Category Archives: Training Tips

What makes a great group ride great?

By: Brian Ecker

If you have been riding and/or racing for a while you can attest to how nice it is to have a great group of folks to ride with.  The miles fly by, hard efforts are easier, and you get to catch up with a lot of friends you might not otherwise have time to see.


Why is it then that so many of the group rides that are available aren’t really any fun, you don’t really get what you hoped for, and often times you go home frustrated with the way the “other” folks ride.  You continue to go each week hoping it will get better but it never really changes.


The fascinating thing is that, regardless of the community, there are often the same ride offerings. There is almost always a group that meets on early Sat or Sun, and then there are always small groups that you will see often but don’t really have an open “invite” to join, once spring rolls around there is almost always a “training race” type of ride.  If you are really lucky 1 or 2 of these rides in your community will be fun and worth the effort to join in each week. Why is it though that, more often than not, many of the group rides that are available aren’t really that great.


What is it that makes a group ride great?


My opinions are that group rides work best when there is strong leadership present with a style that demonstrates a lot of flexibility.  Not the type of flexibility that enables folks to take risks and ride unsafely but rather the ability to help guide the group in a way that meets the needs of most.  Strong leadership is contagious and often leads to everyone holding each other accountable for riding safe and smart.


A great group ride typically starts on time or close to on time. There is nothing worse than a group ride that is set to leave at 9am but really never gets rolling until 9:20 or so.


A great group ride has pretty good agreement, before you leave on where you are going and how far.  Folks know, if they want to cut it short, where to turn off.


A great group ride makes every rider a better rider by simply participating.


A great group ride rolls out at an easy pace.  Folks ride 2 abreast, if traffic is agreeable, socialize and take the time to warm up. If someone pulls off the front they find their way to the back of the group quickly so that you minimize the impact on traffic, ie 3-4 abreast.


A great group ride always has hard sections and easy sections. Points on the ride where most know where the sprint line is and if you can’t keep the pace you know that everyone will eventually slow up and wait.


A great group ride has riders on it that know that this is a ride and not a race. They are able get  their  nose out in the wind a lot and rotate through quickly and often.  They use the “saving myself” strategy for race day and not for the group ride.


A great group ride has riders that stay safe by keeping their heads up and looking forward (not down), don’t make sudden movements, and stay smooth. Riders point out pot holes and debris.  Once a fast section is over, they slow down and recover allowing everyone to regroup.


A great group ride has “hard sections”. These can be anything from the ramp up and sprint for a city limit sign; it can be a good hill on the route, or maybe a fun windy section.  It really shouldn’t be every single ¼ mi roller where folks are stomping the pedals to the top and then coasting down the other side. Remember, you are riding in a group and for those that may not have the same fitness cranking out huge watts going up every single tiny roller only causes them to struggle and doesn’t really increase anyone’s fitness. If it’s your modus operandi to stomp up every roller then it’s probably best to ride solo or at least join a group ride that’s not great. Additionally, a great group ride won’t have folks going across the center line just to win the sprint. Riders on a great group ride stay safe and know what type of actions are not only risky but just plain dumb.


A great group ride has good etiquette and folks hold each other accountable (gently).  For instance, good etiquette is to stop when someone flats. Good etiquette is to have a bike in good working order including the appropriate tires so folks are not having to wait for a breakdown that was easily preventable.  Good etiquette is riding smooth and not half wheeling the guy next to you every time you are on the front.  Good etiquette is staying on the right side of the yellow line.


Group rides are great for the mind, body and soul.  Riding fast with other folks makes you faster and a better rider. Be prepared, have good etiquette, and have a great group ride.


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Filed under Brian Ecker, Training Tips

Ride Report: Kitsap Peninsula – The long way around

By Brian Ecker

Since returning from The 508, I have been transitioning my training to my winter program which always includes a fair amount of riding, some solid time in the gym as well as some great off road rides on the cross bike.  One of the pieces I enjoy most about the winter is taking the time to ride new routes and routes I haven’t done in a long time.  This past weekend I organized a small group ride on a route totally new to me.  I wanted to go long and I wanted it to be epic.  Who else to join in but Mick Walsh and Chris Ragsdale; two riders who know a lot about going long, going hard, and enjoying it.  We were also joined by Bob Brudvik, fresh off his solo ride finish at the 508.

