Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
John Bissell's Blog

Training for long rides - Part III Riding the Bike

2010-03-02 11:05:43
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Training planning:

Our local YMCA bike club is growing, and the members are growing more ambitious. Several members have decided to train for longer rides, centuries and double centuries and were asking what they needed to do to train for those rides. We had a meeting to discuss this, and the following articles in three parts are a summary of the discussion.

Three legs:
1. Hydration
2. Nutrition
3. Physical stress and Recovery (riding your bike)

These legs all go together, but the story will get too long, so I will post it in three parts.

Part III Riding the Bike

I’m going to start by saying that there are whole books written on this topic. This is just a short article, so I’m really only hitting the highlights. There is also quite a bit of controversy here. I’m going to go over what works for me and many in the masses riding the recreational centuries and double centuries. For more detail please look up one or more of the great books on this subject such as The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel or Bicycling Magazine's Training Techniques for Cyclists (Revised: Greater Power, Faster Speed, Longer Endurance, Better Skills by Ed Pavelka and many others.

Also I’m going to give you a disclaimer. I’m a cyclist who has been doing this for a long time. I’ve read lots of stuff, and have ridden some really hard ultra-distance rides. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist or a physiologist, or a psychologist or a personal trainer or a physical therapist, or any other thing that I’m not. This is just a forum for me to share my experiences. Be sure you are medically capable to train and ride a bicycle – and seek medical advice if there is any reason in your judgment (not mine) to do so.

I’ve read somewhere that 60% of doing well in an endurance sport like cycling is mental – “you can do it” attitude, and that about 60% is nutrition and hydration. Since that’s 120%, I guess you don’t even need to ride the bike. No really that’s not true.

The first thing that makes those numbers not true (besides being more than 100%) is that you learn the mental part by riding. Every body is different. The way your body responds to particular nutrition or recovers from particular stresses will be different from anyone else’s. That is important because on a long ride you’re always on the fine line of messing up by not drinking enough or too much or my not eating enough or too much or by going too hard and needing to recover. You can only learn those limits by riding – blowing it – and fixing it. Once you have that down you have about 1/3 of the mental stuff care of. Another third of the mental stuff is the knowledge that you can survive this (whatever this is). You get that by riding too.

Say you’re out doing the Seattle to Portland (STP) and you get across the bridge into Oregon and find out that its 97 degrees. If you’ve ridden enough in hot weather or in a hot spin class room or some other adverse condition, you’ll say “this is no big deal, I’ve done this before”.

The other third of the mental piece is sheer determination. I’ve coached for a long time in several sports, and have not really found easy coaching for sheer determination. Nike says “Just do it”. The Hours have a song (that Nike has borrowed) that says “Everybody gets knocked down. How quick are you going to get up?” Some people do well by looking at the person who does not give up and copying. What ever you have to do, this part is huge and cannot be underestimated.

So on to the actual riding, because you really do need to get in shape.

I Assessment

The first thing you need to do is plan. You might have some goals – a century ride or a double century. You might need to decide if this is a this year thing or a next year thing. Look at what kind of shape you’re in. Do you need to lose a bunch of weight? Have you been exercising at all? Do you know how to ride a bike? Figure these things out to find a starting point. If you are starting from scratch, you may want to find a coach or a club to help you with your initial planning.

Next go for a ride. You need to find a base line; you need to know what you can do. Find a nice route that is mostly flat but has enough hills to find out if you can climb. Take note of how you feel on the flat and on the hills. Take a look at the distance you go and how fast you cover the distance. You are not trying to race; you’re just trying to find out where you are.

See how you feel the day of your test ride, and see how you feel over the next couple of days. Did you get nutrition right? (See part II before this article). Did you get hydration right? (See part I before this article). Did you go for more or less than 2 hours? If less, you will need to work up to a 2 plus hour test ride, because your metabolism has different needs when you go more than two hours, so how you feel after two hours will be different.

Now compare your results to your goals. Don’t get discouraged. Your goals should be along way from your starting point. Now that you know where you are, don’t go out and over train. Every time you stress your body, you do damage. Your body needs to rebuild and heal (recover) to get in shape. If you go out and ride hard every day, then you will never rebuild, and you will never get strong.

II Training Types

Plan to train more than just the long distance systems. Most riders find that they do best with interval training 2 – 3 times a week and one long ride a week. Some even space the long ride out more than once a week. The long ride is training endurance, and getting you used to your nutrition and helping you find your limits. This is not when you should be peaking your max heart rate or ripping the hills down. We call this LSD (long slow distance). As you get stronger, this distance will speed up and you will be able to maybe rip the occasional hill down, but always remember that that is not your goal for the long rides.


At the end of the long rides, evaluate. How did the nutrition and hydration work out? How do you feel? How was your time? Are you comfortable? Could you do more now or did you need to stop at the end? When you have answered these questions you can plan your increase for the next long ride. For most riders 25 – 35 miles is not that much different. 50 miles feels like a much bigger deal than 35 miles because you will be out for 3 – 4 or more hours. Remember from article II you need protein for rides lasting longer than two hours. This means than in 3 – 4 hours you will be testing your metabolism. Once you reach that 50 mile mark for most the 65 mile mark is an easy next step, while 75 miles is still a challenge. Once you make 75 miles seem easy, 85 will be no problem, but 95 will still be a big deal. Once 95 is easy, you pretty much have it in the bag - 120, 140, whatever. To achieve each of these levels, you need to ride the prescribed distance until it feels comfortable. If you get home after 35 miles and feel horrible, ride that distance again next week, and so on. When 35 miles seems easy move to 50 miles, and from 50 to 75 and from 75 to 90 and from 90 to more.

