An Ultra, or long-course Audax, is one of the biggest physical challenges in sport. But how long will it take you to train for one?
With all the other brevet distances, you can just about get away with under-doing your preparation and still get over the finish-line. But not with a international ultra where road conditions, food, weather is different. If you fail to respect it, it’ll find you out.
Finishing it well within the 90/125-hour cut-off comes down to numerous factors, the most important being your current fitness. As a rough idea though, you’re looking at six to 12 months of training, depending on your background.
In times gone by, it was thought you’d need two to five years of cycling experience behind you to even consider taking on the behemoth that is a 1200km+.
That meant graduating from shorter distances (200k, 300k, 400k, 600k) to a few local 1000/1200ks. Then, finally, you were ready for the big one.
Not anymore. Now, with refined training practices and cutting-edge training tools, things are different. Some people battle through PBP/LEL with a handful of long rides behind them. Unbelievably, some make their first ultra at these events. Then again many athletes coming to cycling have already forged a powerful engine, be it in swimming, cycling, running or another endurance discipline.
As a general rule, if you’re reading this on the day you’ve completed your first 600k (half the distance of a PBP), I’d confidently say with consistent training that you could complete PBP/LEL in six months, maybe less.
If you’re new to cycling training but have a reasonable background fitness, I’d say 12-months is a more realistic yardstick.
That doesn’t marry with many training plans floating around the internet, telling you to go from zero to Ultra Cycling hero in 12 weeks, but that’s a risky throw of the dice.
Your body must absorb a hefty volume of training, while recovering between sessions, plus juggling work, family and everything else. You should also be prepared to ease off on the social functions, so you can take training seriously.
So, first things first, due to the long distances involved, you’ll need a dedicated training plan.
That might sound serious and it’s certainly a mindset shift from potentially less formalized training at lower distances, but structure’s essential to reach your goals. Being an amateur, one of the greatest obstacles to overcome is time.
I always say that training for an ultra is broadly similar to shorter brevets, but the biggest difference comes at weekends, when you’ll have longer workouts to tackle. Of course, you don’t HAVE to do your longest workouts at the weekend, but that’s typically when most people have the opportunity.
So, ask yourself a few questions: do you have enough time to tick off regular 4-hour bike rides at weekends? Rides that could grow to 5- or 6-hours? And how does that gel with your family or work responsibilities? Remember, you’ll be very tired afterwards too.
All in all, to train for a long-course you’re looking at around 1-2 hours a day, for five or six days a week. With longer workouts typically at weekends.
If that time requirement has not put you off, here are 3 top tips for time-efficient training…
To be successful, you need to be consistent. If you can complete 85% of your training plan, 85% of the time, that (or anything greater) ranks as consistent. To do this, requires being realistic about your time-availability in the first place.
Consistency also means avoiding injury, which you can do by not increasing your training hours dramatically, or going too fast during the long workouts. Taking an active recovery week every few weeks helps too.
Fueling is vital at long-course, especially on the bike, and you should see most long training rides as your meals-on-wheels service. Many watches now have the capacity to remind you every 15-20 minutes to eat, even if it’s just a simple count-down timer.
As for what you should consume during an Ultra event, that’s a separate blog in itself.
This is an essential component of your structured training. You should write down your goals, your sessions, and chart your mood and impact on performance. This is useful to avoid overtraining.
Software like EnduroCo is ideal for this. . But no matter how you chart your training, keep a Post-It note reminder on your fridge, about your goal. It’ll act as motivation every time you reach for a beer or unhealthy snack.
In conclusion, training for an Ultra not easy. It demands a lot, not only from you but also your friends and family. So get them on-board early to make your journey that bit more enjoyable.
And never forget that aspect – this is supposed to be enjoyable. Remember to smile, take pride in your training and be consistent.
Be realistic about your goals and don’t expect miracles. And before long, you’ll have that long-course medal slung around your shoulders. And then what? Of course, you’ll sign up for your next ultra.