Friday, 15 March 2013

So You Entered Your First Sportive Part 3 - Getting over those pesky hills!

This post is intended as a follow up to my previous posts which contained the Pixies thoughts on lessons learnt over the the last 12 months or so in respect of training for that first sportive, long charity ride or maybe the first attempt at riding a century (whether that is 100 kilometers or 100 miles). You probably don't need to read those posts for this one to make sense, however in case you haven't read them, they can be found by searching the March 2013 blog archive.

I should also say that it is entirely possible to complete that first sportive without doing any strength training or any of the type of training that follows in this post. However, my experience has shown that sportives are a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience if a well rounded training programme is utilised in the preparation for the event.   
So, we have made the decision to supplement our regular training rides with one or two trips to the gym each week and we have developed legs to rival Chris Hoy or Mark Cavendish, the time has come to turn that strength and power into performance on the bike.

Before we consider specific training techniques, lets take a look at Time Trialling and, how in some circumstances, Sportive riders may find it beneficial to train as if they were preparing to compete in a time trial.      

Time trials are strength intensive,  they require the competitor to have the ability to ride a high (or large) gear over a long period of time. Similarly in sportive we sometimes need to put in efforts that also require us to be able to produce high levels of power for a period of time e.g. bridging (or catching) up to a breakaway group of riders to take advantage of the protection from the wind that the group will offer, catching back up to a group after getting dropped and riding up long, gradual ascents.Power is required to accelerate quickly and strength is necessary to maintain the effort until the group is caught or the hill is crested.

All of these scenarios are easier to complete if as a sportive rider we have some ability to deploy a sustained increase in power for a period of time or distance. The effort is gradual and constant as we ride the knife-edge between blowing up or taking it too easy.

For many people reading this post, in all probability their main goal will be completing their first long sportive or perhaps they will be simply trying to make their second or third sportive a little less painful? It is entirely possible that they may decide that all this strength work and the further work that is required to properly take advantage of time spent in the gym to be worthless. For a sportive that is held on a calm day over flat terrain, they would be right. However, as anyone who has completed a UK based sportive will already know, such perfect conditions never exist. Hills will be a feature somewhere along the route and for most of the time in the UK, there will be a headwind for at least part of the route - Welcome to the world of sportives!

It was the frequency with which relatively steep hills appear on the average UK sportive route that encouraged me to seek out training methods that would potentially make getting up the hills easier and less traumatic. One of the draw backs for the unprepared (trained) rider of having to ride up a number of steep hills on a sportive route, is that the hills require the expenditure of increased amounts of energy and this in turn can have a negative impact on how comfortable (or not) the rider feels for the remainder of the route. If the route is particularly hilly and a succession of hills are encountered within a short period of time, the energy sapping effect of the hills can become cumulative and can have a potentially dramatic effect on the ability to finish the route.

Hills are inevitable, therefore it makes sense to consider training that equips the body with the strength and power to tackle them. 

Quantity V Quality   
As I explained in my earlier posts, one of my biggest problems is that I simply don't have the time available to commit to the "base miles" approach of preparing for a long distance ride. With the help of Simon Vincent from Total Cycling Performance, the trainers at my local gym and through plenty of reading and internet research I discovered that with the right mental attitude and the right type of training beforehand, it is possible to prepare for and complete those first long distance rides without committing to endless hours in the saddle.      

Doing a few intense interval sessions of 25-35 miles each, a few aerobic workouts and at least one 50+ mile ride each week, along with a recovery ride or two, will sufficiently prepare you for rides as long as 100 miles. By focusing on the quality of your workouts and getting the most out of your time on the bike, you will potentially achieve greater fitness than the cyclist who does 300-miles a weeks with no intensity training.

In pursuing the completion of your first sportive, long charity ride or simply riding that first 100 kilometers or 100 miles, it is not necessary to complete a single ride at your target distance during training (obviously you can if you want, and mentally it will probably easier if you go into the event knowing you have completed at least one ride at the event distance) All I'm saying is that with the right training content, it's not a ride breaker if you don't. I know this because I have tried it and proved it to be possible. 

I must at this point restate one of the points from my first post on this subject. If you are at all unsure about whether this type of training is right for you or you want to get the very best results from the time you will be investing in your training, seek professional advice from a coach or fitness instructor that understands cycling and the use of interval training for cycling. It will be time and money well spent if you want to achieve the best result you are capable of on the day of your ride(s)   
Interval Workouts
I introduced  regular interval training into my training programme last summer and to be honest, I found them (and still find them to be) hard work and at times just downright painful to point of nausea. What I didn't really understand then, that I do now, is that it is the interval training sessions that convert the strength developed in the gym into power on the bike.   

