Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eating on Longer Rides

from Fitness Q&A
answered by Scott Saifer
I am a 44-year-old male cyclist and I weigh 200lbs. I'm 6'2" tall. I've been a road cyclist for six years. I am hoping you can help me with a problem that I've been having over the past few years when it comes to rides that go over 90 miles and are especially challenging such as ones that include large amounts of climbing.
What happens is that as I approach, on average, the 85-mile mark, I begin to get almost nauseated and lose my energy and barely feel like keeping my head up, it seems. Once at this point, I don't feel that I can get any food down and water doesn't seem to help. An example would be this weekend on a 90 mile ride through some of the bigger climbs in my area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As if on cue, at around 84 miles, I suddenly had nothing left in my legs and the weakness just continued right up my body and into my neck and shoulders.

Throughout the ride I drank plenty of water, all in all, four full bottles. Then at the first store stop I had a chocolate milk and a pack of salty pretzels with some cheese (Combos) as a quick snack. After ascending a couple of other mountains we had a second store stop to load up our water bottles which I did and also drank a small Gatorade G2 and a Lifewater with electrolytes drink. Here I also had a Snickers peanut butter candy bar.

Granted I know these aren't the greatest of nutritional items, but I only ever have these on a ride and only because they are easy to get at convenience stores and provide a lot of carbs and some protein. Further, about an hour into the ride, I also had an Accel gel pack. I feel that this sudden nausea and rapid loss of energy (bonking) is likely due to me not getting enough calories. However, as mentioned, I did eat a gel pack in the first hour, more food at about 2.5 hours, more at about 4.5 hours and at these store stops I felt that eating much more would be too hard for me to process and digest and I would get sick from "too much" food.

The average speed that day was a little over 17mph. Finding out if it's the lack of food that is causing this to happen almost always at the 85-90 mile mark, and how to correct this problem is very important to me. Besides helping me be better on normal rides, I have a strenuous ride coming up, the Assault on Mount Mitchell, in a couple of months and this happened to me on that ride last year.
I was feeling well, my ride was going according to plan and my time was looking good. I had hoped to come in under seven hours. However, about 87 miles into the ride, I bonked. And what's worse, I got nauseated, just to the point of thinking I would vomit, but never did. I tried to force some food down, but couldn't make it happen. Needless to say, I missed my goal of going under seven hours.

During that ride I drank probably six bottles of water, an FRS energy drink, had two flasks of Hammer's Sustained energy supplement, ate a banana, a few cookies at one of the brief rest stops, two Accel gel packs, and possibly another energy bar. Again, not huge amounts of calories for someone of my size, but I don't know how I can get down many more calories during a ride without getting sick from "trying" to get a lot of calories down, or if this is even my problem.

But again, to re-iterate, the two biggest problems are the nauseated feeling and my legs just dying and not bouncing back after a tough climb. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Scott S
Spartanburg, SC USA

Scott Saifer says:


You are not eating enough. You are not eating often enough and you are making bad food choices. It's no surprise you'd be bonking. I can't promise that eating better will prevent the bonk, but pretty much anyone who ate the way you have been eating would bonk, so at least you've got a good chance.

Here's your new eating prescription: from the beginning to the end of the ride: have a few big bites of something high in carbohydrate, with a small amount or protein or no protein at all and minimal fat every 15-20 minutes. Someone your size should be able to absorb about 300 Calories per hour. In 15-20 minute chunks, that's 75-100 Calories per chunk. Do not go more than 20 minutes without a bite. Forget the cheese.
You can use athletic energy foods, or choose from among these long-time cyclist favorites: pretzels, fig bars, bananas, potatoes, PB&J, crackers, bagels, rolls. Eating every 15 minutes is going to require carrying several hours worth of food. Recharge your pockets at your store stops, but don't do your eating there. Eat on the bike to save time.

Drink enough that you need to urinate a few times during one of your long rides and that when you urinate, the color is pale, in the lemonade rather than the apple juice range.

Scott Saifer, M.S.
Head Coach, CEO

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Carry That Weight

It doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that the lighter something is, the easier it’ll go up a hill. When I first saw the Mount Mitchell elevation chart, I felt heavy. When I spent some time watching YouTube ride videos, I felt even heavier. Even though I wasn’t necessarily overweight, my first thought was I needed to lose about 5-10 lbs before attempting the mountain. My thinking has since changed.

