Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Training Rides and Climbs - Aaron West

In my opinion, the best way to get better at climbing is to climb, pure and simple. Whether you do that on your own, through training rides or organized rides, doesn’t matter as much. What matters is that you put in the work.

The Freewheelers have a series of official training rides, but they are mostly self-managed by the cycling community. Richard White is especially instrumental in putting them together. A good way to keep up on them is via the eRide (free) and Freewheeler (members) mailing list, where all the details will be posted.

The core group of people who put this together are fellow mountain goats, the same ones that do a lot of the more difficult climbing rides in the southeast. Many if them have done Mitchell several times, and they know what they’re talking about. The groups are usually divided up into A and B riders, and occasionally there will be a C group for the beginning riders.

The Saturday ride is usually the long ride for the week. They will get progressively more difficult in the weeks until Mitchell. 

There are two difficult rides they’ll do that are worth mentioning. One ride will start from Table Rock State Park, will head into Rosman, and up Highway 215 through Balsam Grove to the Blue Ridge Parkway, then back through Brevard. It’ll be around 1000 miles with 8,000 feet of climbing.

Another 100 mile/8,000 foot ride is from Landrum to Tryon, up the Saluda Grade, before heading back via Caesar’s Head Mountain.

Many of their adventures will occasion on the Tryon/Saluda area, and throughout the series, they’ll hit most of the signature climbs in the area. They’ll also mix it up flat and fast rides to make sure people get a variety of training options.

If you want to go it alone, there are options. First of all, note that climbing and descending can be dangerous. You should know your own ability, and be as familiar with the area as possible. Plan for your rest stops so that you don’t run out of fuel.  You can find routes at Spartanburg Cycling and SteepClimbs.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Music of the Gears - Peter Kay

Frankly, I like to listen to music... on and off the bike. I've been a musician and avid cyclist for the majority of my life, and the two have gone hand-in-hand all along the way. I've learned a lot about mixing the two; sometimes the easy way, and sometimes the hard way. Below, I'm going to share some of that with you. And though it may seem like I'm over-thinking it - who wants "rules" just to listen to music, right? - the truth is that this stuff is easy to do, and the list basically focuses on one idea: in order to ride safely, music should not become a distraction or interference.

Riding alone, churning the pedals for hours on end, can sometimes be tedious and, yes, even boring. Though the freedom and exhilarating feelings that come from cycling itself are always a joy, in order to attain the fitness we want, "time on the bike" is essential. In order to get those base miles in, those long days and cumulative miles, it is often necessary to ride sans peloton. But after a while, it's easy get stuck in a rut. Riding becomes stale as options are exhausted and routes turn to routine. Eventually, we lose interest in scenery, hill challenges, and everything else that makes cycling so wonderful... and we stare at our little computers instead, watching the miles tick by and the clock roll past. There are many ways to keep the ride fresh, and I will revisit this topic several times in the coming months. But for the moment - putting aside the greater issues born from a culture of decreasing attention spans that stresses the importance of multitasking and an immediate and constant connection to a social network - I want to address the somewhat controversial answer that so many turn to: music (via headphones/earbuds).

Disclaimer: this is written to those who are already using headphones and is not a suggestion that people should wear headphones. Distracted cycling is dangerous cycling. As always, I ask: please ride responsibly, predictably, and with yours and others safety in mind at all times.

On the Trainer

When on the trainer, anything that can help to break- up the monotony is a good thing. Without changes in terrain, scenery whizzing by, and sunlight flitting through the leaves above, spinning on the trainer can be mind- numbingly dull. Short, punchy intervals are great, but some kind of additional mental stimulus seems almost necessary. Being on the trainer and being on the road are just very different, and since safety is a much lesser concern on the trainer, earbuds are generally okay.

