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. Met him early this past April.  A friend asks me to accompany him on an unassisted English century the next morning- I acquiesce.  Not normally an issue, but I had about 60 km in my guns after two rides so far into the season (the allure of hardman status hadn’t occurred to me as of yet and otherwise winter training in the Philly burbs is impossible.)  I felt fantastic until about 140km in- all of a sudden, I was fantasizing about ditching my bike and collapsing in a burst of tears.  I was convinced my back tire was at 2 bars of pressure, an alchemist turned my cranks to depleted uranium, and 20 km’h was beyond terminal velocity.  The last 25 km were a blur of agony.

    Best ride of the season- need to do it again soon.  (And no more running in the winter to maintain cycling conditioning- the rollers have already taken residence in my garage.)

  2. @Durishin

    I have always found that Rule #6 washes away fear of the man with the hammer.

    Until it doesn’t.  Truly meeting the the Man With The Hammer is not in your head, it is in your belly, your liver, and your blood chemistry.  When you are depleted, you are depleted, no mater what your mind says.

  3. @snoov

    @the Engine I’m surprised that you’ve even heard of Buck 65, unless you’re a closet Hip Hop fan. Then again, you might have just done a search on the interwebs. Me? I’ve djed with many a legend such as Afrika Bambaataa and Cool DJ Herc, two of the holy trinity of Hip Hop.

    Cha-fkn-peau mofo. You continue to rise in my estimation.

  4. I’m with @Puffy on this one. To unintentionally receive a visit by The Man With The Hammer anytime outside of a race means you probably did something wrong — not enough water, not enough food, poor planning for where to resupply, etc. There’s riding hard and getting extremely tired, such that you can’t ride hard anymore, but that’s dramatically different than completely blowing up and having your body start to shut down on itself. You can get the mental training of riding while exhausted without bonking.

    I do plenty of long solo rides, the longest of the year so far being 520kms. If the Man visits, I’m right fucked because I might be 200+km from home. I’m riding much slower by the end due to the gradual accumulation of fatigue, but the hollow feeling in legs and stomach of a complete bonk is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

    If you plan on bonking during an event, then I guess knowing what that feels like is good. But if you plan on eating a certain way during a race, shouldn’t you do your training in the same fashion?

  5. @Collin

    I’m with @Puffy on this one. To unintentionally receive a visit by The Man With The Hammer anytime outside of a race means you probably did something wrong “” not enough water, not enough food, poor planning for where to resupply, etc. There’s riding hard and getting extremely tired, such that you can’t ride hard anymore, but that’s dramatically different than completely blowing up and having your body start to shut down on itself. You can get the mental training of riding while exhausted without bonking.

    I do plenty of long solo rides, the longest of the year so far being 520kms. If the Man visits, I’m right fucked because I might be 200+km from home. I’m riding much slower by the end due to the gradual accumulation of fatigue, but the hollow feeling in legs and stomach of a complete bonk is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

    If you plan on bonking during an event, then I guess knowing what that feels like is good. But if you plan on eating a certain way during a race, shouldn’t you do your training in the same fashion?

    That’s some impressive daily milage, but when do you do such rides? End of June? I did my 250kms and it took around 9 hours. You did double that. When do you start, before dawn and finish at dusk?

  6. When I first started cycling I routinely met the Man with the Hammer when going out on 3.5+ hour solo training rides with no food, always making it home, but seemingly just barely.  However he, along with my own stupidity, has knocked me off my bike once  – after a long night of drinking, I started a group ride with a completely empty stomach (use your imagination).  At the start of the largest climb of the day I was dropped and halfway up had to get off my bike and lay by the side of the road. I was able to call my sister and ask her to come get me, but I had no idea where I was (even though it was a road I was very familiar with).  Since I couldn’t tell her where I was I told her not to worry about coming to get me and that I’d figure it out.  After about 20 minutes of laying there my head cleared up and I was able to call her back and let her know that I was ok, get back on the bike and get to a spot where I could get something to eat.  I did end up catching up with a couple riders from the group and finished the ride with them, but that was by far my worst (and dumbest) day on a bike.

