This has been said before, nutrition is key to your performance, particularly for after your workout or challenge. It is important to eat enough at the right time. If you exercise regularly you should be eating at regular intervals throughout the day. After you have exercised it is important to replenish your muscles with nutrients, carbohydrates and protein. After a big spin you should eat within 40-60 minutes after finishing to gain maximum benefit from the food you eat.
After a tough event it is important to take a break from your regular intense training. That could mean taking a day off or reducing the intensity of your training days. By giving your body a rest you are reducing your risk of overtraining and fatigue. Overtraining and fatigue can occur when the body and or mind are over worked and become burnt out. It is definitely worth listening to your body and if it’s very tired go easier in the gym, do a shorter spin or just take it easy. Sleep will also help your body recover and reconstruct itself. You are better off taking a day off rather than burning yourself out and not being train for a few weeks.
You are probably sore from the hilly Wicklow 100 and 200 challenges and that’s normal. It was a tough day and a huge achievement to have completed it. During exercise your muscle fibres tear and by giving them enough food, rest and maintenance work (mobility and flexibility) you allow them to replenish and grow.
Stretching is a great way to aid recovery. It is important to stretch out the key area related to cycling.
Because of the linear motion and hunched position on the bike it is very important to stretch and foam roll your back and lower limbs. There are examples of foam rolling see previous blogs.
These are the key lower limb areas to keep stretched and mobile: hamstrings, quads, shins, calves and ankles. Your lower back is also a key area to keep healthy.
Foam rolling releases knots in the muscles and breaks down the lactic acid as well. It can be sore but it is very beneficial to muscular health.
Stretching increases flexibility and mobility in the muscles. Having strong and mobile muscles will significantly improve overall performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
Recovery and tapering your training sessions will not only allow your body to rest and rejuvenate but you’ll also be able to enjoy your training more. It will give your mind and body an opportunity to develop and progress towards your goals.
Water is a vital component to cell health in the body. Our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water and we need to be hydrated during the day. This is particularly important when doing physical activity. As mentioned above, cycling burns a lot of calories which means you will be sweating and losing using the food and hydration stocks in your body at that time. The more you sweat the more water you need to consume in order to avoid dehydration. Similarly to ‘carbo-loading’ it is good practice to keep yourself hydrated throughout the week leading up to the event.
Usually more water means more trips to the toilet, which is good for detoxifying your body until you are excreting nutrients. If you find you are constantly needing to go to the toilet because of the amount of water you are consuming, you may not be absorbing as many nutrients as you should be. In this case you can make a homemade electrolyte drink for the bike or to sip on throughout the day:
This is a perfect drink to have on the bike, avoiding lots of pit stops and feeling fresh on the spin. Or if you have a packet of the effervescent electrolyte tablets or Berocca they do the same job. Eating water dense vegetables such as cucumber, courgette, radishes and celery are a brilliant way of hydrating your body. You can even juice those vegetables into a healthy drink. The bottom line it to keep track of how much you’re drinking on the bike and know what works for you!
Carbohydrates are an excellent source of energy to the body and they are vital to pre-event preparations. ‘Carbo-loading’ became a very popular term in the 90s and has some merit to it, but basically it involves the storage of glycogen (broken down starchy carbohydrates) in the liver and muscles. It is important to be fully stocked up on glycogen a few days leading up to a challenge like the Wicklow 200. It allows for more energy to be used throughout the day and will significantly impact on your overall performance. Foods such as brown rice and pasta, quinoa and potatoes are great to have for dinner, lunch within the few days leading up to the event.
It is equally important to constantly eat throughout the day whilst on the bike. Every rider at one point or another has experienced ‘bonking’, which is the feeling of hitting a wall, the pedals slow right down, everything hurts and you’re starving. It is a horrible feeling, but one that can easily be stopped if you plan your food correctly for the bike. Cycling burns a huge amount of calories, this is a great form of losing weight although during an event you need be replenishing those stocks. Bear in mind how long it might take you to complete the event and plan your food accordingly. Every rider will have their go-to snacks and it is always good to know what works for you. Some cyclists prefer gels or bar, where as other prefer more natural products such as bananas, raisins or jellies. Eating enough leading up to and during the challenge is taking care of your muscles and will improve your enjoyment of the day.