On the Road

  1. The best way to approach it is to treat music as an accompaniment to the ride, not as a distraction. Your mind should be alert to the ride and your eyes open. In a sense, music replaces conversation (see #2). It is not meant to block out the usual, normal sights and sounds.
  2. Please, NEVER listen to music on a group ride.* Aside from it being incredibly rude, it's far more dangerous. The amount of sound the brain filters through on a normal group ride to gather essential information is remarkably high: wind, conversations, buzzing freewheels, chattering chains, traffic, etc. It is important that everyone is able to communicate with each other and is alert to warnings, etc.
  3. NEVER use noise cancelling/reducing earbuds. Sounds of traffic, dogs, etc. need to make it to the brain and shouldn't be blocked or impeded. The buds themselves already block a fair amount of sound from entering the ear, comparable to wearing earmuffs in the winter. High-end earbuds can make music come alive, and that's great. But remember: it's a bicycle ride - not a concert. (Though mediocre in sound quality, the JVC Gumy Headphones are some of my favorites because they're inexpensive, durable enough for sweat and such, and they "let the light in.")
  4. ALWAYS wear both earbuds. A common misconception is that wearing only one earbud allows a rider to hear everything else more clearly. In fact, it's just the opposite. Wearing one creates spacial orientation issues, mixing-up the auditory system in the brain, and making matters far worse. Two ears, just like two eyes, allow the human brain to locate a sound relative to the body. We are able to detect distance, speed, etc. because we have two ears, because we are binaural. Though stereo, the majority of the sound coming through the earbuds is panned close enough to the middle to appear "inside" the listeners head when both earbuds are worn. Because of this, the brain can much more easily detect, identify, and process sounds outside of the music (like traffic, dogs, etc.). Wearing only one earbud is like riding with an eyepatch! It significantly hinders depth perception.
  5. Try to keep the volume quieter than the sound of the wind; and by this, I mean that the wind should come across as it normally does on a bike ride (with earmuffs). I use the wind as a benchmark for setting volume levels with music slightly softer but still audible.
  6. Make sure that the volume rocker or volume buttons are easily accessible. Sometimes one song is suddenly louder or quieter than the others on a playlist (see below), sometimes a motorist needs directions, and sometimes terrain causes changes in speed. I often have to lower the volume on hills because the noise of the wind drops dramatically as I slow down. There are many reason to adapt quickly, and it's best to be able to change without losing pace.
  7. Look around more. In other words, make an effort to ride more visually alert regarding traffic, dogs, etc. When I ride with earbuds, I find myself looking behind me a little more often. I'm more sensitive to the surroundings, and I try not to "zone out" and stare at just the road ahead of me. Besides, maybe you'll see something you never noticed before!
*I hate to make exceptions to this one, but in the case of a group ride that includes a sizable mountain - where I know I'm going to be alone for the duration of a long climb - I sometimes stop and turn on music. On the way up, I lower the volume whenever I approach another rider or get passed, and at the top, I immediately remove the earbuds. I don't wear them at all during the rest of the ride, only putting them on at the base of the climb.


