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Those things in life that are worth having are those things which are difficult to come by; perseverance is made more rewarding by the volume of messages ignored by the mind as we work towards a goal.

Fatigue comes in many forms and is normally framed in negative connotations; weariness, exhaustion – both things to avoid. For a Cyclist, it can carry a range of  meanings. We may become weary of riding in the rain, as I normally am at this time of year; stuffing my shoes with yesterday’s newspaper post-ride in the hope that the dry accounting of our current events will somehow render my shoes less soggy the next day. We may become weary as we approach the big climb of the day when we know what suffering lies around the bend. To push on during an effort despite an overwhelming exhaustion that lays bare our spirit and threatens to stop our legs from turning.

But fatigue can be a beautiful thing. The fatigue that registers as a result of the post-ride status check is the gauge by which we measure satisfaction in our work. Even during the ride, we find that fatigue may not always be the sentinel of the Man with the Hammer; even as the wave of exhaustion washes over us, we learn through practice that we can continue or even lift our effort.

My favorite fatigue is the kind that sets in during a long ride; when the body has acquiesced to the mind and the signals of discomfort and pain have stopped being sent. The legs at this point take on an almost anesthetic quality to them, they don’t hurt but they don’t feel either; they have a thickness that, while they lack the punch they have when fresh, allows us to continue to push on the pedals for hours on end.

This happened to me during my most recent long ride. It was a cold, rainy day – cold enough that snow fell at the tops of the two major climbs of the day. The last big climb came at 160km and, while there is no such thing as a flat route in the Seattle area, the roads home lacked the steep grades that characterize our urban streets. The descent from Cougar Mountain froze me to my core. Starting in the snow and ending in the pouring rain, I arrived at the first of the minor climbs on the way home and pushed the button on my left shifter to slip into the little ring. Instead of making contact, my frozen hand slipped limply along the lever and did little more than jiggle the button.

This presented an unusual problem. At this point I was tired after having a piled a load of kilometers in my legs. I was also becoming just the slightest bit annoyed at how cold I was. I swerved dangerously as I experimented with bashing different parts of my hands and arms against the disappointingly stubborn shifter to try to get it to budge. Inanimate objects and I have an uneasy history, and I soon found myself giving it the customary inputs involving profanity and questioning the pureness of its mother.

Having that unpleasant business out of the way, I resigned myself to riding home in the big ring feeling fortunate that my right hand was still capable of shifting so at least I wasn’t riding a glorified single speed. And then it hit me: it was actually quite easy to carry on this way, riding in the big ring. The legs still managed to turn over and I hardly felt a thing as I pushed harder on them whenever the road pointed up. Even a few of the hills on which I struggle to stay in the big ring during my usual training rides seemed to pass under my wheels without giving undue notice.

That sensation of power combined with the heavy fatigue I carried with me distinguishes itself as one that comes only during my longest rides on those days when my form is good enough that the effort hasn’t cracked me entirely. Wholly unlike the seduction of La Volupte, it does bear a vague similarity in its rarity. Powerful fatigue; vive la Vie Velominatus.

// La Vie Velominatus // Nostalgia // Tradition

  1. @Marcus

    And pot belge took it a step further. Take it while you’re racing and at the after party.

    Or while driving in the caravan! No dope controls for the team staff!

    I love the priorities there – not oh shit, or ouch, or is my bike ok…”Did I win?”

  2. @frank

    No doubt! Now, does that actually count? Do you have to be “on your bike and under control” when you cross the finish, or can you fly/fall/roll across it first and still technically win?

  3. @mcsqueak
    Damn, I wish that was me, because he won! I was refering to the crash of fatigue which is a lot more common and a lot less video worthy.

    There was a guy that skipped across the line during the bunch sprint on a NRC race a few years ago and he was given the win.

  4. @frank

    All topped by that! Salt and brown sugar in OJ? Kill me now, but Nuuns and water work just fine for me, thankyouverymuch.

    I wouldn’t drink that concoction unless the ride is long (otherwise, plain water) – but in my hot climate, sweating is inevitable along with the resultant loss of salt. When your body needs it, everything tastes better with added salt. I’ve purposely adopted the habit of sprinkling some Fleur de Sel into everything I eat – and I eat like a pig; two-three full, carb-rich meals a day plus breakfast and grazing.

