As an endurance athlete, you are always looking for that little bit extra speed, comfort, safety and/or power. You want to get faster at cycling. While huge changes, fad diets, and crash-cycles of superhard intervals are tempting, it is often the small changes done over time that elicit the results we want. These 5 areas are relatively simple to change and make improvements, especially if you use them for long periods so that the small benefits can compound. This compounding concept is important to understand when looking at your habits and training. Not every interval will register its benefit immediately today. Often it is the consistent practice at a relatively low and manageable level that gives us results, not one hero day or super strict week of dieting.
Many athletes are looking for a late summer cycling goal in Ontario. Some have missed the Leadville Lottery, while others have waited to see what spring fitness is like and now are looking for something to build towards this summer.
May I suggest the new improved Crank the Shield, which is back after a 3-year hiatus!
This new edition moves from it’s Haliburton roots northward to Sault Ste. Marie/Algoma Country and includes a scenic train ride to kick off the 3-day weekend, where you will experience some of the best scenery Canada has to offer. The route includes a chance to climb one of Ontario’s highest peaks, King Mountain, which is a bucket list accomplishment in itself!
Below is a preview video AND be sure to check out www.cranktheshield.com for details and to register
If you are trying to train for cycling in a city you have likely become frustrated by traffic lights, pedestrians, lack of cycling routes, and/or lack of hills. You may have even decided that cycling indoors is the only way to keep up with your country or mountain dwelling competitors. While the city presents challenges it is not impossible to do much of your training within the city.
These are a few of my favorite tricks for training in the city:
Bike Choice and Setup
Consider riding slower tires or bikes. I often ride my mountain bike with slow tires in the city. This lets me use all the paths and trails and hills available and has the benefit of increasing resistance so I am not going very fast by people.
Whether you are doing hard intervals or not start climbing more and you will find your cycling improves. Wanting to climb better is very common for cyclists generally, but especially for city-dwelling-cyclists. Include a couple extra reps up the hillier parts of your ride and you will find those hilly weekend rides and races are not so hard anymore.
Rather than looking for a 20-minute loop try looking for a one to five-minute loop to do longer steady intervals. There are often parks that allow cycling, industrial areas or developing areas that you can go to and safely do longer muscular endurance (e.g. threshold) workouts. I have a few athletes who use grass or wood chip sections (e.g. around soccer fields) to do intervals when they can’t get out of the city, this may not always be desirable but it is worth a try, even one or two times a month if you have such a spot!
You can use tools like Strava heat map (use the ‘my routes’ function then turn ‘heat maps’ on from the left toolbar). Strava also can let you see where other people are training. Find some of the top riders in your city and download the .GPX file for their routes or just get a sense of where the best loops are. Local Crit series locations may also provide a spot to go after work hours for quiet riding.
If you are new to Cycling Coaching or following a Cycling Training Plan, it can get confusing, if not overwhelming. There are lots of new words like Functional Threshold Power, Zones, Intervals to learn; PLUS you have to motivate yourself to ride a functioning bicycle AND ride that bicycle safely and skillfully over whatever terrain you navigate to on that day’s training Ride.
This post helps you understand what is important in your training and a little bit about how to use tools like your bike computer and Training Peaks to quickly assess your ride goals.
- Your job as an athlete is to be motivated, prepared and focus on pushing hard when you need to push hard and riding steady and easy (enough) when it is endurance time.
- You want to be very focused on the feelings and skills and routines you execute and use the day’s workout to develop those things. Stressing over ‘perfect’ workouts is not required.
- Try to set up your bike computer (i.e. Garmin or Wahoo) so you can see your Lap Averages and Ride Averages.
- Set up your device to upload automatically to Training Peaks (and Strava if you do that) => See how here
- If you have hill intervals planned … know what your range (zone) is for that day. This may be a distance you have covered, a Heart Rate, an RPE (Feeling), and/or a Power Number
- It is good to attach some ‘defining moments’ from your races to these key weekly workouts … if you are getting dropped when the attacks start, practice pushing a bit harder/longer each workout. Visualize yourself riding in the race as you do these intervals and as you feel the tension in your legs and as you breathe deeply to find relaxation in the discomfort.
- When you come in make sure your files upload and that you do a nice training diary log in training peaks or whatever you use. Note the WHO/WHAT/WHERE/WHY/HOW MANY ETC. Thinking about what you want to work on next time is how we get better next time. Make a note that you can pull back for the next session.
- Put a screen as ‘ride summary’ and then you can see your average HR on the ride summary screen in %MHR (you can set avg HR by BPM or %) … so if endurance ride you can see if you averaged 65-75%
- You can also setup a lap screen so you can assess each lap as you go. If you have a sweet spot interval you can see if you averaged the prescribed Heart rate or power zones quickly
- There is a graph view where you can view the HR tracing on top of HR zones and hide the other metrics (circled in blue below)
This post will provide you with 3 drills to improve your cycling skills and balance. While they are not presented in the order I would always use and certainly a step (or three) beyond what a beginner may be comfortable doing they do provide you with some ideas and variations to scale back from, work towards or challenge yourself with today!
