Dipping a toe into the world of Ultra-Distance Cycling

Olly Words By The Velo House | 21/04/2017 11:43:22

By Ralph Mumby @ The Velo House -

Getting out of bed at 4:45am on a chilly spring morning I ask myself, why am I doing this? A couple of minutes later a steaming bowl of porridge is thrust into my hands by my extraordinarily understanding and caring wife and the thought disappears as I return to the most important decision of the day, what to wear?

It's a cold start but will be bright and sunny later, I decide on the arm & knee warmer option with a gilet and additional wind jacket for an extra layer until the sun gets up.

So what am I doing and why? I've always performed to my best when I have a focal point to my cycling year and this year I've chosen to dip my toe into the world of ultra-distance cycling by undertaking Den Store Styrkeprøven, The Great Trial of Strength. It's a 540km cycling event in Norway from Trondheim to Oslo in the middle of June. This is a sprint by ultra-distance standards but is definitely enough for me to get my teeth into this year.

As I turn onto the road just outside my house the sun is just rising on the horizon and I am starting my 300km training ride for the day.

I am on a voyage of discovery in more ways than one with this journey, seeing what I am capable of, understanding how my body works, how to fuel it, pace it and much more. In my first few long distance training rides I made two key rookie mistakes, I went too hard and didn't eat enough limping home on empty and vowing never again.

Today will be different, I am mixing up my diet using some high energy Torq cycling bars and gels with real food which is much more palatable and importantly for me, savoury. Food that I will actually enjoy eating! There is a lot more to be written on this subject and I still have a lot to learn.

Without a power meter I am pacing myself on heart rate, for today's ride I am trying to stick to 140bpm. As someone who loves climbing and enjoys driving up a hill as fast as possible it has been a real challenge to reign myself in on the climbs. Endurance cycling is all about maintaining a continuous and sustainable effort, whether you are riding uphill, downhill or on the flat you should be putting in the same effort. I have to constantly remind myself of this and often find myself out of the saddle pushing just a bit too hard.

Comfort is most definitely King when it comes to endurance riding. This starts with my position on the bike, and having a bike fit for me provided a great starting point. Of the three points of contact I have with the bike the one I have had most trouble getting right is the saddle and backside interface. With the current saddle I'm on, a really great pair of Le Col bib shorts and a liberal amount of chamois cream I finally feel I can ride for 12+ hours without any major discomfort.

The ride is going well, I'm at 200km and feeling surprisingly good, the sun is now high in the sky and my average heart rate is only a shade over my target. I'm doing two 150km laps of a loop down to Rye and back. I'm now getting stuck into my second lap and my Garmin dies, this is a big blow as I'm dependent on this for both my navigation and managing my effort. I'm looking forward to trialling the new Wahoo Element Bolt with its claimed battery life of 17 hours, not quite enough for the event itself but definitely enough for my training rides.

At around the 250km mark I am getting pain on the outside of my right knee, I spend the next hour thinking about what might be causing this. Eventually I come to the conclusion the spring tension in my cleats is too high. As my legs have fatigued I have been putting strain on my knee with all the clipping and unclipping at the numerous junctions, I'll dial it down for my next training ride and see if that does the trick.

With the blank Garmin screen in front of me I'm now pacing myself based on feel and navigating by memory, a wrong turn at 270km adds another 20km to my route. It highlights another challenge of long distance riding which is maintaining concentration and focus. The mental side of the challenge can not be under estimated and is something I am continuing to work on.

Back on familiar roads and just 20km from home I stuff another energy bar into my mouth determined not to make the same mistakes as previous training rides and fuelling myself to the end.

As I role through the traffic lights 100m from home I sigh with relief, the sun is starting to set. It is 7pm I've ridden 320km in 13 hours around 12 of which were in the saddle. I am exhausted, delighted to be home and looking forward to a hot meal, a hot bath and an early night!

The next big training ride will be 350km so time to start planning that....