Developing Endurance for Long Rides

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By Sarah Kaufmann — Summer is here and we are getting out for longer days on the bike. Perhaps you have spent the winter on your bike, indoors or out, perhaps you spent the winter on skis, or perhaps you even took the winter off! As you get back into regular days on the bike, ramp your volume up gradually to make sustainable endurance progress.

Long rides make longer rides. Think of your rides in hours (not miles). If your longest ride is 90 minutes, try adding another 30 minutes and get to two hours. Then try two hours, two days in a row. Continue to increase your duration in this way by growing the duration of a single ride and then doing another longer ride the following day. Try making the second day longer than the first to change and grow the stimulus.

Sarah Kaufmann working on developing endurance for long rides. Photo by Matt McKinney
Sarah Kaufmann working on developing endurance for long rides. Photo by Matt McKinney

Use ‘tempo’ work or its slightly higher intensity companion, ‘sweet spot,’ work. This kind of effort feels like about a 6-8 out of 10 in your Rate of Perceived Exertion. Start on a steady climb or flat section and ride at a 6 or 7 out of 10 with continuous effort. The feeling of exertion will continue to climb but don’t let it get above an 8 out of 10. Try doing 4x 10 minutes of these intervals with 5-10 minutes of recovery between. If you are riding with a power meter, tempo power is usually between 80-89% of your Functional Threshold Power. Sweet Spot is between 90%-94% of FTP. As you get more comfortable, try 4x 12; 4x 15; 3x 20, etc. And/or try to shorten the recovery time between those intervals. Do not get tempted into making this a single continuous push and doing the entire time in zone as one interval. Your power will likely drop (though the intensity will still feel high), so you will not get the same stimulation and adaptation.

Keep in mind that both tempo/ sweet spot work and long endurance rides require substantial fueling and hydration to keep you going. Make sure you drink an electrolyte drink and fill a pocket with snacks. Then, make sure you eat and drink small sips and nibbles frequently to keep hydration and fuel coming in. Try to eat something every 30-60 minutes and drink 15-25oz of fluid depending on the temperature and your size. Often, athletes tell me that they crack at the 90-minute mark or some other specific time and when we drill down into it, it turns out they are not eating or drinking enough to fuel the work they are doing. Fitness can help develop your endurance but fueling and a big part of this puzzle too.

On the days you have less time, do the tempo or sweet spot intervals. When you have more time available, try the longer endurance days and adding back-to-back days. This ramping of training stimulus will lead to increased aerobic conditioning – endurance – so you can get out and enjoy long days on the bike this summer.

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