In Time Trial events, some folks try to go out hard and maintain their good start. That is all very well on a shorter event, but if you have never ridden through 24 hours before it might be brave to the point of recklessness!
A more conservative alternative - if you have trained using a Heart Rate Monitor, you could use it to gauge your effort throughout. Otherwise, you can ride by feel, settling into a rhythm that doesn’t cause you to become breathless or exceed your Lactate Threshold. Alternatively, you can keep an eye to your speedometer knowing the speed you can readily sustain over long distances. Enthusiasm and adrenaline can combine to encourage you to start faster, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, once you quickly settle into a pace that suits you. While you find that pace, others, perhaps struggling to find their rhythm, are sure to pass. Don’t allow yourself become despondent when they do. Try and keep stops to a minimum spreading your effort evenly. If you must stop, perhaps postpone it for a lap while you plan it. A good idea might be to figure out the minimum you can do before resuming. Those riding furthest will probably be those who have stopped least and stopped “shortest”.
Plan your food in advance. Learn about your likes and intolerances in the months leading up through trial and error. As a rule of thumb, long-distance riders shy away from energy drinks and processed concentrates because they can be difficult to digest. Experienced riders identify food they can digest easily (sandwiches, cake, yoghurt, creamed rice) that will help them maintain their energy over a long period.
Ideally, you should plan your intake in advance and make sure your helpers are on board. Break the event into laps of around 95 to 105-minute duration, with a target intake for each lap. You won’t need to carry “spare” bottles, just as much as you want to consume per circuit. Some riders stop to grab food, others practise “handing-off” to minimise time wasting and so that you can keep a cycling rhythm. Deliver used bottles and wrappers back to your helpers by discarding them only at your pre-arranged point. Your stores of energy will deplete quickly, and scientists say that your event is fuelled by what you consume while competing. Science is also showing a closer link between output and intake so if you start by consuming something that leaves you unable to eat, we are told that your performance will drop dramatically.
Generally, a couple of sandwiches (or its equivalent) per lap should keep you about right. Wrap them in a way that’s easily and safely undone on the bike and avoid foods that will leave your grips or face sticky. Choose favourite foods in advance and incorporate variety. An occasional “treat” will help break the monotony and keep you motivated. Creamed rice is good for settling a tummy, and sometimes a flat coke drink will also help. Sugary foods give a quick hit and if it is warm you may need extra salt.
Every place your body touches or contacts the bike is a potential problem. These need to be sorted in the preceding months. Practice your riding position in advance. For example, if you haven’t previously used aero bars and are unused to the aero position, you won’t get the maximum benefit it can bring. The best preparation is a succession of long rides leading up to the event, gradually building until you can comfortably stay cycling all day.
Your saddle area itself is possibly the most important because you will want to remain seated for efficiency. Comfort comes when acclimatised to a saddle that suits your anatomy so the first saddle you try may not be the best. It will get more tolerable as yourself and the saddle adapt to each other. Cream to prevent chafing helps. Sometimes a change of shorts changes the contact points just enough to allow you continue in comparative comfort. Most cyclists will expect a level of soreness at the end, literally! Avoid adjusting or introducing new equipment close to the event when your body doesn’t have time to adjust to the changes.
Confidence ebbs and flows throughout. Remember no matter how well or badly you feel at any stage, it is going to pass. Everyone riding is guaranteed their low point; it won’t last. Prepare for it and develop techniques to find the strength within to enable riding through it. Break the race into chunks and then break the chunks. Concentrate on getting to the next bend instead of planning too far ahead. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. This means you should try to concentrate on turning the pedals, on reaching the end of the current straight or the end of the current lap, or on your posture instead of wondering how on earth you are going to keep this up for 23 more hours.
You will finish by riding successfully for the next minute. And then by continuing that for the following minute. And so on, and on. At some stages, thinking too far ahead is your enemy. If you stop for a rest, don’t be tempted to burn off the benefits in the few minutes after you resume. Get back up to speed gently keeping a little in reserve. Most of your overtaking will be done whilst others are stopped so you’ll not be aware of it. At times, it may seem as if you are the slowest on the road if you are being regularly overtaken. But once you can keep going, you will be amazed that this was not the case. Many ride 24-hour events hard during the late evening so they can stop for a snooze and if manage to ride through, you will overtake many parked bicycles without noticing, gradually edging your way to the front of the field and a longer distance for yourself.