When I started aiming for long distances (200km + at randonneur pace) I used to ride about 150km + per week. Much of that riding was fairly challenging, as I lived in Sheffield, itself built on seven hills, and embedded in the ‘scenic’ Peak National Park. Scenic is a word much beloved by the UK randonneuring cognoscenti: it translates as leg-breakingly hilly. Audax UK, who oversee randonneuring here, even have an audax altitude competition (AAA) giving points for scenic rides based on a formula. I even did interval training (the A57 into Sheffield from the West is great for hill intervals). My partner lived over the Snake Pass in Manchester, so many weeks I would supplement mid-week rides (I only worked 50% for much of this period) with 2 trips over one of the most challenging climbs in the area.
My level of fitness was high I guess, and I certainly could ride quite quick at times, although that never really translated into fast times for the events I rode, as most were so extreme that maintaining the average speed was a challenge for many. Although I am quite light, I am not that great a climber, and I have always struggled to maintain a high average speed on hilly rides. An organiser once expressed surprise that I was so close to the cut-off time, because I looked absolutely fine and organised on the bike: well at least I looked good!
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I struggle to find time to train much now. I have recently started to ride more than once a week again, but the maximum distance I tend to do is about 60km (although I sometimes ride to work and back in one day, two lots of 40km). Most of the rides include significant climbs, although I do have one ride to Hollingworth Lake which is relatively flat (and the final climb to the lake is good for intervals).
I own two books on training to ride long distance events. One is from the US, penned by Burke and Pavelka (The complete book of long distance cycling) and the other is Simon Doughty’s The Long Distance Cyclists’ Handbook. The latter is more to my taste, and presents some more realistic training plans; the former is aptly described thus by one of the Google Books reviewers, Ted:
This book made me tired by just reading it. However, it has some good tips on building endurance and how to avoid getting a sore ass from being on a bike so much.
I can safely say I have done little that resembles the structured training described in either book: moreover, I think if I had attempted to do so I would never have completed even a 100km brevet populaire, let alone a 400 at randonneur pace. I have neither the time nor the dedication to build slowly towards the longer distances, and hence suffer enormously during longer rides. However, I have never failed to complete a ride, although I have failed to start on occasion. I am probably risking my health by stressing an under-prepared body, but part of my plan for the next few years is simply to ride more often, and to ride more events.
My main shortcoming during longer distances has in the past been my abysmal average riding speed, although I may be basing this on the hilliness of my event choices. Although I have finished a 200 in around 10 hours, my experience at 400km was increasingly desperate: I did not ride fast enough to sleep, and had not accrued enough experience at long distances to create a plan for my ride. Hence, I was not even sure if I needed to sleep or not. This created extra stress, and one thing I really need to explore more is how to structure my riding in events. I actually managed on no sleep pretty well for the 24 hours it took me to complete 400km, but I am sure that for a 600km ride I need to ride fast enough to do more than power-nap. Hence I need to start working on my pace once I have a few more miles in my legs: this will probably involve intervals and the dreaded turbo-trainer, not something I am looking forward to.
Sunday’s ride is a fairly flat 200km, so I guess I will find out where I am starting from.