I received my first road bike from a good friend and mentor roughly five years ago. Since them I’ve been pedaling my way around California and immersing myself in the cycling culture.
One thing I’ve learned over these past five years is how to treat your body while on a ride. I’ve done short rides to conquer hill tops in under two hours, and I’ve spent entire days spanning vast distances. Through all these rides one thing that I have learned and fully believe in is the importance of nutrition.
On short rides a simple water bottle full of Gatorade or Cytomax will suffice, but on longer rides I need to have my rear jersey pockets full of electrolyte goos, granola bars, and anything else that will not only feed my stomach, but my muscles (Snicker bars are a personal favorite). Without proper nutrition my body shuts down and things turn ugly.
Yesterday I set out on a short two hour ride from my house, up to the top of a mountain pass, and back. Being a simple and common ride I filled up my bottle with some cool water, checked my tire pressure, pulled up my spandex, and embarked on my voyage.
It started out pretty routine as I descended my hill and turned slowly down the road warming up my legs. By mile five I started increasing my tempo to get my heart beating and some warmth back in my toes which had turned to ice. I made it to the foot of the big ascent and shifted down a few gears and stood up to pump up to the top. About 25 minutes later I crested the mountain pass and arrived at the top. There I turned around and coasted down the pass about 30 feet to take a break in the sun. As I sipped my water bottle I could feel my stomach slowly growling.
“Silence you!” I said to it.
I then zipped up my jersey, and started my descent down this twisty mountain road. Once I got to the bottom I turned right onto the road that would take me back home. Six minutes into my return journey on that road and my stomach started acting up again, but this time it meant business.
By the time I got to the last five miles in my ride my legs were killing me. I watched as my speed went from 18 mph, to 14, to 12, to 9. That was it, I’d run out of gas, I’d hit the wall.
Hitting the wall is a terrifying thing. First your muscles stop responding and hurt like none other, then your mind goes. You can only focus on two things: 1. how much your legs hurt, and 2. how much you’d rather be doing anything else.
I got to the gas station at the bottom of my hill and laid down on a table for a few minutes hoping to get some strength back. No such luck. So I saddled up and started the slow and terrible climb back to my house.
Every pedal stroke felt like someone was pulling my muscles out of my body. As I passed my neighbor’s house she called out from the front step “Hey Robbie!”
Being totally exhausted and starting to grow weary mentally I could not remember her name and only sputtered out a weak “Hi.”
Finally my house was in sight. I had put my body through so much torture that the only thing I could do at that point was dismount and take the walk of shame back to my house where I nearly collapsed before I could grap a chocolate nutcracker and quickly unwrap it with shaky hands so that I could get something in my body.
I spent the next hour trying to control my shaking hands, eat as much as possible, and soothe my poor muscles.
I’ve hit the wall many a time, but nothing that bad. It’s safe to say that I’ve learned my lesson about hitting the wall and valuing proper nutrition.
If you plan to ride a bike this weekend remember to carry some food in your pockets and more than just water in your bottles.
Peace and tailwinds.