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.
I can’t help but notice that perhaps the biggest factor in this fellow’s quest for a faster time is overlooked. That would be “Pedal Faster”.
While that may sound like a truism, it is absolutely not. Rather, it is a plea to learn to ride the bike better. Cycling is like any complicated sport – it requires technique, the foundation of which is a smooth and rapid pedal stroke. If you don’t have that, you will never go fast. Can I overemphasize NEVER??? I don’t think so.
The presumption is that this guy is an ace cyclist but I suspect not inasmuch as he is asking a fairly newbie question. I sometimes see people “cramming” to get into shape for long multi-day tours and they are all slogging on the pedals in hopes of improved strength and cardio. Their limited time would be much better spent improving their pedal stroke and increasing their cadence. Of course, they don’t know this so they do what seems natural. Technique should be the gospel of this site and “training” should be secondary.
larry english says
another thing is – find your optimum heart rate and don;t go over it, during long rides.
For most people it is about 80% of your max.
this takes some time before the ‘long ride’.
so does some ‘training’
.use training to figure it out.
Kerry Irons says
Have to remark on the “clear urine” comment. You often see this as a marker of good hydration but what is really meant is “pale yellow.” Your urine can be perfectly clear and yet dark amber – a sure sign of dehydration. Clear is all about transparency, and its opposite is cloudy. If you have cloudy urine you have some other problem. You can have concentrated (amber) urine that is indicating dehydration, but it can be perfectly clear.
I’m confused about what Kerry is saying about clear vs. amber urine. How can it be clear and amber at the same time. Could you further explain this?
Kerry Irons says
Picture several different pieces of glass, each with more tint added. You can easily see through them all because they are clear. Dark sunglasses would be the obvious example. Clear, but dark in color. Alternatively frosted, glass?. No longer clear, but nobody would call it colored.
It’s terminology, but clear means you can see through it, regardless of color. Cloudy means you can’t see “clearly” through it, regardless of color. If you had urine in a test tube and held your fingers up on the other side of the test tube, you could see them “clearly” even if the urine was relatively dark. But that dark colored urine would signify significant dehydration. Even very pale yellow urine, if it was cloudy, would not allow you to clearly see your fingers on the other side of the test tube.
John Adams says
Great explanation Kerry