  7. @Frank

    Supreme article. When me and my friends decide to open a website for collect our bicycle experience we chose the name “L’uomo col Martello”.Respect to all the cyclist that constantly are looking for the man with hammer everytime they ride.

    Jens rules! http://bicycling.com/blogs/hardlyserious/2013/07/30/my-favorite-enemy/

    Imposter! Imposter! Your name has been changed to avoid confusion.

    Its funny, I was just thinking yesterday that its interesting that no one has ever posted using the name “frank” before.

  8. @frank

    I think it’s funny you haven’t programmed in a way to keep multiple people from posting under the same name, especially if it has already been registered.

    (sorry couldn’t resist)

  9. @wiscot I did that ride the first weekend of June. I started around 6:30am and finished at midnight. With the long Michigan summer days, I only had to ride the last two hours or so in the dark.

    I enjoy riding at night, so as the days get shorter more rides will spill over into night. By December, I’ll end up starting in pitch black. With good lights and some extra reflecty bits, I feel just as safe as during the day. It is easy enough to see what the car coming up behind you is doing based on where the headlights are moving. I’ve never had a problem, just some quizzical looks at why this guy is out on his bike at midnight.

  10. Took up cycling about a dozen years ago – late in life.  Met the Man With the Hammer shortly thereafter when engaged in my very first 160km ride. At 120km, thighs cramped, breathing was erratic and vision was blurred.  I did not know his name at the time; but was fairly certain that TMWTH would persist if I did not get my sorry ass to the finish line and consider my training oiptions for the next one.  The results of Rule #5 inspired training have largely been successful as my elevations and distances continue to improve despite the advancing age.  I do not welcome his visits, but I do respect them and believe they are a measure of testing the edge of distance and climbing achievements.  Agreed that one must prepare to aviod his visits, but if you are prepared and he comes tapping in spite of that, then you are probably pushing it to the limiit.  That recognition and the familiarity of it all makes the accomplshment that much more satisfying.

  11. @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…

  12. I can see the point of the racers in the community that individually measure out morning espresso grinds to stay within their optimum training “program” thinking it is a failure when meeting the Man outside of a race.  It would indicate a lack of discipline or an issue with the “program”.  For the rest of us that don’t race, just ride, he is the Shadow and can strike at any time.

  13. @Collin

    @wiscot I did that ride the first weekend of June. I started around 6:30am and finished at midnight. With the long Michigan summer days, I only had to ride the last two hours or so in the dark.

    I enjoy riding at night, so as the days get shorter more rides will spill over into night. By December, I’ll end up starting in pitch black. With good lights and some extra reflecty bits, I feel just as safe as during the day. It is easy enough to see what the car coming up behind you is doing based on where the headlights are moving. I’ve never had a problem, just some quizzical looks at why this guy is out on his bike at midnight.

    Damn! Hat’s off! That’s impressive – if a bit mad . . .

  14. Nice one, Frank! 400 km? Woah.

    I find that when I haven’t ridden even for just a few days I begin to doubt myself. Can I ride that long? Do I still even know how to ride a bike? What about traffic, can I handle my bike in traffic before I get outside the city? Maybe it’s really just the Man with the Hammer trying to scare me away from trying. Of course, as soon as I just go out and ride, even if not anything massive, my confidence is always restored in no time.

    What a great lead photo! Love the guy in the desert general jacket, love the expression of the gent next to him, the “TF1” (is that what it says?) font and colors are superb, the rainbow stripes on the Total are excellent, and the guy in the Total thinks he’s just seen a beautiful long putt go in the hole. The old gent seems to have gotten shivers due to the blast of V-Force Le Professeur just emitted.

  15. @snoov

    @the Engine I’m surprised that you’ve even heard of Buck 65, unless you’re a closet Hip Hop fan. Then again, you might have just done a search on the interwebs. Me? I’ve djed with many a legend such as Afrika Bambaataa and Cool DJ Herc, two of the holy trinity of Hip Hop.

    $1.65 hails from Nove Scotia too, so he cant be that bad.

  16. @Jamie

    @Durishin

    I have always found that Rule #6 washes away fear of the man with the hammer.

