I cycled my first Gran Fondo, the Prospera Fraser Valley, on July 24. I rode the Ride to Conquer Cancer last year, but the first day of that ride was cut short by weather, and the second, while 133km, was slow as I was with a friend, and I hadn’t yet become serious about cycling: I was riding blind, without sensors.
This year I’ve been training with Paul Moffat‘s Velosophy group. In the Fraser Valley I was aiming for as close to five hours as I could get. The first 90km or so went well: I maintained an average speed of 33km/h, felt pretty strong, and joined a couple of good pelotons. My bike performed well: I’d had two flats on the Triple Crown the week before. But after about 100km, while I don’t think I bonked exactly, I found the going pretty tough.
What happened? I thought I’d compile a list of mistakes I made and things that went wrong, both for my own benefit and for others embarking on their first long ride.
I didn’t eat enough. I was well-stocked with enough carbs for five or six hours, but after my first couple of bars (Pro Bars, which are great) I found it difficult to get them down. A greater variety of food, including some bananas, for example, would have helped. I think I had enough water with me: a bottle with Vega electrolyte hydrator; and two with Gu‘s Roctane Energy drink mix.
I didn’t stop enough. I cycled non-stop for 137km, at which point I re-filled my bottles. As a result, I missed out on some fresh food (such as bananas), dropped out of a couple of good pelotons when they pulled over at the earlier rest stops, and perhaps simply missed out on having a couple of needed breathers.
I rode alone. In a group, you can save up to 30% of effort. As a long ride progresses, it’s probably natural for cyclists to space out to some extent. But in my next GranFondo I’ll be watching for and sticking with an appropriate peloton.
I let the hills get to me. The big hill after turning away from the Trans-Canada, around McKee Peak in the Straiton area, was a bit rough; between about 132 and 150km there was a series of smaller climbs. Not long after the ride, I came across the article “The Science and Physiology Behind Becoming a Better Climber” on the TrainingPeaks blog, which has some helpful information—including this bit on mental strength:
One of the things that makes great climbers successful is their ability to tackle the mental obstacles that come with climbing. Many riders are defeated before the climb begins due to negative self-talk and a poor attitude. Develop the mental strength and psychological tools needed to tackle any ascent. Work on steady and calm breathing, remembering that often times once your breathing deteriorates so does your performance. Also, try to remain positive going into the climb. Don’t let your nerves get to you!
Gap in training. I took a two-week vacation in June-July, during which I did essentially no cycling. The Triple Crown was my first ride back, and at 127km with more than a 2,300m elevation gain after three weeks off my bike it had been a challenge. I did a short ride to warm up for Fraser Valley, but as you can see from my TrainingPeaks data from the start of my season through to the day before the Fondo, my fatigue (Acute Training Load) and form (Training Stress Balance) were perhaps too high (or low, as the case may be); and my fitness (Chronic Training Load) had slipped:
A couple of physical issues. My left knee, hurting a bit after the Triple Crown, started bothering me again; and my right quad cramped up a bit. I’ll be seeing a physiotherapist.