• Training Tips from Colby Pearce •

If you are reading this, you are at least considering taking part in the Colorado Peace Ride, which will happen in August of 2010. If you do take part, you will be treated to some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery, historic mountain towns, epic ski resorts, and paved playgrounds of the Rocky Mountains.

In order to maximize your enjoyment of such a fantastic event, adequate preparation and organization are essential. In addition to some training prescriptions which will help prepare you for the experience, I will provide a list of helpful tips which range in everything from sunscreen recommendations to advice on encountering mountain wildlife.

Time to Get Ready

One of the oldest surviving methodologies of training is know as periodization, or the breaking down of a long training cycle (typically one year) into blocks of time which focus on specific aspects of fitness. Training in this fashion allows a rider to assemble separate components of cycling into a cumulative effort in which performance will exceed the sum of the individually trained aspects. For elite competition, this means world records or smashing a PR in a given event; for the Colorado Peace Ride, this means enjoying your event to the fullest capacity without discomfort or distraction from your connection with the bike, your environment, your self, and your companions.

Training should begin about 4 months before the event in order to be properly prepared. Fitness is like a mountain; the bigger the base, the higher the peak. Start earlier rather than later with consistent riding, rather than being on the “cram for the exam” plan and trying to fit too much into the summer. Also keep in mind that its better to do 4 one hour rides a week instead of one 4 hour ride, so if those pesky life tasks such as work and family picnics disrupt your ideal training model, don’t stress, just get in short rides when you can.

Examining the demands of the event, the notable points are that it requires four consecutive days of riding, according to the following schedule:

Day 1: Durango – Ouray 74 miles
Day 2: Ouray – Telluride 48 miles
Day 3: Telluride – Dolores 60 miles
Day 4: Dolores – Durango 56 miles
Total: 238 miles

These routes will require several miles of steady climbing each day. Each day also begins and finishes at altitude.

Making the assumption that you have some baseline of physical fitness, and are in generally good health, the following program should prepare you for the event:

In April, begin with consistent rides 3-4 days a week, including 2 rides on the weekends, one of which should be about 2 hours or 30-40 miles long. Aim for a target volume of 4 -6 hrs of riding per week. Don’t worry about any specific intensity, heart rate, or power zone for these rides. In fact, its better in the early stages of training to intentionally ride at a more relaxed pace. This will train your body to be efficient, and you will be less likely to overdo it initially.

Just enjoy the time on the bike, and focus on one thing: your cadence. Cadence, or RPM’s, is the number of times you pedal in one minute. Cadences average around 90-100 rpms for cyclists who are well trained, and the number one difference between a seasoned rider and a novice is their cadence. A rider who can smoothly turn the pedals over will be able to ride longer distances on less fuel and with less muscular soreness than someone who wobbles along in a bigger gear. A finely tuned BMW engine can hum along at a high number of RPM’s and still give a smooth ride; this is what you are aiming for.

TIP: There are a few ways to measure cadence, the simplest of which is to install a cyclometer with a cadence feature. Some bicycle computers use a wired cadence sensor which attaches near the bottom bracket, others use a wireless cadence sensor, and others provide “virtual cadence” which is calculated based on your gear choice and speed. This means that while you are coasting, your computer will tell you your cadence is 112rpm on a downhill, which is a bit silly, but it works quite well the rest of the time.

TIP: Being able to pedal smoothly at a high cadence on your bike is dependant on having your bicycle properly fitted. Correct bike fit is absolutely essential to enjoying your riding experience and will minimize the likelihood of discomfort or injury. If your bike was not fitted by an expert when you purchased it, having a professional fitting before you begin your training program is a great way to get things off on the right foot.

Aim to maintain a cadence of close to 100 rpm on flat or slightly graded roads during your rides; this will probably feel to you as if you are in too small of a gear for the first week or two, until your pedaling habits become refined. The day you ride for 2 hours at 100 rpm and don’t have to concentrate every minute on your cadence, you are starting to become a cyclist. When you approach a hill, try to keep your cadence as close to 100 RPM as possible, until you run out of gears, and then just get up the hill in the smallest gear you have got. For the first month of training, try to select terrain which is primarily flat. This will facilitate your cadence work.

