This is a general overview. Go to other links for complete information on training, bike fit, hydration, stretching, and nutrition.
Take it slowly
If you're not in tip-top shape, it's important to build up your ability over time -- don't go out and ride all day if you're not used to riding long distances. You'll only invite injury and exhaustion.
Even if you're starting with very short rides, it's important to do them on a regular basis, several days a week. If you can't get out to ride, try indoor spinning classes, a great simulation of cycling.
Don't overdo it -- giving your body sufficient time to rest is as important as building strength and endurance.
Vary your rides
You'll be better off if you've trained to tackle both distance and hills. Alternate between shorter rides with more hill climbing and longer rides on flatter terrain, and some that combine both hills and distance.
The good news -- it does not matter! Go at your own pace and don't worry about anyone else's speed.
Anything that works on building your strength and/or aerobic endurance is going to help. Run, walk, swim, take an aerobics class, lift weights, do yoga.
Do your time on the bike
Cross training is great, but don't short-change yourself on time in the saddle. You have some long days ahead of you, and it's important to get used to sitting on your bike seat for hours at a time.
Let your muscles and the rest of your body get warmed up as you start your ride. This could be easy spinning on your bike, walking, etc.
Before, during, and after each ride. If you keep your muscles warmed-up and flexible, you're much less likely to feel sore the next day.
Get your bike properly fitted -- this can be done at any good bike shop. Improper bike fit is one of the leading causes of injury among cyclists, and it's an easy thing to fix. You also might want to invest in some proper cycling gear -- padded shorts, bike shoes with stiff sole, jerseys that wick away perspiration. it's not essential, but can help with a more comfortable, efficient ride.
Hang in there
it's likely that You'll get distracted, or tired, or frustrated. You'll probably experience all three, maybe all at the same time. It will pass - really. Remember that this happens to everyone at some point, and re-commit to your training program by reminding yourself why you're doing this. And again, call your Rider Coach or one of your cycling friends.
- When you are cycling a long distance in a single day, it's crucial that you conserve energy. You'll need something left in your lungs and legs for those last few miles. If you push full-speed from the start you'll exhaust yourself.
- Try spinning your pedals. Rather than pushing the biggest gear as hard as you can ("gear mashing"), try shifting down to a lower gear at a higher number of revolutions per minute, somewhere between 80 to 100 rpm. Spinning uses significantly less energy, eases up stress on your knee joints and enables you to pedal longer before exhaustion sets in.
- Hill climbing causes problems even for the most avid of cyclists. Learn to use your gear shift levers. Shift down, and spin. This is especially important for riders with knee and lower back problems. "Gearing down" is also important when climbing hills. Spinning in your lowest gear while climbing is a tremendous energy saver and really protects your knees over the long haul. Another tip: Sit as far back as you can in your saddle. This way, you use the large muscles in both the front and back of your legs (the quadriceps and hamstrings), instead of your quadriceps alone, while you climb.
Wipe off your bike and re-lubricate your chain after a rain. Failure to do so may result in rusting and cause poor shifting. Dry it down and lube it up.
Most cycling injuries are preventable. The most common causes are:
- Poor bike fit
- Inadequate training and conditioning
- Poor flexibility
- Equipment failure or inadequate equipment maintenance
- "Bonking" and inadequate nutrition
- Saddle soreness
- Insufficient rest and recovery time
The remedies for some of these are obvious. If your bike fits you correctly, and is adequately maintained, it should not contribute to injuries. Likewise, if you train wisely and consistently, and don't overdo it, those types of injuries can be prevented. Stretching regularly will avert injuries caused by poor flexibility.
There are many injuries we can totally avoid by following a proper training program. Coupled with deliberate incremental training, you must stretch those muscles before you use them in a workout. And you must stretch them again once you are finished. We have supplied you with some great stretching routines in your hand book.
Do not push yourself past your own ability or endurance level. For example, you find someone you like riding with, your average mph is 10, theirs is 15. While it is good to ride with someone who will help you reach a higher level, it is very dangerous for you (using the above example) to try and keep up with someone who is that much faster. Your knees will be the first part of your body to let you know this wasn't a good idea. The injuries that could occur will most likely stop you from continuing your training while you heal -- valuable time lost that you won't get back.
Some of the warning signs that you're pushing yourself too hare are fatigue, problems sleeping, low grade fever, moodiness and irritability, joint and muscle pain, decreased appetite and sex drive, and increased resting heart rate. In other words, if you feel lousy but still push yourself unmercifully to maintain a training schedule it's going to do you more harm than good. If this happens, stop and take some time off so that your body can recover. You'll find that you won't lose ground. You'll actually return to your training with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
- Injuries from exposure occur when it's either too cold or too hot outside. If you train in the winter, make sure your cycling attire keeps you warm and dry on the inside. Layering to keep warm is especially important for cycling, as it minimizes the effects of wind chill. The expense of the proper attire for cool and cold weather cycling is well worth it.
- Special attire, built of fabrics that vent perspiration and cool you, helps to keep heat stroke at bay in hot weather. Here again, adequate intake of fluids is essential. Also, protecting your skin and eyes from overexposure to the sun is crucial when cycling in hot weather.
