I've become more of a distance rider than I was when I was a kid. I always loved long rides… my definition of "long" has just changed over the years. That's required me to adapt my training and preparation for events a bit more. The things that I'm going to talk about in this blog entry still apply to any ride that you define as long. Certainly if "long" means 200+ miles, you'll incorporate more of this into your workouts than you will if "long" means 60.
This year I've been preparing for Dirty Kanza 200… a self-supported 200 mile race on dirt roads around Emporia, Kansas. We don't find out the course until race day and have to navigate point to point using old-school methods (compass, map, cue sheet). Preparing for the unknown is something we all need to train for.
How do you train for something that you can't predict? Best way is to throw different stuff at your body and mind and then deal with them. For me training the mid is the most important part. If your mind is ready to deal with all kinds of stuff that you don't think you'll have to encounter, then the body just tends to follow suit. If you're narrow in your training focus, your mind may not be ready for something weird to happen. If your mind can't deal with it, then your body won't deal with well either.
Here's what I've worked with this spring:
Heat: This is a big one. DK200 has been held in temps over 100 degrees with high humidity, but it is really pleasant here in Virginia these days. We've had only a few days that dip into the low 80s. Hard to acclimate to heat with that kid of weather. To deal with it, I've been wearing winter base layer, long sleeve jerseys, tights, wool socks and mid-weight gloves for some training rides. It makes me hydrate more and get used to sweating buckets. Basically I dress for temps in the mid 40s when it is really in the upper 70s.
Long sleeves and wool socks on an 85 degree day.
Cold: This won't really be a factor for Dirty Kanza, but it might be for other things. Dressing for the 70s when it is really in the 40s needs to be done carefully. You can actually hurt yourself and cause joint problems by doing so. It does, however, teach your body to deal with cold to remove a layer for an hour in the middle of a ride and experience some cold. It really helps your mind deal with it too.
Wet: Again, be a little careful with this one. Practice riding in the rain without rain gear to get the feel for it. This time of year it often happens organically… we all get caught in unexpected rain storms now and then. Ride and enjoy it! My favorite rain riding quote comes from the author Terry Pratchett:
Mistress Weatherwax: "I prefer to get wet and be thankful"
Tiffany: "Thankful for what?"
Mistress Weatherwax: "That I'll be dry later."
Weight: Mostly I'm talking about the bike here. Practice riding with a heavy bike. It helps with climbing, wind and generally dealing with adversity. Ride with a pack or a heavy camelback. This can simulate wind since you have to put out a lot more power and everything feels sluggish. Getting on your light, lively bike after riding a heavy, loaded-down bike feels great too.
Wind: Never let a windy day go by without going out to play in it. Teaching your mind to enjoy punching holes in the wind is probably one of the hardest things to do. Wind can be the most mentally defeating thing to encounter when you're riding. You feel like you should be riding faster and with less effort. Your mind registers this and it is easy to let it sink your ride or race. Practice spending LOTS of time outside the draft. Go play on windy days. Ride a heavy bike. Ride a fixie. Ride a heavy fixie on a windy day. Don't forget crosswinds. They can really suck. Practice in them.
Hills: Practice hills of all kinds and they become less intimidating. If you suck as a climber then you need to practice more. Ride hills in the rain. Ride hills in the wind. Ride hills on your heavy bike, with a pack and/or on a fixie. Throw all kind of weird stuff at your body. If you have a hill that you hate, go back and do it a second time… or third.
Road Conditions: Smooth pavement is soooooo nice to ride on! That's why it is best to train on rough stuff. Ride crappy roads. Ride dirt roads. Ride crappy dirt roads. Ride single track on your cross bike… or fixie… or fixie cross bike. Learn how your bike handles in the wet or wind on crappy roads.
Mechanicals: This is a weird one. My friend Nick broke his derailleur part way into DK200 last year and rode almost 130 miles in one gear last year. He is a super bad-ass. He was able to do that because he trained his body and mind to deal with the weirdness. This year he's going back to race single speed class at DK200. He's freaking awesome. Gears are not the only thing that break. If you break a spoke, you might have to deal with a bent wheel that doesn't allow you to ride with one of your brakes. Be REALLY careful doing this, but you can simulate that. Loosen or disconnect your brake. Most brakes have some kind of quick release. Riding with no front or rear brake can be really dangerous. Learn what you have to do ride safely with only one brake. I know… that's a bit weird, but I do it!!! it helps be mentally prepared for things.
Weird Resupply Intervals: Dirty Kanza has checkpoints every 50 miles or so where we're able to get water/food from our support crew. What happens if you get lost and have to go 70 miles? 90? 100? You get the idea. Learn how to ride and conserve water and food. Learn how to ride carrying too much food and water. Learn how much is way too much. Practice this!!! I did a ride this spring where I went 130 miles on gravel and paved roads with no resupply at all… not water or food. I carried EVERYTHING for that ride. It sucked in many ways, but it taught me what to do and how to prepare.
I know this was kind of a weird conversation. The bottom line is that if you want to be prepared for everything, you need to teach your mind and body to adapt. If you prepare for the stuff above, you'll actually be ready for the things that I didn't list up there. I obviously can't list everything you'll encounter. If you train while thinking outside the box, you'll be ready for weird, fun stuff to happen. That's what doing long rides is all about!!!
Have fun and be safe!