Cycling Every Day; How I Trained My Body to Keep Up with My Desire to Ride (It’s not Difficult, but It ain’t Easy, Either).
I’ve been riding every day for the better part of four years now. I took 21 days off all of last year. I went more than a month without a day off several times, and managed to average 29 miles a day when I did ride.
For a working fella, there’s a trick to riding every day. I had to acquire an off button. Technically, this off button doesn’t shut me down, it shuts the voice in my melon that wants to push it every single day I ride. My first three years riding, I didn’t know any better so I pushed it almost every day until my legs were smoked. Then I’d take a day or two off. I worked in scheduled days off, too, because everyone said I had to take time off to realize my fitness goals. I didn’t like that much at all – cycling was my way to clear my head and refocus on why I love life so much. I wanted to ride every day for that benefit alone.
Eventually, as I grew into the sport, I learned that it was okay to take an easy day on a regular basis. Self-knowledge is about as useful as toilet paper in the next stall, though. I had to train myself to be okay with sitting up and enjoying a ride now and again if I wanted to ride daily without over-training.
So, for me, that voice says that if I feel good, if my legs feel alright, then I should take the opportunity of being out on a ride as an opportunity to increase my strength, stamina, and fitness by pushing it a little bit. For years I didn’t even know I should shut that down and I ended up with over-training issues and even a couple of minor overuse injuries. Once I learned that I could ride every day, pain-free and without repercussions, if I simply told that voice to sit down and shut up, my level of enjoyment increased exponentially.
As in recovery, riding is more about managing my melon than my legs.
And that’s my secret to a happy bike ride. Fast, or my approximation of slow.
Ride hard, my friends. And enjoy the ride; most aren’t lucky enough to know the joy of riding a bicycle or running.
We had a decent group for yesterday’s 56-miler, and some fantastic weather conditions. Well, fantastic for what we’re used to. It was only 38° (3 or 4 C) at the start, but at least it was sunny and the wind wasn’t terrible. I think we had about ten in our group and we got rolling just after 9 a.m.
The first couple of warm-up miles were a little tough, with a stiff breeze out of the north, the chill was in the air. After I warmed up, though, it wasn’t so bad. Then, with the sunshine, the temp rose quickly. We covered the first eight westerly miles at 18-mph, then we turned south. Now, we had a 10-mph north tailwind pushing us along and Greg met us on the road and there’s a Strava segment going into the town of Byron that starts at the top of a little descent and finishes just before the City Limits sign heading due south – it’s one of my favorite sprints in the area because getting up to 30-ish mph isn’t all that hard going down the hill. I’ve been tied for fifth with 25 or 26 seconds for years, and Greg rightly had the KOM at 23 seconds (my buddy, Chuck was tied for first). He’s definitely in the upper tier of the A Group. I knew I was at least going for it with everything I had with that tailwind pushing us down the hill – I just had to get there in perfect shape – that’s a long 23 seconds.
I’d just come off the front, if memory serves, so I was decently far back in the draft so all I had to do was keep up with a tailwind. It was easy going. A half-mile to go, I got down in the drops and got ready. I decided I’d go at the top of the hill rather than wait for the gravity assist to help. I exhaled and pushed all of the CO2 out of my lungs, letting them fill on the inhale with fresh air. I gave it one more and waited for the hill. Just over the crest, I hit the gas. Greg and Winston were up front and they both hit it a split second after I did so I ended up timing it perfectly to jump on Winston’s wheel – I had the perfect lead-out train. I glanced at my computer and saw 36-mph as we neared the bottom of the hill. Only 300-ish yards to go and I was sitting perfectly on Winston’s wheel. I was in the perfect gear. I feathered the brakes to stay off of his wheel, once, twice – and then I dropped the hammer. I came around Winston, then Greg, putting every last ounce of ass into my pedals I gapped Greg and Winston and took the City Limits sign still pounding on the pedals… I had absolutely no clue how fast we’d gotten to, other than the one time I glanced down and saw 36-mph (58 km/h) and I had no idea how close I was to the KOM (I don’t do live segments on my Garmin) – I had a feeling I was nipping on the heels of it, though.
That was just 14 miles into the ride and my legs felt like Jello for a couple of minutes.
Thankfully, we’ve got a gas station we always stop at just up the hill in town so we stopped for a minute to use the facilities and have a little snack. It was starting to warm up a bit so a few of the guys took the opportunity to shed some clothing. And that was about the end of the tailwind for the day. The crosswind miles weren’t bad at all, but the headwind miles were pretty rough.
