I am not talking about the tools needed for the ride. I am talking about enduring and performing on long tiring tour. Grab a concept of a tour I recently went to

25 Km Uphill > 40 Km Downhill > 30 Km Up hill > 10 Km Downhill > 26 Km Uphill

Then I came back

26 Km Downhill > 10 Km Uphill > 30 Km Downhill > 40 Km Uphill (exhausted)

On about 15 km on the Uphill, I couldn't do it any more, took a bus, and came home.

I eventually was overdoing on the downhill and on some sprints.

I am not sure how to put up this question, but How to cycle, when heading for a ride I mentioned above?

More details:

I am a regular commuter but, the ride above was a personal challenge to myself and the first time doing this. Before this my longest ride was 82 Kms in a single day.

There were frequent stops on the up-hills but none on the down-hills. I hydrated frequently but as food, I had packed some energy bars and nothing more. I sprinted to maintain the speed not to go fast which was definitely overdoing. Average speed on the speedometer was 18.xx (forgot) Km when I decided to stop and I cycled for about 11 hrs. For rests, I was relying on down-hills mostly. Slopes were not very steep but were tiring due to length of them.

I was riding on big MTB tires.. which gave a lot of trouble with the speed (as expected).

  • 2
    From the ups and downs you described, It could be said this is a hard course even for a professional cyclist. Either you could be happy for having gone so far, or perhaps you could consider that finishing this course with very good performance should require you to train as a professional. Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 14:00
  • 4
    There's not quite enough information in your question to give a targeted answer. Was this a typical distance for you, or had you not previously attempted a ride like this? How steep were the climbs? How often did you stop, what did you eat and how often, were you riding alone at your own pace (like a randonee) or riding with a group that set your pace (like an audax)?
    – R. Chung
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 18:03
  • Did you do this riding over two days, or was it all in a single day?
    – Eyal
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 9:01

4 Answers 4


Basically, it's 2 things; training and nutrition. My guess is that you either didn't get in enough quality training and/or you were not properly nourished on the ride.

For Training

One of the best ways to build up to longer rides and ride them enjoyably is through interval training.

The best book I've found on the subject is: The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week by Chris Carmichael. The book includes a lot of info on lactate threshold, energy metabolism, nutrition, race and century training plans, etc. I first tried out his methods after reading one of his articles in Bicycling magazine on century training. Another great source for long distance training plans and ride nutrition is Joe Friel's blog for endurance athletes.

Basically, Carmichael's methods are a form of interval training where you are doing things like hill-repeats, power intervals, fast pace intervals, etc. There's a lot of info out there on interval training. One of the more common is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). When I train for a Century+ ride, I'm basically doing training rides 4 - 5 days a week with most of them being maybe 2 hour interval training sessions with longer (4 - 6 hour) rides on the weekends. Coming out of the off-season it typically takes 8 - 10 weeks to train for a century type ride, provided that you are already fit; easily longer if you've not done this before.

All that being said about training, if you were really intensively training before the event; it's conceivable that you over trained and your body was just too spent to make the full effort. It's important to remember that rest days are vital in training for challenging rides.

For Nutrition

Once you've trained well for a long endurance ride, the next key for success is nutrition on the ride. Essentially, you want to consume carbohydrates during the entire ride. Carbohydrates are fuel and without fuel, you WILL bonk.

So, on a supported ride, I make the stops and eat carbs with small amounts of some proteins and fats, plus carry along energy bars. For un-supported rides, I've had very good results using Perpetuem which is a product made by Hammer Nutrition and there are other similar products on the market. This product is primarily maltodextrin plus protein powder plus a bit of fat and some vitamins. (Without getting too in depth, maltodextrin is a polysaccharide consisting of long chains of glucose which is readily used by the body). The beauty of this product is that it's a powder and a large number of calories can be carried in a cycling jersey for mixing into water bottles. Also, on un-supported rides, one can always bring food along and stop at stores along the way.

