Riding your bike more generally makes you faster, but what happens when you just can’t ride more? This is the quandary facing most adult cyclists. There just isn’t enough time in the day to train more when you have to work all day and get the kids to soccer practice. So how are masters cyclists finishing — let alone achieving great results at — big events like gran fondos, gravel grinders and mountain bike marathons? The answer lies in health, pacing, preparation and appropriate (fun!) training.
BUILD YOUR BASE
While riding slowly to build your aerobic fitness is important, it’s also assuming a baseline of being a healthy human. Far too many masters or age-group athletes push their training load (intensity and/or volume) too hard and end up sick, injured, demotivated and/or otherwise compromised on race day. Striving to be healthy, resilient and motivated at the start line means you’ve built a healthy foundation of training and recovery and are ready to perform and endure big race days.
No matter what level of fitness and ability you have, you can maximize your endurance results by pacing appropriately for your event. We have all seen (if not also been) the rabbit who gets out in front early only to experience a somewhat cliche fade later in the race. In many of these big adventurous races, the pacing also helps you stay alert to hazards that could cause crashes or mechanicals and stay on course, avoiding wasting time due to getting lost.
To learn to pace, make sure you use the rides you have, especially your weekend long rides, to refine your pacing. Pay attention to how you’re breathing and how your perceived exertion changes on steep climbs and, perhaps, how this corresponds to heart rate or power. Being conservative in the first half of the race and being careful with efforts that get you breathing as you would in a 20-minute test or a cyclocross race would be too much for a long event.
While you may not have the time or energy to train more, you can certainly practice gameplay by riding your race bike, using your race gear, wearing your race kit and employing all the fueling and accessories you require for race day. So much goes wrong when athletes try new things just prior to — or worse — on race day. Spending time in advance working on your bike setup, getting key accessories in place and using that gear pays dividends for whatever training time you have.
This seems like a no-brainer, but be wary of traps that prevent you from preparing — like doing a local road group ride instead of getting in race-specific training on gravel or a long hilly ride on the road. When you’re short on time, prioritize these “gameplay” rides, especially as you get within a few months of the big event.
REMEMBER TRAINING IS THE FUN PART
Staying healthy, pacing and gameplay, go a long way toward optimizing training time and victoriously complete races on very minimal training. When we take on a big, crazy event we presumably really like bike riding. So while it may be tempting to get on your bike and pedal as hard as you can for as long as you can, know that you do not need to be hurting all the time. You can test your equipment, hone your technical skills and build many aspects of fitness with more comfortable endurance-paced rides and specific intervals a couple of times a week. Try to find one or two days to do the intervals and then use the other days to build your endurance, gameplay your race-gear and spend time having fun with friends!