I was a much heavier man this time last year. I had been a member of a gym and had worked out relatively frequently, running occasionally, doing time on the elliptical, occasionally grabbing some weights, but was never able to make a dent in my weight mostly due to poor and ill-informed eating habits.

Over the spring I did some reading and dedicated myself to dropping my waistband. Mostly I counted calories, which is something I recommend everyone do, athletic or not. I used the MyNetDiary website and iPhone app, but there are plenty other resources online (another example: TrainingPeaks). The diet was successful and by the summer I had dropped a lot of my excess weight. That is when I got back into running, and, as already discussed in this blog, got hurt and bought a bike.

Most of my weight loss was finished by the time I started cycling. I still counted calories, which I continue to do today, but dieting was a thing of the past. I still lost another 5 more pounds throughout the summer and into the fall just from actively riding, but have mostly remained in the 148-152 range since then. At my heaviest, I had probably been around 185 lbs.

I made my training goal for Mount Mitchell to drop another 5-10 lbs while increasing muscle mass. I mostly kept up my good habits over the winter and did not gain weight. Once I started eating in tandem with my training program, I found this to be a tall order, not impossible, but extremely difficult. The fact of the matter is, you have to eat to build muscle and fuel a workout.

I hired Kelli at Apex Nutrition, who has transformed my eating habits and it has showed with my performance. At first we started with a low number of calories, which turned out to be too low. I was hungry all the time and this was affecting my rides. Even with proper fueling, I would be hungry early on in rides and longed for the end so I could chow down. Since then I have modified my goal to maintain my current weight while gaining muscle strength.

After having a little bit of experience this year with training and dieting, my way of thinking has changed in terms of weight loss and the bike. Don’t get me wrong, riding a bicycle is a terrific way to lose weight for many people. Actor Ethan Suplee just revealed that his dramatic weight loss came on a bike. You can burn large amounts of calories just by spinning at a reasonable pace for extended periods of time. I have found, however, that when trying to dramatically improve performance, it is better to save the diet programs for the off-season or after the goal has been achieved.

150 is a great weight for my height. If I dropped to 140 as originally planned, I would probably be thought of as skinny. While dropping a size or two still would help, I have learned that dropping another size or two will not be key in getting me up the hill.  My power, cadence and fueling will be far more important.

- Aaron West

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Riding in the Cold Rain

Josh Whitmore of Team Globalbike will be joining us this year in the 2011 Assault on Mt. Mitchell.  In this video, he gives some advice and tips for training in the cold, cold rain:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

\ˈau̇(-ə)r\ \Vō-ˈka-byə-ˌler-ē, və-\ \'and\ \Kə-ˌmyü-nə-ˈkā-shən\

Our Vocabulary and Communication is unique.  With a word and a point, we can warn those around us of impending disaster - a cavernous hole in the road, a wheel wrenching sandpit, or a man-eating canine on the hunt.  With two words and an arm-wave we can direct a mass of 200 people, in mid-conversation, coursing down a winding narrow road, to make a 110° turn at 25 mph.  With the flick of an elbow, we can say, "Hey man, I'm tired of fighting the wind.  I think it's your turn now.  When I move to my left, you stay straight and continue at the pace I set.  Me, I'm going to slow down and get behind someone.  Thanks!"

Many of the terms and their definitions seem obvious to the experienced cyclists, so much so, we often take them for granted.  Below is a list of common words and phrases that we should all know and use.

Communication is a key element to the survival of this multi-headed buzzing beast we call the peloton.  Without it, the animal will bunch up and grow fat right in front of a passing auto.  It might explode, blowing tires, breaking frames, the fragments disintegrating over the length of the road, parts strewn about the way.  If we don't all communicate with one another, the pack cannot and will not work.  People will be left behind, truckers will veer dangerously close in anger, bumping elbows and ensuing crashes will be inevitable, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

There are two very important kinds of communication in a group ride:  physical and verbal.  As I mentioned in a previous post, "What's the Point," much of what we say needs to have a gesture associated with it.  When pointing out obstacles or giving directions, it's best to accompany words with some sort of hand/arm motion.

