I made fire – and whittled down my New Year’s Resolution list

I've conquered six of the eight items on this year's New Year's resolution list. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman
I’ve conquered six of the eight items on this year’s New Year’s resolution list. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman


I’m not going to lie. It’s been a rough year.

I lost my father to non-smokers’ lung cancer two weeks ago, and feel like I’ve been run over by a dump truck. Staying active and getting outdoors have become even more important than ever.

Yesterday, I headed to Earth Native Wilderness Survival School near Bastrop, where I checked off one of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions – I made fire using the friction method.

That was the top item on my list, actually. I like the idea of being self sufficient, and fire making seems like a useful skill for someone like me who loves to backpack. Plus, it’ll make good cocktail party fodder, don’t you think?

I’ve conquered six of the eight resolutions I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Besides making fire, I set a personal record in a race (the Big Bend Ultra 25K in January, where I shaved 20 minutes off my time) and swam a 100-yard butterfly set at swim practice.I think I’ve done pretty well with the whole “be a duck” motto, letting unimportant things slide off me like water off a duck’s back. And I’ve continued my “run with scissors” philosophy of trying new things and taking small risks – I stood astride two trotting Belgian horses, gave a Nerd Night talk and ran a trail race up a mountain in Montana.The very last item on my list was “Above all, enjoy life, family and friends. You never know when they’ll be gone.” I have no regrets there. I spent every evening but two of the last six weeks of my dad’s life with him. We had some remarkable conversations, and I got to know my step mom’s family a lot better during that time. I’m grateful for it.I didn’t do so well at two items – more yoga and worry less/relax more. Places to improve!

How have you done with your list?

Test driving a high-tech electric bike

Rocket Electrics had one of eight new Stromer ST2 bikes on hand last week. I checked it out. CHRIS LEBLANC/Contributed
Rocket Electrics had one of eight new Stromer ST2 bikes on hand last week. I checked it out. CHRIS LEBLANC/Contributed


I stopped by Rocket Electrics a few days ago to check out a fancy new electric bike called the Stromer ST2.

You may or may not know that my husband converted one of my bikes to an electric bike a few weeks ago. It used to be called the Cheeto, because it’s orange. Now we call it the eCheat-Oh because it gives me a free boost going up hills when I want it.The Stromer’s a Mercedes to my Ford Fiesta – it’s big, heavy and luxurious. It’s also loaded with fancy features, including high-tech sensors that enable the bike to understand what you’re doing and adjust accordingly. You can track it via a desktop computer or smart phone, and even disable it from afar if needed (like if someone steals it.) There’s an onboard USB port and the bike’s performance and diagnostics are stored in the owner’s profile in the cloud.

I’ve noticed more and more e-bikes as I commute to and from work. I’m not the only one who sees the advantages – since I can’t go faster than about 15 mph I’m legal on bike paths, which means I avoid getting stuck in street traffic. I save gas and get a little exercise, too. (More than driving, anyway.)

The Stromer had advantages and disadvantages, though. It felt powerful, like it could gallop up anything in its path. But it was super heavy – about 60 pounds. Which means it would be hard to transport in the back of a pickup truck, which is something I do pretty regularly with the eCheat-Oh. And I’m not sure I’d use all the tech features, like pre-programming it for different routes.

Another disadvantage? It costs about $7,000, which is out of my price range. That compared to the $800 my husband sent converting my bike.

But I can dream, can’t I?


Walk With a Doc at Camp Mabry on Nov. 8

The American Diabetes Association and Scott & White Health are teaming up for teh Nov. 8 Walk With a Doc event at Camp Mabry. CONTRIBUTED/American Diabetes Association

Put on your walking shoes, folks.

Walking is an easy way to squeeze exercise into your daily routine, and on Saturday, Nov. 8 you can step out with a physician at the local Walk With a Doc event. The free event starts at 9 a.m. at Camp Mabry, 2200 West 35th Street.

Doctors say that walking 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, boost your mood and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes.

But wait, there’s more! To read a list of 100 reasons it’s good to walk, go here.

The American Diabetes Association teamed up with Scott & White Health to put on the event, which is part of the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes. Participants will get a free blood pressure screening, pedometer, T-shirt and refreshments.

For more information, go here.

Austin Simply Fit power lifters head to world championships

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Franki Spell, center, will compete at the International Powerlifting League’s World Championships in Las Vegas. STATESMAN/Reshma Kirpalani

Eight Austin women (and one guy!) who train at Austin Simply Fit are headed to the International Powerlifting League’s World Championships in Las Vegas, where they plan to hoist a whole bunch of weight.

