Training for the Other Kind of Tour
One of the remarkable aspects of sport is the variation you can find within each discipline. As a cyclist, you have the choice to participate or compete in many different events, and multi-day tours and trips are growing in popularity. If your goals for the year include a weekend bike tour or trip with friends, your training needs to address the unique demands of these events.
In 2004, I was part of the coaching team assigned to prepare cyclists for the Tour of Hope, a cross-country ride to raise awareness for cancer research and clinical trials. Our job was to take 20 amateur cyclists, and prepare them over a period of four months, for an eight-day, 3000-mile relay from Los Angeles to Washington, DC. These were not professional cyclists, nor people who could give up their day jobs; in fact, every one of them worked at least 40 hours a week through the entire training period. The lessons they learned in preparing for their successful trip can also help you succeed in your next multi-day excursion.
The most obvious challenge was to increase the aerobic strength of the riders without the luxury of high-volume training. When you?re working at your normal day job, there are only so many hours you can realistically train. As a result, we increased the intensity of the workouts so we could get greater gains in less time. This meant interval workouts from the very beginning, but the length of the intervals was the key rather than the intensity.
When you?re training for a multi-day event, it?s essential that your aerobic system delivers most of your energy. You simply don?t have the recovery time to come back from hard efforts on day one and expect to perform well on days two and three. Instead of short, hard intervals, spend more time performing long Tempo, SteadyState, and ClimbingRepeat Intervals. A single Tempo interval can last up to about 60 minutes for a moderately-trained amateur cyclist, and it is performed in a big gear, a cadence of about 70-75 rpm, and well below lactate threshold.
SteadyState and ClimbingRepeat intervals are similar to each other, performed at an intensity just below lactate threshold power. The difference, as the names suggest, is that SteadyStates are performed on flat roads while ClimbingRepeats are on steady climbs. Since they are harder, these intervals are shorter than Tempo intervals, and range from 15-30 minutes each (recovery is typically equal to the interval time). If you?re training for a two to four-day event, aim to build up to three 15-minute SteadyState or ClimbingRepeat intervals.
The arrangement of interval workouts can be as important as the interval work itself. Since your event demands that you spend several hours on your bike for a couple of days in a row, back-to-back training days, or blocks, should be incorporated into your training schedule. Start with two Tempo workouts on back-to-back days, then take two days of easy riding before completing another two-day Tempo block. If you?re training with power, you?ll see you can maintain the same power on both days. If you?re training with heart rate, however, you may notice your heart rate is suppressed on the second day. You?ll have to go by feel a bit, instead of by numbers, and many riders end up averaging five to seven heart beats lower on the second day.
After three weeks of two-day blocks, and a regeneration week, move up to three-day blocks. At this point, you?ll want to keep the recovery period between blocks to two days. One challenge to block training is that it often throws a kink in a cyclist?s normal weekly routine. You may normally take Monday as a rest day, but now a three-day block might include Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, leaving Tuesday as your rest day. If you?re schedule has limited flexibility, try to arrange three-day blocks when you can and continue with two-day blocks when you can?t.
The relay aspect of the Tour of Hope added even more challenges for the athletes and coaches. We had to prepare the cyclists to ride for four to five hours, rest for about 14 hours, then get back on the bike. This is where we had to get creative, and we took some cues from the ultra-endurance and adventure race athletes that may be useful for you as well.
Double Days: You can think of double-days as training in the morning and evening, or in the evening and again in the morning. In both cases, your workouts are separated by about 10-14 hours. Schedule interval workouts for both sessions, placing a harder workout in the first session and an easier one in the second. With the Tour of Hope riders, we added another wrinkle by waking them up a two or three o?clock in the morning for workouts. We did it in part to get the workout in, but also to get them accustomed to riding at all hours of the day and night.
All-Day Nutrition: Multi-day events require a lot of fuel, and you have to get used to eating constantly. Many riders realized their stomachs didn?t agree with a steady stream of energy bars and gels, and that incorporating more whole foods kept them energized and out of the bathroom. Variety is key, but make sure you experiment widely well in advance of your event. You have to know what works for you and what doesn?t, because finding out on day two of four can make for some miserable days in the saddle.
You also need to throw out the notion of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. As your training becomes more specific to your event, so must your eating habits. Start planning meals around your training instead of the time of day. There?s nothing necessarily wrong with pancakes in the evening and pasta in the morning.
24-Hour Hydration: There is no time to replenish lost fluids in a multi-day event, so you have to be extremely diligent with hydration at all times. It takes time to develop the ability to stay hydrated over the course of several days of exercise, so it?s important to start early in your training. You can?t decide one week before your event to start drinking more fluids and expect to stay hydrated for the entire trip. Set up a schedule to drink at least one water bottle of water or sports drink per hour off the bike (when you?re awake), and at least two an hour while you?re on the bike (try to stay awake for that too).
Bike Tour Survival Tips
Truth be told, there?s much more to a successful multi-day tour than fitness, nutrition, and hydration. Obviously, you want to be able to perform well on the bike, and you can?t underestimate the impact of comfort and equipment on performance. Here are just some of the things we learned from the Tour of Hope:
1. Invest in a spare helmet and shoes: If either one of these items gets damaged or lost, your ride is over. Plus, when one pair of shoes gets soaked in the rain, it?s great to have a dry pair to use on the next ride (assuming the weather improved).
2. Always wear a clean pair of shorts: I don?t care if you have to wash them in a gas station bathroom, clean shorts are absolutely essential for an enjoyable tour.
3. Bring clothing you never thought you?d need: Winter gloves for a summer ride? More than a few Tour of Hope riders were surprised by how cold it was to ride through the desert at night or the Midwest in the rain.
4. Record your bike measurements on a laminated card: Strange things happen. Seats break, bikes have to be switched out, and you don?t want to struggle remembering your bike position at the side of the road in West Texas. In the 2004 Tour of Hope, one of the coaches and a rider rode into wet cement at about 25 mph, crashed, and tore their bikes up. They were able to get them back on the road because we had their bike fit measurements readily available.
Multi-day bike tours are a great way to enjoy cycling and often to raise money for important causes. As with racing, however, it?s important to be properly prepared for the challenge. Take a cue from the 20 men and women who pedaled across the United States in the Tour of Hope; with just four months of focused training, they accomplished their goal and arrived in Washington right on schedule.
Jason Koop is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc.(CTS) and the Coaching Manager for the 2005 Tour of Hope. To find out what CTS can do for you, visit TrainRight.