Building Your Long-Distance Cycling Mileage

By Idai Makaya (18 Nov 2014):

The article below is part of the training and preparation blog for the ElliptiGO Ultra Endurance Team 1,230-km (765-mile) Challenge at PBP 2015, which each rider was training to complete within the 90-hour time-limit…

There’s often anxiety among riders new to ultra endurance training about rushing to put in very high training mileages (from the moment they commit to a challenge like doing the PBP 2015 ride on an ElliptiGO). The importance of gradual, rational and systematic adaptation to training cannot be emphasised enough. Leading into PBP 2015 many of us will do 125-mile long weekend ElliptiGO rides, but those 125-mile long rides will be done in peak training (between April and July – and not right at the beginning of the training cycle in January).

These training schedules represent peak mileage – what we are working towards in peak training – rather than how we train from the beginning of the training campaign. I think it takes most people up to 3 months to build up to their peak training mileage (that means starting from a 50-mile long weekend ride at the beginning of the year) and it is most productive to do this in a very gradual way, so that your body is actually adapting and getting better.

Doing big rides very early in the season, coming off a low training base, just proves that you can do them – but it tends to leave you much weaker after each ride (because you are over-stretching to do them). I think most reasonably fit people can get themselves through a 200km ride if they show some real determination and commitment – even if they are not fully long-distance fit. But to do it twice or more – over successive weekends – when not fit enough, can lead to issues (immune system degradation, illness and/or injury).

If you increase your ride distances suddenly it’s not ‘training’ – it’s just pushing yourself and seeing how much ‘abuse’ you can take. Those rides wont mean a lot 6 months later – unless you have built up to them gradually and then sustained them for a long period, giving you time to adapt to them.

Fast mileage increases are risky. Your immunity breaks down if you do that and you can get really ill. You can do it for a week or two, but then the health problems start. My suggestion for those riders dealing with unexpected and sudden training interruptions (caused by family responsibilities, etc) is to just to move the missed training session back to the next available day that follows – or to do it at night that same day.

My advice is to add about 10-miles each week to the distance of the weekend long ride, until peak training distance of about 100-miles is reached. Once the peak distance is achieved, the task becomes building consistency and repeating that peak mileage every week. Your body and mind will adapt to this because you have built up to it gradually. After months of doing this peak mileage you will become fully accustomed to it and your strength over greater distances will be assured.

What then matters is that every 6-9 days you are putting in that full long ride. Many people are concerned about unexpected training interruptions, such as family and work emergencies, which may force them to miss a planned training session. If a planned training day is ‘messed up’ (by life getting in the way), try to move it to the next day, or the day after that if still held up on the next day. Just move it to the next available day. Our bodies don’t understand the concept of planned training days (Mon-Fri, etc) they just understand doing ‘x’ miles every 6-9 days, etc.

A good example, on my end, is that every April I normally have to travel to fitness expos around Europe and I cannot train at all during the week. So if I am training for a big ride later in the summer all I can do is my weekend long rides (early in the morning, to free time for family activities on the weekends) when I get home for the weekend. During the rest of the week I often wont train on the ElliptiGO at all in these periods – or I will use the little free time I can find to do a gym weights session. That is sufficient to keep my training progressing – because the weekend long ride is actually the most important training session for an event like PBP 2015.

So the weekend long ride is the single weekly session you cannot miss and you must instead forfeit other sessions and replace them with your long ride – if you happen to miss a planned long ride due to unexpected interruptions. Over-training wont make you fitter for unexpected periods of inactivity, so ramping up your training, just because there’s the potential risk of an emergency, is not likely to be a solution.

I think you should just do your planned training sessions and if one is unexpectedly missed you can do the missed session on the next available day. I worry about athletes making sudden mileage increases – it’s never worthwhile. In endurance sports it’s genuinely about the ‘long game’…

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