Monday, April 4, 2011

It's All About Time

This past weekend, I missed yet another weekend in the mountains--and thus have begun feeling a bit concerned about my climbing training for the Assaults (the count-down timer on the Assaults web page isn't helping).

Several of the local Spartanburg cyclists and I ventured to the Charleston area; a few ran the Cooper River Bridge Run, and many of us rode the After the Bridge Run Century rolling from Daniel Island. On Saturday, Rob and I rode from our hotel on Daniel Island and met a few others from Spartanburg, venturing into the Francis Marion National Forest for a 50+ mile ride.

This ride opened my eyes to the huge importance of terrain for cycling. The rides were flat compared to the upstate, and we all soon recognized the stress of constant pedaling--I mean constant. One rider said, "I'd give anything to coast downhill for a bit."

Road conditions also got our attention. In the forest, we rode for miles on chip-and-seal roads that left my hands numb and a few bicycles rattling. With the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix soon upon us, we all commented on having even more appreciation for professionals combating cobbled roads.

From the Saturday ride, I came to appreciate relentless pedaling and fighting the wind (although our friend from Charleston informed me that Saturday wasn't windy), but I couldn't truly grasp riding in Charleston until the ABR Century itself.

Sunday morning was sunny but only about 49 degrees--forcing me to face the fact of needing extra clothing for the beginning but knowing that wouldn't last long for me (fortunately, one rider from the upstate had a kind SAG tracing the course, allowing me to toss aside my vest and armwarmers). The ABR Century started right on time at 8 am, and the Spartanburg contingent, many decked out in Globalbike green kits, led the ride out from Blackbaud Stadium and under I-526.

We rotated on the front for several miles, anticipating what we had heard about the ride, and we weren't disappointed when several locals eventually came around and the hammering began. Except for a couple nature breaks and one missed turn, the ride itself was a 4-hour blur covering nearly 100 miles.

That's right, the front group of about 20-30 riders did a century in 4 hours.

Afterward, Scott Sisk, who recently had his concerns about eating enough on long rides in, was excited about finishing with the front group since he finished after the front group last year. Several of us began to talk about the time factor in rides.

Many Saturday rides in the mountains last 4-4.5 hours, but cover only about 60 miles. We thought it was likely that Scott had done well--despite struggling to eat enough with the pace so high--Sunday because, despite being a century, the 4 hours was well within his body's ability to cope with the stress.

And here is a key point for people training for the Assaults: Ride by time, and not distance. In fact, since the rise and success of Greg LeMond, I have noticed that professional cyclists always refer to time when planning and discussing their training.

For those of us who do this for fun and personal fulfillment, riding is about time--but it also about the quality and appropriateness of that time on the bicycle.

Serious and purposeful training should include a breakdown of time on the bicycle and then that time divided by what you are doing--climbing, intervals, hill jams, fast group ride with attack zones, tempo, recovery.

After the throttling I took in Charleston's flatland this Sunday, I am hoping to log some needed recovery time in the coming days.

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University


  1. Wow, 4 hours. Nice riding. I hung with the lead group for 44 miles, just under two hours, then had to peel off for fuel and nature.

  2. Paul....I can relate. Here in CLT, our terrain is pretty flat (by S'burg/G'ville standards). The pace is predictably faster as a result, and the wind MORE of a factor. It definitely drives the point home about riding smart in the group, finding shelter from wind, and conserving energy. Nice post...subtleties often make all the difference. Patrick

  3. I did the Ride for Hope a few years ago down there. Big draw was George Hincapie when he was with Columbia and the national champ. We watched as George and friends went out while the organizer was yelling "everyone just HOLD on, you are not going to catch him, so just let him go". We finally got to go and about 20something miles into it someone eases in on my right and I look over and almost crash because it's Big George looking like a lean Captain America!. I'm thinking, "Don't crash and for heaven's sake, don't wreck George". We rode for miles and even talked about his ride in Maine with Dempsey. He's a heck of a nice guy. He moved up and I got on his wheel and at one point, he looked back, grinned, clicked up a couple of gears and grabbed the drops. I'm no rocket scientist, but I'm thinking Big George is about to go! I did the same and when he pulled out and went I went right on his wheel. We went down the road at light speed and put a big gap on the field of 100 or so. George finally eased up before my adrenaline tank went completely dry and eventually others caught up. That's my Big Thrill moment of a lifetime. When we rolled back into Blackbaud Stadium parking lot we have covered 70 miles at 22.5 mph. I don't remember feeling the stress of constant pedalling, but I was amazed at the average, coming from the foothills of NC, that's just not the norm.