Tentative plan for Saturday June 4th is to do the following 101 mile ride... http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=524506 Port Salerno will be the furthest south I've gone by bike, very curious to explore.
A few months back I bought new running shoes and set myself the ambitious goal of running a marathon before the year's end. I have a fully customized training plan and I feel that goal is 100% attainable. Frankly, if I did a walk/run marathon and didn't care about finishing time, I could probably do it today.
But I wouldn't want to do a 6 or 7 hour walk / run / take a break marathon. If I want to run a marathon and be proud of it as an accomplishment I want to run a marathon. The mental goal I set myself was to break 4 hours which is a decent speed for a first timer who really isn't a dedicated runner.
But what I've found as I've been slowly increasing mileage of my runs is that to do it the right way means putting cycling to the side. Instead of cyclng 4 days a week and running 2, it would have to be more like running 5 and cycling 1.
I just won't do that. I made a promise to myself that in pursuit of my running goals I wouldn't compromise my cycling and I've started hitting the point where I realized that further progress will come at the expense of cycling. I ran a 10k on Saturday at a decent pace for me and my bike ride Sunday was pretty hard. I was sore from the run and I realized that if I was going to have to go significantly harder and longer on the run and thus my cycling would suffer.
Sell your soul to the open road
After re-evaluating I will not be doing a marathon this year. So what are my goals for the year then?
Hit my annual cycling mileage goal. I set myself the goal of 5,000 miles this year. My mental goal is 6,000. I'm on pace to hit about 7,000, and that's what I'd love to do. Considering that in years' past I hit almost 12,000 miles this isn't peak insanity.
Continue to ride a century each month. The 2015 Horrible Hundred hurt. I rode with fast guys and we pushed 250+ watts for the first 40 miles, which is basically riding uncomfortably close to threshold for me. The last 60 miles were pretty painful. Since December, I have ridden a century every month in order to increase my endurance on long rides and I am happy to report that as of my May century I am barely bothered by them. Hopefully this trend improves and this November when I do the HH, I'll be a fresh as a crisp fall morning even after 100 miles and 5k feet of climbing.
Mount Evans. I'm going to Colorado this summer and I plan to bike to the top of Mount Evans, elevation 14,000 feet. It's the highest paved road in the US and the elevation is absolutely insane. It's a 27 mile ride to the top and conservatively it will take me 3.5 hours to ascend and probably 45 minutes to come down. I challenge myself to do something "epic" every year and this will be my 2016 epic ride.
Use running to supplement my cycling. In Florida it rains a lot, especially in the summer. Getting mileage in on the bike week to week can be sketchy and though I'm ahead of pace I could easily get two weekends in a row where it simply rains too much to get my miles in. I won't be marathoning but I have no problem using running on those wet mornings where cycling is impossible to keep the engine warm. It won't contribute to my cycling goals but running a 10 or 15k on a morning when I can't bike is better for my cycling than being a coach potato.
So those are my goals for the rest of 2016. What are yours?
I hope everyone got outside for a few hours and had a fantastic weekend. I was extremely fortunate that the bad weather I was supposed to have all weekend ended early Saturday and allowed me to get a nice run in Saturday morning and a sweet bike ride in Sunday. I ran my personal best 10k time Saturday which is nice. It wasn't "fast" by any means, but it was the fastest I've ever done the distance. I've never raced a 10k and I'm sure my race time would be a lot better, but nonetheless it is cool to get a personal best on a rainy, overcast morning when you were not anticipating being able to leave the house at all. On Sunday I rode about 70 miles up to Grant and then out into the marshlands. Pretty standard weekend ride but the weather was gorgeous and I put up pretty good power numbers despite my legs clearly not being 100% after the hard run the day previous.
So with the worthless recap of my life out of the way, I want to discuss my favorite cycling training exercise, the 2x20. Pronounced (two by twenty).
I said before that you don't have to do structured exercises, and you definitely do not. If you are just starting the fitness journey just riding a bike for an hour at any intensity will be an adventure. This advice is oriented more for people who are "hooked" on the sport and want to make the moderate jump from casual cycling for health and fitness to someone who wants to push themselves to make major gains.
