Laurent_Fignon_La_Plagne_1984

The Constant Companion

The Constant Companion

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A friend recently asked my advice for how to prepare for the longest ride he’d ever done. My approach is somewhat unorthodox when it comes to this sort of thing; I like to train to ride a lot farther than the event itself, and whenever possible, throw in a handful of sessions with my old friend, The Man with the Hammer. I suggested he do the same, just to make sure he understands the alchemy of combining total exhaustion with the reality of still having a long way to ride. Based on his response suggesting the idea somehow contained a bad taste, I assume he didn’t take my advice.

I didn’t invent this technique. De Vlaeminck was known for his marathon training sessions involving a diabolical mixture of V:00 am starts and distances of 400km in preparation for his favorite race, Paris-Roubaix. Fignon was known to head out for day-long rides with little or no food in his pockets with the express intent of meeting the Man with the Hammer.

The Man with the Hammer holds a special place in the mythology of Cycling; ruthless and unpredictable, he lurks about in the shadows, ready to strike at any time. Most fear him, but I have been bopped on the head by him so many times, I start to feel lonely for his visits after a few months. I sense him in the nape of my neck long before he draws his hammer down with his judgement. On long solo rides, when the mind retreats into The Tunnel, I often find myself carrying silent conversations. Perhaps it is he to whom I speak in those dark hours.

His presence as a constant companion may not be as insane as it sounds. Explorers have often spoken of feeling that another presence was traveling with them; the early teams who attempted to scale Mount Everest had difficulty reconciling the numbers in their party due to the convincing sensation that another had been with them. All three men in Shackleton’s party who crossed the island of South Georgia independently confided in their captain that they believed a fourth to be traveling with them. This, I am certain, is the great spirit of the Man with the Hammer. We must not fear him; though he may be ready to strike, he is a benevolent spirit.

There is something purifying in being completely depleted and still having to carry on; it flushes your transgressions from you in a cleansing flood. Don’t avoid this; seek it out; every rider should endeavor to experience his visits at least a few times per year. They remind you that you can push beyond your limits, that the only thing bridging the chasm to a goal is having the will to act.

Whenever I find myself weighed down and questioning myself, I head out on my bicycle with no food in the pockets and with the express intent of meeting my old friend, the Man with the Hammer.

// Defining Moments // Etiquette // Folklore // La Vie Velominatus // Nostalgia // The Hardmen // The Rules

  1. @Marcus

    Well look at Mr. Time Zone Calculus. Weren’t you the poster boy for not knowing what 5am Pacific meant until I build the countdown timer for the VSP?

    And you raise a good point, about confusing The Man with the Hammer from other things like bonking, getting dropped, going into the red, or riding like a stupid twat (which is what you described).

    TMWTH’s visits distinguish themselves by the suddenness of his arrival; though we may feel his presence, he strikes when we feel strong and we finally believe we have put him in the corner.

    Trickie Dickie kindly demonstrates. Fast forward to 15:00.

  2. @frank Piiiing!

  3. @frank not sure that was me (actually I am sure it wasnt) – when most everything important in the world happens between 8 and 17 hours behind you, you become quite adept at simple arithmetic (time calculus to you).

  4. @frank

    ops!

  5. @Chris S

    I am relatively new to ‘proper’ cycling, so I wonder if any of you can confirm if some of my recent experiences constitute genuine meetings with The Man with the Hammer.

    Is it him when all the power in my legs seems to palpably evaporate? When my speed drops by a factor of four, but the exertion feels the same? When my body suddenly becomes hypersensitive to every bump in the road as if the rubber on my tyres has been replaced with strips of metal? When I’m totally consumed by the mental effort required for every pedal rotation?

    Is that The Man with the Hammer, because it’d be good to put a name to the pain.

    One word – “YES”

    One step removed from lying lying in the gutter in the fetal position sucking your thumb softly whispering “Mummy”

    Welcome – fun ain’t it !

  6. @frank

    @Puffy You too. Time to rethink; his visits are signs of progress, not failure.

    Yes, absolutely, no point in sitting at the cafe or beer stop at the end of a ride with a “full tank”

  7. @CanuckChuck

    @JohnB

    Chapeau to those boffins who can design something to be absorbed by the body so quickly.

