Long Distance Training and Recovery Tips

I would never call myself a pro cyclists - I'm not even an athlete. I don't race, I'm no mechanic, and I certainly don't beat myself up about Garmin data. However, as a passionate cyclist I have a lot of experience on the road that has given me plenty of new things to learn and share. Like many a cyclist, I love to set goals to become faster, stronger, and enduring when it comes to cycling. As a growing roadie, I'm an absolute pro at finding the adventure in cycling when it comes to riding longer distances. Long distance rides are accessible to riders of all levels, even most recreational cyclists like myself can conquer a days 80 mile ride with the right planning and preparation. However, to do so, setting the right training goals is important to avoid burnout on the bike.

While I've been using the winter months to keep my fitness levels up, I've also learned how to train and recover to help aid my goals in longer distance cycling. Here are just a few non-pro tips to help you set up your goals on prepping for entering a race, joining a cycling club, or getting fit for that long distance adventure cycling trip you've been dreaming of.

Ideally, you should plan to put the miles on your bike, however, when you're starting out, it's key to map out your training sessions and mile goals weekly. By planning your weekly training sessions, you can prioritize your schedule around training so you're not skipping out. Not everyone has the time for a regimented training schedule, however, when you're training for an event, it's key to not fall off the training wheels.

Training Plan
If you are new to cycling or long distance cycling, give yourself 8-12 weeks of training before an event. This would allow you to ease in without risking injury from riding hard and far too soon. Each week, plan your sessions and weekly long ride ride with an increase in mileage. For example, I do 2 indoor cycling sessions of 60 mins, 1 day of yoga, 2 days of recovery, and 1 day of outdoor road cycling with mileage (no more than 15% increased mileage each week). For a session (indoor/outdoor), write out your warm up time, specific exercises for strength building, sprint time, interval training, climbing time, recovery time and tape it to your bike, or join a indoor cycling class that will give you the proper sessions you need.
Staying hydrated on and off your bike is key to keeping your muscles from cramping. Before, during, and after training, be sure to hydrate and follow up on replacing lost salts and minerals with a sports drink of electrolytes. During a training session or ride, keep water close by to keep hydrating so your replacing what you sweat out but don't consume too much or else you'll feel sick, trust me I'm guilty of this.

Before training, eat properly two hours before a session or ride. Certain foods will provide you with the fuel you'll need for a long distance ride like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables. Personally, I look forward to my pre-ride meal of oatmeal, almonds, banana and coffee. Two hours before a training session, I have a slice of gluten-free bread with peanut butter and apple so that I have enough to burn and hold onto before eating a full meal.

During a ride, keeping sufficiently fueled is critical to avoid bonking. That feeling of fuzzy head and legs giving up is no fun. Consider carrying snacks to refuel like energy bars, gels, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate (what snacks to carry blog post in que).

Thirty minutes post ride and training, have a small protein snack to replenish what you've burned. I'm a big fan of a peanut butter/jelly sandwiches. I usually pack these to carry in my jersey pockets when I need a pick me up. Two hours later, when prepping recovery food, I like to add some healthy protein and carbs to help me recover quickly in a full meal, a favorite of mine is chicken pesto pasta with broccoli. I don't eat dairy and gluten so I use products that are free of these properties and try to avoid them as much as possible, perhaps that's another post for the future.
Recovery is just as important as the training you do. This is probably my favor part of training. Aside from eating, another way I like to recover is by taking an Epsom salt bath after a ride. This helps with soreness by relaxing skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup for reparations.

Recovery nutrition is also just as important as the fuel you add before and after a ride. With training, muscle aches, inflammation, and muscle reparations are all just part of the course of becoming fitter on the bike. On my recovery days, eating well is key to replace nutrients and repair muscles. I'm a fan of smoothies, so an anti-inflammatory smoothie of berries, protein smoothies of peanut butter and banana, and veggie and fruit juices are all part of my recovery day regime. Like most cyclists, I'm a big fan of eating but we need to constantly remind ourselves to eat healthy and avoid heavy carb loading so that we are getting the proper recovery food our bodies need.