I carefully and consciously create playlists meant for cycling. I've learned that certain types of music and certain songs just don't mesh well with riding outdoors. No, I'm not voicing a personal opinion on specific artists or genres, I'm not saying Techno is better than Country, or anything like that. Individual tastes mean that different songs effect people in different ways. But some aspects of music can interfere with cycling. I avoid dramatic differences/changes in volume, I avoid music that includes or blends with my surroundings (no honking cars or traffic please!), and I plan my playlist according to rides themselves:
  • Monochromatic: in order to avoid constantly and drastically needing to change the volume, create playlists of similar styles, intensity, and instrumentation. This doesn't mean listening to a single artist, and certainly doesn't mean listening to only a single album (in fact, albums tend to have fast and slow, loud and soft). But try to keep the list on a relatively even keel. This will help avoid alarmingly loud intros and "Did my battery die?" quiet moments.
  • Flat Line: though most popular music has a fairly compressed dynamic range, some pieces have a broad range of dynamics (very loud and very quiet within one song). Just as you want each song on a list to be of a certain volume level, the dynamics within each song should be somewhat steady.
  • Mood: consider the goals of a ride and plan the list accordingly. Jenny Owen Youngs or some songs by Radiohead might be good for a recovery ride (or a recovery in between intervals), whereas the speed, intensity, and syncopated rhythms of Dream Theater is probably bad for a climbing ride.
  • Distortion: some guitar effects blend with the sound of the wind (for example, Thrash Metal). This inevitably results in the listener turning the volume up and up and up... blocking much needed exterior sounds.
  • Random Lists: playlists created automatically by the software never work well (and I don't mean playing one of your lists in a random order). Inevitably, there will be too much variety and it always seems to add a song I'm "just not in the mood for." Since changing songs is generally a pain and can even mean stopping, it's best to simply put some forethought into it.
  • Stereo: some songs are panned really wide, with instruments hard left or hard right. As I noted in #4 above, this can be distracting and/or disorienting. If the guitar is in the right speaker only - best to leave that one off the list.


If, without earbuds, you often find yourself startled by passing cars or charging dogs, or you frequently miss normal communication in the peloton, or you just have difficulty understanding conversations while on the bike, it's probably not a good idea to ride with earbuds. Some people are easily distracted. Some tend to "zone out" or forget to look around/back. Some get very focused on the ride itself (hills, intervals, etc.), and all sound is secondary. And some people just don't hear as well as others. Whatever the case, be honest with yourself about your abilities and limitations and avoid putting yourself at risk.

Peter Kay

Friday, February 15, 2013

Weight Loss While Training - Kelli Jennings

Often times, athletes will hit a plateau as they begin burning fewer calories with every stride or pedal, as their bodies become more efficient running at a lighter weight. From a training standpoint, then, it’s important to mix it up within your training program – hills, intervals, cross-training, and strength training will all help.
As far as nutrition and intake, it can actually be more difficult to promote fat loss during the “on-season” training than the off-season for this very reason – you need energy to train, yet you want an energy (calorie) deficit to lose weight. Doesn’t seem fair.
Overall, it’s important to distinguish Daily Nutrition from Training Nutrition.  Daily nutrition, as you might guess, you eat every day.  It makes up your daily portion-controlled meals and snacks, and its main goal is overall health, wellness, and achieving your desired weight.  Then, on the other hand, there’s Training Nutrition.  You only add this on days you train, or the night before a difficult anticipated training.  It encompasses long lasting added nutrients the night before, or more efficient, easy-on-the-stomach fuel immediately before, during, and after training.  The goal here? Give your body the fuel it needs to perform.
To lose weight while training:
First, eat most of your calories during the day when you are active, and keep it light in the evening. Eat healthy meals before you train, but still try to whittle down overall carbs – keep it to just 1-2 serving of carbs at meals, mostly from fruits and starchy vegetables such as peas or sweet potatoes rather than grains. Reducing carbs, especially grains, can really help with the abdominal area.
Then, don’t skimp on training fuel. For intense training or any >60 minutes, make sure you get a quick-carb pretraining snack of ~100-150 calories (a gel, a piece bread w/ 1 Tbsp. honey, a banana, ¼ cup raisins, etc.) before you ride. On easy days, you can skip the pre-training fuel in order to burn more fat and train in a fasting state (if you skip it on intense training, though, your training will suffer).
Then, during your ride, if more than 60 minutes, include Training Nutrition in the form of fluids w/ carbs and electrolytes or a combo of fluids and other sports nutrition foods such as gels). Aim for 18-24 oz. fluid, 40+ grams of carbs, 400 mg sodium, and 100-300 mg potassium per hour. If more than 3 hours training, adjust your goals to 24-32 oz. fluid, 60+ grams of carbs, 200-300 calories, 400-700 mg sodium, 100-300 mg potassium, 80-120 mg calcium, 40-60 mg magnesium per hour from the start.
After training, make sure to eat your subsequent meal as soon as possible so that you recover well. After a hard training, you should add a “dedicated training snack” around 250 calories (small smoothie, Clif bar, 8 oz. milk with 2 Tbsp. honey, etc.). You can also add 1 Tbsp. coconut oil to this snack.
Next, don’t skip the supplements. It’s important to realize that RDAs for vitamins and minerals (which is what most people shoot for), are intended for sedentary people. Since you are not sedentary, you have higher needs. Additionally, as you’re operating and training in a calorie/nutrient deficit for fat loss, you’ll likely have some holes that need to be made up by supplements. I recommend a “whole-food” type multivitamin (such as Rainbow Light), monitoring iron needs (see this article), 1000-2000 mg DHA/EPA from fish oil each day, and 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D for most athletes.
And now, to lose weight, cut down on carbs and calories in the meals after you train, especially dinner. Try going for protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a healthy fat (such as ¼ avocado or 1 Tbsp. olive oil) for dinner – no grain or other carb source. Keep it light at night. Don’t let evening hunger become a call to action as you’ve already given your body the fuel it needs to recover.
For both your weight and your energy’s sake, avoid junk foods and sugar/white grains as much as possible (except when using them during training). Unless you are actively using them while you are working out, these will zap energy and promote fat storage.
Make absolutely sure to stay hydrated every day and during training (most women should aim for 48-64 oz. /day and most men 64-80 oz./day PLUS 24-32 oz./hour training).
It sounds like a lot, I know, but with some time and preparation, you can put this altogether in a great fat-loss-while-training-strong plan. And, if you don’t want to have to put it together yourself, I can surely create a winning plan for you!
Kelli Jennings
Apex Nutrition

