Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Paradox of Long Rides

Diri-going
Since describing my overnight ride to Maine last week, I've received an unexpected amount of correspondence from readers who feel drawn to long bike rides, but aren't sure they can handle them physically. The only other time I've had such a volume of email, was after my 100 mile ride along the Danube last Autumn - a similar theme. There is considerable interest out there in long distance cycling among those who love bikes but are not necessarily athletic. 

Here is an excerpt from an email from Barbara that sums up the sentiment nicely:

"...[I am] not a strong cyclist, but I just loved your description of riding to Maine in the moonlight. I want to do a ride like this so much, it makes me want to cry! Can the weaklings among us experience a similar journey, or am I a hopeless romantic?"

This resonated with me, because it pretty much expresses my own point of view. I love the idea of covering long distances by bicycle, of experiencing beauty and adventure along the way, of bonding with companions as our wheels hum and our headlights illuminate the road. In my imagination, I do not envision this as an athletic activity or an endurance event. Ideally, it would be just a very long bike ride.

And therein lies the paradox: Yes, it is possible to experience long distance cycling from this perspective. But in order to do so, we have to get to the point where we are strong enough, so that a 100+ mile ride feels like a fun adventure and not like a physical feat we've just barely managed to survive. And this, in turn, means working up to it and getting in shape for it. 

How is this different from just riding? I suspect there is more than one answer. But the way I interpret it, the crucial difference is that the rides are more structured  - with the goal of building up miles, speed, and time in the saddle. Prior to last summer, I never followed any kind of structure, hoping that my endurance and handling skills would just build up organically, inspired by the joy of riding alone. I am sorry to say that this did not happen. Only when I started taking part in club rides, met experienced riding partners, and adapted a more focused approach, did I undergo significant improvements. The structure and discipline changed my body, ultimately giving me more freedom. This may not be the path for everyone, but I am being honest about what it's been like for me. 

While the readers who contacted me about long distance riding did so seeking some form of insight, it was in fact I who ended up gaining insight from them; insofar that they helped me recognise this contradiction. I am sometimes asked what my goal in roadcycling is. And I think that my goal, if any, is to get to the point where riding long distance is entirely about the journey and the scenery, not about overcoming physical limitations. But I am willing to work on overcoming those limitations in order to get to that point.

44 comments:

  1. While not a long ride, as compared to the ones you describe, one easy entry for some locals might be the Midnight Marathon ride which takes place along the Boston Marathon route the night before. Including the ride from the train station, it's about 29 miles, and while there are a few hills (mostly between the train station and the start, and then the four hills in Newton), some people just walked their bikes on those sections, while most of the rest of the course is gently rolling, trending down hill. With hundreds of other rides on the route, of all abilities, it's easy to find clusters going ones pace.

    For myself, I'm working up to longer rides, mostly through disorganized solo riding. I tend to ride too slowly for most group rides, so I don't see that I have many other options, for now.

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    1. For me, the biggest factor was the distance and not the riding at night. But this is where individual differences come in. I hear that ride was a lot of fun!

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  2. Of course any athletic pursuit will be more enjoyable if you are in good enough shape. This is, in part, why many experienced riders find it difficult to understand why some cyclists take offence at the idea of "becoming a better cyclist". When you are in better shape or make use of the proper equipment or understand the proper technique, it is not about being elite or snobby, it is about making cycling more fun. For the commuter, being a better rider means getting to work less worn out, less sweaty and generally happier. For the recreational rider, it means being able to enjoy the scenery more, to ride farther, to more easily carry on conversations and not have to worry about minor mechanical problems they might encounter on the road. For others, it may mean any number of things.

    For me, becoming a better rider means that I can push myself harder and take enjoyment in finding that my limits have increased. I can ride up mountains and see the views that I previously wasn't able to. I can ride with interesting people who prefer to ride longer and faster than I was previously ab;e to. But that's just me.

