Most people will need to undertake specific training in order to complete a multi-day cycle tour. Cycling for several hours on consecutive days requires strength and fitness. Only a few people will be able to ride a cycle tour comfortably without any training.
The essence of training is to push yourself hard, after which the body adapts and becomes stronger. It takes time to build strength and it is during the rest periods that the gains are made! If rest periods are too long, fitness will decline again. If the rests are insufficient after an extreme training load, recovery is incomplete, and over-training may be a problem.
Studies have found that 3 to 4 training sessions a week is about the optimum. On the other hand, less than one training session a week is probably not very effective. Professional cyclists probably have fewer commitments than most of us! Two sessions a week is probably about all most of us have time for!
The intensity level of a training session is an important factor. However if you are still suffering several days after a training session – you are probably overdoing it!
In order to create the right balance of training and make sure that you are focused it is helpful to follow a training schedule in order to prepare for your cycle tour. A training schedule should be realistic and set obtainable goals.
It should also work around your lifestyle and work/family commitments. For example, if you have a holiday planned in the middle of your training schedule it may be worth scheduling a reduction in your training to coincide with the holiday.
Because you will be riding long distances on consecutive days (it is not unusual to ride around 100 miles a day on a cycle tour), endurance training is necessary for a cycle tour such as London to Edinburgh.
Endurance training involves working at a level which you can maintain indefinitely. Typically you would be working at between around 70% and 80% of your maximum heart rate, though this is a very approximate guide.
Heart rate is not the only measure of work done by your body but it is a relatively easy one to measure. Heart rate monitors are not expensive and can be integrated into a cycle computer that will measure your speed and distance cycled. If you have not got one, then I would recommend you buy one before you begin your training.
The most rudimentary way to work out your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. Accordingly, the maximum heart rate for a 35 year old person would be 185 beats per minute (BPM). Endurance training would involve cycling between 130 BPM and 150 BPM. You can also explore more sophisticated ways to measure your maximum heart rate.
Also try and develop a steady cadence, the speed at which your legs rotate (revolutions per minute) , that you are comfortable with.
Although endurance training will dominate your schedule, some hill work will also be needed. This is because it is inevitable that you will encounter hills on your cycle tour. For example the London to Edinburgh cycle route features one day with over 4000 feet of climbing.
In order to possess the explosive power necessary to get you up the hills you need to incorporate hill training into your schedule.
But how do you train for the hills on the flat? As mentioned, hill work is all about building power. If you don’t have hills to train on then you need to generate appropriate power levels on the flat. The more you climb, the more you will get into a rhythm and develop your own natural style.
This means, quite simply, going fast. Riding at around 19 mph requires 150W of power to the road, rising to 200W at 21 mph. These are good speeds to aim at in order to produce the same power output required to tackle the climbs on your tour. These are good figures to work towards, though an average 15 or 16 mph is a good start. The more you climb, the more you will get into a rhythm and develop your own natural style.
1 – Your life may be a busy one with friends, family and work to consider, so it pays to have local routes of say 5 miles and 10 miles, so that if you have the a spare half an hour or so it is possible to get a quick ride in.
2 – Mix up your riding – Incorporate flats stretches with hill climbs.
3 – A tour requires consecutive days of riding. You will have a limited time to recover from the previous days’ exertions. Incorporate training on consecutive days to replicate your tour.
4 – Plan to make your life easier. You can build fitness over a long cycle tour. As a result, if you are able to control your schedule it is sensible to have shorter days at the start.
5- Incorporate weight training into your training schedule. Cycling is a low impact exercise and some form of weight-bearing exercise is helpful to maximise power output.
6 – If you are using panniers on your ride then train with them. You will get used to the different sensation of riding with panniers and the extra weight of the bike.
7 – Nutrition and hydration are vital for long days in the saddle. Use your training sessions to experiment with the fuel that you take on whilst riding.
8 – Enter an audax or do a sportive. These are a fun way to get in the training miles and can provide a focus for your training.