The world is best seen from the saddle of a bicycle. That’s one of the countless reasons why cycling holds such glorious appeal to so many people around the globe. It’s also the reason why riding long distances holds such a unique mystique—we all yearn to maximize our time on the bike and see as much of the road as possible. Riding long distances requires plenty of preparation, however, as well as lots of endurance. So whether your endurance goal is to complete a century (100 miles), a metric century (100 kilometers), a double century (200 miles), or simply to ride farther than you ever have before, here are a few tips to help you get there.
This tip is the most obvious, as well as the most straightforward. If you’ve ridden bikes for even a brief amount of time, you’ll know that pedaling is a progressively fitness-focused endeavor. If you’re comfortable riding 10 miles, then 20 miles may be a bit of a challenge. If you’re a seasoned century veteran who can tick off 100 miles with ease, 150 miles can still prove incredibly challenging. For any type of riding, be sure to get your body ready with a comprehensive bike fit from an experienced and reputable bike fitting professional. Because cycling requires such repetitive movements, even the most minor adjustments to things like your leg extension, stem length, and hand position can make a world of difference to your performance, comfort, and your ability to ride longer distances. Once you’ve got your riding position dialed in, it’s time to put in the miles. For example, if you’re targeting a 50-mile ride but your regular loop is only 20 miles in length, budget some time to take a detour to add in a few extra miles. Keep progressing by steadily adding a few miles here and there and you’ll begin to feel your body become accustomed to sitting on a bike for a longer duration of time. Pay attention to your body, too—if you experience any significant pains beyond regular muscle fatigue, consult your bike fitter to ensure that your riding position is still working properly for you. Also, if you’re really serious about taking your cycling to a whole new level, such as participating in races or continuing to develop your endurance riding abilities, consider working with an experienced cycling coach who can tailor a training regimen to suit your goals and physiology.
When it comes to riding long distances and completing an endurance-focused event, there are two areas of nutrition that matter. The first is your general nutrition, meaning your overall diet and eating habits off the bike. Be sure to consult your physician when it comes to modifying your dietary habits, but generally speaking, you’ll want to eat a balanced and healthy diet that’s free from junk food. High-quality, healthy ingredients will not only fuel you throughout a day’s worth of activities beyond just riding your bike, they’ll also work in conjunction with your newfound increased riding volume to continue transforming you into a leaner, stronger, and more energetic cyclist. The second type of nutrition requirements that come with endurance cycling involves the actual food and hydration that your body demands while on the bike and pedaling. Again, be sure to consult your physician when it comes to dietary needs tailored for you, but remember that eating and drinking on the bike can be much different than sitdown meals at home or a restaurant. Before your goal event, experiment with different nutrition products like bars, gels, and drink mix to determine what works best for managing your energy levels. There are dozens of companies that make sports nutrition items, all of which are designed to be easily digestible during strenuous exercise, but you’ll still need to participate in some trial-and-error testing. Just like when it comes to on-bike training, a qualified nutrition coach can help you on your journey. It’s also worth noting that many cyclists eschew pre-packaged nutrition products in favor of “real” food—that is, home-cooked snacks and small meals crafted from wholesome ingredients—for their on-bike activities. However your on-bike nutrition plan develops, make sure to prepare well ahead of your goal event and don’t alter your plan the day of your race or big ride.
You’ve picked out your dream ride or event, you’ve spent several weeks or months training, and you’re now only a few days from taking part. Resist the urge to continue riding at high volume or high intensity. Proper training requires proper rest, and in order to be at your fittest and freshest come event day, you’ll need to partake in a “tapering” process. If you’re working with a coach, then this should already be baked into your training plan. Essentially, the tapering process will have you gradually wind down your high-intensity and/or long-distance rides in the days leading up to your goal event. This will give your body adequate time to rest and recover. If you ride too much immediately before your goal event, then you’ll only be doing yourself harm—you won’t be making any significant performance or endurance gains, and you’ll simply tire yourself out before your event has even started.
Just like how your body requires preparation in order to perform well at an event, race, or long-distance ride, your bike requires preparation, too. You should be servicing and maintaining your bike on a regular basis in order to ensure both its performance and safety, and this is especially true before your embark on a serious endurance ride. If you’ve trained hard and have been looking forward to your goal event, then you owe it to yourself to make sure that your bike is in order. In the days leading up to your event, take your bike to your local shop and have them give it a full service to ensure that the shifting and braking are in tip-top shape. We also recommend washing the bike, too, so that it’s shiny and fresh as you roll to your event start line—you’ll be amazed at what a mental boost it can be to ride a clean and pristine bike. On the morning of your goal event or endurance ride, double-check that your braking and shifting are still in good order. Also check your tires to make sure there are no bits of debris or glass embedded in them from previous rides, thus helping to prevent any potential flats while on course. Inflate your tires to the appropriate pressure, and check to make sure your bike’s axles or quick-release skewers are properly secure. We also recommend using a torque wrench to ensure that all of your bike’s bolts—including those on the stem, handlebar, and seatpost—are properly secured and tightened to the manufacturer’s recommendations
When your big ride begins, you’ll no doubt be full of adrenaline and excitement. Unless it’s a solo ride, you’ll be surrounded by a peloton of eager riders who are as excited as you are. It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of a big event, and while it’s good to push yourself and take advantage of the free speed of riding in a big group of people, make sure to ride within your limits. You’ve got a big day of riding ahead, so make sure you’re pacing yourself appropriately based on your training regimen, especially if you’ve hired the services of a coach—they know their stuff, that’s why you brought them into the fold in the first place. You don’t want to ride too hard too soon, otherwise you’ll risk sapping all of your energy stores early on in the event. Stick to your nutrition plan, too, and eat and drink the appropriate amount at the proper times. Beyond the physical exertion of endurance riding, remember that mental strength plays a big part in successfully completing a long ride. Remember to enjoy yourself, stay positive, take in your surroundings, and remind yourself why you chose this particular event or distance. Have patience, as well as the confidence in yourself, to make it to the finish line.
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