From the Coaches: Going the Extra Mile

Ultra Endurance, Audax and super-long Gravel events are becoming more and more popular, but how can you train for these massive distance events if you are limited on the time that you can train? I’ve done a couple of 200 mile rides for charity, which have also been useful for testing out some theories and practices to apply in order to maximising performance across this distance with minimal specific training towards that goal. The first time I did a ride this long, I blew up repeatedly and was wrecked for several days afterwards. The second time, I only stopped once briefly to fill bottles and grab some more food, and was able to be competitive in some E-races over the next two days. So, I thought I’d share my experience of some preparation for (and experiences during) two very different 200 mile rides and let you know which differences made one ride far better and more pleasant than the other…

In the lead up to the second ride, I hadn’t been able to get much endurance riding in due to an increase in work volume. 4 hours was the maximum time I had managed to spend on the bike, with weekly hours between 10-12 and quite a lot of work being done on the indoor trainer. Not what you’d think is ideal training for a 200 mile ride! However, maximising performance over that duration comes down to a few simple principles that can be trained for within limited weekly hours.

The primary principle to consider is Lactate threshold, LT1 specifically. The first time I did a 200 mile ride, I went too hard on the climbs that occurred in the first half of the ride. As a result, I blew up frequently, even while consuming a lot of food. It got to the point where there was no more room left for food, yet I was still starving so relied on espressos with lots of sugar to get me home. I also took over a week to recover. Next time round, I kept the intensity below what my calculated LT1 was. LT1 is the threshold at which, after crossing, your body starts to use more carbohydrates as a fuel source rather than fats. This is important since carb stores and ability to ingest carbs are limited, yet even 7kg of fat (10% BF for a 70kg person) contains ~49000 kcal! This is easily more than enough to fuel the ~8000kcal used during the ride. However, you still use some carbs - even at low intensities (for example, to fuel the brain) - hence why your cognitive functions are limited when you blow up! So, carb consumption and carb sparing are important as the rate at which you can fill up the tank, and how much you can fill it up is limited. By the end of my second 200 mile ride, I didn’t feel excessively hungry or tired (maybe that was more due to the 3:30am wake-up for the first one!) but there was muscular pain because my gearing wasn’t ideal for some of the steeper climbs. To maintain a wattage below LT1, I had to use the smallest gear (39t/28t) at very low RPM, which did result in a fair bit of neuromuscular fatigue by the end. Compact gearing is looking very inviting if I attempt that again!

Nutrition wise, I ate A LOT. For the first ride, I made the mistake of consuming all my food in solid form and drinking plain water, which equated to a lot of volume. Second time around, I consumed 400g of carbs in drink form along with x4 gels (20g CHO), x4 bars (40-45g CHO), x2 energy blocks (40g CHO), a sandwich, flapjack and can of coke. Add to that the massive bowl of porridge beforehand and it was a fair amount of food. The first part of the ride was the toughest as I set off very shortly after eating and it took a while to get that into the system. It also didn’t help that it was cold and wet. Carb drink was swigged regularly and food consumed at the rate of at least one item an hour. I did miss one feed due to tackling successive climbs and focusing on breathing more than eating, which showed come hour 6-7. The quick stop for food helped with that though and, in terms of energy levels, those were fine for the rest of the ride. It helps if you’re used to consuming a large volume of food while exercising; that’s something I’ve really worked on the last few years. You can’t just consume 100g/hour of carbs without training your gut to deal with that first!

Mentally, it was an ordeal. The first 8 hours were done entirely solo, save for the food stop at a bike shop where I knew the guy working there. I think you have to be a different breed to be able to do that day-in, day-out for events such as The Transcontinental! I had a bit of company for hours 8-9, which did help. It was also beneficial to have bibshorts with a good chamois and having enough layers of clothing that I could strip some off if need be. The bar bag space that was initially occupied with food was empty by hour 8 so I could whack my base layer and warmers in there when I no longer felt the need for them. There was quite a lot of riding out of the saddle come the end of the ride but a generous application of chamois cream had definitely helped in that department. Pressure is also an issue so choice of saddles for long-distance events should definitely be a consideration.

