Get ready for longer bike rides by building strength and stamina.

How to Train for a Cycling Event

Training for a multi-day bicycle ride like the Climate Ride involves a combination of cardiovascular conditioning, proper stretching, and strength training. While your focus naturally is on training for the long days of riding, you also want to keep in mind the importance of injury prevention, especially if you haven’t trained for an event like this before.

This will be my first Climate Ride, but it isn’t my first long-distance bike event; I did the AIDS/Lifecycle, which is 545 miles in seven days, and my partner and I have been on four cycling vacations that involved five straight days of cycling. But while those experiences are valuable in getting ready for the Climate Ride, each time I still need to slowly ramp up my training.

A standard training schedule for the Climate Ride might start out with 20 to 40 minutes of riding one to three times per week on either a stationary or regular bike. And you want to include other cardiovascular exercises such as running, walking, using an elliptical trainer, rowing, or weight training. Any cardiovascular exercise will help you build up endurance.

My approach is cross training—building up my general overall fitness and cardiovascular conditioning and upping my mileage about every week or two. In addition to strengthening your legs, thighs, and back, you want to build strength in your core, too, because a strong core helps support your back when you are in the saddle for several hours. I do kettle bell swings, squats, and deadlifts as well as push-ups and pull-ups to strengthen my back.

I start out gradually, going a couple of times a week for shorter rides of around 20 miles and pairing that with some time on a stationary bike about once a week. After a couple of weeks of hitting 20 miles, I increase to 25, then a couple weeks later to 30 miles. After that I go up a bit more frequently, jumping up to 40. At first I work more on increasing distance and building endurance, but as I get deeper into the training, I start to make the ride more challenging. Yesterday was 55 miles and a lot of hills! Also, spending time in the saddle helps you discover any areas of discomfort so that you can make sure your bike fits and works properly.

To allow for this kind of gradual ramp-up, you have to start training at least four months ahead; you can get your mileage into the 50s in your third month at that pace. If you keep your longest day on the Climate Ride to around 70 miles, you’ll be fine with 50-mile training rides, especially if you have consistency with cross training.

With the repeated days of seat time, you also want to get used to doing a long ride one day, then getting back on your bike the next day and riding again. In May I’ll start riding on both Saturdays and Sundays to get those consecutive days. Or I might bike to work on Friday, then go on longer rides Saturday and Sunday. Riding with a friend or a group is a great way to stay motivated, and it’s safer, too. If you don’t have a cycling partner, you can contact local bike clubs and sporting goods stores to find a few group rides to join.

It also helps to have some kind of mini-event, to get used to riding several consecutive days. This weekend I’m going with my partner and a friend to Death Valley, and we’ll be on our bikes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Remember; even when you are covering a lot of distance, it doesn’t mean you have to ride fast. On the Climate Ride you will have all day to get to your destination, so you can find a pace that works for you and enjoy the gorgeous scenery along the way.

An avid cyclist and exercise enthusiast, Randy Wittorp is the director of Public Affairs for the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco and South San Francisco Medical Centers. In 2015 he biked the seven-day, 545-mile AIDS Lifecyle and has also completed numerous 3 to 6 day cycling tours throughout the United States and Europe. He is proud to say that he pedaled every mile of those planned routes! His approach to fitness utilizes cross training, which includes circuit training at the gym, cycling, weight training, challenging hikes, and an occasional run. He believes the variety of training activities not only keeps it interesting, but also keeps your body challenged and produces better results.