A friend of mine and Directeur Sportif (team manager) of Peace Coffee Racing (PCR) asked me to write of some information about training with regards to Group Rides, Century rides, and what are considered "junk miles." It took me a while to finish writing it, then I posted it to the PCR discussion page, but thought I should copy and paste it here. So... here it is:
Ton asked me after that group ride I attended a couple weeks ago (June 26) if that was "junk miles" for some people. He also asked "was it too hard?" He suggested that I post something up on the tribe as training info. It’s taken me a while to write it. Before I got to writing that, he asked if century rides fit into training with our team in mind. So, on one post I’ll try to cover a llot of info. Comment if you want, but this is meant for reading and taking from it what you want--not for starting a discussion of 'he said she said.' Opinions differ from person to person, coach to coach. Agree with some of it, disagree, whatever. I’ve tried to keep it as general as possible—nothing too hard and fast. These are some long answers so bear with me. I wrote this in bits and pieces, edited, etc so it may not flow as I didn’t write it all at once….
PLANNINIG your TRAINING: JUNK MILES and GROUP RIDES
If you are tight on training time (who isn't), but want to have meaningful, structured training, one way to save time and frustration is by planning in advance. You can hire a coach for that and the options there can range from micro-managing your training (expensive: can be hundreds per week/month) or guiding/consulting on your training with a overall general plan. If you are doing this yourself (your own self-coach) you should set up some sort of structured plan (more info below) over the winter by writing it down by PERIODS for the whole season (or the first few months at least), then week to week during the season schedule the specific workouts--maybe on Sunday evening plan out the week from Monday - Sunday. With that said, there should be no 'junk miles' planned in there. It happens though...sometimes a ride seems like it didn't have a place in your training and was wasted time or you go on an unplanned spur of the moment ride. Some examples of "Junk miles" would be that you have all your training planned then you find yourself itching to go for a little stroll just to 'spin' your legs out. You know its a rest day so you are just going to take it easy. So you go to the coffee shop, bike shop, or where ever and you end up discovering a hill you've never seen so you nail it 5 times. Or you latch on to passing group and try to show off a little. The next day you continue on with your regularly planned training. You just added some 'junk' to your training. You increased your percentage of anaerobic training for the week and you may have sabotaged a race that's 2 days or 2 months away because you added 'junk'. Many people think that stuff like that only makes you better. Do this on a weekly basis and eventually it will catch up to you (overtraining, fatigue that results in a crash, burnout, etc).
If that happens, and its ok if it does if you make it work to your advantage. Don't lose any sleep over it (actually, get extra sleep if you can). What I would suggest is that you determine what kind of ride it was then substitute that ride for one that was on your schedule. For example: the Tuesday ride I attended on June 26 with some of you was tough. Tougher for some than others, but in general it was a challenging ride. It included a few steep climbs, a couple sprints, some pacing, and other game playing (not to mention and names that start with T and end with ‘ran’). Group rides inevitably turn into a mini-races (with regrouping, hopefully). I had an interval workout scheduled for the next day (Wednesday). I was going to do pyramid intervals: 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds recovery, 1 min hard, 1 min recovery, 1:30 min hard, 1:30 recover, etc until I reached a max interval of 3:30 min. Did I do that pyramid workout on Wednesday...? He// No. I did it Tuesday instead. Not exactly, but close enough. The intervals, pacing, & hard climbs we did on Tuesday counted as that workout I had planned for Wednesday. Wednesday I changed to a recovery ride. Do I do that every week? Again, no--but you could because every week will be a 'different' ride due to who shows up and you would likely be able to place it/substitute it somewhere in your training schedule (you may have to skip it once in a while and during a recovery week). Would I have done that Tuesday ride then a race on Thursday night? Personally, no, probably not. From a coaching standpoint I don't know where a Thursday night race would fit into any structured training plan 'on a regular basis every week' when you have goals of racing more important events. They are usually 'junk mile' races for pure fun and the same theory applies. Maybe a couple times a season you can squeeze in a 'junk race'. You could do them weekly if you aren't too serious about other events too. You could substitute a TT or a short race as a TT training workout (for those that said use Friels books, I believe he has a workout that is coded M5, maybe M6, that consists of one or two 20 minute TT's with a short recover between). You could throw in a Thursday (Buck Hill) race as one of those workouts on occasion. If the course for a weeknight race stays the same from week to week you could do them once in a while and compare your times--sort of a test to judge improvement. When it comes to training smart you have to pick what you want to do, then decide what you should do. If you have no serious goals and just want to play it by ear, are not too concerned about results, but more concerned with doing a lot of races for fun... then go for it. Have fun! If you have serious goals in mind and see "fun" as reaching the podium, then you have to stick to your training. You can't have it both ways. Well, if you are genetically superior you might be able to. Or you can look like you have it both ways (ie: read some training blogs--they lead you to believe its all fun and games--secretly they are most likely training smart and disciplined and not telling you that part).
