Training Plans For a Cross Country Bike Ride
How do you prepare your body for the rigors of riding across the US? Riding across America isn't a sprint, it's more like a marathon, or many, many marathons day after day. I believe one of the most important parts of your training is hardening your mind and body to suffer the rigors of a long-distance ride. In this post I will explain how I created my training plan. Other posts will share some of the specific workouts that I performed.
One note upfront, I would recommend you start riding with you gear early on in your training plan. The weight will really change the handling of your bike (as well as make hills seem much steeper!). Get used to riding with your gear, it will pay dividends later on.
Once you've decided when you are going to ride across the country you should develop a training plan. The training plan serves several purposes: (1) It helps keep you disciplined when you don't feel like riding. (2) It ensures that you get the right types of training before starting your ride. (3) It helps to keep you from getting burned out due to overtraining before the ride.
What Types of Training Did I Do?
Long distance rides: These rides can start with 20 miles and work up to 70 or more. These rides get your body used to sitting on your bike for long periods. They also build the base endurance that you will need. You should try to maintain a comfortable pace during the ride. These are great rides to do with groups.
Interval Rides: There is a growing body of research that shows the value of intense intervals. I remember reading that intervals were a great way to compress a much longer ride into an hour. You will feel pain, but your body needs that stress to strengthen. Intervals workouts formed the basis of much of my training. In other posts I have provided some of the interval workouts that I performed.
Tempo Rides: These rides involves at least 20 minutes of riding at a slower cadence, but with high resistance. Think of these workouts as weight training for your legs. I found it best to force my self to stay right below lactate threshold (the point when my legs starting burning). The goal of these workouts is to build power in your legs. I started with 20 minutes of tempo riding and worked up to over an hour. I would also warm up and cool down for about 10-15 min each.
Hill Climbs: While I don't consider hill climbing a fourth category, I found that hills were a great way to mix up my training and really push my body. I had the luxury of living in Denver, CO and could easily head over to the rocky mountains for a morning ride. I would also schedule workouts where I would do repeats up a three-quarter mile hill heading up to Cherry Creek Reservoir in Denver. If you have some hills nearby, make sure you include them in your plan.
How Do I Create A Training Plan?
A simple spreadsheet or calendar is one of the best ways to write out your training plan (make sure you write it out). When filling in your calendar you want to ensure that you are completing the three different types of exercises. I would usually ride three times a week. Sometimes I would ride four times, but this was rare. Each week I would try and incorporate one workout for each type of training. Each week would build of the previous in terms of mileage and intensity. I used a spreadsheet and wrote out workouts for each week. As I finished that workout I would put an 'X' in that box. This helped me track my progress. The spreadsheet also motivated me to go out and ride when I didn't feel like it.
When Should I Start Training?
I started serious training about three months before the cross country bike ride. I realize that this is probably later that many start training, but it worked for me. I'm young and stay in pretty good shape, so my body was able to quickly respond to the training. Find a length of time that fits your situation. The other danger is starting training too early. If you are forcing yourself to ride 3-4 time a week for the prior 9 months, by the time you get to your ride, you will likely sucked all the joy out of cycling. A training plan maps out your goals and lets you see how much time you need to take to get there.
An Example Training Plan
On of the most helpful resources when creating my training plan was Chris Carmichael's "Comeback Training Plan." I first downloaded it at www.bicycling.com and have reposted it here. He provides specific workout advice and lists two different training plans.