Fueling, mental strength and physical limitations

Hi all,

I’m trying to get my head around a recent ride of mine, specifically in regards to my limitations, and how fueling plays a part.

I’ve been cycling for some time, taking it seriously for around a year, TR for 3 months specifically started using TR to train for a sportive. Sportive was canceled, however I did the equivalent ride myself, treating it as an ‘A’ race.

Yesterday I completed the 80mile ride in just over 5hrs (ride time), average speed of 15.7mph. I’m really pleased with this, and it’s my longest ride yet (12 months ago I did a similar ride, 70.2mikes at 14.9mph) however my legs had no power in the end. I live in a largely flat area but there are some small rolling hills and undulations. During these ‘uphill’ efforts my legs kinda just felt like jelly!!

I was thinking about going for a century, but didn’t want to ruin a good ride, and I felt pretty gassed by that point. I didn’t bonk (I’ve bonked horribly in the past. Never again!), but I am wondering if fueling played a part in my limitations.

The reason I say this is that my legs, specifically quads, don’t feel as bad as I was expecting to today. Previously I’ve hobbled around and my legs have felt half dead. Today they feel a little achy but overall pretty fresh! So I’m wondering if my limiting factor was actually my leg strength, my fueling strategy, or mental endurance/strength.

Whilst riding I concentrated quite a lot on fuel and strategy. Using a combination of rice cakes, flapjacks, peanut butter sandwich, and cliff bars, I ate every 20 minutes, give or take 2 minutes. I’ve calculated calories and carbs, and this means on average I consumed between 496-704 calories, and between 70-95g carbs per hour depending on my fuel combination. I also chucked a couple of gels into the mix over the ride, however wanted to fuel mainly on ‘food’.

Like I mention, when cycling my legs felt like they were done, however I bounced back faster than I thought. Thinking about the situation, if I had reached my physical limits I think I would be in worse shape after the ride/ today. I think I was fueling enough, so is it a mental toughness issue?

Apologies for my rambling question, I’d be interested to hear your opinions.


Sound to me like a long, well fueled endurance ride that you recovered from well.
I did a 5 hour ride on the trainer yesterday and I was also rather cooked after that but today my legs feel fine. Would you feel worse if you had “reached your physical limit”? hmm I guess? But why speculate on that? The point of endurance rides isn’t to absolutely destroy yourself every time. Long days do become very mentally challenging and 5 hours is very good. Do you have the toughness to do it again? Perhaps even longer? The gains are coming.

Guessing a bit, but was it the classic case of starting too fast? Do you have a power meter? If so look at your power for each quarter of the ride to see if significant changes. If no power meter, you could look at speed, although wind and terrain might confuse matters. Got a heart rate monitor? Have a look for any changes throughout your ride in a similar way.

Sounds to me like you finished about right. Your fuelling strategy sounds fine, but that in itself doesn’t mean you should be able to ride indefinitely - there are other factors at play, notably muscle endurance. Have you done many rides of this length, other than the 70 miler you mention? Doing a few of a similar duration puts you in the right place to extend the next one, both physically and mentally. Also, though you mention your speed for the ride, in itself that doesn’t tell us much about your relative effort/power during the ride, which will inevitably affect your stamina.

Thanks for your replies guys. I guess I wasn’t trying to go until failure, which I need to take into consideration.

@Flashpoint51 I’ve not done any other efforts similar to this one in a long time to be honest. I normally train 3x/ week on TR, and have a weekend ride between 20-40miles depending on many things.

I also don’t have/ use a power meter on the road, which I know is almost a cardinal sin, but kinda intentional (and kinda financial!) If you’re interested I’ve attached pics of my heart rate and speed over the course of this ride, that you can look at.

Perhaps I watch/ listen to too many stores about people completely burying themselves to complete X…

May also be worth mentioning that for this ride I didn’t do a speciality training block on TR, mainly down to time and user error :man_facepalming:

To me, that heart rate looks quite variable for an endurance ride. Have you got any analysis of time spent in hear rate zones?

This is a screenshot from training peaks of a 4 hour endurance ride for me. The highlighted zone is zone 2. Admittedly the scaling is different, but I only spent 48 seconds above zone 3, and only 8 minutes above zone 2.

Hi Daniel,
Here is the HR zone breakdown according to Strava:

1hr23 (27%) ‘moderate’ 105-138bpm
3hr3 (60%) ‘tempo’ 138-155bpm
39min (13%) ‘threshold’ 155-172bpm

Also attached the pic from TR for reference.

I think we’ve all heard similar stories and I tip my cap to those who really can push themselves to such extremes.

Personally, whilst training, I don’t find this useful. If you manage to get yourself into *a dark place *, you have to mentally recover. If you know that you’ve got another training ride to do next week and that ride is longer or takes on more elevation, you can start to doubt yourself. I’d far rather build slowly and challenge myself gradually. That way, I stay pumped for the next ride.

To my mind, your recent ride sounds solid. Maybe you were a bit too keen at the beginning, when fresh. With regards to the fuelling, I’d be tempted to have a gel earlier in the ride, just because I know it’s going to get into my system faster than the real food.

From the look of that, it does seem you spent quite a lot of time at a higher intensity. I would suggest that during your ride you might have burnt a number of matches by being at threshold. This could lead to that jelly legs feeling that you experienced.

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This. I think it was pacing. I also sometimes ride myself completely empty but whilst I do endurance (200km+), I cannot ride at threshold (HR ~160) longer than about 3 hours, then I’m done for and need an extra rest day.

Think you just went for a ride that’s longer than you’re used to. It’s all normal. Just recover, and do it again :blush:

Thanks guys, really useful and encouraging :+1::+1: