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Worried About Going the Distance?

  • 10 July, 2019
  • Andrea Parrott

A RAGBRAI rider just mentioned to me that he felt a bit daunted by the distance needed to complete each RAGBRAI stage.  He hasn’t ridden as far in training as some of the longer distances on RAGBRAI.  But that’s okay, he (and you) can still make it. I’ve been involved in many century rides where people may have only done 50 or 60 miles in training but can still complete the century (100 miles).  So here are some tips to help you through your long days on the bike.  They can be summarized in 4 pieces of advice: pace, refuel, rehydrate and recover.

Pace:  The best advice I can give you is to pace yourself.  Ride within yourself, meaning that you should never feel like you are pushing hard, except on some hills, as there really is no way to avoid working on hill although if you must, you can walk up hills. No shame in that. You will live to ride another day!  If your legs start burning or you start breathing hard, its time to back off.  Remember, you have almost 15 hours of sunlight to complete your ride. Even on an 80 mile day, riding at less than 10 miles per hour will get you there, including some stops along the way.  If you have done some training, your body will be able to ride at an easy to moderate pace for a long, long time.  But make sure you do parts 2, 3 and 4 below as well.

Refuel: If you do step 1 above, you can keep riding but you will need to refuel your body for you to keep going, even at an easy pace.  You don’t need to eat a lot, but keep a little food going in fairly regularly (every hour or so) throughout the day.  When I say a little, it can just be a banana, small sandwich or energy bar.  It should be something easily digested so it doesn’t weigh down your gut, and should contain amble carbohydrates.  Having a little sugar trickling into your bloodstream throughout the ride will give you a constant boost of energy.  I’d suggest avoiding large meals while riding as they can make you feel full, sluggish and perhaps even upset your stomach. I find it hard to eat a large meal when its hot anyway.  Some of your energy can come from beverages as well, such as having some energy drink in your water bottle.  If you keep some fuel going in all day, you should be able to ride all day. I’ve done 24 hour races before so it is possible to keep the legs going round as long as the fuel is going in.

Rehydrate:  In addition to refueling, rehydrating is at least as important, perhaps more so.  If you run low on fuel, you will slow to a crawl, but if you run low on fluids, it can end your day. And your day could end up in the medical tent.  On long rides, even when it isn’t hot, your body churns through a lot of fluids. You perspire away a lot to cool yourself as well as respire away quite a bit.  You should be drinking one to two water bottles full of liquids every hour, more if it is really hot.  Be sure to top off your water bottles as you go through towns.  Most offer free water stations, or you can purchase a cold drink all along the way as well.

Recover:  As mentioned above, if you take your time, you can still complete the longest day in plenty of time. This includes time to stop and rest along the way.  The nice thing about RAGBRAI is that there is a town about every 8-12 miles all the way across Iowa. This gives you lots of chances to get off the bike, stretch your legs and find a shady spot to sit down, rest and have something to eat and drink.  You haven’t done 80 miles in training?  Well, break the ride into smaller segments that you know you can do and take breaks in between.  I know you an do 10 miles, so break your ride into several 10 mile segments. Yes, the last 10 miles will be harder than the first, but if you eat, drink and rest along the way you will be surprised at how you can knock out a long ride just fine.

Go long, my friend,

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at cyclecoach@hotmail.com.

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