Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pacing during longer races

Photo: Graham Watson
For most recreational racers, the choice for weekend racing is either a road race: consisting of five or more 5-10 mile loops through an open suburban setting (such as farm country) or a criterium consisting of upwards of twenty or more 1 mile loops/laps through a downtown business/urban setting (such as a college campus or town/city).  The former lasting up to an hour and a half, and latter no more than an hour.  What are rarer are the longer road races lasting upwards of 3-5 hours and covering up to 100 miles or more- kind of what you see during the Stages of the Tour de France or what our fellow Ironman Triathletes see during their races.  Most recreational cycling racers will never get the chance to race these longer durations because these races are just not offered locally (with any regularity)...unless of course you want to travel out West and race the Furnace Creek 508 or enter the Race Across AMerica (RAAM).  But these are multi-day races.   For the Pros, these types of races I'm talking about are the "Spring Classics"- some of the toughest one-day cycling races on the planet.  But, there is one race that I can think of (that is sort of local for us in the Northeast), that is a "tough" one-day race, and that is the "Tour of the Battenkill" (in upstate New York).  This race is open to both Pros and Amateurs although it fills up FAST.  For amateurs, the Tour of the Battenkill is a 100km (66 mile) race over paved, dirt/gravel roads with some steep climbs.  So, we'll use this race as an example of "how to pace yourself for a long race".  I believe proper pacing is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect/consideration of a long race..followed by nutrition which is a very close second.  This blog will actually help me review/remember what to do and what NOT to do before and during the race..since I'll be racing Battenkill this weekend.  I can tell you right now, if you do NOT pace yourself correctly on a race like WILL blow-up (bonk, whatever you want to call it) and your results will NOT be pretty and you definitely won't meet your goal.  Before I talk about pacing, let me give you my Top 3 tips on other things you want to be cognizant of before and during a longer race:

1. Equipment- The first thing you want to make sure of is that your bike, accessories (tubes/tires/etc.), power meter, HR monitor, computer, watch, etc. are working properly and you have fresh batteries installed.  The last thing you want is a battery going out in your Power Meter or Head Unit/Bike Computer during a long least that's the last thing I want failing since I rely on it so much.  Check your tires for cuts/abrasions/etc.  Also, give your bike a good cleaning..and inspect all parts for rust, cracks, cable fraying, etc. days BEFORE your you have time to replace/repair a part if need be.  Again, the last thing you want during a long race is a mechanical.  If you break/bust a're pretty much done for the day.  Don't forget to lube everything AFTER you clean your bike.  Also, if it's a "hilly" race like Battenkill, make sure you have something like an 11-27 cassette on the back wheel instead of a 12-23...or move to a Compact Crank.  Sure, you may be able to grunt/power it up the steep hills with a 12-23 but it will come at a cost- an energy cost.  We'll get into that more later.

2. Nutrition (and hydration)- As I said before, proper nutrition is a close second (in my book) consideration for longer races.  If you don't fuel (and hydrate) your body WILL fail. i.e. you WILL bonk..and game over.  Don't rely on Food Stops for your energy requirements.  Remember, there are volunteers working this area that have absolutely no idea what you want or what you be as self-reliant/independent during the race as you can be.  Carry some gu's/gels and make sure you have at least one bottle of gatorade/accelerade on your bike at all times.

3. Clothing- This may sound rather benign a consideration..but I put it right up there with equipment and nutrition.  Why?  Because if you don't wear the proper clothing you're either going to "overheat" which will reduce your power output during the race, or you will be "chilled/cold" which will rob your body of energy..because it's spending too much time trying to warm your extremeties.  Also, be prepared for the rain..especially in the Spring since it rains just about every other day.  Do you have clear rain glasses treated with a water repellent?  Do you have a good rain jacket that will keep you warm while letting heat escape?  Do you have shoe covers to prevent your feet from getting soggy/wet?

Ok, now on to pacing.  As I said before, I honestly believe that "pacing" yourself properly is the most important consideration while racing a longer race and achieving your goal.  Why?  Go too hard..and you WILL bonk regardless of whether you're properly fueled or not.  Go too easy..and you're NOT going to keep up with the pace necessary to place well or (again) achieve your goal.  Pacing yourself correctly is also "sitting-in" and conserving energy during the fast flat-sections of the course as well as sitting (vs. standing) during long steep ascents thus conserving energy.  Remember, when you ride in long races everyone is pretty much given a (hypothetical) full-tank of gas at the start.  Hit the accelerator too hard at the beginning of the race and you're going to run out of gas.  Run out of gas..and you're done for the day.  So, back off.  Sounds easy huh?  Well, here's where pacing becomes an art and a science.  If you don't hit the accelerator (at all) early on in the race, you risk being dropped from the group/pack.  If you're separated or dropped from the group..guess what?  No benefit of sitting-in and conserving energy/fuel later on.  And, trust me, if you get dropped early-on in a 100 mile race..and you have to ride's going to be one long/painful ride to the finish line- ESPECIALLY if it's a windy day.  So, how do you know when to hit the accelerator and how much to lay/stay on it?  Good question.  That's why I said that pacing is both an art and science.  And, it's the "art" part that you only learn through experience.  I like to use a pack of matches to explain/describe the "art" part.  Everyone starts a race with a pack of matches.  Except, not everyone has the same number of matches.  My book/pack may contain 5 matches..yours 8 or possibly only 3.  Burn too many matches..and you're out/done/fini for the day.  You need to know how many matches are in your pack.  Again, not everyone starts with the same number of matches AND you need to know when you can burn them.  The "science" part I leave up to my Power Meter.  My Power Meter (PM) is pretty much the ONLY tool I use for pacing.  (I always wear a Heart Rate monitor as well, but my HR monitor is more of a tachometer for tells me when I'm redlining and when I should back off the throttle a bit).  The PM will help you pace yourself by establishing a "ceiling" of sorts on both the flats and the ascents.  I know that when I'm riding the flats at Threshold pace I can ride at least an hour at 250 watts (my FTP) and hours at 200+ watts.  And, I know for steep ascents, when I'm riding at VO2max pace I can ride for 5 minutes at a time in the 300+ watt range...WITHOUT blowing-up.  Additionally, your PM will calculate your energy expenditure during the ride which will allow you to estimate your kilo-calorie consumption to keep properly fueled.

I bet you (a beer) that if you asked either Hunter Allen or Dr. Andy Coggan, the authors of "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" what they believe is the single most important function/purpose of a PM for racing..they will both answer- PACING.  I haven't bought a beer yet.  If you're racing Battenkill this weekend, like I am, be aware of your pacing.  Most importantly, race safe and HAVE FUN!  Cheers  Rob

Power ON!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Great post Rob. My first Battenkill (and first road race) this weekend. After watching the course video I'm mentally evaluating how many "matches" I have. Should be a fun time regardless. Good luck and have fun!