7 Things No One Tells You About Long-Distance Cycling

by Kevin Gray
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7 Things No One Tells You About Long-Distance Cycling

Fresh off my first century ride, I’m a little wiser and lot sorer than when I began this journey. And while I’ve been riding for years, the increased distance forced me to learn a lot about cycling, from body positioning and technique to hydration and nutrition strategies.

So here are seven things to know about long-distance cycling that’ll prepare you for the miles to come:

1. YOU CAN’T AVOID THE HILLS

Sure, it seems obvious, but the fact is you can’t always replicate race day in your training. Hills and wind are the scourge of many a rider, so when faced with one or both, don’t panic. Just drop as many gears as needed and focus more on maintaining your RPMs than your speed.

2. IT’S NOT YOUR LEGS THAT’LL HURT MOST

Cycling is a relatively low-impact sport … on your legs. But over the course of 50, 60 or 100 miles, you’re going to feel every bump on that road through your hands, shoulders, neck and butt. Invest in a good pair of padded shorts, and change your position and posture as needed to relieve pressure on certain areas of your body.


READ MORE > 3 CAUSES AND CURES FOR NUMBNESS ON THE BIKE


3. IT’S MORE MENTAL THAN PHYSICAL

Provided you’ve been training, your mind’s more likely to break down than your cardio. It’s easy to feel frustrated or defeated when you’ve been biking for 25 miles and are only 1/4 of the way done. Push negative thoughts out of your head by focusing on the rider in front of you, enjoying the scenery or singing to yourself — anything that’ll keep you going.

4. YOU NEED TO EAT A LOT ON THE BIKE

Embark on a casual 20-miler, and you’ll be fine — no snacks necessary. But once you’ve surpassed two hours of cycling, it’s recommended that you refuel. And if you’re out there for 4–5 hours, nutrition requirements become serious. In addition to water and electrolyte-laced beverages, you’ll want to eat simple, easily-digestible carbs like energy gels to avoid the dreaded bonk.

5. SAY GOODBYE TO BACON-AND-EGG BREAKFASTS

Post-ride protein and healthy fats are great for recovery, but a heavy breakfast won’t do you any favors while on the bike. Protein and fat take longer to digest, and during especially rigorous rides, your body will be focused on fueling your heart and lungs, not digestion. So instead, top off your glycogen stores with whole grains and fruit. Try whole-wheat toast with a little almond butter and a banana-and-berry smoothie.

6. WEIGHT LOSS WON’T COME EASY

It stands to reason that, with all this cycling, you’re bound to drop a few pounds. But the reality is it’s easier to drop weight on shorter, faster rides than long-distance ones. That’s because over the course of a long ride, you need to be diligent about replacing lost fluids with plenty of water, and you should be eating on the bike (see number 4). If you return a couple pounds lighter than when you left, it’s possible you weren’t eating and drinking enough along the way.


READ MORE > 35 SIGNS YOU’RE A CYCLIST


7. YOU MIGHT GET ADDICTED

Sitting on a bike for several hours a couple times per week is a commitment. Because, let’s face it: A cozy couch is always more inviting, and that Netflix queue won’t watch itself. But after the initial soreness and fatigue subsides and the improvements begin, you might find yourself craving those endorphins and quiet hours to yourself. I know I did.

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  • Teresea Chad Bannister

    I can totally relate to Kevin’s article about long distance cycling. Everything he shared are things I discovered as well when I became more of a long distance cyclist. Just completed my first 62 mile ride and my goal is now 80 miles!!! 😊 I will definitely be using all your tips. Thank you!!

  • Jeff Ragusa

    Good tips – learned many the hard way while riding across the US couple years ago. Wind is the biggest killer. A tip for ultra long rides (like 4K miles over months): focus on shortening your recovery time – if you can rinse and repeat each day, you can go indefinitely.

  • Rob Cee

    Thanks for the tips, Kevin. I’ve kept increasing my distance over the summer, but not ready to do the century yet. I agree that the mind is weaker than the body sometimes!

  • Scott Stubblefield

    I know I could do it. I just don’t really know if I have the time. I really really want to work towards it starting this winter. Right now, though, I have a hell of a lot of school work.

  • Michael Macomber

    Awesome article. It was like you pulled everything out of my head that I went through on my first long distance ride this July. Especially the part about enjoying the scenery or singing to yourself. Those were a couple methods that kept me going. The huge thing that kept me going is that I broke it down into 40 mile increments knowing that my amazing wife was going to be waiting at each waypoint with provisions to refuel me. It’s crazy when you first start on the voyage of training for a long distance ride, each milestone seems as huge as the last. Then the next thing you know you’ve ridden 200 miles over two days and it was like the first time you road 10 miles. Hard work, but totally fulfilling. My next goal is a cross country, coast to coast ride. Looking forward to it. Maybe I’ll see you on the road somewhere. Great accomplishment!

    — P.S. — I’ve attached a photo of what I looked like in 2010 and what I look like now, to hopefully inspire others to know that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/159cf0ba7d9a6535766a03263b019721657c5e8061c398e96c97f5feab95fd98.jpg

    • Kurt Snodgrass

      That’s amazing before and after! Way to go!

      • Michael Macomber

        Thanks! It takes hard work and discipline, but definitely worth it. I’ve applied the principles I used to get fit into my personal life and became an entrepreneur. Best life choice I’ve ever made. It has helped my wife and I to gain true independence rather than continuing to be dependent on others. Healthy body + Healthy mind = Healthy lifestyle.

  • Dominic Irvine

    Good points, and if you are looking for a bit more detail, check this out: http://road.cc/content/review/231396-ultra-distance-cycling

  • Jeff Hughes

    #3 is very important. I just started riding about 5 years ago. Last summer I competed in a 24 hour cycling challenge completing 360 miles. If you told me I was capable of doing that in my 20’s, I would have laughed. I did this challenge and completed 2 Ironman races at 55! Prior to 7 years ago I was 50lbs. Overweight and hadn’t done any real exercise in nearly 30 years.

  • chicagofan76

    I love long distance riding.While life got in the way of too many trips over 50 miles this season, last year i rode over 50 miles 6 times and 11 times in 2015. A standard trip for me is 20-25 miles. If I ever fix my road bike then i can do more century trips.