten your ability to improve quickly and make a smoother, more efficient and faster stroke.

4 x 75 rotate focus by 25

  • Chin – is your chin jutted forward, pulled back, teeth clenched or face puckered?  Focus on a soft chin gently drawn back to help align your cervical spine with good posture
  • Elbow – allow your elbows to swing toward the sides of the pool building during your recovery rather than up towards the ceiling or behind your back.  Pair this with the torso rotation focal point to really stabilize your side to side rotation with each stroke
  • Knee – Focus on the back fold of the knee and try to keep it open and pressing gently toward the ceiling when you bring your leg up prior to your kick. This helps lengthen the legs by helping remove excess knee bend. Soften the knee during the down beat of the kick, then press the back of the knee toward the ceiling again.

300 Freestyle Swim – Rotate through each of these three “decorations” as you swim a continuous 300.

Steel City Endurance Bike Racing Season Highlights

Steel City Endurance Bike Racing Season Highlights

This past week Steel City Endurance Bicycle racing team and Sponsors gathered at ProBikes in the Squirrel Hill of Pittsburgh, PA to celebreate our 4th year of racing.  While putting together a short list of season highlights I realized (once again), what an incredible group of dedicated and talented cyclists we have,  along with sponsors who have been with us since Day #1.

The team’s accomplishments are many, but here are the highlights, starting with the incredible Women’s Racing Squad, now in their 4th year of racing, and comprised of Cat 3 & 4 road & cyclocross racers.

Women’s Team

Kate Bennet #1 Cat 4 ABRA Crit Series
Stacie Truskowski #1 ABRA Cyclocross Series
Rachel Weaver #1 Womens ACA Criteerium Series
Patty George #1 Overall Tour of the Valley
Anne Marie Alderson – First Place Fort Classic (#6ABRA Road),  Dirty Dozen Overall Women’s Winner 2011

It goes without saying that these accomplishments of individuals are all team accomplishments as well. The ladies have truly learned how to function as a bike racing team in order to support individual goals.  Special thanks also to Barb Grabowski, now retired from racing, a Cat 2 racer who podiumed in every event (road, time trial, criterium) in last year’s masters nationals.  Barb has provided excellent mentorship & guidance to the womens team as well as orgnaizing our annual team training trip over the past several years.

Men’s Team

Mens Team Overall: B Series Winner, Allegheny Cycling Association
Doug Riegner B Series Winner ACA
Joe Lydic First Place Connelsville Criterium (abra #2)
Mike Quigley First Place Pro Bikes Criterium Championship (abra #5)

Again, I stress that these are all team accomplishements and season highlights. There were many, many more podium finishes and I’m certain I’ve missed some accomplishemnts of several of the team members.


Sponsor Highlights include the sponsors who have been with us every year since our inception, allowing us to supply the team with racing kits & supplement travel expense and race entery fees:

4 Year Sponsors:
Pittsburgh Pro Bikes
Tuscano Insurance  (Rob, Terry & Ginny Tuscano)
Padgett Business Services (Jim merante)
Square Cafe (Sherree Goldstein)
Feldstein Grinberg Stein & McKee (Jeff Balicki & Partners)
Allegro Hearth Bakery  (Omar Higley)
Finally, this year for the first time, we awarded a “Sponsor of the Year” award. This year the award went to Tuscano Agency, located in greesburg, PA for their ongoing support and the largest dollar amount given to the team so far. THey have had a promitned position on our kits, both top & bottom and everyone who has seen us race, is familiar with the name.   We’ll be posting a feature story on Tuscano Agency so you can become familiar with the company as well.

Help your Pedal Stroke by Rounding out your Knowledge

Recently an athlete asked me a question about power cranks:

How do you feel about powercranks? Are you familiar with them? They were mentioned in that article and I was curious. The idea is that each crank functions independently of the other. One leg cannot help the other. It is supposed to help pedal stroke.



Things I Learned from the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race

Things I Learned from the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race

The following post is from Steel City Endurance athlete Mike Quigley. I (Coach Suzanne) helped prepare Mike for the Leadville 100 as his first ultra endurance mountain bike race, and my first experience helping someone prepare for a race of this grueling intensity.  Mike followed every bit of the training plan that I prepared for him, and by his finishing time, I think the plan was successful!

