My Own Base Cycling Training Plan


This article is a case study aiming to show one athlete’s progress through an ambitious training program and the resulting successes experienced.

One of the key concepts is the implementation of a periodized training program over a specific period of time leading up to a clearly defined goal event, in this case an Ironman full-distance triathlon. This athlete had his work cut out for him in choosing such a race – 4000 meter swim, 180 km bike, and 42 km run – but as we’ll show, with proper planning and training throughout the training program, success is all but assured.

Naturally there have been obstacles along the way, but what we’ll show here is that virtually all hurdles, mental as well as physical, can be overcome with the careful application of the training principles we’ve espoused.

Here is my snapshot: male, 28 years of age, a recreation cyclist and runner. A former gymnast, I was very aware of what it meant to train at a high level, but had little experience with endurance sports. I described myself as purely fast twitch, referring to his perceived strength in short-term, anaerobic efforts, with very little genetic predisposition to aerobic activity.

I started cycling while rehabilitating an injury and found that I loved it, mostly because it was so different from what I’d always done before. It was something I always thought about doing, but even after I started I only rode once or twice each month, for an hour or two at most. After retiring from main main sport, it seemed an appropriate time to take on a new distraction; three years in a new career however, as I put it, the world seemed to be all uphill!

It really took me by surprise, but I gained a lot of weight after working in a stressful office for many years. I knew how to train, I just didn’t do it enough, and when I did, I usually quit before I really got anywhere. I needed a real challenge, something to aim at, otherwise I knew I would keep wasting time in the gym without any results.

4 years ago, I set myself the goal of running a marathon. This seemed appropriately long-term and results-oriented, but as I report, the results were not what I had imagined:

I finished the marathon, but I attribute this to mostly my previous experience at high-level competition. Adding up all the miles I logged in training, I realized much later that I missed so many sessions, and only actually ran 32% of the miles I should have.

I told everyone that even though the training plan seemed like a good one, distractions and stress too often got in the way, and in the end they obscured the goal:

I realized that even though I finished the marathon, I wasn’t happy with my effort and needed another challenge… I didn’t lose any weight during my training, and could have injured myself quite badly along the way. Luckily I got through it because of my previous athletic experience, but I realize that if I wanted to try again, I’d need to do it a lot better.

Fast-forward to the mid-last year, and I embarked upon the even more ambitious goal of completing either a long distance triathlon or an Ironman:

I chose to do this triathlon because it really seemed like the pinnacle of athleticism for me at the time. Not only would I get to ride a lot and improve my running, I would also get to ‘re-learn’ how to swim. I also knew that training that much was something I needed to do, because simply ‘working out’ was not enough for me. I wanted to know what it was like to train like a pro. So, I bought a new bike, as my older one frame was not the correct size. Here it is the photos of this day:

I initially began a 30-week triathlon training program, aimed at beginners, which included 8-10 sessions per week across all three disciplines. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, I found that it didn’t really fit and chose to see this as an extended base training period:

I found a new training program that seemed to make more sense, seemed much more adaptable to my own schedule, and seemed to fit better with what I wanted to achieve… I also knew that even though it was ambitious and I was probably in over my head, this was a sort of strength for me. I felt that even if I didn’t do all the miles or hours of training, the depth of this program would get me through regardless. Even getting close to logging all that training would be a success. I needed to shoot high in order to get anywhere!

I want to share with you the details of my new training plan. Over 24 weeks, I would complete three training phases, where I’d establish my base of fitness, build my strength and endurance, and finally, peak for the event itself. Each week usually contained 9 training sessions, each aiming to capitalize on a different aspect of the overall fitness level that I’d need to achieve for this race:

I was familiar with periodized training; because I was training for track and field competitions, however, in terms of endurance, only from college classes and magazine articles. We’d never used it in my gym, and I guess I failed to really put it to work when training for the last year marathon . This plan was different, it was specifically laid out, and every detail in terms of intervals, intensity, and duration were spelled out. All I had to do was get out of bed and try!”

I took the time at the beginning of the program to input each day’s workout into my calendar, so that I didn’t have to waste any time or suffer confusion over what to do on any given day. This, I can tell you, was a major source of strength:

It kept me motivated, because if I let myself think too much, I’d probably decide against either training as long or as hard as I needed to. I also knew at any time where I was in my training, so I was able to put my race day in perspective every time I trained.”

I also reported that even though the style and substance of the training was markedly different from his previous experiences, because of the nature of the periodized program, I made rapid gains: I realized quickly that I didn’t need to train more, I needed to train better. Sometimes I’d get ambitious and do a little extra, and I immediately found that my next workouts suffered. Even though it felt like I was holding myself back, I actually got stronger and realized that was what needed to happen. This program did that for me, and pushed me continually to new levels as a result.”

Part of the success of a properly implemented periodized training program is the use of different methods of training stress, such as interval training.

Training, in terms of intensity and duration, is modulated across the week and throughout any given phase of the program, which not only allows the body to gradually adapt and grow stronger, it simultaneously forces the body to do so:

I found that adding a few more sprint intervals each week, for example, was more than manageable. Even though the first week seemed hard, the second week only looked hard on paper, and was not as difficult as I would have imagined once I got out on the road. Before I knew it, I was riding longer and harder than I could have done on my own.

