Every year many of us consider a ride with a difference. It could be taking part in a race, going on a trip or perhaps one of the longer routes around the country.
Living near the South Downs this is the obvious route for many but how long will it take and how fit do you need to be to be able to complete the whole route are the questions thrown around the riding group. Age, fitness and other riders all come into play but the only thing for sure is that it is a long way.
Looking at the breakdown of the overall route into the main sections is shown on the table below. This states figures which are quoted in different publications and is correct but not completely accurate.
Using some GPS software comparing Beachy Head to Devil’s Dyke there was a difference amounting to an additional 2km. This is assuming that you pedal in a straight line and therefore the actual difference could be up to 10% longer according to my recorded data on similar rides.
. miles km miles km
Eastbourne to Alfriston 8 12
Alfriston to Lewes 13 22 21 34
Lewes to Devil’s Dyke 11 17 32 51
Devil’s Dyke to Washington 11 17 43 68
Washington to Amberley 13 21 56 89
Amberley to Cocking 14 22 70 111
Cocking to QEP 12 19 82 130
Using the same software the time comes out at 4 hours 18 minutes allowing 10mph on the flat, 4mph ascending and 15mph descending. This would seem to be a reasonable pace as it gives an approximate 8mph pace.
If this is extrapolated for the whole course it comes out at over 10 hours. Even on a long summer’s day few people regularly ride these sort of hours even at a slower pace. So some of us try to ride longer, ride more often, go to the gym or even try a bit of running and then hope it will be enough.
So those of us who were considering the 80 mile night version need to use a bit of maths before setting a target time.
Let’s dismiss setting a random average and then powering off in hope and ignorance. We can also forget riding with some Lycra clad group with lots of miles in their legs who will start off faster than our maximum pace and then speed up as they get warm.
Using a heart rate monitor can help allowing you to set an upper limit to maximise your pace and distance. This takes a few rides to work out but I was surprised the benefit it brings and I also how low the upper limit had to be set; but even the tour guys avoid the going into the red and pay for their time in their orange zone.
There was an exercise that I used on a shorter ride to calculate longer ride averages. Start your ride deliberately slowly and continue for an hour to achieve a low average, e.g. 5mph, on your cycle computer or GPS. Then try to increase your average mph figure continuously for the next hour.
This means that you have to pace yourself before a hill to prevent the average dropping. You also have to ride the hills quite hard but if you go too fast on the first hill the next hill is even harder. This seemed to mimic the tiredness I felt on a very long ride when I had used all my energy reserves.
I became fascinated by the digital display in a desperate attempt to keep the average up and found that I died fairly quickly by the second or third hill if I was just a little too eager. The secret for me was to restrict my heart rate and my pedalling effort and this increased my endurance and my average pace.
If you find a route that you get to 7mph on your first attempt you will feel the enormity of increasing that to 8mph and then 9mph. If you get to 9.5mph getting to 10mph uses much more effort and when you reach your own maximum pace you may be surprised at your heart rate average compared to a slightly lower average pace.
I found that my maximum heart rate when riding was about 180 on the steepest climbs and 150 was a little breathless but I could still chat when riding. Effortless riding was around the 100 mark against a resting heart rate of below 50. I found that if I set a general upper limit of 130 that maximised my endurance pace.
After all of this I found that I could not catch up on lost time so I allowed for this before I started riding and then I did not overexert myself trying to maintain an unrealistic average. I also found that I was thinking constantly about how to open gates efficiently, how to eat without slowing down and exactly where was the best point to change gear to avoid losing time.
This was irrational and pointless but it is a bit like avoiding on cracks on the pavement as a kid you just can’t help yourself.
So if you fancy a longer ride than usual watch the rides page. And bring your own heart monitor if you want to talk geek.