Training ride number 10. You’re out on the road, feeling pretty good. The cause is right, the friends are right, and at mile 2, the pace is right. At some point, you notice the conversation dies down, and the guy who was right front of you is suddenly a couple hundred feet in front. Then you turn a corner, and he’s gone!
You think: he’s my height, age, and build. He was helpful, compared his bike to mine, and he was impressed that they were largely equivalent. As you go through the factors that made you eat his dust, you conclude: It must be me. How do I improve?
Addressing that question has taken years. This blog is full of researched and cited tips on safety, performance, nutrition, hydration, sleep, clothing, and dragons. Please search, browse, and enjoy.
New and experienced riders can feel this way. So, you are not alone. To answer the first part first: it is you. You are the rider who got up at 5 am to make the 7:30 am meet up time. You are the rider who stayed up late cleaning his bike. You are the rider who carved out 7 hours on a Sunday to ride 70 miles. You are the rider committed to schlepping his ass 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You are already strong.
So the real question is: how could it be that that other guy is so much faster than I am? That question I will try to answer in a short series of posts which will help you to understand issues affecting performance. You’ll be surprised how subtle changes can affect your cycling.
But, if you want to start answering the question, you have to make me two promises. First, try to think: I’ve already won just by getting out of bed and onto my bike. Second, try to minimize comparing your performance to others. These are big asks, so I’m only asking that you try.
All promised? Good.
Here’s an outline of upcoming posts:
- Maintaining a good spin to avoid muscle fatigue.
- Climbing, descending, and flats.
- Eating and drinking for performance.
- Keeping your bike clean.
- Working through your doubts and fears.
- Riding in poor weather.
- Setting a workable training schedule.
I will commit to writing one entry a week. That brings us up to about mid-April. Please message me and let me know what additional topics you’d like to talk about. And comment, below!
Minor falls happen and most of the injuries you may get are apparent from the bruised knees and knuckles and ripped garments they leave behind. But there’s one injury you might not even know you have which is far more serious: concussion. When you fall, there’s always a chance that your brain has hit the side of your skull, bruising it. Obviously, we cannot see people’s brains. And it appears impossible to see these bruises even with an MRI or CAT scan. So its important to look for the signs.
First, I know you were wearing your helmet. (If not, read my blog entries on the important of helmets.)
Second, if the helmet is cracked or seriously scratched, it means that you hit your head.
Third, If you face or head is bruised or bleeding, it means you hit your head.
Fourth, if you have any lapse in memory, for however short a time, it means you hit your head. (And if your helmet is cracked or you have injuries to your face or head and can’t remember them, you definitely hit your head.)
Fifth, if you feel disoriented, confused, or just plain weird, you probably hit your head.
You can also test yourself, if you want to purchase expensive software of iPhone apps, or you can and should see your doctor as soon after the incident as possible. If you’re on an organized ride, go to the medical tent at the next rest stop!
This stuff happens to us regular riders and to pros. Here’s professional cyclist Jade Wilcoxson’s description of her crash:
A girl in front of me decided to ride into a space that didn’t exist, then hit a car and ricocheted into the peloton in front of me. I don’t remember the next five minutes. I’d gone down hard and took the brunt of the fall on the back of my head. My helmet did its job and shattered in the process. I can’t imagine what my skull would look like if I didn’t have a helmet on. I suspect it would have been a life-changing (or life-ending) crash.
My mechanic found me and held my bike while I tried to get back on it. I apparently fell down three times in the process, but when director Jack drove up I told him I could still race (adrenaline = bad decision making). He took one look at me and told me to get in the car. I think my eyes may have been pointing in different directions.
(Bicycling Magazine, “To Ride or Not Ride.”)
She goes on to describe her symptoms and how they prevented her form exercise, “I spent the next 48 hours feeling like I was rocking on a small boat….” She tried to get back on her bike, but even moderate exercise left her, “foggy, exhausted, and ready for a two-hour nap.”
Worse than just affecting your workout, exercise after concussion can slow recovery:
[R]esearchers tracked the medical records and activity levels of 95 student athletes … who had suffered concussions in school sports. The students were evaluated using cognitive tests immediately after the concussion and in follow-up visits. The data showed that athletes who engaged in the highest level of activity soon after the initial injury tended to demonstrate the worst neurocognitive scores and slowest reaction times. Students fared better if they didn’t return immediately to their sport but instead simply engaged in normal school and home activities.
(New York Time Sports blog, “Sports Activity after Concussion Slows Recovery.”)
