repeat cycling event

How to Ride Faster at Your Favorite Repeat Cycling Events

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Almost as soon as riders wipe the sweat and grime off their faces, they ask how they can go faster at the same event next year. This is part of the appeal for events that feature the same course year after year (i.e. Leadville 100, SBT GRVL, most gran fondos and road races). No matter where you finished in the standings, you can always return and race the course to better your personal performance. Here’s what you can do to go faster next time.

Start with 2 Weeks of Mental and Physical Recovery

Even if you are fired up to beat this year’s finish time, your body and brain need a break after months of regimented training and heightened focus. And, of course, there’s the fact that goal events like those mentioned above leave you physically exhausted and beat up. We typically recommend very light activity during the two weeks following major goal events, unless an athlete has subsequent events closely following the goal event.

For instance, if SBT GRVL was your big event for the year, then short and easy recovery rides for 2 weeks is a good way to physically recover and achieve a mental break. Use this time to catch up on some of the work, family, and relationship priorities you put on the back burner as you focused on your event.

Reduce training structure for 3-4 weeks

After taking it easy for about two weeks, it’s time to start training again. At this point, though, the primary goal is to maintain the fitness you worked so hard to gain. You want to avoid substantial detraining because fitness is easier to lose than it is to gain. Fortunately, sports science is on your side this time; reducing your training workload by up to 50% for several weeks will only result in a loss of 5-10% of your current fitness level. I typically recommend 3-4 weeks of unstructured rides.

Unstructured doesn’t mean optional, though. Consistency is still crucial; you can just take a break from structured interval workouts.

For context, reducing workload by 70% results in a 15-20% loss of fitness, which is what we typically see in athletes who take a prolonged break in the fall. While it’s not the end of the world, regaining 20% of your fitness can take months, and the total timeline to lose and then regain that fitness can span 4-5 months. It’s hard to make significant improvement from year to year if you spend a third of the year just losing fitness and getting back to where you started.

Seek your Performance Opportunities

While you’re doing those unstructured rides, think about where you can gain the time you’re looking for in next year’s event. These are your Performance Opportunities.

For example:

  • You could go faster on the big climb by improving your sustainable power at lactate threshold and – perhaps more important – your time to exhaustion at that intensity.
  • You could work on your anaerobic capacity to stay on the gas longer to have a better start.
  • You could look into opportunities to upgrade your starting position (for some events you can earn preferential start corral positions through results in other races, volunteer work, or donations to non-profits).
  • If you struggled to stay in a strong group on the flat or windy sections, hone your group riding skills.
  • If you wasted a bunch of time in aid stations, create a better plan for getting in and out of stations faster. CTS supported athletes last weekend at SBT GRVL in Colorado, and it was great to see athletes executing good aid station efficiency skills throughout the weekend.

Build other events into your late summer and fall training calendar

Events are great for creating novel training stimuli, building and maintaining social connections in the sports community, and providing opportunities to develop cycling skills and nutrition strategies. If you have already completed your big goal events for the year, you can register for late summer and fall events with no pressure! Go have fun with the fitness you’ve earned. Try out tactics, pacing strategies, and nutrition plans you want to experiment with.

End the year with higher Chronic Training Load than you started

This is a generalized recommendation that might not work for every athlete, but a goal you could set now is to keep your Chronic Training Load (CTL) from dropping below your starting point from the beginning of the year. CTL doesn’t address specificity. For instance, it doesn’t indicate the type of training you’ve been doing. It is calculated with a weighted the average of daily Training Stress Score from the previous 42 days. Reaching December 31 at a higher CTL than you had in January of this year means you’ll have the capacity to handle a higher training workload right from the beginning of next year. That means you have the opportunity to build to higher peak fitness later in the year.

Obviously, this is a very simplistic way of evaluating whether you are “better than last January”. A more nuanced goal for the end of the year would be to target improvements in specific aspects of your aerobic or anaerobic performance, which in some cases can result in a reduction in CTL but an increase in a more event-specific component of fitness. But as a more general recommendation, retaining or increasing CTL gives athletes a more specific goal than “avoid detraining”.

NOTE: Keeping your fitness is important for athletes over 40, and really important for Grand Masters cyclists over 60. Grand Masters are fighting normal consequences of aging that reduce VO2 max and make retaining or building new muscle mass more difficult, among other changes. You can improve fitness and go faster next year because there is still room between where you are now and your maximum potential (even as that potential gradually declines). But you have some challenges young athletes can overcome more easily, so do yourself a favor and stay on it!

Don’t wait until entry lotteries to start event training

On top of the recommendations above you obviously need a solid training plan to improve your repeat race performance next year. As a coach I’m going to naturally recommend working with a professional coach if you want to improve your event performance from this year to next year. I’ll go a step further and recommend you start working with a coach now; waiting until you know you have an entry means a significantly shorter training runway and even if you don’t get into your goal event you’ll be able to pivot to another event more easily.

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