Looking to improve your healthy habits? Many athletes struggle with off-bike habits that cause weight gain, poor sleep, and recovery. This free 7-day course helps you kickstart those habits.
Looking to improve your healthy habits? Many athletes struggle with off-bike habits that cause weight gain, poor sleep, and recovery. This free 7-day course helps you kickstart those habits.
This post has been updated in November 2017 as I undertake another break from Coffee. I hope you find it useful in motivating a small tweak of your own — PG
The key takeaway from today’s blog is that small changes can sometimes have large, domino effects that we can’t anticipate or foresee. Given enough time, these changes can be meaningful and paradigm-shifting. I am not suggesting you stop drinking coffee, but rather, I am sharing this story of my last month in hopes that you will tinker with small changes in your life to see if something better is possible.
Coffee had become central to my daily routine, many friendships and to my identity as a coffee lover (my twitter profile pic has coffee in it). As May came to an end, the time seemed right to tinker with this apparent touchstone in my daily life and central tenant of my identity. Between two of my biggest coffee-loving friends moving away, the 3-day stomach virus that had me off food/drink for 3 days, and no major events ‘requiring’ caffeine for a month, the time was right to take this out and see what changed. Despite being a coffee lover, I had generally rotated my stimulants and dosages daily (green tea one day, coffee the next, nothing another day). I was able to avoid caffeine and vary dosage with stress (e.g. travel, high training load). I have periodically stopped for days and weeks to ‘come down,’ for convenience or to try for a performance bump. With all that said, these periods without coffee were rarely more than a couple of weeks and seldom without decaf coffee.
Changing habits is tough. Getting started and interrupting the routine is a big part of that. I have had good success changing habits personally by using sickness as the jump-off point. Basically, whenever I get sick, I try to change something (e.g. bedtime, cutting out a certain food etc.). This past month, I turned a stomach virus and 3 days without food/drink into the first 3 days of my coffee abstinence. Like any addict, I insist that coffee doesn’t affect me and that I don’t need it, but if I am honest there was a low-grade energy dip for the first 1-2 weeks followed by the expected, and clichéd, sensations of steady energy, focus and clearing fog (that, or I was recovering from a 7 day stage race and 3 day flu). What I did not expect was how other habits and routines would change with the exclusion of my coffee habit.
I used to think that my coffee habits were part of my routine and that they helped me get my daily work/train/recover routines rolling. I thought that they helped me get out the door and enjoy long drives. I now believe that my coffee prep was actually delaying all these things and taking time from working, training, recovering and fun. I remember when I started drinking coffee, I never prepared it at home. I would have a cup with friends at a coffee shop, on a long ride or at a friend’s house if they had a superb method of preparation and good beans. This slowly transpired into me owning a large percentage of the methods for coffee preparation and making coffee (several times) daily just for myself at home often, when I could have been recovering, relaxing, napping, working, socializing or riding. Somewhere along the line, the original purpose of the coffee, klatching, was lost. Having coffee at home was not accomplishing what I originally started using coffee for.
Interestingly, this past month, without a conscious choice, I fell into a routine of going to bed early (9-10 pm) and waking with the sun (6-6:30 am usually) feeling well-rested and motivated to work. I would do my normal morning routine of HRV testing/meditation, bathroom, maybe start some slow-cooking breakfast and then with a big glass of citrus water with sea salt. I would sit down to my biggest, most daunting task of that day, which I chose the day prior. I would spend 30-75 min on that task (pre-determined time/deadline) and bust it out. Then around 7-7:30 am, I would have a relaxing breakfast before resuming work on the other tasks, which were so much easier. It seemed that coffee was like the first hard-to-move domino that started a chain reaction of positive choices. Being up and getting the big task done, no distraction from emails, coffee prep/cleaning seemed to set the rest of the day into motion. All of the other daily tasks (email, work, train, eat, nap, work, train, eat, house stuff) seemed to fall into place much smoother.
Stopping this month, locking up the coffee-making tools, made me realize that the time spent making/prepping coffee and cleaning a white kitchen could be spent on way more productive things that then domino into bigger and better output and better life experiences. If nothing else, it is simpler, and this lessening of ‘to dos’ is certainly a nice feeling.
