I've received several questions about training for Ride the Rockies 2009 so thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned the hard way over the past four years. I am, by no means, a professional cyclist or personal trainer, but I hope others will benefit from my past mistakes!
First, the official Ride the Rockies website includes some great tips on training, including a sample training schedule and tips for effective altitude training. If I had followed this advice I probably would not have learned the following lessons on my own:
Miles in the Saddle
I rode my first two Ride the Rockies (2005 and 2006) while living in Olathe, KS, at an altitude of about 1,000 ft. above sea level. People always asked how I trained to ride in the mountains while riding in Kansas. The truth is that Eastern Kansas has plenty of steep hills to ride on, they're just a lot shorter than the ones here in Colorado! So I focused on putting in lots of miles in the saddle. I think I put in about 1,000 miles (~150/week) before my first RTR and did fine (with the exception of the "Swollen Uvula Incident"). I finished the ride...but not without feeling some pain!
[At left: At the finish line of Ride the Rockies 2004, Breckenridge, CO]
The following year my goal was to not just finish, but to enjoy the ride. I rode to/from work (about 20 miles each way) when the weather allowed and increased my mileage to over 200 miles per week prior to the ride and I felt much better.
After moving to Colorado in July of 2006 I figured training at altitude (I now live at 6,400 ft. above sea level and routinely ride above 7,000). In 2007 I decided to train for the Vineman Half Ironman in July, 2007, and my miles in the saddle dropped as I made time to swim and run that Winter and Spring. As a result I never felt like I "got my legs" until after RTR. I struggled on RTR but felt great a month later on the bike portion of Vineman.
Last year, following my bike accident I was unable to even get on a bike until March 30 so I decided to focus on cycling and bought a CycleOps Fluid2 bike trainer so I could start putting in miles while recovering from surgery and waiting for warmer weather. When I was able to get out on the road I plotted a route to/from work and was riding >200 miles/week in May and early June. Once again, the miles in the saddle prior to the ride made it much more enjoyable.
So far in 2009 I'm averaging about 30 miles per week on my indoor trainer and have been able to get outside about once a week to put in 20-30 miles on the road. My goal is to have 500 miles in the saddle by the end of March and then kick it up a notch in April and start riding to/from work in May when the weather warms up.
Lesson Learned: miles in the saddle is a bigger factor than training at altitude.
Altitude and Hydration
When I first started training for my first RTR, my biggest concern, and the one that proved to be valid, was altitude and hydration. I did a lot of reading on how to prepare for the altitude and one thing I learned was that proper hydration is the key. So prior to my first Ride the Rockies I drank lots of water and focused on raising my total body water percentage. Of course, I also focused on staying hydrated during the first several days of the ride.
That worked well until we rolled into Salida on the fifth day of the ride. Feeling good and with just two days left I decided to celebrate with my fellow riders and we shut down the pub at the Hotel Victoria ("The Vic" as it is known locally). After walking back to the school and finding my tent in the middle of several hundred tents on the football field, I realized I had forgotten to fill my water bottles...but was too lazy to get back out of my tent and go fill them. That was a huge mistake.
I woke the next morning to the worst cotton mouth I had ever experienced. I felt like my throat was swollen half shut and it felt like I was choking on my own uvula. The 60-mile, all uphill ride from Salida to Leadville was miserable. As I mentioned in my last post (below), the diagnosis was altitude sickness. I took it easy that night, drank lots of water and finished the ride over Fremont Pass to Breckenridge the next morning.
I still enjoy going out with my friends from Team DFL and Bar2Bar on Ride the Rockies, but always remember to drink lots of water (one for every beer) and fill up my water bottles before I crawl into my tent! As a result, I've enjoyed plenty of liquid carbs and ridden over 12,000 ft. passes without ever feeling the effects of altitude sickness [at left: last summer at the summit of Cottonwood Pass, 12,126 ft.]
Lesson Learned: When riding at altitudes of 9,000-12,000 ft. above sea level, staying hydrated is the key to avoiding altitude sickness.
I learned my third and final lesson in September 2007, but should have learned it from my friend Kent on Ride the Rockies several months before. Kent was descending Rabbit Ears Pass on the first day of Ride the Rockies 2007. Kent got "right-hooked" by a car (see Collision Type #6 of "Ten Ways Not to Get Hit" at Bicyclesafe.com) that made a right turn in front of him, sending him over the car and onto the pavement, dislocating his right shoulder and tearing up his knee. It also did some damage to the Serotta demo bike he was riding that day!
That was the end of RTR07 for Kent, but he returned last year to ride and won the Serotta bike giveaway at the end of the ride! How's that for poetic justice??
I learned my lesson on September 22, 2007, when I also got right-hooked by a car that had just passed me then turned right in front of me.
[At left: my "enhanced" diagram of the accident scene -- I added the stick figure of me lying in the road].
I was fortunate enough to survive my lesson in defensive riding with a broken collarbone and return for Ride the Rockies 2008 (although I didn't win a bike). I definitely took it easier coming down the big passes and paid close attention to every car on the road.
Riding defensively means assuming every car that passes you is going to turn in front of you, that every car parked along the street is going to back out into you and that every car approaching an intersection is going to run a red light.
Lesson Learned: In car vs. bike collisions, the car always wins.
Finally, Steve B. asked in a comment on my blog for some suggestions for a "safe place to work on climbing" in the Denver area. I couldn't really come up with any. I love riding up Lookout Mountain, Deer Creek Canyon and from Morrison to Evergreen, but all three roads have little or no shoulder and lots of vehicle traffic.
If you have any suggestions, please post them in the comments section (click on link below where it says "comments").