Dr Garry Palmer’s recent blog created a bit of a stir. He argued that coffee shop stops are bad news and we should cycle on. Physiologically that may be true, but how about psychologically? David Burrows – a good father, average cyclist and bad scientist –explains why daybreak bum-wiping means he’ll continue to stop and slurp.
Dear The Miserable Git (aka Dr Garry Palmer),
First things first: I am no doctor; I am but a mister. And for this reason there is nothing to be gained in my unpicking the scientific reasoning behind your recent blog – Is the coffee stop killing your ride?
Were I an Olympic cyclist, or even a half-decent one, the weekend’s training probably wouldn’t involve a cake-break, during which muscle stiffness would kick in and my poor “confused” enzymes would begin cursing me as I sat on my lycra-clad backside (the fat from which was no longer being burned).
But forget glycogen synthase and metabolic imbalance, for me a coffee break is about mental stability. It’s about the (look away now Dr Garry) 20 minutes I have to sit and talk to adults.
You see, I am not only a non-Olympic athlete, but I am a father. In the three years since I assumed this voluntary vocation only a handful of infant-free coffee experiences have arisen – and half of them took place on group rides with friends (The others? Well, as far as my wife is concerned I was “at a conference in town”; I felt dirty, but not so much that I don’t manage to read the paper from cover to cover too).
Don’t get me wrong: I love my children (and my wife). Truly. I revel in the 6am poo routine my son has established, and enjoy nothing more than hanging out as a family, doing family things. I don’t even begrudge the fact that a second stab at iron-distance triathlon is unlikely to come anytime before my 58th year (in 2034); really I don’t. In fact, I long for the day that my family can all ride together for miles and miles – and stop for coffee.
For now, this path I have chosen means visits to the local coffee shop begin with demands for a cookie the size of my son’s head and end with my daughter vomiting on my dry clean only (and only) scarf. In between, I slurp at the milky Brazilian treat like a caffeine-deprived madman. Thank goodness I rarely take it black – that apparently points to psychopathic, Machiavellian and sadistic tendencies.
Which brings me back to your blog.
I understand where you are coming from: make the most of every session. For those of us with very limited training time, that is a priority. But so is socialising (I note that you write of the pleasure of going for a group ride “a few weeks ago”. Did they not invite you back?)
Indeed, you tell us to “think about the reason you are stopping” and decide whether “the social reasons outweigh the physiological justification for that warm cup of tea and a slice of cake”.
Physiologically, we all know there’s no need to re-fuel two hours into a four-hour ride (especially when the first hour was spent getting in and out of Wandsworth puncture-free). This is because, as cyclists, we love nothing more than to talk about nutrition – we gobble up any advice on fat, calories and carbs, before regurgitating it at anyone who will listen (often at the café).
For this very reason I am sure there are those who will have taken your well-researched advice and kept pedalling past their usual stop last weekend in a bid to maximise their training. Not me, Garry. We actually went to the early bird screening of Minions last Sunday. That’s beside the point. Had I been on a group ride, I would have stopped and slurped rather than sped on.
Psychologically a coffee shop stop surely has its merits (the chance to shrug off the 6am bum-wiping with a cup of Joe is a physiological bonus). For me, it’s an opportunity to spend time with grown-ups. More specifically: to be alone with grown-ups. That doesn’t make me a bad dad, but maybe it does make me a poorer cyclist.
Perhaps you and your research are right: “Exercise + science = results,” is the formula you and the Yellow Jersey staff follow on SportsTest.com. I’m sure it has merit. Still, I’ll continue to follow this mantra: Exercise + [coffee + cake] = enjoyment. At least until August 2034.
David Burrows is a freelance food and drink writer.