After years of riding, struggling, and giving it my all, I can finally say that I understand how to “go the distance” on the bike. It all boils down to tools and experience. Of course, that sounds easy. Just two thing? I can remember that! Even without tools, knowing your own body is the key element.
After all of the hard training rides, epic climbs and long flat stretches of road where we haul a$$ at a time-trial pace, it has finally occurred to me, that being able to sustain any effort, regardless of the grade of the road, has everything to do with how long you want to maintain that effort, how much food/water you have, and your heart rate.
Easy stuff first. Know where you are. If you are at the base of a mountain and the ride goes to the top, you have a lot of climbing ahead of you. Similarly, if you are the middle of Florida, there is a good chance you won’t be hitting any mountains today. Know how long your ride is. Are you out for a 10 mile ride? Are you on a century ride? Know how long you THINK the ride will take before you start out. That will help you gauge how much food/water you will need.
Speaking of food and water. These go almost without saying. I am going to say it anyway. Water first. When cycling, you are putting forth more effort than you would be if you were sitting on the couch in front of the air conditioner. You are sweating. You may not notice it as much because your own movement on the bike causes wind, which will evaporate your sweat quickly and keep you feeling cooler. You are losing water though, I promise. Drink. How much? That depends on your effort, but based on current research, listen to your thirst. Are you thirsty? Drink.
Food. You are exerting yourself. You are burning calories. Cycling is in the top 5 of the most calorie-expending exercises. You will need to eat food that is easy to digest, easy to carry and has a high carbohydrate content/Glycemic Index. For a lot of techincal reasons I won’t get in to here, your brain operates on carbs mostly. It needs them to keep your body going. Your muscles and endocrine system need it too. Eat often. How often? Well, a good minimum is at least 150 calories per hour. There is a scientific formula to make this more accurate, but gauge what you eat based on how hard you are working on the bike. Hammering out a time-trial over mountains? Eat more. Going for a 10 mile spin down the boardwalk on a beach cruiser? Eat less.
Lastly, know your body. Listen to what your body is telling you. A lot has to do with heart rate. When I climb a long steep hill, I know that I can sustain a heart rate of about 170-175 for about 30 minutes. After that I start to fatigue. I also know that if I get my heart rate up to 180+, I am going all out, and can’t maintain that for very long. That being said, if the hill is 10 miles long, keep it easy for the majority of the hill. Pushing your heart rate to max effort means you will be walking up the hill for 9 miles. On the other hand, if the hill is short and you can see the top, push yourself to get there. It’s ok if you don’t have a heart rate monitor. Feel your heart. Listen to your breathing. Are you panting? Your muscles are starved for oxygen and your heart rate is increased to get the oxygen to the muscles.
Knowing your limits, how hard you can push yourself, and for how long is key to being able to ride any distance or hill. Being prepared with food and water will keep you going, and knowing what lies ahead will give you the will power to continue.
After a devastating failure on the Harpoon B2B due to an exercise-induced asthma attack at mile 60 and some severe forgetfulness (completely forgot to pack the inhaler), I have done a lot of soul searching regarding where to go from here. When I fail at anything, I realize that there are two ways to go. Either I can give up, and be beaten, or I can get back up and fight even harder. I heard a saying a long time ago that “You can not beat the opponent that will not give up”.
This past Saturday I went for a short ride with a group I hadn’t ridden with before. I wasn’t sure of their skills and expectations, so I decided that a “B” group would be a good place to just casually ride with them. Nevermind the fact that all of the roads and towns were unfamiliar and I wouldn’t want to end up being dropped in a place where I had not cue sheet and no idea where I was. It was a particularly hot day with the sun beating down, but thoroughly enjoyable. The ride was flatter than most rides I have done recently, so it felt like we were going down hill the entire time. The best part of the ride is what happened at the end though.