Still, there are some terms that cannot be accompanied by waving about.  For instance, "Car Back" is not something we need to point out.  However, it is something that everyone needs to hear!

It is essential that we ALL take part in passing information from the front to the rear and from the rear to the front.  Note that some terms may sound the same on a windy day or in a large group.  "Gap" and "car-Back" often sound alike, but as long as riders pass the information up, it is less likely that the message will be skewed.  Similarly using two words for the latter helps to clarify whether the group needs to slow down, tighten up, or some other action.

Above all else:  KEEP COMMUNICATION SIMPLE:  use monosyllabic words; only shout in phrases not sentences; don't give details, names, or descriptions; try to make each term have it's own, unique lilt rather than each word sounding the same.  Similarly, don't joke around.  Only shout for a reason - passing along info.  The people on the front might think there's something wrong or the people on the back might be looking for a hole, and this can (and has) lead to crashes and other disasters. 

Basic Terms of the Peloton Include:
  • LEFT turn : emphasis on "left;" accompanied by pointing 
  • RIGHT turn : emphasis on "right;" accompanied by pointing or right turn signal
  • Car BACK : emphasis on "back;" when a car is behind the group and wants to come around; if a small group (2-4 riders) convert from two abreast to single file; if a larger group (5+) tighten up towards the white line, 2 abreast.  PLEASE DO NOT convert to single file with a large group - this makes it more difficult for a car to come around!
  • Car 'ROUND : (sometimes just "'Round" - short for Around) when a car begins to pass on the left
  • Car UP : (often sounds like "RUP") less often used; in large groups in which the group spans from white line to yellow line, it's necessary to point out cars approaching from the front
  • Gra-VEL : (gravel) for gravel, sand, or other loose dirt; accompanied by pointing
  • DOG : self explanatory - direction can also be given ("DOG LEFT")
  • HOLE : any form of gap in the pavement; accompanied by pointing. [see Rough Road for longer sections of damaged pavement]
  • CLEAR : when approaching a stop sign or red light, shout clear when no cars are coming from either direction (variations: CLEAR LEFT - when turning right; CLEAR LEFT then CLEAR RIGHT - when crossing a large, 4+ lane road.  [see alternate, paceline usage below]
  • CHAINif a chain drops, the cyclist will stall (and sometimes stop).  This often happens on a hill where the bike loses speed quickly; the rider becomes a roadblock.  Response:  the person who dropped the chain should immediately shift to the big ring to put the chain back on; even while doing that, they should use their momentum to get out of the way; DO NOT:  stop in the middle of the road; and there is no need to look down.
  • GAP : when a cyclist or group is off the back of the peloton but is trying to reconnect (not used in "A Rides" - but should be in every non-drop ride)
  • Glass : self explanatory; accompanied by pointing
  • Rough Road : accompanied by either/both pointing and direction ("Rough Road Right"); for extensive sections of cracked and broken pavement that can lead to crashes or flats.
  • Tighten Up : less often used; for any group that is more than 2 abreast or the two riders are too far apart.  Usually in conjunction with Car Back.  Response:  everyone moves closer to the white line on the edge of the road (the left-most cyclist should be approximately in the middle of the lane or closer to the white line)
  • On-y'r LEFT (or Right) : emphasis on the side on which you are passing, ("On Your Left"); for a cyclist or group of cyclists passing another, slower moving person/group at a notably faster speed.  Response: (made by the slower person/group) move in the opposite direction (if there is available space) or stay perfectly straight, allowing room for the faster people to pass.  There is no need to look over one's shoulder, the faster riders have assessed the situation!  Often, it is best to "get out of the way," so tighten up and move over. [this term is unnecessary in a paceline]
  • Mechani-CAL : for any type of bike issue that causes a person to stop; flats, dropped chain (that won't get back on), broken shifter cable, etc.
A couple of Paceline terms that are meant only for the next person in the group (not shouted for everyone):  "Clear" and "Last."  The first is used to indicate that there is enough room for person at the front to pull into the slow lane and begin drifting to the rear.  Last is used by the last rider in the fast lane to indicate that the last person in the slow lane can move over without having to check over his/her shoulder.  We will cover paceline etiquette in another entry later.
Please Note:  If you are not interested in keeping the group together, then you are not interested in riding with a group.  Don't muck-up a good ride by breaking etiquette and riding selfishly.
Fulfill your dreams and ride solo.


