How much training do I need to do and when should I do it?
As to when – preferably before the ride!
In truth, if you are an active cyclist and you are taking your time you might get away without any training at all, providing you are prepared to suffer a bit on the way.
If you are intending to take less time or have decided on a route across one of the wider parts of the country (my route was over 500 miles) you will need to do some training, unless you are already pretty fit.
What sort of training should I do?
You can use your training to improve your speed and/or your endurance. Probably the most pertinent will be endurance but you may wish to improve your speed if you are hoping to cover a lot of miles a day and want as long as possible to recover before you start again the next day.
The basic principle of any training is to stress the body so that it adapts to the new pressures being put on it. There are two main factors here, firstly you have to push the body harder than you normally do in order to achieve any gains and secondly you need to give the body time to recover and rebuild itself after each stress session. If you do not do both of these things you will not get full value out of your training.
In terms of improving your endurance you will need to concentrate on increasing the duration and frequency of your rides at a given level of effort. To up your speed you will need to increase the intensity of your riding using intervals to push your body’s capacity to process oxygen and nutrients more rapidly.
Your main concentration will be endurance training. We are not pros so I’m am not going to get technical about heart rates and power outputs and red blood cell concentrations and lactate levels and so on. There is great benefit to be had from these things but not for the purpose of touring from one end of the country to the other (unless you are going for a record – but then you should know what you are doing in terms of training already [and won’t be reading this book!]. I rode with a heart rate monitor on the ride (and during training), mainly to make sure I didn’t over cook it and suffer later on.
Fundamentally, to increase endurance you have to ride further than you normally do. Very simple (but not necessarily easy). The secret is to build up by no more than 10-15% per week. That way your body can cope with the adaptation without becoming exhausted.
As an example, let’s say you had a target ride of 100 mile taking place on 1st June. Back track through the calendar 8 weeks to the beginning of April. This is where training, ideally, should begin. Your training goal will be to be able to comfortably (see below) ride 75% of the target distance (75 miles) as one long ride by the time of the event. If at the beginning you can comfortably ride 35 miles then your first week target would be 40 mile. Then ramp up by about 5 mile a week until by the time of the event you are covering a distance of 75 miles.
These training distances are for one long ride a week. However, to increase your fitness you really need to be riding twice this distance in total every week. And you should ride at least four times a week. So, for example, in the final week of training you might be looking to ride one 75 miler and three 25 milers.
A simple chart would look like this:
Perhaps the best way to get the other rides in is to bike to work if you are able. This is a great way of stealing training time and you can use the getting home sessions, when it doesn’t matter if you get too hot and sweaty, to do some interval work to improve your speed and cardiac response if you need to.
When training you should try to replicate the conditions you will face on your end to end as much as possible. This means cycling on the types of roads you are planning to use, riding in all weather, covering the same sort of terrain, using the same sort of rest periods and eating the same kinds of foods.
Aside from getting you fit, training is also important in ironing out any problems you might encounter that could put an end to your ride. If you are not used to riding for long periods you might start to notice sores and pains that you have not encountered before. These might be caused by your riding position or technique and training is a good opportunity to make small adjustments to try and correct any issues. Personally I started to develop lower back pain and sciatica during training. With a bit of experimentation I discovered it was caused by driving too hard up very steep hills whilst sat in the saddle. Or probably, more correctly, not having good technique when cycling up hill and hence stressing the muscles in the lower back causing pain and inflammation, which led to the sciatica. Unfortunately many of the Audax routes I was using for training seemed to relish in 20% + hills so I had to learn to stand in the saddle, which I always find tiring over any distance.
Training plan example
As an example, I have set out below how I planned my training for my first end to end cycle, from John O’Groats to Lands End. The distances may seem extreme but it is purely an illustration of how a plan works.
I had devised a main road route and needed to ride about 150 miles a day to complete the tour in six days. I started training about 6 months before the event so I had lots of time to build up my base miles.
During training I commuted to work on my bike which amounted to about 110 miles a week. This was a great base to be starting from because it meant my body was used to riding several days in a row. All I had to do was get it to a state where it could do about 7 times the distance each day.
My plan was to build up to being comfortably able to cover a 100 mile distance by the time I got to the intensive training period, 8 weeks before the ride. I planned one long ride each weekend starting at about 50 miles and slowly building up to the 100 miles. From there I would ramp up until I could complete a 150 mile ride two days consecutively, with a recovery week 5 weeks before the event.
I would also extend my commutes to work slightly each week to increase my base miles and get my body used to cycling longer on a daily basis.
The final 150 mile ride was planned for the weekend before the event. In the week leading up to the event I commuted to work on the Monday as a recovery ride from the 150, nothing on the Tuesday, a recovery commute on Wednesday, nothing on Thursday and then a recovery 20 mile ride on the Friday from Wick to John O’Groats. All with the aim of being fresh and perky, raring to go at 6 O’clock Saturday morning.
What really happened was somewhat different. I never did increase my commuting mileage because, let’s face it, getting to work is always a mad panic. In fact, with one thing and another, I didn’t manage to commute everyday of every week. And making up a couple of lost commutes at the weekend as well as a long ride just doesn’t happen. And of course not all the long rides happened. And when they did they were normally a bit longer than anticipated because I was trying to catch up lost rides (and if you’re going to ride 85 miles you might as well make it a 100).
Not training on the same terrain worked out well of me because I went from hard to easy (relatively speaking). If you come from a flat area and are planning a sight seeing tour through Cornwall, Devon, the Cotwolds, the Lakes and the smaller roads of Scotland then you need to find some hills to train in. Or failing that, ride with your back brake half on.
No matter what you have planned it is inevitable that life will get in the way. Ultimately you will have to do what you can and then try and polish your fitness on the ride.
In 2013 I rode end to end again, the proper way round from Land’s End to John O’Groats and my training was very different to the above plan. I had trained for the Audax London-Edinburgh-London (LEL) ride (875 miles so about the same as a short end to end) but with only 5 days to complete it). My training had consisted of commuting 3 days a week, a couple of 80 miles rides and then an audax super randoneur series (200km, 300km, 400km and 600km). Ten days before LEL I was knock over by a lorry and damaged the ligaments in my knee. As a result I failed to complete the ride, hence the end to end ride a couple of months later. So my training for the end to end was the training I had already done plus the 500 miles I managed on the event. This was a lot of mileage but you will appreciate it was quite a different approach. I was able to do it that way becasue I already knew my body was capable of doing the distances so it was just a case of getting the miles in using up as few weekends as possible.
In 2014 I rode LEJOG again and had an even more radical training plan. I basically relied on my existing fitness, although the only riding I had done since my LEJOG the previous year was commuting 3 days a week to work. I did manage a couple of 100 mile + rides a little before the ride, one of which was longer than my longest planned day, just to give myself a psychological boost. I took it easy on the ride and managed ok, feeling stronger (but more tired) at the end than the beginning. The benefit I had was the knowledge that I had completed the ride twice before and I knew what to expect. Ultimately long distance riding is as much about the head as it is the legs.
As a cautionary tales though, I did no training (other than commuting to work) for my coast to coast ride and suffered for it all along the way. It made the trip far less enjoyable than it could have been and, ultimately, may have resulted in me terminating the ride early (not cycling all the way home, as planned).
As a final word on training, make sure you agree your training plan with your partner, if you have one. Remember that they will probably be taking on a lot of extra household burdens, plus possibly ferrying you around to events. That’s not to mention having to listen to your constant barrage of moans and groans (lows) and excited speculations and hypothesizing about the ride itself (highs).
If you are lucky enough to have a partner by the end of the venture a little thanks would not go amiss.