You are what you eat

My biggest discovery for this year in terms of cycling and training is … food. Over the years I have heard lots of people talk about it. To me though, food was still food. There was good food (healthy, nutritious foods, like things that come from nature) and then there is bad food (junk foods, fast food, etc).  What I didn’t realize was that food as a fuel has tremendous potential for good or evil in the body.

This weekend I ran a 5K on Saturday, and then rode an especially difficult 75 mile training ride on Sunday. The hardest moment of the weekend was actually getting up at 6AM in the dark, in the cold on Sunday, with sore legs from the run and convincing myself to go ride. I actually put my socks on and then took them off again at least three times as the devil and the angel on my shoulders fought it out. There was a great battle, but in the end I rode. At mile 5 (after the first categorized climb with cold sore legs) I was already talking myself out of being able to complete the ride, knowing that just two miles away, I would be faced with another hard climb.

But my riding buddy and close friend recently bought (and bought a copy for me as well, Thanks B!)  Feed Zone.  He started the day by handing me some foil packs of “rice cakes” that were white rice mixed with some other things. I am pretty sure there was something magical in them, like the Lembas Bread.  They actually delicious. By mile 20 I was feeling pretty good, but the legs were still heavy and sore. By mile 50, we had conquered most of the big climbs, and I felt great! I couldn’t believe that just eating enough and eating the right foods were enough to bring me from doubting I could get out of bed, to climbing 5000+ feet in 40° weather. After the ride we had a recovery smoothie made from beets, fruits, and recovery power.

Food is fuel. Like all fuels there are different grades.  The better the fuel, the better the engine will run. I am often tempted by bad foods. I remember how much it hurts to recover from a night of beer and I am swayed to eat well. There is always going to be times of indulgence, where the regiment relaxes and we party like it’s 1999. Those parties can’t be today. Not when there is so much progress in the training.


The feelings associated with cycling

I am probably the last guy in the world anyone would expect to “talk about my feelings”, so in order to keep up that perception I will talk about the feelings of cycling. Originally, this post was going to be another “rant” about how cold this past ride was, but after reading the blog postings of those I follow, I see that I am not alone. We are all sick of the cold weather. Enough said.

Yesterday we rolled out around 10:30AM  in balmy 30°F weather for another “spring” training ride. Like the last ride, it was supposed to hurt. It definitely delivered on that promise. Scheduled at 70 miles, and 5000+ feet of climbing with 4 climbs in the Category 4 rating , this ride wiped us out. So much so, that at mile 55, when we couldn’t find a place with water to refill, we were running out of motivation. It was suggested that we cut the ride short and end around 60 miles. Who am I to argue when my legs feel like sacks of pudding, my lungs are burning and my feet feel like frozen blocks of ice?

Through all of the cold, the pain and the anguish, I still consider this to be a great ride. There is something about cycling that makes it all worth it. It could be that cycling is one of the closest feelings to flying.  Not when you are climbing 10% grades for miles on end, but when you are descending them at 40mph. It could be that exhaustion helps relieve mental stress.  Just the simple idea of putting everything you have, all of your possible effort in to something is satisfying. Maybe it is the endorphins that kick in and somewhere along the way you realize that you feel great. Perhaps it is the accomplishments, knowing that each time you ride, you are a little better than you were last time. On several of the large climbs I was off the front of the group. That is a feeling I haven’t had before. I was usually alone on the climbs, but at the back.

Of course the next day I am sore, but I am sore in a good way. The kind of sore that reminds me of how hard the workout was, and how much stronger I will be tomorrow. I can’t imagine my life now without cycling. I know that sounds crazy, but cycling provides a level of stability in my life that is therapeutic. When I ride, all of my stress from my life melts away. All of life’s problems clearly come in to focus. By drowning out all of the rabble of every day events, everything comes in to focus. There was a book written a while ago about how we think best when we aren’t thinking. I find that to be true when I am on the bike.

Freedom.  The best way to describe exactly how I feel on the bike. I am in complete control while I am riding. I push has hard or as little as I want. I don’t have to react to any outside forces, other than universal constants like gravity. I have the feeling of being a kid again, every time I ride.

Eating enough on the bike.

Eating I recently found an article on describing how to plan for, and eat appropriately while doing endurance rides.  It is broken down in to a basic formula. Figure out how fast you think you can ride (average over the whole distance), the total distance you will ride, your weight, and the amount of elevation climb for the ride.  Pop those numbers in and viola. Out shoots some really useful information.

