Training for 200 Miles in the Saddle is a Pain in the Butt

In January 2012 I signed up for the Dirty Kanza 200 (DK200).  I had decided to commit a portion of the next 6 months to training my body and mind to bicycle 200 miles of Kansas gravel.  Now, how do I train for this event?

OK, 200 miles will take me how long to finish?  Well riding at 10 – 13 mph it will take about 15 to 20 hours.  During the race I plan to make three stops at each of three checkpoints.  Each stop should take about 30 minutes to eat, get fresh water, and do some quick bike maintenance.  I hope to complete the event in 16.5 to 21.5 hours.  Holy cow, that is a long time to be in a bicycle race!  The longest ride/race I had done to date was about 50 miles.  As far as I could remember the longest I had been in the saddle was about 3 hours.

How am I going to train to get to the finish of 200 miles?  I decided to take the build-up approach like a marathon runner.  Start out with many short intense rides throughout the week and longer less intense rides on the weekends.  I figured that I would try to increase my long ride length each month.  In March my long ride would be about 50 miles, in April 100, and in May 125+.  I Also scheduled a 50 mile mountain bike race, Syllamo’s Revenge in Arkansas, for early May.  This would give me a chance to test my fitness.  It would also allow me to practice hydration and nutrition in a race setting.  (I will tell you more about the importance of race day hydration and nutrition in the upcoming articles.)

My training went to plan during the spring, with one exception.  Through the months I was not able to get the long rides like I had hoped.  My longest ride, up to April, was about 55 miles. However, I was able to get in more trail rides at a higher intensity.  I was regularly riding two to three hours at a time at or near my fastest average pace.  The weather was a big help.  Spring was early, warm and dry so, it was easy to get out and ride the trails.


In early May, I wanted to really test my fitness.  I set out to ride 50+ miles of singletrack.  I figured riding the trail dodging roots and rocks would be the hardest 50 miles I could do to get a good guage on my training efforts.  It would also give me an opportunity to test my nutrition and hydration strategy.

I hit the Smithville, Missouri mountain bike trails at 9am.  The trail is about 11.5 miles in length and usually takes me about an hour to complete.  I chose to ride my trusty, low maintenance Specialized single speed.  By the end of the first lap I was hitting my usual average of 11.5 and began wondering.  Can I keep this up for 5 laps?… we shall see.

Specialized S-Works Single Speed 29er

Specialized S-Works Single Speed 29er

Between laps, I would make a quick stop in the parking lot to change out water bottles and grab a snack.  Then it was back on the trails.  Lap two was faster than lap one, lap three was about 11.7, and lap four was 11.5.  After lap 4 I went back to the parking lot and did the usual bottle change and snack.  While I was there, a friend showed up and asked to ride with me.  Of course you can ride with me!  It was a welcome change to have some company.  It was nice to have a friend – we call him Farmy – to chat with and enjoy the trails.  Farmy and I rode together most of lap 5.  It was toward the last few miles he could tell I was getting antsy to go a little faster.  He let me by and I picked up the pace.

As I was finishing lap five, at about mile 55, I was thinking about what I had done and how many miles I had ridden so far.  Then I thought about how long a metric century was in miles, about 62.  Why not ride a little more and complete a mountain bike metric century?  At the end of lap five I had totaled about 57 miles and pushed on rather than stopping for water and food, just 5 miles left!  I rode part of a lap to a point where I could turn at a 4-way and head back.

Once I arrived back to the parking lot, I reflected on the ride while enjoying my favorite cold, frothy beverage… err recovery drink.  I just rode 65 miles (yeah I went a little long) in under 6 hours.  I was tired, but not exhausted.  I wasn’t cramping or hungry, so I ate and drank enough during the ride.  It was confirmation that up to this point that my training was going well.  Although 21 hours is a lot longer than 6, I felt that by riding a similar pace on gravel roads, I would be able to ride longer.  Up next: Syllamo’s Revenge mountain bike race.

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