As I have probably saturated social media over this last few days many of you will have seen that I achieved a rather unique goal over the weekend of 1st / 2nd November 2019.
I raced in, and won the 24hr World TT Championships in Borrego Springs, California. What was unique about this was that I am now the only person to have won all 3 of the event distances promoted within this event.
- 6hr – 2016: I set a (then) Course record of 145m won my Age Group and the Overall
- 12hr – 2017: I set a Course record of 285m won my Age group and the Overall
- 24hr – 2019: I set an AG Course record of 528m, and won the Overall
This post though is not about the race as such, I covered in detail on my face book post my own ‘race review’, which you can see below. This post goes to answer what so many both in and out the cycling world ask, ” HOW do you ride your bike for 24hrs (or longer)?”
I am by no means uniquely qualified to answer this as there are many , many amazing ultra racers who race 24hrs, and much longer – Think RAAM – Race Across America where racers are against the clock anywhere from 8-13 days! As a coach and racer I can provide a bit of a unique take on what I see to be the key aspects.
Breaking it down I am going to cover the following areas
- Race preparation and race choice
- Fitness, pacing and racing
- Mental coping strategies
RACE PREPARATION AND CHOICE
This depends on a number of things, for us UK based athletes specifically wanting to compete in a UK based event there is only one ‘true’ time Trial, the Mersey Roads 24hr National Championships held in July every year.
There are other options such as the Revolve 24hr, a 24hr race around Brands Hatch motor circuit. This is (or can be) a drafting event, so for us ‘purists’ would not be considered a true TT test! Similar to this is the Red Bull 25hr, This is rather unique as its a ’24hr race’ held on the weekend the clocks go back, so there is a bonus hours racing! This is great fun (apparently) and lends to teams as well as social competitors.
Thinking more world wide there are many events similar to the two mentioned above all around the world, an example being the Le Mans 24 held the 3rd Weekend in August, a very similar format to the UK based Revolve 24 race.
The World Ultra Cycling Association (WUCA) sanction events from 6hrs to RAAM distance and a handy reference point of the key events in the calendar can be found here, and this is a great starting point WUCA race Calendar
Planning a 24hr (or longer) race is no mean feat, and careful race choice is essential, you need to be considering:
- What race format do I want to race?
- How accessible is it?
- how much will it cost?
- Who will be my support crew and can they be available when I want to race?
- What will the likely weather be, and how do I factor that into my training?
So – let us assume you have made you choice, the date is booked and entry in (on time!). Now what Kit do we need?
KIT: What do I need?!
For simplicity I am going to assume you have chosen a traditional Time Trial format race, Above is all the kit I took to the Mersey Roads National 24hr TT championships in 2019. TBH I didn’t use half of it as I crashed out , but anyway – There was a rationale!
From a simplest starting point you will need:
- Race bike
- Ideally spare wheels in case of any issues
- Hydration solutions on the bike
- Race kit, helmet(s) with day and night visors
- warm kit for over night & kit in case of rain or other inclement weather
- Food / sports nutrition which I will cover in more detail below
- 2 bike computers (at least) and ideally a power bank to charge them
- A helper or two!
- Lights and battery packs to last for the duration of darkness
- Spare shoes are always a good idea
- LOADS of chamois cream!
- Gaffer tape – fixes almost anything! I have use it to:
- Fix a cracked disc
- Hold a seat post up
- Hold a bottle on when the securing straps broke
- Secure my front light and battery pack
- Used it to hold up my leggings over night – its uses are endless!
The above I would suggest is the most basic start list. For the UK nationals from where the picture above is taken I also added
- A spare night bike – my rationale being I didnt need to either carry the weight of lights all day, or faff about putting them on, literally just hop on the night bike and be good to go
- I also took a road bike, in case of issues in position – I normally would not do that , but due to my crash injuries from a few weeks before I was unsure if I’d be able to hold position for 24 hrs
- Spares of everything – 24hrs is so long that almost anything can , and will go wrong
Below is a short video I took in Borrego Springs looking at the specifics of my bike set up for the World 24hr TT champs.
