I’ve always considered myself a recreational cyclist and bike commuter, but that changed this year. Various forces have conspired to turn me into an endurance cyclist, and I can say that after 6 months of training, I am like a new person.
Before this year, the most I had ever ridden my bike in a day was maybe 35 miles. Now, I can just zip out and do a 50 mile loop around Lake Washington, no big deal.
Here are the two things that have led me to this point in just six months:
Cascade Training Series: This group formed years ago to help prepare “regular” people to ride long distance rides put on by the Cascade Bicycle Club such as STP and RSVP. Since my friends and I decided to take the plunge and ride the STP this year, signing up for CTS in February was a no-brainer. It was the best $130 one could ever hope to spend on a training series. Starting in April, we rode routes in King and Snohomish county each weekend, designed to OVER-prepare us for the rather flat STP route. It all started off innocently enough, with a ride from Sand Point Way south to Seward Park and back. It escalated gradually until we hit my “personal wall” of 50 miles around Lake Washington. I was nervous and excited to break personal records left and right by doing these rides and seeing what my body could do. Which leads me to…
Eating: I thought I would get a routine physical in February to do some bloodwork and make sure my body was in decent shape. I had been feeling really strong and healthy, (except for being hungry all the time) so imagine my shock when I found out my blood sugar levels had edged into pre-diabetic territory! How could this be? I’m like a rail, I exercise, I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables…My doctor said “I’m sending you to a nutritionist.” Before seeing this nutritionist, I was quite worried. I have several relatives who developed diabetes, but they were ELDERLY. If I was heading there now, I must really have a problem, right? All it took was one visit with the nutritionist to calm my nerves. The problem was that I wasn’t eating enough protein for my activity levels. That, and I was, in fact, eating too much fruit. My entire life, I unwaveringly believed that fruit could do no wrong. Now I know that when I eat fruit, I should not be eating it in isolation. And no desserts right before bed, because they would send me on a cycle of waking up un-hungry, and having to eat too much fruit for breakfast. It’s like I just got a new manual for my body. This is when I started eating high-protein meals. Right away I could tell what satiety felt like. Within just 6 weeks, my A1C blood test was back into normal range. No more being hungry every minute of the hour. As the bike rides got more hilly, I was able to not only keep up with the pace group, but ride in front.
So, I discovered I am a stronger cyclist that I expected to be. Especially on hills. This became apparent when I decided to weigh my bike and found that it’s just over 30 lbs. So, I’m riding with all these people on light aluminum bikes, and I’m passing them on the hills. Which brings me to my next thought:
How x is x enough? It’s impossible to train for long distance riding and not get swept up in the idea of going faster, riding farther, and feeling stronger. Of course if I got a lighter bike, (or got special shoes/pedals) I could ride with the same pace group as before, but…would it seem too easy and would I quickly decide to ride with faster people? I think my body would want to exert the same amount of energy in any case, because it feels right, so there is no question that I would have to ride with faster people.
Everyone is also saying I should start using clipless pedals. I rode all the training rides and the STP wearing Crocs. I’m still very resistant to the special pedals, but will probably try them soon, since it’s impossible to avoid the influence of road racing culture. I’m sure I’ll report back later about that process.