How to ride a double century
I am presenting this tale as a document of one of the few times in my life that I designed and followed a training plan successfully. Normally I don’t have the patience or discipline for that kind of stuff, but I was determined this time and it really worked!
"There is no amount of research or planning that can prepare you for a double century. You just do it and you’ll learn quickly how prepared you are. Make a route, set a date, and go do it."
I decided to ride a double century for the first time in June 2016 when my bike club Big Orange Cycling (Go Big Orange!) hosted one from Manhattan Beach to Santa Barbara and back. Riding 200 miles in one day had been a goal of mine for a very long time, and there would be no better opportunity to ride a double than with a SAG car and a team of twelve strong riders from Big Orange - Le train Orange. The only problem was that the ride was in only six weeks, and due to work and general laziness, I was riding 200 miles. per. month…
I was able to train for the double in six weeks by focusing on more on power than mileage. I read somewhere that if you already have at least a little fitness, power work increases endurance more than actually riding long miles. It’s an aggressive way to train but it works. To do it you just ride everywhere as hard as you possibly can. There are no tricks, just go out and suffer, Ms./Mr. Caveman. During the week I rode to and from work like it was a TT. On the weekend I would do progressively longer rides at a pace I thought would simulate the double ride, 18-20 mph average. Two weeks before the big ride I did a solo 125 mile ride. I knew that if I felt relatively good on that ride I should be able to complete the double, especially with the aerodynamic advantage and mental motivation of riding in a paceline with my team. I supplemented my riding with weight training for my upper body, especially my back and core, to help with climbing and holding an aerodynamic riding position for 14 + hours in the saddle.
People always ask me what I eat during long rides but that is not nearly as important as my diet for the weeks leading up to the ride. Before the double I ate healthier than I ever have; super clean food chock full of so much veggies. You’re literally transforming your body into a high performance engine, and you need to run racing fuel. While training I usually ate six small meals a day, never letting myself get too hungry. You must stay hydrated too, not just during the ride but for weeks before - your urine should be clear at all times. On-the-bike nutrition, or fueling, as I like to call it is the biggest challenge on a long ride. The proper fueling technique is different for everybody; it took me years to figure out how to be consistently happy on long rides and not become a disoriented, cramping, hangry, bonk zombie. My fueling technique is a personal secret. It took too much work to get it right. You go ride and figure yours’ out for yourself. During the ride you have to eat but can’t just keep shoveling food in your mouth all the time. Your digestive system can only process so much food and drink per hour. If you eat too much or too quickly your digestive system will shut down with spectacular results. On the other hand, you should never go too long without food and drink. That will put your body into a nutritional deficit that's hard to recover from. Again, how much to eat and when is something you have to learn for yourself, it’s a physiological thing.
I thought I had a really good plan for what I would eat during the double. I was eating and drinking the stuff I had used on centuries for years without problems. I eat these things called Pro Bars. They are like super dense 400-calorie granola bars. Under ideal conditions, I can ride almost 100 miles on one bar. For whatever reason (maybe it was nerves) on the big day my stomach wasn't happy with my normal food. So, I did the ride mostly on potato chips and spicy dried mango slices from Trader Joe's, the only foods I had that my stomach would accept. If I hadn’t spent so much time and effort preparing my body before the ride I would’ve been done after 50 miles. One of my riding partners, who is also a doctor, shared some potatoes with us. She said they are the best food for this kind of endurance effort; something about glycemic index. Take potatoes!
Pace yourself. For the love of God pace yourself. The best feeling is when you get on your bike at the crack of dawn on a perfect day, strong, super stoked, with a belly full of oatmeal, coffee, and hardboiled eggs. You take off at 25 mph and you don’t feel your legs at all. Calm down… At that moment think really hard about how you want to feel at the end of the day. For a double that could be 12-16 hours of pedaling later. Start easy and take breaks often! At no point in the first 75 miles or so should you be breathing hard at all. It will get harder, don’t worry...
“Just sack up and do it!” - Matthew Miller, Big Orange ride leader and Hard Man of Cycling