Top Tips for Endurance Cycling Events

This year, I've taken part in a number of events that are best described as "Endurance Challenges". Events which, at five or more hours in duration, require a unique approach to get the most out of them; something a bit different from your standard weekend ride. Most have been abroad, too: including the Giro Delle Dolomiti, L'Etapé and the Mallorca312; this throws another element into the mix, with the need to adapt to foreign weather, roads and even food.

In this post, I thought I'd share a bit of experience gleaned from my Endurance Riding to date. Hopefully passing on a few useful tips, which will make your next event more enjoyable, and more successful!

'A Poor Mechanic Blames His Tools' 

Before we consider your physical preparation for an event, let alone the event itself, let's think about the tools for the job. Namely, your bike.

The first thing to ensure, is that you're comfortable. That doesn't mean you can happily ride down the road outside your house without any aches or pains; it means you can spend five or more hours riding, and not develop cramps, back pains, knee ache or swollen joints. For some, the best option might be a bike fit. I must admit, I've never had a bike fitted to me, but I've played with my position endlessly. I know that if my saddle is even 5mm lower or higher, I feel discomfort, and I know my bar width, stem length and saddle position are optimal; namely because I can do 24 hour rides, without developing aches. If you're getting discomfort, and you can't find what position tweak needs to be made to eliminate it, then go see an expert; it will be the quickest and easiest solution.

The second equipment question, is "how's the bike running?". Is it creak free, well-lubed, "run-in", and most importantly, reliable? I've fallen victim to mechanicals at a number of events this year, and while none of them were enough to end my ride, or even to require stopping; all of them hindered my progress in some way, and all of them could have been easily prevented. For me, it was a horrible creaky rear hub at the Mallorca312, and a broken free hub spring at L'Etapé; both internal problems that only materialised when I was away from my home workshop. Flying with a bike can cause all kinds of unexpected knocks and problems, even down to the effect that the extreme cold in an airplane's hold can have on the grease in your hubs. Doing an incredibly thorough strip-down service, before you do any endurance event, is well worth while!

My final note on equipment, is to consider including in your kit list an extensive range of spares for your bike. Take two spare tubes, a spare tyre, a spare mech hanger, a spare brake cable and spare brake pads. Even consider taking a small tube of grease, chain oil, baby wipes for cleaning, and of course a range of multitools that will cover every nut and bolt on your bike. At a later date, I'll compose my own kit list into a blog piece, but for now, I'll just say: "if you might need it, take it”. You don't have to take it with you on your ride, but it's a good to have back-ups.

Physical Preparation

Once you've eliminated the chance of your bike causing you problems, you need to consider how your body might. I could write a whole series of posts on training for specific events, but there is a general rule for physical preparation for endurance riding: try to replicate the conditions, before you have to ride them in the main event.

If your event contains 4,000 metres of climbing on alpine passes, then you need to be comfortable with long sustained efforts. That could mean hill repeats, 50 mile time trials, chain gang sessions or just long hilly rides. Equally, if your event is a back-to-back multi-day event, then you need to train for that: go out and do two long rides at the weekend, or even better, plan a training camp! Make sure your body is ready for what's to come.

As well as preparing as best you can, in the months leading up to an event, you should also make sure that your body is in the best shape possible in the days before the event. Choose a decent hotel, where you'll get a good night sleep. Don't fly too close to your event, leaving yourself time to acclimatise. Practice good personal hygiene, stay off the booze and eat well; this will all minimise the chance of you getting ill in the run-up to the big day. Much like you thoroughly prepare your bike for an endurance ride, you also need to look after and prepare your body, as best you can.

On The Day - What To Eat And Drink?

"The best laid plans of mice and men can often go astray". Nutrition is something that can certainly throw your plans into turmoil. I've been there, and experienced the problems of poor nutrition during events: new untried energy drinks that cause stomach cramps, French breakfasts that only keep you fuelled for five minutes, even the effects of CocaCola and Oreo overdose... some haven't been pretty.

Your on-the-day feeding should be simple: stick to what you know. My formula now is pretty simple, but it ensures I've got the bases covered. The night before the event, I have something that is carb-rich, but gentle on the stomach, such as spaghetti and salmon. The morning of the event, I take Rude Health Granola with me, and have a large bowl with yoghurt, orange juice and one coffee; don't get tempted by the pastries, free coffee and bacon on offer at your hotel!

Once out on the bike, I try to stick to solid fuel, as gels and energy drink can cause uncomfortable "stomach sloshing". I use STEALTH Hydration sachets or OSMO Active Hydration, and add it to water at the drinks station; steer clear of new energy drinks that you haven’t tried before. Food wise, keep it plain and ordinary: flapjacks, bananas, rice cakes, fruit jellies, nuts and dried fruit; leave the pastries and cakes for the post-ride celebrations. I always take a few gels with me, either from High5 Nutrition or Secret Training (I know these agree with a delicate stomach); but I try to save them for the last hour or so, in the hope of avoiding too much of a sugar spike. As general guidance: eat simple, eat natural, and drink low-acidity low-sugar electrolyte drinks, in preference.

Pace Yourself. Enjoy It!

My final tip, is pace yourself. Don't go hell for leather from the start, if you know you can't hold that pace for five or more hours. Hold yourself back, and use that extra energy when the finish line is closer.

More importantly than anything though, enjoy it! You're doing it for fun. So, get out there, take your time to savour the experience, and have a good ride!


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