In terms of how to train for events of this distance, the key physiological points are: being proficient at burning fat for fuel, increasing LT1, and training the gut to deal with the nutrition requirements. The way in which you do that is primarily by increasing the amount of mitochondria you have in the muscles as well as increasing the ability to transport oxygen to them. I’ve covered this before in this article which explains the ways in which this can occur. In brief, with the correct balance of high intensity intervals and low intensity longer duration training, you can increase your fat burning capacity and therefore your LT1 too. In our plans, such as the 200 Mile Gravel Grinder, this is exactly what we focus on! So, even with a limited amount of time to train a week, it is certainly possible to train for ultra-long events, or multi-day events by being smart with how you train and clever in how you prepare.

Takeaway points

  • Increase your aerobic fitness via MAP and FTP training. This will help increase your LT1
  • Practice your fuelling strategy and intake in training before the event
  • Know what’s coming up on your route
  • Choose your equipment wisely (gearing, shorts, saddle etc)

It would be great to hear any ultra endurance stories from anyone in the SYSTM community to add to this! What went well and what was a learning experience for you?


Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Excellent review @Coach.Andy.T !
As I keep repeating - hoping I‘m not annoying anyone: Your input is highly appreciated! :boom:


Still trying to figure out what a “lea” is.

Google says Low Energy Availability but I’m guessing typo.

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I’m guessing it’s meant to be related to “learning experience” but got cut off in its prime.

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You’ve got my vote.


So I’m actually in the middle of a brevet series this year – I did a 300K (~187 miles) on June 11, a 400K (~250 miles) on June 25, have a 600K (~375 miles) coming up this weekend (July 9), and a looming 1200K (~750 miles) starting on July 31.

What I did in the runup:
Physically: the vast majority of my training was outdoors – I’d done a local spring training series of weekly group rides, typically in the 70-90 mile range. This was pretty similar riding from a pace perspective to the brevets, since the group mantra was “easy up” the hills and steady riding over surging. In addition, in a typical week I’d do 2 sessions of ~45 minutes of easy bike commuting, effectively used as recovery, 1 session of ~1 hour near threshold with a group, and 1 session of HIIT work on the trainer. Also strength training, which I’m convinced has paid many dividends but it’s harder to quantify.

It’s not entirely clear how much HIIT work helped towards my goals, but it was fun and I do think there’s room for MAP repeatability work for ultra-endurance riding, so that when you do have to go hard up a hill, you’ve trained to recover from it quickly.

Food/Drink: I echo Andy that training your body to eat constantly on the bike is important. I’d done some of that via the long/steady group rides, but honestly not enough. Liquid calories is something I haven’t tried yet but should. I typically fill my pockets with a variety of small packages of food: granola bars, peanut butter crackers, gummies, nuts, and cookies. One thing I did on the 400K was bring a package of jerky-style sausage links – mixing it up from time to time felt useful so I didn’t get bored. There definitely came a point when I felt stuffed and didn’t want to eat anymore – I did anyway. Hydration-wise, I have stuck with alternating pure water and electrolyte-tablet added water. I did better when I consistently took a swig of something every 15 minutes rather than waiting until I was thirsty.

Equipment: some big wins and some big misses. I experimented with a rim dynamo for the first time this year, which was way easier to use and better peace of mind that battery packs for keeping electronics charged, especially lights. I have a saddle that agrees with me (Brooks C17). A major miss: trying a new pair of shoes for the first time on a brevet. I fought major foot and toe pain for a large portion of the back half of the event.

How things have gone (so far!)
300K: I didn’t eat enough the night before and went out too hard, then felt myself approaching a blow up. Getting the food I needed cost me 30 minutes of time, and I rode very poorly for another hour afterwards. Later in the ride, even with similar conditions, I rode far better after eating that decent breakfast and then on continuously. I was slipping behind people in the second quartile of the ride and slipping ahead of people in the last quartile.

400K: I pretty much didn’t stop eating the night before, continuing long after hunger had left me. Then a healthy breakfast, then continuous eating. It was very hot and I nearly ran out of water a few times, but drinking small amounts helped a lot. I spent the first ~70 miles feeling like I was going way too easy, but as a result I maintained way more strength late in the ride. I never had a “big lunch” and thus never had a major lull related to a too-full stomach. I struggled massively with foot pain on this ride, and trying various ways to correct this has been a major emphasis since. I rode ~60% of this ride with other riders, although notably the final 3 hours (at night) were solo as I was eager to make my target time. Riding with people absolutely eases the mental burden.

