Getting Faster by Going Slower

1007_mountainsI know it sounds a bit like an Eastern philosophy where people smash bricks while trying not to. [And I DO totally respect people who can punch holes in masonry…] It’s one of those less is more, and more is less riddles: you get faster by going slower. For quite some time I didn’t get this.

RECOVERY? Hah! Not for me, brother! Go hard all the time, that’s my motto. And so I did. But I began to notice I was tired a lot, and began feeling burned out by the beginning of August. The only cure, said I, is to crank it up another notch. And so I did. That usually lasted for about a week, and then I didn’t feel like riding at all. And so I didn’t. For two seasons in a row I hit September, [the best riding weather of the year], and hit a wall.

I had become so fixated on my average speed, that I never warmed up at the start of a ride, and never cooled down before rolling into the driveway. If I eased up, 19.0 could very well be 18.9 at the end of the ride – as if that would somehow be the end of the world. There were some pretty fast rides…but then came the mysterious plateau. I couldn’t improve any further, and found my wheels stuck in the sticky mud of dying motivation. pain-suffering-cycling

A depressed endurance athlete is a veritable portrait of sad dejection. Take all that weird energy that won’t allow us to sit down for long, and channel it into beer and Cheetos…McFood and a McShake…pick your poison. Trade your bicycle seat for a seat on the couch. Start making excuses while drinking your breakfast coffee, and conveniently sabotage the rest of your day by staying late to TAKE CARE OF THINGS at work [over-eat when you get home]. All the while, the entire business is gnawing a hole in you because you’re helplessly smitten by love for the bike, and the places it can take you.

Yoga and active recovery became a necessary part of my vocabulary toward the end of last season. I’ll be 55 in a couple of months, and I can’t burn the candle at both ends like I used to, and shouldn’t have in the first place. I don’t ignore the word RECOVERY DAY in my training plan anymore. I go hard for three days, and then feel the accumulated tension drain from my legs with an hour of low intensity spinning on the rollers. Add an hour consisting of yoga, foam rolling, and myofascial release, and I feel pretty stinking good.

I’ve proven over and again to myself that nurturing my body is every bit as important as any fitness goal. On the bike I now have a training page on my Garmin with only elapsed time, cadence, heart rate, and percentage of FTP. NO SPEED. Instead of mashing all the time, I do structured intervals that include soft-pedal recoveries. I’m having more fun, and oddly enough, getting faster by going slower.

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Beauty isn’t very often measured by how fast you’re going.

First Impressions: Pactimo Summit Raptor Pro RFLX Bibs

cytech padJust returned from an 80 mile ride in my new Summit Raptor pro bibs.  I spent four hours in various position on my minimalist saddle, and formed some strong first impressions. To say the least, I was extremely pleased.

These bibs are a redesign for 2015, and have the second iteration of the Cytech endurance anatomic chamois pad. This year’s pad is sculpted with thicker padding under the sit bones, and a deeper center channel for more comfort in the perineal zone. By comparison, last year’s pad had a uniform thickness that gave too much padding where it wasn’t needed. The new pad has taken a great pair of bibs to a new level.

summit_raport_pro_bit_shorts_frontSubjectively, these bibs seem to be a bit lighter, and fit very much like a second skin. After corresponding with the retail brand manager at Pactimo, this is what I learned:

“We maintained all of the same benefit and primary structure of the previous Endurance Anatomic Carbonium chamois, while making the transition smoother on the edges of the support section of the chamois and adding a pivot point that sits in front of sit bone support section of the chamois to increase movement and mobility when out of the saddle…”

And so, the fit is more spot on…most noticeably in keeping everything in the land down under comfortably tucked away. The texture of the Raptor fabric also helps immensely with staying planted on the saddle, with no sliding around: especially when stretched out over the bike and pushing a big gear.

The best compression in the industry, high quality materials and construction, superb fit, and comfort all add up to a fantastic pair of bibs that are uniquely suited for long rides. If you’d like to try a pair of the Raptor Pro bibs, or any other of the offerings from Pactimo, please contact me through this blog, and I’ll be happy to send you a code for 30% off your purchase.

