8 Training Tips to Help You Tackle the Most Epic Challenges

As years pass it occurs to me that the beauty of endurance sport is that as we move through life there’s always a niche that resonates with our goals and lifestyle. For years I sought high-intensity, close-quarters racing in criteriums and road cycling races. But now I’m older and I’ve fallen in love with ultra-endurance racing – and the training that goes into it.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to complete most of the events on the CTS Epic Endurance Bucket List and share those experiences with some incredibly inspiring athletes. The process has taught me a great deal.

I trained hard for my first La Ruta de los Conquistadores and it was still the hardest thing I’ve done on a bike since I was a pro in Europe. Yet I loved every minute of it, and ever since I’ve been recruiting cyclists of all types to sign up for bigger, gnarlier, and riskier races all over the country and the world. Here’s my challenge to you: Sign up for something outlandish, an event so hard it gives you pause. If you already know you can do it, move on to something harder. To get the most out of the experience, there needs to be a realistic chance that you’re going to fail.

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You’re never too old to learn something new about yourself, and some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years are good reminders for cyclists of all ability and experience levels:

  1. Intervals trump experience: I’ve been racing bicycles since I was 9 years old, and after all these years it’s easy to be lulled into the assumption that my cumulative fitness is great enough to see me through just about anything. But in my 50s, the truth is that it was only through a renewed commitment to interval training that I gained the power necessary to race La Ruta, Trans Andes, and Dirty Kanza. The workout included below is one of my new favorites.
  2. Endurance events are more fun with teammates: I had great teammates when I raced as a pro. But in recent years I’d gotten accustomed to competing or participating in road and mountain bike events as a solo rider. Putting together a team of athletes and support staff to tackle epic challenges like the USA Pro Challenge and Tour of California Race Experience got me back into a team environment. The camaraderie, encouragement, ribbing, and even intra-team competition was refreshing; and I think it improves our individual performances.
  3. Never leave home without your crew: Whether you’re traveling to an international competition or a regional event, success in big adventures requires a great support crew. The gnarlier and longer the ride, the more can go wrong. Ideally, the crew for you or your group will include a good mechanic and someone focused entirely on food/fluids/clothing. If you’re going to international competitions, recruit local help; local knowledge is often the difference between a great trip and the trip from hell.
  4. Age isn’t everything: There are some inescapable consequences to growing older, but I don’t believe older athletes should resign themselves to declining performance. The impact of age on athletic performance is not nearly as consistent as we once believed it to be. In fact, I’ve noticed that as athletes mature – not chronologically, but in terms of their lifestyles – their improved habits (sleeping more, eating better food, settling into stable careers and family relationships, etc.) often counter-balance the predicted decline in performance. In other words, older athletes are often “better” at being athletes.
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My Two-Step Intervals

Whether it’s a super hard climb or an ultra-fast paceline, there are times when you get hit with a double-tap of pain. There’s an acceleration, a bit of rest, and then you get hit again. This workout is very hard, but it helped me regain the power to handle the real-world demands of racing and working together during big back-to-back days at multi-stage trips.

During a 1-2 hour endurance-paced road ride, incorporate 10 of the following intervals. Beginner and intermediate riders should break this up into two sets of 5 intervals; advanced riders should do all 10 in one set. This workout should be done twice a week, with at least one full day of recovery or endurance riding between sessions.

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To complete the Two-Step Interval: With a cadence above 100rpm, accelerate to at least 120% of your max sustainable or lactate threshold power for 45 seconds. Shift to an easy gear and spin lightly for 15 seconds. For step two, surge to the same intensity level again for 20 seconds. Recovery between intervals should be 2:40 so you start the intervals every 4th minute (0:00, 4:00, 8:00, etc.). These efforts are too short for heart rate to be an effective indicator of intensity, but that’s OK because the intensity rating is simple: every effort is full-gas.

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Additional Tips

  1. You can’t miss workouts: We’re all guilty of it, and experienced athletes even more so. We figure we have so much accumulated training in our legs, we can afford to be a bit more lackadaisical about consistency. You can’t. Consistency keeps the momentum of your training moving forward; without it, you’re treading water.
  2. Eat less, drink more during training: The more I travel to training camps and endurance events, the more convinced I am that many cyclists eat too much during rides. Whether you’re training to go faster or lose weight, you still need food and electrolyte drinks to power your workouts; but remember, you only need to replenish about 25-35% of the calories you burn (kilojoules you accumulate) per hour.
  3. Match your gear to your event: You can sacrifice comfort for speed in short events like criteriums, cross-country mountain bike races, and Olympic-distance triathlons, but when you’re going to be on the bike for seven-plus hours a day, sacrificing comfort will eventually mean sacrificing power and performance. I love a hardtail 29er for afternoon training rides, but a dual-suspension comes in handy for all-day training rides and mountain bike stage races. Similarly, the cyclocross bike I use for the Dirty Kanza 200 has a more relaxed position and 700×40 tires so I can ride more comfortably for 12+ hours on gravel roads.
  4. Give yourself a long runway: My most recent books have been focused on low-volume, high-intensity training programs, but to meet the demands of back-to-back days of racing or touring you need to give yourself at least 6-8 months of training – even 12 months – to achieve the necessary fitness.

Have a Great Weekend,
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 2

  1. Thanks Chris. I have started doing the Two Step Interval workout. I found a hill that roughly conforms to the basic requirements of up (45) flat (15) up (20). Today I did the complete 10 interval in the middle of a one hour endurance cycle.

    According to my power meter, my best interval was my second last, which probably means that I was subconsciously holding back in order to get through the full set. I may try the two five interval approach next time.

    I am averaging around 140% FTP for the long section but cadence is only AV. 85rpm. How important is high cadence ..??

    I am still

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