Written by A.J. Hanley
“You’re not in Spin class anymore,” I told myself as I wheezed my way up a hill of the Best Buddies Challenge: Hearst Castle earlier this month. But it wasn’t just any hill—the 62-miler, my chosen distance for the annual charity bike ride, cruelly started at the base of a 600-foot climb. (For perspective, that’s about a million right turns to your flywheel.) I’m not ashamed to admit that ride, which winds along California’s stunningly scenic Pacific Coast Highway, ending in San Simeon, kicked my butt. I felt confident going in—after all, I’m a semi-regular yogini and runner who crushes it in the front row of my twice-weekly SoulCycle classes. But according to Strava, my moving time was 5 hours and 40 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to think about what can help and hurt you in an endurance activity like this. Overall, it was an amazing experience, and I’m hoping to do the full century (100 miles) in the Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port in May. Only then, I’ll use these hard-won strategies to go the distance.
Put your pedals to the pavement. There’s no question my group-cycling sessions have helped keep me fit, but no indoor workout could have prepared me for the 5,100-foot elevation gain. I’d only bought my road bike three weeks earlier, which didn’t give me much time to train—a mistake since road cycling requires a whole different set of skills. On a fixed-gear stationary bike, you’re in control of the resistance; outside it’s determined by environmental factors like terrain and wind. Do your research—study the race route and topography map—and then train accordingly.
Get a bike fitting. After nearly blowing out my knee on a too-small hybrid a few years back, I know the right two-wheeler can make all the difference. Be sure yours can withstand the rigors of a long road trip, and if your bike is older, it may be time for a tune-up at your local bike shop. Thankfully, my ride for the Challenge was a spanking-new Cannondale Synapse, which was designed for feats like this. So I simply brought it to the shop to have the height and angle of the seat and handlebars adjusted to my body, and my SPD pedals were tightened just enough so I could clip in and out easily. It’s a quick trip to avoid a long road of injury—well worth it, if you ask me.
Pack snacks. According to my Garmin Edge bike computer, my calorie burn for the day was a whopping 2,244 calories. That means my pre-ride dinner and breakfast PB&J were ancient history before 11 a.m. To keep from bonking, have some easy-to-digest carbs (think bananas, energy gels and gummies) on hand, in addition to lots of water.
Dress the part. I used to think a recreational biker like myself didn’t need head-to-toe cycling apparel. But it’s what keeps you visible, aerodynamic and dry. A bike jersey, I learned, can also double as an overnight bag: In addition to an array of snacks, my back pockets housed arm warmers, my cell phone and I.D., CO2 cartridges for my tires, lip gloss and a tiny fold-up brush (don’t judge). Bibs, too, have become more user-friendly. Padded in all the right places, my new Sugoi RS Pro Bib Shorts have a “Pit Stop” design that lets you unclip for easier bathroom breaks.
Pace yourself. It’s true that I’m a little speed-phobic, but these windy downhills were daunting! I often found myself holding my breath and pumping the breaks compulsively until my fingers seized up. Then, in an effort to catch up with my friend Amy on the ascents, I’d power up it in a higher gear, which only served to sap my energy and stress out my quads. Clearly, I’m no model of efficiency. My goal for future rides is to relax a bit, focusing less on speed (or my lack thereof) and more on maintaining a steady and sustainable cadence.
Find motivation. Each time I struggled during this ride, I thought about my reasons for participating, and it gave me the push I needed to keep going. The bike race is a fundraiser for Best Buddies International, a nonprofit dedicated to finding jobs and fostering friendships for people with intellectual disabilities. Some of the Best Buddies walked, ran or rode that day (one cycled 100 miles on a city bike!); others raised lots of money for the cause. I told myself that if the obstacles they faced weren’t insurmountable, then neither were mine.
More from FITNESS:
Triathlon Training: How to Fuel for Your Best Race
What You Need to Bike, Hike and Run Trails
What’s Your Bike Type?