Ultra-endurance training

What sort of a TR plan would you put together for an ultra-endurance event such as the Silver State 508?

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I just wrapped up Unbound XL last weekend and have done a few winter ultras. This is what I do:

  • 1 VO2Max + 1 Threshold interval workouts per week during weekdays
  • Lifting during weekdays
  • Long endurance rides on the weekend (5h - 10h with minimal breaks)
    • You can do one very long ride or two back-to-back long rides. Eg, 8h vs 4h/4h. This is all anecdotal, but I believe the single 8h is better than splitting into 4h/4h. However splitting may be necessary with scheduling.
    • If splitting between two days, the closer the volume is together, the better. So a Saturday evening ride + Sunday morning ride is better than two evening rides. Anecdotal, again.
    • Maybe work in some B and C events as endurance rides
    • Maybe do long Z3 intervals within endurance rides
  • Have at least one day completely off between big endurance rides and interval work
  • 3 weekends before your event do a ride simulation shakedown that is at least 50% of the distance and mimics race conditions (eg, if the race is overnight, ride overnight)
    • This rule of thumb only works up until a certain point. Maybe cap it at 24h?
  • 2 weeks prior ease up on the endurance volume but keep the interval work
  • 1 week prior halve the TSS of the intervals (but keep the intensity) and make sure they are finished at least 3-4 days before the event
  • Do whatever pre-riding/warmup/taper-y thing you want in the days leading up to the race.

The easiest way I’ve found to program this in TR is to do a mid-volume polarized plan and then replace all the little endurance rides with one or two big endurance rides “outside” on the weekend. Also the polarized programming is experimental and sometimes can have stupidly long cooldowns–I just do 5 mins of cooldown and skip the rest. Imo, none of the TR plans are well-suited for ultra-endurance out of the box. Most of what I have is pieced together from Dylan Johnson’s videos and tips from 24h MTBers.

FWIW I’m coming from a place where I’m pretty set on endurance and my primary concern is power. You might have opposite concerns if your base is different. If you’re more concerned about endurance adaptations, I think doing a week of long distance bikepacking or an event like RAGBRAI where you are just dumping on volume day in and day out would be helpful.

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Addendum: Long periods of time in the saddle are particularly important if you are not used to them. If you’ve never ridden for 10h with minimal breaks, you probably want to have that experience before attempting something 4x as long. There are bike fit issues which may not crop up until after eight hours of riding.

Another benefit of long rides is that you train your mind to get used to the distance. Once you normalize longer distances the time will pass faster. I believe a huge percentage of people who DNF in ultra-endurance events are physically capable of finishing. The issue is that they aren’t mentally prepared for the distance and hours.

A final note on mental prep: find opportunities to endure through sucky situations. So much of ultra-endurance comes down to being someone who doesn’t quit.

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In my opinion the answer above has absolutely nailed it.

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100% agree with that plan.

I have a 1500 self supported ultra event coming up in the beginning of July. So in the beginning of June I did a test event of 430km (crashed on 15km in the ride and managed to finish exactly at 16h).
Next ride will be Apidura Parallels24 this weekend to test the sleeping equipment.

When it comes to training I have implemented the same strategy as @Samus. I have modified the polarazid mid-vol plan so that I have done 1 VO2 workout and 1 SS/theshold workout in a week. Everything else is endurance. One 4h+ longride in the weekend with some tempo blocks in it.

Also the mental part. You have to have long rides to get to the point where you want to give up…and then get over it. It’s not a question if you feel mentally down but rather when and how will you come out of it.

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Probably Traditional Base > Sustained Power Build> Century. If you have time, insert extra base TB> SSB> SusPB> Century

Pay attention to the Plan Notes for each plan, which often provide suggestions for modifications for ultra endurance riders, and also the week tips which often provide suggestions for substituting longer endurance rides, especially weekends.

The experimental Polarized Base and Build plans could also be useful, as they feature longer rides on weekends.

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I’m doing a 1500k audax in August and have been following an LV TR “plan builder” plan, set the event itself as a stage race - gran fondo. It’s given me SSBLV, General Build and Century, with a bit of back and forth between Build and Base due to timescales.

I then add on endurance riding to the TR plan - ideally at least 4 or 5 hours at the weekend or more as life allows., and do Z2 rides during the week and/or club rides on top.

Had a couple of warmup events - a 3 day MTB bikepacking trip (OK on a different bike but still big days in the saddle), and am doing a 600 in a couple of weeks.

I think that is pretty typical advice on here though and I haven’t actually completed the event yet, so maybe it won’t work :smiley: But I have been feeling good.

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I’ll just add it might help with motivation to split it up on not depending on individual preferences. i have done something as big as unbound Xl but I’m training for unbound 200 I did a little bit of both. Some weekends I’d have 1 extra long ride. Other times it was split over 2 days. For me, always doing 1 long ride would have sapped my motivation. But not everybody will be the same. Certainly time on the saddle is important.

Solid advice!

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Thanks, everybody, great advice, lots to consider!

I just finished the AIDS/LifeCycle on a fixie (545 miles from San Francisco to Los Ángeles, over a period of 7 days). But it wasn’t a race!

Now I’m training for a 2-person Silver State 508, and it IS a race. And I’m wondering how to best increase my speed while also maintaining my endurance. Polarized with modifications sounds interesting, I’ll check it out.

