All athletes that enter a challenging event sign up for risk. At that event, on that day, you lay it on the line. You cannot cherry-pick the perfect conditions to get a "PR Strava" time, you toe the line with everyone else signing up for the risk of being “on” that day and that time.
You risk a public display of your fitness, or lack thereof. You risk getting whipped by someone that you can regularly beat in the local Wednesday World Championship Group ride or run - some won’t even risk showing up to this group event unless they are race-fit.
You risk having friends and family that have supported you through all that training watch from afar, and you fear you will disappoint them. You won’t disappoint the good ones, the loyal ones, no matter how you place. Placement is irrelevant. Time is irrelevant to those that matter most.
There are days you feel invincible and your racing prowess proves it. Congratulations. You'll see it again.
Then there are days that you face the fire-breathing dragon of events, bravely, equipped with your sword and shield. The dragon sucker-punches you in the gut and then kicks you in the groin. You feel as though the course, the race, is mocking you.
You may try to slay that dragon again – maybe not.
It doesn’t matter.
Whether it is the same course or a new course, you will sign up for the risk of challenge again.
You’re going after challenges that won’t drop in your lap. You are self confident enough to risk failure in the eyes of others, perhaps in your own eyes, again.
Living to the fullest and pushing your own limits is playing to win. “Winning” isn’t the podium, it’s performing to the limit of your current capability when the world is watching.
Playing not to lose, to avoid risk, doesn’t guarantee a no-lose situation and certainly falls short of your personal potential.
This strategy is not for you.
At the end of the day, rest satisfied that you accomplished, or set out to accomplish, what others are unwilling to begin.
I decided to sign up for the Breck 68 this year. I wasn’t originally planning on doing this one and had planned on doing the Front Range 40 in the Fort; but that one was postponed to the fall due to the fires we’ve had.
Since I’ve done the Leadville 100 multiple times, one of the first questions people ask is, “How does it (Breck 68) compare to Leadville?” If you want some measureable sort of stats, Breck 68 (really 70 miles) has an altitude gain of 8514 feet or 121.6 feet per mile of racing. Leadville 100 (really 103 miles) has an altitude gain of 11,142 feet or 103.2 feet per mile of racing. So, mile-for-mile, Breck has more climbing.
Know that elevation gains are based on barometric pressure readings, so others may have slightly different amounts of elevation gains for the events. The measures previously mentioned were for Leadville 2011 and Breck 68 in 2012.
Leadville has nearly zero singletrack and is mostly fire, forest service or jeep roads. Breck is loaded with singletrack. While Leadville does require a certain minimum of mountain bike skills to safely navigate the course and not hold other riders up, those with limited mountain bike skills would be very unhappy at Breck. Breck has tree-lined singletrack; rough, rocky climbs and descents; stream crossings, narrow trails that are open and have exposed mountain slopes to one side; steep, loose climbs; steep and rocky descents; smooth singletrack that winds through the forest; riding in an old mining flume drainage and on top of another one - plus more. Breck has the sort of stuff that makes mountain bike riders smile and giggle uncontrollably – that is when they aren’t suffering.
There are any number of websites that attempt to quantify difficulty of courses by heart rate, power, suffer scores, etc. What none of them can easily quantify is the beating a body takes from navigating rocky, technical courses. My triceps were screaming for mercy on the last technical downhill.
In the simplest of words, the Breckenridge 68 course is more difficult than the Leadville 100 course and most certainly the Breckenridge 100 course is more difficult than the Leadville 100 course.
As I told someone yesterday, mountain bike courses are a matter of taste and preference – not a matter of “good” and “bad.” It’s similar to differing tastes in food. I love hot Mexican food and my friend doesn’t like it at all. It doesn’t mean either of us are good or bad, heroic or wimpy – just different preferences.
I enjoy both races and would not hesitate to either of them again.
I rang the bell and rode extra fast past the fireing range...
Mine shaft turned toilet at the Como general store.