    The rapid effect you felt might not be related to the nutrients of the gel being absorbed, but rather your body releasing additional glycogen after tasting the sugar in the gel. I read about a study where cyclists that simply rinsed their mount with a sugary liquid (without swallowing) were able to go longer and harder than the control group that only rinsed with water. It had something to do with tricking your body in thinking it’s about to get fresh sugar so that the brain makes some of its strategic glycogen reserves available for the effort at hand, postponing the visit from the Man with the Hammer. Seems to be true for me: I can get a lot of mileage by dosing out cliff blocks one or two at a time…

    Anyone who has had children will know and be thankful at how rapidly a bit of food can change mental and physical demeanour.

  8. @Marcus

    @frank I reckon you are confusing some people out there who think that a bonk and a meeting with The Man with the Hammer are one and the same.

    Whilst a text book bonk will almost certainly involve a visit from The Man, to my mind you can also meet him at other times – when he tends to be a lot nastier and more intense, e.g. I said a brief unpleasant hello to him during a 10 min power test on Wednesday morning because i am currently unfit and went out too hard. If anybody thought things suddenly slowed down at about 2pm on Tuesday on the West Coast of the US, I believe that was me causing a rupture in the time-space continuum during the last 2 minutes of said test that may have taken more like 15 minutes.

    Either way, he is a cunt. But he is your friend.

    I think of The Man being a fat fucker on a derny riding next to you laughing off his fat man boobs. Some guys liken him to the baby jesus, whereas others see him in a Tuxedo T-shirt because it says, like, ‘I wanna be formal but I’m here to party too.

    Regardless when he visits, he does come at you like a spider monkey.

    Ahhhhh  Talladega nights – Will Ferrel at his best !!

    Shake and Bake baby

  9. @Barracuda
    I also have a soft spot for Derek from Stepbrothers – “I havent had a carb since 2004″

  10. @Marcus

    @Barracuda
    I also have a soft spot for Derek from Stepbrothers – “I havent had a carb since 2004″³

    Dont get me started, I follow him on twitter and some of the shit that he writes is just piss funny.

    e.g. and I quote ” God I hate condescending arseholes ! ( Condescending is like when smart people talk down to you to try and make you feel stupid) ”

    Waking up in the morning and pissing excellence.

  11. @Barracuda if we wanted our boys to be raised as pussies we would have named them Dr Quinn and Medicine Woman.

  12. @ChrisO

     

    Anyone who has had children will know and be thankful at how rapidly a bit of food can change mental and physical demeanour.

    Especially if said food item is blue

  13. @Gianni

    If you change your screen name to Dr. Quinn, I’ll change mine to Medicine Woman. Promise.

  14. @Chris

    @V-olcano Joe Friel is a triathlete.

    My personal view (more from a past life of running than my limited bike racing) is that unless you are racing a lot then you need to train out of your comfort zone to be able to know just how far and hard you can go in a race. You might not put every element of of a race into a training session – you tend to break it down to concentrate on different aspects in different sessions but you still need to address each one at some point.

    Joe Friel is also a bike racer and coaches them. That’s not really the point, though – I mean, you’re coming at this from a view of running, not cycling, so the methods used are similar as far as duration and intensity of training are concerned. Triathlon isn’t much different, it’s just silly is all.

    I didn’t mean (and neither did Joe) that you should only train in your comfort zone. That would not produce “continual improvement.” You have to go hard, and frequently. But you don’t need to, and really shouldn’t, deplete yourself so completely as to bonk/hit the wall on a regular basis. That doesn’t make you faster, it just makes you tired and fatigued for days afterward, so that training doesn’t produce good results, but just keeps you fatigued.

  15. @V-olcano I’m not suggesting that it’s something that should be done on a regular basis either, and I’m not sure that any one else is. It may depend on your definition of regular.

    I do, however believe, that whether your are riding, running or even drinking then you should know where your limits are and without crossing the line every now and then you will not know where the line is. I’ve found that it’s actually a lot further away than I would have perceived it to be, I have surprised myself many time how much harder or further I can go before I am truly in too far.

    I wouldn’t actively set out to meet the man with the hammer, I believe that, like la volupte, a visit is not something that can really be sought out. There are days when I set out knowing that I will not try to avoid his attention.