Another vital component of endurance riding nutrition is to be sure to stay hydrated and make sure that you consume electrolytes.

A typical long ride (Century (100mi/161km) to Century+) nutrition plan that I use along with my riding buddies looks something like this:

  • Supported leisurely century - We just stop at the rest stops and eat whatever we feel like.
  • Supported challenging century - Again, we enjoy the rest stop foods, plus carry along some extra energy bars/other and normally some maltodextrin formula for extra efforts (climbing, headwinds, etc)
  • Unsupported leisurely century - We bring along various energy foods/bars/endurance sport formulation and typically have lunch at some cafe or whatever along the way.
  • Unsupported challenging (remote, mountainous, often altitude) century - We rely heavily on endurance sport nutritional formulations, plus bring along a few bars/etc to break up the monotony.

The main point being to consume easily assimilable food (carb/starchy) all along the way. Generally avoiding high fat and high protein foods, as digesting fat/protein 90 miles into a 120 mile ride is usually detrimental to performance and getting over that last mountain pass.

My answer is based on lots of long distance cycling in the Coast Ranges and Cascade mountains of the Pacific NW and California and learning by trial and bonking...although it's been quite a while since I last bonked... Also, I have been know to extol the virtues of The Time Crunched Cyclist and that's because the training methods in that book completely transformed my long distance cycling abilities.

BTW - This year I have been working on some DIY formulas for ride energy nutrition. It looks like a roughly 4:1 ratio of maltodextrin:protein powder should work. The raw ingredients are much less expensive than pre-packaged versions.

  • 1
    It should be noted that you can also simply rely on what's called "food" for calories during a ride -- the fancy nutritional stuff may be a hair more efficient and sometimes is more convenient, but you can do perfectly well with any sort of high-carb food. Granola bars, fruit leather, etc, are good prepared snacks to carry with you, and any sort of starchy food you might purchase along the way is also fine. Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 22:08
  • 1
    @DanielRHicks - It was noted above, "Also, on un-supported rides, one can always bring food along and stop at stores along the way." I do long rides in remote areas with no pack or panniers, and I can get 10 hours worth of calories into a water bottle and 2 zip lock bags. It's fun experimenting anyway. However, when convenient for the ride, I do bring along real food.
    – user313
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 23:39

If your goal ride is 150+ miles, especially with a large amount of climbing, you need to plan and carefully follow a series of build up rides, from a distance you can easily handle to your goal distance.

In addition, you need to make sure you eat right and regularly in the rest of your life, and that when you ride you are maintaining your fuel on the bike. Water and electrolyte replacement drinks or tablets for hydration, combined with a couple of snacks, either energy bars or sandwiches, and maybe the odd gel pack for a quick boost will fuel your body, and keep you away from that crash stage of energy depletion. (Or from crashing your bike from pure fatigue on that last descent.)

I would suggest that you ride 2 to 3 days a week, if possible.

  • Do 2 weeks where the first 2 rides are 65km and the third is 100km.
  • Take at least 3 days rest, then do 2 weeks where you do 80km 2x, and then 120km.
  • 3-4 days rest, followed by 2x 120km and 1x 150km.
  • 3-4 days rest followed by 150km 2 days, and 200km the last day.
  • Continue to ride this last pattern for 3 more 2 week cycles.

You should have little trouble with your ride pattern above after that, assuming you maintain your nutrition. This assumes you have a decent base fitness, based on the fact that you tried that ride above and made it as far as you did.

But if you are unable to easily follow the first week pattern, then start instead with a 35km twice a week ride, plus 50km once a week for a 2 week cycle, and continue alternating that with the 1st week cycle above until you are confident you can move ahead with the plan listed above in its entirety.

I hope that helps.

