This year we’ve been bowled over by countless stories of women completing extreme distance events. Right now for example Sarah Hammond leads the Trans Am distance bike race - ahead of all those taking part, men and women. Every time we hear such a story, we’re left both in awe and a little puzzled. How does anyone ride, or race, for 24 hours and in many cases so much more?
There are plenty of endurance events coming up this summer – one such opportunity to test yourself being Revolve 24, at Brands Hatch this September. The race consists of a solo competition, plus a 12-hour option and relay team efforts.
The challenge is ready and waiting for you – but the idea of riding for 24 hours probably sounds incredibly daunting. We spoke to Queen of Endurance, Jasmijn Muller to learn more about preperation for such an event. Graduating from crit racing, Muller won the British Best All Rounder (BBAR) for time trialling in 2014. She then went on to win the National 12 Hour Time Trial in 2015 and is now preparing for a solo attempt at breaking the LEJOG record. All of this she manages alongside a demanding full time job as a consultant and often 50 hour working weeks. To say we’re in awe is an understatement…
TWC: You did exceptionally well on your very first 24 hour ride - tell us a bit about it...
Jasmijn: My first 24-hour event was Le Mans Velo 24 Hr in August 2013. I had done a few longer rides with my cycling club, but never on my own and nothing much beyond 100 or 150 miles. As part of my preparations I decided to enter a 12-hour time trial. I did surprisingly well and almost broke my cycling club's men’s club record in the process, all just on a road bike. Having done the 12-hour gave me the confidence my legs would keep going.
My strategy for Le Mans Velo had been to ride at my own pace, but it was just too tempting early on in the event to join in with the faster relay riders. All that sprinting out of corners and going 'into the red' up the climb eventually caught up with me. I then adjusted to riding at my own pace, which worked much better. With 2.5 hours to go the organiser told me that if I wanted to stop I could as I was that far ahead of the next solo woman she would not be able to catch up with me anymore. In the end, I cycled 420 miles, won the solo women's race and would have placed 10th in the men's solo race.
You’ve clearly been bitten by the bug, what do you enjoy so much about endurance events?
"It enables me to discover strengths within myself I didn’t know I had."
The thing that drives me and what appeals to me in endurance events which really test your physical and mental limits is overcoming challenges. To be able to finish and feel a great sense of achievement and pride in not giving up when things got difficult. Whereas a 10-mile time trial can give me a short buzz, finishing a hard long-distance event gives me a deeper sense of happiness that lasts way beyond the event. It enables me to discover strengths within myself I didn’t know I had. And it allows me to draw lessons that are applicable to other areas of my life beyond cycling. It is a slippery slope too - as I now find myself looking for increasingly longer challenges.
We expect the normal 5 x 5 minute or 10 x 1 minute efforts don’t cut it for 24 hour events. What sort of training sessions do you do to prepare yourself for long efforts?
In terms of physical training, the longer you can sustain a higher percentage of your functional threshold power [the power can you produce for an hour], the more likely you are to do well. Indoors on the turbo, I would generally start with a certain percentage of FTP that I would want to be able to hold and then slowly extend the time. For example, holding that power for 1 hour to start with and working my way up to maybe being able to hold that for up to 4 hours a few months later. Outdoors, I tend to work the other way around. I first extend the distance to see if I am capable and comfortable with longer distances and then try to increase the intensity.
How do you train yourself to withstand sleep deprivation?
Sleep is very personal. Some people need more than others. Some perform better on little sleep than others. It doesn’t happen that regularly, but my job as a consultant is deadline driven. From time to time when I simply have too many deadlines to meet I work through the night. I try to tell myself that those long working hours are at least somehow beneficial to my endurance cycling goals!
In all seriousness though, I think that everyone can manage a 24-hour challenge without sleep. Experience from ultra-endurance events like Race Across America or a non-stop LEJOG record attempt show that it is once you need to continue for the second or third night without sleep that everything becomes much more difficult.
Caffeine definitely helps. I don’t usually drink coffee, so any caffeine gels I take during longer rides and races really seem to have quite a strong impact for me. The other, and possibly most important, thing is to make sure you have built-up a sleep reserve over several days prior to the event and catch up on sleep again in the week after. Closing your eyes for a few seconds or minutes can already help a lot of with sleep deprivation, but this is obviously best done when you are not actually pedalling!
Are there any logistical considerations that beginners might be likely to forget?
Staying on the bike and limiting the number and duration of stops is really key to doing well in a 24-hour race. On a circuit like at Brands Hatch or Le Mans nobody is allowed to pass you up a new water bottle on the circuit. You have to come off the circuit, into the ‘pit lanes’ to collect additional bottles or food. It really helps if you can work out an efficient stopping strategy and can rely on a support crew to hand you fresh bottles in the pit stop area, rather than having to climb off the bike and get them yourself.
