Two weekends ago I rode 450km / 280mi over three days, including the 160km / 100mi Avillion Coastal Ride. Which pales in comparison to the 642km /399mi within 40 hours that a number of my friends rode last weekend, as they attempted the BRM600. The longest cycling event in Malaysia to date.
Not everyone who starts events like those are able to finish. Some are stopped in their tracks by mechanical faults. Many more suffer the drawn-out fate of succumbing to cramps and fatigue in the latter stages of the ride.
Which got me thinking about what it takes to not only complete an endurance bike ride, but to do so without feeling totally wiped out afterward.
There are a few things to do to prevent the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). Such as making sure your bicycle has been recently serviced, carrying the tools and spare tubes needed to make roadside repairs, fuelling up before the event, and eating and drinking regularly during the ride.
Even if you do all of the above, you still run the risk of DNF-ing, or struggling to the finish, if you do not heed the following advice. The #1 thing cyclists need to remember is:
Comfortably completing an endurance event is not about how you feel during the first 30% of the ride. It is all about how you feel during the last 30% of the ride.
Cycling slowly early in a ride, when I felt fresh and had good legs, was hardest lesson for me to learn. When I first started doing century rides, I would go out too fast and too hard. Even when I was drafting, which is a recommended strategy for conserving energy, I would tag onto a group that was riding too fast for my fitness level.
The inevitable would happen after about 100km / 62mi. Fatigue would set in. I would get light-headed and experience tunnel vision. The last 30% of the ride would be a battle of survival as I fought cramps and exhaustion while my speed steadily dropped into the teens and below.
Now I know better. I let other riders shoot off like fireworks when the starting hooter sounds. I settle into a pace which is slow enough for me to breathe through my nose. If there is a group of riders who are riding at my pace, I draft behind them.
This usually feels too slow. But I know from experience that going slowly at the start allows me to finish the ride strongly. I pick up the pace in the second half of the event, when I overtake the girls and guys who set off like rockets and then exploded into a dazzling display of bonking.
Pacing myself, and metering my effort in the first 30% of a long ride, has become my golden rule.
It ensures I finish the ride like this
and not like this