Blowing Up

24” I like to call it the ‘Jimplosion’…I start drilling it…‘Pop’ that is the sound of me blowing up…I am in oxygen debt…” Jim Allen, Category 5 Amateur Racer

A Man's Got to Know His Limitations


25Blowing up is not just an amateur mistake, elite riders pop also. Especially in early season when your mind remembers what you can do but your body isn’t quite ready for it, one can go on the rivet and then blow. Catching on after a blow requires a skill-set: learn to pace, modulate effort, tactical temperance, and in some cases, correctly interpret data from a pacing tool or 26powermeter.

In most race situations that require sudden decision-making, it’s best to understand one’s limits intuitively by feel. It’s good to test these limits periodically and try to get dropped as a result of a gutsy super-attack. In a planned peak, it’s effective to choose an unimportant event or training race and ride to just blow by either making repeated overreaching efforts or one earth-shaking maximum exertion. In weight training, this is referred to as max rep: a session of maxing out, so the system can 27progress. Physiologically, it’s not like a max rep because it’s an event of cardiorespiratory endurance but this tactical rationalization also mollifies a bruised ego if blown and dropped when it’s not your intention.

Catching on after overreaching, a wheel-change or any reason involves fitness, focus, finesse, and sometimes fear of being fined. The funniest chase story I ever heard was of 28two sleepy friends from different pro teams, fortunately both roleurs, happily sipping espresso several blocks away from the start line in the fresh air of a piazza prior to what was supposed to be one of the chill stages of the Giro. Instead, the two missed their start and were forced to chase for many kilometers before catching the gruppo. How’d you like to see the face of your director as you pass him in the caravan on that excuse – speaking of blowing up?

Whatever the cause, the chase is about managing emotions as much as it is ensuring aerobic energy in constant supply – we’re all constantly learning about limits and going beyond them.

Prayer for Catching On

“…he became a young lion, and learned to catch the prey, and devoured men…” 29Ezekiel 19:6


We are glad for opportunities to test our limits. We confess we don’t always appreciate the bounds which confine. We ask for energy to catch back after blowing it and to learn from the experience.

Ponder Have I tested my limits recently? Affirm I balance risk with pacing. Watch the clock for a start time, and your breath in the gap.

24“My First Race,” by Jim Allen from The Tao of Jim: Thoughts and Stuff blog posted on Monday, February 18, 2008

25Sometimes blowing up is used as a term interchangeably with bonking from glycogen depletion. Blowing up is used here to describe a maximum effort from which you cannot or can barely recover. 

26Effort indicators, such as rate of perceived exertion and heart rate aren’t nearly as effective for pacing as a powermeter, but even the objective data takes subjective interpretation to be useful in race situations. Further, training figures often vary from racing wattage due to hormonal and motivational factors.

27I was unable to find any cycling studies to substantiate this, so perhaps it’s one of cycling’s urban legends or more of a psychological benefit.

28I can’t remember which retired racing friend told me this story. I do remember thinking this kind of “planning” happens to the best of us. It was particularly funny because the directors weren’t aware that either rider was missing until the point they passed the caravan, and this stage was supposed to be a “restful” one for all but the final sprint.

29The Bible, New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


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