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Can you Ride the Distance?

By Sheila Ascroft

Too tired to continue

Too tired to continue

It seems contradictory for me-the-motivator to say this, but don’t go the distance if you are not prepared for it!

It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of trying a big ride because your friends are doing it. Or maybe because it’s a ride for a charity that you truly care about. Or maybe you think if you just go slow enough, you’ll eventually get there. Or maybe you’ve heard that if you can ride two-thirds of the distance, on event day you can scramble through the final third.

Maybe. But the aftermath may not be pretty. You may end up injured or simply loathe the thought of getting on your bicycle again. We want you to become a better cyclist not an ex-cyclist!

Presumably you cycle for fun, fitness, health, weight loss and/or all of the above. This is good! What’s not so good though is doing dumb things that discourage you from cycling. Things like riding too far before your body is ready.

 Preparation is everything

Ambition is a wonderful thing, but so is preparation. There’s a famous quote that seems to have a lot of authors including soldiers and athletes: “the will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”

What should your preparation look like? It depends on the goal. I’d suggest you start small and be proud of an achievement than take on too much too soon. Say the charity bike event you plan to do in June offers 25 km (15 mile), 50 km (30 mile) and 100 km (62 mile) routes. Which should you pick?

Well, how often will you ride in April and May? Three times a week? More? Less? Do you work up a sweat or just leisurely ride along? How far is your typical ride? If you don’t have a cycle computer (get one they can be a fun motivator!), drive the route in your car once and get a rough estimate of the distance. Or log the time spent actually riding your bike—exclude the 20-minute stop at the coffee shop. This should give you an idea of what you might be capable of.

For example, let’s say you are comfortable riding 20 km (12 mile) three times a week—or will be by the end of May. Great! Register for the 25 km (15 mile) route and enjoy the event.

However, if you want to do the 50 km (30 mile) route in June, it means putting in more effort during April and May. You can still only do three rides a week (four would be better with rest days in between), but one of your 20 km ride will be ridden at a higher intensity than usual (as in you have to sweat and breathe hard—trying adding in some hills). The second 20 km ride will be at your normal pace. The third ride though, will be increasingly longer each week. If you have six weeks before your event, plan on upping the distance 5 km (3 mile) each week. This means you’ll be riding 50 km (30 mile) just in time for the event. Go for it!

Unless you are riding longer distances than 50 km (30 mile) on a regular basis, forget about going for the 100 km (62 mile) route. It’s fun to brag about completing a metric century (62 mile), but bragging rites belong to those willing to put in at least four hours of riding time to complete the route! If you’ve never cycled more than two hours, it will hurt (butt, neck, hands) to ride longer and possibly even result in an injury (knee, hip, neck) as your muscles and tendons rebel with the unexpected effort. Be patient, build up your mileage and choose a cycling event later in the season. 

When you do enter that cycling event, you will feel more confident, comfortable and companionable knowing you are prepared. You’ll be able to enjoy the ride and not worry so much about whether you’ll be able to finish. You’ve prepared for this. Enjoy it.

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2 comments to Can you Ride the Distance?

  • This year i did 70k without working up to it and it was hard.I will not do the same next year. A normal ride for me is usually 14k three times a week,that wasn’t enough. I started riding 2years ago at age 62.I’m happy i found your web site with info on preparing for biking!

  • Bo

    hmmm….it depends on your overall fitness and how you feel about riding to start with too. That and your body’s natural recovery rate. Even when I’d just started out, while 60km was hard, since I’d never ridden more than 10 in one stretch, it was rewarding. Exhausting, but it made me want to ride more. I’m no hard-core athlete, and at the time I was in my mid-30′s. The first time I attempted 110km, I was forced off my bike and into the organizer’s straggler van after 8 hours on the bike, and couldn’t complete, and it was devastating. I trained a little more the next year, but mostly I learned how to EAT for endurance rides. (That 1st 110km I was clueless, and half-bonked a couple of times, boy did I learn my lesson! Especially about getting to the lunch stop before they run out of food!) Some of the killer mountains had also been wiped off the route, so I was able to complete in about 7 hours, again felt wonderful about riding *and finishing* despite the fatigue. I usually just do the two events per year, and my training is pretty much a daily 7km commute to work and 7km back, with the odd 20 min. roller session..when I feel like it (shame!) Post-ride I always fill up on protein rich food, soak in a hot spring/bath and drink a protein shake before bed, and after a good night’s sleep I’m good to go. The years that I can put effort into training are certainly easier, so I’m in no way pooh-pahing training. The more the better. I guess I’m just saying if you’re the kind of person who routinely bites off more than they can chew, (like me) a lack of training may not be such an awful thing. There’s little that feels better than completing something that you’re not 100% sure you can manage.

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