Preventing Saddle Soreness
- Two words. Butt Balm. You'll hear it referred to so many times on the ride. Some people have actually written songs extolling the virtues of the stuff! It will become your best ally during the ride. "Butt Balm" is an anti-chafing ointment applied to your groin area. Since saddle soreness is caused by friction, not by pressure as is often assumed, liberal applications of the stuff can greatly decrease any discomfort. It's messy, but it works wonders! Check with your local bike stop for different brands. (Women should not use petroleum-based products.) On longer rides, don't leave home without it! In fact, bring a tube along with you so that you can re-apply it whenever you feel the need!
- Other factors that contribute to saddle soreness or crotch pain are the saddle itself and shorts with insufficient padding, or center seams that irritate delicate parts of the anatomy. Investing in a comfortable touring saddle is something you will never regret. There are seats specifically designed for comfort and the different anatomies of men and women. "Terry" women's saddles and the "Serfa Tailbones" saddles are two examples of very comfortable, reasonably-priced saddles that will make riding your bicycle a more pleasant experience during longer rides. Also, incorrect saddle tilt can contribute to a lot of crotch and butt soreness. If you suspect this is the problem, adjust the saddle tilt until you find what's comfortable.
- Check with your local bike shop regarding saddle issues. Remember that spending time on your bike during your training will help you ease into day after day of sitting and pedaling.
- Everyone is different, but You'll probably find that You'll need to take in a lot more calories during long rides. Stop and snack frequently while riding to make sure that your body gets a consistent supply of fuel. And don't forget to eat before you ride. Many say what you eat now will be what your body uses in 1.5 - 2 hours from when you eat. Food is just as important as liquids to your body, even when the weather gets hot, so don't neglect this important element of your training. Your training period is a great time to reassess your eating habits and learn nutritious ways of keeping yourself going.
- There is an array of sports drinks and foods available. These supplements are helpful in sustaining energy. Consider experimenting now to find ones that best suit your needs and tastes; the last thing you want on the ride is to find you've brought along three pounds of powdered drink that tastes like chalk. Good snacks include ClifBars, pretzels, bagels, fruit (fresh and dried), nuts, and trail mix. Items that are complex carbohydrates will provide for a sustained energy source. Some people will graze all day long while they ride to keep a consistent intake of calories and carbohydrates. For instance, they may eat half of their sandwich for lunch a hold the other half for the next rest stop. Experiment, talk to your fellow Participants to see what will work the best for you.
- Before you start buying food supplements by the case, make sure your regular diet is well-balanced. It's important that your body gets the quality fuel it needs to perform the extra work of cycling. The event is not a diet. You need to eat.
- Complex carbohydrates are the best source of fuel for your muscles pasta, beans, rice, whole grain, fruits, and veggies too.
- Consult with your physician or a registered dietician for diet planning assistance.
- Avoid a "bonk." Adequate intake of calories and fluids is essential for safe cycling. Eat before you are hungry, and drink before you are thirsty. "Bonking" occurs when you have completely depleted the glycogen stores in your muscles. Your body runs out of fuel. When this happens, disorientation, headaches, and loss of body and bike control set in. This can be a very serious situation. If it happens to you, get off your bike and start eating and drinking to replenish your fuel stores immediately. Better yet, consume enough food before and during your ride so that you never bonk in the first place.
- Replenish your energy. As you increase training mileage by adding longer rides, you need to be mindful of what you eat when you're not in the saddle. The reason is simple. Even though you are nibbling food as you pedal, a ride of two hours or more will deplete your muscle glycogen. This gives you a great opportunity to make your next ride a strong one because it opens you "glycogen window". This refers to the short period following lengthy exercise when your muscles are ready and able to be maximally refueled. To take advantage of this, you must eat carbohydrate-rich foods during the hour following a long ride. Sooner is better. After an hour, the window begins to close and you'll gain less and less benefit. If you do it right, your muscles will be topped off with glycogen, giving you the energy to feel great the following day. Keep a post-ride food stash handy (energy bars, sports drinks, fruit, bagels, etc....) or eat a carbohydrate-rich meal.
- Water, sports drink, water, sports drink, water, sports drink, and more water. Even if you don't feel like you're sweating, you're always losing fluids while riding, and if you don't replace them you risk dehydration, which can lead to very serious problems. It is important to alternate servings of water with servings of electrolyte replacement drink during strenuous exercise. Again, experiment with which electrolyte replacement drink works best for you. Some people prefer the drinks watered down from full strength, some like mixing the powdered versions with water.
- If you are not urinating much while you ride, you are not taking in enough liquids. And remember, drink not for what you need immediately but what your body needs in reserve. You might consider purchasing a "Camelbak" or similar hydration system, which allows you to drink without having to reach down for your water bottle, making it more likely that You'll drink more often. Your water bottles can then be filled for your reserve supply.
- Dehydration is a common problem among cyclists, especially in warm weather, and can lead to serious problems secondary to fluid loss and inadequate body heat dispersal. To prevent this, you must drink plenty of fluids while you ride. Do not wait until you're thirsty to drink. A good rule of thumb is to drink every 15 minutes, consuming at least one 28-ounce bottle of fluid per hour.