…and stuff, but not really.
I’ve been a roadie, a road bicycle rider for many decades. I’ve participated in solo adventures, group rides and organized rides around the country for quite some time. I know to prepare for events requires training, on a bike, to get to one’s goals of fitness, speed and comfort.
The Quad Cities Bike Club based in Davenport, Iowa organizes an early June bicycle tour known as TOMRV, the Tour Of the Mississippi River Valley. The ride is a two day round trip ride through the Mississippi River bottom land and bluffs of Iowa and Illinois, it’s approximately 200 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing. This ride leaves from Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa and winds it’s way north through Iowa, Illinois, touching into far lower Wisconsin to Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa on Saturday. Rinse, repeat and ride south to Bettendorf on Sunday on a slightly shortened all Iowa route.
This was the 42nd year of this event and I’ve ridden seven times. Or eight. I can’t really remember. The main thing is it’s not my first or second and I know what to expect. Iowa is not flat. Northeastern Iowa is far from flat. Northwestern Illinois is anything but flat. I live in Chicago. Chicago is flat. Chicago is flat as a pancake. Where I am able to ride and train is flat. Almost flatter than flat.
In early June, I will typically have about 1000 riding my miles on my legs, gained though a combination of spin classes, riding on my rollers with a dedicated training program and riding outside on purposeful training miles.
I performed a science experiment on myself in preparation for TOMRV 2019, a science experiment involving different training modalities excluding much of any training miles on any bikes.
For various insipid reasons, I had almost zero bicycle training miles this year. Weather, blah blah blah, not wanting to train indoors on my rollers, not wanting to be disciplined with spin classes.
The late winter/early spring/late spring weather in Chicagoland has been dismal. It was severely cold/cold/cold & wet/wet. In other words, demoralizing. Who in the right mind wants to ride outside in that crap?
The new shiny objects of Bikram yoga classes and olympic weightlifting classes, consistent practice of each, were to become the focus of my TOMRV training.
In early June 2019, Strava told me I had 386 training miles on my legs before the hills of the Mississippi River valley.
I’ve been a gym rat, a weight lifter for many years.
As a Flatlander, incorporating heavy barbell squats and deadlifts have been a key training addition to help me ride up hills. I am not a small individual, I have never been a climber, but I can scamper up a hill on my bike. Barbell back squats, front squats, Zercher squats, overhead squats with different stance widths, I use them all.
Deadlifts work your entire body, from the tips of your toes to the end of your finger tips.
Every bike rider can benefit from significant heavy weight lifting.
Tired of following a power lifting protocol – low reps, heavy weights – I joined a facility that had dedicated weightlifting classes. I joined Windy City Strength and Conditioning in May of 2018 with the intention of getting into olympic weightlifting classes only. I messed around with Crossfit classes for too long. I do not like CrossFit one bit, that that’s a different discussion and I also see the benefits of that training protocol. In October of 2018 I engaged myself in learning the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.
I lack any explosiveness on a bike. Sprint? Give me some time to get up to speed. I’m like a diesel locomotive. I had zero clue how difficult learning the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk would be for me.
The concept is amazingly simple: hoist a weight from the floor to over head in a single motion (the Snatch) or in two separate motions (the Clean and the Jerk) and do it proficiently according to one’s skeletal construction. In other words, hoist the damn barbell overhead in as perpendicular line to the ground as possible. The execution is amazingly complex and difficult, for me.
These movements will build explosiveness from the hips. This movements will build overall bodily strength, these movements will build grip strength and overhead strength. All of it is beneficial to riding a bike.
I wanted to quit. So. Many. Times.
In an effort to get out of my comfort zone, in September of 2018, I introduced myself to hot yoga, Bikram yoga to be exact (I had zero clue about all the different types of “hot yoga” and my initial exposure to Bikram was accidental). I am now a Bikram yoga addict, I am a member of Be Yoga Andersonville, the owner, Cat, is my teacher and I swear she sees into my soul.
I could have trained indoors on my rollers to the training programs available from Trainer Road. I have in the past and I like them, they are effective but, as I stated, I was blinded by the new shiny objects of Bikram yoga and weightlifting. Plus, I’ve been slowly painting my living space, as well as having to work my job. Working for a living puts a serious damper on other far more interesting pursuits.
Trainer Road was continually put on the back burner, with the thinking that I have 6 months to prepare. I have 4 months to prepare, but hell, this weather is now cold and wet and very shitty. I have 3 months to prepare, but this weather is still shitty so I can’t ride outside…….
I’m a victim of my own brain, my procrastination and stress avoidance of not bike training dictated the lack of bicycle training miles this year.
In other words of blah blah blah, I didn’t want to do the appropriate work.
Bikram yoga builds strength. It builds cardiovascular endurance. It builds mental awareness and toughness. Many times I’ve had to work myself out of a panic attack during class. I hope that I’ve learned to separate my mind from the ordeal my body is undergoing.
How can that not be beneficial to bike riding? On a bike, you are stuck in the same riding position for hours.You are stuck in pain, for hours. A few minutes of mindful Half Moon pose during a sag stop and I’m good as new!
Saturday, TOMRV 2019 Day 1, was originally weather forecast to be awful, nothing but rain. I would eloquently flip that weather the middle finger, however, as in all things Midwest, the forecast changes every 15 minutes. Day 1 weather was magnificent with moderate temperatures, sunny cloudless blue skies and mild east winds. We should have had a tailwind!
My riding day was great. I felt well on the flats, I felt well on the copious steep hills, Strava told me I PR’d on all the Blackjack Road hills which I find amazing as I certainly wasn’t trying to do anything but finish. We finished our ride day in a decent amount of time and deservedly with three of Iowa’s great beers in the beer garden before cleaning up for dinner.
What was different about this ride compared to previous TOMRV days where I was far fitter and faster? I think I was able to ride more mindfully and be more present to enjoy the scenery, the sound of the bike tires, the group I was riding with, the feel of the road and terrain, rather than worry about when I’d finish and would there be sufficient bike parking over night. The lack of future stress made me able to enjoy the moment and just ride to the best of my ability.
I attribute this to my yoga practice. I have surprised myself with the things that I can do and then things that I could do the day before but can’t right now. I’ve surprised myself at how I can wipe my mind clean while practicing.
How did weightlifting help my bike riding? Strength is strength and a strong grip will carry over into strong legs. A strong back and a strong shapely butt will transfer into steady speed on a steep climb.
Obviously, far more time on the bike saddle would have been preferable but this was a great experiment in seeing how other training methods can help an endeavor. As it is, I should have incorporated a lot more heavy barbell squats and conventional/sumo dead lifts into my weightlifting programming as I did lose that strength while training Oly weightlifting. Lots more heavy squats and dead lifts would have helped me on hills, as in the past.
Next year, I won’t let shiny new objects change my training focus from a planned event. If I have a challenging bike ride scheduled, more time on the saddle will be planned. There is no way you can train yourself for time on a bike saddle, other than with time on a bike saddle.