As this month away from coffee ends, I celebrated with a glass of decaf espresso while recovering in the Porter Airport Lounge from a somewhat stressful ‘country boy’ journey to the Toronto Island Airport (too many modes of transit/not enough parking on grass). The machine and beans were ok, the price was right, my first ‘business’ flight experience was worth enjoying and I had some good conversation with some ‘fellow’ businessmen, which made the situation a great time to indulge. This was a good afternoon and didn’t dirty my kitchen or take time away from my day/large tasks. While this coffee experience was good, it pales to how good my days have felt after getting a big task done (e.g. this new website), or getting in a ride with a friend, or having time to relax and go for ‘beers on the beach.’ The domino that is coffee just isn’t the life I want. I will still partake when the company, location, beans, and method align, but I don’t see coffee coming back into my life beyond those good times.
Clients periodically come to me with a condition or something they feel is outside of themselves. This could be a health condition, bad ‘luck’ in races, low energy, injuries or poor response to training. They think of this one thing (or combination of outside circumstances) as the ultimate reason for their poor results or health. My first response is to ask:
Are those daily actions you will need to take once you have your ‘diagnosis’ the same as things you can do right now and see if they make a difference in a couple of months?
Are we delaying positive daily action in favor of chasing a diagnosis?
If, for example, you think your problem is your cortisol level and you want it tested … Instead of waiting for the diagnosis, can you start to improve your sleep, diet and have some fun with friends? Avoid intense exercise for a bit. Focus on bringing yourself ‘down’ a bit more often and supply your body with the fuel it needs.
If you are damaging equipment or your body in crashes… It is likely not just bad luck or the fault of your competitors or the organizers. There might be an element of the sport you can work on to get faster and safer out there. Bike Skills training is a thing and it is important for beginner riders right up to the pros. If you can’t bunny hop a cyclocross-barrier, track-stand forever or navigate a pump-track without pedaling, there is some room for practice (it is fun!).
If you are having knee pain… Could you back off the riding for a bit? Start easily into strength training. See a therapist who focuses on movement and who can help you learn movement variety and how to increase your work capacity? Could you check your sleeping and working positions to ensure they aren’t contributing?
If you are low on energy have you checked your sleep, consumption of iron building foods and done a triple check of the sugar and processed foods in your diet? Have your tried upping your calories, including those pesky carbs and seeing if you feel better? Remember more fuel = more work capacity = more fitness.
If you are not reaching your cycling goals have you talked to a coach? (you can do it free here). Have you checked that you are within the ‘norms’ of training? (i.e. stop doing suffer workouts everyday and work on event specific skills/terrain). Sleep more, eat better, enjoy riding.
These things don’t happen overnight but if you dedicate your daily actions to moving a little closer and getting a little better you can get where you want to go.
If you are in Toronto on Dec 6, Aurora on Dec 7 or Barrie on Dec 8 we would love to have you join us for the “Saddle, Sore Version 2” Book Launch Party DETAILS HERE
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Unfortunately doing well at any endurance race is not as simple as simply training for hours and hours. This is especially true for the grueling, Leadville 100-mile MTB race, which takes place at over 10,000 feet of elevation for almost the whole race and involves a lot of climbing.
Luckily most of us are limited in how much we could ever pedal in a week so the fact that success at these races involves something more than training for hours is a GOOD THING. Our fitness is a big part of the equation but what FITNESS is and how we apply our fitness through preparation, equipment, position and other methods will determine how well our big day goes.
My focus in this article is largely on everything BUT pedaling or fitness (although I do make plans to help you with that), because to me, the regular ‘desk’ athlete with kids, a job, 2 dogs and a mortgage likely has a different event to take on then the pro who can perform a month of high-volume training, on top of a mountain and do quite well.
The Leadville 100 MTB Trail race or other Endurance Bike Races tend to have huge followings and so there is a lot of content out there. When I signed up in 2011, I was looking for every resource (Leadville Pictures, Leadville video, race stories, Studies) to help guide my preparation. Now, this may seem weird, as I am a supposed to be a Pro MTB racer and a coach with a university degree, but the fact that Leadville is a different event remains true and my lack of Leadville, or even 100-miler, experience had me scared. Experience the race before you get there via media and then by simulating terrain.
