Training Tips for Double Centuries

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Short Biography of John Hughes

John started riding double centuries in in the 1970s. In 1979 he rode his first Paris to Brest to Paris, and has ridden P-B-P four times. John has crossed the U.S.A. three times with Lon Haldeman's Pacific - Atlantic - Cycling Tours (PAC Tours). He rode the Southern PAC Tour in 1988, the Ridge of the Rockies in 1991, and the Northern PAC Tour in 1993.

He has won Boston-Montreal-Boston and won Furnace Creek 508 twice. John has raced RAAM in 1994 and 1996 and plans to race again in 2000 in the over-50 division. When he's not racing, he's on the course crewing for a friend.

John is an active ultra cycling coach, coaching a dozen of cyclists training for RAAM, Furnace Creek, PAC Tours and other events. He is a USCF certified Sport Coach and a National Strength and Conditioning Association certified Personal Trainer.

Effective January 1, 1998, John Hughes will lead the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA) as Executive Director.

John Hughes' Pacific Crest Tour -- This Web Site has some great photos and stories of the 1997 Pacific Crest Tour which John organized.  It also has a nice table of stats on the 1998 Pacific Crest Tour. John has organized these tours every year since 1994.

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Training for Doubles
by John Hughes

When I started riding in the 70s, I'd get in shape for the Davis DC by just riding a lot of miles. Now, responsibilities limit my time and age constrains my volume — I've had to learn how to train effectively. In this article, I will discuss how I coach others to prepare for a double century and in the second article will discuss training for a fast double.

Training Principles

• Goal Setting: What are your key events for the year? Take time to identify these and then plan your training so that you peak for the event(s), rather than peaking a month early and then arriving at the event over-trained. You probably can't set PRs at doubles on successive weekends; decide which events are the most important.

• Overload: when you do a hard ride, your body says "Ouch, I'm not ready for this" and then, somewhat reluctantly, gets stronger. If you want to improve, you have to increase the stress on your body.

• Recovery: your body doesn't get stronger when you overload it, but only when you allow time to recover. Listen to the "Ouch" -- you rebuild tissue and gain strength only during rest days.

• Progression: what hurt last month is now kind of fun; your body is stimulated, but not overloaded. In order to continue getting stronger, you have to progressively increase the overload.

• Individual: we all have different bodies, psyches and goals and our training programs should be individual. You should not just do what the other riders are doing.

• Economy: the best training program is the one that achieves your goals with only the minimum amount of effort. Only do the miles you need to do in order to reach those goals.

• Specificity: Cross-training is great in the early season, but as you approach your main season, ride your bike.

• Intensity: your legs have slow twitch muscles, good for endurance, and fast twitch muscles for fast climbs The body's different muscles and metabolic systems cannot all be trained at the same cycling intensity. You need long, slow days and short, fast days.

• Fun: Training and riding are primarily for fun: enjoying the movement on the bike, looking at the scenery, talking to good friends.

Training Phases:

Effective training is divided into phases, each with a different purpose:

Building Your Base takes three to four months, during which you build endurance for long rides.
Intensity, lasting two to three months, is when you develop your speed for fast rides.
Peaking, four to six weeks, when your training becomes very event specific through long, fast rides.
Tapering for one to three weeks, when you store energy for the big event.
Racing, which may be one big event or last several months.
Off-Season, during which you recover mentally and physically.

You can use this framework -- progressive and increasingly specific overload -- to plan an active season of centuries, touring and doubles.

Building your base: endurance for long rides.

Over this three to four month period your volume gradually increases. Increase your total weekly miles by 5 - 10% per week and your long weekly ride by about the same factor. Ramping faster risks injury. To ride a double in May or June, you need to start training by February to avoid ramping too quickly.

You should do two endurance workouts each week; an endurance workout should be at least two hours long at a moderate pace. Two workouts will provide more overload and recovery than doing just one long ride on the weekend. Early in the season, you'll improve faster if you ride 50 to 70 miles on Saturday and 30 to 50 on Sunday, rather than grinding out a century in one day. Later in the phase, you'll ride better if you can ride 50 - 75 one day mid-week, get some recovery, and then ride 100 - 125 miles on Saturday.

In addition to the endurance workouts, you should do two or three shorter rides during the week. Use these rides to work on your form and technique: a smooth spin, a quiet upper body, a good aerodynamic position, etc. As a rule of thumb, ride at least half of your total miles during the week and less than half in one long weekend ride.

