Jim Hardy wrote, “I’m age 72 and a bunch of geezers like me are prepping for the very, very hilly Bike Ride Across Georgia in 1st week of June.
Any training advice (besides “don’t do it!!!”) for guys our age to help us complete this 6-day ride in the mountains? The ride is 300 total miles with 18,192 feet of climbing. Day 5 (after a day off if desired) is the longest day with 61 miles and 4,266 feet of climbing. Day 3 is 43 miles with 3,651 feet of climbing.
Coach Hughes Responds
I don’t understand “old geezers.” Age is just a state of mind! I turn 69 in April and am looking forward to XC ski racing in the 70+ category in a couple of years!
Multi-day tours with friends are one of the most fun ways to spend time cycling! You get to ride, eat, recover, sleep and do it all again without worrying about anything else.
My recommendation is not “don’t do it!” Go for it!
Before I could give Jim sound advice on how to go for it I needed more information on his athletic maturity and training. We exchanged e-mails and this is what I learned.
I started by assessing Jim’s Athletic Maturity. Athletic Maturity is a gauge of how mature a cyclist is looking at these aspects with Jim’s responses.
- Years of Riding: 9 years
- Annual Miles: 8,350 in 2017 (down from 9,500 the previous two years)
- Longest Annual Ride: 85 miles last year. My average ride has been 60+ miles for the past several years.
- Similar Riding Experience: I have done a lot of multi-day rides but never with this much climbing in only 300 miles.
Jim has a good fitness base and plenty of experience. His longest ride last year was significantly longer than the longest day of the tour in June.
Then I learned about Jim’s training.
- How many miles have you ridden so far this year? Almost 1,000. Over 400 miles behind last year due mainly to bad weather.
- Where do you live? Outside of Atlanta, GA
- Can you train on comparable hills? Not easily. It would be quite a drive even before the ride starts. We do have other hills to climb but they are not as demanding.
- Can you train on part(s) of the route? See previous answer.
- What do you anticipate your riding speed will be? No more than 12-13 mph.
- Do you use perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor or a power meter? They’re all fine – I just need to know so that my answer is most helpful. Heart rate monitor.
- Did you do any intensity workouts in the last year or so? No is an okay answer. Yes, but I’m not sure that my intensity level was sufficient.
Here’s what I’m recommending to Jim:
Starting this week (March 12– 18) Jim has 12 weeks to the start of the 6-day tour. To ride the tour Jim needs:
- Endurance to ride six 5 – 6 hour days.
- Power to climb the hilly course.
- Fitness to ride back-to-back days.
- Recovery to be on form for the tour.
The way to achieve these is through “periodization”, dividing the 12 weeks into 4 different periods with different objectives:
- Base to develop endurance.
- Build to increase power.
- Peaking to train to ride back-to-back days
- Taper to be on form.
Here’s how Jim should use the 12 weeks until the start of the tour.
Base 2018 to date. Jim has years of riding experience and has ridden about 1,000 miles so far this year including a brisk long ride of 81 miles with 1,900 feet of climbing in 5:40 hours. He has a huge endurance base and is ready for the next period of training.
Break 1 week March 12 – 18. From now until the tour Jim is going to be training hard. To be sure that he’s fully recovered before all the hard work Jim should park his bike in the garage and spend just a few hours this week doing light aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming.
Build 4 weeks March 19 – April 15. The goal of this period is to build the power that Jim needs to climb all those hills.
The most effective way for Jim to increase his power is not to ride hard as hard as possible. Why not? The harder you ride the more you overload your muscles so the more they adapt. However, the harder you ride, the more recovery you need both between hard efforts on a ride and between hard days. Because you need more recovery you can handle less volume of hard riding so that the cumulative overload of your muscles is less than if you rode just slightly faster than a tempo pace. This is called riding in the “sweet spot. ” Riding in the sweet spot you should be able to talk in short phrases but not full sentences (93-97% of LT, 88-94% of FTP). If you’re breathing rapidly and/or your legs are screaming at you, you are riding too hard.
Specificity is important so Jim should do his sweet spot workouts on hills. The climbs don’t have to be timed to the minute or all exactly the same length in a given week – the idea is that week by week they get longer. Here’s the plan week by week:
- March 19 -25. Two sweet spot workouts. For each workout warm-up, do a main set of 3-6 climbs that take 4-6 minutes each with full recovery between each climb, and cool down. He should only do as many climbs as he can do in the sweet spot. On his last climb he should feel like he could do one more climb. If he starts to struggle he should cool down and go home. He should do 2 or 3 active recovery days between each sweet spot day, each recovery day riding for about an hour at an easy pace and take the rest of the week off.
- March 26 – April 1. One sweet spot workout with a main set of 3-6 climbs that are each about a minute longer than week #1. His second hard workout should be a ride of about 45 miles with about 3,000 ft. of climbing, i.e., about 3/4 as long with about 3/4 as much climbing as the hardest day on the tour. The rest of the week just a few short active recovery rides.
- April 2 – 8. Two sweet spot workouts with main sets of 3-6 climbs that are each about a minute longer than week #2. The rest of the week just a few short recovery rides.
- April 9 – 15. One sweet spot workout with a main set 3-6 climbs that are about a minute longer than week #3. His second hard workout should be a ride of about 60 miles with about 4,000 ft. of climbing, similar to the hardest day of the tour. The rest of the week just a few recovery rides.
Remember: if it really hurts, then you’re riding too hard. Slow down into the sweet spot.
Break 1 week April 16 – 22. Another break so that Jim recovers fully before peaking.
Peaking 4 weeks April 23 – May 20. During this period Jim should simulate the tour. He should ride his bike with all the same gear as he’ll ride on the tour, eat the same food on and off the bike, pace himself the same way and practice good recovery in the evenings.
- April 23 – 29. Two rides on successive days that are the same as the first two days of the tour. The first day ride about 50 miles with about 2,100 ft. of climbing. The second day ride about 51 miles with 3,000 ft. of climbing. The rest of the week just a few short active recovery rides.
- April 30 – May 6. A moderate week with one ride of about 30 miles with about 2,000 ft. of climbing. A second ride of about an hour including riding 2 or 3 hills in the sweet spot. The rest of the week just a few short recovery rides.
- May 7 – 13. Another moderate week with one ride about 40 miles with about 2,800 ft. of climbing. A second ride of about an hour including 2 or 3 hills in the sweet spot. The rest of the week just a few recovery rides.
- May 14 – 20. Two rides on successive days that are the same as the 5th and 6th days of the tour. The first day ride about 61 miles with about 4,300 ft. of climbing. The second day ride about 51 miles with about 3,200 ft. of climbing. The rest of the week just a few short recovery rides.
Taper 12 days May 21 – June 1. Two weeks before an event one can’t get any fitter. During this period Jim should recover fully by riding just enough to keep his climbing legs.
- May 21 – 27. One ride of about 30 miles with about 2,000 ft. of climbing. A second ride of about an hour including riding 2 or 3 hills in the sweet spot. The rest of the week just a few short active recovery rides.
- 5 days May 28 – June 1, the tour starts June 2. Just a couple of easy active recovery rides.
The goal of the 12 weeks of training is maximum fitness, not maximum fatigue. Jim should pay attention to the possible signs of overtraining discussed last week and do less if he feels any symptoms of overtraining.
My new eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process will be published in a few weeks. It has periodized annual plans for endurance riding, intensity riding, strength training and the other types of all-round fitness.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.