So you signed up for a time trial? Follow this 8-week timeline to learn how to train and what to do to prepare for your event.
8 Weeks Out
1. Enter your Specialty phase of training
Two months is the ideal amount of time to start honing in your training and fitness to match the specific demands of your time trial. This is what we call Specialty training, and it should follow your Base and Build training.
For time trialists, we recommend following Sweet Spot Base I and II (12 weeks), followed by Sustained Power Build (8 weeks) training plans, prior to entering the 40k TT Specialty plan (8 weeks). View training plans here.
With your Base and Build training behind you, now’s the time to start the 40k TT Specialty plan. On this plan, over the course of 8 weeks you will work well above, slightly above and then slightly below your functional threshold power (FTP) in a concentrated effort to increase that very FTP. You’ll also have ample opportunity to get familiar with holding your highest sustainable power while in a sufficiently aerodynamic position via weekly practice time trial workouts.
2. Research your course
In the months or weeks leading up to your event, it’s time to get familiar with the course. If you’ve already ridden or raced on it then think about the defining features of the course. Sometimes the defining features can be something as simple as elevation, or can be as complicated as a series of super steep climbs in the first 5 miles of the race.
If you haven’t ever had the chance to ride it, or it’s a travel race, don’t let this stop you from reconning. We have lots of tools to tell us what a course actually looks like, and takes out nearly all the guesswork. Beginning with the simplest, which would be looking at the course in Google Maps. Take a look at the road surface and see what the climbs or technical aspects actually look like.
3. Find or create an online segment of your course
The second step would be to see if there is a segment on Strava, or if you need to create one. This gives you more information about the previous performances and what specific grades and speeds you will encounter on the course. You can take things a step further using Bestbikesplit.com. This tool takes into account a ton of information both from the course and the rider and uses that data to plan the fastest way to race a course on a given day.
4. Make final tweaks to your nutrition strategy
Nutrition is something you should be thinking about and experimenting with all year long, but now is the time you to get serious about figuring out and settling on the nutrition plan that will work best for you on race day.
If you haven’t been thinking about your racing nutrition in your early phases of training, consider the first four weeks of your Specialty training your experimental period. Use the days you have scheduled practice time trial workouts to test different forms of nutrition and see how your body responds. Then use the final four weeks of your plan leading up to your event to make marginal tweaks and confirm your race day nutrition strategy.
4 Weeks Out
5. Nail down your warm-up strategy
Everyone responds to warm ups differently, but many riders and racers can use the same warm-up protocol for each and every time trial, no matter the duration. The important thing for you to figure out now is the type of warm up you respond best to and lock that in before race day.
The warm-up workout we recommend to time trialists is Cajon. Time trialists and athletes facing long, sustained efforts with less variation will benefit from Cajon’s steady-state nature. Starting with a gradual ramp and 1-minute effort at 80% FTP, you then get a chance to collect yourself before a 80-90% 5-minute ramp. After this primer, the warmup becomes more event-specific with a 8-minute effort at 92% FTP. This sub-threshold TT effort will make sure you’re body is primed and ready for the consistent effort that lies ahead.
Two Weeks Out
6. Taper your training
This is when your training should begin to taper off. Your intensity holds strong, but the volume of your training decreases as your event approaches. At this point you should see some of your highest numbers of the season. If you’re following the 40k TT training plan, a two-week taper is built into the last two weeks for you.
24 Hours Out
7. Implement your nutrition strategy
Following a nutrition strategy that you have practiced leading up to the event starts with dinner the night before and breakfast the day of, along with staying hydrated. This is a necessary step to make sure you are able to perform on the day, and should be nearly habit by the time the race approaches due to putting it into practice so often.
8. Plan a way to get to the venue early
Getting to the venue early can be the difference between everything functioning smoothly and a botched warm-up or a mechanical. Allow yourself at least an hour and a half before your start time to give yourself plenty of time for your course recon, your warm-up, and your pre-race nutrition.
9. Dial in your bike
Finally, make sure your bike is dialed at least the day before and do your pre-race ride on the exact same equipment you are going to use during your event.
2 Hours Out
10. Get a feel for the course
Since you are arriving early to the course and everything is ready, you can actually do your warm-up on the course and pull double duty. This also allows you to see some speed and power points along the course and make sure things are rolling along as expected. It also allows you to feel how the weather is affecting the course, whether it’s hotter than normal or there is a serious headwind on the way back from the turnaround point. If there are any elevation gains on the course, use this time to do a little homework on the climbs, and plan where you are going to get out of your aero bars, or accelerate over the top of the climb.
11. Implement your warm-up strategy
You’ve already nailed down your warm up strategy, now it’s time to implement it. Typically ten minutes of downtime between your warmup and event start time is recommended. That’s enough time to replenish any anaerobic stores reduced during the warm up, without losing any of the warm up’s benefits. The milder, more steady-state the event, the longer this margin can become.
Remember, a proper warm-up will leave you warm for longer than you think, and taking a seat to get focused for 10 minutes before your event will prepare you better than a few more minutes on the trainer or a few more laps around the parking lot will.
The time has come. This is when all your preparation is translated directly to seconds off your time. There are a few rules to follow beyond the pacing rules you created for yourself based on distance, course, and fitness.
Rule #1: Drop down into your aero bars asap
Get down into your aero-bars as soon as possible out of the gate. It should only take 5-10 seconds to get up to 15 mph, which is when the aero advantage kicks in.
Rule #2: Find your sweet spot on the climbs
When you hit the hills remember not to exceed 105% of your planned power on the climbs, but not drop below 95% of the your planned power on the descents. This is the sweet spot where your body experiences the least amount of fatigue, but carries the highest overall speed. Don’t forget to accelerate over the top of a climb to get back up to speed as fast as possible.
Rule #3: Stick to your own pacing strategy
Don’t let any outside factors negatively impact your race. Your only goal is to perform to your ability on the day, sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. There’s no harm in tweaking your pacing strategy during the race, and a conservative start might pay dividends by the end of the race.
It’s the combination of highly focused Specialty training and completing a few race preparation tasks that will set you up to perform your fastest time trial. While 8 weeks is the best-case scenario to have, if you have less time to prepare for your time trial, simply complete as many of the above tasks as time allows and take this checklist and all your new learnings into your next event. Good luck!
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to our podcast Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly. Yes, we know that’s addiction territory 😉
— John Roberts (@j_roberts) June 21, 2016