In a bit of foreshadowing, when I sent the text out that we were doing to Cohoctah loop, Chuck texted that the wind was supposed to be out of the north, so maybe it was better to do a north to south loop. I’d already set things in motion and had texts from Greg who wanted to meet us on the road, so I suggested we just keep it how it was. Jonathan chimed back that, as he understood it, I just offered to pull the group all the way home in the headwind… Actually, Winston did the lion’s share of the headwind but I took my lumps, too. I was only ever four bikes back and cycling back to the front of the pace-line the whole way home.
I was good and ready to be done when we pulled into the driveway. I was in the house after fist bumps and a few chuckles about the headwind before I checked Strava. Sure enough, 22-seconds and a legit KOM. My average for the two-tenths of a mile was just over 36-mph, my max speed was 36,9. I crossed the City Limits line eleven miles an hour over the speed limit. A cherry atop another perfect Sunday morning ride with my friends.
That’s as good as it gets.
Why am I so lucky? I take the time to contemplate this now and again.
I’ve been active all but five years of my life. Not “I broke five bones and had seven operations” active – in fact, I’ve never broken a bone (knock wood). My level of activity is best described simply as, “I get my ass off the couch and move” active. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck, but I’m not that far off, either. I have decent genes, but I’ve got heart disease on mom’s side and Alzheimer’s on dad’s – they’re not great, either.
My brother-in-law once said that it was spooky how much I looked like my dad. He’s right, too. I am a chip off the old block. My mom happened to be there, we were helping my sister and brother-in-law move to a new house, heard him say that and chimed in, “You do, but you’re a much healthier version of your dad. You look much better than he did at your age… because of all of the alcohol, I think”.
I am, without question, a much healthier version of my father in terms of pickling and fitness….
I don’t live in any physical pain anymore. Cycling fixed almost everything that ailed me on that front, including an unrelenting bad back. I don’t have knee problems, feet problems, or disease problems (now that I’ve been in recovery).
On one hand, I often think I might be some kind of freak because I haven’t aged like a lot of other people. On the other, I don’t put much stock in the whole “freak” angle because, in truth, I lead a simple, clean, healthy (relatively), happy life. More important, I have a happy outlook on the life that I’ve got – I excel at staying positive. Combine that with no smoking, no alcohol, zero drugs, an actual program of recovery (not just white-knuckling it), a relatively diet, and a veritable $#!+ ton of daily physical activity… Well, looking at it that way I don’t think there’s much luck to it at all.
Nor is my story special…. In fact, I’d say I’m run-of-the-mill in terms of recovering folks. Maybe slightly above average, but not by much. Everything good in my life started with recovery, and that’s why I keep coming back.
Modern treatment and what is now deceptively termed “evidence based” recovery is often based on something other than recovery. It’s based on managing a decline, or slowing the spiral to the drain. It’s based on the kooky notion that a person like me has a hope of drinking successfully at some point. That’s all good enough for government work, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve touched the burner on the stove enough to know the f***er’s hot and I don’t have to grab it anymore.
That relapse-based decline management system may work for some, but not this guy. I’ll take happy and healthy over a managed swirly. Any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
My very first pair of cycling shoes had three Velcro straps, just like the good old days when tennis shoes came with them. My second pair, a triathlon shoe, were Velcro as well. My first pair of legit road shoes had two Velcro straps and a ratchet strap. By then I knew all of the cool kids had Boa closures for their shoes, but I got a great deal on the ratchet strapped Specialized Road Pro’s. Finally, I bought a pair of Specialized Torch 2.0’s and found out why the Boa’s were so popular. They’re almost infinitely adjustable on the ride and they’re simple.
I also learned, when a friend’s lace snapped, that it’s good to have a backup pair of shoes and that Boa laces and ratchet systems are guaranteed for life (the laces appear to be some sort of plastic covered metal). I like guaranteed for life.
Last week, a lace broke as I was putting on my shoe to head out for a ride.
I put on my old backup ratchet strap shoes and rode. Later, I went to Boa’s website, and registered to get my free replacements. By free, I mean free. I didn’t even have to pay postage (though I could have upgraded shipping for less than $10 to get them express shipped). Three days later, they arrived in the mail.
I fixed the shoe myself. My friend, Chuck, said it wasn’t incredibly easy, but it wasn’t too bad, either.
