Stretching. Yes, I know half of you just went “Ugh!” and felt your ham strings involuntarily tighten. But like anything else that’s hard – sprinting, hill climbing, distance riding, changing a flat – you have to do it if you want to get better at it. Today, I’d like to go over why stretching is important, the various types of stretching, the pros/cons of each, and when they should be done. NOTE: I won’t get into specific stretches, because you can find plenty of examples online, and it would take forever to go over them all.
Our body is built around water. We can go a long time without food (though we’ll cover that problem next time), but we cannot survive without water. So, let’s go over hydration.
Water to Sweat
Sweat is pretty impressive. A single, bead of sweat can cool nearly 1 liter of blood by about 1° F. The thing that makes sweat work so well is that it’s made of water. It takes advantage of the large heat of evaporation of water; to keep it non-technical, that means a lot of heat is released into the air as water evaporates from a surface (taking the heat from that surface with it into the surrounding air).
Now here’s where it becomes a problem: about 60% of our body is comprised of water. About 55% of our blood is fluid, with 95% of that fluid being water. That means over half of our blood is made from water. When you sweat, water is removed from the body. It’s gotta come from somewhere, and that somewhere is mostly your blood. The more you sweat, the lower your blood volume. As your blood volume decreases, it becomes more difficult for the body to shed heat.
Now that you’ve got that little earworm stuck for the next 10 hours, let’s get to it.
What are base miles, why do we need ’em, and how do we go about building them?
‘Bout That Base
Cycling has turned into a 365-day sport. If you can put two wheels on the surface, we’ll ride on it. If you get two people together on that same surface, we’ll race on it. This is great, because it’s increased accessibility to cycling year-around, and throughout so many different terrains/regions. But with so much up-time, it’s easy to lose the benefits of down-time.
Base miles aren’t designed to stress your muscles to the breaking point. Instead, they’re used to help your body recover from the previous year’s events, as well as aid your cardiovascular system by building endurance without adding stress to an already-beleaguered system.
This past weekend I got my saddle handed to me by the Wheelmen (a nice way of saying they dropped me like an insurance company with a late payment). But that’s okay. You get dropped now so you won’t get dropped later. Most of the route was flat, full-out, and fast. Once in a while there was a climb throw in after I’d barely hung on at tempo (high-speed), and that was that. I’d watch them roll away.
But there was one section of this ride that I started making up ground. Not much, mind you; the temp was already taking off and I’m too out of practice to act like I was anything more than a chihuahua chasing a Buick. But still, I was making up some ground.
That terrain: rollers. I can do rollers. it’s one of the few terrains that I’ve got. So I thought I’d spend a bit of time focusing on what works for me, and hopefully it’ll work for you, too.
[Please note: these are generalities; each set of rollers you encounter will be a little different – different grades, different heights, different frequency. Adjust accordingly.]
Know When to Hold ’em
Riders are tempted by speed. We want to squeeze out every last MPH we can get before that next hill. The temptation is to pedal faster and faster as you reach the bottom of the hill. The thinking is the faster you hit the next hill, the easier it will be to climb. That’s true, but it’s also short-sighted. The idea to keep in mind isn’t max speed. It’s efficiency. If you’re already going fast and try to squeeze out more speed, you have to use a lot more energy to do that. The power required to fight air resistance above about 12 mph increases exponentially to your speed. Example, power needs at various speeds (assuming no wind, flat ground, and lots of other stuff):
- 12 mph: 20 Watts
- 16 mph: 48 Watts
- 20 mph: 94 Watts
- 24 mph: 162 Watts
So as you can see, the faster you go, the more energy you need to put into the system to go even faster. When you’re nearing the bottom of a hill, that’s usually not the time to try and gain more speed for the next hill. At least, not on rollers where there’s a short lull from one hill to the next. Use the last portion of the downhill as your recovery time. Find a comfortable, aero position, get down and let your legs rest up for the climb.
