What to Think About When on an Endurance Ride

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.

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