The Long Bike: Volume, Intensity, Group Riding, Nutrition, Gear and Technique

author : Rich Strauss
comments : 2

The Long Bike. If you're like most triathletes, this one training session can account for 25-30% of your weekly training volume. We often learn to ride, eat, drink, pace ourselves and, yes, suffer on the Long Ride. If you belong to a tri club or train with a group of training partners, likely your long ride is your happy hour, your time to socialize, to catch up with friends you haven't seen in a few weeks and to make new ones. In short, we spend a LOT of time on our bikes on the weekends. I've compiled some thoughts and guidance below to bring you several thousand miles up the learning curve.

 

Key Thoughts:

  • Love the bike. The most successful, consistent, strongest, craziest triathlon cyclists I know (myself included) simply LOVE to ride the bike. Fast, slow, long, short, it doesn’t matter.

  • Create a vehicle for doing cool stuff. I don't really "train" anymore. I put big, long cool events on the calendar. I then schedule weekly, smaller cool events to guide me to the bigger events. But 90% of what I do is just fun for me. If it's fun AND good training, bonus!

  • The shorter the ride, the harder you should work. 

  • If you want to ride the bike fast, you have to ride the bike fast. Face it: you’re going to have to suffer. 

  • Don’t be afraid to extend your perspective on what “far” is. 80 becomes 100 becomes 120 becomes 150+. Just do it.

 

Volume
The most valuable thing you can do for your endurance training is to schedule a weekly 2-4hr long ride from now until the end of time. Simply make this “what you do” every Saturday or Sunday morning.

  • Considering joining/forming a tri or cycling club to add a powerful social component to your long ride. Right now I’m looking forward to my Saturday and Sunday rides because I get to play on a bike with my friends. I don’t even think of it as training anymore.

  • For Sprint to Half athletes, regular ride should be 2-3 hours. Half and IM should be 3-4 hrs.

  • I think everyone, regardless of distance, benefits from having a monthly 80-100 mile ride. If you belong to a club, become the guy who organizes this monthly ride for your club. Use your imagination and try to get family members involved. An epic two day ride with friends could become a family event, with families shuttling gear to the overnight destination, enjoying some unique time together in a cool location, etc.

  • If you are confined to a trainer, have no to very few volume goals. I think 1.5-2hrs is fine. In the winter we trade cycling volume for cycling intensity and running frequency. Read Limiter Season for more detailed thoughts.

 

Intensity
Very simple: the shorter the ride, the harder we ride. If you want to ride the bike fast, you have to ride the bike fast. There is no easy way. Often, suffering is the only short cut.

  • 2.5-3 hours seems to be the sweet spot, a respectable volume that still allows for a good bit of intensity. Just as importantly, it’s usually easy to fit this volume into your family schedule year round: on the bike at 7 a.m., done by 10 a.m. and you’re not trashed for the rest of the day. 

  • Always ride the first hour very easy. I want you guys to learn the value of riding easy in the first part of a ride so you have confidence in applying this strategy to your racing, especially Ironman. The pay off is a very strong finish. 

  • Weight the intensity of the ride towards the second half, especially the last hour. I lead the local club here on a weekly Saturday ride and we usually hook up with a roadie ride for the last 30-45’. This becomes a TT effort most of us.

  • Within that second half guidance, insert informal low cadence work in there as well 

  • If you’re solo, use the clock to help you find intensity. For example, 60’ Easy, then 2 x (40’ Steady, 20’ Mod-Hard

  • When in doubt, hammer on the flats or find a hill :-) 

  • At lower intensities, use HR as primary, watts as secondary. As intensity increases, watts become primary. 

  • Don’t be afraid to ride at a volume and intensity that’s above your fitness. In other words, it’s often ok to ride an 80 mile like its only 50 miles. You might implode, but you’ll be stronger the next week and you’ll learn something. I call this Banzai Riding. Early in the season, I pop on MANY rides, often struggling to finish. But I come back harder the next week.

 

Group Riding
As the locals can tell you, I’m a huge believer in the value of group riding. Find those fast triathletes, that local roadie ride, etc, and learn how to ride with them. Read my Tri Group Riding series for more ideas.

 

Nutrition
Here is the super simple Team Crucible nutrition plan for races: 1-2 x feed bottles of Infinit nutrition (mixed as concentrated as you like). Half IM athletes use this bottle to get in about 200-250 cal/hr, chasing with water. IM athletes shoot for 250-400/hr, chasing with water. You can begin to practice this during your long rides, experimenting with concentration, etc.

  • Fuel yourself enough before and during the ride to ensure a quality session.

  • A long ride is NOT a weight loss opportunity, i.e., don’t starve yourself during the ride. By starving yourself during a ride you are NOT training your body to burn fat instead of glycogen. That is a myth.

