Ultra Endurance, Polarized, Recovery, and Performance

Not quite sure where to put this, feel free to move.

I’ve been looking at the Polarized HR intensity distribution of my rides for the past 2 years. I’ve also implemented the Banister model, using TRIMP. It’s quite interesting when I zoom in on some of my ultra distance rides this year.

It’s quite interesting looking at the numbers. The ride was on a Saturday, started at midnight, and my ride time is 19 hours 40 minutes that day. I spent 17 hours 20 minutes in my Seiler Z1 / below LT1, and I spent 2 hours 40 mins in Seiler Z2. I didn’t spend any time in Seiler Z3 which is on purpose during such long events. I find any time in Z3 on such a long event causes a disproportionate impact on the rest of the ride, compared to the benefit.

You can see from my following ride data, that I then took 4 days off the bike. That is my pattern, in that I have one rest day for every 100km ridden. Then I return to the bike on August 12th with a 1 hour Seiler Z1 ride. The next day August 13th I include a little bit of Z2. This is also usual and it’s just see where the legs are. Then a couple of more days of 1 hour Seiler Z1 rides. Then 9 days after the event I do a 3.5 hour ride with with just over an hour of Seiler Z2. Then back to 1 hour Seiler Z1, and then 4 hours of Seiler Z1.

If you look at the top graph, which is the predicted performance via the Banister model you can see it shows the drop after the ultra. Then it predicts I would have got back to my previous performance by the 17th, had I not gone for the 4 hour ride on the 16th. It’s giving me a 10 days to recover previous performance if I don’t go mad in between. That is quite interesting as my minimum gap between ultra distance events of this length is two weeks or 14 days. I learnt from experience that trying them 7 days apart meant the second one didn’t go as well as I’d hope.

I haven’t tweaked the variables of the Banister model yet. I intend to do some standardised sub maximal tests once a month, and then reverse engineer them to fit the actual measured performance.

Anyway I thought it might be illuminating to some as to what ultra endurance cycling means in terms of hours on the bike, intensity distribution, and recovery. As a reminder I spend almost 20 hours riding my bike in a single 24 hour period. It’s not tough because of hard you go, it’s tough because of how long you go. From this you’ll realise why raising your LT1 HR / LT1 power is important for ultra distance. Together with legs that can endure these durations without muscle fatigue.

This is of course a n=1 sample.

Next August I’ll be riding a 1500km cycling event, with a time limit of 5 days. That is 5 back to back 300km days. Naturally you don’t fully recover day to day but it’s surprising what you can repeat day after day. For this repeatability I need a minimum of 3-4 hours sleep a day.

Thanks for posting this thread. I am also into ultra-cycling. I fully agree that having a big of LT1 is important, but I also think that Resilience and Robustness is really important. (Robustness - ability to maintain constant effort without degrading over time & Resilience- ability to recover from a hard interval and do it again repeatedly) I am really interested your opinions as to what metrics to use to quantify improvements in these two parameters. I would also like to hear opinions as to which exercises improve Resilience and Robustness. I appreciate any thoughts in this area.

I think for resilience and robustness it’s simply those long easier rides where you take the legs to exhaustion then ride a little more then finish. Not the length of ultra rides though where the legs hit exhaustion then you just keep going!

In my view cardio recovers pretty quickly, so it’s about the ability of the muscles to recover. Like most I’m sure we are guilty of working in cardio, because it easy to measure, and we neglect the legs / rest of body at our peril. This is why I think a long base period of longish steady rides to build that resilience is important before you tack on the high intensity / high force work. Plus some strength work in the base.

You need the muscles, ligaments, tendons to be strong enough when the hard / high intensity hits them. If you’ve done plenty of work below LT1 you’ll hopefully be efficient at clearing the waste products that accumulate when you do go above LT1. I say waste products, of course some of it can be used as fuel at lower intensities. But not being a physiologist, I’m just repeating what I’ve read.

The metrics is a hard one I’m not sure there really is one outside of a lab. I will give this anecdote though.

I have a few regular circuits for my LT1 rides, all around 1.5 to 2 hours. I was out on one such circuit on Monday night. There’s one relatively shallow hill I go up. It’s a steady gradient so good for a steady effort below LT1. Up until Monday I had always had to change down gear to keep my heart rate in that Seiler zone 1. On Monday I was able to keep in the higher gear and keep my HR in the zone. It felt like I was engaging more muscular force at a lower heart rate. It also felt so easy, effortless for the legs.

There’s no real way of giving that a metric. But if you have a standard route ridden at those lower heart rates, and are aware of the gearing you are using. If you’re able to keep on top of a bigger gear at same heart rate I’d say that’s telling something about muscular improvements as well as cardio efficiency. Maybe Gear inches divided by average heart rate on a steady incline you do regularly at roughly same intensity?