Incidentally, this is the year that Dave Weins and Lance Armstrong battled it out for 1st place. As thrilling as that was for me at the time, 99% of my energy that day was spent crewing for Mike, with one other friend using 2 way radios along the course.

After Mike finished the race in 11 hours, 31 minutes, earning a silver buckle, I asked him if he’d be willing to document some of the things that he learned in preparation and execution of the race. Mike’s race report is one of the most comprehensive things I have since read about the race.

Thinking about doing Leadville 100 or done it already? Please share your experiences in the comments!

Cover photo credit: CNN

Things I learned from Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race

by Mike Quigley

The race:

Race start, 6:15am, Leadville, Colorado

Race start, 6:15am, Leadville, Colorado

The Starting Line

The race starts fast, don’t get caught up in the excitement. Go your own pace from the get go. Riding above your limit here will just get you in trouble later. Race smart!

Many mountain bike riders do not know how to ride in a pack very well. Keep alert during the crowded start.


On the way outbound…

St. Kevin’s

• The first climb (St. Kevin’s) will be as crowded as New York City in rush hour. Many people with good endurance but poor bike handling skills will fall all over this climb. It is not technical other than trying to avoid poor bike handlers. Singlespeeders will be walking this climb unless they get way out in front. Holding a track stand up a climb is a good skill to have here, practice.

• The decent from St. Kevins is fast and on pavement. Good descenders can pass dozens of people here.


• The climb up to the Powerline decent is wide open. There will be many places to pass or be passed by people. It is a fairly consistent grade and the top brings you to the Powerline Decent.

• I did not find the powerline decent nearly as technical as all the reports I read. As long as you look ahead of you, scope your line, and follow the tracks of other riders there is little to fear. My biggest problem here was trying to pass people with poor descending skills. Much of the decent has only one good line, making you wait behind the slower riders or ride very technical areas to get around them.

• The bottom of the powerline climb has a creek crossing. You have 2 choices, go through the creek or ride/walk over the “bridge” consisting of slippery planks. You will likely find the option of riding the creek will save you 20 seconds or so because there will be a line of people crossing the planks on foot. I would highly recommend giving up those 20 seconds and wait to cross on foot. Wet feet (and bearings) 20 or so miles into a 100 mile race is not a good idea if you ask me. You will be a crowd favorite if you ride the creek.


• On the way to Columbine you will find a few small road sections where pace lines could save you time. I found people uninterested in joining a pace line for some reason. Hopefully your results will differ.

• Before twin lakes, you will find a rather nice singletrack section, this is a nice break from the rest of the race but passing will be difficult.

• Columbine is a long hard climb. It is mentally and physically tough. It starts to climb on a dirt road and passing people is as easy as pie. The road seems to go on forever, you keep climbing yet the actual elevation does not seem to increase that much. Finally you get above the tree line and you think you are getting close… you are not. You think you see the top. When you get there you see riders VERY far away and VERY far above and ahead of you. You will think they are near the top… they are not. Once you get to where you saw those people the same thing will happen again. You will see more riders way ahead and above you. Those riders are just starting to near the top. The trail narrows and becomes rockier and off camber on the side where you must stay. Passing becomes increasingly difficult and even the people walking their bike are too fatigued to move out of your way. Once you actually do get to the elevation where the Columbine aid station is located you will still have a little while to go. You will be able to see the aid station quite a while before you get there. It is mostly a lateral move with the exception of one small but mentally difficult hill. The altitude up here is killer. I found myself going way slower than expected up this climb.

• An altimeter is a very smart thing to have. This mentally lets you know how much farther you have to go to the top. This will help you over every mountain in the race. Memorize the elevations of each summit (St. keven’s est 10,900 ft., Powerline est. 11,200ft., Columbine est. 12,600 ft.)

• Going down Columbine is fast and long. It is easy to pass people once you get past the very top narrow section.

On the Way Inbound…

Twin Lakes

• You will be at Twin Lakes before you know it… There are road sections that can be very windy. Paceline if possible.

• After Twin lakes you hit the singletrack again, this time with more climbing albeit it at a gradual grade. Passing will be next to impossible here. Eventually you get to the dirt road and it will be easy to pass. Get ready for one short but very steep climb after the singletrack. Many walk this. If you keep up your speed going in to the hill you can use momentum to get you up the bottom ¼ of the climb with little work.