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Rides Before the Ride - Aaron West

In my opinion, the best way to train for an endurance climbing event is simple -- climb more and ride more! 

The Freewheelers have already started their official training rides. The easiest way to hear about them is either through the Freewheelers mailing list (for members), or The Assaults Facebook and Twitter feeds. If you live in the area, I recommend trying to join them for as many of these as you can accommodate.

Once the weather warms up, and the sun shines a little later, there will be plenty of other, organized rides. I've been fortunate enough to participate in quite a few of them over the last couple of years, and would suggest a handful to prepare for the Assault on Mount Mitchell.

Tour de Lure - 4/6/2013
The 71-mile option out of Marion, NC is possibly the best training ride for Mitchell. After a climb up Stone Mountain, and passing by Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, you'll come back to Marion via mostly the same route as the Assault on Marion. My total time on this ride last year gave me a reasonable expectation on how I would perform for the first half of the Assault.

2013 Italian Road Bike Festival - 4/6/2013
This is a good alternate training ride in North Georgia, probably a good option for those who live south of the Spartanburg/Greenville area. 

Assault on the Carolinas - 4/13/2013 
This is a metric century out of Brevard, NC. It boasts some nice climbs, including Walnut Hollow, Highway 178 to the Continental Divide, and Caesar's Head Mountain. The event is extremely well organized, and a lot of fun.

Issaqueena's Last Ride - 4/27/2013
This century ride out of Walhalla, SC, has only a couple major climbs, but don't let that deceive you. It is mostly rolling hills, up and down for the entire day, with a lot of steep pitches. This is a difficult ride that will prepare you for the climbing and saddle time of Mitchell.

Tour de Cashiers - 5/4/2013
A number of friends consider this ride to be at least on par, or maybe even more difficult than AoMM. It is easily one of the most challenging century rides in the southeast. There are some daunting climbs, including Tilley Creek and Walnut Creek. In the past two years, I've found that my time on this ride was a good indication of my time for Mitchell. Plus, the timing works out as you'll begin tapering for Mitchell shortly afterward.

