Stars and Spokes
A Typical Training Week.
Pascal here. Probably the question that gets asked the most, 'How do you prepare to ride across a continent? You must have to train loads!!'
Yep, pretty much!
To give an idea, I thought it might be interesting to use this blog to look at a typical training week. Whilst no two weeks of training are identical, this gives a pretty good idea of how much time goes into preparing for a cycling expedition on this scale.
Spoiler alert, it's a lot of time! At the end of the blog, I've included a recent training week from my Strava which hopefully summarises my below rambling! Throughout, I've tried to use time duration to describe activities, as I appreciate cycling distance might not mean that much to some.
The typical week is broadly split into four types of cycle training:
Endurance ride. Riding a really long way (10-14 hours), quite slowly.
Tempo rides. Riding quite a long way (2-4 hours), quite quickly.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Riding short distances (1 hour) so fast that you think your lungs might explode, with little breaks between efforts to avoid death.
Recovery ride. Sweet, sweet recovery rides to the cake shop and back (1-2 hours).
Endurance ride (once a week). There is no getting away from it, if you are training to ride a bike a very long way (Across America, 185 KM every day, for 30 days - for example!), then you have to practice riding a bike a long way at relatively slow speed (15 mph). A typical week will contain one endurance ride, typically 200-300 KM in length. Such rides take about 10-14 hours in total, including breaks for food.
That's basically a full working day, pedalling a push bike about!
The calorie burn on these longer rides is around 10,000 calories in total. For reference, the average human generally needs about 2000-2500 calories daily, because the average human is sensible enough not to go on bike rides that last an entire day. Instead, they do normal things like go to the pub, or cinema, maybe a spot of shopping, that sort of thing... Such activities require far less energy, hence fewer calories are needed. Critical to achieving such long rides is 'fuelling', known to the normal people as 'eating and drinking'. If you fail to fuel correctly on an endurance ride, your body runs out of energy within a few hours and the ride ends because you pass out whilst riding along and end up in a roadside ditch. To avoid this, I spend an embarrassingly large proportion of my endurance rides downing Mars Bars, Haribo and Lucozade on petrol station forecourts whilst the normal people fill up their cars with petrol, on the way to the cinema. During the winter months, these rides commence in pre-dawn darkness and end in post-dusk darkness. You end up cycling through ALL the hours of daylight. Psychologically this can be tough, as it's a visual reminder of just how long you have been on the bike for. In fact, these long rides are as much about training the mind as the body. It's not safe to cycle with distractions such as headphones, so you have a learn to control your thoughts over a prolonged period. Unlike professional athletes, I have a day job that isn't cycling about. And so to avoid being sacked from this day job, I complete just one endurance ride a week - on the weekend. Weekdays are reserved for shorter 'tempo rides' which can be more easily (sort of!) structured around my work schedule.
Tempo rides (three times a week). By increasing the speed (17-20 mph) at which you ride, you can gain endurance fitness in a shorter time window. This is where tempo riding come in. Without wishing to bore anyone with all the science, this type of training is often also referred to as 'sweet spot' training. By upping the riding speed/tempo just enough, your body becomes more endurance capable without having to ride for 12 hours a day! They can't completely replace the mammoth day long rides as described above (no getting out of those!), but avoid you having to spend all day, every day riding a bike. The great news for me is that these rides can be squeezed in after/before work. I will typically get two or three of these rides done a week, at an average of 3 hours duration each. It means very early starts or late finishes, but the training time needs to be found somewhere.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) (once a week). The final little treat is HIIT, which always looks like the easy option on the weekly training schedule because it never lasts for more than an hour. Unfortunately, after about 10 mins of these workouts I feel like I might vomit up one of my lungs and I can't really breathe properly. Still, only 50 mins to go though...These sessions are essentially tempo rides on steroids, they are much more intense and focus more on increasing leg power. If you did such sessions daily, you would end up with thighs like (Olympic track cyclist) Chris Hoy; his thighs are 27 inches (what....!?). As funny as it would be to have them, I don't actually need 27 inch thighs; cross continent cyclists need endurance more than power. Hence I generally only do one such session a week, normally on a static bike indoors because they measure power output very accurately and I can really push myself.
Part of me is quite jealous of Chris Hoy and his massive thighs though!
Recovery ride (once a week). Saving the best until last, recovery rides. Alongside my daily rest day (on which zero cycling is performed), such rides enable the body to recover; they are very slow and gentle affairs (12-15 mph). Generally involving a cake shop somewhere, they give the legs a chance to recharge after the other more intense rides of the week. I normally combine these days with stretching/yoga, to further aid the recovery process. In addition to being refreshingly relaxing, recovery rides/rest days are a crucial part of training. This is when your body repairs itself and becomes stronger. If you ride hard 7 days a week, your body will never end up stronger. Instead, you would end up exhausted, injured and emotionally broken. There is some method to the madness, it's not just that I like cake.
But I do love cake.
And so to finish with the maths. 6 days a week of bike riding is the norm for me. But how does that look, in terms of total hours? On a weekly basis, I'm doing somewhere between 20-25 hours of training, the equivalent of a part time job. Unfortunately, unlike a part-time job, I don't get paid any money for all this pedalling about. And I have to fit it all in around my actual full-time job. This takes quite a lot of planning, or else I will end up losing my actual job! When you then throw friends and family time into the mix (and sleep!), it becomes quite the all-consuming commitment.
In better news, by sticking to my training plan I do get a bunch of cycle fitness, which will probably be more useful for my upcoming cycle across the USA. With an initial postponement in 2021 due to COVID, and then our attempt last year being cut short to get Dan medical assistance, I've now been in this routine for over 2 years. If I'm honest, at times it has been mentally tough to keep committed to the training regime. But there is no alternative, such expeditions are supposed to be gruelling and the training is part of that.
I feel like I have ridden the same cycle routes around London about billion times, I'm now very much looking forward to the expedition itself.
Less than four weeks to go!