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Arm warmers, knee warmers and bibs with the Pactimo fit

Slaying the Boredom Monster

A cycling friend recently observed [after hearing I put in 1300 miles of indoor riding ] that the vast amount of trainers collect a lot of dust. Boredom is widely cited as the major culprit that sabotages the best intentions: and then we soothe our guilt by camouflaging our trainers by hanging stuff on them. If boredom were a categorized climb it would be rated HC. [unless you live in San Diego and ride year-round] If you’ve read my last post, you know I’m a fan of indoor training because I like the results. But…that said…I’ve had to find ways to keep things interesting. After three years of indoor off-season riding it finally dawned on me that my best strategies include something for my brain to do. InsideRide rollersRIDE ON ROLLERS. If you don’t pay attention, rollers give you quick and definitive feedback: You will fall off and get rug burn. It’s a good idea to set them up parallel to a wall with a fall zone that doesn’t include anything like bike tools that could impale you, or coffee tables with sharp edges. I know of some folks who lay down a mattress, and others who set up in a doorway. Anyone who sees you riding on rollers is immediately impressed because it looks like a stunt from the circus. I like rollers made by Inside Ride because they’re harder to fall off of. psherwen-duoTHE PHIL AND PAUL SHOW. Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin are without doubt the most entertaining cycling commentators in the biz. Watching reruns of Le Tour or Paris-Roubaix help in passing the time. My all time favorite Phil Liggett quote regarding a rider breaking away from the bunch: He’s looking around as if to say, is anyone coming along? I know someone who keeps it interesting by trying to match cadence with the riders…climb out of the saddle when they do…attack….bridge. The possibilities are endless. sufferfestVIRTUAL RIDES. If you have a DVD player or a laptop you can add structure to your workout by using videos from The Sufferfest and Cycling Videos Online. The Sufferfest is located in the mythical land of Sufferlandria which is at war with the subversives in Couchlandria who mostly drink beer and eat chips from a reclining position. The videos tell you to when to increase or decrease intensity and cadence while using footage from professional cycling races. They also have an immensely entertaining yearly 8 day Tour of Sufferlandria virtual stage race done in partnership with TrainerRoad. Medieval torture references to floggings notwithstanding [does anyone take this seriously?], Sufferfest delivers memorably intense workouts. cvoCycling Videos Online rides in beautiful places utilizing video shot from the bike while actually riding in those very locations. An on-screen control panel gives you gearing and cadence to match with the ride. This season I’ve climbed Mt Evans and Rabbit Ear’s Pass, and ridden in Canyon Lands, courtesy of CVO. The workouts are realistic, and the commentary [which you can also mute] pretty interesting. Having actually ridden both sides of Rabbit Ears Pass, I found the virtual climb to be pretty challenging. Combined with my memories of that epic day, I was sipping an endorphin cocktail while happily grinding along on the CycleOps. Paul Gallas is serious about customer service, and always seems to have time to be friendly and  talk bike. ALTERNATING SPOUSAL ENCOURAGEMENT WITH TRASH TALKING. When my wife flirts with me while handing me a fresh bottle of ice-cold sports drink, my heart rate goes up and the time flies by. Conversely, when she walks by, looks at my power meter and says, Couldn’t you hold that 400 watts for another five minutes? I am transported to a new level of motivation. You can’t have one without the other. Fetching glances AND scathing commentary are pure alchemy for body and soul when combined. SETTING UP IN FRONT OF THE TELEVISION. I’m not especially fond of watching non-cycling content on the telly while training. Except for maybe Mythbusters [because they blow up a lot of stuff], watching TV cultivates a mindset of distraction from exercise.  Not thinking about what we’re doing virtually guarantees a mediocre, unfocused workout. Plus, all the commercials are like the ad banners on Cycling News that tempt us to click on Competitive Cyclist and spend so much time on the dream bike configurator, that our family gives us up for dead…except you’ll spend your hard earned cash on non-bike stuff because they sell crap on TV. badgerOf course, the whole reason for indoor training is fading quickly as the temps in Northern Minnesota begin to moderate to the high 30’s and low 40’s. Wrapped in insulated tights over knee warmers, and with 4 layers on top, outdoor riding is nearly enjoyable when the sun is out. What’s more, it’s down right inspiring to carry a higher level of fitness onto the road. We’ve all spent some winters in Couchlandria, and I suspect that being 10 or 12 pounds lighter, and recovering some of our lost FTP makes slaying the boredom monster worth it. Finally, it’s quite simply about love for the bike.

