Sunday, August 7, 2011

Endurance Parallels

I started riding a motorcycle about the same time I ran my first marathon. These seem like wildly diverse activities, but when examined more closely, they are strikingly similar. You see, I'm what's called a "long distance motorcycle rider." Those words could also be applied to those of us who run marathons and half-marathons...we're long distance runners.

The vast majority of folks who ride motorcycles would agree that a 300-mile day is plenty long enough. For them, this is a good day of riding, just enough to clear out the mental "cobwebs," keep their riding skills sharp, and get their "knees in the breeze." And there are many runners who run 3 or 4 miles two or three times a week, just enough to maintain a perfectly acceptable level of aerobic conditioning, lose or maintain weight, and to reap other health benefits and to feel good.

By comparison, a long distance motorcycle rider will cover 300 miles before lunch. That would be me. I'll easily cover 700-800 miles a day, day after day, on a multi-day motorcycle trip. The generally accepted definition of a "long distance rider" is one who has met the entry requirements to join the Iron Butt Association (IBA) and only a very small percentage - probably less than 0.1% of all motorcycle riders - ever do. It's interesting to note that this is no different for marathon runners; we represent a very tiny percentage of the running community in our pursuit of distance.

So how does a motorcycle rider gain entry into the Iron Butt Association? "Iron Butt" is an apropos name for this organization, as it truly does take a cast-iron derrier to stay on a motorcycle for the hours and hours it takes to complete an "Iron Butt" ride. A coveted IBA membership number is awarded to each rider who successfully completes the qualifying ride - what's called a SaddleSore 1000 (See? Another apropos moniker), which is riding 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours - and meeting very specific rules for documenting this accomplishment. New and more challenging long distance endurance rides then await the new IBA member. We spread our running "wings" in much the same way, but without the need to qualify for membership in any organization. The only "qualification" is in the form of self-evaluation of our goals and dreams. We enter our first 5K race, survive it, and then start looking for the next challenge: A 10K perhaps? Maybe stretch ourselves a little more and take on our first half-marathon?

My most challenging ride so far has been a Bun Burner Gold, considered an "extreme" ride by the IBA, since it required that I ride 1,500 miles in less than 24 hours. Hence the name of this ride - "Bun Burner." My buns went beyond burning to being numb by the time I finished this ride. The"Gold" designation always means it's considered an extreme ride, so take all precautions for health and safety. I'd compare that ride to running a full marathon, since successfully finishing both of these activities entails a positive can-do attitude, training to build up to those distances, and the ability to pace oneself, not start out too fast, keep the breaks short and to a minimum, and maintain steady forward progress. 

I face the same physical and mental challenges when I'm doing a long distance ride that I do as a long distance runner. I condition and train for long distance riding by building up my miles "in the saddle" until I have the physical and mental stamina to comfortably sit on my motorcycle and stay alert for long days and long miles. Sound familiar? Build the miles slowly on those long runs, do recovery runs and maybe do some cross-training on the other days. The mental and physical stamina for long distance running comes in handy when piling on the miles on two wheels.

The parallels between these two activities extends into diet and hydration demands, as well. Stay hydrated, replacing water and electrolytes lost to perspiration, and eat the right foods. Just like in running, diet is key to preventing gastrointestinal distress while riding those long miles, an ailment that seems to strike runners and endurance motorcyclists equally. I eat light before a long endurance ride, just the same way that I eat light before a long endurance run. The only real difference is that, when I'm in the saddle, I eat light snacks rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. During a long run, I concentrate on ingesting simple carbohydrates such as those found in gels.

The reaction of the mainstream motorcycling community to my long distance riding is, "Why would you do that?" But then, we get that same reaction from our non-running friends, family, and co-workers when we say we've run a marathon, don't we? We do these activities, not to impress others, but to test and challenge ourselves, to test our mental strength, will power, and physical stamina. We set that goal out there, and then dare ourselves to meet it. And when we do, the feeling is indescribable!

Long distance endurance motorcyclist? Yep, that's me.

Long distance runner? Yep, that's me, too.


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