Here’s a great question from a ScarletFire reader about how to pace yourself on sportive rides.
My query is around pacing for sportive events. I have been doing the 60+ minute training plans on Strava (just completed my second stint) and am doing 2 events over the next two weeks (85 miles and then 100 miles) before doing the Dragon ride in South Wales in two months.
What is the best way to gauge pacing for such events?
Pacing is so important on a long day out. If you get caught up in the excitement and adrenalin of the start line, you’ll go out too hard.
If you use up too much energy too soon, you’ll be sure to fade away towards the end of the day, and you could end up really struggling and experiencing the dreaded “bonk”.
A heart rate monitor could really help you.
Imagine a spectrum of effort, from barely anything at all, to all-out maximum sprint efforts. At the far extreme, think about how long you could maintain a full-on sprint. A few minutes probably, if that?
Now compare this with how long you could maintain an easy pace. Imagine riding alongside a total beginner. You’d feel like you weren’t putting any effort in at all. Your heart rate would be barely above resting pace, and you could maintain it all day.
The trick with a sportive is to find the balance between an acceptable speed, and a sustainable effort. The heart rate monitor will help you to not overcook things.
Using a heart rate monitor to pace yourself on a sportive ride
To achieve this, you can use the heart rate monitor to make sure you say in zone 2/3 for at least the first half of the ride. Sure, it’ll go up on the hills, there’s no avoiding that. But if you can deliberately aim to keep yourself in the lower to middle range of your heart rate zones, you’ll limit the risk of overdoing it.
Personally, I know that I can ride all day at a heart rate of about 130-135 bpm. But if you get carried away at the start of an event, and foolishly try to keep up with people who are faster than you, you’ll suffer later. If you’re hitting 160-170 bpm just to keep up, you’re not going to sustain that for several hours. Let them go.
If you use a Garmin GPS, you can programme alerts based on heart rates, so it’ll beep at you if it goes too high. This can be quite useful until you get used to what each heart rate zone feels like intuitively.
You could also use the Garmin Virtual Partner function to pace yourself at a specific speed. However, because of the natural ebb and flow of a hilly route, I think this would prove too distracting on a long ride. You’d miss all the scenery by obsessing over where you were, in relation to the VP!
I use a Garmin Soft Strap HR monitor. Here are some live prices from various retailers. (prices update automatically)
After about 20 miles into a long event, the field will settle down and you’ll probably find yourself mostly within the same group of riders. Conserve energy by working together!
For more tips on how to survive a long ride and still feel great at the end, read my Century cheat sheet Ebook (free download).
My sportive secret weapon
The first sportive I ever did was the first Etape Cymru. This event was sponsored by a certain gel manufacturer, and possibly not one of the bigger, more predictable ones (it wasn’t High-5!).
I knew that it was wise to only use gels in the second half of an event, so that’s what I did. I COULD NOT BELIEVE the difference it made.
To this day, these have been my own personal choice of gels. I know that if I take just one of these, I’m going to feel strong for at least another 20 miles.
I never go on a long ride without one, just in case. It’s like a mental safety net…
Check out Alan’s favourite gels (The blackcurrent one is my fave!)