However, it is at this point that many athletes begin to stumble. When the load gets too far away from what they are accustomed to, they begin to lose motivation and confidence in their abilities to persevere. I was no different…. I struggled with some of the workouts, because they were so much different and my body couldn’t handle it the first few times.

What did I do to overcome it?

For the most part, I listened to what my body was saying. Sometimes I changed the intensity a little so that I was able to relax a bit more, and sometimes I changed the length of the workout so that I didn’t have to stress about whether I could do it or not. Soon, and it almost came as a sudden realization that I was truly able to function at that level, almost without knowing it. That was an important realization for me, learning to pay attention to how I felt, both mentally and physically, and adapt my training so that I didn’t have to just give up.

This is a critical lesson, and one that many athletes only realize when it is effectively too late. I also kept a training diary so that at any time, I could reflect back on some of these previous workouts and find what had worked and what had not. Training 10-12 hours per week also required a lot of rest and recovery, but what I found was that my body did adapt, and in ways that surprised me… I had a lot of reasons for taking on this project. One was to lose weight and get back my athleticism, but the other was simply to see if I could do it; I saw it as an experiment. I really felt that throughout my sports career, I was never able to train how I wanted, because I was not physically conditioned in the right ways… if I cross-trained, it came at a huge cost, and took days to recover. I came to believe that I couldn’t do it, because I just wasn’t ‘made that way.’ I wanted to see if I could change that. I surprised myself and found that I could.”

This is a common misconception, and I’m not alone here. For most of us, realizing our true athletic potential is more about giving our bodies the proper tools to succeed, and then getting out of our own way! Because I took the time to precisely track my workload throughout the program, I’m able to consistently reflect upon whether I was getting enough rest, proper nutrition, and where I needed to maintain focus so as not to fall behind.

I also attribute much of my success to the specifics of my plan. I knew the answer was out there, and as it turns out, this program put many of the puzzle pieces together. I also worked separately with a coach and often trained with a partner, and both pushed me harder than I probably thought I could go. They kept me honest! That kept my motivation high, because each time I’d make some noticeable gains, it would push us all to reach even further. Definitely, it was a really positive cycle.

Although I’m not competed at my goal race as of yet, I shared with you some of the successes I have had, I went from struggling to run 2-3 miles a few times each week, to finishing a half-marathon race below 8 minutes per mile pace. I rode 115 km last weekend, and ran 15 miles the day before that. I went from barely going down and back in the pool a handful of times, to swimming over 3000 meters on any given day, and doing so at a pace that keeps my more experienced training partners really on their toes!

Most importantly, I lost about 10 kg along the way and found out that I was mostly wrong about myself. My body really did adapt, so that I could train harder than I thought, often twice a day, and recover quick enough to keep doing that week in and week out. I never could have done all that without a plan like this, and a ‘scientific’ frame of mind to support my efforts. Clearly, my confidence is at an all-time high, and we have no doubt that I will finish that Ironman in superb form.

This case study is a real-world example of the success that can come from proper planning and dedication to advanced training concepts. However, as I have said, it isn’t rocket-science:

“At the end of the day, its common-sense. Set a goal, and give yourself all the tools you can to help along the way. Every time you deviate, it’s one step back from reaching that goal. I became a student of not only my own training – not just what I was doing but why – and really learned a lot about myself along the way. I never thought I could be as strong as I am now, and this is just the start.”

It would be a false statement to claim that planning and execution at this level are easy; I was not new to athletics, and didn’t start from zero. But I was clearly able to martial the focus and determination to repeatedly perform at high intensities and for long periods of time, and we would argue that these skills are learned in the same manner as the body’s gradual – and often surprising – adaptation to periodized training. Adequate rest and recovery, proper fueling, and attention to detail must support those efforts during training so that motivation and confidence remain high from start to finish.

I tell you that I’m just a regular person, and that if I can do it, anybody can… I’d like you to believe me, and encourage you to go that extra mile too!

For those interested on my base cycling plan, I’ve wrapped all together in a single guide; and I called it “The Ultimate Guide to Cycling Training“.

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  1. Michael Freville

    Samuel, your story was very worth reading, and that is a compliment! Very inspiring and realistic. Thanks.Michael

  2. Craig Humann

    Hi I’m in the market for a new bike and was wondering what your opinion of the Wilier Izoard ?

  3. Mark BRADLEY

    I too would be interested in seeing the actual plan. Just about to increase my daily commute as I have a new job and interested to see how I could incorporate this increase into a plan to really gain some benefit.

  4. Kevin Michal

    Enjoyable article, Samuel.I would be interested to hear a follow-up story that details your training plan a bit more in depth. Maybe post up your calendar for us to see exactly the path you are taking.Congratulations on your progress and good luck on reaching your ultimate goal. I am 48 year old and ran my 1st and second Sprint Tri’s this year. I feel like I’m probably too old to ever make an Ironman, but one never knows, huh? : >)

  5. Allan James Taylor

    Apologies for not relating to topic, problem I have is now that the colder weather is upon us, I have to stop every 5 or 6 miles to blow my nose. No I cannot do the finger to nostril as I would end up kissing the tarmac. Could this be related to my bi-lateral hearing problem? also resulting in poor balance (vertigo) and tinnitus, thus resulting in a condition called Meniere’s disease. No plugs up nostrils please, looking forward to some positive & extremely funny comments.Allan Taylor.

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