Before going deeper I want to make a statement: cycling is fun. Riding your bike on the trail with a friend or loved one on a day with great weather is one of the most simple pleasurable experiences in life. Racing bikes and, to an even greater extent, training to race bikes is agonizing. It is grueling, searingly painful, and as my missing teeth with attest, full of sacrifice. But... this is fun and pleasurable too. Certain people, and definitely not everyone, find a sublime level of consciousness when they are pushing themselves beyond their limits and they find beauty and happiness in the suffering that is competitive cycling. Again, this is not for everyone. Some people enjoy their casual riding so much that they try to take it to the next level and it doesn't go well. Some people will never understand how your legs burning from lactic acid can be anything other than misery.
You don't have to race or train like a demon to enjoy wonderful fitness and health benefits from cycling. You can get fit as fuck from just simply riding with no "goals" or "structured workouts." Why am I prefacing this so much? Mostly because I don't want to scare people off. When I talk about riding so hard you want to throw up, that is off-putting to people just starting out and if they get the idea that they HAVE to do that in order to make it worthwhile they may ask why they bought this stupid bike in the first place.
With all that said, let's discuss the best cycling workout ever, the 2x20!
The 2x20 is a high intensity interval training repetition. To be technical, the plan is to ride at Threshold Intensity for 20 minutes, Active Recovery for 5 minutes, and then ride at Threshold for another 20 minutes.
What's Threshold? Threshold is the maximum level of effort you can maintain for one hour. If you have a power meter or a heart rate monitor you can do an FTP test in order to determine what your Threshold Power or Heart Rate is. For example, let's say that you do an FTP test using heart rate and you determine that you can maintain a 170 beat per minute heart rate for one hour at your maximum effort before you run out of steam. In this exercise you would ride for 20 minutes at 170 BPM, slow pedal for 5 minutes to recover, and then ride another 20 minutes at 170 BPM.
You don't need a heart rate monitor or a power meter to do this exercise though. You can ride it by feeling. Are you gasping for air at the end of the 20 minute interval? Are you close to throwing up? Are you nearly drooling on yourself? Was it hard to see clearly towards the end? Was your subconscious mind trying to play tricks on you by creating bargains to get you to quit? If you answered yes to any of those you probably went hard enough. If you answer no to all of them you probably didn't. It should be very, very hard. The first time you do a 2x20 it may even be the most intense physical activity you've ever done in your life.
And it never gets easier... you just get faster.
What does this work out do? The most important measure of fitness in cycling is FTP. The higher your FTP the faster and harder you can ride. Raising your FTP is the best way to improve your speed as a cyclist and this is the best exercise to do just that. Again this is about speed and maximum efforts. It won't necessarily improve your long ride endurance. If you've never ridden more than an hour, going out for a 6 hour ride will be a true test for you even if you do 2x20s 3 times a week. That's why I would always suggest mixing long, steady rides with these short intensity workouts so you train both your systems.
Riding at slightly above and below threshold is the best way to raise your threshold and become a faster and fitter cyclist. That's why this exercise is the gold standard. In addition to working on your FTP, it pushes your recovery. You just pushed yourself to your absolute limit for 20 minutes and you only have 5 minutes to rest before you have to do it all over again. Your legs will have a bit of lactic acid in them and you will be thirsty. Use the 5 minute "rest" period to pedal easy (helps clear the lactic acid) and take deep drinks from your bottle.
For a long time you are not going to be recovered 100% for the next 20 minute interval. Your body will not have acclimated to recovering within 5 minutes from an effort like that. But keep it up and you will. After a while you will look down at your clock and see it's only been 3 minutes of rest and your body is already eager to go again. Improving recovery is key for a racer because racing on bikes is about big accelerations followed by steady efforts followed by big accelerations repeating over and over until the race is over. If you recover from a big 20 minute effort in 4 minutes and the other guys in the race can recover from it in 3 minutes, eventually you're going to be unable to keep the pace. This is why recovery is just as, if not more, important than flat out power. In racing every big acceleration is called "burning a match." You only have so many matches in your match book. Once you burn them all, you won't be able to accelerate the next time someone attacks. Recovery is the key to having more matches in your book than the next guy.
