I've been biking long enough to know that this sport is really just a hobby (no Olympics—as a competitor, anyway—in my future). But I'm certain that I still haven't reached my fullest potential as a rider yet. Which is one of the many reasons (see more here) I seek out exciting challenges, like the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride, and why I want to work with a coach who can push me to, well, push myself beyond my wildest dreams.
I put the word out that I was looking, and eventually I heard back from a friend (Niko) of a friend who rides with CRCA (Century Road Club Association) in NYC. I loved the idea of working with CRCA. It's where investment-banker-turned-pro-cyclist Evelyn “Evie” Stevens (pictured left), who rides for Team Specialized-Lululemon, got her start! Niko recommended long-time member and coach Ann Marie Miller.
The 11-time United States Masters' Champion and category 1 racer (which means she's elite) is a USA Cycling Level 3 licensed coach with more than 20 years of experience as a fitness professional. When I Googled her, I found a 2009 New York Times article that quoted her as saying, “Strategy and power are a much bigger part of results.” I loved her philosophy, so I emailed her, then we chatted on the phone and made plans to meet in person for a light assessment ride in Central Park.
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As I pedaled into the park through the Columbus Circle entrance last Friday afternoon, I noticed this svelte woman with her back to me dressed in Lycra from head to toe, standing over a gorgeous (and expensive-looking) all-black Cervelo bike. I rolled right up to her and asked, “Ann Marie?” When she turned toward me to say hello, I was slightly surprised. If I didn't already know she was 58, I would have easily mistaken her for a 20- or 30-something with her slim, fit, healthy physique.
After your standard how-do-you-dos, we hopped in the saddle and started pedaling. Not knowing where to begin, I asked, “So has your race season started?”
“Yes,” she said. “I raced in Bethel, Connecticut, last weekend and won.”
Whoa. This woman is the real deal.
From there, we got right into it. She started observing my technique from the front and side. Occasionally, I'd fall behind her, especially on the hills. She's a fierce climber and her pedal stroke was enviably smooth. I was happy to draft off her wheel when I could keep up.
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Halfway through our first 6-mile loop in the park (we did two loops together), she began sharing some general insight as well as specific pointers. Among all the smart and useful tips she generously gave me, two stood out as my biggest challenges for getting ready to bike 545 miles in June:
1. Spinning is winning. Turns out, I've been muscling through most of my rides since, well, I started really riding in 2006. This means that I rely primarily on my leg strength to carry me across different terrains and up and over hills. The problem with this technique is that when enough lactic acid builds up in my screaming muscles, my strategy eventually gives out and I hit a wall.
To save my legs for the long haul, Ann Marie had me lower my gears until I could easily spin my legs at 90 to 100 revolutions per minute (rpm). It felt awkward at first—I couldn't stop my butt from bouncing in the saddle. But I understood her idea right away: If I can work on making it a cardio effort, then I can save my leg muscles from burning out.
The toughest part about adopting this new technique is that I can't do it at my normal speed (17 miles per hour on flats) right now. At best, I can maintain an 11-mph speed this way, which is a little frustrating. (Last thing I want to do is get dropped by my cycling buddies.) But if I stick with it, I'm sure it'll pay off in the long run.
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2. Stand up and fight. Generally, I reserve standing up and pedaling for picking up my pace on the flats and getting over a particularly steep but short hill. According to Ann Marie, however, getting out of the saddle more can really help build my leg strength so that I can tackle any elevation California throws my way (and I'm expecting some serious rollers out there!).
She asked me to practice this technique while climbing: Count to 10 while pedaling in the saddle in the easiest gear up the hill; then shift to make the gear one harder, stand up to pedal, and count to 10. Repeat until I crest the hill.
I've tried this a few times, and I'll tell you, the lactic acid buildup in my legs kills! Also, it totally takes my breath away. So basically, I have a lot to work on.
For the next three to four weeks, I will make it my goal to ride at least three times a week (an hour to an hour and a half on weekdays and a five-hour ride on weekends), focusing on these two major techniques. Hopefully, when I meet with Ann Marie again at the end of the month, she'll notice a huge difference (for the better, of course) in my riding style!
For daily updates on my training, follow me on Twitter @CDGoyanes.