Long/ultra distance riders, how do you motivate yourselves for hard, short intervals?

Cycling for me is the adventure of a long ride. An ultra event, or just a long solo ride exploring new roads, or remote areas with gravel roads and rough tracks.

But I’m also interested in having the best fitness that I can, and for the most part this is enough to motivate me through a training regime.

I enjoy racing too, but really only those that are about 3 hours or more. The shorter ones are more intense than I care for, and I also kind of suck at them.

But I understand the value of an overall decent power-duration curve, and I know I have to do anaerobic interval sessions if I’m going to perform at my best.

It’s just that trying to push the power-duration curve with breakthrough workouts is so daunting. Not just the anaerobic 1 minute intervals at a super high power, but also longer intervals, such as 40 minutes at slightly above FTP.

A pro has to put in this work, of course, but what about the rest of us? Perhaps this is why sweet spot is so appealing. Not just because you get a lot of training stress in a short time, but also because the workouts are easier (but not easy) to complete.

Many people enjoy the short, hard interval workouts, and dread the long, slow rides. But I suppose these are the fast twitch muscle fiber people who also do well in short races. The opposite of me.

As an amateur long distance type of rider, how do you motivate yourself to keep doing harder and harder interval workouts?

I’m not clear on your question. Are you asking about how to motivate you for interval workouts or are you asking how to motivate yourself for hard short intervals?

I’m asking how to motivate you for interval workouts that are getting really tough as the training progresses. Being a long distance type, the anaerobic stuff is perhaps the toughest, and the hardest to find motivation for. But the question applies to any kind of daunting breakthrough workout, really.

My feel has always been that if I have put in the work prior that I am prepared for each workout. Prior to Adaptive Training, once you had been through the plans a few times, you knew which workouts were the hardest. I kind of always know whether they will turn out well or not based on how the previous workouts fared, but even if I wasn’t confident I would still give them a go. With AT, it’s a little less risky because progressions should help keep those hard workouts within reach, but regardless the advice still applies.

I make little notes of things I do during such a workout that lowered my RPE and would try those tricks until they stop working. Like most hard things, I think it helps to break the workout into chunks. And then even those chunks into chunks. So for VO2 each interval can be a chunk of a set of 4 or 5 other intervals. For longer threshold intervals, that’s breaking it down into chunks of minutes. Sometimes I’ll plan in advance to stand for a minute say halfway through a 12 minute interval, which will kind of break that workout into a six minute interval followed by a 5 minute interval with one minute standing in between. That really helps me. Music is a huge help. I’ll search for a song that helps my mood. I’ll even pause the music just before an interval to ensure the song starts at the beginning of the interval. I’ll also use the length of songs to break up my intervals into chunks. Like a 4 minute song for an 8 minute interval means I am halfway there after the song is over. I’ll even break up the song into verses where I vary my hand position each verse or each minute of the song. Whatever I’m feeling at the moment. I’ll also sip my nutrition at various times depending on the interval. Like I’ll take a sip of my sugary drink before a VO2 interval to get the flavor in my mouth. Or I’ll take a gel before my next long interval.

There are tons of little tactics and I’ll make notes of the ones that work. They don’t usually work forever and so I move on to others. And then the old ones will work again and I’ll just keep cycling through those to get through the hard stuff.

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I’m more of an endurance athlete (if you can call regular 100mile (160km) rides and the odd 200 -300km events ultra). For me shorter VO2 max intervals etc are just a case of doing them and not over thinking them (so as they demotivate me before I’m started).

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If one lacks intrinsic motivation don’t do it. One will fail in the consistency department, the most important factor in training.

Furthermore, I don’t think anaerobic intervals are really important for ultra endurance athletes. Too taxing, limited benefit.

Find one workout which you enjoy, there are so many. Over unders, intermittent or similar are often easy on the mind. This is sufficient.

Finally, I don’t find sst easy. As an ultra athlete, depending on competitive level, you should build towards cummulative 2-3hrs per session at least. This is tough, really tough.

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@torhovland My advice is don’t worry about it! Do the stuff that is fun for you. And, anyhow, I once trained quite a bit for 18 months without letting my HR get above 74% of cycling max HR. And I was still able to achieve podium finishes in Ultra cycling events. So you can find a lot of success with that type of training in that type of event.

But just the same, don’t just write VO2max/intense intervals off! Your motivations can (and probably will) change over the course of time. So keep an open mind and think back to this post if ever you feel like you’ve hit a performance plateau and you feel motivated to try something new that will help you break through.

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Just go enjoy riding your bike. You don’t have to do intervals for that.

I like the feeling of getting my heart rate up sometimes. I am training for a 50k running race and I am doing a weekly track workout with 400-1600m intervals (mostly 400-800).

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I ride mostly multi-hour fun rides, gran fondos, all day adventures, and it’s definitely tough to motivate myself to do the interval workouts. Hell, I don’t even like doing the ramp test lol. I just tell myself to do at least 1 or 2 “hard” workouts (intervals or higher intensity rides) during the week, then I can do my kind of riding every other time I’m on the bike.

Doing those harder intensity training sessions have seriously improved my hill climbing abilities. I don’t love those workouts, but I love what they do for my riding.

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For context, my A events are normally very long and mountainous Fondo’s.

In terms of motivating myself for more intensity, I like to understand what the physical adaptations will be, even if I will not be riding at that power during an event.

