Welcome to the world of pain called Ultra Cycling. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m writing this to those of you who may be venturing out on your first ever “long” bicycle ride. Over the coming year or so we will be doing many “ultra” rides and many of you are coming out for the first time. Per their request I am writing down some basic pointers for getting into ultra cycling. These are just some of what I would call the “intro” points that you should be aware of when first getting into ultra cycling. There of course much more advanced topics we can discuss later, but these basic principles will help a great deal in your new journey into the Ultra cycling world. For me, I learned some of them the hard way through lots of rough miles in preparation for Race Across the West (RAW). Others I learned form more experienced cyclists who were kind enough to share their tips and ideas. Ultra cycling racing tips, practice, and strategies will of course be different and require more in depth review. But these tips are priceless to the soul who is just venturing out on his or her first couple of ultra rides.
A long ride in the Ultra cycling world is something well over 100 miles. There is no set number of miles before a ride becomes an ultra ride, but generally the further past 100 you go the more it starts to feel like an ultra cycling ride. Lets get some of the basics discussed in this blog to make sure that you can minimize discomfort and pain. Note that I never said you won’t feel any discomfort or pain. Ultra cycling by its very implied definition is long, uncomfortable, and eventually painful. The magic which draws some of us to this sport of ultra cycling is in what lies beyond the discomfort and pain, what you discover when you endure longer than all of the pain. The beauty of it all is what you see in you and in others when you push past the point of pain and discomfort. When you get to the mindset of the pain simply doesn’t matter anymore. Not every ultra ride will take you to those extremes, however, that sense of accomplishment and the accompanying feeling that can only be likened to some sort of enlightenment of oneself is teased out even in shorter ultra rides.
Ok, enough of my soap box feelings on ultra cycling. Lets get to the nitty gritty of proper preparation for your first few ultra rides. Your first few ultra cycling events or group rides will likely be in the neighborhood of 150-200 miles. This is where your love of ultra cycling can be born or buried depending on your preparation. Your preparation will minimize the pain and discomfort you may feel.
Think of a 10+ hour ride as nothing more than an all day buffet. I personally love this idea because I love food. I love to eat. If I could get paid all day to just try the best foods this world has to offer I would do it in a heart beat. Thus my love for cycling… I have to do something to lose weight! But seriously, you will likely burn anywhere form 200-600 calories an hour or more depending on your pace. This means your body will be slowly depleting itself every hour until it has nothing left to give. This is what we call “bonking”. You should literally be eating all day. What you eat depends on your stomach and what it can handle while exercising. Regardless of your food choice you should attempt to consume about 300 calories per hour. It is hard for your body to absorb any more than that anyways. I have tried a billion things out there. Unless you spent months adapting to high fat fuels and you can keep your HR absolutely and strictly aerobic then you best be consuming a ton of carbs – so stay away from starch only fuels or you will hit bonk town for sure! You’ll need high quality carbs and lots of them. The kind that absorb quickly and don’t cause any GI distress. In all my rides over the years I have settles on Carborocket. It is by far and hands down the best product on the market. With each serving sitting at 330 calories and 84 grams of super carbohydrates it feels like rocket fuel for the endurance athlete. Zero GI distress for me. It doesn’t mix thick and gooey so I can put 3-4 servings in one bottle (i.e. 3-4 hours of nutrition in one bottle). Love that stuff. For 200+ mile rides I will supplement this with some solid foods as well just for mental pleasure. But I limit this because I don’t want to be caught in the middle of nowhere having a bowl movement… Sticking to fluids means all I have to do is pee every once in a while.
Other cyclists pound GU, Shot Blocks, Hammer, and more. In my opinion all of those products fall far too short on the quality and performance of Carborocket. Plus, the salt pills required to keep from cramping (remember you will be losing a lot of sweat over 10+ hours) are all included already in the carborocket mix. It is really an all in one nutrition – hard to beat. I will also take a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a banana and coke. The caffeine and sugar in Coke are like a much needed shot in the arm – liquid gold…
Salt pills are essential if you don’t enough salt in your nutrition plan already. I usually use endurolytes Also, some good ole fashioned pickle juice is a life saver for leg cramps. I keep much of this in my SAG vehicle if I get lucky enough to have one. Otherwise I pack it in my jersey. There is a company that makes little shots of Pickle Juice in single servings. I love that product.