    Everyone should find their own point where they balance the effort needed to be stronger and what they are willing to put forth. But they shouldn't be offended when others suggest that they could make a greater effort in order to increase their enjoyment in the sport.

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    1. "better cyclist" doesn't equal longer and faster to me.
      He person who rides 24 hour races is only better at 24 hour races ..
      The groups riding 15 mph average 18 to 20 on flats or even those averaging 10 to 13 mph are just as good a rider.

      Sorry I agree with everything except the "better cyclist" . Bike handling, lane management, holding a line. Those things make a better cyclist. Not how far or now fast.

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  3. I ride 70-miles regularly, 40s often, and a century once in a while. I have never done any structured training. However, I think I can actually thank Los Angeles for being my coach, in a way: I travel almost entirely by bicycle, and everything is far away here, plus there are hills. So in my case, in my town, I've gotten my "training" without having to train.

    I do take recreational rides too. I suppose I do structure my miles a bit as I try to space long rides with at least a day in between them, where I stick to short rides or walking (if my schedule permits).

    So, depending on where you live and where you need to go, you can possibly train organically, without seeking out club rides etc. Velouria, maybe you just live in too convenient a neighborhood!

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    1. My experience is similar to yours.

      I first took up long distance riding as an undergraduate. I went to a University a little over 100 miles from where some of my friends went to school. I did not have money enough for a car or other transit, so I began riding.

      For whatever reason I stopped riding in grad school and did not start riding again until I decided to give up owning an auto. Since then I began riding everywhere finally working to the point where I did a coast to coast tour two years ago.

      Looking forward to getting enough time off from work to do the same in Europe (although to do coast to coast, I guess I'll have to figure some sort of north to south route.)

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    2. Rick - My neighbourhood is indeed way too convenient; I need to get out of town just to do a 30 mile ride without too many cars on the roads. Also, I make it a point not to ride fast in the city, so my transportation rides - unless they take me out of town - are by default very tame.

      [Also, I think you & Matt may, just may be stronger than the likes of me to begin with.]

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  4. Velouria,

    Really enjoy this posting, and your blog in general.

    I've been riding for decades and have been on-again, off-again about disciplining my riding into training, with the keeping of logs and building endurance and strength with time in the saddle and intervals, etc etc. I usually have to do that in order to achieve a big goal like a long ride or tour, without suffering.

    But you're right about finding freedom by overcoming limitations. And many things in life are like this: to play music, you have to do scales; to take one gorgeous photo, you have take thousands; to write well, you have know how to push a pen and/or type, and write a lot; to do science, you have to memorize many facts and equations.

    Those of us who have been cycling a long time forget how hard-won all this knowledge is, and how long it takes to acquire it. And this knowledge is both physical (muscle memory) and, I think, largely mental.

    It just takes time and you can't rush it! I think that is part of the satisfaction of riding a bike at an advanced level.

    Mitch

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  5. My experience is that when you're out of shape, even very short rides that present hills or headwinds will be very challenging, and make 100 miles seem absolutely unattainable. But if you set your sights on the immediate challenges of not feeling destroyed by sub-20 mile rides, and sticking to it for several weeks or months until, e.g., you're no longer experiencing acute burning sensations anywhere on most any ride up to an hour, then you will be surprised at how easy the next steps are! If you can ride 10 miles easily, you can ride 40 without great difficulty. And if 40, 100 isn't more than a season of effort away.

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    1. For me it was the exact opposite. I did my first 5 mile ride in April 2009. I did my first 50 mile ride in June 2009. Only 2 years later was I able to complete my first 100 mile ride.

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    2. Would it be fair to say that your bigger limitations now are wrist pain, skin issues, saddle soreness, etc. rather than legs/endurance? If so, I can see how you wouldn't experience this "increasing returns" effect. Once I'm at a certain level of fitness, adding mileage is mainly about making sure to keep a moderate pace. But it's pretty tough to double mileage on a seat that hurts.