There’s no bandaid you can put on your brain. Recovery takes time and rest. Doctors have developed a recovery plan for after brain injuries:
- Become symptom-free at rest;
- Become symptom-free with light activity — meaning walking, jogging, or training on a stationary bike;
- Become symptom-free with “light practice” — meaning for cyclists, short, flat, semi-strenuous rides;
- Become symptom-free during regular practice with no contact or while being “yellow-shirted” — meaning for cyclists, a regular training ride but at a reduced pace;
- Become symptom-free during regular practice — meaning a regular training ride at a nearly regular pace;
- Become symptom-free while participating in an event — meaning regular riding at full pace.
Once you reach one stage, you get to move on to the next stage. If you fail the next stage, you have to drop back until you’re ready to move on. This process takes 4 to 6 weeks, for most people. See the video, below, for an explanation:
But make sure you’re doing this under the supervision of a doctor. The take away is: give yourself time to recover. Your heath is much more important, and besides, overtraining will only delay your recovery.
This weekend was a milestone for my AIDS/LifeCycle training. As I’ve been preaching to my trainees, Jon Walker, Matthew Bokach, and I rode two challenging, back-to-back rides. On Saturday, we rode on the 65 mile 2013 Day on the Ride — a practice day for the ALC. Then on Sunday, we rode in the Chico Velo Wildflower Century, specifically on a new route: the Wildcat 100, combining the toughest hills from both the regular Wildflower and the Wildcat 125.
A. Wherein we Seek Out the Dragons.
Saturday’s Day on the Ride included 65 miles, 3360 feet of climbing, and burning about 4003 calories. Sunday’s Wildcat 100 included 109.4 miles, 7531 feet of climbing, and burning about 6902 calories. For a total of 173.4 miles, 10,891 feet of climbing, and 10,905 calories burned! We all rode every mile of both rides, and deserve to be proud of our achievement.
The weekend was fraught with challenges. The goal itself was hard enough: Stay with my friend John Hollwedel in San Francisco Friday night. Complete Saturday’s ride in San Francisco. Repack everything in the Sports Basement parking lot. Drive from San Franciso to the Chico area (about a 3 hour drive). Complete Sunday’s ride in Chico. Drive back to Sacramento
by a reasonable hour. By and large that is how it went. But, as every cyclist knows, the dragons can come out to have their way with you.
B. Wherein the Dragons Finally Show Themselves.
This weekend the dragons came out in two ways. The first was, because of our hurried packing in the parking lot, one of us lost his wallet — discovered only after we had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge back north on the road to Chico. That required a drive back over the bridge for a search, which turned up nothing, sadly.
Despite the loss, we persevered and drove to pick up Matthew (who had driven separately) in Davis. Showering made us all feel better for the remaining drive and the fretting over the lost wallet was lost in the joy of what we were doing.
Then to Chico. Our hotel in Oroville was definitely sketchy. Peeling wallpaper over a large hole in the wall, an impromptu barbecue at 10:30 p.m. in the parking lot attended by what appeared to be drunken flunkies. But none of that bothered us. We got into bed early and slept until 5.
The real test of our mettle came on the Wildcat 100. The ride started out as a typical one. Registration, a hurried breakfast, and out on the road by 6:30. But, as a portent of things to come, the organizers had run out of the “blue” route sheets describing the ride we were about to go on. “100 miles,” we thought, “we won’t need a route sheet!” At that point, I really didn’t know how much climbing there would be or how hot it can get during a Chico April.
Perhaps I should have been better prepared, but on most organized rides, the organizers provide most of what you need: food, water, electrolyte drink, and directions. The food may not always be good, but it is usually plentiful.
But, apparently, the Wildcat 100 was a new route for this group. Thus, they had no idea how long it would take for the participants to make it to rest stops.
The first 48 miles were epic. Cool and shady, the climb to 3300 feet was stunning and challenging. The rest stop at the top was shared with riders doing the Wildcat 125 route (which, though longer, appears to have been an easier route). By that point we were relaxed and confident and relatively well fed — oddly, the first rest stop only had cookies and fruit as snacks, while the second had the same plus some bars. Neither stop had electrolyte drink.
Though that was not enough food for me, I ate what I could and even stashed a couple bars in my pocket. We went on, feeling good and ready for lunch. The time was only about 11:30, so we weren’t worried about finishing.
C. Wherein I Confront my Dragon.
I can still remember the moment when I started to worry.
At about mile 66 after a sustained 10 mile descent, our route rejoined the regular century. There was confusing route markings, so I stopped to wait for Jon and Matthew. I waited nearly 15 minutes, believing they were right behind me and lunch was right in front of me (I understood that there would be a lunch stop at mile 78 — strangely far into the ride, but not as strange as reality).
I waited and waited and many many riders passed me. It got hot and my hunger made me realize it was time to continue without them. I rode on, and on, and on in the hot sun with my lukewarm water and nothing to eat. The road was beautiful, green fields turning California gold on both side, and no one anywhere near me.
