Training & Gear
Whether you’re planning to ride Cycle Oregon for the first time or you’re a battle-hardened CO veteran, getting yourself – and, especially, your body – ready for the ride is really the key to making the experience enjoyable. Sure, you’ll want to put in plenty of miles first – including some long back-to-back days as you get close to September – but there’s a lot more to proper preparation. Don’t focus solely on mileage at the expense of a well-rounded training program that includes strength, flexibility, endurance, nutrition, hydration and rest. Ignoring any one of these important elements can make your ride less than enjoyable.
Don’t forget to take a long look at what you pack. In June and July, the weather in the valley typically ranges from highs in the low 80s to lows in the 50s. Rain gear is advised and so is some shed-able clothing for the early morning. If you’re staying in the dorms for the weekend, be sure to bring bedding. Sheets, blankets and pillows tend to make the bed more comfortable.
September weather in the Pacific Northwest is usually beautiful, with average daily highs in the 70s and 80s and nightly lows from 30-45 degrees Fahrenheit. Bear in mind, however, that daytime temperatures could reach the upper 90s and plunge at night to the mid-20s. Be prepared for inclement weather — bring warm clothing and rain gear.
Advice from an Expert
Several years ago we connected with Megan Moseley, PT, LMT, a veteran physical therapist with a thriving practice in Eugene and Portland called Bodywise. She now comes along on both our Weekend and Week Rides to teach injury-preventative tactics and help riders who are experiencing physical problems. She also takes questions via e-mail from riders who are training. Here is her advice:
Training and Stretching
Here’s how I see it: We’re spending hours bent over, pedaling away… overusing some muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, hip flexors) and over-stressing certain joints (knees, cervical and lumbar spine). It’s critical to recognize that our bodies are machines, and in my opinion it’s our responsibility as their owners to understand how to operate them properly.
My philosophy is that everybody is created equal, and likewise every body is created equal. What I mean is, while it’s true we come in all different shapes and sizes, there are some things that are universally true. I call these Every Body’s Rules.
Think about it: Everything we buy comes with a set of instructions, warnings or rules. We all know that if we read the instructions, heed the warnings and follow the rules, we’re going to get the best results. The same idea applies to our bodies. If we know how to operate and take care of our bodies, we can make them last as long as possible and get the most out of them. We can’t expect our bodies to continually perform, and not break down, unless we invest the time to understand and maintain them. These 10 rules are the foundation you’ll need to Become Bodywise.
- Create Personal Space. Just as we humans function best when allowed our personal space, every joint in our bodies has what is called “joint space.” When a joint’s space is decreased, it can’t work the way it is meant to. This leads to degeneration, inflammation and pain.
- Listen Within. Pain and inflammation happen for a reason. They’re our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. Give up the “no pain, no gain” attitude. Pay attention to your body!
- Don’t Be Rigid. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not “normal” to feel stiff in the morning or after sitting for a while. Stiffness is a sign of inflammation. Using our bodies in ways they’re not meant to be used creates joint and muscle trauma, which leads to inflammation. By changing the way we move, we can stop the trauma and relieve the stiffness and pain.
- Know Your Limits. Our bodies are amazing structures, but they have a limited ability to adapt or compensate. I think most people “get away with” poor posture and body mechanics for a while, but at some point they catch up with us. When our bodies can’t compensate anymore, the result is inflammation and pain.
- Find Balance. Our individual joints and bodies as a whole work best when they’re balanced. This position of balance is called “neutral alignment.”
- Change for the Better. Do you have a habit of slumping when you ride? Could you use some help in the posture department? Don’t worry – chronic postures and bad habits can be changed. We simply need to learn better ways to hold and move our bodies, then practice them to form good habits.
- Be Flexible. Good flexibility of the muscles and connective tissue provides our bodies the opportunity to achieve neutral joint alignment and good posture.
- Get Organized. The organization of movement patterns occurs when all the muscles around a joint work together as a team, each one doing its job to fire at just the right time. This organization allows the body to balance and maintain neutral joint alignment during activity.
- Strive for Equality. When we move our bodies, it is important that all the joints do their fair share. If for some reason this doesn’t happen and there’s decreased movement in one area, there will be increased movement in other areas to make up the difference. The joints that move too much are the ones that become inflamed and painful, and degenerate too quickly.
- Age Gracefully. Have you heard this one? “You’re getting older; it’s normal to have pain.” I’m not buying that, and neither should you. The aging process does not have to be a painful one. We simply need to learn how to operate our bodies properly.
That being said, the exercises I’m recommending take into account these 10 rules, and are detailed on my website.