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Something else that’s tangentially related - FastTalk had a good podcast on two-a-days, apparently there’s pretty good science to say that you can get some of the physiological (if not psychological) benefits of doing one long ride by doing 2 much shorter rides separated by 4-6hrs. Worth a listen: Effective Two-A-Day Workout Strategies, with Neal Henderson - Fast Talk Laboratories

I figure it can’t hurt, so I’ve been trying to split the odd TR workout and do a 45 minute version of my TR workout at lunchtime and a 90 min evening Z2 workout. Hopefully means I can get some element of the benefits from doing a much longer ride on a working day.

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I find it interesting that many of us seem to have converged to a 1 VO2 + 1 SS/threshold + big weekend ride(s). I was listening to this Successful Athletes podcast yesterday with a winter ultra racer, and he does something similar.

I’ve looked at the century plan and I just don’t think it makes sense for ultra. As an analogy, there’s a difference in how marathoners and ultramarathoners train and I’d say the same applies here. Instead of squeezing in a little endurance volume in here and there, imo it’s better to focus on a single, quality endurance ride that pushes you in some way. I know people with 2x the weekly volume and mileage as myself who would nonetheless struggle to finish a double century, let alone something longer.

I’m only on a bike for 3-4 days out of the week. I’m sure more volume would help some, but in a diminishing returns sort of way. In my weekly time budget, getting in quality lifting is more important than extra 1-2h ride. Also, there is some research suggesting diminishing returns after 2x interval workouts per week.

Back-to-back long days in the saddle are great for building endurance adaptations.

The good news is that I find that endurance adaptations stick around longer than power gains. I rode last year’s Summer/Fall season endurance gains into the winter and got away with just interval work. The only long rides I did were two winter ultras and a miraculous 70 deg Christmas Day 100k. I cannot do endurance miles on the trainer. It’s a non-starter for me.

EDIT: Another random thought. A lot of TR plans and cycling plans in general treat endurance mileage as more of a bonus. An ultra endurance plan should treat endurance rides with the same level of attention as intervals. What does this mean for my long rides? I’m not stopping for a 2h brunch mid-ride. I refuel at gas stations in the same manner I would during my ultra events. Each weekend ride is different and focuses on different aspects of my A race. One weekend I might go out and do a route with more elevation gain per distance than my A race. Another weekend may be more flat but with sustained pedaling. Another weekend might focus on riding in the dark at a solid pace (pace tends to slow at night for most people). When my weekend rides are shorter or I’m simply being more social and riding with friends (meaning: way too many breaks), I’ll throw in some tempo/threshold intervals to increase the quality of the work.

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Oh god no! I did a century on my trainer once, I’m pretty sure it’s a crime.

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That’s interesting. I’ll have to listen to that but I don’t know if I’d enjoy 2 a days. I just want to be done.

I’ve been training this year soley by cruising round the countryside at an easy pace. Seriously, we’re talking z1 here, not even z2 a lot of the time.
Many hours of this (12-20hrs/wk for months) made me proper fast when I went out on hilly showdown rides with legit racers.
Easy volume really works for me because I love riding so much and often make longer rides into an adventure by sleeping out or visiting a landmark. I don’t get worn down like I do with intensity.

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This is such a good point to bring up. There are a lot of top ultra-endurance athletes (particularly in the multi-day unsupported events) who don’t do any programmed interval training. They simply have a background in bikepacking and/or touring.

For me, personally, I respond really well to high intensity interval training. Probably in part because my prior sport (American football) was basically one very long sprint interval session.

The longer the event, the more other factors matter compared to raw physical stats. How good are you at sleep dep? Can you carry your bike through snow/mud/etc? What does your stomach tolerate after 24 hours? How much suffering can you push through? My raw power numbers are solid, but my watts/kg are in the 20th-30th percentile (thanks to years of optimizing for mass x sprint velocity). Even still, I routinely beat faster cyclists through steady riding and attrition.

With long distances any strength or weakness you have will be amplified. Figuring out how to exploit your strengths and maneuver around your weaknesses will help a ton with overall performance.

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Sadly I don’t think i’ll ever do an ultra race as I dont enjoy sleep deprivation. However I do love time in the saddle so just bikepacking touring works for me. I also love chatting to people that I meet en route too. Can lose an hour easily to a good conversation.

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Agreed 100%. In my own experience and in reading other accounts, it takes experience to be mentally prepared for the fact that things WILL go wrong in a multi-day event with sleep deprivation. Most mistakes can be avoided by just being smart and knowing that your mental capacity diminishes the longer you ride - developing systems for self-care and bike-care that you don’t have to think about are good, so practicing these things is important on your weekend long rides (be they 4 hours or 8 hours). Even if you do everything right, things can still go wrong so you have to remain calm and be adaptable. Fitness is just a necessary minimum bar for these events.

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Yeah same - but if it enables me to get some/any of the benefits of a longer ride when I don’t have time for it then that’s good in my book.

Also means you can do your intervals on the turbo then go out for a nice evening spin as well.

A lot of endurance riders do this too, I dont think there is one size fits all.

Mark Beaumont - round the world record holder (broken it twice) - did/does workouts of varying durations across the power spectrum.

A lot of the guys that race ultras get into it because they just really love riding bikes, so it kinda makes sense that’s also what most of their training is too. Like apparently Lachlan Morton rides a lot even for a pro.

For me, I know I respond really well to high volume, provided I have enough recovery, and I always come back really strongly after big volume blocks. However I work full time and have a life outside of cycling and work, so the training approach is driven by necessity (which I guess is the same as a lot of the people on here!). This is what got me on TR in the first place…

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