Considering the recent weather, our goal for the day was a bit ambitious: catch and early morning ferry to Bremerton and then do a huge loop around Hood Canal. I upped the ante a bit a decided I would peel off at the 115 mi mark and ride north to Port Townsend and then after another ferry ride I would continue north all the way back up to Bellingham. (180+mi!) (

Friday night I hit the Amtrak and trained it down to Seattle where Mick picked me up.  Late to bed and an early rise had us out the door and on our bikes by 6:30am Saturday morning. We picked up Chris and Bob in Ballard at 7pm and were on the Bremerton Ferry by 7:30. While it was a bit of a cold and early it was a nice way to start the day: a short warm-up ride, a warm ferry, and lots of coffee.

By 8:45 or so we had disembarked in Bremerton and were rolling through the cool moist air (37F!) of the Kitsap Peninsula.  Our route took us SW on the Old Belfair Hwy and onto Hwy 106 to Shelton. A generally flat route, traffic was light and the views were amazing. Lots of sea life and fresh snow on the Olympics.  Soon enough we were on 101 and on our journey north began.  We made a quick stop in Hoodsport which is one of the many small towns on the route.  We filled up on food and drinks.  The temperature continued to hover at 37F.  Any stops had us soon shivering but once rolling up the highway our steady pace kept us warm. This stretch of 101 hugs the shoreline and for the most part has a pretty good shoulder. While there are not any big climbs the road does undulate up and down.  The fall colors still clung (barely) to some of the trees and the nice south wind pushed us along in spots.

At mile 85, we started up the only real climb of the ride, Walker Mt.  It is just under 2 mi and pretty gentle – about 4-5% the first mile and then 2-3% then 2nd half.  Mick was kind enough to set a hard but steady tempo for us.  None of us had a lot of snap which is easy to understand given the cold temps.  It began raining at the top so I put the raincoat on for the 5 mi decent into Quilcene.  Here we had a full stop for lunch at a local diner.  Service was exceptionally slow but the food was good enough.  Once we left Quilcene we took Center Rd so we could connect with Hwy 104 (which the Hood Canal Bridge is on).  Center Rd is a great low traffic wide shoulder road.  It has some steady climbing before you get up to the hwy.

At the junction of Center Rd and Hwy 104, Mick, Chris and Bob turned onto the highway and began their journey to Kingston. I continued north towards Port Townsend.  With the long lunch delay I had pretty much assumed I wasn’t going to be able to make the 3:45 ferry but after a check of the time and some quick math I realized that I still had a good chance of making it.  For the 45 min or so I put the hammer down and made it to the ferry dock with 15 minutes to spare. (Luckily the ferry was running as I had learned earlier in the day that they had shut the route down due to high winds!)

Quick jump to Whidbey Island

The 30 min crossing to Keystone went by quick and I soon found myself entertaining a nice tailwind heading north on Whidbey Island.  By now I was running full lights.  At Coupeville there is a small paved trail that parallels the highway which was a nice respite from the buz of Hwy 20.  Unfortunately the trail lasted only a short while and I soon found myself back on the busy highway although the shoulder is wide.  I had mapped out an alternate route that kept me off the highway but with a 140 mi in my legs and in full darkness I decided to keep it simple and stay on the highway.  If still had been daylight I probably would have taken the alt route.

Once into Oak Harbor the shoulder disappeared and riding the highway became a bit sketchy.  While stopped at a light on the north end of town I caught a strong whiff of teriyaki splendor.  Over my right shoulder I spotted a teriyaki restaurant and with hesitation it was full stop for dinner.  A full order of chicken teriyaki, rice, and hot tea seemed to relieve the weariness in my legs and spirit.  Back out onto the road and out of the city limits the nice wide shoulder returned which made the nighttime riding a lot less stressful than I had anticipated.  The temperatures were remaining below 40F and now a big east wind was beginning to kick up.  As I approached the Deception Pass bridge I slowed for a gap in traffic and then took the entire lane for safety.  I hammered across quickly without incident.  The bridge is dark, narrow, and not a place to take chances.  North of the bridge the road remains dark and narrow. Again, I had mapped out an alternate route but for a variety of reason I elected to stay on the highway.  Relieved to be finished with the narrow section I happily rolled into the March Point area and took the Frontage road that parallels the highway on the north side.  The east wind was at gale force now and the rain began to fall in earnest.  Crossing over the bridge and onto the Skagit Flats the rain and wind picked up even more.  I made a brief stop to put the rain cape on again and happily reached the junction at Bayview Edison Rd.

The rain and wind continued although the route had me sheltered from the bulk of the easterly and even picked up some sweet spot tailwinds. By 8:00pm I had finally hit Chuckanut Dr. and began taking on some gels to help me fuel up for coming rolling terrain.  While Chuckanut is a very dark and narrow road there is such little traffic on it at night that it actually makes for really pleasant riding. I lucked out with some more tailwind which helped my tired legs labor over the many rollers.  Finally, at 9pm I rolled into Bellingham wet and tired but satisfied. A beautiful ride with some great company on some great roads.