Historic roundhouse at Como. From the informational board, "Hard-working D, SP&P locomotives could be serviced in either Denver or Como. Built in 1881 by Italian stonemasons, the Como Roundhouse originally housed six engine bays where engines could be locall be rebuilt and an iron turntable where engines could be turned around."
A view of Breckenridge ski area from Boreas Pass Road
We were mountain biking the Gold Dust Trail between Boreas Pass and Como, Colorado. Heading down the trail, I caught a glimpse of what looked like claw marks on a tree. Scott Ellis stopped in front of me and said, “Did you see the bear claw marks?”
I said I did and I needed to get a photo…
Front of tree
Back of tree
More marked trees on the other side of the trail
Doing some reading, apparently bears mark the trees in this manner for several reasons. They might be marking territory, eating portions of the tree or teaching young bears how to climb.
While it’s exciting to see the marks, no need to linger too long...
Are you connected all the time? Does your smart phone constantly feed you with other people’s thoughts, opinions and ideas?
If you want to find your own creative thoughts, solve problems and see the world through your own eyes rather than through the eyes of others – disconnect yourself from email, Facebook, Twitter and all other social media for a minimum of two days. Take a trip – even a short weekend trip– and be present.
I’ll type that again – be present.
When you are present, living in the moment and experiencing what the world has to offer – rather than burying your face in your phone – you may find new ideas popping into your head at a rate you never expected.
You may find that your recovery from tough workouts is improved because you’re not constantly stimulated – and often stressed – by your phone.
Carry your phone in case of an emergency – but turn it off.
I’m willing to bet that, sadly, at least 50 percent of you are incapable of choosing to be present, living in the moment for a full 48 hours.
Try finding your own brilliance for just 48 hours. I can nearly guarantee you’ll be successful at solving problems and recovering from training at an accelerated rate. Maybe you'll dream up the next million dollar idea?
A couple of my athletes have had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. When this problem is present the night before the race or the night after the race, I don’t worry too much about it. It’s a common problem.
I get more worried if athletes cannot get quality sleep over the long haul.
One very simple thing that has helped numerous athletes improve sleep quality is keeping a daily journal. One or two hours before bedtime I have them write down all the things that worry them. I don’t care how they do it – list form or paragraph form – but just do it. It can be one sentence or many. The idea is to unload all those worries that keep them awake at night onto paper. No one reads the journal except the athlete.
Once worries are unloaded, and perhaps some solutions are found, athletes can fall asleep easier and stay asleep.
If you’re having trouble getting quality rest, give it atry. You have nothing to lose except the bags under your eyes and poor performance due to fatigue.
In a blog last week, I gave you detailed data for the first three days of a bike tour. At the end of the blog I told you I’d show you data from one of my heart rate files in a rested state and let you know how the tour ended. Additionally, I want to let triathletes know that you don’t have to be riding your bike 6 days a week and endless miles to be fit enough to do a bike tour.
Day 4 of the tour I did a “no pressure on the pedals” day. I needed a recovery day. Though it was still a pretty big day riding – out 4:45 and ride time atabout 3:40, average heart rate was low at 109 and max heart rate was only 137.
Day 5 I didn’t ride at all and did an easy hike. On day 6, my intention was to hit the climb, Rabbit Ears Pass, at threshold. I had to modify my desire as I couldn’t manage threshold intensity. I find that on bike tours the more days I ride, the more warm-up I need. There wasn’t enough warm-up before the climb to push it at threshold (151-164). Secondly, the accumulated fatigue in my legs was just too much. The best I could manage was a fairly steady Zone 3 effort (144-150), dipping into high Zone 2 when I lost focus.
Day 7 was a nice way to end a tour – the last half of the ride was downhill and a good chunk of the day had tailwind. To average 21.3 miles per hour over 67 miles with anaverage heart rate of 117 is pretty darn nice. There was even a generous amount of toodling on that day. (i.e. We didn't push average speeds at all.) You’ll see that heart rate was above 140 for just a couple of pops.