First, fixing a broken Boa lace isn’t easy until; 1) You understand that the most important part is the “under/over” of the loop shown on the instruction diagram. 2) You’ve done it once. 3) You realize the diagrams are actually pretty decent and simple to follow. 4) I took a photo of how the lace was threaded through the shoe – an excellent idea most people don’t think to do.
At that point, it’s a snap.
My shoe is good as new.
The Boa closures are worth paying to get to the upper level of cycling shoes, even more so now that I know how to fix them.
I woke for work Thursday morning at 3 a.m. when my alarm went off. I drank my morning “wake up” two cups of coffee, showered and left at 4:23. I put a full day in and left at 3:15 p.m., arriving home at 5:15. Thursday’s a meeting night so leaving work late messed me up a little bit. I had to get dressed quickly and get my butt out the door with the Venge if I was going to get a ride in.
I opted for a 30 minute ride because I was so short on time. I figured I’d do some intervals and call that good, shooting for an 18-ish mph average. After the first mile-and-a-half I got out of the saddle and hit it hard, sprinting north of 26 and holding that for a couple of power poles. Three more power poles and another sprint. Then another, and another. I’d taken my average pace from 18-1/2-mph to just north of 20. Rather than rest, I decided to hammer the rest and finish the ten-mile course in less than 30 minutes. North and south weren’t much of a big deal – I was holding 22-mph easily. The problem was going to be a three-mile stretch into the wind, heading east. I carried some decent speed through the corner and put my head down, trying to stay just above my 20.4 mph average. I got caught at a stop sign by traffic after the second mile, but with only one to go into the wind, I knew I’d make it. 9.91 miles in 29:21 for a 20.2-mph average…. Not bad for short on time.
I cleaned up and headed out to meet my sponsor for dinner at 6:30. I was two minutes late. We had a nice dinner and headed to our meeting. After some decent discussion, we packed it up and I took him home. I crawled into bed at a few minutes after 9 p.m., exhausted.
Most days are like that, anymore. Packed with so much to do, it’s hard to get to it all. I once naively worried I’d be bored in recovery. That was more than a few 24-hours ago. I’ve come to learn that I have a tough time fitting everything in.
Sadly, my cycling brother down in New Zealand is just having to dust off the arm and leg warmers. We’re just getting to a point we can finally think about leaving them in the drawer every once in a while.
Tuesday night’s club ride was a wind-driven sufferfest from the parking lot. In fact, that’s where I was dropped. In the frickin’ parking lot. Now, to be fair, that was the first time I wasn’t paying attention when the group left and I struggled to catch up. Six of us were caught at the back of the parking lot as the group pulled out. We took off immediately to chase them down but once we hit the headwind I simply couldn’t reel the lead group in – and after a half-mile in a 20-mph headwind at 20+ mph, I flicked out for the next guy to take a turn and he promptly dropped down to 17. That effectively ended out chances of catching the group right there. I tried one more time to bridge the quarter-mile gap but I didn’t make up much ground and I would have been out of gas even if I had caught the lead group. The six of us went on to have an enjoyable cruise, if it was a ton of work in the wind. That kind of gnarly windy ride is normal for this time of year in Michigan – April is a wet and windy month for us.
Contrast that mess with yesterday’s ride. The wind was so calm I couldn’t tell which direction the wind was even coming from – and I pulled for 22 miles out of the 22.75-mile route. Chuck found he’d gotten a flat when he went to get his road bike ready so he was relegated to riding his gravel bike because he didn’t want to make us any later than we already were. I felt sorry for the poor fella, I was on the Venge, so I pulled for almost the entire time. It was an easy, fun-paced ride, too. One that made me grateful for being on the right side of the grass, pumping air. There’s nothing better than a great bike and having an hour to blow off some steam to clear the mind.
As one would expect, I slept like a baby last night. It’s as good as it gets.
My cycling brother from another mother and all-around good buddy, Mike, will often, out of nowhere, exclaim on a bike ride, “I love my bike”.
Most would mistakenly think this means he simply loves his bike – I clearly love mine – but that’s only part of what he means by that fantastically complex statement.
We were out on our first 50-mile ride of the year (my buddy, Chuck and I put in some bonus miles for a crisp 100k), about eight or nine deep in a pace-line, sprinting for City Limits signs, just enjoying that we were outside, and Mike, with a smile stretched all the way across his face, blurts out, “I love my bike.”
What it really means is, I love life on my bike, riding with friends, having the time of our lives.
Good times and noodle salad, my friends.
I love my bike.