“Going for a ride” isn’t the same as “Training”

If you’re going to progress as a road bike racer, you need to adopt a mindset: every ride has a purpose. Even easy ones.

Purposeful riding doesn’t mean every ride as a racer is a laborious slog:

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  • There’s no such thing as a “social racer”
  • To race is to be part of the competition
  • You can’t improve what you don’t measure

This blog entry isn’t about “how to train.” This blog entry is about the importance of committing to a development plan if you’re going to decide to race your bike.

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[/dropcap] It’s a word that makes most people think of drudgery. Even punishment. And this holds true for many cyclists, even those that race.

“Why would I want to take an enjoyable activity like riding my bike and turn it into something unpleasant — like training?”

“I just want to go out and ride my bike. I’ll do a race here and there and just see what happens.”

Here’s the thing: Racing, by it’s very definition, implies winners and losers. At it’s very least, it requires participants. So, what does it mean for you to participate in bike races?

Social rider vs competitive rider

When you reflect upon what draws you to bike racing, what rises to the top? What aspect of the sport is the most attractive to you as a possible participant? The speed? Standing on a podium? A sense of pride? Being on a team? Helping a teammate win? Winning, yourself?

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike” animation=”scale-up”]In order to be a participant in a race, you must be part of the competition. Either you’re a contender for the podium, or you’re helping someone else get on the podium. You’re a part of the action, and the action itself is a competitive action.[/callout]

In order to be part of that kind of activity over time, you cannot stay at the same level. It’s an evolutionary activity. That’s why there are categories in racing, from beginner Category (or “cat”) 5 up to Cat 1. “Catting up,” or advancing from Cat 5 to Cat 4 doesn’t require winning or placing, it only requires completing 10 mass start events. But after 10, congratulations. You’re a Cat IV! And these riders are — wait for it — faster.

Even light, easy rides have a part — a very important one, actually — in the evolutionary training to be a competent and confident road bike racer. You don’t get what physiologists call “training adaptation” from riding hard all the time. It’s the recovery periods that actually generate the gains. But, as I say all the time, every ride must have a purpose if you’re trying to get better as a racer.

You simply need to understand that every ride during your season must fit within a planned pathway toward a goal. Otherwise, you’re not preparing to race.

Lance Armstrong was quoted as saying, “Every racer is running from something.” Well. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe every racer — at least the ones that are honest with themselves — is running toward — something. And they’re going as mindfully, and as purposefully as they possibly can.

Real racers own the road they’re on. And they own their particular place in the peloton, and in their own sense of self.

Grahame Obree, in his book, The Obree Way, refers to the “Corinthian Spirit.” This mindset is a sort of “one for all and all for one” approach. “Aren’t we all happy to be in this big thing, together.” He eloquently describes how this is a detriment to achievement — when it’s your primary stated motivation for racing.

Ultimately, this is one of the reasons so many drop out of the sport, disillusioned. Ultimately, it isn’t very enjoyable when you aren’t a part of the activity.

The competitive activity.

There is no such thing as a “social racer.” You cannot be in it “just for the camaraderie” or else you’d simply be satisfied with social rides with non-racing oriented groups.

But you’re not That Rider. You’re here. You’re reading about converting a latent desire for racing. You have an aspiration, either to race, or to be better at your newfound experience.If you’re going to race, you must be committed to continuous improvement, and in order to improve, you have to have a clear understanding of where you are now, and where you want to be over time.

In short, it’s much, much more fun to be a bike racer when you’re competitive. And it’s easier to be competitive when you are committed to improving yourself in every little part of the sport.

The dirty little secret is — this doesn’t mean everything has to be torturous. It does mean that every activity you partake in as a racer, from the food you eat to the amount of sleep you get is mindfully a part of making you a better racer.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure

Training — in any activity — involves the same basic steps:

  • Determine where you are now. This is called “setting a baseline” or “benchmarking.”
  • Set a goal, based upon where you want to be at a certain time.
  • Develop a plan to achieve that goal, which includes rest periods as well as stress periods.
  • Conduct tests at certain intervals to see how you’re progressing. Make adjustments as needed.
  • When the goal is reached — set a new goal.


Training, as evidenced above, is an ebb and flow. Stress and recovery, repeat. But how do you know what defines a “stressful” ride versus a “recovery” or “endurance pace” ride? Rides are categorized by first understanding your baseline, as measured with a power meter or a heart rate monitor and a very specific test that defines your Functional Threshold. You can even do it old school with a subjective scale, known as the Rate of Perceived Exertion (or RPE) but even this requires keeping a training journal or log.

Yeah. Measurement and stuff.

This doesn’t mean you can’t just decide to go out for a fun ride with friends when you feel like it. But you will have to realize how that ride — and however much effort you put into it — will affect your longer term fitness. You’ll then have to either adjust your subsequent rides to suit, or be OK with the consequences.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Does the idea of “continuous improvement” invigorate you, or depress you? How do you approach the subject of training? [/icon_box]
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.

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