The week between Christmas and New Year’s is often an opportunity for cyclists to pile on miles and hours. The Rapha Festive 500 (riding 500 kilometers between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve) is now in its 13th year and a good example of the popularity of ending the year with a giant training block. Whether you are going for the Festive 500 or creating your own holiday training block, for Time-Crunched Cyclists (TCC) the week is likely to represent a big jump in your normal training volume. To get the most out of it, avoid injuries, and reach your goal feeling tired but not shattered, keep the following considerations in mind.
The first thing to realize is that the event will be 2 or 3 times your normal weekly workload, and as a Time-Crunched Cyclist you can’t realistically ramp up your training hours to prepare for that. This is where the “3 Hour Rule” I describe in the TCC books applies. It essentially means TCCs can expect their best performances in events shorter than 3 hours. Longer events are certainly doable, but because you have fewer matches to burn, so to speak, you’ll need to be more thoughtful about how and when you dig deep.
Obviously, it’s best to go into any event as physically prepared as possible. Regardless of your fitness level, the next most important thing is to go in fresh and rested. Don’t cram for the exam by adding extra training in the last two weeks. It will do more harm than good. Instead, continue with your normal riding schedule, back off the volume by about 50%, and maintain some intensity with short intervals. Focus on eating well, getting adequate calories (this isn’t the time for last-minute weight loss), and plenty of sleep.
Ride Like You’re on a Budget
If energy is money, you are starting your event with a thinner wallet than most. You have to ride economically, even frugally. The biggest mistake you can make is to overspend on Day 1. Ride easy the first day, let everyone else spend their money while you conserve yours. Pick a day or a climb a few items you really want to expend energy for. You’re after an experience you can remember fondly, so be deliberate about it.
Leverage your cycling skills and experience. Draft whenever you can, if you’re riding with other people. Take short pulls if you’re working in a group. Ride in the drops, not necessarily to go faster but to maintain the pace with less power. Don’t charge up climbs; backing off your power just 5% at the beginning of a long climb or up the early hills of a rolling day can make you as fast or faster overall by reducing or delaying the power drop-off later on.
If you are completing some or all of the training block on an indoor trainer, take special care to use plenty of fans and drink enough fluids to stay hydrated during and between rides. Also, take breaks during your rides. Riding on an indoor trainer eliminates stop signs and traffic lights, and most of the coasting on downhills. Although this is convenient, it also locks people into their riding position for longer periods that usual. There are no extra points for riding your indoor miles nonstop (unless you’re racing an esports race or participating in a virtual group ride).
Level Up Your Fueling
Increase calorie and carbohydrate intake. When you’re stretching your fitness it’s important to level up your fueling. Eat more frequently on the bike than you would during a one-day event. Pay closer attention to replenishing fluids and calories within the first hour after each ride.
Many TCCs have shifted their daily sources of carbohydrate to favor fruit and vegetables while reducing their intake of grains. That’s great for health and works well for meeting TCCs normal energy requirements. When energy expenditure suddenly triples, however, I see a lot of athletes increase energy intake in an unbalanced way, ramping up fat and protein intake dramatically while keeping carbohydrate intake relatively low. For a balanced way to increase energy intake you need a more concentrated source of carbohydrate, which is why this is a good time to add grains in the form of rice, oatmeal, and pasta.
Leverage the Training Stress
Once you have completed your big event, be diligent about using it to further your fitness. For many athletes, the consistent riding during a week-long event can jumpstart new routines or rekindle old ones, like getting up early, riding on a daily basis (even a little), or using good post-ride recovery habits.
Bring caloric intake back down. Eating more is easy and enjoyable, and many TCCs hang on to that increased intake well after the event is over. If you had eating habits that were working for you before the event, be deliberate about returning to them. If not, this is a good time to reset your eating habits and find a balance that works better than how you ate prior to the event.
Don’t wait too long to get back to training. Post-event recovery is absolutely necessary, but don’t back off too much or for too long. Many athletes react to a desire for less structure by reducing activity. It’s fine if you wait to return to interval training until your motivation and interest comes back, but keep riding instead of hanging up the bike for a few weeks. That unstructured, moderate pace riding helps foster the physiological adaptations you’re gaining from the stress of your big event.
Put Something on the Calendar
What are you going to do next? Whether it’s next month or next year, don’t wait to put something on your calendar. Just as athletes have to cultivate fitness, you also have to cultivate and nurture inspiration and motivation. You feel empowered and proud after a big accomplishment, perhaps for the first time in a long time. Keep that flame burning by looking forward and committing to a new challenge.
By Chris Carmichael,
CTS Founder and Chief Endurance Officer