Are long rides necessary?

I realize that there’s a social aspect to getting in a long weekly ride, and that you might actually enjoy it, but is there any need to ride for 3 plus hours when most of our crits and road races are between 40 mins to 2 hours in duration (with a few exceptions).

I do enjoy the banter etc, but with having a young family and the fact that I just don’t see the need to ride for so long, I’ll often peel off or backtrack during a group ride so I’m out for no longer than 2 hours. I’ll often be the only one to cut it short.

Does anyone have a similar experience with this or are you able to share any evidence based research about the benefits of long rides?

Are they necessary, no. Will the added cardio improvement from long rides make you better? Absolutely. The whole sport is cardio based. Better cardio fitness means better racing.

Now this doesn’t just mean you only need long slow rides. But mixing them in with intensity absolutely will make you stronger.

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Absolutely necessary … if your athletic development is important to you. However, if you don’t like them and don’t have the time, well, then don’t do them. You’re not a pro.

Track cyclists spend hours on the road. Heaps of low intensity long rides. Couple of reasons for this.

Volume is directly related to:

  • Mitochondrial density (e.g. number of) whereas mitochondrial function (e.g. efficiency) is related to intensity
  • Muscle capilarization
  • Heart efficiency (e.g. stroke volume whereas intensity will only make the heart walls thicker.

And more, we could talk about all the muscle fibre types and so. Lots of research on these. However, instead of looking at science for any “evidence” I lean more to experiences coaches for advise on anything training related.

I have three children. When they were very young (first ones are twins) I simply did not race. You can’t have both. When I started racing again I ditched all the “social rides” because my family schedule could not be aligned with them. Squeezing in my training required some changes.

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Worth mentioning is the mental capacity to grind for 3, 4, 5, 6 hours is a game of staying focused. The mind needs to be exercised too, IMO. In your case, longer rides will help those shorter rides feel like a walk in the park.

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I don’t get the opportunity to ride for three plus hours very often but when I do, I love to go low and slow. That feeling of a dull, warming nag in my legs is very satisfying. It’s like I’ve stretched my legs and my mind. They’re also a great opportunity to find a coffee stop and I’m all about the cake :wink:

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I’m in v similar situation with family and haven’t done a ride longer than about 90 mins in several years (edit- just checked did a 3hr ride last year when had random day off work. Otherwise nothing else in 3 years).

Never felt stronger and setting PBs. 95% of my training is on TR in the garage. However need to think about that with races I do. I focus on 10 mile and 25 mile TT (so around hour for 25m) and CX races (again last about hour).

Sure I’d suffer if did longer races!
I’d love to go out every weekend with a club and do long 3-4hr rides BUT can’t/don’t want to be away from family.

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the long ride is extremely beneficial for many reason, but mostly cycling economy and overall aerobic engine. even a 2 minute sprint is 80% aerobic fitness.

If you are racing 2 hours, but only riding a total of 2 hours, it is unlikely that you will have the fitness to ride the hardest when it really counts. Someone that is in the race that is riding 3.5 hours will be much fresher.

Crits…you only need an hour. Blast yourself for 1h and you can race any crit. I know NRC guys that have raced massive crits while getting PhDs etcetc and train 5-6h a week.

But Road Race is different beast as you mentioned.

Hope that helps!

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Thanks for all the comments on this so far. There does seem to be some benefit of riding longer once a week, but for me I don’t think the extra time on my bike is going to significantly help (I have no desire to reach cat 1 level). From what I’ve seen from local races those that are in cat 1 or even cat 3 are logging close to 10,000km a year, so that tells me that there’s some reward for all the time on the bike. In comparison my last few years have been around 4000km a year on average, but my focus is mainly on higher intensity V02 max type of training. I would say that 20% of my weekly training is moderate endurance work. A long ride for me would be 70km.

I would be curious to hear what kind of distance others are logging and what category you race in (if you race).

Long rides (if long enough) fatigue slow twitch fibers and force more of your fast twitch fibers to take the load. Getting more muscle to use O2 means more power. This might not mean more absolute power over any set metric. It means that late in a ride/race you’ll fatigue less. Fatigue resistance happens even during short duration events so long rides are a real benefit imo/e.