    Basically, my mix is not far from the concept of Gatorade and other isotonic drinks – the diluted OJ is less thick, the sugar adds some energy and the salt replaces what was sweated away. It’s delicious on a hot day on the bike – I like it better than powder-mixed iso.
    @Club Velo des Moutons Noirs

    Did the Etape a couple of years back – Le Tourmalet – and met a more experienced rider than me (actually there were about 10,000 of them) whose formula is as follows: start a long ride two water bottles, each filled with high density carbohydrate drink. When you’ve drunk them, refill with water and add electrolyte tablets or nothing at all. Keep refilling throughout the event (on that day, 180km with two Cat 1′s and one HC, in 80-85deg heat, I refilled each bottle three times) until one hour to go. Then drink full fat coke and/or espresso. Caffeine and sucrose are the key ingredients. This will lift you to the finish. After that you will crash, so experiment and time it correctly. You don’t want to crash with 2km still to go.

    On the few occasions I did 6-7+ hour rides, I did pretty much that, but more out of necessity than planning – it’s hard to replenish the carb-drink out on the road. Did he explain why he stops the fuelling until the final drink?

  5. I tend to keep homemade sachets of HI5 powder in my pockets to refill bottles on any rides over 50km. I found it necessary in Oz, especially over summer, when the temps are regularly in the high 30s and sometimes low to mid 40s. A couple of times I even took the step of adding salt but found the mix to be like sucking cordial through a dirty sock, maybe I should add some coke and spice the mix up a bit.

    That said I reckon coke has to be the best thing for warding off the bonk mid-ride. I’m fairly sure it’s saved me a number of times from an agonising leg home.

    Try riding almost anywhere in Australia and no matter how much sunscreen you use you’ll end up with some stunning tan lines.

  6. The whole topic of fatigue, and going until the tank gets empty and beyond has always been interesting and attractive for me. On uncountable occasions in my 20’s I emptied the tank completely either on a bike or nordic skiing. It was an enjoyable part of my life.

    In recent years (I am now 47) I have come to see the effects of this. I sought medical help for some metabolic stuff that was going on, and ran a series of very complete blood tests. From this, my endocrinologist diagnosed that I have relevant, irreversible damage to my pancreas resulting directly from ‘emptying the tank’ too completely, too many times. I am managing this carefully to not progress into diabetes.

    Now I still go for hard 6-hour rides, but never without a ton of food, drinks, water stops,…

    Expand your limits, enjoy the glory of suffering, but be smart about it.

  7. Hmm, well the main thing is to do what works for you but that said…

    You only have to look at the triathletes who can’t seem to go around the block without six gels taped to their top tube to there’s a lot of money directed at making people use more prepared drinks etc.

    There are some interesting articles on it (and on lots of other sports science stuff) here:

    Essentially if I recall several of their pieces correctly they suggest that:
    1. You should drink to thirst, not to some prescribed amount, and generally water.
    2. If you drink sports drinks to the recommended amounts, your body’s electrolyte levels may fall, because the concentration is not high enough in sports drinks but you are adding more liquids.
    3. On the other hand if you increase your sodium levels you will only feel thirstier.
    3. Studies have shown better performance with slight dehydration. 2-3% is normal and in fact optimal.

    I certainly agree there is more cause to use energy supplements in extreme heat but I have radically cut down my use, and will now do a 130-140km ride with just water (and a short food/coffee break).

    In summer I will use more, but generally one water bottle to one energy drink bottle is as high as I would go. And gels are just for emergency use.

  8. @Fredrik

    I have never enjoyed the feeling of emptying the tank. Last time it happened was on a 4 hour ride with @scaler911 a few months back, where I only had water in the bidons and a single granola bar in my pocket as a snack. About 3/4 of the way through I just felt like I hit a wall, and I wound up “limping” home. Was not a good feeling, and it’s interesting to think that you can actually harm yourself by doing that too often.


    It’s not a shocker that the sports drink companies want you to consume as much of their product as possible.

    I don’t know if they have these same commercials in the sand pit and back in the UK, but here in America Gatorade has launched a line of “pre”, “during” and “post” workout energy drinks and gels, targeted specifically at people going to the gym and playing basketball (from what I can tell from the commercials, any ways).

    That just seems silly to me, and a major overkill. If you can’t make it through a 1-2 hour gym session or a pickup basketball game without energy supplements, you’re doing something wrong!

    I’ve found more recently (like over the past half year or so) I seem to get hungry on my rides towards the end. Energy drinks seem to hold the edge off of that, but I’m also thinking I should eat closer to riding (my strategy until now was to give myself a good hour or two between eating and riding in order to let everything get out of my stomach and not cause cramps while riding).

    For rides of less than two hours, water seems to work just fine. Over that and I like HEED, but I use only a single scoop in each bottle, and drink when thirsty, not at specific intervals to try and replace energy. I think the “formula” on the bag for someone of my weight is supposed to be like 2-3 scoops, which seems crazy. As it stands now, a single bag will last me almost 6 months.

