How to Pace Long-Distance Cycling
Long-distance cycling of 200km and above is a challenge to the endurance of riders. Generally considered a milestone of riders’ competence, it brings a great sense of accomplishment to beginners and pros alike. However, you will need much more than enthusiasm to reach that purpose. Long-distance cycling is as difficult as it is exciting. Certainly, you will need more food supply to fill up, more equipment, and spare parts to deal with any uncertain or unexpected conditions. All that being done, you are not ready yet. Unlike your normal training, long-distance cycling is an extreme test for endurance, which requires some different techniques. Learning to pace yourself properly is the key to completing your first attempt. Here are some tips that can help you with that.
Since you have never done it before, getting a general idea of the time you need for the journey makes you better prepared, especially mentally. Long-distance cycling usually consists of various road conditions, on which the average speed of ordinary riders will be about 20 km/h. Taking into account resting time and other factors, the ride costs more than 10 hours. Some clubs specializing in endurance cycling set the expected finishing time for their club riders to 13 hours and 30 minutes.
To last long, you can’t give all out from the beginning. Start slow and keep stable for about 15 minutes before you gradually speed up. Understandably, you want to dash out when you are full of excitement and energy. We have all been there. If you start too fast, you are using your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which burn out your limited glycogen stores and don’t recover quickly. So there will not be any left when you need them later in the ride. This is the same reason why distance runners only sprint at the end. Bursting out at the beginning puts you in a very passive situation since it takes a long time for oxidative phosphorylation to replenish that energy loss while sustaining your continuous energy consumption at the same time.
Choose your pace according to your capability, which can be visualized by FTP as we have discussed in another Blog. For long-distance cycling, ride at 76% to 87% of FTP for no more than 2 hours and about 6 hours at 56 to 75% of FTP. The rest should be done at lower than 55% of your FTP. If a power meter is not available to you, you can also track your status through a heart rate monitor. It is advisable to keep your heart rate at 65% to 80% of your max heart rate (220 minus your age). This range indicates you are in the aerobic phase so that you can complete a long course without going too hard.
Your pace also depends on the terrain, especially hills. There are several things you can do to handle climbing. Before climbing, you should pedal with a little less effort to save for a higher output of power on the climb. While you are pedaling hard for the climb, do not let your heart rate exceed 90% of the max heart rate though. After the climb, make sure to recover on the flatter road or the descent afterward so that your heart rate can come down and you can stick to the normal output. However, if the climb is too long, for example, lasts for 60 minutes, you should not go with much extra effort. Maintain the aerobic effort otherwise, you can hardly recover after that.
Recover and replenish
Learning to recover and replenish properly is of great significance in long-distance cycling. As you ride, your body produces a lot of sweat to ensure that your body temperature remains stable, which means tremendous water loss. If you get dehydrated, your blood thickens and everything becomes harder. Therefore, water supplement is your primary need. Drink a bottle of water (about 600 ml) every hour by sipping a few ounces every few minutes. Low-sugar electrolyte drink is suggested to balance the loss of minerals.
In long-distance cycling, the power source of your body is oxidative phosphorylation, which consumes oxygen, carbohydrate, and fat to produce energy. Oxygen can be taken from the air, while carbohydrate has to be taken from food. Before you start, fill up on bread or biscuits which are high in carbohydrates. Avoid taking in too much protein or fat, which requires a longer time to be digested, burdening your body. Energy gels are an efficient carbohydrate supply during the ride. Take a few bites every 20 minutes and keep your food intake consistent over the day. Do not eat or drink until you feel thirsty or hungry.
It is worth mentioning that although oxygen can be directly taken from the air, your huge effort sometimes demands more oxygen than you can take in from the air. Or there are occasions that you are unaware of the improper shallow breathing pattern which limits oxygen uptake, raises your heart rate and blood pressure and reduces circulation. These can result in discomfort, soreness, and sickness. On worse occasions, it aggravates over time and traps you in a vicious circle of hypoxia if not recovered in time. To prevent that from happening, you are suggested to take a portable oxygen tank or a portable oxygen concentrator for extra oxygen supplements. You can breathe in high-concentration oxygen both during or after the ride to quickly recover.
Apart from supplies, taking a rest is also a good way to recover. Whenever you feel unable to hold on, just slow down to restore some energy, or take a short break if necessary. But don’t stop for too long till your circulation and muscle cool down unless muscle soreness is what you desire. A proper resting pace can guarantee a good riding pace.