Archive for the ‘Training Tips’ Category

From Dark to Light

My bike sat on the indoor trainer, mocking me. Each day for a week was going to be the day I got back to my training program. But each day “life got in the way.”

This happens sometimes, and when life is really good, and training suffers, that’s OK. Or when life is really bad, while not “OK” it is easy to use the training as a way to dig out of a dark hole and start to make life good again.

But when there isn’t anything specific getting in the way of training, it’s hard to accept. When you are simply having those days where you can’t motivate yourself, that is not OK. And those days tend to build upon each other and start to weigh on you. Each one makes that next day’s decision, to train or not to train, that much more difficult.

For eight days after the brutally cold Grant’s Tomb Crit, I was stuck in this funk. For eight days I felt the darkness weighing on me – and getting heavier along with my body weight. Sure, “life” threw me a few curve balls; but none of them big enough to beat me down. This was just a mental detour, and I needed to get back on my path.

Then I read, “The Pep Talk You Need Right Now,” a short blog post by Chris Carmichael. It was like he was watching me the last eight days; he was in my apartment, he was in my head. And I realized that this is such a common place for athletes in training to find themselves, so it’s also a common place to escape.

Yesterday I got on the trainer at 5:30 AM and did a tough 60-minute program. It hurt. A lot. But I felt so much better for doing it. I was physically slower all day at work, but mentally uplifted.

Late in the afternoon my teammate Ethan posted to Slack, “anyone up for a casual spin in Central Park tonight?” It was 60F outside after a few cold days and with 25F predicted the next, so I really wanted to get outside. But I had a late office meeting, so I declined.

Thirty minutes later, the meeting was rescheduled and I was free to ride. Ethan and I recruited Gavin to join us, and hit the park for a sunset spin. My legs fried from the morning workout, I road a casual pace and the three of us rode, talked, laughed, and just enjoyed wearing our new team kits. (They don’t include cold weather gear, so haven’t been worn outdoors until this ride.) It was terrific, and 27-miles later as I rolled up to my apartment, I knew that any little bit of darkness that remained from the last 8-days was gone.

It wasn’t a particularly solid training day, and I’ve undoubtedly lost some recent gains. But I will not harp on that and I will not beat myself up. As Carmichael said, “This is what I have right now, and today’s effort will make me better.”

So get out there and make yourself better. Yesterday no longer matters. And every small step towards your goal means you are closer.

Thoughts on Zwift as a Training Tool

This morning was a washout here in metro New York. With heavy rain, wind and fog from about 5 PM until 11 AM outdoor riding wouldn’t have just been tough, it’d have been dangerous. Even solo.

But alas, these days there are a bevy of indoor options: Sufferfest, Zwift, “spinning to the TV” and, of course, indoor cycling classes. My teammate Vito offered a terrific indoor group session today at Gavia Cycling, but to get there, I’d have to bike. And if I was on the bike in this weather, I might as well keep riding outside! My “pain cave” of choice was Sufferfest until Zwift came around last year. Since then, Zwift has added lots of features, and lots of riders. It’s a pretty awesome platform for sure.

However, after three recent “workout sessions” on Zwift, I find myself longing for a good Sufferfest video. And here’s why I’ll likely be using both of those, and indoor group classes, all winter long.

1452446057596What Zwift gets right is gamification. Making what may cyclists consider “torture” (a bit harsh, but you get the idea) into something competitive and fun is a terrific idea. Some indoor cycling classes do this as well – that’s why I like Flywheel and Swerve in NYC. Both offer some level of competition that’s just friendly enough to make it motivating, rather than disappointing (especially when you “lose”). Zwift ups the ante with a virtual world and a ton of data. By tying you on an indoor trainer to a powerful computational engine on your computer, Zwift can do a lot to make a virtual ride seem real. And, sure, if you have a traditional trainer, we can argue over the Zwift Zpower all day long. But for me, it’s close enough and, even if it’s off, it’s a benchmark I can use to gauge my training. And the visuals are pretty compelling – realistic, yet often a little silly to have some fun. I mean, look at that wooden bridge – it’s almost like crossing the Croton Reservoir!

Now, here’s the paradox…

1452443337210I love data. I love Zwift data. I love that I just did a 90-minute training session and could accurately adjust my power to fit the training plan. But with that comes tunnel vision. Everything that Zwift does so well fades into the background. Silly underwater tunnels start to feel like you are pedaling into the tide. Group chats become an annoyance. Other riders suddenly seem like they are in your way. It’s funny that the best things about Zwift in general make serious workouts harder for me.

On the bright side, I can now tunnel vision on the spot on the screen with the relevant data while making constant rapid-fire adjustments in my cadence and breathing. But I think I’m getting too fixated on the perfect workout instead of aiming for a pretty darn good workout that I really enjoy. I think that’s where videos like Sufferfest excel. You may need to make lots of estimations regarding data, but that’s a reasonable balance along with the enjoyment those videos bring to the workout. And while I haven’t been to a class with Vito yet, I know that he’d give me a motivation that no game or video can ever replace. Just like the best Flywheel and Swerve instructors that I frequent, there’s no substitute for human feedback.

