Whether you are a road racer going long miles in the saddle, a time-trial rider who might only ride up to 25 mile races, or a sportive rider who rides for the fun and thrill rather than the element of competition, you will need to establish a firm base endurance to ensure your body is able to cope with the stresses of riding long distances or even hard short distances but multiple times a week for weeks at end. Typically the period between your rest at the end of one season and the start of a new year is the best period to build this base endurance, but it shouldn’t be neglected throughout the year.
One of the main factors when starting an endurance part of your training is to start slowly and build up from there. If you go too hard or for too long too early you will shock your body and struggle to keep it going at any intensity for any time. Even if you are used to doing hundreds of miles a week during the peak of the season, once you have a period of rest it is ideal to build it back up from scratch. Some riders find it easier to count miles and set targets based on the amount of mileage you do a week, but I think when talking endurance you should be looking at time. If you set out to do 100 miles a week and you get stuck in the worst weather possible, or go out with a slow club ride you may find it takes you hours longer to complete this 100 than if you were doing it during the summer. If you go out saying I’ll do 6 hours endurance this week, you go out and just do 6, there’s no risk of doing too much. You can monitor miles after which will give you an idea of your progression.
An endurance ride should be a minimum of an hour but in reality you should be aiming for three or more. The types of heart rate you should be seeing is between 60% and 75% of your maximum or if you are using power between 35% and 55% of max. These are defined as training zones one and two. Of course there will be periods where you go above or below this, for example up and down hills, but you should aim to remain within these zones to ensure that you are building base endurance. If you are unable to use power or heart rate you should aim to be relaxed when riding, you should be able to have a conversation and you may be breaking a sweat, but If you start breathing and sweating hard, and having a conversation becomes hard you need to ease off. I do all my base endurance rides outside whatever the weather. I just can’t stand the thought of three hours indoors. However, you might be different, maybe you can stick on a movie or play some video games it all depends on your preference to training in all weather.
The benefits of building base endurance, other than preparing your body to cope with a long season of rides is that you’ll be increasing your body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel. Important if you are overweight but also if you are looking to carry less food with you or if you plan to stop less on sportives. Another benefit is you will be increasing your body’s fuel economy, sounds odd but if your body uses fuel better then what you eat will be more effective, again very important in all aspects of riding from races to sportives. As your body becomes more efficient in burning fuel it’ll also be using oxygen more effectively, again if your body is better at supplying your muscles with oxygen you’ll ride better and faster.
Don’t neglect base endurance, the preparation and building blocks of the upcoming season. Even during a long season of time-trialing I aim to do a long endurance ride at least once a month. Of course this has to be of benefit to my racing, I’m not going to do over 100 miles the day before a time-trial! The fact that I build such a great endurance during the last off season and maintained it well during the racing season is the reason I’ve had a strong year. As I approach the point where I start to build endurance in preparation to next year I’m starting to hope the weather remains favorable, or at least we dodge some of the worst! But either way I’ll be out there, come rain or shine.