Bicycle! Bicycle!
June 12, 2005 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I would like some advice on training for a long (by my standards) bicycle ride. The catch is, I only have a month left over. What can I do?

I live in Seattle, WA. Every summer a highly popular sports event occurs, with up to 8,000 people hopping on their bikes and doing the Seattle To Portland (STP) ride. This is a non-competitive event, open to one and all.

A few months ago, I'd semi-foolishly signed up to do this. I thought it would be a great excuse for me to get out and get exercise, and get more use out of my fancy touring bike. Well... the months came and went, and now I find myself a mere 30 days from the event, and in not that great of a shape. I would like some advice on what I can do to train in the gym (in addition to riding my bike of course) to improve myself.

The total distance from Seattle to Portland is 200 miles, and I will be doing it over two days. It's an easy ride (mostly flat, some rolling hills and one or two not-too-steep-but-long ascents) with support - meaning I don't have to haul my own gear - and lots of people of all ages and abilities participating. Myself, I am 25, in not that great of a shape. I am about 20 pounds over my ideal weight, and alas, most of it is not the steel of rippling muscles. I also have been slacking on my cardiovascular exercise in the last few months. The longest ride I've done in ages is about 30 miles, which is tolerable (I do it 2x per week, that's the length of my one-way commute to work). I have a decent touring bike, some biking clothes and a butt that's somewhat used to being in the saddle for several hours at a time. I am not looking to buy any new gear that might improve my experience microscopically, but rather tips on specific exercises I can do in the gym to train the muscles.

My plan is basically to try to get all the exercise I can in the next 30 days, hopefully without going overboard; however the increment weather might prevent me from doing a lot of actual outdoor bike riding. I really hate riding in the rain, but that's what local skies have been dishing out a whole lot of recently. So, in addition to pedaling, either on a real bike or stationary in the gym, what specific exercises should I do? All advice is appreciated, doubly so from past STP riders if we have any.
posted by blindcarboncopy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are two things you should concentrate on:

3 long bicycle rides to build your endurance. One each week. Leave some time to rest before the actual event.

Squats. Here is a great primer on how to do them. If you have not been doing them, don't use any weight. Do sets of 15 or so because you want to build muscular endurance. Some people say squats are bad for your knees, but the evidence indicates that this is not really the case. Here is a good analysis of squat form and dangers.
posted by OmieWise at 5:25 PM on June 12, 2005

I'd like to second OmniWise's recommendation for rest before the actual event - you want to be sure that your body is well rested before attempting something like this. Also - do everything you can to be sure that your body is healthy (eat well, plenty of fluids, adequate sleep, etc).

In order to improve cardiovascular fitness, I'd recommend swimming as well as other things you can do at the gym (spinning, treadmill, etc). Good luck on the ride!
posted by lumiere at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2005

My first century was supposed to be followed by another century the next day, and I made it through the first day well enough, but only through 50 miles of the second day. This was due almost exclusively to my crotch. I, too, was accustomed to several 30-40-milers a month, and I thought I was broken in, but I learned that there's another level of crotch fatigue after the 2-3 hour mark. So my advice on your ass is, try to break in your crotch further by spending a lot of time in the saddle, in as many different positions as possible. By the time the ride rolls around, be sure you're wearing padded bike shorts (which it sounds like you have), and maybe bring some vaseline or crotch cream. And don't make any radical adjustments to your bike fit during the ride -- I knew this was a bad idea, but I really thought it would help, and it really made things worse.

When I say "time in the saddle", I mean putting your actual saddle, if possible, on any stationaries you might ride. I've always sort of imagined the possibility of mounting a saddle somewhere where I could use it as a chair, as well, but this seems a bit crazy to me, although I think it could help with increasing crotch endurance.

Oh, I had pretty bad problems with hand numbness, too, which I've pretty much eliminated by putting as much gel as possible between my palms and my handlebars: Pearl Izumi Gel Lite gloves, Specialized Bar Phat. This, too, was a problem that I thought I had under control in 30-40 mile rides, but which really became alarming on the second day's ultimately-half century.

I honestly think you can make it, and enjoy it, with the training you have, and following the advice of the people here. Oh, and maybe don't stop for a whiskey-and-a-beer, as I did, fifteen miles before the end of the first day's ride.
posted by xueexueg at 8:06 PM on June 12, 2005

Most of the problems I've run into with centuries has been related to my diet just before and during the ride. As long as I did three or four 30-50 mile rides per week leading up to it I was always okay if I could get my eating right during the ride. Your recovery between the first and second day will a big decider. I'd do some recovery diet research and make sure the bike is adjusted to the best possible fit. I second avoiding the whiskey-and-a-beer.
posted by Carbolic at 9:29 PM on June 12, 2005

get a trainer, as recommended in this post earlier today.

