Riding River to River: It's time to start training, seriously

It dawned on me last night, when I was checking out the RAGBRAI website and saw that Day 1 — Sioux City to Storm Lake — is 74.3 miles long: I am waaaaaaaay behind on my training and should start getting serious. Very serious. Now.

So today I did my first ever 10-mile ride — 10.45 miles to be exact. (Or at least close to exact. Instead of using a bike computer, which would make tracking miles much easier, I use GeoDistance, which reminds me a lot of MapMyRun before it seemingly sold out.)

It’s not as if I have not been riding my bike or training to a small extent. I ride it here and there, around town, as I have always done. I have taken longer rides for training purposes — out to Taft Avenue on the eastern edge of Iowa City and into Prairie View Estates off Prairie du Chien Road. But none of those rides were longer than eight miles. The longest ride I had done before today was 7.87 miles. After I traced that route on GeoDistance and learned I was two miles shy of 10, I thought, “Are you kidding me?”

I am now beginning to fully understand the time and effort needed to not only ride a single day of RAGBRAI, but just 10 miles. After my first short training ride, a five-mile roundtrip jaunt out to Scott Boulevard on the trail following Friendship, I thought, “This won’t be that hard. I’ll be able to rack up miles no problem.” I thought maybe that 1,000-mile training recommendation on the RAGBRAI website was for inactive, overweight couch potatoes. (I thought about my dad’s friend who rode RAGBRAI in 2001. We visited him during the overnight stop in Coralville and he looked like a disaster. A bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay seemed to ease his soreness, though. He, I thought, probably did not train enough.) However, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as I originally thought. It may not be that hard once I start training seriously, but it is certainly no cake walk. It takes a lot of time, pedaling, and determination.

I now envy those riding those super-light, $1,000-and-up road bikes with narrow tires. My Sirrus Sport is road-worthy, but there is a reason nobody competes in the Tour de France with a hybrid. I suppose all I need to do, though, is get skinnier tires.

Slowly but surely, I am also beginning to appreciate the challenges that long-distance bicycling presents. The biggest I have encountered so far is finding bike-friendly routes. There are levels of bike-friendliness, ranging from unfriendly/hostile to accommodating/ideal. The local trail system is ideal, but sharing roads with motorists is a necessity. It’s not fun, but one gets used to it. While riding along the Scott Boulevard extension today, an 18-wheeler barreled past me at probably 45 mph. “Wow,” I thought aloud. “That’s not cool.” (I just peeked at an area trail map and the sidewalk along Scott apparently doubles as a bike trail. It looks like I won’t be riding in the street there anymore!) Anyway, what I want to say is that longer rides require riding on roads I would never otherwise want to travel with a bike, roads that are not ideal for bicycling. For the most part, though, local motorists are accommodating, probably because so many others cycle, but anything can happen. One thing is for sure: I am stay away from country roads and state highways without hard shoulders. Screw those. I’ll need to find safe routes and stick to them. Looping routes together and laps will be needed to rack up a ton of miles.

Riding more miles means riding for much longer. It took me 50–55 minutes to complete my 10-miler today. I have no clue what the usual pace is, but 10 mph is probably on the low end and not ideal for RAGBRAI. However, as the website says, RAGBRAI is not a race — it’s “a leisurely ride.” I need to keep that in mind. According to the event’s training blog, “You have all day to go the distance each day, and that means you can ride a relatively slow pace and still have plenty of time to get in each day.” I think I’ll take advantage of that. Part of the purpose of training, though, is getting one’s body accustomed to long rides. The miles are important, but saddle time is, too.

Here is something else I realized today: I probably shouldn’t ride after a night of storms. Mud sucks. It looked like the creek running through Scott Park flooded a section of trail. After the water receded, a layer of mud was left behind on the concrete. And I rode through it. The bottom of my frame was caked and just about everything else on the bike and myself was splattered with mud. For a while, it was hard to get a good grip on my pedals because they were muddy and the bottom of my shoes are pretty worn. It is nothing water and soap cannot take care of, but I learned a good lesson.

I am sure I will learn many more. I need to.

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