Believe it or not, many of you will be able to ride much further than you think you can. You may hear of people covering hundreds of miles in a day and believe that you could never do that yourself, but you may be surprised.
The trouble is, barriers to completing a long ride are more likely to be psychological or strategic than they are physical.
It’s all in the mind…
Whether you have been cycling a month or ten years, your mind is likely to be your biggest barrier. Without something or someone pushing you beyond your comfort zone, you are likely to call it a day far short of what your body is capable of.
This is one of the main benefits of riding with others, or by taking on an event like an Audax. Riding with a friend who has more experience of doing longer distances is invaluable. Not only does it provide you with the motivation to keep going when every muscle in your body is telling you to pack up and go home, but it also provides you with a mentor who can help you with the strategic part of the long-distance conundrum.
On the other hand, doing an Audax where no support is offered and YOU are responsible for getting yourself home is also a great motivator.
Last summer I decided to do the Dr Foster’s Summer Saunter for the second year in a row. The first year I rode with our friend David, an experienced Randonneur and a goldmine of information on cycling. This year I found myself riding mostly by myself. However, at around 40 miles from home, at Symonds Yat to be precise, my back was starting to give me some serious grief. Had I not been 40 miles from home without any other way to get back, I probably would have called it a day then. Fortunately, I had time on my side and spent half an hour laying down in the woods between the Yat and Monmouth in an attempt to give my back a rest and give myself a good talking to. I made it home, but boy did it hurt.
Motivation aside, the experience and wisdom of others will play a part as the distances increase. Rides that are going to last for hours, even days will require some ongoing maintenance of yourself. You will need to eat; you will need to find water; and you may well need to stretch, particularly your neck and back.
Pushing for multi-day rides, such as a 600Km Audax like the Bryan Chapman Memorial or the 1000Km+ Paris-Brest-Paris will require that you sleep somewhere, possibly in a hedge. This is where knowledge and experience play a key role.
The great thing about the internet is that there are plenty of ways to find people with the knowledge to help you through.
Caveats of the physical kind…
Ok, your physical fitness does play a part, but probably not in the way that you think.
A long, all-day ride, unless you are racing of course, is unlikely to call upon your glycogen stores in the same way a short sprint will. If you are riding at a comfortable pace, you should be able to keep that up for hours without too much trouble –providing you eat regularly and keep hydrated.
Yes, hills do complicate matters, particularly as they will force you to engage some big muscles in your legs, but climb at a comfortable pace and try to keep your heart rate down. We also have some tips on climbing hills that you may find useful.
The only real difference between someone new to cycling and an experienced mile-muncher is the speed at which that distance can be completed. You may not be as fast as the next person, but you are arguably just as capable of going the distance.