I used to be a runner. I used to be a marathoner. I used to love training. I used to love racing. It all seemed so simple. It all seemed so black & white. It all seemed so natural. But was it really? Or was I remembering what it was like towards the end of my running career and forgetting what it was like when I first started?
To me, the formula was pretty simple. Build a solid base of miles in the “off season”. That meant running about 45 miles per week. Marathon training required that I up the mileage to a base of 70 miles 12 weeks before my target marathon. 8 weeks would do in a pinch. 2 days each week of track intervals. 2 days each week of tempo runs. 1 day each week for a 20 miler. And 2 days where I let my body tell me what I should to do. Simple.
Due to a running injury, I had to have knee surgery to repair a simple tear. The expectation was that I would be grounded for a week, maybe two. I never would have guessed that my short run the morning of my scheduled surgery would be my last run. The surgery was a complete success. In fact, I was walking 9 holes of golf and carrying my golf clubs on a hilly course only 6 days after my surgery.
The problem was that my surgeon found a different problem once he got a look inside my knee. I have no lubrication in my knees. The result is bone on bone scraping with every step I take. The wear and tear from running is anywhere from 20 to 30 times worse than it is from walking. My surgeon estimated that I would like need replacement surgery in 3 to 5 years if I kept running. That was more than 13 years ago.
Return to Rookie-hood
I tried many exercise routines to replace running. It was 10 or 11 years before I finally tried road cycling. The initial investment just to try cycling was a bit steep. I didn’t want to make that initial investment only to discover I really didn’t care for road cycling. But once I tried it, I fell in love with it immediately. I didn’t really know what I was doing.
My only goal early on was to ride as often as I could and build a solid base of miles. I knew from marathon running that anything I would want to try later on would require a solid base of miles. It seemed logical to me that the same thing would be true of road cycling. I didn’t know anything about the sport, not even from a spectator perspective. But I knew it would take some time to build that solid base of miles.
When I first started riding I thought I wanted to participate in bike races. I thought bike racing would be comparable to road racing. I was very disappointed to learn that I could not be more wrong. I think of the two kind of like this. RUNNER: I finished my first marathon in 5 hours. REACTION FROM OTHER RUNNERS: Fantastic!! Congratulations!! You are now a marathoner!!! And on and on it goes. Compare that to Cycling races. CYCLIST: I finished my first Century bike race and I didn’t get dropped from the peloton until the 80 mile mark. REACTION FROM OTHER CYCLISTS: So, are you going to throw your bike in the dump and burn the cycling kit? Okay, maybe a little bit of an exaggeration, but not too much.
A little over a year ago I participated in my first century ride. With no previous long distance cycling experience, I wanted to be sure that my training was going to be enough for me to achieve my primary goal, to finish. At the time, I only knew one person who had completed a century ride. Even he had only one century ride under his belt so his ability to help me was limited.
I was very fortunate to find a few long distance cyclists on dailymile (www.dailymile.com) who were able to provide some great information. I should take this opportunity to specifically thank dailymile friend Richard C. for patiently answering all my questions, sending me detailed information on hydration and calorie requirements, Heart Rate profiles and pacing recommendations along with a large number of other great bits of information.
I knew what I had to do as a marathon running to be successful. I had no idea what I needed to be successful as a Century cyclist. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what success was. Talk about operating at a deficit! But I knew I needed to have a training plan. Instead of being able to turn the information I was getting and turning it into a solid training plan, I was becoming overwhelmed. I really just wanted a training plan. How many days should I ride each week? How far should I ride each day? What kind of intensity should I be putting into each ride? If I can ride x miles in y time, how fast will my century ride be?
Clearly it wasn’t going to be that easy.
I did numerous searches for century ride training programs for century rides. I found plans that talked about how many days each week I should ride. I found training plans that told me what my heart rate should be on each ride. I found training plans that told me how many watts I should be pushing on each ride.
Not that it was part of the training per se, but complicating all this was getting amazing, detailed information about how many calories I should be taking in each hour, how much water and electrolyte replacement drink I should be taking in each hour, and the most critical of all, my bum hurt seemingly all the time!
