Train for Endurance
You are preparing for an endurance ride and you want to train your physiological and metabolic systems to ride at that pace. By riding at the classic easy conversational pace you:
- train your body to use more fat for energy, sparing precious glycogen
- strengthen your heart to pump more blood per heart beat
- increase the number of capillaries in your muscles where the energy is produced for your muscles
- improve your pedaling economy
- improve your ability to dissipate heat
If you are trained by perceived exertion, you should be able to talk in complete sentences the whole time, although you probably won't be able to whistle climbing a hill.
If you are training by heart rate you should ride at 76 to 94 percent of your lactate threshold (LT), staying in the lower part of the range unless you are climbing.
If you are training by power you should ride at 56 to 90 percent of functional threshold power (FTP), keeping your power in the lower part of the range except on hills. You don't get these training benefits if you ride somewhat harder—endurance training should feel like it is almost too easy!
Don't Neglect Power
Although most of your training should be for endurance, you also need to build your power. Once a week do a mixed-intensity ride. Warm up thoroughly; do your main set alternating hard and easy riding and then cool down. How hard?
- Your legs should definitely be complaining and you shouldn't be able to talk.
- You should be at 95-100 percent of LT if training with a heart rate monitor.
- You should ride at 91-100 percent of FTP if training with a power meter.
If you have both a heart rate monitor and a power meter, train by power for both your endurance rides and your intensity workouts. Power is more accurate; heart rate can be affected by riding temperature, hydration status, excitement and other factors.
Start with a few short efforts of five minutes or so with about the same amount of recovery and build to longer efforts with about half the recovery time. You can do structured intervals, hill repeats or just sprint with friends to different points on the ride. After a month or so you can start doing two intensity workouts a week.
Your muscles only get stronger when at rest, not when training! In addition to training hard, rest hard:
- While training include no more than three hard days a week. A hard day is either a long endurance ride or an intensity ride.
- Each week go for a couple active recovery rides (or hikes with the family or after dinner walks with your significant other) and take one day completely off the bike.
- Be sure to drink enough non-alcoholic beverages after a ride. Weigh yourself before and after a ride and for every pound you've lost drink a pint of fluid.
- Eat high-quality carbohydrate to replace the muscle glycogen that you've burned and eat a salty snack if you have sweated a lot.
- At each of your meals cover your plate with carbohydrates of different colors—vegetables, fruit, brown rice, whole grain bread or cereal, potatoes or whole grain pasta—and think of protein as a condiment.
- Every four weeks or so cut back your training volume by about 25 percent for an easier week and enjoy extra time with your family.
- Taper for two weeks before the big event. You can't get any fitter at this point, but you can be fresh for the ride. During the two weeks continue your intensity rides, but only about half as long. The weekend before the event, your long ride should only be about half the duration of your longest training ride.
For four weeks before you taper, peak for the event by training as specifically as possible:
- Start your weekend long rides at the same time as your ultra event.
- Carry all of the clothing and equipment you'll need on your ultra ride so that you get used to how your bike handles.
- If possible, train on similar terrain. If you preparing for a hilly ride but live in flat country, use the wind as your friend. Ride into it to simulate climbing and then turn around and enjoy the tailwind like you are descending.
- If possible, train in similar conditions. If the ride may be rainy, choose to go outside for a rainy ride. If may be windy, get used to it by riding in the wind.
- Practice pacing yourself. Even though you feel fresh early in the ride, back off a little so that you are still riding well late in the ride.
- Practice good time management. Stopping for bathroom breaks and supplies is important (you've got to eat and drink!) but don't waste time. As one RAAM winner told me "If you're not on the bike, you're not going anywhere!"
Set Up Your Bike for Comfort and Reliability
As your time on the bike increases, bike weight and aerodynamics become somewhat less important and comfort becomes more important:
- If you have a very lightweight, narrow saddle, but it isn't comfortable you'll find excuses to prolong the stops.
- If you are riding narrow tires pumped very hard your hands and butt will feel more road shock.
- If you have a tight, racing cluster to save weight your knees may be talking to you on climbs later in your event.
- If you have minimal spoke count wheels and break a spoke during the ride you'll be in trouble because this can't be fixed in the field.
- During your taper inspect your bike fully and put on new tires, rim tape and tubes.
Get a Bike Fit
If your bike is set up for speed you may want to get a new bike fit. Tell the fit technician the kind of riding that you'll be doing and ask that the bike be set up for that. For example, you may want your handlebars higher and/or closer to the saddle so that you aren't as stretched out on the bike. This will keep you back, shoulders and neck from getting tired and stiff.
Specialized dealers in many countries offer bike fits by technicians trained by Andy Pruitt at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM). Ret?l, founded by experts from the BCSM, has fit technicians around the world. Both the BCSM and Ret?l work with many racers in the pro peloton.