Q: I need some advice. I have a tendency to bonk and hit the wall on rides and races beyond one and a half hours. I Bonk more than anyone I know. I’ve got a reputation for it among my riding friends and it’s become something of a joke. All my friends have stories of when they have bonked, but it only seems like it happens to them a couple of times in their lives. Why is it such a regular thing with me?
When I was in my early 20’s I raced sport class XC where the race times were all under an hour and a half and I never had a problem with bonking. I won quite a few races in sport class. In the last 5 or 6 years I’ve tried to move up a class to expert where the races are around the 2 hour mark and I’ve had a really frustrating half a decade. I’ve bonked out of more races than I’ve actually finished. I haven’t been able to get to a stage where I can steadily gage my results and see if I’m improving because I’m always pulling out of races. It sucks and I need to get the right strategy to move on.
To give you a bit of info, I’m 60kg’s (135 pounds I think), 5’9″, so I’m a skinny guy. I don’t do a lot of long training rides, I go out for a few short rides a week 45mins to an hour with my dog and usually hit a few short (1-2 mins) sections of singletrack a couple of times against the stopwatch. I also usually get a hard 2 hour ride in once a week with a friend who is a little bit faster than me, so it’s a pretty honest ride. Usually, this ride is ok, but last night i hit the wall pretty bad 20 minutes from home and I needed to lie down. I do a couple of 4-5 hour rides here and there but I haven’t done one in six weeks or more. I ride with a 34t single ring and chain device. It feels brilliant when I’m strong, riding well and on top of it, but it probably doesn’t help when I’m blowing up. Over the last few months I’ve been doing the version 1 of the DB combos program and also working on my hip mobility. I feel so much better standing and climbing now. I’m definitely riding faster and having more fun. I’ve got a pretty fast metabolism and I eat pretty frequently. I ate a pretty good sized banana and a small bit of lasagna 30 minutes before last nights ride to no avail. I always pretty hydrated too, it’s rare that my urine isn’t clear.
I know this doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, but can you share some wisdom? Do I need to eat lollies or gels when I ride? Do I need to more longer rides at slower pace?
Thanks for any insight you can offer. I really need to put a difficult half a decade behind me and enjoy racing my bike consistently.
A: Two things come to mind. First, if your not strong enough to really push that single gear all the time (yet) then don’t let pride or pressure make you run a set up that is not right for you. I have a Hammerschmidt, which replaced my double chainring on my trail bike, and I use it when I need to in order to be efficient on longer rides. I don’t use it a lot but it can be the difference between riding it out and bonking.
Second, it sounds like you need to work on your intervals and the combo drills. You need to be more comfortable with riding hard putting out max effort – spending a bunch of time spinning relatively easy miles won’t make trail riding easier. There is a ton of info in the Cardio Training category on my website, check it out for more info and ideas.
Your problems are common and it all stems from a lack of work on strength, mobility and anaerobic cardio capacity. Prioritize the DB Combos program for a bit and see how you feel. Having a gel handy for when you feel yourself bonking wouldn’t hurt either.
Q: After reading a lot of info on your site I’ve rethought the clipless pedal approach. I’ve decided to take off my clips and put on the flats that came with my bike. My question is about the shoes. I have a pair of Etnies Callicuts that I would like to use as biking shoes. I am on a very tight budget and cannot afford to get a pair or dedicated biking shoes at the moment. Will skate shoes be OK to use for the rest of the season. I have never tried on a pair of shoes for flats before so I don’t know how to compare them to skateboarding shoes.
A: First I want to say that you should dig into your couch cushions and find some change to start your 5:10 savings fund. You need sticky rubber shoes to really maximize your performance with flats and that should be your next purchase.
However, the next best things would be some skate shoes like you are talking about. Just get a pair of 5:10’s ASAP. BTW, they sell them through www.zappos.com for a very reasonable price if your local shop doesn’t have them or is trying to gouge you for a special order (5:10’s should be standard in every real mountain bike shop).
Q: How do I keep my breathing under control on hard climbs?
A: As you get fitter you won’t have to breathe as hard although you will never reach the point that you never breathe hard. As you get fitter you push yourself harder and will still redline. The real trick is to get your heart rate back down as quickly as possible to prepare for the next effort and that comes from interval training. Hope this helps…
Q: I have a problem with knee pain whenever I do single leg lower body exercises. It feels like my knees wobble and cave in. Do you have any recommendations for fixing that?
A: Sounds like some sort of hip stability issue. Try cutting out regular lower body exercises and try some isometric holds. I’ve had good luck recently with using isometric holds with clients who have chronic joint pain.
I usually recommend coming down as far as possible (pain free ROM) and holding for a 5 count, coming up 1/3 of the way up and holding again, coming up 1/3 again and holding and then finishing the rep. Do 3-5 reps like that with exercises like split squats, bulgarians, squats and deadlifts (start at the bottom by just getting the weight off the ground).
The trick is to hold everything as tight as you can for the 5 seconds, not just hold the position. That max tension is what will get to the stability gains you need from this technique.
Hope this helps…