Are you an endurance rider who wants to become a better endurance rider? Endurance riders aren’t just century riders! There is no defining distance for what is an endurance ride? An endurance ride is any ride over about an hour at a conversational pace.
In these columns I’m describing how Six Success Factors apply to three different kinds of riders (click the link to read each column):
1. Recreational, Health and Fitness Riders — Two weeks ago I discussed how the Success Factors apply to riders who want to increase the relative volume of their riding.
2. Performance Riders — Last week I covered how the Success Factors apply to riders who want to increase the relative intensity of their riding.
3. Endurance Riders — This week I show how the Success Factors apply to riders who want to increase the relative duration of their rides.
You may fit into two or three of these categories. A health and fitness rider who wants to increase your endurance. Or an endurance rider who wants to increase your speed.
Improvement in endurance comes from working on all six of these Success Factors, not on your favorites or the easiest.
1. Effective training
2. Planning and goal-setting
3. Sound nutrition
4. Mental techniques
5. Proper equipment
6. Proficient skills
What is endurance? What is training for endurance?
A bit of physiology: When you ride, you’re burning a mixture of fat from your body and sugar (glucose) from carbs. Even at low intensity some of your energy is coming from sugar. The harder you ride, the greater the proportion of sugar that provides energy. Your body can only store a limited amount of sugar as glycogen. Three-quarters of your glycogen is stored in your skeletal muscles and the other quarter is in your liver. You store enough glycogen for 60 – 90 minutes of hard exercise, or two to three hours of moderate riding.
Unlike your muscles, your brain can only burn sugar. The longer and/or harder you ride, the more sugar you burn. When you run out of your limited amount of sugar you hit the wall. Your brain turns to mush and your muscles feel weak. You may know this feeling.
1. Effective training
Training for endurance is simply pushing out the wall so that you can ride longer before you hit the wall. Endurance training pushes the wall farther out in two ways:
- Over time your metabolism changes so that you’re burning more fat and less sugar at any speed so that you can ride longer before you run out of sugar and hit the wall.
- Training also increases your body’s capacity for storing sugar. With training your body can store 20% to 50% more glycogen.
Training to realize these benefits has two important components:
Intensity: An endurance ride is any ride over about hour riding at a conversational pace. You may be able ride harder for that long; however, when you ride harder you won’t gain the above two benefits. Most of your weekly riding should be at an endurance pace even if your primarily goal is to ride harder.
Duration: You only improve if you ask your body to do more than it’s comfortable doing and then allow it to recover. To improve your endurance you need to do longer rides. How much longer? Not more than 10 – 15% longer than the previous ride, and increasing at this rate ride by ride. Here are a couple of examples.
In the first you regularly ride 25 miles and you want to build up so you can regularly ride 50 miles:
25-mile weekly rides building to 50 mile weekly rides
Rate of Increase Week #1 Week #2 Week #3 Week #4 Week #5 Week #6 Week #7 Week #8
10% 25 mi. 27 30 33 36 40 44 48
15% 25 mi. 28 33 38 44 50
In the second you regularly ride 50 miles and want to build up so that you can regularly ride 100 miles:
50-mile weekly rides building to 100 mile weekly rides
Rate of Increase Week #1 Week #2 Week #3 Week #4 Week #5 Week #6 Week #7
10% 50 mi. 55 66 73 80 88 97
15% 50 mi. 57 66 76 87 100
Increasing by 10% per week is conservative with a low risk of injury. Increasing by 15% per week is more aggressive and your risk of injury and overtraining increases.
Note that the above scenarios increase your endurance for your regular weekly rides, not your endurance for a specific event. You’re training to ride a certain distance regularly without even getting close to the wall. For example, if you want to train up to ride 50 miles most weekends then you should ramp up 10-15% per week until you get to 50 miles.
If you are training for a specific event like a half-century you don’t need to ramp up week-by-week until you reach 50 miles. Usually if you train up to 2/3 to 3/4 of the distance you are fit enough to complete the event without hitting the wall. To prepare for a single 50-mile event you would build up to a long ride of 33 to 38 miles.
Because building your endurance requires increasing the duration week by week, you need at least a simple plan of weekly long rides like one of the above scenarios. To the above scenarios I’d add a very easy recovery week between weeks #4 and #5. If you are 50 years or older, a pattern of alternating longer and shorter rides is better than increasing the length every week.
Even if your goal is increased performance, you still need to develop your base endurance and you need a plan with (at least) two phases:
1. Base training when you build up your endurance week by week
2. Performance training when you train for performance while also doing enough endurance riding to maintain your base.
How Can You Use the Six Success Factors?
How you can use the Six Success Factors to improve is described in my new eArticle, How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors, which launches today. The 36-page eArticle explains in detail how to apply each of the Six Success Factors to your cycling. Roadies have different goals: riding more for improved health and fitness, covering more miles this year, climbing better,
riding with a stronger group on the weekends, finishing a specific ride or setting a personal best in a particular event. Like all our eArticles, it will sell for only $4.99; only $4.24 for our Premium Members with their automatic 15% discount.