    Until it doesn’t. Truly meeting the the Man With The Hammer is not in your head, it is in your belly, your liver, and your blood chemistry. When you are depleted, you are depleted, no mater what your mind says.

    This, I have never been more fucked up then bonking 30km out into a headwind in 0C weather.  Then it started to snow.  I slept on the floor wrapped in a towel still in my kit.  I never want to go there again.

  17. @Fins

    Some days you can mitigate this with food, pacing yourself and various other crutches. However, a true cyclist understands that some days you just have to take the long route and know that you will get home eventually.

    Day two of the V to V Cogal was like that; not enough training in the legs for how hard we hit Day 1; pretty well fucked by the end of it, and Sunday was a brute from the start. Even doing the rollers, I could feel how bad the day was going to be. I fed, I drank, I did all I could to keep him away, but his march was much more steady than mine, like Jason walking and still catching up to the running girl in Friday the Thirteenth.

  18. @Weldertron

    The Man with the Hammer and I had a long, wet bonding experience this weekend. Threat of Rule #9 weather meant the uninitiated ride leader called off the food stop with 60km to go. (didn’t pack any food, as a stop was scheduled.) We got on a very personal level with 20km to go, as most of the group heads home downhill to the east, I turn westward where copious amounts of Rule #5 were needed to make it up the 1.6km 12% that stands in my way on the way home.

    That’s a classic anecdote, isn’t it?

    Same happened to me on a big training ride last winter; we live on a ridge with pretty steep ramps from all sides. It was December, raining, and I was doing 200km which means sun up to sun down riding at that time of year. It was getting dark. By the time I got into town, I noticed I was slowing down way before the green lights, just to make sure they turned red and I had an excuse to stop.

    A few lights later, I was resting my head on the bars, taking cue from the cars that the light had turned green. By the time I got to the hill beneath my house, I actually stopped at the roadside and sat there, trying to figure out how I was going to get up the hill.

    I got up, and rolled right into the grocery store where I bought bananas and snickers bars and two cans of coke. I ate/drank all of it inside the store before rolling the 3 blocks home.

    That’s proper bonking right there.

    Then there’s the time I bonked halfway up Haleakala.

    @G’rilla

    Beautiful. Less beautiful:

    She gives a smile when the pain comes
    The pain’s gonna make everything alright

    From She Talks to Angels

  19. Ah Frank, I’m afraid that man wasn’t wielding a hammer, it was an empty bottle.

  20. @Deakus

    The Man with the Hammer is to be respected, his presence is an indicator that we are weak and have not been following the true path.

    I am not sure he is to be welcomed, and be careful what you seek….you might just find it.

    On the contrary; avoiding him means you’re not trying hard enough. No matter how strong you are, how well-trained, how closely you follow the path, his hammer blow will come if you push yourself hard enough.

    Meditate on this, my child. How still have much to learn.

  21. @Chris

    I came close, I think, on the Tourmalet last year when the man walked alongside me for a while and may even have filled my bidon on occasion but I think that he got bored watching a cyclist whose will was clearly failing before his body. I climb like a battleship.

    Or maybe like a fishing boat?

    I may also have come close on KT13 but Geneviève‘s baguettes trump a hammer on any day even when there is a cold headwind blowing out of Belgium and once you’ve put Camphin-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre behind you and you know you’re on the final run in, the legs become disconnected and the man with the hammer becomes less of a concern.

    You were on a good one that day. Too bad you still got smoked in the end.

  22. @itburns

    @Gianni

    Fuck that. I’ve met the Man mit Hammer and after he hit the soft spot on my skull it took me forty-five minutes to ride the last three miles home. I don’t like him, his people nor care to meet him again. He is an A-Hole.

    My Festum Prophetae tradition of a long solo ride is consistent in having the Hammering Man along for company toward the end. For this tradition only, I would feel cheated if he didn’t show. The rest of the time, he is like a friend that accidentally breaks stuff when he visits your home – you are surprised by the damage, try and continue to enjoy the visit in spite of this, and deal with the aftermath as best as possible.

