Reasons vs. Excuses

30 09 2008

It is important to distinguish between a “reason” and an “excuse.” The difference is easy to recognize:

When you have a reason for not training, if we remove the cause, the effect should vanish. On the other hand, if one thing is an excuse for another, then taking away the excuse will change nothing — the effect will remain.

Excuses are a justification for giving up or giving in. You didn’t explore all your options, ignored or denied your options, didn’t plan ahead, didn’t ask for help, or didn’t accept help offered. Excuses are reasons that rely on being dishonest with yourself.

If you didn’t train today because your boss made you stay late at work, then you have a good “reason”.

If you didn’t do your training today because it was raining out, you probably didn’t want to train all that much anyway. You could have used the trainer in front of the TV, gone for a run, taken a spin class, or even rode in the rain!

My point?  Quit making reasons or excuses?!


Perceived Exertion – Rate Your Workout

29 09 2008

I’m quite fortunate that I have a power meter. I find it the most useful training tool imaginable. It allows you to know exactly how much power you’re generating. Just like when you do a bench press, you know exactly how many plates you have loaded up on the bar. No questions. I can’t wait to start blogging more about the benefits of a power meter. However, if you don’t have access to a power meter or even a heart rate monitor, you may want to keep a measure of your workout in your training diary called Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).  Even though I have a power meter, I still use this gauge in my training log.

All people have the ability to sense how hard they are pushing themselves, even though individual outputs may not be the same. Perceived exertion is how hard you feel that your body is working. It is based on the physical sensations you experience during physical activity, including heart rate, breathing, muscle fatigue, etc..

1 No exertion at all – Watching the TdF
2 Extremely light ride with Grandma
3 Very light ride coffee ride
4 Light ride to work
5 Somewhat hard
6 Hard (heavy) – sitting in a fast bunch ride
7 Very hard – rolling turns in a fast bunch ride
8 Extremely hard – off the front from a fast bunch ride in the crosswinds
9 Maximal exertion – add some hills into #8
10 off the charts! – Melbourne – Warnambool

Through experience of monitoring how your body feels, it will become easier to know when to adjust your intensity. When keeping track of your RPE in your training diary, you should take note of how many days in a row you have workout days rated as 7 and above. In general, these should not exceed three days in a row to allow for sufficient recovery.

Don’t Panic

26 09 2008
Jeff Bolstad in a familiar pose

Jeff Bolstad in a familiar pose

This post comes from one of the smartest and best bike racers I know. My hope is that he contributes regularly to this blog. We’ll all be better off with his advice. Thanks Jeff


I wrote that in big, friendly red letters because Douglas Adams died too young, the world will forever be a darker shade of grey as a result, and I’m in no particular hurry to get over it.

But it’s also good advice for bike racers.

There are often phases in bike races in which the attacks are both frequent and futile. This can happen when a break is up the road and the teams not represented are trying to bridge instead of chase and are forever being chased down by the breakaways’ teammates, at the beginning of a race when the fools that will chase anything aren’t yet too tired to do so, and in several other situations. Regardless, the pattern is the same: someone attacks and a wave of acceleration ripples backwards through the pack as everyone jumps to maintain contact. The attack is caught and everyone stops working – 50km/hr, 30, 50, 30, 50 over and over again. These jumps can take a lot of energy that you’d rather use sowing your own mayhem and confusion.

One trick I’ve learned is to not jump. Anticipate the wave and quicken your cadence, perhaps shifting down a gear. You’ll likely get passed by a few people for doing this – make sure they pass you on the windward side. By maintaining your cadence a second or two once the attack is caught and the pack compresses, you can slingshot back up to your original position or even further. Alternatively, if a split does develop, you’ll not only have saved your jump, but have a few unwitting teammates leading out your bridge. More often than not, nothing will come of the attack and you’ll quite appropriately have expended next to no energy.

Race Tune-Up

26 09 2008

The day before a race should be a rest day.  However, by “rest day” I’m not implying that you should take it off.  I just mean that you shouldn’t be tearing yourself down so much that you need serious recovery afterwards.  It should be called a “tune-up day” rather than a “rest day”.

