We all know that when it comes to training, it's not just about quantity, it's about quality.
So how do you improve the quality of your long distance cycling training? Easy - take it easy.
Okay, maybe not that easy.
Before you embark on your long distance bike journey, you should aim to have an appropriately long ride at least once a week.
Through your weekly rides you will improve your aerobic capacity and muscular stamina. However, for best results your training rides should also incorporate good pacing and riding techniques.
At the very least, you'll accustom your body to the stresses of riding long distance (like your ass being on a small, hard surface for hours on end).
I'm sure you have all been in a similar scenario:
Imagine you and your gungho group of friends have just started your ride or just reached the starting point of your journey. Spirits are high, chatter is aplenty. The cars have reduced and the straight stretch of road widens out before you.
You feel the adrenaline rush, and before you know it you're sprinting at full speed down the flat streets; the wind whipping at your face, trying to outrace your friends, following closely behind the cars in front of you.
Now if you've planned a ride of 100km or more, you're going to come back home thoroughly exhausted. Exhausted but happy. And then it's nap time.
Of course there's nothing wrong with any of that. The issue arises the very next day, when you get up. How do you feel? Groggy and a little bit achy, maybe?
If you find that you can't recover well after a ride, it might be time to take a look at your pacing and riding technique. If you push yourself too hard in your training rides, you might end up damaging your body and thus negatively impact your performance and your long distance riding abilities.
As we said before: training is more about quality than quantity. A more regimented and strict training session of 10km might serve you much better than a random 100km ride with no clear structure or planning.
So how do you improve your long distance riding?
The idea is to have an easy, relaxing ride. If you have a heart rate monitor, you should aim to keep it around 70% of your maximum heart rate, 80% tops.
If you don't have a heart rate monitor, then aim to maintain a speed of 26 - 28 km/hour, using the lighter gear ratios so you don't overexert your leg muscles.
If you've ever seen a long distance cyclist on the road (they usually have lots of big bags on their bikes), then you'll notice they're taking it nice and easy. Not pedalling like their life depends on it. That's how you should be doing it.
When it comes to long distance cycling, speed is secondary. Long distance cycling relies more on your aerobic capacity, and so you should seek to train endurance and build up your leg muscles to go the distance.
All great things have to be built on a solid foundation, and for long distance riding that foundation is your basic endurance. You have to learn to avoid muscle fatigue, to be good at adjusting to external stresses and factors. As you build up your abilities and your confidence, and get used to spending 4 to 5 hours on your bike, you will begin to enjoy long distance rides more!
2. What About Speed?
There may be concerns that although you have the endurance, you don't have the speed to complete the ride in time. This is especially relevant if you're training for a major race or sanctioned event with a cutoff time.
If you want to also work on your cycling speed, plan a few interval sprints during your training rides. It works better if you're in a group, so you can take turns leading and drafting.
When you sprint, pay close attention to your heart rate monitor, ensuring it doesn't go too high. Switch your gears to maintain a steady and manageable heart rate.
3. Learn To Draft
When you go long distance in a group, it is in everyone's interest to help each other and not leave anyone behind.
The best way to achieve this is through drafting, which involves cycling in tight formation either single or double file in order to conserve energy and reduce drag.
Drafting effectively will require being familiar enough with your fellow riders to know their riding style and patterns, so you know when and how to get into formation and when to break it.
Never go on an empty stomach.
If you don't have something to eat at least an hour before your ride, you'll find yourself struggling halfway to the later parts of your ride. Even if you take energy bars and gels to boost your energy levels during your ride, nothing beats a solid meal beforehand.
Check out our article on the best foods to consume before your ride!
Also, try to take a sip of water at least once every 15 minutes to prevent dehydration. By the time you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated.
5. Self-Control Is The Key
When you're in the moment, when the adrenaline is pumping in your ears, it is easy to forget to maintain your speed or monitor your heart rate.
As the saying goes: "If you learn self-control, you can master anything."
6. Safety First
Remember that you're in the wild and not some controlled environment on your bike roller. Be wary of other riders and vehicles on the road.
Keep a safe distance and point out any faults in the road or obstacles to your fellow riders, especially if you're in formation and drafting. Do this as a courtesy and others will follow suit.
Happy long distance riding!