Dealing with Ride Related Pain
After talking to riders on both rides, I noticed there were two primary problem areas:
- Knee pain and swelling
- Neck and upper back pain, both with and without associated pain/tingling in the shoulder blades and hands
Given the nature of cycling and the stresses it places on the body, this is no surprise to me. But as a rider, pain in the neck and knees can be not only debilitating, but potentially damaging.
Let me focus specifically on these two problem areas, and give you some ideas about what to do “Johnny on the spot” style. I am a firm believer that the first step in fixing a problem is understanding the cause.
Let’s start with the knee. Most of the knee problems I expect to see on the ride will be what is called “patellofemoral,” which means that the patella, or knee cap, is not centered in the groove at the end of the femur, or thigh bone. This is a very common problem because the thigh muscles are aligned in a way that makes them stronger on the outside than the inside of the knee, and there is a tendency for the quads to pull the patella toward the outside of the groove. This is exacerbated if the quads are tight… which is exactly why I am a big fan of a lot of quad stretching throughout your training. Anyway, as the knee bends, the patella is pulled to the outside of the groove. This causes it to rub against the femur versus smoothly sliding in the groove. The result is pain under the patella and/or on the inside and outside edges of the knee, as well as swelling.
So what is the plan of action? Well, an ounce prevention is worth a pound of cure, but faced with this issue on the road, listen to your body, don’t push through the pain, stop to stretch your quad, ice at the rest stops and sign up to see me immediately if not sooner.
OK, onto the neck. Pain in the neck and radiating pain/tingling into the shoulders, shoulder blades, and even the arms are very common complaints with cycling. Again, the position you’re in when riding – bent forward, arms outstretched, looking where you’re going – creates a significant strain on your neck, upper back and arms. The good news is that even though the pain and tingling may be in different places, the cause is generally the same: too much extension or arching in your neck.
Here’s how it works. The vertebrae in your neck, and the nerves that pass between them on the way to your arms, work best when they are in what is called a neutral alignment. Basically, that means they stack on each other in such a way that the forces are evenly distributed. I know; you’re saying, “So what does that mean to me?” Bottom line: Your neck is neutral if the space between the notch between your collarbones and the bottom of your chin is no bigger than the size of your fist. Imagine holding a large apple under your chin. If your neck is arched, that space gets larger and you drop your apple. Nobody likes to drop their apple, right?
The “Johnny on the spot” solution? First of all, think of lifting your eyes to look where you’re going instead of lifting your entire head. If you start to have pain when riding, stop and do the neck stretches listed on the Bodywise website. The one where you tuck your chin will be especially helpful. Finally, if none of this is working, make sure you stop by to see me for further advice. Also, you should note that tingling and burning sensations are often related to the nerves in your neck being pinched and irritated. Nerves are very sensitive. It is important that you take this seriously and address the issue as soon as possible to prevent any potential damage.
Monthly Training Tips
Whether you’re a first-timer wanting to make sure you’re ready, or a repeat rider wanting to come to the ride even more ready, we’re here for you. Below is some training advice from Steve Schulz, Cycle Oregon’s Executive Director, who also has a long background in fitness and adventure training. This is a general approach that provides a good framework for your training.
March: Base Fitness
So you’re going to join us for this year’s ride – congrats! September is a long way away at this point, right? Well, not really, when it comes to getting your fitness ready. You should be getting a baseline fitness plan started now. Starting this year with a good foundation will be the key to a successful Cycle Oregon experience. At this point, your training should consist of two to four days a week of cardiovascular (aerobic) fitness. While biking is an ideal cardio activity, at this time of the year you don’t have to be bike-specific; it can be pretty much anything – running, swimming, fitness classes – just some sort of prolonged activity that challenges you at least moderately. Depending on your fitness level coming into the month, this could be anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes in duration.
In addition to your aerobic activity, now is also a good time to implement a strength training and flexibility routine. A full-body strength training program twice week – and at least that many days of stretching each week, too – will start getting your body ready for the months of training ahead.
Hopefully by now you have several weeks of base fitness in, and are ready to start hitting the road. With breaks in the weather (and even if there aren’t breaks!) it’s time to get outside and on that bike. If you just can’t “weather” the weather, you can use a bike trainer/roller or join a spinning class. You should be shooting for three to four rides a week (spinning classes and indoor training sessions count).
Now is a great time to start working on your cycling posture. Your body may have changed since you’ve been on your bike last (for some of you it may have been at the end of Cycle Oregon last year!). You may feel a little different on the bike; things tight where they weren’t before, saddle not as comfortable as it used to be, etc. Think about keeping relaxed on the bike, with a flat back, open chest and knees tracking straight. Regularly change your position slightly, and do some on-the-bike stretches.
