For many road cyclists there comes a time when you start contemplating taking on a bigger cycling challenge – the 100-mile (or over) ride. This may not be a big ask for some, but for others the prospect of completing a long distance ride will be a huge personal challenge.
If you ride regularly with a club or friends you’ll probably find that rides of 50-60 miles are relatively easy to achieve (especially with a coffee and cake stop along the way!). But doubling that mileage needs preparation if you’re going to give yourself the very best chance of successfully completing the ride.
Training is undoubtedly the single most important thing to do. There are cyclists who can just rock up to an event ready to give it a go and manage to get round through sheer determination and gritted teeth. But it’s far better to feel that, on the day, you’ve done everything you possibly can to be in the best physical and mental shape to take on the challenge. And that means 12-16 weeks of training – not attempting to ride 100 miles every weekend, but gradually working up to 75-80 miles over the weeks.
If you’ve signed up for a specific ride make sure you know what the course is like. If the ride takes place in Norfolk chances are you don’t need to worry about hill climbs and you can concentrate on training on the flat. If, however, your ride is taking place in Wales or in the North Downs there will be hills and you’ll need to practise getting up them! As you get fitter you can increase your time in the saddle without resting, as well as testing out your average speed to understand what level of effort you can comfortably sustain over an extended length of time. You don’t necessarily have to have the latest Garmin, cadence monitor and heart monitor to do this – a basic speedometer, knowing how to use your gears effectively and good old gut instinct will help determine your optimum input.
Mental strategies will also come into play so that you focus less on physical tiredness or discomfort. Riding with ‘I’ve got to do 100 miles today’ in your head probably isn’t going to get you to the finish line if you start struggling. Breaking down the ride into manageable chunks is a better technique to use. Give yourself targets to achieve along the way. Study the course in advance of the big day and set mental markers, such as 25 miles, halfway there and so on, and set target times to reach those markers. And know where the biggest challenges lie so that you pace yourself. In this way you’ll eat up the miles as you reach each goal and work towards the next one.
Getting your nutrition right is another important thing to factor in. You could be in the saddle for 7-8 hours so you need to keep up your energy levels. There is a huge variety of specialist products on the market – if you’re going to use bars and/or gels make sure you’ve tested them out beforehand so that your body is used to them. Bananas are also a good source of carbohydrate. And keep hydrated – you’ll need approximately 500ml of water every hour, and a second bottle of water that contains electrolytes will help replenish the minerals lost through perspiration.
It’s also worth considering a professional bike fit, especially if during training you experience any aches and pains. This can cost anything from £50 to £250 or more, but it can make a big difference to comfort and performance – and help you avoid injuries that could compromise your ability to take part in the event. But if you’re going to do it, make sure you give yourself sufficient time to try out any modifications before the big event.