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Training for Gran Fondos, Part 1: Endurance

  • By Curtis and Kristi Eastin, Chris Jones
  • Published Feb. 23, 2010
  • Updated Dec. 15, 2012 at 11:23 PM EDT
The Training for Gran Fondos series will cover all aspects of preparing for the endurance-oriented Gran Fondo. Photo courtesy Thompson Bike Tours

Editor’s Note: Today we are publishing the first in a series of training articles for riders preparing for Gran Fondos, mountainous centuries, multi-day tours and other ambitious long rides (notice how we didn’t use the word ‘epic’?) The series’ authors are pro road and cyclocross racer Chris Jones of Team Type 1, former pro racer and coach Kristin Eastin, and amateur racer and coach Curtis Eastin. More on the authors is at the bottom of the page.

Training for Endurance:

This series will cover the following themes:
•Endurance
•Speed Work and Leg Speed
•Climbing Technique
•Descending Technique
•Tapering

With the ever-increasing popularity of century rides, Gran Fondos and multi-day tours, many riders are faced with the dilemma of how to prepare for such events. Most of these events take place in mountainous terrain where endurance and climbing/descending techniques play a major role.

Over the next few weeks we are going to present a series of articles which will offer general guidelines and coaching tips for these long-distance challenging events. The advice does not cover detailed training information as it would be difficult to cover the majority of cyclists’ needs within an article of this nature and training requirements of individual cyclists are, after all, fairly unique.

But the advice and tips contained in these articles relate to the foundation that needs to be set for a sensible training plan that follows.

In this first article of the series we look at endurance and how you can profit from a good plan and building long steady miles.

Endurance: Efficiency counts

You could be the fastest cyclist in town for 30 miles, but if you can’t make efficient use of your fuels and your body, then you are likely to run out of gas before the end of the ride. This is doubly true for endurance efforts. By preparing your plan of attack systematically, you will not only increase your chances for success physiologically, but psychologically too.

The first priority is to select a target event. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion your event is in mid-July. You’ll want to begin doing weekly long rides (50-60 miles or so) sometime about mid-April. If you already have a good base (i.e. you did a lot of endurance mileage the previous year but have been off the bike all winter), then you can start with confidence that your base mileage will come easily and with little risk of injury. If, however, you’re fairly new to longer rides over challenging terrain, then you’ll want to start with somewhat shorter rides, so that come May through June you’ll be ready to increase the distance and time on the bike.

A warning: be patient with building the base, in case you incur injury or mental fatigue by doing too much too soon. Sixty miles should be a good starting point (40 or 50 miles perhaps if you’re a little behind the curve due to harsh winter conditions or a heavy work schedule). Increase your ride time/distance by 10-15 percent each week – no more. By June you should be fairly comfortable doing 90-plus miles. You shouldn’t feel excessively challenged by these efforts.

In early to mid-June you should implement some back-to-back longer rides of 90-plus miles each. This should prepare you well for the effort of multiple-day endurance events. If time allows, you can even do three rides in a row (e.g. 90, 90, and 75+) in the final three weeks before your event. You will want to be sure to allow a week or so for some recovery from your endurance workouts in the seven-to-10 days before your event.

Recovery from endurance workouts takes a bit longer than it does when training more specifically for speed, strength or power, so you’ll want to keep this in mind as your event approaches. Since we’re speaking of training for endurance and not for “speed,” your most important ride will be your long ride. It is important not to mix your weekly endurance rides with speed, strength and power workouts. Avoid the local group ride on these days.

Find a friend who likes to ride steady i.e. you can still hold a conversation — yes, even uphill and on your favorite town-line sprints! Avoid those friends who insist on half-wheeling you. The objective is to train not only your muscles and your cardiovascular system — both of which receive benefits from strength, speed and power workouts — but also to train your digestive system and your ability to use energy efficiently.

The key is to plan and build up the miles slowly and consistently and enjoy your cycling!

About the Authors:

Chris Jones: Chris is a third-year professional with Team Type 1. He is a two-time top-10 finisher in the US Professional Road Championships and has scored 10 professional wins and multiple podium appearances. Chris has been a USAC certified level 3 coach since 2006 and coaching clients since 2005.

Kristi Eastin: Kristi was a professional mountain bike and road racer from 1995-2000. Having won nearly all of NorCal’s challenging road races over her career, Kristi knows how to train for going up hills. She has extensive coaching experience ranging from elite racers to beginners.

Curtis Eastin: Curtis raced as a Category 1 during the early/mid-1980s through the early 90s before quitting cycling because of an injury and starting college. Never too far from cycling, he now coaches riders and races with Sierra Pacific Racing Team, in Northern California.

Both Kristi and Curtis are expert ride leaders with Thomson Bike Tours, which leads performance bike tours to the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites. Thomson Bike Tours assisted in the preparation of this series.

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