The Excruciating Ecstasy of Hammering: 14 Reasons Why I LOVE Cycling

cycling-hammeringThis has been an interesting summer.

As my rock-star coach, Colin, once told me; “Interesting, is a word we use when we don’t want to say what we really mean.”

That may be true. I’d rather not say.

Let’s just say, for a myriad of reasons I’ve felt either apathetic or depressed. Hard to say which as I don’t really care.

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Lariat Trail Up Lookout Mountain (& Zion)

My midsummer apathy and I, we took a much needed ride today up the infamous Lookout Mountain overlooking Golden. Rather than listening to the another motivational episode of I Love Marketing—as I’ve been doing often lately—I let myself just be. All alone.

As usual, I found that combining intense physical activity with quiet focus is a most sublime place for life to arise in. What did the arising today was a fresh reminder of how much and why I love cycling.

Note: that I refer to the activity of propelling myself on 2 wheels as “cycling,” not biking or riding a bike. For biking is recreational and cycling very intentional. It’s like jogging and sprinting. They are related but quite different things. You’ll understand when you read this.

What I love about cycling…

1. I love that it’s ultimately a solo activity.

Like training with iron (lifting weights), it’s not a team activity. Yes, it can be done with others and this is often a very nice way to enjoy it. Yet, even then it’s you and your machine. And ultimately, like lifting, cycling is often best experienced in the quiet solitude of your own body mind.

2. I love it’s intensity.

Unlike most endurance activities, “hammering” (guide to cycling lingo) the pedals, as cyclists are known to say, is intense. The sort of focus and intensity remind me a lot of weight training in the way dance on the edge of your limit. Pushing that edge with each stroke while staying this side of complete failure.

3. I love that there is always a goal to be reached.

Cycling has goals like Dunkin has donuts. There are so many ways to set mini-goals—within a ride—along the way to the bigger goals. For example, while I’ll have a goal in mind for this particular hill climb usually based on the time, along the way, each corner, each straight can serve as the most immediate goal. So can the rider up ahead or the pencil thin cyclist passing you. There is always some way to break a ride into smaller goals that keep you focused and motivated.

Once again, this is true in the iron as well. Each set, each exercise, each workout is filled with opportunity for goals that challenge and keep you focused and engaged in training.

4. I love that it pushes me to improve.

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Jen Voigt Always Focused and Intense

Cycling can take me to the edge and keep me expanding my limits. There’s always some way I can improve in cycling. I can get lighter, I can get better at breathing, I can learn to fuel better and by pushing the limits my VO2 max and lactate threshold increase. While I’ve long passed my best bench press ever, cycling holds fertile opportunity for growth.

5. I love that it tests you.

Short ride, long ride. There is always a test coming to find you. Be it physical, mental, or emotional it’s rare that something doesn’t arise to invite you to quit. To urge you to stop.

In epic rides that, no matter how within yourself you ride, will always test your limits, I love finding my way through the maze of the mind’s debate to stop this nonsense. The arising of pain and fatigue or cramps and how the mind can lock on and take you away from focus.

6. I love belonging to the tribe of cyclists.

Stage+Start+USA+Pro+ChallengeCycling is a growing and massive community and when you “ride” you become part of this larger tribe with a common knowledge and earned membership. And my experience has been nothing but positive. Fellow cyclists are very positive and supportive, always ready to lend a hand where needed. It’s never a case of “I’m faster than you.”

7. I love that you can keep doing it your entire life.

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The Gear of The Time Trial

I’m sure there are some people with bodies that can run for a life but by in large, running is bound to break something down. You’re going to lose a knee, a hip. Something. But cycling, outside of crashing, is remarkably easy on the body. Challenging, intense, and healthy but zero impact.

I recall the shock and awe I experienced the morning I arrived for my first competitive time-trial event. I don’t know what I was expecting but first shock was the number of people and bikes. It was truly staggering. Then, I begin to see one 70+ year old rider after another. Here were these riders, well north of 70—some over 80—in full TT gear, aerodynamic helmets pulling up on $10,000 bikes. I was in total awe.

8. I love that you can challenge yourself in ways that 99% of the world would never consider.

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Enjoying The Triple Bypass | A Classic

Cycling has nearly endless opportunities to partake in races, rides and challenges that are options exclusive to those rare few that who, like you, find joy in the suffering. There are so many amazing, challenging rides like the Triple Bypass—120 miles over 11,000 vertical feet—which I’ve done many times. There are super scenic Grand Fondo’s like Levi’s Grand Fondo which I am eager to attend.

The fact is, you must learn how to ride, get yourself in riding shape to even consider these means when you partake you’re in the company of people who also have done the work to earn the opportunity. One, 97% of people will never consider. Select company for sure.

