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I am currently using a hybrid bike, 10kg of weight(quite light for the category I've head) and my longest ride has been 65km at an average of 18km/h in a mostly flat terrain. In this ride for many kms I had a big muscle pain on my legs, by the end of the ride stopping in any traffic light was extremely painful, it took hours also at home to go from huge pain to just normal muscle pain. I do not think I could have gone any one kilometer further.

I was pedaling at a good cadence, shooting for 90rpm. At no moment I felt like instant burning on my muscles, I would choose easy gears to keep me in high cadence and light strokes, it felt relaxed but still after 35km I felt 'loaded', after that the pain started to increase more and more.

I will participate in a race of 180km with a time limit of 9 hours (so I need 20km/h and I am fine with finishing in 8h59m, I just want to finish), 3 months for now.

So I roughly need to go a little bit faster and improve my endurance 3-fold in 3 months.

My current plans for improvement are (my bike is 500$ giant-escape nothing-fancy):

  • Buy clip-on aerobars . This should make me reach the speed I need, the terrain in mostly flat.
  • Buy clipless pedals. To help me use different muscles. I do not know how much would this help with endurance. I hope 10% or so.
  • Buy energy gels, I did not feel like lacking energy but I guess they will help. And on the race day I'll need them for sure.

What other gear, training techniques and race day tactics can be used to improve endurance quickly?

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Skip the clip-on aero bars. They will help very little and would require a complete different fit to the bike. Riding with your hands in the drops is much more effective. –  Ken Hiatt Mar 18 '13 at 2:50
    
@KenHiatt: He says he's riding a hybrid, so that likely means it doesn't have drop handlebars. –  Carey Gregory Mar 18 '13 at 4:24
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Its only a benefit with a good bike fit. If you are in a bad position you may not be getting enough power to your legs or worse you will compress your lungs so you will not be breathing properly. Perhaps just a good bike fit with a more aggressive seat position might help with the aerodynamics –  robthewolf Mar 18 '13 at 8:25
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I'll add that it's not great shame to have to ride the sag wagon in. That distance is near the limit for a cyclist who does not train obsessively, so it could be the difference between having a good day or a bad one, or a few MPH of wind, that makes the difference. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 18 '13 at 18:02
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My guess is that at 35km (2 hours at your average) and no food, you just ran out of "go-go juices" or "bonked". What time did you hit the 35km mark - < 2 hours, (So your average dropped as you went further end) would be a sure sign. –  mattnz Mar 19 '13 at 4:11
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted
  1. If you did 65km (40 miles), then after recovery (maybe 1 week) you can probably do that distance again with much less discomfort. You should then be able to increase your mileage about 10-20% a week, if you get in one max-length ride and one about 1/3rd shorter each week.
  2. Conveniently, I've found that you can usually, if you push yourself, ride about 50% farther than your "accustomed" ride (though you will be dragging at the end).
  3. You do need to eat and drink on a long ride. I'm a big advocate of this stuff called "food" for that (hopefully provided for you on your ride), though it doesn't hurt to have some sugary snacks. And did I say DRINK?
  4. 90 RPM is probably a hair too fast. But you do need to keep your cadence up, especially as you begin to tire. 20k/h (12.5mph) is not a terribly fast pace (even allowing for rest stops), so it's important to not burn yourself out trying to maintain a fast pace.

Ultimately, for 180km (112 miles) you will be running on empty near the end -- that distance is challenging. But by slowly working your endurance up you can probably make it. DON'T expect to do it with "tricks", though -- the most important thing to do is to just steadily increase your distances.

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+1 for food and drink. If you can sit down with a dietitian / nutritionist and work out a schedule for how much you need to eat and drink. I hear Magnus Backstead on the commentary for Milan San Remo yesterday say that he would eat sandwiches and normal snacks at the begining or a ride and move over to energy gels towards the end. You should be drinking X liters per hour and eating Y calories per hour. Work out X and Y and how you are going to get it in your body. –  robthewolf Mar 18 '13 at 8:30
    
Thank you. I have some hope now. I've heard the 2/3 , long ride weekly before and I think it is a good idea, it can fit my schedule also. I plan to do Tuesdays : 1 hour intense indoor bicycle, Thursdays : 2/3 weekends: long ride –  Jordi Mar 18 '13 at 9:44
    
And it is true, I always ride without any drink or food on me, I should bring them. I am not sure if that will make me last longer as it seems to be a problem of lack of fitness more than anything else at this point –  Jordi Mar 18 '13 at 9:48
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I think for any ride over 1 hour having food or drink will make a big difference. I suspect you bonked on your 65km ride, hence the feeling of not being able to go 1 more KM. Eating will help with that if nothing else. Look into electrolyte drinks as that should help delay muscle fatigue. –  robthewolf Mar 18 '13 at 12:04
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And I would recommend trying to have at least 48 hours between "major" rides, to give the body recovery time. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 18 '13 at 20:41
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Additionally to @Daniel's excellent answer, focusing on building endurance first - use this time to learn what foods and drinks work for you. It's risky doing 180km on food and drink you have not consumed before while riding. I set a repeating stop watch to beep every 20 minutes to remind me to eat and drink. I also agree with Daniel - I need real food, gels and such like are great, but I get hungry without a decent feed. Main thing is learn what works for you, and most importantly, what doesn't. 180km is a long way to ride with a 'heavy' stomach and not wanting to eat or drink.

