I wrote last year about targeting Aerobic Base training and trying to adapt my phenotype as a fast-twitch/ANaerobic predominant athlete more toward Aerobic endurance.
I found that Aerobic Base training was highly effective at raising my baseline fitness to where I could further build toward a higher and more sustainable peak. In longer races I felt like I could do more work at the front for my teammates and even recover better between hard training rides and races.
After my race season came to a finish in late August 2017, I decided to exploit what was left of the nice summer riding conditions to get a head start on Aerobic base training for 2018. I wanted to get some long Aerobic rides under my belt that I just wouldn’t be able to replicate on the trainer over the winter.
I call these Stamina Rides.
I’m going to attempt to explain what a Stamina ride is, and why it might offer you the best chance of getting a stronger Aerobic base for next season.
A Stamina Ride should be long.. How long is an open question (it’s hard to get study participants to ride 3+ hrs in lab settings to measure physiological changes!). I’ve been aiming for 4-5 hrs in the saddle, or around 3200 kJ.
The power target is low, but you want to keep pedaling with as few interruptions as possible through the entirety of the ride. So the roads should allow steady power output, ideally with minimal stoplights or traffic delays, and over terrain that doesn’t force you to either go too hard uphill, or freewheel down. In Vancouver we’re lucky to have plenty of options for either elevation or flat rides.
The intent of a Stamina Ride is to fatigue Aerobic muscle fibers in order to promote Aerobic adaptations, specifically to peripheral working muscles.
Aerobic muscle fibers are already highly efficient and take a long time to fatigue, so getting a good long ride is really the best way to expose these fibers to sufficient training fatigue.
However there are a few tricks that might help you achieve these Aerobic adaptations without having to spend countless hours in the saddle.
Just like you periodize your training plan, you can manipulate nutrition timing to optimize Aerobic adaptations. Aerobic (Type I: slow twitch) muscle fibers primarily use fats as fuel, while ANaerobic (Type II: fast twitch) fibers use Carbohydrates (CHOs) in the form of glucose & glycogen.
By restricting CHO availability going into your Stamina Ride you can limit certain physiological processes that kick in with ANaerobic (glycolytic) metabolism, and as a result all of that training load is applied directly to your Aerobic muscle fibers.
Especially if you’re in a low-CHO state, you’ll be low on water stores, since water is stored with glycogen in your muscles. You need to hydrate well to keep your Aerobic muscle fibers working and avoid overheating. Allowing yourself to become dehydrated will prematurely fatigue your cardiovascular system before the true Aerobic adaptations can occur. You’ll bonk or hit the wall before accumulating enough training load.
Pre-fatigue your ANaerobic Muscle Fibers
The day before your Stamina Ride is the perfect time to get in your high intensity workout: This will further deplete your muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores) and fatigue your ANaerobic muscle fibers.
Following that with a long Stamina Ride the next morning will force your Aerobic muscle fibers to rely on free fatty acids for fuel. With less glycogen remaining to fuel the workload, your ANaerobic muscle fibers will have to become more Aerobically efficient at producing power.
You can partially convert fibers from fast to slow (or vice-versa) so working in this more Aerobic-dominant state will encourage ANaerobic fibers to adopt more Aerobically efficient energy production permanently.
If you’re setting out for a 3+ hr Stamina Ride you probably won’t be able to spend the whole time sitting at the top-end of your Aerobic power. Fatigue will be the limiting factor and HR will start to drift upward for a steady power workload. So if you know your target power and target HR that correspond to Aerobic Threshold, aim to start the ride a bit under your target and build your way up.
It will always feel better to start a bit easier and progress the intensity through the ride, rather than just watching your numbers slowly decline over time. I think the overall training quality will be higher and you’ll be better replicating the demands of racing.. which tend not to get easier toward the end!
Optimizing the Stamina Ride
The day before your planned Stamina Ride should be a high intensity workout where you fatigue your ANaerobic fibers and deplete glycogen/carbohydrate reserves.
Re-hydrate and re-fuel with a high protein, low carb dinner and sleep in a low-CHO state. Break your fast the next morning with a couple of eggs and a coffee (skip the milk) and set off for your 3+ hr Stamina Ride on steady roads with full bottles and pockets stuffed with food.
You can probably go the first hour without fueling, but have your typical on-bike nutrition ready. Or try some low-CHO bars – I use 5g net carbs Quest bars – to extend the low-CHO state through the ride. Either way aim to eat a bar or two per hour and drink at least a bottle per hour (refill stops will be necessary).
Start 20-30 W under your Aerobic Threshold power and add +10 W/hr with the intent to spend the final hour just under your Aerobic Threshold heart rate. Keep the power steady and if you find yourself off your target power, try not to compensate by over/under’ing to make up the average. Just aim to hit “the next 10 seconds” on target.
That’s basically it! Enjoy the scenery, and enjoy going slow. You’ll feel a different kind of fatigue than you might be used to, when your Aerobic muscle fibers begin to fatigue while your ANaerobic fibers sit untouched. You’ll know it when you feel it.. And it’s a great feeling!