  9. @mcsqueak
    I started using HEED last year, and I have noticed a benefit in my performance. I consume it about the same way you do, which is to say that if I’m on the bike more than two hours, I’ll bring a bottle of it with me. If you ride more than two hours, Hammer Nutrition recommends Perpetuem, which I haven’t tried. One of my riding buddies swears by it, though, for his really long rides.

    There may be a marginal performance benefit in one over the other for extended duration events, but I think it is likely just one more way to separate me from my ducats.

  10. Fatigue? Back in my younger days (the 80s) I knew nothing and would go 3 hour rides with one bottle and little or nothing to eat. The last 10 miles were usually done very slowly as I hit the wall hard. Years and knowledge have since improved and I drink and eat enough. Never tried Coke as I generally avoid soft drinks, but might give it a try sometime.

    When I do organized rides, I usually stop at each rest stop, but just long enough to refill bottles and grab a very quick bite. I don’t hang around. At the end of the ride it’s fitness, not fatigue, that’s the enemy.

    For me, prep is key. In my case a big bowl of raisins, yogurt and oats mixed together. Nice, slow release energy for the day.

  11. @ChrisO
    Two of my riding partners are Ironman triathletes sponsored by Gu, and I sometimes wonder what the hell they’d do without that endless supply of gels and Chomps they appear to consume. I pack light – a gel for emergencies only, otherwise I stick to granola bars and a banana. Gels are too expensive for me to consume on when training, or just-riding – I save the gels for raceday. Pre-ride food is as simple as it gets – white bread or pasta, with jam and Napolitana respectively – so it doesn’t “get stuck” in your stomach.

    On drinks, however, I don’t skimp. Summer here gets to a brutal 35-37c heat with high moisture, and tends to go over 40c in the desert regions. If it’s a short pop up and down the mountains (sub-50km), I’ll take a single bottle since I can rest and drink at the end. However, if I intend to be on the bike for more than three hours, I’ll make sure to I have something to drink until there’s an hour to go.

  12. @tessar

    You may call it brutal, I call it an overnight minimum ;-)

  13. @ChrisO
    We’re not that far from each other. In fact, you shared a race-course (warning: not safe for V) with my mother recently. She lives in the southern desert, and oh boy, do I feel your pain when the heat turns up. While the nights can get quite cool down there, the heat is unbelievable at noon. At least it’s dry – I’m located near the shore, which means milder temperature variations, at the expense of high humidity. One can sweat through the 30c nights as if one just climbed the entire Alps.

  14. That’s your mum, bloody hell – fifth overall and second in her age group.

    I only did the 100km course and from the looks of her time (and her guns) she could have ripped my legs off.

    So which desert are you talking about ? She’s listed as German, and I Am Not A Geographer But… they aren’t big on deserts if I recall correctly.

    The ‘winter’ here has been longer than usual although we’ve already had a couple of 35C days. According to the weather people the warm stuff is here to stay now. Hopefully that also means an end to the high wind and sand storms.

  15. @ChrisO
    She has the biggest guns in the country – faster on the bike than most men, triathletes or purely-cyclists. She’s a German-born and raised, but she lives in Israel’s Negev desert; she signed up as a German to avoid potential visa/passport issues on the flight.

    We’ve been getting the same sand- and wind-storms, then – I’m in Tel Aviv. I’m still debating a windproof top for tomorrow’s ride, though – the sun is out, but it’s not very warming.

  16. @eightzero

    Chapeau, Frank. Now that the first point of Aries is behind us, I am coming out of my gloom to make plans for the coming months. I have already signed up from (imperial) centuries out through September (and one special event in that month I have sent you email about.) Anticipation of the Suffering is often part of the fun.

    And to these ends, I’ve scheduled my first Ultra-(imperial) Century for this September. 118 miles, 4500′ of climb. Perhaps not as much as you maniacs out there, but it should take most of the day for me and the Velomispouse.

  17. @eightzero
    Good for you. Sounds like you have plenty of time to prepare. I assume it’s an organized century? Take your time, try not to get stressed out, use the rest stops and you’ll be fine.

    One unusual tip that works for me: at the last rest stop, take off your shoes and socks for a few minutes, give your feet a good flex and spread your toes. You’ll be amazed at the restorative effect!

  18. @wiscot

    Good for you. Sounds like you have plenty of time to prepare. I assume it’s an organized century? Take your time, try not to get stressed out, use the rest stops and you’ll be fine.

