By Coach John Hughes

What’s a long ride? A ride longer than you’re used to. If your normal weekend ride is 30 miles then 50 miles is a long ride.  If you’ve ridden 200K (125-mile) brevets then a 300K (187-mile) brevet is a long ride.

RBR reader Bud wrote last week, “In a few months I will ride my first 300K (187-mile) brevet. A friend told me that the rule for pacing long rides is: Never go anaerobic. Sounds like smart advice, but how can I tell when I’m in danger of doing it?

RBR responded, “As you increase intensity, your body produces lactate. At relatively low workloads, the lactate is cleared readily. The term lactate threshold (LT) aka anaerobic threshold (AT) is the intensity at which your body can no longer clear the lactate accumulation. On longer rides, like your 300K, you’ll need to reduce your average heart rate considerably below your LT (AT) to last the distance.

“You don’t need a heart monitor to do it. Ride at a pace that keeps your breathing regular. When breathing becomes forced it’s a sign you’re asking your system to clear a lot of excess lactate. Doing so uses muscle fuel and almost certainly means you’ll ride slower later in the event.”

Other tools

Listening to your breathing is an excellent way to judge how hard you’re working. Here are other tools.

1. Conversational pace. You should be able to talk comfortably all the time. If you can’t carry on a conversation, you’re going too hard. Climbing is harder but you should still be able to talk while climbing although you can’t whistle or sing.

2. Right group behind you. If you can’t talk easily with the group you’re in, the right group for you is probably behind you. My long-time friend Kim Freitas gave me this tip.

3. Heart rate not always accurate. If you’re using a heart rate monitor and know your LT, you probably use that to gauge your effort. However, early in a ride your heartbeat may be fast because you excited.  Later in the ride as your heart muscle fatigues it can’t pump quite as much blood per stroke. To continue to deliver the same amount of oxygen and fuel to your muscles, your heart has to beat faster. This is called cardiac drift. Listen to your breathing.

4. As the distance increases your safe speed decreases. “Safe speed” is the speed at which you’re confident you can finish the ride instead of quitting and hopping in the sag wagon. If you regularly do a 30-mile ride in two hours at 15 mph and you decide to double the distance and do a 100K metric century (62.2 miles) your safe speed declines by about 10 – 20%. You can finish the 100K if you discipline yourself to ride at 12 – 13.5 mph, i.e., plan on finishing in about 4:30 to 5:00 hours. As you do longer rides, you’ll get a sense of how much you slow down as the distance increases.

If Bud has been riding 200Ks (125 miles) at 14 mph then he is used to finishing with a riding time of about 9 hours. When he increases the distance by 50% to a 300K, his safe speed will drop by at least 5 – 10%, i.e., to 12.5 – 13.3 mph and his riding time will increase to about 14 to 15 hours.

5. Ride a negative split. Riding a negative split means riding the second half of a ride faster than the first half. For your 100K your safe speed is 12 – 13.5 mph. Ride the first half at 12 mph and see how you feel. You may be able to go faster the second half.

6. Have a plan and follow it.  Before your long ride look at the route and note where the stops will be at aid stations, mini-marts, etc.  Look at the terrain — what will be the hilly sections? Check out the weather — when will you probably have a headwind and when a tailwind. Use this information to create a simple plan estimating how long it will take to ride each section from aid station to aid station. Add in the times you expect to be off the bike stops. This will give you an estimated finishing time. Is the estimated finishing time well within any time cut-off? If not, can you reduce your projecte time off the bike? Can you safely increase your estimated riding speeds?

Take the plan with you on the ride.  If you’re getting to the stops faster than your plan. ask yourself if you’re still riding at a conversational pace. If not, wait for the next group. If you’re arriving at the stops slower than your plan, ask yourself if you can still finish within any time cut-off. If so, relax.

7. Remember to fuel. No matter how well you pace yourself if you don’t eat enough, you’ll really slow down, won’t have any fun and risk a Did Not Finish (DNF).

Related columns:

Although these columns were written primarily for century riders, the information applies to anyone doing a longer ride, whether it’s 50 miles or a 300K.

What to do this winter:


My Endurance Training and Riding eBooks:

This three-article bundle Endurance Training and Riding explains in detail how to train and what to eat. I originally wrote the articles to help riders doing 100K, 200K and longer rides; however, all of the principles and training programs also work for roadies doing shorter rides.

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  2. Nutrition for 100K and Beyond provides you with the information you need to fuel your engine before, during and after endurance rides.
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My eBook Productive Off-season Training gives you two 12-week programs:

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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.

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