Cycling and Rest Days; Ridin’ Ain’t Runnin’, and Other Brilliant Colloquialisms on Taking Time Out of the Saddle. I’ll Taper when I’m Dead.
Ridin’ ain’t Runnin’, it’s plain and simple. When I was a runner, I wasn’t cool with the whole “running every day” thing. I never worked up to being comfortable with running two days in a row, let alone four or five days a week. Right or wrong, I needed the recovery time. Cycling was different though. Without the constant jarring, I could ride and recover in less than 24 hours. I went from running three days a week to running three days and riding five.
Then I moved away from running because I didn’t love it like I did cycling and that five days bumped to six. I was still suffering under the delusion, fueled by “the internet” and/or “society”, that rest days were absolutely necessary for the cyclist… The thing that chapped my butt was that pro cyclists could ride every day for three weeks at ridiculously high levels. If they can do it dammit, don’t tell me I can’t at much slower speeds.
That reality was the impetus for experiments geared at how I could ride daily without having to spend time polishing the couch with my butt. “The internet” wasn’t much help because it seemed everyone believed that time must be taken off, whether to “realize the benefits of the effort” or to let the body recharge.
As an ex-drunk, it shouldn’t come as a shock that I have a bit of a problem with suggestions that fit me into a mold to be stamped out as a carbon fiber copy of a fitness geek. I wanted to ride every day, and if they can do it, dammit, you better believe I can.
So year one was two days off a week, maybe just one on occasion. I was running still, so taking time off made sense. Year two was one day a week off. That went well but I had some troubles here and there. Year three was two days a week off. That felt good but I got itchy on that second day off – this was the year that I really went through my “don’t tell me what to do, Internet” rest rebellion. Year four was the big change. I went more than two months on one day of rest. I went a month with no days off. I rode more than 1,000 miles in that month. No injuries, no niggles – at an average faster than most people only dream of riding at.
My trick was short active recovery rides after work with my wife. Slow speed, high cadence, very easy on the legs, 16-20 miles at a 16-17 mph pace. I was doing three hard rides a week (Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday) and riding with my wife the other four but we were upping the miles and the pace on Friday).
This year, because my wife has gone from a 16.5 – 17.5 mph average being a good day to 18.5, my recovery ride pace might increase just a little bit… but my wife is on the same plan. She’s gone more than a week now without a day off. We just worked her recovery ride schedule out the other day. She’s only in her second year of serious cycling and she’s riding at a pace that would make a lot of guys jealous – 18.5 – 19.5 average is a good day in the saddle.
Last year my choice to limit days off last year culminated in a big four-day, 385 mile ride from Lansing, Michigan to Mackinaw City… three 100+ miles a day and 72 on the fourth at max effort all three days (19.5 avg, 19.5 avg, 19 avg, 21.5 avg.) and while I was definitely feeling it on the third day and tired on the fourth, I finished strong and with a smile on my face – and I’m doing even better this year. I’m working on 21 days in a row now and as long as I maintain an aggressive “Active Recovery Ride” strategy, I don’t see any reason for days off. I’ll have no problem hitting 50 days in a row. Cycling ain’t running… I’ll taper when I’m dead.
I have often said and written more than once, I’d rather take my turns up front and get dropped than hide in the back. I challenged that steadfast belief last night.
It was cloudy all day and rain was forecast for the afternoon, starting a 3 pm and stretching late into the evening. I rode on the trainer, fairly easy around 21 mph, for 45 minutes figuring I would skip the club ride. I didn’t want to trash my legs just in case we could ride. On my way home from the office, nothing had changed… Then I checked the radar again, and miracle of miracles, the green had an end and there was a very good chance we would be able to ride. We might get damp, but I can live with damp. Wet, not so much.
I decided on the Trek because I’m not riding the Venge in crappy weather, I didn’t care if I got dropped for riding the heavy bike either. I know the way back.
We did a 7-1/2 mile warmup at an easy 16 mph pace, I pulled for the first four then tucked in behind Mike and Phill. The roads dried out almost entirely before we got back. We were lining up five minutes later, with a fairly decent crowd, considering. Even our friend Ron from DALMAC showed up, his first time with the group since long before I ever showed up.