After that it’s a mater of daylight. How fast did you cover the distance and how much time do you need to cover more distance. This magic 100 mile thing is because you have now trained your body and mind to keep going. You have figured out what nutrition works hour after hour, so add another hour, no real big deal. If you get 100 miles done in less than eight hours, you likely can finish a double century in less than 16 hours – daylight in mid summer in the northern parts of the world.

IV Interval Training

The interval training is shorter. You can do this on an indoor trainer or outside. This is where you push yourself. The purpose of the interval training is to raise you heart rate and empty your systems faster than you would do in a long event. You do this by going as hard as you can, recovering, then going as hard a you can, then recovering. There are lots of drills to do this including fast out of the saddle climbing up hills about two to five minutes long, then repeating, or longer climbs, increasing difficulty as you go up to exhaustion, or flat time trials pushing your max heart rate for as long as you can sustain, then repeating. Many riders find that an indoor cycling class with a trainer is the best place for this. The trainer will likely push you harder than you would go if you were alone.

V. Training for power and endurance gains vs. weight loss

It is just about impossible to do both. (There are always exceptions to the rule and I have read about those who have done both, but it is so hard that no trainer or doctor I have heard of would recommend it). If you need to loose weight to achieve your goals, then set that as your goal. It may be that you need to set one year for your weight loss goals and another for your distance goals. You just need to set priorities. Also, while cycling is an anti-gravity sport – and the pros are super skinny – there are plenty of riders out there who are a little heavy. If you have weight to loose I would recommend you talk to your doctor and get checked out. Extra weight often indicates other issues that might make you want to be cautious in an exercise program. But if the Doctor says o.k., then set your goals – either weight loss or endurance and power gains. And start going for your goals.

VI. Recovery and Over-training.

You need to give yourself ample recovery. If you don’t rest you will suffer from over-training. You will have trouble raising your heart rate, and your resting heart rate will not go as low as your normal resting rate. You will not be able to generate the power you are used to. Your immune system will struggle and you will likely get sick. You will be hungry all the time, particularly for simple carbohydrates. You will get tired easily and want to take naps.

The time your body needs for recovery is individual to you. We know that as you get older the amount of time you need increases. For a 5 year old kid it seems like it is about 45 minutes but really is about one day. For someone in their 30’s recovery after a complete body draining day – the long ride or a day for of repeating intervals – will likely be about two days. 40’s and up it can take tree days to recover. So plan your training schedule accordingly.

During a long workout or ride your body is using fuel for energy. During recovery, your body is using fuel for repair. Your by can’t really do these things at the same time. It takes somewhere between 10 and 45 minutes (studies and personal experience) for your body to switch systems. This is important for two reasons: 1) when do I change my fuel so that my body can recover?, and 2) what happens to my metabolism in the rest stop during a ride?

First, when you get done with a ride you need to increase the amount of protein related to carbohydrate. I have read studies indicating that recovery protein should be anywhere from 25% to 50% of your post work out diet, and it should be within 45 minutes of getting off the bike. There is lots of debate about this. If you go really hard, you will probably not want that much protein right away. If you went to hard and messed up your nutrition, you will likely want simple carbohydrates for a while. So listen to the advice to increase protein, but also listen to your body. If you cannot increase protein right-away, be sure to increase protein during your recovery day or three.

How much time in the rest stop? Once your body switches to recovery, it is really hard to get back to energy. So if you’ve been on the bike a long time, you may really want to rest a while, but if you do, you will not want to get up again. I recommend trying to keep your rest stops to less than 10 minutes. Sometime this is impossible because of bathroom lines and food replenishment, but do what you can to keep it short.

The exception to this is when you have tanked. It happens. You’re on a ride that is really important to you and you feel like road kill. Sometimes, you just need to rest and re-set. In these cases take the break you need. Be particularly careful of pushing yourself in hot weather. Heat stroke is nothing to toy with. Rest and cool down if that is what is going on.

VII How to prepare for the big day

So you’ve done all your training and the ride you seat your sights on is coming up. Remember the recovery thing above. Add to that that it takes about 10 days to rebuild depleted glycogen supplies in your muscle. So set you last big training ride for about 3 weeks before the big ride. Two weeks before do a smaller big training ride – maybe half or ¾ of the distance of your big ride. One week before do a nice easy ride. The week before the ride, you can spin gently for days 7, and 6. Days 5 and 4 take pretty easy, go ahead and move around, swim gently or some other activity where your heart rate never quite gets to the brisk walk level. Days 3 and 2 rest rest rest. Day 1 RIDE the Big RIDE!

During those 7 days you want to start with fairly high protein on days 7 and 6 , but you want to be tapering your protein down and increasing your complex carbs so that by day 2 your protein/carb ratio is closer to 20/80. You really want to stay away from trans- fat and greasy hard to digest stuff, and you want to stay away from simple sugars. Try to keep your cards complex. You probably cannot eat too much during this week, so that is your training goal. If you’re like me, sitting still for a week with not real training is a nightmare. So I tell myself that my eating is my training.

Now go and get your goals set and do your riding.

Why Go Into Business?
Training for Long Rides - Part II Nutrition

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