So when I’m doing a VO2Max intervals, I am not trying to “improve my 5 minute power”, I am “increasing my maximal aerobic uptake”, which will improve my aerobic threshold where I do spend most of my time riding. When I do anaerobic efforts, it is not about “improving my sprint”, it is “improving my force production”.

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What are your goals? IMHO you should get something out of structured training. It could be the joy of doing structured training itself or just the performance increase on the road or on the trails.

Even if you want to train for ultra long endurance events, you will have to go near or above threshold. Perhaps the Polarized Plans could be more to your liking, because you spend a lot of time in Z2 … but you will also do VO2max intervals.

Like the others, I have a bit of a hard time giving you any advice since you did not clearly specify what it is that you want, though. I can just tell you that even though I don’t race much, I really love being able to smash it outdoors. I can see that I can reach power numbers that I wouldn’t be able to hold previously while recovering faster. The fact that I can keep up with most pelotons where I live. It’s nice to be fit. But it is not the only way to enjoy a bike ride.

No, that has nothing to do with being more slow twitch or fast twitch. I have mostly slow twitch muscles, I know because I cannot really sprint. But I love hard 3–5 minute efforts way above FTP. Only for sprint efforts or sharp accelerations do you need to rely on fast twitch muscles.

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Weirdly enough despite having a strong preference for longer races my favourite sessions tend to be intervals and I’m kind of “meh” about long rides in training. IMO part of that is just how you frame it mentally- I think it’s kind of fun to throw caution to the wind and just leave it all out there for a change, even if I’m not very good at it.

Couple of other tips that might help, though;

  • Do them outdoors- riding hard up a climb or going super fast on the flats for steady-state intervals is way more fun IMO, and I find that having to pay attention to my suroundings means I don’t tend to dwell on the physical sensations or stare at the clock as much.

  • Go by RPE- If you’re relatively weak in the short power department it can be dispiriting to feel like you’re falling short or struggling to hit targets that might not be realistic for your capabilities. Power zones as a % of FTP tend to vary more above threshold, so I think it can be helpful to not worry about exact numbers and just focus on going really hard.

  • If you’re socially motivated, doing sessions with friends or as part of a Zwift event can be a good push. Can also be fun to shoot for strava segments or track how your times compare if that’s your sort of thing.

  • Relate them to your personal goals- even if you prefer longer events, training to push above threshold and recover can often mean finishing stronger. (Even as a long course triathlete I’ve found being able to deal with spikes in effort is helpful in competition, plus things just hurt less :joy:)

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Thanks, everybody! There’s really a whole lot of insightful advice in this thread.

@OreoCookie asks about my goals. I suppose they are similar to his. Primarily I want to do well in ultra/long distance events. Secondarily, I want to feel that I’m fit when I’m on group rides and medium long races (about 3 hours).

Some suggest I should just do the riding I enjoy, and not worry about the workouts I dislike. While that may be good advice, it doesn’t really sit well with me. I do want to push myself, and I understand that VO2 and anaerobic fitness is an overall benefit. And strength training too, for that matter, which I’m also not too crazy about.

As @toribath97 suggests, I think I need to relax my fixation on interval power targets, and just complete the workouts as well as I’m able to. I can enjoy workouts as long as I don’t feel daunted by the power targets.

I have a confession to make. Although I have been subscribing to TrainerRoad for a year, I’ve used it very little, deciding to base my training on Xert’s adaptive advisor and WKO’s iLevels instead. I’ve experienced a few problems with that. Xert is biased toward short, hard intervals. And the algorithm thinks I’m an elite cyclist, not because I do well on tough workouts, but simply because I ride a lot. And then it’s serving me the toughest workouts it’s got, thinking I’ll be able to do them. Regarding WKO, it needs a complete power-duration model to estimate my fitness signature, and then it requires a lot of testing at various levels in order to keep up to date. Including anaerobic and sprint efforts.

Going forward, I’d like to give TrainerRoad a chance. I’ll have my final event of the season on Saturday. Then I’ll take 3 weeks off-season. In October I’ll start a program leading up to a 300 km fatbike race in February. I’ve selected the following blocks in TP:

  1. High volume polarized
  2. High volume sustained power build
  3. High volume century

I’m a bit surprised, but also relieved, to see that TP hasn’t prescribed a single anaerobic workout. As @sryke points out, perhaps they really do bring too little benefit for the effort required?

Given the advice in this thread, I have a good feeling about being able to follow this program.

How we find intrinsic motivation differs from person to person. There are always aspects of training that we do not like, so we need to find little hacks and motivation to allow us to push past. But if you decided to get fitter, then there are some things that you just gotta do. You will have to eat your vegetables :wink:

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People don’t know where your ‘headspace’ is. You don’t have to look hard to find people talking about ‘fearing’ or ‘dreading’ certain workouts. I recall one thread where the person talked about thinking about upcoming VO2max workouts so much throughout the day and with such negative thoughts / feelings that they felt physically ill. In that case, better to skip them until one can approach one with at least a neutral mindset. (long term growth requires consistency, which I think would be difficult with that kind of approach.)

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That’s such a good summary of whole posts into a single sentence.

I think every rider has their nemesis workouts. In my case those are Z2 workouts with several longer sprints. Or 7 x 3 minutes at 120+ % of FTP. For others it is the ramp test (which is totally ok for me) or long sweet spot workouts.

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