Why it’s important to train with others:
Winter provides a unique set of circumstances that makes it possible for athletes of all abilities to train as a group. The intense goal-specific summer training is over and the focus turns to building base fitness. A group of like-minded athletes will provide you with a supportive, competitive, fun and motivating environment which will make you want to keep turning up whatever the conditions are like outside.
In order for this type of training to work, the session must be structured and your coach empathetic to the different abilities present within the group. An experienced coach will be able to design a session which allows athletes of all levels of abilities to be worked hard while being measured and monitored; if necessary dividing the group into smaller sets of more evenly matched fitness levels so that everyone is catered for.
The nature of athletes is that they are competitive and it’s all too easy for group training of any sort to turn into a flat out race. The person in charge of the group must be able to control the athletes to ensure that the intended training objectives are met and injury and despondency avoided. Races are often won or lost on mental strength so winter is a good time for athletes to practice self-discipline and pace control. Training with athletes that you would not normally train with can provide all sorts of benefits and you can gauge your improvement over a sustained period of time without actually racing.
Group training is equally valuable whether cycling, running or doing a brick session. Riding with other people over longer distances helps to build endurance as well as road and bike handling skills. Winter is the perfect time to focus on getting miles into your legs and strengthening your core. Keeping a group of cyclists together is potentially harder over longer distances so either seeking out people of similar abilities or dividing your group into smaller motivational sets makes the most sense.
RG Active makes a point of starting group rides all together and letting our riders decide which group they want to attach themselves to – the longer or the shorter ride; while the duration will be broadly the same the distance covered will differ. Coaches will advise less experienced athletes whether they should go long or short and will also encourage less-confident but able athletes to go longer when need be! We will aim to meet up again mid-ride for cake and coffee which everyone looks forward to for an array of reasons. Depending how athletes are feeling we will either split into groups governed by ability (or tiredness), or return home all together as one group. Over the years we have found that this structure works most effectively both socially and aerobically.
Group runs are much easier to structure even if there are a wide range of abilities. Almost the diametric opposite of the long cycle rides, group run training options are almost exclusively short distances including fartlek, hill and interval sessions. This allows athletes to choose their recovery frequency without ever being left behind or feeling that they are holding the group up. A lot can also be said for observing more experienced athletes – technique, focus and style while taking an extra breather.
Brick sessions work well for a group because of the natural staging nature of the transition where people meet, start and finish. Multiple reps of a short course provide excellent opportunity to practice transitions as well as getting used to running on jelly legs off a hard ride.
The pleasure and benefits of training as a group will only be enjoyed if you select the right group. If you chose an ultra-competitve group with a competitve coach who is focussed on their own training and not on improving the group’s performance then don’t expect to be the focus of attention. At best you’ll spend the session fighting to hang onto the wheel of the rider in front: At worst you might get dropped and have to find your own way home. If on the other hand you chose a group where the focus is on ensuring that everyone has a good ride you’ll return home having worked hard but wanting to come back again and again.
Remember, winter miles mean summer smiles.