There are libraries full of books about exercise and physiology and training and preparing for cycle racing – most of them written by people far more worthy and learned that me! It is also fair to say that there is also some utter tosh out there as well, especially in this internet age. So it’s only fair that I get to add my 2 penny’s worth as well. I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves whether this is all tosh or not! Do please note that I am NOT a qualified coach, trainer, physiologist or anything similar. But I do have a good few years training and racing under my belt and offer the following in the hope that it helps get your started…
Find what works for you
If you are serious about your training then I really, really recommend that you read what you can on the subject. You will start to form your own views on things and once you start trying a few ideas, you will find out what works for you and what doesn’t. I used to worry when people said this. How will I know if x, y or z is working for me or not? Well. If I try something and I can’t do the session or I don’t have the motivation to stick at it or I just plain hate the whole idea – then it doesn’t work for me! It’s as (un)scientific as that!
I figure that there are many ways to skin the “get fit for racing” cat. You just need to get out there and do some of them. If you hate the training and so don’t do any – well you aren’t going to get fitter! But if you can really get stuck into some hard training, then you will get better. Simples!
The is a lot of scientific stuff out there these days (and I am a huge fan myself, using a power meter and heart rate meter to support my training) but the bottom line is that at some point you have to get out there and put in the hard yards.
So further reading first. If I had to recommend just one book then it would be The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. This book takes you through the fundamentals of how training works and provides the best guide that I have seen anywhere about how to structure your racing season and plan out your year. Some of Friel’s views are a bit “way out” and “American”, but on the whole it’s an excellent book.
If you have a power meter or if you are thinking about getting one, or are just vaguely interested in training with power then you MUST read Training and Racing with a Power Meter by Hunter and Allen. It is THE definitive work on training with power.
My final “shout out” goes to Time-Crunched Cyclist by Chris Charmichael (famous for allegedly being Armstrong’s trainer) which contains some interesting tips on training to compete with a limited amount of time. Let’s face it, most of us are trying to fit this cycling lark around work, family, studies and whatever else life throws at us. On my return to racing a few years back, I was doing about 6 hours a week. I probably do nearer twice that now – but it is possible to get stuck into road racing on limited hours.
How training works
Concept 1 – Super-compensation.
Basically, you go out and do some damage to your body. Then you rest and you body repairs itself. But the neat thing is that your body builds you back a little bit stronger and fitter than you were before. This is called super-compensation (basically the body over compensates for the stress caused by the training). Then you go out again and do some more damage. When you rest up, your body repairs itself again. And once again, it makes you a little bit stronger and fitter than you were before. And so it goes. Over time, little by little you gradually get stronger and stronger; fitter and fitter…
Concept 2 – Specificity
After experiencing a training stress, your body will repair you and build up to better cope with that training stress next time. So if you go out and drill it at time trial pace all day, then you’ll get better at riding at time trial pace. And if you practice max effort sprints, then you’ll get better at max effort sprints. So it pays to understand the demands of the event(s) that you want to do well in – and then train to improve those aspects (we’ll come to this later).
Concept 3 – Life ain’t fair
When it comes to sporting performance, all men (or women) are NOT born equal. Some people are born with huge athletic potential, some people are born with a physiology that adapts/responds brilliantly to training, some people seem to be able to inhabit a world of suffering beyond imagination. To reach the very top, these people still need to work/train really hard – but some of us just don’t have the physiology that gives us the option to compete in the Parthenon of these sporting gods.
However, don’t despair boys and girls. There are plenty of opportunities to compete at different levels of road racing. So whether your aim is to finish top 5 in a 4th cat event; win promotion to Elite category or win the Tour De France – there is a challenge out there for you! And given time, you may be surprised at how far you can actually progress. Until you give it a go and dedicate some time and effort to your training, you really won’t know how far you can go.