Rest, Elevate, Stretch, Sleep
When planning your training schedule, make sure to factor in some rest days. Those days are key to allowing your body ample time to adapt and repair. Try elevating your legs to help aid proper blood flow to aid recovery. These days I enjoy sitting on the couch with my legs elevated while binge watching a BBC period piece or reading a book.

Another way I love to spend a recovery day is practicing Restorative Yoga. The breathing and gentle stretching helps me to loosen up tight muscles and release pain I'm feeling in my hips, knees, and back. Yoga practice can also help aid in pushing oxygen to repair muscles and help you develop breathing techniques on the bike. It's also key to note that it can also help build mental relaxation practices that can help you push harder on those grinding rides, remembering to focus on breathing with each pedal on a climb.

Sleep of course can be sweet when your exhausted and we all know how important it is to restoring the mind and body. However, it is possible to develop sleep apnea when you've been training hard. This is something I've personally struggled with. Over training can cause sleeplessness and chronic fatigue, breaking down your immune system and plateauing your progress if you don't give yourself enough time to sleep. So make sure to listen to your body when you need to take time off, trust me on this one, I've learned the hard way.

When you stick to training and recovery, you'll begin to see the difference in your performance each week. You'll experience a tremendous sense of accomplishment and be glad you woke up early to be out on the bike until early evening. The flow of the experience will stick with you and you'll want to go further but just remember, it's about the fun in the saddle and cake after the ride, not the Garmin data.

images 1& 3 courtesy of stefan r.

Spinning To Be A Better Cyclist

For the last 6 months I have developed a real love for Spin. I know I know, before the reprimand, in my defense, the Northeast becomes very cold for half a year and my outdoor cycling habits fade with the changes of seasons. As a fragile-to-cold-weather-Californian-native, my physical and mental health suffers enormously if I'm not outdoors in the sun, so my way to cope and welcome an escape activity from winter and it's blues is by indoor cycling. It's rather a convenient and beneficial way for me to keep my fitness levels high year round so that when warmer weather arrives, I'm able to build up my cycling endurance performance. I am in no way a pro cyclist but I do love being able to conquer my fitness goals and rides.

In the winter, indoor cycling has become my escape from cold, wet and dark climates while keeping my fitness levels on point. In the heat of summer, riding inside provides me a refreshing relief from hot-humid temperatures and heavy traffic pollution that really aggravates my allergies and symptoms of dry eyes. Spin classes have also become convenient in the spring and fall, when unpredictable weather or levels of pollen can affect my weekend riding plans. With a spin class I enjoy a predictable schedule and structured riding plan with a familiar instructor who pushes and motivates me with the right amount of energy and music to help me cope in these seasons.

A year ago I bought myself a turbo trainer to help me address some of these issues. I set up in my cozy basement with a large flat screen tv and did everything to add variety to my session from adding music, a heart monitor, a cycle computer, online classes, tv, and youtube rides to find myself just skipping it and heading to the gym instead. I also found it very difficult to stand up and too much effort to adjust resistance to get the outputs I wanted on a trainer. I thought of joining Zwift but I wanted to be off the trainer to challenge myself more physically. Maybe in all, I needed a little variety less digital to spice it up so I signed up for spin and have loved it since.
While there are many benefits to cycling indoors, some personal benefits I have received are a.) group exercise provides me motivation b.) higher calorie burn c.) higher endorphin output d.) better performance on the bike. With a group exercise, at first I was worried about a too enthusiastic instructor/crowd but luckily my instructor was chill and kept the crowd suffering and focused. At the end of a session, I'd burn enough calories to help me keep a stable weight and lose some as a bonus. At the end of a session, my work stress was gone where I'd go home and dance while cooking dinner. Winter blues didn't even have a chance to pop up it's ugly head. For performance, I only noticed my climbing endurance was better after packing on the resistance and cadence training on a spin bike. My instructor is big on climbs and I'm grateful for it as it's been great strength and heart rate building for climbing these hilly parts of Upstate NY.

