Endurance Training for Cycling from Lands End to John O Groats

Your main training focus for cycling end to end will be in increase your endurance.

We are not pros so I’m am not going to get technical about heart rates and power outputs and red blood cell concentrations and so on.  There is great benefit to be had from these things but they are not strictly necessary for the purpose of touring from one end of the country to the other (unless you are going for a record – but then you should know what you are doing in terms of training already). If you do possess the tech then you can use it to record and monitor your progress but it is not essential.  I ride with a heart rate monitor on long rides but mainly only to make sure I didn’t over cook it and suffer later on.

Fundamentally, to increase endurance you have to ride further than you normally do.  Very simple but not necessarily easy.  The secret is to build up by no more than 10-15% per week.  That way your body can cope with the adaptation without becoming exhausted.

As an example, let’s say you had a target ride of 100 mile taking place on 1st June.  Back track through the calendar 8 weeks to the beginning of April.  This is where training, ideally, should begin.  Your training goal will be to be able to comfortably (see box) ride 75% of the target distance (75 miles) as one long ride by the time of the event.  If at the beginning you can comfortably ride 35 miles then your first week target would be 40 mile.  Then ramp up by about 5 mile a week until by the time of the event you are covering a distance of 75 miles.

Image of Men Holding Sign for Lands End to John O'Groats Training Page

These training distances are for one long ride a week.  However, to increase your fitness you really need to be riding twice this distance in total every week.  And you should ride at least four times a week. So, for example, in the final week of training you might be looking to complete one ride of 75 miles and three rides of 25 miles each.

A simple chart would look like this:

 

Base

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Event

Single Ride

35

40

45 50 55 60 65 70 75 100

Other rides

 

40 45 50 55 60 65 70

75

 

I have produced a blank 8 week training plan for cycling End to End which you can download.

Perhaps the best way to get the other rides in is to bike to work if you are able.  This is a great way of stealing training time and you can use the getting home sessions, when it doesn’t matter if you get too hot and sweaty,  to do some interval work to improve your speed and cardiac response if you need to.

When training you should try to replicate the conditions you will face on your end to end as much as possible.  This means cycling on the types of roads you are planning to use,  riding in all weather conditions, covering the same sort of terrain, using the same sort of rest periods and eating the same kinds of foods. 

Aside from getting you fit, training is also important in ironing out any problems you might encounter that could put an end to your ride.  If you are not used to riding for long periods you might start to notice sores and pains that you have not encountered before.  These might be caused by your riding position or technique and training is a good opportunity to make small adjustments to try and correct any issues. Image of Man with Bad Back for Lands End to John O'Groats Training Page

Personally I started to develop lower back pain and sciatica during training. With a bit of experimentation I discovered it was caused by driving too hard up very steep hills whilst sat in the saddle.  Or probably, more correctly, not having good technique when cycling up hill and hence stressing the muscles in the lower back.  This caused pain and inflammation, which led to the sciatica.  Unfortunately many of the Audax routes I was using for training seemed to relish in 20% + hills so I had to learn to stand, out of the saddle, which I always find tiring over any distance.

Lands End to John O Groats Training Plan Example

As an example, I have set out below how I planned my End to End training. 

I had devised a main road route and needed to ride about 150 miles a day to complete the tour in six days.  I started training about 6 months before the event so I had lots of time to build up my base miles.

During training I commuted to work on my bike which amounted to about 110 miles a week.  This was a great base to be starting from because it meant my body was used to riding several days in a row.  All I had to do was get it to a state where it could do about 7 times the distance each day. 

My plan was to build up to being comfortably able to cover a 100 mile distance by the time I got to the intensive training period, 8 weeks before the ride.  I planned one long ride each weekend starting at about 50 miles and slowly building up to the 100 miles.  From there I would ramp up until I could complete a 150 mile ride two days consecutively, with a recovery week 5 weeks before the event.

