Getting Started in Ultra-Marathon Cycling

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in the UMCA Newsletter, May 1988

Becoming an ultra-marathon cyclist is much easier than one might think. Making the transition from recreational century rides to double, triple, and quadruple century rides involves some simple steps and rules.

First, one must have the mindset and mental focus to want to ride continously for 12, 24, or 36 hours. Becoming an ultra-marathon cyclist can be easy, but the attempt must be taken seriously. Mental as well as physical energy must be channelled properly and efficiently. In almost all cases, the mind quits long before the body.

Next, training must be reqular and consistent. It is far better to ride 15 miles every day than to ride 45 miles every third day. Even a ten mile training ride is better than not riding at all. Our bodies must be comfortable on the bike, and this comes only through regular training. A basic training program could start at 100 miles/week, then build to 300 miles/week including one century ride. The key here is consistency in training and diversity in format. Do not do the same ride every day! Vary your program to include hill work, flats, intervals, etc. Maximize your time on the bike, don't waste it. Think quality, not quantity. It's a good idea to use a bike computer to push yourself and also to chart your progress in a training log. Using a heart rate monitor is also a great idea. Riding in fast groups is very beneficial and makes training more pleasurable and intense. I also like to vary my training schedule with mountain biking, fixed gear riding, rollers, and cross-training through running, swimming, and weight lifting.

I've always believed that one can double any previous mileage accomplishment. I myself progressed from centuries to quads to the '85 700 mile JMO, all in two years between the ages of 17 and 18. It can be done!

While riding in an ultra-marathon event, follow these rules:

  • Eat before you're hungry!
  • Drink before you're thirsty!
  • Stay comfortable by using multiple hand positions and getting out of the saddle occasionally!
  • Be time efficient; stay on the bike!
  • Start the event with a realistic, but challenging, time goal in mind!

With proper mindset, consistent and progressive training, and by following the five basic rules, a recreational cyclist can comfortably complete a double, triple, quad, or even a RAAM Qualifier. One last note: don't get hung up on having the latest hi-tech equipment. As Lon Haldeman says, "Machines don't break records, muscles do!" I even rode my first double century in tennis shoes. Good luck!