9. I love that you can compete with your clothes on.

Yes, clothes and cycling offers come very cool clothes too. Cycling “kits” as they call them are very colorful and complex. They aren’t just like vertically striped spandex you might have worn (admitting I did) to the gym to make your legs look huge. These serve a number of very specific functions, including making sure cars can see you and reducing heat and wind resistance, etc. And that’s all I’m gonna say about the “clothes on” competing. I’m sure you get the reference.

10. I love the data.

A cycling computer—like the Garmin—is mandatory in my book. You’ll see every pro-cyclist with one on their bars.

Garmin Bike Computer

Garmin Bike Computer

These report any number of vital statistics in real time that you choose to monitor. Things like cadence, heart rate, speed, distance, rate of ascent, etc. (The really cool guys have Power too.) These allow for constant feedback to assess your performance. They help me stay focused and motivated and riding on near the limits without busting out.

11. I love that cycling is not subjective.

If you ride Lookout Mountain in 24.31 minutes then that’s the fact. It’s not sent to a group of judges to decide if it was 22, 24 or 30. It is what it is. Faster or slower than before, it is what it is. And that is all.

12. I love how it feels.

The peace and presence, the pavement and pedals. I love the feeling of the air, the changes in wind, temp, sun and shade. The smells, mostly pleasant but occasionally foul.

I love feeling my body reach for air, finding the zone that pushes me. Riding within myself but not going easy. It’s getting to know your body—enjoying when you are strong and accepting when you are not. When I ride I feel more alive. Stress fades away and I am more at peace, in the present, than I was before.

13. I love the art and science.

Pinarello Dogma Team Sky Bike

The Art of Cycling Is Clear in This Dogma

The machines of cycling—yes, the bikes—and all their amazingly technological moving parts and gadgets are both impressive and stunningly beautiful. Part space age technology, part works of art. Nothing less. A well fit cycle is an extension of your body. It becomes part of you. If you ever want to see what showroom of the most elite machines money can buy—as I like to call it, “bike porn”—stop into Big Ring Cycles here in my home town of Golden. You don’t have to be a cyclists to admire the staggering beauty of these masterfully crafted machines.

14. I love the races.

Eddie Mercyx is by All Accounts The Greatest of All Time

Eddie Mercyx is by All Accounts The Greatest of All Time

Cycling is unlike any sport in so many ways. I started watching The Tour (yes, de’ France) in the late ’90’s. I was a fan long before I learned to ride. I love the strategy, the team work, the drama, the routes. Watching the Grand tours, like Tour de France is like taking a guided tour across an amazing country. It’s so beautiful and you learn much about history and France’s epic countryside and landmarks.

Now that we have an elite race back in Colorado, The USA Pro Cycling Challenge, I have the great pleasure of attending this amazing event each year. It’s hard to describe how impressive it is to see the the race live. The speed, the fanfare, the spectacle that is cycling. Last year I was moved to see the popular rider (and my fave) Jens Voigt (why Jens is the best cyclist on planet earth) lead the race through my home town, Golden, in his final day of racing before retirement. I can’t describe how cool that was.

Bonus 15. I love the science of hi-performance muscle fuel.

You’d be right to assume I’d get as much into the study of muscle fuel and performance as I do riding. It’s one thing to build muscle, burn fat or even lose weight and quite another to manage glycogen levels and remain fully hydrated. First, cyclists are obsessed with hydration and for good reason as nothing will slam the brakes on your body like becoming dehydrated or getting your electrolytes out of balance. Unlike 90% of Gatorade drinkers who haven’t sweat enough in a year to need any electrolytes, a serious cyclist must remain vigilant of the hydration game.

The real major challenge in cycling is muscle fuel or glucose—the stuff that makes your muscle go. Yes, even the keto / paleo followers are relying on glycogen / glucose—it just a slower process of accessing some. Me, I celebrate that cycling not only allows me to consume carbs (yes, that “C-word”) it requires it. At least if I want to have any strength and power. Cycling is not a “slow burn” sort of sport. One where you may get away with leaning more on fat for fuel. Too much time is spent at the top end of your performance threshold. In this way it’s more like sprinting.

On any given day in the saddle a cyclist may spend as much as 20-40% of their time in what could be called a two-wheel sprint. This is no place for a paleo nutrition plan! Consider that average cyclist can burn around 900 calories an hour and if you’re larger than that average rider, like me, that number goes way up. When I spend 8-10 hours a day on the bike I expect my body to utilize around 8,000 calories or more.

Now, consider for a moment, just how one might consume enough fuel to keep you from bonking (the bonk is not some silly idea from a commercial. It’s very real and it really sucks when it happens). I can tell you that with few exceptions, you have no appetite. You’re more often sick to your stomach from the lactic acid you’re producing. Even eating a gel-pack takes focus, energy and leaves you gasping for air. Bars are heavy, dry and hard to get down. But the fact is you have to eat. You must get calories in! That’s a fact.