My favorite “tune-up” routine the day before a race is the following:

About 1.5hours total with 3 x 1 minutes hard, with at least 5 minutes of easy riding between each. Also do 3 x 30 seconds hard sprints, with 5 minutes between.  Easy cruising home.

This will wake up and recruit the different muscle fibers needed for tomorrow.  This will make you feel much better the next day than if you took the day off.   Perhaps because of this carb loading technique from University of WA?  Not sure, but it works for me…

Optimal Cadence

25 09 2008

I have a good mate who was complaining the other day about not being able to go very fast and feeling sluggish.  Someone noticed how low his cadence was and asked him what his computer was averaging it at.  He said 71 rpm.  What!?  71 rpm!?   “Well, what should my cadence be then?”, he asked.

Let’s first assume that “optimal” means “most efficient aerobically”.   Many different studies have been able to determine how much oxygen is used at different cadences with a resulting efficiency figure – the less oxygen used, the more efficient that pedal cadence is. Nearly all of the results for these studies, when plotted graphically, showed an ‘inverted U’ shape, with the extremely low and high pedal cadences being less efficient and an optimum figuring somewhere around the middle. There was a general consensus from these studies show the optimum was around 90 rpm.

The lower gear provided by a high cadence means that acceleration is relatively easy, so higher cadence is important in road races when you have to be ready at all times to follow the accelerations.

Also, remember a few posts ago where I talked about the glycogen stored in fast and slow twitch muscle fibers?  Another reason why a high cadence is more economical.

Enough Protein?

24 09 2008

I don’t stress too much about my day to day nutrition. I like a pizza and beer as much as anyone else. However, there are some key times when you should be very aware of your nutrition when in training. The 30 minute window after a good hard ride is when your body will appreciate it most. This is an important time to replace the glycogen in the muscles and repair the damage to the muscles by eating protein.

Protein is used to repair muscle cell injuries from the trauma that occurs during training. It is not a good energy source.  So how much protein does a cyclist need? It depends on what type of training you’re doing. If you’re doing a lot of long slow distance riding, you’ll generally need about 1.3 grams of protein per Kg of body weight. If you’re doing intense riding, you’ll need to increase your protein intake to approximately 1.6 grams per kg of body weight.

For example, if you weigh 80kg and are training with intensity, you will need about 128 grams of protein per day. You can easily achieve this by eating a regular diet (non vegetarian) without supplements. However, the best time to eat protein (about 30g) is in the half hour directly after training. Your body can absorb approximately 30g of protein in a sitting, so eating more isn’t necessarily better. A good protein choice is good ol’ fashioned chocolate milk. A 750ml bottle of iced coffee or chocolate milk has 20-30 grams of protein and only costs $3.00. It is not necessary to spend $80 on a massive pale of bodybuilding protein powder. Milk has an ideal amount of protein/carbs/fat, making it an excellent recovery drink.

DO NOT eat much protein in the hour before an intense ride. No more than the peanut butter on your toast! Protein is difficult for the body to digest and slows down the glycogen absorption to the muscles. You don’t want that unless  you plan to get dropped like a bag of bricks in the first kilometer.

Make Your Own PowerGel

23 09 2008

Sometimes spending $3 a pop on gels can get a little expensive. I’ve been making my own gels for a number of years and I’ve found there’s really not much to it. I can make 10 times the amount for about $10 and it only takes 5 minutes. Here’s my favorite recipe:

– 1 cup plain or brown rice syrup (brown is sweeter and has a lower GI – which is not the point here). Many of the gels that you buy from your local bike shop list rice syrup as the main ingredient.
– handful of raspberries/strawberries/blueberries/etc . Eating the rice syrup unflavored is pretty disgusting.
– 1/8 tsp table salt

Puree the fruit in a food processor. Combine fruit puree, salt and rice syrup in a small pot on the stove and stir continuously on low heat until heated (should not come to a simmer or boil). Liquid should be hot, well mixed and easy to pour when ready. Fill 2 GU flasks with the gel. You can buy a GU flask for $5 which will hold up to 8 tbsp of gel. This will allow you to carry 480 calories of complex carbs, the equivalent of 4 gel packets.

Refrigerate overnight to thicken for your ride the next day.