Tuesday, June 7th was the third race of the 2011 Over the Hump MTB series. The race results had just been posted and I had yet to see where I stood after my hour+ effort. I was approached by a fellow racer and was asked, “How do I go faster on the flats?” At first I was a bit perplexed that someone was asking ME for advice since I felt my current fitness level put me at the wrong end of the fast scale, but then I was bit flattered that he sincerely wanted my opinion.
I told him that I was going to reveal the secret that will change his riding forever. It was simple. It was one word… one syllable… five letters. The secret was…
Many of us cyclists know that to get faster we need to train. Very simple, but far from easy. I went on to say that intervals were probably the best way for him to increase and sustain his speed on the flats, but there was a bit more to it than that.
I do want to say that I’m not a coach or an expert in the field of training athletes, but I do possess enough knowledge to be dangerous. There isn’t a single magic workout that a cyclist can do to make themselves the next biking phenomenon. Good genetics plays a big role in that, but following a solid training program can tap into the inner superstar in all of us.
Here’s my approach to getting faster:
- BIKE FIT – If you’re not aware of it, I am one of a team of bike fitters at Rock N’ Road Cyclery. It’s always been one of my pet peeves to see someone on the wrong size bike or a rider in an ill-fitting position on their bike. It detracts from the ride experience and you can be sure that the rider isn’t as efficient as they could be. Proper positioning increases comfort. Comfort translates to efficiency, speed, power, and a decrease in the chance for injury. You don’t have to be a professional rider to benefit from a bike fit.
- BIKE SETUP & MAINTENANCE – Is your suspension properly set up? How about the air pressure in your tires? What kind of tires are you using? Are your brakes properly adjusted? Is your shifting system properly adjusted? Are your wheels straight? Are your chainrings worn? Does your chain or cassette require replacement?Your bike may still work, but I guarantee that a well-maintained bike is a fast bike. It still amazes me what a rider (novice or experienced) is willing to put up with before they decide to address an issue with their bicycle.
- WEIGHT – A lightweight bike is a wonderful thing, but losing a few pounds off the midsection is a more effective and healthier way to lighten things up. Remember, it’s the sum total weight of man and machine that is in motion. It’s generally pretty expensive to drop a pound or two off a bike. That approach doesn’t make much sense if you’re 20 lb overweight.
- TRAINING – Just getting out there and riding on a regular basis will increase your fitness and will increase your speed. However, training is a lot like eating. You can eat all sorts of food and you’ll be able to survive, but a proper diet will do wonders for your overall health. So, you can get out there and just ride, but a proper training program will do wonders for getting you in better shape and ultimately faster.
So what exactly does one do for training? There are tons of resources on the Internet and in the bookstores. You can even pick the brains of your more experienced cycling acquaintances. Just understand that what works for one person may not be effective for another. Also, the training for an endurance race, a multi-day stage race, and a cross-country race will all be different so there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach that will cover everything. I understood this and I decided to consult a coach to develop a training schedule that would help me with cross-country events. Now that my hip has recovered from a pretty nasty crash, I’ll be getting back on that program.
I enlisted the help of Craig Hopps from Efficiency Coaching. I’m fairly self-motivated and just wanted a program that I could follow on my own. He drew out a program that had specific workouts based around heart rate. These workouts target speed, endurance and recovery. They aren’t about hammering it out every time I go on a ride. That was my approach in the past and I very quickly hit a plateau and overtrained. I found that with Craig’s plan I actually rode LESS and got faster! Go figure.
Let’s start with some of my basics. My resting heart rate is 55 bpm and my maximum is 200 bpm. The intensity of my workouts (A – D) is based around percentages of those figures.
[A] 140-148 bpm (60-65%) – Active Recovery HR Range
[B] 155-163 bpm (70-75%) – Base Aerobic HR Range
[C] 178-185 bpm (85-90%) – Climbing (Threshold) HR Range
[D] 185-193 bpm (90-95%) – D-Day (Lactic Tolerance) HR Range
Sunday [A] – Active Recovery Ride (Optional) – Easy 1 hour at the low end of [A]
Monday [C] – Sustained Climbing – 2×1 hour effort in the [C] range
Tuesday – Race Day!
Wednesday [A] – Active Recovery Ride (Optional) – Easy 1 hour at the low end of [A]
Thursday [D] – Intervals – 30 min warmup/6×1 min all out effort [D]/15 min cooldown at [A]
Friday [B] – Base Miles – 2-3 hrs at [B] range
Saturday [A]-[B] – Technical Skills – Low intensity bike handling day!
Total time on the bike: 7-10 hrs/week
So the secret wasn’t a secret at all. It’s simply effective training. Don’t mistake simple for easy. Far from it…there’s still plenty of work to do. I hope you take my tips and incorporate it into your goals as a cyclist.
And in case you were wondering… I finished 26th out of 37 riders. I have some training to do.