indoor cycling trainer session

Train for Speed. Not for Distance.

The phrase, “Train like you race,” speaks to the intensity you should be training at.

So why do so many amateur racers think “monster miles” will help them be competitive?

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  • Beginning racers often mistake endurance riding for strength training
  • The only way to get fast is to train fast
  • Stamina will increase as you do speed work
  • Recovery is where adaptation really happens. Don’t shortchange it.
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“I need to put in some big miles…”


Any way you slice it, cycling is an endurance sport. It requires the ability to ramp up to a certain level of oh-my-gawd physical discomfort, and then hold it for much longer than our non-competitive friends are comfortable at.

However, too many new or aspiring racers think that simply going out for long, long, relatively easy grinds will build the kind of fitness required to be competitive.

Unless you really chose your parents exceptionally well, the answer is — that ain’t so.

And even if you DID come pre-packed with Indurain crossed with Cavendish genes, you may find yourself cruising through your first season as a Category 5, but next year will be a bit unpleasant when you roll up with the 4’s who learned a thing or two about the magic of intervals.


Mileage Mistakes to Avoid

“Logging Miles” isn’t Race Training

Even when you’re in your base building period of the year, (which for most of us in North America goes from about October to early December) you can’t expect hours of lolling about in Zone 1 riding to be beneficial. If you don’t know what Zone 1 refers to, watch this 12-minute video. Base building requires effort. And it does require time on the bike that meets or exceeds the length of the races you expect to ride. Notice that I said “time” and not “distance.” Your body isn’t really made to think in terms of mileage; it reacts to stress, and stress relates to time. Your effort during your base building period should be within Zone 2. Don’t “average” Zone 2; ride in Zone 2. You’ll find that it’s a bit quicker than you realize, especially over a time period that equates to the length of time your races should take you. How long is that? Most Cat 5 races are sub 50 miles. If you’re averaging 20 an hour, you can expect


[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike” animation=”scale-up”]You need to complete workouts that are designed to stretch you where you’re weak, and allow enough precious recovery time until the next stretch session.[/callout]


It’s not “Long, Slow Miles.” It’s “Long, Steady Distance.”

Back to base building here. If you follow Joe Friel, Chris Carmichael, Hunter Allen, and others, you’ll soon see that they realize that most of their clients — people like you and me — have families, day jobs, and social lives. We can’t spend 5+ hours in the saddle as part of our normal training regimen. And I’ve learned that the great majority of amateur riders don’t want that, anyway! We have to have concentrated value from our rides. Every ride needs a purpose if we want to enjoy the fun of being in the hunt at our races.

There’s an old acronym for base mile accumulation: “LSD.” Too many riders think it’s “long, slow distance.” But no. It’s long, steady distance.

In short, during your 2+ hour weekend rides during your base building period, don’t dally! Get into a solid Zone 2 effort and push to keep it there.


Mix it up. Variety makes for Adaptation

Ever ride with someone who says something like this: “Tuesdays I do hill repeats. Thursdays I do sprints. On the weekend I do LSD miles.”

Getting into a rut like that is not only boring, it also may mean that you’re failing to push yourself. You begin to get comfy with the routine, rather than seeing if you’re advancing against a baseline you’ve set. You need to complete workouts that are designed to stretch you where you’re weak, and allow enough precious recovery time until the next stretch session. Keeping an eye on your baseline, your performance, and your goals, while allowing your body to rest in between is the essence of getting better and faster.

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Speaking of recovery…

Real recovery is where you actually improve. All the work you do during hard intervals and race-length (time, again, not distance) Zone 2 rides cause body stress. When you recover, you body builds up. If you spending your base rides in Zone 3, you’re going too hard. And if your intervals aren’t regularly going over threshold, you’re not going hard enough. But then…if you don’t properly recover, your body can’t rebuild.

In essence, during training, you want to either hammer, or go very, very easy.

And you have to know what your LTHR (lactate threshold heart rate) and/or FTP (functional threshold power) is in order to understand what “hammer” or “very easy” means to you.


Mix it up OFF the bike

Cycling is a very specific sport that uses very specific muscles — to the detriment of others. OK, that was too harsh. What I should say is that cycling pretty much ignores a significant set of muscles. (There’s a reason cyclists look like T-Rex’s.) Those muscles need to be strengthened in order to insure overall body fitness, and even health. General core strength is simply a necessity, especially for older riders and for female riders.

Yoga, swimming, Pilates, a disciplined weight room regimen — all of these will enhance your core strength, and ultimately your endurance and stamina on the bike. During the cooler months, get out on your mountain bike and hit some trails! Improve your core as well as your handling skills!


[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: What are you doing to keep the intensity in your 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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