Ride Stats:

182 mi in 10hr 20min (ride time)
Avg Watts: 227 w/30% of the ride time at or above 270w
Total Calories burned = 7,100
TSS of 393 (As a comparison: The Donut Ride = TSS of 105, Arlington 100 = TSS of 276)

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Filed under Brian Ecker, Training Tips, Travelogues

Post Race Recovery

Recently with the start of the racing season I have had a lot of clients looking for some help with post race recovery and trying to maximize the short time between Saturday and Sunday when racing both days of a weekend, or maybe even a double day.  The closer together workouts or races come after one another the more important maximizing your recovery becomes.  The same is true with weekday workouts where often two hard workouts are paired back to back.

If you look at the athletes that are at the very top of the sport, they have several gifts which is why they are the best of the best.  These things include, amazing work ethic, genetics, opportunity, and drive to be the best at what they do.  One thing that many of them also have is the ability to recover faster than most.  Not only does this allow them to race hard day after day (as in the grand tours) but also allows them to stack more quality training into the same time frame (back to back to back hard days) as someone who doesn’t have that same ability.  There are many factors that go into ones ability to recover, some are controllable and some not.  The aim of this post is simply to try to take a look at your current recovery habits and possibly make some adjustments to that in hopes of better recovery.  I will say what works very well for some people may not work great for others, but this is what I have found to work well and have also had good feedback from others.

By far the most important aspect of recovery is glycogen replenishment.  Much has been written in regards to this, but the main idea is that there is a window of time post workout that the body is able to uptake glycogen into the muscles at a quicker rate.  From what I have read there is some debate as to how long this window lasts but I would shoot for within 20 minutes of ending your workout making sure you are taking on higher glycemic sources of carbohydrates.  Having a post workout “recovery bottle” made in advanced sometimes makes this a whole lot easier.  There are many companies that make products aimed at this.  I personally have had good success with Recoverite from Hammer Nutrition.  Although, If I am at home I still will go after whole food rather than powders or mixes, but on the road they are sometimes the easiest option.  Additionally, getting a real whole food meal quickly afterwards is also important.  Also addressing hydrating throughout the rest of the day to replenish lost fluids cannot be overlooked.

The other concerns that need to be addressed as quickly as possible post race/workout are immediately getting out of your cycling kit, both for hygienic reasons, and also for temperature control.  If it is cold, getting out of your sweaty clothes and putting warm dry clothes on to try and get your core temperature back up is extremely important.  I cannot tell you how many athletes I know get sick over the first couple of rainy early season races.  It sometimes happens even if you take all the precautions but minimizing your exposure is key.  Along those same lines, hand washing, and realizing that your immune system is compromised already after a hard workout is important.

On the other side of the coin if it is exceedingly warm, cooling down after  a workout becomes paramount to limiting stress and starting the recovery process.  A cold shower, an ice bath, or just a few water bottles over the head can really help.  Again getting out of your sweaty close is important for hygiene, even thought you won’t be cold.

The rest of these suggestions are smaller things that can add up to feeling much better the next day:

Compression Socks/Tights – Relatively inexpensive (especially socks) and great for recovery and travel, purchasing a pair of the socks or tights is definitely worth the investment.

The Stick / Foam Rollers / Trigger Point – All products that are meant to be self massage tools that can aid in myofascial  release and increased blood flow leading to quicker recovery.  I think the stick is the most inexpensive and transportable option.

Easy Spinning later in the day – While sometimes it is hard to find the time, jumping on the rollers or just going for a super mellow 20 minute ride can really help loosen things up.

Rest / Napping / Legs Up – The more time you can spend off your feet the better.  So try and maximize the time you are laying around.  Keeping the legs elevated will also help to increase blood flow again speeding the recovery process.  If you are able to take a nap, do so (especially on double days).

Stretching – There is alot of research on both the pros and cons of stretching.  I am not going to dive into it here, but if you are a stretched do so, if not well it may or may not be for you.  For me it helps, both with feeling looser and with being able to ride a more aggressive position on the bike.

Again, everyone is different, and these are just a few items that have worked for me and others I know.  Feel free to post your own ideas in the comments section if you have something that I didn’t mention!

Thanks for reading!



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Filed under Phil Elsasser, Training Tips

What Goes Into Your Race Bag?

