Wimpie thought it was time to share some long distance cycling tips. I find it hard to resist an opportunity to talk about cycling over a couple of beers.
Endurance cycling panel discussion
The Q&A session was held in May 2019 outside Stellenbosch. For the purpose of the workshop, ‘Endurance cycling’ is is defined as an ultra, one stage, multi-day, self-sustained, cycling event.
The participants were Derek Lawrence, Elize Janse van Rensburg and myself. Wimpie interrogated us and added his own thoughts in-between. We covered physical and mental aspects, health and safety, nutrition, equipment and packing for ultra endurance cycling.
Q: What qualifies you to give an opinion?
I’ve done seven rides of 1000km or more and and really enjoy the longer distances. While you won’t find me anywhere near the podium, I aim to have a great experience in a respectable time. Previous notable rides include TCR, LEL, PBP, Munga, Everesting and about 30 local Audax rides with 3 Super Randonneurs to date.
Q: What was your most exciting & challenging endurance event and why?
Mine was TCR. Most exciting because 15 new countries in as many days, with different languages, currencies and experiences. Most challenging because it was unsupported, you had to pick your own route and this was my first time navigating with a GPS, plus it was quite something to go over the Dolomites.
Q: At what age did you start cycling when was your first ultra-event?
In 2009, I was 27 at the time. After a sufficient amount of red wine I proclaimed to cycle from JHB to CPT, which was a bit of a stretch of imagination as I didn’t even have a road bike at the time. I only managed to convince one other sucker (Manus) to join me. It was December so we cycled the long way around: N14 to Springbok and N7 down to CPT, almost 1800km in 9 days. I only started with Randonneuring in 2012, at age 30. Turning 37 this month, so have been doing long distances for 7 years.
Q: What is the greater challenge for you, physical or mental, and why?
Probably physical because I don’t train much. ‘Pasop vir overtrain’. The mental side is almost never an issue. And I am comfortable on the bike so I feel like I can go forever.
Everyone has his own preferences to training, but there are aspects unique to the preparation to an ultra-event than normal ‘distance’ training.
Q: What kind of mileage do you average per year?
Not much. I’ve never done 10,000km a year before. On average I do less than 5000km per year.
Q: Describe your training in preparation for an ultra.
I believe you can go from zero to hero within a week. The first 2 or 3 days are always the most difficult. By day 4 you are strong. A perfect training week would be 5 or 6x 100kms going from Vrede to Malmesbury and back — the route is just so boring and it takes up a lot of time. At least there is wind.
Q: How do you select the ‘right’ pace for an ultra?
I don’t use HR monitors or power meters. Just go with what is comfortable. I think sometimes I go too slow.
Q: What personality type do you think will succeed in ultra-events?
Introverts. Perseverance. Determination.
Q: Have you experienced the dark side of fatigue or people raveling out?
Yip, I’ve seen the nicest people snap — people who you’d never think could or would. I’ve seen good mates become irrational and shout for no apparent reason. And I’ve also told off Wimpie on LEL, as I was cold and wet and hungry when arriving at one of the control points and certainly not in the mood for his camera in my face. But shortly after a meal and some heat all is forgiven.
Q: How do you prepare mentally for an ultra?
I just look forward to spending some ‘me-time’ on my bicycle. Sometimes I almost look forward to encountering difficult moments while cycling, because you will get through it — and next time you find yourself in a difficult position (shit happens), then you know that you’ve already encountered similar or worse before. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Q: How do you handle sleep deprivation?
Well, I think. When I’m tired enough I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere. 20min power naps work best for me (ever since school where a typical day would start with a 3km swim at the gym, then school, rugby practice and delivering newspapers — those 20min naps worked like a charm). I also know I shouldn’t sleep for too long (say 4+ hours), because then I become lazy and find it difficult to get going again, especially when it is cold outside.
Q: Have you hallucinated and how do you handle it?
I’ve seen a couple of things that were not there. Most vividly I mistook a piece of wood for a snake in Scotland. This happens quite often. I don’t like snakes. Afterwards you just laugh if off and continue to try and stay awake.
Q: How do you handle the ‘internal conversation’?
I love spending time in my own head. I always win my own arguments.
Health & Safety
Q: How do you stay healthy year-round, through cold & wet winters?
I hate being cold and wet on the bike and much rather prefer heat waves and beer stops. During the winter I’ll rather go to the gym and do some weights, spinning or swimming. Over-training? Not on my watch.
Q: Do you experience typical injuries in ultras and how do you treat it?
It’s an ultra-event — know beforehand that you are likely to experience some discomfort along they way. This usually happens at your contact points, ie hands, feet and bum. I’ve done a bike fit before, but immediately changed it afterwards. just go with what is comfortable. You’ll know.