For the second month, choose rides which have some short hills if you live in an area where you have varied terrain (shoot to keep most of the climbs under a mile or two in length). This will begin to build your leg strength and add a slightly increased load to your cardiovascular system. Remember that as your fitness increases, and your workload increases, your caloric needs may increase as well. Hunger pangs are the reward of the hard working cyclist. Try not to dump too many donuts in the newly created stomach chasm.

Continue this cadence work for about 2 months total, and for the second month, try to increase your total weekly ride time to about 6-8 hours. You may find that after 6-8 weeks of consistent training, you need a week of down time, in which you should cut your volume in half. This brief rest period will allow you to continue training and remain fresh in the next few months.

In the third month of preparation, increase your weekly volume to about 10-12 hours of training, with two solid rides on the weekends of 3 or more hours, or 45-60 miles each. By the third month of training, the weather will be more consistent (no matter what part of the country you live in), and you will have a sufficient base to begin to add a few longer climbs into your rides. These can be anywhere from 2-20 miles in length. Remember to try and keep a light cadence on the hills.

TIP: If you find your cadence is regularly below 80 rpm for extended periods on climbs, and you are in your smallest gear when this happens, consider having a lower gear or compact crankset installed on your bike.

In the final month of ride preparation, make one ride on the weekend a longer one. Shoot to equal or slightly exceed the total volume of your longest ride on the tour (which is Day 1, Durango – Ouray, 70 miles). Keep in mind that because this ride is done at altitude, those of you who live at sea level will need to ride a bit further (85-90 miles) to accumulate the same workload as a 70 mile ride at 6000-10,000 ft. This is simply due to the higher metabolic cost of riding at altitude.

TIP: UV exposure can be stronger at altitude, so don’t forget your sunscreen, you don’t want your buddies to nickname you The Human Torch all weekend. Also, when you are riding or training at high elevations, the weather can change very suddenly and can quickly go to extremes. So no matter how completely sunny and cloudless it is at 9 AM, always bring a rain jacket when you are headed for the big climbs.

A typical weekend ride schedule might look like:

Saturday: get up, eat plate of pancakes, ride of 2 hrs, mostly flat, cadence of 100 rpm most of the time
Sunday: get up, eat plate of pancakes, but more of them than yesterday, ride of 4.5 hrs, with a total of 30 miles of climbing over the route, 85 miles, 100 rpm on the flats

This final month of work will give you iron quads and lungs. The extra climbing provides a stimulus to make your legs stronger, and this will give you a solid top end after the aerobic base which was built with all the spinning you have done in the previous months. If you want to push yourself during a ride, the natural place to do it is on hills. Climbs are where you gain or loose the most time. Because your speed is slower, a 1% change in power translates to much more time gained or lost on a slope. So if you are feeling a competitive urge, be conservative on the flats and lift your pace on the climbs. Always gauge your efforts so that you save your strongest push for the crest of the mountain.

TIP: Keep your eyes open for different wildlife while riding in CO during the route. If you see a small, squirrel like critter run across the road at high altitude, you are either hallucinating, or you have just seen a marmot.

Make the final week before you arrive in CO for the event a reduced training week, in order to ensure you are properly rested before the event. Cut your volume in half from the previous week, and make most of your rides flat, or with very little climbing. This would be a good time to get a bit of extra sleep, make sure not to skip any meals, and eat your spinach. Remember that you actually get stronger during rest periods, when your body recuperates, not during hard training. This week is the final necessary step in preparation for your event.

You now have the basic tools necessary to tackle the Colorado Peace Ride. Happy training, and I will see you on the road.

Tailwinds and other fortuitous weather,

Colby Pearce

Michelob-Ultra / Big Shark Racing Team
CO native
Hopeless Cycling Addict
2004 Olympian

Read Colby Pearce's Biography here.