In the first blog of this series, I gave you summary data. What I find over the course of a big week like this, is that the ability for me to push threshold heart rate (and above) degrades as the week progresses. Even recovery days and one day off won’t be enough recovery for most people. I’ve written about race recovery time in a past column. Though this wasn’t a race, I expect it will take me some 14 to 21 days to fully recover.
What I mean by "fully recover" is that I could drive high heart rates for extended periods like seen on this file. (Ignore the elapsed time as I forgot to turn off the Garmin. This was a race where I slit a tire at mile 18.5 and limped my way back to the start after a tire change that could have been timed with a sun dial – notice the temperature spike when I started rolling again.)
For the triathletes out there, know that I still train like a triathlete though my key races this season are mountain bike events. I was fully capable of completing the bike tour of near 460 miles and 29 hours of ride time in spite of the fact that in the 12 weeks prior to the bike tour, my weekly training hours were typically between six and 13. Those hours typically included two hours of swimming and two hours of running. Some weeks the hours included 30 to 60 minutes of strength training.
Key points: Cross training helps your fitness for a bike tour and you don’t have to give up the other sports to prepare for the tour. I do recommend cutting those crosstraining sports during the tour so you can fully focus on cycling.
In summary, if you:
Properly prepare for a bike tour
Pick key days to ride fast
Use some days as aerobic-only ride days
Recover properly after the tour
…I guarantee your fitness will see a significant boost. Obviously your cycling will improve. Not as obvious, I’ve seen improvements in swimming and running (after full recovery) for triathletes and I believe this is due to the huge increase in aerobic training.
You can find bike tour preparation plans on ActiveTrainer and in my book “Training Plans for Cyclists." One of those plans may help you prepare for, enjoy and benefit from a bike tour.
Summarizing the hours from the first three days of the bike tour, we rode 278.4 miles, climbed 17,283 ft, ride time was 19 hours and elapsed time was around 24. (Elasped time on Garmin Connect was incorrect on the first three days because of operator error.)
At the end of day 3, we saw people (I assume triathletes - and specifically Ironman athletes) putting on running shoes after riding 119+ miles. A cyclist asked me if there are significant training benefits for Ironman athletes to run after riding for three days and accumulating some 19ish hours of ride time.
My answer was, “No significant training benefits.”
The cyclist asked, “Then, why do triathletes feel compelled to run after long bike tour rides? Are they just ego maniacs looking for attention?”
Ah, an interesting question.
I think some triathletes get a warm fuzzy feeling by running after a long ride, believing that it somehow helps them be faster Ironman athletes. Know that I’ve coached endurance athletes for over 25 years and I’ve never seen any benefit from running for 10-30 minutes after a huge bike tour ride. That is never – not one time.
If you are a triathlete feeling compelled to run during a huge volume training week provided by a bike tour, then do it on your day off or after a shorter ride. I’ve coached plenty of Ironman athletes that eliminated all swimming and running during a bike tour. They focused on the bike and put all quality training time towards a strong ride. They were better triathletes for it.
Isn’t that why an Ironman athlete is doing a bike tour – to be a better triathlete?
A few years back there was a self-announced “serious” triathlete that rode one of the longest days of the tour in his speedo. He was doing this because he “needed to train the same way he was going to race.”
Ah yes, he was the talk of every aid station and the butt of many jokes about triathletes. What would have made the whole picture better was if he would have been wearing arm coolers, compression lower leg socks and a heart rate monitor strap. But, that was before the days of coolers and compression wear.
Are triathletes, specifically Ironman triathletes, just ego maniacs?
In a previous blog I gave you summary data for my most recent bike tour. Because I want to get the most from a bike tour, I plan key days to ride fast. Other days will be recovery or aerobic. I suggest you do the same.
How many key days to plan as "key" depends on you as an individual. Some where between two and four days, of a seven day tour, can be fast.
On any mountainous area bike tour I suggest you select the best climbing days to be your key days. Make the big climb(s) your focus and the place where you plan to ride your best.
