The secret to long-distance cycling is to eliminate as many of the show-stoppers as possible, the things that force you to stop riding before you reach your goal. Here we describe how to eliminate showstoppers as you do increasing longer rides. The training rides may be progressively longer weekend rides building up to a double century, the brevet series for a 1200 km, or the spring centuries and doubles preparing for a tour. In many cases we just list the questions because the answers will be very specific to you. We try to indicate why we think that these particular questions are important and, where possible, offer up some of the answers.
Overall Plan of Attack: Keys
- Before the training ride: have objectives for each ride. Set specific objectives for training, testing equipment, experimenting with nutrition and developing mental skills. Most importantly, set objectives to work on any show-stoppers from your last ride.
- During the training ride: listen carefully to your body and how it responds. Make mental notes of what works as well as what doesnt.
- After the training ride: write down what you learned. Include what worked and what didnt. Do it within a day or two after the ride.
1. Before the ride: have objectives for the ride
Develop specific goals for each long training ride. What do you want to test on this ride? For example, lay out your feeding plan, experiment with a new seat to replace the old one, try out the new rain gear, etc. At the end we provide specific objectives for qualifying rides for a 1200K randonnée.
Estimate your pace to complete the ride, accounting for night riding and getting tired.
2. During the ride: listen to your body
Practice the details. By the time you get to your primary event (double century, 1200K, etc.) no individual part of the event should be new to you. Train to be comfortable climbing long hills, carrying your gear, riding in the rain, adjusting to head winds, riding in the dark, starting a ride without a hot breakfast, and working on your bike by head lamp.
Know your own pace; ride your own ride. If possible, ride with a group of compatible riders. This is the optimal approach to finishing; however, for most events and most training this is not possible. Pay attention to your own body. Dont try to hang with a group that is too fast, nor wait for others who delay at rest stops. Learn when you are comfortable going with a fast group and when, despite the aerodynamic and morale advantages, it is better to slog it out alone.
Use feedback. Pay attention to average speed and invest in a heart rate monitor to monitor your exertion. Develop an understanding of your sustainable pace at various distances. Most importantly, ride at a constant effort, not a constant speed.
Learn how to ride pace lines. As you and others fatigue accidents become more probable. Practice when fatigue is not an issue, then be careful in pace lines when it is.
Work on relaxing on your bike and riding efficiently. Learn to change your upper body position frequently to reduce the stiffness that comes with hundreds of kilometers of riding. Learn stretches that you can do on the bike and at rest stops.
Learn how to stay on your bike. This boils down to keeping the pedals moving when every rational brain cell says to stop and then making efficient use of planned time off the bike. Go into rest stops with a mental list of what you need to do. Get it done and get back on the road. If you are doing a 1200 km or similar event, efficiency in the controls will save you enough time to take a decent sleep break.
Learn to eat regularly and on the roll, not just at rest stops. You can save considerable time and balance out the flow of energy if you discipline yourself to eat and drink regularly on the bike.
Be aware of your high and low points and what causes them. You will have them and you can get through them. By remembering when they occur you may be better prepared to deal with them when they arise, or even head them off. Are the low times a function of not eating enough, or a particular time of day? Many riders find the couple of hours just before dawn to be the toughest. Others find that they are okay through the night, but once the sun comes up, the mind realizes that it just rode through the night and it is hard to stay awake.
Find out what happens when you ride at night. Night riding is a whole different (and not all bad) experience. Some of the most magical times on a ride can occur after dark once the heat of the day, traffic and other distractions disappear. However, it is often shocking how much slower one rides after dark-even when seemingly using the same amount of effort.
Learn your response to lack of sleep. How much do you really need? What happens to your pace just before and just after you sleep?
Determine how you can best cope with adverse weather conditions. Find out how constant head winds or rain affect your pace, what works to help counteract them, and what gets you through the tough periods.
Perform a body scan for key problem areas. Scan from the toes to your head. Where are the sore or rubbed points? How can they be fixed before a minor irritation becomes a show-stopper?
Learn how to distinguish between discomfort and minor pain versus a growing injury. Long-distance events can hurt. Listen to your body during each training ride. If something hurts, ask: Is it something that could develop into a show-stopper? Is it an injury that should signal the end of the ride immediately? This constant feedback process is well developed in top athletes; they use their minds to continuously explore their bodies, to monitor their energy and to modulate the pain.
Get in the habit of finishing rides unless by doing so you cause injury. This is particularly important when things dont go as planned (which is, in long-distance riding, really the normal state of affairs.) Rather than pressing on or getting discouraged, slow down and adjust to the changing circumstances, and finish what you set out to do. Overcoming adversity is an incredible boost to ones self-confidence.
3. After the ride: document
Prepare a written review of the ride. Include a complete core dump on all aspects of the ride that are of concern to you. Include aspects that did work along with the problems still to be solved in each of these areas:
- your body on the bike
- equipment and clothing
- mental attitude
Compare your actual pace to your planned pace. After the ride review (and record) how you did compared to your objectives. What was different and why? Can you go faster or make up some time somewhere (like at control points where you were off the bike too long)?
It is a never-ending process of self-discovery and growth, but when you look back on several years of records of this type you will have real feelings of confidence and growth. Good luck with the training rides! May they be enjoyable and not too interesting!.
Sample objectives for brevets and training rides.
Originally printed in UltraCycling