There are benefits to cycling indoors that have helped my outdoor cycling. Aside from the health and fitness benefits, with a little planning I am able to received the most out of a spin session to benefit my outdoor cycling endurance. In my plan, I schedule Mondays and Wednesdays after work for a 45-60 minute indoor spin session each week, with just one or two outdoor rides, usually on Saturday or Sunday to build my endurance and enjoy the outdoors. Since my goal in the beginning of Spring is to cycle 50+miles by summer, I was recommend an eight-week plan (at 14 mph, a 50-mile ride will take about 3 hours and 30 minutes). To work up to a metric century (100K or 62 miles), the plan recommended to me is 11 weeks (at 14 mph, a 62-mile ride will take about 4 hours and 30 minutes). To build up this endurance my weekend rides usually consists of 20-35 miles as of now. Every weekend I will challenge myself with 5 more miles, hillier terrain, and a faster pace till my 50 miles goal approaches. Hopefully, the harder I push in spin, the better my efforts on the road will be.

Embarrassingly, I do enjoy the euphoric endorphin induced feelings and the puddle of sweat I've created on the floor after a session. Heck, I even enjoy the Ron Burgundy type figure my instructor reminds me of with his mustache and 70's-80's dad rock-n-roll playlist. I can dig it. What I especially enjoy is how I quickly found myself fitter and stronger to push myself on a ride. In no way are outdoor and indoor cycling the same but when it comes to getting on the road and trail, I can notice my heart and legs wanting to climb higher and ride further, thanks to spin.

images: pixicycling/shuttershock

Out in the Outpost

Over the weekend I was determined to celebrate my final days in LA the best way I could by mountain biking the Santa Monica mountains. Just weeks before, I had done a road ride out here and found it incredibly difficult to climb that I did not get to have the the full experience of being at mountain top to overlook the San Fernando Valley and Pacific. Upon searching for mountain biking trails in  LA, I came upon the recommendation of a friendly bike shop, Topanga Creek Outpost, tucked in the Topanga Moutains that has a 10.8 mile loop and mountain bike rentals for the day. I called and booked our Saturday morning at the loop. Upon waking up, we ate a hearty meal and headed north on the PCH towards the outpost.
Upon arriving we were greeted by Chris, followed by Jeo, Eric, and "the guy with the beard". The shop was enamored with beautiful touring/mountain bikes and gear that I couldn't stop touching and looking at, I felt like a kid in a candy shop! I ask my millions of questions about the shop and was given a tour of the rugged space and offered coffee and banana bread. As we talked shop and prepared to head out to the trail, Jeo sets us up on our bikes as Chris equips us with a map, details of the trail, and some water. After all was said and done, they send us on our merry way up towards Arteique Road where we were met with out first climb of the day.

As we climb up a big single track on Deer Hill trail we are greeted at the top with rolling meadows of wildflowers where we would catch our breath before rolling along Mulholland Drive Fire Road. At this point we were literally breathless with the awe-inspiring views of the San Fernando Valley and the beautiful red soil canyons of Topanga over looking the Pacific Ocean. When I had read online that the trail was beautiful, I didn't imagine that the route was one hell of a technical challenge to be rewarded with epic views.
As we get halfway through the loop, we roll through serpentine trails with hikers and other mountain bikers. You can see some pro riders conquering the technical trails and some new pacing themselves uphill, it's a trail for all. On our way back to Topanga Canyon, we make a right turn just before Eagle Rock down to a technical, rocky waterfall single track that leads out of the park to serpentine roads that cool you down as you head back to the outpost. By the time we got back, my hands and arms were shaking out of maintaining control and speed through that last trail. We were exhilarated and exhausted once we made it to the shop and took offerings of coffee and banana bread.

