What to Think About When on an Endurance Ride

02.28.2009 | 4:10 am

If you’re going to be an endurance cyclist — and I assume you are, because it’s a rapidly growing sport with mass appeal and huge sponsorship opportunities — you’re going to spend a bunch of time on your bike, both before and during races. During some of that time, you’re going to be caught up in the moment of cycling — you’ll be concentrating on going your fastest, adjusting to terrain, maybe even talking with other cyclists.

But some of the time, I’m going in a straight line at a steady speed, and your brain is going to need something to do. Here are a few things I do.

  • Do a big ol’ multistep math problem: My favorite is: “If I were riding a fixed gear (trying to simplify out the coasting/gearing variables) 29” bike with a 1:2 gear ratio on this ride (say, 104 miles), how many times would I have to turn the cranks to do this ride? This involves:

    1. Determining the circumference of the wheel + tire: 31 (29” + a couple inches for the tire) * pi (round to 3.14) = 97.34, round down to 97”
    2. Multiply that by 2 to get the distance covered in the turn of a crank: 194”
    3. Determining the number of inches in the distance of the race: 12” (in a foot)* 5280 (feet in a mile) * 104 (miles in the race): 6,589,440
    4. Dividing number of inches in a race by the number of inches in a crank turn: 6,589,440 / 97 = ~67,932 crank turns per Leadville race.

      ‘Course, I just did all that with a calculator, so it was easy. Doing that in my head while I’m breathing hard is tough. I do a lot of rounding, and I’m never sure whether I get it right. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever thought to double check whether the result I came up with is close to right. But you have to admit, it’s a pretty big number.

  • Forecast my finish time, based on how I’m doing. This number goes from wildly optimistic to wildly pessimistic as a function of how my legs feel at the moment.
  • Write the race story: I’ll sometimes start writing key segments to a race recap while I’m still in the race. I’m pretty good at this; I can see whole sentences in my head, edit them, and bring them back later pretty much intact.
  • Concoct excuses: When I’m not doing well in the race, I start investigating the past to find a real reason why I did poorly, or at least one that cannot be easily refuted. Then I test out the excuse in internal conversations, honing it to perfection. If it’s really good, it might even become the centerpiece of the story recap.
  • See if I can get a song stuck in my head: Everyone’s got songs stuck in their heads from time to time, but has anyone ever successfully done this on purpose? I’ve tried, and so far I never have been able to.
  • See if I can get a song unstuck from my head: I remember, during the Laramie Range Enduro (100K MTB race, now defunct, alas), I had They Might Be Giants’ “Birdhouse in Your Soul” go through my mind for the entire race. The problem was, I only knew the chorus, and didn’t even have that down cold. By the end of the race, I hated that song desperately, and yet it played on and on and on in my head.

Some may ask, “Well, how about listen to music while you’re racing?” Sorry, but I don’t do that. Why not? I don’t want to.


  1. Comment by buckythedonkey | 02.28.2009 | 4:18 am

    You can while away miles mentally rehearsing your victory salute. Here’s a useful guide:



  2. Comment by Mike Roadie | 02.28.2009 | 6:19 am

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    Earlier this week, you may have thought, did President Obama just say what I think he said?

    He did.

    “Our recovery plan … It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American, including me, by seeking a cure for cancer in our time.”
    President Obama
    February 24, 2009

    Pause for a minute and let that sink in. There have been moments in this fight that have made us all proud. In cities and states we have fought to pass legislation that will improve the quality of life for us and for future generations.

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    This speech was another moment worth celebrating. For the first time in more than 30 years, the President of the United States stood before Congress and the American people and committed to “seeking a cure for cancer in our time.”

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    President and CEO, Lance Armstrong Foundation

    Just thought you’d want to know why we were doing what we are doing! It’s not all about the bike!!


  3. Comment by jwm | 02.28.2009 | 10:12 am

    I had to respond ( http://onlyviewihave.blogspot.com/2009/02/multithreaded-what-are-you-thinking.html ).

    I _know_ that I can’t do math after 5 hours into any race. I have tons of examples of me trying and failing miserably.

    WIN Susan

  4. Comment by A n B | 02.28.2009 | 10:35 am

    Love the idea of solving a math problem… problem is I really hate math problems and would most likely be battering my mind trying to come up with the quadratic equation the entire time. Instead, on long rides I like to try to name all the students in each of my years teaching (9)… I usually don’t make it past the previous year. Ugh.

  5. Comment by Miles Archer | 02.28.2009 | 10:57 am

    I’ve never tried to get a song stuck in my head, but I have been able to get a song stuck in my 10 year old daughter’s head a couple of months ago. Europe “The Final Countdown”

    When I did swimming workouts, I would try to work out the fraction of my completed workout while swimming, so you’re not along there.

  6. Comment by Chris | 02.28.2009 | 12:04 pm

    Worst song stuck in head experience: 100 miles with the theme from ‘Wow Wow Wubbzy’ – http://www.wubbzy.com/

    song – (sorry can’t get direct links to the YT videos)

    Now, keep in mind I could only remember the first 3 stanzas… an infuriating ride.

  7. Comment by Di | 02.28.2009 | 12:48 pm

    Once I hit that point where the endorphins are kicking in – about 50 minutes into my workout – I can’t do math. Even simple math kills me. Figuring out the tip at the apres-ski or the post-ride just kills me.

    If I ride my bike into class (about an 8-9 mile commute), I’m useless at lecture. Nothing sinks in.

  8. Comment by MOCougFan | 02.28.2009 | 3:34 pm

    Download a book onto your iPod. Makes the miles fly by.

  9. Comment by Jorgex | 02.28.2009 | 6:40 pm

    Usually I don’t think much. My bike does the rest e drives me safely to the finish line.

  10. Comment by Kathleen | 02.28.2009 | 10:03 pm

    If I attempted that kind of story problem I’d get confused and fall over while riding my bike :-)

  11. Comment by Groover | 03.1.2009 | 3:41 am

    I envy you being able to recall your mind-writing later on. I write the most beautiful blog posts and stories on long lonely rides – unfortunately they never get to see pen and paper since my brain is not equipped with a powerful short term memory. Sometimes I wish a had a portable iSoundrecordingdevice.

  12. Comment by Kt | 03.2.2009 | 2:04 pm

    Oh man, and here I thought I was the only one who got that Birdhouse song stuck in my head during killer rides!

    Generally, it sneaks up on me, usually bursting onto the scene in the middle of hills. And mostly the chorus, although the part about Jason and the Argonauts is pretty funny.

    I can do the math thing pretty well, but it becomes pointless when you really get into it; it’s not going to help you go any faster or easier, and it’s going to depress you a little if you are trying to do math related to the race/ride you are currently in the middle of. Especially if you’re trying to figure out a) how fast you should go for the rest of the ride to get to the end point at a specific time, or b) how much further it is to the end, or c)any math relating to the distance or time to the end.



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