Do you have a big fitness goal? While half-marathons and triathlons get a lot of publicity, there are also long cycling races that can put your endurance to the test. No matter what major goal you come up with—maybe it’s a Gran Fondo (a race that’s at least 74 miles long) or other long ride—you’ll likely find that working towards something specific makes training easier. You’ll be more motivated to go out riding and stick to your workout routine.
But picking your goal is just the first step. You’ll also need to come up with a timetable of how to get there in the best possible shape. A very practical and smart way to do your planning is to count backwards from the day of the event. Let me give you an example: My biggest event was always the Tour de France. I needed to show up on day one sharp, ready, and lean.
So I would write the start date of the Tour de France on the bottom of a white sheet of paper and work my way up day by day until I reached the present day. Then it’s time to write out your weekly training schedule, working backwards.
How to Set Up Your Training Schedule
A very simple plan is to decrease the distance of the long ride little by little each weekend as you move backwards. This way, as you go through training, you’ll slowly and steadily build up your endurance and will be ready for the distance and intensity of your main goal. This goal can be for any distance; it’s a good idea just to find your rhythm first, and to get used to the bike, as well as the time you’ll be spending on your bike.
Once you have the training scheduled out, don’t get overwhelmed. I am a big proponent of the idea that any training is better than no training—even a short ride is better than sitting around and finding excuses not to go out. Again, your goal is to build up base miles and get your body accustomed to riding more. You will feel fitter in just a few weeks, and from there on it’s easier to keep going and stick to your training schedule.
Depending on how much time you have with work and family, I would suggest you put some shorter rides into each week, saving the longer rides for the weekend. Typically, I would choose a minimum of two weeks to ride around, have fun, and enjoy yourself to get into the zone before you begin training in earnest. Three weeks would be better, but it depends on your overall timetable and your timeframe with work and family time. Once those two or three weeks are up, you should try to train two or three days in a row, then give yourself a rest day.
Whether you go riding early in the morning before work, or choose to go after work, my suggestion is to put in a 45-minute warmup ride for the first few weeks, clocking in at a normal pace.
For Each Ride . . .
First, get warmed up. When you go riding early in the morning before work or after work, my suggestion is to put in a 45-minute warmup ride, clocking in at a normal pace.
Next, start your intervals. Then, stretch your muscles a little and get them warmed up for your intervals. Depending on whether you’re looking for more power or more speed, you can start your intervals on a hill or on flat ground. If you’re a beginner, start easy—for example, doing one minute fast, then putting in a three-minute rest, finally trying to get up to five-minute intervals, with about 10 minutes rest in between. You’ll feel the difference as you get better and stronger over time. Not only that, but you’ll soon feel that you can hold the same power over five minutes that you could only hold for one minute at the start. That’s encouraging and motivational, no?
Lastly, be sure to “warm down.” Once you’ve finished your interval workout, you will need a short “warm down” period of at least 20 minutes. If you still have time, motivation and power on your side, then ride for as long as you want. Just make sure you stick to the recommended 45-minute warmup and intervals, in that order. Your body will be more receptive for intervals, and you’ll gain superior training effects if you do the quality work in the beginning.
Once you’ve ridden as often as you can to get in some base miles, it’s time to put more structure into your preparation. Remember: It’s easy to train hard but it’s tougher to train hard in the right way. To avoid overtraining, you need to give your body some time to recover. You can help your body through this transition phase by doing some stretching after your rides, especially for your legs and lower back but also your shoulders and your neck (they can get tense as a result of your position on the bike). Stretching regularly can help prevent certain overtraining or fatigue injuries.
If you’re pressed for training time: Again, depending on how much time you have to train, half of the time leading up should be spent building up your stamina to get accustomed to your bike, as well as get your body accustomed to working in this manner several times per week. Let’s say you’re extremely pressed with your training time. If you have a 60- to 75-mile Gran Fondo in about a month, you would first have two weeks to prepare your body for some intensity training; you would then spend two weeks on interval and specific training. Doing something like that is doable, but not advisable.
Always try to build in at least two months of training in preparation for a long race. You can certainly reach your goal within those two, minimum—but three or four months would definitely work better, giving you more time to slowly build up the intensity and the duration of your rides.
If you’ve got a few months: Alternately, when spreading the training process out over two or three months, you can count on factoring in one month of riding, followed by more specific training. Finally, you’d complete your training by easing up just a few days prior to your event, so that your body can recover in time for the race.
If you’re just starting out as a beginner, or someone who only wants to get through the event, your specific training rides should be between 1½ hours minimum to 3 hours max. (Once again, I’d recommend training for at least three or four months if that’s the case.) Remember that in these rides you work harder, which means your body will get tired more quickly. You don’t need to make these your longest rides, however, or your body will fatigue. If, like I recommended, you save your long rides for the weekend, you will then build up endurance and base miles on your bike during that time, while weekly rides will see you focusing on getting faster and stronger with intervals.
For example, the week before the Tour de France, I would only ride a total of 12 to 14 hours. Here’s why: You cannot ride yourself into shape one week before your main goal, but you can run yourself into the ground and end up doing more harm than good. The last several days before a big event should be all about tapering. Your workouts should have just enough intensity to keep the engine running and ready, not wasting resources.
To sum it up, take the date of the event, count backwards to the current date, then start building up your miles. Go easy at first, adding more hours and quantity as the weeks get closer to the event. Simple, but effective!
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