Conditioning and Technique

Members of DC Randonneurs come from all sorts of cycling backgrounds, including touring, competitive triathlons or ultra-marathon cycling events, and club or century rides. Except for ultra-marathon cyclists, just about anyone who becomes involved in randonneuring will confront the task of preparing physically for one-day ride distances they have never attempted before.

Build Slowly

If you are in your twenties or thirties, you don't have to pay attention to this part. But if you aren't, it is important to build your conditioning slowly. Increasing the distance or intensity of your rides too quickly is a recipe for injuries that start out nagging and end up chronic. The worst case becomes a downward spiral of injuries and exhaustion leading to burnout.

It helps tremendously to have a base of daily, or almost daily, exercise as your foundation. Bicycle commuting is ideal, if you are able. If not, regular workouts on a trainer or in a gym will serve just fine. Running is another good way to build endurance over time, although it's better as a form of cross training than it is as a way to strength cycling-specific muscles, as for example skiing and rowing do.

A good time to ride your first brevets (or group rides) is in the late summer or fall, when you are already in shape and prepared to ride 200 kilometers (125 miles). After that and a winter of regular workouts, you'll be ready to attempt a full Super Randonneur series the following Spring. That involves riding the following distances:

  • 200 kilometers (125 miles)
  • 300 kilometers (187.5 miles)
  • 400 kilometers (250 miles)
  • 600 kilometers (375 miles)

In the years Paris-Brest is run, you must complete a Super Randonneur series to qualify for it. Most domestic grand randonnees no longer have such a requirement, although you should always check event websites for what requirements, if any, there are for riders. It can also be useful to ride a complete Super Randonneur series the year before attempting a grand randonnee. You may find getting up and riding on the second day of the 600 challenge enough.

Stay Flexible

Keep stretching! As your muscles grow stronger, they tighten and pull on your tendons and ligaments, which don't gain strength as quickly as your muscles do. This can lead to tendonitis and even muscular-skeletal issues.

So work on your core strength and flexibility as much as possible. Take a pilates or yoga class if you can. Do weightlifting exercises that strength your core and stabilize your back. Above all, stretch as much as possible. It costs very little in money or time and does a world of good.

Intensity Matters

High-intensity interval training is an excellent way to build fitness not just for shorter events but also for the sort of long events we ride. But for it to work, you have to have a plan.

Fortunately, there are many books and articles on the subject. It's easy to find coaches, equipment such as trainers and power meters, and knowledge bases everywhere on the internet. The ultra-marathoners among us are perhaps the best source of information for DC Randonneurs, as they are a remarkably pleasant group and willing to entertain all sorts of questions. Post one to the listserv and see what sort of response you get.

Work on Your Technique

Too often, cycling injuries that get blamed on equipment are really the result of bad conditioning or technique. Schirmer's neck (muscle fatigue so intense that riders become unable to hold their head up unassisted) can happen to anyone, but you can train to avoid it by doing exercises that strength your shoulders or neck, such as pushups, or (as a doctor suggested to Bob Olsen) bouncing a basketball against a wall above your head, so you have to look up to see it.

Nerve pain anywhere from your hands to your shoulders and neck can be the result of a bike fit that puts your body too far forward and places too much weight on your arms, but it can also be the result of maintaining a death grip on your handlebars, which tends to tighten your forearms, lock your elbows, and cause every bump in the road to travel up your arms to your shoulder and neck. So keep those elbows bent and consciously remind yourself to keep your grip light and your forearms relaxed.

No matter who you are, you're going to reach a point on longer riders where your body switches from burning blood sugar (glycogen) to burning fat (triglycerides). When it does, your power output is going to drop, causing more of your weight to rest on your handlebars and seat, and less on your pedals. Unless you make an effort to keep your body relaxed, your back straight, and your pedal-stroke circular, you'll find that your entire body gets stiffer, to the point where it can become hard to sit on the bike at all.

This may be to state the matter too negatively. If you build a good training base, stay flexible, properly increase and taper your intensity in the lead-up to the events that are your primary goals, and relax on the bike, you will find you can ride not just faster than you have done before, but also with more comfort and less pain.