This is where I met my dragon.
The road is long. “Am I on the right road? I followed the blue markers and this is where they led. I know I’m in the right place, I just wish that Jon and Matthew had caught up with me. Had I missed something? Was one of the injured or plagued by mechanical problems?” The questions kept coming, but with no way to answer them (and no cell signal), I had no choice but to continue on.
I finally got to the rest stop at mile 78, only to learn that all the food was gone and the roadies were packing up. Hot. Dry. Confused and irritated. I ate the bars I had brought and drank half a bottle of juice left over from the food that had been there — fortunately it was very cold — and refilled my water bottles. I waited there for another 15 minutes for Jon and Matthew, but they never appeared. So, still very hungry, I got back on the road.
But a little intuition told me to wait at the entrance to the rest stop for Jon and Matthew. I did and only about 5 minutes later they appeared. I was very relieved and — with only 22 miles left to go, ready for the challenge. The time was about 2:30 p.m., so I figured we could complete those miles in only a little over an hour. Wrong!
The climb up Table Mountain took at least an hour, and the descent (despite the sign which said “its all down hill from here” and some killer down hills) was gentle rollers and some tiring flat stretches which took over an hour.
It took two and a half hours to complete the ride from where I rejoined Jon and Matthew in part because the distance was not 22 miles, but was 31 miles — a distance which typically takes me under 2 hours, but with the very steep ascent and the heat dragged on.
D. Wherein I Slay my Dragon.
That is where I slew the dragon.
I made it to the top of Table Mountain without stopping and running on empty. I was very pleased with that effort and it seemed my frustration and mental suffering internalized and turned into a Zen-like peace. I felt comfortable with the heat and my now painful butt. I felt like I was invincible.
The dragon had me in its jaws, but I didn’t care. I just smiled at it, holding it at arms length. “I’m here. I’m nowhere near any permanent physical ailment. I’ve trained for this and I can do this.” So, though I didn’t have much more than that — and still hadn’t eaten enough food — I knew I could finish. It was that feeling which carried me though.
We continued on along the amazingly beautiful top of Table Mountain — reminiscent of the Shire — chatting and with renewed confidence. We descended down past the now-closed mile 90 ersatz lunch stop (really? mile 90?). We continued on and on and on. In the sun, the flats which led back to the start point were far more difficult than they should have been.
Finally, we hit mile 100. Mile 100 occurred just above Highway 70 near a town called Durham. Its a great spot, because it is surrounded by fields and you can see in all directions for at least 5 miles. And one thing I could see is that there was no buidlings for at least 5 miles in the direction we were traveling. No buildings means no end point. No end point means that the ride was longer than 100 miles. And at 100 miles, your brain starts to count each tenth.
100.1. 100.2 … 101.3…. 102… The count went on and with each passing 10th, I had to force myself not to freak out. I fantasized about it, though. I fantasized about telling off the ride organizers for planning a route with no useful rest stops. I fantasized about a Big Mac (which I never got). I fantasized about laying in the road weeping. I fantasized about a truck hitting me and running me into the gutter, never to be found again.
What helped? Only one thing: riding. I kept pedaling. I sipped my water slowly so as not to use it all up. I at the last morsel from my pocket (a pack of Honey Stingers — thanks Matthew). And I kept riding. A few riders passed me, and as I inquired about how much further we had to go, they could only give me helpless looks.
Then, finally, at mile 109.4 I arrived at the end point. The time was 5:04 p.m. and I was going to eat if I had to force one of the organizers to drive me to a restaurant. Jon and Matthew arrived a few minutes later and observed that dinner must not have ended because Bear wasn’t screaming. They were right, of course, I probably would have been banned for life from the event if there had been no more food.
Fortunately, there was and it was good. I was the sort of hungry you get when you’re beyond hungry. So I could only eat a small amount compared to the number of calories I had just burned. Pulled pork, tofu, noodles, and salad. It was so good, I can barely describe it. I sat alone and shoveled the food in until the plate was nearly clean.
When Jon and Matthew sat down, we bonded over the experience, compared out dragons, and laughed.
It was one of the best rides of my life. Thanks dragons.
|Bob McDiarmid being a TRL (in a dress).|
- A mileage column. Useful for knowing if you’re on track.
- A turn direction column. Key information!
- The name of the road (or bike path) to turn on. Also key.
- Some notes about the turns. These can help you keep safe, hydrated, and fed.
- Contact information. In case of emergency call 911; otherwise, call a ride leader.
|Typical route sheet.|
- “The first turn is not for 20 miles.” — So you know not to stress out when you’ve not turned for what seems like forever.
- “Make sure you fill your water bottles at mile 18; there’s no water stops for 25 miles after that.”