Basic strategy for most bike tours:
Take the first day of the tour easy and mostly aerobic. (I know it’s tough to do, but worth it later.)
Pick two or three days to ride your best – and often it’s the key climbs.
Be flexible and willing to modify the plan where necessary to optimize the tour experience.
Before beginning my most recent bike tour, I targeted the three days with the biggest climbs to ride as strong as possible. That was day two, day three and day six.
Day 1 of the tour ended up being much, much harder than I anticipated due to wind. We fought gusting crosswinds (I’m told up to 50 mph at times) most of the way to Laramie, Wyoming. Effort on this day was much higher than I planned it to be – but – if I would have kept the effort level low it meant extending the day much later than I wanted. We got a late start, the day was hot and I broke a saddle. All that put us on the road late into the afternoon. You can find the day 1 file here. Put all view settings on either distance or time to get a better idea of what was going on. If I would have stuck to original plan, I would have kept heart rate below 142. That didn’t happen. Notice the average speed of 13.5mph.
On day 2, the infamous Wyoming wind didn’t disappoint. We rolled out earlier to try to avoid some of the wind, but from the start line we had headwinds around 15mph. The winds steadily grew so that we had a mostly steady headwind at 24mph. There was still some gusty side winds, but not nearly as bad as day 1. If you put both elevation and heart rate settings on “time” you can see an elevated heart rate section that corresponds with the climb. Heart rate variability is associated with attempting to follow a strong wheel. Notice that heart rate plummets before the end of the climb and that is associated with a viscous leg cramp – I think Gracilis muscle. (I think a result of effort and lots of sideways leg motion to balance in the wind.) Average speed at 13.8mph.
Day 3 - I was whipped from the previous two days, but I still wanted to maximize the climb best I could. I decided to ride the climb at my own pace and try to peg a heart rate of 145 (Zone 3 for me). You can see from the file that I was pretty good at pegging a zone of 145, +/- 2. I knew this day would be tough at a predicted 115 miles (turned out to be 119+) and it delivered. Two flat (and ruined) tires, rising temperatures and three days of accumulated fatigue had me ragged at the edges. I needed an easy day.
Key points to take away:
As you build fatigue in your legs it is very typicalto see low heart rates and high rating of perceived effort.
Some people will see very high and erratic heartrates coupled with low speeds, but I find this is less common.
If you are in a state of fatigue, you will not be capable of producing sustained high speeds.
In the next blog I’ll show you files of a rested state and let you know how the tour ended.
Those that have read previous blogs and my books, know I’m a fan of large training weeks to boost fitness. These are often called “crash training blocks” because you increase volume significantly more than your curren tnormal.
Before heading into daily specifics and how to structure your own crash training week, or use a bike tour to your advantage, first I’ll give you a summary of my last week of bike riding. A group of us did the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. Because I live in a city near the 2012 start, a couple of us rode from my doorstep to begin the tour, which is why my mileage is different than that shown on the website.
Ride time – The time spent moving on the bicycle (pedaling and coasting). This includes rolling easily and waiting for others, warm up, cool down and toodling along at an easy pace just because.
Elapsed time – Total time accumulated in the activities associated with cycling on a tour. (Stopping at aid stations, clothing removal time, sunscreen application, changing flat tires, inspecting broken seats, popping into a bike shop, etc…) This time begins when cycling starts for the day and stops when the bike gets racked.
Average speed – Distance divided by ride time.
For six days of riding, the totals are:
26,528 feet of climbing
28:51:32 ride time (near 29 hours)
15.9 mph average speed (you'll see big swings in daily averages)
36:53:00 elapsed time (near 37 hours)
I’ve done plenty of week-long bike tours, around a dozen or so. This tour wasn’t the biggest mileage tour I’ve done, but the ride and elapsed times were both more than I’ve done in the past. The reason for that is a single word – wind.
Tomorrow’s blog will include goals for the ride and some specific file details.
