Long rides are fun goals to accomplish, and they’re also great training on their own.
Whether you’re getting ready for a big century or just want more endurance training, here are some tips for getting the most out of your long rides. We also asked Kevin Poulton, coach for WorldTour pro cyclists and Zwift Academy, for his advice!
What is a Long Ride?
Whatever is longer than the rides you normally do!
For real endurance-building work, though, we need to get more specific:
Coach Kevin says: “For a low-intensity endurance ride to be effective we need to go long. On an indoor session this will mean anything from 90 minutes to 2 hours and above.”
These rides are often called “long slow distance” or “long steady distance” (LSD for short). The pace should be moderately easy - you’re still working a little, but you can keep it up for a long time. That’s Zone 2 intensity, or the blue power zone in Zwift, Kevin says.
Why and When to do Long Rides
Long rides help build your endurance, meaning it’s easier to ride for a longer time. This can help you in road races, Gran Fondos, weekend group rides, or any long day on the bike. Even if your typical events are short, you might notice you recover faster from hard efforts and take longer to run out of energy.
Setting a long-distance goal can give you something to work toward as you train. It feels great to cross the finish line knowing you accomplished a lot to get there!
Traditionally, long rides have been prescribed during the winter, when racing athletes can focus on building their aerobic “base.” But you can benefit from long rides at any time of year.
Coach Kevin says: “The overall aim in including LSD rides is to improve the body's ability to use more oxygen and burn fat as fuel.”
“When we train indoors regularly we sometimes forget that it's OK to train at a lower intensity. Not every indoor ride has to be full of high-intensity interval training... We should be aiming to complete one extended low-intensity ride each week. Quite often, big improvements in performance can be made by fitting in a longer endurance ride, rather than fitting in another high-intensity session. As an example, if you are able to fit in three interval sessions during the week on Zwift, a longer Zone 2 endurance ride of 90+ minutes on the weekend would have a positive effect on your performance.”
Work Up To It
Chances are, you can ride longer than you think. But don’t make a big jump in time or distance, especially if you’re new to cycling! Build up the length of your rides a little bit at a time. If you have a goal in mind, we suggest doing this until you’re about two-thirds of the way there. A good primer for an imperial century (100 miles) is completing a metric century (62.1 miles, or 100 kilometers).
Ride With a Group
Group rides will help you go faster, thanks to drafting! The company also can help the time pass quicker. If you can’t find a long group ride, start with a short one then continue on your own.
Alternatively, ask a few friends to ride with you, even just for part of the time.
Take the Scenic Route
To cover more distance in less time, with a steady pace, pick a flat route. A scenic long loop instead of a short circuit will keep you from getting bored. If you want a challenge, try a hilly route with varied terrain.
Flat routes for steady training:
- Tick Tock, Volcano Flat, Watopia’s Waistband, The Magnificent 8 (Watopia)
- Greatest London Flat (London)
Longer routes with climbs for a challenge:
- The Uber Pretzel, The Mega Pretzel, The Pretzel (Watopia)
- The London Pretzel (London)
Middle ground (climbs and flats, medium length):
- Big Foot Hills, Bigger Loop, Dust in the Wind (Watopia)
Eat and Drink Well
“When training for up to 2 hours at this level, we have more than enough carbohydrates stored in the body to fuel the workout. When going above the 2-hour mark for a low-intensity endurance ride it would be advisable to take on a small amount of carbohydrate such as a banana or a gel.”
The longer you ride, the more you should eat.
Staying hydrated is especially important! Along with water, make sure you’re getting electrolytes through your food or drink.
“When training indoors, even during low-intensity workouts, the body's core temperature is increased, resulting in increased sweat loss. Be sure to drink regularly and avoid becoming dehydrated. As a guide, aim to consume at least 1 bottle of water per hour.”
Take a Break and Move
Outside, you naturally move around on the bike and get out of the saddle. Indoors, it’s easy to just stay in one position. That can get very uncomfortable for a long time! Try to change up your hand and saddle positions, alternate between sitting and standing, and take a short break every once in a while.
Are you ready? Go long!