How do you train for a cross-Canada cycling trip? You ride and ride. My plan was to add at least 20kms to my average ride per week. That way, by the end of the month I’d be up to 100kms. it’s simply about building up your capacity for distance. You’ll be amazed how fast you can increase your endurance and get into shape.
In the end, I did get up to 85kms and planned a 100km ride on the last weekend in April but Vicki, very smartly, convinced me to get packed instead. As it turned out that was the right thing to do.
People that know me know I do a lot of traveling on the job. That interrupted my training quite a bit. To counteract that problem I did a lot of power walking and stair climbing. It didn’t seem to hurt.
I also wanted to lose weight. After all, my legs will power every pound on the bike. On the day I left for Vancouver I had lost 8lbs (I figure I was 20lbs over weight when I started). However, I did not sacrifice nutrition; in fact I’m eating and feeling better then I have in a long time. I’m eating carbs at the right times (pre and post workout), consuming tons of fruit and vegetables, eating often, and making sure I’m getting protein at every meal.
I’ve done a lot of research in this and I’d be happy to share those findings with you. I especially rely on a program called Precision Nutrition. Also, the book Time Crunched Cyclist has great information on meeting your bodies needs during heavy training. Believe me, there’s a lot to learn and experience is key.
Not feeding your body enough of the right nutrients at the right time can lead to all sorts of problems. Once Neil Park and I were riding to Mosport on a very hot day. At one point my legs literally gave up on me; I could go no further. It was like they didn’t work anymore. Neil, being the smart guy that he is, had me down a bottle of Gatorade. 15-20 mins later I was ready to go. But later that night my legs burned like hell (lactate acid).
Nowadays there are power bars, gels and all sorts of things to avoid “bonking”. I’ve packed a supply for emergencies but I really plan on taking my time to eat healthy food and often.
It’s not just about building muscle
There are many aches and pains that reveal themselves after a long time in the saddle: your butt and neck gets sore, your hands get numb, and if you overdo it (like my first weekend of training) your knees start to hurt.
First, let me start by saying that my understanding is that cycling is one of the best exercises for people who have, or want to avoid, knee pain. It’s far better than running for example.
The most important way to avoid knee pain is to properly adjust your seat height (thanks Ray for reminding me about that). I’m not going to explain how to do that adjustment here but you can look it up or get professional help. I will tell you that 99% of people I see riding their bikes have their seat far too low.
There are two kinds of knee injuries to watch out for; the first is simply from overuse and apparently it’s not bad for you and you’ll recover with rest. I can tell you from experience that after a day of rest I’ve recovered 100%.
The second type of knee pain is much more serious. It results from a loss of fluid underneath your kneecap (sorry if I sound like a total dork here but I don’t have my trusty cycling book with me to properly describe this). This kind of injury requires surgery. If you have this condition, apparently your knee makes a crackly sound when you bend it, like Rice Krispies. By the sounds of it (pun intended) you’ll know if you have this condition.
The best thing here is to get a good saddle. Contrary to what you might think a soft and cushy saddle is the wrong thing to get. I have a Ideale leather saddle that they probably don’t sell anymore. It’s far better then any other saddle I’ve ever used but then I haven’t tried the high end saddles.
Other than a good saddle, to avoid soreness it’s simply a matter of getting off of your bike every hour or so and stretching.
You can also acquire saddle rash after a few days on the saddle, especially if it’s hot and or wet. There’s a commonly available cream for that problem that you can get at a good bike shop. Apply liberally and think prevention (awkward moment #1).
Hands and neck
Padded cycling gloves are a must otherwise you’ll experience numbness in your hands and forearms (actually, you will anyway). Get good ones. I’ve installed an aerobar as well and that helps with changing hand positions.
Your neck will get pretty sore because when you’re on a bike your head is held up for hours at a time. One thing I noticed is that I often tense my shoulders when I’m riding and I’m trying to prevent that. I find that stretching your arms behind your back while your riding helps.getting off your bike every hour or so and stretching helps a lot too. Through training long distances you’ll strengthen your neck and it will be less of a problem.
One other thing
There is also one other thing to be concerned about when your in the saddle for long stretches, but I won’t get into it right now. Let’s just say that it’s a hard thing to worry about and if you’re a guy you’ll catch my drift. Ok, that was awkward moment #2.
For heavens sake, don’t rely on my advice only. Research these things yourself and consult a medical professional if your concerned.
I only mention this because I’m sharing with you some of the things that keep me awake at night, and what I do to alleviate those concerns. I’m very pleased to say that I’ve ridden up to 85kms at a stretch with virtually no pain whatsoever. But I also know these ailments can sneak up on you really fast.