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  • Fri August 20 2004
  • Posted Aug 20, 2004
BY PAULA LAVIGNE The Dallas Morning News (KRT) - There was a point - as I headed up an unforgiving hill, directly into the wind, relying on tired muscles to push me those last few yards to the crest - when I realized that I felt pretty darn good. I was thirsty, my rear end was numb, my back ached, and I was coated with a layer of sunscreen, dirt and bug spray. I was exhausted, and it was wonderful. And a spaghetti dinner was not far off. It was another day during the weeklong 490-mile route of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. RAGBRAI, sponsored by The Des Moines Register, started in 1973 with just a few hundred riders. This year's ride during the last week in July drew at least 15,000 cyclists. It's a ride, not a race, with a different route each year that winds through dozens of small Iowa towns. Along with being a massive rolling party, it's an eye-opening test of physical endurance. Eight months of weightlifting, cardiovascular training and cycling had paid off. I wasn't flying at the front of the pack, but I held my own and was passing other cyclists more often than they passed me. By the time it was over, I was amazed at how far people can push themselves day after day. It's not just a matter of cycling 60 to 90 miles per day. It's being able to do it in the wind and rain while navigating a crowd of other cyclists - most as bleary-eyed and achy as you are. LESSONS FROM THE RIDE THE WEATHER Our team braved the elements and camped at night. Snoozing on hard ground in a soggy tent seemed to add more to the daily challenge than the ride itself. THE FOOD I soon realized the most important lesson in RAGBRAI endurance: Eat. Drink. Eat and drink lots. Fortunately, this was not hard to do. RAGBRAI is a festival of carbohydrates. Lines snaked through church basements for all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, and roadside stands offered acres of homemade pie, buckets of ice cream and gallons of Gatorade every few miles. Atkins is a dirty word here. If I hadn't carbed up every day, I wouldn't have had the energy to keep going. THE HILLS I could feel the benefits of my leg-weights workout the first day. With more than 2,600 feet of climb, it was by far the hilliest stretch. Seeing as the Dallas area is lacking for hills, I didn't train on anything steep. I was OK that day in Iowa, but if I could do my training routine over again, I'd find some hills - even if I had to drive a ways - and ride them repeatedly. THE WIND The hardest day for me was the fourth. The route, though relatively flat, headed south directly into the wind. There's a method of riding called drafting, where you ride behind another cyclist or a group of cyclists in a pace line, that helps tremendously in cutting wind resistance. (However, before I get angry phone calls, I have to say that RAGBRAI rules discourage drafting.) The wind also plagued my vision. I rode for two days with a blurry right eye and was lucky enough to find a benevolent eye doctor in Eagle Grove, Iowa, who helped me out with drops. However, my next purchase is going to be a good pair of wraparound sunglasses. THE EQUIPMENT Make sure you have good cycling equipment and check it throughout the ride, especially when your bike is exposed to the elements all week and gets bruised and banged up. My knees ached a bit toward the end of the ride, and I felt like a 90-year-old every time I sat down. When I returned home, the folks at Richardson Bike Mart - who set me up with an amazingly comfortable bike - suggested a slight alteration in the seat. It helped, but I think I need a few more days of being a slug to fully recuperate. ONLINE Start training now for RAGBRAI 2005! Registration begins in November at www.ragbrai.org. Source: http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/newssentinel/living/9450839.htm

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