When is it time to say when? At what point should that towel be thrown? Sometimes, knowing when to roll away is just as important as knowing when to keep going.
We have limits. Denying limits is – frankly – stupid. The only way to push beyond your limits is to know them, to test them; to elucidate the border between the possible and impossible, allowing yourself a chance to redefine that border.
Denying that you have limits is a great way to get into trouble. If you sign up for a double-metric for next weekend and your longest ride has been 50 miles? There’s a chance you might survive, sure. But more than likely you’re setting yourself up for failure (or at minimum, a horrible time).
So why am I bringing all this up? Well, we often hear things like “just push through” and “keep pedaling” and “you can do anything you set your mind to,” yada yada yada. Velominati would quote Rule #5 – “Harden the fuck up.” All those are great. Seriously, I applaud those who continually challenge themselves: more miles, more climbing, faster speed, bigger events, tougher competition. The only way to get better is to push out of your comfort zone. But that comfort zone has a purpose, and one of the biggest purposes is to keep you safe.
First and foremost, there is no one thing that holds true for everyone. No magic bullet. No “perfect practice.” The only way to learn what works for you is to try it.
Want beats need.
Your mindset towards training can be as important as the training itself. Don’t think of it as “I need to do my intervals.” Think of it as “I want to do my intervals.” Don’t think of it as “I can’t eat that cheesecake.” Instead, think “I don’t want to eat that cheesecake.” (Okay, that last one might be extremely difficult). When you associate words of choice rather than words of requirement with an action, those actions are taken (or not) with a more positive attitude, yielding better results.
“Cycle” also means “repeat.”
It’s the name of what we do. We cycle – we repeat what we do over, and over, and over. That’s how we get better.
The more you do it, the less special it is (I’m talking about focused training, of course). Whatever you start to focus on will show significant increases at first, but will eventually level off. However, it’s the minute increases at the top of this flattening arc of improvement that will set you apart from the field.
Food is fuel.
Remy’s dad in “Ratatouille” said it best: “Food is fuel. You get picky ’bout what you put in the tank, and your engine’s gonna die.” I don’t mean that you can eat Twinkies all day and go climb the Alps d’Huez. But you also don’t have to eat kale chips and deprive yourself of a cookie once in a while.
You are not your results.
It’s only too easy to get caught up in the end-game: complete a century; do a sub-5; podium. Cyclists are nothing if not obsessive. If you train for months and don’t make your goal, what then? Was all that training wasted? No. There are all sorts of reasons for not making a goal. As thousands have said before me, shit happens. You could be perfectly placed one moment for the sprint, and the next you’re spit out the back. You can get 90 miles into your century, and suddenly you’re out of gas and cramping. Don’t let the achievement – or not – of your goals define who you are.
Rule #5 is more of a guideline.
You can’t be bad ass all the time. You are not made weaker by saying, “I’m not riding today.” You choose, and should never feel bad about choosing. Riding is a luxury, something to be enjoyed. If it becomes a hardship or requirement, then seriously, what’s the point?
“Ride the damn bike.” Whether you’re new to cycling, or a multi-century-per-day monster, doesn’t matter. You want to get better? RTDB. You want to go faster? RTDB. You can’t afford expensive gear – doesn’t matter, RTDB. You think you might be dropped? RTDB. If you add saddle time, you’ll improve. That’s it. No fancy intervals or meal plans or ultra-pricey gear. Just ride.
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.
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.
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.
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:
How long would you have to work to chase down a break?
How hard would you have to work to chase down a break?
At what point does it become unfeasible to chase down a break?
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.
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.
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.
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
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”).