So the kit takes some planning, and some expense. But the last thing you want is your race to be scuppered by a preventable eventuality.
This is critical and can make or break a race. As you may have read from my race report, I got to a point where I was unable to eat or drink anything and was in danger of the whole race collapsing due to actually over eating!
The challenge in this or similar events are huge, you need to fuel the body through anywhere from 15-20k calories that will be required to complete it. You need to be able to easily digest and stomach your choices.
Its very easy (as I demonstrated) to OVER eat and drink. The challenge being the actual intensity you are racing it is probably lower than any of your training. In my race my IF (intensity factor) or % of FTP that I rode at was around 65%. This is low Z2 , and the bodies requirements are nothing like, say a 100mile TT where you will be racing in upper z3 / Z4.
There are numerous ways to deliver the calories required. Some racers , Christoph Strasser the most successful ever ultra athlete ONLY uses liquid, even on a race to the length of RAAM. This is a carefully developed formula to deliver exactly the calories and hydration needed.
Others use a mix of sports products and ‘real food’.
My personal preference is the later, although I will be researching liquid only options
Over events that are so long the (generally) sweet nature of most sports products (gels and bars) can make them challenging to continually eat. Formulations are now a days better than ever and GI distress, whilst possible, is probably less common than it may have been 10-20 years ago.
My Go to plan would be:
- Gels – aiming for 2 per hour
- Water to drink – Why just water?
- I dont need any extra calories from an energy drink due to what I am eating and the lower intensity
- Water is simple and easy to stomach, acidic energy drinks can cause issues when drunk for hours and hours
- Solid food for variety, I will use anything from
- Scotch eggs (Those not from the UK may need to google that!)
- Filled wraps / Burritos
- Chocolate & energy bars
- Cans of coke and / or energy drinks – for that ‘hit’
- Maybe soup / chilli or a warm meal if its really cold
- your key watch out here is to not have too much that you end up needing to stop for a number two, as this can take some time!
There is so much that can be said on nutrition and honestly its going to be about you experimenting (in training) with what works for you and sticking to YOUR tried and tested formula. It is critical so as much time should be invested in getting this right as you invest in training and race planning.
Fitness, Pacing & Racing
Training & Fitness
So how do you go about training for such long events?
An old school mentality would have had you doing LOTS of LSD – long slow distance, base rides. Working on the theory that this is the pace you will race at so train at it. WRONG!!!
We need to work on two things
- FTP development
- Speed endurance
99% of people who race are not full time athletes with unlimited time to train and rest. As such training needs to be effective, timely and deliver results. For me 8hrs in Z1 is just a waste of time, lets instead do 4 hrs of quality work, deliver a higher TSS (training stress score) and develop key race skills
Let me explain why FTP development is so important, so we all know FTP (Functional Threshold Power) is the power we can hold for an hour, why is this relevant to an event such as a 24hr TT?
In a 24hr we may be racing, using my example in mid z2. now my zones are derived from my FTP – so the higher I can get my FTP the higher my racing zones will be. My FTP is around 380w, so my ‘racing zone’ was 230w. If your FTP was 300w, then there is now way you could have raced at 230w for 24hrs, its just too high a %. So if we can drive UP FTP we can drive UP your endurance zones.
As well as working on FTP we need to work on speed endurance, We need to enable you to work hard in zones higher than race zone for sustained periods of time. In that way race pace will feel easy. This REALLY works. For me holding power DOWN to race pace is really hard as I am conditioned so well to ride hard and fast – but the pacing is critical as by the end 230w, feels like riding a 10m TT to try and hang on to that power!
So let’s have a look at 3 example training sessions I will set to help athletes develop this speed endurance.
This first session is a classic ‘Pyramid’ but extended to 5 hours. We build up in long, increasing intensity intervals to high sweet spot, THEN after a brief ‘rest’ in Z2 we head back down.