I was able to download a KLM file of the High Park Fire from the Denver Post site. Last week I had loaded a ride we did in Horsetooth Mountain Park and Lory State Park into Google Earth. (The ride that I'll eventually tell about because it has the rib-injury story attached to it, along with my first chiro visit.) Because Google Earth allows me to show both files on the same view, you can see below how the edge of the fire touched the edge of the Timbers/Kimmons loop in Lory State Park and it looks like the fire burned across part of the trail. I think it burned across right where I had taken a photo of the turkey vulture a few weeks ago and posted it on Facebook.
You can click on the photo to enlarge it.
A wider view is seen below.
It looks like – so far – that the impact to Lory State Park is minimal.
I’ve been struggling to write anything related to endurance sports. This is because a wildfire is raging in the mountains just a few miles from my home. One life has been lost and around 100 structures.
It feels selfish to write about endurance sport while someone has just lost everything they own – and several nearly lost their lives. I know disasters happen frequently and I continue to write about all things endurance.
But this one is in my backyard.
In a day or so, I’ll get back in the saddle and tell you about some things I’ve learned recently that may help you too. I’ve learned more about mountain bike equipment adjustments and I’ll tell you about my first trip to a chiropractor – the experience and why I went.
In the mean time, send good vibes to all the fire fighters working so hard to contain the High Park Fire that has grown to over 43,000 acres in just three days.
Yesterday when I wrote about planning tough rides because they’ll make you tough, I was referring to all you other humans. I wasn’t referring to myself or feeling any particular need to be tougher.
I suspect I’m not alone.
Today several of us did a pre-ride, mini-camp, check-it-out view of a mountain bike race course some of us plan to do in July. I had done sections of the course, but not one entire loop. Today was one loop and if I feel up to it on race day, I’ll aim for two.
Today’s ride was 20.5 miles with 3638 feet of elevation gain over the 20 miles, giving it a 177 ft/mile ranking. The ranking is tougher than the Leadville 100 course that I plan to do to in July, but the course isn’t as long (41 miles vs.103 miles for Leadville - that's right, the Leadville 100 is more than 100 miles).
Technical riding isn’t my strong suit, but I am improving.
I was reminded today that when you get better technically, you need to make adjustments to fork, shock and tire pressures. I’ve been adjusting fork pressure over the past four months or so – increasing it some 25 pounds total to accommodate drops over obstacles. What I learned today is that I also needed to be increasing tire pressure.
Today I unknowingly belched my front tire, making it soft. Heading into a completely benign section of trail (nothing technical) my front tire washed out turning 90 degrees into the sand, stacking me into a pile on the side of the trail. Skin mostly in tact (one elbow scrape) it was the impact to the muscles below my scapula (shoulder blade) that caused me the most problem. It felt like they were in knots. After the crash, each rock I hit on the descent sent a stabbing pain into those muscles.
On the upside, damage was relatively minimal and I was able to complete the ride.
I don’t know that today’s ride necessarily made me tougher, but it did allow me to refine my personal strategy for race day on this course – and that’s critical.
For intermediate and advanced riders, when you’re planning out your preparation for key events for the season, it’s good to include a ride or ride block that is tougher than your event. If your expected race completion time is less than about 5 hours, you can do a single ride that is either about the same time and tougher (more climbing), or a ride that is longer (6 hours), or a ride that is some combination of both - tougher and longer.
If your race will take you over 5 hours to complete, I like to break the tough session into two days. Put the highest intensity in the first day – and more intensity than you plan to do on race day. On the second day, ride at an accumulated intensity that totals about what you plan to do on race day. How you split the hours, (i.e. three hours on day one and two hours on day two, or three hours each day) depends on your athletic specifics.
This type of training, of course, boosts your physical fitness - but - only if you’ve done the preparation work to fully absorb the training.
Secondly, a really tough ride or ride block will give you a mental edge. On race day, knowing you’ve completed training that is more difficult than the race, you can ride with more confidence - and if you’ve planned correctly, more speed.