  • I am a Developer professionally, I get only 1 day off in a week. Can you suggest anything on that basis? Although I do commute about 30 Kms in a day.
    – Starx
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 5:43
  • 1
    For a ride that long, there is no substitute for miles on the bike. If you are working as much as I do (12 hrs x 6 days) as it sounds like you are, then commute as often as possible, and take your build up a lot slower. You will need to ride one major ride(100km) each week, and try for a shorter midweek ride(60km) to avoid losing your gains. Then increase the distance on these as much as you practically can. Reality is though, unless you can put time on your bike, you will never really get the endurance to enjoy a ride like that. You may get to the point of surviving it, though
    – zenbike
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 6:20

On long rides, you have to manage your pace, your eating, and your morale. It's possible to ride shorter distances (say, up to 150 km) without paying very much attention to these, so it can come as a shock when you try to extend the distance and find yourself struggling.

Pace: digesting food takes energy, so if your riding intensity is too high then there won't be enough energy left over, and your digestion will shut down. This can turn into a vicious circle, where your digestion isn't working, so you're not getting much energy out of the food you are eating, so you get tireder, and so there's even less energy for your digestion. So cut down the riding intensity on longer rides, especially after eating. When you are comfortable with the distance, you can work on your speed.

Eating: carbohydrates and sugars place a lower burden on your digestion than fats and proteins and deliver energy quicker. You have to discover by experiment what kind of food works for you. There are different traditions in different countries: in the UK cyclists eat baked beans on toast; in Italy it's rice and peas (risi e bisi). Bananas and oats work for many. (You can buy specialized sports nutrition, but it gives you more flexibility for long tours if you can figure out a way to "live off the land" by buying ordinary food in shops and restaurants.)

Morale: this is just as important as the other factors, but often overlooked. When you're short on physical energy your mental condition worsens too, and this is when you start thinking, "I'm not enjoying this ride, why don't I quit and take the train home?" You have to learn to manage your mood in the way you manage all the other aspects of your riding. Riding with other cyclists and looking after each other is the best approach, but if you're on your own then you should learn to recognise that your morale is sinking and try to figure out what to do about it. Do you need to eat or drink? Are you bored with this road and need to vary the route? Are you too cold or too hot and need to change clothing? Are your hands and feet and arse hurting and you need to vary your position on the bike? Do you need to stop at the next café and get some coffee and cake? There's usually something you can do to make the ride more enjoyable.

You might find this cycling forum thread interesting: it's about the psychological aspects of abandoning ("packing") a ride.

  • These are some very good points and the link was very useful indeed. +1 :)
    – Starx
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 6:13

If your numbers are correct and I added that up correctly, that's 147 miles. That's a Century-and-a-half -- a very long ride for anyone.

In order to be any good at distance riding, you have to do a lot of distance riding -- you can't expect to go from 50-mile rides to a 150 mile ride and still have the same "pep" you have on the shorter rides. It's biology -- the body "learns" to expect the sort of exercise to which it's been subjected in the past, and, in particular, the more you ride long distances, the more the body will store glycogen in the muscles and liver to provide you long-distance energy.

In addition, on longer rides you must carefully "husband" your energy/stamina. This means pacing yourself and not going flat-out most of the time. It also means getting proper hydration and nutrition -- even a well-trained athlete (with lots of stored glycogen) cannot do 100-150 miles very well without plenty of water and a substantial amount of calories (in the form of carbs) during the ride.

  • So, Glycogen is the key?
    – Starx
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 11:50
  • No. Proper nutrition, lots of riding, and careful build up from short distance, to medium distance, to longer distance, to your goal distance, over a period from several weeks to several months, depending on your fitness is the "key".
    – zenbike
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 12:57
  • 1
    @Starx -- Glycogen is one significant factor. There are others. As Zen says, it's training -- training -- training. Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 14:15
  • 1
    @DanielRHicks: I just reread that comment and realized it might have come across as disagreeing with your answer. I wasn't. It's a good answer. I was pointing out that there is no one "key" to magically become a highly fit or successful cyclist. Unless it is, "Ride your Bike. A lot."
    – zenbike
    Commented Apr 22, 2012 at 14:38

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