Excedrin. Yep. You will get sore. For me my neck and shoulders still get sore from my experience during Race Across the West (930 mile non stop race from Oceanside CA to Durango CO). Advil or ibuprofen is dangerous with the liver or kidneys (google it – lots of endurance athletes run into trouble here). Excedrin can relieve the pain a bit and not ruin your kidneys. PLUS it has caffeine. Caffeine is one of your best friends on an endurance ride.
Water. Water. Water. Drink lots. Your body will need it. try to get 1 to 1.5 20 ounce water bottles down every hour. If it is warmer and you are sweating more then you may need to bump this up to 2 per hour. You may not feel like doing this during the first couple of hours, but if you neglect to properly hydrate you will pay for it later in the day. Hydration is so very important. Shorter crit races for 45 minutes, or even 2-4 hour road races you can mismanage hydration and nutrition and get away with it. This is NOT true in endurance cycling. Every time you drink or eat something you are doing it for a benefit in a few hours. Likewise, nearly every time you bonk or begin to struggle you can trace it backwards a couple of hours to a mistake with your nutrition or hydration. This is why Nutrition is the first topic in this blog. It is hands down the most important issue.
Always and forever dependent on weather. Pay attention to the terrain and the weather. Often in ultra cycling you can transcend several climates all in one ride. Know this ahead of time and plan for it. The hours without the sun can be cooler than expected, especially if you are sweaty. Sometimes you may start out in a warm desert and ascend to a cold mountain top. Plan for it. Pack it. Be smart.
Shoes – good cycling shoes are important. Make sure they are not too tight. Feet tend to swell on longer rides. Make sure your cycling shoes can loosen.
Sunscreen. Yep, sunburns are common because of the sheer amount of hours you are out exposed in the sun. Also – make sure you pack some lip balm, chap stick, etc. because the sun and wind will wreak havoc on your lips all day.
BIBS. I highly recommend a good pair of bibs that are not too old and worn down. The longer you ride in a pair of bibs the more compressed the chamois pad gets and the less comfortable you will be. Invest into some very good bibs, your bottom area will be forever grateful. In some of my longer rides I have been known to wear 2 pairs of bibs and I have never regretted that decision! Along that note, use chamois cream or butt butter or something to lube yourself for these long rides and some to take with you and reapply later in the day. Some of them come in single dose packages that fit nicely in your jersey or saddlebag.
Jacket – I would certainly recommend a light windbreaker/rain style jacket. Weather changes so much and these are often required during the night hours. Particularly after a long sweaty day in the saddle and then the sun sets and you find yourself in the cool mountain weather.
Sun glasses. No brainer right? Yep. Don’t forget them and don’t forget some clear glasses for the dark hours.
Bike. Make sure it is all tuned up and ready to roll to minimize any shifting problems or mechanical failures while out on your ultra ride. Long rides seem to have a nice way of highlighting any deficiencies in your bike and gear. Get them taken care of before your ride. Double check your bike chain and your cassette. These often wear down faster than any other part and are almost always the likely culprit of shifting issues. If you feel like you can’t seamlessly shift between gears or it jumps a bit when you are trying to shift then your most likely issue is in the chain or the cassette or both. Of course, it could be anything so get your bike checked out and ready to roll.
