I think its safe to say riding the Pan Celtic Race series (or anything similar) is one of the most physically and mentally demanding challenges you can undertake as a cyclist.
What are the considerations? Multiple days in the saddle, typically 5-6. Suitable lighting for 24 hours a day riding and GPS to navigate/record the whole race. A plan for fuelling and managing extreme sleep deprivation and fatigue. The list goes on. However, in this short blog, I am going to focus on some advice when training for an ultra event.
Build a Solid Base:
Start with consistency. This is by far the most important aspect of a good training plan. Gradually increase your weekly mileage and aim to spread it out throughout the week; it is much better to do 5 x 1 hour sessions than 1 x 5 hour on the weekend.
Include long rides in your training to simulate the demands of the ultra event but dont worry if you cant manage long rides every week - for most people this just isnt realistic.
As well as increasing volume, you also need to increase intensity and to get this right you should be keeping track of your fitness with testing.
Incorporating interval training is a good way to improve your endurance and strength with the right sessions.
Include strength training in your regimen to build muscular endurance and prevent injuries.
Focus on core strength, as a stable core is crucial for maintaining proper form during long rides.
Also consider your joints (knees specifically): riding with a heavily laden bike is going to slow you down - this means you're going to run out of gears quicker going uphill and potentially force you to grind more than you would like on the really steep stuff. In isolation, this would be fine; but when you're having to do this frequently, with no recovery over the course of a day it will quickly take its toll. Therefore to counter this, make sure you're doing strength related, high 'torque' efforts on and off the bike.
Protect your neck! Something I learnt the hard way on my first PCR! Strengthening your neck to deal with long hours in the saddle will be crucial and often overlooked. Some simple exercises every few days is all that is required!
Nutrition and Hydration:
Practice your nutrition and hydration strategy during training rides. Find what foods and drinks work best for you.
Just like your muscles and aerobic system, your digestive system is trainable too. The last thing you want is stomach issues/acid reflux during your race.
Recovery and Stretching:
Ultra-cycling often leads to repetitive strain on certain muscle groups and joints. Stretching helps to address muscle imbalances, reducing the risk of overuse injuries. It also promotes better muscle function and joint stability, decreasing the likelihood of strains and sprains.
Prioritize recovery with rest days, proper sleep and doing as little as possbile. To improve you need to recover properly!
Listen to your body and adjust your training if you experience persistent fatigue or pain.
Develop mental resilience to push through challenging moments during the event (there will be many)
You have to race in all weather, so force yourself to train in it! Yes Zwift is great (or any other indoor training aid) but sometimes it's important to just get out. It also helps refines skills on the bike including handling.
Practice visualizating possible challenges and how you would deal with them.
Test and Adjust:
Use training rides as opportunities to test your gear, nutrition, and hydration strategies.
Make adjustments to your plan based on what works best for you during training.
Maximise your Training:
Everyone knows about zone 2 training, it should form the basis of your plan, but ensure you're actually doing zone 2!
Develop a well-structured training plan that includes a mix of intervals. You want it to be 'fun' and engaging to maximise quality but most importantly your consistency. Accountability here also helps.
Remember, challenges like this should be fun and an adventure, and training is part of the whole experience. The better prepared you're the more you will enjoy it I guarantee! I'm planning to write some more posts including specific race stratergy (focusing on my lightweight version and the logic behind it.). If there is any topics you would like me to cover don't hesistate getting in touch!