Yesterday I went for a shortie mountain bike ride at Devil’s Backbone Open Space. Heading north, within the first mile of trail, I spot a saddled horse in the trail, eating grass. My first assumptions were that the rider was thrown off or they got off for an emergency pit stop in the bushes. I looked around and couldn’t see a rider.
As I approached the horse, I could see a horse and rider ahead on the trail about 200 yards or so. The rider was calling to the horse without a rider. As I got near the riderless horse I could see it was a young filly wearing only a halter and not a bridle. This means that more than likely no one was riding the horse – unless the rider ahead was leading the horse and its rider.
Keep in mind this is one of the busiest trails in the county– if not the busiest trail.
The woman ahead is shouting to me that the horse is very friendly and I shouldn’t be worried at all about passing the young filly. Know that I’ve had horses in my past and I know that they can easily get spooked. This can mean kicking, rearing up or bolting away on a full run. My main concern at this point was to not spook the filly and send it though a nearby barbed wire fence.
As I got closer to the woman, she explained to me that this was the filly’s first day with a saddle on. She was trying to teach the filly to wear a saddle and to follow her on the other horse.
Having been a horse owner, I couldn’t understand why someone would put the filly and other trail users at such risk. What a stupid training plan for the horse. My mind was spinning.
I knew it was against trail rules to have dogs off leash; but is it against rules to have a horse off lead (the horse term for a leash)?
The owner kept explaining to me how gentle all her horses are and this is not a problem and the filly would just love it if I were to stop and spend time petting her. I told her “no thanks” and moved on.
Knowing I would encounter them again on my way back, in about 10 minutes, I was deciding how to deal with the situation – if at all.
On my way back, I could see that the rider made it to the bottom of one of the steep hills (I'm descending, she's climbin), while the filly lagged behind some 150 yards. As I made my way between the two, I could see two sets of hikers coming toward the back side of the filly. About eight people total. At this point the filly is blocking the trail in front of them.
I decided to ask the rider if she actually had a lead for the horse. She told me she did. I told her I have owned horses and in my opinion, her horse needed to be on a lead for the safety of the horse and the other trail users. This was no place to do the type of training she was trying to do.
Meanwhile the woman instructed hikers to go ahead and pass behind the filly as it would be no problem at all. I could tell these people knew nothing about horses the way they passed behind the filly. Both horses are now getting a little nervous with hikers closing in on them and me in the middle between the two horses. This was a situation with huge risk.
In between justifying her actions, the woman agreed it was a poor decision to have the horse off lead for the first time on this trail. She put the horse on a lead and everyone went safely on their way.
Sunday at 7:00 am I decided to check the wind forecast for our traditional Memorial Day weekend ride. See it for yourself below. What direction ARE those arrows pointing? Variable? Miscellaneous? Undecided? Probably in our face for the entire loop?
Twenty people were in my driveway, ready for a 90.2 mile ride that included around 6000 feet of climbing. The climb, as you can seebelow is around 50 miles, with the bulk of the climb between miles 26 and 51.This is the climb out of Lyons, Colorado towards Allenspark and then towards Estes Park.
(Click on the image for a larger view. The grade near 20 percent was where I picked up my bike and turned it around at a stop.)
My strategy for the climb was to average the highest sustainable speed for the entire climb, which meant pegging Zone 4-5a heart rate and trying to hold that intensity for roughly an hour. Unfortuneatly, my heart rate monitor strap slipped down about 10 minutes into the climb and I couldn't go by heart rate as a guide. Since I was unwilling to stop and adjust it, because I was riding with a good group of people, I didn't get accurate heart rate data. You can see from the two files (one from 2010 and one from 2012) that barometric pressure influences the total elevation gained for the ride. - I'm pretty sure none of the climbs were flatter this year. ;-)
Though we had some gusty winds heading to Lyons andheadwinds most of the way on the climb, we were rewarded with a nice tailwindheading from Estes Park to Loveland. The temperatures were reasonable and we didn’t get rain or snow (which has happened in past years).