RAGBRAI Training: Let’s Get to the Bottom of the Issue
by Coach David Ertl
Very frequently, the legs can carry you all the way through RAGBRAI. They may be tired but will get you there. On the other hand, often the more limiting factor is one’s seat/bottom/derriere/buttocks. One of the most important reasons for riding a lot prior to RAGBRAI is to make sure your own seat is prepared for spending hours sitting on your bike saddle. It would be a shame if you couldn’t finish because your rear couldn’t handle it. A little embarrassing to explain as well.
There is no getting around the fact that when riding 50-100 miles per day, you will be sitting on your bike saddle for several hours a day. Several things can happen when your seat is not trained properly. You may notice soreness under your sit bones after a long ride. This usually goes away fairly quickly. The next thing that may happen is chaffing where your seat and legs rub from pedaling. The worst thing that can happen is development of saddle sores. These can keep you off your bike and ruin your RAGBRAI. Here are some suggestions for avoid having a pain in the rear.
First, you should wear cycling shorts. These are designed to provide padding to your tender under region. The padding also helps absorb perspiration to avoid chaffing and development of saddle sores. TIP: DO NOT WEAR UNDERWEAR UNDER YOUR CYCLING SHORTS. Cycling shorts are designed be worn directly against the skin. Underwear adds another layer of clothing that can rub and chafe, and even worse, has seams which can irritate your skin. If you don’t like wearing tight fitting Lycra shorts, there are different types of riding shorts, including baggy shorts. But they all have an inner lining with a chamois (pronounced ‘shammy’). For a ride like RAGBRAI, you will want at least two pairs of cycling shorts, preferably more. The reason being that after each day you need to wash your shorts. Due to the humid and sometimes rainy weather that occurs in Iowa in July, you can’t always count on your shorts drying overnight. So bring an extra pair or two so you always have a clean and dry pair available. What’s wrong with putting on wet shorts? It’s not a pleasant to put on a pair of cold wet shorts first thing in the morning and it also subjects your groin area to moisture right off the bat and may never dry out during the day.
Second, ride a lot in preparation. Spend a lot of time putting in the miles and sitting on your bike saddle. As mentioned above, this isn’t just about training your legs, it’s training your seat. In many cases, it’s more about training your seat. Gradually build up to longer rides. Doing a lot of riding all at once can irritate your tender seat skin. By gradually building up to longer miles, you will gradually toughen your skin. This is a great reason for riding year round by the way. You maintain your toughened seat skin and don’t have to retrain it each spring.
Third, to avoid chaffing, there are commercial products available that you can use to apply to your skin where it contacts the chamois of your shorts. There are several brands with rather interesting names such as Chamois Butt’r, Assos Chamois Cream, DZNUTS, Friction Freedom, and Ride EZ Chamois Cream from right here in Urbandale Iowa. Wipe a thin layer on your skin in your groin area prior to your ride to help provide a smoother ride.
Fourth, keep your groin area as clean and dry as possible to avoid the dreaded saddle sore. Saddle sores are infections in your skin around your seat area. These are caused by bacteria getting into your skin and not being cleaned promptly or thoroughly. These become infected and are usually right under your sit bones where you put pressure on your saddle. These are extremely uncomfortable and can make it impossible to ride. Saddle sores are so painful they can cause a Tour de France rider to quit the race. Prevention is definitely the best defense. Make sure you wear clean shorts every day. Wash your shorts after each day. Either bring along a little container of laundry detergent or you can also use shampoo in a pinch. Just hand wash in a sink, wring it out and hang out to dry inside out in the sun if possible. (Be careful if you string up a clothesline as they can be hazardous. Be sure to take down clotheslines at night in campgrounds)
You also need to clean your own skin thoroughly and quickly after each ride. The worst thing you can do is spend the rest of the day in your dirty, wet shorts after you finish your ride. Change out of your shorts right away at the end of your ride. Shower as soon as possible after you finish riding but it is more important to change quickly. Bacteria love warmth and moisture, exactly the conditions in your shorts after a ride. When you take a shower be sure to thoroughly clean your groin area. If you can’t shower right away here’s another great tip that I use. Bring some individually wrapped wipes and wipe your groin area clean when changing into street clothes. I use Preparation H Portable Wipes that come in individual packets. You can find these at your local drug store. If you don’t have these wipes, you can also use hand sanitizer such as Purell. I suggest you keep a small bottle of it with your bike gear at all times.
The Bottom Line: With a little attention to the tips above, you will be able to develop a tough rear end to last you all the through RAGBRAI.
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and is a national head coach for the the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and he coaches individual cyclists. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.