1) The Outrigger – Putting a Foot Out for balance and to ‘dab’ versus falling over or putting out your arm
2) Ratcheting – use a partial pedal stroke and move your body around while STANDING
3) The bump and run – a fun challenge that progresses your ratchets and moves you towards the track stand
Let me know what you think of these 3 drills!
When I hear that bike riding is causing pain, I think of these few things first.
- You brake with any finger except your index finger – modern brakes do not require multiple fingers or middle fingers. Use your index finger. Many wrist, forearm and shoulder pain is aggravated, if not caused by this. At best you are using a lever in a different way than it was designed. Use all the fingers you can to hold onto the bar!
- Your cleats are not jiggly – replace cleats at least once a season (more if you ride more or dismount a lot, or only ride one bike/set of shoes). Watch for them to click, or feel jiggly during higher rpm or bumpy sections. This can cause lower leg and foot issues and also I have seen knee pain. When you install your cleats try the farthest back setting (on mtb cleats especially).
- Your seat is very far back on the rails or pointed up – position yourself more forward (knee cap over pedal spindle or slightly ahead) so you are setup to lean forward and pedal up hills. A pointed up saddle is never indicated and is a frequent cause of numbness and saddle sores.
- Your suspension is not setup well – read your manuals or ask for help!
- Your saddle doesn’t agree with your pelvis – don’t settle for sores and numbness, look into bikefit help, try loaner saddles
- If you have knee pain in the front of your knee, try raising your saddle. If you have pain in the back of your leg (hamstring) try lowering your saddle. Do this by taping your seat post and lowering 2mm at a time.
These are 3 drills that will help you progress your cornering skill
Cornering is a multi-faceted skill with unlimited variations. Just think about how many conditions a cyclocross racer would face, and then multiply that by how many bike types and styles of riding there are! Cornering a mountain bike in B.C. Canada will require different positions, braking techniques, and different tires than if you are in a more desert location like Sedona.
Like many sports, it is wise to do isolated drills to increase your number of repetitions and practice the exact skill you want to use in your adventures. By minimizing distractions and time spent getting to that perfect corner in the forest you can make a lot of progress.
These are 3 of my favorite corner drills.
- off bike – practice leaning the bike while holding your body position and while looking with your lean
- Leaning the bike while riding in a straight line – practice shifting your hips back and forth
- Cone Drills – Slalom and Figure-8 – these are common ‘bike drills’ but using them in tandem with the above and really focusing on your bike LEANING and your hips/gaze shifting will help you make huge breakthroughs
This is a video with three drills to try that I find help riders break through plateaus in their progression towards Log Hops, Bunny Hops, and Jumping.
The Three Drills include:
- An off-bike drill that helps you feel what it is like to push into the handlebar and front wheel
- A manual practice focused on moving your hips down then back in an L shape
- A front wheel ‘tap’ drill that is functional for getting over logs but takes the first off-bike drill and applies the concept of pushing into the bars into this ‘level 4’
For a progression of the 5 stages of log Hopping check out my video that Canadian Cycling Magazine produced HERE
With all the hype about nutrition and sports-nutrition, it is hard to know what you should use to do your best on race day. My advice is always to practice what you *think* you should use on race day on your key workouts (intensity, volume, race-specific simulation). Race nutrition, in very simple terms, can be tested by asking if you achieved your goal, if not then perhaps you need more. If you felt sick then perhaps you did too much fuel (or not enough water). There are some variables around race nerves and hot weather, but generally, the issues on race day are due to not practicing at your race intensity, in race-like conditions (heat) and with the same fuel type, amounts as you will need on race day.
Remember you are Resilient and The other 23 hrs of the day
It is important to remember that hydration and fueling are important but that we can do a lot without, so if you end up short, drop a bottle, miss a feed it is fine. In short events the difference is not huge, especially if you do not get stressed about it. Practicing *WITHIN REASON* some fasted rides or less hydrated rides are worthwhile if it is likely in races. While we stress about getting that sugar-high it is more common that riders loose time trying to get bottles out of cages, carrying heavy and bulky hydration packs and just plain thinking too much about food/water and not about racing. Focus on the race when you are racing. Your training is meant to make all these practices automatic and normal, do not do different things on race day.
There are a few factors but it is not uncommon for the front-runners in a race to be lighter (slightly dehydrated) at the finish compared to the slowest finishers who take on more water and maintain or even gain weight, which can have consequences at extremes.
It is also very important to consider how you eat pre, post and during the rest of your days in the months ahead of any event. Your body composition, energy, sleep and ultimately your performance is affected by this. If you only eat sugar, eat constantly (graze), get hangry, or find your sleep is off then there are some lifestyle factors that need attention much more than the order of your race day chews, chomps and waffles do.
