It’s hard to know where to start a blog about mountain biking. On my side, there are so many variables and experiences that shape who I am as a rider. On top of that, every reader is coming into it looking to fill a different piece of the puzzle. I could list a dozen things that are important – like fitness, heart rate, cadence, endurance, base-building, intervals, etc… All of these things are worth talking about, but the starting point for me is the power-to-weight ratio because that’s where my story starts. That’s where I accidentally stumbled into speed.
I had been racing for about 5 years. I started as a novice-level racer for a year and then spent four years bumbling from race to race as a mid-level sport rider – falling to low-level sport when the races got longer and hillier.
For years, I had heard people mention power-to-weight ratio, but for me it was something that pro-riders and “weight-weenies” worried about. It wasn’t something that a weekend warrior like myself should worry about. I didn’t have the time or funds to worry about shaving a few grams off my bike and I liked eating and drinking beer too much to worry about losing weight. So, while the physics of the idea made sense to me, I pretty much ignored the concept for the most part. Many times I joked as I headed to the bathroom before a race that I was about to increase my power-to-weight ratio, but that was as far as I took it.
After the 2012 mountain bike season I was very burnt out on biking. I hung up my bike in the garage and ignored it for a few months. Meanwhile, I continued to eat like I was training for the Leadville 100. I never worried about what I ate because I always figured any extra weight would melt off once riding season started up again. This was pretty typical behavior for me – ride a lot during the summer and lose 10-15 lbs as a side effect of the activity and then put it back on in the winter when I was less motivated.
This winter was different though, I was working on a side-project/hobby, called Better Beer Authority, and as a result, my beer drinking had sky-rocketed, not just in quantity, but also in the fact that they were high-calorie craft beers. These weren’t Michelob Ultra and Miller 64. These were 300 calorie imperial stouts from Founder’s and high-octane IPA’s from the West Coast. At first I just started to feel a little pudgy, but soon I started to feel unhealthy. I wasn’t sleeping well and it was starting to affect my mood as well.
Big, Fat & Slow
On February 2, 2013, I stepped on the scale and weighed in at 204 lb. For some of you this will sound huge, others will say “so what!” At 5’10” this made my body mass index (BMI) 29.3 – overweight and on the border of being labeled obese by the federal government. That wasn’t a good feeling for someone who always considered himself to be somewhat athletic. This was the heaviest I had ever been and I was scared. I had put on over 20 lb in less than three months and my weight was heading in the wrong direction.
I decided at that moment that I needed to take action. I downloaded the calorie-counting app MyFitnessPal on my iPhone and starting counting my calories immediately. I had never counted calories before – partly because I never had a convenient way to do it. This process was eye-opening and it completely changed my lifestyle. The nightly 10 percent barleywine (okay, make that two barleywines), turned into the occasional 6 percent amber ale. The three bowls of cereal for breakfast turned into a banana and some yogurt. These were major changes that I continue to live by today.
Within three months, I lost over 45 lb and I was feeling much better (My low weight was 154 and I’ve stabilized between 159 and 162). At this point, none of the motivation was cycling-related. I was really focused on not dying of liver disease or a heart attack.
It’s Time To Race
In March, I got back on my bike (which makes for some cold rides in Ohio. Brrrr…..) and gradually worked on getting in decent shape for the first Ohio Mountain Bike Championship (OMBC) race of the year at Mountwood in West Virginia – a dual points race with the West Virginia Mountain Bike Association (WVMBA). In past seasons this race had destroyed me. The endless hills of West Virginia had turned my legs into jello and I had written this event off as a fun place to ride, but not a place that I would perform well at because of my lack of talent. I was thinking that if 20 racers were in my age group, that I would be lucky to finish in the top 10. 8th would have been an outstanding finish in my mind.
Then, a funny thing happened. 27 guys signed up for the Sport Veteran 35+ category and I came in first place. I won! What?!? Really? First?!? I was shocked. Somehow the hills had gotten much smaller. I didn’t bonk. My legs weren’t burning half way in. The racers who had dusted me in the previous season were behind me on this glorious day. I knew that losing the weight had made me feel like a million bucks, but I had no idea that it would carry me to the finish line in such grand fashion.
I’m not sure which part of this story is the epiphany. Is it the moment that I stepped on the scale and realized that my lifestyle had to change or was it the moment that I finished first and realized that I had untapped potential. They were both critical. Because of them, I was able to stay motivated and I was inspired to learn more about training, equipment and nutrition.
I wasn’t sure what had happened on that sunny day in West Virginia. The results would take a while to digest. I hadn’t changed anything about the way I trained, but the results were remarkably better.
In a nutshell, when I lost all the weight I had inadvertently increased my power-to-weight ratio. And, as I later learned, having a high power-to-weight ratio will make you a much faster mountain biker.
It’s not the only important thing in cycling, but it’s a damn good place to start when looking at how you can get faster and have more fun on the trails.
This blog is about everything that I love about mountain biking – which is a lot! Power-to-weight ratio is a good starting point, and I plan to explain it in more detail in future posts, but I will be exploring other areas of the sport as well. I don’t just like to race, I also like exploring new trails and hanging out with other cyclists. Training and nutrition will be the backbone of this blog, but I also plan on covering new equipment, cool trails and fun events. I hope you will join me for the ride!
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