La Bourgogne Cyclosportive Endurance

Endurance Training – Why?

To understand the ‘Why’ we need to understand what mean by the term ‘Endurance’. Many of us, I’m sure, think about ‘endurance’ being associated with cycling longer distances but there is more to it than just that.

A dictionary defines ‘endurance’ as “the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way” with synonyms such as “toleration, bearing, tolerance, sufferance, fortitude, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation, stoicism”. This definition almost ‘flies in the face’ of why we ride our bikes but it is relevant to helping us understand ‘endurance’.

In cycling, ‘endurance’ is about the ability to sustain effort over a distance and time in order to achieve an objective. ‘Endurance’ becomes a key component of our ability to enjoy our sport. You may be a leisure rider, a time triallist, race criteriums, ride sportives, ride the track, mtb, cross – whatever branch of the sport you inhabit, endurance is absolutely key.

What do we train for endurance?

Initially, we think of training as being only associated with training our physiology. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that training our bodies is only a part of the ‘training package’ we need to engage.

Simply put we need to train our physiology and our minds.

Training the mind – ‘The Endurance Limiter’

It’s natural for us to believe that we have the ability to ride a certain distance or time. Our belief in what we can achieve is deep rooted. For example, we might believe that the longest ride we can complete is 40 miles. We admire those that ride further to the extent that we believe their achievement is impossible to emulate which, in turn, confirms our belief that we cannot ride 40 miles.

This is not our body telling us that we cannot ride further than 40 miles but our mind.

In order to achieve our goals we need to believe that we can and we do that through the process of achievement.

Recently, I was promoting Sportive Cycling Magazine at a sportive in the south-west of England. I met many enthusiastic riders, many of whom were delighted with completing the courses they had chosen.

However, I met one rider who until that day the furthest he had cycled was 18 miles. The sportive offered a 23 mile route which he undertook as a challenge to complete. His sense of achievement by his success was transformational. He talked excitedly about how he hadn’t expected to complete the challenge because he hadn’t consdiered the possibility of achieving his goal. Now that he had, horizons opened before him.

The process of achievement is aspiring to a goal, preparing to achieve that goal and then achieving it. Aspire, Prepare, Achieve!

Enabling our minds to accept the possibility of achievement brings us to preparing our bodies or physiology.

Preparing Our Bodies

Preparing ourselves physically enables us to be confident which, in turn, raises our expectation of success. If we do not prepare physically, we are less confident of success but, strangely, our minds can trick us into believing that we will succeed because ‘it’ll be OK’ or ‘we’ll get through it somehow’.

That may well be the case but wishful thinking will only take us so far. Physical preparation is essential to achievement and we should not allow our minds to ‘cheat us’ when physical preparation becomes a little difficult.

Traditionally, endurance training has been associated with low intensity rides and there are good reasons for this.

Low intensity rides help us train our bodies to utilise fat stores rather than carbohydrate in the form of glycogen. If we are to cycle longer distances of more that two hours duration our body must learn how to use fat as a fuel rather than glycogen which can be used for more explosive efforts.

Riding at a low intensity can also be refreshing improving our mood and become an affirmation of our ability to ride longer and further.

Length of Endurance Training

Training our minds should be an on-going, all-year-round objective. As the duration of more intensive training begins to extend, we need to continue with improving our perception of what is possible and continually strive to extend those horizons and expectations of ourselves.

Low intensity physical training should always be a significant component of our work. Some coaches offer guidance around 80% of our physical training programme should be at low intensity with the remainder being at a higher intensity based around our event goals.

One thing to realise is that we are all different. Some of us will need a higher proportion of low intensity work than others and at different times of year.

As a broad guide, endurance rides should be at least two hours within heart rate zones 1 and 2. Power zones are irrelevant because there is no need to measure power but if you have a power meter then zones 1 and 2 will be fine. Occasionally, on climbs you may see your heart rate go beyond these zones but try to keep your heart rate as low as possible. Change into your lower gears or even your lowest gear and lightly pedal your way to the top.

Generally, low intensity work forms the basis of more intense training loads in the future. It is an opportunity to sweep away the previous season and embrace the new. It provides time to consider the next seaon’s goals and admire the view.

It enables us to reflect and evaluate, to engage our minds and consider what is possible to achieve.

Aspire, Prepare, Achieve!

More about training and preparation:

Ultimate Ride Fuel Guide…

Training Plan vs Coaching?


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A cyclist for 25+ years specialising in endurance events Jez has completed two London-Edinburgh-London 1400 kms Audax, time-trials at 10, 25, 50, 100 miles and 24-hours. Successfully completed Tour du Mont Blanc in 2017 as part of a 'Duo' team in 16 hr 39 mins (330 kms, 8,700+ m) plus various continental cyclosportives in France and Belgium.
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Posted in Preparation, Training.