Beginners tend to think of training in terms of miles. It’s just the “go to” unit of measurement in most endurance sports, especially running and cycling.

But it’s time to break the habit! You need to think in terms of time spent training, and that will be measured in hours.*

Miles just don’t cut it. Here are a few of the things that mileage doesn’t take into account:

  • Terrain (i.e. Climbing.)
  • Intensity.
  • Weather (cold, rain, wind, etc.)
  • Time.
  • Drafting (lack of wind resistance.)

Think about this. Riding 30 miles on the flat roads of Florida with a tailwind could be done in one hour of moderate intensity riding. Riding up Mt Lemmon, a 30 mile climb in Arizona, would yield 2-3 hours of high intensity riding.

Both would be considered a “30 mile ride,” but obviously they were different workouts. So measuring and comparing training plans in terms of mileage is useless.

Mileage concerns bring about other problems, too.

Many riders bump up their total mileage to try to sound productive, but end up adding in junk miles, leading to a decrease in effectiveness and productivity.

I see many “my mileage is bigger than yours” competitions, whereas I rarely see people saying things like “hey I trained more hours than you did.”

If anything, you get into better debates, such as “I just beat you, and I only train 6 hours per week, compared to your 16.”

So by thinking in terms of hours rather than miles, you skip the immature mileage contests and encourage yourself to train more effectively and efficiently.

“Hours” is not the be all, end all.

While using hours as a standard for measuring training volume is a good idea, it still doesn’t paint the whole picture. To really analyze your training, you must also remember intensity.

So while “hours” is better than “miles,” the best measurement is found in “hours of quality riding.” Quality is much more important than quantity.

Think about this: Two short interval workouts per week will have you in better racing shape than five long easy rides per week. Someone doing 80 miles per week could very well destroy someone doing 250 miles per week in the local crit.

You can’t eliminate endurance rides, of course. You need a multi-faceted approach!

*For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume we’re comparing apples to apples – i.e., structured training in 2008 vs structured training in 2009, or two athletes with proper training plans and similar goals. For example, you could not compare the training of a criterium racer to that of a RAAM competitor and form any meaningful conclusion.

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  1. Is it just me or is this more complicated than picking a certain route (say 20 miles) and keeping track of my times on that route?

  2. @Tim

    Yes, keeping a detailed training log is going to be more complex than just riding the same route all the time. But since when is training supposed to be easy?! 🙂

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