"Ride your bike. Ride your bike. Ride your bike." So said legendary cyclist Fausto Coppi when asked what it takes to become a great champion cyclist. While there is much more to training for a 12-hour mountain bike race, there really is no substitute for putting in time in the saddle.
Train For Time
Plan your training by hours ridden instead of by distance. Don't rely on your computer to monitor your workouts. Speeds vary considerably based on the course you are using. Instead, use your intensity as a guide. Your two hours cycling at a hard pace on a technical trail may only cover 15 miles, while similar exertion on a flat, smooth road will take you 40 miles.
Put in your base miles working up four- to six-hour rides on one or two long rides per month. This will take between three to four months. Periodize your training by reducing your training time for one week each month. Do this only after increasing time by no greater than 10 percent each week for the first three weeks of the month. The relative rest will give your body time to catch up, according to cycling trainer and author, Joe Friels.
Burn Fuel Efficiently
Practice eating during your long rides. Taste and digestion change as fatigue sets in. Find out what works for you. Long rides train you to become good at burning fat. After two to three hours, glycogen is depleted and blood glucose becomes a major source of fuel, but only if you continue to replenish it by eating, says Friels. Without carbohydrates, fat won't burn efficiently.
Watch Those Calories
Training hard is not a license to eat everything in sight. A 200-mile training week will add about 6,000 calories to your diet to maintain your weight. That's only 857 extra calories each day. Adding weight will make it more difficult to get up the climbs and force a greater demand on anaerobic energy sources.
Edmund Burke wrote in “The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling” that a primary objective in long-distance training is to become so good at burning fat that your glycogen stores are never depleted. You're training yourself to burn fuel efficiently, like an automobile that will go as long as you want as long as you keep putting in gas. If you can ride for six hours and still feel like you could keep going, you're ready.
- Joe Friels: K.I.S.S. Periodization
- The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling; Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. and Ed Pavelka
- Nutristrategy: Cycling - Calories Burnet Bike Riding
- Bike 198: 7 Steps to Riding Your First Off Road Century - Mountain Bike Endurance Racing
- The Cyclist's Training Bible; Joe Friels
Jeff McClung has a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and cardiac rehabilitation. He has been a college professor for more than 20 years, publishing research in various journals in his field.