If you're out of shape your three main problem areas will be your heart, your leg muscles, and your ass, but you can pretty quickly get all three into shape in a month just by doing some regular daily cycling.

I can also recommend getting some of this which'll be your saviour as your heart is trying to jump out of your chest on those long ascents.

Another good idea is one of these. 200 miles in the saddle won't do your family jewels any favors....
posted by forallmankind at 9:40 PM on June 12, 2005

If you're reasonably fit but not a seasoned long-distance cyclist, the limiting factor won't be the strength and endurance of your legs but your neck, back, arms and butt. And if you have any joint problems (especially knee), these will become glaringly obvious on a very long ride.

So ride lots, focusing on endurance rather than speed. The key here is specificity: time on the bike will be more worthwhile than time in the gym.

And make absolutely sure that your bike is dialed in perfectly for you, which means bring an Alien tool with you on every ride and fiddle with your seat height and cleat alignment until you can ride for several hours without any joint pain whatsoever.

Don't fiddle with your bike (aside from lubing the chain) in the last week before you ride unless absolutely necessary -- chances are you'll mess it up.
posted by randomstriker at 11:37 PM on June 12, 2005

I'd skip the squats and concentrate on the riding. Invest in good quality cycling shorts. Eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty on the ride. Take your time and don't get caught up in the excitement and go out too fast. You'll be fine.
posted by fixedgear at 2:28 AM on June 13, 2005

From a veteran of only two 100-mile rides:

Gloves, shorts, and a saddle that are ergonomically good for you are the most important thing. If you can fit in a 60-miler before the big race and are feeling good and ready to do more on completion, that's a good sign. Don't rely on testimonials - make sure that what you've got works for YOU. I could tell you how to preserve an ikkyu2's prostate, hands, back and neck, but that wouldn't help you much.

While you're preparing, make sure to take rest days. While training, I personally never rode two days in a row (or if I did, the second day was a pleasure ride, not a training ride.)

Helmet. Please.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:05 AM on June 13, 2005

Don't forget nutrition. You will need to take in a lot of calories over the course of those 2 days on the road. How you do that is very dependent on what your body will tolerate. I find that too much energy drink and gels makes me sick. I need to mix in water and some solids. Use your long training rides to determine what works for you.

Also, I swear by Endurox R4 for recovery after long endurance workouts. It tastes horrible but you'll feel much better the next morning.
posted by probablysteve at 7:46 AM on June 13, 2005

Since you only have 30 days left you really can't improve your actual areobic capacity all that much. what you CAN improve is toughening up your crotch, hands, back, neck and every other little part that, if acheing bad enough, can turn your day into hell. I'm a firm believer that anyone can go a distance they set out to do, speed not withstanding, but just a small sore spot on your crotch will turn even the toughest cyclist into a wimpering mess of pain. I agree with the person that said do a few LONG weekend rides but be sure to space them out and get lots of rest. Saddle time is key.. You're not out to win any races so take your time, stop when you want. Eat a lot. Drink a lot. Take it easy. Take it easy. take it EASY. Don't second guess yourself. Most organized rides like these are great about having aid stations on the route with food and water.. Take advantage! Find out beforehand if they have them or not.. If not... Pack MORE than you think you'll need.

The usual things apply if youre totally new to cycling as well.. Wear a helmet, sunscreen.. Bring extra tubes and a pump (or C02), etc..etc..
posted by joshgray at 8:54 AM on June 13, 2005

Start drinking water. Track how much you drink and make sure it's never less than a gallon a day. (Most people don't drink as much as they give themselves credit for in my experience.) It'll make life easier on your muscles.

The week before the event don't ride much at all, maybe some short rides around the neighborhood just to keep the muscles loose. Two weeks before the event complete 100 miles over that seven-day period. Three week try to chop out 60 miles, and this week 40 to 50 miles, with at least one 20 mile ride in there.

Over 10 miles you'll need more than water to run on, and over 25 miles you'll want something to eat. That's how it works for me.

Track your diet, get lean protein and carbs, in a 40/60 split. For the love of all things holy make sure you're getting a solid eight hours sleep every night. Make an appointment for a deep-tissue massage the day before your big ride.

Mostly don't try to kill yourself here. Don't worry about your body weight too much. You'll be doing just what you need to burn body fat, and lots of people with a large middle ride tons of miles every year, just not at race speed. Practice pedaling at a high RPM/low effort cadence. Wear gloves and a helmet, padded shorts are a must (you pay more you get more, but I don't like the gel ones, and most don't) DO NOT wear headphones (you can't hear the cars coming up behind you) and just ride.
posted by Elvis at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. Lots of good advice here, and most of it seems to point me in direction of more and more riding as a success determinant. I shall do that... besides, the weather has been improving.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 3:46 PM on June 13, 2005

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