If you are new to interval sessions or haven't done any cycling specific interval training for some time it is best to start off with short intervals at maximum or near maximum intensity of between 10-30 seconds duration. The sessions will still be very hard on the muscles and cardio system, but they will be tolerable.
Interval sessions can be conducted either on the bike out on the road, on the bike indoors utilising a turbo trainer or indoors using an indoor trainer such as a Wattbike. 

The following are descriptions of intervals that I use regularly and which work for me. They are not the only interval sessions I use, but they are the ones that I initially found to be the easiest to understand/remember and actually use on a regular basis. Hopefully they will illustrate how interval training can be deployed enough for a newcomer to try it out and then maybe seek further guidance from a professional coach.

Speed Intervals
Speed intervals develop the speed at which the legs rotate, whilst also producing power and can help develop a smoother pedaling action at high cadences. Speed intervals should be completed by sprinting in a moderate gear ratio.

Warm up for 10-20 minutes of spinning in an easy gear, whilst also gradually increasing your heart rate. Ride 12 x 30 seconds at maximum effort in a moderate gear that allows a cadence of 115+ rpm whilst still making you work. Spin in an easy gear for 1 minute between intervals. After completing the 30 intervals cool down with 15-20 minutes of spinning in an easy gear.

Power Intervals
Power intervals develop power in the legs by focusing on pushing against resistance. The intensity is the same as in speed intervals, in that they are completed at maximum or near maximum intensity. The difference is that power intervals are completed in the bikes highest gear or against the indoor trainers highest resistance setting.

Warm up for 10-20 minutes spinning an easy gear, whilst also gradually increasing your heart rate. Ride 20 x 10 seconds at maximum effort in the bikes highest gear (maximum effort is the effort that you will be able to sustain for all 20 intervals). Spin an easy gear for 1 minute between intervals. Cool down for 15-20 minutes by spinning an easy gear at a relatively high cadence.

Short Hill Intervals                  
Short hill intervals are performed outside on the bike. They are maximum intensity hill climbs, performed out of the saddle and on a gradient on a steep gradient of perhaps 5-8 percent (or a hill steep enough to make you work at maximum effort)

Warm up for 15-20 minutes spinning an easy gear, whilst gradually increasing your heart rate to a point where you are working quite hard but not at maximum or near maximum heart rate. Ride 15 x 20 seconds at maximum effort ascending your chosen hill (I would try to utilise a gear that is slightly higher than you would normally use to ensure work at maximum effort). Coast down the hill for 1 minute between intervals, whilst also spinning your legs in an easy gear. Cool down for 15-20 minutes riding on easy terrain in a gear that allows you to spin your legs freely without undue effort.  

All of these interval sessions can be further developed if regularly deployed by either gradually increasing the number of reps in each set or increasing the time spent in each rep. Their is a sensible maximum by which each of these can be extended though, before they just become to painful to endure. If you try interval training and see some benefit from it, as always my advice would then be to seek help from a professional trainer to devise a properly tailored training plan - Have I stressed that enough in this series of posts? :)      

Each of the above workouts, require the same outright effort (everything you are able to muster) however they each produce slight differences in performance benefits and fitness on the bike. Speed intervals will develop your ability to pedal smoothly and with power at high cadence rates. Power intervals will simply help convert strength developed in the gym into maximum power through the pedals and ability to tackle long gradual gradients. Short hill intervals will will help to develop and enhance ability to tackle short steep hills.

Warning! Interval training is hard work, it will stretch you and it will hurt if you are doing it at the correct intensity. They will however make climbing hills, bridging gaps to the next group of cyclists or simply finishing the sportive easier to achieve.

Don't take my word for it though, try doing two of the three intervals I have described in this post each week (utilise a different day for each chosen interval workout) for a period of 6-8 weeks and then ride a course where you have a known time from a ride prior to commencing interval training. My guess is that you will cover the ground faster and you will be finding hills a less daunting proposition.      

These intervals should hurt and hurt a lot! The potential gain in power is so great, however, that it is worth considering going through the pain during training to make completing that sportive or long ride a potentially easier proposition. They work for me and to be honest the results I have seen justify the short term pain each week.

The Pixie doesn't profess to be an expert, nor does he ever expect to be an expert. The Pixie is however very curious and as a result tends to research everything he does in an attempt to understand what works and sometimes even why it works. These thoughts are simply the Pixie documenting what has worked for him in the hope that somebody else can gain from his pain and experience, and that they do not have to do quite as much research as he has done. 

As always thanks for taking the time to pop along and read the ramblings of the Pixie and he'd be pleased to see you pop back again some time in the future. 

Right, that's enough writing about training, I'd better go and actually do some training.   

Dha weles diwettha


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