If you’re an avid cyclist you are pretty much guaranteed that you will at some point face a setback. It is important to understand that these setbacks can be a great way for us to learn something and move on to better performances, here’s some great advice from Sports Psychologist, Alan Heary.
So now we know what can reduce confidence we can look at how we can boost it.
We can have the memory of a bad experience such as a crash very clear in our mind and can run it like a movie over and over.
To reduce the feelings that we associate with this movie try this:
Imagine you are in a cinema and play the movie of the incident. Now stop the movie. Imagine shrinking it down in size so that it is the size of a small TV. Change it from color to black and white and push it off into the distance. Now imagine that you are the director of this new movie that is playing on the big screen. Create an image of how you want to ride.
Practice the basic skills – After each of your rides spend 15 minutes practicing a particular skill you feel you need to improve, for example cornering or balance.
Stop the Self-criticism – Use positive self-talk to create a new inner voice that tells you that you ARE strong, fast, and you CAN do it. Practice this a lot!
Stop asking stupid questions – The brain is very clever. When we ask it a question it will go in search of an answer. If you ask a question like why am I not fast or why can’t I climb, it will give you answers like you don’t have the genetics, your too old, fat or you have the wrong bike!
Instead, ask better questions like “how can I get faster or climb quicker?” The answers to these questions are action bound answers and things you can control – do some speed work, do interval sessions. All of these answers will motivate you to work harder and get better results and so help build confidence.
Pre-event nerves can be a vital part of any preparation. Adrenaline and endorphins begin to kick in and it can be a great way to feel ready for your event. However if these pre-event nerves aren’t kept in check they can creep up to become more of a hindrance than a help.
Imagine an arousal scale between 0 to 10 where 0 is sleep and 10 is blind panic. As you prepare for your event your arousal level rises. At about 6 on the scale you find yourself focused, motivated and physically ready. This could be considered the zone state. Any less than 6 and you don’t put in the effort required to perform at your best while anything above 6 and you begin to lose focus and your mind is jumping all over the place as you begin to feel less in control and more anxious.
So the question becomes, how can I get to 6 and stay there?
Next time, Alan will share his advice on how to recover from a cycling setback.
Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just coming to the bike, good technique makes bike events so much safer and less stressful.
In this Cycling Fundamentals post, we focus on getting through the bends….
Heading into the cycling season after the winter training, it can sometimes be a shock to the system when you find yourself in a big group of riders.
Different colours, sounds, unfamiliar roads. It can all be a bit of an assault to the senses and it’s at times like this that proper technique will really pay dividends.
Being comfortable riding your bike through the corners will help make you relax, expend less energy and enjoy the experience. You’ll also be better placed to make adjustments to take account of other riders’ movements in the group.
In any sport or pastime from golf to guitar playing, work on the fundamentals will pay off in the long run and cycling is no exception.
Look for and avoid gravel or lose chippings that could cause you to slip. After you know what the riding conditions are in a particular corner, you can slowly increase your speed each time.
If it’s a fast and challenging corner, make sure your weight is distributed properly and you have full control of the bike by putting your hands on the handlebar drops so you can apply the right amount of force on the brake lever.
Do all your braking before the turn. Three-time world motor racing champion Jackie Stewart says that the key to good cornering is in the braking and the principal applies to bike riding, too.
As you brake most of the weight is focused on the front of the bike so it makes sense you’ll apply more force on the front brake lever but the back brake is key, too, so don’t neglect it.
Release the brakes and start the turn by leaning the bike.
As you lean into the corner lift the inside foot so that it doesn’t strike the ground on the turn
Look in the direction you want to go. Your bike will follow where your eyes are looking so look at the exit of the corner
As you come out of the turn, gradually straighten the bike until it’s upright, then start to pedal again.
Painted lines, manhole covers and oily pavement become slippery in wet conditions. Wet roads exaggerate everything you do: Braking while the bike is leaning will cause you to skid more easily, and sudden turning can make your wheels slip. So slow down.
The key is that all movements should be smooth and natural. And make sure you are within your personal ‘envelope’. Don’t push too hard, too soon.
The right technique will become second nature in time but don’t rush it.
What we think has a direct effect on our physical sensations. In fact research has shown that the nervous system cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience and reality.
Think about it this way. Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and you hear something outside. You think it might be someone breaking into your car or worse, your house. Your body starts to react – your heart rate increases, muscles become tense and you reach for the baseball bat. You are in the fight or flight mode. It makes no difference that it might just be a cat on a bin, if in your mind you think about it as the worst possible outcome your body reacts as if it’s really happening.