Don't worry about pace or intensity during this phase. Your goal is to build endurance.

You should do specific training to strengthen the core muscles in your abdomen, back and upper body that support and stabilize you on the bike. Do strength training to rebuild the muscle fibers in your legs. Complement your strength training with stretching and high cadence riding to maintain suppleness.

If you've put on a few pounds over the off-season, now is the time to trim down to your riding weight. It is hard to control your appetite once you start intensity training.

Intensity: speed for fast rides

During this phase you'll build the total volume very slowly (only 5 - 10% per month) while progressively increasing the intensity of your riding. Significantly increasing both the volume and the intensity risks over-training. When you were building your base, you were putting miles in the bank; intensity training starts to draw down your reserves a bit. This phase is usually two months or less.

Continue doing your long weekend and mid-week rides, to maintain your endurance. Increase the longest ride until you're riding about 150 miles. Riding just centuries in training and then jumping to a double is a sure way to a slow, painful second half of the double! During this phase, your training should become more specific. Ride on terrain and in conditions that are similar to your most important doubles.

Do a tempo ride each week; go out for a multi-hour ride with your pulse at the intensity you plan to ride during the event or events. Each week increase the length of the tempo rids.

Once a week you should do speed work with your pulse near your anaerobic threshold (AT). Warm up thoroughly, then climb a hill, do a time trial, or ride long intervals. (The second article will explain this in detail.) The other days should be easy or rest days to allow adequate recovery. Once a month, ride a time trial over the same course to gauge your fitness.

Peaking: long, fast rides

By the end of your intensity training you've built up your endurance until you have the stamina to ride a double century without too much suffering and you've developed aerobic speed over shorter distances. During your peaking phase you maintain the endurance and develop that speed over longer rides.

This phase is usually short, a month or so to sharpen you for the key double(s) in your season. Keep the weekly mileage the same, or even slightly less, than during your intensity training. Every other weekend, do an endurance ride of 135 to 150 miles. Try to maintain a steady pace and concentrate on minimizing off-the-bike time. On the alternate weekends, ride fast centuries. Ride these faster than you plan to ride the big double(s). During the week, continue to do an AT ride, a tempo ride of several hours, and a couple of recovery rides.

Tapering: storing energy for the big event.

Just before your big double, you should taper down your mileage. It's too late to train effectively; don't risk coming into the event(s) tired. The week before a big event, go out for short, easy rides; stay loose. Eat plenty of carbohydrates and hydrate fully so that your body is ready.

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Training for Fast Double Centuries
by John Hughes

Speed hurts! How fast do you want to go?

In the first article, I described how to train for a one-day event: the general principles and the training phases. What if you want to set a PR? Let's look at how to train for a fast double.

Energy Systems

When we do a long ride, we use three different energy systems and we have to train each energy system differently. The systems are:

• fat-burning: at low to moderate intensities, we burn primarily stored body fat for fuel. Our endurance depends on how much body fat we have (usually not a problem!), our supply of the enzymes necessary to metabolize the fat, and our supply of mitochondria - where the enzymes metabolize the fat -within our muscles. We develop enzymes and mitochondria through long, slower rides.
• glycogen-burning: at a moderate, conversational pace, we're riding aerobically and metabolizing both body fat and glycogen from stores in our muscles and liver. A well-conditioned rider can store roughly 400 - 500 grams (1,600 to 2,000 calories) of glycogen. His or her endurance is limited by this store of fuel as well as the supply of the specific enzymes necessary to metabolize glycogen aerobically. The supply of enzymes can be increased through aerobic training and, of course, the store of glycogen can be replenished by consuming carbohydrates while riding.
• anaerobic glycogen-burning: at high intensities, when we are breathing hard, we aren't taking in enough oxygen to metabolize fat and glycogen aerobically. The fat-burning metabolism shuts down and we shift to anaerobic metabolism of glycogen. This produces lactic acid as a by-product - we all know that lactic burn in our legs.

We use a different mix of the energy systems depending on the length of the event and the pace at which we ride the event:

During high-intensity road-races and time-trials we use a mix of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of glycogen.
During fast doubles we use primarily aerobic metabolism of glycogen supplemented with metabolism of stored body fat.
During slower tours we rely primarily on metabolism of body fat, supplemented with aerobic metabolism of glycogen on the climbs and when riding fast.

