Should I race 200 miles on my bike? Now two people say I can do it – and they want Lance Armstrong to go 400 miles

Coach Brant Speed at Pedal Hard Training Center says he’ll help Pam LeBlanc prepare for a 200-mile bike race. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman


See this man? That’s Brant Speed, coach and general manager at Pedal Hard Training Center, located downstairs at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop.

Speed (talk about a perfect name), along with Andrew Willis, who runs The Driveway Crit Series and also enjoys racing his bicycle halfway across the country (literally), think I can tackle a 200-mile bike race at the end of March.

I’m not so sure about that, but I crave adventure, and this smells like a big one to me.

Andrew Willis, right, is trying to talk Pam LeBlanc, left, into a 200-mile bike race in March. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman
Andrew Willis, right, is trying to talk Pam LeBlanc, left, into a 200-mile bike race in March. Pam LeBlanc/Austin American-Statesman

Frankly, though, I’m scared. The farthest I’ve ever ridden a bike in one sitting is about 110 miles. But I do love to ride. I pedal to work almost every day, and last summer I rode all the way across Iowa. Those 420 miles, though, were spread over seven days, and interspersed with stops for pork chops, slip ‘n slides and beer during the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

Willis wants me to ride 200 miles all at once, kind of like the way he raced from California to Colorado last summer. He says I could do it tomorrow if I wanted, although it would hurt really badly. But if I trained, he says, and mentally prepared for the challenge, he thinks I could finish.

Finishing is the only goal I’d have if I agree to do the Texas RAAM Challenge on March 25.

Cyclists who compete in the race, which starts and finishes in Marble Falls and winds its way all over the Hill Country, choose from 200 or 400 mile distances. (Willis is doing the 400-miler, and is also trying to talk Lance Armstrong into joining him. More on that later.)

Willis sent me to Pedal Hard to visit with Speed, who apparently knows how to whip cyclists into shape. Luckily, I’ve got a good cardio base. I swim five or six days a week and bike to work four or five.

But 200 miles on a bike at once?

No problem, Speed says. I just have to set priorities and get lots of seat time. I’d have to cut down on swim practice, report to a training session at Pedal Hard once a week, and follow his directives on getting two more good rides in each week.

(“You don’t want to burn that engine hot all the time,” he told me after I whined about missing so much swimming. “And it would behoove you to get into a state of uncomfortableness.”

The biggest obstacle for me is my schedule. I travel for work nearly non-stop, and February and March are packed with trips. When would I train?

The good news, according to both Willis and Speed, is that to do a race that might take me 16 or 17 hours doesn’t mean I have to build all the way up to that time or distance. Speed says if I get in a few back-to-back four- or five-hour rides between now and then, along with lots of regular cycling, I can do it. I need to work on nutrition and mental fortitude, too.

So what does Armstrong have to do with all this?

I recently spoke with the former Tour de France cyclist, whose seven wins were stripped after he admitted to doping, for a story I’m writing about another Texan who rode in the tour this year, Lawson Craddock.

Armstrong had taken a hiatus from cycling for about two years, and is just now getting back on the bike. He’s ridden with Craddock a few times, and Willis is pushing him to do the 400-mile version of the 200-mile race I’m thinking of doing.

“Are you going to do it?” I asked Armstrong.

“My first impression is you’re f-ing crazy,” Armstrong told me. “But I just wonder what that’s like. I could ride 200 miles no problem, but after that you’re in no-man’s land.”

Armstrong says he never believed “that tortoise and the hare bullshit they taught us growing up, but it applies there. At 100 miles he’s an hour behind, but he just kind of plods along.”

In other words, Armstrong would have to rein himself in early in the 400-mile ride, in order to finish how he’d like to finish.

“For me the answer is not really, but I’m sort of not totally dismissing it,” Armstrong says of the race. It’ll depend on where he is and what his Spring Break plans with his kids.

In the meantime, Armstrong is enjoying the biking again, and says it’s fun to ride with the younger elite cyclists.

“I’m still strong enough where if we race up a hill they’d kill me, but on a 3- or 4-hour ride I’m right there,” Armstrong says. “What else did you expect from the biggest fraud in the history of the sport?”

Author: Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc writes about fitness and travel for the Austin American-Statesman. She has worked for the Statesman since 1998 and written her weekly fitness column, Fit City, since 2004.

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