Dream Season in Hindsight

We’ve come to the end of  the tim484736_10151530827996355_1776356474_ne of the year I affectionately refer to as Dream Season. With this year’s spectacular lack of snow Nordic skiing never quite got going, and exercise moved indoors. It’s in my subterranean cycling cave where I dream of the season to come, and fondly remember the season that was.

Riding indoors on a trainer or on rollers is a means to an end. Ask most people about indoor training…and the word FUN isn’t the first word that gets mentioned. Is there an alternative to sinking into a catatonic state while pedaling? I say, YES. We need to think of riding on the road and indoor stationary riding as two very different activities that happen to involve a bicycle. Clamped to a stationary frame, a bicycle becomes a piece of exercise equipment. Why muddy the waters by comparing this to road cycling? Once you get past this, you can appreciate indoor training for what it is – rather than curse it for what it ain’t.

It wasn’t so long ago that the Elders of the Cycling Tribe declared indoor training as merely a shadow of riding outdoors – a mockery of real effort and real results. Training methodology has certainly improved since the days when they rolled out with a baguette and a hunk of cheese in the jersey pocket. Most definitely the equipment has improved, and better tools make for better results.

White-Zombie-1932That said, I’m a believer in indoor training: not because it’s fun, per se, but more because it gets tangible results. My love for the bike compels me to use this tool who’s chief virtues are focus and intensity. Watching Zombie Apocalypse for the sixth time while mindlessly grinding along at 15 mph doesn’t begin to tap the potential of indoor riding. We need something for the brain to do, as well as the body. What’s called for is the antidote to mindless work. We need a plan that varies the effort and invites concentration.

The undisputed king of plans for indoor cycling is TrainerRoad. With a laptop computer, a $29 USB receiver, heart rate monitor, and ANT+ sensors on your bike, you can train with remarkably accurate virtual power. Let me show you a screen shot of one of my sessions:

tr screen

The vertical height of the blue blocks is power in watts, and the width is duration in minutes. The valleys are recovery periods. At the top center you’ll see a countdown timer of the interval with elapsed time below it. There are also data fields for pulse, cadence, target power and actual power. [Click on the picture to get a higher resolution image] You watch your workout in real time on the computer screen. How cool is that? Compatibility info can be found here. Features can be found here.

With a variable resistance trainer like my Cycleops Mag Pro, you can perform structured intervals that are hard to duplicate on the road. You can train a specific weakness, like climbing out of the saddle or high cadence power. You can easily target the aerobic zone for base building in the early season. An indoor trainer is also an ideal tool for improving pedaling dynamics. Take away traffic, road debris, steering, braking, combative dogs, wind and other riders, and what’s left? GLORIOUSLY SPECIFIC TRAINING FOR THE REAL THING.

TrainerRoad offers a really wide range of indoor training plans to match the goals of cyclists. I hit the road this spring with an FTP of 331 watts: which has translated into being able to hold 20-21 mph on rolling terrain for 30 minutes at a time.

I’m a TrainerRoad Brand Ambassador, and would be happy to send you a code for a month of free service. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

The Grey Goose and the Blustery Day

Winnie-the-Pooh-Piglet-Blustery-Day-Kite

I just came in from outdoors. Leaves and bits of newspaper are skimming along, pushed by a steady 30 mph wind. I’m not riding outside today. Looks like Turner Classic Movies and a 90 minute spin on the rollers.

Frankly, my dear, keep pedaling

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a draft

I was out yesterday in blustery conditions. After riding indoors all winter, any wind resistance at all is something of a novelty – never mind a headwind. These past three weeks have been about adjusting to wind in it’s various manifestations and permutations: headwinds, crosswinds, tail winds, breezes, gales and grabby winds that let go just as I’m leaning the wrong way.

And so, it dawned on me that a thousand miles on the trainer is a good start…but that’s all it is.  Pedaling in the basement lulls me into a false sense of accomplishment. Being strong on the trainer isn’t the same as riding strong outdoors. Every year I re-realize this, and I don’t know why it surprises me. It’s part of the rhythm of the cycling season. My yearly basement biking fantasy is gone [sorry, I can’t help myself] with the wind.