But you don't have to be a racer to enjoy the benefits of this. You will get noticeably faster on the bike in a very short time. If you are a raw, untrained cyclist and you begin doing this exercise twice a week you will gain about 10% speed in a month. A 10% performance gain in a month is insane. Within 6 months you'll gain another 10%. These a huge gains and you just won't make gains this big or this quickly any other way.
From a health perspective, your resting heart rate will be lowered. Your maximum heart rate will go up. Having a lower resting heart rate will lower your blood pressure, raise your oxygen carrying capacity, and facilitate better sleep. 75% of fighting heart disease is diet, this is the rest.
The final selling point of this exercise is speed. Counting a 5 minute warm up and 5 minute cool down you can knock one of these out in under an hour. From the perspective of benefit vs time, nothing beats it.
One last advice, find a route for this that is empty road with minimal stop signs or traffic lights. When you are really cooking and have a nice rhythm worked up, you do not want to stop and have to restart. Ideally you want a 10 mile stretch, so you can go out and turn around and go back home without running out of road.
Here is an activity file of mine when I did a nice and hard 2x20 so you can see what the effort looks like. If you follow the link to the garmin page you can see the heart rate data and so forth if you're curious. It's a short ride, only 17 miles and only 45 minutes of effort, but well worth being part of your routine.
I said in my previous post that it didn't matter what kind of bike you get, any bike is better than no bike and nobody should let lack of a bike prevent them from starting their fitness journey.
With that said, I have pretty strong opinions of what sort of bike a noob should be looking at. What I'll do is layout a few rules that will be a pseudo buyers' guide so you can arrive at your own decision, but give you a framework to avoid big mistakes.
Rule #1: Get a road bike
I said it didn't matter what type of bike you had. I meant it. If you have a perfectly serviceable mountain bike in your garage, use it! If you have no bike, I would strongly suggest getting a road bike. Why? You can ride farther and faster on a road bike than any other kind of bike. The farther and faster you ride, the more calories you burn and the fitter you become. There are plenty of fit people who exclusively mountain bike, but its a harder journey to get there.
The exception to the rule is based around where you live. If you live in some area that has no good paved roads with decent bike lanes, no paved cycling trail networks a road bike might not be great for you. If you live in an area with amazing single track mountain bike trails of varied terrain and difficulty, you might be better off mountain biking. If you watch mountain biking videos on youtube and simply identify more with that side of the sport, by all means get a mountain bike.
But for everyone else, 99% of first worlders live near good road cycling roads or trails (even if you don't know you do yet) and a road bike will be perfectly awesome. So get a road bike. Faster, farther, fitter.
Rule #2: Get an aluminum frame
Bicycles are made in every material from carbon fiber to aluminum to magnesium to bamboo. If you read a bicycle magazine or talk to a salesman at a less reputable bike shop, they will tell you that carbon fiber is the best material ever for bikes and that you NEED it.
You don't need it. Not for your first "real" bike. For starters, carbon fiber bikes are expensive. I am not going to recommend a bike to a newbie that costs several thousands of dollars. That isn't appropriate. Carbon fiber bikes are for dedicated racers, or cyclists who are committed to cycling enough that spending $3,000 on their hobby isn't a big deal.
People that don't know shit about cycling will regurgitate industry sales mantras that aluminum frames are harsh rides. They aren't. They will say that aluminum is easier to break than steel. It isn't, and unlike steel, it won't ever rust.
The simple fact is, aluminum rides are 99.9% as smooth as any other material, and it's lighter than a steel bike too. Oh yeah, and aluminum bikes are much cheaper than steel or carbon. That's a big plus. Lastly, if this guide is for you, you're a newbie. You will dropped your bike, bump into things, and you will almost certainly crash at some point. Aluminum will simply hold up better to the abuse that you will put it through as an inexperienced cyclist. After a year on the aluminum bike, if you decide that you "are a cyclist" as opposed to "someone who rides a bike" and you want to buy a bling bling carbon bike... go for it. But take my advice and buy an aluminum bike first.
Rule #3: Buy a compact crankset with a wide gear range
If you don't know anything about bikes that probably sounded like meaningless jargon to you. Sorry about that, but this is an important rule. In the future I will go in depth about why compact cranks and wide gear ranges on your rear cassette is superior, but you'll have to trust me for now that it is.