Krista Bergeron, Nicole Gonzales, Franki Spell, Robyn Pettinger, Annie Diu, Lauren Goebel, Phoebe Morales, Martha King and Bruce Koch will compete Nov. 5-9. John De La Paz, Meryl Carey, Bonnie Thomas, Julie Novack and Dana Rygwelski also qualified, but won’t compete.

Nicole Gonzales will make her second appearance at the International Powerlifting League’s World Championships in Las Vegas. STATESMAN/Reshma Kirpalani
Nicole Gonzales will make her second appearance at the International Powerlifting League’s World Championships in Las Vegas. STATESMAN/Reshma Kirpalani

Each athlete gets three attempts each of a squat, bench lift and deadlift.

The team – which includes some really cool women who range in age from their 20s to their 50s – has been training under the direction of Mark Rogers, president of Austin Simply Fit. I wrote about the women’s training program at the gym a few months ago. (Go here  to read it.)

“This will be another opportunity to showcase our strength, perseverance and love for the sport,” Rogers said in a press release. “We plan to break multiple world records and have multiple athletes chosen to Team USA.”

The competition marks Gonzales’ second appearance at Worlds; the others are making their debut at the meet. Gonzalez, who weighs 132 pounds, aims to lift 900 pounds total and break the world record in both the squat and deadlift.

“I’m excited to test out all the hard work and dedication I’ve put in these past four months training to compete with the very best in the sport,” she said in a press release.

“I just want to do the very best that I can and improve on my previous lifts,” said King, 56.

Ready to Run celebrates a year with a fun run

Ryan Hess, whose hair isn't this long anymore, marks the one-year anniversary of Ready to Run this weekend.
Ryan Hess, whose hair isn’t this long anymore, marks the one-year anniversary of Ready to Run this weekend. PAM LeBLANC/American Statesman Staff

Congrats to Ryan Hess, whose Ready to Run store in Northwest Hills marks its one-year anniversary this weekend.

To celebrate, the shop will host a fun run at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, with prizes for the best costume. The overall male and female finishers will win a backpack stuffed with goodies, and the runner who most accurately predicts his or her finish time (without checking a watch or other timing device) gets a prize too.

If you don’t want to race, you can still test drive shoes from New Balance, Mizuno, Brooks and Asics or try products from 2XU Compression Run, FuelBelt, Drymax Socks, PowerBar, Bonk Breakers and Nuun Hydration. Snap Kitchen will give out post-race samples, too.

The store is located at 3616 Far West Boulevard.

NYC marathoners: A running shoe just for you

Brooks Running Company has launched a pair of shoes honoring the New York City Marathon.
Brooks Running Company has launched a pair of shoes honoring the New York City Marathon.

And now, for Austin athletes running the New York City Marathon this weekend: A pair of shoes just for you.

Brooks Running Company launched sales today of a limited edition version of its Adrenaline GTS 15 decked out with images of the New York City skyline and Lady Liberty. Instead of red, white and blue, the Freedom Adrenaline GTS is swathed in oxidized green and orange – to represent the color of the famous statue and her flame.

The shoe sells for $130.
The shoe sells for $130.

Gotta love that.

Hundreds of Austin runners are planning to run the marathon, which is set for Sunday. Good luck!

The shoes sell for $130 and are available at several dozen stores in New York City. You can’t buy them in Austin, but can order them online. Go to http://www.BrooksRunning.com for more information.

Now I think we need a special pair (decorated with armadillos or newspapers?) for the Cap10K. Don’t you?

Please Be Kind to Cyclists, Davis Phinney Foundation fund-raisers set for November

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I won this cruiser bike at the Please Be Kind to Cyclists fund-raiser a few years ago. This year’s event is set for Nov. 8.

Two fund-raisers for really good causes are coming up in November …

    * Don a costume (or don’t) and head to the Please Be Kind To Cyclists 2014 Masquerade Social Soiree, set for 7-10 p.m. Nov. 8 at the 410 Speedshop, 410 Pressler Street. The event celebrates Austin’s biking community, and honors those who have been injured or killed while cycling. It also raises funds used for educational programs, to help injured cyclists and their families, and to support public campaigns such as the Safe Passing initiative. The event, sponsored by Pure Austin Fitness, will include live music, food, drinks, dancing, a raffle and a silent auction. (A couple of years ago I bid on – and won! – a cool baby blue beach cruiser at the event.) Masks provided at the door. Tickets are $60 for members, $75 for non-members and $500 for a table for eight. For more information go to http://www.bekindtocyclists.org/2014-fundraiser.html.
    * “Gear Up for Victory: A Freewheeling Gala Benefiting People With Parkinson’s,” a cycling-themed fund-raiser hosted by the Davis Phinney Foundation, is set for 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at the 410 Speedshop, 410 Pressler Street. Expect music by the Bluebonnets, an auction and raffle, food and drinks. The foundation, founded by Davis and Connie Phinney four years after Davis’ diagnoses with Parkinson’s Disease, aims to help people with Parkinson’s live well today. In 2013, its programs and resources touched more than 100,000 people impacted by Parkinson’s in the U.S. and beyond. Tickets are $75 early bird; $125 general, $250 VIP.


