I’ve been trying to read up on how to best prepare for my upcoming ride. I would like to be as physically fit and mentally ready come June so that I can enjoy the ride and get as much out of it as possible. Much of what I’ve read has not been too surprising but there have been a few nuggets to remember and pass along.
Physically, the four things I will be focusing on are 1) total-body muscle strength, 2) aerobic fitness, 3) weight loss and 4) flexibility and suppleness. The importance of the last one was a bit of a surprise to me and will probably be my toughest one to focus on.
Mentally I will be concentrating on visualization and being able to stay positive and motivated in the face of all flavors of weather, wind, terrain and riding/rooming companions.
I won’t cover everything here, but I will touch on a few of the things I’ve picked up so far.
Stretch…. S t r e t c h
Endurance riding requires that the rider maintain a rather unnatural position for extended periods of time and the repetitive pedaling motion keeps the leg muscles in a very tightly constrained range of motion. A rider’s legs and arms are always slightly bent and never reach full extension. This causes the connective tissue to shorten. Other muscles in the back, shoulders and neck are often over taxed as they work to hold the head and upper torso still while the lower body propels the bike forward. All of this tends to tighten the body and shorten the muscle groups. A rider MUST stretch regularly to maintain flexibility and to avoid injury. This is, no pun intended, my personal Achilles’ heal. I have a very long history of tight and pulled muscles and have always had tight hip flexors. Time for all that to change!
I found a great video from Next Step Cycling (www.nextstepcycling.com) that shows three “simple” stretches to do every day. At least they look simple. I’ve done them all once — and I did not even resemble the fellow in the video. I’ve got months, if not years, of tightening to undo. The stretches will take about 20 minutes a day and somehow, I’ve got to make time for them because this could be the single most important element of my training over the next several months if I’m to complete the cross-country ride without injury. These three are a good start, but I’ll be looking into yoga and other stretching disciplines for my off-season program. I’ll need to have a core set of things that I’ll continue to do after winter when my outdoor mileage increases and I don’t want to be sitting around on a yoga mat.
I’ve always been “cycling-strong” but for this cross-country ride, I’ll need to be whole-body strong. I’ve done some long rides and some long (6-week) self-contained tours and I know the toll riding takes on your whole body. For me, my neck and upper shoulders and low back usually get tired and sore. Makes sense when you think about it. They are all working real hard to keep your head (with the added weight of your helmet!) and torso stable as you pedal. And, if there is climbing involved these muscles are usually called on to help even more. In the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together and starting to implement a weight program for the winter months. The plan would be to hit that hard in the off-season and then back it off when the outdoor riding starts to pick up.
I’ve never been thin and probably never will be. But I have been lighter and leaner than I am now and I need to find a way to get there again. Being 10-15 lbs lighter/leaner would make next summer’s ride more enjoyable. However, I have done some amazingly difficult riding at my current weight/body composition (and felt good doing them) so this is probably a critical area. If I am going to make changes though, this winter is the time to do it. I have noticed this summer that although my weight has not changed, I have developed more muscle mass so am a tad bit leaner. This is a good trend.
Losing weight s a tough one for me because my career as a software developer keeps me in front of a computer for 8-10 hours a day. That means I need to take a careful look at my diet as well as my exercise. There is a lot of great information out there that should help. I have picked up good ideas from the ‘Zone Diet’ and 10 tips from “Bike For Life” by Wallack & Katovsky. It is mostly a matter of finding a time-efficient, cost-effective way to integrate any of these changes into my life. Behind stretching, this will be the second biggest challenge for me.