Training to Ride Highway 89

In cycling, your fitness and conditioning build year over year. Even so, planning a training program to ride daily for a month can be challenging. I’ve been asked how to train for a cross-country ride. I’ll share it here, and I’ll try not to get too technical.

The program I developed is 20 weeks long. It has a 12-week base building period, followed by an eight-week training. The basics come from the books Climb! by Selene Yeager and Distance Cycling by John Hughes and Dan Kehlenbach. I highly recommend Selene Yeager’s book. I’m concentrating on climbing, because this route offers 67,000 feet of elevation gain. I have to be able to get up the hills.

Base Period

The goal of this period is to build a good base of fitness. In some ways, this feels like the most intense part of training and has five components: strength training, core (strengthening the muscles in your abdomen and lower back), interval training, endurance, and rest.


I’m hitting the gym three times a week right now. I want to build strength, but I’m not necessarily trying to build big muscles. That will make it harder to ride uphills, carrying the extra weight. I keep loads to about 80 percent of my max and do 20 reps per set. And I usually do three sets.

I’m doing squats, leg presses, and deadlifts to build strength in my glutes, hamstrings and quads. I also work the other muscles in my legs. Because I believe in balance, I also work my upper body. I’m trying to avoid that cyclist body that’s built like a T-rex. Having three different workouts that work similar muscles and alternate between them works different groups of muscles. Since it’s the fourth week of training, I’m now adding plyometrics to build explosive power. I waited because doing these without a good base of muscles can damage joints.


I have a few different core routines I do because I believe varying workouts leads to a stronger body. My favorite is hard enough that it can leave you sore for days.


Interval training helps build overall power and speed. I do intervals two days each week, often involving hill repeats or sustained effort intervals, where I ride just below my lactate threshold for a set amount of time, anywhere from three five-minute intervals on a rest week, up to a single 45-minute interval. These make up about 20 percent of my cycling workouts. They eventually raise my lactate threshold and my average speed during endurance workouts and events.


Since I’m training for endurance, this is the most important part of my workouts. I gradually build the length of my rides. Using time as a measure of how long a workout should be instead of miles keeps me from overtraining because I like to ride hills, which take longer than riding the same distance on flat ground. During the base training, I’m building up to back-to-back rides of three hours.


Flexibility is an important part of protecting your joints. I stretch three times each week, usually after a ride.

As much as we think that getting stronger is all about the workouts, rest is when your body adapts to the stress you just put it through. During the base training phase, I rest every third week. I still workout and ride, but I reduce the number and intensity of workouts. During training, I aim for 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

Once the base period is over, I’ll start the specific training.

Training Period

During the training period, I reduce the number of strength workouts to one per week, skipping them during rest weeks. My goal here is to maintain the strength I’ve gained, instead of building more. I reduce the core workouts to two each week. Also in this period, since it’s lower intensity, rest weeks happen every four weeks instead of three.

Endurance rides

Training for a multi-day event, I ride two long rides each week, on Friday and Saturday. The goal is to train my body to expect long rides day after day. This will culminate in riding 115 miles on both June 24 and 25.

Brisk Rides

These includes sections of mixed intensity and are shorter in duration. I often do hill repeats during my brisk rides.

Tempo Rides

The goal of tempo rides is to increase my average speed. The goal here is to push up my average speed without going into the red zone. These are shorter than the endurance rides.

Recovery Rides

These are easy rides designed to work the lactic acid out of my muscles.

The goal of all this training is so I arrive at the Canadian border on July 11, ready to ride day after day after day over the Continental Divide and into the Sonoran Desert. Here’s hoping.