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Pacing: how to manage that weekend where you can put in extra time

Updated: May 18, 2021

Most of us weekend warriors are able to train in the realm of 8-12 hours each week. That is the reality when we are also putting in quality time with our family and friends, and doing a good job at work. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t looking for every opportunity to squeeze out more time on our bikes! And sometimes those opportunities do present themselves, like at a training camp or over a long weekend. So let’s make the most of them.

What is most important to keep in mind when presented with the opportunity to plough in more miles is the inverse relationship between time and wattage. The more time you plan to spend on the bike, the lower your wattage will have to be - or perhaps better to think of it as the better you will have to manage your effort.

Check out how power changes with time, note the declining power (red line) as time progresses (X-axis):

What does this concept mean for those times when you are able to add some serious mileage? It means that you need to adjust your effort accordingly, backing off the wattage somewhat.


What typically happens for many riders on a 4-day weekend

What most riders do when they have a four-day weekend of riding is to go out and ride hard the first day - they want to maximize their training time and think that going harder is better, no pain no gain! Then day two is OKish, but they are already feeling the fatigue from day one. Come day three and the riding has become a real slog, the power and pace is dropping, and the perceived exertion is way up. Day four becomes a may or may not ride sort of day and probably ends up being easier and shorter than originally planned. Then the rest of the following week is a complete wash because they are so tired, and oh that right knee is twinging from the sudden increase in mileage without a corresponding change in power.

What your 4-day weekend should look like

Let’s take it back to our core training principles - intensity discipline and repeatability. The intensity discipline part tells us that we need to adjust, and stick to, our power and heart rate to meet a training goal on a given day. And that we want to vary our workouts and goals. While repeatability is just that, repeatability. You shouldn’t get worse every day across the weekend.

With our training principles in mind you can then make a decision about what your goal is for the weekend.

One option - mileage. You could decide you want to put in some big rides, log plenty of mileage and go exploring. Awesome. Adjust your power accordingly. The goal in this case should be that you can ride the same pace on day four as you can on day one, without it feeling like a total slog. Day one might feel quite easy but that perceived exertion should build a bit each day even as you manage to keep your heart rate and power in line with your goal.

Second option - mileage and a bit of intensity for fun. Another great idea, as we want our training to be both productive and fun. That means sometimes we have to put the head unit aside and just ride with some friends. What matters in this option is deciding on which day you are going to do your intensity, how hard that is going to be, and how much it will affect your ability to ride on your other days. A good weekend plan might be something like a long endurance ride Friday, jam with your friends Saturday, shorter endurance Sunday to recover a bit, and then a final long endurance day Monday.

The overriding thing to keep in mind is that if you want to lay down some extra miles going out and racing with your friends on day one of the weekend, and putting out some maximal efforts as if it were a race, is probably not the best idea.

And while taking the opportunity to log those extra miles is a real bonus we don’t want to ride so hard across the weekend that it leaves us completely exhausted. Ideally a couple of days of rest should allow us to get back to training. Maybe not doing a full-on VO2 workout, but at least not missing out on some endurance riding to keep the legs rolling.

In either of our two options there is a clear goal as to what we want to achieve and an understanding of how to adjust our wattage accordingly. We can’t decide to put in a big weekend of riding and then just keep pushing on the pedals as if that extra time didn’t matter.

Cycling is definitely a sport that rewards time spent on the bike - more time training typically equals better fitness. Just be realistic about what sort of work you can sustain as you go out and log those extra miles.

Lastly, don't forget to fuel the extra workload.

Enjoy getting in those extra miles!

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