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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How To Train - Suggestions, Web Sites, Gadgets and Stuff

Here's my two cents on some questions I get from time to time about training - how to train for a long-distance cycling event (especially if you're just starting out), how to track workouts, and how to keep in shape when it's cold outside...I'm certainly no expert, but here's a few things I've picked up over the past few years...


How to Train For An Event Like a Bike MS 150

I get questions from time to time on how to train for a bike event like a Bike MS 150. I'm really a newbie when it comes to cycling, so I don't have all the answers. But, I think I can summarize it fairly accurately:

  • Ride a lot
  • Start slow, and work up to higher mileage
  • Don't hurt yourself
  • Ride hills
  • Practice riding with other people
  • Rest up before the event
I'm looking forward to the Summer 2013 issue of the MS Society magazine, Momentum...not just because our bike team will be on the cover...but because it will feature an article on how to train for a Bike MS 150 - and I'd like to read what other riders have to say.

But all-in-all, I think I summarized it pretty well. For a long bike ride, it seems like you really need a LOT of time in the bike saddle. That conditions your butt, and all of those leg muscles that you may not use as much for other activities - not to mention your core and shoulders. And I like to ride hills, because they can get you into shape quickly. 

So...how do you know how many miles to do per week? How do you work up to the longer distances? When do I start tapering down so I can be rested for the event? Training plans can help you with this, and they are all over the internet. When you register for Bike MS, you get free access to training plans from Training Peaks. This was useful to me last year - I didn't follow their plan to the letter, but used it as a guide. I think one of the keys here is to start slow and work your way up. Be mindful, avoid injury. If you ride too hard out of the gate, you can miss weeks from injury. Get the work in...but be mindful.

Riding with other people is important, as you can practice skills that will serve you well on a large ride like Bike MS: Harmon's Best Dam Ride - where 3,000 riders are expected. I had never ridden in a group setting before last year - and my teammates had to coach me and bring me along slowly. And I still suck at it. But here are a few things you can pick up by riding with others:
  • How to ride in a pace line - great for drafting and maintaining speed over long distances
  • How to signal your intentions - turning, slowing down, stopping
  • How to signal for hazards in the road
  • Courtesy and protocol such as yelling "Car Back!"
  • How to signal for "Let's Stop For A Beer" - several of these signs work fine...
And if you're serious about riding, I would work in some strength training. And not just your legs, but whole body, particularly the core. It's amazing how sore other parts of your body can get from riding. Strength training helps a lot with that.

How to Keep In Shape During the Winter

One thing I did to try and keep in shape this winter was to go to indoor trainer sessions at George's Cycles here in Boise with my friend and teammate, Doug Jenkins. Indoor trainers are no substitute for outdoor riding, but they're a good proxy when it's cold and icy. We would attend these sessions a couple times a week, and they really helped. A very similar activity is to go to spinning classes at the gym.


Doug and I at a George's Cycles indoor training session

I've also been running a lot. I ran through the winter - in my opinion, it's a lot easier to run outside in the winter than it is to ride a bike. I didn't say more pleasant, just easier :) I'm also training for the Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon, the Weiser River 50K Ultra, and the Famous Idaho Potato Marathon. I'm running these races to try and check a few things off of my goal list, and also to lose some weight for cycling season. I think the running will serve me well in terms of my cardio fitness, but I know that I'm going to be hurting once I get back on my bicycle full-time.

This can be really simple too - if you belong to a gym....go! If you don't, nothing beats plain-old walking. If you work in or have access to an office building, walk stairs at lunch. I used to do that quite a bit (in our 10-story office building) and it's a great way to strengthen your legs and burn fat.

How to Log and Track Workouts

I don't think you can train effectively without tracking what you've done. It helps you make sure you don't forget anything, and also just helps build a certain discipline around training - and I need all the help I can get there. 

As far as gadgets go, I imagine a pen and paper would work just fine. But, I go overboard with this stuff - I like to analyze numbers and build spreadsheets. And I like gadgets. I record my workouts on Garmin GPS units - the classic Forerunner 305 for running (by classic, I mean old and heavy, like me) and a Garmin Edge 500 for biking - with a heart rate monitor for both. I use a web site called Strava for tracking my workouts and events. I upload the data from the Garmin devices to this web site, and I get a lot of great information. For individual rides or runs, I get a map of the run, distance, elevation gain, time, estimated calories burned, and a lot more data.
Momentum Magazine Cover Shoot Ride on Strava.com

Strava has a lot of social elements - it's like Facebook for working out. I can compare my time to other people who do the same segments of my ride or run, and I can follow friends and vice versa. For example: I can compare my time cycling up Bogus Basin Road to everyone else in Boise who has ridden that road and uploaded it to Strava. It's very humbling to get back from a ride, thinking you crushed it, and seeing that you finished 163rd out of 200...

But it is very motivating to log into Strava and see what all my friends have done for physical activities during the day. If I haven't gotten out for a run yet, but all of my friends have, than I'm more likely to get the running shoes on and get out there. And, I can see every time that my pal Doug beats one of my times on a biking segment around town - which is happening frequently this Spring!

Strava is also very good for aggregating training data by month and year. Here's my training data for 2013, year-to-date as of April 1st.

2013 Training HOURS by Month

2013 Training MILES by Month
What I can see here is that my hours are going up every month, but my mileage is going down. This is because of my increased focus on running right now. I just don't cover as many miles running as I do cycling. Until I can run 25 miles per hour, this will always be the case :) And the running hours have been increasing the closer I get to The Race to Robie Creek. It's always good to validate that you're actually doing what you intended to do!

Okay, that probably covers most of the questions I usually get, and I haven't even gotten into tracking nutrition and monitoring weight. These are very important topics, especially for a recovering fat guy like myself. If there's any interest in this topic, I can sure chat more about it in a future post...let me know! If anyone has other training tips to share, I'd sure like to hear those as well. Thanks!

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