- “If you go through a tunnel, you’ve gone too far.” — Important to know before you get to the tunnel.
- “There is heavy traffic on Sierra College; be careful with the left hand turn onto English Colony.”
- “There’s a big climb is right after lunch. So make sure you stop and eat.”
|Image from Gay Travellers Network|
We’re at the peak of pre-ride training. Those who have been training all year, are now doing 2 consecutive days on weekends and 100+ miles per week. Those who have been telling secrets to Siri all winter are realizing that the AIDS/LifeCycle 12 is only 11 weeks away, and that its time to get on the bike.
Both groups have one thing in common: you’re going to get cranky; you’re going to get irritable; you’re going to have irrational thoughts of leaving [the sport you love, your spouse, your job, your hometown]; and you’re going to have unexplained aches and pains and feel like a marshmallow. Absent legitimate medical explanations for these, when you’re on a bike, the most likely reason is that you are dehydrated and hungry.
When the Training Ride Leader tells you during the safety speech to “eat before you feel hungry, drink before you feel thirsty,” that is what he’s talking about!
Hunger and dehydration can cause all sorts of symptoms. A wise man (me) once said:
Eat and drink more than you usually do before, during, and after your ride. Having an insufficient store of calories and salt can cause cramping, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, depression, anxiety, and the like… [Read my blog post “Eat!” for citations and much more information.]
So follow the ALC guidelines on nutrition and hydration before, during and after your rides. Listen to your body, true, but listen to those voices in your head too! When they start to get irritable: Drink! Eat!
Cycling is a great forum to face your fears. Nearly every aspect of cycling presents some barrier which must be overcome to succeed. For instance:
- For some, urban cycling is terrifying because of the stop-and-go riding, foot traffic, and chaos of cars.
- For others, cycling in the country can inspire fear because there are so few services and no one to aid you in case of emergency.
- The first time a new rider goes for distance, she can become intimidated by the sheer uncertainty about new stresses on the body or the bicycle.
- When that rider advances to clip-less pedals (the ones you clip into are called “clip-less”) there is the ever-present fear of not being able to clip out in time.
- Riding in a group can always inspire fears of inadequacy.
- But the number one fear which lingers even in experienced riders is getting up those long, steep hills — and then getting back down them.
Now fear is, of course, a good thing. It will keep you riding safely in traffic. It will keep you from leaving your house without your cell phone on long, lonely rides. It will help you to remember your limits, and inspire you to practice cycling skills before you have to use them.
That being said, its equally important to keep your fears in check for they will hold you back. And as with other aspects of cycling, you keep your fears in check by regular, routine practice.
One of the the thrilling things about cycling with friends is watching the fears fall away as they advance. Soon, things that petrified become things that excite, and cycling becomes about the adventure, the exercise, and personal goals.
Later in the week I’ll write about overcoming fear of hills. In the meanwhile, read my essay on cornering (which I need to update).
Its 4:45 a.m. Its only about 60º in the bedroom, so couldn’t be above 35º outside. The day promises to be grey and windy, and I know I’m going to have to fight for every mile of the day’s cycling adventure. Still, I get up, eat, and get into my car for the 90 minute drive to San Francisco (or Tahoe, or Santa Rosa) and smile in spite of the grumbling. Adam wants to know: How do you motivate yourself to do it? The answer is twofold: first, I make it a mechanical process so that I don’t have to think; second, I keep my goals in mind.
A. Automatons Meet their Goals
|Image credit unavailable.|
Making fitness a mechanical process is the process of making it a priority in your life. To do it, you have to first set aside the time you need, making it sacrosanct so that nothing will dissuade you. That means knowing what you need to do ahead of time and literally calendaring it out. Once the plan is in place, you have to make it easy to accomplish by removing physical barriers. A typical ride works pretty much like this for me:
- “Hey, Matthew, want to go for a 100-mile ride at Lake Berryessa on Saturday?”
- Matthew, of course, says “Yes. Pick me up in Davis at 7:00 a.m.”
- Then, sometime that week, I let my clients know that they’ll have to leave messages on Saturday — there’s only spotty cell reception on that route!
- Before I go out on Friday, I layout all my bike clothing, fill my water bottles, make sure my bike is clean and good to go, and I have plenty of snacks ready.
- Friday night, I make sure I’m home by 10:00 p.m., having eaten a carb-rich meal and drunken very little alcohol. Then I prepare the coffee pot and a bowl with oatmeal, nuts, brown sugar etc. to be made as soon as I wake up.
- Get up at 5:30 a.m. so I can leave my house by 6:15 or so. Make my oatmeal and coffee, eat them quickly and post on Facebook complaints about getting up so early.
- By the time I’ve used the toilet, packed my car and started off, I am usually smiling happily.