What is great here is you are working at HIGH intensity late into the session, this really develops endurance that will carry you through into the real long races.
I love and hate this next session. Its a variation of what I find so useful to develop endurance and consistency. A long block of core endurance work in Z2/3 is followed by a short but high intensity pyramid. We then go into a long set of further Z3 work. The endurance benefits here are huge.
The below session is a variation of a session used for all my cyclists, this is geared specifically to distance riders. Its what I call a classic ‘builder’. We ramp up through the zones from Z2 – high Z4, with no break in-between. So its starts easy and as the session wears on its starts to bite. BUT what i think is great about this, and similar sessions is we end with a high sustained Z3 interval. I really believe in the benefits of long endurance AFTER intervals. The adaptations are priceless!
So this brings to an oft asked question, ‘what should my CTL (critical training load) be for such an event. Honestly I don’t think there is one answer. Time pressed athletes, such as Mike Broadwith, UK LEJOG record holder and 3 x National 24hr TT champion adopts a polarised approach, due to time, so he may not do too many really long sessions, BUT when he is training he is working very high Z3/4/5 and developing the FTP to drive up his endurance zones. his success is testament to how this can work. Ultimately his CTL will be lower than someone who does much more longer endurance.
I would suggest a CTL between 100-160 would be optimal for such an event
PACING & RACING
Talk to many older guys and a ’24’ was truly a day out, they’d have a sleep or two, sit down meals, picnics, all sorts. Now a days we ‘race it’ like many race a 10m TT! How do we do that?
Pacing is critical, if you have worked above and developed your engine and know your zones you will have a good idea of what you are capable of. The next part is where the nuanced bit comes in. I can ride a 24 at 61-64% of FTP. Yet one of my athletes who has completed RAAM and numerous other epic events can ride at close to 67%. Christoph Strasser is not only an awesome athlete in the size of his FTP, and thus zones BUT also in that he can ride at a very high % of it to maximise his advantage.
Determining this is tricky. My advice would be set out with a target of around 60-63% of FTP. Be strict! ride to it! Then as the race goes on just see what you can do, work on the bio feedback and adjust accordingly.
Biofeedback is KEY. We utilise power as the primary analytical tool, with heart rate (HR) being much more secondary now a days. Pwr:HR variance is a useful analytic, but generally HR will be second fiddle when it comes to file analysis. BUT in a 24hr I find its a key indicator.
As I have got to know my body, I know the following:
- I generally have a higher HR than many, my resting is ‘only’ high 40’s yet at 44 years of age I can still top out in the mid 190’s. I can race at high 160’s / 170’s for long periods of time.
- When tapered my HR always starts very high in a race, so I dont worry about this but I do watch and focus on bringing it down.
- Once settled in a race I constantly monitor HR : Pwr relationship. I know for a given power where my HR should be, ANY wild variations I know I am in trouble and this is the early warning sign.
- Simple things like if I get hungry or thirsty, I am in big trouble and need to preempt this at all costs
So lets look in detail at my race file and I will call out a few things
- Pwr:hr variation of -6.65%. this is pleasing, it shows my endurance and my control. I did not start too hard that I couldn’t cope with it, and blew myself up. this -6.65% variation means that my power and HR diverged negatively by that amount – this is very small. Changes over 8% we start to then be looking at someone who has gone past their limit and is probably blowing up
- Temperature – its stark how quick it dropped, how cold it was for so long and then how fast it recovered. I went from full winter gear, to bags of ice down my skinsuit to cool my neck arteries within the space of 2.5hrs! this cooling strategy is a god send for me though!
- The start – was fast. I clocked a 40:35 lap (7th on Strava and faster than I did in the 6hr or 12hr), HR was high as was power – BUT I controlled it, dropped both quickly and was able to settle in. I train specifically to be able to go hard, then consolidate (as the example sessions above show)
- The Night – This is where I won it. I was roboticly consistent, average 48min laps, with a slowest of 53mins (due to a mechanical). But I simply focused on maintaining the numbers, eating and drinking. I did a long 6 lap section with no pit, this was 4.5hrs and helped me consolidate and build a lead.
