WE BIKE, etc. 2019 Bicycle Adventure: Let the Training Begin!
When we tell people about our next bicycle adventure they often say something like, “How do you train to bicycle 7,000 miles in five months? That’s nuts!” Maybe, maybe not.
In case you missed it in our last blog, “In 2019 we will be riding our tandem bicycle (“Violet”), unsupported, across the country as before, but this time there will be some twists. First, we intend to ride way more miles, approximately 7,000 over five months. Our route will take us from Washington State in June east across the middle of the country to the eastern seaboard where we will ride from Massachusetts to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, ending in New Orleans, Louisiana in late October. This will be our longest trip yet and will cover our final 21 states in the lower 48!”
It’s mostly mental
First of all, we don’t train to bicycle 7,000 miles, it’s just too daunting a task. Instead, we simply train to go for a bicycle ride every day until we get there, wherever “there” may be. We know people who have bicycled across the country, and farther, and not trained at all. It is doable with the right motivation but, it will definitely be painful. Ouch! Even if you do train, at some point in a long tour you run out of what you had (strength and conditioning) and must rely on what you have left. Ultimately, it is mostly mental.
If it’s mostly mental then why train? Training keeps us physically and mentally strong year round. I find training is particularly helpful at staving off the winter blues and weight gain that inevitably accompany our long Midwestern winters. Some of the best winters we have had in Wisconsin were training for a spring marathon or a long bicycle tour. Being physically fit early in a bicycle tour also gives us more options and keeps us safer. We often have to decide between riding, say 30 miles, to find food and lodging, too short, or riding much further, 80-100 miles, to the next town. Being in great shape allows us to bike the bigger miles we often need to accomplish our goals. Having the reserves to put in more miles can also get us out of a jam. More than once we have rolled into a rural town only to discover that the services we need are closed, full, or even gone. I guess we’ll just keep riding. Did I mention that bicycling across the country isn’t easy?
Years in the making
We didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to bicycle across the country. We have spent years building up to this trip, although we didn’t know it at the time. I stated bicycling longer distances in the mid-80s so I could try a triathlon, but it wasn’t until the mid-90s that we started riding longer distances as a couple/family. Our first rides were around the country block near our home in Green Bay after Tracy got done with work. As our fitness improved, and we became braver, we started taking longer and longer rides. Five miles, 10 miles, 50, 100. We eventually started bicycle touring, an easy transition because we both grew up camping. Overnight, one day, one week, two weeks. By the time we completed our first three-week bicycle tour we figured we could probably make it across the country if we just strung three-week tours together. Easy, right!
Coast to Coast on a Tandem
Our first cross-country bicycle trip was along the Northern Tier of the USA in 2014. (See our book “Coast to Coast on a Tandem”) That trip started in Bellingham, Washington and ended in Bar Harbor, Maine 4,362 miles and 72 days later. In 2015 we rode the entire length of the Mississippi River, and then some, 3,052-miles, and in 2016 we bicycled Historic Route 66, (Green Bay, WI – Chicago, IL – Santa Monica, CA), 2,603 miles.
The training is hard but worth it
When Tracy was 50 she decided to run her first half marathon and asked me to train her. Having run several marathons, myself, I agreed. The first week we ran a mile and Tracy thought she was going to die. The second week we ran two miles and, again, Tracy thought she was going to die. On the third week, after running three miles, Tracy once more said she thought she was going to die. I said, “Exactly, see how this works.” Ha! Tracy now has three half marathons and three unsupported cross-country bicycle tours to her credit. I don’t know about you but I’m impressed. Are you starting to understand why I have her on the back of our tandem, this woman is an athlete.
Get professional help
I have been an athlete all of my life, but at age 45 I had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee. As part of my recovery I worked with a professional trainer to help me get my strength back. Working with the trainer I suddenly realized that if this person could help me recover from an injury, just imagine what she could do if I was healthy. Tracy and I now consult regularly with a trainer to help us meet our, often crazy, goals. We haven’t found our limit yet.
We cross train to prepare for our trips. To move the tandem, we need to be strong. The total weight of the bike, our gear, and ourselves is approximately 400 pounds. To build our strength we weight train. We normally spend 6-8 hours a day in the saddle, a typical work day. To build our endurance we train aerobically. We bicycle, of course, but we also walk, run, and use various pieces of aerobic equipment at the gym, especially in the depths of winter. Finally, we work on our balance and flexibility to make ourselves more efficient on the bike and to help prevent injury. We can’t completely simulate the challenges of riding a fully-loaded tandem 75 miles a day, 6 days per week (on average) in all kinds of weather and terrain, but by mixing up our training methods, we can give ourselves a good start.
In a typical week we stretch, weight lift, run, bike, and yes, even rest.
We spend about 6 months training for a cross-country bicycle tour. Early in our training we emphasize stretching and strength, stretching most days, lifting three days a week and doing aerobics two days a week. Our weekly workout time is about eight hours. By the middle of the training cycle we are about evenly split between strength and aerobic training and work at it about 16 hours per week. At the end or our training, we are bicycling six days a week and lifting two for a total workout time of approximately 24 hours. (Love our Saranac bicycling and weight lifting gloves.) It is a huge commitment but well worth it, for us.
Training for the pain
Someone told me once that by the time you can run 13 miles in training for a marathon, you probably have the endurance you need to complete a full marathon. The rest of the training is mostly to teach your body and mind to deal with the pain. By the end of our training for a long bicycle trip, Tracy and I don’t feel pain the same way casual bicyclists do. Thank goodness.
It can be hard to fit all of this training in. One trick we have learned is to incorporate our training into our daily lives. We seldom drive our cars if we don’t have to, instead we walk to the convenience store (1.6 miles, 30 minutes), run to the post office (2.4 miles, 22 minutes), or bike to Badger State Brewing Company (6.6 miles, 40 minutes) for a beer. Give it a try.
Tracy’s injury recovery
On July 1 of this year Tracy was hit by a car while riding her bicycle. Not her fault. She had a concussion, whiplash, bruising to her right leg and back, and a torn meniscus in her left knee, which required surgery on August 13. (Thank goodness for her Road iD and Pinkert Law Firm.) Needless to say, Tracy’s training looks a little different for this trip than in past years. From the middle of August through the end of December, Tracy was limited to physical therapy exercises for her knee, some easy exercise bicycling, and limited upper body weight training. She is now cleared to resume all normal activities, except running. Because of Tracy’s injury, athletic abilities, and the rigors of our “normal” training, her surgeon has been very cautious with her recovery. The goal is to have her back to bicycling at 100 percent by mid-May. Because of her running limitation, Tracy is using our gyms aerobic equipment and walking more. Fortunately, bicycling is the number one recovery exercise for Tracy’s type of injury. She should be good.
Safety tip: Always walk and run facing traffic and bicycle with traffic when on the road. It’s safer, it’s courteous, and it’s the law!
All of this training and the tour itself burn lots of calories and require extreme nutrition to meet the extreme demands. I typically burn between 5,000 and 7,000 calories a day during a bicycle tour. To find out how we meet these challenges watch for our next blog.
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