You now know how much you will be expending in calories (not a scientific fact, but a round number not based on power meters, heart rate monitors, etc). The better part of this data is that you can now break this down in to how much you will need to replace while ON THE BIKE, and how much you should be replacing each hour after the first 60-90 minutes.

At first when I saw this number for a recent ride, I thought it would be tough to eat that much on the bike. I was used to maybe a 100 calorie gel every 2 hours or so.  This was telling me that I should have at least 230 calories per hour. Woah!  That is very different. But being the scientific brain that I am, I tried it. And I felt strong. Stronger than I would have expected after a particularly hard, early season training ride.

I now know that for the past season, I have been under fueling while on the bike.  That might explain the extreme fatigue I have experienced on some of the hardest rides, and the actual bonking that occurred a few times. If you haven’t already clicked on the link above, I highly recommend it.  A friend of mine actually turned it in to an Excel spreadsheet with lookup values to make it easy.  I am sure to use this as a guideline before many of my rides (until I get the hang of eating enough anyway).

What do I eat? Well, I combine real food with gels. In the gel category, I have tried almost all of them. I spent last year trying out different brands, flavors, etc to see while was the most tolerable.  The key word there is tolerable. Gel’s don’t taste great. They aren’t some wonderful meal you sit down to. In fact, I gave one once to a non-cyclist. The look of sheer horror on her face once she began to eat it was comical. But that is another story. I personally like the Accel Gel. I think it lasts longer than some of the others out there, like Gu, or PowerGel. Maybe it is the protein, maybe it is just my imagination.  I also mix it up with real food. By real food I generally mean fruit based products. My favorite is Lara Bars. They are all natural, no preservatives, generally only 4 or 5 simple ingredients such as dates, cherries, almonds, etc. and the flavors are very good.  The Apple Pie bars taste like, well, apple pie.  And so on for the Cherry Pie, etc. I can’t rave about them enough.

See you on the road!


Damn the cold!

Last weekend I was skiing at Lake Placid. Being such a cold winter, Adirondack skiing in March seemed like a perfect idea. Well, it was warm. It was actually so warm that skiing conditions by the second day were quickly deteriorating. It was in the high 40’s to mid 50’s. As I was pushing through slush on a particularly nasty mogul trail, I was thinking about cycling.

Here I was on a perfectly warm day, skiing. Last year I had exactly the same experience in Salt Lake City, UT, where it was 65 degrees at the base lodge and we were shooting up to 11,000ft above sea level just to find reasonable snow.

On my way home I was thinking that since it was such a nice weekend, and so warm, perhaps that meant that the cold is (for the most part) going away, to be replaced by warmer days. I honestly could use warmer days at this point.  I am tired of washing my thermal shirts every week. All of them. I am tired of my feet being cold on every ride. I am tired of wearing my balaclava.

There is something understated about riding in bib-shorts and a jersey.  The idea that even though you sweat from the heat and the hard work, you stay relatively dry.  The wind pushing past you keeps drying you off. When wearing layers of cold weather gear, invariably, when I shed the layers, they are all wet.

I want to wear my kits. I want to go out with less “stuff”. I am tired of the cold. But oh well, here’s to another 70 hilly training miles.

Riding across an alien planet

Yesterday marked the beginning of the official training rides. We rolled out around 10AM, covering 50 miles of hilly terrain. It was a new route, so a lot of the hills and roads were unfamiliar. There is something interesting about winter riding. As we rolled through the solitude of quiet roads, trees with no leaves, past frozen ponds, I wondered if I would remember these scenes when I am suffering in the 90 degree heat later in the summer.

It is hard to describe the feelings of cycling to people who look at me like I have a mental disorder when I tell them about my short 50 mile ride in 31 degree weather. The feelings of peace when spinning down roads lined with quiet houses, the smell of wood burning stoves and the feelings of freedom.  The sound of your own breath as you climb a large hill for several miles. The light that filters through the leafless trees with the sun low in the sky.

It is an area I have ridden in many times, and some of the road I have been on almost weekly, but in different conditions like this, it seems foreign. Simply reversing the route on a few roads meant I was climbing hills I was used to zooming down. As I climbed, I noticed the surroundings that previously I would have missed.

The ride was a struggle, but in a good way. The hills were tough, but instead of seeing them and groaning, I was smiling ear to ear. Here’s to another week riding!