If your weekend rides are turning into something more serious and you feel primed for a fresh two-wheeled test, then ultra-distance cycling could be the next challenge for you.
In this article we’ll break down the discipline for enthusiastic beginners: what is ultracycling, how can you best prepare for an ultracycling challenge, what equipment do you need for ultracycling and how can manage tiredness during longer distances.
What is ultra-distance cycling?
Ultra-distance cycling – or ultracycling for short – is a fast-growing global sport that anyone can take part in who has a bicycle. It involves covering distances of 200km (125 miles) or more, or being on your bike for a minimum of six hours, and it typically appeals to the following…
- People who love being on their bike: it doesn’t matter what kind of bike you own, if you like spending the whole day on it – and then some – ultracycling could be for you.
- People looking for new challenges: ultracycling is physically and mentally gruelling, challenging competitors to go beyond what they think is possible and compelling those who are predisposed to go further.
- People who are inherently competitive: whether you’re against yourself, the clock or other competitors, ultracycling will test your desire and willpower like no other cycling discipline.
At Styrkr, our products are specifically designed to help you achieve your cycling goals: whether they be punishing short rides or epic longer efforts. We have worked with sportspeople and academics from across the globe to hone our products and are constantly improving and adapting them in consultation with our customers and our sponsored athletes.
How can you best prepare for an ultracycling challenge?
Whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or an endorsed professional, completing ultracycling challenges gives an amazing sense of personal accomplishment.
It’s not for the faint-hearted or the under-prepared though. Training, fuelling and planning correctly are absolutely paramount if you want to secure that sense of satisfaction at the finish line.
So where do you start?
6 tips for beginners to the discipline:
1. Get your base miles in and build gradually
Not many of us can go from leisurely weekend cruises to ultracycling challenges without training our bodies first. With this in mind, it’s important to develop a training plan that gradually ups the intensity of your rides and the time spent on your bike.
Use it as a flexible guide that works around your schedule and gives you the motivation to keep pushing your limits and building your endurance.
An example 6-week training guide, with an end goal of riding 100 miles in a week, might look something like this:
2. Be realistic. Don’t push too hard too soon!
Don’t set unrealistic goals too early, it can have an adverse effect on your motivation levels.
The above is a 6-week training plan to get to 100 miles per week. You might want to set your plan to 8 weeks or 10 weeks and modify the mileage to give your body more time to adjust.
It’s important that you do you.
Adapting your training strategy will stand you in good stead for making adaptations when you’re completing your challenge.
You doing you applies both ways, too. If you’re feeling robust and want to intensify your plan, go for it.
3. Keep it varied and fun
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s no different when training for ultracycling challenges. Doing long distances regularly can quickly become a slog if you don’t mix up your routes a bit.
Plan your rides in advance so you get to cycle new roads, attack different gradients and see new things.
If you have time, pop your bike on the car rack and go explore a completely new place.
Invite some capable friends along for the ride.
The bottom line: keeping your routes as fresh as you possibly can, given your circumstances, can really help with motivation and enjoyment levels.
4. Eat before your ride and take the correct fuel with you
Hopping on your bike without a proper breakfast is okay if you’re just popping to the shop and back, but probably not advisable should you be taking on significant mileage.
How to train for an Ultra-endurance race?
We recommend a hearty breakfast comprising carbohydrates and protein: a lot of cyclists swear by porridge as it releases energy slowly. Others prefer a 2-3 egg omelette. Some have both. Or variations of either.
It’s also good to be completely hydrated before you get on the bike, so sipping a recommended sports drink while having breakfast is a good idea, too.
During the ride, simple carbohydrates like bananas are recommended as are basic sweets and more advanced sports gels and salts.
5. Focus on your recoveries as well as your activities
If you’re asking your body to do things it wouldn’t normally do, then allowing it time to recuperate is all part of the deal.
Eat well to help your muscles build. Sleep well to allow your body to repair. Warm up gently before rides and down gently after rides.
