Training tips for the Wicklow 200 by Joe Conway

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Note: This article was written some years back around the month of March. Plenty of time to build your base fitness level by getting in some low intensity 40 mile spins before taking on longer distances.

This advice is aimed at the inexperienced cyclist who may have taken up serious cycling in the past two years and has not yet completed a Wicklow 200. I don’t claim any specialist knowledge, other than I took up cycling four years ago at the age of 37 and enjoy every minute I spend on the bike! By the month of March you will have under 100 days to go and you should be able to tackle spins of 40 to 50 miles at a relatively low intensity. Your training should be geared at building aerobic fitness and endurance. This is done by building up the distance of your spins each week. For most of us the weekend is the only time we get to do a long spin. So aim to get out on Saturday for at least 4 hours. By aiming for Saturday if you miss it because of the weather or a night in the pub on Friday there is always Sunday!

Aerobic fitness is built by training at a speed that enables you to still carry out a conversation. If you have a heart monitor use it, and as a rule of thumb you should aim to keep your heart rate at about 65% of you max heart rate. Again applying a rule of thumb your max heart rate is 220 minus your age (so at 41 years of age mine is theoretically 179). Hills will obviously cause your heart rate to rise, however you should get it back down into the correct zone as quickly afterwards. Resist the urge to free wheel down hill. When you get to the bottom and have to put in some effort you will find that you may have cooled down and the legs may have stiffened slightly. Instead as you go over the crest of the hill, put the bike in a high gear and keep the legs spinning on the way down. I made this mistake on the descent from Slieve Maan last year and it took me about 10 minutes to get the legs moving smoothly again.

The evenings are getting brighter now and it is possible to get out for a spin. Aim to do at least an hour twice or three times a week. Two of these should aim to build power into the legs. You will have to do a lot of climbing on the Wicklow 200 so you will need to build power. This is done by cycling up hills in a relatively high gear. Don’t be tempted to go for too high a gear, otherwise the knees will suffer. Go into a high gear for 5 minutes, then go back to one that is easier to spin. Give yourself time to recover and then do another 5 minutes. Three or four such intervals will help immensely. When doing these type of sessions give yourself 10 to 15 minutes easy spinning at the end to flush out lactic acid from the muscles. You will also have to give yourself adequate time to warm up before tackling the high intensity stuff. Unfortunately as you get older it takes longer to warm up properly! If you begin to feel unduly uncomfortable during these sessions slow down and take it a bit easier. Recovery between sessions is as important as the training itself. Don’t do two high intensity sessions on consecutive days. If possible fit in a low intensity session between the two high intensity sessions. This gives your body time to recover between sessions. It is this repair process that helps you to improve your performance.

For example the following regime provides a good balance between high intensity and recovery.

SaturdayLong slow spin(4 hours / 50 to 60 miles)
MondayHigh intensity session(65 minutes)
Tuesday or WednesdayRecovery session(1 hour)
ThursdayHigh intensity session(65 minutes)
The high intensity session could go like this:
15 minute warm up Easy spinningGradually building up the heart rate
5 minute high intensityHeart rate up to 85% of max.
5 minute recoveryHeart rate back down to 60 % of max
5 minute high intensityHeart rate up to 85% of max.
5 minute recoveryHeart rate back down to 60 % of max
5 minute high intensityHeart rate up to 85% of max.
5 minute recoveryHeart rate back down to 60 % of max
5 minute high intensityHeart rate up to 85% of max.
15 minutes cool downHeart rate back down to 60 % of max and below

The recovery session should be at about 60% of max heart rate.

Build your distance gradually, and again applying a well tested rule of thumb increase your mileage each week by no more than 10%, and increase your long spin by no more than the same percentage. After each session you should spend 10 to 15 minutes stretching, paying particular attention to the quads, hamstring, calf and back muscles.

Drink plenty of fluids before and during your sessions. Eat at least every 90 minutes on your long spin. When you finish your long spin you should eat a high carbohydrate snack (energy bar, two bananas, or something similar as soon as possible after you finish). Following this regime will mean that you will arrive at the big day well prepared for the challenge, and secure in the knowledge that you have prepared well. This knowledge alone will be a big help on the day. For first timers I would suggest that this preparation is the best approach.