Endurance Nation Volume Strategy, Part II: The Big Bike Week

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In Part One of this series, we covered the overall benefits of adding volume to your endurance training regime and how to implement this volume in such a way that would allow you, the age group triathlete, to maintain a work/life/family/training balance, aka a Big Volume Week. In this second installment of the series, we will make the case why there should be two facets to your long-course volume goals as well as cover why the first volume installment should be cycling specific.

To Re-Cap, Why Only a Week?

From our experience, the adaptations to long, aerobic sessions happen relatively quickly and last for a longer period of time than the fast-twitch/high-end fitness work. A quality week is easy to build into your life, easy to focus on, and is adequate time to get a nice bump in your overall fitness. The image below is from Coach Rich’s WKO+ homepage (power file analysis software). The blue line is Rich’s Chronic Training Load (CTL), or the cummulative effects and fitness gains of the training Rich had done over the past six weeks. The purple line is Rich’s Acute Training Load (ATL), the effect of Rich’s training in the last seven days. We’ve highlighted a high volume cycling week during our Tour of California Camp, where we rode over 450 miles in 6 days. Rich piles on the volume (big jump on the purple line, which significantly raises the height of his CTL, the blue line when he exits the camp. You may also be able to see the volume and resultant fitness spikes from a couple well placed, high volume training weekend, one on the Wildflower course at the end of March and other local camp at the end of May. Our experience with recovering from volume like this is that most of you will “feel it” through about the following Thursday, and may be just a little flat / sub-100% by the following weekend.

From TOC athlete training for Coeur d’Alene

Why Two Installments of Volume?

We recommend two separate and distinct volume weeks for your long course season precisely because our seasons are so long. Training for an Ironman® or 70.3® event means you’ll be “working” on your fitness for 6 to 9 months prior to the event, if not longer. The benefits from any particular volume pop will only last for about 2 months at the most, so we stack them appropriately to allow us to build off our regular training but also off of each volume session.

As an example, in training for IMUSA, Patrick typically uses a cycling week in February and a triathlon week in early June to prepare. February gets him out of the basement dungeon and onto the roads…he returns to the lab fitter and re-energized…then after a few weeks of outdoor training he was off to Lake Placid for a 5-day triathlon camp where he put the final touches on his volume just 7 weeks prior to the big day. Note that he would gladly show you his PMC chart, but he lost all of his data in a hard drive issue. Semper BackUp!

The Bike Volume First

There are five main reasons why you should consider doing the bike volume pop first, before doing run/bike/swim volume weeks.

  1. Your body is coming off of a down period and some shorter training. Bumping up to big volume will be stressful and the bike is the the easiest of all three disciplines on your body. There will be fatigue and some discomfort, but they are easily overcome.
  2. A big bike week isn’t that hard to build up to or to recover from. In other words, you can ramp up quickly and you can get right back to your regularly scheduled training right away. We’ve learned through through the experience of our Tour of California training camp, where North Eastern Pain Cave Dwellers have gone from a 3-4hr cycling weeks to 20+hours during the tour, with no endurance-related problems.
  3. Doing the bike week early on and a tri week later in the season means two separate opportunities to push the bike volume up. A reasonable goal is to set a mileage benchmark in your bike only week early in the year, and then try to match that later on when you have added running and swimming to the mix…ouch!
  4. Just cycling reduces a lot of the “noise” of training. Sure you might feel more like a triathlete running 60′ after a 4 hour ride early in the season, but that 60′ isn’t an ideal run (you are heavily fatigued) and is really only eating into your ability to recover for the next day’s riding session.
  5. Finally, it’s easy to take this increased fitness back to the lab and work on it again in our daily training cycles. In other words, a week of high volume helps you cement your early season intensity training and now you can go back to pushing up your threshold numbers with no need to continue riding long. But running and swimming gains are much more fleeting, and will disappear more quickly. It’s recommended that you reserve this volume peaking for later in your season when it will have a direct impact on your actual race.

Sample Bike Volume Week

It’s really easy to find a camp that lines up all the riding, support and logistics for you. We recommend you find a camp that actually allows you to ride a lot (think more riding, less wicker baskets), has several years of experience running the camp, and doesn’t try to add swim or run. If you need to do this on your own however, here are guidelines for a 5 day session for an athlete prepping for an Ironman:

  • Day 1: 60-75 miles
  • Day 2: 80-90 miles
  • Day 3: 80-90 miles
  • Day 4: 50 miles
  • Day 5: 90-100 miles

Days 1 and 4 are “easy” just riding around days, this way you don’t nuke your week on day 1 and you can recover mentally and physically for the final push on Day 5. Days 2, 3 and 5 are all negative split days…out easy, come back just a bit stronger. Any option to use different gear ratios or standing intervals is welcome.

One last note before we move on: you should really consider doing your first big bike volume week of the season on a road bike or roadie set up if possible. Road bikes are more comfy, different than the “I’m going to work” aspect of a tri bike and when all is said and done, the last thing you want to do in sunny CA is spend the whole week looking at everything horizontally! If you plan a big bike week closer to the race, do it on the tri bike so you can accumulate lots of time in the saddle to create race specific fitness, acclimate your body to hours and hours in the aero position, etc.



Coach P

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