  16. You would think with my advanced years i would know better but last weekend i checked the forecast and saw pissing rain and head wind at 30kmh and a solo ride of 170k I would have taken the pragmatic approach and called off but no invoking #9 i set off with a wry smile . I falsely thought i had met the man before but it turns out he was only stopping briefly for a chat. The bastard took his big fuck off hammer to my head and left me a gibbering wreck. Normally a chocky bar and a full fat coke revive me but i was pronounced dead at the scene what a bastard! West of Scotland beautiful and lumpy but shite weather gotta love it

  17. @Chris

    I do, however believe, that whether your are riding, running or even drinking then you should know where your limits are and without crossing the line every now and then you will not know where the line is. I’ve found that it’s actually a lot further away than I would have perceived it to be, I have surprised myself many time how much harder or further I can go before I am truly in too far.

    I agree completely. I think I may have misunderstood your initial sentiment. Knowing where the line is allows one to approach it more cautiously in order to avoid disaster. Training allows one to move that line bit by bit without crossing it (too much or often, anyway).

  18. I don’t have time to ride 400k to meet the Man, so I take the shortcut of imbibing too many adult beverages and getting too little sleep the night before.  If done properly, you’ll see the man around 15km.

  19. Dude, you can tell you haven’t been posting a lot lately when you’ve been demoted down to a 2!

  20. I met him last weekend at Big Bear Lake

  21. I miss TMWTH. Screw endurance ceilings, it’s time to find my no food on the ride ceiling.  66K definitely wasn’t it. I like @oracle’s idea of the shortcut.

  22. @V-olcano

    Joe Friel is also a bike racer and coaches them.

    Sorry, you cannot “also” be a bike racer. You are, or you are not.

  23. @Chris

    @V-olcano I’m not suggesting that it’s something that should be done on a regular basis either, and I’m not sure that any one else is. It may depend on your definition of regular.

    I do, however believe, that whether your are riding, running or even drinking then you should know where your limits are and without crossing the line every now and then you will not know where the line is. I’ve found that it’s actually a lot further away than I would have perceived it to be, I have surprised myself many time how much harder or further I can go before I am truly in too far.

    I wouldn’t actively set out to meet the man with the hammer, I believe that, like la volupte, a visit is not something that can really be sought out. There are days when I set out knowing that I will not try to avoid his attention.

    The point is that you shouldn’t be afraid of meeting him. That alone will keep you from reaching your potential.

  24. @halfwheel

    You would think with my advanced years i would know better but last weekend i checked the forecast and saw pissing rain and head wind at 30kmh and a solo ride of 170k I would have taken the pragmatic approach and called off but no invoking #9 i set off with a wry smile . I falsely thought i had met the man before but it turns out he was only stopping briefly for a chat. The bastard took his big fuck off hammer to my head and left me a gibbering wreck. Normally a chocky bar and a full fat coke revive me but i was pronounced dead at the scene what a bastard! West of Scotland beautiful and lumpy but shite weather gotta love it

    Perfect.

    @The Oracle

    Dude, you can tell you haven’t been posting a lot lately when you’ve been demoted down to a 2!

    Good to see you again mate.

  25. @frank There are many things that will keep me from reaching my potential. I’m not afraid of meeting him, it’s more case of meetings with him not fitting into the wider scheme of things. If I have work or social responsibilities after a ride, which is 90% of the time, then I don’t want to be feeling the after effects of a kicking. If I’ve got a day to myself with nothing more than a beer and the sofa lined up after the ride then I’ll take myself much deeper.

    Also, as @Marcus says, you can do yourself some damage on the trainer/rollers over an hour. There are some dark places to be found on that route.

  26. @frank

    @V-olcano

    Joe Friel is also a bike racer and coaches them.

    Sorry, you can’t not “also” be a bike racer. You are, or you are not.

    ‘lube, dude.

  27. I used to do long distance running.  In running a marathon the body takes a pounding over time.  In training for a marathon it’s a good idea to focus more on the amount of time that you run rather than speed and distance.  For example, if your goal is to run a 3.5 hour marathon (5 mins per km), then your training should progress to running 32 kms at a rate of speed that would keep you on your feet for 3.5 hours or more – 6.5 mins per km.  You would do speed work on shorter runs to ensure that you’re capable of running at the speed you will need to run at on race day. 