We were about 5 miles from the end of the ride, and the group had broken apart in to pieces. I opted to stay with the ride leader and two others who were setting a fairly strong pace throughout the ride. We turned on to the LIE service road, which is a gently rolling, straight road. It is completely exposed to the sun with minimal traffic, and has stretches at least a mile long in between traffic lights. The ride leader was in front of me and flagging in his efforts as I watch his back tire move left and right from him stomping the pedals, I hear his ragged breath and we are slowing. So I slip past him and keep the pace at 17mph. After about a 1/4 mile I look back and he is right on my wheel, with the two others behind him. He is looking recovered, so I edge the pace up to 18mph. Still there? Good. Let’s keep going. I get the pace up to 20mph until I can hear him breathing hard again, but the traffic light is close, so I hold it until the light. For the next two mile stretch I do the same thing, keeping the pace at exactly 20mph and keeping my line as straight as the road debris will allow. At the last light, the ride leader says “WOW! You are a strong rider. I am having trouble staying on your wheel at those speeds!” I respond saying that I will slow down, and he says “no, don’t. As long you are leading, I can hold it. Great pulls!!!!” The light turns green and we are off again. At the end of the ride, I thank him for the great ride, and for leading the way. He thanks me for saving him in the last 5 miles.
Then he said something that made my day, maybe even my week. He turns to me and says “You know, you could be riding with the A group. They would appreciate your strength. You would make a great time trialist or a sprinter.” Suddenly, all thought of my epic failure the weekend before were gone. This was the beginning of my comeback.
With only one week between now and the HarpoonB2B ride, I am both nervous and excited. I am excited that I feel
almost ready to take on this massive challenge. I have been training for it since January, so I have never been more ready. That being stated, I am nervous that I haven’t prepped enough. The winter and spring have been filled with some of the hardest riding I have done. I have put my heart and soul out there on the asphalt, dripped from the seat of my bike. I have spent countless hours obsessing over the cold and the rain, cooking rice cakes, filling water bottles, cleaning the bike, adjusting the derailleur, washing bib shorts, uploading my stats to Strava, and examining the courses. I have fought off bronchitis, back pain, a bad head cold, sciatica (which may not be sciatica after all) to train for this ride.
Now, with only seven days away, like a nut case, I find myself pouring over the details of the ride. I am examining the hills in detail, looking at them on Google Street View, so I know what to expect. I am looking at the distances between the rest stops, finding gas stations and bike shops along the route and making a mental note of them. Most importantly though, I am mentally preparing for the ride. I
think I am ready for it. My brother believes I am insane for doing this ride, especially voluntarily (as opposed to being under penalty of death or having a gun pointed at me). Perhaps he is right.
As with so many aspects of cycling, the lessons to be learned can be directly translated to life in general. Several years ago, I could never have attempted this. I pushed myself hard to be ready for a challenge like this that seems far out of my reach. I have grown as a person, as a cyclist in the process, and I will accomplish this goal. Life’s challenges that seem far out of reach just require more preparation and dedication than the easy ones. If everything was easy to reach, we wouldn’t strive, and in we wouldn’t learn in the process.
I remember several years ago walking in to a local bicycle store looking for some new gloves. I felt that I was a “very good” cyclist, having completed about 50 miles on the bike. I was talking with the store owner and mentioned that I had just completed a 50 mile ride the day before, and would be going for a metric century the following weekend. He said to me that the next day he was going out for a double century (200 miles) on his own. My brain rebooted. I couldn’t quite comprehend that. Somehow the math in my head didn’t make sense, and I went with the assumption that he was exaggerating. Since then, that conversation has stuck with me. The more I ride, the more plausible his story becomes. It is ironic to me that the perspective of the listener has everything to do with the believability of the talker.
This past Saturday, I rode from New York City (Penn Station) to the tip of Montauk in one day. After 150 miles, going faster than I would have guessed I could have for eleven hours (including stops, nine hours moving), we arrived tired and sore. I expected to feel worse though. This was the longest ride I have ever done. In the end, it was worth it.
On a side note, since it was so hot and sunny, I decided to try out my “Sun Sleeves” by Pearl Izumi (they are very thin, white sleeves that help protect you from the sun and keep you cool). I officially love them. I was cooking in the sun, and felt at least 10 degrees cooler once I had them on.
Now I have 11 days until another 150 mile ride, but this time with mountains involved. This is what all of the training has been leading up to. Maybe one day I will tell a story of riding 150 miles, or even a double century to someone and they might doubt that I am telling the truth. Life is all about perspective.