Training for a ultra-endurance events, like a 24-hour races, isn’t as simple as putting in an ungodly amount of miles. Not only would it be mind-numbingly boring but you wouldn’t be getting the most out of your time. The best way to keep putting in the time on the bike is to split up your week and put a different focus on each ride.
A lot of guides online talk about power zones or heart rate zones, but unless you have the spare £500 – £2000, you won’t have a power meter and your heart rate will be dependent upon a load of other factors. You can still be competitive without these aids. I believe it is easier and more achievable to simply focus on your training and be honest with your output and effort. This will be incredibly useful on race day as you’ll become better at listening to your body and understanding what it needs and when.
The clue is in the name. Keeping it to an hour or so to start with, then bore it out to a 3-hour session near to the race. Get your head down and take no prisoners. Take the first few km to get into a good rhythm, then just keep a high power output for as long as you can. Power up the hills and pin it on the way down.
Sections of trail that force you to ride hard to the top of a hill before taking on a technical descent are great for this kind of training. You’ll not only get fitter and work on your technical skill separately, but you’ll be training how to take a descent when your lungs and legs are burning. Keeping your focus while knackered will make the difference in a race.
These sessions are purely about putting in a lot of time on the bike. It is often a much better metric to use time as opposed to distance for these days. If you focus on distance travelled and compare road sessions with a trail session, you’ll think that road riding is better training. While it can be in certain aspects, as long as you keep pedalling for hours on end, it doesn’t matter too much.
These sessions are most like the race itself so try to mimic conditions as closely as possible. Try to read up about the race terrain and hammer out a lot of hours on it. No hiding from the weather, you can’t change it on race day so why not get used to all conditions in training?
These sessions come with a relatively high financial cost on the bike in the form of consumable parts. Particularly in the winter, you’ll be putting your bike through a real beating. Grit and mud will accelerate wear on your chain and pads, you’ll get a ton of crap in all the little nooks and crannies on the bike. Take care of your bike and it will take care of you!
The way you put the power down on the road compared to on the trail is totally different. Off-road, you’re more likely to push out a lot of power going up a steep embankment for a short period of time with technical descents that you can’t pedal down. On the road, you can have a >5 km stretch up one shallow hill. Getting off your natural terrain and training elsewhere will help you boost your miles without getting too bored.
Mountain bikers, getting on the road will get used to spinning continuously for hours on end while putting less wear on your bikes (no, don’t worry, you don’t have to gear up in Lycra). Roadies, this will give you a chance to tackle more technical descents, get used to weighting your bike in different ways and power up shorter, steeper hills.
I couldn’t think of a clever name for this session, but the clue is in the name. When putting in hours upon hours in the saddle, you need to remember why you are doing this. Why you enjoy riding in the first place. It isn’t about enduring the cold and rain nor is it about hammering yourself up the next hill. This sessions is all about getting out and putting a smile on your face. Go to your favourite set of trails and enjoy them. I like to keep these rides to about 1.5-2 hours – long enough to forget about everything else but short enough that you don’t start bonking out.
On top of all of these specific training days, you can train change when you’re training to make sure you get a lot of training at night. Go for a ride before work while it is still dark. Push your ride at the weekend until a couple of hours before last light, and get used to riding at dusk – this will help you in the twilight hours and get you used to riding via torch light.