How to train for long events with short workouts

Eight tips for optimizing your training to make the most of the time available for riding.

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Longer endurance events are becoming more and more popular in recent years. Maybe it’s because of the atmosphere attached to these events, or the sense of accomplishment that comes with such long days in the saddle. Regardless, more people than ever are testing their mettle with multi-hour events.

Also read: Ready to Race – Periodized training explained by Olympic gold medalist coach Benjamin Sharp

The challenge that comes with this new fad to race longer, is that people’s lives also seem to be getting busier. Jobs, family, hobbies, social groups, side-hustles, and other life events don’t seem to be slowing down, instead, they seem to be asking for more of our time than ever before. So, it begs the question: How do we train for long races with limited training time?

Make the most of training time available

Your first task after deciding you will train for an endurance event is to figure out how to make the most of the time that you have available to train. That doesn’t mean fitting in as much training as humanly possible, it simply means making the most of the time that you do have available.

One of the common pitfalls that I see when scheduling training is biting off more than you can chew. Training through the guilt of missing a family event, or attempting to take phone calls or answer emails consistently while training isn’t going to produce quality sessions and you likely won’t be recovering from those sessions either.

The way that we get faster is by increasing the load on our body and then allowing ourselves to recover and build back stronger from that load. That means that doing too much won’t actually benefit you if you don’t have the time or the ability to recover from it. Instead, just increasing the load your body takes on a little bit at a time will allow for consistent improvements. More training does not equal more gains.

Rather than desperately grasping for harder workouts or more hours in the saddle, make sure you are optimizing the time that you do have. Set out your equipment, kit, and nutrition the day before your training so that all you have to do is hop on your bike when it’s time. Let your friends and family know what your training time is so that you are less likely to have interruptions. Try training in the early morning so that when your day gets off track, your training isn’t the first thing to get wiped from the calendar.

Double days

If you are physically ready to tackle more load, but your schedule won’t allow for it, double days are a great way to get more training on the bike without needing a huge block of time to get it done. Most people don’t have time to do a three-hour ride on a workday, but it may be possible for some to get in an hour before work and two hours after work during the long summer days. You can do this on a much smaller scale as well; two x 45-minute workouts can go a long way.

Stack fatigue

Most people’s routine usually involves alternating between hard and easy days on the bike. If you don’t have time to put in long workouts to prepare for the demands on the race, try stacking a few hard days on top of each other to challenge your body and simulate fatigue resistance. This can be an especially good strategy when your weekdays are busy. Try completing hard Friday, Saturday, and Sunday workouts, and then use the weekdays to recover from that effort, because remember, the harder you push yourself, the more you need to recover.

Increase the intensity

If you have limited time to train, then try increasing the intensity a bit. Most endurance events are going to be a test of your aerobic system. The aerobic system isn’t just used during base miles, it’s also the primary system at work during tempo, sweet spot, and threshold work as well. Developing and working in all of these systems will improve your ability to perform on race day. While pros may be able to inspire fatigue and push limits through extremely long rides in lower base zones, you may need to work in tempo or sweet spot in order to inspire fatigue through shorter workouts. Don’t ditch low-intensity work altogether, but know that if your workouts are shorter, your intensity should likely be higher!

A few dedicated days

If your goal endurance event is several weeks out, take time to plan a few dedicated training days as well. These dedicated training days are days that you will set aside and allow training to be a priority. This way you know you will be able to challenge your endurance at least a few times before the race. Use each of these days to increase your volume and try to have your last and biggest dedicated training day about two weeks out from the race. If possible, try to have your longest training day be about 60-70 percent of the race volume. If you aren’t able to work your way up to that, don’t stress, you will likely still be able to reach your goal. The purpose of giving that percentage is to demonstrate that you don’t have to do a six-hour training ride in order to complete a six-hour event.

Be a fueling master

Fueling your body appropriately will be a make-it-or-break-it-on-race day. Fueling is something that we all have the ability to focus on, whether or not your schedule allows for long rides. Fueling your race well is one of the easiest ways to create success, even if your training was far from ideal. Plan your nutrition ahead of time and actually ride down everything you will eat each hour of the event.

Don’t panic-train

If you’ve come down to the final two weeks before the race and you haven’t done the big workouts you wanted to complete, don’t panic-train. Do not try to fit in missed workouts or put out long days right before the race. You will not receive the training benefits and all you will do is enter the race fatigued.

Know your limits

When it comes to race day, know your limits. Pace yourself well. Enter the race with confidence, but race intellectually using your training zones to help you develop a pacing plan that will work for your specific distance and course. Don’t be tempted to go out too fast when your competitive edge tries to take over, but of course, don’t be afraid to surprise yourself either!

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