The Constant Companion

Laurent_Fignon_La_Plagne_1984
A technique crafted in the wheel of Le Professeur

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.

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136 Replies to “The Constant Companion”

  1. @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.

  2. 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

  3. @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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. @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.

  8. @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.

  9. 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?

  10. @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.

  11. @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?

  12. @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.

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  14. @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?

  15. @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.

  16. @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!

  17. @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…!

  18. @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…

  19. @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…

  20. @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…

  21. @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.”

  22. @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.

  23. 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.

  24. @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?

  25. @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.

  26. @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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