It's that time of year again when all the magazines and blogs are full of contradictory advice about base or endurance training - Why should you do it? How should you do it? When should you do it? Blah Blah Blah.........
Look - most of you will know by now (because I am like a stuck record on the subject) that fitness is constructed gradually from the ground up. Everywhere you look in life you see people trying to take short cuts to success. I want to be an internet sensation - an over night celebrity - but I reckon my chances are pretty slim as I don't look like Kim Kardashian. Success generally comes from organised hard work, ability and in the case of cycling, being lucky enough to have parents that gave you good genetics!
Building fitness has to start somewhere every season and it can't be from peak fitness the season before. You can't keep thrashing those threshold and VO2Max intervals 12 months of the year - overtraining, exhaustion and injury will be soon follow this type of training madness.
The vast majority of people I train are goal oriented and at this time of year they have decided a couple of target events or major races for next year. Our training and coaching gets them ready for those events so that they are in peak form for the things they want to do well at. It's all pretty logical. Take the GB cycling team. Performance at the World's - not great. Performance at the Olympics - amazing. Targeting peak fitness for the event that counts.
So where do we start? We start in November or December (it is a roughly 6 month process) with Foundation Training. I call it Foundation because it really is the the base upon which everything else is built. Aerobic fitness is the primary cycling ability. It does not matter if you are criterium racing, racing time trials or doing an Ironman, building aerobic fitness is the first thing you must develop. It not only allows you to cycle for longer but crucially it allows you to absorb greater training load later in the season making you faster, much faster.
I see a lot of people who are really good 50km riders. You normally see them half wheeling on club rides, thrashing around for Strava KOM's - if they could ride with a swagger they would. Invariably, after 70km or so the metaphorical wheels fall off and they have a tactical mechanical or something. Laters.
Z2 riding teaches the body to burn fat as fuel as this is the greatest store of fuel we have in our bodies. Take a 60kg skinny rider with 10% body fat. Thats still 6kg of stored fat. It is generally agreed (I said generally so please no nit picking) that 1kg of fat contains around 8000 calories of food energy. So even your skinny rider with 6kg of stored fat has around 50,000 calories of food energy to tap into - you could ride a long way on that all other things being equal (which they are not).
My point is this - to be a good, well rounded cyclist you need to be efficient at using fat as fuel and not rely 100% on stored carbohydrates which won't keep you going for long. The harder you push the more carbs you use and the less fat you use. By riding in Z2 you rely much more on fat fuel and the body adapts to this and becomes better at using it - it's a wonderful thing!
Here is a typical Z2 ride that are in all of our training programmes in the winter. Lots of Z2 endurance riding but with some Z3 tempo efforts as well.
At the end of the day training has to be specific to the events that you are targeting, or the type of riding that you want to do. If all you ever want to be is a really fast 50km rider then fine you don't need massively deep endurance fitness. If on the other hand you are doing the Etape, Marmotte Mallorca 312 or any of the Alpine Haut Routes, or want to become a well rounded, competitive racer then you do need to be building endurance fitness. It is definitely worth the investment.
As ever I try to cut through the confusion out there and give you what is hopefully a common sense view on many of these training questions based from actual practical experience. As always please contact me if you have any further thoughts or questions at email@example.com.