I look down at the Garmin and say to myself, I SHOULD BE GOING FASTER. Only I’m not. These thoughts crossed my mind aboard the Grey Goose as I was flogged by a stiff headwind that repeatedly beat me down to 13 mph. One of the truisms of cycling is that, if you keep at it, you will get stronger. If you intentionally point your bike toward more difficulty, you’ll get stronger faster. Keep it up long enough, and you’ll find those days that are simply effortless. But this brings me comfort only after I’m back home sitting on the couch in compression tights…waxing philosophical…sipping on a malted recovery beverage.

After I turned out of the headwind and began churning up our local CAT 5, the road swung around to the northwest, and I picked up a 25 mph tailwind. I bombed the descent at 46 mph and averaged somewhere around 27 mph through three miles of undulating rollers. Picking up the bike path for the run home, I was rather happily spent, and in possession of another sacred bit of cycling truth:

Whenever possible plan for your tailwind to come at the end of the ride.

Can I get an AMEN on that?

Riding in the Rain

It's more fun in the rain

Are you feeling the love?

Say the ‘R’ word in a group of cyclists and the enthusiasm for the ride is punctured: deflating right before your eyes. It’s one thing to be caught out, and quite a different thing to head out in anticipation of getting soaked. Riding in the rain by choice requires a mindset of determination seasoned with a liberal dose of junior high lunchroom humor. No one really likes water squishing in their cycling shoes – at least no one I’ve ever met. Riding in the rain demands we find another word than like. LIKE has nothing to do with it. Maybe it has more to do with love.

The sun was in and out of the clouds, with a strong probability of rain when I rolled out this morning. For the first hour I rolled along in my happy place, as the sun disappeared altogether and the clouds descended. The first drop spattered on the screen of my Garmin – rather appropriately poetic when you stop and think about it. My usual first thought is to hope that it will hold off for a while more, or miss me altogether.  Instead, the rain increased in intensity and the temp dropped to 39 degrees.

002There’s a point of sogginess where it ceases to matter. Wet is wet…there’s no more dryness to be compromised.  Accept the situation and the fun begins. This is when the aforementioned humor manifests itself: riding through puddles on purpose, singing disco songs at the top of my voice, experimenting with the distance and trajectory of snot rockets. Though drenched, I was warm, and commenced to enjoy the effort that kept me that way.  As I drew closer to home, the thought of a post ride espresso began to exert it’s influence over me, and drew me on with an invisible caffeinated string.

Now, I live in a small town where almost everyone you talk to thinks cycling is riding motorcycles. The folks behind the counter at the coffee shop are not quite sure why I dress the way I do, and regarded me with greater than usual suspicion as I wandered in looking every inch a drowned rat. I happily ordered a double shot with a blast of whipped cream and sat down while people stared at me while pretending not to. The coffee warmed me quickly and I found myself a bit giddy.

What a silly, miserable, glorious, wet, fun thing to have done. It’s not about like at all. It’s about love of the bike, and the many moods that make the ride what it is.

Pactimo Brand Ambassador

ba-logo15I just received word that I’ve been accepted as a 2015 Pactimo brand Ambassador. Before I get into what it means for you, a few words about my experience with Pactimo clothing.

I was introduced to Pactimo two seasons ago at the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour. After 431 miles and 30K of climbing I wanted the jersey. I was impressed with the quality and fit, so I ordered two pair of their raptor bibs. Last season I rode more than 4000 miles in those bibs in every conceivable condition. With other high end bibs I’d be throwing them away at the end of the season…not so with these. I used them through the winter on the trainer, and they still have excellent compression. No blown seams. No blown out chamois. No kidding.

A three pass Montana day in my Pactimo’s

I’ve used their long sleeve and tank base layers, arm warmers and leg warmers. My personal gripe with other brands of leg warmers is that they can loose their shape after a few days of use. Mine are still going strong into their second season.

Once the 2015 Ambassador program gets rolling, I’ll be able to offer introductory discounts for Pactimo products. I should have the particulars during the month of April. Feel free to contact me through this blog – and if you like what you’re reading, sign up to be notified of future posts.

In the mean time, get those base miles in. The weather is relenting in northern Minnesota, which means it should be down right balmy anywhere south of Alaska. So get out there, be safe, find your inspiration and enjoy the best sport in the world.