Training plans seemed to go from the ridiculously simple, very low mileage plans designed to get someone across the century finish line. Eventually. Not that I knew what that would be for me, but there was no emphasis whatsoever on time. Other plans were so ridiculously complex and detailed, that I was completely lost on how I could possibly participate in such a plan on my own.
Even though I had no previous experience riding century rides, I knew none of what I found would be right for me. What was wrong with these plans? Some of them were written by highly respected cycling coaches. Some were designed by cycling teams and proven over time. Some were far too conservative, or at least I thought they were. I wasn’t really sold on tracking my training according to an HR monitor, so that wasn’t going to work for me. I wasn’t going to buy a Power Tap, so using WATTS wasn’t an option.
That got me thinking back to my marathon training. Why did I feel so confident in that? Well the bottom line was experience, sure. But it was more than that. The real difference was that I believed in what I was doing. It wasn’t even a question. It was a simple fact. Talk about faith!! So I do I use this concept of “faith-based” training. That’s what I needed.
So what is “faith-based” training? I think it’s pretty simple really. The components are:
Believable: I honestly believe there are any number of training plans that will help me be successful. No matter which plan you choose, it has to be a plan that you believe in. If this plan is coming from your coach, then you have to first believe in the coach. If you don’t, it’s going to be difficult to buy into any plan that s/he is proposing. Believing in the coach can go a long way, but you still have to believe in the plan. That means that specific plan for YOU. Sure, that plan got elite athletes to achieve their goals, but I’m not an elite athlete. So it has to be believable … for you.
Manageable: The training plan has to fit your schedule and your life. We all give up certain things when we are training. Expect to make sacrifices. Most of us have families and jobs that require a certain amount of our time. Maybe drinks with the gang after work, or you need to get your spouse to help get the kids on the bus in the morning. But it can’t be such a drastic departure from our normal lives that we simply can’t stick to it.
Flexible: The plan should be specific enough to be clear on what needs to be done on any given day. But it should be general enough to provide overall goals for the week. For example, I used to plan my track workouts Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes I had to travel out of town. I could almost always get a run in while I was away. But to get a long run or a track workout done was much more difficult. So I might have to do my track intervals on Monday one week and skip the second one. I might even do a little more since I would only be doing that workout once that particular week. But I was confident that the plan still gave me plenty of quality to achieve my goals.
Enjoyable: You might have thought this last item to be a bit odd. But I think this is essential to faith-based training. Whether your goal is to run a 5k, complete a century ride or complete an ironman, training is hard! That’s part of why these goals are important to us. Because it’s hard! If you don’t enjoy the training that’s required to get you there, it will be very difficult if not impossible to stick with it over a period of many weeks. First of all, I competed in events that I enjoyed the most. I did run the occasional 5k, but I much preferred longer distances. As a result, almost all of my races were 10 miles or more. That’s what I enjoyed.
Does that mean I always enjoyed my track workouts? Absolutely not. Did I always enjoy my 20 mile runs? Usually, but not always. I found that I preferred running 400’s on the track over fartlek on the roads. I found I liked to compete against myself and the track would allow me to do that. I found I enjoyed running with other people, so I worked it out so I could run track intervals on days when others would also be running intervals. On weekends, I would sometimes drive 15 or 20 miles to meet friends who were also running 20 miles that day. Even though it was hard, I can honestly say I looked forward to almost every workout.
MY CENTURY PLAN
So what did I do for my training before my first century ride? I used faith-based training to develop a plan I could believe in. It might not have been the most efficient plan or be the best plan and it might not have allowed me to get the most out of my abilities. But it did allow me to achieve my goals for my first century and have fun training for it.
Specifically, I “talked” to as many people as I could find. I read as many articles as I could get my hands on. I tried to ride as much as I could. And in the end, I believed I would be able to complete my first century ride, complete it within a self-imposed time frame and enjoy the experience.
Looking back a year and a half at that first century ride, it remains a very special event for me. It is not my fastest. But it is my favorite. I learned a lot from that first ride. I learned that I was not doing enough high intensity rides. I learned that I needed to incorporate more hills into my training, at least if I planned on riding hilly century rides. And I learned that I loved it, all because I relied on faith-based training. You gotta believe.