What goes in the race bag? By: Brian Ecker

Living and racing bikes in the Northwest means you really need to be prepared for all kinds of conditions. Often times getting everything ready for a race is one big rush and it can be so very frustrating to show up at a race to only find you have forgotten some critical element. It can be just as frustrating trying to remember the long list of things you need for the next day’s race. We all have the items and/or brands we prefer but it won’t do you much good if the thing you need is sitting in the closet at home!

Instead of re-inventing the wheel every time I find myself using the “race bag” method.  Basically, this all starts with a good quality race duffel bag that can hold a lot of stuff, has many great pockets and compartments, and is durable enough (zippers) for a chronic over stuffer like myself. Once the race season gets under way I keep it stocked and then the night before the race I do a quick look through just to make sure I have replenished supplies and have thrown in the stuff that I may have used during the training week. I also try hard to always put the same things in each pocket.  This saves countless time and energy later when, true to my forgetful self, find myself scrounging through my race bag minutes before the race start.

For the past few years I have been using a well-designed bag made by Hincapie. Unfortunately it is turning out to be not that durable so you may want to shop around. The nice part about a bag that is cycling specific is that it usually has all those great cubby holes for your shoes, glasses, gels/bars, etc.  It’s designed with a cyclist and their gear in mind.

So what should you pack?  I like to pack for everything, ie it might be 40F and pouring rain or sunny and 70F.  This of course means I pack a lot of stuff but I’d rather do that then to be without.

Let’s start with the base layers. I pack 4 (FOUR).

  • Light weight muscle shirt
  • Craft middleweight muscle shirt
  • Craft middleweight crew
  • The “oven” – Craft middleweight crew with a thin wind stopper front.  This is a great piece of cold weather gear as it keeps your core nice and toasty and it’s super thin so not at all bulky

What goes on the arms and legs?

  • Arm warmers
  • Knee warmers
  • Full length leg warmers

How about the hands:

  • Short finger gloves
  • Thin full finger gloves (something like a summer weight MTB type)
  • Lightweight flees type full finger gloves
  • Mid to heavy weight full finger gloves (for when it’s really nasty out)

On to the feet:

  • Lightweight race crew sock
  • Middle weight wool crew sock
  • Long (mid-calf) mid/heavy wool sock
  • Solid pair of booties
  • Shoes!!

The basics:

  • Shorts (at least 1 pair)
  • Long sleeve jersey
  • Short sleeve jersey

On the head:

  • Light weight billed cycling cap
  • Thermal hat
  • Helmet!


  • Wind vest
  • Rain coat
  • Clear rain slicker


  • Gels
  • Bars
  • Salt tablets )notice the recycled Nuun container)
  • (I usually pack my bottles and drink mix separately as I don’t want any leakage!!)

Cosmetic bag:

  • Chamois cream
  • Body glide
  • Warm Fx
  • Lip balm
  • Sunblock
  • Vaseline (on warmer but super wet races a good thick layer on the legs works much better than leg/knee warmers)
  • Small towel (for cleaning)

What else?

  • Race numbers
  • Race license
  • Cash
  • HR strap/cycling computer
  • Glasses: clear and tinted
  • Safety pins

How’s it all going to fit?

Piece of cake with the right bag!!

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Answering The Age Old Question: How long should my “long” rides be?

As coaches we often get asked some seemingly simple questions from many people and often have a hard time giving a straight answer.  Most people expect a short simple answer.  Something along the lines of “oh, they should be the same length as your longest event”.  That certainly is a nice cut and dry answer that fits into many peoples “ideas” of training.  It was an idea that was even promoted by author Joe Friel who wrote the Cyclist Training Bible, which many have read.  Luckily, for him and for us, things are getting a bit more scientific and people are actually looking at real data to reinforce their training protocols and ideas.  So much so, that even Joe Friel himself has completely revised his idea in regards to this question.

Recently, in Cycling Performance Conditioning, a journal published by USAC for USAC coaches, Joe Friel explain his turn from this “old school” concept and looks at training in a bit more scientific and modern way.

PC: How does TSS periodization differ from the work on periodization you have done in the past?

JF: The only thing that differs is that it’s more precise. In the Training Bible we might ask the question: if I’m training for a three hour race, how long should the longest ride be in the base period? We could all assume that the answer is at least three hours. However, it may be four hours, five hours or even six hours on the upper end. Using the TSS periodization answers that question. We know the race is three hours and the TSS is going to be 280 points. Based on this we can see that the duration to achieve this score in the base period would be something in the four hour range and provide the same stress that a three hour race would produce as the season progresses. Over the course of the year, workouts become more racelike. In my definition of periodization the key is to get more race like as we go along and the shift is to higher intensity so that one workout per week will be at TSS in the build period. It takes out the guess work of how long the workout should be and at what intensity in order to give an athlete the proper dosage of training.

