Cycling: “pedal harder”.

I had a long ride date with my team captain for the Malibu Triathlon today. Brian is a monster triathlete, having made it to the World Ironman Championship in Florida for the 70.3 distance in his first year of triathlon. He’s now getting his coaching certification and he’s simply a gifted athlete. When he offered to go on a long ride with me I jumped at the chance, but I have to admit that I was terrified.My terror was primarily because I didn’t want to look like a chump. Here I am blogging about my road to triathlon and fitness, documenting my process and sharing what I’m learning with anyone who cares to read. But here’s a guy who eats triathlon at every meal and has the ability to be a podium finisher in his age grouping. He’s beaten brain cancer, eaten up competition at the World Championships, and maybe most enviable, he has a really nice bike. He’s the real deal, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

To make things more interesting, because of scheduling we started our ride at 1:30 in the afternoon starting in Santa Monica heading north on PCH on some of the worst weekend driving traffic you can imagine. We met up at Ocean and San Vicente where I found easy parking and a clean bathroom. Brian came in shortly after on his sweet Cervelo P3 carbon. He had already had two flat tubes in the 8 blocks between his house and our rendezvous point. He had me take lead so he could watch my shifting and speed and we took off north on Ocean down towards Channel Road and onto PCH. We agreed that our warmup would be up to the top of Pepperdine. Now, mind you, this is a 10 mile distance on some medium sized rollers. No major climbs, but a significant enough incline at times that in the past I’ve shifted into the lowest gear and huffed my way up them. Mindful of having an experienced set of eyes on me and not wanting to sully his ride by going slow I pushed myself a little harder than usual. Every time I looked behind me, Brian was right on my wheel, barely breaking a sweat. Friendly, and clearly respirating deeply enough to whistle. After some miles he came up on my side and in an extraordinarily kind way offered some advice. He didn’t want to sound critical, and it was all I could do not to fall over in gratitude. I’ve been desperate for professional advice and nothing compares with having someone watch you work to evaluate performance.

We agreed to meet at the top of Pepperdine hill, and since he was having some problems with his rear cassette he was going to go ahead and we’d rendezvous there. Now, I’m sure he didn’t just press a button and launch to mach 5, but that’s how it felt. We nodded to meet up ahead, he mounted his bike and I clipped in and – BAMF – dude was gone. I knew my speed of 16-18 mph was slow (though good for me), but that dude made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. I pushed my pace up and finally reached him at the top of the big hill (after granny gearing my way up at a whopping 7 mph). He said that it seemed like I was trying to maintain a rapid cadence instead of pushing a bigger gear, which I was. A lot of the material I’ve read stresses high cadence and small gearing to achieve speed. But Brian pointed at me and indicated that I wasn’t a bird, I have muscles and can put them to good use by pushing a bigger gear at lower RPM to get better wattage output. Additionally, even in the drops, my body was acting like a parachute and slowing me down. I should be in the aero bars as much as possible. In that we were fighting a strong headwind, this could add even 2 mph to my speed. He said he wanted me in the biggest front gear, and only the top 3 gears of my rear cassette – my hardest gears – for the next few miles. Gulp. I took the lead again, shifted into the gears and took my tuck. Wouldn’t you know it – I got faster. Overall speed moved up to 18-20 mph. I still sucked on the hills, and I can’t push that gearing for 56 miles yet, but Brian’s got some drills and repeats to throw my way to help me out. After a time I really wanted him to take the lead. I didn’t want him to sacrifice a long ride to my low speed, and since we were riding single file anyway (PCH doesn’t have a very good shoulder and riding side by side is suicide) I wanted him to go ahead and I would catch up. Seeing him ahead would be a good motivator. This assumed I would actually see him for any length of time. He agreed to take lead and we’d meet up again at Trancas Canyon. (Keep in mind that Trancas Canyon is far enough north as to be my internal distance point where I charge clients an additional hour for drive-time.) Before he took off I offered him one of my yam baggies, which he ate and really enjoyed. After, he took off and I followed. Once again I should point out that any conception I have of being a competent cyclist is put into perspective when compared to someone who was giving motorized vehicles a run for their rubber. Dude is FAST. And he was being nice and keeping it slow for my sake.

We met up again at Trancas after a series of long hills that made my quads twitch. He gladly took another yam baggie and we talked about how eating real food is totally different than gels, Gu, or any of that chemical garbage that causes constipation, gag reflex after the second shot, and other icky side effects. I might get tired of the taste of the yams, but it’s Real Food and easier to choke down than a wad of chemicals seemingly formulated to precisely resemble Bill Duke’s semen. (There’s nothing like a squeezing a hot load of fake dark chocolate into your mouth in ninety degree heat after three hours of hard physical activity.) Even freezing the yams and thawing them the day before a ride doesn’t diminish their quality or effectiveness, so making a few batches and having them prepped has been a good plan. I was glad I could offer something to Brian besides motivation never to let himself backslide in speed and endurance.

At the Trancas turnaround he said, “I like to just take it easy back.” Cool, I thought, I like taking it easy. Mind you, I’m certain his “taking it easy” is my “heart in my throat”. But he is a man of his word and he didn’t zoom past me until our first big hill when he showed me how men climb hills, whereas I was doing my impression of Mowgli’s dance in The Jungle Book.  Traffic heading south on PCH was like a constant DMV exam with drivers cutting across lanes to grab parking spots, car doors flying open, and surfers walking their boards straight into oncoming traffic. These hazards are the only reason I was able to catch up with Brian, who was not enjoying the experience either. As we ascended back into Santa Monica proper he said to me that he’d like to ride with me again, do PCH north, but never at 1pm on a Sunday. I had to agree. That was a pile of suck. Even though it was one of the best rides of my life.

43 miles in 2hrs 33min of riding time. All praise the powers of experienced eyeballs and positive encouragement. Thanks, Brian. That kicked ass. Mostly mine.

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2 responses to “Cycling: “pedal harder”.

  1. Can you post an image showing the difference between the drops and aero positions?

  2. can you expand on these yam baggies please :) i too am a freak about putting any chemicals/processed foods from the evil “food manufacturers”. right now i will only take in the organic shot blocks from clif, Ultima and Accelerade….i would love a better alternative!

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