Riding Less to Achieve More

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1996

Riding Less to Achieve More
By Alan Cote

"It' s kind of trite, but it's true: getting in shape is more about quality than quantity," says mountain-biking legend Ned Overend. Maximizing the quality of training time is something he knows how to do: At age 40, Overend is still juggling the rigors of a professional racing career (he's likely to qualify as one of two U.S. men for the Olympics in Atlanta) with the responsibilities of being a husband and father. Yet in season, he averages just 11 to 15 hours per week on the bike--a pittance compared with a typical pro's training schedule, which is double Overend's.

It's good news for us athletic mortals: Train just a few hours less than Overend, and you can still find fitness amid a tight schedule. The key, says the man his competitors know for his indefatigable endurance, is a managed plan of short rides with more variance in intensity. "Too many riders go out at 80 percent all the time, with not enough specific intensity work and not enough recovery," he says. The result is an endless plateau of mediocre fitness. So for those who have less riding time--not to mention genetic predisposition--here's a recreationist's regimen, a compact ten-hours-per-week version straight out of Overend's log.

Target time, two to 2.5 hours
Race or hard club ride, with lots of hills and difficult, sustained efforts. Overend cautions: "If the ride is really hard or you overextend yourself and bonk, that can take three or four days to recover."

Target time, less than one hour
Easy ride. "Keep spinning at a high RPM, but don't go hard--just try to flush the junk out of your legs," says Overend. "Know how to go slow: Lots of riders blow by me on the road."

Target time, one hour
Steady ride, concentrating on bike handling. "Don't work hard on Tuesdays--maybe take the downhills fast and work on obstacles," Overend advises. "It's the day to start testing yourself to see if you're recovered, but it's important to be well rested for the quality intervals tomorrow."

Target time, one to 1.5 hours
Intervals. "After 20 minutes of warm-up, shoot for five hill repeats, one to two minutes long, with two to 2.5 minutes of rest in between. I can't say exactly how many intervals to do; stop when the quality goes down. Use a steep climb that makes you use your whole body--legs, arms, and back--and really get your heart rate up high, to near your maximum."

Target time, two to 2.5 hours
Endurance ride at a steady pace. "The idea is to build some endurance while recovering from yesterday's efforts. I generally don't do any rides over 3.5 hours, which is unusual. Except last year when I was staying at my father-in-law's--I did a lot of long rides to get away as much as possible."

Target time, one to1.5 hours
Mixed intensity. "Keep a steady pace and throw in a few hard, sustained efforts of ten to 20 minutes. If Sunday is a very important race, do a little less."

Recovery ride, maybe on the racecourse. "If I've been traveling, I might do a few short, hard efforts just to clear out my legs. But I'm careful not to overdo it. If tomorrow's course has a lot of climbing, use low gears. Don't leave your best race out on the course the day before."

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