Saturday, October 10, 2015

Reflections On and Lessons Learned from a Good Ride Gone Bad (Or How I Got My Joy Back!)

Tomorrow I'll be riding in Pittsburgh once again, this time on the 321 Ride, a charity ride to support the fight against melanoma and pancreatic cancer.  This ride will be along the Great Allegheny Passage (the GAP), which is a rail trail and mostly flat, not the mountains I rode the last time I was riding in Pittsburgh at the end of August.  However, it will be a long ride, a "Metric Century" (62 miles).  In preparing, it has caused me to reflect on my last ride in Pittsburgh, what went right, what went wrong, and what lessons did I learn to help improve myself.  I've been meaning to write this blog post for a while and am finally getting to it.

The Good Ride

The PedalPGH ride route that we had chosen this year was the Metric Century, which included much more climbing than the 25 mile route I had done twice before.  In the past, Mt. Washington, the most challenging climb and climb and climb, was at the end of the route and we had kind of figured we would skip it if we didn't feel up to it, and that would make our ride about 50 miles or so.  But, lo and behold, this year, they changed the route and put Mt. Washington at the beginning of the ride!  I am thrilled to say, although very challenging, I made it to the top!!!

From there, I literally and figuratively, went downhill!

The Good Ride Gone Bad
That first part of the ride, while gloriously challenging, began the spiral that eventually caused me to fully and completely bonk.  If you are not a cyclist, you may wonder what it means to "bonk."  Actually, even though I am a cyclist, I didn't fully understand bonking until this experience.  I have had tired legs before, or felt wiped out at the end of a long or challenging ride, and I always thought that was bonking.  Maybe those are cases of mild bonks, but what happened to me in Pittsburgh was so much more!  As I kept riding, hills I had tackled in the past were too much for me.  I had to get off my bike and it was even difficult for me to walk up them, needing to stop and rest frequently.  My arms and legs ached.  I felt winded almost all the time.  My stomach was woozy.  I felt light-headed and slightly dizzy.  I really wanted to go on, but with every pedal stroke I felt less and less capable of going on.  And, I was disappointed and angry at myself and losing focus.  I Love Bicycling has a good article about Bonking that explains it in a little more depth, but I think this image captures it pretty well!

After the Ride
Just as I didn't fully understand bonking before it happened during the ride, I had no idea of how long lasting the effects would be after the ride was over!  It was several days before my body felt completely back to normal.  And I was very much reminded of how much a role you mental state plays in all of this as well!  It took a week before I was once again on top of my mental game!  I didn't ride at all for a couple of days.  Then, when I did begin riding again, I only took short toots around town for running errands and got no joy out of pedaling, even for those short distances.  If you know me, you know that normally I say that I ALWAYS feel good after a ride, even a short one!  I felt like I was trying, not so successfully, to crawl out of a hole (or maybe to pedal up a mountain)!

Getting Back My Joy
Although I wasn't getting my usual joy out of riding, I am glad that I kept making myself get back on my bike.  Finally, after about a week, one beautiful, sunny day, I went for a ride and could feel that joy coming back!  It was one of those days when I just hit the road and kept on going, nowhere in particular, just taking in the sunshine and the scenery and pedaling and pedaling.  So, why did this all happen to me?  What lessons did I learn?  How can I prevent this in the future?
Causes and Lessons Learned
I think there were lots of contributing factors as to what caused my bonk in the first place.
  • Dieting - Although I was eating clean and healthy, I had been eating reduced calories and reduced carbs leading up to the ride.  Not the right pre-ride nutrition I needed for a ride that would be so challenging.
  • Ride Day Nutrition - I didn't eat a good breakfast before riding and I didn't eat well or often enough during the ride.  I didn't bring food with me and the rest stops were lacking, so I wasn't replenishing anything I was burning up.
  • Hydration - I thought I was keeping hydrated, but I don't think I had had enough before the ride and obviously needed more during the ride as well.
  • Fatigue - I had done a lot of riding leading up to this ride and maybe I needed to take a rest day before hitting Mt. Washington.
Reinvigorated and Using What I Learned

So what now?  Use this experience to be better prepared in the future!  On longer rides or more challenging rides, I am forcing myself to do what my brain has known all along but didn't always do.

  1. Drink plenty of liquids leading up to a long or challenging ride and during a ride, drink before I'm thirsty and drink often.
  2. Let go of the diet and have different pre-ride nutrition ahead of long or challenging rides.
  3. Take lots of nutritious, energy replenishing snacks with me always.  The article cited above has great suggestions for the type of food that can make a difference.  Stop and eat before I'm hungry and make myself stop periodically during long rides to snack.
  4. Rest!  Don't be afraid to take a rest day before a long or challenging ride.  Make myself stop pedaling and take breaks during a ride.  Enjoy the scenery and small parks.

Preparing for the 321 Ride
Knowing this ride will be a long one, I tried to go for lots of rides at home leading up to this.  I also did my own Metric Century Plus along the Erie Canalway Trail from Spencerport to Medina and back (66 miles).  That trail is similar to what I will be riding on the 321 Ride.  I put into play all the lessons learned, nutrition, hydration, rest, etc.  It was a great ride and now I feel totally prepared, and a bit wiser, and can't wait for tomorrow's ride!  As one of my favorite songs says, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!"