I put in a 466 mile week at the end of August and into September. 377 of them coming in just four days. My average pace for the 466 was north of 19-mph.
So, how did I prepare for that with a wife, kids and a job?
I wish there was a magic bullet. “Yeah, just ride so many days in a row, for so many miles, at such-and-such a pace, and you’ll be great!” Wouldn’t it be wonderful? It would, but that’s not how it works.
In all seriousness, as a working stiff, there’s really no great way to train for a four day tour where you’ll be putting in upwards of 100 miles a day – and all four days are going to be a fairly hard effort. There are a few things that will be helpful to know up front.
- Day One, be careful. It’ll be easy to go out too fast. Your adrenaline will be maxed, so you’ll have to contain yourself a little bit. This is especially true if you’ve done the ride before – the more I ride tours, the more excited I am to do them. Just remember how many days you’ve got in front of you.
- Day Two sucks the worst. You’re fresh off your first hundred. Your butt’s a little sore, your legs are tired… and you’re just not feeling up to snuff. You’ve gotta muscle up. It’ll only hurt until you get settled in, maybe ten or twenty miles in. Just keep pedaling.
- Day Three should feel better – well, most of you should feel better. Your ass will feel as though it’s on fire when you first sit on your saddle, but that’ll numb out as the day progresses. Don’t worry. Just keep pedaling.
- Day Four will likely be your best day. You’re ass will be red enough they’ll be shooting blow darts at you in the locker room when you shower up after Day Three, but your legs will have adjusted and, other than the aforementioned fire heinie, you should feel pretty spry. Just keep pedaling.
- I’ve only ever done a four-day, so I can’t really speak to what’s next, but rinse and repeat just keep pedaling. Your Dave’s Insanity Sauce butt will recover just fine. Later. Much, much later. As long as you don’t have an extra hole or two in there, you’ll be alright. If you do, Aquaphor. Buy some. Use it. Love it.
Now, the previous commentary was meant to be truthful, but also funny as all get out. If you didn’t laugh at the part about having blow darts shot at your baboon ass, you’ve got something wrong with you. That bit was funny. Thanks for the heavy lifting on that one, Chuck.
Let’s get into some real, valuable information, though. This is the middle of Day Three and those six smiles are all genuine (Todd was having a rough go).
- First, get your gearing right for your environment. I’ve got compact chainrings and an 11/28 cassette on the my tour bike. On my Tuesday Night fast bike I’ve got more of a corncob – 11/25 for the 52/36 chainrings on that bike. If you’re riding a flat course, then go with the corncob. On the other hand, if you’ll be doing a lot of climbing, go with some easy gears. Also, factor in you’ll be tired by the second day. You’ll want one or two easier gears than you think for those late-week hills.
- EAT! You shouldn’t be out on a multi-day tour to lose weight. Trying to ride hungry is ill-advised, as you’ll already be pushing the comfort zone. Nobody needs to throw in a bonk halfway through the trip.
- Gu UP! Aussies call them something else, but we Americans call the single-serving packaged gels, “Gu’s”. Point is this; if you’re feeling rough, if you feel some butt pain spring up, maybe a sore muscle or something, I always look at that as my body’s way of saying, “Yo! Knucklehead! You’d better send something for me to burn up pretty quick or I’m gonna make this $#!+ hurt for real!” I always fire down a gel when I start to hurt for no good reason. Preferably something with caffeine. Gu Roctane is good for that. Lots of caffeine. And a Coke. Sweet Jesus in a manger, a Coke always makes miles feel better.
- Speaking of Gu’s, if you’ve got a big climb coming up late in the day (and if you’re lucky enough to know about it ahead of time, ahem), fire down a Gu about 10 or 15 minutes before you get there. It’ll kick in just as you get to the hill and it’ll help A LOT. We’ve got a monster 18%’er after a 2-mile 2-4% climb at mile 91-ish on day three of a normal tour I do. There’s a rest stop at mile 89, so (at a friend’s suggestion, thanks, Chad) I fired down a Gu Jet Blackberry just before I left. I beat my best time on the climb up to the wall by more than a minute and knocked 30 seconds off the big climb. There’s no question it helped.
- Dude, here’s the tricky part; you finish by not getting off the bike. Keep track of the electrolytes, eat well (not a bunch of sugary crap, unless said sugary crap is ice cream… in that case, knock yourself out), and drink lots. Keep pedaling… and don’t listen to any self-sabotaging bull$#!+ coming from the melon committee (the one in your melon, your head). It’ll be hard but you’ve gotta shut that $#!+ down or it’ll eat you up alive because long tours hurt.
- Garmin Edge 520 Plus (or better). Buy one. Use it. Download the routes from Ride with GPS to it and follow the turn-by-turn directions (and set up one of your fields with the “Distance To” feature so it’ll tell you the distance to the next turn). Not having to worry about a cue sheet is WONDERFUL.
- If you’re riding alone, leave a little early and wait for a group to pass you in a pace line. Start to pedal harder as the first one goes by and as the last one passes, latch on to the back. Let the person in front of you know you’re there (don’t be all shy about it, a pace line is not the place to be shy). If you can keep up well, these will be your new friends. Be nice to them and they will likely be nice to you. Do your turns up front and they’ll accept you into their group without hesitation. Almost everyone loves another person in their group who will help. We’ve got a guy who joins us every DALMAC, who showed up exactly that way about four years ago. Now he rides with us, eats with us, camps with us… he’s just as much a part of our group as I am.
- Finally, and lean in because this is important, you need a new, clean kit for every day. I own, currently, about eight full kits (jersey & bibs), but only four make the rotation on tours. I have a specific jersey & bib combo for each day, too. Semi-pro kit for day one, pro kits for days two and three, and a very specific bib/jersey combo for day four, that match perfectly with the bike and saddle I’m using (the kit below is Day Four’s – Gore bibs and my Affable Hammers jersey). For whatever reason, the chamois in those bibs is perfect for the Trek’s saddle. I don’t know why, either, because it’s a thin chamois and I generally prefer thicker… but the point is, I stick with what works and I always use my best stuff on tours. They’re long days, my friends. I give myself the best chance of making it to the end with a smile on my face… and enough in the tank for one last sprint.
Most of all, my friends, have fun. We’re not getting any younger and nobody gets out alive. Enjoy what time you’ve got left, you never know how much that is.