    One unusual tip that works for me: at the last rest stop, take off your shoes and socks for a few minutes, give your feet a good flex and spread your toes. You’ll be amazed at the restorative effect!

    Yep. http://www.rtcsnv.com/vivabikevegas/course.cfm

    We do a few (imperial) centuries each season, and know the drill – stop, eat, relax. The shoe pointer is a good one -thanks!

    This is also only a couple weeks after the Mt. Baker Hill Climb (ride542.com) that perhaps @Frank will have some more words on shortly (nudge nudge). But I rather suspect he is spending the next few weeks packing, dreaming of cobbles, giving all his bike equipment a tongue bath, etc etc.

    I’m also thinking the next version of the V-kitte should have an image of The Man With The Hammer.

  19. @mcsqueak

    I’ve found more recently (like over the past half year or so) I seem to get hungry on my rides towards the end. Energy drinks seem to hold the edge off of that, but I’m also thinking I should eat closer to riding (my strategy until now was to give myself a good hour or two between eating and riding in order to let everything get out of my stomach and not cause cramps while riding).

    I always eat a while before the rides, or at least a while before I plan to hit the part of a ride where I’ll be riding harder; riding hard with a full stomach is asking for cramps. I find gels are the best food during a ride as they don’t require you to chew them, but they are certainly less fulfilling than a cliff bar or some such. If your’e getting hungry near the end, pop a Cliff bar halfway through your ride and you’ll be right as rain.

    Paul Fournel wrote a great bit in a recent Rouleur, “Eat Before You’re Hungry”. Its a beautiful bit in his classic style, but the point is that if you’re hungry, you’re already behind the ball. Pop some food based on timing and experience, not hunger.

  20. Just thinking of that Fignon story… yesterday I was on my last big ride before the Tour (well mini-Tour for me) – 175km with 1000m of climb and done mostly on the front, so effectively solo.

    One of the guys riding was a triathlete who is doing Ironman SA on April 22 or something, and he was amazed I was doing this the week before a big ride.

    Yesterday was his last big ride and he’s got nearly a month to go.

    Admittedly an Ironman is going to eat a lot of energy reserves but it still seems somewhat excessive to me, and I’d be interested to see if anyone has studied whether it really enhances performance.

    @Frank Agree about the hunger, but for me gels don’t stop me being hungry. I need something more solid. Gu Chomps (little jelly lumps) are a good halfway house, though nothing beats a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Unless I’m racing I would rarely plan to use a gel, or the chomps.

  21. @ChrisO
    It all depends on the goals. In the case of an Ironman, especially if you have a target finishing time (or aiming for a Kona slot), training properly involves a fuckload of rest. At the end of an Ironman, the body will be completely and utterly depleted – so one has to start it with as many reserves as possible. There’s more to preparation than the previous day’s carbo-loading: Any hint of fatigue will pop up during the race.

    Proper IM preparation does indeed mean no long runs and rides for at least two weeks, if not more depending on age and recovery. Basically, what most do is complete the buildup period with a recovery week, followed by a very hard week a month before the race. Brick workouts, the last intervals and long runs/rides, everything. This puts the finishing touches on your form, and allows you to start tapering “into” a peak: Intensities are reduced, as are the distances, so your body will restore the joints and muscles completely and the body’s energy reserves rebuilt. The workouts are intended to maintain the form without actually using it – which means that tapering for too long might also end up with lost form.

    Of course one can still ride long, but as soon as you’ve got a month to go, there’s a balance to strike between fun (riding) and rest – more training, at that point, won’t improve your performance at the race.

  22. @ChrisO
    In short: If you treat the IM as “an event”, there’s no need to taper as strongly. But if you treat it as a race, have goals beyond “just finishing” – then a proper taper is a vital part to arriving fresh and fast at the start-line.

  23. @ChrisO
    Photo of a riding mate of mine on the weekend in Melbourne. Just did a 9:53 ironman. This was taken at 10:13 on the clock. Depleted reserves being repleted!

  24. Ran a few marathons back in the day.

    In the first 32 km the drink tables all had carbo drinks and water.

    In the last 10 km the drinks tables had carbo drinks, water and de-fizz coke, 50% mixed with water. Bloody amazing stuff, but most effective when you are almost totally depleted.

    Hit the wall at 30 km once, kept going, totally in a world of my own. Came to a drink stop (slow down, don’t stop, actually), and got the tables mixed up. It was at 34 km, from memory. Drank water, thinking it was coke. Tipped a cup of coke over my head, thinking it was water. Fair to say that the nutritional value of stuff you tip over your head is fairly low.

    Doh !!

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