How do you train for a 2,500 mile solo unsupported bicycle race?
I’ve never done one before, so in all honesty I don’t really know. What I do know is that I love riding my bike, and I believe that as long as I’m doing that I’m at least on the right track. Now, what I do know has led to me a basic plan. A lot of people have asked me what training I’m doing, and I thought I would share this loose plan in order to ‘get fit’ for this race. There are a few parts to this…
I’ve always believed that this is fundamental to training for anything, and as long as you get this right, training regularly and maintaining consistency, you will go a long way. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a core outline of training available to me.
- Daily Commute: Riding 45km every day as a minimum through the week has been the core for my bike fitness for years. Ok, I’ve only been riding my bike 5 years, but this has been the basis for me losing 5 stone in weight!
- G!RO CHAINGANG: Once a week, a short high intensity ride with mates followed by a short high intensity session at the pub! I’m still not quite sure if I undo everything I put into the ride while drinking beer and grazing on crisps & nuts right after.
- Weekend café rides: My favourite part of the week. A social ride from G!RO Cycles in Esher every Sunday all year round. Although it’s not always what could be described as a training ride, getting out there and enjoying riding my bike is what its all about. Obviously there’s always the sections where you sprint for the sign, or a section with a bit of full gas just for fun helps a lot, and adds to the enjoyment.
- Big rides on Saturday: These don’t always happen, but taking the odd Saturday out to head to the coast, find new lanes or just an old favourite are a treat. I’m lucky that I’ve got various cycling buddies that are foolish enough to come with me on these rides through the winter, and means that I can get a really good bit of distance in the legs along with some great mates. I’ve helped work with G!RO Cycles to do a monthly G!RO 100 (miles), a big ride 130-190 km depending on the route that has helped me find even more mates to ride big distances with
2. Mixing it up
Ok, so as not to contradict consistency, what I mean has a few layers:
- First, keep the training varied in order to keep it interesting. I have the basic outline in order to do this, but it is just that – I often add extra KMs in the evening through the week, more so now there is much more light in the evening. 45km can easily be extended to 80-100km. On top of this I like to add in some higher intensity rides into the commute. This basically means sprinting from and to every set of traffic lights. I won’t ever jump a red light, as it’s another chance to put in a sprint effort!
- Secondly, a little bit of cross training is good. I’ve no real idea if running is actually any good for cycling fitness, but I occasionally add a run in through the week to break up the train journey to or from work. If I’m honest, I don’t really like running, and my body tells me that it doesn’t after each short run, but I do get a buzz out of it.
- One thing that I’m looking to do next in this area is around strengthening my core and improving my stretching through physio & Pilates, as well as keeping the basic stretching in order. With the amount of training coming up, injury prevention is going to be critical.
Diet & Weight Loss
So I think this is one part of my training that will give me the most benefits all round, especially when travelling through the various mountainous regions of Europe, but is also the one area that I struggle with the most.
At the start of the year, weighing in at 87kg I set a target weight of 75kg. For the start of the Transcontinental race, or at least the start of the mountains – i.e. going in a little heavy so I had something to fuel getting there. Still, a big goal.
It has been a real struggle for me to get there. In January, I quit drinking, stopped all sweets & snacks, and within 3 weeks was down to 84kg, which was the best part of Christmas burnt off. Then I went to the US with work, started drinking and really fell of the wagon with my diet. Food is full of sugar there! I managed to recover somewhat in February, getting down to 82kg at one point, but I keep bouncing back to the 84/85kg mark.
The yo-yo is a struggle, and definitely means I have to reassess my target weight for 29th July, but as we get nearer and pressure builds I believe I’m going to get closer to this. I also think that as we get closer to the summer months, riding more will be easier. As long as I don’t eat more, losing weight will happen naturally. Don’t get me wrong, I will be adjusting my diet more and more. I’m no dietitian, but have a good idea of where I go wrong every day, and have a good idea of what I need to do to fix this. I will look at posting a weekly food diary at some point, just to give you all an idea of where I go wrong
4. General Health & Wellbeing
I think this is something that when I started out on this training path I hadn’t considered. The closer the TCR gets, I think this is going to be key for me to get to the start line. Here are a few things that I’ve started to try, and are in some ways really quite natural to me:
- Work life balance: I started this year at work at 100 miles an hour. This probably feeds into many of the other points here, but it’s important to get this right. Training time, eating right, managing stress and whether I am happy or feeling down depends on this. I nearly forgot how to switch off from work when I leave the office, and in some ways not getting this right was affecting the work I was doing as well.
