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Daily Archives: May 7, 2018

How I Train for a Multi-day Bike Tour; the Easy Days are just as Important as the Hard Days

I am a recreational cyclist… What you’re about to read my not seem like recreation to you, but it is to me.

Without question, the highlight of my season is DALMAC, a four-day, 100-miles-a-day bike tour from Lansing to Mackinaw City, Michigan. I ride plenty of great rides throughout the year, the Horsey Hundred in Kentucky being one of the nicest, but DALMAC is the one that really requires some actual training because while we don’t exactly have “get-there-itis”, we don’t stop to watch the paint dry, either. Last year we completed the 377 miles at an average speed of 18.55 mph and there’s quite a bit of up on the last three of four days. Our fastest day was the hilliest, 101 miles at 18.8 mph (30 kmh). The year before was 379 miles at an average pace of 18.2 mph (29 kmh – we had a brutal headwind the first two days that year). In ’15 we did the 388 miles at an average pace of 19.5 mph (31 kmh)… And in each instance, the last day was the fastest (it’s also the shortest at only 72-ish miles).

Most people have a tough time completing a century ride in five hours, let alone three in a row with another 72 on the last day for good measure. The short answer for how we train for that is, we ride a lot. Take 2015 as an example, I only took one day off the bike in September that year. I missed a day in August and two in July. The short answer doesn’t really get at the heart of it, though. There’s a method to the madness.

For starters, I’m very careful with how I stack my hard days on top of each other. For us, the weekends are for riding hard, so ride hard I do on Saturday and Sunday. The other days of the week are carefully plotted out, though – they’re the days that really whip me into shape so I can pound out four hard days in a row. I’ve established that I ride hard on the weekend days – usually a mix of one shorter ride (35-65 miles at 18-19 mph or 28-30 kmh) and one longer, faster ride (65-100 miles @ 19-20 mph or 30-32 kmh). My weekdays are pretty structured, too – mainly to get around work and having to make a living. Anyway, here’s a method:

  • Monday – an easy 16 to 17-1/2 miler, at 16.5 – 17.5 mph (25 – 27 kmh)
  • Tuesday – easy 7-10 mile warm-up, hard 30 miles @ 21-22 mph average (33 – 35 kmh)
  • Wednesday – easy 16 to 17-1/2 miler
  • Thursday – moderate 16 to 17-1/2 miler @ 18 – 19+ mph
  • Friday – 28 to 40 miles easy at 17 – 19 mph (28 – 30 kmh)

The easy days are for cruising and spinning out the legs. They’re the hands on the bar-tops or hoods, rarely (if ever) in the drops, “look around at the world I’m riding through” kind of effort. They’re for spinning out tired legs and enjoying the scenery. They set up the hard days. Without those easy days, training would be a lot harder and require a lot of weekdays off, and I’m simply not willing to do that. They call it active recovery, and I like it!

That takes care of intensity.

The second aspect is distance (or duration). It doesn’t matter how fast I can ride 20 or 30 miles if I can’t do the big distance. Distance is ramped up over a period of a month or two, usually from March to May. Unfortunately, this year we’re a little behind the eight ball so we’re trying to ramp things up rather quickly – all in May.

Going by feel – I want to train hard enough that a distance 25-33% less than what I’m training for doesn’t take so much out of me that I feel the couch is needed for anything more than a nap after lunch.

Saturday morning we rode almost 82 miles (132 km). It was a slow ride, under 18 mph (28 kmh) for an average, but I was pretty tired afterward. Sunday was a lively 57 miles (92 km) at 18-1/2 mph (30 kmh). Now, for most people who take days off between rides, trying that early in the season would hurt them. Because I ride every day, I felt better Sunday than I had on Saturday. Next week we’ll do something similar and I’ll feel even better, same thing the week after that. Eventually those 75-100 and 50-70 miles rides will become comfortable. That’s exactly when I’ll be ready for DALMAC.

My plan is pretty simple, and because I like riding so much, it’s an ass-ton of fun. It isn’t flawless, though. The second day of DALMAC is going to hurt. It always does. The third day, I should start feeling better again and day four, even though it’s the fastest day, should be pretty awesome.

There will be other issues to deal with as well… saddle sores, maybe a strange mechanical issue or two. I’ll be as prepared as I can be, though.