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Race Across America - Indoor Training


Christoph Strasser, who came in first place in Race Across America (RAAM), 3 of the last 4 years, credits indoor training as a key success factor. For me, living in the northeast, working full time, and having a young family, race preparation has to include indoor training. While I ride outdoors year-round, in all types of weather elements, the flexibility of an indoor trainer means that I have no excuse from fitting in my hours. Indoor training also allows me to focus in a way that I cannot do outdoors. On the trainer, I control the conditions and concentrate on specific elements.


Once I decided to add a trainer to my workout routine, I researched my options on the internet. The manufacturers provide a wealth of information to help guide the process. The first step is to decide the preferred mechanism for the roller to provide resistance. There are a couple different types of trainers available: fan, magnet, and hydraulic (fluid). The cost of the trainer varies based on the different type - fan trainers are typically entry level, lower cost and magnetic and fluid trainers are mid to high level. There are a lot of different features from which to select. For example, some of the magnetic trainers come with a controller to adjust resistance levels. There are also high end power trainers with built in power meters that sell for $1000+. I selected a CycleOps Fluid2 trainer, partly because it has an automatic resistance adjustment based on wheel speed, and it was quieter, which was important to me based on where I planned to put my trainer.


In terms of location, most people I know put their trainers in their basement or spare room. I don't have a finished basement or a spare room. As a result, I put my trainer in a corner of our living room, discreetly obscured by our fish tank, so my wife would be happy, but within line of sight of our television, so I would be happy. When selecting a location, the main considerations are noise tolerance, entertainment options, space and ease of access. Most trainers are made to fold up, easily store under a bed or in a closet, and set up relatively quickly. For me, training every day meant that I needed a more permanent solution. Since I use my bike outdoors year round, being able to easily put it on and off my trainer frequently was important. Once location is established, there are adjustments that can be made for fine tuning. For example, the vibrations from the trainer will be stronger on a tile or hard wood floor. Often, people put rubber mats or yoga mats under the trainer to minimize vibrations. I use a piece cardboard to quiet the vibrations for my trainer, which sits on tile. The base layer under the trainer is also affected by sweat that comes off the rider during training. Tile, hard wood, or a mat is easily cleaned, but carpet is not ideal. My cardboard works well because the sheets I use are large enough to cover the entire space under me, and I can discard and replace them as frequently as needed. Rubber and yoga mats will need to be lifted up and washed and cleaned regularly.


Once you have your trainer set up, it is time to establish your training routines. Once again, the internet provides a wealth of options. There are apps you can download for your phone or tablet. When I was training for triathlons, I used Megathlon. When my training intensified for RAAM, I went to Cadence, a well-established bike shop in Philadelphia, and hired a coach. My coach sets up specific, tailored training sessions for me weekly based on how my training is going and how I am feeling. My current training is based on target heart rate. I find indoor riding to be extremely efficient for heart rate training because I have durations of time where I will need to hold a specific heart rate. The consistent and steady resistance of a trainer makes this doable. On an outdoor ride, I encounter stop lights, traffic, and terrain and weather elements that complicate matters. Training routines help break up the monotony of riding. Setting up specific training sessions that require training at different levels, helps fend off the boredom of pedaling for hours and not going anywhere.


Indoor training is also an opportunity to hone aspects beyond heart rate and legwork. For example, early on, I used this time to practice pulling my water bottle from the bottle cage while staying in a good aerodynamic position. Most novices grab their water bottle by reaching straight down and lifting the bottle out in a natural position with their thumb pointed upward. However, this causes the rider's elbow to turn out to the side in order to invert the bottle for drinking. The arm and elbow essentially create a sail, causing drag and taking the rider out of a good riding position. Instead of grabbing the water bottle with thumb point upward, it is better to invert your hand when grabbing the water bottle, pointing your thumb down, keeping your elbow tucked against your body and then bring the water bottle straight up.


In preparation for RAAM, I am using my indoor trainer to work on preventing Shermer's neck, improving mental endurance, and preparing for the darkness of extended night riding. Shermer's neck is a condition in which the neck muscles stop working and the rider loses the ability to hold up his or her head. It is believed to be caused by the nerves and muscles in the neck holding the head in one place for days while riding without rest or sleep. In an effort to strengthen the nerves and muscles supporting my head, I am riding with a 2 lb weight attached to my helmet during my indoor training. Riders training for RAAM are known to ride on a trainer for 24 hours in a dark room without entertainment to simulate the monotony of riding through the corn fields of the Midwest.

I approach my training for any race by simulating the race experience as much as possible. I train on and with the equipment I will use for the race itself. Some people go to spin classes and use the gym equipment. I prefer using my own equipment. For example, when I travel for business, I take my bike and trainer and set it up in the hotel room rather than use the bikes in the hotel gym. This also applies for my apparel, my shoes, and my water bottles. The apparel is critical because you can still get chafing and discomfort riding indoors just as you would riding outside. I use Aero Tech Designs padded shorts and jerseys for all of my indoor and outdoor riding.

While training routines and working on technique provide some distraction from the monotony of riding, many people, including myself, park the trainer in front of the television. Netflix is key. I can easily watch three movies during a single ride. Even with the Fluid2 trainer being as quiet as it is, I found it necessary to use wireless head phones to avoid turning the TV volume to its maximum. DVDs that portray race courses, like the Tour de France, are available to improve the indoor training experience. There are also high end trainers with viewing screens that can be programmed to simulate resistance, incline, and decline for specific race courses for a more virtual reality experience Besides working on the trainer, I also do off bike indoor workouts, including weight lifting, swimming, and tabata, as well as my usual recreational sports - ice hockey and tae kwon do. I feel it is important to have a variety of physical activities and cross training opportunities.

By: Jason Burgess
2015 RAAM Athlete