In case you didn’t know

As a TNT mentor, I’m not technically supposed to give much in the way of advice. I can, of course, answer questions when directly asked, but anything that might fall under the umbrella of “coaching” should be deferred to those best suited (and insured) to cover it… namely the coaches. Yet in chatting with participants, particularly those new to cycling, I can’t help but think of all those little tips, tricks and just general knowledge that I now take for granted (so coaches probably definitely do!). I point things out where I think its appropriate… but I couldn’t help (when distracting myself on the last couple weeks’ rides) making a mental list of  stuff I wish someone had told me early in my riding career. While printing a flier to hand out at our next training session might be a bit presumptuous (and crazy), I figure I can’t get in too much trouble (or ruin too many lives) posting it on here!

A Few Things I Wanted to Mention, Just in Case You Didn’t Know:

  • Gearing up
    • Invest in comfortable gear. Touch the fabrics, try things on and pick stuff that feels good to you and on you. If you’re lucky, it might come cheap… but even $150 investment once is going to pay you back tenfold when you can ride 8 hours without thinking about chafing.
    • For the love of gawd, wear bike shorts. Yeah, they look ridiculous. But you know that… umm… uncomfortable feeling “down there” that you’ve been hoping will go away for the last two weeks? Not gonna happen in cotton workout shorts. I promise. Suck it up and join the “Spandex Adult Diaper Club.” You’ll be in good company!
    • When you get your fancy new bike shorts? Leave the undies at home. Yeah, I’m saying it (in case you missed the shopping clinic). Cycle shorts are meant to work without them, and trust me – you’ll appreciate the friction  minimization.
    • Layer. Layer layer layer. Figure out what works for you, but in this silly state, it will absolutely be cold in the mornings and (at least sometimes) scalding by noon. You’ll be riding all day, in and out of shade, at varying degrees of workout intensity. There is no good reason to make yourself suffer from cold or hot (on top of everything else!).
    • Sunscreen up before you leave the house. Even on cloudy days. Even if you don’t burn. Ever. You arms almost never move while biking, and your thighs are exposed a lot. Four to eight hours, even without searing sunshine and you WILL fry something. Believe me, two weeks of riding with a recovering burn is not the way to go. I actually spray on Neutrogena sunscreen before I even get dressed (less chance of missing any spots). Works wonders!
  • Filling the tank
    • Eat breakfast. I know you never do. Neither do I. Force yourself to get in the habit anyway. Even just a little oatmeal/cereal/clif bar and a banana. You’ll need that stored fuel on long rides.
    • Oh yeah… eat bananas. Or anything else with a good amount of potassium. Balanced meals are one of the keys to avoiding muscle strain, and most of us are terrible at it. Find something you can eat with a good amount of potassium and avoid the terrible muscle spasms/pulled calves that I’ve ended up with on at least two separate hill repeats.
    • If you’re even remotely picky about food, start testing your ride snacks early. Yes, even if you never eat while you exercise. You’re gonna have to get used to it, or you absolutely will end up on the side of the road bonked. My tummy is super sensitive, so I only eat a few things (although I love to test new ones constantly!). Find something that works early, then stock up. 
    • Drink more than you think you need to. Your body is probably always dehydrated anyway. We’ll be in the sun. Lots. Water (and electrolyte drinks) are your friend. 
  • On the road
    • You will fall at least once. Hopefully at slow speed and in front of minimal people… but it’s going to happen (and it’ll hurt less than you think – unless you count wounds to pride). There’s no use being scared about it all the time — the coaches will teach you everything they can to keep you safe. And when it does happen? Use your bruises as sympathy ploys for donations.
    • Clipless pedals are not as hard as you think they’re gonna be, and they really do make a ton of difference in both your power and safety. If you’re thinking of switching, go to a good shop and ask if you can try some out early in the season. Nothing sucks more than being the person learning a new pedal system two weeks before the big ride!
    • Similarly, get familiar on the gears with your bike early. Learn to shift up and down when appropriate. Ask coaches for help. As a good friend of mine can attest: climbing every hill in your biggest ring is not the way to go through an entire season.
    • Downshift as you roll up to a stoplight (I still vaguely suck at this). Having to push off from a standstill in your highest gear will blow your knees faster than anything. Two clicks down makes a world of difference!
    • Go to the hills training. I’ve done a season going to every optional training, and one going to almost none. If you can do only one optional thing, I promise you hills training is the one to pick. You’ll hate it at first. Everyone does. But you’ll get stronger and enjoy your rides a lot more. 
    • Pacelining is not as scary as it looks or sounds. It will take awhile to get used to riding in a line (trust is earned, right?)… but when you’re only having to take the full force of the wind 10-30% of the time, you’ll appreciate it. 
    • You’ll almost always feel good when you start the ride. Learn to reign in your racehorse tendencies and don’t blow it all off just out of the gate. You’re gonna need that energy four hours from now – do yourself a favor and keep a steady pace!

I’m sure I’ll think of more (probably as soon as I push the “publish” button), but this list probably covers off the basics. Cycling is really not that scary, or that hard. Be smart, ask questions often, use a bit of common sense, and (I swear!) you’ll have fun.


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What do we have here?

An often sarcastic, occasionally humorous journal of my training adventures in preparation for the Livestrong century ride. I took up cycling back in '07 in hopes of meeting new people, and, with the help of Team in Training, making my small positive difference in the world -- and haven't stopped spinning since. Follow along as my Trek road bike and I try and hash out our differences, hopefully with me upright and in the saddle.

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