Q: Have you had any issues that affected the outcome of a ride?
Got hit on the elbow by the mirror of a taxi while cycling alone after dark while it was raining during an Audax ride outside JHB. I then decided it’s not worth it, so I stopped, and I’m convinced it was the right decision.
Q: Often we travel alone. What do you have as safety precaution?
Nothing, really. I still maintain cycling alone in the middle of the night on a rural road is safer than say passing Kayamandi or Cloetesville in broad daylight.
In an ultra-event staying fueled and hydrated is critical. Keep in mind that these are self-sufficient events where you do not have any backup.
Q: Do you have any particular advice for both food and hydration?
Practice makes perfect. Find out what works for you. Don’t stop when you bonk. Know that after you ate something, you’ll be tip-top within no time.
Q: Once your gels run out, how do you feed yourself on the road?
I don’t really take gels or powder packs — much prefer pizza and beer. Audax rides have stops every 70 or 80 odd kms, so eat proper food. I typically only carry droëwors and one emergency energy bar. On a very long ride I might take a couple of Rehidrat® sachets or buy Game sports drinks at the shops. Also, the further you ride the less sweet things you want, so I often find myself craving fresh fruit and yogurt later on.
Q: Do you choose fat above carbohydrate?
Nope, I’m blood type O+ and I eat an enormous amount of red meat anyway, but I love pasta and often use a bike ride as an excuse to have more.
Q: What about supplementation, especially on the ride?
I don’t take any supplements with me on the bike, but I start with two bottles of Enduren energy drink (it’s great because it’s not so sweet). After that I just buy whatever I feel like from the shop. And beer, which is the best carbs (ice cold lagers during and Weiss beers after the ride).
This a personal choice, but certain aspects are non-negotiable. What do you to solve the challenges that can occur during ultra-events with regards to the following?
Q: Your bum. Saddle, choice of bib and chamois cream?
I use the same saddle on both my MTB & road bike (Phenom), but I’ve started TCR on a brand-new saddle (Toupe) without any issues. I’d rather buy 3x Rapid Sports bibs for the price of 1x Assos bib — just go for a good fit & chamois. When you ride really long distances you’ll find that the clothing ‘settles’ after day two. Bergie mode. Chamois cream I started using less and less, now only on 300km or more, and I only use Sudocrem as it is thick, antiseptic and available almost everywhere, both local and abroad. If it is good enough for baby then it is good enough for me.
Q: Hands, gloves, tape and handle bars?
I used to have a double layer of tape, but that didn’t work as I still got numb fingers. Now I have a very wide and flat 3T handlebar on my long-distance bicycle and it works, beautifully. Suggest you go to the gym, because with a strong core you put less weight on the handlebars. I don’t like gloves and only use long-fingered ones when it is very cold.
Q: Punctures & Tyres?
I always carry two spare inner tubes and two bombs. When going solo I might add a tyre and mini-pump. On the gravel bike and MTB I also carry a tubeless repair kit with thick and thin snot plugs. You’d be surprised how quick and handy a fix they are.
Q: What is your preferred navigation method or equipment and why?
I’ve only bought my first GPS less than 12 months ago so I’m fairly new at this, but I value reliability over unnecessary bells and whistles. Before that I’ve used the cue cards (but it got rained on in Scotland). Sometimes it’s best to leave the device at home and enjoy the freedom. I prefer the trusty Garmin Etrex because it uses AA batteries that you can buy at most shops. And I also have a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt with a brilliant display and a handy elevation feature where you can see what’s coming your way in advance, but it’s only good for about 15 hours per charge and I don’t like carrying power banks.
All of us need a bicycle and we know of the basic needs for a long-distance ride. However, a self-sustained event requires a different approach of transporting yourself and your accessories.
Q: Are you a minimalist packer or do you take the whole wardrobe?
Undoubtedly minimalist. When it comes to packing I think that less is more. I certainly don’t like a cluttered cockpit or anything on my back.
Q: What is your one non-negotiable item to take on the bike and why?
A bank card, because you can fix most things with some cash. Other than that, my favorite piece of kit is the waterproof Deflect H20 jacket my wife bought me. It’s a brilliant piece of kit.
Q: What are the most important things to take to ensure a finish vs DNF?
A positive mindset, because otherwise you are doomed before the start. And a space blanket could also be considered essential, but I tend to forget mine.
Q: How do you prefer to pack or transport your luggage?
I use one or a combination of the following three products from Topeak. Toploader, as long as my knees don’t touch it while standing. Midloader, to date only used on TCR, for tools, chargers, snacks, toothbrush. Backloader, the smallest version for the least amount of sway, typically for clothing. I usually take as little as possible, like on the last 600 only the Backloader for spares and jacket, no extra batteries or power banks.