If a direction such as “Just ride 50km on Saturday” sounds familiar, you’re very likely not reaching your full potential…
Let’s start with some basics which I assume you will all agree with…
1. Endurance athletes must be fat burning machines.
2. Teaching our bodies to burn carbs is not a good idea because human reserves run out very quickly – in less than 30 minutes if we are training or racing hard.
3. To build a fat burning machine we must first spend a few months training [mostly] going long and slow because this teaches our bodies to burn the right fuel.
4. When building our long slow sessions, they should increase by ONLY 10% each weekend.
5. Each training session should have a distinct purpose and contain two variables. Not one! Not three! Typically a set duration at a set intensity (or intervals meaning two set intensities at two durations).
So… that said….
Here’s a scenario based upon distance…
In week one, you set out on a long ride and cover 80km and it takes 3 hours. You sit in the middle of a pack of riders and feel great. Accepting that the next ride increases by 10% you’re aiming at 88km in week two. Buoyed by your previous performance, you plant yourself on the front of the pack and set off riding, however your sleep wasn’t great, work has been crazy, and there’s a killer headwind. You complete the 88km in 3h40m and you spent a lot of it at a higher intensity than required. Although the distance grew by 10% your actual workout was 20% longer than prescribed PLUS you worked too hard and no doubt felt like throwing your bike in a bush when you got home. This is how athletes get injured and turn up for the long run the next day exhausted and demotivated.
The alternative…. your programme asks for 120 minutes of riding in Zone 2 (two variables) in week one. You complete the ride, checking your heart rate sporadically to ensure you’re completing the workout correctly. Week two would therefore be 132 minutes at Zone 2. No matter what your rest, fueling and stress levels have been, you merely have to check your HR to ensure the correct intensity and so on as the weeks go by. It’s controlled, and you will always feel good about completing the workout PROVIDING YOU DO NOT ADD A THIRD VARIABLE! For example: “I only did 90km i was expecting more…”. By keeping to two variables, the workout will always be the same. Distance cares not for weather, rest and calories.
Which brings me to the group aspect…
20 people set off on a ride together and have the exact same workout – 3 hours at Zone 2. They will all turn at 90 minutes, and they will all arrive home together. Cute huh? What’s more.. they all did the same workout. Yes of course, some athletes will cover more ground in 90 minutes than others, because our bodies, experience and fitness are all different.
In his ‘Triangle of Change’ Dave Brailsford (check it out, it’s fantastic) explains that the third corner is adopting a psychological approach to training. Put simply…. this means thinking about what you are doing! Simply turning up for swims, rides and runs and blindly following or ticking off the minutes will not achieve change unless you know what every workout is for and how to gauge if you succeeded or failed.