As we cooled down and settled from an exhausting 2.5 hr ride of technical 10.8 miles of trails, we were awarded (literally) with a certificate of our achievement of completing the loop. Sipping on coffee and ravaging on bread, Chris shows us his skill in leather work while telling stories of the bike shops beginnings and all the bike tours and rides they lead. In that moment, I was filled with so much admiration for this shop that felt more like a community and wishing that every bike shop was just like this. 
Topanga Creek Outpost is the most unique and greatest example of a newer form of bike shop that focuses on the customer experience offering the best of cycling culture: coffee, cake, bikes, gear, trails, adventures, and stories. It was so chill, friendly, and relaxing that we hung out till closing time. We were so impressed with their stories and work that it felt like a place I would want to be in everyday. When we headed back onto the PCH we stopped off for fish tacos and returned home to take hot baths, and rest on the the excitement of the day.

A day out in the mountains on a bike was the perfect way to end a winter escape from NY to CA.

Riding The South Bay Peninsula

In a car dependent city like Los Angeles, it may not come to mind to most cyclists that the area is surrounded by an array of scenic cycling destinations. Bike paths such as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, a.k.a. The Strand, a 22-mile, mostly car-free ride along the sand and shimmering waves of the Pacific Ocean offers a wide connection to the most spectacular views and beaches. From Will Rogers State Beach in the north to Torrance Beach in the south bay, the path provides a flat beach cruise through L.A’s vibrant beach towns. However, for a more challenging cycling route, extending this ride south from Torrance to include the classic donut ride around the Palos Verdes Peninsula is a California treasure. The scenic but challenging loop of climbing rolling hills follows Palos Verdes Drive along the edge of peninsula which offers beautiful vistas and plenty of open road space that only cyclists can dream of.

Over the weekend, I dared to cycle the Donut Loop in Palos Verdes only to find myself going halfway. There is no sugar coating this ride, it's brutal even for a moderate climber like myself. For most Southern Californian cyclists, this ride is top of the list of great rides in Los Angeles dating back to 1973 and has maintained a reputation for being adorned with beautiful views of the ocean cliffs, nasty ascending switchbacks, serpentine descends, and some more climbing. Indeed, this ride lived up to its reputation and I found this route was exactly that, consistent hilly terrain that will challenge you to climb well and still maintain speed on the flatter roads. If your cycling solo, the climbs won’t hurt so badly as you keep your own pace, however, if your in it for the group, you'll most likely be dropped by those who want to race to the top for a UCI world ranking. Not everyone is out for a medal, however, being on my own during this ride, I wanted a good challenge as much as a leisure ride to take breaks from climbing to catch my breath with the many others stopping to soak in the views too. 
To characterize the ride, along the first 10-mile loop around the western waterfront, and over the aptly named Rolling Hills, delivers some of the best bluff side ocean views in Southern California. I began in Torrance Beach early enough avoid the heavy Saturday traffic along the bike-friendly Palos Verdes Drive and rode up to Bluff Cove where steep rust-colored cliffs drop dramatically to the waves. Leaving the main drag and heading inland,  I brace for the long climb up a quiet residential street with luxurious Spanish style homes and drought resistant gardens. This 2-mile ascent might have you huffing and puffing, maybe even puking, but the long views north up sandy beaches will take your breath away when you make it. After gaining 850 feet in elevation, I topped out where the coast was clear—literally. 

This was a very impressive ride, challenging the most. Long stretches of ascends and descends can make for a good leg and technique challenge. You may even doubt your skills at best but that will fade when your admiring the panoramic views. I found that there are many ways to ride and experience this gorgeous side of South Bay Los Angeles, from hiking trails, mountain biking, driving, or cycling, this is a place to definitely catch some climbing miles. Just remember to bring a camera, loads of water, a can-do attitude and actual donuts to reward yourself for your hard work. 

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