Training: How to ride long

Preparation is the key to ultra-endurance success

Whether it’s a charity event that meanders through the picturesque lanes of Britain, a more challenging Century ride with a time limit, or a leg-busting randonnée or audax such as the 1,200km Paris-Brest-Paris, or the even longer Race Across America, an ultra-endurance ride will stretch many competitors to their limits.  

The main challenge, however, is not so much what happens on the day, but the ground work that needs to take place beforehand. Planning such a challenge requires both mental and physical preparation and a strategy that will make the journey to the day and the event itself more enjoyable. If you prepare properly you’ll be sure to perform better in the event itself.

Get your motor running

The training required for ultra-endurance rides is very different to the training needed before early season short-distance events. You need to endure prolonged exercise at a low intensity over long distances.  

Then there’s the correct physiological preparation, and the time commitment to ensure that you are in the best possible shape for the challenge. To use the analogy of a car, you need to fine-tune your run-around so that it performs like a Le Mans starter.

The best way to prepare is to target an event on your calendar that’s six to eight weeks before your main event, and to start to incorporate longer rides into your schedule, building up to around 75 percent of the target distance.

Throughout the summer months develop your base endurance training ready for the ultraevent you have pencilled in. This training should enable you to comfortably complete a quarter to a half of the total. By a rule of thumb, limit monthly increases by 10 to 15 percent.  

Since your training will be based around endurance not speed, the most important ride of the week will be the longest. The main objective is to train your muscles and cardiovascular system. With these adaptations, the development of the central and peripheral systems will inevitably increase your maximum aerobic capacity. This will result in you being able to perform for longer periods of time at higher intensities.

It’s all in the mind

A secondary benefit of a properly designed training programme is psychological development. If you know that you can complete the longer rides, then the confidence in completing the target event will increase. It’s also important that you increase your distance by no more than five percent every week, so that progression and overload are integrated within your training schedule, thus developing your ability to endure the distance.

Depending on your own schedule, you may wish to increase weekly rides at a faster rate, interspersing these with easier weeks to allow for adequate recovery. It’s also vital to replicate the chosen event within your own training programme. This may initially involve planning a local tour, which incorporates rest stops at predetermined locations. If you do this, attempt to minimise these rest stops progressively, so that you are able to continue cycling for longer.

Setting the pace

An additional consideration with ultra-endurance events is pacing. Research has typically concentrated on short-distance time trials. This suggests that altering the strategy improves overall race time. Due to the relatively low speeds during endurance events, it’s good to monitor heart rate response and/or speed to ensure a constant pace is set throughout.

In determining which intensity should be selected, experiment during training. Constantly monitor your heart rate and speed, making notes afterwards. This will enable you to build up a picture of the typical heart rate and speed you can maintain. In addition, don’t forget to note the weather, as high wind speeds will dramatically influence the time it takes you. Armed with this knowledge, try and determine heart rate intensity for the event.

Food for fuel

Finally, use your own knowledge of correct nutrition wisely. Before, during and after the event, ensure that your intake reflects the demands of the activity both in training and during the event. Contact the organisers months in advance, and find out what foods and drinks will be available at the checkpoints. Plan your training around this knowledge.  

Also, get yourself used to eating regularly on the bike and experiment with different foods so that you don’t become bored of the same thing. A week before the event, increase your carbohydrate intake to allow your muscles to become fully loaded with glycogen before the event. Finally, a few days before, ensure you are adequately hydrated, aiming for two to three bottles above your normal intake.

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