Well, it’s that time of year again. The ’02 season is a distant memory, the holidays are over, and 2003 racing season goals have been set. Now its time to get to work! For many cyclists around the country, group rides are the weekend ritual and a great way to gather the motivation to suffer outside in the freezing cold, get in some base miles, and visit with teammates and racing buddies. Unfortunately, when you get together a bunch of motivated racers to ride, a high pace here, an attack there and boom what should be a zone 2 ride turns into a race.
Before you go out and clobber yourself in the gutter during one of these so called “rides” be aware of what you are trying to accomplish. Unless you live in SoCal or Arizona the race season is still far away. I see it every year: riders so psyched to race that they turn these rides into the Saturday morning regional championships. Great if you’re going to start racing in February but not so great if your season starts in April or later. It’s human nature for us to push our limits. After all it’s what we as racers love to do — go fast. And what better way than to duke it out in the local group ride. But stop hammering and think for a minute.
What are the goals of your training at the moment? Many cyclists have been hitting the weights and are out for a nice easy zone 2 cruise to round out their weight workouts. Others may be engaged in a “Base” phase of strict zone 2 riding. Either way, both of these workouts have objectives and that is to build the aerobic “engine” of the cyclist.
Throwing intensity into the mix is actually detrimental for building one’s aerobic system. Riders still in the weight room will hinder their recovery and they will begin to dig a hole that they may not realize until their performance decreases sadly at the beginning or middle of the season. For the cyclists in the base phase, consistency and steady time spent in zone 2 are key elements in building plasma volume and teaching the body to burn fat in preference of muscle glycogen. Increasing mitochondrial density in all that newly developed muscle gained in the weight room is another adaptation that occurs during the base phase. Pushing yourself towards the red zone negates all these aerobic gains during these long easy rides. Furthermore as mentioned above, once the intensity phase begins riders will not be as fresh as they need to be in order to handle the stress of the work they will encounter during their “intensity” phase. An under developed aerobic engine, overtraining, decreased recovery, and ultimately decreased race performance are all risks of going too hard too early.
There will be plenty of time for intensity later on as your training shifts towards developing power and the anaerobic endurance . During your intensity phase, the weekend championships can be highly beneficial. It’s great race simulated training and even a way to identify strengths and weakness while you still have time to work on them. But for now a little patience goes a long way. Heck, even Lance Armstrong has a heart rate ceiling of 145bpm along with a power cap of 300 watts. He had to put a 25t cog on his bike just so he could ride without going over those limits! The greater the aerobic system can be developed, the greater the foundation the athlete will have to build upon during the intensity phase. So take a lesson from Lance and keep it mellow because if any cyclist has it ALL figured out it is the Texan.
I know a lot of guys who are so psyched for the upcoming season that they are killing themselves on the group rides. In fact they put the hurt on me at this time of year and as a result I have sworn away all group rides during my all important base phase. Interestingly enough when the race season rolls around, I can’t seem to find those same guys who were going so well in January.
Instead of showing up for your weekend group ride and getting sucked into the madness, I recommend finding a smaller group of friends with similar fitness levels interested in maintaining a steady zone 2 pace. You’ll be happy that you’re not in the gutter duking it out on the Saturday morning world championships AND your training will be better for it.
About Frank Overton
Frank is a USA cycling certified coach and category 1 road racer. He can be reached at his website FasCatCoaching.com or may be found riding around Boulder, Colorado in zone 2 on the bike paths or flat roads – - at least until late February when his intensity training begins.