Long Distance Rides

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alpsPhotography by Ben Ingham for Rapha

A question that everyone seems to have a different opinion on is “how long should my longest rides be?”

Endurance is the most difficult component of your training to develop because of the long hours it requires to be on the bike.  However, once you build your endurance it’s the easiest system to maintain.  This is why athletes who periodize their training focus on endurance first and use it as their foundation thereafter.  This actually follows quite a natural progression and most of us do this regardless of intentionally periodizing our training or not.   Periodized training is not necessarily defined by intensity and volume.  A better definition would be “specificity”. The closer you get to an event, the more specific your training needs to become. If you make the training less like the event the closer you get to it, the more likely you’ll be disappointed in poor performance.  Joe Friel said this, not me. He is the man.

The general consensus among coaches states that your longest mileage day should be the time that your longest race or event will take you.   Don’t worry about the distance as much unless you’re training for a time trial (which would amount to the same thing anyway).  For example, if your longest races is 120km, then there’s no need for you to be training for more than 3-4hrs on your longest ride.  This is of course something you may have to work up to.   This is usually a Saturday ride for most of us, but keep Sunday open as a backup for bad weather or unexpected circumstances.  There should also be an additional long distance recovery day during the training week.   These are easy to neglect but are very important.

If you are training for a race like the Melbourne to Warrnambool (299km) it is unrealistic to do that distance of ride.  This is a good example of why you should be looking at the amount of time that the ride will take you instead of the actual distance.  It would take me 12 hrs of lonely suffering to do 299km, but in the race itself it only takes 7hrs.  Yeah….only 7hrs at 41km/hr.

Risk vs reward is something else that should be considered.  Is it really worth backing up 7hr training rides over a long period of time?  There is a high risk that you’ll wear yourself down,  get sick, and not be able to ride at all.   Especially since the long rides are generally done early in the season when the weather is the worst (unless you’re smart and live in Queensland).  You have to ask yourself if the reward is worth the risk of overdoing it and getting sick. Would backing off the length of these long rides  still suffice and ensure the consistency of your training?  This is a very individual question that depends on how long of an event you’re training for and your personal tolerances.

Like I said earlier, these long rides shouldn’t be done right up until the targeted event.  You should taper off those maintenance mileage rides a few weeks before the event.  Intensity will increase, volume will decrease.   A short and sweet article on some basic training assumptions can be found here.


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