I asked my longtime friend, running competitor and Master’s cyclist Tom Burridge to outline his training program for cycling. The request came on the heels of one of Tom’s recent races in which he covered 61.7 miles in 2:25:49 on a hilly road race course at the Indiana State Road Race Championships. His initial comments about the race included these: “Stacked field…3Rd with 1k to go but got swallowed up by peloton with 300 yds to go ended 13th. A ton of team tactics but I had no team.”
Which makes his ride all the more impressive. Like Peter Sagan in some stages of the Tour de France, he freelanced his way in the draft, attacks and chases. But he could not have done all that without a solid, intelligent training program. And that’s what today’s blog is all about.
Tom’s training holds interest for all who ride. As a rider in his late 50’s, he is competitive with cyclists 10, 20 and even 30 years younger than him in road races and criteriums.
How does he do it? Time in the saddle of course. He typically rides between 250 and 300 miles per week. He also credits his coach Curtis Tolson for guiding him into solid racing and training tactics.
I submitted a list of questions to Tom so that he could provide perspective on his training and racing. Here are some of Tom’s plans and insights on his cycling career thus far.
What is your typical training load during a cycling week?
Tom’s Answer: 290 non racing week. 240. Race week
WRAR Comment: For those of you who are math challenged, that works out to an average of 42 miles per day over 7 days. Obviously those miles can be broken out in different days each week, with longer weekend rides often making up the bulk of riding in many cycling schedules.
Do you do intervals specific to criteriums and/or road racing?
Tom’s Answer: I do intervals on Wed. Not road or crit specific. Some are sprint oriented, some are hill repeats. Tomorrow is 2 long efforts slightly above race pace with a number of 10 sec. spurts and then settling back down to race pace.
WRAR Comment: Notice the insertion of harder riding within race pace work. Too many of us simply go out and ride some sort of steady road pace as fast as we can manage or handle. But that’s not really how races work, nor is it the best way to train your body for maximum stress. As in running, speed workouts must be pointed toward an ability to respond and recover from competitive pressure.
3. What type of cross-training (weights, etc.) do you like to do prior to or during the season?
Tom’s Answer: I work out with weights 2 or 3 times a week during off season, focusing on quads, hamstrings, and calves along with back, shoulders and core planks etc.
WRAR Comment: This regimen does several things. First, it builds toward the coming season by building a strength foundation. It also contributes to riding comfort and preventing “saddle fatigue” and shoulder weakness that can undermine your pedaling strength, especially the core work that enables a cyclist to maintain a relaxed yet responsive position on the bike.
4. In the recent race where you rode 2:25 for 61 miles, what was your average pace? By comparison how fast do you ride solo for that distance typically?
Tom’s Answer: Avg for that road race was 25.4mph. Avg around 19/20 mph on solo rides. Still transitioning from runner’s body to cycling body. Biggest improvement has been being able to hammer in the low 30s mph on the flats for an extended distance. Still have trouble jumping and staying with the big guns on real fast accelerations. Usually have to rely on catching a wheel and clawing my way back which is easier for me when it is a hilly course. I struggle on flat technical courses with a lot of turns and accelerations.
WRAR Comment: Lots to learn for all of us here. Tom’s prior life as a national class distance running prepares him in many ways for competitive cycling. His native abilities in endurance events are well-proven, yet the specificity in muscle group training and base necessary for cycling must be built over time. Many older riders are quite competitive with much younger riders because they have trained and competed so many years they have a strongly established cycling foundation in terms of muscle group strength. Yet they also know the best ways to ride efficiently, how to hide in the wind and when to lead out an attack or meet a challenge. Tom is successfully building toward that level of ability. He enters races frequently and that is the best training of all.
5. How much does your mental training from competitive running affect or contribute to your cycling career?
Tom’s Answer: The mental side from running is good and bad. The good side is for training and being consistent and keeping focused on long term goals. The bad side is that cycling is so much more tactical and you have to check your ego at the door. Cycling results are so much more sketchy than running. I have never experienced a sport where I do so much second guessing after a race. That being said, I have definitely caught the racing bug and really love it.
WRAR Comment: The mental toughness developed in other endurance sports can transfer to cycling, but it is not always a direct or 1:1 relationship. As Tom suggest, the sport of cycling involves a mass effort to progress. So you can’t even take credit for all your speed. Yet you can often question your tactics or decisions, which are often driven by fatigue. Yet the challenge is so interesting the “racing bug” can definitely take hold.
