Monday, January 15, 2007

Riding Advice For Beth

Beth is planning on doing the Get Your Guts In Gear Ride next summer and wrote me asking for advice. She agreed to let me post her note and my response here.

Beth wrote:


Hi Kent -- I hope this finds you well.

I'm writing to ask you for some information and ideas.

I am a daily bike commuter with a RT commute of around 9 miles. In between rides, I spend a 9 to 11 hour day on my feet. I eat a Merely Decent diet (like you I'm probably not a "nutritional role model") and my only real addictions are to my morning coffee and the Sunday NY Times Crossword.

There is a Big Ride coming up this summer that I would like to do. It's the CCFA's Get Your Guts In Gear, the big fundraiser for the Crohn's and Colitis foundation( 210 miles in three days, averaging 70 miles each day. The route (attached) promises to be pretty, with I assume some Big hills. The fundraising will be easier for me than the riding. Really. That's why I'm writing.

I did do one great thing last year and that was riding 2,000 miles before December 31 (I'm shooting for 2,400 this year). So I know that its possible for me to do a ride like this successfully. What I'm looking for is some good, sound information on how to prepare for such an event, how to carefully work up to it without hurting myself in the process. The bugaboo is that, having Crohn's disease, I cannot predict when I'll have good days or bad days. But I accept that as just something I have to deal with. All I hope to do is my very best, no matter what comes up.

Is there any specific idea that you can offer that would be useful here?

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

take care -- happy riding

--Beth Hamon


I replied:


Hi Beth,

It's great that you've picked out a goal and the ride looks really neat. One of my son's friends has Crohn's disease so I know a bit about the disease and the issues you face. I'll try to advise you the best that I can.

First off, I'm going to talk about temperament and personalities and methods. Some people are really schedule driven, very systematic, planners. They have time lines, schedules, and lots and lots of numbers. They can tell you how many calories they consume per hour, what their resting pulse rate is, what the rolling resistance of each brand of tire is, etc. And these methods work great for them.

I'm not one of those people. From what I know of you, from your blog and list postings and previous notes, I don't think you are one of those people either. I guess one way to describe the way I work towards a goal is more like the way a musician or a writer works. I practice. Shorter rides are like rehearsing the scales or writing drafts of stories. I experiment with things, but I go more by feel than by numbers. I practice rather than train. Of course, this is an over-simplification. There are numbers I track and calculations I make but at the heart of my methods it's heart more than heartrate, and what is over the next rise is more of a driver than the number on the computer. But sometimes, of course, I turn the pedals a few more times just to watch the numbers roll.

So I guess I'm saying that I don't think you should be mastered by the numbers but don't throw them out either. You asked for concrete advice and here I'm getting all philosopical on you so let's get some concrete examples and see if they help.

Your trip is 210 miles. You can look at that like it's a lot and you should look at it with enough anxiety that you'll prepare, but not so much fear that you are overwhelmed. I always aproach big numbers by playing with them until I see that they are doable. Let's take your ride apart like this:

It's three days. Each day is about 70 miles. 70 miles still seems far.

Now I know you don't think of yourself as a fast rider but you don't have to be fast to do this ride. How fast do you ride to work? I don't know but let's try calculating 10 miles per hour. You may ride faster, you might be a little slower but 10 mph makes the math easy and it certainly isn't a killer pace.

At 10 miles per hour, it'll take you 7 hours to ride the day's distance. Note that's butt on the bike, actual turning the pedals time. You'll stop some to eat, to look at the scenery, to rest, to pee, to do other things. Call all that three hours. So that's 10 hours. Doesn't that seem doable? There are 24 hours in a day. So you'll have 14 other hours to do all the other stuff and get ready for the next day. Even thinking about bad stuff, going slower up hills, having flat tires and so forth, this still seems doable. Doesn't it?

