It's About The Journey
Only a few hundred feet from the start of the 2015 Tall Chief Road Race - Cat 5, 67 racers.

Only a quarter-mile from the start of the 2015 Tall Chief Road Race – Cat 5, 67 racers.

By now, most of you have ridden in a group ride, or a mass start tour ride. Your skills have improved, you’ve got thousands of miles under your belt, and your speed is starting to really climb. So, you want to jump into a race. But what is it like within that peloton? How does it differ from a group or tour ride? What should you look out for?

The more you know going into that peloton, the safer you – and everyone else – will be.

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Yes, this is about as organized as the race will get.

Yes, this is about as organized as the race will get.

When I first wanted to dabble in racing, I was given exactly zero advice. In fact, the only thing I was told was, “Hey, you should race.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming my teammates at the time. I didn’t ask a lot of questions. At the same time, not much was volunteered. It’s just how it is.

That doesn’t work for me, though. I’m a planner. The more I think and know and analyze going into a situation, the more comfortable I feel. But what I found was that those who are racing tend to speak in racing terminology, to others who have already raced.

So, for those tour riders who have been speeding up and enjoy competition (and a lack of elbow room), I’m going to go over some of the things that I know now that I did not know before I started racing. Think of it like an IFAQ – Infrequently Asked Questions – for getting into racing.

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Insert cadence A into potassium port B... wait, where did aero position G go?

Insert Cadence A into Potassium port B… wait, where did Aero Position G go?

If you picked up a wheel, could you mistake it for a bike? Probably not. But you know it’s a part of the bike. What about the handle bars? The saddle? The tires? Any individual piece will tell you something of the bike, but you can’t call any of them the a bike without the rest of them. The entity of the bike is – as with many things in life – more than the sum of it’s parts.

Our brains work the exact same way. No one neuron contains a memory. You can’t just pull out a single brain cell and say, “Yep, that’s Friday, 7:15 PM, when I ate that steak.” That neuron contains only a piece of the information. A very small piece. Through it and the thousands of others surrounding it, we start getting a sense of the idea, and in turn the idea itself. Every memory, every thought, is an aggregate of many smaller pieces that on their own don’t mean much.

This concept is an important one in riding.

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The chase group in the far-left of this picture is approx. 1,000 ft away. That's a 28 second gap at 24 mph.

The chase group in the far-left of this picture is approx. 1,000 ft away. That’s a 28 second gap at 24 mph.

Whereas most of my posts focus on casual riding, I’ve been doing a good amount of racing in the past year, so I’d like to cover a racing topic. More specifically, I’ve been doing a lot of criteriums (fast, short-course races), that contain breaks, chases, and – more often than not – failures of chases to catch breaks. These events got me thinking:

  1. How long would you have to work to chase down a break?
  2. How hard would you have to work to chase down a break?
  3. At what point does it become unfeasible to chase down a break?

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"Why would anyone make a bike out of steel?"

“Why would anyone make a bike out of steel?”

Rolling News. December 15th, 2015.

At approximately 7:42 AM, Stuart “Steely” Jones was riding east along Loston Rd. when he was struck from behind. The car – whose make and model are being suppressed by the auto manufacturer while the investigation into the crash continues – didn’t stand a chance.

“I was getting my morning miles in when I heard squealing, and then bam, I felt something hit my trusty steed,” said Jones. By “trusty steed,” Jones is referring to his 63 pound, steel framed, fixed gear bicycle that he rides to train in the off-season. “When I stopped and looked around, I saw this mangled wreckage, and a guy climbing out of what I guess used to be a car.”

Jones was uninjured by the collision, though his bike’s cargo rack was slightly dented.

We spoke with the driver of the 2015 [redacted by our layers] [also redacted by our lawyers] SL in his hospital room. “The sun was in my eyes as I was coming up to the bridge, and I just didn’t see him,” said the driver, 32 year old Bryan Sunger. “I thought I had hit an oncoming car! I mean, why would anyone make a bike out of steel?”

Mr. Sunger, having only recently purchased this vehicle, had chosen it because of it’s high fuel efficiency. A large part of that efficiency comes from extra-light aluminum, carbon fiber, and ceramic construction, as well as a (formerly) aerodynamic profile. “The salesman had me all convinced that this new carbon fiber body is a must-have,” said Sunger. “And it was twice as expensive as their [redacted] @#$% [redacted] model!”

When asked if he would be likely to purchase the same vehicle again, Sunger said, “You kidding me? I’m just going to start riding my bike to work. It’s safer.”

In competition, it's okay to be beaten. It's not okay to be complacent about it.

In competition, it’s okay to be beaten. It’s not okay to be complacent about it.