Monday, March 21, 2011

My Marquis de Sade

This was my first real ride in the mountains. Last year’s Tour de Leaves doesn’t really count since I did the “lite” version. Some friends and I had made a few half-handed attempts to get up to Saluda that didn’t work out. And this was no ordinary mountain ride. It is considered the toughest of all the Mitchell tune-ups.
Even though I had done some research, I really did not know what to expect other than it would be the most difficult ride of my life. My ultimate goal was simply to finish. After all the training over the last few months, I expected this would not be a problem. The other goals were to take the tough route each time (they had mild alternates to all the steep climbs), to not stop during the toughest hills, and no matter what to not walk my bike up any hills. While I did finish and go through the entire Marquis de Sade course, I failed on the latter two.
The morning was beautiful with a sunny forecast all day and a high around 80. Approximately 300 riders left North Greenville College at 8:30am. I started out slow, not wanting to push early and tire myself out. To my surprise, the course welcomed us with a big hill right away. At the beginning of the climb read the words “GRUNT” on the pavement followed by a smiley face. I could practically hear the Marquis laughing at me. The hill was intense and I saw many riders in front stop their bikes midway, a few of which turned around midway through the hill and opted for the grunt-free alternate.  For me, this was a wake-up call. I had to be on my toes to complete this course. At the steepest my Garmin was showing a 16% grade and I had to tackle it on cold legs.  I had to stand for most of the climb and my heart rate shot through the roof as I made it up the hill. I thought, they cannot all be like this, can they?
The first big climb was the Greenville Watershed, which was modest in comparison to what was to come. It was long and the grade ranged from 4-6%. I had an easy time with this one.  There was gorgeous scenery throughout the climb, so I simply enjoyed the nice and easy spin in the cool morning weather along the waterway.
Greenville Watershed:
With that one out of the way, I looked out for the menacing White Oak Mountain. After an exhilarating downhill on the other side of the watershed and some rolling hills, we rode into Tryon getting closer and closer to the big mountain.

White Oak Mountain was everything I expected and more. It was, in a word, insane. The MapMyRide version I saw showed an 8% average grade. Don’t think so. According to my Garmin, it was more of a 10-12% grade with spikes of 15% scattered throughout. This beast continued for about 4.5 miles without letting up the entire time. Ouch, my quads said, along with other 4-letter words that will remain between me and the mountain. Fortunately I had a rider friend taunting me from above, yelling “C’mon Aaron!” occasionally. At times I wanted to chuck Clif bars at him, but it did help motivate me up the mountain. I made it up, but it beat me in it’s own way. I stopped more than a couple times to let my heart rate drop. I even walked the bike up a few sections. I reached the top, but probably walked about 1/5 of the entire climb.
White Oak Mountain:

Why did I partially fail? First, this mountain was simply too much for me to conquer without resting. I may never be able to do that. Second, I found myself less than hydrated because of some bad luck at the rest stop. My bottles were not sufficiently refilled and rather than drinking on the way up, I conserved and drank too little. Had I been hydrated I probably would have still needed to walk part of it, but the ride may not have been as punishing.
With White Oak out of the way, I felt pretty charged. This was the big one and any doubts about finishing were gone. I picked up the pace along the Green River Cove. The end of the road would be the last of the major climbs of the day. As expected, this one went a lot smoother. It was certainly no slouch, far from it, but anything would feel easier after White Oak. For me, the switchbacks were difficult to navigate. I found myself wanting to take the turns wide, getting in the other lane, but of course I had to be careful of the handful of cars that were also winding their way around the road. I still took a couple breaks and once walked the bike a smidge, but this time I did not have to. This hill was within my capabilities.
Green River Cove Rd:

The ride back should have been nice and relaxing, especially down the Greenville Watershed, but mother nature had other plans. Rain came, lots of it. It followed us all the way to the watershed and down. We contemplated skipping the last major climb, Callahan Mountain, but as noted before, my plan was to finish the entire course. After about 20 miles in heavy rain, we got a little break, which I treated as a sprint the last few miles. This was a good test of the legs and they responded. I was able to keep at a fast pace throughout these rolling hills until we got back to the starting point.
This was a major accomplish for me and now I am certain that I will be able to conquer Mitchell.
Stats from phone:
by Aaron West