The short version of the story is that pedaling at a high cadence of 85-105 RPM in an easier gear is better for your knees, your cardio system, and your lactic acid management than grinding at a slow RPM in a big gear. 'Spinning' at a high RPM is just as fast as pushing a big heavy gear, and considerably easier on your body so you can ride faster and farther. Also, compact crank and wide gear range is going to make it so you can 'spin' even going uphill. Going uphill is where your bread is buttered as a cyclist. You work the hardest, burn the most calories, and you have the most fun when the road turns upward. A hill is not an obstacle to be avoided: it's a challenge to be overcome; a foe to be beaten. You will go uphill faster, easier, and more often if you are spinning in an easy gear than if you are grinding down your knee cartilage in a heavy gear.
Some people will dispute this. That's nice, but they are wrong. You know who need big gears? Racers who need to be able to ride at 30+ mph without running out of gears to shift to. Racers who need to sprint at 40+ mph. People who are going to be riding on country roads or on paved multi-use trails at 17mph do not need a 53 tooth chainring. Do not buy a bike that comes equipped with one.
Rule #4: Buy a bike with wide tire clearance and wide tires
For years the industry standard was 23 millimeter wide tires on road bikes. These can be run at high pressure and ostensibly were the fastest tires possible. Until people actually did the science and found that in many cases a wider tire (25 - 27mm) was actually faster because what it lost in aerodynamics it more than made up for in better rolling resistance.
Now, for our purposes today speed isn't relevant because you readers are not racers you are first time bike buyers. But the reason I mentioned speed is because I do not want you to think you are making a trade off or compromise when I recommend wider tires. You get speed AND comfort. It's a win win and there is no reason not to ride wider tires in 2016 and beyond.
So why are wider tires important if not for speed? Number one is comfort. Your bike tires are air cushions. The bigger the cushion, the smoother and more comfortable the ride. Simple to understand. A 25mm tire is simply a better feeling ride than a 23mm tire. And a 27mm tire is even more comfortable than 25. Beyond 27 you do start slowing down a bit, and not many road bikes are equipped to go much bigger, so 25-27mm is the sweet spot in my opinion.
Lastly, riding on gravel roads or smooth dirt is becoming quite popular. This is known as "adventure cycling" which is a dumb name for what is essentially "riding on a non-pavement surface on your road bike." This is a small consideration to you as a newbie, but why buy a bike that CAN'T do a gravel road when you can buy one that CAN and is also faster and smoother to ride? Kind of a no-brainer.
Rule #5: Fancy wheels don't matter
The stock wheels that come with whatever bike you buy are exactly all you need for now. When will you know when you need better wheels? The truth is you never do really, but I would say if and when you start winning USAC bicycle races and become ultra competitive you get a pass to buy some bling wheels. For now, don't pay extra for fancy wheels.
Rule #6: Be Prepared to Spend at least $1,000 US
I just heard a collective gasp. "Spend a grand on a bicycle to help me lose weight and get fit? I don't even know if I like biking yet!"
I know. I am well aware that this is a shocking price for people whose previous experience buying bikes comes from Wal-mart bikes that cost $150. But you should know that everything is relative. Walmart bikes are pieces of crap that will break into pieces after a week of hard riding. A $1000 road bike could last you the rest of your life with proper care and maintenance. There is definitely diminishing returns with cycling but those returns kick in around $2,500+. The gulf of quality that exists between a $150 bike and a $1000 bike is vast. Enormously vast. I barely consider a Walmart bike to be a real bike.
If you're reading this, you're a first worlder. You're the top 1% of the world's population. If you want a $1000 bicycle, you can get one. Are you interested in fitness and changing your life? Or are you committed to it? If you're committed, you'll get shit done. If you're merely interested, you'll find some excuse not to. I can't make you buy a quality bike, and frankly, if you have a perfectly servicable bike sitting in your garage already you can and should use that for as long as you can. But if you don't have a bike at all, you should buy a quality bike not a piece of crap. Quality will be remembered long after cost is forgotten. Work a few more overtime hours, collect cans. Do whatever the fuck you have to do. This is your health and your life. It's a small price to pay.
