Question: I just finished a 600K (373-mile) brevet with 15,000 feet (4,500m) of climbing. Next, I’m signed up for several double centuries. How can I improve my average speed in these long rides? I hate structured training plans, and don’t lecture me about nutrition! — Dan L.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Hang on, Dan. Here comes the lecture.
Improving your cruising speed involves both things you don’t want to hear about — proper fuel and optimum training. You can’t separate them. Without the right training, you won’t go faster. But if you don’t eat and hydrate well, you won’t be able to train efficiently.
The same goes for events. Everything has to work together. There’s no single fix that works in isolation. If you make a nutritional mistake and bonk, you’ll lose major time during 200 miles. All the training in the world won’t make up for it.
So, begin by being sure your nutrition and hydration are sufficient. Deficiencies in these areas are what usually slow down ultra riders late in events. Refuel within 30 minutes after each training rides.
Basically, cyclists recover better by eating a substantial snack immediately after a long or hard ride. This nourishment should include about four times as much carbohydrate as protein. My choice is a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce and tomato, an orange and a small yogurt. Others prefer the convenience of a commercial recovery drink and have good results with that.
Don’t forget to hydrate adequately — before, during and after every ride — using water and sports drinks. Weigh yourself before riding and when you get home. The difference reflects fluid loss, not fat loss. Drink enough to restore your pre-ride weight and make urine flow clear and copious.
End of nutritional lecture.
As for training, I think that “just riding” is okay as long as rides include some intensity. This doesn’t have to be structured. It can come naturally by climbing hills and bucking headwinds.
Many riders who go 1,000 miles per month can’t stick to a rigid schedule dictating when to go hard. You’ll struggle with recovery, and if you try to ride intensely on days when your schedule calls for it but your body isn’t willing, you’re asking for trouble.
On a day you feel great, it’s the day to go hard. If you’re feeling puny, spin lightly. If you never feel great, you need to back off and check your total rest as well as your nutrition. You may need to boost carbohydrate intake.
A great resource for brevet training and nutrition is the Endurance Training and Riding 3-Article Bundle by Coach John Hughes, who still holds records in some well-known brevets. He has a host of great eArticles and eBooks in the RBR eBookstore.