We Wave initiative promotes safety for bicyclists, motorists


Maybe a friendly wave can help.

Police Chief Art Acevedo will unveil a new initiative today that aims to improve safety of cyclists and motorists on Austin streets.

The idea? A friendly wave makes bicyclists and motorists more aware of each other, and fosters cooperation and camaraderie between the two groups.

That’s a big challenge. I get regular emails from motorists frustrated by cyclists’ behavior, and vice versa.

The truth is, there are good bicyclists and not-so-good bicyclists, just as there are good motorists and not-so-good motorists.  We all need to look out for one another as we share the roadways.

A short film that accompanies the We Wave initiative features Austin musicians Ben Kweller and Bruce Robison, hotelier Liz Lambert, BMX pro Aaron Ross, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, Bicycle Sport Shop owner and Bike Austin board member Hill Abell and his wife Laura, along with Acevedo. To watch it go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jl9iDuOwYhM.

For more information go to wewave.org.

Merchandise sales help underwrite the campaign through continued events and deployment of the “Wavemobile,” slated to roll Austin’s streets soon.

Roll nice, folks.

Behold, the Electric Cheeto!

Pam LeBlanc rides her newly converted electric bike. Contributed/John Pierce
Pam LeBlanc rides her newly converted electric bike. Contributed/John Pierce

You might recognize the bike, which we’ve long called The Cheeto. For the last six or seven years I’ve been pedaling it all over Austin. My husband Chris built it up from parts, and it’s served me well in getting me to work and home most days.

But now that my husband has converted it to an electric bike, it’s a lot easier riding up hills.

I blame Rocket Electrics, an Austin bike shop that sells purpose-built electric bikes. After years of scoffing at people who rode e-bikes, this summer I borrowed a very fancy electric one from the shop. I immediately fell in love.

Suddenly I could zip home without breaking a sweat (or a bad sweat) on an August afternoon, but I could still legally ride on bike trails and avoid the traffic congestion on roads.

I’m not suggesting an e-bike as a replacement for exercise, but I get plenty of that through running and swim practice. And I don’t use the electric boost on my new e-bike all the time, just when I want to. That normally happens on hot afternoons, when I’m slogging up Lamar Boulevard. Now I just twist the throttle and the little electric motor takes the work out of the ride.

After much online research, Chris bought a $300 battery kit online from a Chinese company called BMS Battery. The shipping cost a whopping $254, but we decided to get it anyway.

That big silver thermos-looking device on the down tube? That’s the battery pack. It comes off the bike and plugs into an electric socket in the wall. I can go from swim practice to work and back home – about 10 miles – on less than half a charge.

Chris had never built an e-bike before, and it took him about 10 hours to set up. (He says the next one would take about 3 hours, now that he knows what he’s doing.) The pedal-assist feature (which I really want) still doesn’t work, and there’s a stutter problem with the motor sometimes.

Chris hopes to fix those problems. I’ll keep you posted.

I should note here that Chris is particularly handy, and has served as my personal bike mechanic since I’ve known him. I don’t think the conversion is something that just anyone could do.

So far, though, I love my new Electric Cheeto.

Nike Training Club hosting free workouts at UT this week


Free workout by Nike, anyone?

Nike Training Club drops by the University of Texas this week, offering a total of six free workout sessions that range from group runs to dancing, boxing and high intensity training. (Did we mention they’re free?)

It’s called NTC Week. The event is geared toward female college students (train like a Longhorn!), but is open to anyone who wants to participate. Attendees must register in advance for the classes here.

Nike Training Club is a global fitness community designed to inspire and enable female athletes, and includes the N+TC App, a full-body training app for all fitness levels. Athletes can choose four-week programs or one-off workouts.

Here’s the lineup for NTC Week at UT:

  • 7:15 p.m. Monday. Runday Funday – A 2-mile run and football inspired workout with Michael Johnson Performance Center trainers; Victory at Gregory Gym University of Texas.
  • 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Bollywood Zumba; Anna Hiss Gym at the University of Texas.
  • 5 p.m. Wednesday. Boxing; Victory at Gregory Gym University of Texas.
  • 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Discovery run; Turtle Pond University of Texas.
  • 4:30 p.m. Friday. Paddleboard yoga; The Rowing Dock at Town Lake.
  • 8 a.m. Saturday. Celebratory NTC Workout – Nike master trainers Marie Purvis and Flor Beckmann lead a high intensity workout: Main Mall at the University of Texas.