How to Train for Long Bike Rides

Training tips from seasoned endurance racer Rob Issem

Your weekend rides are your favorite part of the week, but lately three hours out on two wheels just isn’t cutting it. If you’ve been longing to log more hours in the saddle, or to start competing in endurance races, why not start now?

For a few tips on upping your mileage and getting ready to compete, we turned to former Virginia State XXC Mountain Bike Series Champion and organizer of the Virginia Endurance Series, Rob Issem. He’s also a mountain bike guide and instructor for Roanoke Mountain Adventures, who loves long rides and “infecting people with the incurable awesomeness that is mountain biking.”

Naturally, he is teeming with great advice. Here’s what he had to say about training for long rides:

Plan, Do, Go: Whatever the event you’re looking forward to there are probably dozens if not hundreds of training plans available. Everything from free training plans on the internet, to books, to coaches that’ll customize a plan for you and your schedule. Find a Plan that seems fun and reasonable for you, Do your best to stick to it, and even if you’re only able to complete a fraction of the workouts… Go to the event and have fun with it. You may surprise yourself with how well you’ll do.

Bring Friends: Long rides are best enjoyed with friends and training for long rides is best when done with friends. Let your friends in on your training plan, rope one or two reliable buddies into doing some of your regular workouts with you. Join your local cycling clubs and participate in their regular rides, and, if none of their current offerings fit your schedule, then lead a ride that does.

Core: Every sport super-emphasizes the importance of core strength and stability and cycling is no different. Spend some time maintaining a solid level of core strength, and not just for long distance cycling. Do it for you, for life. The most fun core workout I’ve been doing lately have been on stand up paddle boards! It’s an exploding and crazy fun sport and a phenomenal alternative to gym core workouts. Crunched for time? Download the free 7-minute Scientific Workout app. Do the workout right when you wake up at least four times a week and I guarantee your core strength will improve.

Rob Issem after completing
Neptune’s Challenge Ride Across Virginia, 316.4 miles in 23hours 26minutes.

Speed: In a nutshell, if you do high intensity speed workouts your endurance will improve. Conversely, if you do long slow distance (LSD) workouts your speed will probably not improve much. High intensity interval training is hard but it really works and it doesn’t take much—embrace it.

Time: You don’t have to do regular (or any) 100 mile training rides to participate in a 100 mile century, gran fondo or mountain bike race. If you’re long training ride is two thirds the length of the event you’re preparing for, and that ride went well, you’ll be OK. That’s true whether you’re just trying to complete an event or be competitive.

Terrain: Ride terrain that’s similar to what the event will include, if you can. Preparing for the Shenandoah Mountain 100? Spend time riding technical singletrack and doing long climbs. Trying to set a PR at the Burke’s Garden Century (pancake flat)? Try to get in some long group rides with very little elevation change so you can work on fast group ride pace line efforts and active recovery.

Sure, long distance cycling events are hard, but they’re also a crazy good time. That includes time spent with the people and families that organize, volunteer for and participate in big ride events. So here’s one last bonus tip: when you’re out there suffering with all of those great people, don’t forget to smile. You are awesome, you’re doing what you love, and even if the rest of your life isn’t exactly on point, on this day and in this moment—you are living the dream!

Find Rob Issem on Twitter, or head to Roanoke Mountain Adventures and ride with him.

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