Training Plan

Pace Yourself

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Training ride number 10. You’re out on the road, feeling pretty good. The cause is right, the friends are right, and at mile 2, the pace is right. At some point, you notice the conversation dies down, and the guy who was right front of you is suddenly a couple hundred feet in front. Then you turn a corner, and he’s gone!

Image courtesy: Jeff Meyers

You think: he’s my height, age, and build. He was helpful, compared his bike to mine, and he was impressed that they were largely equivalent. As you go through the factors that made you eat his dust, you conclude: It must be me. How do I improve?

Addressing that question has taken years. This blog is full of researched and cited tips on safety, performance, nutrition, hydration, sleep, clothing, and dragons. Please search, browse, and enjoy.

New and experienced riders can feel this way. So, you are not alone. To answer the first part first: it is you. You are the rider who got up at 5 am to make the 7:30 am meet up time. You are the rider who stayed up late cleaning his bike. You are the rider who carved out 7 hours on a Sunday to ride 70 miles. You are the rider committed to schlepping his ass 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You are already strong.

So the real question is: how could it be that that other guy is so much faster than I am? That question I will try to answer in a short series of posts which will help you to understand issues affecting performance. You’ll be surprised how subtle changes can affect your cycling.

But, if you want to start answering the question, you have to make me two promises. First, try to think: I’ve already won just by getting out of bed and onto my bike. Second, try to minimize comparing your performance to others. These are big asks, so I’m only asking that you try.

All promised? Good.

Here’s an outline of upcoming posts:

  • Maintaining a good spin to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Climbing, descending, and flats.
  • Eating and drinking for performance.
  • Keeping your bike clean.
  • Working through your doubts and fears.
  • Riding in poor weather.
  • Setting a workable training schedule.

I will commit to writing one entry a week. That brings us up to about mid-April. Please message me and let me know what additional topics you’d like to talk about. And comment, below!

Your Bear


Absolute Beginners: Late-season Training

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Believe it or not, there are only nine more weekends to train for the AIDS/LifeCycle. And while you’ve noticed the rides getting longer, the start-time getting earlier, and your body getting more sore, you may also have noticed that the whole process hasn’t really gotten easier. (You may also have noticed that your thighs aren’t as big as Robert Förstemann’s.) The issue isn’t you, but a matter of training: a once-a-week cycling plan is not enough to ride every one of the 545 miles over seven days. So, here are some ideas to help your training as we enter the height of the season.

robert forstemann3
Robert Förstemann: click for image credit and more photos.
  1. Eat, Drink.  If you dread training, you have low energy, you feel irritable or out of sorts during rides, then you are very likely not eating enough or properly hydrating during rides. If these suggestions do not help, consider a consultation with your doctor or a nutritional consultant. (Click the link to read my articles about nutrition.)
  2. Get your bike fit, new kit, or shoes now. Changing up your kit at the last minute is a recipe for unexpected pains. But it’s not too late to dial in a fit if you’re having numbness, joint or back pain, or other discomforts which affect your ride. (Click the link for references on how bike fits integrate with your ride.)
  3. A century is not required, but you should feel comfortable with 60 miles. In order to be comfortable doing all 545 miles, you don’t necessarily have to complete a century ride before the event. If you can do a 60 mile ride and feel comfortable with your fitness level, then you will probably be able to do all 545 miles. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try a century if the opportunity presents itself. There are lots of organized century rides throughout California. (Click the link for articles on training.)
  4. Back-to-Back rides of at least 30 miles each are essential. Since the ride is 7 consecutive days, you will be much more comfortable if you can regularly do two back-to-back rides. I recommend that every week until the weekend before the ride you try to get in back to back rides. (Click the link for articles on fitness.)
  5. Dawdling at the rest stops is a no-no. Socializing before or during the ride is a vital part of why the AIDS/LifeCycle is such a special event. But keep it to a minimum. Rest for no more than 20 minutes at rest stops. Hanging out for too long will tire you, will make you sweat more, and will make your muscles cramp. Oh, and avoid stopping between rest stops unless it is necessary. (Click link for an article on how to keep up if you’re a slower rider.)
  6. Ride at least 3 days per week. You’ll be riding 7 days in a row. Prepare by riding at least 3 — preferably 4 or 5 minimum — per week. (Click link for articles on creating a training plan.)
  7. Hill climbing is essential. If your goal is to complete all the miles on the ALC, you’ll need to prepare by climbing those hills. Don’t be afraid! We’re right behind you the whole way! And for many of us, climbing it the reason we ride. (Click link for articles on climbing (there’s only one as of the time I’m posting this; I clearly need to write more on the topic.)
  8. Become more comfortable on descents. Steep descents can be scary. Remember to control your speed by applying both brakes evenly, only when you’re not turning, and do not “feather” or “ride” your brakes (which causes overheating). (Click link for article on cornering.)
  9. Set a target return time for all rides. I’ve not written about this, but when you go out, a huge psychological barrier is the sheer swaths of time cycling takes up. If you’re new and somewhat slow, a 60 mile ride (which typically takes me 3.5 to 4 hours) may take you 6 to 8 hours. You have to be prepared for that (and you may want to try to minimize that time with training and preparation). (Click the link for articles on psychology.)
  10. Sleep. Rest. All the training in the world is useless if you don’t rest enough. Be gentle with yourself and take the time you need to sleep. There are tons of studies that tell us: sleep deprivation negatively affects all aspects of our lives. Don’t give in to stress. (Click link for articles about sleep.)