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  6. 'we cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are' .... the wonderful thing about life is you can't stay there, you've got to keep moving and with regard to long bike rides it's just a matter of chipping in a bit at a time and remaining consistent. it's not about being athletic, it's about being persistent. i've known long distance swimmers and runners and triathletes whose only gift was determination...they found their comfort zone and that was the key. many did it in groups but many did it solo.

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  7. I am a step behind you, having made it as far as metric centuries but feeling stuck here. This year I rode a Populaire and did pretty well. After that everyone said I was ready for the 200K, so I signed up. But when I tried it, I couldn't make it past 70 miles. It was a huge disappointment to have to quit the ride, but at some point my legs just refused to keep pedaling!

    How big of a step was the imperial century for you? Would you recommend that before attempting a 200K?

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    1. It's hard to say. On the one hand, it was a huge step from the 65-70 mile road rides I've done before to this 100 mile ride. But then I never did those 65 mile rides straight through. What I would call a 65 mile ride was really more like a 65 mile day.

      Also, there is no comparison between the pancake-flat 100 mile ride I did in Vienna along a bike path and the 100 mile ride to Maine. So I'd say it depends on terrain, on the rhythm of the ride, too many factors really.

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  8. This is the thing about your blog -- you've historically pushed the LB angle, all subjective feelings, romance, twine etc.

    Where there is a huge disconnect is keeping your training from our eyes; then attempting a 200k. Seemed like magic from the cheap seats but clearly you weren't adapted enough to finish. No big.

    That's my usual criticism of hiding training and skill building but posting product reviews. The bike is just a tool; get one you like or love. The rest is pure work. Hard effort. No amount of romantic aspiration is going to get up to your destination.

    If a ton of women are asking you for advice because you are a woman, I'm sure you can provide what you know. I've found a lot of women these days only listen to other women. It's kind of dumb, because they're avoiding half the population for advice.

    Whatever.

    btw one does not need a specific training plan that includes speed. Increasing distance and time on the bike provides the body with all the adaptation it needs.

    Oh, here it is again: just. ride. the. bike.

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    1. "keeping your training from our eyes"

      True, but then I also keep 99% of my commuting from the readers' eyes. Not because I am intentionally keeping the riding out of sight, but because it gets repetitive. I ride every day for transportation. I ride several times a week on my roadbike. This repeats and repeats and repeats. Sometimes a new or interesting thing will happen that makes a particular ride worth mentioning, but usually not.

      I post product reviews, because that was really the point of this blog from the start; it was never meant to be a diary of commutes or training. I am curious about bike and product design and I enjoy testing and reviewing these things. Good or bad, that's mostly what I am drawn to writing about.

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    2. If you like stuff that's your biz. Like riding it can be done a bit better with an active learning process, but that's for another time.

      The roadbike though...surely you can say what has made you stronger in simple terms, like "I ride a bit at this pace, with friends, which seems to help, and do not have a specific plan. Occasionally I'll do a longer or faster ride; both help me get stronger to achieve my goals. It is important also ramp up slowly to prevent injury."

      It's not the same as commuting, which is at a pretty leisurely pace.

      It's about being conscious of what you do on the bike that helps one to be at the next level. Are you working on skill building or endurance / speed. No amount of wishing, hoping or non-concrete guidelines will drive home the fact that getting through a long ride requires a lot of WORK. It is so simple yet so many people these days just want it to happen.

      Also I hope you are referring them to local group rides because it takes an unusual individual to become a strong rider after a lifetime of inactivity.

      It's also not lost on me that much of your knowledge has been gotten from men, yet many of your readers will only hear it from you, a woman. From a male perspective it's kind of pathetic because knowledge is knowledge.

