The Rider

April 30, 2010

Ultramen – and women

Filed under: Steve's Stuff — The Blog @ 6:01 AM

Tomorrow I am going to join the grueling – and fascinating – world of ultra cycling (or is it ultracycling, I’m still not sure) and take on Calvin’s Challenge in Springfield, OH.

The concept of this race is simple: it’s a 12 hour-race and the rider who does the most miles during this time period wins. The top riders will hammer out more than 250 miles! That’s an average speed of over 20 MPH for 12 continuous hours. If this doesn’t impress you, the next time you ride, take a look at your bike computer and try to keep it above 20 MPH for a couple of miles. It’s not easy.

The Calvin’s course features a 50-mile loop, which you keep doing until there’s not enough time left on the clock to complete another loop, and then you switch to a 7-mile loop. There will be about 200 riders – including many of the top ultra cyclists in the country.

My goal is two-fold: keep riding to the end, and accumulate over 150 miles. OK, truth be told, my secret goal is to ride 175 miles. That’s an average of 15 MPH for 12 hours. It’s at the upper end of realistic. The crazy man inside me keeps saying: “Steve, you can find a way to get to 200 miles. Lots of people do it, why not you?” This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and keeps forgetting the most I’ve ever done in a day is about 105 miles. Anything above and beyond is uncharted territory filled with land mines and sharks.

Plus, the weather forecast is: scattered showers and thunderstorms in the afternoon.

Uh-oh! 150 may be a struggle in the rain and wind and thunder.

I’ve been studying up on this whole ultra cycling thing, talking to some veterans, and have learned a great deal, some of which can apply to Pelotonia, especially the 100-mile and up riders. Here we go…

Nutrition is key in an ultra event – and riders get most of it through liquids rather than solids, which are harder to digest when you’re on the bike for that long. In Race Across America (RAAM), which is literally a 3,000-mile bike race across America in which the top riders go at it 20 or 21 hours a day and finish in 9 or 10 days, the riders take in about 500 calories or more an hour. They get a lot of it from Hammer products, such as gels or powders that you mix with water. Many riders suck down a bottle of Ensure every hour or so. Gatorade? It’s just not enough.

Lesson for Pelotonia: Stop at every rest stop and have something to eat and drink, fill up your water bottle and drink it dry by the time you get to the next rest stop. Alternate water and Gatorade and you’ll be fine. There’s no need for Ensure or special endurance products such as Hammer on this type of ride. Then eat like someone who’s been stranded on a desert island for months when you get to Athens and the big party.

This stuff is udderly fantastic!

One of biggest issues for ultra cyclists is saddle sores, which are exactly that: large, painful sores on your saddle that make it impossible to sit down on your bike seat. So, ultra riders are fanatical about their hygiene down there – and also use a variety of petroleum-based balms to ward off and cure saddle sores. One of the most popular is Monkey Butt, which you can find at most bike shops. Another popular salve is Bag Balm, which is more commonly used by dairy farmers on the udders of their cows. I’m not kidding – and I found a tin at the local CVS.

Lesson for Pelotonia: The hygiene lesson is very important for all riders, so keep your saddle clean and dry – and wear bike shorts. As for the balms, unless you’re putting in 200 or more miles per week, they’re probably not necessary. But keep balm in the back of your mind in case problems develop. If nothing else, the whole Bag Balm thing will make for an interesting story to tell your non-riding friends.

Hey, is anyone else out there riding Calvin’s? Let me know and we can figure out a way to meet up and say hello before the race starts. My e-mail address is:

I’ll post something about Calvin’s this weekend. I’m hoping to do it Saturday night when I get home, but will probably be too tired and have to put it off until I wake up Sunday around 4PM.


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