FIT. Speaking of the bike, if you have not been professionally fit to your bike then I recommend it before any long ride. Long rides seem to highlight any deficiencies right? Yes. So if your fit is off then you will feel extra pain in places you probably don’t want to feel extra pain. It could be your knees, lower back, head neck and shoulders, hips, numb feet numb hands, and more. Most all of these issues can be avoided completely by riding the proper size bike for you and then of course being properly fitted to that bike. In my experience most bike shop owners and salesman really have no clue as what is really the proper size bike for you and the sell you what they have or what they think is “in the range” for you. They all assume that you can simply raise or lower the seat/handle bars and fix most any fit problems. Wrong. In fact they couldn’t be more wrong. Did you know that your frame size that fits properly for you can vary drastically based on manufacturer, and style of bike (i.e. TT bike vs Aero bike vs Gravel bike vs. Road Bike vs. MTN Bike, etc.)? Yep – get a professional fit. My favorite fit studio is Cyclologic. They routinely fit many pro cyclists from all over the world. Love their service and their reputation.
Lights. Almost all ultra rides start or end or go through night time conditions. Make sure your lights are fully charged and you have back ups if need be. Riding without lights is just stupid. I sincerely believe that riding during the day with lights should be mandatory. A bright blinking light can be the difference between a motorist seeing you and not seeing you. Be seen, not hit – is a motto I live by. Even my cycling clothing is obnoxiously (but tastefully cool) bright neon colors.
Drawstring style bag. Often as swag bags at events you are handed a drawstring bag of sorts. These are great because they crunch up so small and lightweight that you can simply keep it empty in your jersey pocket. Then, when you start shedding layers you can whip it out and place the extra layers in your drawstring bag and sling it over on your back. You won’t even feel it there. When the sunsets again you can put the layers back on and the bag back in your jersey pocket. Great idea for those long rides where you are in self support mode without a sag car to carry your stuff.
Ice Chest. If you are lucky enough to have a friend drive sag for you then I highly recommend an ice chest. Keep all of your drinks, food, etc in your ice chest. You’ll be so grateful you did. A nice cold drink during a long hot ride in the middle of nowhere is like a little slice of heaven.
Spare wheels. On ultra rides where you have a friend driving sag – don’t forget to throw in an extra wheel set if you have one. The last thing you want to do is terminate your ride early because of some pot hole or other hazard that wrecked your wheels and all of your training, prep, and volunteers have to call it quits now because you don’t have a replacement wheel. Along those same lines, pack lots of extra tubes, maybe a tire, CO2, and a pump. Again – if you have a friend driving sag then why not make sure you have all of this with you.
Tools. On my long sag supported rides I will also throw in my bike tool box. I have a decent set of bike tools for most any situation and they are always ready to go in a grab and go plastic tool box. I usually always throw that in as well. I may have only ended up using it once, but I was sure glad I had it!
4) Mental Prep:
Regardless of how sweet your bike is, or your gear, nutrition, clothing, or even your fitness, the most important part of any ultra ride is your mental preparation. I have given 3 days seminars on this topic alone and there is no way this short blurb in this blog will ever do it justice. However, I would be way out of line if I didn’t mention this as absolutely crucial to your ultra rides.
The most basic element in your mental preparation is realize that you as an individual are capable of at least 20x what you think you are capable of. If up to this point in your training you have only ever done 100 mile ride and you doubt whether you could do a 175 mile ride then you are fooling yourself. Of course you can. In fact you can likely do a 500 mile ride tomorrow if you had to. Start thinking much further down the road then what ever your goal is. When your mind starts to play tricks on you during the ride think of it as a training day and that you will someday do much more then what you are currently attempting and that you need to complete it as part of your training, even if you must then go a bit slower to make the miles. Think beyond your goal.
Visualize. Spend sometime quietly reflecting on your upcoming ride and visualize yourself completing it. Visualize yourself overcoming some negative situation (i.e windy conditions, fatigue, more climbing, etc.). Anticipate these in advance and spend sometime deciding now how you will react and then visualize yourself doing it. Visualization is a powerful technique that empowers you to accomplish what you aim for. And of course, you should be aiming high – like really really high.