So what is TSS exactly? The short answer is that TSS (Training Stress Score) is a measure based upon the atheletes threshold power of the amount of stress a workout is putting on the atheletes system.  While having a power meter would seem essential to utilizing this metric it is a principle that can also be applied without one as long as we have a good idea of an atheletes zones.  So even if you don’t train with power, you can still apply this  concept to your training.

Lets look at a bit of data from some of my own personal workouts and races to give us an idea of what I am talking about. First lets take a look at some data from a race.  While I hardly ever race with a power meter, I did race a few early season races with one just for the sake of data collection.

Sequim Road Race – Duration 2:47
Work 2663 KJ
TSS – 227.8
Norm Power – 317W

So using the old Joe Friel answer, if this was my longest event,  my longer rides should be in the three hour range.  So during the base phase of training, my endurance rides could look something like this one.

Duration 3:37
Work 2579 KJ
TSS 119
Norm Power 216W

While this was a very “easy” endurance paced ride, you can see that my TSS is very short of the desired training stimulus appropriate to match the demands of the road race from above.  Here is another ride that may be better off season preparation for the road race.

Duration 5:47
Work 4181 KJ
TSS 221.6
Norm Power 232W

While the average power for this ride is a bit higher, the main thing that allows the TSS to more closely match is the duration.  So am I saying that if you want to race the local Cat 1-2 road race you need to put in a 5+ hour ride every weekend?  No, absolutely not.  However, I am saying it is time to start taking a look at your training and your goals and learn ways to make sure you are getting the training stimulus you need to be competitive.  If you aren’t sure what that is going to take, start talking to us.  That is what we are here for!

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Rice Bars – Good Food For Long Days in The Saddle

So, for a long time I have been EXTREMELY sick of eating bars on rides. During the season I force myself to deal with it due to convenience and travels, but during the off season I often search for alternatives. Previously, I have just eaten sandwiches, fruit, or other items on the bike, but my pockets can only hold so much and I am riding quite a few hours. Solution – Rice Bars! Most mak- your-own bar recipes I have tried or seen cost an enormous amount to make, almost as much as just purchasing bars. After a suggestion from Steve Noble, I tried my hand at some rice bars.  Without a recipe I just tried my own combination one night and have been pretty darn happy with them since.

1.  Cook 3 cups brown rice with about .5 cup extra water to make it a bit stickier. Also do not wash the rice beforehand, the gluten is good for the final product.

2. Mix 6 eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and honey to taste in the rice

3. place mixture into a pyrex baking sheet, sprayed with oil, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.

4. cut and wrap in tin foil, refrigerate until used.

They are a great way to get some calories in on the bike.  They are bland enough for me to eat over and over again without worry and are easy enough to carry.  They are a bit bulky compared calorie for calorie with a bar, and I am not psyched about all the tin foil usage but, at less than 2 dollars per pan of 9 bars, I can’t really complain.  Can you imagine eating only bars for a big training week.  At roughly 1 bar an hour, that is 30ish bars a week, no thank you.  Rice? YES please!

As a side note, depending on how much honey you add the bars are roughly 250-300 calories each (assuming 9 bars per batch).

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Filed under Phil Elsasser, Training Tips, Uncategorized

Effect Antioxidant Supplementation has on Performance at Altitude

The following informational summary was taken from The Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.


Issue: Volume 38(8), August 2006, pp 1425-1431

The purpose of the study was to investigate the effects of prolonged hypoxia and antioxidant supplementation on ventilatory threshold (VT) during high-altitude (HA) exposure (4300 m). While most of us will spend little to no time competing at or above 4300m (14,000ft) this study did show a positive benefit to those in the group that were supplied with the following regimen (daily for 21 days) of antioxidants:

  •  12 mg of [beta]-carotene
  •  180 mg of [alpha]tocopherol acetate
  •  500 mg of ascorbic acid
  •  100 µg of selenium
  •  30 mg of zinc

The conclusion of the study confirmed what is already widely accepted and that is ventilatory threshold upon exposure to altitude decreases however it will improve upon acclimatization. The study went on to demonstrate that supplementing with the above stated regimen improved performance (decreased effect of exposure to high altitude on ventilatory threshold). This amount of improvement was measured at 9%.

In plain language, competing at altitude when not acclimated, limits your ability to perform. However, if you supplement with antioxidants, the negative effect of the altitude on your performance will be limited, ie you will perform better.

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Filed under Brian Ecker, Scientific Journal Article Review, Training Tips