Training & Nutrition

How to: Dani King on Training for Sportives

The Olympic champion and Wiggle High5 rider shares her pearls of wisdom

Though many of us are still recovering from the excesses of Christmas, the summer season of sportives and maybe even time trials or road races is not too far away.

Having a goal can transform your cycling – but all the motivation in the world won’t help you if you’re not sure how to organise your training time. Olympic track champion and Wiggle High5 rider Dani King partnered with Team Sky rider Luke Rowe to form a coaching company – Rowe & King – last year, and since the growing client base consists of many working athletes aiming towards summer sportives, she seemed like the perfect person to give us some advice.

We met Dani at a London Nuffield Health Gym, where the team at Human Race treated us to a 40 minute spin class that explored some of the key climbs included within their iconic sportives. We waited until we could breathe again before we started asking questions, whilst Dani seemed barely out of puff throughout, of course!

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Bin junk miles

If you have got key targets that you want to achieve then it’s really important to make sure every ride you’re doing counts.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is doing too many junk miles,” explains King:  “People think ‘the longer I ride, the better I’m doing’ – but you’re not weight bearing on a bike, so you’re not even burning that many calories by riding easy miles, especially if you’re in a group. If you like that, and it’s what makes you happy – you’re not racing and you’ve not got other ambitions, keep doing it, but if you have got key targets that you want to achieve then it’s really important to make sure every ride you’re doing counts.”

So, we’ve been told – forget about that Strava average weekly mileage total…

Go for intensity

If we’re not pounding out the miles, what should we be doing? King is all about short, intense sessions, perhaps indoors on the turbo trainer. She told us: “For your average person that works 9-5, it’s all about being time efficient – you have to look at what time you’ve got, and I think you can get so much more out of shorter high intensity sessions, where you’re really working your lungs and pushing yourself.”

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How long? How often?

I’d always assumed your average intense turbo session should be around an hour of riding – but King has other ideas, even prescribing sessions as short as 12 minutes for some time poor athletes – she tells me: “It does depend on the individual. But an hour is quite a long time, I think you can get a lot done in 40 to 45 minutes. You only need a 10 minute warm up, and a 10 minute cool down. Say you’re doing a pyramid session starting with a 10 second sprint, going to 20, 30, 40, 50 up to a minute and back down to 10 seconds [with recovery in between], and doing that a couple of times, if you’re putting as much into it as you can, you couldn’t do that many times.”

You need to prioritise your health

As with duration, how often you should be training will vary per individual too – but King is clear that health comes first – she says: “If you can put in an hour every day, that’s great.. but if you’re working and that’s literally the only spare hour you have and you can’t relax, and you’re literally doing that and going to bed then it probably is too much, you’re just going to get ill. You need to prioritise your health.”

Do complete the distance beforehand

Despite all this, King is keen to point out the intensity is recommended for mid-week rides, and that you should aim to complete your goal ride’s distance before the actual event – saying: “We [Rowe & King] would advise that you build up to the distance of your goal sportive before you do it, it is important to go out on the road and get the miles in – it’s just in terms of a week to week basis I think it’s much more important to get those high intensity sessions in.”

Eat to recover

Make sure you’re getting up to 20g of protein in every three hours

Ramping up the training can take it out of you, and though stretching, foam rolling and using compression gear are all things King advises, she says we should keep an eye on our protein intake above all:  “Nutrition is one thing I’ve really worked on in the last year or so. I think it’s really important to look after your protein intake – if you’re really struggling to recover, make sure you’re getting up to 20g of protein in every three hours – that is really important for recovery. You’re just making sure you’re getting the most out of the training that you’re doing. Your muscles are getting stronger when you’re recovering off the bike – you can break your muscles down, but if you’re not giving them anything to get stronger they’re just going to get more and more tired.”

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She also suggest sitting whenever you can – “If there’s a seat there, sit down – just be more switched on about trying to help yourself recover.”

Be specific with the climbs

Sportive organisers like to throw in hills, and in a race environment, climbs are often used by strong riders to split the group – so how can we prepare?

Efforts need to be specific

“If you know you’ve got a 10 minute hill in your sportive, try to simulate that in training – find one as long as you can so it’s not a complete shock to your system, even if it’s only five minutes it’ll help. If you’re racing and you know in your goal race there are three one minute climbs, you want to go out and find them and try and smash them. Efforts need to be specific – if you train for one minute blasts and your event climb is ten minutes you’re just going to smash it for a minute then blow, and be out the back in the last nine minutes. It’s all about planning.”

King advising riders after the session

…Don’t forget power to weight

We’re often guilty of skirting around the elephant in the room – Power to Weight – the simple science that the watts (power) you produce have to carry your weight (in kilograms). Increase power and maintain weight and you’ll go faster, decrease your weight and maintain power and you’ll also go faster. We ask King if weight is as important as we hope it isn’t…

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“Power to weight is a hard one. It is massive in road cycling, I’m not going to lie. That’s something I’ve had to work on coming off the track, losing weight to be able to climb, it’s hard but it can make a massive difference. Again it’s very individual, and dependent on what you’re working on. If you’re cooking separate meals because you won’t eat what your husband, wife or partner is cooking, personally I think that’s ridiculous – it’s all about your own lifestyle and what you can make work for you. But I do believe if you can cut out rubbish snacks for example, and lose a couple of kilos by doing that, it’ll massively help you in an event where you’re going up a lot of climbs.”

We do have to keep it in perspective – though – she says: “It comes down to lifestyle and your goals – if you’re an amateur and you haven’t got specific targets of reaching the top in so-and-so time and you just want to get through the sportive, then no it’s not important, and won’t make a massive amount of difference, but on the other hand, look at all the top cyclists and top hill climbers in the world, they’re all tiny and you definitely go uphill a lot quicker if you’re lighter.”

Tools of the trade: you don’t need them (but they’re nice)

In certain road cycling crowds, there seems to be a terrible idea developing that you “can’t” train effectively without a power meter. We disagree, and so does King: “Tools for training are a really personal I think. Me and Luke [Rowe] are completely different. I love numbers, thankfully I can work with power and heart rate, and I like that.

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“But not everyone can afford one, though they are more affordable these days.  Luke likes going with nothing and riding on feel, and when I first started, my coach and I went off feel completely. You can absolutely train on feel without having heart rate and power. It’s down to what you prefer.”

Don’t forget the non-sweaty stuff

Preparation for an event is not all about training – you need your kit and your bike to be ready too – King says: “The number one thing is investing time in finding a pair of shorts that are really comfortable. I think if you’re doing a sportive like the Dragon Ride, up to 305 km, and you’re saddle sore after 50km, that might be the deciding factor on whether you finish or not! It might have nothing to do with if you’ve trained properly. And just making sure your bike is ready – that’s really key – you could have worked hard for moths, but if you get to the start, and your bike isn’t in good working order and you end up with a puncture every 10 miles because you’ve got worn tyres, or your chain snaps because you didn’t change it, that’d be so frustrating.”

Rowe & King offer training plans for racers, sportive riders, and anyone who wants their help in getting fit – check out the options here. We caught up with Dani at an event where we simulated a selection of climbs from Human Race sportives in a spinning studio – check out their cycling events here. 

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