If you come to hate cycling and decide it isn't for you, you can sell the $1000 bike on craigslist for $750 as "almost new" and the experiment will have cost you $250. If you buy a $250 walmart bike and hate cycling, nobody is buying your shitty walmart bike so it costs you $250 anyway.
What bikes would I recommend that fit my rules? There are dozens. But I'll give you what I consider the best three options.
Pretty sweet looking bike if you get it in the red and white. Excellent aluminum frame, nice shimano 105 components. Only con is it comes stock with 23 mm tires. It can easily accomodate wider, and I have no doubts that your local Trek dealer would throw on some 27mm tires free of charge if you purchased one of these.
I have to say, this bike is better than the Trek. It has disc brakes, better wheels, wide tires we like and has the exact gearing I recommend. It's also a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the Trek. Those extra dollars will pay for your helmet and cycling shorts. This is simply a better bike at a cheaper price point. The gearing is spot on and perfect for our needs. I really rate the bikes Giant is making very highly and this bike is really built to suit our needs.
Full disclosure: I own a Specialized and I rate their bikes quite highly. So perhaps take it with a grain of salt when I say that this is the best of this bunch. This bike fits all the requirements we listed and is quite stylish. Some people prefer the curved tubes of that is Specialized's style, others like the straight tubes like the Giant. Both these bikes are great and you won't go wrong with either.
The Diverge, however, isn't a stripped down version of a race bike like the Defy. It's a purpose built bike for people who aren't racers, but who still want a fast, nice bike. It is built to be ridden both on and off road, and is built to take that kind of punishment. The gearing is perfect for spinning and this bike, like the Defy, is built for climbing uphill. This is an Adventure Bike. Sorry for being a Specialized fanboy but it is what it is.
Please excuse the extremely click-baity title, this isn't actually click bait because this blog has no human readers as far as I know. But I do from time to time like to post editorial blogs where I actually talk about important things instead of just posting exercise summaries. There are three pretty easy steps anyone can follow to be fitter. It takes relatively little money and only requires a bit of dedication and to be honest not really that much.
I'm a big believer that a person can turn their world around in an instant. You could be a junk food eating, sedentary person and an extra 50 pounds of fat on your body, and if you commit to change, you can turn it all around today. What seems like a big ordeal to overcome is really just overcoming the excuses you've set up to rationalize failure and soothe the ego. If you want to change today, you will.
So let's talk about these three changes. Just three? Yep, just three.
Buy a rice cooker.
I was going to call this "Eating healthy" but the truth is, that very few people know what that means, and when I say that people envision eating flavorless baked chicken and sucking down protein powder shakes. That's because most people don't know fucking shit about nutrition. I'm not a certified nutrionist, dietician or personal trainer even so you can tell me to fuck off if you think I'm wrong. But unlike those people, I'm not here to sell you protein powder, supplements, or a gym membership. I only offer helpful information.
So yeah, but a rice cooker. Buy the biggest bag of Basmati rice you can, bigger = cheaper. And you will need a lot because this is your new staple food. Then buy bags of frozen vegetables. As many different kinds as you can until you find the ones that you like best. Keep it varied. Find a calorie free seasoning to add that you like, garlic powder, salt, pepper, onion powder are pretty good. If you are a hot little potato like me, you can use sriracha or some other kind of hot sauce. Low sodium soy sauce or teryake sauce also great choices. Find all different kinds, keep it varied. Now here is the fun part: cook the rice. Microwave the veggies. Add the flavor. Mix it up. Voila this is your dinner from now, every night. Obtain variety by changing veggies, changing flavors. Some nights, after a lot of work out, use lentils or beans instead of veggies. There are so many combinations you can make that being bored is pretty much impossible.
Rice cookers make a ton of rice. Congrats, you have lunch solved now too. Eat beans + rice for lunch, and veggies + rice for dinner. Eat lentils + bread for lunch and rice + veggies for dinner. Whatever. If you can eat it for lunch you can eat it for dinner and vice versa. Oh you think this is bad diet advice? You think it's too many carbs? Not enough protein? Zero fat?! Sorry, nobody in the history of the world ever got fat from eating rice, beans and veggies. Nobody ever got fat from lentils. This isn't a bodybuilding blog and this isn't advice on how to gain weight to build big muscles. This is about weightloss and fitness, not gym aesthetics and I assume anyone who cares to read it is looking to lose weight and not looking to get huge muscles. Eat rice and veggies and beans and lentils as the majority of your calories and you WILL lose weight. No doubt about it. But how much should I eat? Answer: as much as you want. Again: no one ever got fat from eating rice and veggies. If you want another serving of veggies go for it. If you want more rice, go for it just make sure you balance it with more veggies. There is no reason to bother to count calories, you will not get fat from eating vegetables with sriracha.