    I don’t think we can apply exactly the same idea to cycling at 3/4 speed is way easier than running at 3/4 speed.  I think Frank’s idea of training to further distances at slower speeds has merit.  Or possibly something more like 90% of the distance at 90% of the pace may also make sense. 

    For shorter distances in running certainly the idea is to do a lot of longer distance running.  If your race was the 10k you’d spend a lot of time running distances longer than that so that it would feel effortless on race day.  A marathon is different though because it is such a herculean effort – I for one don’t think that a century comes close to being equivalent.  Maybe 250km?

  28. @Mikael Liddy

    Whilst I’ve felt the presence of the companion a couple of times over the last couple of weeks back on the bike I’m yet to suffer his strike (mainly because the rides haven’t been long enough). Planned 100+k for Saturday morning should have us properly reacquianted I suspect.

    job done, found the man lurking about 70k in when I turned on to a road I’d never travelled before. 3 corners later I was faced with a 1k straight wall that exceeded 20% in parts…the remaining 20 odd km’s involved significant mental effort to ensure the pedals kept turning.

  29. @Marcus

     

    Either way, he is a cunt. But he is your friend.

    I think of The Man being a fat fucker on a derny riding next to you laughing off his fat man boobs.

    That’d make it like riding next to a mirror then?

  30. @kixsand

    I don’t think we can apply exactly the same idea to cycling at 3/4 speed is way easier than running at 3/4 speed. I think Frank’s idea of training to further distances at slower speeds has merit. Or possibly something more like 90% of the distance at 90% of the pace may also make sense.

    For the ultracycling world, a general rule to follow for training is to make your longest training ride 75% of the distance/time of the race two to three weeks before the race. For a 325km race, do a 250km ride. For a 24-hour race, do an 18-hour ride. I also like to try and get in a week where I do at least as much riding as the event a few weeks before.

    For people that ask me how to ride an English century (162km), I’ll tell them to build up to a 120km and then they’ll finish the full century without a problem. 120km is enough distance to start learning how to keep yourself riding for an extended period of time. What you can get away with for two or three hours, you probably can’t get away with for five or six or more.

  31. @frank

    @Chris

    @Jamie I rather like his depiction of the hell of the north

    Fucking rad. That deserves a repost.

    Terrible. Beautiful. Awesome.

  32. “[T]he only thing bridging the chasm to a goal is having the will to act.” Brilliant.

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  34. @Collin I’ve found that 120km rule to be the case for doing 160, too.  I’m loosely planning a 300 at the moment, and I’m not entirely sure what’s going to get me through that – sure I won’t be able to hammer that like I will a century, also planning on mixing a bit of gravel in there.  Guessing it’s more than likely I’ll be doing it alone, so not expecting to see much change out of 11-12 hours.  Planning on my longest training ride before being 7-8 hours, hoping that’ll be enough to see me through.  Anyone got any golden tips?

  35. @simon Also planning the loosely impromptu ride for October. An 8 hour training ride seems right to savor the final 12 hour duration. Working on a 354km route that will take me up and back within a 12 hour limit — includes 30 min at the half-point. I may need some of your tips as well.

  36. @simon

    @Collin I’ve found that 120km rule to be the case for doing 160, too. I’m loosely planning a 300 at the moment, and I’m not entirely sure what’s going to get me through that – sure I won’t be able to hammer that like I will a century, also planning on mixing a bit of gravel in there. Guessing it’s more than likely I’ll be doing it alone, so not expecting to see much change out of 11-12 hours. Planning on my longest training ride before being 7-8 hours, hoping that’ll be enough to see me through. Anyone got any golden tips?

    The best lesson I learned from the 200 on 100 was to eat some thing VERY regularly  to keep blood sugars and energy from any lows. This advice from our friend who joined us as prep for an ultra Tri. It worked a treat. The only time I came close to crashing was when I spaced and missed taking in anything for 40 minutes. Fortunately our sag showed up with the rice/bacon/honey/nut balls and I was back on track. Its ok to do it with liquid Hammer type drinks every 15-20 minutes along with water but solid food is a must and feels better in the long run. I’d say do this for both training and the event as you will get a feel for what works – good luck!