    I think I’m that friend. That might explain my affinity for the MWTH. That, and I’m loud and don’t know how to stop swearing just because I’m around children.

  23. @itburns

    I can see the point of the racers in the community that individually measure out morning espresso grinds to stay within their optimum training “program” thinking it is a failure when meeting the Man outside of a race. It would indicate a lack of discipline or an issue with the “program”. For the rest of us that don’t race, just ride, he is the Shadow and can strike at any time.

    I still disagree with all of them; maybe a full bonk is bad as you work up to a peak, but aside from that, its always a great training technique.

  24. @Ron

    Nice one, Frank! 400 km? Woah.

    I find that when I haven’t ridden even for just a few days I begin to doubt myself. Can I ride that long? Do I still even know how to ride a bike? What about traffic, can I handle my bike in traffic before I get outside the city? Maybe it’s really just the Man with the Hammer trying to scare me away from trying. Of course, as soon as I just go out and ride, even if not anything massive, my confidence is always restored in no time.

    I’ve never accused anyone of this, but you think too hard. Just ride your bike and don’t worry about it.

    @Jamie

    Was his name @eightzero? Was the empty bottle Wild Turkey?

  25. @frank

    @Ron

    Nice one, Frank! 400 km? Woah.

    I find that when I haven’t ridden even for just a few days I begin to doubt myself. Can I ride that long? Do I still even know how to ride a bike? What about traffic, can I handle my bike in traffic before I get outside the city? Maybe it’s really just the Man with the Hammer trying to scare me away from trying. Of course, as soon as I just go out and ride, even if not anything massive, my confidence is always restored in no time.

    I’ve never accused anyone of this, but you think too hard. Just ride your bike and don’t worry about it.

    @Jamie

    Was his name @eightzero? Was the empty bottle Wild Turkey?

    yep

  26. @Puffy

    To truly meet the man with the hammer is not something I plan to do. Personally I believe if he arrives then I have failed. Failed to prepare for the ride, failed to train hard enough to complete it, failed to keep the carbs up during the ride etc. What ever way you look at it, it’s a failure. Enter the tunnel, fine… but I find that if I don’t snap out of it, take a break, eat something the man with the hammer is on his way. To get smacked by him means I have gone deep into reserves, done some damage and that is not good on a training ride. During competition by all means pull out all stops and to hell with the consequences but all other rides. Nope, fail.

    Then you have missed the point, friend. The point is you have succeeded in getting your arse home, despite all your perceived, as you put it, failures. To be bopped on the head, and then get home, is V for Victory…

  27. @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.

  28. @frank

    Same happened to me on a big training ride last winter; we live on a ridge with pretty steep ramps from all sides. It was December, raining, and I was doing 200km which means sun up to sun down riding at that time of year. It was getting dark. By the time I got into town, I noticed I was slowing down way before the green lights, just to make sure they turned red and I had an excuse to stop.
    A few lights later, I was resting my head on the bars, taking cue from the cars that the light had turned green. By the time I got to the hill beneath my house, I actually stopped at the roadside and sat there, trying to figure out how I was going to get up the hill.

    I got up, and rolled right into the grocery store where I bought bananas and snickers bars and two cans of coke. I ate/drank all of it inside the store before rolling the 3 blocks home.

    That’s proper bonking right there.

    Then there’s the time I bonked halfway up Haleakala.

    If these are what a visit from the MWTH is like, then I agree you should certainly feel that way after your hard/long rides. Last weekend, the VMH discovered me sitting in the shower with the water hitting me in the face as I blankly stared at my legs post-ride.

    I will still argue that actively seeking to bonk by not bringing or intentionally not eating enough food does you no good.

  29. @Collin

    If you focus on the physiology then maybe (I’m not a physiologist), but don’t forget you then ignore the power of your mind knowing what to do when that shit goes down; you are discounting the power of the most influential and most poorly understood organ in existence.

    Not to mention that its just good fun to feel good afterwards at having pushed to do something elementally difficult.

  30. @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.

  31. @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).

  32. @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 !

  33. @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”

  34. @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.

  35. @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

  36. @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.

  37. @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

  38. @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.

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