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Training advice

andyfev's picture

By andyfev - Posted on 06 January 2014

So, after a few years of disappointing race results I've finally managed to negotiate some time for training, with conditions of course, with the minister for fun and finance.

Having 2 very young kids, 20 months and 5 months, there is very little time available to pursue our own interests. I really enjoy events but hate being underprepared and getting physically smashed (kinda takes the fun out of it). The final straw was The Highland Fling, which I won't delve into other than it took me to breaking point and beyond.

What I'd be super keen to learn is how best to spend my limited time on the bike? So, what did I get approved?

A few nights a week, small children sleeping dependent (so not always guaranteed), for half an hour to an hour riding around our local streets (I'll be using the MTB with fast rolling tyres). Riding at the weekend isn't garuanteed but I'll be pushing for it most weeks. Even then it'll be limited to a couple of hours.

So, what training would get me fitter and enable me to be more competitive, still at the not so pointy end of the race mind you.

I was thinking intervals but not entirely sure how to build an interval program, how to know when to increase the load, when to rest etc. Any advice or pointers to training literature greatly received!!

Now I need to get some night lights and pray the kids sleep at night Eye-wink

Lach's picture

.. but the concept seems to fit what you are looking for, so might be worth a look?

Antsonline's picture

As some of you know, I do some coaching - as a bit of a side-show to my other life (office / rider / fiance), the issue is that I just dont have enough ohurs in the day to any more coaching, and unfortunately, the economics of it all just dont add up to make it a viable income as a full time job.

In the last month alone, I have had to tell 5 people that I just cant give them the attention they deserve / would want - even if they did pay.

2 things about this really strike me.

1/. MTB clubs dont really act in the same way as road clubs do. MTBA (amongst other issues they have on their long agenda) need to consider this. In almost 100% of road clubs there would be a coach who could advise on basic training plans, yet there are very very few MTB coaches like that - pretty much none of them would work for free. MTB courses are focused on skills and technique, not fitness - so they really dont help either.

2/. I might put together a series of 'mini-blogs' which will help people understand how to pull together a rough plan of their racing, and how to get themselves ready for it - whether they have 5 or 15hrs a week to train.

If people are interested in this, then I'd be happy to put some guidelines together.

marto71's picture

oh yes please, i need all the advice i can get at present, just getting back onto the bike seriously after almost 4 years of maybe 2 rides a year, no racing, no exercise, and im over 40 lol

mike95's picture

With such a limited amount of time, & busy life with work & young children, I would spend some time on a indoor trainer. Not much fun, & no where near as stimulating as riding outdoors but good gains to be had if you have the discipline.

ahein's picture

Antsonline if you could post some mini blogs on training tips it would be much appreciated. I am going to start entering races this year and need all the help I can get given I have 2 young kids and limited training time as well

Flying Scotsman's picture

Yes please to some training guidelines. I was always under the impression that if you learned the skills and techniques the fitness will come itself but you really need to be out there for a good 15k ride 3 times a week atleast. Time is always a killer for me as it is for you too. I have a supportive wife but I can't justify spending my 1 day off a week away from my 2 kids as well as my wife it's just not fair on them. If I can do something to improve my fitness from home without buying gym gear I'm all for it!!

Dicko's picture


I must say, i have been very lucky to have had the support of Ant's advice over the last 12 - 18 mths.

The one thing i have learnt (to some extent from Ant) is not all about the coach it is how you prioritise your own time and the determination and persistence you have to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

Just to set the scene, I have a wife, 3 kids, between 3 and 9, I live in Avalon, and have a minimum 1 hr 15min bus ride each way to work each day. ( i choose not to commute on the bike due to my own perceived views on the lack of safety on the roads). On top of this, i also commute(fly) 2 days a week interstate each week for work.

I guess the point is, we are all in the same boat - time poor, and it is how we prioritise our time that makes the difference.

