Saturday 19th June 2021 was the longest day of the year – and also the day of the annual Chase the Sun event, which sees people of all abilities cycling coast to coast, from sunrise to sunset in an attempt to reach their destination before the sun goes down. This year we had three teams representing Life Cycle UK. Malcolm was part of a team of volunteers from our Inclusive Cycling projects. When he’s not chasing the sun, he volunteers at our bike workshop in Derby – the Derby Hub – processing bikes that are donated by the public on their way into local prisons and helping to check them when they come out as good as new. Here he outlines how he dealt with the challenge of training to ride 205 miles in one day…
Malcolm’s training tips
1. Ride a bike for 205 miles in one day.
2. Enjoy riding a bike for 205 miles in one day!
1. A bike
2. A plan
3. A fitness level
4. A mind-set
1. LSD or Threshold Efforts?
2. Road riding or indoor trainer?
3. 60, 70 or 80?
4. Gels or chips?
(Confused by the terminology? Don’t worry, all will be explained in the article!)
One thing is certain, the decisions you make throughout the process will affect how well you go, how much you enjoy it, and how much it’ll hurt! Poor preparation can lead to a struggle. Practice will get you near to perfect, but there is no single correct way to do this.
Riding a bike for 100 miles is enough of a challenge for many, so thinking of doing that twice over to ‘chase the sun’ does sound a little adventurous, if not completely reckless. But that's why I chose to do it! 16 hours on a bike is a long time. If anything is not quite right - the angle of the handlebars, the padding on the saddle, the height of the seat, the comfort of your clothes, the amount you eat, the volume you drink - you won't make it without some pain, and you may not even complete the task.
So before thinking of doing 205 miles, you'd better have a bit of practice, and that practice starts months before the event. That practice includes building up the distance you can ride, the time that you can sit on the bike, the food that you can eat on the ride and the character that you build by putting your mind and body through the challenge of the training.
LSD vs Threshold Efforts
If the plan is to ride for 16 hours or more, there are different ways to get your muscles used to working for such a long time.
LSD (or Long Steady Distance - not the other LSD, although if you don't eat and drink properly, there is a chance you can hallucinate just as well) is a way of training your body to be on the bike for hours. With LSD you put in about 70% of your threshold (your threshold is the effort that you can sustain for an hour and not much longer) over longer distances.
The other way is to train is to cover shorter distances at your full 'hour threshold level'. There are good physiological arguments for both, but I chose to do both for the first few weeks: one longer ride every week, from 62 miles to 93 miles, combined with a few shorter, harder efforts that push the muscles and breathing, with the harder, shorter efforts done on an indoor trainer.
60, 70, 80?
The 60, 70, 80 is about the amount of carbohydrate you can absorb whilst exercising. It's not difficult to see that 200 miles requires a lot of energy, and, although it will vary from person to person, a reasonably fit cyclist will use around 700 Kcals per hour. The trick of getting to the end is to make sure you eat sufficient calories so as not to deplete your body's stores.
How much do you eat?
Over-eat, and you can get into digestive problems as your body diverts blood from the digestive system to those muscles pushing you along. Under-eat, and you'll not get to the end: running completely out of energy is dread of all cyclists, and is known as ‘the bonk’ - or ‘hunger knock’. Carbohydrate is the main fuel for your ride, but the human body can only absorb so much in an hour. 60g of carbohydrate is the maximum, but with the right mix of (basically) sugars, many people can absorb 90g an hour. I seem to be happy at around 80g as a combination of gels and homemade bars.
Don’t forget to practice eating!
This brings us to practice, and practising eating. There is a huge choice of energy foods, from sports gels, bars and drinks to cakes, homemade flapjacks, sandwiches, rice cakes and energy balls. The worst thing that you can do is try something new at a big event. So in the weeks before, try different foods to see what gives you the most energy, makes your guts unhappy or makes you fly. Once decided, stick with it. I have settled on a mix of homemade bars, salted roast potatoes, sports drinks with rehydration tablets and very generous doses of caffeine!
Part of the feeding plan will also include practising eating on the bike. This is a very useful skill, as when you're riding in a group, you don't want to make them stop every time you need a drink or a bite to eat.
Picking the right bike
Obviously, you need a bike that fits and that you're going to be comfortable sitting on from dawn to dusk. I have a 1991 hand-built steel frame that I use as my 'best' bike. It's not super light, but it fits me very well, and I have made significant upgrades to it. I've done long rides on it before, and done a few closed-road, timed events, so I know what it does and how it treats me. Even so, I have made two subtle changes to it so that the extra hours don't cause any trouble. I have raised the angle of the handlebar stem by 7 degrees, replaced my very comfortable, superlight carbon saddle with a very comfortable, slightly heavier, but slightly more padded saddle, and added some extra gel pads under the handlebar tape to help with hand comfort.
At the time of writing, we’ve just over a week to go before the event, so most of it is now sorted. Training, eating and the bike are mostly decided, even so, the plan is there to test, practice, and adjust as necessary. The more you do these sorts of events, the fewer changes are needed: but if you're riding 200 miles and have only ever ridden 50 miles before, there is a lot to learn about your kit and yourself.
The plan for the day
There is more to the plan though, and that is how to manage the day of the event. How to get to the start, how fast do you need to go to finish in time, and what happens at the end of the event. In our case for Chase the Sun, we have a support van that will meet up with us along the route, so we obviously need to be reasonably sure of our speed to be in the right places at the right times. If we miss the van, we will either lose time through waiting or lose access to extra food, clothes and equipment. The road plan is just as important as the training plan.
Mental and physical fitness
With the bike sorted, the feeding plan considered, the training plan started and the road plan defined, your fitness level will increase, your confidence increase and your mindset will be equal to the challenge.
At least that's what I'm hoping!