So, are group rides 'junk miles?' NO they are not junk if they have a place in your training. If you add them to your training, don't make them count for something by substituting it for an otherwise planned training session, and all you do is group rides several nights a week then yes, they can easily be junk miles. They make for excellent training if you approach them as an actual training session. There are other things you get besides leg and lung training on a group ride: tactics- you get to see riding behavior, learn how to react to 'moves', learn signs of weaknesses in other riders, when riders are 'bluffing', acquire skills that help you avoid crashes, etc. Group rides are also a good time to experiment with new fuel sources as you don't want to try a new product during a race. Was that ride we did a couple weeks ago too hard? I don't think I saw anyone pass-out and I hope every one recovered within a few days. I think everyone got ample recovery time during the ride as we waited at some corners and took a break at the Afton club house. For me it was an anaerobic training session with mainly short hard efforts and long recoveries in between. For others, it may have been more of a muscular endurance/stamina ride where the intervals were not at maximum effort (but nearly), and lasted longer than 5 minutes with shorter recoveries. My HR in the pace line was recovery to endurance. Up the hills when I was hitting it hard I was way above threshold. When my chain came off I had to TT it to the group at race pace. For others it was tempo to near race pace in the pace line. (tempo is generally higher than endurance pace, but lower than race pace.) You have to make the ride count for what it was FOR YOU.
It’s suggested that hard/high intensity training days should generally account for 2 to 4 workouts a week. That depends on what time of the year it is (what period you are in) and what your training volume is (hours per week). If you only train 4 times a week, they should not all be intervals. Two days maybe. If you train 7 days a week at about 15-20 hours, you may be able to do 4 tough interval workouts per week—maybe more. Don't be pressured to get in a ton of hours because so and so does. You need to have balance. There was a day when I put in 15 hrs on a high week. The last two years my max has been 9. Usually 6-7. Less for and R & R week. I make all the time count, though (ok, most of the time). If you want to be your own coach you have to find a book on ‘the self-coached athlete’ and first read it cover to cover without doing the tasks and homework in the book. Then go thru it again and plan your training as instructed. Do not take bits and pieces from it because they will be out of context. I had 6-7 years of racing experience before I bought and followed Friel’s Training Bible. I did exactly what he instructed. I even did it as if I was in my first two year of training and disregarded my experience. I wanted to do things right and that meant forgetting what I thought I knew. It paid off. I didn’t go pro, but I met my goals. Stay away from the workouts of the month in magazines too. UNLESS the workout can be substituted and fits as explained above. Many people grab the workout of the month and do it a couple times a week till the next issue comes out and the cycle repeats, thus burning you out or until you bonk in a race then blame Chris Carmichael or Robbie Ventura for it because it was their workout that was supposed to make you a star. Those workouts are designed to SELL MAGAZINES.
Friel and Carmichael have the most popular self training books on cycling, but there are many others on all sorts of cycling events too: century training, endurance events, group tours, etc. Friel has 3: one for Road; Mountain; and one for Tri’s/Du’s.
These are great endurance builders because most people can't ride them at a pace any higher than endurance or tempo level, but a seasoned Ironman competitor may hold a high pace during the bike portion-- 112 miles. You want to work up to century rides. If you have put in some 50 to 80 mile road rides or 3+ hour mtb rides, a century shouldn't be a problem—especially with a group where you can draft and take turns at the front. If your race goals include trying to 'podium' at regular XC or cat 4-5 events that are 1-3 hours, century's should be few and far between (a couple a season) because they don't add direct benefits to what you need to accomplish. Preferably you want at least a few days of recovery (active and passive) following a century prior to your next race. Maybe a week. That doesn't mean a week of time off, it means lighter training duration and intensity with some days off. The more seasoned and experienced the athlete, the quicker you will recover. If you are training for events longer than a century then these will be more of a regular thing. Kevin F. and Cory M. are probably putting in many rides that are 70 miles or longer for the Trans Rockies event. By doing long rides all the time, a few times a week, but having goals of short races, century’s could actually slow you down on occasion. Your long ride pace will probably improve, but your short races at high efforts may (may) slow down. Not because you are weaker, but because the bulk of your training is spent as long, easy to moderate hours in the saddle and you don't have the energy or the time to do the training necessary (power, anaer & musc endurance training) for the shorter races. Some find the time to maintain their short race strength—that depends on your mix of training and what you can and want to do. It’s more complicated than that, but that's for another time... If for no other reason, Century rides are also done as something to accomplish.