To the Extreme: Lessons Learned From Riding 400K+ In A Day
Ahh, the Summer Solstice.. . The longest day of the year, and thus the most daylight available in a day, which makes for optimal conditions for long epic adventures, and for me — testing my limits on the bike.
The Solstice also represents a sense of renewal for me, a passage and peak of the days now beginning to gradually shorten, with this day/night light cycle fluctuating back and forth gradualy each year.
This year, the plan was set for me and two other riders: Leave from Portland, OR at midnight, or 12:01am of the Solstice to take full advantage of the longest day of the year- Ride through the entire night, and into the day, with the goal of making it down to Eugene, OR and then back to PDX before nightfall.. According to the route, we were looking at over 300miles in a day, which was extremely intimidating considering my longest ride to date at the time was 140miles- and here I was considering more than doubling that in a day- yikes!
In the days leading up to the ride, I was excited, but also scared- Woud I be able to pull something like this off? What if I’m having a bad day on the bike? How will my legs do? What about nutrition, and sleep deprivation? What am I getting myself into? Is this a stupid idea? OK, don’t answer that last one…
Indeed, I was scared and nervous, but I was also excited- What was I going to learn about myself? What ‘doors of perception’ may open to me that I hadn’t experience before? And, as a Physical Therapist and Bike Fitter I wondered how my body would tolerate such long hours, the pedaling repetition, and saddle time on the bike.
“Suffering is a moment of clarity”
I’ve always considered myself a ‘guinnea pig’ to my ‘life on a bike’ — in that through my own experiences on the bike, it not only teaches me more about myself and my body, but it also allows me to help my clients more by the lessons I learn, and the limits I exceed, everyday on the bicycle… It’s funny, but you’d be surprised at how many “Bike Fit Experts” out there who do not actually ride their bike very much- It’s akin to an obese nutritionist or fitness instructor who is telling you the ‘best ways to how to diet and loose weight’. Practicing what you preach, and true authenticity is hard to come by these days.. Alas, I digress..
The ride itself could be a whole other article, so I’ll save you he blow-by-blow, and get to the highlighs.. When all was said and done, we all had an great epic ride, but in the end, moody weather and headwinds (in both directions) forced me to cut it “short” with the ride, by the numbers:
- 252 miles (406km) + 4600ft of elevation
- 15hours 40miutes of ride time
- 19 total hours total time
As with many long rides, there were highs and lows. Moments of despair and moments of euphoria, and the group helped each other out during these times. When I called it quits at mile 252, I felt exhausted, satisfied, and sore, but not completely decimated.. A renewed sense of capabilities of my own mental and physcial endurance, and brought to light some valuable lessons, listed below, and in no specific order:
- If you feed the machine, it can go on forever. This was one of my biggest learning pieces- if you continue to eat, drink, and take short breaks, the human body is amazingly resilient and efficient, allowing you to keep turning the cranks, hour after hour. My general rule is to eat 150–200calories per hour, with some bigger meals thrown in every 4–6 hours. If you feel your stomach starting to ‘growl’ you are already way past time to eat, and oftentimes you have to force youself to eat/drink. Which leads me to. . .
- Drink Drink Drink. Fluids needs to be consumed consistently, both in the form of pure unadulaterated water, as well as electrolytes and salt (Gatorade and V8 are some of my go-to gas station purchases at rest breaks)
- Be the deisel. With such long hours on the bike, the key is to pick a pace and effort you can maintain (higher candece around 90rpm is ideal), and breathe calmly, much like the diesel engine that burns at lower temp and just cruises along. Avoid short fast bursts, high-intensity, and low cadence efforts. At mile 220 we encountered some beautiful lush gravel, and I foolishly decided to pick it up the pace and attack the climbs with higher effort — and ultmatley suffered a setback later down the line for the next 30miles.
- Posture is paramount. The ability to let your body relax while peadling, (and reminding yourself to relax!) plays a huge part in your overall comfort on the bike at these lengths, and no surprises here- this correlates to one’s Bike Fit. It’s also important to consistently shift around, and not ‘lock’ into one single position for hours at a time. This includes hand positioning changes, sitting up with hands off of the bars, stretching your shoulders, neck and arms during the ride. When all was said and done, I had no issues of hand or foot numbness, and mostly just extreme body fatigue and a muscuarly sore neck, and knees.
- Presure relief and monitoring moisture. The worst issue I ran into was some saddle pains at ~mile 200- which I had never experienced before. Looking back on it, we encountered rain for 2 hours heading into Eugene, and the ensuing wet chamois (and thus wet skin) can lead to faster skin breakdown. I also should have been doing more episodes of ‘pressure relief’ off the saddle, and/or finding ways to get some of extra the moisture out of the chamois during a rest break or lunch stop. Chamois cream would’ve also been useful.
- Acid vs Base, riding, and your stomach. I learned it is also very important to balance out the sweet vs savory foods the hard way- By the time I was on mile 200, the acidity of my stomach from sugary, sweet and citrusy food/drink resulted in acid reflux and a reluctance to want to eat- Had I brought some cheese, or other less acidic foods, or antacid tablets (TUMS, etc), I would’ve been in a much better place later on down the road. Also, choosing to eat pizza at lunch (acidic tomato sauce) was ultimately a bad choice at the time.
- The step-off dismount saves the most energy. File ths one under random learning facts: When coming to a stop for a nature break or rest stop, unclipping with my right foot and then swinging the right foot over the saddle — aka the cyclocross dismount — saves a ton of energy and I found it much less taxing to my upper body and shoulders/neck versus stopping, unclipping both feet, lifting my leg over the saddle, etc.. When riding for 15+hours, every bit of energy savings is well worth it!
- Find a mantra- As the hours tick by, your mind can play tricks on you. For me, I was able to sink into an almost meditative state, as my mantra was “Relax and Focus” — Reminding my body to relax, but also to focus on the line I chose was key, as every bump, pothole or jagged rock you ride over leads to cumulate stress/strain on your body. At the end of 15+ hours of riding, those little bumps can really add up- choose your line wisely and at all times! Also, be sure to learn how to draft and pace line, this can save a great amount of energy in the form of wind resistance, as we all took advatage of each other throughout the ride.
- Sleep deprivation effects everyone differently — I had no issues, but one of my other buddies was really struggling staying awake at mile 127. Nutrition also plays a big part, and caffeine is definitely a friend of the long distance cyclist.
- Supple tires for the win. Running a tubeless setup with Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 35mm tires allowed me to run at low tire pressure (40–42psi), leading to a much smoother, faster, and more shock-absorbing ride- did I mention zero hand/ wrist issues the whole day?
Needless to say, I was extremely sore and worn-out for2 days following the ride. Not only muscle soreness, aches and pains here and there, I also had some noted ‘mental fog’ that lasted about 24hours, likely due to sleep deprivation, or extreme fatigue. All in all an amazing, surreal experience on the bike.
I can now see how this long-distance cycling can be kind of addicting... I guess we’ll see you next Solstice!
Kevin Schmidt, PT, MSPT, Cert. Bike-Friendly Physio is an everyday cyclist, entrepreneur, Physiotherapist and Bike Fitter with a passion for elevating the field of healthcare in managing cyclists and Bike Fitting. In 2012 he founded Pedal PT: Bike Friendly Physcial Therapy. He has dedicated himself to the ‘bike life’ and hasn’t driven a car to a single workday in over 12 years. He lives in Portland, OR with his wfe and two amazing kids, ages 11 and 13.
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