That’s a lot of material for one article! Just remember the basic points: eat, rest, train, and enjoy the process. Some corollaries (and topics for past and future articles): See your doctor if you’re new to cycling or are having unusual chest pains, wheezing, or fatigue. Make sure your bike is in good working condition. Be kind to your Training Ride Leaders; they are novices and volunteers there to help you. And remember: AIDS/LifeCycle is fully supported, so don’t necessarily have to ride every mile, only those miles that you can.

Your Bear

Absolute Beginners: Mid-season Training

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Sagan winning Tour of Oman. (Image Credit.)

Believe it or not, but there are only 14 more training weekends before the AIDS/LifeCycle! That means its time to stretch the creaks out, clean and lube your bike, and hit the road. If you’ve been neglecting your training up to now, no worries. There’s still plenty of time to be fit and ready for the ride.

I’ve made 32 posts about training. The important ones to absorb at this stage are:

I’m not a professional, but these articles all contain my observations about what makes for a successful training season with citations to authority where it was available. In a nutshell, here is what you need to remember:
  1. Hydrate. On a 30+ mile ride, make sure you’re draining both water bottles.
  2. Eat. You need to be fueled up before, during, and after your rides.
  3. Train. Time on the bike is probably the only thing which will improve your riding.
  4. Work your way up to 60 miles. If you can do this, you can ride the ALC.
  5. Work your way up to back-to-back days of 30+ miles each. Ditto.
  6. Rest at stops, but don’t dwaddle. You get sore; you get hungry; you get irritable.
  7. Ride with mates. Sometimes you’ll need to ride alone, but friends make the ride rock.
  8. Be safe. Listen to the safety speech and follow the rules on every ride.
  9. Dress in layers and in bike clothing. Street clothes are not up to the task, are bulky, and detract from your ride.
  10. Keep your bike in good working order. Get a bike fit! Bring your bike into the shop or learn how to clean and maintain it.
But above all: ASK your Training Ride Leader if you have any questions. If you’ve not already done so, see your doctor if you are embarking on this from level 0.
Your Bear
Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Absolute Beginners: Training for the Dilettante

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Believe it or not, more than half the training year is gone! We have only five months or 25 more weekends to prepare for the epic 545! But, you say, how can I possibly be ready? Here are 15 16 training tips to help you and make training fun and easy.

Please add your tips in the comments! Also, follow some of the links for additional articles I’ve written on these subjects.

How the Polar Bears rock ALC 2014 training in the far north.
Image Credit: Glenn Gebhardt.
  1. Daily Rides. Training is less painful if it’s routine. Find a way to fit daily or quasi-daily rides into your schedule, even if they’re short.
  2. Commuting. Even if you have to drive part of the way, find a way to ride your bike to work. You’ll totally impress your friends and colleagues!
  3. Spin Classes. A great way to get your body ready for rides. Spin classes are no substitute for hours on the road, but they’ll increase your aerobic capacity and help your body get ready for warmer weather and longer rides.
  4. Get a Trainer. For around $300 (or much, much more), you can ride your own bicycle in the warmth of your living room. Add on those miles, sweat off the Christmas feast, and increase aerobic exercise without riding in the dark.
  5. Choose Back-To-Back Rides Over Distance. If you have a limited number of hours per week to ride (but more than 2 hours per week), choose to ride on two consecutive days rather than putting all your time into one longer ride. This will prepare you for the 7 days we’ll be riding in June.
  6. Choose One Longer Ride Over Two Shorter Ones. Alternately, if you’re limited to about two hours, do one long ride rather than two one-hour rides. A two-hour ride will help condition your body for the distances we’ll be doing.
  7. Leave from your House. When going on a recreational ride, choose a ride that leaves from your house. That will help keep the time commitment low by eliminating the time driving.
  8. Ride Before Work. If you cannot commute, grab a banana and do an hour or two before you leave for work. If you go early enough, there will be less traffic than after work. Better get a light set!
  9. Spend Some Time Getting to Know Your Bike. On the days you cannot ride, set aside some time to clean and examine your bike. This will help you feel more confident on rides, and will keep your bike running well.
  10. Get a Bike Fit. Now is the time to make sure your bike is properly fit for you. A good fitter will make small adjustments which will eliminate pain and numbness! It is well worth the expense.
  11. Make a Training Plan. Sit down with a calendar, the ALC website, and your mates and choose weekend dates and rides. Then add one to five week-day training rides and commit to them.
  12. Gradually Increase Mileage. In your training plan, don’t forget to plan for hour and mileage increases. You need to get comfortable with a 60-mile ride by June. At this point, a 60-mile ride might take you up to seven hours — a real time suck. So start smaller and work your way up.
  13. Go on Training Rides. The ALC offers volunteer-led training rides all over California and in other states as well. If none of them are convenient, ask your local bike shop about rides in your area.
  14. Commit to a Training Ride Series. Some of the ALC training rides are “series.” A series is a set of rides on consecutive weekends that begin at the same place and time every single week, and gradually build the number of miles. This will build confidence, your cycling network, and motivation.
  15. Hook up with a Ride Buddy. I cannot stress how important this step is. Cycling is wonderful because almost anyone can do it and improve. In some ways it appears to be a solo sport, but really its all about the people. Connect and you will learn to love the early hours and sore muscles!
  16. Ride for time, not Distance. Cyclists alway ride for distance — “I rode 30 miles today.” “Are you doing that century?” “The ALC is 545 miles.” This can be intimidating and cause you to think your training is insufficient. Instead, if you have an hour, ride for a half hour and return. Next time, try to ride a bit further with your half hour.
Figure out what works for you, then do it. You’ll impress your friends. You’ll impress your coworkers. You’ll impress your partner. You’ll impress yourself. But most importantly, you’ll impress your donors!