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    3. Did I miss something? The post says that she's gotten a lot of email from readers - just readers, no gender attached. And not to get off the topic, but even if it were about women looking for a more experienced woman's perspective, I don't think that necessarily means that the male perspective is utterly ignored by women. (Frankly, it's rather hard to ignore men's opinions on many things, especially anything in the realm of sports and athletics.) If hearing a woman talk about a sport makes another woman feel more confident to give it a try, then I can't imagine why that should be called pathetic.

      All that said, I too would like to hear more about the actual training. I don't know anyone who's trained for endurance and not had stories to tell about how they built up their strength over time, the obstacles and triumphs and all that. Too many cyclist shrug off a century as no big deal - but it IS a big deal, to get there, and it's silly to pretend otherwise.

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    4. I can only speak for myself, but I have been inspired by your accomplishments, Velouria.

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    5. Beth, logical fallacy. There's a ton of real info out there written by both sexes about training. That a male or female are inspired by V's rides are good. That they rely on her for training advice in order to experience feelings on the ride...well let's just say they are barking up the wrong tree; V has said as much in her post.

      Sorry you didn't take my meaning.

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    6. I think a lot of women specifically seek out advice from other women not so much because they discount the specifics of advice that men give, but that they may have difficulty with the tone and spirit in which it is given. Respectfully GRJ, I think this is the point you miss.

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    7. Max, I only play an asshole on the internet. I used to help out at a shop and have done face-to-face retail off and on for awhile. I can tell you it is a phenomenon unique to the newer generation of females. There is an automatic skepticism no matter what tone I've used. Believe me, I'm conscious of it and have tried various tones.
      I have to agree that the tone is everything to a lot of the younger generation, regardless of sex. Unfortunately, this post and its feedback represent how willing many are to listen to tone over content.

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  9. I commute to work every day by bike. However it's only couple miles each way, which means lots of short rides and less than 1000 miles a year. Although my friends think I bike a lot, I found that all those short rides were completely inadequate preparation for tackling longer, harder rides. The beautiful routes where I live all require substantial climbing (3 to 5 miles of relentless 7-10% grades). The first few times I tackled those kind of hills, I nearly fainted. After being spat out by the climbs several times, I realized I was going to have to adjust both my equipment and my training. I got freewheels with bigger tooth counts to provide easier gears. Most importantly, I started a simple but semi-organized program of riding/training. I started adding one 14 mile loop ride during the weekdays, and a 15-20 mile ride on weekends, on top of my regular commuting. Just doing those two extra rides amore than doubled my typical riding miles each week. Within a few weeks, my weight started to drop, and my strength and endurance started to increase. Within 6 months, I had lost twenty pounds, added a second 15 mile rides during the week, and increased the length of the weekend ride to 30 to 50 miles, usually including some substantial climbs. Although I had to build up to it, I now regularly ride all kinds of beautiful places, and do not have to cross off the most gorgeous destinations because of the hills. It's been a fabulous, even life-changing experience. But the whole process did take a while (about a season of effort, as mentioned above). And like you, I don't think I would have ever gotten there if I hadn't started adding substantially longer and harder rides to my usual transportation cycling.

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  10. I too have been deeply compelled by the desire to feel what it feels like to ride for a really long time, perhaps at odd hours, or far from home, and this summer I've finally had an opportunity to delve in.

    I really like being on my bike and I really like riding long long distances. To give this desire an outlet I've been participating in a brevet series this summer and I keep THINKING I'm gonna be completely racked at the end of each successive longer ride, and I keep ending up fine. The real chalenges are managing discomfort on the bike after 100 or 200 miles, and then the process of managing my weary self hour after hour. The legs just seem to keep turning.

    One bit of advice and one perspective I've received from others concerning long rides:

    --Do LSD. That is, do Long Steady Distance in order to build up to longer distances. If you can ride 20 miles comfortably, you can probably ride 50 miles and not really feel it. 50? You can probably do 100 or more.

    --At some point the challenges become more mental then physical. I think this refers back to the first point. My apprehensions about my ability have been more of a limiting factor them my actual physical capabilities.