You’ll be grateful you did all these things in the long run. And in ultracycling the run can be pretty darn long…
6. Keep your wheels turning: look after your bike!
Once you begin your training schedule you are going to be using your bike more and more as you approach your challenge, so it’s also important to maintain it as you both rack up the miles.
Make sure no mud or dirt is in the wheels or cables. Lubricate your chain to make sure it doesn’t rust and runs smoothly. Keep your tyres pumped to the correct PSI at all times and monitor them for wear and tear.
And if you’re not sure about something, become friends with your local bike shop.
No-one is born an ultracyclist or a professional rider, so don’t be afraid to ask basic questions at first. They should understand and be happy to help.
Ultra-endurance cycling kit: what do I need to pack?
As you reach milestones in your training, you will start to get an idea of what it’s going to take to complete your ultracycling challenge both mentally and physically – and what you will need to take with you to help you compete at your best.
At the very least you’ll need the necessary tools to repair a puncture and one or two spare inner tubes. You will need strategic clothing to get you through changing weather conditions. You will need charged apparatus such as lighting and reflective clothing to make sure you can carry on safely cycling in dark and murky conditions. You must also have the necessary equipment to carry all your gear on your bike without it impacting negatively on your riding ability.
A ultracycling kit list will look something like this:
- Insulated jacket
- Waterproof jacket (when not in use)
- Arm & leg warmers
- Inner tubes
- Inner tube patches
- Spares (brake pads, cables)
- Tyre levers
- Zip ties / electrical tape
- Bivi bag (if you need to sleep during your endeavours, see next para)
- Sleeping mat (as above)
- Silk liner
- Snacks / Fuel
- Power bank
- Charging cables
- Chain lube
- Brevet card
- Bank card
You can alter the necessaries on your kit list depending on the distance and ferocity of your challenge – and personal preference.
The more you train and ride, the more comfortable you will begin to feel carrying equipment and staying fuelled on longer adventures.
Top tips for sleeping when riding an ultra
If your ultracycling challenge takes place over a number of days, then timing when to take sleep breaks becomes a big factor in your challenge.
How long can you go on before you need to sleep? At what points on the route is it best to take a break? How much sleep do you need so your body can still function properly and you can ride safely?
Here’s some advice to help work out what’s best for you.
1. Sleeping is not wasting time!
Remember: sleep is crucial for the body and mind to function. Depriving yourself of sleep during an ultra can be construed as giving yourself an “advantage” – when you’re not sleeping, you’re riding, right? However, you’d be surprised at how much sleep deprivation affects your performance and compromises your safety.
Sleeping is not wasting time and it’s best not to think of it like that.
2. Ultracycling is about making choices all the way to the finish line
Can you operate your bike safely given the amount of sleep you have had?
Is there a place nearby where you can safely bivy up and get some rest?
What’s the optimal sleeping time that’ll help you recover enough and stick to your strategy?
At the very least you want to complete your event, and the better you sleep during your ride, the better chance you have of making it to the finish line.
You know your body and mind. Making the right choices throughout your endeavour will help you succeed.
3. Get good sleep where you can
This doesn’t mean you should be booking Premier Inns throughout your ride and having 8 hours a night and room service. It means you have to react to how your body feels and when you get the opportunity, get good sleep where you can.
Ultimately, it’s a balance.
If you’re bivying and it’s raining, don’t expect to get a solid three hours.
If you do find some adequate, convenient digs with a comfy bed, take advantage of it and have more.
4. Stay on target and try to enjoy it
Riding without sleep can be dangerous, but it can also be quite miserable. Try and find a balance so you can keep smiling and achieve your goals.
Ultracycling: a summary
As far as we’re concerned, ultracycling is an awesome sport for awesome people who want to achieve awesome things.
Like everything in life that’s worthwhile though, there’s a tough learning curve to overcome and this only gets easier with experience. Our advice: plan, plan and plan some more.
Always expect the unexpected.
Be prepared for and adapt to changing conditions.
Know your mind and body and react accordingly with rest and fuel.
Make the right choices for you as you ride so you can keep on pushing hard while staying safe and happy.
And keep thinking about that coveted feeling on the finish line: it’s like we said at the start, there really is nothing quite like it.