If you’ve signed up to one of our epics, or another long distance ride, then you’ve got some miles to cover and some hills to climb! Feeling unfit or daunted by the prospect?! Fear not here are some tips from ultra mountain biker Matt Jones in the run up to your event.
Here are some top tips for long days in the saddle.. Firstly, don’t panic, I’m going to let you in to a way to make your challenge ride a bit easier before you even think about the dreaded turbo trainer or long training rides! Contrary to popular opinion, from my experience, it isn’t your legs giving up that scuppers an epic challenge, it’s things like not eating properly or a bike mechanical. So whilst of course you need to prep your legs and lungs for the effort to come, you can do a lot to give yourself the best chance of success besides bashing out the training rides. Here are some known training and pre-ride tips..
1. Test your nutrition. Whatever your preference (though try not to rely on Donut Dave’s advice off Facebook for fuelling his 5k), test it at the intensity of the ride and use that approach for all your rides including the energy drink if applicable to train your stomach to get used to it. Try not to use anything new at the event.
2. Treat your bike to a service and carry specialist spares. Nothing worse than an avoidable mechanical to wreck your event. Also carry a spare mech hanger for your bike and anything else super-specialist you might not be able to source.
3. Stretch! In the months leading up to the event you need to look after yourself including some stretching to help avoid injury during training that hinders your progress. It doesn’t have to be overly fancy, just focus on the main ones following any online guide stuff out there. Try doing this straight after a ride whilst having a cup of tea on the lounge floor before shower as part of your routine. Get it done and dusted before pizza and beer so it doesn’t seem so much of a chore. Also see a physio to get any ailments that might flare up seen to ahead of the event.
4. Reduce the amount of crap you’re carrying. A mate of mine is famous for carrying round a massive adjustable wrench even when he didn’t have a bike that needed it, don’t be Scotty. You don’t need to spend money on lightweight tools but really ask yourself if you can reduce your pack weight. Every little helps over long miles. Bottles on bikes rather than backs can also be good for reducing back strain with less weight in your pack.
5. Eat well. You don’t have to be a genius to know the adage, shit in shit out. If you’re putting in the training miles eat good quality stuff to help fuel the fire and more importantly recover. That doesn’t mean no treats, otherwise what’s the point, but making little changes like a decent protein shake after a long ride can help the overall journey to event day.
- So on to WHAT TYPE OF RIDES YOU MIGHT WANT TO DO BEFORE A BIG EVENT? This bit is actually comparatively simple. For the ultra events you really want to be focusing on making your body work as efficiently as possible with the least effort. It’s well known that to do this, you don’t really want to be focusing on smashing out max interval sessions on the turbo. It’s unlikely that high-end short term max-power is going to be much use over the course of a 4 day or week long event! It’s not rocket science to figure out that you want to be doing training at the intensity which you plan to ride at. So for those with heart rate monitors (advised to get one if you don’t already) this will be zone 2, and in particular the mid and above part of this zone. There’s some boring science behind this but spending a lot of riding time here really benefits your endurance ability and aerobic efficiency. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, it’s an effort level above just sauntering along but not at a rate where a smooth conversation becomes difficult. The internet has lots of advice on setting zones.
- In terms of ride length, ideally you want to be trying for rides around 3-4 hours, but don’t worry about regularly doing much longer as it’s this amount of ride time in zone two that teaches your body to be efficient. If you are short on time, successive days of rides can be as helpful as one long ride. You will have fatigue in your legs from the day before so that helps mimic what it will feel like to be at the latter stages of your event.
- Do get in at least a couple of rides close to the longest time you might be riding ahead of the event. This isn’t for fitness gains but to check your kit and nutrition.
- Getting some core strength work in as well as this can really help keeping the engine ticking over and reduce fatigue on long days. Nothing too complicated is needed, again the internet can help here. You will thank yourself for doing this if it helps avoid a sore lower back day after day.
So in summary:
1. Ride in zone 2 as much as possible
2. Don’t bother with the high intensity stuff
3. Weekly ride of 3-4 hours with shorter rides in between if possible
4. Do a couple of longer test rides to check kit and nutrition
5. Do some core strength work twice a week ideally
Other riding tips:
- Keep your total gear weight down. Avoid a backpack if you can and try and get everything strapped to your bike. A backpack will be heavier and potentially be uncomfortable over a long distance but…
- Don’t scrimp on kit. Long distance/multi-day events are about completion. If you have to pull out due to lack of a warmer jacket you will kick yourself! I recommend carrying an extra pair of gloves and buff/hat if the weather is due to be crap. These don’t weigh anything or take up much space but can massively improve your warmth by swapping out wet ones mid ride.
- Use big water bottles. In line with the above you can buy 1 litre water bottles which means less stopping to refill. Often these will fit a standard bottle cage or else you can buy special big bottle holders. Even if you do ride with a backpack this is a good way to reduce weight within it.
- Chamois cream! Pack a little sachet as chaffing can be a game ender!
- Write a kit list. Writing a kit list weeks in advance gives you a chance to remember stuff you have forgotten and add to it! It will also be useful to reflect on this afterwards for future events. Pack the week, not night before. You then have 6 days to remember stuff…
- Make sure you are well rested the week leading up to the event. Try and get out and spin the legs each day. Get lots of sleep to make sure you have plenty of energy in the tank.