As athletes, we are prepared for setbacks. We accept that injuries, illnesses and the elements are routine bumps on the roads leading to our goals.
Currently, though, all levels of cyclist across the globe who have prepared meticulously to drink from the oasis of the 2020 sportive and racing seasons find themselves with their heads in the sand, parched and without their annual watering hole.
Do we push ahead the training schedule we'd have followed without this interruption?
Can we even do that?!
Should we explore new ways to keep pushing out ceilings of performance higher?
As this is uncharted waters for most of us, we realised some concrete solutions were required. A Google search asking 'how did the 1918 Tour de France riders prepare during a pandemic' is unlikely to set you on the right track.
I have prepared two fixes which can retain focus and race-readiness. Let's avoid burying our heads in the sand, or following the advice of riders on the 1918 Tour...which was likely to inhale copious amounts of Vin rouge!
CARRY ON YOUR SEASON VIRTUALLY
Our first solution is to replicate the same routines, preparations and tapers you would on race weeks - continuing your early-season build and balancing recovery.
If you have access to Zwift, you can plan virtual races or long Fondos in place of your real-world events. Zwift races take the format of mass-start races, with the effects of drafting, tactics and climbing feeling surprisingly realistic.
Many of the events are run at punchy distances of between 30 and 60 minutes, but some of the longer Fondos are de facto underground races! Over the weekend the Zwift 'Haute Route' was described to me as a 'gutting session'! Having seen the power files I can confirm they hardly stepped off the gas.
Those who are still able could add a solo outdoor ride before lining up for a Zwift race. By adding extra stimulus and fatiguing the muscles before racing you will recreate the final kilometres of a race, where peak power values are blunted.
Our suggested format would be to carry out 3 x 15-minute upper tempo efforts, alternating between low and high cadence during an outdoor spin, before returning for a lung-busting virtual race.
Riders of a very high level who will be competing in longer, UCI level races or a mammoth sportive should consider the format we believe many top-level races follow:
Hammer! - Tempo - Hammer!
Hammer - carry out a series of short anaerobic intervals or aerobic capacity efforts reflecting the flow and surges that mimic the formation of a breakaway or that fight for the front before the first climb in the sportivet: 30 seconds @ Z6/7 > 3 minutes @ Z5, repeat repeat repeat...
By pulling in the data of a previous road race you will be able to determine how much cumulative time in specific levels is appropriate. If you aren't sure, Craig or I can offer guidance for different ability levels.
Tempo - as with before, use this period of an outdoor ride to gradually work your type 1 endurance fibres and test your fatigue resistance in the final phase. Don't forget to eat race fuel, this is as much about keeping fuelling strategies consistent as it is maintaining race readiness
Hammer - this is the part which requires the least amount of thinking. Jump on the trainer and hammer the life out of your virtual race!
This approach will work perfectly for a rider who had already completed their race-specific training and had put their wheel on a start line before the season was forced into its hiatus.
Using this solution should focus on one key session per-week where improvement is most required. Constantly carrying out hard intervals will negate its benefits, sticking to one high-intensity session per week regardless of whether it was the key session. A race would be regarded as a second high-intensity session.
Find some extrinsic motivation to ride the toughest part of any indoor plan...aerobic endurance!
Try this: Mount your old race or sportive numbers on the wall in front of your trainer, using them as a weapon against those moments when intrusive thoughts meddle with motivation!
SELECT A TARGET AREA TO IMPROVE AND HONE IN
Riders who feel comfortable in their own skin carrying out training blocks with the sole purpose of physiological gains and self-fulfilment might see this solution to their liking.
Review your training data or speak with your coach to establish which areas have space for improvement . If you left any gaps or faced setbacks through the winter, this could be a golden opportunity to cover your tracks!
We would strongly advise against making a blanket 'I need more threshold power' statement, as purely focusing on this area can be depleting and demoralising if it's not well managed.
Threshold work tends to have its best results when you're constantly altering the training load and the intensity of sessions. Steer clear of relentlessly repeating the same sessions, as you will only become stale and demoralised by the small gains.
As there can be a tendency to use short, punchy sessions indoors, you may want to experiment with a 'block periodisation' week followed by a purely aerobic week.
Block periodisation utilises a short intense period of high-intensity workouts with reduced volume. These intense stimuli sessions can induce a beneficial metabolic impact and give optimal adaptations when kept to 3-4 high-intensity sessions per week. Short term benefits are clear but this is not sustainable, which is why we recommend a high-volume week afterwards.
A simple but effective plan for any of your training targets is to just increase the time you spend in that area. Create a page on your Garmin/Wahoo/etc recording the time you have spent in each zone and monitor it. It will help drive motivation and give purpose to each ride.
It may well be that you can complete 4 x 4 minute (16 minutes cumulative time) intervals at your target watts, but 4 x 5-minute (20 minutes cumulative time) intervals is not quite in your arsenal. By having these data fields you can top up in a less structured fashion: ride the watts and watch until the cumulative time is 20 minutes.
This same approach can be lent to fartlek style rides, where you might not feel you have the legs or razor-sharp focus for intervals on a given day but could still get a great session in. By setting a cumulative target for yourself you can achieve it in a slightly more relaxed but effective way. Morale is a very expensive currency at this moment!
Being confined to training indoors is not the end of the world. We may expect a slight decline in overall fitness but finding a compromise and way around is what makes us great athletes. Embrace it, and empower yourself with ingenuity!
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