Preparing for a 200k By Todd Hoskins
04/12/24 14:49

Whether you are new to ultracycling, getting back into the sport, or old hat, it's a great idea to think about gear and the challenges for the first ride of the year..  Food, clothes, lights, reflective strategy, GPS, water, backup batteries and cables, extra cable, extra glasses if you wear glasses, butt lube, and everything else.  The 200k distance is one of the best distances for an early ride.  Challenging, but not a disaster if everything isn't fine tuned or you want to try something new! The following is based on my own experiences and reading I have done over many years of ultracycling.  Hopefully, you will find it useful!

Food strategy

One vital but tricky factor in long distance cycling is keeping your blood sugar up. Blood sugar (glycogen) is like the electricity in a bike headlight battery. When the electricity is gone, the light dims then goes out. On a long ride, say 4 or more hours, you can expect your blood sugar to be flowing up and down. On a bike, low blood sugar can show up in many weird ways because, in addition to feeding your muscles, glycogen fuels your brain!  When the brain doesn't get enough fuel it starts seeking a remedy which shows up as thoughts which can turn negative toward the ride. Combine that with fatigue, and possible challenging conditions and those negative thoughts can defeat you...

So - how to feed on a bike ride? There are many thoughts on this. Over time you will build your own strategy.  There is nothing more personal than what you eat.  What works for one person can be a disaster for someone else.

That's not to say that there there aren't some basics!

The Days Before

Carb loading has been a staple of endurance sports for years.  Lately, it has fallen a bit out of favor, but it does remind us to eat well in the days leading up to a ride.  The 3 days before your ride are not a great time to be on a crash diet.  If you do decide to follow the carb loading strategy, include high value carbs like baked or sweet potatoes over pasta if you can.  Eat a good dinner the night before.  Carb loading before a ride lasts for 2 hours once you start riding. If you did carb load start fueling after an hour of riding.   Some also limit non-soluable fiber intake for a day or so before the ride.   A good breakfast is key as it's your last opportunity for a relaxed meal.   Bananas are a staple as are oatmeal (a soluable fiber), fruits, nuts, yogurt, and eggs.  A bit of protein to start helps.  Try to eat breakfast about 2 hours before you start riding.

Dont' forget to hydrate for the 3 days before the ride.  Starting out well hydrated will make life much easier and is critical during the hot summer.  

On the ride
  • Think grams of carbs, not calories - Carbs are the building blocks of glycogen. For reference, 1 gram of carb= 4 calories. There are many calorie laden ingredients which have little fuel value such as fats and oils found in many foods.
  • Each mile ridden takes roughly 6 grams of carbs (24 calories)
  • Eat on a schedule every 15 minutes to a half hour. A planned schedule is good when you are deep into a ride and really don't care to eat. Bike computers can also help by setting an alert to eat at given intervals. One rider has named his computer Mom. Mom alerts to eat 175 calories every 7 miles. That's 8 gummy worms every half hour, or 3 slices of bread, or 2 bananas every half hour....!!!  You can tailor this to your own metabolism over time.
  • Find fuel that you can manage on the bike - take things that are easy to pick up and eat in a bit (gummies, jelly beans, nuts, etc).  We all love chocolate, but it can turn into a mess in the sun.
  • At rest stops, think in advance about what you are craving and buy that.  It will save some time.
  • Pay attention to sodium and electrolytes.  On hot days you can lose a lot of sodium.  Cramping is a sign of low electrolytes.  Potato chips are a very good way to get both sodium and potassium as well as a few extra slow burn calories.
  • Water – best to have 2 bottles. – cool days are just as important to drink as warm days - you just don't feel it.  Warm days drink a lot of fluids, be sure to have salty snacks or other sodium sources.  As you become dehydrated you lose pedaling power.  Check your urine color.  Light yellow is good - dark is not.  On hot days, if you start experiencing dark colored urine, dizziness, mental fog or weakness, STOP and take a break in the shade until you recover.  

These are general basics about fueling.  For specific recommendations, feel free to post on the GLR Facebook page or the GLR Slack account.  Another good source is You Tube. Search for nutrition for cyclists.  Ultra runner vids and books are also good.

After the ride

Congratulate yourself with a recovery drink and a bit of food.  Chocolate milk is known as a great recovery drink for being an even split between protein, carbs, and fat.  This is the so-called golden hour.  It's when your muscles are ready to being the refueling process.  Eat a good dinner that night and get some well deserved rest.

Riding Strategy

These are the basics!  Modify as you go along.

  1. Don't start too fast!  This is the most common mistake new riders make.  You must balance your energy throughout the day.  Cut your pace by 10-15% for the first half hour.  Be social during the first few miles.  You'll make friends and have the energy for a big finish!
  2. Visualize the ride in segments separated by rest breaks.  For our opener, it's about 40 miles to Speedway.  So mentally tell yourself you are on a 40 mile ride.  Then restart the clock for the next leg, etc.
  3. Keep your bike in good shape.  Look at your tires carefully before the ride for shards of glass and pick them out.  It will save time on the road fixing flats.
  4. Be able to fix a flat on the road.  This is just a great skill to have.
  5. Enjoy the time on your bike!  This is your free time.  Make it count!