    I don't "train" at all, I just ride my bike whenever I can and make sure to do some long rides periodically. Frequently, what I think I'm able to do in contrast to what my body actually can do are not in cahoots. I've found my body (and I suppose my spirit) can generally do more then I think it can, and that has been an amazing revelation to me, one that I am grateful for.

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  11. intervals. push yourself to the max, recover, and do it again. does this make sense? it helped me as a distance runner but it does require a bit of work ;) i'm dumb enough to confuse work and fun.

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  12. It is an interesting paradox. The methodical, rational training enhances the romantic experience.

    It may be possible to experience training in a mystical way that uncovers a romantic layer in physical conditioning. Thought about that way, training stops being training even while physical conditioning improves. It becomes something like simultaneous physical and mental, or spiritual, meditation.

    Grant Peterson has given romantic cyclists a wonderful literary connection through the name of his Betty Foy. As you undoubtedly know, the poem, The Idiot Boy, is about Betty's love for her son and her friend, about nature, of which we are part, and her son's all night ride on a pony. It was an joyful all night ride to nowhere. I thought of this when I read about your ride.

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  13. A thought provoking read. To be honest I find your posts about riding in Ireland and Austria more relatable than the roadie stuff. But now I wonder whether the former would be possible without the latter.

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  14. Would you mind sharing what that nice jersey is that you're wearing? Wool I presume?

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    1. It is a Swobo long sleeve men's classic wool (not wool/poly mix) jersey circa 2011. I like it, but it's developed tiny holes in the sleeves after only a year : (

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  15. In a long cycling 'career' I used to ride three hours, usually but not always with a group of other riders, and cover 50 miles or more. Decades later I ride with a group whose median age is over 70. This group too rides for three hours (including a coffee stop) twice a week and may cover 30 to 35 kilometres (I now live in Canada.) But it's all good. And when I ride by myself, I can cover that 30-35 kilometres in around 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 hours. I'd love to take longer rides, maybe tour, as I thought I would, with the time in retirement. Health problems have prevented that. But they have also left me thankful for the daily local commutes and the group rides and recreational solos. It has been enjoyable to read our blogger's discovery or rediscovery of the pleasure in physical activity and acquired conditioning on a bike. But, as the commenters have demonstrated, to each his/her own.

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  16. I had planned to tour the world by bicycle when I retired. I loved touring. When I was diagnosed with a medical condition that, among other things, causes arthritis and cardiovascular problems, my doctors told me "get as skinny as you can and be as active as you can." OK, I'm a cyclist. I did just that. I can't tour the world, but I tour the state where I live and the area where I live. Amazingly, it is extremely satisfying. You have to ride a lot to develop the physical skill set you need to enjoy long rides. But once you get there, you can discover many ways to enjoy the secret romance some of us have with riding for miles and miles and miles...

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  17. Ride ever day! First day, one minute, fast as can, next day, 2 minutes, fast as can plus little more! Soon, strong like BULL!

    In my country leetle boys given baby horse, we are lifting horse everyday before going to mine. When boy 10 years old he carrying horse on his back like it was GOAT!

    Spindizzy

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  18. BethJuly 8, 2012 1:48 AM
    "I too would like to hear more about the actual training. I don't know anyone who's trained for endurance and not had stories to tell about how they built up their strength over time, the obstacles and triumphs and all that. Too many cyclist shrug off a century as no big deal - but it IS a big deal, to get there, and it's silly to pretend otherwise."


    I agree that a century is a huge deal, and it makes me feel hopeless when my riding companions use it as a synonym for "easy little ride" (they normally do much longer rides).

