The Ultimate XTERRA Christmas List
By Melanie McQuaid (as published at http://www.triathletemag.com)
Dec. 5, 2008 — I am not a huge fan of the commercialization of Christmas. It is possible that I am still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome after discovering Santa was actually my parents. More likely, I am resisting the expectations that come with the Christmas holidays. However, there is something magical about how Christmas truly brings out the best in people so I certainly am not crossing this holiday off my list.
As far as the whole gifts part of Christmas, I am a huge fan of PRACTICAL gifts. I love the look on someone’s face when I give them a gift and I especially love watching them put that gift to good use. No one is ever getting a set of tube socks from Melanie. No, those socks will have to be breathable, cushioning, anatomically correct running socks that the giftee will thank me for on our Sunday run the following week!
I started to think about the best, most useful and practical gifts for the XTERRA triathlete on your list. Most of these gifts will be high on any triathlete list, regardless of their chosen discipline. I consulted with the coach in me to make these suggestions as I feel that most of these items are very useful tools for improvement or at least enjoyment of the process. The fun part will be seeing your friend or loved one absolutely thrilled to be given such a thoughtful and useful gift that is not an ironing board. READ ON…
Winter Mountain Bike Shoes
This is the time of year when breathability, light weight and porous are all very bad words when it comes to a cycling shoe. I know that in most of my winter rides my feet become my undoing. Luckily, shoe companies have already received word that warmer shoes are a good thing. I have a pair of the Shimano MW02 winter shoes with a Gore-Tex sock liner that keep my toes toasty from November through the end of March. If you can’t find a winter shoe (Lake and Sidi also make them, among others) then the freeride style of mountain bike shoe is also good. I wear the MW66 shoe (which looks a lot like a pleather sneaker) with great success in cold weather. Less water sneaks in to soak your socks and as an added bonus you have shoes that are easy to find your pedals with if you come unclipped. This means this gift will also run double duty with an XTERRA athlete’s winter training focus – technical riding.
Winter Riding Gloves
There was a time when I would just wear snowboarding gloves to ride in the winter. However, riding off-road requires a bit more skill than on the road so big puffy gloves can present a handling problem when you hit the trails. I have tried a number of different kinds of winter gloves including the neoprene kind, heavily padded fluffy gloves and the more form fitting leather gloves. All of these options seem to work in different conditions so depending on what kind of winter weather you are going to encounter, you may choose a different glove. If it is very, very cold, I find riding with a glove a size too large tends to help keep my hands warm. Not everyone would agree with me. If it is very wet, be careful the puffy style gloves as torrential rain will turn them into heavy, wet pillows in an instant. Currently my favorites are the Bellwether Pittards Windstorm gloves. That style seems to work very well for mountain biking in wet and muddy conditions with cool conditions. You may want much warmer and more insulated gloves if you are dealing with very cold and dry conditions.
No triathlete can resist the allure of new shoes. Trail shoes are a wonderful gift this time of year because they can run double duty between trail running and snow running if necessary. A little extra tread on the soles along with a bit more protection from water and mud means these shoes are the perfect item for winter running. An added bonus is the head start you might be giving your friend or loved one on their New Year’s resolutions! Nearly every shoe company makes a trail shoe but the one of note to look out for is the new Avi-Stoltz from AVIA. That shoe was designed specifically for XTERRA racing by none other than Conrad Stoltz. Nice work Conrad!
It is no secret that the folks in XTERRA are not known as the best swimmers in the business. That said, this year we did see the best swimmers show up at most of the events so you can’t discount the importance of training for the swim portion of the race. I think the biggest swim weakness in most XTERRA athletes is their swim technique. Using the Finis Swim Snorkel eliminates all the pesky breathing that can confuse a challenged swimmer, so he or she can focus on their stroke. For those who need a little added motivation, Finis also offers the cool SwiMP3 device to help get you psyched up for a day in the pool. No more missed swim practices!
Load Generating Trainer
Some people absolutely loathe time on a trainer while others feel it is a key tool for their cycling success. I believe having a load generating trainer is a very powerful tool to allow you to monitor your progress all year and ensure that you are doing exactly the workout you set out to do. I feel the most important consideration in buying a trainer is how closely it will mimic road (or trail) feel. That is, when you bolt your bike into the trainer can you pedal smoothly as if you were rolling down the road or does the mechanism on the trainer create drag that inhibits a smooth pedalstroke? I have only tried two load generating trainers that do give you this “outdoor riding” experience and those are the Saris Powerbeam and the Racermate Computrainer. The added bonus of the Powerbeam is that it is a wireless system so very easy to set up. I think anyone who is getting specific about what kind of training they are doing would find this a very valuable tool.
Saeco Coffee Machine
Okay, so I am not entirely practical. Any self respecting mountain biker (only in my opinion and I apologize to non coffee drinkers everywhere) rides their bike simply to enjoy more of their favorite beverage (coffee in the morning, beer in the afternoon). What better way to inject liquid motivation in the morning that to have a fully automated cappuccino machine at your disposal? I believe the time savings of having your own machine versus visiting the local coffee establishment are well documented. Although, the experience of meeting a friend over a cup of coffee while watching interesting people is worth the price of admission. A close second to the Saeco machine is the ultra cool Alessi 9090 Espresso machine. At the end of the day, it isn’t ALL about the bike.