Am I giving up on Zwift? Hell, no! Did you make the connection that I love data and they have tons of data? And gamification is seriously fun! But for well rounded training, especially in bad weather, I’ll need a combination of Zwift, Sufferfest and group classes at Gavia, Flywheel or Swerve. And as many cold, winter rides on 9W that the weather will allow.

161-Mile Ride & MAPLE POWER!

A quick follow up to yesterday’s post about my 161-mile ride. First and foremost, folks keep asking me how I feel today. Surprisingly good! I feel no more or less sore than after an “ordinary” century ride. In fact, my legs feel pretty limber – perhaps the best they’ve felt in weeks. My backside is definitely a bit tender, but nothing outrageous.

1[1]And now for something a little different – MAPLE SYRUP! I know, right now you are saying, “what does maple syrup have to do with this?” Well, a lot, in fact. Fellow cyclist, Gavin, carries nothing but “real food” for energy on rides, so he carries things like Go-Go Squeeze apple sauce and Untapped Maple Syrup. In the interest of full disclosure, Go-Go Squeeze is kids’ food! But, heck, Gavin has about -2% body fat, so I guess he’s got something right in this formula. Not to mention that real and natural is in fact better for your body – but can it provide the fuel needed on a long ride? Well, Gavin donated a handful of Untapped packets to my cause and I saved these for later in the ride when I knew my body would start revolting to the regular intake of barely tolerable energy gels.

VERDICT – I am instantly in love with these! They go down easy, taste great, and absolutely provided the energy I needed when I needed it. It’s hard to argue with pure maple syrup in terms of taste. My only qualm might be that they can get sticky if any of it drips. But, truth be told, the same is true of gels – so just be sure you aren’t sloppy. And while I haven’t done further research, there’s evidence that there’s some electrolyte benefit from these as well. Either way, they are probably going to be my new go-to for on ride fuel.

Thanks, Gavin.

The Day Before

So today is the day before the Gran Fondo NJ (GFNJ). And while I’m riding the Medio Fondo metric century ride (62-miles) with the GFNY team rather than the full century, I’m still preparing for a hard ride. This distance may be among my typical Sunday rides, but riding with the team means I need to be in sync with the team, riding strong and, most of all, prepared to do the distance with minimal or, potentially, no stops.

So how do I prepare for a big ride? Well, I’m no expert, but I’ve also learned that preparation can be very personal, so the experts aren’t always right. Don’t get me wrong, the expert advice is invaluable, but it is how you, as an individual, put together your own program based on both feedback from others and your own personal experience. Here is mine.

  1. To ride or not to ride. For me, this is simple. I like to take a short, high cadence ride the morning before the big ride.  This is probably all psychological, but it makes me feel like I’m physically preparing and it makes me feel loose and limber. And don’t overlook the benefit of uncovering any maintenance issues before the morning of the ride!
  2. Food. Yes, I’m a fan of carb-loading, but this needs to be managed. I weigh about 175-pounds and I’ve found that a pound of ground turkey or chicken over a pound of pasta is perfect for me. I like to eat a yogurt in the morning to get my digestion going, cook up my meat/pasta dish, and then eat a bowl of that at a time throughout the day. The four portions I’ll spread out through the day prevent me from feeling bloated yet allows me to put the fuel on board that I’ll want tomorrow.
  3. Water. I drink a lot of water naturally, so hydration is rarely an issue for me. But I still go out of my way to drink more than usual the day before. I also make sure to visit the bathroom frequently and get rid of the excess. Especially before bed!
  4. Coffee. Morning before? Yes. Morning of? No way. Why not? Even though I do drink coffee on other ride days without issues, there are two reasons I skip it on the day of a big ride. First, I’m generally “revved up” enough without it on these days. Second, it’s the most likely think for my body to disagree with, so why risk it? Oh, and it also makes me pee, something I want to control better on the day of a big ride.
  5. Activity. I like to spend the day doing activities that engage my mind, not my body. (Other than the morning ride.) I read. I write. I watch more serious movies (especially documentaries about cycling, mountaineering, or similar.) I also like to take a few walks with my dog to avoid being too sedentary.
  6. Sleep. This one is tough. For most big rides, my alarm time is 3:00 – 4:00 AM based on the need to prepare and get to wherever that starting line may be. So while a good night’s sleep would be great, it’s rare. If I’m lucky I can wear myself out later in the day with an intellectual movie and actually fall asleep around 9:00 PM.  But even 9:00-3:00 is a barely reasonable 6-hours. So I don’t focus on amount, but I do try to be sure I actually fall asleep.
  7. Prepare. There’s always some preparation needed to be done for the big day. Download the route? Print a cue sheet? Now’s the time! Tomorrow’s too late.

That’s basically my ritual. Anything else you consider that I didn’t mention?

Sunburn & Icy Hot Don’t Mix

About an hour after a hard ride today I suffered some muscle cramping in my leg. Once the cramps subsided, there was some residual discomfort, so I rubbed on a little Icy Hot balm. The initial icy feeling was quite a relief. However, about an hour later as the icy turned hot, I was reminded that I had sunburn in that area. The hot turned to the burn of a branding iron for a few hours. I will definitely not do that again.