Raid Pyrenean Training
Raid Pyrenean and Multi-Day Mountain Event 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 Raid Pyrenean training plan, while our Raid Pyrenees Tour Page should help you in the planning phase of your Raid!
If you aren’t riding the Raid Pyrenean but are riding a similar multi-day mountain event like the Raid Alps, King of the Mountains Tour de France or our new for 2019 Mythical Mountains tour, the advice below will prove equally useful. You will just need to study the breakdown of your chosen event to identify the big days and climbs and amend your planning accordingly.
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.
The other factor to consider is weight, being the other side of the power to weight equation. In simple terms, the lighter you are, the easier you will find riding in the mountains. So while you don’t need to drop to pro-tour level rider, any excess weight you can shift, will certainly be noticeable (and much cheaper than spending money on light weight components).
Study your event
It is extremely important that you study your event carefully before you begin designing your training. This not only allows you to go into things with all the info you need, it also allows you to mentally plan and prepare. The next stage is to decide what your goal is. Do you want to target a specific climb/stage, are you worried about finishing the event or do you want to ride with friends and enjoy chatting every day. Whichever it is, make sure you set a realistic goal and one that you can track and measure. Don’t be overly ambitious at this stage as this will inevitably lead to problems down the line.
With the above decided, it’s time to begin planning. As a final note, don’t assume that having a training plan is some overly complicated spreadsheet full of acronyms. A training plan can be as simple as you like – its sole reason is to provide some structure to follow and to develop a sense of achievement and accountability. If you have a session planned it is far more likely that you will complete it.
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 around 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 Training Plan
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.
Again, while this focusses on the Raid Pyrenean, the above is equally applicable to any number of similar multi-day mountain events – just remember to investigate your event properly, look at the distances and stats and plan accordingly,
So how does one design a Raid Pyrenean training plan 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 can be calculated via a Ramp Test, or a dedicated threshold heart rate test – 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 there are lots of protocols available online and through the turbo training platforms like Zwift and Trainer Road).
My favoured session for hitting bullet two (and dragging the average speed of bullet one up) is the 2×20.
2×20 and threshold training
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. I realise that some of you will find the idea of indoor training completely unpalatable, which is understandable, but from a purely training point of view, the bang for buck they offer (not to mention the lack of danger compared to winter riding) is unrivalled and therefore strongly recommended for those with very little time.
How the session breaks down is as follows:
20 min effort aiming for a consistent level of output throughout at just below your threshold as discussed above – initially this is likely going to be something close to 85% of your threshold but once you get used to the session you should be able to up this to circa 90-92%. If you are able to reliably hit more than that % of your threshold for 20 minutes then you should retest your threshold as it has likely improved
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.
There are a wealth of similar sessions available which all aim to do the same thing as the 2×20, but offer some variety from what can be a pretty repetitive type of training. Again, Zwift, Trainer Road and the Sufferfest are all great resources here, which if you are confined to the turbo over winter, will help keep you sane.
Back to back days
This is a point where for many the realities of life kick in and make back to back days impractical. If you can regularly complete these then absolutely do – even a short spin the day after big ride will help as it gets you used to getting back on the bike when tired. But if you know you will struggle to do this regularly due to other commitments, I would recommend pin pointing at least a handful of times when you can incorporate this into your training. If time really is a struggle then doing back to back days in the final six weeks before you travel will probably have the best effect. Past clients have got very creative here so don’t think too rigidly – any saddle time is good saddle time, so consider cycle commuting, going on the turbo, doing a spin class etc etc.
Assuming you have managed to create the time, then the gold standard would be to do back to back big rides of several hours in duration. Say a sportive on the Saturday and a solo spin on the Sunday. If time is tighter then do a big ride one day and a hard interval session of 45-60 mins the following day. The goal is really to get your body and mind used to that feeling of working hard with tired legs, a situation that is difficult to recreate if your rides are sporadic throughout the week.
For multi-day events like this then I really do see the back to back session in the final twelve weeks as essential. Not only for the physical benefits, but for the mental boost it gives – you know you can get back on the bike and ride well even when tired. It’s this knowledge that will act as a comfort blanket on Day 3.
One thing I often encounter when asking my coaching clients about their current training is that many cyclist do lots of short intervals and use training aids geared towards traditional racing. 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 a bit of a top end boost, I would always counsel against including a large proportion of shorter intervals in your plan if your main goal is the Raid Pyrenees or another multi-day mountain event.
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 – Another ride or turbo session at least once a month (this is not essential but helps massively for a multi-day event)
* 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.
Obviously the more you can do the better, so if this looks light compared to your current schedule, do not feel hamstrung by it. Just ensure you get adequate recovery time, as done properly, the threshold sessions will be draining.
Niggles, bike fit and kit
Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that while training plays a big part in your enjoyment, as amateurs with work, family and other commitments, there are a whole host of other factors that will affect your training. That is why it is so important to resolve the easy things well ahead of the big day.
So now is the time to sort out any niggling injuries you have, get a bike fit if you are having an issue and sort the kit you will be wearing during the challenge to ensure you are comfortable.
These things are so critical as they are the things that will be with you throughout the tour. If you get a sore knee riding a few hours a week you can guarantee you will get it once you begin your challenge. In that case you could have done all the training in the world, but if turning the pedals hurts, you won’t be able to perform to expectation. Equally if you are susceptible to the cold, then ensuring you have a solid range of kit for all conditions will make a huge difference as riding when cold or wet is far from enjoyable, yet often relatively easy to address.
So there you have it. This is the bare bones of a Raid Pyrenean or multi-day mountain event training 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 Raid Pyrenean training 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.