Next steps:
With every other week events recovery isn’t as clean cut as a nice 3:1 ratio. I ratcheted back last week, did an endurance group ride this past weekend, and have focused on tinkering with equipment. I’m adding in a little threshold work this week, mostly as a change of pace. The biggest concern of the upcoming rides is sleep strategy. Having talked to other riders, the mental challenge of “getting back on the bike” will be a major hurdle. I’m thinking of ways to gamify/reward myself to help support my motivation.


If ultra means 200 miles, then I’ve only done this once, and only virtually so I never actually went anywhere.

In late December, 2019, for my 2nd virtual Everesting I chose Leith Hill on Zwift. A 1.95 km segment with 134 metres of gain and an average gradient of 6.9%. I was aiming for 67 reps to fulfill the requirements or 75 and a bit to reach 10k gain. Having done one of these before, I kind of knew what to expect but was NOT prepared for hitting the Death Zone (or Wall or whatever you “real” athletes call it). By the time I reached about 7000 metres, I was feeling nauseous, could not eat anything, my knees were screaming at me and, after taking a couple of slightly longer breaks, did a couple more reps but by then I think I was already mentally giving up.

At that time, I was not aware that the 7000 metre point in an Everesting (or virtual Everesting) was a common point where the darkness overwhelms the light and being unaware, I was COMPLETELY unprepared for it. In hindsight, I could likely have taken a longer rest, reassured myself that what I was feeling was not uncommon, and just pushed through it. Also, in hindsight, my efforts on the segment were consistently higher (10-20 watts) in the first 3 hours than they probably ought to have been.

In May 2020, I did my Leith Hill Redemption Ride and successfully completed my second full vEveresting with just over 320 “kms” and 10,000 “metres” of gain. What was different was my overall pacing which I held at what I ought to have held it to the first time. I was also fully prepped for the 7000 metre darkness but it never came.

I’m curious to hear from folks who do the randoneuring type distances and if there are specific markers in time or distance that equate to the wall or death zone in an Everesting. I’m also curious of start time (ie time of day) plays a role in it too.

Thanks for the post Coach @Coach.Andy.T Just making me think of what my next big dumb goal is gonna be, lol!


Thanks @Coach.Andy.T! Maybe I missed it, but how was your LT1 calculated?

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Just for reference, the human digestive system can transfer at most 60 grams of glucose/galactose and 60 grams of fructose per hour. Anything else stays in the digestive system.

You do need to train yourself to tolerate that level, but that makes the theoretical maximum carbohydrate absorption 120 grams per hour. Anything above that stays in the stomach/intestine and contributes to gastric discomfort.

I also believe that eating while exercising suppresses the insulin reaction, so that eating on the bicycle, or just taking short breaks is beneficial (that also prevents your muscle temperature from decreasing). This may also be the time when highly processed foods have some advantage over what you would normally wish to eat.

Also, when you are eating while exercising, you should be refueling for the next hour, not the current one.


Thank you for pointing that one out! Adjusted now

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Hmmm. (1) What goes well and (2) what was learning.

(1) very little
(2) lots

I almost stopped at the first sentence in this thread as the concept of a couple of 200 mile rides is not my level at all, and i can’t see how it ever will be, but I suppose I have done some Endurance stuff, and I remember them more than any other rides I’ve ever done.

Strathpuffer 24 - not the same as the events in the start of the thread, but ultimately trying to ride your bike for 24hrs and 59Minutes is still endurance I guess. That was probably my biggest ever ‘test’ of endurance riding, and to date my most successful.
So why did that go well …

