I don’t think I’ve seen a single endurance training planning (running or cycling) that doesn’t require a long 2 hour+ effort at some point during the week. For years when cycling I could never really see the point of it – especially as it was supposed to be easy. Why bother? Surely I could get more benefit from just nailing it as fast as I could as that’s what I’d be doing in a race anyway. It was only once I started running I started to understand why it was necessary, why I never used to like them and that they were one of the most enjoyable sessions in my week.
Why didn’t I like them?
When I started to run I began to understand why I didn’t like long rides previously but also why I’d always struggle in races or getting the most from the rest of my training sessions in the week.
I never used to like them because they made me look slow. In a world of stats and average speeds doing 3 hours, where you would end up with a slower-than-normal average speed, seemed ridiculous. That was a lot of immaturity on my part but beginning to run meant I had no benchmarks to measure against so I was a lot more comfortable doing them. This is when my revelation hit and I’ve now applied them to all my training.
What’s the point then?
Doing long runs massively built up my tolerance to sustain all my efforts. It helped me hold long lactate efforts in half-marathons and even shorter all-out efforts in 5K’s. It also helped to build lots of mileage whilst still having the energy to do my other sessions throughout the week.
The long steady effort helps to train your body to burn fat rather than stored energy in the muscles. This helps make you less reliant on needing to keep topping up food stores throughout a ride at lower efforts so that you have more energy reserved for when the efforts get tougher.
I found it strange that over time my pace on my long runs went up substantially and it had one of the biggest impacts on my running speed in general. There’s a lot more science that goes into this but I feel it’s been explained a lot and by people who are much more qualified than me!
Now it’s my favourite
Coming back into taking cycling seriously has given me a new perspective on doing long steady efforts. One of the main things I brought from running was not fixating on how fast I’m going but how hard I’m going.
After lots of reading and video-watching, I knew I should ride at about 70% (I use heart rate and that’s %HRR) to get the most from these rides. It feels strange at first on a bike as it does feel slow. I don’t know why but it never felt the same running – I don’t know whether that’s because it’s self-propelled or whether it’s because you don’t go as far.
To stop my fixation on average speeds I had to stop going on the routes I used to ride and that I knew well. This way I could just focus on how hard I was going and spending the time enjoying riding. I’ve never been one for training indoors and getting outside has been the most fun for me. I like looking at the different views and trying to find new spots to take photos at.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed is sometimes just getting off-road a bit as it gets rid of the ability to go really fast – especially when it’s muddy!
Going on a few bridleways today really helped to break the hard work the road was. It was blustery and busy on the road so getting off it was always a good option. Sometimes I got lost, sometimes I went to a dead end and sometimes it led to exactly where I expected it to. Although one path today probably was a step too far as I had zero traction, going uphill with a headwind.
Should you do a long-ride?
Don’t get hung up on how fast you’re going and just enjoy the riding part. Stop and take pictures, have a coffee (cake is optional) and just relax. This truly can become one of the best sessions of your week.