Training tips from the experts

As riders and racers, we all know the importance of being fit, setting goals and staying motivated to achieve positive results for the year ahead. While most of us will slip if we set very strict resolutions, sticking to simple, bite-size changes can be far more achievable. This approach is most important when it comes to training, especially when it’s grey, wet and miserable outside and motivation is lacking. So how do others do it? The Tailfin R&D Division riders have incredible experience in riding, racing and training, so who better to provide you with training tips for getting the best out of your new year of riding?

Gail Brown
First female finisher HT550 2022

Training tips

1. Perhaps the least exciting, least sexy and most predictable of training tips is if you want to get super fit and stay injury-free, consistency is vital. That doesn’t mean just mile munching; it’s building a solid base, regular sessions at high intensity, regular strength and mobility work, fuelling well and prioritising sleep as often as you can. Consistency will result in you being healthy when you do something big, and you’ve got the mileage and the training that enables your body and mind to say, ‘I’ve got this’. As a working adult, I know that that’s hard enough to do; I can’t even imagine how difficult it becomes with a family. But aiming for consistency, even if some weeks pass by in a frustrating blur, is the best way to reach that state of feeling like you can take on anything. 

2. Training doesn’t have to be intense to add value. I used to feel like every session needed to ‘count’; if it didn’t hurt or I didn’t work hard, then what was the point? But if we don’t find joy in things, listen to ourselves, move at the speed of others sometimes and notice what’s around us, what’s the point? Sometimes the most significant training benefit can be to go for a steady, playful and mindful pedal. 

3. Overload injuries commonly occur when you surprise your body with a load it’s not used to, even more so when you’re overstretched and under fuelled. It might seem obvious, but the way to prevent this is to reduce the element of surprise and consider what’s going on in the rest of your life. Think about building a strong, sturdy base before building up. If you reduce the element of surprise and factor in recovery – good nutrition and sleep, you’re more likely to keep those overuse niggles at bay. 

4. Find a way to make conditioning work enjoyable. If you’re anything like me and just want to ride your bike, it can be hard to feel motivated to do strength work or mobility. Ask yourself how you can make it fun and varied; there are loads of different avenues. Some examples: invest in a course of pilates sessions, join a gym, sign up for a bodyweight program that’s different every day, have a yoga or conditioning buddy and reward yourselves with coffee after. If it’s fun and regular, you’re much more likely to stick with it and become more physically resilient as a result. 

5. Goal setting: I find the concept of ‘holding goals lightly’ useful. Whether I achieve them or not does not define my worth. It’s the striving for them that adds value to my life. The exploration of whether they’re possible and the training process is the outcome, not necessarily the completion of the goal itself. This mindset facilitates me to aim high and keeps me motivated through periods of doubt or when life throws a curveball. 

Ben Davies
First male finisher TCRNo7

“The most important metric is consistency, irrespective of available training time, commitments to work around or phase in the season. Use the winter to set your goals, create your training plan and start getting the habits that support consistency ingrained.”

Jay Petervary
Ultra-endurance legend

Training Tips: As the New Year approaches, and for someone who lives in a very snowy climate, I do a few different things to keep my cycling fitness and stoke!

1) I often go from one event to the next, not knowing too far in advance most of the time, but I do like to put a couple of things on the calendar at this time of year for the next. Usually, something big and then a single-day event that gets me fired up. That holds me accountable and gives me something to plan/look forward to. 

2) Cross-training and the gym! I fat bike and ski through the winter. Fat biking on snow is really good for strength and getting to know the bike, as riding snow can be technical and demanding. Skiing is good for the brain and other muscle use. The gym is where I work on all my little niggles (injuries), mobilisation, and stabilisation of muscle groups that I don’t get while sitting on the bike.

Vedangi Kulkarni
Solo around the world cyclist

“Pushing yourself physically should be fun. If you’re having one of those days and are just not feeling it, plan a route with great views, create a playlist with your favourite songs or take snacks that you like to munch along the way- whatever makes the ride a little bit more pleasant! Because the minute you’re out on your bike and have ridden a few miles, you’re gonna feel good and want to continue riding. But the preparation beforehand to make it fun can be the thing that gets you out of the door sometimes!”

Finley Newmark
Ex-pro racer and gravel bikepacking racer

“There are plenty of technical training plans which tell you the zones, heart rates etc. But for me, the biggest factor in whether I actually complete those sessions is time and setting priorities. Blocking out sections of your day in advance and treating it as equal importance to work and (maybe) family rather than a ‘plus if you find time’ allows you to maintain your consistency, which really is your golden ticket to improvement.

But always know that it won’t make a difference if you miss a session, don’t try and make up for it. Just reset the next day and move on – rested and excited for what comes ahead. 

A more ultra-distance training tip would be not to neglect your mechanic skills. If you have self-supported goals in 2023, then work out how all your equipment works, take it apart and put it back together (within reason). It will save you a lot more time than you think if you get in a sticky situation. “

Justinas Leveika
Winner of RAR, Dotwatcher rider of the year 2022

“First of all, the biggest secret to training is also the most obvious one; consistency. It is very easy to set yourself big training goals, but you also have to ask yourself what is realistic to get done. If you have trained for 3 hours a week, that jump to 15 hours might look too big.  Start easy; you will feel better when you match your training hours, motivating you more than starting too big and failing. 

Secondly – enjoy the process! It is much easier to train with a goal in mind. Start planning a bikepacking adventure with your friends, or sign up for the race, and see how it changes your perspective towards training and motivation.”

