“Less is more,” is a common buzz phrase in endurance sports today. It refers to the trend of training less but focusing on intensity and quality rather than on quantity. This less is more philosophy is hard to work into a beginner program because for a beginner the less training is a lot. If you look at elite triathletes, the ones who train more are training 30 to 40 hours a week and in some cases even more. The ones who train less and focus on intensity are training 15, 20 hours a week. There are very few people who can work full time jobs, have some sort of life and train 20 hours a week, yet there are still people who have jobs and families who train 30 hours a week. These people are the exceptions. They have motivation and physical gifts that allow them to go all day without breaking down. The rest of us need to take a half way approach to training.
The St. Catharines Cycling Club, that I often train with, has an informal training system that allows for this type of approach to work. Tuesday nights there is a 40km road race with different start groups for different abilities. Thursday there is a 15km time trial. Saturday there is a 80-100km hilly ride and Sunday a long 110-130km flat ride. All this fits around a regular job and provides enough intensity and mileage to maintain a high level of cycling fitness. The up and comers and pro racers in the club do more of course. Guys will show up to the training race with 100 km in there legs or they will do a long hilly ride on Thursday before or instead of the time trial. Some easy rides on the off days make this is a complete cycling program. There can be arguments that this is too much intensity and not enough mileage but when you don’t have hours a day to train getting out and exactly simulating race conditions is the way to get the fitness required to be competitive.
The most important thing in triathlon is endurance. A big part of endurance is mental. It is knowing you can go the distance and knowing how to pace yourself for the distance. You learn your pacing by simulating race conditions in training. You need to ride at the speed you will race at when you train. You don’t do it all the time but you need to know what it will feel like on race day. You also need to go beyond yourself in training. You need to push yourself to go faster than you can go in race conditions. This way when race day comes you will know when you are going too hard and need to back off.
Cardiovascular fitness also gives you endurance. The better your body delivers oxygen the better you will be able to handle endurance sports. You get this from training. For those of us who are forced to take the half way approach to training we need to build cardiovascular fitness with as little time investment as possible. The way to do this is through interval training. Interval training is a mix of higher intensity work and lower intensity recover periods.
The first thing to say is that interval training is hard on your body and you need to have some base fitness before you start doing it. The second thing is for the hard efforts don’t need to go 100 per cent. You pace should be at a level where you need to push, dig a little, to finish the high intensity duration at your chosen pace.
The simplest way to structure an interval workout is one minute intervals. Many road racers structure there training around doing one minute intervals. One minute very fast and then one minute of recovery spinning. I was told very early on in my club racer career to do one minute intervals. You warm up, do 10 one minute intervals, ride easy for a while and then do it again. One minute intervals give you speed. To be successful in the time trial you also need to do longer efforts, 5 to 20 minutes at or above race pace with appropriate recovery in between efforts.
My preferred way to do interval training is hills. Planning a training ride to include several climbs will give you the interval effect. When you do hills you can’t help but work hard and the down hills and flat sections give you the recovery period. Doing hill reps is another form of interval training. You simply go up and down your selected hill a set number of times. I have found that it is easy to over do it when training hill reps. It is important to realize that you don’t need to push as hard as you can up the hill, just riding the hill will give you the intensity you need to improve fitness.
Fartlek training is another way to do intervals. Fartlek is unstructured interval training. You push the hill or sprint or throw down a time trial effort. You gage the speed and duration of your efforts by how you feel. I believe this is the best way to train for intensity.
Mileage is the key to improving cycling for beginners. However, if you only have an hour and a half to do your bike training you need to up the intensity and make that hour and a half really count. You also need to be careful though. It is possible to go out on the bike for an hour and bang the intensity so high that it would be hard to walk for the rest of the week. You don’t want to do this. Save something for running and swimming. Just because you are doing intervals, it doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself. You just need to push enough so that at the end of your hard effort you need the recovery period.