How to plan the perfect base training ride
Deciding distance, layering, fuelling, monitoring effort, and carrying spares
by Mike Cotty
It’s often overlooked but the reality is that the foundations of fitness can only really be built upon once a solid base has been established from which to work from.
As we touched upon during our tips on creating a winter training plan the importance of base, or endurance, training should not be underestimated.
As with most things in life there’s seldom a short cut to get to where you want to be and in the case of base training that equates to precious hours on the bike. So let’s take a look at how to get the most from your longer rides.
[part title="The perfect base ride - deciding distance"]
Before togging up and heading out the door it’s important to take a few basics into consideration. How long are the events that you plan to tackle come spring and summer next year and how much time can you realistically dedicate to your training whilst still maintaining a healthy work-life-ride balance? With this identified it’s now time to start planning your base training.
Whatever your goal, it’s important to increase the length of your endurance rides slowly over several weeks. Whilst it can be tempting to try and grind out a much longer ride than you’re used to straight away, in the long run gradually building your base will help give you more consistent form with fewer ups and downs. So, if you’re training for long sportives, say anything from between 70 and 100 miles, then you’ll want to be confident that come the springtime you’ve got a good base to put the finishing touches on as the season approaches. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit on the road week-in-week-out all winter riding 70 to 100 miles each time.
Another point to consider is to work with time rather than distance, increasing ride duration in half hour increments. The ever changing elements that we have to deal with throughout the winter, including temperature fluctuations, rain and worst of all the nemesis of every cyclist, wind, can easily add half and hour or more to your 50 mile ride from one week to the next should they conspire against you all at once. You always know where you stand with time. Whatever you decide, consistency is the key. Regular riding with gradual incremental increases in time is what’ll see you riding stronger and more consistently come the new season.
[part title="The perfect base ride - monitoring effort with heart rate and power"]
Monitoring effort with heart rate and power
Keeping tabs on your effort during a ride is an important factor to gauge your level of exertion, freshness, fatigue and to gain a general understanding of your body - including its capabilities and limitations. There’s no point in planning a four hour ride and then trying to smash it out at a pace you’re already uncomfortable with after 20 minutes. In general you should feel like you’re working on the bike but are still comfortable in conversation during such rides.
Regular use of a heart-rate monitor will quickly give an indication of where your heart-rate sits at a given level of exertion. Remember that we’re all different so if you’re riding in a group and your heart-rate is higher or lower than those around you don’t feel that you have to change your pace to match their ticker. It’s a good idea to perform a basic fitness test at the early stages of your winter training so that you can set your heart-rate zones and you know what limits you should try and work between for each part of your training.
Unlike heart-rate, which can drift depending on the elements (e.g. a nagging headwind) or how tired you are, power is a much more consistent measure of performance - literally the amount of force that you’re applying to the pedals and measured in Watts. Whilst it may be more consistent there are some limitations. To get the most from training with power you need to be prepared to analyse the data (or have someone analyse it for you) so that you can ensure you’re utilising it to full effect. Power units are also a lot more expensive than heart-rate monitors so don’t get carried away unless you have to. Whatever you choose never overlook your own built in monitoring system called ‘feel’. Get to know your body and you’ll be able to tell when to ease off or push on without a little box on your arm or handlebars telling you.
[part title="The perfect base ride - fuelling"]
Monitoring effort with fuelling
Having the energy to complete your base training is as important as filling your car up with petrol before a long drive, and it’s not just during the ride that’s important. Pre and post ride nutrition play an important part and can certainly be the difference between feeling fit or fatigued. Try and get into a routine, not just for your training but also for your food and hydration. Make notes if you have a particular high or low whilst riding so you can either replicate the good times or modify your nutrition to rectify a dip in energy levels.
Fuelling for an endurance ride can generally be broken down into three parts.
1) The night before. You don’t need to gorge yourself but ensure you eat well. Keep it simple - pasta, rice or sweet potato with little lean protein such as fish or chicken should stand you in good stead.
2) During the ride. Eat little an often, getting into a habit of nibbling every 30 minutes will keep your energy and blood sugar levels from crashing unexpectedly. Energy bars and gels are designed for this but don’t overlook things like bananas and dried fruits too. If you find it hard to process solid food then look at replacing some of your calories and carbohydrates with an energy drink. Top up electrolyte levels to help prevent cramp through sweat loss.
3) Post ride. Prepare a little snack or recovery drink before you go out and have it ready for as soon as you return. You have about a 20 minute window when you’re body is most receptive to starting the recovery process so try and consume this within that time. You’ll certainly notice a difference to your recovery. The aim is to replace your glycogen stores so that you’re ready for your next ride. Cereal, fruit smoothies, bagels and specialist recovery drinks all play an important part in the recovery process.
[part title="The perfect base ride - clothing"]
Get your clothing right and the winter shouldn’t be a time to be feared, get it wrong and a long ride can turn into a session of survival. Conditions can quickly change, especially with a serious drop in temperature should you get caught out in the rain. The fact that you’ll likely be further from home as your rides get longer means it’s crucial to make sure you’re adequately dressed for the occasion.
Layering garments will mean that you have more options to regulate your body temperature depending on the conditions throughout the ride, as opposed to just one thick layer. Don’t underestimate the function of a quality base-layer. Whilst an old t-shirt may appear to do the job it’ll soon be saturated and cold with sweat, a base-layer is designed to quickly wick sweat from your body and transfer it away from your skin keeping you dry and comfortable.
Look for a mid-layer that is breathable yet offers protection where needed, maybe in the form of wind-stopper panelling on the chest and arms. A full-zip and high collar are also welcome attributes to consider. A lightweight gilet can be used to give a final layer of protection, easily removed and stowed in a rear pocket should you become too warm. As the temperature drops tights may replace shorts and leg-warmers with shoe covers and gloves protecting extremities the closer the mercury gets to zero.
One item that’s worth it’s weight in gold (actually it’s worth a lot more than that) is a lightweight rain cape. Look for something that’s seam-sealed to prevent water getting through any stitching and easily packable. Gone are the days of a rain-jacket looking like a cagoule. Clothing technology nowadays means you can have a waterproof that’ll fend off the elements without the bulk or weight of the past.
[part title="The perfect base ride - spares"]
Now there’s nothing worse than planning your training and dedicating precious time only to get half way around your loop before being plagued by a mechanical. Whilst you can’t fix everything on the fly provided your equipment is regularly maintained you should be able to overcome most adversities, thus preventing an emergency phone call to a significant other or, at worst, a very long walk home. With road conditions generally worse in the winter, awash with gravel and surface water, don’t leave the house without the essentials.
Keep pockets free for food, mobile phone, money and any extra clothing. Use a saddle bag to stow essential spares including a couple of inner tubes, tyre levers and multi-tool (with chain splitter). Wrap inner tubes in a plastic bag to prevent anything else from chaffing on the tubes during riding and throw a couple of glueless patches in just in case. A spare inner gear cable takes up little space and can be a real life saver as is a good pump - fitted to the bike so you don’t forget it - you’ll only realise your mistake when it’s too late! Don’t forget that an energy bar wrapper can be used to great effect to line the inside of a tyre should you gash a sidewall and, although not a spare, remember to carry some for of identification with an emergency contact number.
Good luck with your winter miles! If you have any questions, get in touch @cottydale, and I'll do my best to help. You can find me on Google+, too.