Mike and I took the first mile up front at 19-20 mph while the group formed. We dropped back, maybe eight or nine bikes each with only one bike behind us. Then, amazingly, all hell did not break loose. The pace was kept at an exceptionally reasonable pace, around 23-24 mph. I worked myself to the front over the course of the next several miles and that was the last time I saw the front.
I ended up tucking in behind my buddy Mike and he simply opened a hole every time one of the horses came back. We hid like bandits… and made it the full 20 miles to the B group meeting spot and did it feeling excellent and ready to hammer out the last ten… In all of my years riding with that group, I’ve never felt that good at our turn off.
The last ten miles were enjoyable as I can remember. We were a picture of harmony working together. Nobody took too much time up front and the pace was lively but at no time outrageous… I took the first big sprint points heading into Vernon – and my friend McMike messed with me for it. He wouldn’t let me head back as a chastisement for sprinting for the sign. It actually got comical when I backed off to 14 mph, checked my six, then launched up to 23, breaking hard left to keep him from catching a draft (makes it harder for him to match my surge). I figured it best to take my medicine and when they caught back up I pulled for about three-quarters of a mile before heading to the back of the group. I took full turns every time and everything was flowing smoothly… Right up until the last three miles.
Ladies and gentlemen, when riding with a group it is imperative to know your weaknesses. We ride with a big fella who has grown quite competent over the last year and a half but who absolutely looses his frickin’ shit when he’s tired or takes too long a turn up front. He’s so bad, if one didn’t know better, it looks like he does shit to crash people on purpose. He doesn’t, but you’d put palm to forehead if you saw what I’m about to describe….
The wind is out of the south, we’ve got three miles to go, and we’re heading east. We’re all stacked in echelon and the wind is light enough we could fit the entire pace line of ten in our proper lane without straddling the yellow center line. This is the best possible scenario for a pace line, a light echelon. All one has to do to tap out and head straight back. A tap on the ass with the fist, pull to the right six inches and stop pedaling for a second to start the drift back… Not this guy. After a mile at the front he tapped right, moved left and stopped pedaling. This meant he was slowing down directly in the path of the rest of the group, almost taking out my buddy Mike by sweeping his front wheel in the process. If that wasn’t bad enough, once he figured out he’d screwed up and exactly how bad, he veered wildly into the oncoming traffic lane and directly into the path of a car who was trying to overtake us. He almost crashed three of us, pissed off a motorist and damn near ended his life in one fell swoop. Because he pulled the group for too long.
After quite a bit of hollering everything settled down. Mike took a turn up front and I followed him before getting set for the final sprint. The pace was pretty fair, around 23-24 mph and with a quick turnover because of the speed I found myself third bike directly behind McMike – a good place to be (this is the 2015 National Sprint Triathlon AG Champion fella)… I started marking my spot to go – too soon and you run out of gas before the finish. Too late and you don’t have a chance. All of a sudden, and way too early, one of the guys came shooting up from the back. I figured he would be back so I didn’t go. Then McMike went and I had no choice, it was fortunate that I’d already picked my gear too because Mike took off in a hurry. I was right on his wheel in perfect position and matched each of his jogs, to stay in his draft. This is the only way I know to stay with McMike… To put this guy in perspective, for a sprint triathlon, his typical pace is around 25 mph average for the course – the dude is mega fast. I was out of the saddle, in the drops and pushing for all I was worth. We were closing the gap on the guy who went early too but it was fairly evident we wouldn’t quite catch him unless he bonked – it was a well-timed move and it seemed he had just enough. Still, I got the first sprint sign so placing before McMike meant I’d get the points for the evening so I dug down into every nook and cranny of guts I had and gave three of the hardest pedal strokes I’ve ever produced on a bicycle to inch Mike out – I got him literally by a few inches at 32-1/2 mph. It was awesome.
29.75 miles in an hour and 21 minutes (and some loose change)… Four minutes faster than last week and at a respectable 21.5 mph average – on the slow bike. This bodes well for the season too – it took us until May or June last year to hit those numbers. Now all I have to do is figure out how to take a few turns at the front and feel that good going into the last ten miles. As much fun as I had, I still feel a little guilty about hiding for so much of the ride. I imagine I’ll get over it though. 😉
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.