If you would suggest any others, please share them in the comments. Depending on where you live, I would also recommend trying to find a couple local century rides, whether officially organized or just with a group. In my opinion, the more opportunities for long rides, the better prepared you'll be for Mitchell.

Aaron West

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mount Mitchell Training - Kevin Pearl

On Monday, May 20, 2013, I will make my first attempt to "Assault on Mt. Mitchell." I'm your average recreational cyclist with a true passion for pedaling. No doubt I will get my fair share over the last 30 miles as I ascend to the summit of Mt. Mitchell on my quest to reach the highest elevation east of the Mississippi River on my bike. I'm somewhat of a stranger to climbing mountains on my bike, however I did complete the eighty mile "Gran" course at the Hincapie Gran Fondo ride last year. But I am no stranger to century rides, and certainly no stranger to a good challenge. 

My personality is pretty easy going, although when I decide to do something, I tend to take the roughest route, or road less traveled for the pure enjoyment of the challenge. It's probably why I chose to enlist in the U. S. Marines out of high school, instead of going to college like most of my friends, or even why I chose USMC over the other branches. It's probably why I chose to start my own business at age 25. My inner drive for a good challenge is also why I always sign up for the difficult or longest route when I do an organized ride event, such as Assault on Mt. Mitchell. That's just my personality.

To put it as honest as I possibly can, I am training pretty hard for this event, which I'm pretty sure is a pre-requirement for success. When I asked Aaron which of the big four climbing rides in the Carolinas is the toughest, he had no hesitation in giving credit to Mt. Mitchell. As hard as I'm training, I know there is nothing I can do to simulate the challenge I will experience on game day when I reach Marion, and have several hours of cycling left, all uphill. I will do as much climbing as I can before I get there, but it won't be near the toughness of the last 30 miles at the Assault. That's okay though, because, like I already said, I like a good challenge. 

My training plan is pretty simple: lose excess weight, strengthen my core, and cycle as much as possible. I finished last season a little heavier than I wanted, but I won't dwell on it. An obvious observation when travelling on a highway, is how much slower the tractor trailer trucks climb mountains than regular size vehicles. Once I have shed my excess baggage and reach my ideal cycling weight (I know what it is because I was down there just a few years ago), I will feel like a sports car with the engine from a big rig! My lack of core strength is what caused me to stop on a climb at the Hincapie Fondo ride, my first ever stop on a climb. I don't plan for that to happen again on any ride. With the Assault on Mt. Mitchell coming fairly early in the bicycling season, I think it is very important to just ride as much as possible. That is somewhat of a challenge itself right now, considering the weather has been much more winter like this year, but according to the groundhog, spring weather is just around the corner. Since I'm an optimist, that's what I'm going with. I'll have a better gauge on how my cycling is going after I complete the century route at the Redbud Ride in April in Kentucky. That will be my initial test to determine how far I come, and how far I have to go. 

Until then, safe and happy cycling to all. Stay motivated and train hard. I'm sure it's vital to our success at Mt. Mitchell in May!

Kevin Pearl
Ram Cycling

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Training for 15 Weeks Away - Bobby Sweeting

It is early February, and we are all hoping for an early Spring!  For no other reason, of course, than to be able to ride outside without having to constantly be on the lookout for a menacing patch of ice.  No matter where you are located, one thing is for sure, it is time to start working towards your big goal for the season: The Assault on Mt. Mitchell.

Whether or not you have been diligent in your base training over the last 3-4 months, it is now time to transition into the Specialization training phase. That means focusing on specific functional threshold work, both above (VO2 Max) and below (Tempo).  All the while you should be thinking specifically about how each workout will help you to reach the top of the mountain faster than your buddy!

