Continuing on in my series of thoughts on AIDS/LifeCycle (ALC), training for it, riding in it, raising funds for it, etc, I’m going to talk about the topic that comes up most frequently in conversation, and that’s training. In all honesty, I think that training is a common conversation to have because the distance of the ride seems so large. It seems so improbable that you can actually finish a 500+ mile tour without putting yourself through a very serious training regimen. As I mention in my previous post in this series, try to remember that the mileage is over a week and that cycling is the most energy-efficient method of transportation available. Those distances look far, but once you start your training and get some rides under your belt, it’ll become clear that the training isn’t going to kill you and neither is ALC. Since I love tilting at straw men, I’m going to again present my thoughts and advice as responses to statements I’ve heard or am likely to be asked.
I just signed up as a rider. I have to start training. What do I do?
First off, congratulations on signing up. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime. I really mean that. I’d rather ride ALC than pretty much any other cycling activity I can think of. Of course, you’re going to need to do some work to be ready for the ride, but I promise you that you can do it. The most important thing to remember through this entire process is that ALC is a ride and not a race. The goal of your ride is to safely finish as many miles as you possibly can. You are not concerned with how long it takes you to do it (aside from trying to finish before the trail closes in the evening). You are not concerned with your finish time. You are not concerned about the other riders. You’re concerned about you finishing the course safely.
You’re going to train accordingly. The two things that your training plan needs to develop are your cardiovascular endurance and your riding experience. You will most effectively develop both by getting out there and riding. There’s just no replacement for doing this. Through this post and others, suggestions I give should be seen as additional to this. The most important thing for you to do is get on your bike and ride it. You need to ride it in all sorts of conditions, including at least a little riding in wet conditions, in the heat, in the cold, and in some level of traffic. You need to ride flat terrain, and you need to ride hills. Sit down with Google Maps. Pick a place to go. Go there with your bike. That’s a good training ride for ALC. Pick another place. That is also a good training ride for ALC. If you can do your daily commute by bike, even if it’s only one day a week, then do it. If not, start visiting places by bike on the weekend. If you’ve got a lazy Saturday and you’re going to your friend’s house, consider doing it on your bike. See the world from that perspective.
It can’t really be that simple. I was hoping you’d give me something with some structure to go on.
You’re right that it isn’t that simple, but you’re going to be training for months and there are a few fundamentals to get out of the way first. You’re a mysterious italic text in my blog, and I don’t know you very well, but I can tell you that the three qualities you’re going to need in abundance on ALC are cardiovascular endurance, riding experience, and dedication. You won’t finish the ride without all three. Committing yourself right now to riding as often as possible gets you started on all three of those at once. As you start riding and start building more confidence in your endurance and in your experience, you’re going to find yourself seeking out more challenging rides. It’s inevitable once you find it fun. If you don’t find it fun, then you’re going to have a very long week at ALC. So, it’s rather important that you actually do as much “fun riding” as you can! Going out and having relaxing, productive, and fun rides is actually teaching you a lot about your muscle memory for riding. It’s going to help you understand your pace better, and when you’re ready to get super-serious, you’ll know a few things about how you feel comfortable riding.
Well, I don’t actually know how to ride a bike.
You’re very courageous to sign up for an event like ALC without prior cycling experience. They run workshops to help get you started, and I highly encourage you to take them rather than taking advice from my blog. I am not qualified to teach you how to ride a bike through my writing. Suffice it to say, though, that as you learn to ride, keep yourself in environments that are safe for your skill level. Parking lots are your friends, and you can use very large parking lots early in the morning to do safe and long rides. Find your local bike paths and parks. Do not get out on the road until you know how to handle your ride. There are many months in which to learn. Don’t push yourself.
Should I start using the stationary bike at the gym?
It’s not a bad idea to do so, provided that you’re also taking yourself out on regular rides on your bike. Stationary bikes are good for a few things. The first is that you can ride them whenever you want. The second is that you can control the ride, which lets you have rides that target fitness goals. A third one is that you can play video games while you ride them. So, yes. Go to the gym and get on that bike. This is an easy way to cram in more ride time. Just don’t treat it like a replacement for your actual rides, because while you can develop your body riding a stationary bike, you will not build riding experience.
Should I start taking a spin class?
I’m sure you’ll find plenty of benefit in doing so. That said, I don’t think they’re necessary at all. I’m a very successful long distance rider and I have attended only one spin class in my entire life. In fact, your gym’s spin classes may not be focused on helping you develop the way you need to. ALC is all about staying on your bike for hours and committing yourself to a pace you can keep all day long. Spin classes are often about intense bursts of effort, pushing you to be a panting, sweating mess. They’ll help you build leg muscles quickly, no doubt, but you should remember that they’re not the end-all of your training plan. You don’t make yourself a marathon runner by training for the 500m hurdles.
What about group rides?
If your abilities and your attitude gel with a local group, then you absolutely should do a group ride. Here in San Jose, we have San Jose Bike Party, who focus on fun and safety in their rides, and that works out really well for me. I steer clear of clubs full of people who race, because the last thing I want when I’m riding is hearing a bunch of people trying to be competitive with each other. You might have a competitive mentality, though, and that might be your thing. Either way, group rides will get you out on real road conditions and riding with others. You’ll encounter both in ALC. ALC may even be offering training rides in your area. You should definitely do some if you can. You’ll make some friends that way, and having friends on the ride is a very good thing.
How many miles should I aim for?
In all honesty, that’s something you’re going to have to work out with yourself, and it’s going to depend on your fitness level and how much time you have available. It’s also not about how many miles you do but about the quality of the workout you’re getting. For most of my ALC training, I was riding 15 miles on the road and doing another 20 in the gym every weekday. On the weekends, I would do some unstructured riding, have a run, go for a walk, or just take the whole weekend off. For a few weeks, I was able to sustain 40 and even 50 mile days, all of it over the road, but the reality is that these training days were not the best for my daily schedule and my family life. Don’t push yourself too hard. Keep it fun. Keep your motivation up. Stay in the saddle.
I really was hoping for a workout plan. Maybe you could just recommend a book for me?
In subsequent posts on training, I’ll give you some good ideas about workouts and how to prepare for the legendary hills in ALC. What’s important right now is that you get started and get committed. That said, there’s an excellent book I recommend you read while you start training. It’s called Base Building For Cyclists by Thomas Chappele, and I read it when I was starting out on distance cycling.