Not all situations are the same, but the only time I have for training is between 5 and 9 (5 to 7:30 ish) on weekdays. On the weekend i maybe able to get away with an extra 1 or 2 hrs depending on family commitments and what the race calendar looks like.

What we (my coach and I) have done, is work out what is possible and prioritise the time to get the results.

Results, well that maybe just setting a goal to get 3, 1 hr mtb rides in a week, or focussing on a particular annual local event or club race. Its setting a goal, and having the persistence to stick to it that makes the difference.

The one thing we all have in common is that there is only 24hrs in the day. So work out which part of that 24hrs is yours and prioritise it accordingly.

i am sure Ant can then give some very useful suggestions on what to do with this time

jp's picture

Well Dicko you're a great example of what can be achieved by prioritising and using your time well.

I think the first step is to decide what's important to you. If it's winning a race, then you need to work very hard. If it's just improving your time a bit then you can mix a bit of training with some fun rides. So I guess I'm agreeing with Dicko and saying set your goals first.

I also had the opportunity to get some training advice from Anthony last year (at the Fling Training weekend), I put it into practise and got my best result ever in the Fling. I am fortunate in that I can train up to 12hours a week, but all of that is done in the mornings and I'm always at my office desk by 8:30am. I learned that if you structure your training, and you're prepared to push yourself (at times it was very painful) you will get stronger and faster, no doubt. I'll leave it to Anthony to explain how!

chrischris's picture

I have young kids too. The answer is lights + a REALLY good rear light. Not some cheap chinese blinky LED, but a blinding one. My Cygolite rear flasher is awesome - other brands are great too.

So, after finding myself in similar circumstances, I did a lot of reading. The below is what I simplified for myself.

3 sessions a week.

1) Intervals. 10min warm up. 10 x 30sec flat out, 10 x 30sec slow rest. 10 min cool down.
2) FTP. 8 min warm up. 2 min at 90-95%. 5 min slow. 3x5min high cadence (about 80% of your max HR) with 5min slow between. (Don't stop pedalling in the 'slow' phases'. 10min cool down.
3) 2hr+ nice weekend ride. No pushing too hard.

These training sessions are very simplified, but it increased my cardio, muscles, lactic acid drainage. See Ants for more credible info!
After about 3 months of this, I had improved dramatically, but found the sessions incredibly boring so gave up. My base level fitness however hasn't dropped too much. I seem to have found a 'plateau' where I'm happy.

Finally - some safety notes about riding on the roads at night.
1) Invest is a good quality rear flashy. (or 2)
2) When you hold your hand out to indicate, drivers can't see your hand. Assume they can't see you.

andyfev's picture

Thanks to all for the advice. I agree with all said in that setting my goals is probably the most important step. For me, being fitter and healthy is more important than race speed. What I want from my training is the ability to do events at my pace and without cramping, having enough energy to enjoy technical single track and being able to have a smile on my face afterwards. I also want to be more "true" to myself as I know I have a reasonably ok level of technical skills and could be soooo much quicker with a solid fitness base to support it.

The mini blogs would be great Ants, thanks. Anything will help Eye-wink

The real life examples you all portray, especially Dicko and Chris, gives an insight into the reality of everyone's situation. Quite right, identifying where in the day I can spare time is key. I think that after 9pm is the only realistic option for me. Easier done in the summer months but quite a motivational challenge during the winter months.

Any advice on good road lights? The roads I'll be using are quite low speed suburban roads (poorly lit in some areas) that carry one or two cars at this time of night... That said, better to be seen than...

I'll read up on that link too, thanks Lach.

hawkeye's picture

I have some strong views about that book and training system.

I had a copy of time crunched cyclist. A load of BS.

Given the author claimed at one stage to have been Lances coach through all his doping-fuelled TdF victories, when it was clearly Dr Michele Ferrari, that should give you some idea of Chris Carmichael's connectedness to reality.

