I'll bite not just 'cause I'm an idiot, but 'cause it's a great subject. Hopefully the thread will be educational and useful and the debate (which hopefully will ensue, because it's tough to learn from an amen chorus) will be spirited but good-natured.
I'd heard a lot about this article and its thesis, too, but haven't yet seen it. Let me know the cite (author? publication?) and I can track it down. I'd love to see what it says.
As a general principle, I agree with the thesis. I've been pretty surprised in my own riding at what can be accomplished on less than 10,000 miles per year (and on rarely more than 300-350 miles per week in the summer, when the days are long enough that I can -- or rather, want to -- ride after work). Some day maybe I'll pen a book on the subject: It's Not About The Miles: Training for the Long-Distance Cyclist
I've always thought that uber-long rides didn't have much training benefit from a physiological perspective and that they actually did some harm, in two ways. First, recovery time seems to increase in some nonlinear way with ride distance, which means more rest is required or, more commonly since no one wants to rest when it's nice outside, that we tend to ride and train when our bodies aren't ready for it, putting us on a gradual down-hill slope that leaves us at the end of the season feeling physically and mentally tired or, worse, suffering from an over-use injury.
Second, if you're spending your time doing long rides you're not spending that time doing fast rides. (And there's little sense in a long, fast ride that isn't "the event" for which you're training.) You have to ride fast to ride fast. If we're talking about winning 200s and 12- and 24-hour races, training to ride fast is mission-critical. I rode with the leaders for a while at Sebring this year and we hit 32-mph on the track right at the start. And not just for a moment, either -- we were cooking in the high-20s for hours
. Heck, I got dropped at mile 40 after missing a hand-off from my brother and had to time-trial the next 60 miles until I got caught by the second pack, and I still had the first 101.5 miles done in 4:34. The leaders had gone through 20 minutes ahead of me.
I think the only way to get in shape to do this kind of riding is to go out and let the local Pro and Cat1-3 guys (and gals!) put the wood to you on a regular basis. Think you're fast? Check out that Cat.1 guy yacking with his girlfriend on his cell phone (safely at the back of the line, of course!) at 30mph, watch him end the call, put the phone away, and then explode past the rest of the group at nearly 40mph. Ride with those folks with any regularity and you'll get fast. Intense suffering is required, as is stuffing your ego, as is learning some bike handling skills and riding regularly with other people. Unfortunately most long-distance cyclists have difficulty with some or all of these requirements (either because we're obstinate or because we lack access to these kinds of group training rides). And you're never too old to start. Maybe some day I'll get fast enough so that this one guy who is old enough to be my father will stop kicking my ass every Wednesday night....
What this focus on speed work means for training mileage for the competitive LD cyclist is that it comes way, way down. This insane group ride only happens once a week, and it's never gone more than 45 miles (40 is typical and as little as 35 sometimes happens). I do two other very fast (but not that fast) rides a week in the summer, and they're equally short. Toss in two long rides on the weekend and 45 miles worth of commuting (which is useless, really, from training perspective), and you're not looking at many miles. If I wanted to focus on winning events of this length (24-hours and under), I'm riding plenty of miles to do it. I'd make some changes in how I "spent" those miles (I'd force myself to go even harder on the Wednesday night ride), but even that would be relatively minor tweaking to what I'm already doing.
Now with stuff longer than 24-hours is where things get tricky. All the speed work is necessary to bring your overall rolling speed up -- I can cruise for hours and hours at 20mph and without all that work, my "cruising speed" would be a lot lower. Always riding at 15mph? Then you'll always be able to ride at 15mph. But toss that interval work in and watch your comfortable LD cycling pace increase dramatically. Remember, LSD stands for "long, steady
distance." I think this is the key to being competitive and even winning the longer ultra races, probably including RAAM. Bring that rolling average up as high as you can. Go out at a reasonable pace, expect that it'll tail off some after a day or so, but maintain it and finish (relatively) strong. You'll pass all the big boys down the road. That is, if they don't DNF before you pass them on the road. I tested this theory at the Tejas 500 this year and it got me 6th and another RAAM-qualification, and that was after spending nearly 5 hours
off the bike (my nutrition was a total disaster, a subject for another thread). If I want to win Tejas next year, I don't think I need to train/ride any more, or any differently, than I did this year. I think the volume of work I had done was sufficient, and so was the split between recovery/aerobic/and anaerobic work.