At this point you should be in full cycling mode. If you’ve been working on your aerobic base, strength, flexibility and posture, you’re well on your way. Now is the time to get efficient on that bike. In the months to come you’ll be pushing things a bit harder, so you want to make sure you don’t do that pushing with bad habits. If you develop maximum efficiency on the bike, your entire body – and your riding – will benefit from it. The key things here are your pedal stroke and cadence. Most of us can use work in these areas – even if we’ve been cycling our entire life. If you’re now riding four days a week, which ideally you are, you should work on these areas at least two of those days.
Your chain ring is in the shape of a circle – and your pedal stroke should be, too. Think about making a circle as you move through your stroke, not just pushing hard on the downstroke, which is very common. Unfortunately, if your pedal stroke consists only of the downstroke, you’re not efficiently utilizing the biggest muscle in the body (that would be your gluteus maximus – you know, the thing you sit on…). Its job is to extend the leg. While this happens a bit when you “push down,” unless you’re thinking about it you won’t typically engage it enough to help. If you focus on following through the bottom of the stroke and then consciously pulling up, you’ll engage not only the glutes but the hamstrings as well, resulting in a much more powerful stroke. Try some single-leg pedaling drills to find your weak spots and then work on them.
An efficient cadence is between 80 and 100 rpm (measured by how many times one pedal completes a circle each minute). For some this is easy, while for others it’s quite challenging to maintain a cadence this high. Start with an easy gear and work on staying in this range. Not only will your energy systems work better, but your knees will thank you!
After working on efficiency in your training last month, you should have a much improved (or maybe just refined) pedal stroke and cadence. Now it’s time to build the rest of the house.
One of the most common challenges you hear from cyclists is climbing. Fortunately there is a great way to get better at this: go climb some hills! I’m not saying you need to go out and find the biggest hill in your area and ride it every day. What I’m saying is that it’s time to include hills and rollers in your training. If you’re riding four days a week, two or three of those days should include some hill climbing. Find a route in your area with some hills and go work on your climbing. Only have one hill? Do hill repeats. Trust me: The more you work on this, the happier you’ll be at the top of any climb you do. And while you’re ascending hills, think about your gearing. Start finding the gears that work for you, keeping in mind that you should be trying for a climbing cadence of at least 60 rpm if possible. Keep your body relaxed, your chest high and open, and your stroke consistent.
It’s roughly two months until Day 1 of Cycle O! Are you where you need to be in your training? Here are some benchmarks you should be hitting at this time:
1) You should be riding between 100 and 200 miles per week, depending on your riding level. If you aren’t there yet, look at your schedule and see how you can rework it to get this mileage in.
2) You should be getting in four to six rides per week.
3) You should have at least one long ride a week, and preferably two. This is different for everybody, but suffice it to say you know if you aren’t getting this in! While you may feel that you can easily conquer a 60-mile flat route, 60 miles against a headwind is a whole different ball game. (So get out and try to ride in the wind!)
4) You should have at least two good climbing rides per week. You should be working on your climbing and descending skills, and you should be comfortable in your gearing. Now is a good time to find a big, long hill and see how you do. Periodically re-ride this route over the next couple months and see how you’re improving.
If you’ve followed this plan over the past few months, you should be feeling pretty good by now. If you haven’t, well, it’s not too late! Start putting it into play now and work hard the next two months.
August: Putting it All Together
Since March we’ve been talking about some of the pieces that will make this your most successful Cycle Oregon ever. If you’ve been following along, you should be in great shape. So we have a month left – what should you be doing now? Putting it all together. The cycling-specific pieces – cycling, posture, pedal stroke, cadence, strength, gearing – should be meshing together. Now it’s time to put a little punch into it; you need some power. Why? Imagine running out of juice 20 yards from the top of the hill, or not being able to push through that roller, or taking the switchback into a 15 percent grade, or not being able to catch your buddy who just yelled out “Last one buys!” as he took off for the finish. Power = speed + force (strength). With a little power training you can teach your body to have a little left in the tank for when you really need it. Do some power drills – out-of-the-saddle work, sprints, power cadences – a couple days a week to ensure you can pop over the top of that hill, and you’re not the one who has to buy.
September: Ready, Set, Relax
Hopefully you’ve done the work and are completely ready for a week of fun. However, if you haven’t put in the time, the last week or so before Cycle Oregon is not the time to do it. Where you’re at is where you’re at. The last week prior to CO should be your tapering week. Ease your mileage back to almost nothing. Maybe a neighborhood ride, a coffee ride with friends – something with minimal impact. Your body needs to rest and recover now. You want to be fresh and ready to go. You’ve done the work, now relax. Get ready to have the best week of your riding season. See you on the road.