What went wrong?

As I’ve slowly started recovering from Saturday’s Gran Fondo Hincapie, I’ve had some time to consider what went wrong with the ride. If I could do things differently, what would I have done to improve my performance in the event. The more I’ve thought about it, the better I feel about how things went with what I had to work with.

Here are the things I was unhappy with…

  1. The work I did to chase up to the lead group
  2. The way I was already feeling weak by the time I reached Skyuka
  3. The onset of cramping on Howard Gap
  4. The onset of major lower back pain on Howard Gap
  5. The fact that I had to push my bike up part of Howard Gap
  6. The lack of speed on the rolling sections
  7. The near bonking as I approached the Green River Cove rest area
  8. The bad cramping nearing the finish

All of these are really related. I trace the root issues to the following mistakes I made. These are not surprises to me. They are things I’ve messed up on before.

  1. Improper nutrition and hydration (before and after)
  2. Lack of seat time leading up to the event
  3. Lack of core strength

Recovery: Feeling like death warmed over

I looked back at my TrainingPeaks and see that in August, I rode a total of 8 hours. In September, my time on the bike went up to 10 hours. Finally, so far in October, I rode for 27 hours — but 13 of those hours made up two rides (one of which was the Gran Fondo).

The last real ride I had before the Gran Fondo was the Ride for Mike which took place the Saturday before. On that ride I covered 100 miles on easy rolling terrain. When I got off the bike that day, I hung up the bicycle until the following Friday when I commuted over to Hincapie Sportswear to pick up my packet. My life had simply been too busy to get on the bike any other time.

Then Friday night I was standing most of the evening being a host at the Bruins soccer games. While I enjoyed the two come-from-behind victories, I knew I was going to regret standing on the hard asphalt all those hours. My legs and back were already sore and I hadn’t pedaled a turn.

Not only that, but I realized too late that I had not been properly hydrating in the days leading up to the event. I didn’t really start taking on fluids until that Friday night and didn’t get enough even then. I also didn’t eat very much due to setting up the hospitality area for the games and staying up late to tear down.

Then that morning, I rolled off with just my water bottles. I didn’t have any gel or nutrition in my pockets. I had figured I would get them at the first stop. However, I didn’t take into account how much energy I was going to burn on the way out!

Even after stopping that first rest area to take on some Bonk Breakers and electrolytes, I didn’t manage my caloric intake very well. I was out of water on Howard Gap and rode sucking drops out of my bottle until the Green River Cove stop. Without the water, I hesitated to take on any of the concentrated gels and stuff. That would have messed up my stomach royal.

What should I have done?

  1. Ride more. The Time-Crunched Cyclist Plan doesn’t help so much for these long rides. The TrainRight guys even gave us a 9-week training plan with 12 hours a week. Yeah, that sounds simple enough, but someone tell my calendar that!
  2. Start preparing nutritionally sooner. While I can’t control my calendar that much, I can control what, when and how I eat and drink. Of all the things I did wrong, this is the one that makes me palm my forehead. It would have made a difference.
  3. Hey, George, how about a little love and letting me start up closer to the front next time? I don’t know any other way to avoid the chase we had to do in the beginning other than to start up front. It was clear that the pace wasn’t as hard up there for the first 20 miles as it was for us guys who had to work up from the back.

The fourth thing here I want to expand on a bit. That is my lack of core strength. I know this had a big role to play in me wearing down so soon. Climbing, as much as you try to make it so, is not all about your legs. Your arms and shoulders bear a bit of strain just from tensing as you try to pump your legs. However, it is in the trunk of your body where it is all held together.

The weaker you are in this central section, the more your body has to work. Energy that should be going to your legs is getting used up in your upper body. Also, you feel more and more pain from the tenseness in your shoulders and the weakness in your lower back. It was that lower back pain that took me off the bike on Howard Gap.

That is going to be a key thing for me this off season. You can’t just wait until a week before an event to improve your core strength. I’ve got to start that now for the spring. A bit of mountain biking won’t hurt either. Moving those knobby tires about in the woods is a good workout for the upper body as well.

Still, looking back, I realize that I hopped on the bike with very little training with poor nutritional preparation and still knocked out a tough ride over nearly 80 miles with 8000 feet of climbing in under 5 hours and 30 minutes. That’s not so bad. Now, if I just hadn’t had to walk up part of Howard Gap…