Lachlan Morton's tips on long rides and going the distance
Whether it's for the kudos of your first century or for ultras pushing their limits on and off-road, long rides are important not just to train your body, but to get the most out of cycling. From finding new routes, exploring unchartered territory, or just getting lost, long rides help you confront your limits - so we got some tips from someone who's familiar with pushing the envelope - Lachlan Morton.
Really, there are two ways to look at long rides. First off, there's doing long rides for training, and then there's going long for the sake of the adventure or the thrill of getting out of your comfort zone.
If you're a keen rider, 90% of cyclists should try and get one long ride, and we're talking three hours plus, per week. There's a couple of reasons for that.
1. Improve your endurance
It's pretty obvious, but point one on why you should get that long ride in is because there's no way to replicate that fatigue over time. If you're training for a race, then it follows you need to do some riding of the same duration - and not just that distance - but the time.
An hour here on the trainer and an hour there on your local roads, and you're just not going to have to go into your reserves, and that's a totally different type of energy.
Riding long is about burning the whole match until your fingers get burnt, not just striking it and blowing it out. You've got to be consistent, and continuous, and get comfortable digging and sticking it out over the course of a long ride.
2. Explore different places
From where you live, you end up favouring certain roads. That preference prevents you from experiencing other places. When you get out of your sphere to somewhere new, your decisions aren't prejudiced like that. You have the freedom to just experience it, find new places and maybe see something you'd never have come across otherwise. That always feels pretty good.
3. Get used to fatigue
It's not just feeling tired, though that's a big part of it. Being on the bike for short stints, you never know what's actually going to play up. Mostly it's going to be a contact point - your hands, shoes, neck, bum - it's only after really getting into a long ride that you know what's likely to play up.
Long rides give you a chance to check your setup - what's working, what's not working, and make tweaks that make riding better.
Ultimately - fatigue is what the sport is all about. You go until you can't go any more, either because you're riding an ultra or because you've gone deep to get the placing. Going long allows you to explore those depths and know how that feels - it develops that introspection that allows you to be finely in tune with your performance.
4. Free yourself up and prepare yourself mentally
If you're training, longer rides are just less prescriptive. It's rare that you'll be asked to put in efforts on a ride over 3 hours - and if you do, then you're guaranteed there'll be some time to ride at your own pace within that. It gives you a chance to look up, and go off your feelings more - it's just a more natural way to ride.
The flip side of this fun mental release, is the tougher bit. Long rides just empty you - they're exhausting and it's only by feeling that exhaustion and listening to yourself that you can step back and think - "Hey - you're tired - but you've got this - you're not as tired as that time when....."
It's being able to reason through your fatigue and not let it cloud your judgement that can be the difference when you're taking on a big event or struggling to hold the wheel at a race. Having the confidence to know - this will pass, I'm fine.
5. Find out your fuel
You hear this all the time - nutrition is important - but there's always that balance of what works for your system and tastes. Some people can just smash gels, and others could end their ride by doing the same thing.
On short hour long blasts, you don't really need to eat on the bike, and you're never going so deep into reserves that you need to worry about putting yourself in the hole.
Long rides really eat into those reserves - and so you've got to replenish them. By experimenting, you can work out what works for you on the bike. Once you've found something that works, stick with it.
6. Learn to pace yourself
There's so much data in your face these days, it's easy to feel insecure about not going fast enough, not pushing out enough watts - and when that feels like hard work, there's nothing that can just cause you to switch off like not meeting that high bar you set yourself. The reality of going long is you learn where you're at, and how to measure your effort to what's ahead of you.
Sure, it's nice to PB your favourite climb 30km in, but, what's the point if you can't make it over the climb with 10km to go eight hours later. You can get sucked into this stuff so easily, and yard-sticking yourself against a different person isn't what's going to get you faster, fitter or further.
7. Find out what works for you
There's no set formula, and every ride is different. Most of the time, it's rolling with the punches and getting comfortable being out of your comfort zone. That's pretty liberating - and opens doors to doing even more stuff. Long rides make you more versatile and resourceful as a rider - if you can get the time to ride, take it.
Things I just wouldn't do
Riding is quite personal, but, when it comes to going ultra long with your rides, there's a couple of things that I think serve nobody to do.
1. Pay too much attention to what other people are doing
Once you're on the road, most of the time, it's about you alone. It shouldn't matter that someone else rides deep sections or wider tyres and drinks a bottle of water every 50km - learn what works for you and do what works for you.
2. Try to train sleep deprivation
There is nothing that will actually recreate the feeling of not sleeping, and training for it by withholding sleep is just dumb. You don't deal with it any better because sleep deprivation is a completely different state - it takes you away from being rational. You can't step back and go - I'll push through - it's pretty simple - when you start feeling sleep deprived, you know at some point, you're going to need to get some shut-eye.
3. Make it about speed not stamina
The longer a ride or race gets, the less about speed it becomes. Most of the time, it's just the person staying in the saddle, spinning the legs and making their stops a few and efficient as possible. It's real tortoise and hare stuff - be the tortoise. You can only sprint towards a distance within certain time scales. If you're riding back to back for anything over 12 days, you need to re-evaluate what speed actually means.
4. Put stress on it
You're going for a long ride - if you can, just leave it at that. A-B is fine, but beyond practical stuff like getting back, don't worry too much, and don't add in stops en route that cause time pressures. There's nothing worse than riding on that knife edge when your tyre blows and you're then trying to make good on time.