We’ve all been beaten at one point or another. Be it through harder circumstances than we could bare, tougher competition, or even just bad luck. It happens. Sometimes we’re beaten, and other times we beat ourselves.

But watching my fellow cyclists, I’ve noticed a lot of us – myself most definitely included – are getting caught up in glorifying defeat.

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Know Thyself. One of the Delphic maxims (seen here written in Greek - "gnothi seauton")

Know Thyself. One of the Delphic maxims (seen here written in Greek – “gnothi seauton”)

Forget the bike. Forget the gear, the road, the nutrition. Forget everything but you. Stand there and take a good, hard look. There are some truths you’re going to have to face. You are you – no one else. You are only as strong as you are. You’re only as fast, as well trained as you. This is important, because everything – everything starts there. With you.

There are two sides to this ancient Greek aphorism (an inscription from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi). In one sense, it’s a warning: to know your limits, be humble, and avoid boasting. In the case for the Temple of Apollo, it could be taken as a reminder to walk humbly in the presence of gods. On the other side, it means  that the opinions of others account for nothing – that you must know who you are, no matter what others say or do.

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[This is Part 3 of the “Nitty-Gritty of Nutrition” Series. Click here to read “Part 1 – The Macro on Nutrients“, or “Part 2 – Calories In, Calories Out“]

How you’ve managed to stick around for this much reading is beyond me, but kudos! In the last part of this series, we went over the common mistakes with caloric burn rates and caloric replenishment, as well as the upper-limits of replenishment. In this final segment of this series we’ll deal with the caloric deficits inherent to cycling, and some post-ride scarfing that – when done right – can help make up for it.

Unblancing Act

Try as you may, the output is stacked against you.

Try as you may, the output is stacked against you.

So… notice a problem here with the numbers we’ve seen over the last few posts? Let me give an example:

  • Average glycogen reserves: ~2,100 Calories
  • Yesterday I did a ride in which I burned 734 Cal/hr
  • I ingested about 150 Cal/hr (really, I should do MUCH better than this)
  • Calories available after processing: 135 Cal/hr
  • Hourly caloric deficit: 599 Cal/hr
  • Total ride time: 2 hours
  • Total caloric deficit: 1,198

Now, for a 2 hour ride, that’s okay. I have more than enough glycogen stores that I shouldn’t bonk (assuming I start replenishing right after the ride), and in fact I didn’t bonk, even with my low ingestion rate. But if I were to extend this to a four hour event, that caloric deficit is would’ve been huge – 2,396 Calories. Even with having eaten 600 Calories over those four hours, my tank is definitely on empty, and I probably started feeling that approaching wall around the 3:30 mark if not sooner. Had I eaten twice as many Calories, I would’ve been at a deficit of 1,856, which my glycogen stores should be able to just about cover, meaning I’d have been getting worn down but most likely wouldn’t have bonked.

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[This is Part 2 of the “Nitty-Gritty of Nutrition” Series. Click here to read “Part 1 – The Macro on Nutrients“]

Welcome back! In Part 1 we covered what the various macronutrients used by the body are, and how they are used. Today, we’re going to go over the loss of and replenishment of calories: the rate they’re burned, how many calories we need, and how fast we can replace them.

The Numbers Don’t Lie To Us, But We Do



Before we figure out how much we need to put in the tank, we need to figure out how much we’re removing. Many cyclists use activity trackers that track power and heart rate to give us a pretty good idea of the calories expended on a ride. When we get home, we see those burned calories and think, “Yes! I can eat a whole extra day’s worth of food!” Slow down. Yes, you burned those calories, but one thing a lot of cyclists forget is that some of those calories would’ve been burned even if you were just sitting around watching the Tour de France.

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We work out. We eat. We work out. We eat some more. What is it that we’re eating? How do the things we eat ultimately drive our legs? And how many calories are we really burning? I’m not going to give you specific eating guidelines since everyone has their own dietary needs, and needs to adjust them to their activity and personal requirements. But it’s good to understand what food really is to the body, how it’s used, and how fast it’s used.

Notes on Notation

Okay, yes, "c" is also for "cookie."

Yes, C is ALSO for “Cookie.”

Before I delve too deeply, I want to clarify something regarding calories. There are two notations for calories:

  • c (lower-case “c”): this is the scientific notation for a “calorie”, and is equivalent to 4.184 Joules of energy – the energy needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere.
  • C (upper-case “C”): known a a food, nutritional, or dietary calorie, this is equivalent to 1,000 calories (lower-case “c”), and is also called a kilocalorie. A calorie is very small amount of energy, so when working with food, it’s easier to use Calories (1,000 calories) instead.

For the purpose of this article, all references to calories will mean food calories (upper-case “C”).

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