Athletes update, Training Plans

Long distance goals – But short on time? Can I do it?

A question I and many coaches will be asked a lot, is, can I achieve some long distance cycling goals, but off limited training time?

The answer to this is a resounding YES!  Meet Paul Burgess, Paul approached me towards the end of 2018 describing his plans for this year.  And they were BIG!

His ultimate goal was to complete a 3 week cyclo touring trip around the alps, including the ‘Tour de Ferret’,  around Mont Blanc, knocking off as many Col’s as he could. In Paul’s own words, ‘I’m off to spend the next 3 weeks solo cycle touring in France. During this time I plan to ride 19 stages trying to get over as many of the Tour de France’s epic cols as I can. This will take me on a journey of over 1400 miles and 200,000 feet of climbing. Temperatures estimated to hit 35 degrees  so it’s going to be a sweaty one!’

We will explore here how we have prepared Paul for this challenge, the type of training and sessions we have used, and how you could easily do the same.


As well as this Paul set an interim goal of qualifying for the road race at the Cambridge UCI Gran Fondo, so he could go and race and represent his country at UCI Poland Gran Fondo RR.


Here’s Paul at the start… He achieved his goal with style and is now booked to head off to Poland at the start of September.

Right Now Paul is in the middle of his 3 week epic adventure,  Temperatures have been extreme in the South of France.  Not only is Paul cycling many of the epic Cols, he is also carrying all his gear.   In the last two days he has done the Tourmalet (twice!)  once from each side!

Here’s a selection of great shot’s of his trip so far


Paul has a very busy, stressful job working long rotating shifts in an A&E department.  This means long hours, nights and many hours on his feet.  As such he has relatively limited hours to train.  The key for us was maximising the available hours he had in such a way as to benefit his endurance for these events.

We worked out that Paul could commit to 7-9 hrs a week, probably spread over 6 days.  Where possible we would find time for a longer endurance ride maybe 1-2 x per month.  The rest of the sessions were generally limited to about an hour in duration.

For me the first priority was to build his ‘ATP’  (annual training plan), within Training Peaks.  To enable me to set out the macro ‘shape’ of the build we would work through towards these key goals


Once this was in place its then thinking about the type of training session required to maximise Paul’s endurance, but in massively limited time.

The key here is using every minute as effectively as possible.  You may think that because the majority of his riding in his key event will be ‘long slow distance’, that the best focus would be to work in this area alone.   This strategy is too one dimensional, and on the available time would not give him the endurance depth required.

The key we had to do is develop Paul’s endurance through three tactics:

  1. FTP driving by PUSH & PULL sessions
  2. Endurance development of the lower lactate threshold (Z2/3 border)
  3. Endurance rides

I have discussed PUSH & PULL FTP sessions in previous articles, but to recap.

Developing FTP is central to driving up endurance.  If we think of our fitness as a pyramid, as below we can see why

FTP pyramid

FTP is towards the peak of the pyramid, so here it means we are generating higher watts, but for less time than in lower zones .  So simply if we can increase the height of the pyramid, and thus drive up FTP, we will increase the size of the sub threshold zones, thus enabling the rider to go for longer for the same given power. Its the exact model I use in my own long distance training, working on a lot of high intensity threshold and sub threshold work.

We work on developing this by two means

  • PUSH – work just below threshold to support and ‘push’ FTP up.  What is good about this is that it is hard, delivers our goal, but is not overly stressful so recovery time from this is fairly quick
  • PULL – Over FTP work to ‘pull’ up FTP and stimulate it to increase.  This is, by its nature more destructive to muscle fibres and needs longer recovery times, but is a key part of the tool box.

So for Paul we achieved these goals using a variety of different types of training session, examples of which are below

  1. FTP PULL sessions
    1. Aerobic Intervals
    2. aerobic ints
      1. After a gradual ramped warm up from Z1 -Z4 we go into a multitude of intervals at around 110% FTP.  We have varying rest periods and interval length. We never let the body get ‘into a routine’ and are constantly stressing it.  What is key here is the amount of time we spend in Z4 and above and the working of ALL key zones, the top right bar graph shows work in Z1 – Z6.
    3. FTP Tabata
    4. FTP tabata - Copy
      1. Paul did this as part of a longer endurance ride as he had some free time on this day, but the key section is the middle section, 20mins of solid work rotating from 115% FTP to 90% FTP.  the great thing about this that it delivers probably an average of +105% FTP in a 20min set.  Its likely (and I see regularly) that athletes deliver HIGHER numbers on this type of session than a ‘traditional’ 20min test.  Its mentally more achievable (just)
      2. It focuses on working you above and below the threshold, the hard work is HARD, but ‘recovery’ is very high at 90%+, but it feels like recovery.  It improves your tolerance and ability to work at high intensity, again and again.
  2. FTP PUSH Sessions
    1. 6x4min at SS
    2. FTP push
      1. This is a quality session delivered within an hour.   As we can see from the top left bar graph, the majority of work here is in Z4 (sweet spot, about 90% FTP).  We are ‘pushing’ up FTP here.
      2. I use a variation of this set, 8×3, 7×4, 3×10, as a great way to, within a very short period of time, deliver some quality sub threshold work.
  3. Z2/Z3 tolerance
    1.  Builder
    2. builder 1
      1. I utilise a number of different what I call ‘Builder’ sessions.  Working predominantly around the Z2/3 border these work to increase the lower lactate threshold by increasing efficiency at these sub threshold positions.
      2. In this set we have a pyramid with a short duration in Z2, double the time in Z3, then a very short excursion into Z4.  We keep repeating, working these zones.
      3. The top left bar graph demonstrates the time in each zone and you can see the focus on Z2/3.
  4. Endurance
    1. 3 x 40min Z3
    2. 3 x 40min z3
      1. When we could we scheduled Paul to do some longer endurance rides.  But it wasn’t a case of just ‘go out and ride’, each session is structured to deliver quality work.
      2. The above session was done outside, so hitting exact zones is harder than on an ergo driven turbo trainer session.  Paul hit the direction of the plan well.  3 long Z3 intervals over 4 hrs delivers some real quality work.
      3. We can again see how the power bar graphs show the zones worked in

Other tactics we used:

As well as the above sessions, structured into coherent weeks building to our goals, we also, as Paul got closer to his trip to France looked to simulate the French rides.  I had Paul head out into the North Wales hills, fully loaded as he would be in France to simulate (as best he could) the type of riding, and load he’d be carrying.


So in summary its absolutely possible to deliver long distance goals on low training hours.  I have employed the above successfully with two other of my athletes who completed Majorca 312 sportive earlier in the year.

There are a few key things:

  1. SMART goal setting and building along term plan to deliver these
  2. Utilising EVERY training hour to the maximum
  3. Developing FTP by PUSH and PULL
  4. Simulating the key conditions expected in our goal event
  5. WARNING!  The one thing you MUST have is consistency, Paul has that in abundance through his training,  but having a good week, then nothing for 3 weeks (for example) will be a real struggle, consistency, little and often is key here.

I hope this is useful, please contact me and discuss how I can help you deliver your goals.

Finally lets wish Paul a massive amount of good luck as he completes his epic adventure!

Personal cycling training plans for time crunched athletes
Personal cycling training plans for time crunched athletes


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