It's time for a confession. And it's a doozy. A spicy, sumptuous confession that comes right after Valentine's Day. Ok, you ready?
I LOVE CHEAHA. I love all things Cheaha. My love affair started a few years ago when I took on the Cheaha Ultra as a naive, non-climber on a tri-bike. Many things have changed since then, but my love for what I refer to as "The best ride I've ever found" remains.
So, it's time for me to give something back to the race that I've taken so much from. My gift comes in the form of a training blog that I'll be posting periodically in the lead up to Cheaha. I hope to cover topics that will make your Cheaha race day as enjoyable as possible!
My first blog is going to cover training tips. After training at Cheaha on Saturday and Sunday, I wanted to quickly jot down some pointers. Here goes...
1. Get Familiar
If you’re a believer that familiarity breeds contempt, then maybe this tip isn’t for you. But I’m a big believer in as closely simulating what I’m going to experience on race day as possible. Lucky for me (and other subscribers to my theory), there’s a training group that meets up approximately every three weeks to ride Cheaha. Having ridden with this group for the first time this weekend, I strongly recommend it! (I meant to take photos of what was a very fun group, but the weather didn't quite make for photo-friendly conditions; good thing I scheduled a photo shoot for my new fundraising campaign).
But whether you’re going to ride with the training group or not, it is important that you get familiar with Cheaha before race day. Why?
With all that said, is it possible to succeed on race day without training in Cheaha? Absolutely. Is it recommended? Not exactly.
But for those of you that can’t make it to Cheaha before race day, I will be posting a full course preview in the coming months.
2. Make the Best of What You’ve Got
As a Floridian, I don’t exactly have the privilege of majestic, mountainous topography in my backyard. While I won’t call myself a flatlander, I also won’t dispute the fact that there’s not a hill that climbs more than 300 feet anywhere nearby. I do have some decent rolling hills and I’ve found a road that stacks them in pretty rapid succession. So I train on this road a ton. It’s the best that I’ve got…without driving up to Cheaha that is. If you’ve got rolling hills like I do, really focus on pushing to your limit. We want to increase our power before race day. A good way to do so is slamming the rolling hills in your big ring and an aggressive gear.
The one thing we’ve got no shortage of in Florida is sunshine and warm temperatures. That’s obviously not the case everywhere (hello Northerners). When it’s too cold to ride and given that it’s very hard to simulate mountain climbing on an indoor trainer*, what can you do? Cross train! Get in the pool to strengthen that core. While in the pool, grab a kickboard and knock out some meters where you’re only using your legs to power you through the water. It makes a difference.
The lap pool not your thing? Run! Either outdoors or on a treadmill. Knock out a hill repeat workout 1-2 times every week and you’ll be amazed at how strong those quads and calves feel when it comes time to point your bike towards the mountains.
* Note: I don’t mean to discount the value of indoor trainer rides. In fact, I’ve got a trainer workout below that works great for Cheaha training.
3. Prepare for Punchy and Gradual
For me, the thing that makes Cheaha so challenging is that it’s got a very difficult blend of short, punchy climbs and long, gradual climbs. And on the Ultra route, they always seem to come at the most inopportune times. You can thank your sadistic race organizers for that. I digress.
If you want to have a good day in Cheaha, you’ve got to be able to power through the short, steep climbs and also grind out the long, gradual ones. I tend to believe that if you have the right wattage to manage the punchy ones, then you’ve got all you need to get through the gradual ones. With the power as your base, all you need to thrive on the long climbs is the right rhythm and the right mentality.
But the key is that base. So how can we build up our power base in between now and Cheaha? In addition to tips one and two, I’ve got a couple workouts that I really like for increasing my wattage:
Workout 1: HIIT on the Trainer
If this sounds like about the most awful thing imaginable…it is. I already despise the thought of a trainer when I’ve got all this beautiful scenery around. And I super despise the thought of high intensity interval workouts. But it’s a damn effective workout. So I do it. These are a couple HIIT trainer workouts that I’ve found to be especially beneficial.
For my money, the Interval Training Set workout is just a tad better than the Descending Interval Set workout. Both great though.
Workout 2: One On, Two Off
This ride works best on flat land where you have limited interruptions (turns, stop signs, etc.). I happen to have a perfectly flat, 32 mile bike trail 0.7 miles from my office. Perfect. By the 10 millionth time I had ridden this bike trail I started to think “Hey, maybe this could be less boring somehow”. And so I came up with a way to make it suck more. Winner, winner.
For this workout, we’re going to pick a pace that would be aggressive but very sustainable. That’s going to be your base pace for this workout. Think of it as the pace that you could comfortably ride a metric century at. For two-mile increments, you’re going to ride at this pace. Every third mile, you’re going to pick this effort up by 20%. Return to your base pace and repeat. So…you ride two miles at base, one mile at 20% above base, and so on. Repeat until you’ve completed 30 miles.
To further clarify – I generally ride this one at a little over 20mph for my base, and crank up to 24-25mph for my 20% pickup. I ride two miles at 20mph and one mile at 24ish. Repeat until my brain is fuzzy and my legs feel like concrete.
You can modify this workout to fit your current level of fitness. For example, early in the season I’ll do one on, three off. Or I’ll do one on, two off but reduce my total ride distance from 30 miles to 20 miles.
Of course, these are the workouts that I find work best for me. You may find that they don't work well for you. That doesn't mean that you're doing anything wrong or that my methods are wrong, it just means that we're different people with different body types. Oh, right...we already knew that.
Anyway, I've got a couple more tips (plyo workouts & strength training) for increasing the wattage that I'll share in another post, but that'll do it for this post. If you liked it, drop me a line and let me know. If you have suggestions for future posts, let me know. If you hated it, well, you're just the worst.
I'm a proud Big Brother, and despite my Little wishing that I wouldn't run so much, a proud endurance athlete. I started my endurance career by signing up for a marathon when I couldn't even complete a 10k, and I started my Big Brother career by volunteering when I wasn't sure I even could offer a youth much. Both processes have showed me that stepping outside of your comfort zone serves as the best method of improving yourself.