    That said, I did not discuss training, because I did not do anything out of the ordinary to prepare for this ride, unfortunately. I did 100-120 miles a week in the weeks leading up to the ride, which is more or less typical for me anyhow, but did not approach those miles in as focused way as I would have liked. This possibly accounts for the discomfort I felt toward the end of the ride, though I can't say that for sure as I have no basis for comparison. As far as milage alone, they say as a rule of thumb to do the number of miles over a week you plan to do in a single ride, so that much I did. I will try to write a post with more details about this and links to websites with helpful suggestions.

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    1. If you ride over 100 miles a week on a regular basis, you are probably ready for a Century any time without additional training. I bet the big jump for you was more psychological than anything.

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    2. I would love to believe that, but my feeling is that for me it's more about time in the saddle. Not pedaling effort, not tiredness, but literally my body being used to being on the bike for X many hours straight through. If I do long-distance-specific training in future, that's the aspect I will focus on: Get to the point where 50 miles without a single break does not feel uncomfortable, then 60 miles and so on.

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    3. I have to agree with Veloria - it is not just the distance but the time in the saddle.

      I just finished a Century today (my second) - and while my legs are not entirely happy it is my butt and a part of my lower back that did me in. If those were not an issue I could have ridden even longer.

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  19. I read this blog because it is nearly always interesting and I love bicycles. If there is a male writing a blog as good as this one, then I'd be reading it every day too. I have not found one though (there are a few other bicycle blogs I skim through from time to time, but the writing and subject matter doesn't compare).

    I could write much more in response to what seems to be a criticism of her for being a woman and for being a woman that women as well as men enjoy reading and admire, but I have other things to do.

    I will say that I 're' found cycling before I found this blog. I simply love the freedom riding the bicycle causes me to feel each time I ride and although I work out of my home, I 'gave up' my car and use biking for all my transportation, and I find or have reasons to ride every day. I am interested in training but only a little, and this is mostly because I do indeed love the idea of long distance camping and touring rides. (I have done long backpacking trips in the past and like this sort of journey where one is more dependent on their physical and mental wits.) I do also like that bicycling has led to a physical improvement. Visible and mental changes were a bit slow to occur, but once they started, improvements seem to continue with momentum. (I am a bit older though, 52, and I think it took more time for my muscles to develop after a decade or so of less physical activity). But now I do see physical changes, weight loss, toning, improvement of mood, just simply from my daily "unorganized" riding hbits. I just get better over time and want to go for longer and more rides. Improvement in tackling hills and distance (hills are the bigger problem for me) just seems to come. Perhaps slower for me, than if I were in a training group. But unfortunately I can't join a training group though, because I can't afford a road bike at this time. (I have ridden in a small group ride before, but the disdainful comments about my bike being a 'cruiser' even though I was just as fast as a large majority of the riders on 'road bikes' makes it too embarrassing to be involved in any training groups at this time (actually my bike is not a cruiser, it is a biogmega bicycle and is considered a 'city' bike - but it has upright handle bars and a low curved step through top bar)

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  20. The hard and difficult and challenging work happens in training. Then, when it's time to put out a performance you demonstrate mastery.

    In theory you could get on stage at Carnegie Hall by politicking, suborning critics, and greasing palms. If you then try to learn to perform on stage the night of there will be no ovation for you.

    Of course you can make the training ride and The Big Ride the same ride. All you risk is that by some standard or other you might fail. And that you'll be sore and hurting at the end in ways you didn't expect.

    Training does not have to mean beating yourself to a pulp. You don't have to be the coureur from Triplets of Belleville. But if you want a 200k to be simple and enjoyable and scenically romantic and come off without a hitch every time then 65 miles continuous training at a certain level of intensity has a better chance of succeeding than 65 miles of ramble. One day a week of a hard group ride, hard enough you might get dropped, hard enough you will need some recovery time, is enough for most of us to keep improving. Repeating what we're already good at and doing more of it is perfectly pleasant but is barely maintenance in terms of improvement or training.

    Then someday you realize you're good enough and fast enough and you just don't need to find a tougher faster group to train with. Until then only hard work gets results. To do 200k with grace and ease and style is a pretty big goal. Getting there is hopefully fun, it is definitely hard work.