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Marquis de Sade Preview

So this Saturday is the long-awaited ‘Marquis de Sade’ ride. Those who are aware of the historical figure
will understand that this is no ordinary ride. The Marquis was fond of a sort of wicked, deviant, sadistic form of pleasure, which could easily compared to some idiot (me) who decides to ride their bike up a mountain. In other words, this one will hurt.
The ride begins at North Greenville University in Tigerville, SC and hits the biggest climbs in the vicinity. There are three specific climbs that I’ll be feeling Sunday morning. There is the Saluda Watershed, Green River Cove, and White Oak Mountain, otherwise known as “the one that keeps on going.” The course for this year has been posted and it appears the total elevation is not as much as originally advertised. There are only 5,700 feet of climbing compared with the 8,000 I expected.
Needless to say, this will be the most difficult ride I have yet attempted. This will be the measure to find out how well, or how little, I have trained. I’ll admit that over the last few days I have been a bit scared. These roads are daunting, and when viewed on YouTube, they look nearly insurmountable. Today I feel a little more confident because, with the help of others, I have a strong plan of attack.

First off, I have not been on the bike since Sunday. I had planned on doing a slow, short ride yesterday, but the weather had other plans. I will likely do this tomorrow instead, but the pace will be so slow and most will be downhill, so this will do little more than keep the muscles loose.

I am eating well this week. So far I am maintaining three balanced meals that include protein and the good kind of fat, and the appropriate mixture of carbs, calcium, and all that other good stuff. Since I am not riding too much, there is no need to “carboload” although I will probably have an extra serving of carbs both tomorrow and Friday night. More importantly, I have a plan for the ride. In short, I will be regularly feeding myself either via liquid or solid. There are only two rest stops, so I will be carrying a decent sized fanny pack with gels, Clif bar minis, and maybe a couple goodies. The rest stops should have more substantial offerings to keep my belly full.

One of my poorer tendencies is to try and ride with the pack rather than slow down and pace myself. That is my competitive instinct. I always want to be the front runner and take the wind, and sometimes I am strong enough to do so, but in this case I will want to take it easy and not push myself. I will ride at a reasonable pace during the flats and will spin up the hills. The course will be plugged into my Garmin so I don’t have to worry about getting dropped or lost. Speed is not a factor for me. I would like to conquer it in five or six hours, however ambitious that is, but since I will be taking my time, the more likely scenario is 7-8 hours including stops.

The videos below show the three hills through the eyes of a motorcyclists. There probably are bicycling videos out there, but who has time to watch those?

White Oak Mountain - The grandaddy of them all. This is over 4 miles and according to the course map, the average grade is almost 8%. This video perhaps does not do the road justice because it is going down, making a number of the hills look more less challenging. Trust me, they will look like hell going up.

Green River Cove - This is like White Oak’s younger brother. I believe it is half the distance and overall not quite as steep, but this is no slouch. This one will be even more difficult because it will be at the end of the course, after my legs have been ‘white oak’ed to death.

Saluda Watershed – After looking at the other videos, this one looks like a cakewalk. It is a lighter grade, around 3% and I think the steepest is 6%, but it goes on awhile. This is the first of the climbs and frankly does not look like much worse than what Fort Jackson throws at me.
(image credit: Bob Scofield)

-Aaron West

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why and When to Ride Alone

After a brutal Saturday ride of 96 miles with three strenuous climbs, all in the still-new heat and persistent wind, I did something this morning I rarely do--I rode alone, a casual 30+ miles at the pace I wanted.

Over the nearly three decades I have been cycling seriously, I have been run over twice and on a group ride that suffered a traumatic accident with a car that left a good friend badly injured. Although only once in these rare but unsettling events have I been riding alone, I still simply feel uncomfortable on the road alone--and I genuinely enjoy riding with groups.

I have blogged here often about the value in riding with groups and the need to develop group riding skills to be prepared for a successful Assault, but I have to admit that riding alone has some important benefits.

The greatest value to riding alone is to recover--what most people call active recovery that comes from riding at a reduced effort that allows the body to cleanse itself of the toxins that accumulate in the muscles and bloodstream from rigorous exercise.

