Base Miles on the Trainer, an Evil Necessity
While several parts of the country have had some warm days, once again this year most of the country is seeing bitter cold and enough snow to make riding outdoors unbearable, if not impossible. And while hopefully, if you are planning on riding the Empire State Ride, you have purchased an indoor trainer, it is undoubtedly, still difficult to stay motivated.
But, in order to jump right into longer rides once the snow has thawed, you need to tackle base miles during the winter.
Base miles are the bread and butter of any cyclist’s training program. It is essentially long rides (1 to 2 or more hours) in heart rate zones 1 and 2 (60 – 80% of max heart rate). They are good for two reasons. One, they help develop muscular endurance, which helps to dictate how long you are able to ride for and two, they help to develop mental strength or fortitude. The latter is essential because it helps develop the ability to remain positive when you are at mile 65 with 20 to go, or when you hit a headwind or a steep climb.
But how do you get base miles when you are stuck on a trainer without wanting to run screaming into the snow after an hour? Intervals.
When most people think of intervals, they think of sprints. But, doing intervals does not necessarily mean “ride as fast as you can.” “Intervals” is quite simply a term used to describe a period of time during which an effort is done. They are typically broken up with a recovery period. While there are many formats for intervals, for indoor trainer work, breaking sessions into 20 minutes of effort with 2 to 3 minutes of recovery helps to break the monotony while allowing an adequate amount of mileage. The 20 minutes should be a steady pace and you should be in heart rate zone 1 or 2. You should try to ride in a gear that fatigues your legs a bit without completely tiring them. Take a few minutes break and shift to an easier gear to spin out your legs. Drink some water. Repeat the 20 minute interval.
Begin with 2 intervals and work your way up to 4. Listen to music when you ride to keep your mind from counting the minutes. Listening to audio books, watching videos, or even reading the paper is also a good way to multitask. Just remember to keep the pressure on the pedals.
Although they seem like a time waster, base miles ensure stronger legs and heart once the snow melts.
You may also fight the boredom by focusing on pedal stroke while you are doing your intervals. Think of pedaling in circles. Although it’s not possible to pedal in an exact circle, your feet should scrape across the bottom of the pedal stroke as if you were wiping the bottom of your shoe, press back as they move upwards and press forward as they continue back down. One good way to check is to see if your chain is moving up and down. While you will get some natural vertical chain movement, the less “bounce” in the chain means the more rounded and smooth of a pedal stroke you have.
An additional trick to keep the intervals moving quickly is to break them down into mini-drills within each 20 minute block. You might spin faster in an easier gear for 5 minutes and then slower in a harder gear for 2 and repeat. As long as you are remaining in zones 1 and 2 you are still reaping the benefits of base training.
Finally, you’ll want to ride consistently. Try to ride at least four to five days a week, varying the number of intervals or drills you do. The more often you get on the bike, the easier the road miles will be once the lion decides it’s time to give into the lamb.