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Intelligent Training—Training

Training for a Brevet & Double Century, Part 2

Training for a fast brevet or double century.

by John Hughes
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes, the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

[ Training for a   Pt. 1 Brevet or Double Century   |  Pt. 2 Fast Brevet or Double Century ]

In the first article, I described how to train for a one-day event: the general principles and the training phases. What if you want to set a PR? Let’s look at how to train for a fast double or brevet.

Energy Systems
When we do a long ride, we use three different energy systems and we have to train each energy system differently. The systems are:

  • Fat-burning: at low to moderate intensities, we burn primarily stored body fat for fuel. Our endurance depends on how much body fat we have (usually not a problem!), our supply of the enzymes necessary to metabolize the fat, and our supply of mitochondria—where the enzymes metabolize the fat—within our muscles. We develop enzymes and mitochondria through long, slower rides.

  • Glycogen-burning: at a moderate, conversational pace, we’re riding aerobically and metabolizing both body fat and glycogen from stores in our muscles and liver. A well-conditioned rider can store roughly 400 - 500 grams (1,600 to 2,000 calories) of glycogen. His or her endurance is limited by this store of fuel as well as the supply of the specific enzymes necessary to metabolize glycogen aerobically. The amount of glycogen a rider can store as well as the supply of enzymes can be increased through aerobic training and, of course, the store of glycogen can be replenished by consuming carbohydrates while riding.

  • Anaerobic glycogen-burning: at high intensities, when we are breathing hard, we aren’t taking in enough oxygen to metabolize fat and glycogen aerobically. The first two metabolic systems continue to provide energy and we also add anaerobic metabolism of glycogen. This produces lactic acid as a by-product—we all know that lactic burn in our legs.

We use a different mix of the energy systems depending on the length of the event and the pace at which we ride the event:

  • During high-intensity road-races and time-trials we use a mix of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of glycogen.

  • During fast brevets and doubles we use primarily aerobic metabolism of glycogen supplemented with metabolism of stored body fat.

  • During slower brevets and tours we rely primarily on metabolism of body fat, supplemented with aerobic metabolism of glycogen on the climbs and when riding fast.

Riding a Fast Double or Brevet
To ride a fast double or brevet, you need to:

  1. Maximize the amount of time you spend riding in your threshold aerobic zone—the zone before you start producing energy anaerobically. Be careful not to go anaerobic—you’ll have to recover and that will slow you down—and don’t drop into the easy aerobic pace where you’re getting most of your energy from body fat. You need to learn to ride in a fairly narrow zone of intensity. (Because you’re primarily burning glycogen, you also need to eat a lot of carbohydrates during the event.)

  2. Maximize the amount of sustainable power you can produce without going anaerobic.

You can train to maximize both the time you spend in the threshold zone and your power output in that zone. How? By specific training based on your lactate threshold.

Your lactate threshold (LT) is the point at which your body starts to produce a significant proportion of energy from primarily You can estimate your LT by riding a time trial (either flat or a hill climb) that takes about 30 minutes to complete. Wear your pulse monitor, ride absolutely as hard as you can, and note your average pulse. Your average pulse for the time trial will be very close to your LT. (If you test yourself in a competitive time trial, rather than one in training, your average pulse will be about 5% above your LT.)

Now that you know your LT, you can pay attention to which energy systems you are using during rides and, thus, to which energy system you are training:

  • Fat burning: heart rate less than 88% of your LT. Recovery rides and the easy portion of longer rides.

  • Aerobic: heart rate between 88 and 95% of your LT. To ride a fast one-day event, you should keep your pulse in this zone, maximizing the amount of time in the upper part of the zone.

  • Anaerobic: heart rate more than 95% of your LT.

Even if you plan to ride primarily in the aerobic zone, you need to train in all three zones. Training in your fat-burning zone will increase the mitochondria and the blood supply to your muscles. Training anaerobically will increase your oxygen uptake and raise your anaerobic threshold so that you can go faster without going anaerobic.

Progressive Intensity Workouts
To develop sustainable power and speed for a one-day event, you can do two different types of workouts. All of these workouts are stressful. The majority of your riding time each week should be in endurance rides and recovery rides in the lower aerobic and fat-burning zones. After you have built a good base of early season miles, mix in two days a week of:

Tempo workouts at 88-95% of your LT. These workouts will increase your muscle endurance, your ability to sustain a high pace for hours. Early in the season, start with two or three cruise intervals of 10 to 20 minutes in this zone, with full recovery between each interval. Gradually increase the number and duration of the intervals. Later in the season, go for tempo rides of two to three hours in this zone, building up to a century or more at this pace.

Lactate threshold workouts at more than 95% of your LT. These workouts will increase the power you can produce at LT as well as at lower heart rates and may also increase your LT, both of which will allow you to go faster without going anaerobic. If you could sustain 150 bpm for 30 minutes, after several months of this training, your power and speed at LT would increase and your LT might increase to 155 or 160 bpm. After at least a month of threshold workouts (88-95% of LT), you are ready to do LT workouts. You can either do structured intervals, starting with several intervals of 3 or 4 minutes with full recovery between each, or unstructured training, for example hammering a series of hills of about the same duration as the intervals. Gradually increase the duration and number of the intervals, hills, etc. Hill climbs and time trials are another excellent type of sub-LT training.

These workouts help you prepare for that fast brevet or double in two ways:

  • Threshold workouts increase your specific muscle endurance
  • The anaerobic workouts increase the power you can produce at lactate threshold and at lower intensities.
If you are training for a specific event, you should do these workouts in similar conditions and terrain to that event.

Your training should culminate with race pace training. If you plan to ride a 12 hour double century, then practice riding 6 hour centuries. Learn what that pace feels like and learn to sustain it, not going slower or faster.

When you go for the PR, discipline yourself. If you go anaerobic on the first big climb, you’ll have to slow down later to recover. Try to stay below 95% of your LT as much as possible . . . but not much below there!

Intensity —How to Plan & Gauge the Most Beneficial Training
Available from RoadBikeRider.com

[ Training for a   Brevet or Double Century   |  Fast Brevet or Double Century ]

Originally printed in UltraCycling, revised 2010.