Ultra Long Distance Cycling Tips | Beyond Physical Suffering: Mark Beaumont’s Secrets


– Hopefully, you’ll have
seen by now mine and Mark’s ride around the North
Coast 500 in Scotland. Don’t let us know the
ending yet, we don’t know, because we haven’t finished
and, quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure
whether we’re gonna make it. But anyway, whilst we’ve
been cruising along, on this incredible stretch of road, we thought it would be a great opportunity to actually talk to Mark, and find out some of his ultra endurance tips. So, probably a bit late for me now, given that we’re nearly
all the way around. – I dunno, I think you’ve got it in you. (dramatic orchestral music) Ultimately ultra endurance
is your ability to suffer. Just doing long lines, believe it or not, doesn’t actually set
you up particularly well to ride or race ultra. Physically, it’s amazing
what the body can suffer, if the head can just stop
freaking out about it. (steady guitar music) – So what would your golden tips be then, for someone that perhaps is
comfortable with road cycling, they’ve done sportives,
Gran Fondos, races, but to then, transition over
to those ultra distances? – So, if you’re doing,
certainly multi day rides, but you’re not racing, I mean, I would encourage anyone
who’s riding big distances for the first time not to enter a race, just to go out there and try and push themselves over distance. So, your setup on the bike’s
gonna be a bit different. Don’t try and be too much of a race snake. Your positioning on your bike, your form on the bike
is absolutely crucial, so, if you’ve got a
really slammed front end, if you’re used to going out
with your mates on the weekend on a really aggressive setup, that’s really gonna hurt
you over the big distances. As you’ve felt on this ride, especially maybe raising
the front end a little bit, getting a bit of weight off the hands, if you’re really slammed at the front, that gets pretty sore. I mean, when I’m driving big distances and it’s safe, and it’s flat roads, I’m out on the tri-bars. But anything you can do to
move your hand position around so you’re not just sit
on the lugs all the time but moving the middle, using that as a good climbing position, because that numbing, that
pins and needles you get, is avoidable, so don’t just live with it. The amount of riders who have said to me, “Really bad saddle sores and
hand numbing is just something “you have to live with.” You can really learn to adjust your body and be more comfortable on the bike. The other thing I would
say when it comes to being comfortable on the road- and here’s a great example. Here’s a road with just
a lot of bumps and loose. As you get tired, as you get toward the end of your big days, we all tend to get quite
A-framed on the bike so we end up riding like this. So, it’s so, so important
that your upper body is the shock absorber on the bike because over five, 10,
15 hours on the bike, that really hurts. So, keeping a neutral upper body, for me, is always starting with the elbows. If your elbows are
relatively flat to the road then the upper body can just
take whatever’s given to it, whereas when we tire,
you see so many riders with their shoulders up around their ears. It’s so much punishment. It doesn’t really let the legs continue to have a nice high cadence either. So, whatever you can do on
the bike in terms of form just to make it a bit more
comfortable for yourself. You’ll feel early on in a ride if you’ve got too much
weight through your hands or you’re taking too much
punishment through the road, you need to just relax
up that upper body a bit. – Okay, that’s a great tip, actually. I hadn’t thought about that. Now, what about the
training side of things? So, I mean, how do you train for something that’s gonna take 12, 16, 24, 30 hours? – Or multi day. I mean, it’s one thing doing a mega day, it’s another thing waking
up after a few hour’s sleep and then doing it again, again, again. So, whether Land’s End, John O. Groats, or it’s a trans con, or
something even bigger, it’s all about not just how
good you are on any given day but how quickly can you recover? I spend my life telling people trying to get into ultra endurance to stop riding distance. We can all go out and do temporal rides. We can all go out and just turn the pedals over zone one, zone two. But actually, what really
builds that tolerance- what I mean by that is,
riding ultra endurance is about not breaking down,
it’s about not injuring. The amount of riders who they’re
really strong club riders, but you take them for a
four or five day ultra and the tendonitis would start to come in, repetitive strain injuries. So, your fit on the bike’s
pretty key for that. You’ve felt it yourself,
even on this ride, that tightness through the tendons. It’s more than the muscles, it’s just that use from the tendons. And if your alignment isn’t
quite right on the bike then you’re gonna pay for it. So, your bike fit’s key. But training- train hard. Train through the ranges. By that I mean power
ranges, cadence ranges. I spent a lot of time doing
much shorter sessions, 90 minutes, two hours,
and then you can build the conditioning on the
bike on top of that, the ability to just go out
and do long, long rides. Just doing long rides, believe it or not, doesn’t actually set you up particularly well to ride or race ultras. – So, it comes down to getting really fit. But what tips can you give for
sort of mental conditioning? Because I guess that’s
gonna be the difference, isn’t it, between being a fit cyclist and someone who can go the distance. – I think we’re all fascinated
with the human psyche. Ultimately ultra endurance
is your ability to suffer. I mean road racing is your
ability to suffer as well but it’s your ability to
suffer amongst others. Whereas, you know, ultra endurance riding, you’re racing yourself. You’re pushing yourself. If you wanna stop, you just stop. The only thing keeping you going
is your wish and your want. There’s no mile markers, there’s no sportive route that you’re following. It’s on you so you’ve gotta
hold yourself to account. You’ve gotta be really good at giving yourself mile
markers down the road. How are you gonna break up the ride? I mean, when we set out this morning, we had 200 miles to ride and we’ve now got a pretty nasty headwind. It doesn’t bear thinking about how many more hours
we’re gonna do this for. But physically it’s amazing
what the body can suffer if the head can just stop
freaking out about it and just get busy with the task. – Well, the difference
for me is that a road race is like acute discomfort. It’s more painful but you