  37. @Rob Thanks Rob, food’s definitely going to be one to get right.  Tried the bacon thing on a century with bacon, peanut butter and maple syrup sandwiches – got to say as soon as the bacon hit my stomach I thought the brown rain was only seconds away.  Rice balls sound good though…I’m planning on being unsupported, so there’ll be the twin challenges of carrying it all and refuelling from whatever I can find along the way.  I went to a sports nutrition talk last year given by one of the dieticians for the All Blacks, and he absolutely raved about chocolate milk – I’m definitely a convert, but not for 12 hours…!

  38. @Simon I’m not sure the dietician would have been talking of choc milk during the event. During a game they definitely drink electro/carb drinks. The science says choc milk is one of the best recovery drinks you can have. Research says protein is almost pointless during exercise (unless in the ultra distance categories), but the carbs and proteins in choc milk are as good/better than after market recovery drinks for after exercise.

    Good luck, biggest lesson is do what works for you…

  39. @Beers – yep, he raved about it as a recovery drink, it’s also worked for me when I’ve had breaks between rides – like if I’ve ridden out to a race or done a few k beforehand.  Maybe worth considering when I’m in the gutter 2/3rds of the way round?!  Lots of trial and error coming up, I think…

  40. @universio  Good luck with that.  Be interested to see your route – I’ve never really planned a “ride” before,  something that’ll take in special places and have a flow / story to it all its own, they’ve more just been ticked off the list.   I’m planning on late November / early December – hopefully the southern hemisphere spring will have sodded off by then and I can safely plan on not having a 60k headwind all the way around…

  41. @simon This route is yet to be verified with cycling around Lake Monticello and driving some alternate roads. The flow is going to avoid the out and back except on one long 16 mile section — Hollywood Rd. I am recruiting a September group to ride recon around the lakes before going the whole 202 in October. Naming this route Romans 5:3 — “Rejoice in thy suffering.”

  42. Lake Greenwood of course.

  43. @simon

    @Beers – yep, he raved about it as a recovery drink, it’s also worked for me when I’ve had breaks between rides – like if I’ve ridden out to a race or done a few k beforehand. Maybe worth considering when I’m in the gutter 2/3rds of the way round?! Lots of trial and error coming up, I think…

    Coca Cola after first 40 to 50 miles — glass bottles if available.

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    start_el('?display_element(Object(stdClass), Array, 1, 0, Array, '?@universio terrific loop, if a bit outside out of my geography.  Here’s mine – quite a lot of the territory covered in http://cyclingtips.com.au/2012/04/new-zealand-forgotten-world-highway/

  45. Just last weekend I headed out for the local “Triple Crown” route. Although the route was considerably modified to start from my front door and include summits on both Mt. Fromme and Grouse Mountain. By the time I made it home Strava told me I had done 3000 meters of climbing in 130 km, and on the descent from Cypress Mountain the Man with the Hammer caught up with me.

    That was a sketchy descent and a fight to make it to the restaurant for some braised beef poutine and Grapefruit Ales.

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  47. @DeKerr We have three climbs going up our mountain all about the same height and I know what my legs feel like after 120k with even one of them in it…never mind the nervous state getting down again – the top 10k or so of all of them is paved with the fun things you find in NZ rainforest – rotting tree fern leaves and possum carcasses, neither of which offer much in the way of grip.  You got bears and pine needles, right?

  48. @Simon Have an idea for the first stop (20min) to change into dry bib shorts / jersey after 164km and grab a 2nd charged Sigma Mono front/rear light(s) for the return at dusk. Sigma Mono USB rechargeable light is only good for 4 hours or so. Planning to start 3 hours plus at 7:00 dawn and then start new light 3 hours before 7:00 dusk. This ride is no stopping until 164km and no stopping until finish.

  49. @unversio that sounds like a plan – I can’t help wondering if the old army thing about never taking off your boots halfway through the day’ll come into play…

    I’m pretty short of places to stop between 125k and 260k, probably the toughest sector in there too.  Given I’ll be unsupported, I’m experimenting with adding magnesium citrate supplement to regular soft drinks / powerades, see if that’ll stave off the cramps…

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