Recovery rides are nearly impossible with other riders, even riding with only one friend. The key to recovery includes knowing your heart rate zones (or power zones) and having the necessary equipment to monitor your effort. Recovery rides are going to be very slow, especially on the rollers and hills. (HR zone calculator)

The best recovery routes are as flat as possible, and during windy seasons, consider routes with some tree coverage to block the wind.

Since everyone is different, I can't identify what heart rate, speed, or power output you should follow, but I can warn you that recovery rides take as much discipline as structured training workouts.

I was really tired and sore this morning when I decided to ride alone, but once on the road, the old "well, I don't feel that bad" crept into my mind. . .so I had to reign myself in. I decided to think about what to write in this blog and brainstormed an article on market forces and education reform. The ride was for recovery, and I needed as much rest for my cycling brain as I did my body (the Saturday ride was very psychologically taxing with the climbs and the focus I needed to maintain my attitude and effort while several of my friends rode away from me on all three climbs).

I also took my time before the ride to go through my stretching routine that I have been dedicated to nightly for almost a year and a half now. I was so tired last night, I skipped it, and told myself that I needed to add a stretching session this morning before the ride and then make sure I stretch carefully again tonight.

Other than recovery, another key reason to ride alone is for your structured training--your intense rides with detailed goals based on your ability and your goals.

It is truly just as hard to do a serious training ride with a group as it is to do true recovery with a group. Just as you need to designate and even occasionally add a recovery solo ride to your usual group rides, you need to target key solo training rides that allow you to focus on periods of intense effort or climb intervals (or even those fun hill jams our pal Verdell recommends).

One way to fit solo training sessions into your usual group rides is to arrange a few times to do your session just before a group ride (a top rider who rode in our area for a while used to do interval work before our hard attack-zone "Cancun" rides on Thursday; since he was an elite rider, putting his solo work ahead of an intense club-level ride allowed him to ride with weaker riders and still get a really hard night of training).

A final point about recovery and intense training: While you need to balance your solo and group rides, throughout you must monitor your eating and hydration. No matter how hard or well you train, ignoring proper nutrition and hydration will assure you do not reach the goals you want.


Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

twitter: @plthomasEdD

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dress for Success : Preparing for Bizzare Temperature Swings

On a day like today...

Admittedly, two months ago I would not have called 45° cold; especially on a day with blue skies, calm winds, and a bright sun.  In fact, one particular ride not so long ago, we were joking about how relieved we were that the weather was so nice:  partly cloudy and 40°.

Today is different.

1.)  Acclimation (or acclimatization) is the process by which we gradually adjust to our environment.  That's why a 45° day in winter is balmy while in summer it would be down right "freezing!"  Our bodies can adjust to the weather to allow comfort, but our bodies need a good bit of time to make that adjustment.  Each person acclimates at a different pace, and the amount of change (i.e. difference between your comfort level and what you are trying to achieve) determines the amount of time a person will need to fully acclimate.

Riding on cold weather days leading up to the Assaults means that you will handle the start well.  However, it may mean you will hit the wall in Marion, where temperatures are often in the mid-70s.

2.) Today is much like the Assaults:  a huge swing in temperature.  A 25° shift in the air temperature is tough on the body - made worse when it's 45-70.  There is a much more significant difference between these temps, considered cold and warm, whereas a swing between 0-25° or 70-95° is less so - we dress either very warmly or strip it all off... and that's it.

Starting out in chilly and ending in warm temperatures means we have to bundle up and peel as we go.  Our pockets will be over-flowing with warmers, vests, food, phones, etc. We may not be able to handle all the extras, so be sure to consider every article of clothing carefully.

Starting out too cold can lead to tense muscles, wasted energy, or worse: injury.  Whether your tight muscles don't give, and you tear something or your shivering causes you to crash... it's just not safe to be "cold" at the start.  That said, being "a little chilly" is ok - in fact, it's good.  You will warm up, and you will begin to strip off layers, so it's best to save a little space by not wearing too much at the start.

In general, you should not need to pull off layers in the first 45-75 minutes, no matter how hard you are riding or how quickly the temperatures rise.

