Taking on an Ultra Endurance Cycling event can be daunting, for many people, going long on the bike is an adventure into the unknown, taking on your first century ride is a big milestone. Increasing mileage and taking on a multi- day event brings many challenges and of course lots of rewards as well as a huge sense of satisfaction.
Whether you are taking on your first ultra-distance event or are a well-seasoned rider there are a few key areas to consider to ensure you enjoy rather than just endure the long days and in many cases longer nights in the saddle. Seasoned and successful cyclist, coach and race organiser Padraig Marrey from RaceFace Events shares some of his top tips for going long.
Keep your training structured and simple. Think longer aerobic rides, working in the area of 60-75% of your max heart rate. You won’t need a sprint finish, and there are no KOM primes or jersey’s to be won. It’s all about staying consistent in order to get you to the finish line.
Just as important as building up those consistent kilometres, is your recovery. If you’ve niggles or aches or pains, make sure you get them seen to an find out their root cause. An ultra-cycling event will test you both physically and mentally. If you carry any niggles into your event, they may hamper your experience or worse, lead to a longer term injury. You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience if you listen to your body and make sure it is getting the recovery it needs.
Going long is going to be tough. There’s no two ways about it. Try and develop a strategy for coping with the mental toughness of the event in the weeks leading up to it. Plan for the ‘what if’s’, visualize what it’s going to be like, make sure you know why you’re undertaking the challenge and have those reasons ready to recall. Break the event into bit size chunks. This will require a bit of practice, as waiting until you’re already out on the event will be too late to start experimenting with what might keep the pedals turning.
One of the most important things to take on board during your training for the event is learning how to suffer and adapt your mind-set when doubts or tiredness creep in. Be prepared to train in all types of weather, don’t take the soft option as it will bite you in the bum later.
Start testing out different nutrition on your long rides in the weeks leading up to the event. Some people can stomach anything; others won’t be able to handle certain foods while exercising. Some can survive on jellies and gels; other people need real food to get them around an ultra. Experiment in the weeks ahead of the event and find out what works best for you, make sure to record a list.
When you have it figured out, be prepared to pack more of it into your pockets, or bike bags, than you expected. Better to have it and be looking at it than to not have enough and risk the dreaded bonk with 100’s of kilometres left to go!
Layers are your friend. Light and foldable layers are even more so. Thin waterproof or windproof layers which can be easily stuffed into pockets or bags. If you are doing a multi-day event you will need multiple versions of your cycling gear, it gets cool at night so be sure to have some warmer clothing for the witching hour.
When packing for the event, especially for the West coast of Ireland, pack a second bag to travel to the event with. Summer? Doesn’t matter. Put a pair of good gloves in there, a buff, a waterproof outer layer, overshoes. You’re going to be pedalling your bike for a long time, and in this part of the world, the weather is liable to change at last minute! You’ll have a better idea what’s in store for you weather-wise when you arrive at the event, but come prepared for all seasons.
You won’t just need the right clothes; you’ll also need to pack some essential equipment. If the race is supported, you’ll need less. However, good lights, spare tubes, a hand pump, tyre levers, and a multi-tool should get you a long way for any unsupported events. A small power pack can also be very beneficial to keep your phone and bike computer charged, helping to keep you out of trouble. Some races will require you have mandatory kit on your person or in your crew car, don’t skimp on the essentials and don’t leave gathering your equipment and gear to the last week, start gathering as you go to avoid any last minute panic stations.
And then of course, is the bike itself to consider. You’ve likely spent plenty of hours on your bike in preparation for the event, get a bike fit so that it’s setup for your event, a bike fit for a road race or sportif is far different to that for an Ultra. Comfort is key and can go a long way to keeping you on the road during your first ultra.
Think about the following three touch points; your bum on the saddle, your hands on the bars, and your feet in the shoes on the pedals. If these three areas can remain pain free for your event you are halfway to finishing your Ultra.
As the saying goes, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail,’ get your training plans, logistics and route planning in a good state well in advance, take the time to ensure all the boxes are ticked. Many events require paperwork to be completed in advance, don’t leave this to the last minute causing stress and hassle, get this done as soon as possible so all you as the rider need to think about is riding your bike.
Lists are your friend, make them, remake them, tick them off and remake them until all that’s left on your to do list is to turn up on the start line and go have some fun!
7. Gather Your Crew
If you are participating in a supported ultra-event where you have a crew to help you get from the Start to the Finish of the event, be sure to spend time selecting the people you want in your corner or support vehicle that will keep you fed, watered, on the right route and keep you motivated when the mood gets low and the miles get harder. A crew can make or break your event, get a great crew who have your back as they will make your journey stress free.
About the Author
Padraig Marrey from Ballinrobe in Mayo, is synonymous with cycling in Ireland. With many sporting accolades to his name, his first love of cycling has seen him embrace a life on two wheels, as cyclist, adventure racer, triathlete, coach, advocate and race organiser. Check out his events on www.raceface.ie. Listen to his episode of the Tri Talking Sport podcast HERE