What to use?
- Mix – Many people like the convenience of getting fuel with their hydration. This works well for some applications but be careful in extreme conditions where the mix may become less palatable or when you need to drink more. water relative to fueling (ie. hot weather). Some people find gels hard to get down and so mix may be a better option.
- Gels are nice because they are separate from your water consumption. So when it is very hot you can fuel with the gels and use cold water to douse yourself and to hydrate. These can be in the form of gel packets, gel flasks or ‘blocks’ and gummies.
- Bars/solids are generally for endurance rides and long events where you are mostly under 85% … some people can stomach more of this while others will need to be careful.
- Electrolyte tablets are nice to add some taste and light calories/electrolytes to drinks, they may help you drink more (if that is required). Many athletes make the mistake of only using this and do not end up fueling their work capacity (ie. they go slow, do not recover, risk over-training in long-term).
There are rules of thumb for fueling Hydration
(satisfy with gels, bars, mix as above)
- 200+ kcal an hour (50-60 grams carbohydrate (the more you can eat/absorb an hour the faster you will generally go BUT you also risk of GI issues. Elite Ironman athletes will push this up much higher (4-500kcal/hr). There is a balance and optimal for each of us … this can be trained and is not specific to body weight).
- Water at 16-20 oz an hour depending on heat and sweat rate … in extreme heat/exertion perhaps more but as getting to top end or higher adding salt/electrolyte is likely important/wise. (shake of sea salt is great)
Plan your event strategy ahead of time (and practice it):
- Expected time to complete x 16-20 oz water
- Expected time to complete x 200+ kcal
Example Race Day
- 6;30-7:30 (6hrs prior) = breakfast – eggs/rice, pancakes, cereal/eggs, etc. nothing ‘big’
- coffee/water / electrolyte w. water on drive
- 9:30am-11am (3hrs PRIOR TO RACE/WU) – eat a pre-race meal (cereal, rice/eggs, whey+cereal, banana and Clif bar, pasta/eggs, Peanut butter and jam/honey sandwich)
- *rare to use meat/veggies/fat/fiber in the prerace meal ** thinking about pre-race as ‘breakfast’ may be helpful
- 12:30 warmup (some people use to mix in warmup, some don’t )
- 1:30 race – Gel 5-10min before start – start with a very little amount of clear water in a bottle (empty bottle on you to cool you and to wash down gel avoid ‘choking’ on gel on lap 1 effort
- For Leadville or early endurance races – many people don’t eat 3hrs prior (they sleep!) and will eat a bar or gel on the line and then start fueling early.
- For a shorter, harder race that is in the mid-morning like Paris to Ancaster (10 am start) you might have cereal with almond milk and a banana and hard-boiled eggs
- For a noon-early afternoon start, you could have a small ‘second’ breakfast or a portable snack 2-3hrs prior. A Bar and a Banana, cereal/milk, PB&J sandwich and then you may fuel in warmup and/or on the start line
Does this fit with your strategy? What Have I missed?
If in doubt => Book a consult here <= to iron out your nutrition plan
Races don’t get canceled often but it does happen with bad weather and financial/sponsorship issues.
This is always a bummer as we all look forward to races as a test of our fitness, to see friends, and to push our limits. Getting first races out of the way is also a big reason early races are important and not ‘losing’ our peak fitness for those big A races can also be a concern if races get delayed or canceled.
How do you use that weekend with no racing?
- Use the weekend to boost your confidence. This may be another race or a group ride but for most athletes, a focused weekend to take care of elements of your performance that YOU ARE NERVOUS ABOUT is a good way to guide this ‘free weekend’.
For early season mountain bike races, it is likely a good choice to try and get out on your mountain bike. Using your race nerves (what you are a bit scared of as that race approaches) as a guide you can then design a workout or two that will help make you more confident in that skill. If I am nervous about my start ability then a Saturday workout with 10 race start sims (10 x 30-60sec from a standing start … perhaps with a friend acting as the start-official (make a GO sound) to make it an external cue. Add a couple friends to make it a bit more competitive). For Sunday riding your mountain bike on a longer ride will help work out kinks in your bike setup and remind you that you can ride a mountain bike.
- Continue the progressions from the last few weeks = if you have been doing a progression of Vo2 (3 x 3, 4 x 3, 5 x 3 etc) or Sweetspot/Threshold (3 x 10, 3×12, 3 x 15) then there is a good chance that your race did not fall perfectly to continue that progression. Finish the progression!
- When in doubt ask! Phone Consultations with your coach are a great option, especially if your schedule has changed and a new plan of attack, or a new progression, is warranted. Checking in with your coach often is a good idea to make sure you understand the goal of your training and so your coach understands your context (life, work, family, motivation to race, nutrition etc.)