Training For Randonneur Cycling

BC Randonneurs Cycling Club

Training For Randonneur Cycling, Case 1: Eric Fergusson

The Recreational Cyclist
(Who Got Carried Away)
by Eric Fergusson

I have been cycling since 1989, and a card carrying randonneur since 1992. My goal in recent years has been to complete all the local brevets on the Lower Mainland schedule, plus at least one ultra, and to turn in a few fast times.

Pre-season, non-training cycling... I mentally divide my cycling into two types: (1) recreational non-training cycling and (2) training/event cycling. Non-training cycling is the carefree, relaxed, non-strenuous riding that I like to do throughout the off-season, October to March. In non-training mode, I rarely ride for more than an hour, and never in the rain. The name of the game is fun, and like anyone in a fitness centre or on a jogging trail, I am out there to breath deeply for a few minutes and to relieve a little day-to-day stress.

Even though my rides are short and easy, the physiological ground work will be helpful later - my body stays acclimatized to the peculiar physical stresses of cycling. Casual riding is a good opportunity to think a bit about cycling form: straight and relaxed back, even pedal stroke, and a light and relaxed touch on the handlebars. Another good on-bike practice is to stretch out the neck, back, and Achilles tendons from time to time. I also practice varying my riding position, including standing up 'out of the saddle' periodically, and also getting down on the arrow bars. I avoid over straining my joints by maintaining a high cadence.

Psychologically the mission is a simple one - to have fun. I want to enjoy the big trees, the distant mountains, the shimmering ocean, and to breath in that beautiful BC air... sometimes the exhaust. I allow my concentration to ebb and flow naturally, and sometimes I actively practice turning my mind off (keeping part of it fixed on the perils around me of course.) A form a meditation? This sounds a little bit flaky, I know, but randonneur and ultra-distance cycling events, which run over many hours, even days, will test your mental as well as your physical limits. Knowing how to create and maintain a calm mind while riding will be a big help.

Training/Event Cycling About six weeks before the first 200 km brevet I start thinking about training. One training principle I've found particularly helpful was suggested to me in an interview I read years ago featuring the renowned triathlete Paula Newby-Fraser. She saw around her a lot of triathletes training 3, 4, even 5 times per week in each of the three disciplines. She regarded this approach as not only a recipe for injury, but also an inefficient use of training time. She preferred to have two really serious workouts per discipline per week and to do a lot of resting.

This principle of fewer but harder workouts, with generous rest and recovery time, lends itself nicely to distance cycling. Once the training phase of the season starts I expect to run up against my fatigue threshold, and my muscle limits, on every ride. To recover from this I like to have at least 36 hours off the bike - 48 to 60 hours is better. So here's the drill: ride three days a week; ride hard but also treat yourself to some on-bike recovery time; use a variety of terrains; find some steep pitched hills; do a few long climbs.

What about speed training? If you want to go fast, you'll want to consider interval training. Try intense riding for stretches of 20 seconds working up to two minutes, followed by generous recovery periods, 5 to 10 repeats. I should qualify this by saying that I am not convinced that speed training is all that important for most randonneur cyclists. You will be stronger, but there's always increased risk of injury, and the motivational problems that come with the awareness that intense physical suffering is on the menu again for today's ride.

One sure signal to me that my conditioning is improving, is the improvement in my on-bike recovery time. In gearing up for a longer event, I also look to my off-bike recovery time as an indicator. A rule of thumb that works for me is that if I am able to fully recover from a hard 100 km training ride within 48 hours, I will be ready for anything.

The chart linked below is my stock training plan. You will notice that it is synched to the 2009 Lower Mainland spring series here in BC. I have also included an alternate training schedule using the same principles but with shorter training distances. In both cases the events themselves are a crucial part of the "building towards a 600... 1000 km" process. If your training distances are lower, you will probably want to consider riding your brevets more conservatively, more slowly. A high fitness level gives you the freedom to press harder because you will be better able to recover on-course if you over do it. You will notice that the scheduled training rides stop as early as the Monday in the week before a brevet. The schedule assumes perfect weather. If it rains, rides can be pushed forward and the same amount of training will have taken place. I don't go on training rides close to events - Wednesday is the last day I would go out for a hard ride before a Saturday brevet. Finally, many cyclists find that a short ride the day following an event helps speed the body's recovery.

Eric Fergusson 1999, revised from time to time

My stock training plan along with an alternate version
Note: This training schedule served me well for many years and it's the way I would like to enjoy my spring riding again some day. Since 2007, however, I've been doing the Vancouver Island Hell Week in early April. This has meant starting the process a lttle earlier. Brrrrr. And I've been throwing in a few permanents over the winter months...

A Word About Training For The Big Ones
Winter Training

Above photo of Eric Fergusson at Newhalem, Washington during the 2000 Lower Mainland Summer 600. Photo by Sean Williams.