This new article is also included in the new bundle of five eArticles The Best of Coach Hughes: 5 eArticles to Make You a Better Cyclist. The new bundle, also launching today, includes:
- How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors – A new eArticle totaling 36 pages.
- Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: A 32-page eArticle on how to plan and get the most out of your training. Published in 2015.
- Intensity Training 2016: A 41-page eArticle with the latest information on how to use perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor and a power meter to maximize training effectiveness.
- Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: A 16-page eArticle with 10 different recovery techniques illustrated with 14 photos. Published in 2011.
- Eat & Drink Like the Pros: A 15-page eArticle of nutritional insights from pro cycling teams. It contains a dozen recipes for you to make your own food and sports drinks. Published in 2011.
The Best of Coach Hughes: 5 eArticles to Make You a Better Cyclist totals 140 pages and will be available starting today at the special price of $15.96 (this is a special 5-for-the-price-of-4 discount).
The Premium Member bundle price of $13.57 is a savings of $11.38 off the full price! Non-Premiums save $8.99 off the cover price vs. purchasing all 5 articles individually.
3. Sound nutrition
The wall is where you run out of sugar, so the most important part of nutrition for endurance is eating primarily carbs in your meals, as well as during a ride. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guideline is to consume 30-60 grams (120 – 240 calories) of carbs starting in the second hour. Note that these are calories of carbs! The protein and fat in that energy bar don’t count. Even at an endurance pace you’re burning more than 120 to 240 grams carbs per hour. Eating the 120 to 240 calories per hour pushes the wall farther away, but it’s still there. You can push the wall farther away if you start eating in the first hour, and eat every hour.
Research by Asker Jeukendrup shows that you can digest up to 90 grams (360 calories) of carbs per hour if you eat two different types of carbs. Forexample, the calories in a sports bar could be in sucrose, glucose, dextrose or maltodextrin. If you also eat a banana with the calories in fructose (a different sugar than in the bar), then you can digest more calories per hour and push that wall even farther down the road.
4. Mental techniques
In many long rides a cyclist gets discouraged — why am I doing this? Mental techniques are very important to work through these rough patches. Here are three tips:
Eat. When did you last eat? Often when the mood gets bad it’s because the rider is getting close to that wall.
Divide and conquer. Don’t focus on how far away the finish is, just focus on a short-term goal: the top of the hill, the next mini-mart, etc.
Accept. Long rides often have three parts: #1 Early in the ride, you’re fresh. #2 Middle of the ride, you’re tired, you still have to ride a long way and you’re discouraged. #3 You smell the barn and feel better. When you’re in the ugly middle, just recognize and accept the ugly middle is normal — it too shall pass.
5. Proper equipment
Depending on how much endurance riding you do and how long your rides are, your equipment choices may or may not vary from the equipment choices for performance.
Comfort. For your progressively longer endurance rides you’re on the bike longer than you are used to riding. This means having a comfortable bike! Having great endurance on a bike that’s painful after an hour or two isn’t much fun.
Bike fit. Fit for an endurance rider is different than the fit for a performance rider. For comfort an endurance rider should sit a little more upright to relieve pressure on the hands and neck. This means a taller steerer and/or shorter stem with more rise.
Points of contact. Endurance riders complain most frequently about discomfort in the butt, feet and hands. I’ve written columns about how to solve each of these, which are under the Health tab on RBR website.
Reliability. When you’re on the bike for long ride you may wander some distance from a bike shop. You want equipment that is very reliable and that you can repair on the road, if necessary.
Nothing new on events. You should test all of your equipment, clothing and gear as well as your nutrition and hydration in training rides. This means systematically testing each element that could be a showstopper — something that forces you to quit before the end of the ride.
6. Proficient skills
Endurance riders also need some different skills than performance riders.
Pacing. The most essential skill is pacing yourself so that you don’t hit the wall! Start out at the pace that you think you can sustain for the whole ride and then slow down by 10 – 20%. If you’re feeling strong later in the ride you can always pick up the pace.
Eating hourly. Eating regularly — even when you don’t feel hungry — to avoid hitting the wall isn’t natural. Learn to keep track of what and when you’ve last eaten and whether you’re getting enough calories per hour.
Managing time off the bike. In timed events your finishing time is the total elapsed time from the ride start until you finish. If your goal is a certain finishing time, then you should learn how to control the time that you spend off the bike. Learning what you can safely do on the bike also helps; for example, eating, drinking, putting on sunscreen and lip balm, taking off arm warmers, etc. Always keep one hand on the handlebars! And if you feel unsafe doing anything, stop briefly to take care of it.
Group riding. How to ride safely in a group is important forall riders. Performance riders want to go faster and so they learn how to ride and draft in a group. Because endurance riders aren’t focused on speed, they may be less likely to learn these skills. You should master group riding skills to enjoy the camaraderie of riding and talking with others as well as to get the aerodynamic benefits.
Whether your goal is to ride more for health and fitness, do more recreational riding, increase your performance, extend the distance of your rides or some combination of these, you will be more successful if you work on all six of the Success Factors!
Look for my upcoming series of podcasts on the Six Success Factors on RBR Radio with George Thomas and Bryce Walsh.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.