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Friday, March 7, 2014

Training, preparation among keys to doing long-distance cycling events

Training, preparation among keys to doing long-distance cycling events
By:  Michael G. Lander
Training and preparation are the keys to long distance cycling events. 
Tennessee Air National Guard Cycling Team member, Mark Cooper,
pulls into the second rest stop on his first, two-day, 150-mile bike
ride in Sept 2009.  (Photo Credit:  James Hall)
On a long-distance bike ride, it's just you, your bike, and miles of open road ahead of you.  It can be a very liberating feeling for those who have ever experienced it for themselves and many cyclists feel that there is just no better way to see the world than from the vantage point of a bicycle. For them, if life is an adventure, cycling is the one way ticket for getting there. 

Over time, many avid cyclists are invariably drawn to long-distance cycling events much like runners seem to be drawn to marathons.  It's just something that almost seems inevitable for many of them.  It is the thrill of the ride and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment of being able to ride 50, 75, or even 100 miles or more that entices many cyclists into trying it, and it is often what hooks them after that.

For many people, the idea of doing long-distance bike rides might seem as unlikely as hitting a lottery, but in reality, just about anyone who wants to do long-distance cycling events should be able to do it if they just put their mind to it.  The only caveat to this, however, is that you must be willing and able to dedicate the time that is needed to train and prepare for it in the months preceding a long-distance cycling event.

Training is really the key to long-distance bike riding and when it comes to training, it should be done with as much sustained intensity as possible.  The harder you train, the easier the ride will be for you on the day of an event.   Training should also closely mimic what the ride will be like for an event, which means riding the same type of route, the same time of day, and the approximate distance that you will be riding during an event. 

Because you can't always be sure what the weather will be like during an event, it is important to ride in varying weather conditions, temperatures, and variable wind speeds.  Also, unless you are already in shape, it takes some time to get better and faster and to attain a higher level of ability and endurance, but you will notice a slow and steady improvement if you stay at it. 

It can also really help to commiserate with those who share your same interest in cycling and who can help you along with reaching any goals that you have set for yourself.  It can be especially helpful to turn to more experienced and seasoned cyclists who have already ridden some long-distance bike rides, since experience is often the best teacher of all.  Learn as much as you can from them and from other sources about cycling. 

One of the best books to read on this topic is "The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want," by Edmund Burke and Ed Pavelka.  There are additional sources that can also be useful and can be found in other books, magazines, and on the Internet.  The bottom line is that the more you know, the better off and the more prepared you will be when it comes time for your long rides.

One thing that cyclists might want to consider making is a checklist for their long-distance bike rides.  This will help you to make sure that you will have everything that you might want to have or use before and during your ride.  Some of the things that you might want to possibly include on this checklist may include some of the following: glasses and/or sunglasses, water bottles or a Camelbak, energy gel packets, a small amount of cash, a credit card, some form of ID, a bicycle helmet (required in all organized cycling events), a Halo sweatband to keep sweat out of your eyes, a tire changing kit, a few simple tools, a fully-charged cell phone, an extra cell phone battery, a few Ziploc bags (to store things just in case in rains), suntan lotion, chafing cream, electrolyte and/or magnesium tablets, a small camera and/or a video camera, and any other items that you think you might need while riding.

In addition to what you take with you on rides, it is also a good idea to make sure that you pay attention to the weather and dress appropriately.  Whenever you do ride, you should always wear high visibility cycling clothes that do not absorb sweat.  The cycling shorts should have adequate padding and the cycling jersey should allow air to flow through it and body heat to escape with convenient pockets in the back of it. 

Adequate training and preparation before a long-distance cycling event
can help you with the challenges you will face and can make the ride
both rewarding and more fun.
 You should also make sure that you know as much as you can about your bike and to make sure that it is in good working condition prior to any long-distance rides.  You should pump up the tires, check the brakes and lights, and give a quick examination of the bike, periodically putting some lubricant on your chain, as needed.  Like with a car, you should also do some preventive maintenance on your bike with an occasional tune-up so that you will not experience any problems when you're out on the road and in the middle of nowhere.    

As important as it is that your bike is in tiptop shape, your body needs to be as well.  Don't underestimate the importance of the basics of eating right and getting enough sleep prior to any long rides.  Consuming a larger quantity of carbohydrates, (known as carbing up), is a good idea before a ride, as is making sure that you are properly hydrated.  You should ease up on your riding leading up to an event so that your legs will be well-rested and ready for what you are about to put them through.

During a long-distance ride, it is always a good idea to pace yourself and to conserve energy by drafting off of other cyclists whenever you can.  You should also make sure that you take in enough fluids and consume enough electrolytes and take advantage of any rest stops along the way. 

You should occasionally move and stretch your arms and legs while riding since that will help with easing muscle stiffness and cramping.  Aerobars may also help with giving an alternative position for a cyclist to get into (that is more aerodynamic), but you need to be especially careful when using them since you don't have the same control of your bike that you otherwise would have.

Some cyclists like to have music with them on the long rides, but it should never be turned up so high that you can't hear what is happening around you.  Out of concern for the safety of cyclists, some event organizers also discourage cyclists from wearing ear plugs and it is especially not recommended when riding with others.  If you have them in you may not be able to hear as other cyclists try to pass you or try to convey information on to you about vehicles or road conditions.

On either short or long-distance bike rides, cyclists should never let their guard down, always be on the look-out for any dangers on the road, and always be predictable so that others will not have to try and guess what you are doing and where you are going.  The best way to do this is for cyclists to use hand signals and to follow the rules that everyone else on the road follows.  Whenever possible, try to stay to the right and in a single file, which will allow vehicles to easily pass you. 

With an adequate amount of time, training, and preparation, just about anyone who wants to participate in a long distance cycling event should be able to do just that.  It can be one of the best ways to see the world around you and it can offer a wonderful sense of accomplishment whenever you finally cross that finish line.  Most of all, these bike rides can add another dimension of adventure to your life and one that many cyclists find that they cannot live without.

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