3.)  So what is the best way to dress for this event?  Layers.  We've all heard it, but what does it mean?  Unfortunately, it's different for everyone, but there are some general guidelines to go by.  Here is a link to a "What to Wear" chart, which is a good place to start:

This is a good catch phrase: "If it's below 60 degrees, cover your knees!"  That's a good starting point, but as ever, "Know thyself."  The key to success in these events - in all aspects - is to know your own limitations and needs (nutrition, hydration, clothing, climbing speed, etc).

So, use this as a guide and then experiment. Try out different combinations to see what works best for you... and keep trying things out as the seasons change, as you buy new clothing, as you get stronger, and as you get older!  (I definitely don't dress the same as I did 5 years ago.)

4.)  Practice changing clothes on the bike.  Practice peeling layers while rolling and stuffing them into your pockets without getting those pesky sleeves caught in your spokes!  Practice putting them back on.  Practice all of these things away from everyone else!  Whether it means you only do this stuff on your solo rides or it means you drift off the back of the group to make a quick change, don't try to "go pro" right in the middle of the pack: way too dangerous!

4.) Disclaimer:  yeah, so the Assaults are like none other.  No one knows what the top will hold.  Some years, it has been in the 90° range at the finish, and others it has snowed (both of these are possible in the second week of May!).  We usually start around 50°, reach mid-70s in Marion, with temperatures steadily dropping as we climb skyward.

The best way to prepare for this kind of change is to watch the weather stations carefully and make an educated guess... then pack accordingly.  A friend of mine always said, "It's better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it."  That holds true in a lot of ways - but use common sense, too.  Don't carry a fleece-lined, rain jacket if the forecast is 80° and sunny.

5.)  Disposable Warmth.  If the temperatures are going to skyrocket, but are just too cold to bear at the start, I will sometimes wear "disposable" layers.  I might put a strip of plastic bag under my Armskins or Slipstreams (which are good down to ~45°, but breathe in such a way that particularly cold days can be too light).

This is a lot like the Pros who grab a newspaper at the top of a long, cold descent.  It's meant to keep off the chill, but they will dispose of it rather quickly (without the need to put it back on).  I don't do this on most rides - but sometimes I will put that little bit of extra wind protection on just for a little while.

Two things to remember though:  1.  Make them extra easy to remove (usually, I can just slide it off my arm while the Armskin stays in place); 2. please, please, please Dispose of them properly.  Throw them in a trash can or something like that - dropping it in the road is bad for the environment, but worse for the guy behind you who now has a plastic bag stuck in his rear derailluer!

It's difficult to prepare for major changes in the weather, but with forethought and practice, a cyclist can be completely comfortable on game day.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fitting In--or Not, and Cycling Resources and Distractions

I love words.

It is at the core of my nerd-dom--my comic-book collecting, sci-fi affinity, my book hoarding, and my incessant pecking out of my own writing daily (and moment-by-moment in my crowded, ceaseless mind).

Many years ago I was reading a critical book about William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (a tour-de-force of Southern brilliance, a brutal unmasking of the South, a word-fest)--Recalcitrance, Faulkner & the Professors: A Critical Fiction (Austin M. Wright, Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1990). I was struck by the word "recalcitrance," but I had no idea what it meant.

Then, I discovered it was the perfect word to describe what I am at my core--recalcitrant.

Next, just a few years ago, I was at a teachers' conference in Myrtle Beach with a colleague and several teachers-to-be from Furman. I have been shaving my head for about 15 years now, which is often a topic of interest to many people (although I am puzzled by that), but I have also been shaving my legs for most of the past 27-28 years (a really disturbing fact for my daughter when she was growing up and discovered that was normal for women, but not men).

Well, at this conference, the topic of my leg shaving came up, and I explained that professional cyclists shave their legs not for aerodynamics (the usual assumption among non-cyclists, confusing cyclists with swimmers--although in the water I guess it is "hydrodynamics"), but for the likelihood of crashing (shaved legs are a slightly better defense against sliding on pavement and for dressing the wounds after crashes) and to accommodate daily massages. I then added that recreational cyclists and Cat-racers are far more likely to have shaved legs purely from peer pressure--for fitting in.

I told them that once any new rider joins a group of "serious" riders, those serious riders will take a glance at the legs--shaved, OK; hair, skeptical.