A good friend of mine always told me to never make any decisions in the dark. In some of our long endurance activities from 100 mile ultra runs, Kokoro camp with the Navy Seals, training rides for RAW, or during RAW, all where you are required to endure all through night for days in a row without breaks… the best advice that has stuck with me is never make any decisions at night. If you feel like quitting then just wait until the sun comes again before you allow yourself to make that decision and you will feel a renewed sense of commitment and likely you will keep going. However, if you allow yourself to decide at night then you will always opt out. Wait for the sun to come up again and then reevaluate your decision and how you feel – you will probably push on.
Meditate. Yep, can’t do too much of this. It doesn’t have to be something like you see some monk doing in a movie (although kudos to you if you can do it that way!). Meditation is a powerful way to calm the mind and take control over negative thoughts. This is how you stay in control on long rides. Practice meditation techniques that work for you for prep leading up to your ride as well as techniques that work during your ride. You simply can’t meditate enough. Learn what works for you. For me simple breathing techniques are very effective. I personally love box breathing as taught to me by one of my Navy Seal mentors Mark Divine.
There is simply much more out there we should discuss in greater detail. But as noted, this is a great little intro into ultra cycling and you will be better prepared for your first few ultra cycling adventures. In time we can discuss each of these topics in greater detail, but for now be mindful of your nutrition, clothing, gear, and mental preparation. These 4 basic principles will minimize your pain and discomfort during your ultra cycling adventures. Good luck, have fun, and I’ll see you out there on the road!
-Ben Dodge, Keep the rubber side down!
Bicycle crash and bicycle accident lawyer Ben Dodge
A bicycle crash is not always an accident. If you, or someone you know were injured in a bicycle crash or accident caused by a road hazard or dangerous road condition, hire a personal injury attorney who is experienced and has a successful track record. Ben Dodge, a licensed bicycle accident lawyer in Arizona, has dedicated his entire firm to one purpose: representing cyclists. Bicycle accident cases are the only cases Bike Accident Attorneys, PLC handles. Home based out of the great state of Arizona, Ben can still help cyclists in the entire United States. Ben also founded Bike Accident Attorneys Network, a national network of attorneys who focus on representing cyclists. Ben can find you help anywhere in the country.
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In recent years there has been approximately 700 bicycle fatalities in the united states every single year. Approximately 2,000 bicycle accidents are reported in Arizona every year. approximately 30 fatal bicycle accidents are reported in Arizona every year. Bicycle fatalities are terrible and horrific tragedies that affect the lives of too many families and friends to count. Understanding your rights and obligations as a cyclist can bring clarity to your specific accident situation. It will always be in your best interest to be represented by an attorney who knows the bicycle laws and has a successful track record of winning bicycle accident cases. The negotiation tactics and strategies of winning a case are extremely important but should always take a back row seat to the litigation experience and knowledge of court room rules, local, state, and federal rules of civil procedure that can have significant impact on your bicycle accident case. It is wise to be represented by someone well versed in bicycle accident law, local and state bicycle ordinances, rules, regulations, policies, and laws. You should hire someone very familiar with negligence and tort law, civil procedure, and the rules of evidence as they all relate specifically to bicycle accident cases.
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Bike Accident Attorneys, PLC
Call Ben Dodge, the Bicycle Lawyer today at 1.855.663.3922. Reach him by fax at 1.800.958.8902.
Mr. Dodge can also be reached by email at email@example.com
His main Arizona offices are located at:
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Mr. Dodge represents cyclists in the entire state of Arizona including but not limited to mesa, phoenix, tucson, yuma, gilbert, peoria, glendale, scottsdale, ahwatukee, tempe, chandler, prescott, sedona, flagstaff, surprise, kingman, page, lake havasu city, payson, goodyear, buckeye, queen creek, paradise valley, show low, winslow, maricopa, nogales, globe, avondale, cave creek, fountain hills, apache junction, carefree, wickenburg, pinetop-lakeside, strawberry, anthem, safford, and more. Ben Dodge is currently involved with bicycle accident cases all over the country and has founded a national network of independent bicycle lawyers that can assist in representation in all 50 states.