Indoor training for Race Across America

We needed a means of raising £125,000 for our chosen charity Prevent Breast Cancer. We needed a big project, something we weren’t sure we could achieve, something to inspire charity supporters; we landed on Race Across America.
It’s been 18 months in the making, a long time to organise, feels even longer when I think about all the training miles we’ve knocked off. It scared us from the beginning, training as a two-man team to cross America, coast to coast, 3081 miles in a maximum of 9 days. Normally you might get the “fear” that drives your training four to six months before an event, but with this race being so big, we’ve had it for 18 months . This poses a couple of problems, staying motivated and consistently managing to maintain 5-6 days on the bike.
Race Across America is a challenge in many ways for those that don’t know a great deal about the race; it’s super long but also the first 36 hours is spent predominantly in the desert. So two training challenges; getting the miles done, and training for the heat intensity.
Living and training in the Peak District and Cheshire is awesome for fitness and power but kinda limits your training in the winter. We’ve trained over two winters, so indoor training with Watt Bikes and Zwift has been a complete essential in getting us to where we are. I love my indoor trainer and hate it in equal measure.

It has been awesome for increasing my FTP over the winter, for being able to do interval sessions at controlled levels and appropriate power to your own FTP and needs. Being indoors and too hot has also been good for our acclimatisation for desert heats. Cold rainy days are pretty much the norm so on those dark days where it’s too wet/ icy to ride outside, the indoor trainer set-up comes into its own. I’ve heard it said that indoors trainers don’t get you fit in the same way as riding on the road, I disagree. It just depends how you use it. I’ve used it for interval training, to increase my FTP so that my cruising pace for RAAM is higher. Using this, my FTP has increased from 211W to 285W , 4.7 watts/kg. This is a big difference, believe me. This would not happen without indoor training to give that consistency of training. It’s easy to lead a busy life at work, get home, see the family, put the kids to bed and then get on the trainer no matter what the skies are doing outside.

There’s no doubt that indoor training is mentally tough, no distraction, nothing except your legs telling you they are tired. Every training session that I couldn’t finish was a small knock, bu the bigger picture is that you can SEE your training progress week by week. FTP getting higher, holding wattage numbers easily that you could only hold for seconds a few months before. That knowledge that the training is working and the confidence that comes with KNOWING that the training is paying off. It’s a great motivator to see that reward. Strava is good, but we all know how much every segment time varies with the weather, so as a training tool I don’t use it. Once you’ve got a pretty good Strava segment around your regular rides it’s difficult to improve until you either get super fit or the wind is super strong and in the same direction as your previous PB. Generally I stay away from it now, as for me, it’s more likely to be demotivating rather than a motivator.
Environmental training
We have had the complete and utter pleasure of being able to train in an Environmental Chamber at Manchester Institute of Health and Performance in Manchester under the guidance of Ross Mizen. This essentially means we can train on our super smooth Watt Bikes at altitude and at the type of temperatures we will face in the Nevada desert. So we’ve been training at increasing temperatures, starting at 28 degrees and our final session last week was at 42 degrees and 2500m altitude. The chamber is such an invaluable resource if you are planning a race anywhere hot. The Peak District is never hot, our last big training ride was May Bank Holiday and we had to abandon due to the cold, 2 degrees and soaked through, we couldn’t feel our hands and feet. The watt bikes in the chamber allow us to use all the benefits of indoor training; instant power updates, left right pedal power distribution, average power. Data, there on the phone screen in front of you and even those miles can be downloaded to Strava to add to the annual total of training miles, which is important to show our supporters how hard we are training. The bikes are super smooth and we can adjust everything in our position to match our race bikes.
Indoor training, it hurts, mental torture that will prepare us for mind games of RAAM, but the quality of the training and the sheer amount of geeky information it gives you to track your progress makes it an essential for any training programme.