  • no blood tests or anything to prove effectiveness, but I stopped drinking alcohol 13 months before the event, which meant (I suspect) a better physical ‘body’ to cater for the hard times in that race
  • I disciplined myself to just join with the ‘pack’ at the start, and did the first hour easy. My goal was to finish. There was only ever one winner anyway lol. Seriously - I wasn’t using watts or any such thing - I just pedalled easy and did a lap, then thought to myself that that wasn’t bad, and stuck with that pace.
  • I kept eating. This did tail off in the last few hours, but the fact that mentally i was able to say it was past midnight, only 10-11 hours to go, then later, only 6 hours to go, meant I was pacing it well.
  • I didn’t give a whatever about my finishing position so i took plenty breaks. including a much longer midnight break for hot food. And a few more that were 30 minute or longer.
  • I didn’t know what Lactate was, never mind any other stats, but I did know it was prudent not to burst myself on the steep climbs in the snow, so i walked climbs as and when appropriate.
  • I didn’t take risks. So on dodgy icy terrain when I was tired I would make conscious decisions to walk obstacles if they were ‘consequential’
  • I wore a set of bibs that seemed to have always kept me ‘dry’ and then didn’t work hard enough to get them soaked (helps when it’s sub-zero).
  • Oh, and I kept eating. No idea how much, I just kept eating.
  • I used the bike I would ride in the event outside a lot in the months prior so it was the same saddle, same gears etc and put in a lot of darkness rides after work, and I used a Zwift for HIIT, with some ongoing coaching type help from a few experienced athletes on there (sorry, it’s just what I knew about at the time) workouts to train - having just discovered indoor trainers after a shattered tibial plateau. The ongoing training feedback and collaboration type arrangement in a group makes training incredibly engaging - less ‘solo’.

What did I learn: keep eating. keep drinking. it works. Keep it easy. No point chasing people who are off the scale more capable than I am.

When went well: i finished, rolling over the last lap lap with a virtually flat rear spiked tyre … which I took off a few months later when i looked at the bike again


Randonneuring starts at 200K / 125M, but as they say, this distance feels achievable to most who have done a (imperial) century ride.

I think a reasonable definition of “ultra” is the point at which light/sleep become major concerns. And I totally didn’t talk about lights in my post but it’s a big thing for sure. I now run a set that should be able to run all night without charging and a rim dynamo. Overkill for 400K but I’m testing out equipment for longer distances now.

The wall/death point might vary by person, but if you’ve prepped and fed/hydrated right it will be mental rather than physical. On my first 400, I was mentally miserable from 250-300K, on what was not especially difficult terrain. I just wanted desperately to quit for hours. I took frequent breaks, pedaled easy, and lied to myself that I could call a taxi and quit at the 300 mark.


Now that’s a BIG number - that would take too long in a sports car … jings


More generally, and I think this won’t surprise anyone who’s done the mental training program or The Bat, setting micro goals along the way is a great strategy to avoid thinking about a goal that feels too large to comprehend.

“Only 20K to the next control, then I can get off the bike for a bit”
“Ride 15 more minutes then have a snack”
“In another hour I’ll have ridden farther than I ever have before – I can stop then if I really want”


Now that’s a BIG number - that would take too long in a sports car … jings

Yeah I know it’s coming but I’m not thinking much about it, instead focusing on the next event ahead.


Yah, I’ve done a few 200s. I was wondering about the longer ones like the 300, 400 etc. your description of mental misery at 250-300 on a 400 km ride sounds about right. I wonder if that point on a 400 is common amongst folks that do that particular distance.


Thank you Gerald, I really appreciate the feedback! :grin:

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Those are some incredible rides you’ve done and have coming up! Let us know how they go!

As for HIIT helping with endurance capacity, it all comes down to the idea of Aerobic (endurance) fitness being a room, with several doors to open into that room, different keys to open the doors, and different training intensities holding those keys. So HIIT hold the AMPK (adenosine monophosphate kinase) enzyme which activates the door PGC1A which is a gene expression which leads to increased mitochondria and muscle capillaries so greater oxygenation of the muscles and greater ability to utilise oxygen and substrates to increase ATP production from oxidising fats. In other words, HIIT can improve endurance capacity by increasing the ability to oxygenate fats at a higher intensity so sparing carbs more. Sorry for the jargon explosion there.

Wise to mix up the food sources and also to drink regularly before thirst set in. 400k ride sounds like it was perfect except for the foot pain. But great stories to share thank you!


You’re still a real athlete Glen, don’t talk yourself down!

Really amazing achievement getting that 10000m gain! That’s incredible and something I’d hate to even attempt! For me the death zone appears probably 3 quarters of the way in, after halfway but still feels like an age to go before the finish


Yes!. It’s a rotten habit and time to break it.