Knowing you’re able to ride as long as your route, riding mates or imagination requires is a very powerful feeling. Conversely, feeling dread about passing the one-hour, two-hour or three-hour point will limit your training and fitness gains, and ultimately your enjoyment.
Here’s how to break through these self-imposed endurance ceilings that are keeping you from making the most of your riding.
1. Think about your fuel
To really have good endurance you need to make the most of your internal reserves. These are glycogen (carbohydrate) in the muscles and liver, glucose in the blood stream, triglycerides (fats) stored in the muscles and that all-important biggest store of fuel: body fat.
So which of these fuel tanks is most responsible for keeping you riding? Well, it won’t be a lack of fats, lactic acid overload or a lack of oxygen that makes you get off the bike. Instead, running out of muscle glycogen, low liver glycogen or low blood glucose levels is what will stop you in your tracks. One or all three of these will cause the infamous ‘bonk’, ‘wall’ or ‘the knock’.
2. Increase your carbohydrate intake
To elongate your endurance you need to make sure that before long rides you have one or two days where you ensure that carbohydrate foods are eaten every three hours, with plenty of water consumed with each meal. This carbo-loading helps you stock up with muscle glycogen, but only if you ride very easy on these days. Carbo-loading but hammering short, sharp rides because you feel good does not maximise glycogen.
3. Eat an early pre-ride breakfast
Even starting with your glycogen stores stocked up does not guarantee you maximal endurance. The morning of the ride you should get an early breakfast of carbs, protein and fat around two to three hours before you head out.
Eat too close, say an hour before, and you’ll reduce rather than increase your endurance. So, either get up early or drink a carb-rich drink as you leave the house to start riding.
4. Stay topped up throughout your ride
Aim for 200 to 400 calories in liquid or solid form but know (by trying them out on training rides ahead of the main event) that they sit well on your stomach. If you are confident that your levels are high, you can start a ride fasted, but you need to feed religiously every 20 minutes or you will crash soon after missing one or two feeds. Aim for around 60 grams of carbs per hour during the ride as an estimate.
Researchers in the USA have shown that consuming 15g honey or glucose taken every 10 miles during a 64km ride improves performance compared to water alone. Riders with the high glycaemic glucose and low glycaemic honey got home 2.75 minutes earlier, having averaged almost 40 watts more output over the last 10 miles compared to water drinking-only riders.
If you find you regularly get dropped at the end of rides and have been riding on water alone, this research is especially for you!
5. Train your body for endurance
To really get the most from your body, start in the weeks, or rather months, beforehand with regular riding to make your body fitter and better at using its fat stores. Fit riders use higher amounts of fats and are more efficient at stretching out carbohydrate reserves. Use this simple reminder about what makes you fitter: A B C. That is, Aerobic riding four to six hours a week, Breakfast-less rides for up to two hours to make your body fat-burning savvy, and Consistency.
Teaching your body to go longer is a talent that is earned. If you do have a tendency to do too much, then lose motivation, ride yourself into illness or always feel you’re the only person who never seems to progress, take heart. Almost anyone can extend their endurance and achieve 100k, 100 miles or more. You may not set a competition record along the way but you can still make the distance.
Consistent riding gives you improved endurance and better use of fats. Once you start to increase your longest ride, the challenge is to set a bigger goal every second or third week. By taking yourself physically and mentally into new time-zones you experience the feeding, pacing and fatigue tests that new horizons bring. Choose riding buddies with a similar or higher stamina and stay close together so you can encourage each other.