a cyclist poses on a trainer before sunrise

Training. It happens alone.

A positive group ride rocks. But training? It’s on your own.

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Group riding skills are really important. But that’s different from personal training.
  • Be a racer committed to personal improvement
  • If you’re willing to do some self-assessment, you can insure that you’ll race longer
  • Endurance sport success requires a level of commitment most are unwilling to make
[/content_box] [dropcap style=”default”]A racer I know[/dropcap]

who is training for his very first season has repeatedly asked me, “When should my team start training together?”

He didn’t like my response: “Training is what happens when you’re alone.”

“But, we’re a team. Aren’t we supposed to get stronger together? Get faster together?”

It’s an easy misconception and one that’s easily forgiven.

Group skills can be trained — and honestly, they must be trained. The fact that they aren’t regularly and systematically taught is one of the reasons, I believe, so many wannabe racers don’t race, and why so many who do jump in on their own soon abandon. A group of new Cat V racers can be a squirrelly bunch…

But training for speed, strength, and endurance? That’s you, baby. You’re utterly on your own. And it’s up to you to understand what you need to improve, and how to go about it.

The problem with amateur racing culture

Amateur racing really has a big, big problem here because of the dichotomy of the population. In short, we have a serious problem with development. And most of the problem is cultural, and a lack of education.

The vast majority of new racers are, well, Cyndi Laupers. They just wanna have fun, so they say. Get in there and “get weird.” Toss in an attack here and “see what sticks,” then tell stories with the team afterwards, gathered around the tailgates.

Most of them only hang around for a few seasons, at best. They become disillusioned, because, after all — racing means winners and losers. It’s a game of combatants. And if you’re not in it to make a change happen, it starts to get old, fast. 

The minority, are the ones who actually want to invest in specific improvement in the sport. But even that minority is fractionalized. Part of them just aren’t willing (I could say able, but no — it’s a choice they make to prioritize other things) to dedicate more than a morning or two, or perhaps an evening or two for training, plus 1 long ride on the weekends, usually with a group. As a result of this extremely low volume of plan-less riding, they bring hopes into a season or two that is usually very rudely met with the reality of how intense racing a bike actually is. They may have natural talent; they may have a good sprint, or the ability to burst up a hill or two, but ultimately — they’ve not honed pack riding skills or appropriate endurance to stay to the end of a race, much less contest a sprint in the final few hundred meters.

Then there’s the true few

Despite family and social commitments and day jobs and educational responsibilities, they develop a plan. They dedicate mornings and evenings on turbo trainers and in gyms. They measure their weight, their body fat, and their Functional Thresholds. But most importantly, they identify their motivation for racing, and their weaknesses to be improved.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]The vast majority of new racers are, well, Cyndi Laupers. They just wanna have fun, so they say. Get in there and “get weird.” Toss in an attack here and “see what sticks,” then tell stories with the team afterwards, gathered around the tailgates.[/callout]

And that motivation carries them through the challenges of meeting the weaknesses head-on.

They may not be the podium-toppers, but they are competitive. They may not be the most exciting racers to watch, but they are consistent and dependable: season after season.

Why? Because they’re in it for the self-discovery, and the self-improvement.

Here are a few tips to be a better team rider, by training appropriately on your own:

1: Identify and clearly state your motivation for racing

2: Identify your weaknesses, and decide you’re going to work at improving them

3: Learn to build a plan that builds on those weaknesses

4: Choose 2 or 3 races in your upcoming season that you want to peak for; study their topography and characteristics, and plan in your training to excel in them

Did you notice that every one of those areas of focus needed to be done by yourself?

The inner work of endurance sport is just that: inner. It’s mental. You have self-assessment to do, and decisions to make. No one can do that for you. A coach can help guide, but ultimately, you have to determine if the guidance makes sense for you, otherwise, you’re not going to invest the time and effort to apply yourself to the advice.

Building the plan and then acting on the plan will include workouts that are guided by your own heart rate and/or power expenditures. They aren’t going to match any of your team mates, and even if they did, training with that teammate or teammates would be focus-robbing. The required intensity to successfully meet training goals is generated solo.

Groups can work on pack riding skills such as pace lining and drafting — and they should. New racers should never be thrown into the melee of races without having had some time following the wheels of smooth, predictable, communicative senior mentors. Advanced teams can work on tactics such as lead outs. In the early season, longer base miles rides can be accomplished, perhaps once a week, based on speed guidelines, but anything else, such as hill repeats, cruise intervals, sweet spot intervals, etc., need to be accomplished by each rider, on their own, at durations and intensities set to match a weakness-improving plan.

Cycling, at it’s best, is a team sport. But like few other sports, teams are comprised of self-made riders.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Training on your own is an admittedly lonely endeavor. What do you do to break the isolation? [/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

  • Beyond the physical importance of focused, individual training, there are many mental benefits on training alone. Getting out and riding with a group is easy, even on a bad day. But getting out and training by yourself when the weather is bad or you don’t feel good builds mental fortitude that is going to help you when it comes to racing. You can draw on that mental strength when you need it most in a race.

    • Well said! There is both a discipline and a meditative aspect to solo riding that is not only healthy, I think it’s important. Thanks for sharing that.

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