Speed would not normally be considered in a training regime until you can comfortable doing about 2/3rds of the distance required. However, as you are concerned about the cutoff time, you may want to work on speed sooner - in which case slot it into no more than one short distance / higher speed ride a week. If you get the baseline endurance fitness right, speed will not normally be a problem. Early on, experiment with you bike setup and see what might help with going faster for no more effort - for instance tire pressure and seat height can make a big difference and costs nothing to fix.

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A couple of great answers here already but I would add the following:

Hydration and Nutrition are very important in ‘endurance’ exercise lasting more than an hour.

Last fall I bonked hard about 50 miles into a ride (as in I literally couldn’t turn the pedals on my bike anymore) so I talked with my company’s nutritionist which led me to realize I was neither eating nor drinking properly. I’ve successfully experimented with her advice, indeed 3 weeks after I talked with her I was able to complete my first 100 mile ride with that ride occurring almost exactly 3 months after I started cycling. Based off my experiences I would recommend:

Hydration:

  1. Pre –ride make sure you are hydrated before you start riding. This means consuming 10-16 ounces of water a couple hours before your ride.
  2. During the ride: 6-8 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes of endurance exercise after the first 60 minutes
  3. Consider sports drinks containing carbohydrates and/or Electrolytes (sodium, potassium and other salts.) What you do here is going to be partly based on how you want to consume your carbs while riding. I usually try to obtain all my carbs from food so I use electrolyte tablets in my water bottles instead of sports drinks.
  4. You should be consuming 400-600 mg of sodium be hour depending on the environment (and how heavily you sweat.)
  5. Post- ride consume 16 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during the ride.
  6. Weighing yourself pre and post ride is a good idea until you get a good understanding of what it takes for you to maintain proper hydration. If you are losing more than a pound or two during a ride you are not hydrating enough and your recovery times from the rides are going to be longer.

Nutrition:

  1. Pre-ride, if possible 75-100 grams of carbs 3 hours before your ride
  2. During the ride, focus on the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming NOT the number of calories you are consuming. On a 112 mile ride you are like to burn 4000-5000 calories, there is no way you can come close to eating that many calories during a ride without making yourself sick.
  3. During the ride consume easily digestible carbohydrates. Try to consume roughly 0.3g to .5g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per hour after the first hour of training. Converting stored fat to energy is a slow process so consuming a base amount of carbohydrates should provide your body with enough fuel from consumed carbs that it has time to get the rest of the energy needed for your ride from stored fat instead of by burning up your muscles. You’ll need to experiment with this to find the right levels of consumption here. When I started out cycling I needed closer to .5g per hour and now I’m about .3g per hour.
  4. Too many simple carbs during exercise can lead to a queasy stomach so if you are consuming sports drinks contain carbs make sure to subtract the grams of carbs the sports drinks from any additional carbs you consume.
  5. When you eat, also drink. This is especially true if you are consuming concentrated energy food like a gel, goo, gummy or to an extent, even bananas. If you don’t, again, you can wind up with a queasy stomach.
  6. Post-ride: This is when you want to consume protein to help repair any damage done to your muscles. Low-fat Chocolate milk is a great choice here.

Whatever you do, make sure on the day of your big event you eat and drink the same as you have during your training rides. This might mean finding out what types of foods and drink are being offered on the course and making sure you train during the last several weeks before the ride using those products OR just making sure you bring enough food/drink with you to cover the whole ride.

Bike Setup

Outside of focusing on nutrition I would suggest you make sure your bike is adjusted properly. Setup is a good bit easier on a hybrid than a road bike but a trip to your LBS to checkout your saddle height and forward/aft position is well worth it.

Additional things I would suggest:

  1. Post ride make sure you stretch before your muscles get too cooled down.
  2. Add walking (2-3 miles at a time) to your exercise routine. This was a big one for me when I started riding heavily, all my exercise was coming from the bike which meant some of my leg muscles weren’t getting used enough to counteract the over-development of the muscles used in cycling.
  3. Take a short (~1 hour) ride the day after a long ride to help keep your leg muscles nice and limber.
  4. Take at least one day off from riding per week to allow give your body some time to heal all the damage you are doing to your muscles.
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I would say that for an untrained person only one day off a week would be too hard and might result in decreasing fitness over time. –  Benedikt Bauer Mar 19 '13 at 12:51
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@BenediktBauer some people starting out get in that 'gotta exercise everyday' mode which can really cause issues so I did want to point out they should take at least a day off each week. Personally, for the first couple of months until I got into shape I found taking a day off about every 3rd or 4th day worked about the best for me. –  Glenn Stevens Mar 22 '13 at 5:22
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