Riding Tips for Endurance Events

Riding Tips for Endurance Events

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Pacing is one of the most important factors in whether you finish an event with a smile or drag your weary body over the finish line. The secret is to know your limits and to choose the riding group or companions that allow you to keep within those limits. We look at how to identify your limits, common pitfalls, and the strategies for how to manage your effort.

Pacing yourself on cycling challenges that cover several days is one of the most important factors in determining your ability to complete the event. If you go out too hard too early, you'll quickly find yourself burning out and struggling to finish the day or feel unable to ride the next day, especially if you have overcooked it and managed to create muscle damage or deplete your energy stores.

The key to pacing yourself correctly is to find the balance between going at a pace that enables you to keep up with your chosen group. However, we all know how it is, and this can be difficult to do, especially if you like to attack the hills or want to ride with someone who is clearly a stronger rider than you. What we'll aim to do in this blog is to provide you with a few riding tips help you manage.

First tip is to have a good understanding of your own fitness level and heart rate (or power) threshold.

As heart rate monitors are a pretty much ubiquitous piece of kit for most riders, we'll start there. Although knowing your heart rate is interesting, to be useful you need to understand your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR); this heart rate is the tipping point between being able to ride for several hours and fatiguing towards exhaustion. A easiest method to understand your threshold is to ride as hard as possible for 20 minutes and calculate the resultant average heart rate over that period. If you've emptied the tank, this average will give you a good measure of your lactate threshold in beats per minute.

If you have the luxury of a power meter, then it is useful to understand your functional threshold power (FTP) as this is another tipping point indicator (this time of the maximum power you can sustain before moving towards exhaustion).

So while keeping below your threshold is key, small surges above threshold are fine,  even sometimes essential for climbs, but give yourself plenty of time to recover afterwards, maintaining a steady pace rather than the start/stop of pedalling hard for a few minutes, only then to coast while you recover from the unnecessary effort.

Once you've establish your threshold(s), the second tip is to understand the pace you can ride over several hours without exceeding your heart rate or power threshold. Armed with this information you will be better placed to choose the most appropriate group (or riding companions) for the event. 

If your ride includes long climbs, while knowing your pace on the flat is one thing, it is important that you know the rate at which you can comfortably climb at your sub-threshold rate. This rate is referred to as the VAM (Vertical Ascent Meters), usually expressed as metres/hour. Knowing your VAM on a long climb and comparing that with other events riders' VAMs in Strava will help you understand if you are able to maintain the pace of the group that you choose to ride in without getting substantially dropped on the climbs.

Now that you know your threshold and pace, what else can possibly go wrong and derail your meticulous planning? From experience, it is very easy on the first day of a multi-day ride to get carried away with excitement and to exceed yourself. The sun is shining, there is a natural buzz of anticipation and the adrenaline will be running high. This can result in a little over-enthusiasm that'll cause you to speed off after the fastest riders.

However, endurance events are rarely a race and you'll quickly undo all your preparation. The tip is for the first hour or so to stay within the middle of your group, taking the time to gain an understanding of the group dynamic and who you are riding with.

Equally, do not linger at the back of a group as it is easy to get separated if you loose the wheel of the person in front of you or get stuck at lights, roundabouts, etc, which inevitably results in you pedalling furiously back to the group using copious amounts of unnecessary energy. If you find this occurs, then rather than panic, keep to your own pace and allow the ride leader to reassemble the group once they recognise that there has been a split in the group.

So what is the plan if you find yourself continuously riding ahead of the group or struggling to keep up.  First of all, speak with the leader of your group and they can help organise you to join a faster group (maybe the next day), do not just jump off ahead as the ride leaders need to understand where you are for your safety and that of the group,  a smaller sub-group may be formed if you and others are struggling.  Do not press on regardless of the suffering, it is supposed to be fun ! 

Finally, it's important to listen to your body. If you start to feel tired, take a break. Don't push yourself too hard, or you'll risk getting injured.  Ride leaders are there for your safety, so shout out if you need a break to recover from a hard climb or section of road which is a little faster than you can cope with.

By following these tips, you can learn how to pace yourself correctly on a long endurance ride. This will help you to finish the ride strong and enjoy the experience.

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