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Getting ‘Big Race’ Ready:the 1Zambia Training Series

Right. You’ve just made that decision to ride the 1Zambia (or the Sani2C or any other big race, really), and you’re all excited to get out there and do it. There’s only one problem. For the past three months, you’ve completely forgotten how to ride your bike, and you’ve been working really hard on growing a respectably large belly. Where do you start?Fear not. This series of articles is designed to help you build yourself up in a slow, controlled manner, so you can get the absolute best out of yourself in the time you have available.

The series will contain six articles, each explaining one phase of your training. The phases are as follows:



-Aerobic Capacity

-Fine Tuning


-Managing the Race

I’ll publish the series on, timing them to coincide with the build-up to the 1Zambia. The tips and recommended workouts will also be designed specifically with the 1Zambia in mind, but of course you can use this to help you prepare for any race.

With that said, here we go! Step one:


This is the most important phase of all. I’ve been training and racing for 10 years and I’ve never had so much as a tweaked knee; that’s because I do my adaptation properly. Saddle sores, tendonitis, inflamed ITBs, and a hundred other maladies and ailments all pop up primarily because athletes skip the adaptation phase.

What is it?

The adaptation phase allows your body to get used to being on the bike. Think of building fitness as getting a sun tan. Anyone who’s ever seen a group of European tourists after a full day’s rafting down the Zambezi will understand. They haven’t seen the sun in months, and now they’ve had an overdose of it. They won’t get a nice brown tan. Instead, they’ll turn red, peel, and go back to the same pasty white.

In order to have lasting gains in fitness, it’s important to give your body doses of training that it can withstand. In this phase, too much can be far worse than too little.

So, what do I do?

The key to successful adaptation is frequent, non-stressful workouts. These workouts don’t have to be long, but they do have to be regular. Getting on your bike for just 30 minutes three times during the working week will go a long way in helping your body and mind feel comfortable on the bike.

For 1Zambia, it would be ideal to do adaptation through January. I’ve created a sample program below. For this program I’ve used Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to tell you how hard to go. This is simply a scale from 1 to 10, on which 1 is no effort at all, and 10 is an absolute, gut-wrenching sprint.

Week 1

Monday 22nd Jan: Off
Tuesday: 30 minutes gentle spinning (on the indoor trainer if necessary). RPE: 3
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: 30-minute ride.

    • 10 minutes light spinning to warm up. RPE: 3
    • 2 minutes medium tempo: RPE 6
    2 minutes light spinning: RPE 3
    Repeat the medium tempo effort 3 times, with 2 minutes of light spinning between efforts.
    10 minutes light spinning. RPE 3

Friday: Off
Saturday: 2 hour MTB ride. Ride a route that you know, and try to keep moving consistently from start to finish. Ride the first hour at a pace that feels easier than what you’re capable of. In the second hour, turn up the pace a bit, and try to cover more distance than you did in the first hour. This will build more endurance than hammering out the first hour and limping home.
Sunday: Optional cross training. If yesterday didn’t tire you out, do something other than riding today. Running is a natural alternative, but swimming or Pilates will help you build the core and upper body strength that will get you down those rocky descents.

Tune in next week for Phase 2 of your training!

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