After finishing STP, you hopefully gave yourself a huge pat on the back and some great reward such as rest, a special meal, or well, you name it. But what comes next? How do you follow up on your great accomplishment?
For many, the Seattle to Portland bicycle ride is a big goal that requires a maximum effort from your body and mind. What you do next — literally in the hours, days, and week after it — can play a tremendous role in maximizing your recovery (and even your good memories of the event).
You may have questions, such as:
How will the effort affect your sleep?
Do you want to keep the fitness you worked so hard to attain?
Or simply, what’s next?
Some easy things to consider include:
• What and when you should eat?
• What you do next?
• Should you ride? If so, what type of ride to do?
Some bigger things to consider include:
• Was this a one-off goal?
• Do you want to set another goal?
• Do you want to find a community to support your riding goals?
Unless you ride 80-100 miles all the time during your day-to-day life, STP, with its 204-mile one day or 100+ miles per day two day distance is by definition overdoing it. When we overdo things, we must recover lest we risk injury or fatigue. Plus, you want to feel awesome while celebrating your accomplishment, right?
Eating for recovery
Those food booths at the STP finish line are there for a reason (and it’s not all about capitalizing on the appetites of riders). During your ten or so hours in the saddle, your body will have consumed roughly 8,000-12,000 calories. That’s at least 3-5 times as much as the average person eats in a day. The first part of your STP recovery is that first plate of food, and you should enjoy it within 15-60 minutes of finishing — in “Eat Right to Train Right”, Chris Charmichael refers to this as the ‘glycogen window‘, the time when your body is able to replenish glycogen stores with optimum efficiency. He recommends continuing to take in high carbohydrate meals every 2 hours for the next 4-6 hours after finishing. That means you will eat 3-4 dinners the night after STP. Unlike other times when you might try this, your body will thank you because it needs to replace those calories you burned.
In the days that follow STP, eat as you did before the ride instead of binging on bags of potato chips, barrels of ice cream, and fountains of fast food. Stick to your pre-ride food regimen, and listen to your body. Balance your proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Sure, celebrate after your ride, but when you have properly rewarded your effort, reward your body by keeping it healthy and strong. And don’t forget to hydrate.
You might be inclined to sleep within a couple of hours of finishing. If this is the case, sleep takes the priority over refueling because your body is essentially telling you it is exhausted and is knocking you out so it can begin recovery. In between naps, be sure eat well so your body has what it needs to do its job.
You may want to try getting an hour or two of extra sleep during the week after STP to give your body just a bit more recovery time. If you usually sleep 8 hours, try 9. If you usually get 6 hours, try 7. Recovery takes time, and sleep is often the best recovery time.
To ride or not to ride?
Do you ride or rest the day after STP? This is really down to the state of your body and personal preference, though if you feel good, an easy ride in a low gear to spin out the lactic acid can be a good thing. If you have an overuse injury or any sort of strain, choose rest instead. It may be a good idea to have your bike fit checked to see if a minor adjustment might help you overcome injury or put you in a better position on your bike.
Whether or not you ride the day after STP can also come down to age. If you have youthful resilience, riding the next day may feel totally fine. When I was 16, a friend rode STP on Saturday, then joined me in a triathlon on Sunday. If you are older, riding the next day may help work out any residual stiffness. Working out the cobwebs can pay big dividends later in the week.
The longer you let your muscles do nothing, the harder it will become to get back on the bike. Of course, often just one low gear ride or even your regular commute will get you back into the swing of riding.
What type of ride?
Unless you are a glutton for punishment, there is really only one type of riding to do for your first ride after STP: short and easy. Keeping it short helps ensure that if you have any strains or sensitive parts, you will be less likely to aggravate an issue. Easy spinning in a low gear will serve the dual purpose of working out the lactic acid and not taxing your muscles any further.
Was this a one-off goal?
After completing a big goal like finishing Seattle to Portland, you might wonder if this a one-off goal? For some, the effort of training for and riding STP is enormous and even painful. For others, it can be relatively easy.
Training for STP is a huge life commitment, taking time away from family and friends, and requiring quite a bit of self-discipline and dedication. It can be difficult to have other big goals while training for STP.
If you find yourself glad for achieving the goal, but of the mind that it took too much away from the other parts of your life, it’s okay to take a long break or reduce milage and stick to enjoying shorter rides. At least you have accomplished something big and started a healthy habit, good for your body and mind.
Do you want to set another goal?
If your training suited your lifestyle and time, you may want to set another goal. You could look at Cascade’s next long ride, such as the High Pass Challenge, look for a century or gran fondo ride, or plot your own course. Maybe the goal is to take a rest before starting training for next year’s STP.
After a long effort, it’s a good idea to check over your bike. Make sure everything is tight and correctly adjusted, and matches your bike fit measurements.
Do you want to find a community to support your riding goals?
For many who ride STP, the effort is something entirely outside of their normal activity. That can mean spending hours and days training solo. Some enjoy the solitude, but others crave community. Having like-minded people around you who share similar goals can be a great motivator.
Cascade Bicycle Club, organizer of STP, is a great place to start. Cascade has group rides every day of the year. Check their calendar.
Seattle boasts a healthy cycling community, with several recreational riding groups available. Washington Bikes provides a list of local riding groups.
If you are interested in racing, riding with a team can give you a feel for the dynamic. One good way to check out teams is to attend ‘Meet the Team’ rides, designed to give new riders the chance to meet, ask questions, and ride with team members to see if it’s a mutual fit. (I couldn’t find a current schedule for these, so you may need to check out individual team websites. If you locate a schedule, send it to me so that I can add it here.)
Whatever you decide are your next steps after completing STP, enjoy your accomplishment! You just rode 204 miles!