One of my former students, Steph, was mortified. She is an angry soul like I am, and she is also a wonderful personification of "recalcitrant." I had disappointed her greatly, and she still brings this up often.

I think it's a Groucho Marx line, but I heard it in a Woody Allen film--I wouldn't join any organization that would have me as a member. But I am not just a member of the cycling community, I love it. I thrive on it. I have ceded my basic nature to it--shaved legs for the cause. It is a rare badge of my acquiescing.

And I offer this here on the Assaults blog to say that there is something bigger than just training and cycling and getting ready for the Assaults.

Cycling the way most of the Assaults participants do it is our distraction, our escape, our challenge to ourselves. Few of us get paid; in fact, this is damned expensive.But not an investment because it is money spent in a way that is usually unlike the rest of our financial lives.

This all flooded into my mind when Mark (as we call him, "Mark from Charlotte") emailed the link to The Rules. I have read these before, but the occasion to read them again made me laugh and smile harder than I remember from before.

I think it struck differently this time because I realized The Rules are essentially the old-school rites of passage--why and how the cycling community allows people in.

And why and how we revel in giving each other hell at any given moment.

At some point along the way, cyclists started turning their stems up instead of parallel to the ground, and bicycles came out of bicycle shops with the hoods turned up instead of parallel to the ground. Few things could make me more concerned about the fate of this planet.

. . .

Except when cyclists have their real wheel skewers closed with the releases pointing backward at the other riders as if not a single other human on the planet matters. . .

Web links for your amusement:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

twitter: @plthomasEdD

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Songs the Songs

Monday, February 28.  Most solo rides start the same way with the decision on how to ride made a day or two earlier and this one is no different as I'd done three and a half hours the day before.  Today is supposed to be easy with a threat of hard rain but I need the miles and I need the rejuvenation.  Sometimes you "come upon a which way sign and all good truants must decide…" and invariably I decide to ride, so out I go.
A light easy cadence to start with and even though the wind is surprisingly crisp, I move through it ok.  The clouds are blowing hard from right to left as I head towards a bright patch of sky, almost blue but not quite, and soon I am among the twisty hilly roads around Walnut Grove still on cruise control with the music playing in my mind helping me along at an easy pace.  "Love is Strong" by the Stones comes to mind with a crisp solid drumbeat and I'm in another world enjoying the miles with a smile on my face knowing the fun of it finally after a few months of anxiety.  Jagger's voice in a lower octave seems to keep me slow on purpose.  My knee feels really good and it makes me relish the thought of riding hard again but that will be tomorrow after a long day yesterday and an easy one today.
The only traffic is a herd of cows and a flock of crows.  The cows stare numbly and the crows startle the air with bursts of angry complaining, a cawing harmonica much like the one in the song in my head.  Crows never seem to be happy from the sound of them and they seem to fit right in with the brooding music.
I glance over my shoulder and the sky warrants a second, longer look.  Some god-sized spider spun a solid wall of black clouds behind me while I wasn't looking.  There is no tree line or horizon.  The dark tarmac merges with the sky in one bruised smooth stroke, double yellow lines a curving arrow pointing the way to an inferno of rain.  There is no way around this one as I didn't bring a head light and it will be dark soon.  The strong cross tail wind has me doing 26 miles an hour and my smile is bigger so I discard the plan and roll with the good feelings I have and a hard effort has me doing 30.  The rain seems to retreat from me and I think I might be able to make it until the temperature plummets and I know it's going to be bad.  Pulling on my vest at the light at Hwy 221 against the chill rain, I have some trepidation about what's to come.
The rain is steady as the light turns green and my trepidation begins to march along with the first strains of "Voodoo Chile" as Jimi lays the ground work for his epic and here words fail.  The intro is over and the rain comes in with the thunder of the drums and the rest of the band and my skin cries with the howl of the guitar as I'm blasted by it in sheets and sheets my wheels are like a boat keel in the water every pedal stroke has my feet submerged and the tail wind is now a swirling blast of crowd noise buffeting me and welcoming me to it's breast or it's teeth I can't tell which but either is a comfort of force I haven't felt in a long time and never at this magnitude and I ride as hard as I can into the solid phase of it realizing how bad I missed the rain and the songs it sings.

Steve Verdell