I’ve been reflecting on the past 6 weeks of training (Jan 7 through Feb 27) and I thought I’d share some thoughts on both psychological and technical challenges in dropping 15 pounds in 4 weeks, gaining hugely in strength and endurance, and in pushing through not so fun days early on.
The winter doldrums into early winter training
Since I hike and photograph in the fall, cycling drops off considerably, thus I lose fitness from about September through December. But the body cannot get stronger without rest, and so long as suitable activity is maintained, that down season may be a good thing, to allow a worked-hard body to repair every last little niggling thing.
The hardest thing for me is rapid weight gain in the fall—my peak riding season appetite persists for 4-6 weeks even as calorie-burn drops off. Asnd with the change in season, October triggers some natural rhythm which demands “eat!”. Nary a year goes by without that pattern.
Come late December, I start to think about training hard again. Except I usually cannot and that’s the rub: my mind remembers jackrabbiting up hills, but gravity and legs beg to differ. Pyschologically, this feels discouraging. The way I work around this is just to remind myself “3 weeks of 1.5 hours @ 1000 calorie per day every day and things will start to feel promising again, then excitingly rewarding not long after”.
That challenge is easier for some (perhaps) but very very hard for riders getting into the sport or away from it for a few years, so I’d say this for those people: use the statement above, substituting 6 weeks for 3 weeks and have faith it will work—because it will. And keep in mind that one or two or even three crummy days should be put in the rearview mirror—happens to everyone.
This year, we had better than summer weather for 2 weeks in late January into early February. I made a mental committment to use that weather for all it was worth, having sensed that my laid-off legs were ready to take on a very hard training load. I ended up surpassing my most difficult training weeks ever (17000 calories burned in one week), unprecedented (for me) for early season and not previouslly surpassed even in peak season—ever. To wit: endurance and performance are 70% mental/psychological, and 30% physical!
The result of such rewards (which will come to anyone/everyone who persists in training) is a resetting of expectations much higher than one might have considered possible. This is crucial for peak performance and gains over time. It is why I recommend that everyone train for and finish 3 double centuries over the course of a month or two—doing so will make anything else seems relatively easy, smashing through psychological barriers holding you back.
This is a quick summary of key points that I’ve learned over the years, and including some groundbreaking gains this year. See the training section for more.
#1 Keep at it
My rule of thumb is to ride every day. Rest days are simply not needed. If necessary, cut back to a 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/4 ride, but do it. If illness strikes, once the body has beaten down the infection and has won but the fight is not fully over, ride lightly to get blood flow—my feeling is that blood flow accelerates the recovery—not long, not hard, but 30-45 minutes easy spin at whatever easy pace feels good.
Ride rain or shine. Pyschologically, skipping a heavy downpour day or three is fine. But it is a disaster for the mental toughness needed if this excuse is used on days where it is mainly a breakdown in discipline and not about conditions adverse enough to warrant skipping it—subconsciously you set yourself up to be a quitter—don’t do that to yourself.
#2 Aim to smash cognitive commitments to what is possible
Never ridden a century? Train for one and do three. This will obliterate silly cognitive committments about them being too hard. Doing just one is a bad idea, because those (incorrect) cognitive commitments will make it seem harder than it really is, and it will actually be hard and probably a “WTF am I doing this” thing. That’s why it is crucial to do at least three in a relatively short period (2 or 3 months)—that should obliterate the baked in assumption about a century being godawful difficult.
Once the cognitive commitments about a century are eliminated, the next step is a double century. A double century is 3X to 4X more challenging, so more training will be required. Still, following a year with the centuries accomplished, training 90 minutes per day for 3-4 months should be quite sufficient. Because the first double is likely to suck big time (very uncomfortable past mile 130), it is crucial that the committment is to doing three doubles within 3 months.
#3 Smile and be happy
Seriously. If you have to force yourself to smile, do it. The physical act of smiling triggers brain circuitry which will actually make riding easier. If you are dead tired, engage the fatigue and think how great it is you are out there ad not six feet under after a heart attack. Keep smiling—i works.
If your mind wanders into thoughts like “this is f***g stupid I’ll never do it again” and similar, turn it around—this is deadly to future gains. Do NOT let your mind continue down that path or the discomfort will increase and you will mentally quit long before physical limits are actually reached. Which means you will keep quitting in the future as a self-reinforcing mental pattern. I have never quite a double century, though I sure as hell felt like I wanted to. It was not easy, but nothing really worth doing is easy. Don’t fuck it up by quitting (risk of signicant injury is a legitimate exception.
#4 do NOT stop for breaks or for lunch.
Lunch is just about the worst thing you can do—the body shuts down metabolically and it will take many miles to get back in the groove (and it will feel shitty). Plus digesting an actual lunch is not possible while riding at any non-slug pace—stomach cramps and discomfort and even vomiting are high odds. Don’t do this to yourself.
#5 Be rigorous about hydration and fueling
This takes experience and see the other sections on this site. But in a nutshell:
- Know your own body and what it will tolerate.
- Test all fuel sources prior to event day; do NOT try something new on event day.
- Don’t drink more than 1 liter per hour as your stomach can’t handle it anyway (exception: seriously hot days you might force down 1.3 liters, but this is likely to bloat stomach). But DO make sure you drink a liter an hour after the first 3 hours or so (depends on glycogen load/burn).
- Eat a steady 150 to 200 calories per hour, less for smaller bodies, more for larger bodies. Eat energy sources that turn into glucose more or less immediately. Minimize anything that requires digestion. Some fructose is OK late in the game but no more than one Mountain Dew or similar every 90 minutes—the liver can only process about 60 grams of fructose per hour. DO take in this junk sugar after hours 8 or 9—the liver is drained of all glucose by then and needs something do to. In general, strictly avoid more than 40 grams of fructose per hour and never consume more than 70 grams at a time. Fruit, junk licorice, some candies all have fructose.
- Do not eat fats. Your body cannot digest and utilize fat during a double and it already has enough fat for 5 or 10 or 20 doubles (depending on body fat levels).
- The slightest trace of hunger should be immediately responded to by consuming 100 calories of a glucose source, like Hammer Gel or GU. Failure to do so can result in demanding hunger and at that point you’re likely to chown down and screw yourself for the rest of the day. You do not need a meal or solid food during the double if proper fueling (glucose sources) is done. Solid food has a very highi probability of reducing performance and a very good chance of leading to nausea and vomiting.