Training For Taupo – Putting Together A Plan

I am quite often approached by budding fun-riders with the same goal…”to beat my mate around Taupo”.  The Lake Taupo Cycle challenge is NZ cyclings biggest participation event every November and is the one event cyclists of all abilities can relate to.  Whether it be to just finish or to achieve a certain time or to “beat your mates” there are a few key ingredients you need to include in your preparation.

  • GET A COACH – of course I am biased here, but at the very least, seek some advice from someone with knowledge of key training principles and stick to one method.  Too often I meet people who have read 5 different books on training, searched a bunch of training websites and asked a few top cyclists for advice and then taken what they feel to be the best aspects of each and tried to put that together into a plan to get fit.   WRONG.  Different methods suit different people and that is what a good coach can help ascertain and implement.

  • START EARLY – Taupo is an endurance event and building endurance takes time.  Yes, there are skills involved too, but the physiological requirements to ride a good Taupo take more than a few weeks to achieve.  It cracks me up to see the numbers of cyclists out on the roads grow exponentially in the month leading up to Taupo.  Give yourself time to build endurance and improve in all aspects of cycling without being forced to “crash train”.  One of the key principles of training is gradual progression. This progressive overload leads to a positive adaptation (getting fitter), whereas progressing too quickly because you left it too late leads to overtraining and potential pitfalls such as injury or sickness.

  • SET REALISTIC GOALS – unless you are blessed with unheard of natural talent or have a huge training history, you are not likely to start from scratch and finish in the top 10 around Taupo in only 2 months time.  Set a goal that takes into account your training history, natural ability, propensity to train and time willing to commit to training.  There is no point taking on Cadel Evans’ training load if you work 60hrs per week.  Decide what you can commit, assess where you are currently at in your recent results and set a target accordingly.

  • INCLUDE SOME HILLS IN YOUR TRAINING – there is no need to ride hills every day or take the hill riding to any extremes but you can’t get over the fact that the full lap of Taupo includes 1650m of climbing in its 160km.  Contrary to common perception, Hatepe hill isn’t the tough climb it’s made out to be.  The first 40km are the hilliest part of the race and Hatepe is a mere blip on the profile.  Why it draws so much negative press then, is the fact that it arrives after 135km of intense pedalling and most haven’t saved a lot for it.  During your training start off doing small hills and then apply the gradual progression principle to this aspect of your training too.  Better to learn good form on small hills first and then gradually attempt bigger climbs rather than ride huge climbs unfit and reinforce how to ride climbs slowly with poor form.

  • LEARN TO CHANGE A PUNCTURE – pretty obvious advice but if you haven’t had to change one yet, and you intend training for Taupo, then you will get a flat at some stage in training.  Better to learn to change a flat in the comfort of your own home than on a highway in the rain.  Being quick at changing a tube will be rewarded if you have a problem on race day too.

  • PLAN PRACTICE EVENTS – it’s not necessary to ride an event of 160km leading up to Taupo, but it would be extremely beneficial to ride a number of shorter mass start events in the weeks leading up to the main event.  Use these events to experience things like pre-race routine, race day nerves, eating and drinking in a big bunch, riding in a bunch, event pacing strategy and bunch etiquette.  It is more than likely that you will make some amateur mistakes at these events and learn to adjust your processes for the big event.

  • LEARN NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENTS – get some advice on what it takes to fuel the body adequately for 160km.  A rough guide I always begin with is 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per hour of exercise.  Work it out, that’s quite a lot. Practice this in training and never use a nutritional product on race day that you have not tried in training.

  • GO LONG – work out your goal time for the event, and aim to achieve at least 80% of that time in your weekly long ride.  Build up to this gradually over time and complete your longest ride at least 2 weeks out from the big event.

  • STRUCTURE TRAINING – assess your current strengths and weaknesses.  If you have any limiters which are likely to impact on your ability for you to achieve your goal then focus on those when planning your training approach.

The Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge is such a popular event there is the danger of thinking that it must be quite easy if so many people are doing it.  If you want to achieve a specific goal or just want to finish and not be put off cycling forever then follow these simple tips and have a great day out.