Riding a Fast Double

To ride a fast double, you need to:
1. maximize the amount of time you spend riding in your threshold aerobic zone - the zone before you go anaerobic. Be careful not to go anaerobic - you'll have to recover and that will slow you down - and don't drop into the easy aerobic pace where you're burning body fat. You need to learn to ride in a fairly narrow zone of intensity. (Because you're primarily burning glycogen, you also need to eat a lot of carbohydrates during the event.)
2. maximize the amount of sustainable power you can produce without going anaerobic.

You can train to maximize both the time you spend in the threshold zone and your power output in that zone. How? By specific training based on your anaerobic threshold.

Your anaerobic threshold (AT) is the point at which your body switches from a primarily aerobic metabolism to a primarily anaerobic metabolism. You start to breath hard and your legs burn. You can estimate your AT by riding a time trial (either flat or a hill climb) that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Wear your pulse monitor, ride absolutely as hard as you can, and note your average pulse. Your average pulse for the time trial will be very close to your AT. (If you test yourself in a competitive time trial, rather than one in training, your average pulse will be about 5% above your AT.)

Now that you know your AT, you can pay attention to which energy systems you are using during rides and, thus, to which energy system you are training:

• Fat burning: heart rate less than 75% of your AT. Recovery rides and the easy portion of longer rides.
• Aerobic: heart rate between 75 and 90% of your AT. To ride a fast one-day event, you should keep your pulse in this zone, maximizing the amount of time in the upper part of the zone.
• Anaerobic: heart rate more than 95% of your AT
(If your HR is 90 - 95% of your AT, you are starting to go anaerobic and starting to shut down the aerobic metabolism, but not riding hard enough to get the benefits of anaerobic training. Learn to slow down or speed up, depending on your training goals for that ride.)

Even if you plan to ride primarily in the aerobic zone, you need to train in all three zones. Training in your fat-burning zone will increase the mitochondria and the blood supply to your muscles. Training anaerobically will increase your oxygen uptake and raise your anaerobic threshold so that you can go faster without going anaerobic.

Progressive Speed Workouts

To develop sustainable power and speed for a one-day event, you can do three different types of workouts. All of these workouts are stressful. The majority of your riding time each week should be in endurance rides and recovery rides in the lower aerobic and fat-burning zones. After you have built a good base of early season miles, mix in two days a week of:

Threshold workouts at 85-90% of your AT. These workouts will increase your muscle endurance, your ability to sustain a high pace for hours. Early in the season, start with two or three cruise intervals of 10 to 20 minutes in this zone, with full recovery between each interval. Gradually increase the number and duration of the intervals. Later in the season, go for tempo rides of two to three hours in this zone, building up to a century or more at this pace.

Sub-anaerobic workouts at 95-100% of your AT. These workouts will increase your AT, i.e., allow you to go faster without going anaerobic. If you could sustain 150 bpm for 30 minutes, after several months of this training, your AT could increase to 155 or 160 bpm. After at least a month of threshold workouts (85-90% of AT), you are ready to do extensive intervals. Begin with two intervals of 8 to 10 minutes at 95 - 100% of your AT, with full recovery in between each interval. Gradually increase the duration and number of the intervals. Time trials are another excellent type of sub-AT training.

Super-anaerobic workouts at more than 100% of your AT. After several months of sub-AT training, you'll stop improving. The extensive intervals won't overload your body. Move on to more pain: intensive intervals at 100 - 105% of your AT. These intervals are shorter, 3 to 5 minutes are typical, and are done in sets of three or more without full recovery between intervals. Generally, the recovery period is half the work interval, e.g., 4 minutes hard with 2 minutes recovery.

These workouts help you prepare for that fast double in two ways. The threshold workouts increase your specific muscle endurance, the power that you can sustain for hours. The sub- and super-anaerobic workouts increase your anaerobic threshold, so that you can produce more power without going anaerobic. If you are training for a specific event, you should do these workouts in similar conditions and terrain to that event.

Your training should culminate with race pace training. If you plan to ride a 12 hour double century, then practice riding 6 hour centuries. Learn what that pace feels like and learn to sustain it, not going slower or faster.

When you go for the PR, discipline yourself. If you go anaerobic on the first big climb, you'll have to slow down later to recover. Try to stay below 90% of your AT as much as possible . . . but not much below there!

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