APRIL TRAINING HINTS
The weather has been almost like summer recently, and now the clocks have gone forward, evening rides become possible.
Gym sessions are valuable for boosting muscle strength and hill climbing power, there is nothing quite like a ride on a sunny day to a good café and back!
Some of you are doing 60 mile rides by now, sometimes over hilly or mountainous routes. Most of us have tackled a 50 mile ride by now, or at least a 30 mile ride. The best strategy is to build your fitness up gradually and steadily, taking care to avoid injury.
Winter and early spring are good times for building endurance. This has many benefits (improved fat utilization, improvement in circulation and lung capacity, improved cardiac function, to name but a few!)
However there are two other important aspects to tackle – speed, and those mountain climbs!
MOUNTAIN TRAINING ON THE FLAT
If you live in or near the mountains, or some long hills, that’s the place to train!
If you don’t, then consider this:
To climb those giant Alps, you will need to produce power at a constant high rate for over an hour. This aspect of mountain climbing may be practiced on the flat – you simply need to go fast enough! On a good racing bike with well inflated tyres, at 19mph on the flat you will typically be producing about 150 watts – that is the sort of power level you need to climb those mountains.
At this time of year, you may be riding at lower speeds most of the time. This is fine for increasing the length of your rides and building endurance. However if you reach the point when you want to increase your riding speed, try short sessions, riding flat out. Even one such flat out effort may improve your riding speed surprisingly on subsequent rides.
Training sessions in the dark is not always a good idea, particularly on roads full of pot holes! Etappers have been known to collide with road works while training in the dark!
If you are able start early enough for there to be sufficient daylight, a good plan is to do fast 5 mile rides. With luck you should be able to find some quiet roads with a good surface near you. It is worth measuring your average speed, then plotting points on a speed/distance graph for successive rides, to see how you are improving. As the evenings get lighter, you will be able to extend the ride length before dark, building up to impressive distances before July. Something like 20mph is a good target on a good fast bike, though most of us will need to build up to this. Initially your average may only be around 14 mph, and you may only ever achieve 18mph – but that’s OK. If you exceed 20mph or more, don’t wait for me during the Etape!
Above 20mph the power needed rises rapidly due to wind resistance. 22mph requires over 200 Watts and 25mph requires 300 Watts. A professional cyclist riding the Etape route last year produced 300 Watts average for most of the route. (He did not have to ride at that level for as long as most of us though, finishing the course about twice as fast as most of us!)
How often you train is up to you. One or two evening sessions plus a long weekend ride is probably sufficient, though you will probably be want to increase the frequency as July approaches
Most of us fortunately have lives outside cycling, but if you have time available at the weekend for a longer distance ride, this will build up your endurance. Not all weekend rides need to be particularly long or fast – a 30 or 50 mile ride with friends stopping at a few tea shops or pubs is good. If your family and friends do not cycle, you may be able to arrange to meet them somewhere they are driving too. If you have the time for an occasional club ride, audax or sportive that is an inspiring addition. If you are able to get out on fast, long club rides every week, good luck –you won’t need to read my training hints!
If most of your rides are quite short at weekends, it’s worth doing the occasional longer ride, maybe approaching the length of the Etape. It is useful to have a target to focus on, such as a 100 mile ride.
HOW DOES TRAINING WORK?
Before I started serious cycling, training always puzzled me. If I cycled 20 miles I was tired, and next day my muscles were stiff, and I was less fit than before.
How did athletes get fitter when I didn’t?
I now know that training involves increasing your effort above the normal level. The extra exertion causes the body to react by increasing strength, but this does not generally happen while exercising but afterwards while resting. To get fitter, you therefore need to rest between exercise sessions. The more you overload yourself, the more rest you will need to recover. Typically, the first day after heavy exercise you will suffer, but on the second or third day you will feel stronger. That is the time to exercise again. If you try to increase your fitness too rapidly, it may take a longer time to recover while tissue damage is being repaired. This may not be helpful! If this happens, it may be best to continue cycling though at a reduced level, getting plenty of rest. However I have found that while cycle touring, doing a manageable distance and speed every day, fitness improves as the tour goes on.
Finally it’s worth remembering the objectives!
If you’ve read this far – you are not short of endurance!!