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How to train for long distance endurance cycling events

Laura Scott
26 Mar 2019

Here's how our rider prepared for the Ride Across Britain last year, a long distance endurance cycling event

Gallery: Photos from the last time Cyclist took on the Ride Across Britain

Laura Scott is an ultra endurance cyclist, who grew up moving between the UK and Canada. She picked up cycling five years ago after deciding to ride from Paris to London after a few beers down at her local.

She's taken on the iconic Trans Am Bike Race, completing 2,200 miles with a dislocated shoulder and fractured collarbone after being hit by a car on day one.

Last September, she took part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain; 969 miles from Land's End in Cornwall to John O'Groats at Scotland's northernmost tip, over nine days.

The sportive takes place every September, and is 9.7 times the mileage of RideLondon, 4.3 times the ascent of the average Etape, and three times longer than London to Paris.

No stranger to these kinds of distances though, Laura shares some of her tips for training for a long distance endurance cycling event.

Goal Setting

Anyone can extend their endurance and achieve 100 miles or more; it is just about teaching your body to go longer.

I have always found it useful to set goals/milestones to hit in your training. As you become used to riding certain distances, it is important to adjust your goals every few weeks.

For example, if your initial goal is 100 miles start adding on 10-20 miles each week till you hit your goal. Physically and mentally this will help you reach your target.

Getting started

For endurance cycling, it is all about properly building your base fitness. If you are planning on taking part in any endurance event (I categorise this as anything over 100 miles) you should spend 12 to 16 weeks riding long, steady, low-intensity miles to strengthen your aerobic systems.

The goal of this is to train your body to handle harder rides, to use your fat stores and become more efficient at stretching out carbohydrate reserves.

Obviously, most of us can’t be out riding four to six hours a day, so I recommend a more schedule-friendly method called polarised training.

Polarised training is a model which essentially dictates that a rider should spend 80 per cent of their time training at a moderate intensity and 20 per cent at a high intensity.

So in any given week, you combine some tough efforts with some slightly more enjoyable aerobic rides.

The training week

So what does this look like in a training week? Like most of us, I have a full-time job and various other commitments that I need to find a way of fitting my training around.

I work with a coach, Dean Downing from Trainsharp, to help me manage my training and make sure I'm as efficient as possible with the time I have.

Three key training categories

Dean has broken my training into three key categories to focus on:

1. Threshold sessions

Twice a week I get up at 05:00 before work and do fasted hour and a half threshold sessions. By not eating breakfast first, I am teaching my body to be more fat-burning savvy.

2. Interval training

I signed up to Zwift this past winter, and while I was a bit of a sceptic at first, it has quickly become an essential part of my training, especially when time crunched.

Jumping on the turbo for an hour+ is a simple way to get your intervals in without having to worry about traffic lights.

Best of all interval training undoubtedly improves endurance. Personally since adding two interval sessions in a week, I have seen huge improvements in my overall fitness and power.

3. Aerobic rides

Each week should contain one or two long rides at a steady pace. Long rides develop base fitness and endurance.

Ride the steadiest pace you think you can sustain for the duration of a long ride. Personally, I make sure to fit these rides in on the weekend, usually with friends or my club.

Fuelling

One of the main questions I get about endurance cycling is 'what and how much should I eat.'

This is so important as no amount of training will get you through a distance event if you don't pay close attention to your ‘fuel.’

On training and event days, eating breakfast is mandatory. If you don’t, you are pretty much going into your ride 'pre-bonked.'

Breakfast should consist of a lot of carbohydrates and a bit of protein. My go to pre-ride meal is a plant based protein shake and porridge.

It is important to experiment with your food in your training so you can make sure that your stomach can tolerate your food and liquid choices.

Avoid introducing anything new to your diet on the day of your goal event. Bring plenty of ride food and eat small amounts often. I usually begin eating within 20 minutes of starting my ride.

Eat frequently at regular intervals. If you wait to eat until you feel bonked, you're way too late and will struggle to recover.

Whether doing a multi-day event or not a post-ride recovery beverage or meal is essential. Within 30 minutes of riding, eat or drink something that has roughly one part protein to four parts carbohydrate.

Carbohydrate uptake is at its maximum when your metabolism is still running high after a workout. A drink or meal containing a 1:4 ratio of protein to carbohydrate will speed recovery by replenishing glycogen stores quickly.

This 'glycogen window' will close after about one hour of rest.

Tapering

We all like the idea of tapering before an event, but what does this mean? You've logged the hours, clocked the miles, hammered out those intervals and turned yourself into an ultra machine….

So you can kick back and wait for your event, right? Not quite. Tapering usually lasts one to three weeks before an event and does not mean you get to take a hiatus from the bike.

All tapering means is that you reduce the volume and intensity of your rides. You must be careful not to undo all your hard work by continuing with some intensity workouts during the tapering phase.

This is also a very good time to prepare your bike and make sure you're mentally prepared for the event ahead.

• For information on how the Wattbike Atom can help you achieve your training goals, visit wattbike.com/gb

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