If you are reading this, you are probably one of those adventurous souls who love to challenge themselves with epic feats of endurance. You are unsatisfied with the usual weekend rides or even the occasional century. You want to go beyond what most people think is possible on a bike. You want to ride 1000km or more in a single event without external support, relying only on your strength, skills and resources. You want to experience the thrill of ultra-distance cycling.
But how do you prepare for such a daunting task? How do you train your body and mind to withstand hours and hours of pedalling through different terrains, weather conditions and time zones? How do you plan your route, gear, nutrition and hydration? How do you deal with the inevitable challenges, setbacks and surprises that will come your way? How do you stay motivated, focused and safe throughout the journey?
In this blog post, I will share with you some tips and advice I have learned from my own experience of participating in self-supported 1000km+ ultra-distance cycling races. I will cover the following topics:
Choosing your event.
Setting your goals.
Training your body.
Training your mind.
Planning your logistics.
Packing your gear.
Fueling your ride.
Enjoying the adventure.
By the end of this post, I hope you will understand what it takes to prepare for and participate in a self-supported 1000km+ ultra-distance cycling event and what you can expect from the experience. Let's get started!
Choosing Your Event
The races are challenging, rewarding and fun, but they also require a lot of preparation and planning. How do you choose the event?
Consider your goals and preferences. Do you want to race for speed, endurance, scenery, or personal satisfaction? Do you prefer flat or hilly terrain, paved or gravel roads, warm or cold weather, day or night riding, or solo or group participation? Can your bike handle the different terrains and weather conditions?
Research the events available. There are many websites, blogs, podcasts and books that provide information and reviews of different ultra-distance cycling races around the world. You can also join online communities and forums where you can ask questions and get advice from other riders who have done the events you are interested in.
Compare the costs and logistics. Ultra-distance cycling race fees, travel expenses, accommodation options, food and water availability, support services, rules and regulations, and safety measures can vary widely. You need to weigh the pros and cons of each event and see what fits your budget, abilities and expectations.
Once you have chosen your event..., set some goals and design a training plan that suits your fitness level, schedule and goals. You must prepare your bike, gear, clothing, nutrition, hydration, navigation, communication and emergency equipment. You should test everything before the race to ensure you are comfortable and confident with your setup.
Setting Your Goals
Start with a clear vision of why you want to do this and what you hope to achieve. This will keep you motivated and focused throughout your training and the event...
Set realistic and specific goals. Don't just aim to finish the race..., break it down into smaller segments and milestones. This will help you stay motivated and focused throughout the training and the race. For example, in training, you can set monthly, weekly and daily targets for your distance, speed, elevation and nutrition.
Track your progress and celebrate your achievements. Use a training journal, an app or a spreadsheet to record your data and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. Reward yourself for reaching your milestones and learn from your setbacks.
Training Your Body
You need to prepare your body for the physical and mental challenges ahead...
Start by building a solid base of endurance. You should be able to ride comfortably for at least 10-12 hours.
Incorporate some strength training into your routine. You will need strong muscles to support your joints, posture, and bike handling, especially on rough terrain and steep climbs. Focus on your core, legs, and upper body, and use functional exercises that mimic cycling movements.
Practice riding with your gear and nutrition. Test your bike setup, bags, clothing, tools, and food before the big day.
Training Your Mind
A self-supported ultra-distance cycling race is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. You will face fatigue, boredom, pain, loneliness, and uncertainty. You need to develop a positive mindset, a strong motivation, and a flexible strategy to overcome these obstacles and reach the finish line...
Visualize your success. Imagine yourself crossing the finish line, feeling proud and accomplished. This will boost your confidence and reduce your anxiety.
Practice positive self-talk. Replace negative thoughts with encouraging and affirming ones. Remind yourself of your strengths, achievements and reasons for doing the race.
Manage your stress. Find healthy ways to cope with the pressure and challenges of training and the race, such as breathing exercises, meditation, music or talking to a friend.
Planning Your Logistics
How much traffic and weather exposure can you handle? Research the route beforehand and study the elevation profile, road conditions, and potential hazards… you will need to plan your logistics carefully.
Plan your stops and re-supply points. Depending on the race rules, you may or may not be allowed to receive outside assistance or use commercial services. You should know where to find drinking water, grocery stores, gas stations, hotels, campgrounds, bike shops, and hospitals on the route. Use race information, online maps, apps, or guidebooks, mark them on your map or device and estimate how long it will take you to reach them.
