Training for the 24 Hour Cycling Challenge

In my previous post, I wrote about the newest challenge that Amy and I have decided to take on- cycling the 200 miles from Beijing to the end of the Great Wall in 24 hours. As far as endurance challenges go, it’s certainly not the most difficult (we’ve got a long way to go before we start considering triathlons or even marathons), but at the same time 24 hours of cycling a distance longer than the country of Belgium is not something you can jump into without any sort of preparation.

Weekend warriors riding through the Beijing outskirts

Weekend warriors riding through the Beijing outskirts

Given that being in a decent physical condition is somewhat of a prerequisite for taking on this kind of journey, Amy and I wanted to make sure that we spent enough time training properly. Not only can cycling this amount of distance be taxing on the body generally, but the other thing we would have to prepare ourselves for doing this in China is the extra stress of negligent, reckless drivers.

With that said, one of the most appealing things about the 24-hour challenge is that the training and the ride itself can be fit around a busy schedule, even if you’re working a full-time job. Not only that, but travel by bicycle (like with motorcycling) can be a great way to explore an area, exposing you to places you would have never otherwise seen or experienced.

So How Do You Train For A 24 Hour Cycle Challenge?

It’s important to note that I’m brand new to the world of cycling. I’ve done lots of hiking and motorcycling of course, but cycling is something I was not at all familiar with. This meant that the training itself would be almost as much of an adventure as the final trip is sure to be!

The way we chose to structure our training was based off the same way we came up with the 24hr Cycle Challenge idea in the first place. Challenge Sophie’s post on prepping for the London to Paris Sportive training tips were great for structuring our own training plan, so I’ll just share what she wrote:

  • Aim for one ride per week where you can build your distance up to 100 miles before the [the trip]. Pretty much anyone with a reasonable level of fitness will be able to cycle 50 miles right now. Each week, build this distance from 50-100. It’s all about the baby steps!
  • During the week, you do not need to do long rides, any time in the saddle you can find will help you. Commuting to work, a 30-60 minute cycle here and there. Every mile helps
  • Include one speed work session per week to develop your fast-twitch fibres. This will help you improve your overall speed and endurance quicker than just getting the miles in. Find a hill and do laps, sprinting up and cycling back down for one hour
  • Focus on any other endurance challenges you have between now and [the trip]. Running, cycling, strength and conditioning work in the gym, it all helps to build muscle strength and endurance for the challenge
  • Join a local cycling club or find people to train with to maintain motivation and focus towards your cycling goals. Plus it’s more fun!
  • Practise your nutrition and kit set up
  • Allocate rest days, it is through rest that we become stronger cyclists!
  • Cycle in bad weather, it makes you feel badass!
  • Fit your training around your life and work commitments. For example, incorporate training into your daily commute, train in your lunch break or instead of driving to social events
  • Focus on what you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you won’t find training a chore and you’ll want to do it more. Check out my blog on Confidence Training for more on this!

Eliminating Failure Points

Weekend ride out to the Ming Tombs. Sightseeing and getting in a 65 mile ride!

Weekend ride out to the Ming Tombs. Sightseeing and getting in a 65 mile ride!

One important thing to remember when trying to build new habits and acquire new skills is to identify and eliminate any failure points you are likely to encounter. This is an idea I’ve learned from listening and reading the material of Tim Ferriss (famous for his books The 4-hour Work Week, 4-hour Body, and 4-hour Chef) particularly his strategies on meta-learning. The idea is pretty simple and seems like common sense, but I’ve found it’s important to keep it in mind when structuring any sort of training regiment- whether writing a book, learning javascript, or training for a cycling event.

A failure point is essentially anything that could cause you to quit something new, particularly when you’re still in the early stages. I won’t go into too much details on this, you can check out Tim Ferriss’ stuff for that. Basically though the two important parts are to establish stakes to hold you accountable and set simple and easily digestible goals that don’t overwhelm you early.

Setting Stakes

The stakes for us was really just doing the training with other people, even if it was just the two of us. Peer pressure works wonders to keep you accountable, while only relying on your own self-motivation can be tiring enough without the actual exercise! We started a group chat and invited all of our friends that expressed interest in cycling. Each weekend when we organized a ride, we would see who was interested in joining along! Amy and I also do extended cycling routes home as part of our commute each night. Having that second person really helps to quiet that voice in the back of your head telling you one more night off won’t hurt. Then once you’re actually on the road it’s a great time!

Digestible Goals

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to task management and so when it was time to structure Amy’s and my training schedules, I just couldn’t help but make a spreadsheet out of it!

The spreadsheet for our training schedule. Green highlight means we met our goal and red means we missed!

The spreadsheet for our training schedule. Green highlight means we met our goal and red means we missed!

The idea was to start with an easy to meet, weekly goal that was just a little bit beyond what our commute to and from work would cover. Then each week our goal would increase by 7-10 miles. At the end of the week, we enter our final distances into the spreadsheet (which we track using an app by Abvio called Cyclemeter) to see if we met our goals. I added a little something extra to help incentivize meeting the goal by putting in conditional highlighting to the cells- if we met the goal, it would highlight green, otherwise it turns red.

Improving At The Margin

Cycling is both great exercise and an excuse to get out and explore!

Cycling is both great exercise and an excuse to get out and explore! (Photo credit: zachifyphotography.com)

We’ve both found this system helpful in two ways. The first is that it’s a lot easier to improve yourself at the margin today than to just set lofty goals for yourself that you hope to achieve in the distant future. It’s one thing to convince yourself to ride that 1 or 2 extra miles on a 5 minute detour on your way home and quite another to plan a couple 50 mile rides each week. Go with the second strategy and you’ll fall behind very quickly.

The other way tracking our progress like this has been useful is that we were able to improve gradually enough that it wasn’t overly draining, but were still improving to the point that after just 1 month we had both seen significant improvements in our cycling stamina.

A sort of add on point is that one of the most important things we’re finding with the training is that you really just need to get used to being in the saddle for long periods of time. Riding on a regular basis and having graduated goals has been a big help for that and goes a long way to increasing how far you can ride in a day.

Final Thoughts

The best way to look at these strategies as a sort of beginner’s guide. Experienced cyclists no doubt will have their own processes, ones specific to their own habits and needs. For beginners though, the ideas laid out above have been a great way to wade into the world of endurance cycling

In just a couple months both Amy and I who had never ridden more than 40 miles in a day by bike have seen major improvements in our riding ability and comfort level on the bike. In fact, 1 week ago we did the full Beijing to Dragon’s Head route in 2 days, 100 miles/150km per day, to scope out the route and test our progress (next post will be on that trip!). And finally, not only are we getting closer to our goal of being able to cycle a 24hr 200 mile challenge, but the regular training has been a fun way to get regular exercise, with noticeable improvements in our overall fitness level!

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