On The Threshold

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the foundations of endurance are laid on long rides, so they are likely to make up the bulk of your sportive training, especially in the earliest stages, says Nik Cook.

From a physiological perspective you’ll be increasing your riding economy and your ability to tap your fat reserves for fuel. Your pace should be easy and you should be able to maintain a conversation at all times. On hills use your gears to keep you in the saddle and spin. “Go long and easy in training,” says Mark Laithwaite from, “and you’ll adapt to the distance.” Also, use these rides to experiment with what type of nutrition suits you best.

The carrot
If the training schedule you’re following for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 doesn’t require you to tackle the ton in training, don’t worry, there are a number of reasons for leaving you a bit short. One is to keep the carrot of your first 100 dangling in front of you; another is, if you attempted 100 in training and failed, you might just not bother trying again.

“When training for endurance don’t think you have to cover your target distance in training,” says Mark Beaumont, who held the world record for the fastest circumnavigation of the world on a bicycle. “For my round the world ride I would be averaging over 100 miles per day, but I never rode that distance while training.”

Beaumont, of course, rode a long way quickly – he managed 18,296 miles in 194 days and 17 hours – and recognises that training to go long isn’t just about getting in slow, steady miles. “I did shorter, higher intensity stuff and that fitness allowed me to ride all day at a lower intensity.”

Sustain your pace
Including some swifter riding in your regime, as Beaumont did, will make your century ride easier. But before you add flat-out sprints, Laithwaite suggests looking at the bigger training picture. “Before you think about going faster, stop yourself slowing down,” he advises. “If your event lasts six hours and you can’t ride continuously at 16-18mph for that distance then your priority is not sprinting up hills or doing power intervals on your turbo.”

To get your body used to riding at a good speed for a long time you’ll need to work on your threshold pace. In simple terms this is the pace at which lactic acid builds up in your muscles and your body begins to have trouble processing it. In even simpler terms it’s the pace you can just about sustain, but if you’re riding with mates any attempt at conversation will be short-lived.

Threshold training is important when it comes to sticking with a group on a long climb or time-trialling to make a cut-off in a sportive. Riding at this pace also makes your body more efficient at dealing with lactic acid. Despite its bad press lactic is actually converted to glucose or, in other words, fuel.

The need for speed
You can complete a 100-mile sportive, like the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100, on steady-state training alone, but by adding some threshold sessions you’ll get round a hell of a lot quicker – and in a lot more comfort. These sessions can either be done on an indoor trainer or on a flat route.

If your training schedule doesn’t feature threshold sessions, try this for starters:

  • Cycle for 10 minutes easy then ride four minutes at tempo pace (a pace where you struggle to speak for more than a few seconds), recover for two minutes, then repeat three times before riding easy for 10 minutes to cool down.
  • As you become fitter, try to up the time you spend at threshold pace. You could ride for 10 minutes easy then for 20 minutes at tempo pace before another 10 minutes easy to cool down.

And relax…
Recovering from a long ride or threshold session is just as important as the ride itself. On a recovery ride your effort level should be super-easy and you should barely feel any pressure through the pedals. Choose a flat course and stay in the small chainring – if you’re overtaken by grannies on shopping bikes you’re doing it right. “Don’t underestimate the value of cross-training to prevent the build-up of repetitive strain injuries and to iron out any muscle imbalances,” says Beaumont. “Injury prevention in training is key.”

Swimming or an activity like yoga or pilates also will boost your fitness, strength and suppleness as well as aid recovery.

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