Have a backup plan for emergencies and contingencies. Having a backup plan is essential for any project or goal. A backup plan helps you prepare for unexpected challenges, risks, or obstacles that may arise along the way. A backup plan also gives you a sense of security and confidence by knowing you have alternative options if things don't go as planned. A backup plan is an intelligent and proactive way of managing your resources and expectations.
Be flexible and adaptable. No matter how well you plan, things can go wrong during a long-distance bike race. You may face mechanical issues, injuries, bad weather, road closures, or other unexpected challenges. Keep a positive attitude, and don't panic or give up. Instead, be ready to adjust your plan and improvise solutions.
Packing Your Gear
Pack light but smart. You don't want to carry unnecessary weight or run out of essential supplies. Write a list of what you need and prioritize items based on their importance, frequency of use, and availability along the route. Some items to consider are bike tools and spare parts, clothing layers, food and water, navigation devices, lights and batteries, sleeping gear, and personal hygiene items.
Use a combination of bags and racks to distribute the weight evenly on your bike. You can use a handlebar bag, a frame bag, a saddle bag, and a rear rack. Try to balance the load on the front and rear of your bike to avoid affecting your handling and stability.
Your equipment (including your bike) doesn't have to be the highest-end equipment. Something less fancy or complicated is often better.
Organize your gear by frequency of use and accessibility. Put the items you need most often or quickly in the easiest-to-reach places, such as your handlebar bag or jersey pockets. Put the items you need less frequently or only at night in the harder-to-reach places, such as your saddle bag or rear rack.
Test your gear before the race. Everything should fit securely on your bike and not interfere with your pedalling, steering, or braking. Check that everything works properly and is in good condition. Always do a few practice rides with your fully loaded bike to get used to the weight and feel of it.
Fueling Your Ride
Everyone is different, so find what works best for you. Experiment with various foods and drinks during training and see how they affect you. If you feel hungry, thirsty, tired, or nauseous, don't ignore it. Stop and eat or drink something, or take a short break if needed… always listen to your body and adjust accordingly during training and the long and challenging race...
Eat a balanced and nutritious meal before training and on race day before the start. Eat enough carbohydrates, protein, and fat to provide energy and prevent muscle breakdown. Avoid foods which are too spicy, greasy, or fibrous, as they can upset your stomach or cause digestive issues.
Train and race with high-calorie and easy-to-digest snacks you can eat on the bike. Examples are energy bars, gels, dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate. Aim for 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, depending on your body weight and intensity. You can also use electrolyte tablets or powders to add flavour and minerals to your water.
Drink water regularly and frequently. Dehydration can impair your performance and increase your risk of cramps, heat stroke, or hypothermia. Depending on the weather and your sweat rate, you should drink about 500-750 ml of water per hour. You can also use a hydration bladder or bottles with long straws to make drinking easier while riding.
Build up some fat reserves 4-6 weeks before the event, and eat as much as you can each day. You will arrive at the start line overweight. That's okay because there is no way you can possibly eat as much as you burn during these events.
And you can't always rely on aid stations or convenience stores, so carry enough food and water to keep you going. Trust me, you don't want to run out of fuel or water. Pack extra high-calorie and easy-to-digest snacks you can eat on the bike, and always have more than enough water.
Again, always plan ahead and re-supply when you can. If you know places where you can refill your water or buy some food along the route, take advantage of them.
Pace yourself during the long training rides, listen to your body and take breaks when needed. Drink and eat regularly to stay hydrated and energized.
For the race… don't start too fast or too hard, or you'll burn out quickly. Find a comfortable speed you can maintain for long periods.
Find places to rest and recharge. Resting during an ultra race does not mean stopping completely. Instead, it is short breaks to sleep, eat, hydrate, stretch and boost your morale and mental focus. The amount and frequency of rest depend on the your needs, goals and preferences..., and can make the difference between finishing strong and dropping out. Plan your rest carefully. Use race information, weather forecasts, online tools, and apps to map resting points.
Enjoying The Adventure
Enjoy the ride..., a self-supported ultra-distance cycling race (and preparation) is not only a physical challenge but also a mental and emotional one. You'll face ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and pains. But remember why you're doing this and what you want to achieve. Appreciate the scenery, the people and the experience. And most importantly, have fun!
That is it, thank you for reading, I hope you found it to be a useful resource. Questions, comments and high fives! Drop them here.