If I've still got it you can have it but I think I tossed it after 1) finding it didn't work then reading in Tyler Hamilton's book that 2) Lance had little to do with him 3) he was more of a cheerleader than a coach and 4) viewed as a bit of a goose.

If you're over 40 it doesn't allow enough recovery time and many will end up burying themselves in a deep dark overtraining hole in a few weeks. As I almost did.

Joe Friel and Mark Fenner speak much more sense IMO.

obmal's picture

ahh the deep dark overtraining hole.. easy to fall into.. and even worse when your stuck yo-yoing between those other two holes of overeating and over"hydrating"...

Discodan's picture

Aside from what he did or didn't do with Lance he certainly knows a lot more about training than you or I. I did note in Lance's book he mentioned carmichael several times so there's definitely a real connection there

I have the book and used it for training when I was travelling a lot and relying on hotel gyms. It's pretty good and provides a nice structure. There's no golden rules on the best structure and you have to be able to adapt it to life.

To my mind if you're looking to use a interval type program the most important things are:
- have a structured program that builds over time and suits your available time
- stick to it
- do it hard, it's meant to be unpleasant

Carmichael's program works fine in that context, I'll PM you a couple of tables (the real meant of the program) so you can have a look as see if it suits.

Chitts's picture

Without commenting on the quality of the book or the advice, if I recall correctly, Lance, Carmichael Training Systems, and GU all have equity stakes that make recommendations somewhat questionable. The first edition, for example, makes numerous recommendations to consume GU rather than "energy gels" or "electrolyte drinks". I for one find this kind of thing a tad annoying, but that is just a personal perspective.

hawkeye's picture

The connection is this:

Drug doctor Ferrari was Lances coach.

Ferrari was a known doping doctor and people connected with him were being required to explain.

Lance needed another name to put out there to gain plausible deniability.

Carmichael needed a name client. They'd had some connection during Lances j7nior days.

Everybody's self interest was served well by the arrangements.

chrischris's picture

The three articles that helped me the most are the following. (Three part series)

This is what I simplified into my previous post about my simple training.
These pdf files might help Andy!

hawkeye's picture

I found Fenner's program published in AMB for 100km races to be excellent. I don't follow it 100% but the stuff about HR zones, setting out your week, and upping the intensity while cutting back a little on total volume as you get closer to the event to be spot on.

His advice for the week before the event has also worked really well for me.

The main adjustment I made to the program was to take on board Joe Friel's advice for cyclists over 40 and make the recovery week every third week instead of every fourth.

That keeps me out of overtraining and really helped accelerate my fitness gains which had been plateaued for some time.

Antsonline's picture

Theres no such thing as overtraining, just under-recovering.

ps's picture

Carmichael was the US Olympic road coach when Lance graduated from the junior US team to the senior team so he does have credentials and has run a training business for a long time. All the evidence points to Carmichael being one of the people who first introduced Lance into doping and that was way before Lance was based in Europe and got an introduction to Ferrari. Anyway thats probably enough of a thread hijack.

Andy, I don't think the time crunched strategy is a good place to start a training plan. Its primary objective is to point out that for experienced cyclists its possible to reduce the total hours yet achieve the same results if you increase the intensity. For someone starting a training program from a low base a slower more gradual build should be safer and still provide reasonable benefits.

I was in your shoes a few years ago and did a fair bit of reading to try and understand the same questions your asking. The short answer is that any of the reputable plans will work to start with so use the ones from Fenner. They are a solid starting point. Each person will respond and adapt differently so don't be afraid of listening to your body if you need a day off as all sorts of external factors influence how you feel and recover from each training session. The bottom line is that doing any good plan properly is better than not training so just get started.

Brian's picture

I found, one big plus for having a training plan is you knew what you were doing in advance. This meant you're half way there because you've scheduled it into your day. If you are limited with time and you don't schedule it then you will find other things get in the way. It also means your family know what to expect in terms of your time on the bike.

andyfev's picture

Thanks Paul and Brian for the advice. I think you're quite right in that having a scheduled plan in place is a good place to start giving good visibility to my wife as to what to expect.