Typically cyclists rely on gels, bars and hydration drinks that deliver some form of sugars; glucose, fructose, sucrose and maltodextrin. Yes, I said “sugar!” Oh my. Shocking. Well, once again, there are no bad foods only wrong times and wrong amounts.

Hammering in a bike is the absolute right time for something sweet and fast because it is your vital fuel. Ah, but Houston we have a problem. You see, for all their sweetness, sugars are rather large, clumsy molecules when they hit your belly.

Sugars act like little sponges when they hit your belly, expanding as the absorb water. This, and the capacity of the transporters that carry them into service in your blood stream, makes for an upper limit of how much fuel you can get in. Most science suggest that sugars limit at around 240 calories an hour. Beyond that and you can expect a back up in your belly. Bloating, distress, digestion issues and this can even lead to shutting off all fluids from passing through which means critical system failure.

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The World’s Fastest Muscle Fuel

Fortunately, for those of us who have the good fortune to understand the situation, there is a way—not just around—but right over the challenges of fuel. No, it’s not another sugar but a patented Performance Fractionated Starch called Vitargo®.

With a molecular weight of over 3,000 times that of glucose, the Vitargo molecule dwarfs sugars as well as maltodextrin, minimizing its osmolality (how much water it draws around it) allowing it to move through the stomach over 220% faster than other carbohydrates. It does this without stomach upset (huge benefit) and can deliver more calories in fuel in a water bottle than most cyclists eat all day.

The ONLY way to get your glucose levels up FASTER is an IV drip!

While this speed of energy delivery may be the very last thing you’d want for couch surfing, it’s laser like glycogen delivery for the active athlete. And this makes all the difference between struggling and staying strong.

It also delivers post-event. After training or competition, Vitargo is shown to recover glycogen 168% faster, allowing for an increase in performance up to 23% greater after just two hours when compared to carbohydrates found in ordinary sport and recovery drinks.

Vitargo, in my book, is to carbohydrates what whey protein is to proteins. Once there was only proteins. Then, along came whey. It looked great. Had many immediate benefits and time has continued to reveal just how potent and unique whey protein is. I predict that Vitargo will change the face of performance fuel and with it bring a resurrection of the carbohydrate and it’s vital role in a well tuned, strong body.

In Gratitude

It’s true. I haven’t felt much like myself this summer—whatever it is myself felt like. It’s true that it’s been a challenging few years. That’s life. It’s bound to ebb and flow. Yet, be it a good day or a tough week, there’s always a ride to be taken, a hill to be climbed. And just as I’ve found in the gym for the last three decades, I never get off the bike thinking, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Pushing my body, releasing the stress, feeling strength; I always feel better, mentally, physically and emotionally. It is always the right call. Just as with pumping iron, cycling has a zen quality to it.

At this time, perhaps even more so than usual, I am grateful for all those who helped me to discover this amazing, challenging sport. For my friends who challenged me, who rode along side me when I was crawling up hills cursing like a sailor. For those who taught be the essentials, helped guide me to the right equipment, dressed me in the finest kits and have been riding with me for years.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve such great luck, to find two activities that give me such great pleasure and strength for life.

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Ride On…

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  1. James July 28, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

    Great article,Shawn. Loved it! I’ve been poised on the brink of buying a bike, wondering if I should. I think I just found my answer and motivation. God bless!

  2. John Casoni July 27, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    2. I love it’s intensity.

    It’s only means it is. The possessive is its.

    • shawn_phillips July 28, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

      Yeah, possessive… that you go again. 😉 When writing I screw this up ALL the time… I have learned that not all parts can work in parallel… and the creative brain isn’t critical. Thank goodness..

  3. John July 27, 2015 at 5:09 pm #

    Hey Shaun, thanks for sharing. Cycling is a belief in your strengths, it reflects your character which comes from deep within the real you.

    You must fight with all your heart and each pedal allows you to fight for the opportunity to earn your right to keep hammering forward…

  4. Brian July 27, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

    Love reading your articles. But for a guy who seems to have done everything he’s wanted basically his entire adult life – you sure seem melancholy. Hints, but never a full explanation.

    “It’s true. I haven’t felt much like myself this summer—whatever it is myself felt like. It’s true that it’s been a challenging few years. That’s life. It’s bound to ebb and flow.”

    I tend to disbelieve the last sentence, not “years”… I think you’re too smart for that.

    • shawn_phillips July 28, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

      I’m just a guy doing my thing. I have the flows of life… When I get around to feeling the energy, I may go deeper in but it’s all there.

      Thanks for asking…

  5. Steve July 27, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    Excellent summary of what makes Cycling unique, challenging, and such a great activity!

    • shawn_phillips July 27, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      Thanks Steve… Enjoy the ride.

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