Raid Pyrenean Training
The Raid Pyrenean (or Raid Pyrenees depending on convention) is one of the great cycling challenges out there and though the daily distances (720km over 4.5 days) and elevation stats (11,000m) are somewhat daunting on paper, the reality is that with the right preparation and training, the Raid Pyrenean is achievable and enjoyable for all keen cyclists. If you are planning to undertake the Raid Pyrenean then this page should help you formulate a training plan, while our Raid Pyrenees Tour Page and dedicated Raid Pyrenean site www.raidpyrenees.co.uk should help you in the planning phase of your Raid!
Am I fit enough?
This is a common question we get and our answer generally is that if you are booking several months in advance and have the desire to complete the Raid Pyrenean and are prepared to spend some time training and getting used to covering large distances on your bike then you will be absolutely fine.
First things first, you need to decide the method on which you will base your training. There are three main methods that cyclists use to plan and track their training, with each having its pros and cons.
Perceived exertion?- this can be as basic as “this feels tough” or “this feels easy” up to the slightly more advanced 1-10 scale with 1 being incredibly easy and 10 being almost impossible. Pros are that it is free and easy to use Cons it is a fairly imprecise method (how accurately can you seperate a 6/10 from a 7/10 effort.
Heart rate – heart rate training has been arond for a long time with most people having used a heart rate monitor at some time or another. Pros heart rate is an easy to use measurement system and after a bit of pre planning to establish your training zones, you can quickly gauge your current performance. Cons heart rate is affected by a number of external factors (heat, tiredness, stress, caffeine etc etc) which can cause inaccurate readings. It also lags activity (ie your heart rate takes a few minutes to catch up) so is of limited use for shorter intervals.
Power?- a relatively new measurement method that is becoming more and more popular. Power meters measure the forces your legs generate so provide extremely accurate data which can be compared across sessions to track progress and plan a very tightly defined training schedule. Pros highly accurate and allow almost infinite opportunities to analyse and track your performance. Cons power meters are costly bits of kit and do require a certain time investment to get the proper benefit from the data they record.
Specificity and the Raid Pyrenean
As a cycling coach the drum I bang the most when it comes to any training plan, is specificity. By this I mean that one should train in a way that is specific to their goal. This is particularly important for those of us who have limited training time as otherwise we risk wasting our precious time on the bike.
So lets take a look at the riding on the Raid Pyrenean, which is novel for two main reasons:
- 4.5 days, averaging around 140-160k per day at a fairly steady output – no requirement for racing up short super steep climbs, no need to sprint for the finish line; and
- Riding dominated by large Pyrenean mountain climbs – expect to be climbing for between 30-120 mins depending on the climb.
Most people are fairly comfortable with bullet one as this can be easily measured on UK training rides but most people don’t have access to long European style climbs.
The second bullet is a little trickier as a typical climb on the Raid Pyrenees is between 8-16k long at an average gradient of something in the 6-10% range with spikes up to the high teens. In the graphic below you can see Day 2 of the Raid (generally regarded as the toughest) which covers the Aubisque, Soulor, Tourmalet and Aspin.
So how does one train with specificity in mind?
For bullet one, we need to get comfortable with high mileage, by doing weekly long rides which build up in distance over the course of the winter and into spring and summer until you are comfortable with spending 160k in the saddle. We also need to keep in mind that we have several long days back to back, so while riding one 160k ride may feel like an achievement that earns you a few days off the bike, I always suggest that riders get out on the bike several days in a row. Each ride doesn’t have to be such crazy distance, but riding after a big day will get you used to how you perform when fatigued. See below for a breakdown of how this may look in reality.
For bullet two, we need to become comfortable with riding at a fairly high intensity for long periods of time – the Cols we encounter will take an average rider between 30-120 mins. These figures make it fairly obvious that replicating a climb of this length in the UK is next to impossible so how do we best go about it? Well, we have to train in the realms of the “threshold” effort. Broken down across the various methods this roughly equates to:
Perceived exertion – roughly a 7/10. This should feel uncomfortable but sustainable for efforts of less than an hour at similar level.
Heart rate – roughly 85-90% of your max heart rate (which should be calculated via a Ramp Test or similar – beyond the scope of this article but there are many different protocols accessible via google).
Power – your FTP (again, calculating this is beyond the scope of this article but I am happy to supply a template FTP test which I use with my clients – pop me an email).
My favoured session for hitting bullet two (and dragging the average speed of bullet one up) is the 2×20.
Anybody that has investigated cycling training in any depth has probably heard or read about the 2×20 session. 2x20s generally take place on the turbo trainer where it is easy to control external influences, however they can equally be done on the roads if you have a good flattish loop without too many interruptions.
How the session breaks down is as follows:
20 min effort at the level identified above
5 mins recovery (light spinning)
20 min effort at the level idenfitied above
Now the main thing we are looking for here is consistency of output, so try to stay smooth throughout the interval at the level identified above for your chosen method and avoid peaks and troughs (this is the reason why it is a popular turbo session – no traffic lights, cars pulling out, descents etc). It is very easy to start out these sessions at too high a level, so I would suggest you start out at a slightly easier than you expect level and build up from there.
The purpose of the 2×20 is to improve the output that you can sustain during the climbs that we encounter on the route, leading to a higher average speed and less “digging in” to keep the pedals turning. They aren’t the most fun session in the world and can be incredibly draining, but unfortunately there really is no substitute for hardwork when it comes to improving your threshold ability.
One thing I often encounter when asking my coaching clients for their current training is that many cyclist do lots of short intervals and use training aids such as the sufferfest videos. Now these are great for people who are racing (either formally or against their mates) and for those who like to fly up their local climbs, but as we have learnt above, they are going to be of limited use to riders of a Raid Pyrenean as the hard work is spread across much longer intervals – the shortest proper climb being in the region of 30 mins for an average rider. So while I have no problem in riders doing these shorter intervals in the lead up to the Raid Pyrenees to give them a bit of a top end boost, if they are also planning to race during the season in which they do the Raid or even for a bit of fun, I would always counsel against including a large proportion of shorter intervals in your plan if your main goal is the Raid Pyrenees.
Typical training week
So a fairly basic overview of a typical training week, 16 weeks out from the Raid Pyrenean for a rider looking to comfortably finish the Raid Pyrenees while enjoying the ride would look something like this*:
Monday – Rest Day
Tuesday – 2×20
Wednesday – Rest Day
Thursday – Club run or outdoor ride of circa 2 hours
Friday – Rest Day
Saturday – Long Ride (building up from say 80k to 160k)
Sunday – Club run or 2×20 session
* We have had riders successfully complete the Raid on far less training than this, but this level should see you complete the Raid in comfortable fashion and enable you to enjoy the ride rather than dreading the next Col.
So there you have it. This is the bare bones of a plan that will see you comfortably complete the Raid and enjoy yourself in the process. As with any form of athletic development, the work you put in will directly correlate to the increases in ability that you can expect to receive. By sticking to a plan of the sort I have outlined above you will not only maximise your training time, but you will be properly preparing your body for the challenge of the Raid Pyrenean. This truly is one of the most incredible rides that you could ever complete, so don’t be put off – give it a go.
If you would like to discuss your training in more detail then please email Robert directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Training Page of our website.