A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Five Tips for Surviving Multiple Day Cycling Events and Century Rides

After surviving the longest Ride the Rockies in history in 2013 and toughest day ever on Ride the Rockies in 2014, I've learned a few lessons (the hard way) about how to survive long-mileage and multiple day rides. Actually, I've compiled these tips over the years, having finished eight RTRs and ten Bike MS rides (2-day, 150 miles) since I began long distance cycling in 2000.

Ride the Rockies 2014 was easily the most challenging of the eight I have completed, with over 30,000 ft. of elevation gain!

Participating in long-distance and multiple day rides requires a significant amount of training (this article has some great training tips for multi-day rides) to avoid suffering during the ride. Don't get me wrong, you can do long distance rides without a significant amount of training. I know a lot of people who do but most of them suffer the consequences, including more time on the bike each day and the resulting aches and pains that go with it!

Ride the Rockies 2013 became the longest in history when a reroute due to wildfires added 33 miles to the route.
Regardless of your training level, these five tips will help you survive your first century ride, multi-day charity ride or a week-long bike tour like Ride the Rockies:

1) Stretch Before You Get Sore/Tight -- Whether you believe in stretching before, during or after a workout (my brother is into dynamic stretching), one thing is clear: once you start to develop tightness/soreness it is hard to recover on a long distance or multi-day ride. By Day Three that little twinge had become a sharp-stabbing pain like a dagger being thrust under my right shoulder blade. The tightness in my right should eventually migrated to my lower back and right hip, running down my IT band to my knee (I must have been overcompensating on my right side). At times I was forced to get off the bike and stretch every 5-10 miles (even less when climbing) to relieve the pain.

2) Apply Chamois Butter Before You Start Chafing -- Speaking or pain, one of the most common questions I get after the ride is "does your butt hurt"? Seems like kind of a personal question but most people find it hard to fathom sitting on a small, hard bike saddle for hours and days on end (literally). No matter how much riding you do before the big event this can become a problem. They actually make a special product called Chamois Butt'r designed to prevent chafing and soreness. This year I finally got smart and applied it on the first day rather than waiting until saddle sores began to appear and I avoided them altogether. This tip also applies to sunscreen and lip balm. Just be sure to double check which tube you grab before applying (yes, I know someone who applied butt butter on their face as sunscreen).

3) Drink Before You Feel Thirsty -- I learned this lesson on my first Ride the Rockies when I ended up in the ER in Leadville, Colorado suffering from altitude sickness! Hydration is critical on long rides, especially when riding at altitude. I was able to stay hydrated for most of the ride this year. I did feel a little parched one day but recognized the tell-tale signs (I know I am getting dehydrated when I have difficulty swallowing while riding) and increased my water intake and it never became an issue. 

One 3 oz. serving of beef provides more than 10% of 10 essential nutrients and vitamins for less than 10% of your daily calories!
4) Eat Before You Feel Hungry (or fuel before you bonk) -- Similar to staying hydrated, it is important to keep fuel in your tank during a long ride. If you've ever run out of fuel (or bonked), you know what I mean! Fortunately, most long distance rides are supported and offer a variety of carbohydrate-rich foods along the route. I try to eat something at least every hour -- or at every aid station: fruit, pretzels, animal crackers, basically whatever they provide! I carry Clif Shot Bloks on me for fuel between stops. And, of course, at the end of the day I always seek out a big burger or steak to help my muscles repair fuel up for the following day on the zinc, iron, protein and B vitamins in beef.

5) Death Before SAG -- Until this year on Ride the Rockies I had never ridden in a Support and Gear (SAG) vehicle on a long ride. I have been fortunate to avoid a major mechanical breakdown requiring a ride and have vowed to never hitch a ride because I was tired, sore, or mentally done with the ride. This attitude is captured in a saying I heard on my first Ride the Rockies: Death Before SAG. I have never come close to a choice between death and sagging and obviously don't ever want to test it! For me, it's just an attitude you have to have going into the ride or you risk succumbing to the the temptation! There's a team on the Colorado Bike MS ride named "Ain't Too Proud to SAG." I think that's the wrong attitude (but, hey, they're doing it for a good cause!). To me, SAG is a last resort option in the event of a physical or mechanical breakdown (or thundersnow storms at the summit of Berthoud Pass).

Support and Gear (SAG) vans drive up and down the route rescuing riders who have broken down -- either mechanically, physically or mentally!
Photo credit: http://www.mvermeulen.com/rtr2009/
What multiple-day or long distance rides do you have coming up yet this summer? What tips would you share? Please post a comment!

Ride on!



  1. Great tips ... my suggestions ...

    Ride your ride - don't try to keep up with someone who rides faster. You will burn yourself out and not be able to finish! I've done 7 RTR's, 2 BTC's, and one RAGBRAI, and I'm training for Cycle Oregon this year. I ride with my husband, and some days we decide to ride our own rides. I have a friend who did Elephant Rock one year. He tried to keep up with the guys he signed up with - he'd never done a long ride before - and he couldn't finish.

    Also - on nutrition - figure out what works for you before you do a long organized ride. The time to try that new gel or new sport drink isn't during Ride the Rockies. On my first RTR I decided to try a sport gel - I found can't handle the sugar, and almost didn't finish on the long day in 2003 (bonked) - luckily my then fiancee came back after he finished, found me, and pulled me the last 15 miles on a 100+ mile day. So figure out what you need. I need to eat every 25 miles or so - and I need peanut butter and honey on whole wheat - that works for me. My husband can go 50 miles on just water. So everyone is different!

    Lastly - endurance rides are 50% training and 50% mental. It doesn't take as much training as you'd think to do one. And you can let the fear take over and talk yourself out of finishing. On my first ride we rode through a thunderstorm at 10:30 am and got to Taylor Park. There were more thunderstorms on the way and RTR was bringing buses if we wanted to sag ... my husband talked me into riding the rest of the way, and it was fine! I was about to let my fear of riding in the rain get me to sag ... it wasn't that bad! I had the clothing I needed with me, and I came through it just fine.

    I have to admit I did sag once. I was on a Bicycle Tour of Colorado. We had ridden to the top of Slumgullion Pass from Gunnison, and were heading to Creede (105 miles). We finally got to the top and were facing a stiff, hot headwind with 35 miles left to go on a gradual downhill. We had over 60 miles to do the next day. So I decided I was done and I would take the SAG. I ended up regretting it. While waiting for the SAG, I rested up, rehydrated, and ate - I ended up feeling fine. I was in a van with a lot of people who were really dead. I felt guilty taking a place from someone who really needed it just because I didn't want to ride in a hot headwind. So I've never done that since. So "Death Before SAG" is now my motto - I dragged my husband on the 90 plus mile re-route day last year on the longest RTR and we did the whole thing (he had a hangover that day - his problem). It turned out we were glad we did - it was one of the most beautiful days I've seen on 7 RTR's!

    1. Not sure why I never replied to this, Ms. Beaver :) Great advice! The mental part is spot on. I had a bad mental day this year on Cycle Oregon and my brother pulled me through it. After the day was done Inwas glad I did it. I'm sure Mr. Beaver was happy you dragged him along the reroute day. Woody and I dragged each other and worked in a two margarita lunch stop in Silver Cliffe. The views of the Sangre de Christo range that day were amazing.


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