Chris Hall
7 Everests completer, bikepacking racer

“Ride slow. Make the easy rides easy. It sounds really simple, but I’m a big believer in long steady, easy miles in the winter, which help boost your overall fitness by improving your aerobic fitness, which means your threshold can be pushed higher. So don’t just focus on doing loads of hard short stuff. Get the miles in and the hours in.

FUEL FUEL FUEL. So many people under-fuel their training. British Cycling state a general rule is to take on one gram of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight per hour. This would equate to approximately 75 grams of carbohydrates per hour for a 75 kilogram rider. If you fuel correctly, you can train better, perform better and recover better. A mince pie contains between 20-30g carbs. You can thank me later for that one. 

Wrap up warm. Winter riding outside can be tough if the conditions are rough. I’ve always found putting foil around my socks and then into my shoes really helps with the wind chill on my toes. Don’t take silly risks if it’s icy. Jump on the turbo or mix it up and head out on the MTB instead of a road bike.”

James Hayden
Multiple TCR Winner + Ultra-endurance legend

Training tips

1. Be realistic in your goal setting. Goals should always be a stretch but also attainable with work. If you’re setting a goal to train X hours a week, but this won’t happen, reduce it. It’s always better to reset your goal rather than miss it. If you can build flexibility into the goal, then you make life easier. So if you currently ride six hours a week, setting a goal to ride 20 hours with two five-hour rides is a big change. But if you are more reasonable and say I want to ride 10 hours a week, and if I can make one of those a longer ride, you’ll get a great mental boost when you look back and see you’ve hit that goal for four weeks. At that point, you can then look to reset it to a higher goal. Build up. 

2. Less can be more. It’s easy to be a superhero in training for a short period, but consistency is king. Riding a smaller amount consistently week in and week out without injury or illness will lead you to a higher level of fitness in the long run. I always have to remind myself of this one. 

3. Don’t overlook doing the other stuff. We all love riding our bikes, and it can be easy to avoid putting time into the more boring bits. But if you’re doing the TCR, you need to invest serious time in your route. If you’re going to Kyrgyzstan, you must learn how to dress appropriately and be comfortable in a 4,000m storm. You always need to know more about bike mechanics and fixing your bike. You need to spend time optimising your packing system, not just with different bags but with how the bags are organised and located for efficient access. Getting a bike fit can be useful too. There are always things I need to remind myself to do, as it’s easy just to get out riding. Still, days where the weather is terrible and raining are a great opportunity to swap in any of the above unless you need to go out testing waterproof kit (which I need to do this winter preparing for the Highland Trail 550).

Andy Cox
Creator of the European Divide Trail

1: Get comfortable being uncomfortable. At points in a race, you’ll be too hot or too cold, so it pays to try to get used to that. Saunas and ice baths would definitely get you used to the extremes and are both great for recovery. 

2: Time management. How long you take to pack up in the morning or eat breakfast, shop in a supermarket or even just find a layer to put on can all add up. And while they won’t win you a race, get them wrong, and the additional time spent could certainly lose you one. 

3: Route profile knowledge. Knowing what’s in store for you next helps you deal with the frustrations of the terrain and your mind and body’s potential inability to cope with what’s ahead. Sure it could also bring stress and anxiety about an upcoming climb or technical section, but  ‘forewarned is forearmed’ is definitely a good mantra to have. 

4: ‘Prepare for the worst, Hope for the best’  Good waterproofs, even in the summer. Extra layers, even when it’s hot. Extra tubeless sealant and a tyre boot, even when you’ve just put on new rubber for the event. Mental training, even when you’re in great physical shape. 

These things can make or break your ability to deal with the unexpected and not be another DNF. 

Marcia Roberts
World record holder LEJOGLE

1 – Know your why! Have a reason for training that is so compelling that it will get you out of bed, regardless of the weather, and make you actually want to train. ‘to get fit’ isn’t a compelling enough reason, but to say ‘ fuck you to cancer’ for example is very compelling.

When training for LeJogle, I had a compelling starting point that got added to as the ride got closer.  For years I had wondered just how far my legs could actually cycle.  And, being an older, slower rider, I had never come first at anything. In fact, if I finished a ride in the middle of the pack, I would be overjoyed. Usually, I just came last, determined to finish, come what may. Signing up for a Guinness World Record was the motivation I needed to train for the epic event and be formally recognised for being the fastest at riding my bike.  Along the way, though, a friend suffered significant mental health issues, and after seeing the effect it had on them, raising money for Mind seemed a significant extra reason. What is your WHY?

2 – Create a habit. Routine is everything.  It doesn’t need to be a bike ride daily; you could mix it up. There will be days, especially through the winter, when your energy levels make you want to curl up on the sofa with a book. This is ok, be kind to yourself.  But, if you have a workout scheduled, do something anyway.  Take a walk, do some yoga, go for a swim.  It helps keep your mental and physical health in check and will help you avoid that guilt that often follows when you miss a workout.  You can get back on your program the next day.

3 – It’s not all about riding a bike. Strength and conditioning through the winter months can really improve not just your strength but also reduce your risk of injury.  If you are new to riding gravel or off-road, you’ll find that you use your upper body strength much more than on the road. Although this means less shoulder pain since you are moving more of your body off-road, your core and arm muscles will take more of a battering. Strengthening these areas will help on inevitable hike-a-bike sections or when riding a laden bike up a mountain pass. When the weather is grim, it’s the perfect time to focus on these areas so that you are ready to hit the ground running (riding) when the mud finally dries out.