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.