Riding 5 laps. The biology and the psychology.

I feel like I haven’t been putting my usual, consistent level of effort into my mountain biking, so today decided to do something about it. It may be because I’ve already achieved 2 of my 3 annual challenges that made me relax but having tried for the outstanding target I was shocked. I was way off the pace when trying to lap a local circuit in under 14 minutes. I thought that I should do a hard training ride of the type I haven’t done in quite some time. I would lap the red graded circuit on our local hill, Healey Nab, 5 times with each rotation taking a little over 10 minutes.

Riding multiple laps is different to riding a long, continuous trail in a few ways. Firstly you accumulate a list of lap times which you’re bound to compare to each other. This informs you as to whether your pace is rising, falling or remaining constant. If you make any errors on one lap you have a chance to correct your mistakes on subsequent attempts. Lastly, you know exactly what comes next as you ride around be it hard, easy, exciting or technically difficult. The best part of an hour of riding at my physical limit was going to be a severe test but the process is far from just a physical one. It has a strong psychological aspect which is enhanced by riding laps rather than one long trail. You could, of course, try to ride your first and all subsequent laps as fast as possible. The inevitable consequence of this would be that each lap would be slower, harder and increasingly soul destroying. Has anyone tied this? To ride the first lap as fast as you can then try to ride more laps with the same intent? If so you’re clearly a masochist who should perhaps seek help.

On a more serious note the obvious way to approach this is to start more easily and by gradually increasing the effort throughout the ride, keep the pace as constant as you can. Ideally you will reach exhaustion as you cross the finish line for the final time and know that you’ve given your all. On a mountain bike ride, or any circuit with hills, you may not always be able to keep your effort constant. My lap today starts and finishes with a climb but also has some tough ground with rocks and roots which requires a really big effort. I rode to the hill but didn’t rest. I began lap 1 straight away because I didn’t want to be especially fresh on this lap when I’d clearly be already working hard for the start of all the other laps. I made sure that I didn’t start too quickly because biology dictates that, at my freshest, I could ride this lap faster than the others. This might not feel fatiguing but would use up energy that would then be lacking to maintain my pace later. I kept it steady and finished in 10 minutes and 17 seconds.

I needed to increase my effort slightly for the second lap and this can be psychologically hard. It won’t feel nearly as easy as lap one and there’s still a long way to go. I completed in a slower 10 minutes 27 and thought it was probably just the effect of not being as fresh this time around. Lap 3 out of 5 has often proved difficult for me. It’s a kind of “Third Lap Syndrome”. I don’t want to exhaust myself but passing the half way mark will certainly need me to push myself physically. I made sure that I allowed a little discomfort to accrue in my legs in particular and the trick seemed to work. I exactly matched the time for lap 2!

On lap 4 I worked hard and wondered half way round if I’d done too much. I was starting to concentrate harder on the trail and ensuring that I didn’t allow my speed to drop over the tiny details of the surface, like bumps and roots. Clearly tiring at the end of the lap I was very happy with 10 minutes 18 seconds and launched into the final lap. I thought that I was starting to struggle to keep the pace up on the early part of the climb but kept working harder than previously, knowing that this was the last time around. On a steep, root ridden ascent I was getting close to maximum effort, which I hadn’t needed on previous laps. I got some relief when the gradient turned downwards but still had the climb to the finish. The lap ends with a gravel and dirt surface, level at first on the approach to a steeper climb before a short patch of gravel to the stone which marks the beginning and end of the agony. The bike is supported on the stone in the picture at the top and I was very glad to reach it. It would have been ideal to sprint before the steeper slope to carry me up it but by this time my legs had other ideas. I just did the best I could. I was all about exhausted and was delighted with a last lap of 10 minutes 15. My laps had been very consistent, I’d used all my energy whilst maintaining my pace to the finish. I don’t see how I could have completed the 5 laps any quicker and felt a real sense of satisfaction as I sat on the ground to recover.

1 Comment

  1. crustytuna says:

    It could be argued that this lapping exercise in and of itself is a bit masochistic, no? 😜 I do so hate it when my legs have other ideas… Nice work!

    Liked by 1 person

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