  • Refuel yourself after the ride and then eat normally the rest of the day. Don’t use the ride as an excuse to chow down all day.

  • Train yourself to take in large volumes of fluid. This is a big one, especially for those riding in the cold, as it is easy to de-train ourselves over the winter. Shoot for taking in 2 bike bottles per hour.
    More thoughts here in Training Nutrition.

 

Rich’s Marine Math
Here are the numbers I run through my head when ball-parking my nutrition before/during/after a ride:

I estimate my basal rate as 2200-2400 calories. I estimate I store 2000 calories of glycogen. So I go to sleep with 2000 calories stored, wake up with 1200. Knowing my body (slow digestion, apparently) I wake up an hour early and take in about 600 calories. I’m now “almost” topped off on glycogen. From training with watts I know I burn about 600-700 calories per hour on a long ride, so I figure I can do a 2-3 hour long ride without really eating anything (2000 cals glycogen – 3 x 600-700/hr). So I’ll often just have Gatorade and a Clifbar for a 3 hour ride. If I’m riding longer than I’ll get in more calories.

When I get home from a ride like this, in which I haven’t eaten much at all, I’ll assume that my glycogen stores are almost empty. So I’ll eat a big lunch of about 1500 calories with a good mix of carbs and protein. Then I’ll eat normally the rest of the day. Now, I know myself very, very well. My body has also changed a good bit over the years, and I’m much more fuel efficient. I could do a century on water and about 500 calories. Not smart but I could do it. The result is that Dick is often lazy with hydration and nutrition because I know what I can and can’t do, and I’m not afraid of bonking on accident. Don’t be a Dick, fuel yourself. That said, I’ve also evolved away from training food. I ride on $0.50 bagels, Snickers, Cokes, Mt. Dew, and coffee. I know what works for me in races so I don’t “need” to practice this stuff too much. Again, don’t be a Dick until you’re confident in your knowledge of you body.

 

Gear
What to carry, how to carry it, the tricks of the trade:

  • Cash, ID, credit card, medical insurance card, cell phone, every ride, always.

  • Tube(s), Co2, levers, tools, tire boot, $20 in the tool bag.

  • Drink powder in a Ziploc bag.

  • Don’t dress to be warm in the parking lot. If you’re shivering a bit waiting for the ride to start you’re probably dressed appropriately. I use a running t-shirt, armwarmers, leg warmers, glove liners, toe caps and maybe a wind shell. During the ride I can strip all that stuff off without stopping the bike, as the temperature changes through the day.

 

Technique
You’re stuck on a bike for hours, might as well make use of the time.

  • If you have watts, learn to ride hills steady, with few to no power spikes. Use the tool to learn how you naturally want to ride (huge watts at the bottom of a hill, fade in the middle, shut it down at the top) and then train yourself to ride the smarter way (no spike, appropriate watts on the climb, follow through with those watts across the crest). 

  • Learn to ride/stand out of the saddle efficiently. Power users, learn how to stand and ride at appropriate watts. I’ve identified a sweet spot in my out-of-the-saddle climbing that allows me to put out watts about 30 higher than my FT but at a lower heart rate. But above those watts I pop pretty quickly. Again, just experiment with body position, weight distribution, etc. You’ll learn a lot.

  • Bike handling: bunny hopping, cornering in aerobars, cornering faster, staying in the aerobars when eating and drinking, reaching for/racking bottles smoothly, aggressive braking, controlling a rear wheel slide, slow speed handling, track stands (not quite there yet), tight u-turns, etc. Just play on your bike! 

  • Tracking: ride on the white line in your aerobars without looking at the line. Smooth movements, bike doesn’t move side to side. Look at your shadow, your upper body should be still.

  • Cadence: force yourself to ride several minutes at 100+ rpm, in the aerobars and out. Do the same with 50-65 rpm. Build your comfort at a wide range of cadences.

 

This is the short list :-)  I could go on and on with the things I've learned from my time in the saddle and through guiding hundreds of athletes through the process of becoming endurance machines. However, my simplest guidance is this:  Training becomes fun when you learn to love the bike!

 


 

As Crucible Fitness head coach and Pasadena Triathlon Club founder, Rich Strauss has a unique perspective on the club/athlete relationship.  Rich can offer a consultative relationship tailored to the growth goals of your club and its members, through club sponsorship, training articles, speaking at club meetings, writing club training plans and conducting affordable clinics.  Please have your club officers contact Rich to discuss opportunities to work with and learn from each other.

 

Please also visit Crucible Fitness to subscribe to The Brick, the Crucible Fitness eNewsletter with News, Tips, Training Articles, special offers and more!

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date: January 29, 2006

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Rich Strauss

 

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