• After the Pipeline Aid station you will see more road and likely much more wind. Buddy up and work together if you can. The road gradually turns uphill. You are approaching the powerline climb.

Powerline Climb

• The powerline climb is very long and quite steep at the bottom. Hopefully you saved something in reserve for this climb and the St. Kevin’s climb after because you will need it. It is completely ridable from a technical standpoint. It will likely prove difficult to stay on your bike from an endurance standpoint after 80 miles in the saddle however. Just follow the tire mark lines, look ahead and you will be fine. Stay in a low gear and get ready for a long climb. • Much like Columbine, Powerline is another mentally tough climb. There are many false summits and people think they are at the top long before they actually get there. If you cannot pre-ride the course, use an altimeter to know how close you are to the top. There are even a few short downhill sections on the way to the top.

• The Powerline decent is fast and wide enough to easily pass slower riders.

St. Kevin’s Climb

The St. Kevin’s climb is a long road climb, followed by a shorter dirt climb. If you saved anything in your legs, now is the time to cash in. Be prepared, the road climb is quite long but not terribly steep, the dirt section climbs can put a hurt to you if you are not ready for it (I was not).

• After a good bit of up and down you will get to the St. Kevin’s decent. This is also wide enough to easily pass slower riders.

• Once down the St. Kevins Climb you will hit a slightly undulating dirt road. This goes on for a while then you hit pavement. After the pavement you are back on dirt on the way to the boulevard.

The Boulevard

• The boulevard is not a difficult climb. It is a difficult climb after almost 100 miles on the bike however. It is fairly steep and loose at first and eventually turns into a dirt road. The dirt road continues up for a while. Once you get to pavement you have less than a mile to go and you are home free.

• Have a thick jacket and a hat waiting for you at the finish. Once you get off the bike you can get cold fast.

Info for your Pit crew:

Heading up the Trail towards Columbine after meeting my crew for the 2nd time.

Heading up the Trail towards Columbine after meeting my crew for the 2nd time.

• I made the mistake of meeting my crew at 4 locations. That was more stops than I needed and they could hardly keep up with me on one stop due to the crowds. Next time I would have them stay at Twin lakes… possibly have them go to pipeline on the return trip.

• The “crew” pit stop at the bottom of Columbine was not easy for the pit to get to and they had to hike the pit gear for a long trip up a dirt road on foot. This stop is no better than twin lakes other than it is not as crowded.

• Have your crew erect something noticeable, especially in twin lakes. You (the rider) should wear something noticeable too.

• I used small GMRS/FRS radio with a remote push to talk button earpiece for crew communications. This worked out quite well. I would say it was worth the extra few ounces. I was able to find the crew easier as well as have them get anything specific ready for me. They were able to encourage me and give me splits over the radio. I ditched it at the last stop to save weight up Powerline/St. Kevins return.

• Crew, prepare for a long day. Bring rain gear, seats, perhaps something to block the sun (or rain). Have clothes/jackets for a variety of weather conditions as temperatures can vary between 34-78 degrees f on a regular day in August.


Things I did wrong:

Plan well, but don't overplan!

Plan well, but don’t overplan!

• I had my crew stop at too many pit stops (4)

• I lined up in the back of the field at the start of the race instead of being more aggressive with my placement

• I over planned my nutrition. Next time I will just have my crew have a variety of things available for me to pick from instead of choosing before the race what I will have at each stop. It is hard enough to eat at all during the race so more variety and choice is the best bet.

• I needed more food variety. Give yourself a wide variety of things to choose from depending on how you feel. You need calories however you can get them.

• I took only one set of full finger gloves. A race start at 35 degrees f with rain makes for cold wet fingers. It would have been nice to trade those out for fresh, dry gloves during my pit stop.

Things I did right:

I hit the red carpet at 11 hours and 31 minutes...earning a silver belt buckle!

I hit the red carpet at 11 hours and 31 minutes…earning a silver belt buckle!

• I used an altimeter to judge my progress up the mountain (I used a Garmin Edge 705)

• I trained with power zones but I raced this race with heart rate zones. The altitude sucked my power and increased my heart rate compared to sea level training. Having a HRM helped me pace myself throughout the race.

• I did not start out too fast. My return from Columbine was much faster than my time to get there. I wanted to make sure I had gas in the tank for the climbs up Powerline and St. Kevin on the return.

