Tomorrow I am attempting to ride my bicycle 170 miles (~274 km) across the state of Florida. Lord, legs and lungs willing, several hundred cyclists will begin at sunrise on the eastern Atlantic coast and finish on the western Gulf coast before sunset (see map). A huge party with lots of BBQ will lure us to complete our journey.
The farthest I’ve ever cycled in one day was 92 miles. Tomorrow is nearly twice that distance. During my last few training rides I’ve been asking myself: Will my body even be able to endure this distance and time in the saddle? What will be necessary to finish well? Here are four crucial secrets to extreme endurance that I’ve gleaned from veterans. It seems these same principles apply to many other challenging endeavors in life:
- Have the right equipment. Most of us won’t be riding $5,000 all-carbon frame bikes with elite racing components. But those who finish will have good quality road bikes that are clean and well-tuned. They’ll also have the right clothing for pressure points that matter most, such as well-padded shorts, stiff shoes with cleats, comfortable gloves and good shades.
- Train appropriately. Tomorrow’s ride is not a sprint, it’s a double-marathon of 10-11 hours. Finishers will need long, steady-paced effort. The training base required is one of regular 1, 2 and 3-hour rides over the past several months. Unless you’ve already developed the wind and strength in another sport, it’s unlikely you can just wake up and decide to do this. Intentional, specific preparation will be key.
- Replenish along the way. Carbo-loading the night before is a myth. That energy might last an hour or two. We’ll be burning about 800 calories per hour and sweating out several pounds of fluids in 90 degree (32 C) weather. Muscles will be screaming for glycogen to fuel their efforts. Though I won’t need to replace my energy calorie-for-calorie, I will need to be eating and drinking constantly if I don’t want to bonk. I’ll be consuming lots of complex carbs, protein, and electrolytes to ensure my engine keeps running smoothly.
- Rely on others. It’s common knowledge that geese can fly about 70% farther in V-formation than by going it alone. The same is true for cycling with a group of people who share leadership in a paceline. There’s no way I’d be able to ride that distance without drafting behind others. Etiquette will also require that I pull my fair share of time up front, helping break the wind for the group. I’m riding with a couple of friends, and we’ll attach ourselves to various groups along the route. When my motivation flags, others’ vision will spur me to keep pedaling. My sweet wife Ann will be driving our sag wagon, toting extra food, water and gear that we may need throughout the day. It takes a village….
What challenge are you currently facing that may require different equipment, new training, continuous help along the way, or increased reliance on your network?