The days are getting longer, the roads aren’t wet or icy every day, and you’ve been looking over the ride and race calendars again. It’s time to get serious about training.
It’s tough to train in the off season, but hopefully you were able to maintain a winter training program as a good foundation or base for these early spring rides. A balanced program would have contained resistance (weight) training, cardiovascular conditioning with an indoor stationary trainer or rollers, and an alternative or cross training sport such as indoor swimming or x-country skiing. Mountain biking, if conditions permitted, was another option. But it’s not unusual to burn out after a hard season of riding, so it’s even possible you may have taken a few extra weeks off. If so, put in some easy miles as you build a mileage base before beginning intervals and pushing up the weekly miles.
If you still have a month or two before the weather gets good, you can supplement your road time with an indoor trainer and weights. The stationary bike is really good for speed work. Two or three times a week, after warming up, do eight or ten 20 second sprints with easy spinning for 5 minutes between. Twice a week use your free weights, with more reps (12 to 15,) and lighter weight than you would use for building up muscle bulk. But road work is the key with the bulk of your time on the road building up that mileage base with endurance rides and occasional sprints to keep things interesting.
There are as many cycling training programs as there are personal trainers, but certain basic “rules of thumb” can be used to help you develop your own individualized program for that upcoming event whether a century ride, a short road race, or a tour.
Before you get into your serious training, it is important to have a good base of at least 500 miles of easy rides. If you had a good winter (off season) training program, you can pare down this requirement.
Once you feel comfortable that you’ve put in the long easy miles and have a good base, you can plan a training program that increases total weekly miles by 10 – 15% per week. The 10 to 15% figure has been used for years by marathons runners to minimize musculoskeletal injuries with training. As bicycling is much easier on the joints and muscles, this figure could be increased with minimal risk of injury.
Once you begin your training program, it’s important to try to ride at least 5 days a week and take at least one day off. Depending on your level of training (or overtraining) the seventh day is either an additional intermediate mileage day or an additional rest day. A typical weekly training program would look like this:
- one long mileage day
- one short mileage day
- 3 or 4 intermediate mileage days
- 1 or 2 rest days off the bike
Plan your short mileage day to follow the high mileage day. It should be about 1/4 of the length of the long ride and ridden at a leisurely pace to loosen up your muscles after the long ride of the week.
The intermediate mileage days are midway between the short ride and the long ride in distance. At least one of these should be an interval training ride.
The ride for which you are training will determine the plans for your long mileage day. Some coaches suggest you work up to a ride equal to the length (or even 125% of the length) of the event while others feel that reaching a distance equal to 75% of the event distance is adequate. This is usually a Saturday ride (with Sunday as a backup for bad weather or other unexpected circumstance that could derail your training program).
You can estimate the length of your training program by taking your long ride from your 500 mile base training period, increasing it by 10% to 15% a week, and repeating this until you arrive at a figure that is at least 75% of the length of the event for which you are training.
Most important, remember to be flexible and adjust your program to your lifestyle. A rigid program is destined to fail.
As far as pace of your training rides:
- the long ride should match your own planned century speed
- the short “recovery” ride should be a leisurely pace at no more than 50-60% of your maximum heart rate
- two of the intermediate rides should be at the planned century pace
- one of the intermediate rides, preferably prior to your day off the bike, should be at a brisk pace 2 – 3 mph faster than your planned century speed.
A good nutrition program is an important part of preseason training. Suffice it to say that carbohydrates are the key to optimizing your personal performance, and the more the better. Trying to lose weight by cutting back on Calories while training risks poor performance and the psychological impact of feeling you are not going to be at or beyond last years level. So if you are trying to shed the pounds, be prepared to deal with the fatigue that will surely occur on those longer rides.