A good starting point is to structure each week with approximately four “hard” days and three recovery days.  Those can be rest or active recovery, depending on your level of fitness. Now, I know it isn't a ton of fun, but to really push your body to the next level you should include structured interval work on at least two of those hard days.  Try VO2 Max work on one day, mixing in a variety of efforts from 1min to 8min in duration.  One example could include two sets of [1,3,5,3,1] at maximum intensity. Start by giving yourself full recovery between max efforts, then try to work towards a fixed time in order to really train your anaerobic system to recover quickly.  Just be prepared to suffer in this zone, it is by far the most mentally challenging!

Probably the most important zone to work on as you build towards The Assault is zone 4 (typically called your Functional Threshold Zone), and that’s what you should focus on during your second/third interval workout each week.  This is the zone where your body begins to produce lactic acid faster than it can flush it.  It is the line in the sand that you know you shouldn't cross too many times if you plan on finishing strong.  The higher you can lift your functional threshold, the faster your sustained climbing pace will be.  To train this zone you should focus on interval work between 8min and 30min in length.  Get creative in how you design each workout but don’t exceed 60 total minutes of threshold work in a single ride. And remember to pace yourself!

Bobby Sweeting
Kinetic Potential

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Meet the 2013 Bloggers

Over the next few months, we'll be hearing from a number of people with different perspectives on how to approach this event. The posts will range from people doing the event for the first time, to the 17th time, or those who will be coaching our fitness and nutrition regimen. Keep your eyes out for a lot of helpful information from now until May 20th.

Meet the Bloggers

Aaron West
This will be Aaron's third attempt on Mitchell, but possibly the most challenging yet. He is dealing with a freak stress fracture that occurred late last year. If he heals in time, he will be facing Mitchell with very little training. He has his own blog, SteepClimbs.com, where he talks about adventures in the southeast. He is serving as the editor of this year's Assaults blog.

Peter Kay
Peter's first big event and group ride was the 1995 Assault on Marion. The year after, he tried Mitchell for the first time, completing his first Assault in a painfully long 11 hours. Since then he has been hooked! Eventually he took to racing, then later coaching with TotalCyclist, and in 2010 took over as head coach of the Spartanburg Junior Cycling Team. He returned to the Assaults in 2011 as the Ride Director (and launched this blog). Now he is riding and racing with Athletix Benefetting Globalbike, and hopes to set a PR on this year's AoMM.

Bobby Sweeting 
Bobby is a transplant from Connecticut and Florida, now living in Asheville, NC. He is a pro cyclist, member of the Kenda Pro 5-Hour Energy Team, and he has a successful coaching company called Kinetic Potential. He will be sharing occasional training tips and areas to focus to prepare for the big event. 

Kelli Jennings
Kelli lives is a professional nutritionist living in the Denver, CO area. She is also a cyclist, mountain biker, and mountain climber. Her most impressive achievement is climbing 50 of the 'Fourteeners' in Colorado. She is also a nutritional coach with her own company, Apex Nutrition. She'll be talking about training diets and fueling rides.

Kevin Pearl
Kevin aka "The Masher" will be attempting Mitchell for the first time. He's a former Marine that lives in Kentucky. He has been cycling since 2006, and developed a true passion for the sport. He is not new to climbing, having succeeded at Hincapie's Gran Fondo last year, but Mitchell will be a new type of challenge for him. You can read more from Kevin at Ram Cycling.

Paul Thomas
Paul is an assistant professor of Education at Furman University, after teaching and coaching in high school for 18 years. He started cycling seriously around 1984-1985 and rode his first Assault in 1988, finishing in an exhausting and excited 7:15. His best time so far is 5:57 (62nd place), when he was 46. He has flirted with the golden 6-hour mark a few other times, finishing in 6:09 and 6:10 in recent years. He has entered about 17 Assaults and a handful or so Marion rides, completing about 15 of the Mitchell Assaults. Two of his worst experiences were an 8-hour day in 2004, when he had just returned to serious cycling, and abandoning the blistering hot ride the year after his best time.

These are the major players for now. We hope to be able to share the occasional guest post as well. 

Please feel free to leave feedback, questions, or requests in the comments.

Happy Riding!