It's true that most people ride and race for different reasons, but in the end it's always about riding the bike. No matter what your goals or ambitions are, it's those moments when life's responsibilities take a back seat to the enjoyment of the open road that is a form of salvation for many.
Unfortunately, with life speeding along at a dizzying pace, we're often forced to "maximize" our training in less time than we might otherwise choose. Interval and threshold training have become more and more popular for athletes looking to get the most fitness possible under time restrictions. But that doesn't mean that cyclists should forget about the long ride.
Here's how adding at least one long ride once per month can improve your fitness and challenge you in ways threshold training can't.
The Rise of Efficiency
The rise of optimized training has been rapid and nearly unimpeded. Ride everyday with focus, and don't squander the few hours you have to devote to training. Sound familiar?
One of my favorite examples of this type of thinking is the difference in overall training stress in a 10-hour week of optimized versus non-optimized training.
The classic Training Stress Score (TSS) model offers 100 points for a maximal 60-minute effort. So if you do 10 hours at maximal effort you would have achieve 1000 points for the week.
Of course no one can do maximal efforts all day long, so we have to dial down a little. But let's say you do the prototypical 20-minute warm up and 10-minute warm down per ride, and cycle for two hours five times a week. This would mean that you "wasted" 25 percent of your ride time on minimal TSS activities—such a squander, right?
Not so fast.
With the start of the season quickly approaching, many cyclists are eager to jump into hard training and build race fitness. Coaches can appreciate the work ethic and desire to get fast, but more and more I've come to see hard training (threshold training) as the metaphorical icing on the cake, rather than the daily necessity often pushed by the "efficiency" crowd.
Yes, focused training is essential for those with very limited schedules (under 10 hours per week), but that focus can range from endurance to "sweet spot" intensities without forcing the athlete into a hole every ride. The use of a polarized approach to training can be a viable alternative for those who may flounder under the constant barrage of threshold efforts.
By definition, a polarized approach splits training between very hard and very easy efforts. Total training volume on a polarized approach is usually above 12 hours per week, but it doesn't have to be, and tends to follow the 80/20 rule—80 percent of training time under 2m/mol of lactate and 20 percent above 4m/mol of lactate (as defined by Seiler and Tonneson in 2009).