Sorry. More mileage, by itself, is unlikely to make us better riders. And that's good consolation for riders fighting a time crunch.
Let's examine why a modest amount of training time allows you to unlock nearly all of your genetic potential. Then I'll show you how to reach a very high level of fitness by training only 7 hours per week.
More Mileage Doesn't Guarantee More Fitness
When some people start riding, 10 miles is a real demand. But soon they can ride longer, and their average speed improves markedly. However, after some months they reach a depressing plateau. Average speed stagnates and it's harder to tack an additional 15 miles on weekend rides. Even when they increase training mileage substantially, performance refuses to budge — and it may even deteriorate if they wind up overtraining.
Each of us has inherited limits to our abilities. Simply adding mileage won't shatter that genetic ceiling. In fact, riding too much can slow us down rather than make us faster when we exceed our capacity to recover.
There's one more fallacy of wishing for unlimited time to ride: you'd probably get bored with cycling. Isn't gonna happen — you love to ride, right? But if all you did was ride — no weight training, no hiking, no leisurely Saturday mornings puttering around the house — you'd eventually come to dislike the bike.
Deciding How Much To Train
Pro cyclists often ride 20-30 hours a week. Riders training for ultramarathon events may log even more. Recreational racers (category 3, 4, 5 and masters) usually put in about 10 weekly hours, although some get by on 5 or 7 quality hours if their events are short. Most people with careers, families and other time constraints find that 7 hours a week is plenty of riding to meet their goals. Fast centuries require occasional training rides of 4 or 5 hours, but other weekly jaunts can be shorter.
All of this said, trying to ride a set number of hours each week — and getting frustrated if you don't meet that goal — is exactly the wrong approach.
You're an experiment of one. That's what running philosopher and physician George Sheehan used to say and he was right. We're all individuals. The training program that makes Lance Armstrong fit enough to win the Tour de France would make most of us too tired to get a leg over the bike. The secret? Ride when you can, and have fun when you do. You shouldn't punch a time clock when you get on your bike.
Remember, intensity is one key to this program. If you could ride 200 to 400 miles per week, sheer volume would guarantee a high level of fitness. But you can't. Instead, make up for missing miles by including intense efforts. Mix short, hard efforts like sprints with longer, steady efforts on hills or into the wind. Spirited group rides raise intensity, too. Aim for efforts at or above your lactate threshold.
Finally, ride smart. Is there a negative to this 7-hours-a-week program? Of course. In lengthy events such as centuries or week-long tours, you won't have the endurance of riders blessed with more training time. The solution is to realize your limitation and ride accordingly. Sit in a paceline, back off a bit on climbs, eat and drink often. You'll do fine.
This Signature Series article is provided courtesy of RoadBikeRider.com. It comes from RoadBikeRider's bible of training for cycling, Fred Matheny's Complete Book of Road Bike Training by Fred Matheny.