Leadville has 12,000-14,000 feet of climbing … Yes, you should be light and fit to get up those hills, but dragging your brakes down 14,000 feet of downhill is costing you time too. Practice on technical trails and also on event-specific double track, ATV trail and gravel road and your average speed will go up considerably. Being comfortable on technical trails will make the Leadville double track and road much easier to do while fatigued. Check out Bike Skills Project videos on ready position and/or attack position (basically standing up on the bike)are key places to start.
If you can go to a few camps to simulate your race pace at even moderate altitude, that will help. If you accept that it will be a bit harder and not exactly the same as home, it is part of the challenge and many people do no altitude adaptation and do fine thanks to good fitness and great pacing.
Altitude tents and devices such as SpiroTiger can be an asset in maximizing your adaptation to altitude and enhancing your respiratory system to help you be more comfortable with the increased breathing requirements at altitude, and while racing/riding/existing. Both devices can be rented from many companies.
I also like getting clients to practice breathing through their noses during their day and while on rides (start slow and breathe deep with BELLY). You should find you can eventually build your wattage while nose breathing towards ‘tempo’ (about Leadville pace) AND (in my opinion) this first experience with restricted breathing helps you be psychologically ready in Leadville.
Beta-Alanine and Sodium Phosphate-loading are two potentially beneficial supplements to help maximize Oxygen-dependent performance (under ‘threshold’), which is important at altitude. Ensure you have used both appropriately in training prior to Leadville and make sure you take care of all the (CHEAPER) basics first, such as fueling, sleep, mobility and bike skills. A special tip is to try to stay lower then Leadville the week off. There are many cool towns at slightly lower elevation and I think it is worth getting better sleep, with a few rides in Leadville vs. Being in Leadville all week.
Minimize the digestive work your stomach has to do. Save that energy for pedaling. Many athletes make the mistake of eating too many solids and overwhelming their stomachs with foods/fuel that they have not game played over distances, at specific intensities and/or while not at altitude. We may not be able to test/Game Play any or all of these, BUT we can take notes from experienced athletes and the averages. Generally, focus on more liquid sources of calories at 2-300kcal/hr.
Maltodextrin-based mixes/gels seem to be most digestible, possibly with some fructose or simple sugar. Solids earlier in the race are used by some to break up the fueling strategy and avoid overloading on a certain sugar or component. Many distance athletes (e.g. RAAM and 24 hour Solo) will use products like Ensure to get a digestible calorie source; at Leadville, having an Ensure at top or bottom of Columbine could work well. I have also always liked Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and typically will ride/race with them in my bottles with some electrolyte to help with energy and focus.
As always, you should be practicing race day nutrition long before your race. ( Nutrition basics with The Bike Skills Project here )
Many a race is ruined, if not lost, based on little fixes on the trail. You should be able to take your bike apart on the course and reassemble. Make a list and start practicing. A good and patient local coach or friend should be able to help you through sticking points. Bike Skills Projects on Mechanics HERE
It is very important that, within reason, we never go 0 km/hr. Leadville and many similar races are about average speed. Keep rolling steady. You should not stop in the feed-zone, or to eat or to transition to a hike-a-bike. Situations may arise, such as nature breaks (although some may find ways to do this one bike) but generally, try to plan and train for minimal stops to preserve that goal pace. The feed bag pickup is a place I messed up in 2011 and actually fell (so pro!)
… Again, these are the little things we forget when out doing 4 hours hard, and a couple Game-Plays with the feed bag could have saved me minutes, if not gotten me a podium spot. Bike Skills Projects on Dismounts / Mounts.
