2016 Age Group National Championships, Omaha, NE

Kirsten Sass crossing a finish line at national championships

ì2017 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships ñ Olympicî

Age Group Nationals Summary …

Steel City Endurance had FOUR athletes represented at the Age Group national championships just two weeks ago (the same time the Olympics were going on, making it doubly exciting!

Michelle Johnson McClenahan and Kirsten Ingeborg Sass both competed in the  Olympic & Sprint Distance races held on Saturday an Sunday, both are coached by Coach Suzanne.   Matthew Martino amd Richard Albertson lined up for their start at the Olympic distance race Saturday morning, both Matt & Rich are coached by Coach Michale Bauer.

In our Midst, a National Champion x 2 (Overall and Age Group)

The big story of the weekend is the remarkable accomplishments of Kirsten Sass, named the 2015 Triathlon of the Year and Duathlete of the year (first time ever one athlete has received both awards).  Kirsten finished 1st in her age group and 2nd overall in the Olympic Distance Race on Saturday.  The next day she finished 1st again in her age group, as well as first place OVERALL in the sprint distance race, beating the 2nd place finisher by just 3 seconds!

Testing My Limits at the Duathlon National Championships

Duathlon National Championships – Bend, Oregon.

Tested the limits big-time. Beautiful city, challenging course, great competition, wonderful time meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and an absolutely fantastic job by USAT, Tim Yount, and the Duathlon Team putting on a top-notch event.

If you can run and ride a bike – make this your goal for 2017. Go to Bend. Test yourself. It will be worth it!

Sunday morning, waiting for my flight home, I met a girl (Kirby Heindel Adlam) whose 2nd duathlon EVER was the world championships in Spain. Now THAT is incredibly inspiring. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The opportunity is yours for the taking – why not seize it with both hands!?!?!

I am thankful beyond words for my husband, Jeffery M Sass (most of you know as Elvis), who is my constant support and cheered tirelessly all day for everyone out there competing; for my family who watched the children so we could pursue this adventure; my awesome coach (Suzanne Atkinson) of Steel City Endurance who has put up with multiple texts and questions and always has the right answer; to Raceday Transport (goracedaytransport.com) who got my bike from Spain to Bend so all I had to do was show up at the event and my bike was ready to ride (I cannot even begin to say what a fantastic job they do, definitely worth checking out!);

Bobby McGee – what I learned from him in running was all that got me through that second race (whew!); UCAN nutrition also saved me for that second race, Lynn Greer for the awesome new race suit/helmet/shoes/all my biking needs; to John Lines for all the support and encouragement; and to ALL of you who cheered from near and far – you keep me going!!!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!Du Nats Sprint Start2016 Kirsten&ElvisBend2016 Du Nats Finish-Bend OR Sass Du Nat Champ 2015
?#?USATDU? ?#?steelcityendurance? ?#?UCAN? ?#?kask? ?#?fizik? ?#?racedaytransport??#?testyourlimits? ?#?Elvis? ?#?ilovemybike? ?#?hills? ?#?lifeisgood?

Tampa Bay Marathon Swimmer – Hadar Aviram’s Race Report

Drama on the High Seas!

Over the past 4 months, Steel City Endurance athlete Hadar Aviram has been training to attempt the Tampo Bay Marathon Swim, a 24 mile swim event held annually in Tampa Bay.   Hadar, a 39 year old former military defense attorney  who currently works as a professor of law at Hastings College in San Francisco   has been swimming open water since 2008, has swum several 10k Swim events and to date her longest swim prior to the Tampa bay event was the Portland Birdge swim at 11 miles.

Head coach Suzanne Atkinson created her master training plan based on Hadar’s previous & current swim history & volume and the anticipated stress of the event.  Consulting with experienced open water & marathon swimmers Terry Laughlin & Darren Miller ensured we were on a good track.

What follows is her complete race report titled “Drama on the High Seas!”

If you are a skimmer, here are her highlights, but please enjoy the full report.

  • She swam for 11 hours covering 18 miles
  • Three Motorboats sank due to the weather conditions. SANK!
  • She had an absolute blast despite the conditions.
  • Only 6 of 18 solo swimmers finished the race.
  • She swam to raise money for the Homeboys Foundation, raising $2050.  Please consider a donation if you enjoyed her mission!

For more information on our featured athlete you can check these pages:

Hadar Aviram’s Faculty Page at Hastings College where she is a professor of law.

Hadar Aviram’s Blog on the California Correctional Crisis

Here is Hadar’s Race report in full:

Drama on the High Seas

Dear Friends and Supporters,
You probably saw the posts on Facebook and Twitter, and I thought you’d appreciate some more of the inside story.
The bottom line: I had an absolute blast! It was a fascinating day. We swam under crazy conditions. I was pulled out of the water after 11 hours of swimming and about 18 miles, in sight of the Gandy Bridge, on account of a shoulder injury (snapped biceps tendon.) Only 6 out of 18 solo swimmers, and 1 out of 3 relay teams, managed to finish the race. Three motorboats sank (sank!). There was chop, there were swells, there was a strong countercurrent that kept me swimming in place for about an hour after my shoulder gave in.
More of the story: Being one of the slower people, I opted for starting an hour early, at 6am. The beginning was deceptively easy and calm. I swam in the dark with glowsticks in my cap, enjoying the delicious warm ocean water and its glassy surface. The sunrise was a spectacular sight, especially with beautiful birds flying above us and an exciting dolphin sighting.
Then… we made the turn north and things changed! Conditions got incredibly exciting. Strong swells, strong chop, and crazy currents. I was able to maintain a pretty good stroke cadence, and things got easier once I figured out I should go UNDER the water every time one of the big swells came along.
My crew was absolutely terrific. My kayaker, an experienced waterman and lifeguard, took the swells and chop in stride, bobbing up and down as needed. My boat captain, a humble, low-key man, left us for an hour or so to rescue passengers from one of the sunken boats (I was surprised to see strangers waving at me from my boat! It was fun!). They handled all the technical aspects really well.
The shoulder started nagging after about five hours of swimming, but I pushed on. The pain became more acute after eight hours, but I pushed on. At ten hours, the shoulder as good as gave in, and the other one started nagging. My stroke remained efficient only on one side, but I body-rolled more to compensate for the compromised left wing. I sang songs in my head and told myself stories. My crew seemed demoralized, and only after I was pulled out I realized it was because of the countercurrents and their concern that we would not make it. I kept seeing silver dollars passing underneath me, but I realize it wasn’t that I was making progress; they were going backwards! After about an hour in excruciating pain, which made me concerned about the potential of lasting chronic damage, I told my team that we were done. They were very supportive and kind during the ride back, which gave us all spectacular views of the rest of the course. And, we got to see a couple of playful dolphins in the water, which cheered us all to no end. I am told there was also what was described by my kayaker as a “juvenile shark”, but he tactfully did not alert me to this during the race!
I later learned that the swimmer who won the race did so despite losing her boat pretty early on; I was so impressed! Times for finishers were not great, but that’s fairly understandable given the crazy countercurrents. I am so impressed with everyone who did this and especially with the folks who fought those late-afternoon currents to make it to the finish line. We were all graciously invited to a masters swim the following morning, but I doubt anyone had the shoulders and stamina to go for it; my partner and I opted for a celebratory brunch and some reading by the pool. 🙂
Since the race, I had a chance to read accounts by at least two fellow swimmers who were bitterly disappointed about not finishing the race. I find myself feeling quite the opposite: Elated, accomplished, and grateful for having had a beautiful day to enjoy the sunshine and nature in all its grand power and fury. The four months of grueling pool training did not go to waste, because during those four months:
1) My stroke got much smoother, more efficient, and more graceful than it ever was.
2) I shattered all my personal bests by significant margins..
3) I learned a lot about nutrition and managed to stave off all sorts of health issues.
4) I made friends with all the regular swimmers at my pool, who are actually throwing me a party this Friday.
5) I developed inner strength and resiliency that helped me through a series of serious, devastating family issues and personal setbacks throughout training (and up to a few days before the race itself.)
6) I developed the ability to have self compassion and expose vulnerability and, in the process, learned that I live in the best city in the world and have a very supportive community of friends.
7) I made complete and everlasting peace with my body image.
8) I gained the respect of people for whom I have a lot of athletic respect.
9) I got dozens of Facebook and Twitter friends to follow the race and get updates, which made them all excited about the race and about marathon swimming in general.
10) And, most importantly – I raised over $2000 from friends for Homeboy Industries, a wonderful reentry nonprofit based in Los Angeles that does miracles reintegrating former gang members into their communities and helping them transform their lives.
Overall, this was an incredible experience, and I am very very grateful to my family and friends, my race team, my fellow athletes, and my entire community, for their support. It really takes a village to make an average 38-year-old woman swim 18 miles through chop and swell, and I am very fortunate to have your friendship and love.
As far as my future plans, I have a number of shorter races planned this season, provided that my shoulder makes a full recovery on time. I plan to spend the off-season time doing two things: Becoming a better pool swimmer, and acclimating to San Francisco bay temperatures, with an eye towards a possible Catalina Channel crossing attempt next summer for my 40th birthday.
All my love,
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.






Mike Walther Stomps IM Florida

MikeW-Ironman-Florida-2008Big Congratulations to Mike Walther for completing his first Ironman race, IronMan Florida, on November 1st, 2008. Mike planned and trained for over a year for this event and I’m super proud of how well he did. It takes a lot of dedication and commitment to compete and train for an Ironman, and Mike definitely has what it takes! Congratulations Mike!

Steel City Athletes Crush 24 Hours of Big Bear

Current and former Steel City Endurance Athletes Storm the 24 Hours of Big Bear with two first place finishes! Carol Clemmens (Ms. Cookie) (Dirt Rag, Pittsburgh, PA) improved on her lap times from last year with dedicated training to win the Women’s Solo division. Congratulations, Ms. Cookie!

Todd Schoeni (Pro Bikes, Pittsburgh, PA) and his rigid singlespeed team also took place in their division. Congratulations guys.

Holly Forsythe (Pro Bikes, Pittsburgh, PA) valiantly continued to race despite multiple injuries occuring at the end of the first lap. She managed another 55 miles following her injuries before having to pull out of the race.

Congratulations to all the Steel City Endurance athletes and their team members for a great showing!