The "tricky" part is that I think most of the keys to winning races of this length have more to do with outlook, mental state, and experience
than with physical conditioning. In the "shorter" ultra races, some folks can still get by on brute, physical force. In the shorter stuff, I do as well as I do because I'm young and strong. The Ken Bonners of the world wouldn't stand a chance against us young'uns in a 12-hour event. (I beat one older gentlemen at Metamora by nearly an hour; he beat me by nearly 4 hours at Tejas.) Young and strong gets you a DNF in the longer events while Ken rolls on to crush his course record.... The difference between Ken and me? He's done 29 or 30 1200s and I've done one. Experience. Wisdom. The ability to ride mistake-free.
So (at long last -- thanks for your patience) that brings me to the RAAM training plan. If I had unlimited resources and wanted to ride RAAM to win it, I'd focus my training on acquiring as much RAAM-applicable experience and wisdom as I could. A lot of that "training" would be collecting and analyzing as much information as I could from RAAM-veterans. What worked for them? What didn't? I'd get the most compatible, most flexible, most resilient, most experienced crew with the best sense of humor I could find. I'd get new vehicles that had little chance of breaking down. I'd spend a year or two putting it all to use riding as many of the 500-mile RAAM-qualifiers as I could. I'd set a specific goal for getting really, really fast -- go get a Cat.2 license. I'd enter RAAM the year before I wanted to win it, to put everything to the test. Maybe get myself a nice rookie-of-the-year award, but ride with the goal of "finish, see the course, test everything and myself out." Find out what changes in comfort, nutrition, and sleep needed to be made for next year's winning performance. Then put it all together the next year and go kick some butt.
Training volume? At least through the year before RAAM, the mileage probably doesn't increase all that much. Instead of 10K I'm at 12K? Not a huge change, and still a total volume thatís less than lots of folks ride. And note that a lot of that increase in volume would be because I'm riding more events, which means more miles. During this phase of the training I doubt I'd tinker much with the mix of riding: keep the fast rides fast and the long rides short. The year of RAAM? I'm guessing volume needs to increase significantly, and I'd guess that I'd need to be as comfortable riding a double as I am now riding a century (no notice, any conditions, any terrain, any bike -- just go pop one off for kicks and giggles). I'd guess that this would now bring me into the 400-500 miles a week range that the article's authors were recommending that no one exceed. Until now, I've been consistently below that range. So say I keep the commuting (45 miles), two interval workouts with the Pro/Cat.1-3 studs and studettes (85 miles), two spirited group rides (2x40 miles), a double (200 miles), and a recovery ride (30 miles). That's still in the low-end of the range. As I get more comfortable just ďpopping offĒ the double, add a century in place of the other group rides. Then make that other century a double. Now Iím out of the range, but thatís only because Iím commuting!
What about mega back-to-back rides? I'm thinking probably not at all. Rattling off back-to-back doubles like itís no problem should be plenty. Under this plan, I've got a ton of 500-mile races under my belt. I got Ken Bonner and Danny Chew on my speed dial. I have a ton of confidence and bravado (which I have now, I just lack the experience!) so I know I can do RAAM. I have confidence in my crew and myself, and so I'm going to go out there and ride it. The year of the race for the win? Pretty much the same as the prior year, but I incorporate what I learned on RAAM. Plus now I know for a fact I can finish solo RAAM. Spend the spring racing and get that Cat.1 license. Race the HOS. Go win RAAM. Retire to tropical island with easy access to heli-skiing. Hey, this is my dream, right?
I know I'm painting with a broader brush that you asked for. And I know this plan, if I put it in motion today, wouldn't have me racing to win RAAM until 2009 (which I have no intention and little desire to do. Ok -- I have desire, but no intention.
) Note also that this plan requires that you're already very fast and somewhat experienced, and competitive, in ultra-racing. Just getting to that point might be impossible for some to achieve, even with unlimited resources. And even for those who do get there it could take them years of riding to do it.
So, if youíve read this far, have at it!