While on our bikes, we can add benefit to our training by making sure we learn what a sustainable pace is and how to hold it over varying terrain. I believe HR is still relevant to optimal pace even at altitude, but we also need to use our brains and experiences to inform when it is time to go or if HR won’t be used on a given day. My goal during my 2011 prep at sea level was to see my pace on hilly terrain (Miles/HR) come up to 1 mile faster/hour then my goal Leadville pace (14.7mph for ~7hrs over 103mi ). ( Posts from Smart Athlete / Train With Peter on Pacing )
Be able to walk/hike uphill efficiently and dismount/remount easily, even uphill. Walking can be optimal pacing strategy. Be efficient in mount/dismount and walking/jogging. Avoid getting stopped at zero miles per hour pace. Plan spots you will likely walk (top of Columbine and power-line on the return for many). Have a daily mobility practice including standing often and walking a ton (i.e. on breaks at work and before-after meals). Bike fit and mobility are big causes of time off-bike so make sure these items are very well Game Played before the race. ( Smart Athlete Posts on Mobility ) ( Also check out the MobilityWod on Youtube)
Leadville is a mountain bike race but a lot of time can be saved by drafting and having a reasonable position on the bike (that you can pedal well in). Looking to optimize clothing (i.e. no garbage bag coats) and spend some time on the road in an aero position of some type (narrow hand position and maybe forearms on the bar). Elite Leadville times are becoming so fast that much effort is put into Aero (see 2016 winner’s bike/gear here) There are many sites out there proving being aero is worth thinking about, such as here. Recently, a bike company tested hair styles and found that braided hair was more efficient than a bun or ponytail and also found some interesting gains from shaved legs and arms (but not face!). So there are some little wins you can get for low cost or a bit of skill practice.
While these concepts may sound basic and optimistic at times, I do believe that there is a ton of time to be gained for almost anyone looking at Leadville and similar races without even touching on fitness. We want to maximize the work we can do (fitness) and minimize the work we have to do with preparation, planning, health, nutrition, and equipment creating our best performance on THE big day.
I would love to hear your feedback on these ideas, any questions they might spark or suggestions on ways to squeeze every last second out of your next big Endurance Race.
As I come off a couple days where I have been forced off bike and forced to modify my training plan I thought it was worth discussing how I deal with these days personally and how I have helped clients be ready to react to these inevitable changes to the plan.
One of the concepts that I try and instill in coaching clients is to use the training plan as a ROUGH PLAN. This is the direction we are heading, the rough progression of intervals/volume/workout types that will move us towards our goal but on any given day we might do less/more or completely different workouts. Embracing this concept helps us avoid over-training and also under-training and the frustration caused by both.
Once we have our working confines for the day then we need to be ready to focus on 1 or 2 key things and do a fantastic job practicing them. As an example if you decided to go with a classic 5 x 2 minute hill interval set then you might focus on maintaining a strong posture for the intervals and perhaps on pushing a little extra at the point our mind/body/legs want us to stop or back off to edge ourselves towards a bit more performance. On the flip side, if we decide that today is an off day due to injury/illness we might focus on doing several short sessions of meditation, mobility and/or getting a massage. We could do some work on our bike, we could do annoying phone admin work like hotel booking and insurance selection and focus on being ready for the next day. Selecting 1 or 2 ways we can achieve a daily goal and make progress, just like we do on our training days, makes these off days part of our journey towards our goal rather then a step away from it.
On training days and on off-days try to program and set goals around a recovery technique. Sleep, Mobility and Walking are two key ones I focus on. For sleep ensuring we fit in naps, especially if not getting >8 hours or not a ‘great’ sleeper. Bedroom should be quiet, pitch-black, cool and free of screens/electronic/lights. Try to include some meditation/mobility/quiet time before trying to sleep. Mobility is a broad term that can include stretching, yoga, gymnastics, calesthenics, walking, playing with your kids, gentle swimming, massage and several other kooky practices. Basically keep your body moving through the ranges of motion you were given before you decided to be an adult/athlete. A good, very broad, direction to start is to spend time daily squatting low, lunging to at least 90 degrees at both knees with upright torso and putting your arms over your head–you decide how/where you do it. Finally walking is something I have done a ton of and I find the more I do the better everything else in my life goes. Walking serves to help open up tight hips, gets us out moving outside of our ‘workouts’ to get blood moving and add to our daily activity and also can serve as a quiet time, technology free time, family/relationship time. There is very little downside to adding walking to any person’s daily routine. For my business-people clients adding walking meetings and calls to their daily routine has been huge. Getting outside for walks on those days you are feeling tired, tight, sick can be a game changer–gentle movement and sun rarely does harm.
On these days you are off training this is a great place to start adjusting the rough, long-term plan again. Give yourself sufficient time to get back riding and be patient, usually 1-2 days more off/easy after we feel ready to go is wise so build these into the rough plan. Having this rough plan as an evolving map of where you are now and where you want to go will serve to keep you motivated and invested in the process.