The support crew will also be able to help you in case of punctures or other mechanical problems in the pits. To simplify things, I always bring a set of spare wheels with the exact same rim width so no further adjustment is required to the brakes. Also, a position that feels comfortable for a short race or a couple of hours of training may not be the best for a 24-hour event – so make changes if need be and train with your new position.
Another major logistical challenge can be how to make sure your electronics - cycle computer and lights - stay charged throughout the race. Some riders therefore bring 1 or 2 spare computers and swap them out. Others use an external battery back. Whereas the circuit was floodlit for Le Mans Velo 24 Hr, riders will need to bring their own front lights for Revolve 24.
You need to be comfortable over a distance event – any advice on shorts and saddles?
Shorts are the number one consideration for longer events. Without a good chamois and long-lasting antibacterial chamois cream, it can be a very painful experience. For very long rides there are only two brands that really work for me: Assos and ALÉ. What I particularly like about ALÉ is that they make a wide range of women's-specific kit that is very comfortable and stylish. That, and the ALÉ kit is very bright and really gets you seen by motorists and thus makes me feel safer on longer training rides. It’s also a good idea to change shorts mid-way through the race. You may lose a little time doing so, but fresh and dry kit and reapplication of chamois cream can help to prevent saddle sores and improve both hygiene and comfort.
"Without a good chamois and long-lasting antibacterial chamois cream, it can be a very painful experience."
There is only one way to finding the right saddle for you and that is trial and error. After 24-hours you will have some saddle pain regardless, but if you already experience any discomfort from your saddle during a 2 or 3-hour ride, I would definitely recommend trying to find an alternative. Some shops now even provide 180 days trial periods. It might also help to lower your saddle by just 2 to 3 mm.
When it comes to race day – how do you pace your ride?
It is very tempting to try to keep up with the speed demons at the beginning of the race. But I would highly recommend riding at your own pace. Power meter and heart rate monitors are very useful tools to help you keep an eye on your pacing, but even simple measurements like average speed or lap times are a useful gauge. For me it is also important to take climbs really easy and trust in the fact that I will be able to make up time or distance lost on others on the flat or downhill bits. On a circuit like Brands Hatch you will go up the climbs more times than you will be able to count, so I’d say not overdoing it and using easy gearing is really important.
How important is mental preparation for an endurance event?
I maintain a blog called ‘duracellbunnyonabike’ as I seem to have somewhat of an inbuilt engine. I don’t excel in much in cycling, but the one thing I do appear to be good at is just keeping going. The tagline for my blog is ‘powered by positivity’ and the more and more I challenge myself over longer distances and longer events, the more I find that mental strength is really what makes the difference between succeeding and giving up, winning or losing. Of course there are some injuries, illness or mechanical problems you simply cannot overcome, but even then if is how you deal with these challenges that will determine the outcome of your race.
"The more and more I challenge myself over longer distances and longer events, the more I find that mental strength is really what makes the difference between succeeding and giving up"
Recently I started working with Dr Josephine Perry from Performance in Mind, a sports and performance psychology consultancy. She helps me to set goals, identify what is required to achieve my goals, assess how I currently perform in key areas related to those goals and what mental skills we can work on and what strategy we can put in place to help me perform at my very best.
Do you have any mental tricks that help to keep you going?
Each person will have different things that work for them, but I can share some of the tools in my own mental trickery box.
A 24-hour race can seem rather overwhelming. But rather than worrying about how you may feel on the bike in 2 or 3 or 10 hours’ time, it becomes much easier mentally if you just focus on the here and now. I try to break things down into either 5-10 mile or 5-10 min sections and make sure that I drink something after each of these sections. This gives rhythm and focus and keeps me hydrated too. I dangle myself a carrot of eating something small every half hour.
I do get all sorts of niggles and discomfort during long rides and races, but have found some ways around these. For example, if I have pain in my feet, I wiggle my fingers and think about my hands instead. I have this weird thing where I get a nerve-related cramp in my toes. More recently I have started to distinguish the early sensations of it coming on and can manage to control the cramp by relaxing and breathing my way out of it.
I also use certain mantras to deal with difficult parts in a ride. For example, I am quite afraid of fast descents in cross wind. But actively telling myself to ‘become one’ with my bike - cue Massive Attack song - or ‘speed is your friend’ really helps to overcome some of that fear. Positive reinforcements like actively telling myself ‘you can do this’, however cliché this may sound, also help.
Interested in riding Revolve 24? There's more information here. As well as the main event, there will be a men’s and women’s ‘road omnium’ consisting of a time trial, short and long criterium races – which Southern ladies will be pleased to hear forms part of the London Women’s Racing League competition.