Let's talk about hills. First thing, I think I've ridden every road you'll be on. Yes there are some hills (including a nasty one right after the ferry dock on Whidbey Island). But that's what gears are for. Gears let you trade time for ease. With low enough gears, you can get up anything, it's just a matter of time. Now you don't have an infinite pile of moments, but you've got enough time to do this. One thing I learned early on is to not worry about going fast but try not to go slow. The best focus you can put for whatever training time you have is to work on going up hills. Everybody slows down on hill climbs and everybody can go fast going down hills. You will slow down on climbs but if you practice climbing, you can get faster. Even if you don't get faster, you'll get more comfortable with climbing.

Work on climbing and ride your bike with the gear you think you'll have on your ride. If you are used to your bike being light all the time and it's heavy for your ride, you won't like it. But if you are used to riding your bike with your stuff, if that is the way you have practiced, it will feel right. And if you are carrying too much stuff, you will learn that from your practice runs. When I raced the Great Divide, I'd ridden the previous 6 months with all my gear on my bike. I practiced a lot.

Here's another piece of practical advice. Rest is as important as practice. I think of it this way. Going out and climbing the big hill is like putting in an order at the muscle factory. Your body goes "hey this sucks, I should be stronger." But you don't get stronger then, you get stronger when you rest, when your brain is shut down and your body is going "now what do I need to rebuild? Oh yeah, let's slap a little more muscle on those quads. And that back was twinging, let's work on that!" If you don't get enough rest, those orders don't get filled. So you need both. You need to work to put in the orders and you need to rest to fill those orders. So don't feel like you are slacking when you need to rest. Rest is really important.

Here's another huge thing: Food and water. Learn what it takes to keep you going. Again the numbers folks calculate all this, I literally go by my gut. But I always make sure I've got food and water with me. One of the best bits of advice I ever got was from John Stamstad, the ultraendurance racer who first set the Great Divide MTB record. He said "be sure you have a variety of flavors and textures of food with you." If you get to a point where you can't stand the thought of another sweet gel, you can probably eat some salty chips. The food thing is the biggest thing. Figure out a range of things that work for you.

I try to make my practice rides relate to my goal and when I'm riding my "big" ride I often think back to other rides to put things in perspective. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris, a lot of my training was my 15 mile round trip commute. So it was 7.5 miles to work and 7.5 miles back. PBP is 1200 kilometers or 750 miles. So I got to thinking, it's like going back and forth to work 50 times. Somehow, that didn't seem so big. Riding in France, I'd see some sign telling me how far it was to the next control and I'd think of that in terms of how many commutes it was. Mostly I didn't think in terms of miles or kilometers, I thought about commutes.

One thing you really have to know is how it feels to be on your bike for a long time. So my advice is to work on building up your distance. The math guys have a some rules about increasing your longest ride by 10 percent each week and that might be a good starting point. I tend instead to come up with places I want to go. Sit down with a map and find something a little farther than you've been and pick a time to go there.

Don't take pain-killers. If something on your bike hurts you, your saddle or your bars or whatever, figure out the cause, don't mask the pain. Learn the difference between being in pain and being tired. Some stuff you adapt to, some stuff you have to adapt to you. Ride enough between now and the event to have all that figured out. Don't change a damn thing right before the event, that's just asking for trouble.

For the ride you are planning, you might not have to do any riding at night or in the rain, but over the years I've had great adventures in the dark and the wet. But you're already a commuter, so I figure you've got that stuff down.

About speed, in general, don't worry about it. But getting faster, especially on climbs, can make things easier. As I said before the best place to focus your energies is on hill climbing. The other thing you can do is work on little bursts of speed. Don't try to be fast all the time, but little pushes now and then (and always remember to rest) can help train you to get faster. Also, don't be afraid of low gears. Work on building up a good spin rate and as your muscles develop, you'll have a muscle memory of spinning. You'll just find yourself spinning bigger gears.

Finally, keep it fun. Maybe that means going out by yourself. Maybe it means riding with some slightly stronger pal. Maybe it means taking a break from the bike if you're sick of it and hiking up a mountain instead.

I hope some of this helps. I know it's kind of rambling but I wanted to respond quickly.

I think you can do this and I'm looking forward to the stories from your practice rides and the big ride.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
Post a Comment