6. What food/fuel do you prefer for road races?
Tom’s Answer: Oatmeal, bananas and maple syrup pre-race meal. Might have a couple of gel packs last half of the race.
WRAR Comment: Every rider is different when it comes to dietary needs. But Tom’s basic diet tells much about good fuel for racing. Food that sticks with you for a while! Then accent your nutrition as you go. That requires a degree of experimentation. Some riders need more fuel and food than others. Testing that out in training is crucial to long term succes.
7. What was your tactic given you did not have a team to rely upon during the race?
Tom’s Answer: The main tactic during the race was staying up front in lead pack, staying out of the wind and being prepared to cover the breaks. I should have done more research identifying key guys before the race. In hindsight I would have shadowed the top 2 guys who made a break 2.5 laps into 6 lap race. There was a lot of blocking in this race despite relatively high mph for the race.
WRAR Comment: It’s not always possible to know who your rivals will be in a given race. But when you can certify who the leaders will likely be, knowing that can help you determine whether breaks are for real or just testing the peloton to see who’s weak or strong. Effort wasted in covering false breaks cannot really be won back.
8. Given the opportunity, do you think you could manage to compete/complete a flat Tour de France stage?
Tom’s Answer: Stay on a flat stage on the Tour? I have no idea! I guess I could hang in there for 130 miles at 25mph if I could hang in the pack and stay out of the cross wind. Whether that would still keep me in the pack, it would have to be a pedestrian pace.
WRAR Comment: Tom’s answer exhibits respectful humility, but also his well-proven ability to compete at a high level when given the opportunity. His running career pitted him against world class runners like Frank Shorter. Tom competed well including a 13:45 5K. His observations and self-knowledge likely have validity that sustaining a 25mph pace might well be possible for 130 miles or so. Of course the tough part of the Tour de France is that riders come back and do that type of effort for 21 days with only a couple rest days. Sort of puts that race into perspective, doesn’t it?
9. What bike are you riding now, and if you had your choice, what would you buy?
Tom’s Answer: Still riding the 2010 Canondale six carbon six. Haven’t even thought of getting another bike. Another year of hard training before I look at upgrading.
WRAR Comment: Who doesn’t dream of a new bike? Yet notice Tom’s focus on improvement in this year’s competitive efforts before getting distracted by technology or shiny paint jobs. Tom’s focus is on refining his riding on a decent bike, not approaching it the other way around.
10. What advice would you provide for cyclists over 50 in terms of consistency, injury prevention and competition?
Tom’s Answer: Still new to this but the weight training seems to help. Need to stretch more, and going real hard on the hard days and really easy on the easy days. When in doubt rest.
WRAR Comment: There is 40 years of competitive wisdom wrapped up in this comment, especially the advice about going hard and easy. Too many of us average out our efforts and do not improve as a result. As athletes age, they also need to recognize the need for rest. Yet that advice can do so much for younger riders as well. Going hard all the time will make you fast, for a while. Yet the body cannot sustain or even attain peak fitness without rest.
Thanks to Tom Burridge for providing his perspectives on what it takes to ramp up the competitive efforts and improve as a cyclist. As we engaged in conversation via email he laughingly inserted the comment “Also, I am still getting my ass kicked out there.”
But his riding has a certain quality to it that other people recognize. “One benefit of my running background… I have received a number of comments that I have an easy wheel to follow on fast group rides. I don’t make any sudden moves but have a knack to move into the draft efficiently which might be a product of a ton of indoor (track/running) racing and being comfortable racing in a crowd but always looking for a chance to move up.”
“Actually results have been mixed this year but I think I’m approaching 20 races for the year. Just trying to cram in as many race experiences as possible. Found out that my sweet spot in crits and road races are on courses that have a hill where I can get some seperation.”
Following his big effort at the Indiana State Champs, Tom had this comment to add about his next race. “Came back yday in State Crit champs thought the legs wld be toast but just got nicked the last 50 yds for the win 55 Masters ended up 7th in the 35/45/55 overall.”
So the keen message of all this cycling talk is that it’s a process, not an event or even a year that makes your career. Certainly a good event or a good year contributes to your progress, but like all sports that require perseverance, cycling is a constant question of staying “in the draft” and doing your training while looking for your opportunity to attack and shine.