• I had my crew give me a thick jacket to wear before race start. It can get very cold in the morning in Leadville. Hand off the Jacket to your crew just before the shotgun blast starting the race. I did the same thing with leg warmers but that may be unnecessary.

• I used very low tread, fast rolling tires (see below in tips)


• You will need every gear on your bike. I considered running a double instead of a triple chain ring up front. I opted for the triple for a larger range of gearing. I needed every gear and then some. If you are shooting for a sub 8:00 finish then by all means run a double… otherwise you will need that granny up the powerline climb at least.

• I agonized over tire choice for a long time. I ended up running VERY low tread tires. I believe this was the best choice without question. Even in the rain and mud, Leadville is not a very technical course. I ran Stan’s Raven tires (tubeless) in the rain and never slipped an inch.

• I would however recommend a tire with a fairly tough sidewall as there are rocky areas as you ride down high speed descents. AKA don’t run MaxxLite 310’s or similar unless you want to deal with a flat or worse, a sidewall rip.

• Full suspension or hard tail? The course is suited for a hardtail as it is not very technical BUT I would highly recommend a full suspension rig for comfort. If you are in the saddle for all those hours I think the suspension keeps your legs and body fresher and does help out on the long descents.

• 26er or 29er? I am huge big fan of 29” bikes but I would say this race slightly favors a 26” wheel size strictly because of weight. Again, it is not very technical. If I would rank my choice of rides I would put it like this: 1. 26” full suspension (Good mix of comfort and weight) 2. 29” hard tail (More comfortable than a 26” hard tail) followed VERY closely by: 3. 26” hard tail (Lightest weight) 4. 29” full suspension (Heavier but more comfortable) The choice between 26-29 hardtail is very close if you ask me. This will all depend on what you own and your budget however. This is a cost no object, all things equal scenario selection.

• Practice very fast, not terribly technical descents. You should be comfortable going 45mph on your mountain bike down a road descent. You should also be comfortable going 30-40mph on a fire road descent with rocks.

When the tires meet dirt...PB&J tasted the best!

When the tires meet dirt…PB&J tasted the best!

• Everyone will tell you this but EAT EAT EAT and DRINK DRINK DRINK. Find food that you love and give it to your crew (or your drop bags). Eating during hours 6-12+ will be very difficult. Find something you either love or can choke down easily. Hammer Nutrition Perpetuem (espresso flavor) saved me. I was largely unable to eat much of anything after hour 6 but I was able to choke down this stuff fairly easily. I mix it thick in a hammer flask. Always try out your different foods during training.

• People show up very early to lay their bikes down for the start. Other people show up later and find enough space to stand towards the front in between the bikes and squeeze in. Getting up front will save you considerable hassle going up the first climb. Lesson, squeeze in toward the front (If you are a fast enough rider) instead of being polite and lining up at the back. The actual start time from the first person to the last is only about 2 min but as the group elongates this stretches into many minutes. I may guess as many as 10-15 by the time you go up St. Kevens

• If you want a good seat for the pre race meeting or awards ceremony just show up very early and toss something on your seat. Everyone seems to use this technique and it works well. The small auditorium gets full fast.

My finishing medal!

My finishing medal!

• Thinking about doing the Leadville 100? Make your hotel reservation LONG before you send in your entry or receive your acceptance letter. The hotel rooms go FAST and Leadville is a small town. Hotel room reservations can be canceled easily and without a fee. The Super 8 seems to be the best place in town.






Cornering Part 3 – Technique

As I mentioned in the beginning, most riders have the mechanics of a turn down, and can coast through a corner. Taking the speed from above, and applying a good technique to a criterium corner is what can really set a rider apart, and can help a rider save time and energy in the pack, or gain precious seconds in a break.



Cornering Part 2 – Speed

Skillz Drillz

Now the equipment looks good, it’s time to get your butt on the bike, and get moving. Fast. Being comfortable riding and cornering at speed is a fundamental of racing, and high-performance cornering. The question of “How fast is fast” comes up all the time. Let’s start this way. You need to be comfortable of reaching a speed of 40-45 mph on a bike to really function in a race. While you’ll likely not be at that speed at any point in a race other than a descent, it’s important to know how your bike handles at that speed BEFORE you get into a situation, and also allows you to work backwards to the types of cornering speeds you can expect to encounter in a race.