know it’s short lived. Whereas, like you say, this,
I know that I’ve still got 100 and goodness-knows-what miles to go. And I’m struggling with that
if I’m completely honest. (upbeat Scottish music) – We all like the idea of taking ourselves out of our comfort zone and
figure out what our metal is. That is to be human. We don’t actually want
the comfortable life. We wanna suffer. We wanna do things that are difficult. But then we want to have
a shower, have a beer, tell our mates about it. And we’re all motivated
through tough stuff, whether it’s running a marathon, riding a sportive, doing a race, whatever. We’re all motivated by
getting through that suffering and then the light at
the end of the tunnel. Whereas the challenge
with ultra endurance, and expeditions when it comes to my world, you sometimes have to be motivated because of what you’re doing, not the idea it’s soon going to be over. You know, I’ve cycled
around the world twice. And trust me, when you’re in
the middle of the Outback, you’re not thinking about getting back to the start and finishing line in Europe. It’s just too big. It’s way, way too big. That’s an 18,000 mile race. You’re in it. You’re absolutely in it. You have to motivate
yourself by that reality, not kidding yourself by some shower, beer, the fact that
it’s soon gonna be over. – So, do you break it down
into smaller chunks then, or is it a case of, literally,
just one pedal rev at a time? – I try not to distract myself from it. I try not to take myself
out of the moment. Just- that sounds a bit zen but you’re in it. Just be in that moment. If it’s bad it will get better. If it’s good it will get worse. Nothing is steady state when
you’re doing big ultras. You just need to somehow learn that- I think the other thing, we
were talking about this earlier, unless you’ve done big single day events or multi day events, whenever you start hurting, like you are, like I am right now, then you think you’re kind of on the way to injury. It’s amazing if you stop for five minutes, grab some food, stretch the
legs, get back on the bike, you can keep going. The body adapts incredibly well. And there’s a big difference between being sore and being injured. So, a lot of people, I guess if they’ve never been there before,
the moment they get sore they think they’re on their way to injury. – And what about the physical pain then? Because you can, I guess,
do yourself a lot of damage by riding your bike for such
inordinate lengths of time. But how do you know when you
do yourself proper damage? Is that a consideration? – Yeah, I mean, I do think
that comes with experience. There’s a big difference between
hurting and being injured. You learn, as you learn your
body and you push yourself through more and more endurance,
what that difference is. I think if you’ve never
been to that place before, the moment you start really
hurting you back off. But you can ride through. I guess that links really well with just how to ride endurance-
road riding I’m talking. Because if you go out for
a club ride or a sportive you leave it all out there. It’s a battle of attrition,
it’s a ride to fail. You’re allowed to finish absolutely done. Whereas ultra endurance
riding is all about, yeah, pushing yourself, but
ultimately being in a state where you can wake up a few hours later or after a night’s sleep and do it again, and again, and again. So, your style of riding needs to change. – One thing I’ve noticed,
and I noticed it first when I was lucky enough to join you on your first day of
your around the world, was how regimented you
were with time keeping. Although, obviously, this is not around the world record attempt, there is still this sense that- – Time matters.
– Exactly. If you sit in a cafe for an hour, then that’s potentially gonna be you’re riding into the dark. Is that something that
comes naturally to you? Is it something that you
look at a watch and go, “Hang on a minute, we’ve
sat down now for 10 minutes. We’ve gotta get on the road”?
– It depends. I think the bigger the group,
the more of the tendency to procrastinate, chat,
faff, check your phone. Time flies. It’s totally fine, if you’re
doing a backpacking trip and you wanted to ride 100 miles a day, faff all you want. You can get your hundred miles done. If you’re wanting to
do 150, 200, 250 miles you’re gonna have to be
seriously diligent on time. My mantra going around the
world the last time was, “Don’t ask me to ride the bike faster, “just make sure I’m on the
bike at the right time.” So, if we faffed- considering I was riding four
hour sets a day, four of them, if I faffed for five minutes
every time I got off the bike, that would add over a
day to the world record. So, yeah, rather than me- and what I would say to the team, getting on the bike at 4 a.m., if I got on the bike
late and eight o’clock, we needed to have a conversation
why I was on the bike late ’cause even if I had
tailwinds and down hills and I made up that in terms of times and I got the distance done, you’re still cheating yourself. You’re still not doing
the simple things right. As you know, as soon as you
try and up the tempo at all riding ultra, your quads
scream, your legs hurt. ‘Cause you’re tired, you’re depleted. You sort of quite quickly get to that stage of almost over training. Where I guess if you were
racing you’d back off, whereas that’s just kind of the constant state of an ultra ride. (chuckles) – Constantly tired. – But it’s important to say, if you are hurting on
the bike, which happens, it is worth saying that you
are gonna hurt on the bike as you push the distances
and it’s perfectly okay to have some painkillers, simple stuff. But as you get super
tired and pushing yourself it’s really, really important
to avoid anti-inflammatories. – Ibuprofen.
– Yeah, exactly. So, it might be the first
thing that you reach for just thinking, “Wow,
my joints feel inflamed “and I just wanna look
after my bones and body.” – I was tempted this morning. – Yeah, anti-inflammatories are really quite harsh on the kidneys in particular. And when your body’s already under so much pressure and you’re
so pushed and depleted, there’s been some good research on the fact that it is not good for you. And athletes who have suffered with kidney failure and stuff. So, painkillers are fine, but I would just stick to plain old Paracetemol or something. – Well Mark, there’s some
absolutely brilliant tips there. Thank you so much. Make sure you give this video
a big thumbs up if you agree. If you haven’t seen that
North Coast 500 epic then do make sure you watch it. You can click through to
it just on screen now.

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