I've Been a Cycling Expert for 22 Years But Still Make Some Dumb Mistakes Despite Knowing Better

·5 min read
Photo credit: Selene Yeager
Photo credit: Selene Yeager

I’ve been racing, writing, and dishing out fitness and training advice as Bicycling’s resident “Fit Chick” since 1999.

Over the course of those 22 years, you’d think I’d have my sh*t together and my event-day process dialed in, running smoothly like a freshly waxed chain. For the most part, that’s true. But there are times (too many, if I’m honest) when I—just like some of you—blow off what I know to be the best practices and end up paying the price.

So I thought it might be helpful to share my most common training and event-day blunders, so you don’t feel alone and we all can do better next time. After all, no one’s perfect—not even experts!—but we can help each other find more joy in cycling by avoiding these easy-to-make mistakes.

Skim (Or Worse, Skip) the Event Emails

Where’s registration? Where do we park? Oh, they’re letting people use drop bags? I wish I’d known that. Maybe, just maybe, I would know the answers to all of this and more had I taken five minutes to thoroughly read the event emails. Why don’t I? I don’t know. Because they’re often long and wordy, and I think I’ve done so many events, I’ll just figure it out.

Wrong. Even though I am able to figure it out a lot of the time, when I can’t, I am frittering away valuable time and energy—a problem that could have easily been avoided. After burning too many matches before even getting to the start line, I’ve made a commitment to being better. You should, too. Your race promoters will thank you. (Believe me. I’m married to one, and if you want to see someone’s head explode from space, watch as I text him 45 minutes from the start asking where to get my number…)

Train Everything But My Gut

This is a big one. I have written roughly 6.6 billion times that it’s really important that you fuel during training as you plan to on event day. Your gut adapts to what you put into it, so it can break down the food you’re eating and get it where it needs to go. That’s even more essential during exercise when your gut is compromised. I know this. Yet, I am somehow still surprised that I feel like tossing my chews four hours into an event because I am putting in more carbs than I’m used to during training.

When I’ve been disciplined, eating on long training rides as I plan to—taking in about 200 calories an hour, as opposed to doing four hour rides on a couple of bottles and a cookie—my gut is far more cooperative when it’s go time.

Believe the Weather Report

Why, oh why is it still so difficult to predict the weather in the 21st century? And why, oh, why do I still believe said forecasts? (And I have four weather apps that I check obsessively before any given event.)

This has led to some fairly terrible outcomes that have nearly resulted in DNFs (and really should have resulted in a couple of DNFs were I not so stubborn). The worst of these was an arduous gravel century in northern Pennsylvania called Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. The forecast was for showers in the morning giving way to partly sunny skies and highs in the 50s. Perfect, right?

Yeah, right. The showers turned to steady rain and lingered for nearly seven hours and the temps barely kissed 40 degrees. I was not layered for 38 degrees, heavy overcast and rainy weather. Neither were my riding mates. If not for a diner that didn’t mind four of us soaking their tables, seats, and floors as we sipped coffee, slurped soup, and shivered our way back into the world of the living, we would have never made it to the finish.

Now, unless it’s a relatively short day and zero chance of adverse conditions, I always pack a waterproof Gore layer…just in case.

Underestimate the Course

Gravel events are exponentially harder than road events of the same distance and course profile. I know this from more than a decade of riding and racing gravel.

Yet, somewhere in my lizard brain, I’ll still look at 30 miles between aid stations in a gravel ride and think, “Eh, two water bottles ought to do…” only to find myself unscrewing my bottles and shaking out ever last droplet with 12 miles of B-road to go before I can get a refill.

An equally dumb move I’ve pulled more than once is blowing off the last aid station, because “it’s not that far from the finish.” If there’s an aid station that seems oddly close to the finish, it’s likely gonna take you longer finish than you think. I’d like to say that I’ve learned my lesson on this one, but I literally just did it three weeks ago at a gravel event in central PA. 😑

Eat Fun New Foods!

Who doesn’t want to try spicy Thai basil squid with chilies the night before a hilly hundo? I mean what could go wrong? You’re in a fun, new-to-you town, you want to try some fun new-to-you food, right? Don’t. Do. This. Just don’t.

Leave the Pump at Home

CO2s have their place. And that place—without also having a backup pump—is not in anything longer than a cross-country race. I’ve been lucky and have rarely flatted in big events. But when I do, I generally don’t have one CO2, but six. If I carry two CO2s, I now have four flats to fix by hoping for the kindness of other, more properly prepared riders. Mini pumps are not heavy. They take up very little real estate. I’m still not perfect on this one, but I hereby resolve to find a place to stash it and always have it handy.

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