Issue 60 is out now. Here is a look at the main feature – The big long ride guide.

The bike riding bug properly sunk its teeth into you this summer. You found out how far your bike could take you in an hour, and stretched that to a couple of hour-and-back-again rides. But how do you become one of those relentless riders who casually cracks out a century ride or someone who can seriously consider an Ironman?

 

Even if you’ve only done an hour in the saddle up till now, you can put a whole day under your wheels by the time next season comes around. Your definition of a ‘long’ ride might be a way off Triathlon Plus columnist Phil Graves  but you still need to take it seriously to be able to not just endure but to enjoy your longest day ever.

 

Why start this build-up now? Simple: you don’t want to be one of those riders who wakes up one sunny March morning desperate for a nice day out, only to realise too many Sundays under a duvet mean they can’t manage more than 45 minutes. Over the next few pages, prolific bike reviewer Guy Kesteven – a man who we suspect may even sleep in the saddle – shows you how to start stockpiling some serious mileage.

 

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    • How to manage your training:

Start by deciding a target mileage. At the bare minimum it needs to be 70% of your key race distance for next year, but pushing past 100% is way better – especially for Olympic-distance and middle-distance racing which require serious endurance at a sustained hard pace. This will give you some slack in terms of sucking up the effects of the swim beforehand and give you confidence going into the run afterwards. Once you’ve got your target distance and the date you want to achieve it by, work back to the date now and set yourself a schedule that gets you from your current maximum mileage to where you want to be. A coach can help here, but a piece of paper, pencil and basic mental arithmetic are all you really need.

However keen you are, it’s important to keep things in proportion. Set yourself a maximum weekly increase of 20-25% of mileage. So if you’re comfortable with 20 miles, you could move up to 25, if you’re OK with 40 move up to 50, and so on. Don’t forget to factor in your other training – don’t plan to add in another short ride or hard run in a week that you’re upping your longest session.

  • How to avoid over doing it

Make sure you treat increasing mileage like any other increase in your training load. Every third week, recover by reducing your mileage before pushing up to another level.

Don’t feel you have to be an absolute slave to your plan either. If you’ve had a heavy week at work, there’s a serious cold doing the rounds or you’re just knackered, don’t kill yourself to hit your weekly goal. Regroup and hit the next long ride when you’re ready or you’ll just plough yourself into the ground.

Listen to your body too: muscle soreness and maybe a few raw patches are to be expected and are just part of your body’s adaptation process. Any soreness in your joints or stabbing pains anywhere, though, and you need to see a sports physio ASAP so you don’t become sidelined for the long term.

  • Set your bike up for long rides

Completing your first long-distance event is about exactly that: completing. It’s no good getting your body fit to go the distance if your bike won’t make it to the finish. Get it checked out by a competent mechanic to check nothing is rubbing, seized or soft when it should be hard (or vice versa). Do this before your first long ride, allowing a few days to get things fixed if need be, and book it in again every couple of thousand miles. Make sure you know some basic bike maintenance yourself: changing a flat on the go, tuning gears and brakes, and cleaning and lubing your chain.

Next check it fits you properly. A professional assessment is best (and best done at the buying stage), but the DIY basics are easy. To set your saddle height, put the heel of your bare foot on the pedal. At the bottom of the stroke your leg should be dead straight without wobbling your hip over sideways to compensate.

Until you’re averaging 15-20mph for the full distance of your long rides, your handlebar
set-up should be about ergonomics not aerodynamics. That means whether you’re running standard road bars or tri-bars, only drop them as low as you can go without constricting your breathing or making your back or shoulders ache.

Bar reach is generally fixed depending on frame size, and switching stems can screw up the bike’s handling. Don’t be afraid to play with your saddle or bar angles to improve comfort, though.

If you’re using cycling shoes check the cleats are in the right place to reflect your natural foot angle (dangle your legs off a tall stool to check) |and that they place the ball of your feet over the pedal axle.

  • How to eat over a long ride

As far as I’m concerned, carb loading is a load of crap. It does work, but only in such strictly controlled parameters that it’s pretty much impossible for amateur athletes to get right. Eat a decent, healthy meal the night before and a decent breakfast but don’t stuff yourself.

Once out, eat and drink like clockwork. At a bare minimum eat every hour, but my rule of thumb is if I even think about food – not pace or position on the bike – then I need to get something down my neck. Don’t get too hung up on what you have, just know that fatty foods are far harder for your body to process but too much sugar can set energy levels on a spike-and-crash rollercoaster.

Either eat solids washed down with water or isotonic drink, or go for a carb drink. Your tolerances and preferences on the bike will often be massively different to what tastes fine in the kitchen so use your long rides to experiment, especially if you’re planning to race long, when food could be the difference between failure and finishing.

When you start riding for so long that you’re missing meals, you’ll want some proper food – energy without ‘energy’ in the title. Take something savoury with you, like a sandwich, sticking to fillings that won’t fall apart in your back pocket. It’s a good idea to have some cash too, for emergency chocolate stops.