longest training ride

How Long Should Your Longest Training Ride Be?

How many miles do you need to ride in training to be ready for your event? We get asked some variation of that question all the time from cyclists getting ready for their first century, or for a gran fondo, gravel race, or endurance mountain bike event. Do you need to ride 60 or 75 miles during a training ride to be ready for a 100-miler? Does the length of my longest single training session matter?

Yes and no. There is nothing magical about achieving a specific percentage of the race or event distance in a single training ride. Marathon runners religiously use a 20-mile training run as a marker of preparedness to complete the event. Some cyclists and coaches insist on completing a 75-mile training ride in order to be ready for a century. Both are approximately 75% of the total event distance, but neither makes a significant difference in finish rates. So, then, what does make a difference?

Fitness trumps mileage

The development of your aerobic engine matters more than the miles you have in your legs. You can absolutely develop the fitness necessary to complete a challenging century or gran fondo with training rides that never exceed 3 hours. This is an important point for Time-Crunched Cyclists who feel that longer events are out of reach because of limited training time. ith focused training within the time you have available you can develop the aerobic fitness necessary to successfully complete a 6-12 hour event. Would you go faster if you had more time to devote to training? Sure. But even with more time available for training, very long individual training rides are a very small component of what would make you faster.

The vast majority of your cardiovascular fitness and power output results from your shorter training rides. This is where you’re doing intervals that apply specific stress to energy systems and create a training stimulus. Relatively short and medium-distance group rides also build fitness because everyone in the group can maintain a higher power output and keep the group’s speed higher. If you’re preparing for a long endurance event and have limited training time, the best thing you can do is use your shorter rides to increase your power at lactate threshold and VO2max. Aim to go into your event with the highest fitness possible so you are better armed for the battle against the distance.

What very long rides do and don’t do for you

Individually, one very long ride (4-8 hours, depending on your fitness and experience) doesn’t impact your fitness or power output very much. The primary benefits from isolated or infrequent long training sessions are experiential. They are important for developing good fueling and hydration habits, for developing mental toughness, for learning how to pace yourself, and for physically adapting to sitting in the saddle for a long time.

In contrast, frequent long rides, particularly at low to moderate intensities as part of a long-range plan, are beneficial for developing a deep base of aerobic fitness. This is great if you have time for it, but many cyclists who are balancing careers and families with training must create fitness for long events using shorter rides.

For a lot of people reading this blog who are long-time cyclists, particularly those who are Time-Crunched Cyclists or coming back from a period of diminished fitness or time away from the bike, the most important of these benefits will be reconditioning your backside for long hours in the saddle.

A side note about bike fit

Along the lines of physically adapting to long miles, keep this in mind: If you typically ride 1-3 hours you should expect some discomfort at the end of a ride that is 2x (or more) longer than normal. It doesn’t mean you weren’t fit enough for the ride or that there’s something wrong with your bike fit. When you dramatically increase your time on the bike, whether in one ride or in a block of training, there will be discomfort even when your bike fit is perfect. If you’ve been riding that position comfortably for months or years, don’t change it because you were stiff or sore at the end of a long ride. The ride caused the discomfort, not the bike fit.

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When long rides cause problems

When athletes ask how long their long ride needs to be in order to be ready for a big cycling event, the answer is that it should be as long as they can realistically fit into their training schedule. The downside to big rides is that they require a lot of recovery, but don’t individually improve your fitness all that much. So, when an athlete with limited training time schedules too many big rides, those rides can actually get in the way of more purposeful training that would have a greater positive impact on fitness and power output.

In the end, go big when you can because big rides are fun and challenging and great learning experiences, but don’t stress about the length of your longest pre-event training session because that ride only plays a small role in your overall fitness.

Chris Carmichael
CTS Founder and Chief Endurance Officer

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Comments 27

  1. Thank you for this. As a 72 year young Triathlete I have followed this protocol and have had great success on my long races…makes for a great day, swift recovery and solid confidence going into the next event.

  2. Great article! No one size fits all, I know an elite rider who never rides longer than 4 hrs in one training session. He will train in 3 to 4 day blocks and finds that for him the quality of training goes out the window if he rides longer and also recovery takes more time. I know we are not all ‘elite’, but I use his ‘no more than four’, approach when preparing for bigger events and it works well for me. Please keep the great articles coming!

  3. I’m tapering for my first organized Century ride. My training plan built up to 4-1/2 hr rides which I thought absurdly low if I’ll be riding for maybe 7 hrs. So instead, I’ve done weekly long rides up to 95 gravel miles. It has showed me how much I need to work on fueling, and the saddle conditioning has been good, too. I can’t comment on how well it has worked because the event is next weekend, but I feel ready. Hopefully, the remaining centuries this season will require less specific training.

  4. The “experiential” benefit of a longer ride should NOT be underestimated. Over the years I’ve seen many VERY strong but relatively inexperienced ‘1-2 hour riders’ DNF their first century due to very unrealistic pacing (& poor hydration/fueling). It takes several LONG rides to dial in that personal pacing/hydration/fueling. However after doing a number of LONG rides over recent years those same riders can do strong century (+) rides with minimal rides over 2-3hrs that season. In fact there seems to be a trend among experienced Ironman athletes to limit their long rides to ~3hrs at/above race pace to allow more hours for their run/swim training. Those athletes have plenty of “experiential” experience in their 112 mile IM bike legs and continue to be competitive without long training rides. IMHO- The same principle may apply to recreational riders. With proper personal pacing/hydration/fueling the EXPERIENCED recreational rider can do 6+ hours events without including loooong rides in their time-crunched training schedule.