- Attitude: I’ve always had a very laid back and outwardly relaxed attitude. I don’t like to panic or get stressed, and I’m rarely productive when I do. I’ve been able to spot when this starts to happen, and being able to control it. When I can’t, I find that riding a bike really helps me clear my head.
- Illness: I’ve been reasonably fortunate not to get too many issues. I’ve been quite cautious when colds or minor bugs have come along and rested when they have. I’m currently writing this with tonsillitis and haven’t ridden my bike in over a week which is really frustrating.
- Rest…! : I’m really bad at this, and is possibly why I’m sick right now (absolutely nothing to do with all the excess at the Tour of Flanders..). Rest is one thing that I’m going to be baking more into my training schedule.
- Enjoying Riding: I said it many times; this is the most important part for me. If I’m not enjoying riding my bike, then we’re in trouble!
5. Endurance Rides – Learning
You’re probably wondering why this is so far down on the list? I don’t really know how much distance training is needed, or how valuable it really is to my fitness, but I do know it is required.
I’ve been doing ‘100’ mile rides, or there abouts, pretty much every weekend since November, but regular training rides in excess of 200/250km I’m not convinced will really add much benefit physically and potentially do harm. They also take up a considerable amount of time!
All said, I’m relatively confident that #1. Consistency will carry me most of the way to Çanakkale from a fitness perspective. I guess there may be a few more things I may be able to do to help make me more competitive…
I’ve already done a couple huge rides (see last blog post here: TCR Training Ride), but they were more to test me and my kit, and ultimately learn stuff. That’s the key with the big, multi day rides – making it a learning experience.
6. Events – Goals
As part of my training, I’ve always found it important to set markers down, and have shorter term goals that get you to the main goal. I’ve to a busy schedule already planned out to this end, and have been executing it for some time now. You can see my training log on Strava
- Easter: 432km to my mums – Done
- Heart of England Audax – 300km – 16th April
- London – Paris – London – May Bank Holiday weekend
- London Revolution – 14th & 15th May
- TBC Wiggle Dragon Ride 300km – 5th June
- TBC Maratona dles Dolomites – 3rd July
- To Geraardsbergen – 28th July
I’m also planning a multi day ride through France, possibly on May’s other bank holiday weekend, as well as looking to add in another Audax weekend most likely in June.
What did I miss?
I expect there are many things that I could be doing, but I believe I’ve got all the things I should be doing covered (feel free to point out anything!). I love my numbers and stats, and Strava has some useful info to help track fitness, and also show how its crashed in 1 week off the bike…
I do have a power meter, but only use it occasionally, due to issues with the battery, so training to power is not something I’m planning.
Reading through the past and present riders blogs has reassured me of what I’m doing, but I’m well aware that what works for one, might not work for another. Also, it might appear that I’m calm and relaxed about my training on the outside, but it is a constant concern on the inside, and I’m always on the lookout for tips and advice.
5 thoughts on “Training for the Transcontinental Race”
There’s very little material out there on training for ultra-distance racing (that isn’t running). Even RAAM training material is limited. I think you’re absolutely right though: consistency and the right mindset will get us most of the way, with some big simulation rides to gain specific experience.
Simulation rides was the phrase I was looking for! Not sure if you’ve seen this page, but a great resource on all things Transcontinental: http://www.hambrosia.co.uk/furtherreading.html
Just read about your adventures, and the journey getting too being an ultra distance Cyclist, I to like found the great kick you get from pushing the bounds of your body, but I’m not in your league,well done and I look forward to reading more adventure..
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Hi Matt, I’m looking at doing TCR in the future, probably as a pair. I can’t find much literature on this. I was wondering, have you changed how you train in the intervening 6 years?
Hi, I think there are a few similar posts on blogs out there, and a great e-book by Jesse Carlson and Sarah Hammond called ‘touring with a sense of urgency’ that has some good tips on training for an ultra. Highly recommended.
Personally, what I do – the core training and structure hasn’t changed that much, but I do much less, take it less seriously, and try to focus on enjoying it as much as possible. I’m not close to being as competitive as I have in the past, but knowledge and experience does help me keep up! Best of luck!