Knowledge Level: Intermediate
If you have already tackled a few sportives, you might have set yourself the goal of a multi-day cycling challenge. Whether it is the classic Lands End to John O’Groats, the three day Tour of Wessex or a European monster such as the Haute Route Pyrenees, how can you maximise your training gains and then perform at your best on the ride itself? Follow our tips for multi-day success.
Even more so than on a single day sportive, multi-day events are all about endurance. If you are targeting a multi-day event, hopefully you have already laid down a solid foundation of endurance over the winter and ideally been following our Off-season base builder plan. You should now switch to the In-season plan which you can use to manage your training around your target events.
You can also use our In-season plan if you have been following your own training plan though the winter and have achieved a solid fitness base.
If your winter training hasn’t quite gone to plan and you have got a multi-day event this summer, all is not lost. If you have still got 12 weeks or more and are at a fitness level that would allow you to go out and ride 100 km relatively comfortably, you should work through the 12-week Off-season base builder plan. With any extra weeks, you can then use the In-season to fill in the gaps to your event.
If you really have let your cycling slip, our 6-week Panic Plan will certainly help to bring you up to speed but, without the deeply ingrained fitness that only a solid winter of training can deliver, you will have to pay special attention to the rest of the advice given below.
Learn pacing discipline
Consistent and conservative pacing is the key to success on a multi-day ride, especially on the first couple of days. Bursts or surges that don’t feel significant or tiring will all accumulate and eventually, even if it’s several days down the line, will have an effect on your performance. Learning to use heart rate or power to objectively and accurately pace yourself is crucial and this skill and discipline is a fundamental part of all of the British Cycling Training Plans.
Get your on the bike nutrition and hydration right
On a single-day ride, your fuelling mantra should be “little, early and often” and the mindset you should adopt is that you are not eating for that moment but for 10-20 kilometres down the road. On a multi-day ride, you have got to take an even more forward thinking view as you are also eating to fuel the upcoming days. If you fail to fuel effectively on any one day and run out of energy you will be stripping your body’s energy stores to an extent where you might not be able to replenish them overnight. This can seriously impact your performance on subsequent days and the same applies if you allow yourself to become dehydrated. Practice your fuelling and hydration on your training rides, following the advice of the Great Britain Cycling Team nutritionists. Aim to finish rides feeling slightly hungry but not ravenous and never allow yourself to have a sugar crash.
Comfort is key
For back-to-back long days in the saddle, comfort has to be your number one priority. Make sure you choose high quality cycling shorts and do everything you can to avoid saddle soreness. A correct bike fit is essential so, either book in for a professional bike fit or follow this bike fit advice. Work on your strength and mobility as this will also help you to stay comfortable on your bike.
Perfect your recovery routine
For Grand Tour cyclists it is often said that the champions aren't necessarily the strongest riders but are the best at recovering. Your day’s ride doesn’t end until you have worked through your recovery routine. No matter how tired you feel, have a recovery drink straight away, get clean and dressed, work through your mobilisation routine and, if possible, have a massage. This routine is your number one priority on finishing riding, everything else can wait. Learn how to optimise your recovery and fine tune your routine in training.
Look after your stomach
A stomach upset will have the same energy draining effect as poor fuelling. You are especially at risk of GI problems on rides abroad, so take every step to prevent them. Be really diligent about hygiene. Wash your hands, avoid risky foods and make sure you keep your water bottles clean. Find out about other steps you can take to avoid stomach problems.
Work on group riding skills
Multi-day rides are all about saving energy, and one of the best ways to do that on a bike is by having excellent group riding skills. Long solo training rides will definitely build fitness and mental toughness but, unless you are comfortable and confident in a group of riders, you will be making life far harder for yourself. Join a club to develop your group riding skills.
Book a training camp
Away from work, family and other distractions and hopefully with consistently decent weather, a training camp can be the ideal way to put into practice your multi-day ride routine and to test where your fitness is at. Don’t overdo it though, you are looking to increase your typical training volume but avoid the temptation to train too much. Too many people come back from a training camp tired and end up getting ill. Plan an easier training week before you head out and a recovery week for after you get back. The Pre Event Week and Post Event Week from the In-season plan would be ideal.
Plan some test events
Look for challenging sportives before your multi-day event and use them as dry runs for your pacing, fuelling and hydration strategies. Think about doubling up if there are Saturday and Sunday events in an area or just go out for your own ride to make it a back-to-back weekend.
If your event is fully supported and part of an organised package then you shouldn’t have to worry about logistics such as booking accommodation and meals. Double check though and make sure that other essentials, such as travel insurance, are sorted if you are riding abroad. If you are putting together your own itinerary, organise and book as much as possible before setting off. After a tough day of riding, the last thing you want to be doing is wandering around an unfamiliar place looking for a hotel for the night.