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Personally I think it’s key for me to keep a clear distinction between the riding I do.

A long(er) ride for me is 3/4 hours. I’ll usually cover 60-65 miles and pack what I need so that I don’t need to stop. That said, If I see a little coffee shop, I’m not going to beat myself up if I take 15 minutes off the bike.

My long rides are MY rides. I’m not doing efforts, not chasing segments and I’m certainly not riding with anybody else that wants to turn them into a training session. These rides are so infrequent that they’re precious. I get to ride roads that I don’t usual take, I look around a see the seasons change, I unwind my mind.

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Stealth training.

Put as much of your training into “dead time” as far as your family is concerned. They won’t see when you leave for work anyway, chuck in a long ride to work on Friday morning. Prep everything the day before, roll out of bed into your bibshorts and get going! :+1:

Same can be done on the weekend with TR if your alarm clock works at 05:00 that is :wink:

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Your alarm may go off at 5am, but for those with kids their alarm might go off at 5:30am so it’s hardly getting out in dead time. :slight_smile:

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…I have three. :slightly_smiling_face: But it wouldn’t work for a single parent.

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…and if my alarm goes off at 5am…then it wakes my wife and kids up as well…so not only not dead time but angry wife and tired grumpy kids all day!

And need take kids to school before going to work so can’t leave early. Race to Get to work on time anyway!

Set your phone to vibrate :+1:

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While TR and sufferfest, zwift, and the such has been a huge benefit for time crunched athletes; the long slow endurance rides are not going anywhere. It’s not just for the social aspect, it has benefits. I do a lot of them solo. It keeps me in check to keep the efforts at that pace.
On weekends when I’m not racing I’m putting 7 or so hours in the saddle.
I’m a cat 3 roadie who is close to being a 2, a 3 in cx, and 1 in xc. I ride a lot. I use TR a lot. I do all of my intervals inside, `and the long rides are slow. Sometimes they’re tempo pending what I have done that week. I love doing 3x20s outside on the local climb same with sprint efforts.
I do some shorter XC races, but usually marathon races in between road racing. I think the TR sweet spot base builds work, but throwing in a 4 hour long slow distance ride in once a week I feel does wonders.

As for my p/1/2 teammates, they are doing ridiculous amounts of volume. A lot of them are fathers as well. 12-15 hours a week
All bout that base.

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Lol. My wife has insomnia so would wake her up but never me! I’d sleep through brass band! Lol.

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I have my alarm set to vibrate on my Garmin wrist watch so only I ever know when my alarm’s going off :wink:

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Distance (kilometers/miles) is a vanity metric and is too variable, I’d focus rather on hours/time in zones. That’s what TR focuses on and how structured training is scheduled. The benifits of these long rides are attempted to be mimicked by increasing intensity (sweet spot) with shorter durations. So if you’re time crunched and unable to do z2 for 4-5 hours, TR gives you the alternative of SS for 1:30-2:00 indoors on the trainer.

It’s not an exact 1 to 1 exchange and you miss some of the benifits of these long outdoor rides, but there are also added benefits of these shorter SS indoor workouts where there is constant pedaling and specific power demands. So I wouldn’t stress if you can’t or don’t want to go for 3-5 hour rides, it’s not derailing your training and there other ways to reach your goals. If the group is going for 3-4 hours but you only are doing 2 hours, put your nose in the wind and pull more often to make up for less duration with SS intensity. I’d just focus on staying consistent and healthy and your fitness will continue to improve.

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I really enjoy mixing in longer weekend steady effort road rides (60 - 80 miles) as I find it really does help me with my overall endurance. When I started mixing these long road rides in more regularly I was surprised how much they helped me when I went out and did 2 - 3 hour XC MTB rides. Where I would fade previously in the latter half of such rides, I was now able to ride much more consistently throughout. Even though the efforts are much different, steady vs the surging efforts with XC MTB, the underlying endurance and resistance to fatigue was there.

The longer rides also help with calorie burn and helping keep weight off, figuring out nutrition, and tweaking bike fit. They also give me a chance to catch up on podcasts…

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