Start cycling for any significant length of time, and you’ll inevitably hear about “power meters” and “watts per kilogram” and “threshold” (and many other power-related numbers). Now, cyclists are almost by definition numerically obsessed: miles, mph, elevation gain, weight, grade, temp, heat index, weight, wind speed, rolling resistance, weight… the list of metrics a cyclist can follow is staggering. But the more you ride – especially around the “did you just climb that hill at 32 mph” set, the more unavoidable these “power” terms are.
So the questions are: What is a watt? And why is it so important to cycling?
“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” Mike McDermott, as played by Matt Damon in Rounders. No, not a cycling movie (yes, cyclists need to watch non-cycling movies too!), but an excellent movie, and an excellent point.
When you go on a group ride, if you can’t spot the weakest sprinter, or climber, or the one with the least endurance, chances are it’s you. Wait, keep reading! That’s not an insult, it’s just reality. And there’s nothing wrong with facing reality. As the group starts to pour on the speed, or the climbing goes vertical, you realize that everyone’s doing well… except you.
That’s right. You’re the sacrificial lamb on this particular ride. Or for my Trekkie friends, you’re the a Red Jersey.
As with any sport, there’s a point at which you have to get beyond the mechanics. Some people believe that when you’re beginning, it’s okay to overlook the details. Focus on the basics and get really good at those. This way you’ll be ready for the advanced stuff later on. But this only works up to a point.
Take ballroom dance. Let’s say you learn the basics. Slow, slow, quick, quick. Awesome. Left hand here, right hand there. Hear the music? Yeah, you’re off, try again. After a while, you start to get the hang of the basics. But then you see someone who’s been dancing for years. Somehow, the basic steps that you’re doing don’t look like the basic steps that they do, even when they’re doing the same steps. You try to compensate – change a little here, a little there. But after practicing so long without all those details, all the nuance, you now have to work against what your body thinks is right.
You’ve got your basics in cycling: pedaling, breathing, keeping your cadence up, don’t sway, don’t bounce. Eyes up (don’t get wheel-locked), and keep your line. But there’s more. And though you don’t need to be capable of doing the “more” portions, it is very helpful to understand them.
Sun Tzu breaks down battlegrounds into nine different varieties, and how each affects the ensuing battle. Likewise, cycling has various battlegrounds, each with their own advantages and difficulties that should be considered. Below I’ve broken down some of the cycling battlegrounds, what to expect, and how to deal with them.
Flat ground is deceptive. Sometimes it is not flat at all, but has a small incline which can sap your strength without knowing it. Unlike other terrain, there is no relief from pedaling. You coast, you slow; just like a headwind.
Use caution on long flats, as it’s very easy to go full-out and burn yourself up. Retain a steady tempo, slightly below your max cruising speed, so that you can maintain your pace longer without burning out.
The majority of cyclists I’ve met – not all, but a pretty sizable majority – are not only nice people, but they’re exceedingly nice. They’re humble, modest, good-natured, and easy-going. And this is great… usually. But it does have its drawbacks. One feature that’s lacking amongst casual riders is decisiveness (note: I haven’t found this in racers, who by nature must be decisive… or lose).
What do I mean? Here’s an example: you meet up at 9AM with a bunch of riders, but no one said where you’d be riding. The next 10 minutes is often spent volleying back and forth route after route, with lots of “Sure, if you’d like” and “That sounds good” or “Yeah, we can do that” stated after each ride suggestion. Though this very cordial and democratic system of route planning could teach our government a thing or five, it doesn’t get us on the road any faster.
[If I didn’t immediately get the song by R.E.M. stuck in your head, then either you’re too young or I’m getting too bloody old.]
When I get home after a really hard ride, I’m virtually catatonic. I walk around dazed. Putting things away, drinking water, uploading my ride, drinking water, making some food, drinking water. After three years, I’ve come to accept that this is just part of how it goes. All the pleasures of riding long, fast, and hard have to be paid for. That doesn’t bother me. What bother’s me is that when I look around, no one seems to be tired as I am. What gives?