Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Last week I shared with you the plan that I wrote for Randy Brich to train for the Gravel Grinder he’s doing in June. Randy knows where he wants to go; he just didn’t know how to get there.
Most coaches’ training plans are divided into phases:
- Base training to build endurance
- Build training to build power while maintaining endurance
- Peaking to train specifically for a particular event
- Tapering to recover fully for the event
Training plans are divided into phases for several reasons. A rider will get maximum improvement if the rider focuses on just one type of training at a time. To keep improving, the training must keep getting harder; however, at some point a rider plateaus (or burns out). To keep improving, the type of training needs to change rather than just increasing the volume.
Here’s how I applied the phases for Randy:
The Gravel Grinder is 110 miles, so building plenty of endurance is the key factor for a successful ride. Randy has a lot of what I call athletic maturity. He’s been riding for years, including leading bike tours for six summers, so he has already built a lot of endurance. However, he lives in South Dakota. Riding in the winter there is no more fun than riding in the winter here in Colorado. (In fact, I woke up to two feet of snow outside this week! And it’s spring!)
Randy’s goal is to finish the Gravel Grinder in about 9 hours. His longest ride so far was 4:25 (63 miles with 2300 ft. of climbing). My rule of thumb is that a rider needs to build up to 2/3 to 3/4 of the time it will take to do the big event. Randy needs to ramp up to a 6- to 7-hour-long ride so he’s alreadymore than half way to the endurance he needs.
Since Randy has most of the endurance that he needs, he is riding long only every other weekend to allow more recovery.
Randy worked with an online coach over the winter doing progressively harder intervals, building up to short, intense VO2 max intervals. Remember when Eddy Merckx was asked how to be a better rider, he famously said, “Ride more.” Doing a generic ladder of progressively harder intervals (“Ride harder!”) without regard to a rider’s goal is equally simplistic (and equally ineffective!).
Randy will be riding a course with about 7,000 feet of climbing. He needs to be able to put out sustained power, which results from a specific type of intensity training. He’s not a road racer. He doesn’t need high power to break away or maximum power to win the sprint.
Peaking is all about specificity. Randy is doing his endurance rides on the same bike with the same gear that he’ll use on the Gravel Grinder. On these rides he’s riding as much as possible on gravel. He’s learning to pace himself, testing all of his equipment, and dialing in his nutrition.
The Gravel Grinder has about 7,000 ft. of climbing so he’s doing Sweet Spot intervals to build his power. The weeks that he’s doing a long ride he only does one set of intervals so that he has several days of recovery and can really push himself and then has several days to recover before the weekend. The weeks that he’s not doing a long ride he can handle two days of intensity.
Randy has built a huge endurance base and by cutting back on his long rides for a couple of weeks before the Gravel Grinder he won’t lose any of that fitness. However, power goes away faster, so he’ll still ride hard, but less than he was. A pro is “on form” with “fresh legs” for a big race. That’s why Randy’s tapering.
Changing the Order of the Phases
Normally, a rider builds an endurance base so that the rider’s legs are strong enough to train hard in the Build phase without injury. Because of Randy’s athletic maturity he was able to handle the hard intervals over the winter. Providing a rider can handle the overload on the legs, doing intensity training indoors in the winter and then endurance training outdoors in the spring is okay.
Yogi Berra was right, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” This means that you need a plan tailored to your particular event(s).
Imagine you are driving across the country with your family. How could you plan your route?
1. Free spirit – you and your family could decide on the national parks, other sights and cities you want to visit and agree you’ll figure out the itinerary on the way.
2. Navigator – in addition to agreeing on what you want to visit, you’ll also decide which city you’ll stay in each night. You’ll figure out the route to the next city each night.
3. Map maker – In addition to the sights to see and places to stay, you map out which roads to take.
Each of these forms of planning can work. Which one is right for you? It depends on three factors:
1. How high your goal is. If you have a very challenging goal, then the more detailed the plan, the more likely you’ll reach your goal.
2. How much time you have. If you are pressed for time to train, then a more detailed plan will reduce the time you spend doing sub-optimal workouts.
3. Your personality. Some people like a lot of detail, and some people prefer a more general approach.
A good plan can be as simple as what I sketched out in last week’s column, along with today’s. Using thematerial in these two columns, you can create your own simple plan. The two keys are:
1. The plan is divided into phases, each with a different purpose.
2. Each phase trains you toward your key event(s).
Remember, the purpose of training isn’t maximum fatigue. It’s maximum improvement!
Podcast on Your Best Season Ever on OverTheTopCycling
My two-part eArticle series Your Best Season Ever shows you how to create your personal training plan without hiring a coach. Part 1 leads you though the planning process to develop your plan so that you get the most out of your training. Part 2 shows you how to use your plan to peak for and ride your big event(s).
Your Best Season Ever, Parts 1 and 2 — now, for the first time, availabe in a cost-saving bundle! — 69 pages packed with information, is available for only $8.98 ($7.64 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
I recently discussed Your Best Season Ever in-depth with George Thomas on his OverTheTopCycling podast.
Click to listen: Your Best Season Ever
My new eArticle Intensity Training 2016 explains how to incorporate intensity training effectively to meet your personal goals. The article gives all of the training zones in terms of perceived exertion, heart rate and power. The article describes which intensities are appropriate for which season, gives sample workouts and describes which workouts are best for health and fitness riders, recreational club riders, and performance riders.
Intensity Training for Cyclists 2016: Using Perceived Exertion, a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter to Maximize Training Effectiveness is 41 pages packed with information, and is available for only $4.99 ($4.24 for Premium Members after their 15% discount).
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.