Much love and here’s to a great 2014 training season!
Your Bear.

PS: If you found this useful, click “Donate,” above and consider a gift to my ride!

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Plan for a Successful Ride

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Whether you’re riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle, some other multi-day distance event, or just want to improve your cycling, its a good idea to form and stick to a plan. If you’re starting to plan now for your June ALC ride, you’re smart and can be ready to ride every mile or every mile that you can. As you begin, here is a list of things to think about as you progress through the training season.

Sexy Mustache Riders eating yummy
Pismo Beach cinnamon buns

  1. Time Commitment. A commitment of three sessions per week, increasing in time and duration, will go a long way to the fitness levels you need to ride all 7 days (and most or all of the 545 miles) of the ALC. It will not be enough to attend one ALC training ride per week. As the season progresses, you’ll need to up your weekly mileage. (Read about an 8-week program at
  2. The Right Bike. Getting just the right bike can take some planning. Questions to ask your bike shop are: What is the correct size for me? Which components are best for my price range or commitment level? Will I be able to upgrade the pedals or swap out handle bars to get a correct fit? You might want to try out several bikes and get advice from a professional bike fitter before buying.
  3. Bike Fit. If you just bought a bike or if you’re riding more on an existing bike, you may still find little aches and pains popping up. If that’s the case, you will need to see a professional bike fitter. With minor adjustments based on your proportions and riding style, the professional bike fitter will make your ride more enjoyable and help you to ride longer.
  4. Nutrition and Hydration. You’ll need to have water and electrolytes with you on every single ride. That means two water bottles, minimum. Also, as your fitness levels increase, so will your nutrition needs. You will want to make sure you’re getting enough calories, and that those calories have the right balance of macro and micro nutrients.
  5. Hills. To be properly prepared for a ride like the ALC, you’ll want to make sure you get in significant hill training. Its not enough to ride comfortably on the flats. Nearly every day of the ALC (even the “easy” 40 mile day) has some climbs which challenge even the veterans. (Do you really have to train? Yes.
  6. Weather. The staff of ALC guarantees that the weather will be mild and sunny, with tailwinds the whole way. And if you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It will be windy. It will be cold. It will be hot. It may even rain. Find the joy in these things, but also prepare yourself for them. This is probably the single most important reason to start training now: its hot and will be cold. If you wait until March, you may miss that experience.
  7. Recovery. With every plan, you need to make sure you build in sufficient recovery time. That is where you build muscle and absorb the lessons you’ll learn from training. (Got this idea from Year-long training plan from
  8. Goals. Unless you know where you’re going, its hard to get there. Set achievable goals for speed or distance, and let me help you to achieve them! (Got this idea from Racing cycling plan from
  9. Group and Solo Rides. For fun and safety, make sure you’re getting in both group rides and solo rides (even on group rides you may end up spending some time alone, its necessary to be self-reliant. (Tip of the helmet to
  10. Safety. Learn and know the safety rules for your every day rides and for the AIDS/LifeCycle. Once you absorb them, you’ll scoff at those who ignore them. (Learn more at
This is a lot to digest. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to blog about preparing yourself for the ride on each of these points. If you think of others, please let me know. Also, peruse my prior entries, as I’ve hit on most of them. In the meanwhile, I’ve added a couple sites in the list above with information about training plans; I hope you find them useful.
Your Bear