Hitting the wall — or bonking — smack in the middle of an endurance event is not a good place to be. What started out as a fun and exciting experience can turn quickly into torture, and the struggle to the finish line might be an experience you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.
The good news is, with the proper strategy, you can minimize fatigue on long rides and maintain your strength in the second half of your event. From ways to conserve energy to keeping your legs feeling fresh, use these five tips for any endurance ride to avoid fading to a snail’s pace before you reach the finish.
USE A NEGATIVE-SPLIT STRATEGY
Whether it’s the marathon, an Ironman or a century ride, one tried-and-true method of any endurance athlete to keep from fading in the second half is to negative split. This involves riding the first half of your race slower than the second half, conserving energy when possible so you can pick up the pace as you get closer to the finish.
To do this properly, pace yourself with either a heart rate monitor or a power meter. Ride up to 5% slower than the pace you know you can maintain over the entire distance for the first-half of the ride (if you can maintain a 70% max heart rate, stay at 65). Pick up the pace at the midway point and ride at your goal pace for the next quarter of your ride. If you’re feeling good you can pick up the pace from there.
DRAFT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Taking long pulls at the front of a group isn’t the way to go if you’re concerned about finishing a long ride. While your ride mates may love you when you’re pulling, you’ll burn much more energy on the front than you would if you stayed somewhere in the back — and maybe they’ll be stuck pulling you or, worse, waiting for you. In fact, it’s estimated you’ll conserve about 40% by riding in the back of a pace line as opposed to the front.
Only taking pulls when necessary and staying in the rear as much as possible will help you ride further than you would be able to on your own and can speed up your finishing times considerably. Even if it’s not a race and you’re on a training ride with two or three other people, practice riding in a single-file pace line and have each member rotate turns pulling on the front every few minutes. You’ll be amazed how much fresher you’ll feel toward the end when you compare it to cycling solo.
DON’T PUSH YOURSELF INTO THE RED ON CLIMBS
For whatever reason, most cyclists try to crush climbs and ride them as fast as possible. However, if you steer away from your pacing goals and go into the red early on in a ride or race, you’re likely never to recover, making the rest of your ride a painful experience.
It’s a better strategy to always stay within your limits. Don’t be tempted to follow others who are lifting the pace to crush a climb. Instead, follow the pacing strategy you’ve laid out with your heart rate monitor or power meter and don’t go bonkers. It’s more than likely you’ll catch them later when the road flattens out and they start to fade.
KEEP YOUR BREAKS SHORT
At some point, you’re going to stop to use the bathroom or refuel at an aid station. While this is totally OK, you’ll want to want to keep your breaks short and avoid overeating. The longer you stay off the bike instead of pedaling, the more the blood begins to pool in your legs and lactic acid starts to set in.
If you couple this with eating food you wouldn’t normally consume during a training ride, it can cause an upset, bloated stomach and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Only stop for the absolute minimum amount of time and stay on the bike moving forward. The pedaling motion helps keep your legs from feeling heavy and you’ll get to the finish quicker.
HAVE YOUR BIKE DIALED IN FOR COMFORT INSTEAD OF SPEED
An aching lower back, a sore neck or pain in the shoulder blades can cause problems for any cyclist. While the trend of aggressive cycling positions similar to those the pros use is good for increasing speed over shorter distances, on a long ride it can cause pain or discomfort if the position isn’t suited to your flexibility or riding style.
Because of this, it’s important to work with a bike fit specialist and let him know the kind of rides and events you like. Find a position that focuses on comfort over long-distances instead of a more aggressive position that’s based more on aerodynamics. In the end, it just might end up increasing your speed instead of slowing you down.