Beyond Sportives: Making the move up to endurance cycling

Posted on: February 16th, 2018

endurance cycling

Endurance cycling: You can start with a 200 mile race in Ireland – solo or as part of relay – and progress to much longer events in Ireland or abroad. There’s a huge choice of distances, formats and locations in the rapidly growing world of endurance cycling. Like marathon running; some ride to race, others to test themselves and complete the course.


Making the move from sportives to endurance cycling


By Joe Barr

If you’re an experienced sportive rider and you’re thinking about trying an endurance cycling I’d be the first to encourage you to give it a go.

It’s a very different dimension of the sport and a new challenge. Endurance cycling will teach you a wider variety of skills that transfer into all aspects of life.

  • Two new endurance races – of 200 miles and 500 miles – have been launched in Ireland; for late April.
  • The 200 mile event – route here – is open to solo riders and two-rider teams. And the 500 mile event – route available here – is open to solo cyclists and teams of two or four.

It also works in reverse, by the way. Your life experience will play out on the road in your ability to endure.

So what do you need to know about endurance cycling if you’re coming from a sportive perspective?


1 Pacing and speed

You need to think about speed and effort differently. In sportives, speed is often created by the group.

There are numerous opportunities to draft so your speed is maintained with less effort. Even if you duck into a group or behind a wheel for 10-20 min rest, that counts!

In endurance, 100 per cent of you speed is generated by you 100 per cent of the time. This brings very different equations between speed and effort over time and distance.

If you’re wondering what happens between 100 and 200 miles; it’s all down to these equations.

To go longer distances you must learn to manage your average speed within a sustainable window. It only gets smaller during the race. This, of course, comes with experience.


2 Choosing the right gears

You may need to rethink your gearing. Endurance is about riding efficiently. And that depends, in part, on gearing.

You are now travelling greater distances over incredibly varied terrain. For certain you will be riding and climbing in a more fatigued state.

As a result, you will perform differently on a climb that comes at 150 miles compared to one that comes after 40 miles.

You must have gearing that accounts for this. Poor gearing selection results in inefficiencies. They accumulate over time and, inevitability, decreased performance occurs.


3 Get your fuelling right

Fuelling often catches people out. There is no worse feeling than bonking after a long effort.

Fuelling for endurance is an intricate process of managing calorie deficit.

Calories going in through nutrition can’t keep pace with those you’re burning to sustain performance.

As a result, the body makes up the difference by mobilising and burning both glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscles and liver) and fat.

Most people store about 2,500 calories as glycogen. It can usually make up the difference for about three or four hours.

This gets you to the end of your sportive. But it won’t get you to the end of 200+ miles.

For endurance racing, you need to become a better fat burner. Moreover, you need to manage your glycogen stores well.


4 Assembling a support crew

For endurance events you will have to form a crew. Surround yourself with people who are up for the challenge.

It’s not the easiest job in the world; being in a slowly moving vehicle and remaining on high alert for safety, navigation, nutrition, clothing changes and morale support.

It’s an adventure, though, and a fantastic team experience.


5 Your position on the bike

You’ll need to think about the most efficient position on the bike. You can get away with inefficiencies in bike position over 100 miles. You can’t over 200+ miles.

Small inefficiencies add up over distance and accelerate exponentially during the incremental phases of fatigue that endurance brings.

It’s worth the investment getting your bike fitted professionally.


6 Your state of mind and going deeper

Prepare the space in your mind to accept discomfort over a much longer length of time. This is endurance.

Fatigue brings a different response to adversity. And fatigue from endurance goes to a much deeper level than fatigue from a sportive.

It will ask you to change your mind-set around what you think is possible. You can go further than you think. This is the essence, the gift, of endurance.

  • Team Joe Barr runs The Endurance Workshop. It’s designed to help get you started or to move you forward if you’re new to the sport.