Conquer An Endurance Cycling Event: 3 Tips on Fueling, Pacing and Finding The Right Group

Our ever-growing series of Dirty Kanza journals have so far chronicled the training necessary to endure a 12-20 hour day in the saddle that involves covering 200+ miles of the most unforgiving gravel roads in Kansas. In this journal, Source Endurance coach Adam Mills takes a deeper look at a few other key points, besides the training, that will be essential in coaching Neil Shirley through such a demanding day. These same tips apply to any cyclist with a goal of performing well in an endurance event.


It should be plainly evident that an event as epic as Dirty Kanza will burn a lot of energy. I’m estimating 9,000 to 10,500 kilojoule (kJ) expenditure on the day for Neil. Here’s some simple math: an elite athlete should be able to perform at a rate of >200 watts. At that workload, you’ll burn 800kJ/ hr. The winning time should be around 11 hours, 30 minutes, so that puts you at 9,200kJ.

A notable study in a sports medicine journal mentions that during a long event, consuming 90g/hour of carbohydrate is essential. That’s 360 kilocalories (calories/ kcal) per hour. Provided you follow this plan, you will have only consumed 4,100kcal on the day. That’s quite a bit off the >9,000kcal mark so the rest will come from fat and glycogen stores.

In order to synthesize/re-synthesize glycogen from the carbohydrates you eat and the fat you’re burning, you’ll need to maintain a moderate level of intensity as a whole. I can’t stress the importance of tuning your nutrition while on long rides. Figuring out what works for you, whether it’s mixing and matching bars and gels with homemade treats, sports drink mixes, and colas, all with the goal of finding that perfect combination is imperative. If you need help with your nutrition plan, Coach Grant is probably someone you need to talk with.


Pacing is probably one of the most difficult aspects of an epic event and the Dirty Kanza is no exception. There’s all the hype and excitement of the starting lineup, then the gun goes off and everyone hurries to get up the road as quickly as possible. Probably the most important part of any endurance event is in the first two hours since it can very well dictate how enjoyable an experience you will have over the next 9-10 hours. The general guideline is that there is a need to place yourself in the fastest group that will allow you to ride at that “moderate” pace mentioned before.

This is also where there is absolutely no substitute for fitness and training. The work you’ve done up until today and the training you’ll do between now and event day will directly dictate the maximum pace you’re able to sustain. Through talent, hard work and equipment preparation, those that ride faster over the same terrain earned that ability. Yes, equipment matters. However, if you don’t have a motor capable of moving you, those fancy $3,000 wheels just look good going slow.


The general theme is to survive the surges and place yourself in a group going faster than you can ride on your own. The surges continue until you can no longer ride at that unsustainable effort or until you find the group that meets your needs. This is why things “settle in.” No one wants to go slower. They are forced to slow down by their own limited exercise capacity. This has always been the case in racing and we see this more and more consistently across epic events.

In order to survive the surges and stay in the faster groups, we’re giving Neil a series of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that focuses on everything from the explosive 1-20 second efforts, to 3-8 minute work, to the 20-minute efforts for maximum output. Many of these training sessions are targeted toward absolute numbers, repeatability or total exposure time at unsustainable outputs. It's these workouts where PR Lotion plays a big part in helping an athlete repeat such efforts in a workout while also shortening recovery time. 

As an athlete, you must make the strategic and tactical decision about when to make a big effort and if that effort will be beneficial. You have to understand how investing a big match can, or if it will, place you in that faster group. Remember, you have a finite number of matches available to burn, so use them wisely.  

Adam Mills MSEd, RCEP has been a professional coach since 2003 and has worked with a multitude of national champions in different cycling disciplines. He can be reached at

Photos by Ian Matteson

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