Preparing for the longer spin

Whether it is the 80km or 140km route you are tackling here are a few tips if theses distances will be new to you.

For some, 80km or 140 kilometres is no big deal. For others it may be the single biggest physical challenge they will ever undertake on a bike.

Many cyclists, however, fall somewhere between the two and may already be comfortable with 70-80km spins but are eyeing the triple-figured 140km milestone.

Just how big is the jump from 80km to 140km. How will you know if it’ll be a cakewalk or a frustrating grovel ending in a call home?

We highlight some of the factors that come into play with the extended distance and see how best to prepare for 80km or 140km so you can undertake that distance and enjoy it.

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1 – Prepare on the Bike – Get out and Train

The physical aspect of training is usually the most common focus for people with a new goal or challenge, and many folks will think that riding as much as possible in the two weeks leading up to the big ride is sufficient. This isn’t the best approach though, and what we need to do is ‘train smarter’.

This doesn’t mean we are striving for marginal gains like the GB squad; it means that we should be looking to maximise our training so that we are doing the right things at the right times.

If you are regularly riding 70-80km then that is already a great start; you could probably get through a century ride without too much bother, although you could be far better prepared if you have gradually increased your riding time and distance on your training rides.

Remember, to do the longer distance, you don’t need to be training by doing 100 miles all the time — 75-80 per cent is ample preparation without adding excessive volume.

Your physical training should take into account the following points:
Specificity: Is your sportive ride going to be hilly? Then ride hills on your 80km spins! Some riders really struggle on the climbs. If you are one of them then make sure you are addressing them in your training. In many cases, 100 flat KM’s can seem very easy and very different when compared to a hilly 70km
Saddle time: Try and focus more on the time in the saddle without stopping, rather than miles covered on your training rides. Try riding at a lower intensity and see if you can stick it out for longer. If your average speed over three hours is 25kph, do you think you can hold it for over six hours? If you can comfortably ride your bike for 4-4.5 hours, then you are in a good place to think about the century.
Rest: This is so important. Include active recovery in your training weeks and make sure you are resting properly. Keep the legs turning in the week leading up to the big ride, but don’t do anything that will make you excessively tired.

2 – Effort levels
Pacing your effort will be of maximum importance. For 140km, you will want to make sure you don’t use up all your energy too early and struggle badly in the last third of the ride. You can use a simple speedometer to gauge an average speed which you know you are comfortable with, or a heart rate monitor to keep around a particular BPM, or even old-fashioned perceived exertion — simply going by feel.

3 – The Zone
We all know how powerful the mind can be, and how it can affect performance both positively and negatively. If you are riding 140km alone, the mind can be a helpful ally, or a destructive pest. We want to enjoy our ride, so learning during training how to disassociate ourselves from feelings of discomfort is a useful skill.

Try to focus on other things, like the scenery, your pedalling technique, or holding an aerodynamic position. The small ‘process goals’ of each waypoint within your pacing strategy will also help to break down the ride in your head into more manageable sections.

Remember, no matter how demoralising the weather, the hills or the headwinds might be, think about how amazing you will feel at the end of the ride, and always look ahead, up the road to where things will be changing.

4 – Fuel the Engine
How you approach your nutrition both before and during the ride can be the difference between a great performance and the complete bonk

How you refuel afterwards can also be a factor, which will have a huge influence on your general health and your future riding plans.

Nutrition tips
Before: The day before your long distance spin needs to be seriously considered — this is where the ride actually starts. You may have heard of ‘carb loading’ but the simplest advice here is to make sure you take on a healthy, balanced meal with fresh vegetables and low glycaemic index carbs. It’s also worth considering a bowl of cereal two hours before bed as a booster.

Leave off the alcohol or fizzy drinks, and drink plenty of water. In the morning, go for the cereal and fruit, and drink at least 500ml of water before you set out.

During: Avoid taking on a whole bunch of energy gels; these are mostly designed to help riders through the last few demanding kilometres of a road race.

You might want to take along something with caffeine and sugar just in case, but don’t be tempted to break into this unless you are getting really fatigued and have already covered a good distance. All you really need is adequate carbohydrate to fuel from. An average sized cereal bar of about 30 grams for every 45-60 minutes of riding is ideal. Take along some bananas too.

Don’t forget to keep eating! A critical stumbling point for many riders is the inability to fuel while riding, so make sure you are able to take a drink from a bottle whenever you need to.

When drinking, tilt the bottle up and to the side to avoid tilting your head (so you can still look where you’re going) and keep your food to hand in jersey pockets. You will need around 500ml of water per hour (more if it’s very hot and you are losing it through sweat). And to help replenish the lost minerals, your second bottle should contain a small amount of an additive which contains electrolytes. Go for the powders that are aimed at hydration rather than energy. Don’t try anything you haven’t already used and are happy with — the big ride isn’t the one for experimenting with nutrition and hydration.

After: Your muscles need glycogen now, so this is the time for fruit juice or a purpose made recovery shake. Get those sugars in within 20 minutes —even ‘bad’ sugars like fizzy drinks and sweets (in moderation) can help at this point. Remember to keep hydrating and sit down to a decent meal containing some good protein within about an hour.

5 – Bike fit
When you are on the bike for several hours, little imperfections in position or fit can evolve into very major issues. If you have any niggles or particular localised discomfort during your normal rides, then it pays to get these seen to before the century ride.

A professional bike-fit can improve comfort and performance, while reducing fatigue and the risk of injury. It’s not just how the bike fits you though — how you fit yourself to the bike also matters. What we are talking about here is your ability to hold your position, your pedalling efficiency and flexibility.

Check out the pros with their slightly bent elbows and stable upper body, their flat backs and aerodynamic positions. OK, you might not be able to emulate them immediately, but you will probably be able to improve your current position with a few tweaks and off-bike exercises and stretches.

Get advice from a physio if needed, and make sure that you don’t attempt the big ride without properly testing new positions or bike parts beforehand.