At the start of training ride or an event, all things are possible. You could have a ride that puts a smile on your face or a performance that exceeds your expectations. But you can also screw it up, and a lot of cyclists do that on a regular basis. Here are four ways I see cyclists routinely ruin their rides:
1. Starting Too Hard
I know you don’t have as much time to ride as you might want and that you’re trying to cram more quality training into your time-crunched schedule. But time-trialing out of the driveway isn’t going to help.
I see a lot of athletes who hit the gas too quickly at the start of their rides, and here’s what happens: Your legs load because the pathways for clearing and processing lactate aren’t ready for the onslaught. And when it’s hot out your cooling system (sweat) isn’t ready to dissipate huge amounts of heat suddenly generated by your muscles. In the first 10 minutes of your ride you overload your muscles with lactate and drive your core temperature up, and then you have to spend the next 20-30 minutes recovering form that.[blog_promo promo_categories=”coaching” ids=”” /]
Better choice: Spend the first 15-20 minutes focused on activating your body. During this period incorporate one or two 30-second high cadence, low resistance intervals to get your legs moving. Also include two 1-minute hard efforts (at or above lactate threshold) to facilitate the processing of lactate. When you start a hard effort after this, you’ll feel much better.
2. Waiting Too Long to Start Drinking
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been 60 or even 90 minutes into a long group ride (like a century or gran fondo) with riders who have not yet touched their water bottles. Maybe you’re trying to ration your water so you don’t have to stop so often on a long ride, but waiting to start consuming fuels is just digging a hole you’ll struggle to refill the rest the of the day.
This is important because hydration status is integrally tied to core temperature; both hydration status and core temperature are difficult to bring back to normal once they get out of whack, especially while you’re still exercising.[blog_promo promo_categories=”camp” ids=”” /]
Better choice: You should reach for your bottle within the first 20-30 minutes on the bike. That said, you can make the fluids in your bottles last longer by consuming a bottle before you ride, but even with this strategy you should start consuming fluids from your bottles well before the hour mark.
3. Not Eating in the Final Hour
Just like horses when they smell the barn, cyclists sometimes forget their good habits as the end of a ride approaches. When cyclists are within 60 minutes of the finish line or driveway they stop eating, and it gets even more prevalent in the final 30 minutes.
Sometimes it’s financially driven; those bars and gels cost money and can be saved for the next ride. But more often it’s the idea that you don’t need more calories just to finish the final 10-15 miles of today’s ride.
Just like waiting too long to drink at the beginning of a ride, not eating at the end is digging an unnecessary hole for yourself. You’re making today’s ride take more out of you than is necessary, and that means you’re making the recovery from today’s ride take longer.
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If you’re riding three times a week this isn’t such a big deal because you have more than 24 hours before you’ll ride again. But if you’re training on back-to-back days or participating in a multi-day camp, race, or tour, then not eating in the final hour may not have much of an impact on today’s ride, but it can ruin tomorrow’s.
4. Failing to Regulate Core Temperature
You can be well-rested, optimally-fueled, and hydrated to the gills, but none of that matters if you overheat. Elevated core temperature kills both physical and mental performance in endurance sports.
As I mentioned earlier, core temperature is integrally connected to hydration status, and staying hydrated enables you to better maintain normal core temperature in either hot or cold environments.
Apparel and behavior are also key to regulating core temperature. When the weather changes, react quickly. Put your jacket on when it starts raining, not after you’re soaked and shivering. And when you’re in a rain or snow shower, before you stop under a bridge consider the impact of waiting there on your core temperature. If it’s only a short-lived or fast-moving shower (and doesn’t contain lightning) you’ll stay warmer by continuing to ride, and you’ll dry off sooner by riding your way out of it instead of waiting for the shower to move on. In the mountains, it’s often better to continue and descend to a lower altitude rather than waiting it out at a higher altitude.
Regardless of your fitness level, making these mistakes can turn a great ride into a death march or have you on the phone for a pickup. But when you give yourself time to warm up and make good decisions about eating and drinking to stay fueled and help with temperature regulation, you can have a blast on a bike… also regardless of your fitness level.
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