Three experts now assure me I can pedal my bike 200 miles through the Texas Hill Country – a feat that would require starting before dawn and riding well into the night – at the end of March.
I’m still waffling, but taking some steps in case I decide to actually enter the RAAM Texas Challenge. The race, which offers 200- and 400-mile options, starts in Marble Falls and winds its way all the way to Kerrville and back.
Saturday I took my bike for a spin outside of Dripping Springs, logging some chilly miles in a stiff wind. (And falling into a creek when my bike slid on algae at a slippery crossing. Ouch.)
Monday I hit a 6 a.m. training class at Pedal Hard with coach Brant Speed. He got me spinning away on a trainer while paying attention to speed, watts and RPMs, as I followed a virtual course video populated by mountains and pine trees that never got any closer.
Then yesterday I sat down with sports nutritionist Shane Traughber, who told me I’m capable of this challenge, as long as I take it slow and keep my butt comfortable. Traughber, who works with endurance athletes including Andrew Willis, the cyclist who originally planted the bug in my ear, reminded me that I’m just trying to finish, and there’s no reason to pedal hard.
“I already know you can do the 200-miler,” he told me.
I’m trying hard to believe, but sometimes it feels impossible, especially considering my hectic travel schedule, which has me on the road nearly every week between now and the March 25 race date. Still…
“It is entirely possible,” he said. “But comfort is king. It’s a walking race for bikes. It’s how comfortable can you be for 200 miles.”
That means I need a proper bike fit that puts me in a more upright position. I also need compression socks to control swelling, some good seat lube and clothing to minimize friction.
“Anything rubbing small is big 200 miles down the road,” Traughber said.
Other than that, it’s all about staying hydrated (that’s key, he insists), keeping my heart rate low and enjoying the view. At least that’s how Traughber puts it.
“The last 50 miles is all mental,” he said. “It’s how hard do you want it.”
We talked a lot about how to fuel the race. Traughber suggests eating high-water content foods like home-made rice cakes, filled with tasty add-ins like bacon, sausage or apples. They’re less likely to give me an upset stomach or gas than gels, which should be taken with lots of water. I’m going to get a copy of “Feed Zone Portables,” to figure out how to make them.
Other food sources? Ripe bananas (less fiber), watermelon and potato chips.
He stressed the importance of not getting behind on nutrition. From the start, I should be eating something every 30 minutes.
“Remember, you’re not eating for where you are now, it’s for an hour and a half to two hours in the future,” he said.
I’ll likely deal with muscle cramping, mental fatigue and a sore butt, but my engine is strong from swimming five days a week and riding my bike to work.
“Our bodies are amazing things,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind you can do it. It’s the slowest most wonderful road trip you’re ever going to do.”