First in a Series: The Road to the National Senior Games

Bill Cloninger, a wellness center member at South Franklin Circle, will be competing in the National Senior Games this summer in Cleveland. He is competing in the cycling 5K and 10K time trials. 

When Bill joined the SFC wellness center in 2010, he could barely walk a mile without getting winded. With the help of SFC VP of Wellness Frank Ondus and his staff, Bill is 100 pounds lighter and off blood pressure medication. He follows a strength training regime developed just for him, and began cycling.  For more background on Bill and his South Franklin Circle wellness success story click here.

Bill has graciously agreed to share his road to the National Senior Games with us.  In these first few posts, Bill describes his experiences during a week of cycle training in Brevard, North Carolina this past April.

Sunday, April 7, 2013 – Travel Day

I left Chagrin Falls this morning at 7:00 a.m. for the nine-hour drive to Brevard, North Carolina.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Brevard is 20 miles south of Asheville in the far western part of the state.  I’m looking forward to this week of cycling. The warmer spring-like weather will be a welcome change from Northeast Ohio’s winter which doesn’t seem to want to end.   Mid-afternoon while driving on Interstate 81 toward Bristol, Tennessee, I notice that of the 20 or so AM radio stations my car radio receives, I really have only two choices-NASCAR or a variety of Evangelical preachers. I guess this is the “Bible belt.”  I choose the NASCAR race in Martinsville, Virginia, and soaked up some “local color.”  NASCAR appears to be the state sport of North Carolina.

Arrived in Brevard and got settled into the Hampton Inn, my home for the next week.  Took a drive around town, just to get my bearings and figure out where I needed to go in the morning.  It’s sunny, the temperature is in the mid 70s and trees are in bloom-a beautiful day. Found the offices of Carmichael Training Systems, where my training starts tomorrow.  Stopped in at the Brevard Brewing Company, a local craft beer brewery and sampled their India Pale Ale, then dined at a local bistro.  I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.

More tomorrow…

Monday, April 8, 2013 – Bike Fitting and Time Trial Work

Above: Andy Applegate of Carmichael Training Systems makes some minor adjustments to Bill’s aero bars.

I get up early and worked a bit on cleaning my bike and getting it ready for the day. At 9:30 a.m. I go over to the Carmichael Training System (CTS) offices.  CTS is an organization that provides coaching to professional and amateur athletes in endurance sports-cycling, running and triathlon.  Their professional coaches are all accomplished athletes.  My coach is Tracey Drews, the only woman coach in the Brevard office and by far the oldest coach also at age 53.  Tracey has an outstanding track record of coaching senior athletes to medals in the National Senior Games and seems to be perfect for my training.  Tracey is sort of the “den mother” of the CTS office.  Tracey introduces me to everyone in the office and gives me a brief bio sketch of everyone there.  They are a very impressive group of athletes.

After meeting everyone in the office, the first thing we do is adjust the cleat position on my cycling shoes to center the pedal axle exactly over the ball of my foot.  These minor adjustments could have a major impact on comfort and my ability to deliver maximum power to the pedal down stroke.  Next Tracey and another coach, Andy Applegate, have me get on my bike on an indoor trainer and pedal. They are looking to see if there needs to be any changes in “bike fit”, the way the bike is set up to fit me.  They are pretty satisfied, but make a few changes in handle bar position, including lowering the aero bars two centimeters, which is a big change for me.  These changes will be further analyzed on Wednesday in the wind tunnel, when I’m going to test my bike position for aerodynamics.  Sixty-to-seventy percent of effort goes toward overcoming wind resistance. At speeds over 25 miles an hour, many times a time trial winner is not the strongest rider, but the most aerodynamic one.

Now that my bike set-up is pretty much confirmed, we go out and do some riding.  Today we focused on time trial specific maneuvers, starts and turnarounds and see how the new lower aero bar position feels.  Starts and turnarounds are the little things that you have to practice and get right.  Seconds will separate the winner from the others, so getting this right is critical to success.  We practiced these maneuvers many times and Tracey taught me a few drills to work on when I get back in Ohio.  To finish the day, I did a practice time trial-two miles out and back-just to see how everything fits together in a race situation.  I felt really strong and comfortable heading out. It felt like I was flying down the road.  My bike computer had me going at speeds around 32 mph.  The new lower aero bar position made steering control a little “twitchy” but not a problem. I will practice with it a lot more over the coming weeks back home. I executed the 180 degree turn-around just as we had practiced and headed back smack into a 20 mph head wind. No wonder I was flying down with that push from the wind. I struggled to keep my speed up to around 20 mph.  It was a hard slog. This is where training with Frank Ondus at South Franklin Circle has paid off.  The hours spent on the leg press machine really worked.

A good workout-I learned a lot and we have set the stage for the wind tunnel session on Wednesday.  Tomorrow – climbing…

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Up early again, cleaned my bike and changed the gearing on the rear wheel to give me three lower gears to make going uphill easier.  Around 8:30 a.m. I got a call from Tracey.  She was down with a sinus infection and would miss today’s workout.  One of her colleagues, Tristan Cowie, would be working with me today.  Tristan is a young coach, age 27, and an outstanding athlete.  I met Tristan at the CTS office and we rode out from there.  Today we will work on climbing uphill.  This will be a good strength workout.  The plan was to warm up and then tackle a short steep hill, about 10 miles out of town – Walnut Hollow Road.  Walnut Hollow Road is similar to Old Mill Road going out of Gates Mills toward Mayfield Heights, only a bit longer and much steeper near the top.  Luckily I’ve spent many hours climbing Old Mill Road; it’s my primary training hill.  Tristan reviewed the basics of climbing; getting settled, keep a comfortable rhythm, and be patient. Then we started up the hill.  This was not so bad.  I had to get out of the saddle for the last 200 yards but it was not tough.  All those hours on Old Mill Road have paid off.  Once at the top, for giggles, we head back down and climb it again.  We finish this training ride by taking a nice easy winding road along a popular fly fishing stream and work our way back into town.  On the way back I noticed several pottery shops.  Before I leave, I’ll have to stop back and visit the shops to see if anything catches my eye that would make a nice gift for my wife, Sandy.

This afternoon, I want to test ride the climb to Caesar’s Head State Park. On Saturday, we are participating in the Assault on The Carolinas, a 65-mile ride which features the Caesars Head climb starting at mile 42.  It is a 6.5-mile climb with an average grade of seven-to-eight percent.  It should take around 50 minutes to do. I’m a little tired from this morning’s workout, so I’m not sure how I will do on this big climb.  I figure I’ll park at the bottom and climb up, and if I don’t feel I can make it, I’ll simply turnaround and get the gravity assisted return to the car.    After driving down the climb, I park and get my bike ready and pack water, a few Power bars, and off I go.  The climb is not bad.  I chugged up to the top, maintaining a fairly constant rhythm.  There was almost no traffic; I had the road to myself.  At the top, now very sweaty, I was besieged by squadrons of mosquitoes.  Made a quick call to Tracey to tell her I got to the top, and then hurried off the mountain before the mosquitoes ate me alive. Now the scary part-the descent back to the car.  Got chased by some dogs about a mile from the car, but with the downhill speed, was able to easily out run them.  Got back to the Hampton Inn around 4:30 p.m., tired but happy I made both climbs-a good day.
Tomorrow – the wind tunnel.

Read Part 2 of The Road to the National Senior Games

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