Paul, I think your comments regarding listening to my body is also great advice. After all, even though I'm trying to create a baseline of fitness I also want to enjoy the rides not make them become a chore.

Edit: having read the literature from both Fenner and Carmichael I think there is merit with both approaches. For me, I think I'll adopt a diluted version of the Fenner strategy but also utilise Carmichaels approach to climbing repeats and power intervals. A combination of both will give me focus to a training plan. Thanks Lach, Discodan (Danny) and Chrischris (Chris) for these pieces of literature.

I've set my first goal too. Aiming to ride the Rocky Trail Grand Prix at Awaba on March 1. Goal is to ride 42-43 minute laps (assuming red loop and team event). Training won't start until end of January as we're off to QLD next week for dedicated family time. Fingers crossed I can achieve my goal Eye-wink

hawkeye's picture

Andy if you want a copy of Fenner's 100km program shoot me a PM. It may be a better fit with regard to your goals and available time than the one from Enduro Magazine linked to above, which from memory is directed more at 24hr solo racing.

The Enduro articles are very good but the program does involve a big time commitment - which us as it should be for such a demanding event.

The AMB articles this program was published as have more modest requirements that I find work quite well with my work and family commitments.

The detailed race nutrition component piece in the series was an "Aha!" moment when I first tried it out on a long ride and was a bit of breakthrough information for me. And The advice ps gave me following on from it really helped with applying it for myself as an -ahem- more senior athlete.

No obligation but the info is there if you want it.

Flynny's picture

I find riding, any type of riding, for about 5 hrs a week makes a huge difference. Over that it follows the law of diminishing returns. Doing more will see improvement but I find they are not as vast.

If you can scrape out 1hr a day doing 2 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 2 days off. With the first day on each segment being the hard (higher intensity) day you'll find big improvements over doing nothing.
The days off can include shorter low intensity recovery rides, which will help but depending on how time poor you are can just be total. rest days

If you are doing enduro type races making 1 day a longer ride will help with endurance

A bit of core strength and flexibility work thrown in goes a long way to.

James Wilson has a good website full of interesting articles and off bike training resources and tip to do at night when the precious ones are asleep

Flynny's picture


indoor trainer. if you are really time poor but can grab an 45min/1hr here or there jumping on an indoor trainer one a week can help.

Using training dvds like spinnervals
or sufferfest
can help keep it interesting and make sure you are making the most of your limited time.

obmal's picture

I agree, there's not a lot of gain beyond a good solid 4 to 5 hours of structure verses 8 to 10 hours of just struggling through pushing out some K's..

My weekly commute is an example of 200 odd junk kilometers with 4k of climbing and just hanging in there with enough recovery time to do it all again next week, with no real gains in overall strength over a long period. But if I was to take it to the next level of 300+ K's a week.. well then that's a completely different kettle of fish.

andyfev's picture

Thanks Flynny and Obmal for your advice. I like the concept of 2 days on 1day rest as it will maximise the week and give variety to the training days too.

Thanks for the training material, Hawkeye. I'm keen to arm myself with knowledge before hitting bike don't wanna waste my time doing the wrong training.

Edit: I do actually own an indoor trainer, which I bought for when we had our first born. It's still new in the box Eye-wink

andyfev's picture

Due to other commitments I am unable to make the Rocky trail GP on March 1, so my goal has switched focus to the Capital Punishment 50km. Got 6 weeks to condition from a very blank canvas Eye-wink

The new goal: Beat the time of the average 50km CP rider of 2013, which was 3hrs 5 mins and 30 seconds. Thank you to all for the training advice now the ball is in my court. Been reading plenty of literature from training programs to the institute of sport on nutrition and fitness. I'm pretty motivated to get fit and change my "unhealthy" lifestyle.

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