- The sickness, HR initially rose over 140 bpm (it had been mid 130’s) then fell to around the low 100’s. This was trouble. I managed to be sick and settle my stomach and myself.
- The finish – I always lap well on a finishing circuit, I managed to up the power over the last hour and averaged high Z2 of around 250w. maybe I left too much on the table? I don’t think so!
Mental coping Strategies
This area fascinates me and I read a lot on it, in a previous post I discussed the power of The fragile brain & its effect on your physical abilities and this is worth revisiting. Another great piece of reading is ‘How bad do you want it’ by Matt Fitzgerald, in here he discusses the theroy on WHAT it is that makes us slow or stop in endurance sport.
Its not what conventional wisdom for many years thought, that its ‘muscle fatigue’ that stops us, but more complex brain driven activity. Is it the ‘internal governer’ who says, ” right I am gonna slow you down or else we could do some real damage here” that is ACTUALLY why we slow. If so this is really interesting, two things come to mind:
- This ‘Internal Governor’ will come into play based on the ‘perception’ of effort – so the physically fitter we can be longer before the perception of a ‘too hard’ effort is seen. This obviosuly supports the need to still train hard!
- This then begs the question HOW can we turn the ‘internal Governor’ off, or move up the time it kicks in?
This secondary question is often the difference between athletes.
To go back to my race example, I honestly had no clue where the competition were in relation to me, so my effort was not ‘measured’ based on what was needed to catch someone or stay ahead, it was solely based on what I thought I could do, and I was working on the assumption I was being hunted – so I was pushing on. Interestingly whilst righting this I have been messaging with Mike Broadwith who came second, he said he wished he’d pushed on a tad more in the last 3 hrs and got an extra lap in (4m), but knowing he wasn’t gaining on me, and Marko in 3rd wasn’t gaining on him, he didn’t. So this was part conscious and part unconscious conservation, basically “there is nothing to be gained by putting myself in a horrible place, so lets consolidate and conserve’. I on the other hand wen to some VERY horrible places, simply because i felt I needed to. As soon as i found out I was leading at 20hrs I said to myself, you are winning this, come what may. 4 hrs of pain and suffering you can deal with. You have not come all this way, metaphorically and physically to through this away now. My mental application was so strong that I could push through being sick and even up the power to finish strong. That last hours effort was so strong it increased my average power for the whole ride , I don’t think I have ever done that so late in a race before.
Many years ago I recall reading Chris Boardman’s book, one thing has always stuck out, he said,”cycling is 98% hard work”. This really resonated with me, as not being much good at other stuff, one thing I knew was when I applied myself I could work harder, longer and deeper than most. Now I think its more nuanced than ‘98% hard work’ – but the principle still applies.
A long race has so many parts to it – mentally approaching it as ’24hrs’ of racing can be just too mind bending to manage and chunking the race down can be a key way to get through it.
My own strategy for this is the following:
- Act 1 – The start hour or so, I usually go for a hard(ish) hour to set down a marker and establish a decent position
- Act 2 – Until nightfall. (be it 6hrs in a UK 24hr, or an hour or so in Borrego. This is settling in. Establish a pattern and start making it work
- Act 3 – The Night, I love night riding and actively look forward to the dark, quiet and solitude. the night is where I try and consolidate and build a decent race platform with consistency
- Act 4 – Day break, now racing begins! Positions are established and its now 10hrs or so to conserve and sue energy to make the race count
- Act 5 – Finishing circuit, this is the chance to get it all out, the lift of getting on to the final circuit means the end is nigh, you can expend that final energy and do your self justice
- Act 6 – The collapse – after the finish hopefully so all good!
So that’s it, piece of cake eh?
This is certainly not it all, but hopefully gives you a good insight of what has helped me ride to two victories in prestigious 24hr racing.
Hope its useful!
If you would like any more information, or to discuss coaching please drop me a line via FB messenger or via firstname.lastname@example.org