    1. I’ ve tried both approaches but (for me) in the long 100mile plus GranFondo’s nothing beats volume, if i can get in 4 or 5 long (5hr +) rides in the 6 weeks leading up to an event, i ride faster, have less cramps and finish fresher.

      On the other hand, a friend on mine never rides more than 3 or 4 hrs, focuses on micro intervals, he is fast too… and has more time for other things than i do lol!


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  7. I understand the rationale but the advice this article is inconsistent with my own experience. During periods in my cycling career where I had the time to build up to high mileage weeks ( up to 350 ), I experienced the highest performance gain . These rides included climbs ( in zone 2/3 ) and a weekly group ride . Back to back high mileage days would especially give me a noticeable boost 2 weeks later .

  8. I started biking two months ago due a heel injury on my left foot from running. I’m 65 yrs old and bike 4 to 5 times a week. My rides ranges from 20 to 30 miles. My average miles per week is around 100. I wished I had started biking early to take pressure off of my joints. The pain in my foot is not nearly intense as it was when i was running. The results of cycling is better than running and you burns a lot of calories. I also exercise on the elliptical and have found that this actually help my cycling. I highly recommends cycling and it’s very addicting once you starts.

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  13. Hi,
    What about triathletes doing sprint (bike split 30 minutes) and Olympic distance (bike split 60 minutes)?
    How long should their longest sessions take?

  14. Totally agree. I did the Hotter ‘N Hell 100 this year, and my longest ride was 62. Once. Lots of shorter, hard group rides, and intervals. Averaged 23mph the last 5 miles and felt great, which I didn’t think was bad for a 58 year old guy who was totally out of shape 5 years ago. Do really long, slow rides, you’ll be slow.

    1. Hmmmmm, you should tell that to all those pros who do really long slow rides and again are the actual pros in the sport.

      This and most articles put out from CTS are inline with their “Time Crunched Athlete” view and therefor should be taken with at least a grain. Notice they mention that if you have the time you should do the longer rides. And they should always mention that if you go the TC route you have to back off and incorporate tons of recovery due to the stress it brings.

      90/10 is the way to go for long term goals and gains

  15. Thanks for the insight and wisdom. I have to say that rest is a crucial factor along with fuel in a long event. I finished an 85-mile ride in NM, at a slightly higher elevation than where I live, and at mile 60 or so, although I had been eating everything available at the rest stops, I just wanted to get off and take a nap! Keep sleep in your recovery regimen.

  16. It’s interesting this 1 throughout winter lots of shorter rides to maintain fitness speed weight etc. Now spring approaching some Endurance events we have been building into longer and longer rides and pushing the speed up and the climbing. It’s a process and it continues……

  17. If you can comfortably ride a century, then you have the form to ride a double century. And have fun doing it. What you may not have developed is the psychological strength to put those miles in the saddle. A longish ride, one that will induce muscle fatigue but yet leaves you with the energy to ride “just a bit more” can help you over the barriers you may have built in your mind. Is that going to be 50 miles, 75, 100? Gonna be different for every rider. But when you believe you can, you can. Unfortunately, those who say they can’t are usually right

    1. Well put. Even if you don’t feel like you have the conditioning for an extra long ride, give it a go with an exploratory mindset that says, “I’m going some place new, on the map, with my body, with my mind, and (hopefully) with some good friends. I’m just going to enjoy a long, nice day on my bike!”

      And October is one of the very best times of year to do this. Enjoy!

    2. Stu,

      I road my first Century last week. All went well, thank God! From experimenting with hydration and food fuel, my ride went flawlessly.
      During my ride I would spray liqued Magnesium at every stop on my quads, hamstrings, calves and neck. It’s from Activation products. It helps relax my muscles and reduces soreness.
      The one error I made was not resting enough after riding my Century. I went out a couple days later and put the metal to my peddles! 20 miles I road, and road full throttle with a 15 mph headwind!
      I stressed my lower back. Now I wait to see my sports physical therapist!
      Rest, rest, rest, is a good thing!
      I’m training for a 24 hour event this coming June and thought more is better. It’s not! Everything in moderation.
      If I can ride a Century, I know I can ride beyond that. I will pace myself, indeed.


  18. My apologies but I must respectfully disagree. I distinctly find through plenty of personal experience that training for fitness and training for distance must go hand in hand and one doesn’t provide the other. I find that fitness training makes you faster for some ride time but without distance training you run out of gas (aka matches). Complementing fitness training with distance training give you both the stamina to use that fitness for a longer period of time and increases your “depth” to widthstand longer and repeated efforts (aka more matches).

  19. This is how my coach trained me for “Death Ride”. My Longest training ride was only about 4hours. However, after 10 hours of riding with 130 miles and 15,000 feet worth of vertical in the saddle, I could have done more.

  20. Do you have any special or general training recommendations for very short events where a rider would go as hard as possible for anywhere from 1 to 30 minutes? I am referring to things like short velodrome TT & Pursuits, 5 & 10TT and 20K road races.
    I am a late comer to racing, participating mostly in senior events. Based on my overall results and testing with a power meter, I don’t seem to be a candidate for being competitive in longer races. Thanks.

  21. So right there with you. I am a MAMIL and happy to be riding as much as I have time for. I have realized over time, the main aspect to long rides for me was just saddle discomfort, and maybe neck/shoulders.

    Plus, age is affecting my recovery time, and ‘some’ speed.

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