Now let’s take it that into a scenario where you have a cyclist who is travelling to a race or sportive and they keep thinking about the route and are concerned about all the climbs and how they might get dropped from the group or crash. As a result they forget to focus on what is important like hydration or food intake and this has a direct impact on their physical performance.
You will not perform to your best if you turn up to a race in great physical condition but your motivation is low and you can’t put in the effort required to do well or you lack focus and miss a break away or there is a sprint finish and you don’t have the confidence to go for it. You need to be physically ready for competition but it’s not enough without that commitment, confidence, control and concentration you need to succeed.
Goal setting is hugely important for performance. Most people just think about their goals at the start of the year or write them down and then put them to one side never to look at them again but that’s not good planning and a goal without a plan is just an idea!
Training sessions are mini steps towards your ultimate goals and in order to get the most out of your time you need to have a sense of purpose.
The first step is to ask yourself before you go out – what do I want to achieve today? Are you going to work on climbing, speed or is it a recovery spin. Before you go out write a short list of performance goals you want to achieve. These can include:
After your ride you can tick off the goals you achieved and decide what your next session’s goals are going to be. This keeps you on target for your longer-term goals.
Why cycle in a group? The Wicklow 200 is a solo event, after all, albeit one ridden in the company of 3000 friends.
Many riders are attracted to cycling and to challenge events because they like the solitude of the countryside and the peace that a long spin immersed in their thoughts offers as they focus on the physical effort surrounded by the beauty of nature.
It’s a heady mix and it’s no wonder that many shun the collective noise of group cycling to make the most of their cycling time alone.
However, the benefits of cycling in a group are numerous and unless you’re only riding your bike once a week, in which case the Wicklow 200 will be a daunting prospect, you really can enjoy the best of both worlds – solo training during the week and group rides at the weekend is the usual mix.
Group bike rides offer considerable benefits – especially as part of a spin with an established cycling club – and outlined here are the positive aspects of getting social on your spins.
Riding as part of a group of similar ability is, quite simply, easier. Sitting in the shelter of your fellow riders offers an easier passage and allows you to go further and faster.
Whether it’s the ‘I’ll show ‘em’ attitude to the challenges faced or quite simply the distraction from the physical effort that riding in a group offers, most riders find they are willing to push themselves harder in training – both during the group spin, and in the subsequent midweek solo spins – buoyed by the positive encouragement of their peers.
While there is endless information available online to aid your understanding of physical training, nutrition, technical skills, bike maintenance and myriad other topics there really is nothing like the hands on one to one advice from your club mates.
Many will have faced the same challenges and encountered the same pitfalls that present themselves to you and, while you may think that you have a pretty good handle on bike riding by the time you join a club, you’ll be amazed at all the little methods, techniques and etiquette for every situation you’ll face.
As Bismark sagely put it: It’s always better to learn from someone else’s mistakes.
Steering the bike up hill, down dale and around every corner is one thing on your own, quite another in the company of a large group. And that’s something you’ll face on the big day in June.
Learning how to do this safely and confidently is best done in a group where the experienced riders can offer practical ‘on the bike’ demonstration and training. Classrooms and textbooks are great but there’s nothing like learning by observation and practice.
If you’re new to cycling, there’s a lot to learn about maintaining your bike and, make no mistake, you’re going to have to learn the basics.
Out on group rides you might not have access to a qualified bike mechanic in the group but you will have a ready supply of riders who know how to swap a tube with the minimum of fuss and who can perform rudimentary tasks to get you back on the road after a mechanical mishap.
You’ll pick up the information pretty quickly. Staring at a hobbled machine while your clubmates look on impatiently is a rite of passage for every club rider. Someone usually steps in to help and skills are acquired quicker than a youtube demo. Skills acquired in that environment are never forgotten.
Last but far from least is the tremendous sense of well being that is gleaned from belonging to a club.
There’s nothing better than soaking up the endorphins from a tough spin in the company of like-minded souls. Shared experience is a great addition to coffee stops and the knowledge that you are in a group that will have your best interests at heart is a great comfort when you’re 100km from home with 100km still to do.
Road test a couple of groups to find the one that suits you best but, rest assured, with over 450 cycling clubs dotted around the country, most of which have more than one group ride per weekend, there’s a group for you.