Oh I missed breakfast? That's easy too. Eat as much fruit as you want for breakfast. No one ever got fat from eating fruit. Eat a few bananas, some blue berries, strawberries, melons, apples, etc. Make a smoothie. Eat them fresh and raw. It doesn't particularly matter so long as they aren't dried fruit with extra sugar added. How many calories should you aim for? As many as you want. You cannot fit as many blueberries into your stomach as it would take to gain weight.
Buy a bicycle.
Road bike, mountain bike, hybrid, "adventure bike," or single speed fat bike. It really doesn't matter so long as you can ride it comfortably. A bicycle is the greatest weightloss tool ever invented. Cycling blows running out of the water. Not even close. A fit person could bike for 3 hours a day, every day without every injuring themselves, without being sore. Sure, people can get injured from cycling related sports injuries. But compared to running? Not even close. All dedicated runners will get injured running, it is 100% inevitable. A casual cyclist can bike without ever being hurt by it no problem.
Cycling is just lower impact than running or even walking, and especially for overweight folks, it is infinitely easier to do. It doesn't matter if you're obese or already super fit, so long as you have a bike that fits you properly you can and should ride. An hour per day is ideal, but even 30 minutes is enough. You don't have to race. You don't have to be fast. You don't have to look like you fit in with racers. You don't have to wear lycra padded cycling shorts (though I highly recommend it, even under running shorts if you're bashful) or fancy shoes. So long as you have a bike and a helmet and a trail or reasonable safe road with a bike lane you can ride. Do you need to follow a structured work out? Nope. Ride up the road 30 minutes as hard as you can maintain without blowing yourself out. Stop. Drink water, lot's. Turn around, ride back as hard as you can maintain without blowing yourself out. Get home, drink more water, start cooking your rice while you shower. It's easy. In fact, you don't have to ride hard every ride, or even most rides. This couldn't be simpler. Riding a bike is one of the most pleasurable human activities, I don't need to convince you how to have fun.
Ride every day. Make time. No excuses. Just ride.
Defeat your opposition.
This part is key. When you make a positive change in your life, people will attempt to tear you down. People will criticize your diet. People will tell you cycling is dumb. People will make fun of you for not eating dessert at dinner like everyone else. Even your closest friends and family will often be the worst saboteurs. People with unhealthy lifestyles will be threatened by your changes and one of the mental barriers they have built up for themselves is to take joy in watching you fail: If you fail, they will be able to tell themselves that they were right not to try, soothing the ego. If you succeed, they will try to make you fail.
It's hard as fuck to tell your friends about your change without sounding like a religious convert. Don't preach. Just be an example. When they notice the change in you, if they are interested in changing themselves, the best of them will come to you for advice. The hardest part is dealing with the people who try to sabotage you. Sometimes you can ignore and rise above by staying focused. Other times you have to put your relationship with that person on hold until you come out safely the other side. It can be painful and in truth this is probably the hardest step of all to deal with. Having a family member you love who isn't positive and responds to your weight loss and fitness gains with derision, insults and negativity is brutally painful. How you deal with it is up to you, but my advice is to politely tell the person that this isn't a diet that will change in two weeks after you drop 5 pounds. This is your life, for the rest of your life and either they can accept it or they cannot. Once they sense you're serious, most people will accept it and your willpower will dominate their lack thereof.
I said at the start that we build up excuses in our mind to excuse and accept failure. Part of that is seeking validation (positive or negative) from our family and friends. This is one of the mental barriers you will have to tear down. You are the most important person in your life, and you have to be your own MVP.
On a positive note, there are others like you out there. They are on the bike trail. They are at the produce market. They are at the vegan restaurant. They are at your job. They are some of the friends you already have. Seek out others who are on the same path you are. Let your fitness group be your social group. Flourish.