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    1. I think the issue is that not everyone wants to view a Century or a 200K as a goal or an achievement. For many causal cyclists even concepts such as training and getting dropped and improvement are off-putting; they just don't want to think of cycling that way. What they are wondering is, "Can we do a casual 100 mile ride that doesn't require that whole training-oriented mentality?..."

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    2. Yeah, I feel like my ideas of long rides being romantic rambles got dashed a bit after I read John Hughe's Distance Cycling book. I had to accept the hard truth: if I want to ride long rides and enjoy them, then I need to do the work.

      We could all 'get though' a century, but without training it's going to most likely suck, which can cause a lot of post-ride negative thoughts.

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    3. The answer to that one is maybe. I once did a century with a young healthy couple on good bikes who made a point of stopping at each little country tavern on the route. I could not have walked after imbibing as much as they did. Needless to say they did not train much.

      More recently I did a metric century with two friends. One trained constantly, had a 14-pound carbon wonderbike. The other friend was an overweight lady in her 50s on a 70s Schwinn 3spd. Mr. Carbon got heatstroke and finished in the sag. Ms. Schwinn stopped for a Bloody Mary on a 95 degree day and finished the ride anyway.

      Putting aside the outliers that make life interesting if you want to combine the words "casual" and "200k" it requires training beforehand. Those who won't must content themselves with shorter rides.

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  21. Achieving 100 miles shouldn't be too hard especially if you pick the right 100 miles. It's just a matter of building the miles up in the legs. Do what you are comfortable with (be it 10, 20, 30 miles etc) and over time stretch that comfort zone a little. Then doing 20 miles comfortably becomes doing 30 miles comfortably and so on. Depending on the time you can give to the process 100 miles will come soon enough.

    I speak from experience. Up until May 2011 I hadn't ridden a bike more than about 20 miles, and even then only about once. In July 2011 I bought a bike and in June this year I rode back to back 130 mile days across mainland Scotland. Comfortably. I did start with a pretty good cardio vascular base and I was able to dedicate myself to the task of training but it still proves it can be done.

    Once you make 60 mile routes pretty routine 100 miles is easily achieved. Just pick the right route, the right day and don't necessarily expect to cycle the next day.

    And, above all, enjoy the training and the bigger ride.

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  22. I don't think there is a paradox here, you simply need to work up to cycling a longer distance, whatever that distance might be for any individual cyclist, as Al said.

    As far as training, we all do it differently. In any given year I do short, slow rides, graduate to long, slow rides and short, fast rides and finally long fast rides. Some years that means 70 miles averaging 16-18mph solo. That is probably slow for some people and fast for others. It sounds fast to me this year.

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  23. Topography is a key variable for knowing whether you need more training or more desire. When I began riding regularly again after a 20 year period of mostly not riding, I quickly developed the stamina for a 75 mile ride in/around NYC. (Setting no land speed records, to be sure.)

    My re-discovered love of riding led me to plan a 50 mile ride from Portland, Maine to a small town east of Bath, with loaded panniers for a couple of days R&R. A route described as "Easy" in Maine cycle language. I left Portland in the morning, assuming that I'd arrive by mid-afternoon at a loping pace.

    At roughly 5 pm, standing by the side of the road on what seemed like the 50th serious hill of the ride, with my heart pounding out against my chest and still needing to go another 5 miles to the end of the ride, it occurred to me that NYC riding is flat, flat, flat. Two days later, when I needed to get back to Portland to pick up a car rental home, I took the front wheel off the bike, called a cab, and enjoyed the scenery.

    Four years later, I think I could manage that ride a lot better. I've become more skilled at managing real hills and, while I have not formally "trained" in group road rides, I have taken to heart one of Grant Peterson's pieces of advice -- think of your legs as another gear. Less downshifting does make you a stronger rider sooner than you'd think.

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