At Nimble Fitness, in New York City, we always jump at the chance to get out and into nature, especially if that involves a new athletic challenge. Over the years, our staff have dug into surfing, snowboarding, hiking, ultramarathons, yoga retreats etc. It’s always good to both expand your horizons and get outside.
When I got the call from my friend Todd to sign up for the Ride for Mental Health, an annual event in New Paltz, NY, my cycling experience was limited. I’d done a couple of spins around Prospect Park in Brooklyn and a few longer rides with Todd upstate. Besides riding my bike into work, that was about it.
The Ride for Mental Health www.rideformentalhealth.org raises funds for hospitals to support research and treatment for mental illness and depression. For Todd, a psychiatrist, the event is an important one and something he has supported over many years, so I was happy to join up. However, the ride covers 100 miles over 2 days, so I knew I would have to do some serious prep if I was going to survive, let alone enjoy, the event.
The other riders in our group had a ton of experience doing long rides, like 500 miles thru California and 150 miles through the Israel desert, so I was just hoping to keep up with my crew. This is where consistent training and recovery—the stuff we do at Nimble Fitness—comes into play.
To set up my prep program for the ride, I used one of our key principles at Nimble: strength first. Cardiovascular fitness is important, of course, but it won’t matter if your muscle and fascial tissue break down over the course of two long days of riding. This is a lesson I learned training for marathons and ultra-marathons.
My strength workouts focused on unilateral leg moves (step ups, single leg bridges, lateral lunges), core stability (planks, TRX, push-ups) and mid-back strength (rows). Work on the bike was mostly in Prospect Park, which has some curves and a moderate hill. My biggest training day on the bike was 30 miles, which brings us to another Nimble key to effective endurance training: never do the race before the race. In other words, don’t overtrain by doing too much mileage beforehand!
Cycling is one of those sports that is gear intensive, and I knew this would be one of my bigger challenges for the ride. My gear as it stood was either lame or non-existent. Fortunately, our group had a ton of experience, so they helped me plot it out.
Shoes : cycling shoes are narrow; my feet are not. Cycling shoes are stiff, so you must find the right fit. I wore them for a couple weeks before the ride, even clacking around the house. 100 miles in the wrong shoes? No thank you.
Outfit : man in tights! A good fit is really important for cycling wear. Also, a good idea to get plenty of road time in a new kit before race day. Chafing is real, so planning for that is also super important.
Gloves : I thought, “It’s summer…It’s not cold, I’m fine without gloves.” That was my first mistake. More on that later.
Shoe Clips : my second mistake. I was borrowing a bike in New Paltz, instead of lugging my street-beater up there, and I thought the clips on my shoes would easily fit into the clips on the new bike. Not so. It turns out that there are like 5 different clips that you can use, and they have to match size-wise.
Another key to any kind of endurance event is the food/fuel you use before and during the ride. This comes down to personal preference, but over time I’ve developed (with a lot of experimentation & help from others) a race day formula:
First meal : 2 hardboiled eggs w/ salt, coffee w/ cream and beetroot powder, a slice of whole grain with butter and avocado. Water.
During ride : 2 bottles of water w/ electrolyte/ sodium added, 2 packs of choc-block energy chews. I also dug into whatever they have at the rest stations.
Game Day at last! Our group felt pretty good about the event. Our gear was set (or so we thought), the other riders in the group knew the course well, and we had a great meal the night before. Good to go! Which brings me to my third mistake…The weather. Always check the weather. We woke up to a downpour. I mean a real downpour, heavy rain, and winds. I had a light jacket, but zero experience riding in heavy rain, especially on the hills and turns up in New Paltz. Yikes.
This is also where I realize good gloves would have been a good, good thing. Too late. The rest of my crew have experience riding in every conceivable kind of weather, so it was “you’ll be fine!” and we hopped in the truck to the start tent.
I just wanted to not mess up. Or crash. My biggest mental challenge actually was handling the shoe clips. It’s tricky to clip in and out, and if you don’t clip out in time when you stop, you land on your face. So, I hop on my bike at the start and realize I can’t clip in. The clips don’t match. Yikes!
We hustle over to the gear specialist on hand, and he loosens the clip and oils it up. It now fits, barely, and we’re ready to ride. Did I mention that it was pouring? What I discovered was that the riding glasses I had didn’t work in the rain. I couldn’t see. So, I ditch those and off we go.
In terms of actual performance on the ride, one of my goals was to monitor my heart rate and make sure I wasn’t pushing it too high. At Nimble, we use the MyZone tracker to monitor HR in real time, and it proved to be really useful to regulate HR and performance output.
For the first 25 miles though, all I was worried about was staying upright on the bike. I gradually felt better about the clip situation. The rolling hills were beautiful, as long as I was careful about speed and the turns.
The back half of the ride was where the training started to kick in. I felt much better on the uphills.
And the rain has a silver lining : your body temperature stays down because you’re cooler.
Overall, it ended up being a great event. Hundreds of riders, amazing energy, lots of money raised for a great cause. And, the weather broke on day 2—bright sunshine. Despite my attempts to self-sabotage the ride, our crew finished strong, thanks to Todd and our experienced team.
Performance metrics were :
Average bike speed 21 mph
Top speed 35 mph.
Average Heart Rate 139 bpm.
Caloric output 3900 cal.
A couple glasses of really good wine after the finish (excellent recovery tool) and we were pretty satisfied. Mission accomplished!
If you’re thinking about taking on an endurance or charity event—or just want guidance on how to improve your fitness—click the button below to reach out to us!