We have been using these Polar programs for many
years, and most successfully for our last 3 Cape Epic events.
They have taken our cycling performance to a new level. All of
our friends, initially sceptical have converted one by one
after they saw our improvements and then experienced their own
after getting on one of these programs.
Heart Rate Based Training Programs
The program allows you to focus your training based on
heart rate intensity and time spent in target intensity zones.
Distance becomes less important when using a program like this
as the main objective is to achieve the time targets at the
specific heart rate intensities.
Having a basic understanding of heart rate based training
will help to make sense of and understand this training
program. The programs follow a cycle of load – overload –
recover. These cycles take place weekly in 3 week blocks. You
will also notice that the overall program also follows this
pattern with 3 week cycles. It is very important to stick to
this cycle, even if your hours are not on target, stick to the
trend. This load – overload – recover is a scientifically
proven process of strengthening your body and building
strength. Hard weeks must be hard and easy weeks must be easy.
Do not try to use short weeks to make up for lost time as you
will risk fatigue and going backwards in your training.
The training programs are either 12 week or 16 weeks in
duration. The number of hours is up to you and you choose the
number of hours that you would like to do in the biggest week.
The spreadsheet then works out the splits per week. And you
will see a progressive build up to the peak week and then a
taper down to the event. How many hours should you do is the
big question. Our answer is, as many as your schedule allows
and as many as your current state of fitness allows. Somewhere
between 10-15 hours per week should be adequate. Our
recommendation would be to start training 29 weeks before the
start of the event by doing a 16 week program followed by the
12 week program.
How does the program work?
Firstly you need to establish your heart rate values and
zones, resting, HR Max and the endurance, aerobic (stamina)
and anaerobic (lactate) zones. There are several formulas and
methods available to determine this. The training programs
available from Polar have calculators that will assist in
obtaining these values. Using your resting heart rate and HR
max you will be able to calculate your exercise zones.
Training Program Sheets
Look at the Planner sheet
This shows the training weeks, hours per week total
accumulated time, timing for big rides and a graphical
You can change the hours per week in the instructions sheet
and the heart rate values in the target zone calculator sheet.
The first program is a 16 week 12 hour week program from
September to December
The end point should be a multiday ride like an organised
training camp or event like Sabie Experience in December. The
training camp should consist of 3-4 days of riding in a row
with absolute minimum distances of 80km per day, preferably
100km+ per day.
The second program is a 12 week 15 hour program from
January right up to the race date in March.
During this program you will also need to schedule a
training camp in the biggest week of the program. This will
help to make the hours of this big week and be a final test
run of equipment.
Main Training Goals
||Start program 1 – 16 weeks
||Big Epic Simulation Ride
||Training camp 1 (incl big epic sim
||Start program 2 – 12 week
||Training camp 1 (incl big epic sim
||Cape Epic Event
1. Follow the program
First objective is to complete all the hours as per your
program as per the HR intensities, second objective is to
follow the trend of the program (load – overload – recover),
third objective is to train within the given training zones by
week. If you can do all of this and follow the entire program
to the T you will be doing very well.
2. Keep track of your progress
Using one of the cycling model Polar heart rate monitors
together with the Polar Pro Trainer software makes it really
easy to keep track of training progress. Initially I never
realised how useful the download capability to the Polar
software would be, but now it has become indispensable. The
software together with the training program mean that you have
a virtual training coach at your finger tips.
We setup a training report to be viewed at the end of every
week which sums up the past weeks and overall programs
training activity. These reports are generated from the Polar
software (example below) and e-mailed to the other team
member. The report should contain the following information
about the specific training sessions as well as the overall
· Weekly training time and time in training zones
· training distances
· average speed
· heart rate average
· Total ascent
These report can be customised with many different variables
depending on what you would like to measure. Sharing these
reports, quickly highlights areas of concern and gives an
opportunity to discuss and find out if something should be
done. It also serves as a motivator and a reminder of what
needs to be done to achieve the training time targets.
You should share these reports weekly between each other.
3. A Cape Epic Simulation Day
A good measure of your progress is to find a route to
simulate as closely as possible the toughest day on The Cape
Epic. Something like 120-140km with at least 2000m of
climbing. A good strategy would be to do this route about 3
times before going to the Epic. It will allow you to mentally
deal with such a tough days riding as well as be a good
measure of our overall state of fitness, preparation and
ability to recover.