I would also extend my commutes to work slightly each week to increase my base miles and get my body used to cycling longer on a daily basis.

 

Base

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Event

Single Ride

100

110

120

130

+ 70

60

130

140

+ 75

150×2

150

6×150

Other rides

110

110

130 150 110 130 150 170 64

 

The final 150 mile ride was planned for the weekend before the event.  In the week leading up to the event I commuted to work on the Monday as a recovery ride from the 150, nothing on the Tuesday, a recovery commute on Wednesday, nothing on Thursday and then a recovery 20 mile ride on the Friday from Wick to John O’Groats.  All with the aim of being fresh and perky, raring to go at 6 O’clock Saturday morning.

Good plan.

What really happened was somewhat different.   I never did increase my commuting mileage because, let’s face it, getting to work is always a mad panic.  In fact, with one thing and another, I didn’t manage to commute everyday of every week.  And making up a couple of lost commutes at the weekend as well as a long ride just doesn’t happen.  And of course not all the long rides happened.  And when they did they were normally a bit longer than anticipated because I was trying to catch up lost rides (and if you’re going to ride 85 miles you might as well make it a 100).

So I didn’t put in all the miles I had planned and my lovely tapered profile looked more like a saw blade with broken teeth. But I did intensify my training in the last couple of months, riding at least one 100 mile plus ride each weekend.

What I didn’t do was cycle on the types of road I would be using on the ride.  This was largely because there aren’t a lot of main roads [at least what the rest of the country calls main roads] near my home.  And also the terrain I trained on was somewhat different to most of my route.  Having done nearly all of my cycling in Devon and Cornwall I was most surprised (pleasantly) to find that most of my route was relatively flat.  This worked well for me because, whilst I hadn’t completed all the miles I had planned in training, the miles I had put in were much harder than the miles I would have to cover on my ride.  A 150 mile ride through twisty, gravely lanes, constantly up and down 10% + hills with little or no flat in between is more draining than 150 miles of gently undulating main road (at least physically).

Not training on the same terrain worked out well of me because I went from hard to easy (relatively speaking).  If you come from a flat area and are planning a sight seeing tour through Cornwall, Devon, the Cotwolds, the Lakes and the smaller roads of Scotland then you need to find some hills to train in.  Or failing that, ride with your back brake half on.

No matter what you have planned it is inevitable that life will get in the way.  Ultimately you will have to do what you can and then try and polish your fitness on the ride.   

In 2013 I rode the proper way round from Land’s End to John O’Groats and my training was very different to the above plan.  I had trained for the Audax London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) ride (875 miles, so about the same as a short end to end but with only 5 days to complete it).  My training had consisted of commuting 3 days a week, a couple of 80 miles rides and then an audax super randoneur series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km).  Ten days before LEL I was knock over by a lorry and damaged the ligaments in my knee.  As a result I failed to complete the ride, hence the end to end ride a couple of months later.  So my training for the end to end was the training I had already done plus the 500 miles I managed on the event.  This was a lot of mileage but you will appreciate it was quite a different approach.  I was able to do it that way because I already knew my body was capable of doing the distances so it was just a case of getting the miles in using up as few weekends as possible.

In 2014 I rode LEJOG again and had an even more radical training plan.  I basically relied on my existing fitness, although the only riding I had done since my LEJOG the previous year was commuting 3 days a week to work.  I did manage a couple of 100 mile + rides a little before the ride, one of which was longer than my longest planned day, just to give myself a psychological boost.  I took it easy on the ride and managed ok, feeling stronger (but more tired) at the end than the beginning.  The benefit I had was the knowledge that I had completed the ride twice before and I knew what to expect. Ultimately long distance riding is as much about the head as it is the legs.

Books that will help you complete your End to End CycleLand's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Three books are available related to this website (including gpx route files) as ebooks or paperbacks. As little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

Back to training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling or onward to look at interval training, stretches for cyclists or strength training for cyclists.

Maybe you would like to visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page