How to Train for a Time on a Brevet?

I’ve recently been in touch with a few people asking about how to train for a brevet.  Some of this questioning is based around speed, but since speed only comes with experience, I wanted to start this off from the ground up, so to speak.

First, you need some way to build base miles. Once you build some base miles it is of this riders opinion to do a number of 200k’s and couple 300k’s in the first years of randonneuring.  This allows you to find solutions for difficult things such as feeding, hydrating, managing time at stops, etc…  I’ve been randonneuring for about 4 years now and at this point for me, training means riding my bike to and from work year round.  Currently that trip is about 7 miles each way.  That results in about 70 miles biked per week.  This is before I run errands, go meet friends after work for a cocktail or snacks, or any weekend riding.  For me, this is a pretty good base from which to build longer mileage on.  If we are using the Spring brevet season as our goal, I like to start adding longish weekend rides about mid-December.  Somewhere in the neighborhood 100k gets me out long enough and yet, not too long that I feel like the short days of winter are encroaching on my social life during the holiday season.  I also try to go out when the weather’s not too bad during these winter months as it helps my mood to enjoy at least some intermittent sunshine.

By the end of February, after biking on average per month about 450 plus miles, I start concentrating on longer rides.  The Spring Brevets are perfect for this if I stick with the plan of commuting and adding a longer ride every few weeks or so.  About the time the 200k rolls around, I’ll start working on things like hill-climbing.  Basically, at this point in the season, for me I just push hard on the hills en route to work.  I try not to shift out of the gear that I’m in and just drive hard up the short hill.  This little effort pays dividends after a few weeks.  I notice that my ability to climb is greatly increased and my stamina for longer hills is much higher.  I also seek out hilly routes during the longer weekend rides.

Next, I start to get more disciplined.  There is a hill (actually, an active volcano within the city limits of Portland) that I try and work into my commute once or twice a week.  This adds negligible distance, but the added hill-climb, while putting out a hard effort, continues to increase my climbing capabilities.  I might do this once at high effort, or I might do it 2-3 times, depending on how I feel.  Even just once at a time, I notice the difference in the coming brevets.  I usually work this into my commute, but its close enough that if I just want to do a little weekend riding, this will suffice.

I could get more disciplined than that and do something like Tabata Sprints.  Next year is PBP and I hope to ride strong, so I’m going to need to be a bit more disciplined.  In the above link, the excercises are geared towards running, but the concept could easily be translated into cycling training.  From my limited understanding of the subject, these high efforts, followed by brief rest, then repeating, essentially triggers a reaction in your body’s neurology that shows there are higher demands being placed on the body than before.  The body, in sort of a “hey, I’ve got to improve if I want to survive” reaction then uses the available energy stores to develop a stronger, more efficient response to the demands being placed on it.  This works out to more stamina, higher output, and stronger riding.  Resting and recovering afterwards is equally as important as doing the strenuous excercise.

Of course, doing anything like this, it’s important to make sure you are healthy enough to do so.  Talk to your doctor before going hard near your heart rate’s capacity.

If you have a goal of completing a Super Randonneur, then you can use the above and get through it pretty well.  If, however, you have a late summer 1000k or 1200, then you can’t stop at the 600k.   The endurance from doing distances is already built in, so its even more important at this point to work on speedwork.  Couple this with a few longish rides at maximum effort and your body realizes its efficiency stores.  It’s important not to over do it and you should get adequate rest between maximum efforts to let your body recover and grow.

So, to wrap-up, work on distance endurance (base mileage) then work on hill-climbs and speedwork. Don’t worry too much if the first brevets aren’t as fast as you’d like them to be.  Speed will come with experience.  In stead, just enjoy the riding and the new friendships and take mental notes of what needs to change the next time around.

Anyone else wish to chime in with training tips for brevets?

3 thoughts on “How to Train for a Time on a Brevet?

  1. Post Script: If you haven't already, join RUSA (rusa.org) and you'll get a nifty little book that's worth the fee to join. In it, there are numerous training ideas and tips.

  2. I find that nothing quite prepares you for a brevet like riding a brevet. Dive right in, you'll find that the times at the controls are pretty forgiving.

    The toughest part for me has always been finding out how to eat properly on a long ride. Feel free to get tips from others, but the only way you find out what works is by finding out what doesn't.

  3. I would add that one can go faster by not going faster! Basically, do simple things on your bike that you might otherwise do while stopped.
    1. eat while riding. it helps to seek out simple, easily available foods that agree with your stomach and provide the fuel you need.
    2. learn to read a cue sheet and navigate well to avoid adding bonus K's.
    3. change clothing layers while riding.
    4. stretch out tight muscle groups while riding.
    5. train yourself to get by with less sleep on longer brevets.
    5a. build your powernapping skills – 20 mins. or less can suffice.
    6. look around at the scenery/enjoy your ride. when you're bummin' pedaling faster doesn't come naturally.

    A lot of these things can be easily trained/learned and done on the proper bike. That _can_ be any kind of bike, but some seem to be more conducive to eating, changing layers, navigating, looking around to enjoy the scenery, stretching tight muscle groups and simply riding efficiently than other bikes available.

    Oh yeah, learn to ride without a computer!

    For me, this has been one of the best tools for successfully completing brevets in shorter time periods, as well as enjoying the rides more. I find it helps to carrying some kind of watch, but beyond that, I don't need to know my average speed/cadence/calories burned/astrological horoscope/distance ridden. It'll all come to me, at the finish.

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