Absolute Beginners: Keeping Pace

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So, the weather is finally perfect. The sun is shining, the birds are frolicking, the Bears are donning tutus and glitter. Perhaps tomorrow will be the longest ride you’ve attempted to date. Or, perhaps, it will be a century ride — 100 miles of cycling bliss. For those of us with two speeds (on and off), this can be a recipe for a hard bonk. But however fiercely the sun shines or however steep the hills get, there are techniques to get you through the day. Of the many techniques I’ve blogged about before, maintaining an even, achievable pace is just as important.

Image Credit, Forsetmann's Facebook Page.
Image Credit, Forsetmann’s Facebook Page.

The question is, how do you do that if you’ve never ridden 100 miles? The answer is to pay attention to the warning signs early and learn from past rides. Yes, learn from your mistakes, that’s how its done. And as we all know, that can be difficult for the best of us. So, rather than relying on our massive intellects, the next best thing to do is follow a few easy steps.

A. PREPARE

Its important to be ready before you get on your bike. If you skip these, then any amount of pacing yourself is not going to keep you from bonking.

  1. Eat. Yes, your brain and your legs both need proper nutrition. Now’s not the time for dieting. Prepare by eating heartily but healthily the day before then have a healthy breakfast (oatmeal, whole grain toast). (Links in these sections lead to more information on the topic.)
  2. Sleep. Be sure you’re properly rested before you begin.
  3. Know your terrain. Review the route sheet the night before, if possible, and identify problem areas. Climbing, descending, navigating lots of curves, or extended flats can all be difficult for some. Listen to the ride leader when he or she explains the route.
  4. Make sure your bike is well tuned. For longer rides, minor annoyances (squeaks and groans) can become frustration inducing monsters.
  5. Be with the group. Don’t do your first epic ride alone. Be with your mates and do your best to keep up with them.
  6. Stretch. I’m terrible at stretching. I never do it. I’m a bad person. Don’t follow suit. Be sure you’re as limber as you can be.

B. RIDE

During the ride, nutrition, hydration, and keeping your demons at bay all contribute to a successful ride.

  1. Find ride mates who are at your level and try to stick with them. Conversation and companionship are great motivators. You’ll find you can keep up a better pace if you’re not alone.
  2. Hydrate. Have sips of water, alternating with hydration fluid (fizzy tabs or gatorade) at least every 15 minutes. Do this throughout the ride without fail.
  3. Eat. Make sure you get about 100 to 150 calories every hour or so that you’re riding. Have a good lunch. Some people can eat a lot (me), while some need to keep some in reserve. Either way, have something and bring your leftovers with you to eat at the next rest stop. Remember to keep up your riding hydration and nutrition despite lunch.
  4. Rest. Stop at every assigned rest stop, but not for long. Your body is still burning calories and you have to use the momentum you’ve gotten to get through the day. If you’re longer than 15 minutes at any given rest stop, you’re there too long.
  5. Climbing. If you need, take short breathers BEFORE or AFTER the hills. Avoid stopping mid-climb. It is dangerous to yourself or others to stop on a steep hill. It can be difficult to take off up hill. Your body is probably not getting a really good rest, since you’re thinking about the climb. That being said, if you do have to stop, do it on the least-steep part of the hill, and do it in the shade.
  6. Cramping. You have muscle cramping, you’re likely not eating or drinking enough. Yes. I know you’ve been eating and drinking…

C. PACE

Finally, to get you through the ride, keep up a moderate pace. Don’t pour your energy out at any particular stage. Instead, know your own strengths and use them to best advantage.

  1. Maintain a high cadence throughout the ride. Higher cadences mean less muscle strain. Less muscle strain means you can ride longer. (Get a cadence meter.)
  2. Expend your effort on climbs. They’re going to be difficult any way. Let the climbs be where you shine.
  3. Don’t slack on the descents. You can maintain your target heart rate on the descents. But even if you use them to “rest,” don’t just coast down the hills. Which leads me to the general rule…
  4. Pedal. Every foot you’re not pedaling is a waste. A single pedal stroke will get you forward more than if you weren’t pedaling and (if you’re in the right gear) for a tiny fraction of effort. And you can still rest while pedaling.
  5. Keep an even pace on flats/rollers. Try to avoid speeding up then slowing down. Find a groove and stick with it. This is another good reason for a riding partner. The two of you can help keep an even pace.
  6. If you’re feeling rested, that doesn’t mean you need to jet off at full speed. Keep that energy for the hills. (Know yourself. Sometimes its better to get a section over with if a rest stop is coming up.)
  7. Catch yourself before you get exhausted, and rest while cycling. Slow your speed, slow your heart rate while cycling. You’ll save time and effort over stopping to rest.
  8. Consider reducing your pace from the get go. Keep your speed or your heart rate at 90% of your typical ride. (Get a heart rate monitor.)

That’s a lot to digest, but it boils down to pacing yourself, eating enough, and knowing your body and the ride. There are lots of topics in need of expansion here. Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments or on Facebook.

Love,
Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes! Look for a new series for intermediate cyclists in the summer of 2014.

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2 thoughts on “Absolute Beginners: Keeping Pace

    Gary Akenhead said:
    May 6, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Great suggestions! Keep up the good work! Thanks.

    Rod Mc Keen said:
    June 12, 2014 at 3:32 am

    Thanks Robert for this information and otherwise great blog. It is a great resouce and I will pass this on to the newbies that I will be meeting as a volunteer Training Ride Coach in this years Friends for Life Bike Rally. xo

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