10 Ways to PACE Sportives for FASTER cycling

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by Rebecca

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Do you have a pacing strategy in mind for your next sportive?

100 miles is a long way on a bike: go too fast and you’ll soon tire quickly and consequently struggle horribly in the latter half of the event.  So devising a good pacing strategy before your event will help channel all your energies to crossing the line in the best possible time.

Below are 10 tips to help you devise your pacing strategy.  Remember, the goal with a pacing strategy is to conserve as much energy as possible during an event:

1. Warm up well before the event: 20 minutes easy riding will warm up your body for the challenge ahead.  Don’t skip a warm up, or you’ll end up warming up in the first quarter of the event and likely feel sluggish, especially on the first climb of the day.

2. Go easy at the start: how many times do you see riders blasting off at the beginning of a 100 mile ride event?  Slow down…there really is no advantage to blasting off because ‘everyone around you is blasting’.  All you are doing is using up valuable energy.  Slow down and ‘ride into’ the event – note, this is NOT a warm up, but a progressive pacing strategy, whereby you ride up to and ‘settle into’ the ride and then have a stronger last quarter.  This way you conserve your energies and have enough in the tank to push through when it’s most needed near the end of the event.

3. Choose your appropriate cadence for a long event:  You don’t want to be pushing a big gear (high gear).  When you do this for many miles your strength will fatigue and your power will drop and so will your speed.  In training learn to ‘spin’ a gear.  Train your cadence to increase by about 5 to 10 rpm from what it is now.  Not only does this make you more efficient and faster, you’ll feel less strain on your knees and back during a long day in the saddle.

4. Check you have suitable gears for the event:  Many times I see riders without enough gears – especially in the hills! By straining, you lose an incredible amount of time and energy.  What is easier is to simply add a few bigger sprockets so you can ‘get on top of the gear’ (means spin the gear more) to become more efficient.  Remember, on a 100 mile hilly ride you will be tired in the last quarter.  Make sure you choose gears with tiredness in mind!  Add a granny-survival gear…believe me, you will be thankful!

5. Expect good patches and bad patches: If you’re not riding great for a few miles, don’t get down and/or give up. Know that during a 100 mile event every rider will go through good patches and bad patches. The main thing here is to keep positive and know that bad patches are a normal part of long distance events. Keep the pedals moving forward, focus on your ride and soon enough things will brighten up again!

6. Ride at your own pace, not someone elses: Just because your friend rides away from you, doesn’t mean you have to follow them.  There is nothing worse than feeling pressured to ‘keep up’.  The solution is to just let them go.  Stay calm and let them ride their pace – you’ll no doubt come sailing past at 80 miles…!

7. Eat and drink on the whole ride:  It is imperative to be well fuelled for your event, from the beginning right through to the end.  Keep sippling fluid every 10 minutes, and eat something solid every 20 minutes. For more detail on eating and fuelling for a long day in the saddle, read How to Fuel Cycling Energy For A Sportive.

8. Draft other riders if you can: drafting can save significant energy when riding behind a group of riders.  You can save up to 30% effort, so don’t ride two abreast when you could be helping each other by taking turns on the front working together!  If you are riding with a cyclist of similar ability level, then see if you can work as a team. This is awesome pacing and the secret to fast times :-) rather than needlessly struggling together into a headwind!

9. Recci a course by bike as much as possible beforehand:  If you can, get to know stretches of the ride beforehand.  Knowing a route or part of it, like the biggest climbs, or tricky descents will pay off hugely in time.  It means you know what to expect and can pace accordingly.  If you don’t have the chance to cycle it, then drive part of the route the day before (without tiring yourself out of course), – this is only going to add to familiarisation on the day.

10. Don’t stop for too long and at too many feed stations:  If you want to maintain a good pace, you need to ideally be carrying most of your food with you.  Plan beforehand when you think you may need to fill up fluid and work a strategy around that. Not only do stoppages lose you time, frequent stoppages don’t help your muscles either – they can cramp up if you’re off for too long. Keep those pedals turning as much as you can and only stop if absolutely necessary.

In summary then, make sure you come up with a strategy as to how you are going to pace your next event. Think about the details, don’t just turn up and ‘hope for the best’ because hoping is leaving things to chance, and that’s a shame after all the training you’ve put in.  So, re-read this checklist and have your own pacing strategy to hand. You’ll not only ride well, but you are much more likely to hit a new personal best and enjoy a great day out!

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