4. Training Camps
Schedule training camps for December after 16 week program
1 and then end of February during biggest week of 12 week
program 2. Training camps are an essential ingredient in
preparing for the Cape Epic. Whether you attend an organised
camp or schedule your own, it is a must. Everyone does them,
so no matter where you fit into the field you will benefit
from attending such a training camp. We have found that one of
the best ways to get the training hours in and to get your
mind right is by doing back to back riding days that simulate
a couple of stages at the Cape Epic. These multiple days are a
great time to test out riding strategies in terms of food,
drinks, riding with your partner and bike and equipment setup.
It is also an opportunity to meet some other riders who are
going to do the epic as well as some who have done it before.
See how we
followed these programs and improved our performance in 2005.
General points about these programs
Training for 1 day events vs ultra endurance
Training for 1 day events
This training is quite different from that required for The
Cape Epic. Training for 1 day races requires a fair amount of
anaerobic stamina (70-80% of max HR) and lactate training
(80-90% of max HR), approximately 15% and 10% respectively of
total training time. This conditions the body to sustain
extended periods (3-4 hours) of high activity with a heart
rate around 80% of max.
Training for ultra endurance
Training for an ultra endurance event requires virtually no
stamina or lactate training, with all the training time being
spent in aerobic endurance (50-70% of max HR). This is
basically base training that consists of long rides at low
intensity to build up endurance to cope with 8 days of riding
in a row. Training rides can be 2hr rides during the week and
then 4-5 hour rides on the weekends, with the occasional
really long ride of around 7 hours. In The Cape Epic the goal
will be to keep heart rates below 70% of maximum so that
fatigue is minimised and the production of lactic acid is
avoided. This also applies to hills, so it is something that
needs to be trained for so that you develop the ability to
ride at lower heart rates. Ultra endurance also requires
mental toughness and ability to deal with difficult
circumstances. Long slow distance rides especially a Cape Epic
simulation day can help with preparing for this challenge.
Disruptions: Disruptions are a fact of life
unfortunately. Try not to miss big weeks if possible, because
they are important not only for total hours but also for time
in the saddle. Organising some long training rides can help to
boost hours lost in other weeks. If you miss chunks of hours
then sometimes you just have to leave it and not catch up.
Only catch up if you can do so comfortably without affecting
the flow of the program too much. Remember that you only get
stronger when you rest, so sacrificing rest for training is
not a good idea.
Why so little high intensity training?
This question is asked by just about everyone. We don't claim
to be and aren't training gurus at all! The training regime
that we are following has worked for us time and time again
and that is the main reason that we follow it. In our first
event we had an unbelievably easy and successful race
considering we had never done a multi day event before.
The low threshold riding originally comes from the guys at
Polar. The general thinking seems to be that the biggest
challenge in doing the Epic is finishing the race i.e. having
enough energy to get to the end. It is a war of attrition,
rather than a power struggle. This is true for the majority of
the field I would say. However if you are up front and in
contention for positions then it may be a little bit
different, but not a hell of a lot different. We were a bit
sceptical first time round, but the proof was in the pudding.
The low intensity training allowed us to increase our average
speed while decreasing our average heart rate, and effectively
raising our lactic thresholds. To survive the Epic you have to
manage your heart rate, so the faster you can ride without
elevating your heart rate the better off you will be. Also you
have to be able to climb for several kilometres at a
reasonable speed without getting above you lactic threshold.
Sprinting and bursts of speed are secondary to sustained
effort and a good average speed.
High intensity training builds strength and makes you
faster and stronger over shorter distances. But low intensity
gives you endurance and staying power. Compare for example a
sprinter vs a marathon runner. You can imagine that their
training is very different. The sprinter will have short high
intensity sessions essentially, whereas the marathon runner
will be doing time and distance at lower intensities. The only
need we could see for speed would be to bridge bunches or to
stick with the surge of a bunch on the faster days, but this
can be dangerous because you end up going faster than you can
manage and will pay for it later. If you are a pro on the
other hand you have to worry about a sprint finish, break a
ways etc, so some speed work and power is required.
If you have specific questions or comments then
contact us, or discuss and
share your experiences and advice for others to see at the
Epic Guide Discussion.