Back-to-Back Rides: Observations and Lessons Learned

Along the Anacostia River Trail

Over the course of two days, I rode 125 miles and climbed about 4000 feet worth of hills. It was the first time I rode 60+ miles each day back to back. Here are some observations about my weekend.

I rode my Tricross first for the 50 States, and then my Dolce for the Back Roads. It’s been a while since I rode my Dolce, and I keenly noticed the differences going from one bike to the other. The Tricross is a little more upright, with 700 X 28c tires; the Dolce is angled more like a road bike (but still not as aggressively as a true racing bike), with 700 X 23c tires. What I like about the Tricross is that it’s more comfortable to sit at that angle for longer periods of time, and the tires feel zippy yet cushion against the road vibrations. What I like about the Dolce is its exceptionally smooth shifting and its nimbleness. I probably could have done both the rides on either bike, but I felt fine with the ones I used. I really would like to have the Tricross have smoother shifting, though. I need to look into making some changes.

I wore my Chrome Vanya Knickers for the 50 States. It wasn’t the best choice. The knickers work fine for a commute, but it chafed a little for the 60-mile ride. I think next time, I will wear pants with a chamois. By contrast, I was happy to discover that I didn’t under-dress for the Back Roads like I did last year– I felt perfectly comfortable with a long-sleeved jersey, capri-length tights, and full-fingered gloves.

I think I’m starting to understand how much, and what kinds of foods work for me with long rides. Having the Camelbak works really well. I use a concentrated electrolyte solution in my water, and it seemed to keep me hydrated and free from cramps. I keep Clif Mojo bars and Shot Bloks on hand, which I eat on the bike and I haven’t yet gotten sick of. I do all right with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I discovered that burritos, or at least the one I had during the 50 States ride, gave me a little heartburn. Lesson learned here: bring some Tums, and get lunch at Eastern Market!

Managing Hills
So, this is the big one, and I still haven’t learned how to do this. I have the strength to go up and over all kinds of hills. I haven’t yet learned how to conserve my energy to do this more than once. Possible solution: really, do hill repeat exercises. They’re not fun, but I think it’s the only way I’m going to learn.

Speed and Endurance
I admit that I’m frustrated by this still. Compared to the people I ride with, I still lag so far behind. I tire easily and am slow to recover from intense pedaling. I had hoped that the more I ride, the more I would improve, but it hasn’t been the case. Maybe I should just accept the fact that my friends are much faster than me, and just ride at my own pace. It’s kind of lonely this way, though.

Back-to-Back and the Back Roads
Admittedly, I enjoyed the Back Roads less this year because I came into it already tired. I could have done it all differently– maybe eaten less for dinner the night before, gone to bed a lot earlier, started out more slowly in the first part of the ride, brought along a full inhaler. But I didn’t quit– I kept going, I rode the best I could, and I didn’t get sick or have any major mechanical issues. So this gives me hope that I can do a multi-day ride in the future.

The important thing is to relax, have fun, and breathe, and sometimes, I need to remind myself to do that.

9 thoughts on “Back-to-Back Rides: Observations and Lessons Learned

  1. You seemed to do just fine to me. The 50 States is 65 miles but it feels more like 100. So doing these two back to back adds up to one seriously tough amount of riding.

    You do have a tendency to blow up on big hills. I couldn’t believe how fast you went up MLK Boulevard on Saturday. You weren’t alone in your dislike of Alabama Ave a short time later. You’re plenty fit enough. It’s just a matter of finding a rhythm that you can maintain all the way up. Flying half way up only to suffer to the top is one thing I try hard to avoid.

    I think I am a lousy hill climber. I used to be much better. I remember practically dancing on my pedals going up hill. Then the engine on my bikes got old and heavy. How did that happen?

    Thanks for riding with me. Good luck at Seagull.

    • I went way too fast on MLK. I also started out too fast at the beginning of Back Roads. You’re right– I need to find a rhythm that I can maintain, even throughout an entire ride, even if it means always getting dropped.

      Thanks for riding with me! I appreciate your enthusiasm and humor.

  2. I feel the same way about my two bikes, though the rougher shifting on the ‘cross doesn’t bother me as much. Nathan says after about five years, he finally gets hills. Back Roads was his first successful hill climbing adventure, I think. He’s figured out how to spin slowly, not macho mash up them in a high gear (which I seriously doubt you’re doing!). Hill repeats should help with speed as well – anything to exercise the heart and lungs. I should do them as well….

    After mile 12 I was almost always somewhere between you and Nathan. He can only get through long rides by going his own natural pace (balancing severe ass tiredness with less intense leg fatigue), and now I can’t always keep up with him. But I tried because I know he appreciates the company. Mostly it was RC out front, then Nathan, me trailing, and knowing you and Robert were right behind me. I wound up riding by myself a lot as well! I think if I have a husband along, we aren’t going to be able to always stick together. 😦

    I’m still amazed you did both rides so well. Congrats!

    • I think both Nathan and Robert did a great job with the Back Roads! They looked really good. I think Robert benefits a lot from his new road bike, and both of them have a natural pace that is much faster than mine. After the last rest stop, R went on ahead without me– I think he likes to stay with me to make sure I don’t pass out, but I know I was keeping him back.
      Your comments and Rootchopper’s lead me to believe that much of my frustrations are more mental than physical. I felt slow, and my breathing was definitely labored for the last 10 miles or so.
      I actually think that getting separated and re-grouping at rest stops is fine. That should be how we do rides going forward.

  3. “Managing Hills” — use a smaller gear and spin, spin, spin your way up. Ignore how fast your friends are riding up. The object is to be able to ride up every hill just as strongly, just as fast as you did the first one. And … be able to ride one or two or three more after the ride ends.

    “Speed and Endurance” — at less than 200 miles a month (except for two months), you’ll not be doing enough sustained cycling to increase your stamina. If 200 miles a month is the limit dictated by life-requirments, accept that, and accept the resulting lack of stamina & speed. You can still enjoy the rides, just do them slower, and don’t let your friends drag you into a red-zone early in the ride — you’ll likely not recover in time to enjoy much.

    “The important thing is to relax, have fun” — that’s right!
    If you look at my blog, you may think that I am a big miles person that cannot possibly relate to your smaller miles. I think I can — here’s my evidence to support that:

    year # rides miles hrs.frac pace mi./ride
    2004 38 1,176.2 86.5 13.60 31.0
    2005 37 1,265.5 91.8 13.78 34.2
    2006 58 2,484.9 167.0 14.88 42.8

    2006 is not so long ago …

    • haven’t any of these blog sites ever heard of “what you see is what you get”? Neither Bloggor nor WordPress actually publishes things the way they look in the draft stage.

      That chart looked so nice.

      • Sorry that the chart didn’t come out well. I got what you were trying to say, though. Thanks for your advice. I appreciate what you’ve said about endurance, and it puts things in perspective, given the amount of miles I do and the amount of time I have to train.

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