By Kevin Kolodziejski
18-Wheeler Intervals, Anyone?
Back in the day, I prided myself on being able to do some really intense training rides. And then, like the guy in “Pinball Wizard,” I went against a Tommy and handed my crown to him.
Mike Miller’s a good friend and a guy I raced against for years who peaked a little late or he would’ve become a domestic road pro. He had the lungs, had the legs, had the results — and he still has the desire. In his early 40s, he shifted his focus to the track. He’s now a seven-time Master’s National champion, and at 52 goes to the podium more often than a guy with a bad back goes to the chiropractor.
After a low-key, but great-for-training time trial early one season, we began what I thought was a cooldown. It wasn’t. Mike had ridden from his house to the 10-mile TT, beat the second-place finisher by more than a minute (want to guess who that was?), and was now headed home. I asked how many miles he’d do before his day was through. He guessed about 95 and then asked if we could do what he called 18-wheeler intervals on Route 183.
There’s enough of a shoulder on the road except for a couple of bad spots, he explained, and we really would ride most of 183 at training pace. But a dozen or so times as an 18-wheeler or large truck passed, we’d do a bit of poor man’s motorpacing and go all-out for 30 seconds or so. I was game and for good reason. Dr. Neal Stansbury, a teammate of mine who had ridden as a pro, prescribed doing something similar during certain training rides as a sort of Cialis for my impotent sprint — and I had been following doctor’s orders throughout the winter. But I was totally fried after only four or five all-out efforts with Mike and a good distance from my car.
As much as it hurt my pride, I turned around and let his crazy flipper fingers and super-strong legs go.
While I sulked and soft pedaled, I remembered what I had automagically said to a grad class a few summers before. Remembering those words made me feet better, pedal harder, and led to a training plan that produced more than a few wins — but not a single one that ended in a sprint. In the weekly health and fitness column I’ve now written for 32 years, those original words came to be known as “The Snowflake Theory of Dieting.” An explanation of the theory and the sequence of events that led to them might just help your cycling — and your psyche.
The ‘Snowflake Theory’ Emerges Magically
The 15-hour course I taught was called “Simple Ways to Be Well” and a way for certified teachers in Pennsylvania to accrue what used to be called master’s degree equivalency credits. During the final day’s question-and-answer session, a woman explained that a friend had taken my course last summer and lost 15 pounds in a few months by following the “simple ways.” So this woman borrowed the materials and created a New Year’s resolution: to drop 15 pounds before school let out. But she had only lost five pounds by June and had regained three of them before this grad class began.
She wanted to know why. The lack of movement and noise in the room indicated two dozen other teachers wanted to know, too.
I felt my ears get hot, my armpits produce perspiration. My arms and legs did that internal quiver that always occurs just before the race official starts the race by blowing the whistle.
I heard somebody answer her and realized the voice was mine. The answer made sense. Perfect sense. And it was simple: That two different results from the same diet had to be expected because — just like two snowflakes under a microscope — no two bodies metabolize macronutrients in exactly the same way.
When class ended, I feverishly scribbled down what I said, eventually added to it, and extensively wrote about it in the following years. While the theory was a bit controversial initially, it has been vindicated through the emergence of epigenetics, research on gut bacteria, and a number of other studies — like this one performed by Texas A&M researchers using four types of genetically different mice.
Some Mice Gain Weight on ‘Good’ Diets
The mice were fed five different diets. Four simulated different ways in which humans eat. One was high in fats and refined carbs, akin to the typical less-than-healthy American diet. One was high in fats and proteins and low on carbs, comparable to low-carb weight-loss diets. Two were designed to imitate the Mediterranean diet, and one of those added green tea and rice to give it a Far East flavor. The fifth consisted of the foods typically consumed by mice.
Since mice are genetically similar to humans, particularly when it comes to gaining weight and developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, you would expect the high-fat, refined-carb diet to lead to weight gain in all four different types of mice. But not all of the mice fed that diet gained weight — or showed any indications of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Equally as significant, the “healthier” diets didn’t always improve health. For instance, many mice actually gained weight on the Mediterranean diets. In summary of his group’s research, William T. Barrington writes: “A personalized . . . approach to dietary recommendations may yield better health outcomes than the traditional one-size-fits all approach.” When I considered that and the “The Snowflake Theory of Dieting” along with my cycling, here’s what I decided to do:
Abandon Sprint Intervals
They didn’t seem to be working, but I really abandoned them for another reason: A “big improvement” in what was clearly my greatest weakness, sprinting, might mean I’d finish eighth in a crit instead of tenth. But a “big improvement” in my greatest strength, the ability to get away and create small breakaways in difficult road races, might lead to smaller breakaways and maybe even a few solo victories. And it did. As a result of those solo wins that season, I bagged PA Cycling’s big prize, the season-long points competition to determine its best rider.
The Snowflake Theory Applied to Your Riding
In short, you are not only metabolically different from everyone else, but also physiologically different from other riders — especially national-class ones like Mike Miller. As a result, you need to continually experiment intelligently to get the most out of yourself and your riding. That may also mean that there needs to be times when you ride and train by feel rather than by predetermined courses and prescribed power numbers.
While that bucks today’s trend of rarely riding without your training partner named Technology, the ride Technology has planned for that day may not always be the one you need.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.